Archive for the ‘Top 10 Races of 2009’ Category

#1 – The Woodward

December 24, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

After a filly has already won seven stakes races, defeated males twice, subjugated horses of her own gender, there isn’t much more you can ask of her.  However, owner Jess Jackson was hellbent on testing Rachel Alexandra and thus he scheduled a date with her in the Woodward.  She was bidding to become the first filly to win the Woodward, a race that had been won by past champions like Curlin, Saint Liam, Ghostzapper, and Mineshaft just in this decade.  Her competition was to include the winners of the Whitney, Stephen Foster, New Orleans Handicap, Lone Star Park Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, and Alysheba Handicaps just this year.

THE PLAYERS

The story of the Woodward was certainly Rachel Alexandra as she went postward at odds of 3-10 despite being only a 3YO filly facing older males.  She had withstood every challenge thrown her way so far in 2009 and entered the Woodward off of a tremendously impressive effort in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.  She was definitely going to meet some pace pressure in this spot as 2008 Belmont winner Da’ Tara had plenty of speed, Past the Point was coming in off a win at 7fs and ran a game 2nd to Curlin in the 2008 Woodward, and Cool Coal Man entered off of a 12+ length win at Saratoga in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 107.  Her task was mighty but she was deserving of heavy favoritism. 

Macho Again quietly accumulated a strong 2009 campaign as he followed up a win in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds with a win in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.  His most recent effort before this event was the Whitney in which he closed gamely in the waning stages to narrowly miss and finish 2nd.  He had proven Saratoga was his kind of track as he won the 2008 Jim Dandy over this surface before enduring a terrible trip in the Travers.  He was in career best form prior to the Woodward and that made him a formidable challenger and a reasonable bet at 8-1.

Bullsbay was a versatile horse who had also enjoyed a strong 2009 while traveling from coast to coast.  He won the Whitney despite being an 18-1 outsider.  Afer a poor effort in the Donn, he won the Johnson Memorial at Laurel and the Alysheba at Churchill.  He lost a decision to Macho Again in the Foster but rebounded from a failed bid in the Hollywood Gold Cup with his Whitney score.  He was anothe coming into this event in career-best form and stood a big chance with the expected hot pace.

THE OUTCOME

In two images you can see the story of the Woodward and that was how the pace developed. 

IMAGE #1 – The field rounds the first turn

Before a quarter-mile was complete, Rachel Alexandra was under fire.  She had Da’Tara to her inside and Past the Point to her outside through an opening quarter in :22 and 4/5.  It would be a long run down the backstretch for the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, under fire for the entire journey.

IMAGE #2 – The field turns for home

With the swift fractions highlighted, you can see the positioning of the late runners, Bullsbay and Macho Again, relative to where they were only five furlongs earlier.  Rachel had shrugged off the challenges of all the pace pressers by this point in time and her courage would soon be tested for the stretch drive.

Things didn’t look so great for Rachel inside the eighth pole as the gray presence to her outside, Macho Again, was narrowing the gap with every stride.  Jockey Calvin Borel reached down for more from his filly than he ever had before and she delivered, capping an absolutely riveting stretch drive.  Click here to listen to the fans’ reaction to the stretch drive, shot from the Clubhouse at old Saratoga.

With a couple of items highlighted to fully embrace the performance of Rachel Alexandra, the DRF chart makes it clear that she won the battle and the war.  Such a tremendous effort from a 3YO filly will not soon be forgotten.

THE AFTERMATH

Shortly after the Woodward, the racing world’s attention was focused on Rachel Alexandra and if she might treat her fans to another performance in 2009.  Her connections came out a couple of weeks after her latest triumph and said that she would be shut down for the year and is currently gearing up for a 2010 campaign.  Her legacy is already incredible as her accomplishments went well beyond anything ever done by a 3YO filly.  She set records for margin of victory in the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose, became the first filly to win the Woodward, and was the 1st filly to win the Preakness in over 80 years. 

Rachel is currently locked in a media-driven battle with Zenyatta for Horse of the Year, which will be announced at the Eclipse Awards on January 18, 2009.  I’m not going to get into that in this particular entry but only a portion of what Rachel did this year has been re-capped here and her accomplishments speak for themselves.

THE RACE

Enjoy this historic running of the Woodward:

Thank you for reading and I’d like to thank everyone who helped me compile this list.  Nick Kling of the Troy Record, Steve Byk, host of At the Races, Pat Cummings of Dubairacenight.com, and Travis Stone of Louisiana Downs all contributed their top 10 lists and there was only one race where the voting was unanimous- the Woodward.

