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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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!!