November 30, 2009

Remembering … Pleasant Colony

The year was 1981 and it was the first season without one of the superstars of the late 70s gracing the American racing scene. There was no Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, or Spectacular Bid to marvel us, Genuine Risk was not quite herself, and John Henry would not become an icon until later in the year. Racing was searching for a star that they had grown accustomed to the past several Springs. A star is what we got in the form of a late developing colt and his slick talking trainer.

Pleasant Colony was a Virginia bred son of His Majesty, an excellent sire and a son of the great European runner and sire Ribot. Pleasant Colony was a home bred of Thomas Mellon Evan’s Buckland Farm, his dam was Sun Colony by Sunrise Flight, which furthered the late developing and distance loving blood that flowed through his veins. He grew to 17 hands tall, but he never filled out his imposing height and gave the appearance of a gangly and skinny colt. He was certainly not bred, nor did he have the looks for speed or precociousness. It was therefore no surprise when Pleasant Colony finished up the track in a maiden sprint at Belmont in his first lifetime race. The winner that day was a Verbatim youngster named Summing, remember that name.

Things changed quickly for the Buckland runner when stretched out to two turns. His maiden win at The Meadowlands was visually impressive as he circled the field and continued to pour it on through the lighted Meadowlands stretch. From that night, at one of my home tracks, I would follow the rest of his career with keen interest. Pleasant Colony went on to a solid, yet unspectacular, Fall of his two-year-old season. The highlight, being placed first in the Remsen after being bothered by first place finisher Akureyri. On a curious note it was the second of four consecutive races that Akureyri would finish in front of Pleasant Colony. Three times finishing first in a stakes with Pleasant Colony finishing close behind. Hopes were still high for the long-legged son of His Majesty when the Florida Derby rolled around. It featured a star-studded field of returning champion Lord Avie, speedy Five Star Flight, and his nemesis Akureyri. The race proved a huge disappointment as the Buckland runner never lifted his hooves and finished a listless fifth to Lord Avie and Akureyri. Changes would be made.

On April 18, armed with a new trainer, a new jockey, a return to a familiar racetrack, and a pair of strong one mile workouts, the real Pleasant Colony finally appeared. The occasion was the Wood Memorial, and the new trainer Johnny Campo was talking up his new horse. He was right. Pleasant Colony ran right by the highly regarded Cure the Blues and romped to an easy win with the classy Highland Blade getting up for 2nd. Dismissed at 13-1, Pleasant Colony went from afterthought to one of the Derby favorites with one fell swoop. It was on to Louisville and his brash trainer was ready to put on a show.

Johnny Campo told anyone that would listen before the Kentucky Derby that the winner was in his barn. Campo, about as much a New Yorker as a person could get, was a successful trainer well before Pleasant Colony came along. In 1973, Campo trained both the year's champion 2-year-old male, Protagonist, and filly, Talking Picture, for owner Maxwell Gluck. But it was Pleasant Colony who was Campo's best horse and would make the trainer known to millions. Campo was neither shy nor humble and he along with Pleasant Colony would rocket to superstardom status one spring month in 1981. 21 horses would run for the roses that day and Pleasant Colony was one of the favorites. People were listening and after his impressive score in the Wood, it was no surprise when the big bay rolled down the lane, opened up a clear lead, and had plenty left for the late charge of Woodchopper. Pleasant Colony was now a Derby winner and a bona fide star and so was Campo, who quipped, “I’m a good horse trainer pal, don’t ever forget it.” when questioned about his confidence by the polite announcer, Jim McKay. Campo and Pleasant Colony were on to Baltimore and Campo would issue a warning to the other horses set to run in the Preakness, telling the national audience that they should be pitied.

The Preakness was proof of what Campo had been telling the world. It was his third sparkling performance in a stretch of four weeks, as Pleasant Colony overpowered a strong field and rolled by the gutsy speed horse from New Mexico, Bold Ego, late to a one length win. For Campo, it was more opportunity to crow, for jockey Jorge Velasquez, it was sweet redemption after the heartbreak of Alydar’s Triple Crown run of three years earlier. Pleasant Colony appeared primed to become the fourth Crown champion in the past nine years.

Alas the Triple Crown was not to be as the big horse, tired from the grueling string of races, hung in the Belmont stretch and could never catch the rail skimming run of Summing. To his credit, Pleasant Colony ran a big race, as he went wide on the first turn and dropped back to last early despite the dawdling pace. He made a big move to get into contention on the far turn and kept trying in the stretch, but he no longer had his best to give. Highland Blade rallied well to finish 2nd with the Spring’s hero a gallant 3rd beaten less than 2 lengths for immortality. He returned from the track that day an exhausted horse and would get a lengthy rest and only ran three more times in his career. Pleasant Colony's other win, this marvelous year, came in the Woodward Stakes where he defeated a top notch handicap field. He had narrowly missed winning the sloppy Travers in his first race back after the grueling Triple Crown. He was retired in the Fall after a fourth-place effort in the Marlboro Cup. His final record read six wins from 14 starts and earnings of just under one million dollars in his two seasons of racing, but it was that amazing Spring, with Johnny Campo as his mouthpiece, that Pleasant Colony set the racing world on fire.

In his second life, Pleasant Colony, was also a star. He entered stud at the Buckland division near Lexington, Kentucky and became a top sire with many sons and daughters who carried on his class and distance ability. Pleasant Colony sired 73 stakes winners, including American champions Pleasant Tap and Pleasant Stage, Belmont Stakes winner Colonial Affair, handicap star Behrens, and multiple European champion St. Jovite. Pleasant Colony was pensioned from breeding in 2000 and was eventually sent back to his roots in Virginia, where he passed away from natural causes on New Year’s Eve of 2002 and was buried at Buckland Farm. I remember you Pleasant Colony.

November 29, 2009

Rachel, Zenyatta, Goldikova, Ventura, and Vodka

2009 will forever be known as the Year of the Filly and the Mare. The final year of the century’s opening decade has included the greatest string of performances by the female set in the history of racing. Today in Japan, it was more of the same, as Vodka won a thrilling edition of the Japan Cup. Yet another example of female domination that has been visible everywhere you look this year.

Rachel Alexandra has proven to be the best three-year-old of either gender in America. Her undefeated season included historic wins in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward. In each of those races she bested a loaded field of males and in the Haskell she defeated the soon to be champion three-year-old colt, Summer Bird, by an eye-catching six lengths. Zenyatta, the five-year-old supermare, became racing’s Queen, by capping her season with an impressive score in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The win likely ended the career, of the daughter of Street Cry, in spectacular and perfect fashion. Her 14 for 14 career record will go down in the annals of racing. Goldikova proved once again that she is the finest miler in the world as she repeated her smashing success of last year in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The French mare reportedly will come back for one more year and try to become the first ever three-time Breeders’ Cup champion. If anyone can give Goldikova a run for her money at a mile, it very could well be a mare, not a male. Ventura’s win in the Woodbine Mile was the most impressive middle distance turf race run in North America, save Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup. Yesterday Ventura put a gold stamp on her marvelous career with an impressive win in the Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Today in one of the world’s richest races, girl power was in full force once again. The wonderful five-year-old mare, Vodka surged in mid-stretch and then held off a furious rally by her younger male opponent Oken Bruce Lee and won Japan’s most prestigious race. Great success is nothing new for the daughter of Tanino Gimlet. In 2006, Vodka was the champion juvenile filly in Japan. The following year she became the first filly to win the Japanese Derby in 64 years. In 2008, Vodka was named Japan’s Horse of the Year, a title she very well may defend after yesterday’s stirring victory. Sent off as the favorite in front of nearly 100,000 fans, many whom were there to root on the mare they adore, Vodka needed every ounce of her talent and courage to get the job done.

Vodka stalked the early pace and waited patiently to make her move until mid-stretch. She displayed an explosive turn of foot and opened up a quick daylight lead and the race was hers to win. Distance loving Oken Bruce Lee, the second choice in the 18-horse field, suddenly appeared in the middle of the track and it was soon clear that Japan’s heroine would be in for an immense struggle. Oken Bruce Lee was flying and gaining on Vodka with every powerful stride. As they hit the wire, it was too close to call. Vodka and her younger male counterpart and everyone watching would have to wait for the photo decision. It was Vodka, by a desperate nose.

The Japan Cup was the biggest of her seven grade 1 wins and the great mare has now won 10 of her 25 races, a record that was compiled against the best Japan racing has to offer, including consistently running against the males. For her career, Vodka has now won more than $13 million, with approximately $2.8 million coming from today’s victory. The win was sweet redemption for Vodka who was 4th and 3rd in the previous two runnings of the Japan Cup. This is most likely her final race, leaving a tremendous void for the Japanese race fans. Her popularity is to such a point that there is serious talk that Vodka will replace Sake as the national drink in Japan. Today we do what we have been doing all year long … raise your glass with me to toast Vodka and all the wonderful female champions of 2009.

November 28, 2009

Along Came Blame

Lightly raced Blame, ridden by Jamie Theriot, impressively rallied down the lane to win Friday's Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The three-year-old son of Arch covered the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:49.39. It was only the eighth race of his life and his first attempt in racing’s elite company. Blame was given much respect by the betting public and was sent off as the second choice at 4-1 in the loaded 14 horse field. Following his career, you never would have guessed such a big win for this horse just a short time ago.

He did not make it to the races until the Fall of his juvenile season, where he finished 3rd and then 1st in two maiden races. He did not return to the races until June of this year where he finished 3rd and then 1st in a couple of allowance races at Churchill Downs. He did not make his first stakes appearance until August and his first graded stakes was run in September. He did not score his first graded stakes win until Halloween and he did not capture his first grade 1 win until yesterday. A late bloomer to be sure, but then along came Blame.

Blame was five wide coming off the final turn and eventually took the lead inside the eighth pole. Roger Clemens favorite alibi, Misremembered, who had a short lead on the final turn, fought on from the rail and the brilliant Einstein battled from the outside, but it was to no avail as jockey Jamie Theriot was confident in the amount of horse he had under him in Blame. Watching him during the race, you could never feel overly confident that he would be able to get up and then hold off the late chargers.

He does not make it to the lead of his races until the closing stages. He never falls too far behind in the early part of his races, but just far enough to be out of sight of the leading pack. He waits for the real running of the contest to commence before he puts it into high gear and methodically wears down his tiring opponents. In the final eighth of a mile of his races, you can be sure, along came Blame.

