Back On Track

The post-Triple Crown lull in major stakes races is ending and the start of the second half of major Thoroughbred  racing culminating in Breeders’ Cup World Championship weekend (November 4 and 5) at Santa Anita Racetrack is at hand.

Before I jump into who’s going to be participating in this weekend’s two major stakes a few quick updates.

Stradivari, who ran in the Preakness and Belmont, to fourth and fifth place finishes respectively, sustained a career-ending fracture Friday morning (July 22) while being worked in preparation for his next start.  He suffered a break to his right front leg; both a condylar fracture and a break in the sesamoids (condylar is the cannon or long bone of the leg and sesamoids are smaller support bones lower in the leg that would roughly translate to support apparatus in our ankle). He was scheduled for surgery to place plates and screws in the leg in the attempt to repair it earlier this morning at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital at Saratoga Springs, NY where he was in training.

On a MUCH brighter note, champion filly Songbird once again demonstrated why she may actually be the best three-year-old Thoroughbred in the country by dispatching the four other fillies that attempted to challenge her in Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Racetrack.  In so doing, Songbird maintained her perfect record, she’s now nine for nine, and she overcame the Saratoga “Graveyard of Champions” curse (Remember last year with American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes? Yeah, I’d as soon forget too). Songbird, much like Nyquist, has show she takes her track with her and runs exceptionally wherever she’s entered to race.

On Sunday, unlike most of her other races, she got a wee mite bit of a challenge from a nice filly, Carina Mia on the turn for home, but under Mike Smith’s expert hands and handling she quickly shook off the attempt, and opened to daylight rapidly to win by five lengths.  Best of all, all reports indicate that Songbird came out of the race happy and fresh.  She’ll remain at Saratoga to prepare for the August 20th Alabama Stakes.

On Saturday, it was the return of California Chrome to American racing since his last start and win in the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, and the four-year-old debut of Dortmund, American Pharoah’s former stablemate and third place and fourth finisher in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, respectively. The race was the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar Racetrack and it turned out to be bit of a surprise to me.  Since it was Dortmund’s first race of the year, I expected him to engage Chrome for a little while, but give way, being short race-wise and despite trainer Bob Baffert’s ability to rarely have a horse be short on conditioning even off a long layoff.

I was WRONG.  Dortmund not only engaged California Chrome, he wouldn’t let go of him and the two battled stride for stride from about the final sixteenth of a mile to the wire.  It’s an overused description, but here it’s apt–this race was a thriller and California Chrome was able to prevail by a head. It was a delight to watch and even the jockeys–Gary Stevens on Dortmund and Victor Espinoza on Chrome were in awe of the effort both horses had put forth in an effort to win, tapping each other in congratulations after they crossed the finish line nearly in tandem.  It will be very exciting to watch these two go at it again, most likely in the Pacific Classic near the end of August; that race will also likely feature 2015 Pacific Classic winner Beholder who made the group of colts entered in the race with her look like amateurs with close to an eight-length win. Fingers crossed that all three remain healthy and happy for that matchup.

Now for the upcoming weekend which marks the return to racing by most of the prominent three-year-old colts that were involved in the Triple Crown races.  On Saturday, the Jim Dandy Stakes will be run at Saratoga.  It is the traditional prep race for the “Midsummer Derby,” the Travers Stakes also at Saratoga. Belmont winner Creator, fourth-place Belmont finisher Governor Malibu, Mohaymen (fourth in the Kentucky Derby), and Preakness winner Exaggerator are among the horses who may run.  The real question mark of this group is Exaggerator; he posted a less-than-pleasing work in the eyes of trainer Keith Desormeaux last out and thus the trainer is wrestling with the start. Desormeaux has indicated that the main goal for Exaggerator is the Travers and he might just give the colt a bit more time and train up to that race.

