January 1, 2010

The Return of Quality

Brilliant but balky, frighteningly fast but fearful, supremely talented but tempestuous. Quality Road is an enigma wrapped in a stunningly beautiful and powerful thoroughbred racehorse.  Gulfstream Park’s Sunday feature, The Hal’s Hope, will mark Quality Road’s first race since his second place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. We all saw his entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic go terribly wrong. It was a scary sight to see one of the most powerful horses in the nation, do every thing in his power not to load into the Santa Anita starting gate. Blindfolding him only pushed things closer to disaster. If not for the courageous effort of Junior Hungerford, one of the starters loading the BC horses, things could have gone far worse for this horse of quality.

How good is Quality Road? Possibly the most talented male horse in America. His wins in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Amsterdam were brilliant. Quality Road broke track records with ease. He is that rare horse with speed to burn and lungs that should carry him through classic distances. Quality Road’s losses at ten furlongs to Summer Bird were on messy tracks and to a horse with more bottom than him. The results of the Travers and the Jockey Club may not be the same results we see this year, if he is a happy horse.

Will he enter the Gulfstream Park starting gate without freaking out? No one knows for sure, but there is good reason to be very hopeful. Trainer Todd Pletcher and former starter Bob Duncan have given him time and tender care in re-educating Quality Road in the starting gate. Several weeks ago, when I was concerned with Quality Road coming back too soon in November’s Cigar Mile, I wrote:

“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.”

Did his connections listen to Zipse at the Track??? No, probably they came to this decision all on their own, but I am certainly glad that the decision to give him some time and not rush him back to the races was made. Gulfstream was a friendly place for him last Winter, full of good memories. There will be no huge crowd and helicopters flying over head on Sunday. All systems are on go.

I am a fan of horses in general, but I also have special interest in those who have the rare talent to be truly great. Therefore I will root strongly for Quality Road this Sunday. I hope that his fear of the starting gate has been suppressed enough that he will run. I hope that his frightening memory has been replaced enough with positive experiences that he will be happy to run. A couple of big ifs, but if they do happen, we could see something special. A physically and mentally fit Quality Road, has all the potential in the world, let’s see what he can do.

Quality Road Schooling - Photo by Lynne Veitch

17 comments:

Celeste said...

From your lips to God's ears, Brian! Or from your keyboard...whatever, but I do hope that his gate schooling pays off, he gets away cleanly and romps.

ja.raymond said...

I cant help but wonder: If he loaded, ran straight and won in those other races, what was it about the SA gate that upset him so?
There had to be something about that particular gate that freaked him out...
A short? But the other horses would have felt it too..
I hope he has a much better yr this yr! Go Roadie!!!

Anonymous said...

nice piece zipster,great horse....now lets see if they know what the problem is and corrected it once and for all......

Brian Zipse said...

Jane, He did have issues before in loading for races, but it came to a head at Santa Anita with all the BC hoopla.

ponyup said...

From your lips indeed! Nice piece on a talented horse.

ja.raymond - Having helicopters over head, a bull whip cracking behind the horse while he was preparing to load, then hitting him with the whip both before and after he was blindfolded could make even the most experienced horse come unglued. Zenyatta was hesitant to load too but was not manhandled.

ja.raymond said...

I forgot about helicopters..and the media. It wouldnt have been an ordinary load :( a buggy whip, geez..
He was having problems before then and they still sent him into the BC like that. They shouldnt have kept pushing him like that..greed.
He could have killed himself that day...
He's a talented boy..I hope his camp's got their head screwed on straight this yr!!

Anonymous said...

cream always rises to the top......need to replace johnny V with castellano or borel but mostly castellano.....understand this, their is a major problem with horse and jockey.....the horse knows that johnny v is scared of him,their is a confidence factor here.....this has to be done for the horse to move forward plus their is major trauma involved here...with the proper adjustments this should be a BIG HORSE IN 2010 ON ANY SURFACE,turf, synthetic or dirt and funny as it might sound in that order also this race horse will make or break pletcher as a top trainer/horseman in my book....he is bred to get 2 miles even though he has a ton of BRILLIANCE ON THE TOPSIDE......this is the ideal push button horse,just let him place himself relaxed and with good raceriding and impeccable judgement the button is pushed and he is gone....i hate to keep repeating myself but in the best interest of QUALITY ROAD THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO GIVE HIM A NEW PARTNER,anythig less would be defeating the purpose....this is a very BRILLIANT RACEHORSE with a little understanding and proper training he will be one for the ages...

~k.a.w.

Brian Zipse said...