Jamie Theriot urged his mount to a neck victory in the Clark over fellow three-year-old Misremembered. The Clark is the most important handicap race after the Breeders’ Cup and it brings Blame to a new level in racing’s elite. Trained by Albert Stall, Jr., Blame earned $259,872 with the win. The colt has now won five of his eight starts for $616,747.

He did not make onto the elite list of three-year-olds until the day after Thanksgiving. He was on no one’s list of Winter book of Derby favorites at this time last year. When many of the best three-year-olds were preparing for a run at the Triple Crown races, he was completely off the radar. As the dog days of Summer rolled around, he was still on no one’s short list of elite colts in America. At Breeders’ Cup time, he was not quite ready to be in California to run in the Classic. Now as the season is ending and we discuss the top colts in the nation, there he is, and with next year's Classic being held at Churchill Downs, he needs to be on a short list of early selections.  Along came Blame.

November 27, 2009

A Feast for the Fans

I hope you all had a turkey day filled with friends, family, and food, but do not take too long to digest that last piece of pumpkin pie, for there is a whole new feast being served up by racetracks from coast to coast.

Churchill Downs serves up two solid days of racing with a healthy heaping of six stakes races. Saturday will feature the youngsters, headlined by Thiskyhasnolimit in the Kentucky Jockey Club and Sassy Image in the Golden Rod. Both horses will try to repeat the success they had in recent stakes races at Churchill. Also on the Saturday menu, will be a turf stakes for juveniles of each gender. For added intrigue, a cherry on top of the all two-year-old card will be fashioned in the day’s closing race by Barbaro’s full brother, Lentenor, who makes his turf debut in his second career start. Friday’s races will include the River City Handicap, a wide open turf affair for older males. My rooting interest will fall squarely on the extremely hard knocking New York bred, Banrock. All of the aforementioned races are appetizing, but there is no doubt that the featured entry will be today’s Grade 1 Clark Handicap. A loaded field of 14 runners make this one of the more competitive races of the year. Einstein, Macho Again, and Bullsbay all are still in with a chance for year end honors and a win today would go a long way in the minds of many voters. Throw in talented horses like Blame, Etched, and Misremembered trying to make a name for themselves and live longshots Giant Oak and Demarcation and you have all the ingredients for one whale of a race.

Aqueduct’s main course is Saturday with four major stakes races headed by the Cigar Mile. A compact field of six will square off in the Mile with the highly talented and lightly raced Vineyard Haven taking on some salty veterans. Sensational sprinter, Kodiak Kowboy, top miler, Bribon, and his own dangerous entry mate, Pyro, offer a huge challenge to the beautiful gray. This has been Vineyard Haven’s long term goal since his return this Summer and with a victory tomorrow would validate himself as a true star. The Gazelle features the long awaited return to the races of Stardom Bound. Now trained by Rick Dutrow, the gray filly has been away since her disappointing third place finish in April’s Ashland Stakes. The Ashland loss ended a skein of five straight Grade 1 scores for last year’s juvenile filly champion. Chief among Stardom Bound’s rivals, figures to be the up and comer Unrivaled Bell, who has been effortlessly working her way up in class and could be any kind. In Saturday’s Demoiselle, juvenile fillies will stretch out to nine furlongs for the first time in their careers. Kelly Breen ships in an entry of New Jersey invaders and could well take the big money back across the Hudson. Possibly the most interesting morsel of the day could be found in the Remsen Stakes. Two of the most exciting 2010 Kentucky Derby prospects will look each other in the eye, as Champagne hero Homeboykris and the scintillating winner of the Nashua, Buddy’s Saint do battle. Aqueduct preps for Saturday’s smorgasbord with a tasty Friday appetizer. In the Top Flight, Justwhistledixie returns for new trainer Bill Mott, after nearly six months away and looks to build upon her stakes winning total that she began this time last year at the same racetrack. She will need to be at her best though, as she takes on a tough field headed by the fast Godolphin filly, Sara Louise.

Hollywood Park offers up a little greenery for the more delicate of tastes. Things get started today with the Grade 1 Citation Handicap. The classy Cowboy Cal will be favored as he tries to rebound quickly from a beating administered by the might filly Goldikova in the Breeders‘ Cup Mile. On Saturday a pair of turf stakes top the card. Featured is an excellent matchup of older females at nine furlongs on the lawn. The Matriarch has attracted pure class with Ventura, Diamondrella, Rutherienne and four other mares in a race sure to please the most finicky fan. The other Saturday stake is the Generous which is topped by Bridgetown, fresh off his runner-up finish in the BC Juvenile Turf. The weekend bonanza lasts a little longer on the left coast as Sunday’s Hollywood Derby sports a full field of classy three-year-olds. Take the Points, Battle of Hastings, The Usual Q.T., Al Khali, Straight Story, and Black Bear Island all figure prominently in this excellent betting affair. Finally on Sunday, if you still have a little room left, look for the turf debut of the speedy young miss, Connie and Michael in the Miesque Stakes.

The good news with all this great racing is, unlike Thanksgiving meals all around the country, this equine feast should not leave you reaching for the Rolaids. Enjoy race fans.

November 26, 2009

Who Am I ???

*My best year was in my second season of racing when I won four of my nine starts.

*I was bred in Kentucky and was inbred 3X3 to one of the greatest sires in American racing history.

*My two biggest victories came in consecutive races at the same racetrack.

*My other graded stakes wins came at the Jersey shore and the Suburbs of Cincinnati.

*My prodigious earnings were a major part of my trainers record breaking season.

*I was purchased as a yearling by my owners because my dam shares a name with their daughter.

*I was never a champion, but I was once favored over a Horse of the Year.

*I was a graded stakes winner around two turns in only my third career start.

*All of my races were in the Eastern half of the United States.

*I ran in the same Breeders’ Cup race in back to back years where I fared much better the first go-round.

*Unfortunately, I finished off the board in my final 3 starts.

*Today I happily stand at stud not far from my birthplace in Kentucky.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

November 25, 2009

Lady’s Secret to Zenyatta - A Mistake was Made

That foul odor you smell is emanating directly from the offices of the Oak Tree Association after yesterday’s announcement that they have renamed the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret Stakes . Starting next year, the race held every Fall at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita Meeting, will now be known as the Zenyatta Stakes. Don’t get me wrong, Zenyatta is a fabulous mare and it makes perfect sense that they want to honor her by naming a race the Zenyatta. We are all familiar with her fantastic list of accomplishments the past two years. The problem is the Oak Tree Association honored her by taking away needed recognition of one of the greatest mares ever to race in the United States.

Lady’s Secret was everything good about racing. The beautiful gray daughter of Secretariat danced every dance and did so with class and beauty. Owned by the late Eugene Klein and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Lady’s Secret won 25 of her 45 races in the mid 80s. Nicknamed the Iron Lady, she won eight consecutive stakes as a three-year-old in 1985. She followed that up with a Horse of the Year campaign in 1986. In her four-year-old season, Lady’s Secret won ten graded stakes, eight of which were Grade 1s. It was her second straight year with ten stakes wins. She ran against males four times, with a dominant win in the Whitney. Lady’s Secret won four stakes that year at Santa Anita, including an easy score in the Breeders’ Cup.

It is a shame that she will no longer have a race named after her at the track where she won her most important race. The Hall-of-Famer does have a few other stakes named after her at other tracks, but they are much smaller and not fitting of one of racing’s royalty. Racing should revel in its rich and storied past. Lady’s Secret may be recent history, but make no mistake, she is an important part of the history of American racing. She was a grade 1 filly who deserves to have a grade 1 race named in her honor.

Give Zenyatta her race, she certainly deserves the recognition, but do not strip the honor from such a marvelous race horse as Lady’s Secret to do so. Zenyatta won the El Encino, Milady, Vanity, and Clement L. Hirsch in California, and Santa Anita also has a number of other big stakes for females during the year. The powers that be in in California racing easily could have renamed any one of the many stakes races for older mares run in Southern California. Any one of those races being renamed would not have disrespected the history of racing and the fitting honor bestowed upon the great Lady’s Secret. Instead the Oak Tree Association chose to make the poorest possible decision and I, for one, think their decision stinks.

November 23, 2009

Remembering ... Holy Bull

The first time I saw Holy Bull in person was the 1993 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. I made the foolish mistake of being there to root on a different horse. At the Saratoga meeting I had fallen in love with a talented juvenile named Dehere, who had demonstrated the qualities of a freight train rolling down the lane and mowing down his competition. I knew Dehere’s main threat in the Futurity was Holy Bull and there was plenty of reason for me to be infatuated with him. He had won both of his starts impressively for a trainer I liked, Jimmy Croll, and he began his career at my home track, Monmouth Park. None of that mattered though, I was there to see Dehere. Dehere actually ran an excellent race as he gained the entire stretch, but the race was controlled by the gray speedster. Taking it to his rivals early, Holy Bull was never in danger of being caught in the Grade 1 race. I went home that day thinking that I had just seen the best two juveniles in the nation. Holy Bull would finish his juvenile season unbeaten, making it 4 for 4 with a romping win in the In Reality Stakes at Calder.

Holy Bull was bred by Mrs. Rachel Carpenter of Pelican Stable. Sired by Great Above out of the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown, he caught the attention of Jimmy Croll early on and when Mrs. Carpenter passed away leaving her whole string of horses to Croll, he sold all the horses except for Holy Bull. It was a wonderful tribute to their working relationship and friendship, for the matriarch of Pelican Stable to bequeath all of her valuable bloodstock to her trainer and it was a bold move by Croll to keep only one of the 19 horses. He kept the right horse.

Holy Bull continued his winning ways at three when he won eight stakes out of ten starts, five of them being Grade 1 affairs. The season began in Florida, where he powered to easy victories in the Hutcheson and Florida Derby. In between those two races, Holy Bull ran a poor race in the Fountain of Youth, but the defeat was easily explained, as during the race he flipped his palate, restricting his air flow. From Florida, Holy Bull headed straight for the Bluegrass State with Derby dreams. An easy win in the Blue Grass Stakes confirmed his favoritism for the first Saturday in May. In the Kentucky Derby, however, he seemed uninterested and finished a well beaten 12th. Jimmy Croll believed that there was foul play afoot. Claiming that his horse had been drugged by an evil doer, effectively keeping the heavy favorite off the board. His claim was never proven.