On Sunday, the Haskell Invitational will be run at Monmouth Race Course in Oceanport, NJ.  Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will make his first start since his third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes.  He’s recovered from the bug that kept him out of the Belmont Stakes and has been working well out of his West Coast base at Santa Anita. Gun Runner, third in the Derby, has raced and won since then in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.  Brody’s Cause, sixth in the Belmont, is also expected to run in the Haskell.

I’m not going to make any predictions for either race; at this stage I’ll just be watching and observing in an attempt to see who’s best.  Most of the colts have had a rest, grown a bit, and where they now stand among each other may have changed.  Maybe not and there’s always the chance that a colt that wasn’t ready for the Classics emerges that will give these more established colts a run for the money.  That’s why in many ways, this second half of the Thoroughbred racing year is more fun than the run through the spring.  And perhaps, at the end of the year, the horse that will be crowned best three-year-old in the nation could be the one running like the “girl” she is–Songbird.

 

 

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Observations

Now that Belmont 148 is in the books there’s just a few post race points to cover.

First, it really did turn out to be an exciting race with Creator launching from near last to catch Destin at the wire to finish first.  Perhaps his rotten Derby trip really did compromise his performance and finish; we’ll never know. And so much for the position that the Belmont Stakes isn’t won by deep closers.

This was the first time I can recall having three grey colts finish one-two-three in such a major stakes race.  And of course two of them–Creator and Lani are sons of super stallion Tapit; Destin is by Giant’s Causeway. Tapit now has two of the last three Belmont Stakes winners, being the sire of 2014’s winner–Tonalist.

While I was very disappointed in Exaggerator’s 11th place finish (his worst race finish ever) I am relieved he came out of the race sound and healthy and it’s clear in watching replays that jockey Kent Desormeaux wrapped up on him when he felt they were not going to contend.  Exaggerator will remain in New York, at Belmont for the immediate future, and then ship upstate for some of the summer stakes (the Jim Dandy and/or Travers Stakes being the most likely targets) at Saratoga.

The second biggest disappointment for me was Suddenbreakingnews.  In my opinion the race was tailor made for him and I had high hopes that with Mike Smith riding he’d breakthrough; no such luck, he didn’t run a step.  I have no explanation and have heard  nothing about the performance (or lack of same) from his camp.

Besides the close finish, the highlight of this race for me was: LANI!!!  Yes, my boy, the grey wonder horse (in more ways than one) yet again took another significant step forward in his third place finish.  Ninth in the Derby, fifth in the Preakness, Lani just kept at the task and kept coming.  He and his handlers were viewed with a lot of skepticism and in some instances mockery because of his behavior and the way he trained–usually long and slow. They underrated this horse. This spring, dating back to March, he has travelled from Japan to Dubai to Chicago, Louisville, Baltimore, and Elmont, New York.  Although his training might have appeared out of the norm, there was never any doubt in my mind that he was the fittest horse in this bunch of three-year-old colts.  That, combined with his Tapit/Sunday Silence pedigree, kept him in contention throughout this series.  As for his behavior, I attribute that to being quite the ALPHA colt.  But he learned and improved throughout and I think, provided he stays sound, once he returns to Japan he’ll be quite successful.  I would love to see him return this fall to contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  GO Lani!

Creator will ship to his eventual stallion home, WinStar Farm, for a few weeks of rest and recovery. Barring the unforeseen, he should also return to training for the Saratoga meet.

Nyquist is back in California and resumed light training late last week. His future races have not been announced, but if all goes well, I’m sure he’ll be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic as this year it’ll be run at his home track at Santa Anita Park.

It was an interesting series of Triple Crown races. The three-way split of the races further emphasizes the difficulty of winning one, let alone all three, and shows how amazing and rare American Pharoah’s sweep last year was through the 19-horse Derby field, monsoon conditions of the Preakness, and the mile and a half “Test of the Champion.”

