Archive for September, 2009

Super Saturday summons stars

September 29, 2009

It’s been far too long since I updated this little spot but the racing season goes through a bit of a lull between the start of the Belmont meet and the beginning of the final Breeders’ Cup prep season.  Between Saturday and the 11th of October there will be a staggering 20 Grade I races run at three different racetracks (Belmont, Oak Tree, Keeneland).

Things get started this Saturday at Belmont with the $400,000 Vosburgh (6 furlongs), $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational (10 furlongs – Turf), Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (12 furlongs – Turf), Beldame (9 furlongs), and $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (10 furlongs).  The fields are gradually coming together so let’s take a look at who’s being talked about for each.

VOSBURGH

This will be the opportunity for Fabulous Strike to avenge a narrow defeat at the hands of Black Seventeen in this race a year ago.  He hasn’t been seen since a game victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga but is working steadily and excels at the Vosburgh distance of six furlongs with 11 wins from 16 tries.

The only other horse being mentioned for the Vosburgh, though of course it’ll be more than a two-horse race, is Munnings.  A multiple graded stakes winner over this racetrack, he is coming off a distant third-place finish in the King’s Bishop behind Capt. Candyman Can, another potential Vosburgh entrant.  The son of Speightstown has not been on a fast track since a score in the Tom Fool

FLOWER BOWL

Dynaforce was winless in three starts between last year’s Flower Bowl and this year’s Beverly D.  She scored nicely at Arlington in early August but certainly had the benefit of a wet turf course.  She’s made it clear in eight North American turf starts that she prefers some cut in the ground and with no rain in the forecast until a minor chance on Saturday, she may be up against it.

Criticism was towards the top of this division earlier in the year after her Sheepshead Bay victory but was somewhat de-railed when the New York Handicap was moved to the main track and she stayed in to finish a distant second.  Trainer Tom Albertrani shortened her up to try the Grade I Diana at Saratoga on opening weekend and she tracked the pace before tiring badly.  She should be wound much tighter for this try and is always a huge danger when able to get free on an easy lead.

JOE HIRSCH

Even though Grand Couturier will be looking for back-to-back Hirsch victories, he will not be the story as Gio Ponti searching for his fifth consecutive Grade I win is sure to dominate the headlines.  If the ground is firm enough we might get the treat of seeing the runaway speed of Presious Passion, a two-time winner of the United Nations Handicap.

BELDAME

If I asked you who the best female horse east of the Mississippi not named Rachel Alexandra was, would you say Icon Project?  You should as she completed her ascent to the top of the east coast distaffers with a spectacular win in the Personal Ensign.  She’s set to try Grade I company for the 2nd time and the sledding seems as if it might be a little tougher this time around as she will face Music Note, recent winner of the Ballerina.

JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP

There’s no Rachel, Zenyatta, Curlin, or any other recent superstar but the Jockey Club Gold Cup is shaping up as one of the most competitive races on the entire card.  The 1-3 finishers in the Travers, Summer Bird and Quality Road, are back and will meet Stephen Foster winner and Whitney and Woodward runner-up Macho Again.

There will certainly be many questions answered on Saturday and the picture for the Breeders’ Cup in November will be much clearer.

I’ll be back Saturday with stakes analysis, Sunday with a bit more and some opening week thoughts on both Oak Tree this week and Keeneland next week.

Good luck!

Hello Belmont; Opening Saturday Stakes

September 12, 2009

One thing that is undeniable about the Belmont Fall Championship Meet is the abundance of great stakes racing, as ten Grade I stakes races are run on the flat.  Two of them kick off the opening weekend of the meet and even with adverse weather conditions, the stakes racing today at Big Sandy features two heavy favorites that are towards the top of their respective divisions. 

RUFFIAN

#1 SEVENTH STREET will be looking to continue a terrific run this year as she’s a two-time Grade I winner and has finished second in two more graded stakes outings.  She seemed beaten at the eighth pole of her last start but dug in gamely and forged her way to a one and a half length score.  The track had turned into a quagmire shortly before that event and thus her final time was a tad slow, earning her a 96 Beyer figure.  Her style is versatile so the fact that there’s other speed in here shouldn’t be a deterrent.  #2 SWIFT TEMPER has been the beneficiary of circumstance in her two biggest scores of the year, the Sixty Sails (G3) and the Delaware Handicap (G2).  She took both in wire-to-wire fashion as she was able to get away with murder on the front end in each of those events and a similar setup is highly doubtful today.  She should, though, be in a good spot early and her back class puts her among the main win candidates in this field.  #5 LUNA VEGA rebounded from a terrible effort in the Go For Wand with a game win in the Molly Pitcher at Belmont.  While the GFW effort has the built-in excuse of the wet track, it’s hard to imagine that she’s found the 8+ lengths that was between she and Seventh Street at the finish.  She should, however, get a favorable pace setup and hails from connections that you must always handle with care.
PICKS: 1-2-5

