This Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup promises to be one of the races of the year. While it is true there will be some other horses with solid credentials in the race, all eyes will be on New York’s three amigos. Summer Bird and Quality Road renew their Travers battle, and the horse that almost ended Rachel Alexandra’s streak, Macho Again, joins the fray. Male championships in both the 3-year-old and older divisions could well go a long way to being decided with an impressive win by one of the amigos. Belmont will host the exciting match up in the historically important race and yours truly is ready to pick the winner.
September 30, 2009
September 28, 2009
I will never forget the afternoon when Summer Squall and Unbridled first met. It was April 14, 1990 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. I had been to Keeneland in the past but always with my father and older brother, never before on my own. A few months shy of my 21st birthday, it was a special day for me to travel to the most beautiful racetrack in America as an adult. It was made all the more memorable because there I would see the horse I was touting all my college friends on for the Derby, Unbridled, in the Blue Grass Stakes. This would be the big, handsome son of Fappiano’s last race before the Run for the Roses and my first chance to see him in person. I had been very impressed with his last two races in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and even more impressed with his looks. Going in, I knew the Blue Grass was not an easy race for Unbridled. Standing in his way was a small but tough Dogwood runner named Summer Squall. In my mind Summer Squall, a regally bred son of Storm Bird, had been the best two-year-old in the country, and despite a late start to his 3-year-old season, had done nothing to lessen my respect for him. Unfortunately, it rained on and off most of Blue Grass day and the already speed favoring Keeneland track was now even more so in its' wet condition. To no ones surprise, Summer Squall looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll as he galloped around the muddy track to an effortless victory. The late running Unbridled could make up little ground and finished third. I was disappointed, but I knew the race set-up would be completely different on Derby day.
September 27, 2009
You want to know what gets my juices flowing? A weekend full of major stakes races with all kinds of Breeders’ Cup implications and even some eclipse award ramifications. As a pure fan of thoroughbred horse racing, nothing is better than the week of anticipation leading up to all these major races.
September 26, 2009
Before his win two starts ago in the Sussex Stakes, Rip Van Winkle was in the midst of a four race losing streak. He was not living up to the enormous expectations people in the know had placed on him from a very early age. As if waking up from a twenty year slumber, things have all changed now. With his win today in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at the venerable Ascot Racecourse, the striking bay son of Galileo is squarely back on track. Rip Van Winkle has now won two consecutive Group 1’s and is now very much deserving of his claim to being one of the best horses in the world. In the QE II, favored Rip Van Winkle stalked the early pace of the older Group 1 winner, Aqlaam and easily put that runner away when asked three furlongs out. The race was soon taken up though as first Delegator, the second choice, and then Zacinto would make strong moves toward the favorite. Delegator was quickly dispatched and it was the unheralded Zacinto who would make it a race as he ranged right up within a half a length. Rip Van Winkle’s confident rider, Johnny Murtagh put down the pedal once more and his horse showed his class, as he won going away again to score by a length and a quarter. Zacinto, Delegator, and Aqlaam completed the order of finish in the four horse race. The top class, Mastercraftsman had been scratched Friday night in favor of his preferred stablemate, Rip Van Winkle.
September 25, 2009
An accomplished field of five is set to do battle in the QE II stakes in England on Saturday afternoon. This one mile affair run over the hallowed grounds of Ascot Racecourse looks to be easily the most important race of the weekend and possibly one of the more important miles of the year. This should be enough reason for me to preview the race, but no, I have a completely different reason in mind. Remember last years Breeders’ Cup Classic? Sure you do…Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator, English 3-year-olds, running past our tiring champion Curlin. What got them ready for that performance? None other than the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at The Ascot Festival, of course. Raven’s Pass finally got the better of his rival Henrythenavigator that day and that form carried over to our richest race. This year’s race should be another good one with, once again, major Breeders’ Cup implications.
September 24, 2009
*I finished first in 7 out of 22 lifetime starts over my two year racing career, although the official record only credits me with six wins.