American Pharoah’s feat was further flattered in the Belmont undercard.  Last year’s second-place finisher in the Belmont, Frosted (also a son of Tapit!) blistered a talented field in the Metropolitan Mile. Not only did he set a record time for the stakes, he won by 14 1/4 lengths.  It was an absolutely stunning performance and honestly the best race of the day. With Frosted’s performance, you have to wonder what American Pharaoh might have been capable of as a four-year-old.

 

Foundation

“And on this rock, I will build my Church.”–Matthew 16:18

“Own a piece of the Rock.”–1970s Prudential Advertisement

“Solid. Solid as a rock.”–Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

Nothing of value, nothing that endures, nothing that succeeds has a chance unless it’s built on a sound, solid foundation.  Nyquist’s victory in yesterday’s 142nd edition of the Kentucky Derby exemplifies the importance of a sound foundation for success.  The four horses that finished immediately behind him are evidence of the same.

At two, Nyquist ran five times (with five victories). Hard closing second-place finisher Exaggerator ran six times. Gun Runner and Mohaymen had three starts each. Suddenbreakingnews (SBN) was also in five races at age two.  Successful Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t just born; that innate gift is also shaped, molded, and conditioned to peak performance.

By contrast, Shagaf, who was pulled up (due to tiring according to his jockey Joel Rosario) before crossing the wire ran once at two, as did Outwork (14th). Whitmore (19th), Majesto (18th), and Danzing Candy (15th) all started two times as two year olds.

It’s not to say that the last five finishers didn’t deserve to run in the Derby; they qualified for the race through victories and/or top three finishes in the most important preparatory races leading to the Derby through the early months of 2016.  However, in my opinion, they show that despite these successes, the seasoning–experience and foundation were lacking.  Starting in the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby and succeeding in it as a fourth or fifth start is a particularly demanding feat and, more likely than not, a serious reach for still very much developing three-year-old colts.

But it’s time to celebrate the newest Derby champion, the now 8-for-8 Nyquist.  Although I’d had respect for Nyquist prior to the Derby, he hadn’t enthralled or enchanted me the way American Pharoah did.  Yesterday, he won me over in a performance that highlighted his innate talent, good mind, tractability, and tenacity. It also reminded me of why I had been so highly impressed with his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, in his first and winning Kentucky Derby ride on I’ll Have Another in 2012.

This Derby, as most are, was won in the earliest stages of the race.  Nyquist broke sharply and Gutierrez rode him into position while keeping an eye out for expected pacesetter Danzing Candy who he wanted to stalk while not stride for stride engaging him in the early phases of the race.  He and Nyquist executed this crucial move to perfection.  Although they were ahead and inside of Danzing Candy in those initial strides, once Danzing Candy got in full gear and took the lead, Gutierrez “tapped the brakes” ever so slightly, Nyquist responded, they took off the rail and to the outside of the leader, and were free and clear from that point on for their run  to the wire.  Nyquist just galloped along until deep stretch where he willingly passed Gun Runner who had briefly taken the lead. He then drove on holding off the late, hard-charging finish of Exaggerator (who appeared to sustain that move for at least a sixteenth of a mile) to win by a length and a quarter.  Gun Runner yielded to third while Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews were also driving well in the final strides of the race after both encountered their share of traffic issues to take fourth and fifth place, respectively.

In the process, Nyquist became the first undefeated two-year-old champion colt to win the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.  Additionally, he became only the second winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (following Street Sense in 2007) to also win the Kentucky Derby.

As of this morning the news is good for Nyquist who appears to have come out of the race no worse for wear and will be shipping on to Baltimore shortly for the Preakness.  Interestingly, in this early stage, it appears Exaggerator will be the only Derby participant to accompany him on the trip to contest the Preakness.  Two horses also stabled at Churchill in the past few weeks as the “also eligibles” (horses who would have got in the Derby gate if one of the starters had scratched prior to Saturday morning) Laoban and Cherry Wine are also being pointed to the Preakness Stakes, May 21.