All Charts and Past Performances provided by Daily Racing Form (drf.com).  Still photos courtesy of Youtube (www.youtube.com).

#2 – The Wood Memorial

December 23, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

Coming off a year where it seemed as if a new Kentucky Derby contender emerged every week, the 2009 group was quite a bit more consistent with the creme rising to the top as the calendar moved towards April.  One serious player that emerged in early March was I Want Revenge, a son of Stephen Got Even who absolutely walloped the field in the Gotham, his conventional dirt debut.  The Wood Memorial was to be his final prep for a Kentucky Derby engagement and he had become one of the favorites based on his Gotham win.

THE PLAYERS

I Want Revenge was a heavy favorite to earn his 2nd consecutive win on dirt as his 113 Beyer Speed Figure earned a month earlier in the Gotham far exceeded anything his rivals had ever put forth.  He had shown potential as a two year-old with a narrow miss in the CashCall Futurity but a somewhat mediocre effort in the Bob Lewis, where he had no discernable excuse, prompted trainer Jeff Mullins to send him east.  Mullins was certainly adept at preparing horses to run on synthetics but his feeling that this colt may be better on dirt turned out to be absolutely right.

Imperial Council had everything you’d want in a 2 turning 3 year-old as 2009 began.  His pedigree was regal as his sire, Empire Maker, won the Belmont after finishing 2nd as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.  His dam, Jaramar Rain, was a five-time winner who placed in multiple graded stakes and his trainer, Shug McGaughey, had been down this road a time or two before in years gone by.  He made his stakes debut in the Gotham after beating a N1X allowance field at Gulfstream in February.  He lingered well behind the lead and made a decent late move to finish a well-beaten third.  That was his first try around two turns and many saw him as an improving type who should love the 9 furlong distance of the Wood.

The entry of Atomic Rain and West Side Bernie seemed reasonable for the minor placings in that the former was coming off an improved effort against N1X company at Gulfstream.  The latter was a graded stakes winner at 2 having taken the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park.  He was looking to improve off of a poor run in the Lane’s End also at Turfway but seemed set fo ran improved outing in his 3rd start as a 3YO.

THE OUTCOME

The Wood Memorial began with a surprise as I Want Revenge reared at the start and spotted the field some ground.

IMAGE #1 – I Want Revenge left behind as the field leaves the starting gate.

IMAGE #2 – Jockey Joe Talamo didn’t panic from the poor break whatsoever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMAGE #3 – As if the trouble at the start wasn’t enough, I Want Revenge is mired in traffic with just over a quarter-mile to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMAGE #4 – The opposition was no match once a seam opened up in mid-stretch.

A frame-by-frame look at the trip I Want Revenge endured in the Wood Memorial showed that his effort to win was very impressive.  After all, he did do what a 1-2 shot was supposed to do but there was no horse in the race capable of coming close to him.  His margin of victory was only a length and a half and with the extenuating circumstances, that’s solid.

The DRF Chart for the Wood Memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE AFTERMATH

I Want Revenge came out of his Wood Memorial victory in fine fettle and was later installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby.  An ankle problem was detected by Mullins on the morning of the Derby and he was scratched.  He has only recently returned to the track and is slated to start again sometime in the spring/summer of next year.  If his past performances give any indication, we’ll probably see him on the dirt:

Imperial Council’s disappointing Wood Memorial was followed up with a runner-up finish in the Peter Pan.  He was never really a candidate for the Belmont Stakes and wound up facing elders in the Met Mile.  He was a non-threatening eighth that day and hasn’t run since, forever being remembered as one of the bigger disappointments of the 2009 Triple Crown season.

The runner-up from the Wood, West Side Bernie, would go on to an off the board finish and was subsequently purchased by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable.  He has been freshened since and is likely to return to the races during next year’s Dubai International Racing Carnival.

THE RACE

Enjoy the Wood Memorial:

Join us tomorrow as we’ll recap the best NY race of 2009!