Holy Bull quickly rebounded, as he ran away from top older horses Devil His Due and Cherokee Run in Belmont’s prestigious Met Mile just three weeks after the Derby debacle. This win started a streak that would propel Holy Bull to superstar status. Easy wins in the Dwyer and then the Haskell followed. In the Travers, he displayed great courage and determination as he held off the distance loving Concern, who would later that year win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, despite being pressured through fast early fractions. His next race would be the season’s final test and it was against older. I was in the stands for his final race of the year, the Woodward. It was one year after I had seen him defeat Dehere in the Futurity and this time I was there to see the gray star, and I was not disappointed. It was one of those rare races when I believed I was truly watching greatness. Holy Bull effortlessly made mincemeat of one of the top fields assembled that year. With his devastating five-length victory over Devil His Due and Colonial Affair, he ended any conjecture as to who was the best horse in the country. Holy Bull capped of the year with Eclipse Awards as the champion 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year of 1994.

After his marvelous campaign at three, it seemed that Holy Bull would have the rest of the racing world at his mercy the following year. He began the year by summarily dispatching top sprinters in the Olympic Handicap at Gulfstream. His next race was the 1995 Donn Handicap. Holly Bull put himself into a perfect position early in the Grade 1 race. Watching from a simulcast television at the Meadowlands, I soon had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as on the backstretch, the star horse was injured and pulled up by his regular rider Mike Smith. It was a sudden and sad ending to his career. Holy Bull was retired. His competition that day, Cigar, gracefully took the baton and went on to be a great champion. As great as Cigar became, you can not convince this writer that he would have beaten the Bull that day.

Holy Bull was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2001. In all, the fantastic horse won 13 out of 16 races. In the three races he lost, he flipped his palate, was possibly drugged, and he was injured. He stood at stud first at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Kentucky and now at Darley Stud’s American division. He has sired a champion in Macho Uno and a Derby winner in Giacomo, but none of his offspring have been the kind of racehorse that he was. I remember you Holy Bull.

November 22, 2009

John Henry vs. The Bart

August 30, 1981, a date that will forever be treasured in Chicago racing history. It was the inaugural running of the Arlington Million. A race that has been the biggest around these parts since it began on that Summer day. It was a coup for Arlington Park to have attracted the top horse to the nation's first million dollar race. In John Henry, you had something for everybody. He was a true rags to riches story. John Henry was son of the modest sire Old Bob Bowers and the equally unheralded Once Double. Early on John Henry was considered a foal with poor conformation and a bad attitude. Nobody would expect much from him and this was displayed for his purchase price of $1,100 at a January sale. He was sold a few more times before he made it to the races at small tracks in the Bayou. Not many champions start their career at Jefferson Downs and Evangeline Downs. Once it was noticed that he could run a bit, John Henry garnered more interest and was purchased by Sam Rubin, sight unseen. Eventually, an affinity for the grass was discovered and the horse would go from claiming races to stakes races. In the Fall of 1979 Ron McAnally would take over training and the horse would soon become a champion. By the running of the first Arlington Million, John Henry was the defending turf champion and well on his way to Horse of the Year for 1981. America identified with his ascent from meager beginnings to superstar. He was horse racing’s version of the American Dream. In the Million, he would face a soft Arlington turf and a strong field of 11 other turf runners.

Among them was a little known Irish five-year-old named The Bart. The Bart had been competitive in turf stakes in California, but de did not have the resume of John Henry or many others in the field. Handicappers figured that the big horse’s main competition would come from local hero Rossi Gold, Eastern turf star Key to Content, or one of the French invaders Argument and Madame Gay. It was a great field and it accomplished Arlington’s goal of an international field. Make no mistake though, John Henry was the star. He would be supported to the tune of 11-10 while The Bart was ignored at 40-1.

A crowd of more than 30,000 patrons filled the Suburban Chicago race place to the brim. NBC Sports was there to televise the race both to U.S. fans as well an international viewing audience. Chicago was back on the racing map.

Key to Content took the early lead and Eddie Delahoussaye had longshot The Bart following in perfect stalking position. John Henry was shuffled back to farther back then he usually occupied the first part of the race. Fractions were slow on the soft turf and the leading pair looked strong. John Henry made his way to a striking position on the turn, but it did not look good when The Bart spurted clear of Key to Content at the top of the lane. John Henry was resolute, but The Bart was still full of run. He was strong, but it became desperate as America’s champion was charging relentlessly on the outside. The finish line was coming quickly as John Henry, ridden by legendary Willie Shoemaker, gained with every powerful stride. When they hit the wire it was too close to call, Arlington Park announcer Phil Georgeff did not know, no one did. It was tight. The NBC announcers thought they knew, and were talking about The Bart as if he had won. A lengthy inspection of the photo ensued, and then the numbers were posted … 1, 4. John Henry had won. Fans went wild. John Henry had won, by a single hair protruding from his proud nose.

To the victor went all the spoils as the legend of John Henry grew. He would grace the American racing scene with his ability and determination for three more years, twice more visiting Arlington Park for the Million. But it was on August 30, 1981, when a gallant horse named The Bart gave him everything he wanted, and in so doing, brought out the true greatness of John Henry. To this day the bronze statue of John Henry and the Bart, battling to the wire together, overlooks the beautiful Arlington paddock. A fitting tribute to one of racing’s greatest races.

November 21, 2009

Discovering Gone Astray

If you have followed Zipse at the Track from the very beginning, you know that one of my favorite horses in training is the Phipps Stable’s Gone Astray. I liked what I saw in the bay colt last Summer at Saratoga and I have followed him ever since. Unfortunately, every time that he would try graded stakes in New York, Gone Astray would run decently, but with no real chance to win. Sometimes talented horses need time to develop or sometimes it is just time for a change. For Gone Astray, that change was entering him in two-turn races. After eight races at one-turn, with results that did not seem to match the horse’s talent, his last four tries have come in longer races and the improvement has been exciting. Today, I look for the excitement to continue

The Shug McGaughey trained three-year-old son of Dixie Union returns to the races in the Grade 3 Discovery Stakes at Aqueduct. In the Discovery, Gone Astray will face only four rivals in the 1 1/8 mile race, but a couple of his rivals are interesting. Four-time stakes winner Haynesfield, a front-running winner against older New York bred stakes horses last out in the Empire Classic, and former claimer Bad Action, who has improved steadily for conditioner Gary Contessa, becoming a graded stakes winner in his last start at the Meadowlands, are the main threats. Despite the merits of Haynesfield and Bad Action, do not expect juicy odds for parimutuel purposes. Gone Astray's impressive scores in his last two races will assure short odds today.

After two promising races, but tough luck defeats, in his first two attempts over a route of ground, Gone Astray began collecting Derbies. On Labor Day, Gone Astray announced himself at Philadelphia Park in a big way. In the one million dollar Pennsylvania Derby, Gone Astray turned the stretch into his own personal playground. With Eddie Castro piloting for the first time, the attractive homebred exploded on the turn and ran away from the field of eight with shocking ease. When they hit the wire, Gone Astray was 9 ¼ lengths ahead. For me, it was affirmation in my belief that this colt had the talent to be a top horse. I quickly began to dream about Gone Astray entering the Jockey Club Gold Cup and running against some of the top horses in the nation. Shug McGaughey had no such dreams.

Less than four weeks later Gone Astray showed up in Northern Ohio to compete in Thistledown’s Grade 2 Ohio Derby. It was no competition. Castro patiently held his charge of a slow early pace, and confidently pulled Gone Astray to the outside on the turn for a clear path to comfortably run down the loose-on-the-lead War Fighter. Margin of victory was only 2 ¼ lengths at the wire, but it was easy win, and War Fighter finished more than seven lengths ahead of the 3rd place finisher. Once again, I was impressed and I thought bigger and better things might be in store for this three-year-old.

Instead McGaughey, who once thought the horse was best suited for sprint races, has found a somewhat easier spot for Gone Astray. I am happy to see Gone Astray gain in confidence while he is patiently placed and I will be patient as I wait for him to join racing’s elite. In the meantime, tune in for today’s Discovery and watch him roll. Despite his impressive wins in the Pennsylvania and Ohio Derbies, Gone Astray has not yet captured the racing world’s full attention, but he is high on my personal list. I consider him to be one of the most underrated horses in America. Only the future will tell if I am correct in pinning such high hopes on Gone Astray.

November 20, 2009

Calling All Horse Whisperers

Should Quality Road run in Aqueduct’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile next Saturday? That, my fellow horse fans, is the question.

A little background on Quality Road. In only four races the big, beautiful, bay colt by Elusive Quality established himself as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. His Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby were powerful displays of speed and class. A nasty quarter crack ended the Derby dreams of the Edward Evans runner and caused him to be away from the races for more than four months. During this time off Evans transferred him from Jimmy Jerkens to the Todd Pletcher stable. Returning to the races, Quality Road set a track record in the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga. The sky was the limit. He followed with two competitive losing efforts at 10 furlongs to the division leader Summer Bird in the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It was enough for Team Quality Road to send the talented colt on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and that is where the trouble began, or should I say, became worse.

This was not the first time that Quality Road struggled to enter the starting gate. Remember all the trouble he had before the Travers? Loading for the Jockey Club Gold Cup was no picnic either. These traumatic experiences are not readily forgotten by a horse. Bad memories last longer than good ones. In the Breeders’ Cup, with a helicopter whirring overhead, everything came to a head. We all cringed as the starters at Santa Anita attempted to load Quality Road into the Classic starting gate. Quality Road simply would not go into the gate. Anything and everything the starters did, including blindfolding the powerhouse colt, only succeeded in making him more upset. On this day he was going to hurt himself before he went into that starting gate.

The Thoroughbred race horse is a hot-blooded and temperamental breed and the starting gate can be an unpleasant aspect of racing for most horses. A high percentage of Thoroughbreds learn to live with being loaded into the gate and do so with calm. It is not uncommon, however, for a horse to dislike the loading process so much that they never get over the issue. They never walk into the starting gate with complete calm and confidence. The excellent sprinter of the mid 90s, Lit de Justice comes to mind. He was a very talented horse who had all sorts of gate problems. Trainer Jenine Sahadi was patient with him and finally went the route of blindfolding the champion sprinter before ever trying to enter the starting gate, and before the horse had the chance to get overly agitated. This program worked, for the most part, for Lit de Justice.

