Archive for May, 2009

What a weekend from A (Arlington Matron) to Z (Zenyatta)

May 27, 2009

First, let me apologize for being a no show over the long holiday weekend.  After returning from a brief racing respite, I had a full slate which included 16 graded stakes races.  The most noteworthy performances lasted from Saturday through Monday so let’s take a look at a few:

SHEEPSHEAD BAY

Of all the feats that are very impressive yet have been completely overlooked this year, isn’t Tom Albertrani’s 12 graded stakes the most significant?  Sure, he has had some very good horses in his barn in the past, including 2006 Eclipse Award winner Bernardini, however, Albertrani has been on a nice roll this year.  One of the most consistent horses in his barn is Criticism, a daughter of Machiavellian who closed 2008 with a win in the Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct.  Going into Saturday she had scored in the Very One and La Prevoyante and now added the Sheepshead Bay in impressive fashion.  Some are dismissing her as opportunistic but she has the versatility to win from off the pace as well.
Click here to watch the Sheepshead Bay

MILADY

The champ is back.  Zenyatta, the undefeated super-mare, made her heavily anticipated 2009 debut in this field of six and picked up right where she left off.  After having to check briefly on the backstretch, the massive mare was angled out and promptly gathered in her rivals.  She pulled clear late to score sharply with her stablemate Life Is Sweet grabbing the place dough.  The most unfortunate aspect of Zenyatta’s victory was the ridiculously conservative plan laid out by trainer John Shirreffs, as he all but removed any chance we’d see her against males.  Here’s to hoping Shirreffs has a change of heart.
Click here to watch the Milady

ARLINGTON MATRON

Unfortunately, few are ever going to remember that Euphony won a stirring stretch battle with Kiss With a Twist to score her first graded stakes win.  It was the fall of Born to Be turning for home, which included jockey Rene Douglas getting pinned underneath his mount that has left him paralyzed at the moment which will be remembered.  Douglas is not only an accomplished jockey who’s won both a Triple Crown and a Breeders’ Cup race, but he’s been the leading rider at Arlington Park on multiple occasions.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family as we all hope Rene gets well soon.
Click here to watch the Arlington Matron

VAGRANCY

Sometimes when you bill a race as another showdown in a long rivalry you’re left completely disappointed and this event went just that way.  Game Face and Any Limit, who had traded decisions three times over the winter at Gulfstream, were the two favorites and were expected to easily outfinish their three rivals.  Of course, they ended up finishing 4th and 5th in the quintet as Carolyn’s Cat was hustled to the lead, set all the pace and kicked clear late.  A daughter of Forestry and graded stakes winner in 2008, Carolyn’s Cat looms a dangerous horse for the future.  However, it would seem wise to keep an eye on Porte Bonheur, a filly who has never run well fresh, who put in a solid late run to finish 2nd.  Her trainer has been atrocious at this meet, so there’s reason to believe better things are ahead.
Click here to watch the Vagrancy

METROPOLITAN HANDICAP

The richest race of the weekend and arguably one of the best in NY year in and year out drew a field of 12 after Mr. Fantasy was scratched.  The bulky field had a good mixture of speed, stalkers, and closers and looked to offer a terrific amount of value.  In the end, it was the two favorites slugging it out late, as the six year-old gelding Bribon narrowly edged Smooth Air to score his first Grade I victory.  It was the 2nd straight year that the Westchester winner came back to win the Met Mile, proving once again that there’s plenty of validity in prepping locally.
Click here to watch the Met Mile

LONE STAR PARK HANDICAP

The crown jewel of the biggest day of the Lone Star Park meet was won by the Floridian It’s a Bird, who picked up his third stakes win of 2009.  He broke through in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream in late January then atoned for a poor effort at Fair Grounds with an authoritative win in the Oaklawn Handicap.  His win in Grand Prairie was workmanlike but plenty fast and proved he is a force to be reckoned with going forward in the handicap division.
Click here to watch the Lone Star Park Handicap

SHOEMAKER MILE

With Hyperbaric making his first start since coming back from Dubai and Storm Military looking like more of a stalker, it did seem like Thorn Song might be the one to catch in this event.  He was able to get clear and was never headed despite being confronted at the eighth pole.  He held gamely and showed that when able to get clear on a very firm turf course he is extremely tough to beat.  If trainer Dale Romans can keep him on hard courses, he can string together a decent year.
Click here to watch the Shoemaker Mile

If Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer and with the Belmont Stakes only eleven days away, now’s the time when we’re treated to great racing week in and week out.  The featured events nationwide this week are the Gamely (G1) at Hollywood for older fillies and mares going 9 furlongs on the Hollywood lawn and the Sands Point (G2) for 3YO fillies going nine furlongs on the inner turf at Belmont.  We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the weekday Belmont cards.

