ZATT- With the year you had in 2009, would you call it the most satisfying one in your career?
CB - Yes 2009 was a very satisfying year to say the least. By far my best year to date, however, in terms of my career on the whole, I think the most satisfying period of time for me was in 2006 when Mr. Carl Nafzger told me that he and Mr. Tafel had decided that I would be Street Sense's jockey. Win lose or draw they would not take me off. they trusted me with a horse that had the potential to take them to the Derby, and I, at that time, was not a hall of fame rider, and there were several riding at the time who could have easily replaced me. Never won a classic, never hit the board in the Derby, so they trusted me, and that was satisfying. The moment you realize every second of hard work is about to pay off, because I knew Street could win the Derby. That was a very satisfying moment for me, and yes, this year has been incredible, but I look back to one decision made by two men that changed my life forever and I have to be so thankful for their trust in me that opened the door for so many more incredible moments in my career to happen.
ZATT- Leparoux, Dominguez, and Gomez all had great years, but many people were very disappointed that you were not one of the Eclipse finalists, what are your feelings?
CB - No, to be honest, I'm not disappointed. An Eclipse Award would have been a nice acknowledgment by the turf writers for a year that called for me to make many tough decisions. It was a year that saw in the first time in history, a rider give up his mount in the Derby in favor of another horse in the Preakness. There was a lot of pressure there, to give up your shot at a Triple Crown because you believe so whole heartedly in your filly. I ride everyday with Julien and I know what an amazing rider he is…he reminds me frequently throughout the meet at Churchill. Garrett and I have been friends for a long time and I can tell you he is one of the best our sport has ever seen. And anyone who can break records like Ramon did this year on a circuit as tough as New York gets respect from me any day of the week. So yes, it would have been nice, but I will happily stand behind these three anytime. I have my Derby trophies, the trust of the man who owns the best horse in the world, and my health I can't ask for much else.
ZATT - Speaking of the Eclipse Awards, did you expect Rachel to win the Horse of the Year?
CB - Yes, I did. Both are tremendous race mares, and I could sit here and go over all of the various reasons why Rachel was the logical choice, but we've been there and done that and we've moved on. There is no excuse for negativity or animosity in discussing these horses campaigns. This has been so good for racing, and if we don't recognize that and use it to promote racing we will lose a chance to bring racing back to center stage where it belongs.
ZATT- What do you think sets Rachel Alexandra apart from other horses you have ridden?
CB - Rachel has a huge stride. Plain and simple. She has so much power in her hindquarters she is able to jump about 27 feet in one stride. As she takes one stride, horses on her side are talking two, or one and a half. To cover this ground so effortlessly is what makes her what she is. She knows what her job is, too. She is very smart and competitive. She would dig down so deep before she would ever let a other horse pass her. She is versatile as well, she does not need the lead but will give it to you if you want it, she isn't picky. She knows where the finish line is. She doesn’t fight for the lead all the way around like some horses with natural speed do. But, all things considered, it's her stride that makes her what she is.
ZATT - Who do you consider to be the best horse you have ridden, other than Rachel?
CB - I've ridden a lot of nice horses, many, many who have never made it to the races or never had a chance to show what they were. When I think of Rachel there's one horse in particular that reminds me of her, a mare called Halo America. I rode her in the late nineties for Bobby Barnett. She had a lot of natural speed, and a nice long stride, and when those gates would break, it would be hell trying to get past her. She was always so game, she would get right on top of the rail and just cruise... I've never ridden a horse that comes close to Rachel in terms of ability, but Halo was fun to ride, very game, and she loved her job. Street Sense was completely different in running style but he had an acceleration that was unreal, always felt like I was being shot out of a cannon, and Street was a very smart horse, knew right were the finish line was. Those were my two favorites.
ZATT - Are you looking forward to the day that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta face off on the track?
CB - I am looking forward to it. It will be so good for the sport, and I’m happy the Mosses decided to bring Big Z back for 2010. It's all very, very exciting!
ZATT - What do you think will be the result of that match up?