All Charts and Past Performance information provided by Daily Racing Form (drf.com).  Photos courtesy of Youtube (youtube.com)

#3 – The Belmont Stakes

December 22, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

The third leg of racing’s Triple Crown has been the undoing of many champions aspiring for all-time greatness.  It is the site of many historical performances and it’s place in racing’s landscape as big and broad as the racetrack over which it’s contested.  In a year like 2009 when two different horses win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the dream matchup is for the two of them to meet up in the Belmont.  That wasn’t to be in this year’s rendition but a field with a core group that had real potential was in place for the “test of a champion.”  However, there was another rare occurrence on the line as jockey Calvin Borel was seeking a Triple Crown of his own after riding the winners of the Derby and Preakness.  He was to be re-united with Mine That Bird, five weeks after they were blanketed in roses.

THE PLAYERS

After Mine That Bird‘s dramatic upset in the Belmont he came back to run a very solid second in the Preakness to “super filly” Rachel Alexandra.  As ABC marketed it, the Belmont was to be “the race he was born for” as his sire, Birdstone, was victorious before better than 120,000 stunned fans five years earlier at “Big Sandy.”  His trainer, Chip Woolley, was a complete novice when it came to conditioning a horse for a big race but he had this to say to Joe Drape of the NY Times before the Belmont: “If you watch Mine That Bird run, his stride is bigger than most horses,” Woolley said. “He has a huge stride and gets over the ground real easy. With his running style, we’re going to have to let him run his race. But the good thing here is, when you start slowing the fractions down, if you let him run his same race, he’s going to move way up. If we can just be within 10 to 12 of them, I’m confident he’ll have enough kick left.”
Mine That Bird was installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite by NYRA oddsmaker Eric Donovan.

Charitable Man was considered a 3YO with a future when the calendar turned to 2009 as he won the Futurity at Belmont in September 2008.  A series of setbacks delayed his seasonal debut to April when he finished up the track in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.  He rebounded with a win in the Peter Pan over the Belmont strip and looked like another horse who’d handle the demanding 12 furlong distance being by 1999 Belmont victor Lemon Drop Kid.
Charitable Man was the 3-1 second choice.

The “blue blooded” Dunkirk came into the Belmont looking to atone for a poor effort in the Kentucky Derby when he was never involved and ultimately checked in 11th, 19 lengths behind Mine That Bird.  He was the subject of much hype after his smashing debut, in large part because of his hefty $3.7 million purchase price.  After finishing second to Quality Road in the Florida Derby it appeared as if he might be excluded from the Kentucky Derby field but made the cut via  a number of defections.  His pedigree also suggested that 12 furlongs would be right up his alley and fresh horses have notoriously done very well in the Belmont, so his five week break made him quite attractive.
Dunkirk was made the 4-1 third choice on the morning line.

A handsome chestnut son of Birdstone, Summer Bird boasted credentials for Belmont glory as he was a long-striding colt who seemed to excel with more ground.  His career didn’t start until March of 2009 but in just four starts he had broken his maiden, finished a close third in the Arkansas Derby and then hardly disgraced himself on the off track in the Kentucky Derby.  His trainer, Tim Ice, was another complete novice when it came to the big stage but his plan was to equip his colt with blinkers and change his rider to Kent Desormeaux, a Hall of Famer who was in search of Belmont glory after another failed Triple Crown bid a year earlier.

Summer Bird was a bit of an outsider at 12-1 on the morning line.

THE OUTCOME

The Belmont field was supposed to be led by Charitable Man in the early stages as he loomed the speed of the speed on paper.  Leaving the gate, John Velazquez took the initiative on Dunkirk as he put the gray son of Unbridled’s Song on the lead heading to the Clubhouse turn.  He took the field through testing fractions for the distance and looked as if he was starting to tire when confronted by a rallying Mine That Bird on the far turn.  Charitable Man was also in contention as the field hit the top of the stretch but it was Kent Desormeaux and Summer Bird that lingered just behind the leaders ready to pounce.  As the field hit the mid-stretch marker it was the “other Bird” that was in high gear and he swept by the leaders in the waning stages.  Dunkirk bravely battled back to grab the place dough in front of favored Mine That Bird with Charitable Man finishing fourth after steadying in the stretch drive.  After the race there was talk about whether Borel may have moved his gelding a little too early as they made the lead with a quarter-mile still to run.  As has happened with many favorites in the Belmont Stakes the demanding distance caught up to the Derby winner as he completed a trio of in the money finishes in the three legs of the Triple Crown.