September 23, 2009
September 21, 2009
I will never forget the day the Princess became a Queen. It was on November 18, 1984. Rider Eddie Delahoussaye got her out of the gate running and the Princess was quickly abreast of the speedy Lucky Lucky Lucky, where she stayed until ready to explode. At the top of the stretch, she did just that with an explosion of desire, class, and speed, Princess Rooney had finally made the world take notice. Left in her wake was a top class field that included two-time champion, Life’s Magic, who could only manage an outclassed 2nd as the Princess romped home that day by seven emphatic lengths. This was the inaugural Breeders’ Cup and Princess Rooney had taken the spotlight that she so long deserved on a most grand stage. Her performance became even more impressive when the Classic was run. Wild Again the victor in a stretch long battle with Slew O’ Gold and Gate Dancer stopped the teletimer a full second slower than had Princess Rooney who had been little more than hand urged earlier that afternoon in the Distaff.
September 20, 2009
*I won 14 out of 20 lifetime starts over my three-year racing career.
September 19, 2009
All eyes will be pointed north tomorrow as the most important race run in Canada is contested at one mile on the Woodbine turf course. Whoa cowboy! Did I just say the most important race run in Canada…have I forgotten about the Queen’s Plate? What about the Canadian International?
September 18, 2009
Temperence Hill won the Belmont and was the 3-year-old champion of 1980, Island Whirl was a Grade 1 winner in three consecutive years, Reinvested was third in the Kentucky Derby and a multiple stakes winner, Sunny’s Halo won the Kentucky Derby and was a multiple graded stakes winner, Gate Dancer won the Preakness and came within two heads of winning back-to-back Breeders‘ Cup Classics, Creme Fraiche won the Belmont and earned more than $4 million in his career, Wise Times won three consecutive Grade 1 races, Alysheba was a 3-year-old champion of 1987 and Horse-of-the-Year of 1988, Seeking the Gold was a multiple graded stakes winner who finished 1st or 2nd in all but one of his races, and Sunday Silence won two-thirds of the Triple Crown and was the 3-year-old champion of 1989. Quite an illustrious list. What do these ten horses have in common? They all won the Super Derby in the decade of the 1980’s, making them the first ten winners of the race.
September 17, 2009
“Be vewwy, vewwy quiet, I’m hunting rabbits.” Why, you question, am I hunting rabbits? I was hoping that you would ask. Some of the greatest horses in thoroughbred racing history have been plagued by these pesky little rabbits, and I demand that it stops today. The latest varmint to pop out of his rabbit hole and twitch his rabbit nose at the world occurred in front of my very eyes in the Woodward Stakes. The magnificent race horse, Rachel Alexandra, was set to run her heart out in her first attempt against older horses and low and behold what did we see … but a screwy rabbit. “Oh boy, rabbit tracks.” Apparently his handler calls him Da’ Tara. Now this handler, a Mr. Nicholas Zito, declined to admit to Da’ Tara’s true identity, but methinks his furry little white tail gave him away. In the paddock that day, I tapped Da’ Tara on his shoulder and said, “Pardon me, but you know you look just like a rabbit.” There was no reply. The race was soon run and this dirty little rabbit tried all of his rabbit tricks and almost cost mighty Rachel the race, thankfully she overcame.
September 16, 2009
Excitement fills the air as the huge crowd readies for the much anticipated 2nd Division of the Race of the Century. A field of 13 is set to do battle to get a step closer to 21st century bragging rights. The sun is shining and it is a little hot and humid for this time of year with temperatures approaching the nineties here at Churchill Downs. The horses look great but you can see the heat on at least one of their conditioners; Rick Dutrow, trainer of St. Liam, is completely washed out. The fans have had a tough time deciding between this loaded field. Ghostzapper rates a tepid favorite over Curlin, although both horses are listed at 9-2 on the tote board. Next is two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Tiznow at 5-1 and the sentimental choice is Barbaro who will go off at 7-1. I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsor Dapper Dan Hair Cream for helping to get all these great horses together. We’re getting close now. The horses are starting to load, let’s get ready to run. They’re all in, and…They’re Off!!!