Quality Road is a massive horse who fits more tightly into the starting gate than most. It is no wonder that the specter of the gate is so unnerving for Quality Road. Those of you who suffer from claustrophobia, as I do, know what I mean. While he consistently acts like a gentleman in gate schooling sessions, the added pressure of race day creates too many nerves. Perhaps a more detailed plan for getting Quality Road into the starting gate on race days is needed, or perhaps time and more positive schooling experiences will help alleviate his current uneasiness. Early word from his connections back in New York are good. He has once again schooled successfully and is being monitored in preparation for the Cigar Mile. Still, I can not help but to wonder if this quick return is the best thing for the horse.

I have no doubt that Evans and Pletcher want to do right by the horse, and there is something to be said for getting right back in the saddle. I, however, would go a different route.

If he were my horse, I would give him some time. Time to get over the traumatic experience at Santa Anita and time to feel good again. Clearly he was mentally effected by the incident, as he refused to get on the plane to head back to New York. His connections instead, had to van him all the way across the country. Running back so quickly in the Cigar Mile is not allowing for the horse to ease his psyche. Sure, the Cigar Mile is a big race and one that would seem to set up quite well for the talented Quality Road, but 2010 is full of big races, starting at Gulfstream Park, a track that he loves. I say give this horse a little rest, relaxation and rehabilitation, so that he can return next year at his best and claim his position as one of the top horses in America.

November 19, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I ran in more than 50 races, winning almost half and finishing in the money 40 times.

*My 17 stakes wins came at eight different racetracks.

*I loved the Windy City, where I had six wins, one second, and one third in only eight starts.

*I never raced at 2-years-old, but I still managed five successful seasons of racing.

*I was named by my owner, not my parents.

*Travel was a big part of my career as I raced at 15 different tracks in nine different states.

*I was never a champion, but I did defeat a multiple Eclipse Award winner.

*Like a fine wine, I improved with age, although I was a stakes winner in five consecutive years.

*I became the 21st member of what, at the time, was a very exclusive club.

*I was ridden by eleven different riders, but only two after I was transferred to Bill.

*I went out a winner and I did it in my favorite city.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

November 18, 2009

Extolling European Excellence

Last night at the Claridge Hotel in London, England, the highest honors in European Racing were presented. The 19th annual Cartier Racing Awards celebrated seven outstanding horses in eight divisions and one person for their accomplishments in one of the finest years for European Thoroughbreds in recent memory. Here are the worthy recipients:

Horse Of The Year & Three-Year-Old Colt - Sea The Stars
In 2009 Sea the Stars completed one of the greatest seasons of racing ever witnessed by racefans. The three-year-old son of top sire Cape Cross and champion mare Urban Sea was undefeated in six starts, but that only tells a small part of his story. His six performances were all in Group 1 races and each of the races are among the most prestigious and important races on the continent. Making this season of perfection even more impressive was the way he won each race. Never fully extended, every time Sea The Stars hit the wire, fans were left to wonder just how much more this horse had in his enormous tank.

Older Horse - Goldikova
A four-year-old bay filly by Anabaa out of Born Gold, Goldikova proved her greatness on both sides of the Atlantic again in 2009. Proving to be the most outstanding miler in the world, she had overpowering victories in England, France, and America. Her second straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile placed her in very select company. Goldikova raised her record to 10 wins and 2 seconds in 12 starts at the one mile distance, including eight in a row, with her four wins at the distance this year. If she stays in training in 2010, Goldikova will try to stamp herself as the greatest miler in modern racing.

Three-Year-Old Filly - Sariska
Completing the English Oaks and Irish Oaks double is a special accomplishment and it was enough for Sariska, a three-year-old bay filly by Pivotal out of Maycocks Bay, to claim top honors in Europe this year. The Oaks double completed a three racing winning streak and propelled her to stardom. While Sariska finished her 3 for 6 season with two losses, they did little to diminish her stature. First running a game 2nd to the top older mare, Dar Re Mi, in the Yorkshire Oaks and then giving the older males a run for their money with a highly competitive 3rd in the Champion Stakes where she finished ahead of the Irish Derby winner Fame and Glory.

Two-Year-Old Colt - St Nicholas Abbey
The champion juvenile colt in Europe this year also looks to be the most promising for the classics of 2010. In only three races, St Nicholas Abbey, a two-year-old bay colt by Montjeu out of Leaping Water, went from Maiden winner to champion. His win in the Group 2 Juddmonte Beresford Stakes in Ireland and then a most impressive win in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy in England, was easily enough to annex the Cartier Award and also make him a clear Winter favorite for next year’s Epsom Derby. Bred for distance, the Irish bred runner is expected to relish the longer going of next year’s key races.

Two-Year-Old Filly - Special Duty
Special Duty, a two-year-old chestnut filly by Hennessy out of Quest to Peak, won England’s Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes in impressive fashion capping a consistent season that saw her run first or second in each of her four races. The win at Newmarket directly proceeded a narrow defeat in her home nation of France in the Group 1 Prix Morny against the boys. Before that she had defeated the highly regarded Siyouni in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin. Off these impressive results, the Criquette Head-Maarek trained filly has been installed as the early favorite for next Spring’s 1000 Guineas.

Stayer - Yeats
An eight-year-old bay colt by Sadler’s Wells out of Lyndonville, Yeats has proven that he is as exceptional as a stayer in his career longevity as he is in his staying power in Europe longest races. His convincing win in the continent’s most important distance race, Ascot’s 2 ½ mile Gold Cup, was incredibly his fourth consecutive in the prestigious race. Yeats became the first horse in history to win the Gold Cup a fourth time in the long and storied history of the race. Once a favorite for the Epsom Derby before meeting a setback just days before the race, Yeats has endured in his remarkable career.

Sprinter - Fleeting Spirit
A four-year-old bay filly by Invincible Spirit out of Millennium Tale, Fleeting Spirit only won once in her five starts this year, but her smashing triumph in the Group 1 July Cup was enough to carry the day. The July Cup win was considered the best European sprint race run in 2009. She also finished a competitive 2nd in her other three races in Europe, all of which were important Group 1 sprints. She finished the year with an out of the money performance in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but her consistent form in the top sprints in Europe made her a champion.

Award of Merit - John Oxx
A special 18-member Cartier Jury awarded, Sea The Stars' trainer, John Oxx, the Cartier Award of Merit 2009 for his lifetime of training achievements and for doing more than any other horseperson for the good of European racing this year. Highly respected throughout the sport, Oxx enjoyed his greatest season to date in this his 30th year of training. Oxx, an Irishman, is very involved in many facets in the well being of racing in Ireland. Before Sea The Stars, Oxx trained many top horses in Europe, including the 2000 Arc winner and champion Sinndar and the 1995 Breeders‘ Cup Mile winner and champion filly, Ridgewood Pearl.

November 16, 2009

Remembering ... Sunday Silence

Tom Durkin‘s words still freshly echo between my ears whenever the thought of Sunday Silence or Easy Goer comes to mind. “Easy Goer with one final acceleration and Sunday Silence holds on!!!” Everything was on the line and the two magnificent horses, forever joined in history, responded with a racing epic that day at Gulfstream Park. Beating a great horse like Easy Goer for the third time in four tries was not easy, but from a very young age things were not easy for the champion.

After surviving a life threatening virus as a weanling at Stone Farm in Paris, Kentucky, Sunday Silence grew into a long-legged, narrow frame. Cow-hocked, he impressed no one with his conformation. Sunday Silence was well bred, by Halo out of Wishing Well. Halo had already produced champions Devil’s Bag and Glorious Song and a Derby winner in Sunny’s Halo. Wishing Well was a multiple stakes winning daughter of Understanding. The solid breeding was overshadowed though by the looks of the gangly youngster. Twice offered for sale at auction, he attracted no buyers even with very modest reserve prices, leaving owner and breeder Arthur Hancock III no choice but to retain the colt to race. Adding to the adversity of his childhood, Sunday Silence was involved in an awful accident. As a 2-year-old, Sunday Silence was being transported by van when the driver had a heart attack. The van overturned and nearly ended the young colt’s life. Sunday Silence would endure.

Veteran trainer Charlie Whittingham, liked what he saw once the colt began his training. He did not rush the leggy colt and brought the horse to the races for the first time late in his juvenile season. After a narrow defeat in his opening race, Sunday Silence rebounded with a ten length score in his second race. He continued to develop and things all came together in the Spring. He demolished the field in the Santa Anita Derby in April and went to the Kentucky Derby as a clear second choice. On May 6, 1989 Sunday Silence shocked the racing world as he galloped home 2 ½ lengths in front of the most highly regarded Derby favorite in ten years. It was not a straight course down the stretch of the Churchill Downs mud, but it was a triumphant one for the horse no one wanted. Baltimore would soon host Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer II

The Preakness was one of the greatest races ever run on an American racetrack. It brought together Sunday Silence fresh off his Kentucky Derby win and his blueblood rival, Easy Goer who had finished second in the Derby as a heavy favorite. Before Louisville, it was well established that the powerful chestnut son of Alydar was a special horse, but with his win in the Derby, Sunday Silence had emerged as a second superstar from the 1986 foal crop. The Preakness would be a showdown between the East Coast establishment and the West Coast upstart. The world was watching. Easy Goer was once again made the favorite, but this time the odds were much closer. Odds make little difference to the horses and the race was on.

Pat Day, careful not to give Sunday Silence too much room for comfort, made a big move on the turn to go by his rival. The black horse was squeezed and was suddenly two lengths behind. Pat Valenzuela swung his charge to the outside and then something magical happened. Sunday Silence, using perhaps his greatest racing asset, an electrifying burst of speed, pounced like a cat on a mouse and was abreast of Easy Goer like a shot. The race was on. The entire Pimlico stretch became a racing battleground for two horses that were too good to lose. The only other time I have ever witnessed such an intense display was in the Affirmed - Alydar Belmont Stakes of 1978. The horses turned their heads slightly so that they could look at each other eyeball to eyeball as their riders vigorously urged their talented runners on. Sunday Silence on the outside Easy Goer on the inside. Neither horse had one iota of give up, it was racing perfection incapsulated within a quarter of a mile. Easy Goer fought on gamely from the rail and gained a nose advantage in the stretch, but in the end, Sunday Silence edged in front by a whisker. Watching this race, was proof that horse racing is the purest form of athletic competition. On to New York they would go.