THE AFTERMATH

Following a vacation Mine That Bird re-surfaced for the 2nd half of his 3YO season in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.  After a disappointing third-place finish it was announced that he was having surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis and he didn’t make it back to the races until the October 10 Goodwood on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.  He finished a non-threatening sixth that day and further proved his distaste for the Arcadia oval with a dull showing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Belmont ended up being the first step in a march to the Eclipse Award for Summer Bird, who would later run 2nd in the Haskell to Rachel Alexandra before winning the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.  He was the first colt to win all three of those races in the same year since Easy Goer 20 years before.  His 4th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic showed what a quality animal he is and his 2010 debut following surgery to repair a bone chip is eagerly anticipated.

THE RACE

Enjoy the 141st Belmont Stakes:

See you tomorrow as we move on to the 2nd best NY race of 2009!

All Past Performance data and Charts provided by Daily Racing Form (drf.com)

#4 – The Mother Goose

December 21, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

By mid-summer it became clear that racing fans nationwide had a fever and the only prescription was Rachel Alexandra.  The fleet-footed filly made her first start since a win in the Preakness in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park on the last Saturday in July.  She was to face four rivals in this Grade I staple but two scratches on the morning of the race reduced the field to just three.

THE PLAYERS

Rachel Alexandra’s list of accomplishments was vast by the time the Mother Goose rolled around.  She had already tied the track record in the Martha Washington, won the Fair Grounds Oaks with devastating ease, cruised in the Fantasy, romped in a record-setting Kentucky Oaks win, and become the first filly to win the Preakness in three-quarters of a century.  The Mother Goose was to be simply part of her routine as the public sent her off at 1-20 knowing fully she completely out-classed her two rivals.

Flashing was considered a filly with a future when she made a start in the Busanda on Aqueduct’s inner track early in 2009.  She had a brutal trip that day and was given a bit of time before re-surfacing in an allowance race at the Big A that she won and was then given the “bump” to Godolphin blue for the Nassau County at Belmont.  She was victorious that afternoon over a speedy filly named Saarlight and the fact that Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor showed up to watch this daughter of A.P. Indy contest the Mother Goose said something about his feelings about her, or his interest in seeing Rachel Alexandra live and in person!

THE OUTCOME

In four snapshots, you can get the full effect of Rachel Alexandra’s Mother Goose triumph:

IMAGE #1 – The field is a quarter-mile into the 9 furlong journey

With both Flashing and Malibu Prayer stretching out from sprint races, Rachel Alexandra was relegated to a stalking/closing position early.

IMAGE #2 – There’s just over five furlongs to go

At the half-mile mark Rachel was in a position that she’d never been in before, four lengths off the leaders.  The tactical speed that she’s showing speaks to her versatility.

IMAGE #3 – The field nears the quarter pole

Calvin Borel merely shook the reins at the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and she came cruising through between the vanquished pacesetters.  In the span of a furlong she was 10 lengths in front.

IMAGE #4 – The competition is gone as Rachel frolics through the final furlong

With the victory firmly in her grasp, Rachel is merely hand-ridden by Calvin Borel as she rolls home.  Her final time was 1:46 and 1/5 which bested the stakes record by a fifth of a second and her margin of victory demolished the record set by Ruffian in her 13 1/4 length score in 1975.

THE AFTERMATH

The best was not only yet to come for Rachel Alexandra, who subsequently beat 3YO males once again in a phenomenal Haskell victory but also became the first female to best older males in the Woodward.  She is currently gearing up for a 2010 campaign that is sure to include a series of challenges that will be predicated on making her one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Flashing would go on to win two Grade I races after her 31 1/2 length defeat at the hands of Rachel Alexandra.  She scored in the Test at Saratoga going seven panels and won the Gazelle at Aqueduct in late November after finishing 3rd in the Presque Isle Masters against older horses in the interim.  She has been retired by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable.

Malibu Prayer went on to finish second to Careless Jewel in the Delaware Oaks and capped her season with a victory against older horses in the Chilukki at Churchill Downs.  She’s currently pointing to a 2010 campaign that’ll begin at Gulfstream.

THE RACE

Enjoy Rachel’s Mother Goose tour de force:

Join us tomorrow for #3 on the countdown of the 10 best NY races of 2009!