Here’s our 05-26 version of thumbs up and thumbs down:

Thumbs UP:

1. Chris Block– Doing the right thing with his horse Giant Oak has already paid off as he scored in the Arlington Classic on Saturday after being held out of the first two Triple Crown events.

2. Brass Hat– The old man had at least one more big effort in him as he thundered down the center of the Matt Winn turf course to take the Louisville Handicap. 

3. Indian Way– The best performance that everyone missed over the weekend was from this daughter of Indian Charlie in the My Juliet at Philadelphia Park.  She broke the track record while stopping the clock in 1:07.61 for six panels.

Thumbs DOWN:

1. John Shirreffs– Congratulations for going 1-2 in the Milady, Mr. Shirreffs!  However, what is running Zenyatta in the Vanity, Clement Hirsch, Lady’s Secret, and Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic going to accomplish?  She’s won each of those races already and has proven time and again that she’s so much better than the older fillies and mares on the west coast that she simply has to run against males.  For all the talk about sportsmanship vis-a-vis the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, is it really sportsmanlike for Zenyatta to mop up on the same horses in the same races this year?

2. Jamie Theriot- A rise to stardom that began almost two years could be temporarily de-railed as Theriot was given a 30-day suspension for being responsible for the fall that may have left jockey Rene Douglas paralyzed from the waist down.  A tearful Theriot apologized and said, “Every time we put these boots on, all of us don’t know what’s in store, but I never thought I would be part of something like this. I really, really hurt inside over what happened.”

3. Game Face– It’s never good when a horse has to bring his/her racetrack with them and this gal is getting to be that way when it comes to Gulfstream Park.  She is now 0 for 2 at Belmont, a far cry from her record of 5: 3-2-0 in Hallandale.  Her early season races are now a distant memory.

See you tomorrow and until then have a look at the 2007 Belmont Stakes as we’re now only 11 days away from the Test of the Champion.

Final Preakness thoughts…

May 20, 2009

When you’re a die-hard racing fan you often need a fix of discussing the nuances of the game and in doing so can easily run into strange opinions at every turn.  With Rachel Alexandra running such a spectacular race in the Preakness, the most common reaction has been awe.  However, the detractors (amazing that there are any) have maintained that Mine That Bird had a tough trip and that cost him the race, or that the pace was not actually that fast, and that Rachel will certainly be beaten in the Belmont because of the added ground.  The following are three items that seem quite clear to me:

1. The pace of the Preakness was fast– Granted, the route taken in the Preakness often lends itself to quick 1/4 and 1/2 mile times, but Rachel Alexandra absolutely drilled the opening four furlongs.  There is no greater piece of evidence than where the other participants in the pace finished.  They were all beaten quite handily, from Big Drama (5th) to Take the Points (13th).  Rachel Alexandra’s versatility was put on full display as her wire-to-wire Preakness tour de force came only fifteen days after her calculated pace-stalking trip in the Kentucky Oaks.  Her speed is sensational yet she’s so tractable.

2. Mine That Bird did not have a tough trip– From a race flow perspective he had an outstanding trip.  The pace was fast once again and now in two consecutive races the race flow has favored a one-run closer.  Unfortunately in the Preakness there was a horse that just couldn’t be caught.  The slight steady at the top of the stretch neither stopped Mine That Bird’s momentum nor did it keep him from getting a clear path in the lane.  Don’t get me wrong, he ran a terrific race, but the bad trip discussion is a bunch of phooey.

3. Rachel Alexandra is a sitting duck going the 12fs of the Belmont– Unless she is absolutely tearing the barn down I would not run Rachel in the Belmont.  Luckily it’s not my decision and I’m extremely confident that the right decision will be made by her connections.  If she does go, everyone needs to remember that simply because the Belmont is 12 furlongs it does not favor closers.  The Belmont ends up being a rider’s race more often than not as the pace is generally deliberate and well-timed moves are a must.  If Rachel is able to get clear and somehow slow the pace down, she will be extremely tough to beat.  Hopefully we will get to see her potential in NY in two and a half weeks.