The Triple Crown was not to be, as the powerful Easy Goer relished the 1 ½ mile distance, the sandy surface, and the sweeping turns of Belmont Park. His great rival had his day in the sun with an easy victory over my hero in the Belmont Stakes. The nation would again have no Triple Crown winner, but the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was flourishing.

The 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic would bring these racing titans together for a final time. Since the Triple Crown, Easy Goer was a dominating force in the New York racing scene. Sunday Silence was lightly raced, but was coming off a rousing win in Louisiana. With a win, either horse would win the three-year-old championship and the Horse of the Year title. Both horses were treated as superstars by their throngs of fans in South Florida. The greatest match-up in Breeders‘ Cup history lived up to the expectations. Sunday Silence took his familiar stalking position with Easy Goer a little farther back. Pat Day made the first move, rushing up to join his rival on the backstretch. It was Sunday‘s Silence‘s turn to respond and respond he did. Displaying the incredible acceleration that he was blessed with, Sunday Silence spurted away from the Phipps runner and carried himself to a clear lead in late stretch. Then it was one last run by his great rival… I will let Tom Durkin say it one more time “Easy Goer with one final acceleration and Sunday Silence holds on!!!”

Sunday Silence was the 1989 Horse of the Year. In all he won nine times out of fourteen races and never finished worse than second. Besides his three classic wins over Easy Goer, Sunday Silence won the Super Derby by six lengths and the Santa Anita Derby by eleven lengths. He earned just a shade under five million dollars and was quickly ushered into Racing’s Hall of Fame at first opportunity. For all his racing accomplishments, Sunday Silence would still meet doubters when it was time for syndication.

For a final time, American breeders did not believe in Sunday Silence, and he was sent to stud in Japan. Zenya Yoshida saw the opportunity through the indifference in the United States and stood Sunday Silence his entire stud career. It can not be overstated what Sunday Silence meant to the Thoroughbred breeding industry in Japan since he began his stud career there in 1991. His complete dominance as a sire in Japan is best described by the words of my friend living in Japan and noted Thoroughbred photographer, Kate Hunter “Sunday Silence did for the Japanese thoroughbred what Eclipse did for English Thoroughbreds. Every horse will eventually find itself crossed with Sunday Silence in Japan. He took Japanese Thoroughbreds to a new level, where they now can compete successfully with the rest of the world.” To this day and despite his relatively short career at stud, Sunday Silence’s progeny have earned more money worldwide than those of any other sire in history.

On Sunday, August 19, 2002 Sunday Silence passed away at Shadai Stallion Station in Japan's Hokkaido. The great horse died of heart failure after a long battle with debilitating laminitis. Infection had spread to his leg causing laminitis and only the heart and the will of a true champion allowed him to survive and fight for life for more than three months. In the end the infirmity got the best of the black stallion. His many caretakers at the breeding farm said he found some relief from his pain near the end. Sunday Silence now rests in peace at Shadai Stallion Station. News of his failing health and finally his death at the young age of 16 years touched horse fans throughout the world. I know it touched me, I loved Sunday Silence. It still touches me, for now I am just trying to get down the words through all of these tears. I remember you … Sunday Silence.

November 15, 2009

A Bend in the Derby Road

No, it is not too early to start talking about the 2010 Kentucky Derby. One of the things that I absolutely love about the sport of horse racing is the anticipation that it creates. There is always so much to look forward to, especially with a promising young horse. The possibility of what a horse may become, or a race that he may someday enter are limitless. There is no better race to anticipate and there is not a bigger race to dream about then the Kentucky Derby. We have five and a half months to follow, discuss, and conjecture upon the most recognized horse race in the world. The Bob Baffert trained Californian colt, Lookin at Lucky will soon be named the juvenile champion and is a deserving Winter Book favorite for the Run for the Roses. Today, I would like to showcase a horse who may not be on the radar of many, but should be. His name is Jackson Bend.

To date, Jackson Bend has won 5 of 6 starts and $477,820. All of his races were run at Calder and they were all for the Jacks or Better Farm. The win total should continue to grow, but he will no longer be carrying the purple silks of Fred Brei and Jacks or Better, as he sold a majority interest in Jackson Bend to Robert LaPenta for an undisclosed fee. LaPenta transferred the colt from original trainer Stanley Gold to Hall of Fame member, and trainer of two Kentucky Derby winners, Nick Zito. Don’t feel too bad for the original owners, they bred the colt at their farm in Ocala, Florida where they still own Jackson Bend's sire Hear No Evil and his dam Sexy Stockings. The LaPenta offer was just one of a half-dozen offers for Jackson Bend. How did this modestly bred colt, who had never left Calder before, garner this kind of attention?

Jackson Bend‘s latest win came in the $400,000 In Reality Division of Calder‘s Florida Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-olds. The In Reality victory completed a three race sweep for Jackson Bend and was his fifth consecutive score. It was a remarkable win for such a young horse. He stumbled badly out of the starting gate, dropping to his knees. Jackson Bend athletically gathered himself up and quickly put himself in a stalking position of the 1 1/16 mile race. He made what appeared to be a decisive move on the winning turn, until another horse came flying up to him on the outside. Showing his class and finishing ability, Jackson Bend easily was able to repulse the challenge from Thank U Philippe down the lane, and was going away at the finish to a 2 ¾ length score. This type of powerful finish is nothing new for the Florida bred colt.

He began his career with a fast closing second in a Maiden Special Weight in May and since then, it has been perfection. The first time I saw Jackson Bend was his third career start in the Frank Gomez Memorial. I really was not expecting too much from this lightly raced field of Florida based juveniles. What I did see was two excellent young horses and a thrilling finish. D’Funnybone, who went on to become the dominant two-year-old in New York, spurted clear in the stretch and the race seemed as good as over. Even as near to the wire as one hundred yards away, I would not have given a plugged nickel for the chance of any horse to run down D’Funnybone, yet that is exactly what happened. In a raw display of heart and will, Jackson Bend dug deep, found multiple higher gears to shift into, and swooped right buy the talented speedster. I was surprised and I was impressed. Jackson Bend has since confirmed what I saw that day and now sits squarely near the top of my list of early Derby favorites.

There you have it, Jackson Bend is one horse we need to keep an eye on. Let the road to Louisville begin…Does anyone want to talk Derby with me?

November 14, 2009

Gio Ponti IV - The Return of a Champion

Do you enjoy non-stop action and spine-tingling excitement??? How about heart stopping thrills or cliffhanging finishes???

Coming Soon to a neighborhood theatre … Gio Ponti IV - The Return of a Champion! Sure to be one of the can’t miss films of 2010, our equine hero is back one more time to thrill audiences everywhere. Rarely do sequels out do the original, but in the Gio Ponti series each movie outshines the one before. If you only see a few movies next year, Gio Ponti IV - The Return of a Champion, must be one of them!!!

Starring - Gio Ponti

Co-Starring - Ramon Dominguez

Director - Christophe Clement

Producers - Tale of the Cat & Chipeta Springs

Executive Producer - Castleton Lyons

Release Date - January 1, 2010

Here is a brief recap of the first three films, in case you missed one second of the spellbinding saga:

In the original, Gio Ponti - The Beginning, the world fell in love with Gio for good, as they followed him from his early training days with Christophe Clement, to his triumphant victory at first asking, to his impressive stakes win in only his second start, and to finally, his heartbreaking and unlucky journey in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. A wonderful story, but more was to unfold…

The second in the series, Gio Ponti II - Undiscovered Worlds, left audiences everywhere on the edge of their seats and wanting more. Gio traveled from one coast to the other, delighting his fans with thrilling finishes. He racked up victories in the Hill Prince and the Virginia Derby and narrow defeats in the Del Mar Derby and the Jamaica. His troubled trip in the Hollywood Derby brought the audience to tears. Gio Ponti’s final performance was a foreshadowing of things to come as he made his initial foray on to a synthetic surface with a scintillating score in Santa Anita’s Sir Beaufort Stakes. This film brought moviegoers to their collective feet, but also, only wanting and needing more and that is exactly what they got…

Fans of the series were brought to screams of joy, laughter, tears, and waves of thunderous ovations as 'Gio Ponti III - Your Surface or Mine?' hit the theatres this past January. Gio Ponti added to his legend with powerful and consecutive victories in the Kilroe Mile, Manhattan, Man o' War and Arlington Million. All of these races were of the Grade 1 variety, only furthering Gio’s box office appeal. The four-year-old heartthrob took the role of tragic hero quite well as he transferred his talents to the Pro-Ride surface of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, running a bang-up 2nd to Supermare Zenyatta. Academy Awards are sure to follow. Surely this was to be the swan song, but no, he will be back!

Want a little teaser for Gio Ponti IV - The Return of a Champion? The borders of the United States will no longer be big enough to contain our hero as he will travel half way across the globe to compete in the 10 million dollar Dubai World Cup. How exciting does that sound?

Get you tickets early, this is sure to be one wild ride!

November 13, 2009

10 Reasons Why Rachel Alexandra is Horse of the Year

Horse of the Year for 2009 will be decided in about two months. Passionate followers of both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are at the ready to proclaim why their candidate is the more worthy. This debate has already become heated and only will become more so as the weeks pass. I write today’s column not to throw more fuel on the fire, but rather to do my job; have an opinion on topics that matter in the world of horse racing. Ask yourself why this subjective vote is so contentious. The answer is this: Two sensational horses have completed truly remarkable seasons, in the process giving their fans as much joy and rooting interest as we have seen in this sport in many years. Adding to the excitement and emotion, both horses are female. 2009 will go down as one of the greatest ever because of them. Is it OK to love them both? Absolutely. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are good for our sport, as is this debate.