GARDEN CITY

#1 GOZZIP GIRL hasn’t been out since a sharp win in the American Oaks early in July at Hollywood and now returns off a brief respite for trainer Tom Albertrani.  She has been an absolute beast on the weeds since January with four wins in five starts and Albertrani made it clear in an article with the DRF that she’s just now getting to her best: “”She started to come back to her old self maybe just over two weeks ago; she started to put on the weight that she had lost from the trip back and forth,” Albertrani said. “She looks like she’s back to her old self again and she’s been training really well.”  #2 KATARA has lost twice in a row to #6 SHARED ACCOUNT but has had excuses in both as she ran into traffic trouble on a boggy course upstate in the Lake Placid.  She has no speed and that works against her but she’s going to be overlooked in the wagering and should be able to finish with any pace help today.  #4 MISS WORLD has won two in a row and has shown tremendous promise in each of the wins.  She is now being moved up aggressively in class by trainer Christophe Clement and has more upside than a number of the seemingly overmatched participants in this affair.
PICKS: 1-2-4-6

PRESQUE ISLE MASTERS

#2 DIAMONDRELLA has been on an absolute tear since June of 2008 as she’s now won six consecutive races, four of them stakes, including the GI Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard.  She was supposed to try for Grade I glory again on the grass in the Diana up at Saratoga but trainer Angel Penna opted against running her 9 panels.  He clearly has Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on his mind and that might be a distance that hits her right between the eyes.  All she has to do is prove that she can handle synthetic surfaces and that test comes here.  There’s a good amount of speed set to spar early as #11 DUBAI MAJESTY has never been shy when it comes to mixing it up early.  That should set things up nicely for this daughter of Rock of Gibraltar.  #9 INFORMED DECISION was on a tear herself before a dull effort in the Ballerina on the Travers undercard.  She had won five in a row leading up to that decision and her synthetic record is beyond reproach.  She will, like the top pick, benefit from a good pace setup, so expect her to be in the mix late.
PICKS: 2-9-5

TURFWAY PARK FALL CHAMPIONSHIP

After being lengthened to 12 furlongs, the Turfway Park Fall Championship was made a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Marathon.  #4 GANGBUSTER could be a steal at his morning line of 4-1 as he has run three consecutive races on synthetic surfaces at marathon distances that would take this event handily.  He kicked off his 2009 synthetic tour de force with a romping win in the Fort Harrod over Keeneland’s Polytrack and has since hit the board in two other races on synthetic surfaces, including a runner-up finish in the Polar Expedition at Arlington.  He should benefit from a steady pace in here with the two runners on the inside likely to show speed.  #2 LORD KIPLING was claimed out of a 35k optional claimer at Saratoga in August as he went wire-to-wire in a 2 mile marathon.  He is clearly at his best going long and he likes to do his running on the pace.  Trainer Scott Lake has long been one of the best trainers around with horses coming back off claims, so you have to imagine this guy will be ready to go.
PICKS: 4-2-5

Good luck with the races all over the country on Saturday!

So long Saratoga

September 9, 2009

As is always expected, the six week Saratoga meet was sensational with a number of sensational performances, countless frustrating moments, and memories that will last forever (or at least until new ones begin on July 28, 2010).  Let’s take a look at some of the best performers of the meet of both equine and human variety and some of the worst.

Most Outstanding Jockey- Ramon Dominguez. It’s tough to deny that Dominguez was spectacular at this meet.  He has now won consecutive riding titles at Aqueduct (Winter & Spring), Belmont and Saratoga and has clearly become the best rider in NY.

Honorable Mention- Rajiv Maragh.  He didn’t push Dominguez for the top spot but Maragh showed incredible growth from his prior Saratoga meet in 2008 and from earlier in 2009.  He has become equally adept on turf and dirt, is a strong finisher, and can ride frontrunners like nobody’s business.