September 14, 2009
It is funny sometimes how the judgment of history can be discordant with the conventional thinking of the time. Often this is a good thing, as with a greater knowledge comes a greater understanding of the past. The judgment of history sometimes, however; can be fickle and unfair. This is certainly true in the realm of thoroughbred horse racing. Some horses are remembered as superstars and some are not. One of the purposes of my series of ‘Remembering’ columns is to shine an ever deserving light on these somewhat forgotten horses. I mention this now because in 1969 there was a deserving three-year-old champion and Horse -of-the-Year and his name was Arts and Letters. History has chosen to glorify his rival from California Majestic Prince, another deserving star that year, but today I want you all to know the horse that Arts and Letters was and how in 1969 he proved to be a champion.
September 13, 2009
It is a beautiful day here at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Seventy two degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The crowd is in high spirits as these wonderful champions are making their way to the starting gate. A quick check of the tote board reveals that the popularity of the super 3-year-old filly, Rachel Alexandra, is as strong as ever, and at 7-2, she rates a slight favorite over 2006 Horse-of-the-Year, Invasor, who is 4-1. 2001 3-year-old champ, Point Given is a solid third choice at 6-1. No other horse in the field is bet below 9-1 in this wide open affair. All the connections feel good about the way their horses are coming into the race, maybe none more so than Big Brown’s conditioner, Rick Dutrow, who has touted his charge to be almost a sure winner. The bettors seem less than impressed though as Big Brown is 16-1. The only female jockey in the race, Julie Krone, gives her mount Candy Ride a gentle nudge and the field is about half way loaded. They’re all in. And They’re Off!!!
September 12, 2009
P-i-d … What's Pid? That is exactly the question I asked myself just two short years ago as I had my nose deep inside the Daily Racing Form. I did a little research and found out it was a racetrack in Pennsylvania called Presque Isle Downs. OK, fair enough, probably another new track with cheap horses surviving on the fringe of the thoroughbred horse racing map. My stubborn mind has been changed though, as today I come not to bury Pid, but rather to praise Presque Isle Downs. Through further investigation, I learned that it is in Erie, PA, just off Interstate 90 and almost smack dab in the middle of Cleveland and Buffalo. Opened in 2007, they run on Tapeta, a synthetic surface designed by Michael Dickinson of Da Hoss fame. Tapeta actually seems to be better liked than many of the other synthetic surfaces seen today in the U.S. Presque Isle’s purses are supplemented by slots and like many tracks with slots, their purse structure is strong. My appreciation has grown through seeing classy horses, and quality horse people ply their trade at Presque Isle and by noticing live horses coming from Presque Isle. This is especially true of quality filly and mare sprinters.
September 11, 2009
First Division - Churchill Downs 1 ¼ Miles
September 10, 2009
As the years go by, I sometimes find it harder to remember recent events with the same clarity that I remember things from 30 or more years ago. I wanted to tell you the story of a brave California bred named Tiznow and the wonderful performance he put on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic eight or nine years ago. Unfortunately, I can not seem to organize all the facts as well as I would like, so I humbly ask for your patience with me as I try to piece this all together. OK, here is what my hazy memory recalls:
September 9, 2009
The focus last week was clearly on a beautiful young filly who competed in the Woodward Stakes. There were, however, many other important races outside of Saratoga, run with countless Breeders' Cup implications.
September 7, 2009
Today is labor day and our Rachel Alexandra vacation is winding down. Yesterday we spent half the day at beautiful Lake George and then caught the second half of the day’s races. At the track, I won a few dollars and saw some impressive horseflesh. In the Grade 3 Saranac, Bill Mott added yet another stakes winner on the lawn to his resume. Al Khali, a Kentucky bred son of Medaglia d’Oro, raced at two in Peru and has now become a force on grass in America at three. He won by only 1 ¾ lengths, but it was an effortless rally off a moderate pace and was geared down late. I will look for him to run long and against older soon. The Spinaway was predictably won by the precocious Hot Dixie Chick. She is the most impressive 2-year-old filly in the country so far and she ran very fast again yesterday. I was quite taken by the 2nd place filly Beautician. The gray daughter of Dehere has a beautiful long stride and ran a huge race yesterday. I am predicting big things in her future.