1) Geography - In many years, where a horse raced does not matter, but when there is such an interesting race as this, it needs to be taken into consideration. We are after all, looking for our National Champion. Zenyatta raced all of her races in the friendly confines of Southern California, meanwhile, Rachel Alexandra raced in six different states and at seven different tracks during 2009.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

2) Beyer Ratings - Like them or not, they are the best tool in American racing to place a quantitative standard as to how well a horse performed in a certain race. Zenyatta’s Beyers from this year are 103, 104, 99, 97, and 112. Rachel Alexandra’s Beyers are 100, 103, 101, 108, 108, 111, 116, and 109. Her average Beyer rating in the last five races (all Grade 1’s) is 110.4, which is higher than every Beyer rating than Zenyatta has ever run until her last race.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

3) Grade 1’s - A sheer numbers comparison: Zenyatta won four Grade 1 races in 2009, while Rachel Alexandra won five Grade 1 races this year.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

4) Overcoming Adversity - While many races tactically set up well for the two heroines, there were three races that notably did not. Rachel Alexandra overcame a 13 post and a speed dual (something never done in my lifetime) to win an American classic, the Preakness, by one length. She overcame a rabbit, and a fresh wave of challengers every step of the way to beat older males and win the Woodward by a head over Macho Again. In the Clement Hirsch Stakes, Zenyatta was too far behind a dawdling early pace and still managed to get up and win by a head. Her head victory was over a horse named Anabaa’s Creation.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

5) Total Races - Both horses were undefeated and raced exclusively in stakes races, so I will side with the horse that ran eight times compared to the horse who only ran five times.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

6) Versatility - Rachel Alexandra raced on seven different dirt surfaces (every track is a little different) and raced equally well on both dry and wet surfaces throughout the year. Zenyatta only raced on fast Pro-Ride surfaces and was scratched out of the Louisville Distaff due to an earlier rain. By race time the track was listed as good.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

7) Margins of Victory - Rachel Alexandra’s average margin of victory in her eight races this year, all stakes wins, was more than 8 lengths, including a 6 length win over our soon to be champion 3-year-old colt, Summer Bird. In many of these victories, she was being eased up before the wire. Zenyatta’s average margin of victory in her five races, all stakes wins, was just over 1 ¼ lengths.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

8) Horses Beaten - While it is true that both fantastic horses have beaten many top horses, especially in the BC Classic, Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward, one has beaten far more stakes winners, graded stakes winners and Grade 1 winners than the other one this year.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

9) Aggressiveness of Campaign - Zenyatta gained leaps and bounds when she became the first female ever to win the BC Classic in 26 runnings, but combined with her four relatively easy races prior, she falls short of the campaign waged by Rachel Alexandra, who ran against the boys on three different occasions. She became the first female ever to win the Woodward, the first female winner in 85 years of the Preakness, and only the second filly ever to win the Haskell.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

10) Quality Victories - Zenyatta has the biggest win of all, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but that one race does not trump all the prestigious victories that Rachel Alexandra racked up this year. The Kentucky Oaks, Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward are four of the most important races on the U.S. racing schedule. In elite races on the American landscape the score is 4-1.
Advantage : Rachel Alexandra

I welcome your responses and criticisms of this piece. I only ask that your comments remain civil and respectful of your fellow readers. Let the fun begin.

November 12, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I won races in three different countries, but the United States was not one of them.

*Five of my wins were at 2, and five of my wins were at 3.

*I was a class act; my record in Group/Grade 1 stakes was seven wins and one 2nd out of eight races.

*Ireland is where I was born and bred and reside today.

*All of my races were less than a mile at 2, while none of my races were less than a mile at 3.

*13 was my unluckiest number of all.

*England is where I raced the most, won the most, and won my most important race.

*My grandsire was an undefeated American.

*Man U has always been my favorite team, I try to avoid all arguments, and I am cool with my owners.

*One of my breeders also went on to be my trainer.

*I am proud to be a classic winner in two countries and a former Horse of the Year.

*I own a world record for my streak, a streak that came to an end when I visited the United States.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

November 11, 2009

Can Win For Losing

There were fourteen winners over the two days of Breeders’ Cup and these horses deserve all the attention and accolades they receive. Zenyatta was the biggest of winners and currently the toast of the racing world, but what about the horses that did not hit the finish line first. Losers, disappointments and afterthoughts? I think not. Many of these horse deserve some love for the outstanding races they ran in losing efforts. Here are the best of the lot:

Lookin at Lucky was the clear favorite in the Juvenile despite his #13 post position. He had been perfect in four starts including facile scores in three major stakes in Southern California. The clear leader of the division, the Eclipse Award was his to lose. He did not. Lookin at Lucky’s race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was the best run by a 2-year-old this past weekend. He suffered through a pedestrian early pace near the back of the pack and was parked wide the entire race. Despite this, his drive in the lane was relentless and was only denied in a photo finish by a horse who had a perfect trip and was able to sprint home the last 100 yards. Lookin at Lucky strengthened his claim as the 2-year-old champion and the early Derby favorite.

It was business as usual for Gio Ponti who never fails to fire his best shot on the far turn. Usually this patented move preludes a canter into the winner’s circle. The BC Classic was not to be for Gio Ponti, as he succumbed to the fantastic feminine force, but he did secure his standing as the best older male in America on turf or synthetics. Gio Ponti, with his second in the Classic, proved his class and consistency and did nothing to tarnish his reputation. At least one Eclipse Award is in his future.

Summer Bird is the best three-year-old colt in the nation. There can be no more debate. While his run for fourth in the Classic was nothing sensational, it did show what an honest and classy horse he is. On a surface that he had never before raced, Summer Bird was still able to put himself in position to win the race at the top of the stretch in a race where every other horse his age ran poorly. I do not know if he will ever have to run on Pro-Ride again, but if he does, you can expect improvement. It will be back to dirt for our three-year-old champion, and a trip to Japan next, but his race in the Breeders’ Cup only reaffirmed his hold on the glamour division.

What can you say about Presious Passion? He is tough as nails. He is unique and he is fun too watch. He sprints to a huge early lead running 6 furlongs in 1:09 and 1 and then has plenty left to dig in the entire stretch. Horses do not run this way. It took a great effort by the best older turf horse in the world to run him down and make no mistake, Conduit was life and death to get by our American speedster. Final time was a brilliant 2:23 and 3 for the 1 ½ mile test on the Santa Anita lawn. I do not think he will rest the turf championship away from the deserving Gio Ponti, but Presious Passion proved to the world what a truly special horse he is.

Ventura is a wonderful mare and she ran a huge race in running second in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint. Pace makes the race and the first part of the race was just a little too slow for the confirmed stretch runner. Informed Decision is a great mare and a deserving Eclipse Award champion this year, but Ventura gave her everything she had and if the pace had been different the result may have been as well. I credit Ventura for easily passing all the other horses and gobbling up tons of ground in a race that did not set up well for her. She lost the race, but none of her reputation.

Cloudy’s Knight is nine-years-old and is still as good as ever. In the BC Marathon, the old-timer ran one of the best races of his life. He made a winning move on the turn, only to be passed by Man of Iron on the inside. Cloudy’s came back at him on the outside, but lost in a thrilling finish. His trainer, Jonathan Sheppard should be credited for preparing this horse to run his best at an advanced age. Riding Cloudy’s Knight, was jockey Rosemary Homeister. It was her first ever ride in the Breeders’ Cup and she gave the old boy a great chance to win on Ladies Day. Win or lose, Cloudy’s Knight was a wonderful story…too bad he did not get that photo.

Biofuel was an unknown Canadian juvenile filly a short time ago, but with her impressive win in the Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine and then her spirited rally in the BC Juvenile Fillies, she has stamped herself as one of the most promising horses in her division. In the Breeders’ Cup, she was running fastest of all in the middle of the track when she was banged sideways by another filly. The trouble was enough to throw Biofuel completely off stride. Once she gathered herself, she once again came flying. Biofuel finished fourth, but was beaten only a length and a half for all the money. With a better trip, she may have well been the winner.

November 9, 2009

Remembering ... Eillo

I will never forget the very first Breeders' Cup Sprint. It was 1984 and one of my favorite horses of the time, Eillo made the cross country trip from the swamplands of New Jersey to the glitz of la-la land. It was a thrilling time. The very first Breeders’ Cup had all the promise of the most exciting event ever to come along for race fans. Some of my favorite horses were running with a big chance to win and the Jersey horse was certainly one of them. Eillo did what he always did and ran as fast as he could. You could still hear the ringing of the starting gate bell when Eillo cleared the field. He bounded along, his small chestnut body too quick for the other top sprinters. As they neared the top of the stretch, his competition closed in but Eillo had plenty left. My hopes soared as Eillo started to pull away in the stretch. The race was over. Or was it?

The long Hollywood Park stretch was starting to take its’ toll. One hundred yards to go and the lead was still two lengths. I held my breath as his stride began to shorten and Commemorate made a final rush. As they hit the wire together, I did not know who won. An agonizing wait for the photo finally revealed that Eillo had desperately held off Commemorate to win by a nose. This is still the closest finish in a race that has often had fantastic finishes. It is also a race that has not always been kind to favorites, but on this day the favorite would overcome. Eillo went off as the 6-5 favorite, and no favorite would again win the Sprint for ten years. Happy times for everyone rooting for the unique talent that was Eillo, but the happy times would not last long.

Unfortunately, I will also never forget the day I heard that my favorite sprinter was no longer with us. Less than one month after his greatest triumph, Eillo had passed away after surgery for Colic. I could not believe that a horse I had grown to love and so recently had become a champion was suddenly gone. My heart sank from the news. I was fifteen years old and had not yet experienced much death in my life. It hurt. It was unimaginable that the horse I was dazzled with at the Meadowlands two months before was dead. If there can be any solace in such an untimely death, it can be found in Eillo completing his career with ultimate success. In the short time between his Breeders’ Cup triumph and his death he had been retired from racing. When he got his chance to shine on the biggest stage, Eillo had made the grade.

Perhaps I liked Eillo so much for our New Jersey connection. Eillo was New Jersey through and through. He was ridden by perennial New Jersey leading rider Craig Perret and trained by Budd Lepman who for years ran his horses at two of my hangouts Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands. Eillo raced only 17 times in two years, but his local fans got to see him each of his seasons at both Monmouth and the Meadowlands. Seeing an Eillo race was a rare treat. His owner was a likeable fellow named Ollie Cohen. Cohen was the co-founder of King's Department Store, a chain that grew to 190 stores before he sold his interest in 1979. His Crown Stables owned 16 stakes winner but none could compare to the horse he named after himself. Eillo is owner Ollie Cohen’s name in reverse. Somewhere Harry Caray must be smiling. Or maybe I liked Eillo so much because every time I saw him race in person he would blow the field away with speed to burn. He was a Jersey horse and he was the quickest thing on four legs.