The fourth week at Belmont starts on Wednesday with a particularly strong card.  It will be a six-day racing week with a special holiday program scheduled for Memorial Day.  The traditional feature, the Metropolitan Handicap, will be run and a solid field is expected.  We’ll be back later in the week to preview the weekend action.  Here’s another look at the 2008 Metropolitan Handicap:

Rachel’s her name…winning is her game

May 19, 2009

When you’re a racing fan is there anything more fun than when an acquaintance or family member, who doesn’t share the same passion, calls you to talk about a race run that day or weekend?  Many of us experienced that this weekend as Rachel Alexandra was the famous name uttered more than any on Saturday after her spectacular victory in the Preakness.  Though her Beyer figure was the same as the one she earned in the Kentucky Oaks and her margin of victory diminished with each stride, she did what hadn’t been done in 85 years. 

The performance of the weekend was undoubtedly Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness victory, but there were a number of notable efforts.  Here’s a look at some of the very best:

DIXIE

The Dixie was a considerably stronger race in 2009 than it was in each of the past two years as a deep field of 11 was drawn with Parading, the smashing winner of the Ben Ali on Polytrack, being sent off as the favorite.  He obliged with a solid pace-stalking win as he took over inside the final three-sixteenths and finished gamely to hold over the fast-closing Just As Well.  Look for Parading to be a major player on the turf and in the synthetic handicap division this year.
Click here to watch the Dixie

GALLORETTE

The Gallorette was supposed to be the triumphant 2009 unveiling of Dynaforce, who was a Grade I winner in 2008.   She was done with a half-mile to go and it looked like All is Vanity was soon to earn a breakthrough victory for trainer Christophe Clement.  Only a furious finish by Social Queen would deny All is Vanity and that’s exactly what occurred in the final 100 yards. 
Click here to watch the Gallorette

HIRSCH JACOBS

The 3YOs assembled in this event looked like 2nd tier horses who were one win away from moving to the upper echelon.  We may have found one major player for the summer and fall sprint races as Everyday Heroes ran a phenomenal race as he scored a decisive win, his 3rd in 4 career starts.  He earned a strong Beyer figure of 106 and is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the coming months.
Click here to watch the Hirsch Jacobs

SHUVEE

Seattle Smooth was expected to roll to a decisive victory in here but a bit of traffic trouble in what amounted to a ho-hum effort had her only 3/4 of a length clear at the end.  She didn’t move forward much, if at all, from her 2009 debut and is clearly a useful horse but seems a touch below the best of her division, the Preakness winner notwithstanding.
Click here to watch the Shuvee

It will now be a long three weeks until the Belmont.  Whether we’ll see the highly anticipated rematch between Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird or just the latter of the two, we won’t know for some time.  However, it should be a very entertaining race with a prospective field that looks like this:

Charitable Man (McLaughlin)
Chocolate Candy (Hollendorfer)
Dunkirk (Pletcher)
Flying Private (Lukas)
Luv Gov (Lukas)
Mine That Bird (Woolley)
Miner’s Escape (Zito)
Mr. Hot Stuff (Harty)
Rachel Alexandra (Asmussen)
Summer Bird (Ice)

We’ll be back tomorrow to look at the upcoming week at Belmont, which will include the Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day.  Good luck!

Preakness Day is here…

May 16, 2009

Of the three Triple Crown races, it’s widely held that the Preakness undercard is the least stellar.  That being said, a competitive slate of stakes races has been assembled and the two guaranteed Pick 4 sequences look like they could easily yield healthy payoffs.  Let’s take a look at each of the stakes races plus the Preakness:

WILLIAM DONALD SCHAEFER:

The pace situation is a tad murky in this event as its quite conceivable that #1 CAVE’S VALLEY can get clear of this field.  He tracked the pace last time out at Belmont and tired late but the early splits in the optional claimer were very strong, so his late fade is quite understandable.  From a trip standpoint, he had it much worse than #2 REAL MERCHANT, who laid back and made one run.  The best trip in here may be enjoyed by #7 NO ADVANTAGE, who is exiting the Charles Town Classic.  He was no factor that evening despite making multiple moves at the lead.  He has enough speed to sit just off the leaders and could get the jump on the favorites, who all happen to be closers.
THE PICKS: 7-3-1

GALLORETTE:

