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!

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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.