The Second Half Begins

After nearly a two-month lull, Thoroughbred horse racing begins the second half of its annual season at the most competitive level for three-year-olds. And the highlight of the weekend will be the return to racing of the Triple Crown Champion, American Pharaoh, at Monmouth Park, racing in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational Stakes.

But before we get to the rare Sunday feature race, attention should be paid, Saturday afternoon, to Saratoga Race Track and the Jim Dandy Stakes, which will feature the return to the races of Belmont Stakes second-place horse, Frosted.  The Jim Dandy is also run at a mile and an eighth and is the traditional prep race for Saratoga’s feature race of the meet, The Midsummer Derby, the Travers Stakes.

In my opinion, the Jim Dandy is likely to be the more entertaining of the two races, in that is likely to be the more competitive race of the two features this weekend. The field for the Jim Dandy is, by post position, as follows:

1.Frammento

2.Japan

3.Texas Red

4.Upstart

5.Competitive Edge

6.Tekton

7.Frosted

This race for me boils down to Frosted and Texas Red. As the three-year-old class has developed through the year, it’s clear that American Pharoah is far and away the best horse; for me Frosted is the next best.  Since his throat surgery in the spring, this is a horse that has solidly grown to his potential.  I think he’ll be fine with the distance and this race could be his opportunity to shine.  The only misgiving I have, is that this will be his first race back from the nearly two-month layoff following the Belmont.  There is a chance he could be a hair fraction short.

If he is, look for Texas Red to be ready to pounce.  Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion Texas Red is coming off a solid second-place finish to improving sprinter Speightser in the one-mile Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park, July 4.  It was a great prep for Texas Red and he should really benefit going longer in the Jim Dandy and that’s where I think the race will get interesting and entertaining.

There are other horses to consider beyond these two.  Japan is a highly regarded colt that has shown steady improvement. Upstart had a very solid late winter/early spring leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but faltered completely in that race finishing 19th and last.  This will be his first race since the Derby.  His connections have been pleased with his training leading up to the Jim Dandy, but I think the long layoff and the distance will work against him being in the winner’s circle at the end of the race. Competitive Edge showed a great deal of promise as a two-year-old, but his form has dipped as a three-year-old; can’t endorse him here.  Frammento also ran in the Derby and Belmont and was a non-factor in both.  Tekton is a colt I’m completely unfamiliar with.  One more thing to add to the Jim Dandy Stakes mix–Saratoga is known as “The Graveyard of Champions,” anything can and often does happen at the Saratoga track. Man O’ War and Secretariat are two famed horses that were upset at Saratoga; the Jim Dandy Stakes is named for the colt of that name that upset Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 edition of the Travers Stakes at odds of 100-1!

For me, it would take a Jim Dandy (indeed!) to upset Champion American Pharoah in the Haskell Stakes on Sunday, especially  with the horses that have been entered to face him.  The field for the Haskell as of today stands as, by post position:

1.Upstart

2.Competitive Edge

3.Nonna’s Boy

4.American Pharoah

5.Mr. Jordan

6.Keen Ice

7. Top Clearance

8.Dontbetwithbruno

And yes, you’re seeing Upstart and Competitive Edge’s names yet again.  They have been cross-entered for both of the weekend’s features; at this writing, they are expected to scratch from the Jim Dandy and run in the Haskell.  I’ve already explained how I felt about their chances against Frosted and Texas Red.  I give them even less of a chance for a win against American Pharoah. Mr. Jordan was a solid sprinter over the winter at Gulfstream Park and has won the Pegasus Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth at Monmouth so he’s familiar with and comfortable on this track.  Keen Ice ran a good third in the Belmont Stakes and this race will be his first start back since that race.  The other three horses lining up against American Pharoah boil down to four words for me–I couldn’t tell you…

Since his last race winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown in the process, American Pharoah has rattled off a series of, as usual, solid, flawless works at Santa Anita and Del Mar race tracks.  He doesn’t appear to be any worse for wear from his Triple Crown efforts.  If the cross-country trip hasn’t drained him (and he’s already shown himself to be a solid traveller) and he takes to the track (and so far there hasn’t been one yet he hasn’t shown the ability to handle), everyone is, once again, running for second place money.  If all goes well, there is a chance that the Haskell could serve as American Pharoah’s “prep” for the Travers Stakes.  As trainer Bob Baffert has indicated, the next race or races leading to the ultimate goal and final race for American Pharoah, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be American Pharoah’s call.

The very good and exciting news is that the Haskell Stakes will be available for all to see (for the first time in many years), airing Sunday beginning at 5:00 p.m. on NBC.  That’s the power of a Triple Crown winner.