#2 ALL IS VANITY didn’t really have an excuse last time out as she sat a nice trip behind the hot pace, cut the corner, had dead aim in the final furlong but faltered late.  She comes for her 2nd off the mid-range layoff and lands in a race that is woefully short on speed.  The projected favorite will be on the engine herself, but it’s doubtful she can get the lead going this distance.  Look for All is Vanity to control this race from start to finish.  #4 VIVA LA FLAG is worthy of a look as she is being moved up in class for this, her 2nd start off a layoff.  Trainer Shug McGaughey is a prudent horseman who rarely enters his a horse where they don’t fit, so this gal must be giving him every indication she’s ready for graded stakes company.
THE PICKS: 2-8-4

HIRSCH JACOBS:

#7 NUCLEAR WAYNE is an upstart 3YO who clearly developed a bit later than the best of his generation.  He’s been off since mid-January when he handled a MSW field at Fair Grounds in fine fashion.  The biggest asset this guy has is his ability to stalk the pace as it is quite clear that the early tempo in here will be very, very hot.  Look for this guy to employ stalk and pounce tactics under Robby Albarado.  #3 NOT FOR SILVER has every right to rebound off a lackluster effort in the Bay Shore on Wood Memorial day.  He was no factor that day in what amounted to the worst race of his career.  He should move forward today off of that poor race because he will also benefit from the pace situation.
THE PICKS: 7-3-1

WOODLAWN:

I’m beginning to get the feeling that after this race is run I’m going to wonder why I helped #8 AFFIRMATIF in the Pick 4.  While his accomplishments on the turf are far from vast, he simply towers over this bunch on paper.  After a scintillating debut win he came back in a N1X at Keeneland and finished a game 2nd as a heavy 2/5 favorite.  He tracked a fast pace that day and couldn’t match an impressive winner but still ran a very strong race.  #5 COLONEL RUTLEDGE looks like the only other horse you can give a chance as he goes 2nd off a 180+ day layoff for trainer Graham Motion.  He is back on the turf, which is the surface over which he began his career.  He still has to prove himself around two turns, but at least he’s shown he can rally from off the pace.
THE PICKS: 8-5-4

MARYLAND SPRINT HANDICAP:

#1 WEST COAST FLIER is going 2nd off a short layoff for the exact same connections that scored in this race a year ago with Starforaday.  This guy exits a 3rd place finish in the Vincent Moscarelli at Delaware, a race from which the 1-2 finishers scored in their next outing.  He has a versatile running style thus it really wouldn’t be a surprise if he finds himself very close to the early pace from the rail.  #8 RAVALO exits a 4th place finish in the Commonwealth (G2) at Keeneland where he set the pace off the rail and tired late.  That was his first start in nearly three months, so there’s reason to think he’ll move forward today.  He is the fastest horse early in this event and that should have him in a good position when they turn for home.
THE PICKS: 1-8-7

DIXIE:

#3 PARADING is exiting a career best effort in the Ben Ali as he made a bold move going into the backstretch and gradually drew clear to win by over seven lengths.  He earned a Beyer figure of 103 for that effort and now goes 3rd off a 180+ day layoff.  He lands in another spot where the pace scenario will work in his favor as there is very little early speed signed up.  #7 WESLEY exits the best effort of his career as everything finally went his way en route to winning the Miami Mile.  He is very dangerous now that things have seemingly been straightened out for this well-bred son of El Prado.  Expect him to be in the mix in the stretch drive.
THE PICKS: 3-7-4

PREAKNESS:

It’s tough to take less than 2-1 on a filly facing males for the first time, at a distance farther than she’s ever gone, in a race that she was initially avoiding.  It does seem, however, that #13 RACHEL ALEXANDRA may be just the monster to alleviate all of those concerns.  She has won so effortlessly in her four starts this year as jockey Calvin Borel has hardly asked her to run.  Her outside post today won’t hurt as it should allow her to enjoy a good stalking trip from just outside the leaders.  #1 BIG DRAMA seems poised to give a good account of himself against top level competition around two turns.  He has made only one start in 2009 as he “won” the Swale before being disqualified and placed 2nd.  He now returns off a brief freshening but has a very active worktab for an underrated trainer.  The rail draw will force jockey John Velazquez’s hand today but he can certainly stay within range from start to finish.  #5 FRIESAN FIRE’s Derby effort was too bad to be believed as he did no running and beat only one horse home.  A variety of things supposedly went wrong that afternoon, including a slow break from the gate.  He will improve with a better trip and his fast workout on Tuesday makes it clear he’s ready to rebound.
THE PICKS: 1-5-13

Good luck with the Preakness and all of the undercard stakes.  I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the big day and potentially talk about a Triple Crown bid coming in three weeks or maybe racing’s newest darling, a strapping filly, or an upsetter who surprised all!