CB - Well I can tell you this, it will be very exciting, and I surely don't underestimate Big Z, that's for sure. However, I will be as confident in Rachel as I always have been, and ride her to win.
ZATT - Naysayers seem to think that Rachel will have a hard time getting the ten furlongs of the Breeders‘ Cup Classic, does this worry you at all?
CB - The Classic distance won't be a problem for Rachel, especially over Churchill Downs surface that she loves so much. I don't see it being a problem at all.
ZATT - Rachel did not run last year’s Classic because it was on a synthetic surface, was this a big disappointment for you?
CB - No I am not. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Jackson. It was his decision to make, he owns the horse, and we should respect that. I feel like he designed a campaign for her to showcase her talent and ability and it resulted in Rachel making history at America's most prestigious race meeting. Mr. Jackson did what he thought best for his horse and I am happy with how it turned out.
ZATT - Do you have a strong preference for riding over dirt, turf, or synthetics?
CB - I am not a fan of synthetic surfaces. I have to be honest, and I always will be when asked about racing surfaces. There's no reason to try to hide behind some pc answer to the question. I never have liked them.
ZATT - I know you have ridden several possible Derby horses for this year, but I wanted to ask you specifically about Dryfly, who looked good recently winning the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, does he have you excited as a potential Derby horse?
CB - Dryfly is a very nice colt. I have great hopes for him, but only time will tell, as it does with most racehorses.
ZATT - OK, Calvin, one more question…How is married life treating you?
CB - Married life is fantastic…thanks!
January 31, 2010
January 30, 2010
A quiet week at Down and Derby Central with no changes among my Top 20. Things will change next week with considerable action, highlighted by the first major prep in California, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Expected entrants include American Lion, Tiz Chrome, Hawaiian Springs, Dave in Dixie, and Caracortado. For now, I will concentrate on recent works for the horses on the big list. 13 weeks/91 days/2,190 hours…
January 29, 2010
Back when television was first becoming a necessity for the American family, horse racing was big. Stars like Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Swaps, Nashua, Round Table, and Bold Ruler, were well represented on TV, and they were well known in households across the nation. Horse racing was a natural for television. It is one of the rare sports where it is great to watch in person or on TV. Many sports are clearly better in person, and some are much better on the boob tube. Sure, I would rather be at the racetrack and see these beautiful animals in person, but watching a good horse race translates quite well on the television. There are simply facets of the race that can be seen better through the camera coverage that television provides. Additionally, races generally last two minutes or less, so the viewing audience is left with pure excitement over a short period of time. Unfortunately, for the sport of horse racing, quality television exposure has been on the decline ever since, thus rendering the Sport of Kings a second class citizen in America’s sporting landscape.
January 28, 2010
*Bred in Florida, both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector’s blood flow through my veins.
January 27, 2010
Ladies and gentleman, who says you don’t get a second chance in life? Today in Louisville, Kentucky, we have assembled a star studded field of 16 Thoroughbreds who indeed do get their second chance. All of the horses entered today are remembered for their great ability, but they are also remembered for being unable to win any of their Triple Crown starts. Today, one mile and a quarter is all that stands in the way of redemption for one of these fine horses. Famed Churchill Downs is brimming with more than 100,000 racing enthusiasts who have all came today to see this super field slug it out. It is a rather brisk day here in Kentucky, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees. There is a chill to the air, but the crowd is warmed by their great anticipation for what will happen. There goes Steve Buttleman, the Churchill Downs bugler, and it’s the call to post! The horses look fabulous as they step out on to the fast main track. The crowd is absolutely roaring with excitement.
January 25, 2010
I always liked Skip Away. He began his career at my old stomping grounds, running his first three races at Monmouth Park in the Summer of 1995. Trained by one of my favorite trainers, Sonny Hine, it was natural for me to gravitate towards the powerful gray. Skip Away was also a son of Skip Trial, whom I had been a fan of ten years earlier, when he upset Spend a Buck in the Haskell Invitational. Racing in the name of the trainer’s wife Carolyn, Skip Away improved with every race as a juvenile and won his third start by more than 12 lengths. It was his first try around two turns and prompted his connections to never run him again in a sprint race. I watched with interest as he went to New York and lost by a nose and a neck in the prestigious Cowdin and Remsen Stakes. Those would be his final starts at two as he finished his opening season with one win in six starts. With a little luck, his record could have been much better and I was eager to see what this Jersey horse could do the following Spring.