The field for the Preakness will be smaller if only for the fact that only 14 horses can start in that race.  But after watching Nyquist’s performance yesterday, unless he’s not at his best that day, for whatever reason, it seems only Exaggerator stands a chance of beating him in that race; to date, after four meetings Exaggerator has yet to nail him.  He gets very much in striking distance, but hasn’t been able to pass Nyquist.

And of course, now, with an undefeated Kentucky Derby champion, the talk of back-to- back Triple Crown champions is being kicked around.  I’m not ready to think about, let alone tout that possibility at the moment. I will say that I’d love to see Suddenbreakingnews take one more shot at a Classic and return to the series in the Belmont Stakes, which with (typically) a smaller field and the mile and a half, just seems to scream his name.  Outside of Nyquist and Exaggerator, no other horse in yesterday’s Derby showed me they’d want or maybe even thrive at that distance.

For now Pimlico waits and in 13 days we’ll know if the developing legend of Nyquist grows or hits a speed bump.  On to Baltimore!!

The End is Here

Saturday, October 31, 2015; 5:35 p.m.–The end of American Pharoah’s racing career begins.

Yep, folks the streaking comet ride that has been American Pharoah 2015 is in its waning moments as he makes his final start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course.  And this is a race that could prove memorable beyond it being the Triple Crown winner’s final start.  This is a deep, talented field that could produce a heck of an entertaining race.

The field:

1.Tonalist

2.Keen Ice

3.Frosted

4.American Pharoah

5.Gleneagles

6.Effinex

7.Smooth Roller

8.Hard Aces

9.Honor Code

10.Beholder

Here’s what I see.

Tonalist is coming off his second win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.  Distance is his thing, but he can’t be allowed to hang back a long time off the pace as Joel Rosario let him do in the 2014 Classic.  If you look back at that race, Tonalist is the only horse closing any ground, but it was too late.  Fortunately, John Velazquez is riding him now and seems to have him figured out.  I think we’ll see a better run from Tonalist this year and I expect for him to have a bit of pace to run into.  If you’ve read my blog over the past two years, you’ll know Tonalist has my heart as a racehorse and I am picking him to win Saturday although it’s going to require his best effort.

Keen Ice is continuing to improve, but I don’t expect him to win Saturday (By the way, his connections DO. Do with that information what you will).  He caught a huge break in his win in the Travers Stakes with Frosted taking it to American Pharoah early and, I believe, American Pharoah being a bit of a tired horse going into that race.  With his off the pace style, he may be there to pick up some pieces, but in my opinion, this field is too deep for him to win.

Frosted. He’s a very nice horse, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think he’s a true mile and a quarter horse.  I’d play him for third or fourth in a Superfecta, but can’t get excited past that.

American Pharoah is tanned, rested, and ready to run.  As usual, he’s been training lights out and I believe is ready for one final magnificent effort. He can win, and as demonstrated in the Travers Stakes, if he doesn’t it won’t be for lack of effort!

Gleneagles–This year’s shot for the elusive Breeders’Cup Classic win from Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle crew.  Hard to say.  He’s a world-class turf miler, but has never run on dirt.  His sire, Gaileo, ran a game race (6th) in the 2001 BC Classic, so more likely than not he can handle dirt by pedigree, but asking him to win on a different surface and at a distance he hasn’t conquered yet is a tall order.

Effinex–Nice horse who can be a bit quirky in his races, but is always well prepared and game.

Smooth Roller is the horse I know least about, but ran an impressive race in winning the Awesome Again Stakes last month at Santa Anita.

Hard Aces, I believe is well over his head in this race and this field.