Wednesday: Look who’s on the rebound

May 13, 2009

There’s no question that Friesan Fire was one of the biggest disappointments in the Kentucky Derby as he was pounded down to favoritism.  His backers were crying the blues as he plummeted through the pack on the far turn and beat only the hapless Flying Private to the wire.  After the troubled Derby trip, which Jones commented about when he said, “One of the cuts on his legs may be deep enough to keep him out of the Preakness in two weeks, even if that was in the cards anyway for an 18th-place Derby finisher.”  Apparently things healed nicely and Friesan Fire posted his final workout on Tuesday and finished up significantly stronger than he did in his final Derby prep.

Another horse who will be looking to improve on his Derby finish is Musket Man, the consistent and game son of Yonaguska who closed well to finish 3rd under the Twin Spires.  He has been handled beautifully by trainer Derek Ryan, who came out after the Derby and said his charge would go in either the Preakness or Belmont.  His final workout came at Monmouth on Tuesday morning as he drilled four furlongs in :46 and 3/5.  It’s tough to look past a horse who has never missed the trifecta in seven starts and has posted Beyer figures of 90 or more in five consecutive races.

Chief among the new shooters in the Preakness, of course, is Rachel Alexandra, but among the colts and geldings it looks like Big Drama.  The son of Montbrook has had an impeccable sense of being able to find the wire as he’s crossed under it first in six consecutive starts.  He will be stretching out off his 2009 debut, which came in the 7 furlong Swale at Gulfstream on Florida Derby day.  While the 9.5 furlongs could pose an issue, especially late, this guy loves to win and has enough speed to be forwardly placed throughout.  His trainer, David Fawkes, was quite pleased with his final workout, which came on Monday at Pimlico. 

For those of you who missed it, Calvin Borel was one of Jay Leno’s guests on the Tonight Show Tuesday evening.  While the interview centered around Borel’s spectacular ride on Mine That Bird in the Derby, we all know he’s actually going to be aboard America’s favorite filly, Rachel Alexandra.

I’ll be back tomorrow to take a preliminary look at the Preakness card but will leave you now with what was the most exciting Preakness of the past ten years in my opinion, the 2007 battle between Curlin and Street Sense:

Weekend Recap: Boys only in this game

May 11, 2009

On what is normally a slow weekend in the racing world, there was clearly a need for a Mothers’ Day kick-start.  It came via Mark Allen, a part owner of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and Ahmed Zayat, owner of Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile.  In appearanced on HRTV this morning both were asked a number of question about their respective horses and the upcoming Preakness Stakes.  The hottest topic was not their horses but the expected inclusion of the popular filly Rachel Alexandra. 

Allen discussed including a hopeless maiden that he owns with trainer Joe Merrick in an effort to exclude Rachel Alexandra from the field of 14.  Zayat discussed being approached by multiple entities, including Marylou Whitney, to enter a horse in order to keep the filly out.  Between comments Zayat made on HRTV to what he repeated to TVG by 2:00 PM CDT it sounded like an exclusive game at the Pimlico sandlot and the two captains were conspiring to make sure the girl couldn’t play.

Luckily by the end of the day thanks to the assuage of angst on behalf of the racing community, Whitney, Zayat and Allen all denied that they were planning on entering horses to exclude Rachel Alexandra.  However, the whole story made me think- wouldn’t it be appropriate for someone or some group to do something that would keep racing from getting an incredible amount of attention, if only for a day?  I mean, in a game plagued by steroids, inconsistent rules on medication, lack of a unified front and a commissioner, wouldn’t there be a way for a great opportunity to get the spotlight to be squandered?  Hopefully not and at least at the moment it seems like things will work out and we will be in for one of the most anticipated races in years.  Let’s take a look at some of the biggest races of the weekend:

PETER PAN

While the Preakness may be hot on everyone’s mind, the Belmont is shaping up as a terrific race in itself with a few Derby runners pointing there along with the Peter Pan victor, Charitable Man.  This well-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid was making only his 2nd start of 2009 after trying the Blue Grass at Keeneland four weeks prior.  He faced a field whose main contenders were Triple Crown castaways who had failed to reach high expectations.  His trip was basically perfect as jockey Alan Garcia rated him behind the runaway leader, Hello Broadway, who could not be slowed down by jockey Garrett Gomez and sped clear to a huge lead through an unrealistic opening half mile. 

Once in front Charitable Man staved off Imperial Council who looked like a runaway leader at the quarter pole before he completely hung.  Going forward Charitable Man seems to be unfazed by facing top competition in his first two efforts of the year and he clearly stamped himself a contender for the summer and fall in the 3YO division.