All photo images courtesy of www.youtube.com

#5 – The King’s Bishop

December 21, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

The King’s Bishop has yielded some memorable performances over the years, including Forestry’s game decision back in 1999, Squirtle Squirt’s score in 2001 on his way to a Breeders’ Cup win, Ghostzapper’s narrow miss in 2003, and more recently Hard Spun’s gritty score in 2007.  The 2009 King’s Bishop was headlined by Munnings, who was cutting back in distance off of a 3rd place finish behind Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.  He was to be joined by Vineyard Haven, the 2008 Hopeful and Champagne winner, who was making his first start in North America since the fiurst week of October 2008. 

THE PLAYERS

 The aforementioned Munnings, who twice won graded stakes sprinting at Belmont during the spring-summer meet, came into the King’s Bishop as the one to beat.  He had shown tremendous potential as a two year-old with a handy debut win on the opening Saturday of the 2008 Saratoga meet.  After a tough trip in the Champagne and a 2nd place finish in the Champagne he was shelved.  His sophomore season was off to a poor start as he was injured and unable to return until early May.  His Woody Stephens and Tom Fool triumphs hinted at serious ability and that was why he was sent off at 9/5 in this event.

Vineyard Haven was considered a serious candidate for the Eclipse Award for Champion 2YO in 2008 after his 2nd Grade I win in the Champagne.  His subsequent purchase by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable and trip to Dubai ended up de-railing any Derby aspirations as he was well beaten in the UAE 2000 Guineas and given some time off after coming back to America.  He was coupled in the wagering in the King’s Bishop with Everyday Heroes, who came in off of a handy defeat at the hands of Quality Road in the Amsterdam.

Capt. Candyman Can was the model of consistency coming into the King’s Bishop as he had accumulated a record of 3-3 at seven furlongs with wins in the Hutcheson, Bay Shore, and Matt Winn as a 3YO.  He made his first start off a two and a half month layoff in the aforementioned Amsterdam finishing 2nd to Quality Road.  He seemed to be the most interesting prospect from a wagering standpoint given his price (7/2) as there was reason to expect he’d improve in his 2nd start off the layoff.

THE RACE

The horrible weather conditions at Saratoga on Travers day rendered the main track a sea of slop.  Vineyard Haven locked horns with his entrymate early through fractions of 22.19 and 44.64 and looked to be well on his way to a win after shaking loose nearing the eighth pole.  He began to tire noticeably nearing the sixteenth pole and by that time Capt. Candyman Can was in high gear from the back of the pack.  The two reached even terms with 70 yards to go and Vineyard Haven bore out terribly, impeding Capt. Candyman Can’s progress in the closing yards.  The unofficial finish was Vineyard Haven-Capt. Candyman Can but the inquiry sign was illuminated immediately and after a few minutes of deliberation, the stewards reversed the unofficial order and placed Capt. Candyman Can first.  It was his first Grade I win and the first of trainer Ian Wilkes’ brief career on his own and ran this gelded son of Candy Ride’s record to 4-4 at seven furlongs.

THE AFTERMATH

Capt. Candyman Can was sent to Keeneland for a start in the Phoenix on opening day of the fall meet where he surged late but came up just short to Fatal Bullet.  He exited that event in good order and wound up starting in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.   Perhaps it was the Pro-Ride or the trip but he was a no-show in Arcadia and finished eighth.  He was to be freshened and geared up for a 2010 campaign that will be concentrated on dirt.

Vineyard Haven was given almost two months off after this race and subsequently won the DeFrancis Dash at Laurel with a terrific late move.  He would later finish a game 3rd in the Cigar Mile, showing his prowess extends from six furlongs to a mile.  He is supposed to be back in 2010 and will certainly be one of the best sprinters in the country if he comes back in the same form he held this year.

THE RACE

Enjoy the King’s Bishop:

We’re better than halfway through the countdown and will move on to #4 tomorrow!

#6 – The Alabama

December 19, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

As the 2009 Saratoga meet neared its climax there was one question on everyone’s mind: When is Rachel running here?  The Alabama was considered a possibility but once it became clear that she was not headed here a new lady was the biggest story.  Careless Jewel, a white filly by 2004 Wood Memorial winner Tapit, was coming into the Alabama off of a smashing win in the Delaware Oaks.  She took the initiative right out of the gate in the Delaware Oaks and looked like a speedballer, so the demanding 10 furlong distance in this Grade I Saratoga staple would certainly prove a challenge.