Honor Code. Provided he can get the distance that he hasn’t run before, but has the pedigree (x A.P. Indy) to handle, he could well upset this field.  Don’t necessarily despair when you see, IF you can see in a full screen shot at all, Honor Code WAY dead last in the early stages of the race.  That’s his style.  And when he’s right, he has a mind-blowing, devastating late turn of foot and can start picking the field off, one by one with a move like the cliche runaway freight train.  And with the kind of kick he possesses, that momentum could get him the win.  It won’t be by daylight, but this horse knows where the wire is.

And then there’s the mare of the moment Beholder.  She’s already won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2013 and the Juvenile Fillies in 2012.  This year, she took on the colts for the first time ever in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic and all she did was stomp the boys by eight-plus lengths, becoming the first filly or mare to win the race in its 25-year history.  And while that’s an impressive accomplishment, Beholder has yet to win outside California.  She also briefly spiked a fever when she arrived at Keeneland.  Finally, this group of colts is head and shoulders above what she beat in the Pacific Classic.  Not quite sure what to do with her here; she’s a fabulous race mare.  As much as I’d love to see her win, I’m not fully on board believing she’ll be a winner this day.

So there’s the field and my thoughts.  Post time for the Classic is scheduled for 5:35 on NBC television. Safe trips for all and as always ENJOY the finest group of Thoroughbreds in training.

18,000 Miles

18,000 miles.* Or more accurately, 18,001.25 miles, of which the last one and a quarter was too much.

Welcome to the Graveyard of Favorites, American Pharoah.  But it wasn’t American Pharoah who lost yesterday’s 146th running of the Travers Stakes; the flawed plan of his connections did.

My major and stated concern with American Pharoah contesting the Travers was that he’d traveled SO many miles in the lead up to and throughout the Triple Crown and just in the last 27 days from coast to coast that the constant travel just might extract a toll. In the last quarter mile I got the answer I feared as American Pharoah gamely wrested the lead from Frosted only to be tagged at the wire by Keen Ice in a plodding, decidedly non-American Pharoah last quarter of :26 seconds and change.

The question, for me is, why did they ship American Pharoah back to the West Coast off his Haskell victory? Even prior to the Haskell there was talk that, should he run well and not appear to have had a taxing effort, American Pharoah might contest the Travers.  I don’t understand why the didn’t leave him at Monmouth or ship over to Saratoga or even back to Churchill Downs, which had been his base throughout the Triple Crown while that decision was being made.  Not saying it would have allowed him to win yesterday, but it would have eliminated two cross-country flights and the inevitable stresses and fatigue that can be incurred.

Let’s take a brief look at what did happen on the track in the Travers Stakes.

What exactly was Frosted doing contesting the lead? I’d pay good New York money to know if that was intentional or if Frosted, who was on his toes in the post parade, got away from new rider Jose Lezcano.  It wasn’t his usual stalking, off the pace style. And the bottom line is there isn’t another three-year-old colt that can go stride for stride with American Pharoah, even when he wasn’t at his best, and expect to survive and win. Hard to figure what that was about, but it wasn’t and could never be a viable winning strategy.

But even with Frosted engaging him early, you can’t place the blame for the loss on this confrontation, primarily because the opening half-mile fractions were modest–:24 and :48 seconds and change. American Pharoah can run faster than that in a morning gallop.

Keen Ice “stayed in his lane,” ran true to his style, and in the more than capable hands of Javier Castellano was there to pick up the pieces of a wilting American Pharoah.  All hail Javier in his first ride on Keen Ice. Castellano’s mastery of the Saratoga track was on full display yet again in the Travers and was about the only thing I got right in my pre-race analysis.

Let’s briefly revisit the trips of the other key players in the race.

Texas Red.  Huge disappointment.  He was never involved or a factor in the race and showed none of the style he displayed in winning the Jim Dandy Stakes over the Saratoga Track on August 1.

Upstart. FAR more game than I expected him to be, but never in contention for the win.

Everyone else, pretty much the also rans I expected them to be.