As a four-year-old Skip Away became rivals with very talented and much more lightly raced handicap stars, Formal Gold and Will’s Way. It produced some excellent match-ups and Skip Away did win a couple of them in the Mass Cap and Suburban, but he was more often beaten. Hine continued to enter him in every big handicap race out there and Skippy responded with solid efforts every time, resulting in more seconds and thirds than wins. Things would change in the Fall. Formal Gold, who was the leader of the division, was injured and retired, and Skippy, as he had done the previous year, finished with a bang. He overpowered the fields in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in California, proving that he was the best horse at the classic American distance of ten furlongs on either coast. It was enough for Skippy to win a second Eclipse as the top older male, but he was narrowly denied the Horse-of-the-Year award to the undefeated juvenile, Favorite Trick. It was hard to knock the season of the two-year-old, but I was disappointed and so was Hine.
Finally at five, Skippy took it to a whole new level. Knowing that he had the best horse in the country, Hine told the world where Skip Away would run that year and he welcomed anyone to come and try to beat him. It proved futile for the competition, as Skippy built on his fabulous finish to 1997. In a marvelous display of class and durability, Skip Away won the Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Pimlico Special, Mass Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Iselin Handicap, and Woodward to begin his season. That brought his streak to nine straight wins in big races from one corner of the country to the other, most of them in devastating style. He was a powerhouse in every possible sense of the word. Skip Away was not only an iron horse, he was a great horse. Finally succumbing to his taxing schedule, or possibly to tracks he did not care for, Skippy was well beaten in his final two starts, the Jockey Club and the BC Classic. It did not matter, the Florida bred out of the Diplomat Way mare, Ignot Way, had more than proved himself on countless occasions. Skip Away was named Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year for 1998.
Skip Away had done his sire, Skip Trial, two better, as both fine horses ran 38 times in their career, with Skippy winning 18 to his dad’s 16. He of course did it on a bigger stage, as Sonny Hine raced him in all the big races. His career earnings totaled nearly ten million dollars and he entered racing’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Unfortunately his likeable trainer, Sonny Hine passed away at the age of 69 in 2000, after a three-year battle with cancer. For me, Skip Away was a favorite, because I had followed him from the very beginning. It was a great run for fans of Skip Away that lasted longer, with more to cheer about than just about any horse I have seen. He began stud duty in 1999 and stands today at Hopewell Farm in Midway, Kentucky. As a stallion, he has been useful, but has produced nothing near himself. Perhaps it was not the talent that made Skippy such a wonderful horse. Perhaps it was something deep inside that made him better than the rest. I remember you Skip Away.
January 24, 2010
|Yes, I have heard them all…One should never put too much stock in one single race. The field for the LeComte is infinitely lighter than it will be on the first Saturday in May. A horse that comes from so far behind is at the mercy of the pace. How could a horse that runs his first three races at Hoosier Park, Delta Downs, and Remington Park ever make it big? These concerns are certainly not without merit, but every once in a while a horse comes along that beats the odds. I believe Ron the Greek may well be that kind of horse. |
In yesterday’s LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, Ron the Greek came from the clouds to inhale a solid field of sophomores. The highly regarded Maximus Ruler set down solid fractions and after six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 looked strong on the lead. Meanwhile Ron the Greek was languishing at the back of the pack a full fifteen lengths behind. What happened from there was one of the more impressive stretch runs you will ever see. Still second to last as the horses straightened out for the stretch run, Ron the Greek swung to the outside and unleashed a furious kick that jettisoned him to a rather easy 1 ½ length score. Final time for the one mile and forty yards was a solid 1:40 flat. A closer look at Ron the Greek’s splits reveal what his opponents had to deal with. Ron the Greek ran his first six furlongs in 1:15 1/5, which means he finished the race in :24 4/5, a decent close if we are talking about the final quarter mile. But, of course, we are not. That final :24 4/5 was over a quarter mile plus 40 yards, meaning that Ron the Greek was running the last two furlongs, of this distance race, in just over 22 seconds. Major racehorse time to be sure and the kind of closing kick that strikes fear in the hearts of rival trainers at Louisville.