THE PLAYERS

The aformentioned Careless Jewel was trained by a woman whose name had become a bit more familiar to racing fans nationwide after her 2YO Springside won the Demoiselle nine months earlier.  Josie Carroll was based in Woodbine but wanted to try Careless Jewel on dirt.  Her effort in the aforementioned Delaware Oaks made it clear that if Carroll had a premonition that she’d be better on dirt then she was probably right.  With the NY based 3YO fillies looking like such a rag-tag group beyond Rachel Alexandra, the Alabama was certainly a perfect spot for Careless Jewel to be tested, as Carroll had made it clear that this was their destination after the Delaware triumph.

Funny Moon entered the Alabama off of a win in the Coaching Club American Oaks where she was able to get up in the waning stages despite racing about ten paths off the rail on the far turn.  She earned a pedestrian Beyer figure of 86 in the CCA Oaks and was certainly going to have to elevate her game to win another Grade I. 

Milwaukee Appeal had knocked heads with males in the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales in Canada before coming to NY to try fillies once again.  She was given plenty of support at the windows as her ability on dirt was pretty clear following the narrow miss in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Don’t Forget Gil was a bad trip away from being a Grade I winner herself and the Florida Oaks winner looked to be poised for a breakthrough performance in the Alabama.  She had shown consistency from her 2YO season when she won the East View against NY breds and the distance looked like it would be well within her range.

THE OUTCOME

After some surprising pre-race antics, Careless Jewel had her mind on business when the time arrived and she rated perfectly off of Be Fair early before jockey Robert Landry asked her to go at the half-mile pole.  And go she did.  In the blink of an eye she turned for home nearly six lengths in front and she wound up eleven lengths clear at the finish.  She soundly defeated felow Canadian Milwaukee Appeal, who was a distant second and to no one’s surprise, the Coaching Club American Oaks played out as the poor race that it appeared to be when it was run.  The 1-2 finishers finished 8-5 in the Alabama as neither were ever really in contention.

THE AFTERMATH

Careless Jewel went on to win the Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park in September and was among the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.  She didn’t take to the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita particularly well but really lost all chance when she ran off down the backstretch setting an impossibly fast pace. 

THE RACE

Enjoy the Alabama:

See you tomorrow as the list moves on to #5!

#7 – The Gallant Bloom

December 19, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

There was really only one question heading into the Gallant Bloom: Is Indian Blessing finished?  After a star-studded sixteeen months where she won nine times, including seven graded stakes races, the daugher of Indian Charlie entered the Gallant Bloom winless in three starts in 2009.  Her most recent outing was a 2nd place finish in the Ballerina where she showed signs of returning to form.  However, the skeptics were certain that her best days were behind her.

THE PLAYERS

Without question, there were only two horses that could win the Gallant Bloom.  The aforementioned Indian Blessing entered as the likely favorite as she was looking for her second straight Gallant Bloom and her eighth win around one turn in her illustrious career.  She was to meet some pace pressure from Thunders Dove, an improving mare from the barn of Nick Zito who had most recently won a lesser event at Saratoga.  Based on what we had seen in the past from Indian Blessing, she was supposed to win this race with anything near her best.

Sara Louise entered the Gallant Bloom as an expected co-favorite with Indian Blessing.  She returned from a long layoff to win the Victory Ride over a sloppy track at Saratoga, showing no ill effects from a winter, spring, and summer spent on the sidelines.  She showed signs of brilliance as a 2YO as she is still the last horse to beat Rachel Alexandra when she downed her in the Pocahontas at Churchill way back in November 2008.  With this being only her second start off the long break, Rick Mettee, the Godolphin assistant trainer based in America, hinted at some concern when he said before the Gallant Bloom: ““In a perfect world, we’d probably keep her against three-year old fillies.” 

THE OUTCOME

The Gallant Bloom exceeded expectations as it was an absolutely riveting horse race with the elder Indian Blessing getting the better of Sara Louise in a stretch-long battle.  She showed the heart and tremendous resolve that had made her a superstar as a 2 and 3YO.  Her jockey, John Velazquez, told Dave Grening of the DRF afterwards, “Wow, my God! he said. She put everything she could into that. The other one kept coming at her and she just kept fighting on. It was a gutsy, gutsy effort.”  Mettee, who had showed some concern about whether his filly could handle Indian Blessing before the Gallant Bloom said afterwards, “I didn t think she’d get beat today, she was training that well.  The other filly showed her class.”