So now the plot completely thickens.  Where does American Pharoah go from here? The “R-word” has already been thrown out in post-race comments. And that’s as in immediate, not the previously stated plan of after a run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If it’s still on to the Classic, does American Pharoah enter it off a long layoff that starts today of run once more prior to?  That was another reason why I had felt the Travers, win, lose or draw wasn’t necessarily the best placement for him in preparation for that goal.  It either leaves a long unraced gap between the Travers and the Classic or about forces one more race to be squeezed in prior to October 31.  Fortunately, it’s not my problem to resolve.

I’m grateful to the Zayats for their generosity with American Pharoah.  Unfortunately, they fell into the same trap the connections of Secretariat (defeat in the 1973 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga) and Seattle Slew (his first-ever loss in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, just three weeks after his Triple Crown-sealing win in the Belmont Stakes) did with one ill-timed race too many. Master horseman Horatio Luro was well known for getting the best out of his horses by not “squeezing the lemon dry.” That’s sometimes hard to remember when you’re in the midst of “laissez les bon temps rouler,” and an impending stated 2016 retirement date.

Much like Zenyatta in the 2010 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, American Pharoah revealed much more in defeat than in any of his Triple Crown race victories. Up until yesterday, he was just an ultra-cool colt with an amazing stride.  In the Travers he showed he has a heart that’s every bit as amazing.

*According to USA Today, (8.29.15), American Pharoah has been flown more than 18,000 miles around the country in his 2015 race campaign.

Exorcism

“The Graveyard of Champions.”

Today, American Pharoah will step foot on the Saratoga Racecourse track to face nine competitors and, in the process, attempt to put its long-standing reputation to rest for awhile.

Man O’ War lost his only race at Saratoga.  Secretariat lost, post-Triple Crown success, at Saratoga.  Triple Crown Champion Affirmed was disqualified from his win in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.  I’ve been watching the meet since it started in late July, and although I don’t have the stats, I’ve seen a lot of favorites, especially short-price favorites crash and burn at the track also known as The Spa.  My guesstimate is that the win rate has been 50-50, favorites to other horses in the respective fields.

So here are the basics.  Race 11, The Travers Stakes, contested at 1 1/4 miles. Post Time: 5:46 p.m. The field and my comments:

1.Upstart–Doesn’t want 1 1/8 miles let alone 1 1/4.

2.American Pharoah–Even Saratoga’s longstanding reputation will have a hard time stopping The Ruler.

3.Mid Ocean–Who?

4.Texas Red–The ONLY colt in this field that I think call pull an upset.  The son of Afleet Alex is coming back strong, and appears relentless like his sire.

5.Frammento–Not again.  Hasn’t been in the same zip code as many of these in previous matchups.

6.Frosted–The lost shoe could have been an issue in his second-place finish in the Jim Dandy.  Personally, I’m starting to doubt his desire/ability to get a mile and a quarter also.

7.Keen Ice–He’ll be coming at the end, but he’s lost his most effective rider, Kent Desoumeaux, to Texas Red.  Still Javier Castellano KNOWS how to ride ’em and for sure knows where the Saratoga wire is.

8.Tale of Verve–It ain’t raining today.

9. King of New York–Who again?

10.Smart Transition–Won the ungraded Curlin Stakes earlier in the meet.  Might break the top four; will not win.

Fifteen thousand people showed up early yesterday to watch American Pharoah take a gallop around the track.  By his appearance and the comments of his exercise rider he likes and is handling the surface well.  He looks as robust, fresh, and happy as he has at any point during this magical run.

Still…the reason for my superstitious rationale (how’s THAT for an oxymoron??!!) for a potential upset, what’s giving me cause for concern is the track’s reputation and the number of trips he’s made and miles he’s travelled just in August (let alone for his entire 2015 season to date).  It was just 27 days ago when he ran in and won the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth.  I’d feel more confident if he’d stayed on the East Coast between races as he did during his Triple Crown assault.

But hey, we’re talking American Pharoah here; why worry?  Just enjoy!  