Making the rally even more impressive, take note that the LeComte was not a race where the pace collapsed. The horses that were near the lead early, were, for the most part, still fighting on in the stretch, and there was clearly only one horse dropping down the hammer in the lane. Make that a Jack Hammer, who happens to be the owner of Ron the Greek.
Trained by Tom Amoss, this bay colt has a powerful frame that reminds me of successful Triple Crown runners Risen Star, Unbridled, and Victory Gallop. Those three also had made little noise running outside of the major markets at two. Each of them flashed their ability in the Spring and continued to grow into their physiques, on their way to big successes as the races became longer. Ron the Greek has the physicality to become that type of horse, as he continues to mature and gets to run at longer distances. He has all the look of a horse who should appreciate the increase in distance as the level of competition gets tougher. When looking for a Derby horse, it is an added benefit to see a horse who has the size and strength to handle the rigors of the Triple Crown series. I remember thinking the exact same thing of Risen Star, the first time I saw him 22 years ago. Coincidentally, Ron the Greek's next race should be in the Risen Star Stakes.
As far as the tracks that he has run at so far, it only makes him all the more appealing. Running at those small tracks can make it even tougher to consistently explode down the stretch, and that is exactly what he has done in each of his four races. This without the benefit of sizzling early fractions. Imagine what his kick might be if they run in 1:09 or 1:10 early? Yesterday was no aberration, it was just the first time that he got a chance to show off in front of a bigger audience on a more grandiose stage. It will only get bigger from here, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a horse who came from small tracks in Indiana, Louisiana, and Oklahoma become a winner of the Derby, Preakness, or Belmont? I know I will be watching for the big bay closing like a freight train.
January 23, 2010
Less than 100 days to go until Derby Delirium. The Derby trail officially began in earnest today with the LeComte at the Fair Grounds and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, where no less than four of the participants appear in the top half of this week’s Down and Derby Top 20. Take Control, son of Azeri, is off the trail with sore shins. And away we go…
January 22, 2010
Whilst you were all safely tucked away in your beds and sleeping without a worry in the world, Zipse at the Track was deep inside his racing laBORatory. Mixing potions, pouring over past performances, a devilish laugh here, and a fortuitous lightning strike there, and voila! Today’s concoction is a collection of horses sure to please. Call yourself a Cubs fan? Think the San Diego Chargers will ever win the Super Bowl? Expecting a return to greatness for New York’s Knickerbockers? This mythical race is for you. Let’s face it; it is fun to root for the lovable loser. Today I offer up a race that celebrates just such a horse. Now don’t get me wrong, these were excellent horses who won many a race, but alas, not when it mattered the most. Racing’s Triple Crown offered a bit too much of a challenge for these fine horses. Many of them ventured into each leg, all of them attempted at least two thirds of the series. Nary a win amongst them. Truly lovable losers. The field has been set, riders have been announced and post positions drawn. Without further ado, here is the field:
January 21, 2010
*Bred in Kentucky, I was a grandson of two racing greats, one in America and one in England.
January 20, 2010
The economy is in the toilet. The Thoroughbred breeding business is dropping lower than a contortionist at a limbo contest. There is not much to smile about. Wait just one minute…you know me better than that. I am always smiling, and here is why any fan of racing should be smiling too: With the breeding business hemorrhaging dollars, there is a new trend starting to play itself out. Good horses are not being shuttled off to the breeding shed with hast, because, for the first time in a long time, there is the opportunity to make more money on the racetrack than they can in the breeding shed. Can you imagine that? All of a sudden, many of the best horses are staying in training. What does this mean for the fan, who loves to see great racing? 2010 has more promise for top horses facing off than any year since the glorious 1970s.