THE AFTERMATH

Indian Blessing was pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, a race that she ran 2nd in a year before.  Trainer Bob Baffert expressed some concern about whether she was adequately handling the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita and pulled the plug on her bid for a 2nd Breeders’ Cup win about ten days prior.  Sara Louise finished 4th, well behind the tough duo of Informed Decision and Ventura in the Filly and Mare Sprint.  She did, however, rebound to beat elders in the Top Flight at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving weekend and is supposed to be back in 2010.

THE RACE

Enjoy the Gallant Bloom:

Join us tomorrow as the countdown rolls on when we recap the 6th best NY race of 2009!

#8 – The Jockey Club Gold Cup

December 17, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

The somewhat universal belief, as the calendar turned to October, was that Summer Bird and Quality Road as 3YOs were better than their elders, specifically Stephen Foster winner Macho Again.  The three of them were to meet and settle it on the track and the spot was the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the mid-fall staple at Belmont Park that boasts among its winners Horses of the Year Curlin, Mineshaft, Cigar, Affirmed, Forego and many other champions. 

The other storyline in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was whether Summer Bird could become the first horse to win the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year since Easy Goer.  His ascent to the top of his division was rapid and a win in this spot would seal the Eclipse Award that his trainer felt he had already earned.

THE PLAYERS

Macho Again was a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award for Champion Older Horse as he scored in the New Orleans Handicap (G2) in March and the Stephen Foster (G1) in June.  He also finished second in the Whitney (G1) and the Woodward (G1) and was looking to earn a signature win against a couple of highly regarded 3YOs.  The biggest issue for Macho Again was going to be if he could run back to the gigantic effort he put forth when finishing second to Rachel Alexandra in the aforementioned Woodward.  There were also some concerns about whether the pace was going to be in his favor as his style was to lay well back and make one late run.

Quality Road, who has been mentioned in both #10 and #9 of this countdown, was coming into the Jockey Club Gold Cup off of a 2nd place finish in the Travers to Summer Bird.  The playing field was supposed to be leveled with a dry track at Belmont Park, but Mother Nature had other ideas.  A complete deluge took place throughout the Super Saturday program rendering Big Sandy a sea of slop.  It was clear prior to this event that Summer Bird relished a wet track but Quality Road appeared to handle it well enough in the Travers for him to be the co-2nd choice with Macho Again.

THE OUTCOME

After the opening half-mile was posted in nearly :50 there was only one thing that was clear.  Macho Again had no chance to win this race in a quagmire with such a slow early tempo.  He was never heard from but a battle between the two best 3YO males in the country was joined at the quarter pole and Summer Bird eventually proved best. 
Despite falling to Summer Bird once again, Quality Road’s jockey John Velazquez still seemed confident that his charge could turn the tables in the future.  He was quoted afterwards as saying: “He put in a good effort. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet. I’m not knocking (Summer Bird). The other horse ran a great race, too. I think my horse is better on a dry track. I would like to see both horses on a dry track to see which one is the best horse.”

Of course, the story afterwards was that Summer Bird did indeed become the first horse in 20 years to pull off quite a NY sweep of the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.  His campaign was very impressive and he’s a deserving Eclipse Award winner.

THE AFTERMATH

Yesterday I mentioned the freakout session Quality Road had prior to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Summer Bird maintained his composure at the same point in time and went on to a respectable 4th place finish to Zenyatta.  His effort becomes even stronger when you ponder that he was running on a synthetic surface for the first time and one that John Sadler had said specifically that he trained poorly over as a youngster.  After the Classic Summer Bird was injured in the Far East when preparing for the Japan Cup Dirt.  Surgery was successful and he’s due back in 2010.

THE RACE

Enjoy the 91st running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup:

I’ll see you back tomorrow as we recap the 7th best NY race of 2009!

#9 – The Amsterdam

December 16, 2009

THE INTRIGUE

After a couple of very strong efforts at Gulfstream in the spring, Quality Road was considered one of the main contenders for the Kentucky Derby.  His Florida Derby victory earned him the label of “superstar” from track announcer Larry Collmus as he handily dispatched Dunkirk in the final three-sixteenths of a mile.  A series of quarter cracks kept him from being able to run in any of the Triple Crown races and in June it was announced he’d be moving to the stable of Todd Pletcher.  The Amsterdam was his first start since the Florida Derby and it was a rather salty Grade II at the tricky distance of 6.5 furlongs.

