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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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.

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.

I LOVE It When a Plan Comes Together!!!

I’ll readily admit it, I loved watching The A Team in the eighties. Never missed an episode. And when Hannibel Smith would smile that smile, look at BA Baracus and the rest of the team, and recite his trademark “I LOVE it when a plan comes together,” line you knew the impossible, challenging task at hand was about to be resolved. Well, of course it was; most challenges ARE readily resolved within the confines of an hour-long TV show. We all know it’s not that easy in real life. And if you’ve spent any portion of you life around horses, whether they’re in your backyard or residing in one of the finest racing stables in the nation, you know life with these incredibly large, fragile, and beautiful animals is even less certain than regular old real life and plans…well make them at your own risk!

So yesterday evening around 6:45, I was OVERJOYED to see my current equine heartthrob, American Pharoah cross the finish line first, becoming the victor of the 141st Kentucky Derby before a record crowd of 170,000+ on a perfect May day. This colt ran an incredible race that ended with him running wide the entire race, 29 feet more than second-place finisher Firing Line, and 69 feet more than the show horse and his stablemate, Dortmund. He overcame Post 18 and what, in the end were 17 other colts. No mean feat.

And the fact that the field of 20 quickly was reduced to 18 over a three-day period goes directly to the heart of making plans and having them come together with a horse. Stanford was the first defection, pulled from the race primarily because his connections began to think better of it. That allowed Frammento to get in the gate. Late Friday, El Kabeir, ironically, also owned by eventual Derby-winning owner Ahmed Zayat, was scratched after developing a hoof abscess a little over 24 hours prior to Derby post time. Saturday morning, International Star, who had swept the Louisiana Fairgrounds Racetrack Kentucky Derby prep series was scratched, with a quarter crack in one of his hooves. Third-place Dortmund almost didn’t make the race following a mild bout of colic in the week before the Derby. You’re never good to go, despite all the races won, training hours put in, and plans made until your horse breaks from the gate.

Fortunately, American Pharoah was able to do that! And despite all the talent he’s displayed leading up to the Derby, there was one thing that I, and others who had seen his races en route to the Derby wondered–if he got hooked, if he was in a position where he had to fight for the win as opposed to cruising by the opposition as he had in all his wins prior–could and would he do it? Did he possess that will and fight, what we refer to as heart, to take it to the competition? In late stretch, out wide as could be in the middle of the track, American Pharoah dug in, looked the competition in the eye, and passed them for the win. His natural ability put him into contention, that heart is what made him a champion yesterday afternoon.

Despite the large field, it appeared to be a cleanly run and ultimately and blessedly, a safe race for all. Early word is that the top three Derby finishers–American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Dortmund will move on to Pimlico for the Preakness May 16.

Final order of finish in the Derby:
1.American Pharoah
2.Firing Line
3.Dortmund
4.Frosted (What a difference that corrective throat procedure has made)
5.Danzig Moon
6.Materiality (Great effort by the son of Afleet Alex in just his 4th start)
7.Keen Ice
8.Mubtaahij (The Dubai “bounce” continues)
9.Itsaknockout
10.Carpe Diem (John Velazquez did a great job getting him into contention from miserable Post 2)
11.Frammento
12.Bolo
13.Mr.Z
14.Ocho Ocho Ocho
15.Far Right
16.War Story
17.Tencendur
18.Upstart (Beat by 60+ lengths. That surprised me. Not sure what happened to him)

Three other races really excited me in this weekend’s racing. Friday was Oaks Day, the mile and an eighth counterpart to the Derby for three-year-old fillies. It was won by Lovely Maria. And, OH, does the name fit! This filly is absolutely beautiful and really caught my eye in the moments before the race. She’d won the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland last month showing she was a contender for the Oaks. She took down 13 other fillies including stablemate I’m A Chatterbox, who had, like International Star, swept the prep races for fillies at the Fairgrounds, and favorite Stellar Wind. Much like American Pharoah, she displayed not only physical ability, but a great deal of heart and desire as well.

On the Derby undercard, Private Zone and Martin Pedroza put on a show and won the Churchill Downs Stakes at seven furlongs. Private Zone is an accomplished sprinter and goes to the lead and the jugular right from the gate. Leading 7F is no mean feat, but that’s how Private Zone does it and Martin Pedroza fits him like a glove–gets him in position out of the gate and finishes strong on him when the competition (most times in vain) tries to close on him. Fun to watch.

And in opening weekend at Belmont Park, my favorite horse of 2014, Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist made his 2015 debut in the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes. After breaking slowly and spotting the field lengths, he was perfectly handled by jockey Joe Bravo, taking his time to put him in contention against an admittedly overmatched field following the scratch of Palace Malice (hoof abscess!). Still, it was an impressive effort, in that the Westchester is only a mile long and Tonalist is stronger at a mile and an eighth and beyond. A great start for his year, which I suspect is leading to another trip to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in October. Good health Tonalist!

The Preakness field will begin to take shape throughout the week. And potentially, a challenger for the Belmont Stakes could be prepping and may come out of the May 9th running of the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park. That’s where I “met” and developed my allegiance to Tonalist last year.