Also, one quick update since my last post, Carpe Diem, who I considered the third best horse of this three-year-old crop has been retired from racing due to a knee chip.

I can’t wait for the Haskell even though I don’t believe it’ll be the exciting race of the weekend.  It should, however, still be the most thrilling because American Pharoah will be gracing the track!  Enjoy!!

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Since the Belmont

A LOT has happened.  Some grand, unfortunately more sad and disappointing, all a part of and challenge to the lives of Thoroughbred racehorses.

Let’s start with the happy.  American Pharoah is a hero, and has been feted on both the East and West coasts in the form of being paraded at both Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Racecourse.  He’s such a kind horse and took all the attention and adulation in stride; he just marched down the track before the grandstands as he was applauded and photographed by thousands of fans.

Better yet, he has returned to training and seriously doesn’t look like the Triple Crown effort took much out of him.  He continues to gallop around the track in his morning works fluidly and happily and looks the picture of health–big and strong.  His next race will be upon us very soon, Sunday, August 2 in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanside, New Jersey.  The track is pulling out all the stops with festivities planned for attendees all weekend.

The fast-approaching Haskell leads to the next question and a few updates for the three-year-old crop; who the heck is going to take on the champion in the Haskell?  So far, War Story’s connections have signed on.  Stanford, who was initially entered and then withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby is a likely candidate thanks to his win in the Long Branch Stakes this past weekend at Monmouth.  Carpe Diem and Materiality have had works recently and they may be sent to pursue American Pharoah yet again.  Frosted won’t take on the challenge again, at least not at this point.  He is headed to Saratoga with the Travers Stakes as the goal.  He’ll likely prep in the Jim Dandy also at Saratoga.

We know Firing Line won’t be there.  It was announced last week that his racing in 2015 is done.  He’d been recovering from a hoof injury, but his connections have decided he’d benefit from continued R and R so he won’t be seen again until the turn of the calendar.  Next race plans for Dortmund have not been announced yet, but he won’t be accompanying American Pharoah back to the East Coast.

Sadly, Danzig Moon will not be present either…he had to be euthanized following an injury sustained in the running of the Queen’s Plate Trial at Woodbine Racecourse.  He’d run valiantly in the Bluegrass Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes.  RIP.

The news doesn’t improve much among the distaff or older horses.  Lady Eli, a stunning, undefeated three-year-old turf filly including being the winner in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies race has been stricken by laminitis in both front hooves.  It was set in motion after having stepped on a nail as she was returning to her stall from the test barn after her latest win in the Belmont Oaks run July 4th.  Right now her racing future and potentially her life is in the balance. Good thoughts and prayers for her swift recovery.

2014 Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome is also on the sidelines for the remainder of the year.  2015 has proven to be a star-crossed period for the colt as he has yet to win a race, was unable to race at Royal Ascot as planned due to a bruised hoof, and now has been found to have a bruised cannon bone during a vet inspection.  He had just returned stateside to prepare for a run in the Arlington Million. Nothing life threatening or career ending here unless the connections determine otherwise.  He may well return to racing next year as a five-year old.

Main Sequence, a star on the turf throughout 2014, including a major win over an international field in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, has been retired from racing due to a tendon tear.  Trainer Graham Motion did a stellar job with this somewhat quirky horse; he definitely turned his form around and helped him reach his potential.

Kentucky Oaks winner Lovely Maria returned to racing last Saturday, July 11 in the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. She never fired as the prohibitive favorite and finished out of the money in fifth place.  A 50-1 shot, Calamity Kate led just about from gate to wire and had enough left to hang on for the win in one of the biggest upsets of the weekend.

Wicked Strong, one of 2014’s leading three year olds and winner of last year’s Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy Stakes, has been off form through his first three races in 2015.  Saturday, he made his first start on grass in the Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont Park to shake things up and see how he’d handle a new surface.  He ran a decent second in the race; he didn’t hate the turf, but he didn’t seem to become a world beater over it either.  It’ll be interesting to see where he appears next.

But let’s end on a very positive note.  Two-time Horse of the Year (2012, 2013) Wise Dan has been completely cleared to return to full training and should return to the races late this summer or early fall.  Late in 2014 he’d sustained a non-displaced fracture near the end of his right front leg.  At the time of injury, his return to training and the races was questionable.  Can’t wait to see him back on the track!

Thoroughbred racing can be so exciting, beautiful, and thrilling especially when a horse like American Pharoah, Lady Eli, and Wise Dan come along.  They are unusually gifted athletes with an incredible will to win.  As this report exposes, they can be quite fragile and the privilege to watch them run should never be taken for granted.