Click here to view the Peter Pan

LONE STAR DERBY

The Sunland Derby has now produced graded stakes winners in consecutive weeks though the Lone Star Derby doesn’t quite stack up to the Kentucky Derby.  Mythical Power, who rallied gamely in New Mexico to finish second, capitalized on a terrific pace setup to take over at the quarter pole and draw away powerfully.  He is another horse to watch in the 2nd half as he has moved forward significantly since moving to conventional dirt.

Click here to watch the Lone Star Derby

RAILBIRD

Witty, a well-bred daughter of Distorted Humor out of the mare Well Dressed, smartly stalked the pace and pounced in the stretch to score her first stakes win.  Luckily this gal has taken after Well Armed more than full brother Helsinki, as both are also by Well Dressed. 

They didn’t exactly finish up with remarkable speed in the Railbird but the effort from a filly facing stakes company for the first time was sharp and showed that she has a bright future.  Here’s to hoping we get to see her prowess on conventional dirt.

Click here to watch Witty’s Railbird triumph

Stop by this week for daily updates on the road to Saturday’s Preakness Stakes including updated contender profiles for the 14 participants.  Until then, let’s all bask in the Kentucky Oaks victory of Rachel Alexandra.

Weekend: Charitable Man on the rebound

May 9, 2009

Since the Peter Pan was pushed back a couple of weeks it has become a more legitimate Belmont Stakes prep, especially considering the infrequency with which modern horses run.  This year’s septet features a couple of disappointments, an outsider, a question mark, and three glorified allowance horses.  Let’s look at the field individually:

STATELY CHARACTER: He qualifies in the outsider category as his two previous attempts in graded stakes races have been quite ugly.  He was a distant 4th in the Florida Derby last time out despite getting a pretty fair pace setup.  There’s no doubt that it’s tough making a living as a closer at Gulfstream Park, but this guy had an awfully uninspiring winter and seems to need races to come back to him to have any success.  There’s some speed in here but it’s unclear whether it’ll be enough for him to get there.

HELLO BROADWAY: One of the two disappointments in the field, this son of Broken Vow and half-brother of Nobiz Like Shobiz failed as the chalk in the Tampa Derby and was promptly removed from the Derby trail by trainer Barclay Tagg.  He re-surfaced in an allowance race at Keeneland against a rather suspect field but did what he was supposed to do and won in wire-to-wire fashion.  He now shows up with blinkers in off the win, which is a bit of a head-scratcher.  Perhaps their intent is to send and try to stay.

CHARITABLE MAN: After winning the Futurity last year this guy was considered a serious 2YO and wound up on everyone’s short list of Derby contenders at the beginning of the year.  One minor setback after another pushed his 2009 debut back to April 11 in the Blue Grass, which was a terribly precarious spot to try.  He made a move on the backstretch and tired late to finish 7th and his connections thankfully dropped any willingness to run in the Ky Derby.  He has worked twice and now goes 2nd off the long layoff for a top barn, so expect a much improved effort.

BRAVE VICTORY: After a game win against allowance company at Gulfstream in late January this guy looked like an up and coming 3YO.  He showed he didn’t belong in stakes company with a distant 4th place finish in the Swale then ran a dull 7th in the Lexington.  He now moves back to dirt and stretches out to a distance that he’s yet to prove he likes.  He is an outsider for sure and is really best for those looking to beat the top picks with a bomb.

SCOREWITHCATER: Can this guy ride the wave of the game’s newest key race, the Sunland Derby?  This son of Even the Score beat the eventual Kentucky Derby winner on not one but two occasions.  He improved when moved to dirt, which is not surprising given that his trainer always hit at a high percentage before CA tracks went to synthetics.  He will have to improve from a Beyer standpoint, but aren’t you getting the least bit leary about those Sunland figures?  I am.

IMPERIAL COUNCIL: Considering this guy’s intriguing pedigree he was considered a darkhorse for the Derby earlier this year.  He ran a very subpar race in the Gotham as he chugged up late for a distant 2nd place finish.  IN the Wood, which was expected to be his coming out party, he forced the pace but came up empty in the stretch drive.  He was bet down to 5/2 in that spot despite facing the horse that had just pounded him a month earlier.  He will be overbet again today because of his connections, so forget about any value.