Can’t wait to see what happens next!

It’s Supposed to be FUN!!

I LOVE all things horse racing. I enjoy watching race after race, day after day. I like reviewing pedigrees and watching the development of the offspring of my favorite runners, stallions and mares, from the past. And putting that information together to identify a winner is highly satisfying.

Some days, though I take a FAR LESS sophisticated, studied approach and play completely from the heart and sentiment. I did this past weekend and it resulted in one of my most exciting, happy, and delightful days of wagering on the races. Saturday was the turf festival at Arlington Park in Illinois. Two of the races–the Beverly D for fillies and mares is contested on the lawn at 1 3/16 and the Arlington Million, the race the mighty John Henry put on the map in its first year, for colts at 1 1/4. These races are prime preps for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and Turf, to be contested at Santa Anita this fall, respectively.

Not only are the best North American turf runners entered, but many European horses are sent over to contest the races and have acquitted themselves well. This year was no exception.

On the Wenesday before the races, I got my first clue, looking at the probable starters for the Beverly D. My eyes just about crossed in my head when I saw the name Euro Charline. Not spelled exactly the same, but Charlene was my mother’s name and I’ve never come across a racing Charle(i)ne. I was hooked. Then I looked up her pedigree and my eyes crossed tighter. Her sire is Myboycharlie…Charles was my grandfather’s name! Now I was hooked AND sold. I told some friends that I didn’t care if she went off at 100-1, I was betting her!!

When Saturday rolled around, I placed my wager early on Euro Charline, sight unseen. Made no difference as, with all the racing activity across the country, I never laid eyes on her in a post parade. There was some pre-race commentary, but Euro Charline’s name was never mentioned. I still didn’t care; sentiment was ruling the moment and I just wanted to enjoy. When the gates broke my eyes were glued to the small bay filly glued to the rail. She was saving ground and moving comfortably, just off the pace. As they made the turn for home, I lost her…and figured her chances were lost until I heard the track announcer say “And Euro Charline has been switched out for clear run!” THERE SHE WAS in the clear and running for all she was worth for the wire! And there I was, out of my chair, screaming my head off, rooting her on. And home. To the wire. FIRST!!!! Drifting up from her morning line 8-1 to closing odds of 10-1. The hunch play delivered and DELIGHTED. She’s the first three-year-old filly to take the Beverly D. Having come from England, Euro Charline is staying stateside and will be continuing her career under the care of Todd Pletcher. She could well be on her way to a Breeders’ Cup start. Regardless of where she goes, she’s got my heart, I’m solidly in her corner, and will be following her WHEREVER she goes!!

Next on the day, was the big prize, the Million. In watching a handicapping show the night before, I heard a rather amazing story about one of the entrants–Hardest Core. This colt has passed through several trainers and now is in the hands of a little-known trainer, Edward Graham. When he underwent surgery to be gelded, a very routine surgery, he nearly died as there was a hernia involved and 15-18 feet of intestine were lost in the process. But Hardest Core bounced back quickly. Very quickly and very well. His current owners bought him as a steeplechase prospect, which he’s shown an aptitude for, but in the interim they continued to race him on the flat where he’d won three in a row including a lesser stake at Delaware Park. Taking a look at his pedigree, I was again impressed as he’s by Hard Spun, a very talented and tough horse in his own right, that gave Street Sense and Curlin stiff competition as a three-year-old. And mom is Lillybuster, a name partially shared with one of my mares. A huge longshot, but I was in again. It just sounded like he was tough and being trained as a potential steeplechaser, there was little doubt he was fit. But he’d never run in a graded stakes and the Million is a Grade 1, the highest level.

In the gate with Hardest Core was last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf champion, Magician, and 2013 Arlington Million winner, Real Solution, and four other talented turf horses. Off they went, and much like Euro Charline before him, Hardest Core was in the garden spot on the rail, running easy and saving ground. As they made the turn for home, Magician and Real Solution started making their moves to the front, but with dramatically different results. Magician was beginning to move away from the field while Real Solution was being scrubbed on and making no ground. Hardest Core again took the Euro Charline route and switched off the rail to about three spots off the rail for free running and free running he was!!! The stride was ground eating and the look of determination on his face and in his body language was evident. Watching this I was out of my seat again and yelled “This sucker could WIN THIS!!!” And Hardest Core took it from there, out-striding Magician to the wire, in an upset to take the Million at 11-1, the second longest price on the board. And as he was pulling up, he looked like he was hardly taking a deep breath. And best of all, his win garnered him an all-expenses, “Win and You’re In” trip to the Breeders’Cup Turf. I’m with him!! He was so impressive and his rider, Eriluis Vaz, gave him a brilliant and confident ride.

So never lose sight of just having fun and winging it on a race day. If you like a horse for his or her name go ahead and bet that name. If the horse has a ridiculously crazy story and it strikes a cord with you go for it. Preparation is all things has it’s place, but to me, more than anything else about horses and horse racing is…it’s supposed to be FUN!!!