January 18, 2010
I have racked my brain trying to remember another year when I witnessed each leg of the Triple Tiara in person. My conclusion is I only did it one time, and I am glad I got to do it that one special Summer. My favorite horse of 1982 was a gray sophomore filly named Christmas Past. At the time, I was just completing the seventh grade and extremely passionate in rooting for my favorites. I know…not much has changed. I found the Triple Tiara of 1982 to be much more interesting than the Triple Crown of that year, in which there were three different winners, Gato Del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler, and Conquistador Cielo. The three race series of the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club Oaks was of greater prestige back in those days, and in that Summer it featured a match up of two outstanding fillies with as little in common as two horses could have.
January 17, 2010
The racing world was bracing for the most important Horse of the Year announcement in more than 30 years. Would it be Rachel Alexandra the Great or would it be Queen Zenyatta? Many advocated a shared award, so that both deserving horses could be honored. The split Horse of the Year Award was pooh-poohed by the powers that be and voters were left to make a choice. It seems that choice has been made, and the award, come Monday night, will go to the three-year-old filly champion. Rachel Alexandra is thus on the eve of being honored for her historic season, which has been judged to be even more spectacular than that of Zenyatta’s incredible year by a majority of experts. Rachel Alexandra would be alone in the limelight for the first time in four months, but alas standing alone for either one of these superstars is not meant to be. In an announcement heard throughout the world, owners Jerry and Ann Moss yesterday assured that Zenyatta would share Rachel’s spotlight with their timely announcement to eschew retirement and bring back the great mare for one more year of racing. The announcement was not a surprise to many, but nonetheless, the return of Zenyatta gives racing two enormous stories over the long weekend.
January 16, 2010
The Top 20
January 15, 2010
Who doesn’t love Opening Day? Full of anticipation and excitement, the launch of a new season promises everything good in racing. Today, my friends is Opening Day. Oaklawn Park kicks off a 54 day racing season with a nine-race card headlined by the Dixie Belle Stakes for three-year-old fillies going six furlongs. Oaklawn Park is nestled lovingly in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas and located in the resort town of Hot Springs. In recent years, Oaklawn has become much more than a Winter diversion for Midwestern race fans. The quality of racing has been on a steady incline for years and 2010 could offer the best yet.
January 14, 2010
*My first race and my first stakes win, were outside of the United States, but other than those two races, I never raced outside of America.
January 13, 2010
As white as the snow of a Winter’s day, Stardom Bound was the toast of the racing world this time last year. The beautiful daughter of Tapit ruled over Southern Californian peers with an iron hoof. After flying finishes to be second in her first two starts, she tore through her competition to the tune of five consecutive grade 1 wins and collected an Eclipse Award as the juvenile filly champion of 2008. Not since the days of the great Vigors, had there been such a stretch running, silver streak. Her final win of the grade 1 skein was the prestigious Santa Anita Oaks in March. That race marked the first time in the streak where she did not win going away, but it was impressive nonetheless as the gray went very wide and was still seventh in the stretch before unleashing her patented late run to get up on the shadow of the wire. The Kentucky Derby was under consideration. The racing world appeared to be at her mercy.
January 11, 2010
Something was not right, Lost in the Fog was too good to run like that. He had just finished ninth in the Grade 2 Smile Handicap at Calder Race Course. For just about any other horse, it would have been chalked up as simply a bad race, but he was not like other horses. Something was wrong. Lost in the Fog was not a horse who you could lump into a conversation with any other horse labeled as fast, nor was he a horse who occasionally ran the big race dazzling the crowd. He was much more than that. Lost in the Fog was faster than fast, he dazzled not on occasion, but every single race. He would simply run away from his competition. As the races got tougher, it made no matter, Lost in the Fog was simply too good. That’s what made the inconsistency of his final four races so perplexing. Something was not right, and to the horror of racing fans everywhere we soon find out the worst possible news.