A chestnut son of the outstanding sire Mr. Prospector, Eillo was born to run swiftly. His dam was the stakes producing Northern Dancer broodmare, Barb’s Dancer. From the very beginning, Eillo was faster than fast, winning his first two races by a combined 15 lengths. In all, the talented speedster won 12 times in 17 attempts. Unlike the BC Sprint, many of these wins were by daylight as the other horses simply could not keep up to Eillo. He was posthumously awarded the 1984 Eclipse Award as the nation’s best sprinter. To the people that knew Eillo well, he was considered a sweet horse who was exceptionally intelligent. His sudden passing was a great blow to all. When I reflect back on Eillo I always think about the line made famous regarding James Dean. He was too fast to live and too young to die. I remember you … Eillo.

November 8, 2009

Z is for Zenyatta

Santa Anita was afire with more excitement and emotion yesterday than has been seen in thoroughbred horse racing in a long, long time. If Rachel Alexandra raised the rafters when she beat older males in the Woodward at Saratoga, then Zenyatta made the earth quake in the California sun as she rumbled through and then around the best males America had to offer. Make no mistake, her win in the 26th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic was as awesome as it was historical. The legendary mare ran a legendary race and it left every single race fan who saw the race awe inspired.

It was hard not to root for the Amazon Queen as the running unfolded. Track announcer Trevor Denman played to the desires of the delirious crowd as he paid close attention to every move that Zenyatta would make. After dawdling her first quarter in 27 seconds, the engine began to churn and the wheels began to roll. Picking off horses just as she as always done, Mike Smith steered the massive mare through traffic and finally swung her out to the middle of the track. A confident ride by a jockey who has all the belief in the world in his horse. The world watched breathlessly as the dark bay mare was in full flight on the far outside. The best older male in the nation, Gio Ponti had run a great race to briefly take over, but the rush Zenyatta was uncorking was irresistible and the raucous ovation began. She proved best by one length, but it did not seem that close. Final time was 2:00.62, meaning Zenyatta had sprinted the final mile in 1:33 and 3/5. On this extraordinary day, Zenyatta gave everyone witnessing more than could have been hoped for. The Classic win places a resounding exclamation point on a career of perfection.

It all began for Zenyatta when the daughter of Street Cry was purchased by Jerry & Ann Moss for the bargain price of $60,000 four years ago and placed in the capable hands of experienced conditioner John Shirreffs. Zenyatta was allowed to develop and grow into her massive frame. She was always held in high regard by her connections and they should be applauded for their patience in holding her away from the races until the Fall of her 3-year-old season. On the 22nd of November, 2007, the world would get their first glimpse of greatness. In that Maiden race at Hollywood Park, Zenyatta would find herself last in a twelve horse field early on. Any concern would be short lived, as she would impressively sweep past the entire field. From that auspicious beginning, Zenyatta would go on to repeat the performance race in and race out. It made little matter as the level of competition rose, culminating with yesterday’s history making win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Historically speaking, Zenyatta has run by her competition much the way she has done in every one of her races. You would be hard pressed to find an older mare in our sport who has done more than what she has accomplished. Zenyatta is perfect in fourteen races, the last twelve being in Grade 1’s or Grade 2’s. She is a Breeder’s Cup Ladies Classic champion and is the first female ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta will soon become a two time Eclipse Award winner, and in so doing, has eclipsed her closest comparison in racing history. Personal Ensign completed her magnificent career twenty years ago a perfect 13 for 13, but her one Eclipse Award as outstanding handicap mare, an exciting win in the Breeder‘s Cup Distaff, one win against the males in the sloppy Whitney, and ten graded stakes no longer can quite stack up to what Zenyatta has now achieved. There can no longer be a reasonable argument against her greatness.

It is true that all but one of Zenyatta’s wins have come away from Southern California, but with Santa Anita being the home of the Breeders’ Cup the past two years, there simply was not a great reason to leave one of America’s racing hubs. She has also raced all but once on her familiar synthetic surfaces of her Pacific home. With the important place synthetic racing holds in current American racing, it would not be fair to discount her accomplishments for running most of her races on the non-dirt surfaces. Remember also, that Zenyatta’s one foray on a dirt track is one of her most impressive wins, when she easily beat the champion Ginger Punch at Oaklawn Park. The facts show that she has beaten most of the top males in the United States and all of the top fillies and mares of the past few years save Rachel Alexandra.

It matters little whether you prefer Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra. They are both astonishing in their abilities. Nor does it matter whether she races ever again. Her legend is set in stone. Today is about Zenyatta, for yesterday was something very special. Zenyatta is the kind of horse and the Classic was the kind of race that the racing industry can celebrate in everything that is wonderful about the sport. All hail the Amazon Queen, all hail the mighty Zenyatta.

November 7, 2009

Life Certainly Is Sweet

You have to feel for Life Is Sweet. The 4-year-old Storm Cat filly entered the Ladies Classic on a four race losing streak that followed dominant wins in the El Encino, La Canada, and Santa Margarita to begin the year. Her connections were not afraid to race their filly against the best, as one of the four consecutive losses came in the Hollywood Gold Cup where she finished 3rd in a field of 13, against a field of top older handicap males of California. The other three losses were at the hands of the undefeated super mare, Zenyatta. Making the situation more unfortunate is that Zenyatta is her stablemate, both horses being conditioned by John Shirreffs. This is comparable to being the 2nd best tennis player in the state, with the best player being in your own high school, or to put it into horse terms, being Riva Ridge and barnmates with Secretariat. While they are owned by different people, she could never be the star in her own barn. All that would change as Life is Sweet finally had her day in the sun yesterday taking full advantage of her biggest stage.

In a dazzling display of stretch running power, Life Is Sweet circled the entire field on the far turn and drew off easily to win by 2 1/2 lengths and became the star of Ladies Day at the Breeders’ Cup. With Careless Jewel setting suicidal early fractions, Life Is Sweet and her rider Garrett Gomez were more than content to bide their time at the back of the pack. As Careless Jewel began to succumb, from her early sprint, Life Is Sweet began to uncoil her rush. The result of the race would be quickly decided as no one else could keep pace and Life Is Sweet rolled home an easy winner. Longshot Mushka put in a nice late bid to finish 2nd, but on this day it was all about Life Is Sweet. Final time for the 9 furlongs on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride main track was 1:48.58. Her freight train like rally, coming from last and spinning out of the turn widest of all, was reminiscent of another California mare…I don’t think I need to mention her name.

Leading up to the BC, little attention was paid to the full sister of 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion Sweet Catomine. Instead all eyes were on the mighty Zenyatta, who runs today in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, where she will take on the boys and attempt to become the first female winner ever. Life Is Sweet meanwhile was coming in off those four losses and was the forgotten horse. The credit she was given for her impressive victories in January through March was long forgotten in our ‘what have you done for me lately’ world. I give her credit though for her continuously trying to beat the best throughout her challenging campaign. In fact, owner Martin Wygod was very disappointed before the race that he would not get one more chance at Zenyatta. I wonder if that disappointment was abated at all with yesterday’s result?

Without the presence of her big stablemate, Zenyatta and the likely Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, the field for the Ladies Classic seemed to come up a little flat in the minds of many. The performance of one horse, however, was not. The Ladies Classic was Life Is Sweet’s sixth win from 15 lifetime starts and she picked a most opportune to time to run the race of her life. With her dominating win yesterday, Life Is Sweet clearly stamped herself as the premier older filly in the nation, except for that other Shirreffs’ horse. It was a memorable performance that should not be forgotten. She may never be Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, but what she is, certainly is sweet.

November 6, 2009

Breeders’ Cup Day 1 Winners

I share my winners with my readers, it is what I do…

The BC Marathon features many horses running a distance they have never run before. Because of this, it becomes a difficult race to handicap. Therefore a small percentage of the bankroll will be placed on the first Breeders’ Cup race. Mastery and maybe one or two of the Euros will be favored and they certainly have a shot to win, but I think it is worth a chance to try and beat them. Cloudy’s Knight is my pick. The 9-year-old is in fine form and fresh and is certainly the most classy of the American entrants. Trained by a true master, Jonathan Sheppard, Cloudy’s Night came flying at the finish and out battled the excellent turf horse, Winchester, in his last and a repeat of that performance could well be enough to win this. I see no reason why Cloudy’s Knight should not take to the Pro-Ride surface, as most turf horses do, and I would love to see the old boy roll home in the stretch. By the way, wouldn’t it be fitting in the only male BC race on Ladies Day, to have female jockey Rosemary Homeister come out on top?

As a betting race, I like the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Smart Seattle is my top pick, but I also like Hatheer. Both should have attractive odds and both are returning to their preferred surface, turf, after a race on a synthetic surface. Smart Seattle liked the firm turf of her impressive maiden score and then was hampered by a slow pace when second to Tapitsfly in her second try on turf. She should have a nice stalking trip and I expect trainer Graham Motion will have her ready for her best in her fourth start. Hatheer is regally bred for the grass and I expect sharp improvement after running 3rd on Keeneland’s main track. Both fillies should relish the one mile distance and listed at 8-1 and 10-1 on the morning line, this could be a race to win some serious money.

The next two races offer the day’s singles. Ventura is a true superstar, and despite facing a tough field headed by Informed Decision, I fully expect her to notch another impressive victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Bet against Ventura at your own peril. In the Juvenile Fillies, there are a number of horses with potential to run a good race, unfortunately, they also come with numerous questions attached. That is except for one…Blind Luck. She likes the track, the distance and she has the best form in the race. Sounds simple, keep it simple. The best horse wins this race and that horse is the former claimer, Blind Luck.

In the Filly & Mare Turf, I am confident I know who the best horse in the race is, and that is Pure Clan. Unfortunately, it appears to be a paceless race, which will not make it easy on the stretch running daughter of Pure Prize. I love her class, consistency and ability to handle all turf conditions, but she can be susceptible to a slow pace. Defending champ, Forever Together, also could he hampered if they dawdle early. Midday, the young European who could go off as the favorite, may get the early lead and become the horse to catch in the sprint to the wire. All eight horses in the race have class and a I do expect a cavalry charge to the wire. I am sticking with Pure Clan, but do not be surprised if the entire field hits the wire just a few lengths apart.