Most Disappointing Jockey- Eibar Coa.  An opening weekend trip to West Virginia and New Jersey set Coa back and he never gained any momentum at the meet.  He wound up with a paltry six victories and will need a fast start at Belmont to erase the memories of a terrible Saratoga.

Most Outstanding Trainer- Linda Rice.  She was the leading trainer in nearly wire-to-wire fashion as she took the reins in Week 3 and won a pitched battle in the closing week with trainer Todd Pletcher.  Was Linda a bit one-dimensional?  I suppose, given all of her 20 winners came in races scheduled for the main track.  However, she was very good for an extended period of time, which is exactly what you need to take down the top prize at the Spa.

Most Disappointing Trainer- Bruce Levine.  A 1-48 run at the Spa with an ROI of $0.14 was not what this high powered trainer was expecting.  In all fairness, Levine did have 13 in the money finishers but he just could not get anything going on the win end.

Best 2YO- Hot Dixie Chick.  Male or female, this gal was sensational in two victories as she cruised after tracking the pace in the Schuylerville on opening day then finishing with power and purpose in the Spinaway on the penultimate program of the meet.

Honorable Mention- Dublin.  Hadn’t it been long enough that D. Wayne Lukas was not involved in the big late season 2YO races?  He is back in full force as his sharp-looking chestnut son of Afleet Alex earned both a maiden win at the meet and a handy score in the Hopeful. 

Best 3YO- Summer Bird.  After a good 2nd place effort in the Haskell, this guy posted a breakthrough performance in the Travers as his final quarter-mile was powerful.  He is clearly at the upper echelon of the 3YOs and the discussion for champion 3YO male begins with this guy.

Honorable Mention- Capt. Candyman Can.  After a gallant runner-up finish in the Amsterdam many wondered what this courageous gelding by Candy Ride would have when push came to shove in the King’s Bishop.  He answered plainly with a strong effort where he actually finished 2nd but was placed 1st in one of the easiest disqualifications the stewards will deal with this year.

Best 3YO filly- Careless Jewel.  Wait, I know, you’re wondering, uh, isn’t there only one option for Best 3YO filly at this meet?  Keep reading.  This daughter of Tapit was the orchestrator of a breakthrough performance of her own as she wrecked the field in the Alabama tracking a solid pace then kicking strongly clear in the final quarter-mile.  She has come to hand at once and is a legitimate threat in the big late season races.

Best turfer- Justenuffhumor.  After four consecutive allowance wins on the turf this guy had some questions to answer in the Fourstardave about whether he could handle graded stakes competition.  After winning the Fourstardave with nifty ground-saving trip he ran down Cowboy Cal to win the Bernard Baruch 26 days later.  He is a turf miler with a bright future.

Horse of the Meet- Rachel Alexandra.  How could you go any other direction?  She captivated the hearts and minds of the racing world with her stirring Woodward win and has proven time and again that she is so special and is deserving of all of the accolades given to her by the media and everyone involved in the game.

Race of the Meet- The Woodward.  It may have taken until the 34th day of the meet but there is no doubt this was the best race of the meet.  It had everything you could ask for, a favorite who is universally loved by all, a couple of improving older horses ready and a task that history had proven was too tall for any prior participant.

I hope in whichever way it was an enjoyable meet for each and every one of you.  There were low points, of course, but oh so many high points that made this meet one for the ages.  The best thing you can remember about these terrific 36 days is that there’s only 323 days until Saratoga 2010!

Back as the door swings shut

September 7, 2009

The rigors of a power-packed six day per week meet took their toll on me as I’ve been remiss in not updating this little blog, so let’s clear up some of what has happened in the past two weeks.  Here are a dozen thoughts from the last few weeks.

1.) Careless Jewel was smashing in the Alabama, leveling a decent field that was missing only one “other” 3YO filly.  It is nice to see a versatile, dual threat like Careless Jewel who can win on dirt and synthetics and has won in both Canada and the US.  She is definitely being pointed to the Breeders’ Cup and would be a respectable replacement to the best 3YO filly in the land.  Watch the Alabama.

2.) One of the more remarkable yet universally missed efforts of the meet was Nehantic Kat’s in the Yaddo.  She was in the midst of a big move around the far turn before being stopped by a tiring frontrunner.  Jockey Rajiv Maragh was forced to check this gal then re-rallied in time to grab the lead late and edge away.

3.) There was no Big Apple Triple candidate this year but Fiddlers Afleet still ran a very game race to take the field coast to coast.  He is one of the more talented NY bred 3YO and is obviously back at home on the conventional dirt in NY.