I agree completely, Velazquez has to be nervous getting into the gate. Each race of late has been dangerous for him as well as horse. He is only human, a new jockey would be very wise.

LDP said...

I think he'll return just fine. He's gotten mental rest needed for him to recover, and if he truly has recovered well he shoud have no trouble handling this field at one of his, if not his favorite, track.

Michael said...

Wow. The jockey comment reminded me about Afleet Alex when Johnny V was given the mount over his regular jockey Jeremy Rose and finished last (the Rebel I think). Someone told us that AA did not like Johnny V and decided not to run. I didn't think anything about it at the time but seeing what happened after Jeremy was put back on the horse shows that a horse will follow the lead of the jockey.

LDP said...

Michael,
It was not Johnny V's fault that day. AA was found to have a very bad lung infection shortly after returning from the race. That was attributed to his performance. On Steve Haskin's blog, Steve mentioned that when AA came back from the Derby he was also found to have a much more mild case of the lung infection, which could've contributed some to his loss that day too.

Michael said...

LDP, I was not saying it was Johnny V's fault, I was just saying that sometimes a horse and jockey bond, like AA and Jeremy Rose.

Jen W. said...

QR schooling at the gate after the BC will work wonders for him! There are DOZENS of things that could have set him off at the BC, however, remember, at some point before his racing career, he HAD to obtain a Gate Card so he oould race. Also, the type of stress this horse had probably being flown out to CA then being around a MILLION people with flashbulbs, etc, cheering like crazy! I'm surprised the other horses were as good as they were!
I know he was off for about 5 months as well. Maybe not in his case here, since he did run several times before the BC, but sometimes horses being off for a while can forget the little things about the races...like his schooling at the gate! :-) As an example, one of my horses used to load like a champ! She was off for 7 months on a layup and we didn't school her before her first race back at the gate cause she was so good prior to this. Well, she caused a LITTLE bit of a ruckus, not like QR, but it was because she basically just forgot and it startled her! It happens. We schooled her a little after and she quickly remembered. By the next race, she was fine. Kind of makes me think that if QR was a little difficult to load at the Travers or the Jockey Gold Cup, you'd think they'd want to take that nervousness out a bit, but sometimes you aren't thinking of things like that. You're only thinking you want your horse SAFE and SOUND and to WIN! Still, in a race like the BC, you don't pay $50K for an entry fee to have the horse scratch because he doesn't want to load!
Friends were visiting me one weekend and I decided to take them to Breakfast at Belmont. That was one of the most interesting tours where fans can watch the workouts, then they take you on a Paddock tour and a tour in the Backstretch. I know most tracks tend to do this in the summer and I suggest going on the tours. It's an invaluable experience where I learned a lot even being an owner! They have a Gate Demonstration at the end and they explain to you all about what goes on at the Gate. They tell you they use a blindfold as the LAST resort, but I'm telling you as an owner, even before it would get to that point, I would have scratched the horse! Everyone saw how QR FREAKED out even more not being able to see! THANK GOD there was a starter who risked everything to hold onto QR! I could just imagine that poor thing running loose with a blindfold! UGH. It could have been disasterous! It's a ROUGH JOB at the gate and I give those guys a LOT of credit for doing what they do!
Brian, correct me if I'm wrong, but my recollection is, if a horse still won't load with a blindfold that he loses his Gate card and he has to reschool in the Gate anyway to get it back. I'm thankful I've never had to even deal with this problem!
On a side note, the day I took my friends to Breakfast at Belmont was a week before the Belmont Stakes. Guess who's work we got to see that day? That's right! Quality Road! LOL! We also got to see QR with Johnny V. up walking back to the barn on the Backside! What a treat it was for my friends and I! :-) I am SO rooting for Quality Road tomorrow!

Jen W. said...

As for changing jockeys, Johnny V. has a good repetoire with QR. If he is still working him in the mornings and if he worked with him at the Gate now, I don't see why you would change a winning combo. As long as he feels comfortable with that and Todd P and the owners feel comfortable, then let's see what happens!

Jen W. said...

Here's a question, can someone please explain to me WHY they they put Coa back on Harlem Rocker????? That would have been a permanent change after the DQ in the Cigar mile last year! Hopefully he keeps him straight this race...no offense to Coa, of course.

Jen W. said...

Ack...I made a mistake. At the Belmont, it was NOT Quality Road we saw...it was Dunkirk. Excuse my enthusiasm! Don't know why I thought it was QR! :-)

Brian Zipse said...

It is all good Jen, we knew he was not around then.

Today's performance was nice and easy. A good start to the year.