Lost in the Fog was owned by a San Francisco octogenarian named Harry Aleo. Part of the fun in watching this horse run was Aleo’s joy in his horse’s accomplishments. Aleo had been in racing for years, but never had a big horse, until this one finally came along. The once-in-a-lifetime horse was Lost in the Fog and it changed the life of Aleo and trainer Greg Gilchrist. After his very first race, the three set out barnstorming the nation. Lost in the Fog would log more cross county miles than a normal stable full of horses normally accrue. You could tell that the crusty, conservative owner was having the time of his life. He finally had his big horse and he loved him. Aleo and Gilchrist resisted temptations to stretch their horse out for Kentucky Derby dreams, believing their horse was better off sprinting. They took care of him and Lost in the Fog returned the favor.
Aleo was hounded by prodigious financial offers for the colt, and by reporters who wanted to know if he would sell to one of the big outfits and cash in on the respect the world had for his horse. To Aleo this was silly, he had been waiting all of his life for a horse like this. For this man, it was not about money, it was not a business, he was thrilled to be around a horse of this quality and to watch him run. If only more horse owners could share this attitude.
Aleo and Gilchrist and regular rider, Russell Baze were not the only ones thrilled by Lost in the Fog. His modest beginnings, his traveling show, and his awesome ability, made him an easy horse for people to fall in love with. After a startling win in his first race, a maiden at Golden Gate Fields, Lost in the Fog would win nine consecutive stakes. Amazingly, he would go from San Francisco to Arizona to Florida to New York and back to San Francisco for his first five stakes. He was a horse for the people. From there he would go to New York to Florida to Saratoga and back again to San Francisco. It was an incredible display of consistent brilliance, no matter the travel. The major stakes were racked up one after the other, and the legend of Lost in the Fog grew.
Going into the Breeders’ Cup, it was pretty clear that Lost in the Fog would be a champion win, lose, or draw. He was beaten that day, but it would do little to tarnish his image or the incredible record that he compiled in less than one year’s time. I first knew of him after his second career start, a minor stake which he won by a pole in an astounding 1:13 2/5 for 6 ½ furlongs at Turf Paradise. I remember thinking 2-year-olds do not run that fast. Now ten months later he was sent off an overwhelming favorite of 7-10 against the top older sprinters in the nation. He was banged around at the start and battled through suicidal fractions. Eventually he succumbed to the early rigors of the race and his undefeated streak was over. He returned at four to win one of three races, but, as we soon learned, it was not the competition that got him, it was the disease.
Lost in the Fog, the 2005 Eclipse Award Sprinter, was put to rest on September 17, 2006 only a few weeks after doctors found the cancerous tumor in his spleen. The hero of Northern Californian racing, with the crooked blaze, began his career with 10 consecutive wins. Each and every one were tour de forces of blazing speed and ability. His first career defeat did not come until the 2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park, and now less than a year later he was gone, taken from the world by a hideous disease. He may have been already suffering the effects of his illness at the previous year's Breeders' Cup, as doctors believe the tumors may have been growing for up to a year. Sometimes bad things happen to good horses, but this one was especially heartbreaking. Lost in the Fog was better than good, he was great. I remember you Lost in the Fog.
January 10, 2010
The Eclipse Awards will be handed out next week. Some winners are clear cut, while other awards will not be assured until the announcement. As far as my picks go, I feel rather confident about most of them winning. I look for my selection, Gio Ponti, the excellent grass horse, to win the Older Male award simply because it is a category with no real winner. Take your pick between Ventura and my selection Goldikova for Female Grass Horse, either way I will be happy for a deserving winner. I fully expect Kodiak Kowboy to be rewarded for beating much stronger horses than Zensational in the Sprint division, and I am quietly confident that the numbers will side with the most deserving Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra. Meanwhile there is one Eclipse selection that I have made, that seems to hold little chance to win an award. Her name is Blind Luck.
January 9, 2010
The Run for the Roses, Christmas, for any self respecting race fan, is only 16 weeks away!
January 7, 2010
*I raced in two countries, but never in the country where I was bred.