THE PLAYERS

Quality Road was sent off the favorite at 7-10 in the field of six and it was quite clear that if the same horse we had all seen at Gulfstream showed up then the other five participants were in trouble.  He had worked well but the only question mark, aside from the layoff, was that the connections’ main goal was the Travers, which begged the question about how fit this strapping son of Elusive Quality would be for this “tightener.” 

By the time August rolled around, Capt. Candyman Can had already accumulated wins in the Hutcheson, Bay Shore, and Matt Winn and was returning off a freshening that trainer Ian Wilkes gave him for the summer.  He had met Quality Road once before in the Fountain of Youth and finished a well-beaten fourth.  However, that event was at a mile and since then the “Captain” had made it clear he excelled at seven furlongs.  His trainer was poised for a breakthrough meet at the Spa and he seemed to have this son of Candy Ride ready to roll.

Everyday Heroes had shown potential early in his 3YO season and he broke through for a decisive win in the Hirsch Jacobs on Preakness Day at Pimlico.  He entered the Amsterdam off of a 3rd place finish in the Woody Stephens and was now in the care of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after being purchased by Sheikh Mohammed earlier in the summer. 

Custom For Carlos looked like an up and comer as he entered this race off a win in the Jersey Shore at Monmouth where he ran away from the field late and earned a 106 Beyer figure.  He was clearly a late bloomer, the type that often prove very dangerous in the latter part of the year.

THE OUTCOME

As the daunting presence of Quality Road loomed on the outside it was clear that he came back from his injury-induced vacation wearing his running shoes.  He inhaled the leaders in upper stretch and powered away to a 2 1/4 length lead.  Capt. Candyman Can rallied late but was ultimately no match for the winner as he ducked in late to save the place spot.  Based on the way the winner ran there’s no way you can say anyone disappointed, but a bit more was probably expected from Everyday Heroes.  In the chart to the left, courtesy of Daily Racing Form, you’ll notice that Quality Road’s posted final time of 1:13.74 was good for a track record.  The time was adjusted by the New York Racing Association after initially being recorded as .32 seconds faster.

THE AFTERMATH

As we recapped yesterday, Quality Road made his 2nd start off the long layoff in the Travers and checked in third behind Summer Bird.  He subsequently fell to Summer Bird again in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic only to be scratched at the gate after throwing a tantrum the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in the minutes leading up to a marquee race.

THE RACE

Enjoy Quality Road’s track record-setting performance in the Amsterdam:

See you tomorrow when we continue the countdown with the 8th greatest race in NY in 2009!

#10 – The Travers

December 15, 2009

THE INTRIGUE                                       

The 140th running of the Travers didn’t feature Rachel Alexandra, who most believed at the time was the best 3YO of either sex, but the winners of the Belmont, Florida Derby, Lane’s End, Jim Dandy, Dwyer, Peter Pan, and Barbaro made up the field of seven. 

THE PLAYERS                              

Fresh off a victory in the Amsterdam, Quality Road was sent off the favorite in the Travers at 3/2.  He would be negotiating a distance beyond nine furlongs for the first time and an overnight and day-long deluge rendered the main track a sloppy mess.  The well noted foot problems of this son of Elusive Quality made the task even taller.

Kensei was coming into the Travers off of victories in the Dwyer and Jim Dandy and his potential at stud was the main reason why he, and not his stablemate Rachel Alexandra, was in this field.  His ability going a distance of ground came as a surprise to many and he certainly came into this event in tip-top shape.

Summer Bird‘s non-threatening finish in the Kentucky Derby hardly stamped him as the type of horse that you’d back in the third leg of racing’s Triple Crown.  However, the son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone flourished at the demanding distance of 12 furlongs and swept by Ky Derby winner Mine That Bird at the eighth pole to win convincingly.  After a distant 2nd place finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell, he came to the Travers with a chance to make himself the leading candidate for the Eclipse Award for Champion Three Year-Old.

THE OUTCOME

The Daily Racing Form chart leaves little to teh imagination in terms of who was superior in the Travers.  Summer Bird became the first Belmont-Travers winner since his papa five years before as he stalked the pace, took over and kicked clear with authority.  The most disappointing effort came from Kensei, who clearly did not handle the 10 furlongs nor was he able to grab the sloppy track.  Quality Road was stuck in behind the leaders for the majority of the trip and checked in a well-beaten third but still looked like a horse with some learning to do making only his 2nd start off a long layoff.

THE RACE

Enjoy the 140th running of the Travers

I’ll be back tomorrow as we count down the Top 10 NY Races of 2009 with #9.