AL KHALI: Trainer Todd Pletcher thought he had another Derby prospect when this guy won an allowance race in early March at Gulfstream.  That allowance win was tough to watch as the final three furlongs took nearly 39 seconds as this guy simply staggered home the quickest.  He was beaten handily in the Illinois Derby and now tries stakes company again.  He has potential and may be in the need of a more aggressive ride this afternoon.  He stands a chance at a mid-range price.

The Lone Star Derby is the richest race of the afternoon and it could be the site of a familiar result.  Since Lone Star opened 12 years ago trainer Bob Baffert has won a number of stakes races, including the inaugural Texas Mile with Isitingood.  The owner that day?  Mike Pegram.  The jockey?  David Flores.  The Pegram-Baffert-Flores team will be represented by Mayor Marv, one of two Baffert trainees in this septet.  He comes out of the aforementioned Sunland Derby where he beat only one horse home but the hot pace in that event that’s been discussed for a week was set by this guy. 

There will be significantly less pace pressure for this son of Distorted Humor, so expect Flores to attempt a theft.  The Lone Star main track often plays very well to speed horses going two turns.

Enjoy the afternoon’s races and don’t worry, they will be back on the turf at Belmont soon!  We’ll leave you with the 2008 running of the Peter Pan.

How does Rachel look in yellow and maroon?

May 7, 2009

The news of the day on Wednesday was quite surprising as even racing fans who are “in the know” were unaware that owners Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer were interested in selling their prized filly Rachel Alexandra.  Perhaps it was the hefty price tag (which is rumored to be $10 million) or the care with which she is sure to be treated by new owner Jess Jackson.  Either way, the deal was finalized on Wednesday afternoon.

What does this mean going forward?  It seems that Rachel Alexandra will be transferred to the barn of Steve Asmussen with an eye towards starting in the Preakness Stakes.  I know I’ve been as much of an advocate as any for this gal taking on males, especially considering her best male counterparts are dropping like flies of late.  If Rachel Alexandra were to enter the Preakness and face the 12 probables pointing there at the moment, she might be 8/5!

Here is the most updated list of probables for the Preakness in alphabetical order:

Big Drama
Conservative (Desormeaux)
Flying Private
General Quarters (Leparoux)
Hull (Mena)
Mine That Bird (Borel)
Musket Man (Coa)
Papa Clem (Bejarano)
Pioneerof the Nile (Gomez)
Take the Points (Prado)
Terrain
Tone It Down

As was expected, the improbable result in the Preakness has prompted quite a few more trainers to try their charges at Pimlico.  An interesting fact to remember is that since 2000 only two Preakness winners did not start in the Ky Derby, Red Bullet in 2000 and Bernardini in 2006.  Does that preclude a horse like Rachel Alexandra or the incredibly talented Hull from winning?  Absolutely not, but at least we’re actually talking about the Preakness and it only took a good-looking filly to get us going!

We’ll be back for the weekend but leave you with the 2008 Preakness:

Weekly Recap: Look there…it’s a bird?

May 5, 2009

When discussing the chances of eventual Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, this was  written:

“This horse has absolutely no chance.  He is woefully overmatched in this event and will probably never reach whatever potential he had by running against tough competition at a distance that’s much too far for him.  His entry is a perfect example of Derby Fever in the worst sense and is proof of why the graded earnings system needs to be re-worked.”

Ouch.  The author was none other than yours truly, and thus I must begin the weekly recap by eating a large helping of crow.   As an Italian I’d prefer it parmigiana style, but given the New Mexican roots of the winner, perhaps something along the lines of crow enchiladas are in order.  I was dead wrong about Mine That Bird, however, I find some solace in the fact that basically every handicapper was wrong about this son of Birdstone.  His Derby victory was so shocking that even the most verbose racing fan was left speechless afterwards.  Here’s a look at some of the best performances of the weekend:

KENTUCKY DERBY

Of course, the “greatest two minutes in sports” is the first race on the agenda.  Nineteen three year-olds went postward after the scratch of I Want Revenge and overnight rain showers left the Churchill main track quite sloppy.  One was left to wonder if the renewed emphasis on safety and Churchill’s recent accreditation for having an exemplary surface kept them from harrowing the main track as no rain fell throughout the day on Saturday.  In any event, it was arguably the most improbable horse in the field who wound up with the blanket of roses as journeyman jockey Calvin Borel won the Derby for the 2nd time in two years.  He took Mine That Bird over 20 lengths off the lead and six lengths behind the 18th horse around the first turn only to pass every horse and draw off to win by an astonishing 6 3/4 lengths.