September 6, 2009
Yesterday was the day. The day that Rachel Alexandra’s amazing streak of victories would come to an end. She had won her previous eight races going back to her two-year-old season in the most impressive fashion possible without actually sprouting wings. America’s heroine was in for it. Fate was conspiring in insidious ways to stop Rachel from giving the people what they wanted. Here is what I mean:
September 5, 2009
Visiting Saratoga holds a special place in my heart. So many Summer vacations as a kid, The Zipse family would make the trek up from New Jersey to see the finest racehorses come together. Every time I come here the memories spill out of my head making me intensely happy. When I get close it just feels like Saratoga. Come to think of it, it tastes, smells, sounds and looks like Saratoga too. It is special.
September 4, 2009
Question - What do you get when you mix the Perfect Storm, A frightened toddler, and Alice Cooper? Why, our day at Niagara Falls of course. We pulled on our fashionable, blue Maid of the Mist rain ponchos and without hesitation, confidently strode on the sea-worthy vessel for some Falls gazing. OK, the fact that this rain gear, happily handed out by the smiling older gentleman at the Mist’s last checkpoint, covered our entire bodies should have been clue enough, but I still thought I was taking my small family on a tranquil little cruise to take a closer look at the Falls. A light spritzing of water would be pleasant on this Summer day I remember thinking in my tourist haze. Ten minutes later, all hell had broken loose. We were right in the middle of what could only be called a monsoon. Water was everywhere, our little Kendra thought that this was the end of her short life and as I looked over to my wife, I thought,” since when did I marry Alice Cooper?” Mascara running everywhere, I heard someone yell, “Batten down the hatches,” I think it was me. Amidst this flurry of activity, I could not help to think that Falls looked especially beautiful from ten feet away. Thank God for the calm after the storm.
September 3, 2009
“Oh, You’ve got to be kidding me!“ Not yet three hours into our drive, and the Ohio State Patrolman, cherries-a-blazin’, gestures for me to pull over as he eases between me and the Camry ahead, whom he is also inconveniencing on this beautiful Summer day. “Do you realize you were speeding today?“ The officer deadpans. “No, do you realize that I am now only going to drive faster to make up for lost time officer?“ I answer in my mind. We play this little authority figure/admonished schoolboy tete-a-tete for another minute or two and then the nice lawman lets me off with a warning. He looks in at my wife and daughter and wishes a nice vacation for us a couple of times. Back on the round again, a few thoughts cross my mind. First, what the bleep! I wasn’t even speeding that fast, but also, I wondered if that Buckeye patrolman knew that it was his duty to let me pass. For I am on a mission for Rachel.
September 2, 2009
And the Journey begins, from our not-so-palatial estate in Suburban Chicago to the small burg of Latham, New York. The minivan is loaded and the sleep crusties are sufficiently washed from the corners of my eyes. “Gotta get an early start.” I keep telling my wife, who is just trying to fathom how well an eight or nine hour ride with our 14-month-old daughter is going to work. Candie is a sport and is willing to take her ‘chances’ on this family vacation so that I can see a horse. I’m glad that she ‘gets me’ enough to put up with this craziness, besides I just know in my heart that our daughter, Kendra, is going to adore the horses. Oh, and in case you were wondering, No, I do not drive that fast to get to the Albany area in eight or nine hours. Today we are on our way to Buffalo and to see Niagara Falls…it just feels more like a family vacation this way and it is actually directly on our route to Saratoga. Which of course is the ultimate destination and my real reason for this trip, one Miss Rachel Alexandra.