To me the Ladies Classic boils down to one question…is Careless Jewel ready to handle the dive into the deep end of the pool? She will be on the lead early, she can handle synthetics and she has been simply marvelous in her romping wins at Woodbine, Delaware, Saratoga, and Philadelphia, but these are tough older mares headed by Godolphin’s Music Note. Is she good enough to win here? I say yes, Careless Jewel goes wire to wire.

I hope these picks help and have a happy Breeders’ Cup Day 1!

November 5, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I won 16 races on the dirt and none on the turf, yet the race named in my honor is contested on the grass.

*I ran true to my name and contributed to my father’s impressive streak.

*I did not race at 2, but I made up for it with long, productive seasons at 3, 4, and 5.

*I raced on the East Coast and the West Coast, but never in between.

*I was born at Claiborne Form and I died at Claiborne Farm, where I passed away far too young.

*I thoroughly enjoyed my Summers in Upstate New York.

*I faced many great horses, although none were finer than the horse that beat me in the Californian.

*I have to say that I am not a big fan of the Garden State.

*My trainer was inducted into the Hall of Fame the year before I was born, but most would agree, I was his best horse.

*Was I a champion ??? How about in three consecutive years bucko!

*It did not take a long time for me to enter the Hall of Fame, unfortunately, it was a posthumous honor.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

November 4, 2009

***Special Edition - ZATT BC Contest***

COST - 40 mythical dollars.

WHY - For fun (and to show off your handicapping chops.)

WHEN - Entries are open now until 12noon CST on Friday.

RULES - Pick one horse in each of the 14 BC races for a $2 win bet totaling $28.…Pick one horse in any race for your best bet, (it does not have to be one of your 14 win bets) your best bet will carry a $4 WPS bet totaling $12, bringing all bets to a total of $40.…The winner of the first annual ZATT BC contest will be the person who earns the most mythical dollars from their original investment….Be sure to include your name so that when you win you can be featured on the Wall of Fame.

QUESTIONS - Just ask.

Eclipse Awards and the Breeders’ Cup

Wondering what the Breeders' Cup races will mean to division titles?

2-year-old Filly - This is a division that traditionally goes to the Breeders’ Cup winner, and this year should be no different. Hot Dixie Chick, the current leader of the division, will lose her lead as soon as the first juvenile filly crosses the wire. I like Blind Luck in the race, which will clinch the award for her.
winner - Blind Luck

2-year-old Colt - The winner of the BC Juvenile is likely to win the Eclipse Award. Having said that, I expect the order of the division not to change, as the horse I expect to win is Lookin at Lucky, who is already the leader of the division.
winner - Lookin at Lucky

3-year-old Filly - Rachel Alexandra is the champion. A win in the Ladies Classic would give Careless Jewel an impressive resume, but only good enough for second place for the award.
winner - Rachel Alexandra

3-year-old Colt - Summer Bird has already done enough to win the coveted 3-year-old championship and does not need to win the Classic to maintain his lead. I see only one scenario that could change the order of things: If the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, were to pull off another surprise and win the two biggest races in the nation, he would have a strong claim to the division title. I do not expect another Mine That Bird surprise.
winner - Summer Bird

Turf Female - A wide open division will be decided on Breeders’ Cup Day. Almost anyone in the race can annex the championship with a victory. If the Filly & Mare Turf winner has a questionable resume, Goldikova is waiting in the wings and can steal the award with an impressive win in the Mile. I predict Pure Clan will win on Friday and be named our champion turf mare.
winner - Pure Clan

Turf Male - Gio Ponti is the deserving champion unless one thing happens: If Presious Passion were to go wire to wire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf he could steal the Eclipse Award. Oddly, if Gio Ponti were to win the Classic on the synthetic surface, it would probably not matter what Presious Passion does in the Turf. I think Presious Passion can get it done.
winner - Presious Passion

Sprint Female - If the voting for the champion female sprinter were awarded today it would certainly go to Informed Decision who has five stakes wins this year including a head decision over Ventura in April. Her hold is tenuous though, as a Filly & Mare Sprint win by Ventura, Seventh Street, Sara Louise, Game Face or Evita Argentina would be enough to overtake the division. I like Ventura.
winner - Ventura

Sprint Male - Zensational is the leader of the division, but if he loses, others are ready to take the mantle with a win in the Sprint. I like Gayego in the BC, which will easily be enough to propel him to the championship.
winner - Gayego

Older Female - Zenyatta is the worthy repeat champion. A win by Music Note or any other older female in the Ladies Classic will not be enough to dethrone the champ.
winner - Zenyatta

Older Male - Talk about a wide open division. If any older male can win the Classic, the Eclipse Award is a done deal. I am not picking an older male to win the Classic, so that brings it back to the current leader, Einstein. Despite only two wins this year, I believe Einstein has been consistently good enough to hold on to the division lead.
winner - Einstein

Horse of the Year - Rachel Alexandra is the overwhelming leader for the year’s biggest award. Her eight stakes wins out of eight races double her nearest competition, as Zenyatta, Summer Bird and Gio Ponti all have four wins this year. Having said that, if any of the aforementioned three can win the year’s biggest race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there would be voters willing to swing their vote to the Classic winner, especially if it is the undefeated Zenyatta. I will not. Rachel Alexandra has simply done more than anyone else. Classic or no Classic, she is my Horse of the Year.
winner - Rachel Alexandra

November 2, 2009

Remembering ... Ouija Board

Up until the meteoric rise of this year’s European champion, Sea the Stars, the greatest horse sired by Cape Cross was the globetrotting mare, Ouija Board. She was a true world champion, not concerned with the time zone she was in or the competition she would face. Ouija Board simply exuded class. She was an English home bred, owned by Lord Derby, who had only one horse in training for part of her career. She handsomely carried his simple black silks, plain white cap, and a single white button below the collar, atop her elegant bay frame. Lightly raced as a two-year-old, she made only three starts with one win at 7 furlongs. At three, she wasted little time in displaying her superiority to Europe’s best 3-year-old fillies. Stretching out to distances she yearned for, Ouija Board won the prestigious English Oaks by a whopping 7 lengths in only her second run of the year. She was now a star and she would give her fans exactly what they wanted with an effortless score in the Irish Oaks, becoming only the tenth filly to win the Oaks double.

After those outstanding performances in the two Oaks, her trainer, Ed Dunlop, gave her a rest before running the lightly raced 3-year-old filly in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe where she would attempt to become the first female to win the race since Urban Sea (Sea the Stars dam) in 1993. Despite her inexperience and running against the males for the first time, she was the best horse in the race, but she was hopefully boxed in much of the race, and did not find room to run until it was too late, finishing furiously to get within 1 ½ lengths of the winner Bago. From there she went to Texas and less than four weeks after her rousing run in Paris, Ouija Board showed the world what she could do with clear sailing as she overwhelmed her distaff counterparts in the 2004 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Lone Star Park. In only five races at three, she easily won four times including the Breeders’ Cup in the U.S., the Oaks of England, the Oaks of Ireland, with an unlucky loss in France’s biggest race.

At four and five, Ouija Board would jump from nation to nation always willing to take on the best. Displaying her class, she, in one stretch, would run against the boys in seven consecutive races. Other than her only poor performance to begin her 4-year-old season. She was the epitome of consistency. Often running in a different country each race. She would add a win and a 2nd to her Breeders’ Cup tally, easily win the rich Hong Kong vase of 2005, and give the males a scare in two consecutive Japan Cups. She would defeat the top males in Europe and defeat her top female rival, Alexander Goldrun in consecutive races. Overall, Ouija Board won two Eclipse Awards in America, as well as, two European Horse of the Year titles.

Just a day before she was due to run in her last ever race, the Hong Kong Vase, a slight injury was discovered, sending her to retirement one day early. In 22 races, Ouija Board won 10 times amassing $5,787,390 in earnings. If she had been able to finish 1st or 2nd in the Hong Kong Vase, Ouija Board would have earned the distinction as the all time richest British race horse. 10 wins in 22 races might not jump out at you as the record of an all-time superstar, but consider this: 17 of her final 18 races were Group 1 affairs, 11 of those Group 1 races were against the males, and these races were contested in seven different countries. Talk about not ducking the competition. Can you imagine connections of an American horse accepting this type of schedule?

What I remember best of Ouija Board’s marvelous career was her three races in the States. Each time she traveled to America, she was here to take on the best in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. On three different courses and three different course conditions, she was a sight to behold. She was both explosive and athletic in her easy triumphs of 2004 & 2006 and she was game and classy in her 2005 2nd place finish. The Filly & Mare Turf may not be the most anticipated of the BC races and I often favor the home horses, but I was enthralled each year to see Ouija Board run. I found it impossible not to root for and I had great respect for the English mare. I am not sure why she ran against the females each time, as she ran against the boys so many times internationally, but with all due respect to horses like High Chaparral and English Channel, I consider her the finest horse to run on American turf in this decade. I am sure that she could have beaten the males, just as she did the females. No horse has ever won three consecutive BC races, but she was the one to come the closest. In 2005, she would not overcome, the loose-on-an-easy-lead mare, Intercontinental, but it almost did not matter. I knew who was the best horse in that race, the best female turf runner of the era, and the best turf horse who would compete in any BC turf race over the three year stretch…it was Ouija Board.

Ouija Board is now a broodmare in England at the same farm where she began her life. Her backers are hoping that she can reproduce something close to her greatness. Her first foal is Voodoo Prince, a colt by Kingmambo who was born February 9, 2008. Fans of Ouija Board will be pleased to know that he is owned by Lord Derby and will be trained by Ed Dunlop. She also has a weanling colt by Monsun and is in foal with a filly by champion Galileo. The world eagerly awaits her offspring to come out running, and who knows, maybe one can someday match her excellence. A champion the world over, Ouija Board was that rare horse who was able to trek throughout the world, year after year, and thrill her throngs of devoted fans with consistently superlative performances. Win or lose, you could be sure to see this wonderful mare always effort her best to get to the wire first. In today’s reality of a shrinking globe, we can only hope to see more horses like Ouija Board, who brought the entire world of racing closer together with her wonderful travels. I remember you Ouija Board.