Click here to watch the Kentucky Derby

KENTUCKY OAKS

Has there been a more dominant performance on such a big stage in the last few years than the one Rachel Alexandra put forth in the Oaks?  She was facing soft competition but did exactly what she was supposed to do, seizing command around the far turn and gradually pulling clear of her competition.  The final margin was just over 20 lengths but the most important number was zero, as in the amount of times Borel hit this filly with the whip or even shook the reins.  A daughter of first-crop sire Medaglia d’ Oro, this gal has clearly taken her game to the next level and her 108 Beyer figure makes it abundantly clear that she’s at the top of her generation and we’re all in for a treat with her being in top form this year.

Click here to watch the Kentucky Oaks

WOODFORD RESERVE TURF CLASSIC

As is often the case, the Kentucky Derby stole any accolades earned by the Woodford Reserve victor and it was particularly unjust this year as Einstein scored a win in this race for the 2nd straight year.  He confronted the leader, Cowboy Cal, just inside the eighth pole and they engaged in a dramatic deep stretch duel that ultimately went to the jet black son of Spend a Buck.  He has now won Grade I races on the turf and Pro-Ride this year and is arguably the most versatile animal we’ve seen in years.  If only we could have a few more horses as game as Einstein!

Click here to watch the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic

HUMANA DISTAFF 

Even after an impressive win in the Vinery Madison over the Polytrack at Keeneland, there was still some doubt about whether Informed Decision could be a top notch sprinter on conventional dirt.  A scorching early pace set by Dubai Majesty left this race up in the air and jockey Julien Leparoux had this daughter of Monarchos in high gear in the final furlong as she was up just in time.  She definitely benefited from race dynamics being strongly in her favor, but it was a great ride and a powerful effort, both factors that made the race a delight.

Click here to watch the Humana Distaff

Those are only four of the best performances of the weekend in some of the biggest races, as there are many more.  Mine That Bird will be in position to capture the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown as his connections announced today that he will be pointed to the Preakness.  We’ll see you back Tuesday to look at the week ahead in the racing world! 

Until then, take a look at Mine That Bird’s biggest lifetime win, prior to Saturday of course:

It’s time…

May 2, 2009

Months of waiting and anticipation that begins basically when the Breeders’ Cup Classic becomes official ends on Saturday as 20 three year-olds will contest the 135th Kentucky Derby.  It’s an eclectic group, from the lightly-raced Dunkirk to the griseled old (9-race) veteran General Quarters.  We have synthetic surface superstars like Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy but also bona fide dirt monsters I Want Revenge and Friesan Fire.  We have a championship caliber three year-old in his stall at Belmont with two quarter cracks and the best 3YO in the country may be relaxing from a facile tour of the Churchill oval on Friday afternoon.

No matter how you approach the game, the Kentucky Derby is the greatest race of the year from a gambling perspective and from a fan perspective as well.  The value available with 20 betting interests is unmatched and in many cases, you may get the best price ever on a horse with a bright future (Curlin). 

As far as this year’s Derby, it’s tough to tell you exactly what I plan to do in terms of wagering given the weather situation.  At this moment it looks like nothing more than light showers are going to fall in front of the Twin Spires, so let’s plan on a fast track.  In that case, I will play the race as if there are four win candidates:

  5. Hold Me Back- This son of Giant’s Causeway is going 3rd off a layoff and exits a Blue Grass effort that was better than it looks on paper.  He is improving, has proven he matured into his 3YO season and represents a positive trainer-jockey combination.

 13. I Want Revenge- There isn’t a horse in the race with better credentials than this guy as his last two wins are arguably the best two races run by any runner in here.  He is working well, excels on dirt, and is strictly the one to beat with a fair trip.

16. Pioneerof the Nile- The pride of Bob Baffert’s stable will be trying dirt for the first time and from all accounts he seems to be handling it quite easily in the morning.  That’s not a surprise given his pedigree and expected talent level.  He’s a win candidate because he’s a winner and he simply has too much going for him to leave him off a Pick 4 ticket.

19. Desert Party- If the Dubai “curse” is broken my money’s on this guy doing it.  He and his stablemate Regal Ransom have been handled with care and the preparation that has gone in is quite different from what they’ve done in the past.  This guy is training beautifully and seems set to fire a big shot according to his trainer.

There are legitimately six more fringe players that some would argue are win candidates.  However, when push comes to shove, these are the four I’ll have on my multi-race plays with no exception.  Who do you like?

Good luck and enjoy the Kentucky Derby!