Greatness Personified

My mom used to refer to people she thought of as conceited as ones who felt they were “greatness personified.”  Well I’m here to turn that usage around a bit toward the complimentary side.  If you watched yesterday’s edition of the Haskell Stakes from Monmouth Park, you saw greatness personified in the most wonderful and brilliant fashion as American Pharoah cruised to his eighth victory in a row.  In his first race back from winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown it certainly appeared that he lost nothing in the process of attaining that rare feat. Maybe he’s even better and stronger. Yikes!

If he wasn’t so magnificent to watch, you might actually start to get bored with American Pharoah’s races. He just makes it look all too easy against what are good fields of usually competitive three-year-old colts.  And it’s all in that superior stride he’s been gifted with.  The most telling moment in the race yesterday was shortly out of the gate when Competitive Edge took the lead, American Pharoah sat second, and Mr. Jordan was third on his flank.  Competitive Edge and Mr. Jordan were working to get and hold their early positions while American Pharoah was just smoothly loping along; they were doing almost twice the work while getting half the result that American Pharoah was getting without significant effort.  It almost isn’t fair.  And those early efforts took their toll with Mr. Jordan dropping out quickly to finish last, beaten by 60 lengths in the end and Competitive Edge finishing a well-beaten fourth.  In the end, the only horse closing ground was the late-running Keen Ice and even his closing move was a bit deceptive to the eye as American Pharoah had been geared down and was being hand-ridden to the finish line.

Personally, I’ll never get enough of watching American Pharoah running and winning.  From the response of the Monmouth crowd yesterday, I’m not the only one.  There was a tremendous roar from that crowd when American Pharoah began to make his move to take the lead at the turn for home.  It’s a thrill to have this type of enthusiasm and turnout for horse racing again.

It’s unclear when American Pharoah will race again.  There is a chance he might move on to Saratoga to run in the Travers Stakes at the end of August, the 29th to be exact.  Saratoga is certainly making the effort to draw the Triple Crown winner in as they have indicated they will increase the purse if American Pharoah races.  It seems like a good possibility to me; there’s probably just one, maybe two races left before American Pharoah’s final race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be held this year for the first time at Keeneland.

Meanwhile, in the Jim Dandy, the prime setup race for the Travers, the complexion of the race changed significantly with the scratches of Competitive Edge and Upstart to take on American Pharoah in the Haskell yesterday (M-O-N-E-Y) and Tekton who ran in the day before to a second place finish in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.  Still, the race came down to the two horses and scenario I anticipated: Texas Red picked up early leader Japan mid-stretch to take the lead and Frosted came late attempting to run him down, but came up short.  Texas Red indeed seemed to thrive with the added distance of the race (1 1/8 miles) and Frosted did appear a bit short.  He also lost a shoe during the running of the race.  If all goes well, the two will go at it again in the Travers Stakes at the classic 1 1/4-mile distance. I would love to see American Pharoah mix it up with Frosted and Texas Red (they met as two-year-olds on the West Coast) again.  The field for the Travers will sort itself out soon enough.  Stay tuned.

More great racing and fun ahead this weekend with one of my favorites: Tonalist taking on Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird and others in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes, which generally leads to the Woodward Stakes the last weekend of the Saratoga meet.

A quick word on an exciting up and coming filly racing on the turf–Casual Smile won the WinStar Matchmaker Stakes on the Haskell undercard.  Casual Smile is one of the rare stateside offspring of European champion Sea The Stars.  Seeing that name in the pedigree was more than enough for me and I was amazed she went off at 9-1.  What a gift!  She sat off the pace and bravely squeezed through a narrow spot between two other runners, late and full of run to get the win.  Keep your eye out for this classy filly.

And finally, on the subject of great turf fillies, late last week it was announced that Lady Eli appears to be responding well to her treatment for laminitis.  Thoughts and prayers continue on for this really special racehorse!