4.) One of the best performances of Travers week came from Justenuff Humor, who lengthened his stride and ran down a game pacesetter in Cowboy Cal.  He has proven to be a dynamo on turf with six consecutive victories, including two straight Grade 2 scores.  Look for this guy to be a force in the Shadwell Turf Mile and perhaps the Breeders’ Cup Mile.  Watch the Bernard Baruch.

5.) Travers Day was drastically changed by the horrible weather and that rendered the main track sloppy and the turf course yielding.  The first stakes winner was a bona fide shocker as Salve Germania ran down the favorite, Rutherienne, as she received a perfect ride from Javier Castellano.  She will remain in America in the care of trainer Todd Pletcher, so look for her in a graded stake on turf near you.  Watch the Ballston Spa.

6.) Remember when I trashed Music Note and the ridiculously terrible ride she received in the Ogden Phipps?  She atoned for that effort in a big way as she rode the rail (which was not the best part of the track) to a powerful win in the Ballerina.  That effort was enough for Godolphin racing to state that the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint is her ultimate goal as 7 furlong races are her new game.  Watch the Ballerina.

7.) The best finish of the Travers Day graded stakes races came in the King’s Bishop as Vineyard Haven, off of a gigantic layoff, desperately tried to hold off multiple graded stakes winner Capt. Candyman Can.  It was a terrific effort from both but the former really ran his lungs out.  After a poor effort in Dubai, many considered Vineyard Haven to be a flash in the pan that had peaked too early.  He is clearly back in a big way and in position to make some noise in late-season sprints/middle distance races.  Watch the King’s Bishop.

8.) The Travers had the makings of a marquee race ten days out as there was still hope that Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra would be in the field, which meant that all three Triple Crown race winners would be present.  Alas, it was only the Belmont winner who showed up for Race 12 on the marathon program but his impression was strong.  Summer Bird backed up his Belmont win and Haskell runner-up finish with a strong showing against Quality Road, Kensei, and a couple of other stakes winners.  He is clearly getting better with every start and will be very tough in the Jockey Club Gold Cup next month at Belmont.  Watch the Travers.

9.) Wondering where Icon Project’s huge win in the Personal Ensign came from?  Granted, she cruised in the off the turf New York Handicap but that was attributed to the scratch-reduced field and sloppy conditions.  She had a tough trip in the Delaware Handicap when compared to that of the winner but she reversed that decision in a big way drawing off with every stride in the 10 furlong event.  She, like Careless Jewel, proved that girl power was alive and well at Saratoga for the duration of this meet and you can count on this gal being a force in the Beldame on October 3.  Watch the Personal Ensign.

10.) Good for Pyro.  I was always a fan and hats off to Godolphin for recognizing what might be his comfort zone and shortening him up to one-turn sprints.  He finished best of all in the Forego to earn his elusive first Grade I win and now has all the credentials to become a stallion.  A couple of horses were gallant in defeat in here including My Pal Charlie, who has a nose for the money but can’t quite get the job done, and Riley Tucker, who fought it out gamely before weakening late.  Watch the Forego.

11.) What can you say about what Linda Rice has done at this meet?  Here are her numbers in a bit more detail:

Record: 71-20-4-8
Turf: 53-18-2-5
Turf races less than one mile: 32-9-0-3
Maidens: 18-5-3-1
2YOs: 11-2-2-1

After perusing those numbers it’s quite clear that she’s done very well on turf but it’s not quite right to attribute her success to the preponderance of turf sprints we’ve seen at this meet.  The fact of the matter is that Linda Rice’s barn has been hot from start to finish, she’s had incredibly good luck (as evidenced by her wins vs. ITM finishes) and has had a variety of different horses ready to go.  Hats off to her in her quest for a training title at the toughest meet in the country.

12.) Rachel, Rachel, Rachel!  The racing world got exactly what it dreamed of in the Woodward as Rachel Alexandra battled with older males tooth and nail and came out victorious.  She set all the pace, buried all of the pace-pressers who were within striking distance early and had enough to hold on late.  She is truly a once in a lifetime, special filly and thank God we were able to see her complete a truly ambitious campaign that was undoubtedly worthy of a horse of her mettle.  Watch the Woodward.

Well, that gets us caught up for the last couple of weeks.  I’ll be back later today with thoughts on the closing day card and to hand out some meet long awards tonight or tomorrow.  Good luck today!