He did it again. That seven year old gelding from modest beginnings, Presious Passion was back at the races and showing his speed, class, and heart once again to easily wire the field in today’s feature at Gulfstream Park. The Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes was the backdrop for another Presious Passion show. As per usual, he sprinted out to a sizeable advantage, and led his competition on a merry chase. He gives the other horses a little hope as they chip away at his lead on the backstretch and the far turn. Generally this is false hope, and so it was today. When Presious Passion turned for home, jockey Elvis Trujillo knew he had a ton of horse to sprint away from his challengers. The classy turfer Winchester, in receipt of six pounds from the star of the show, gave it his all down the Gulfstream stretch, but never had a chance to catch Passion.
A Sue Kawczynski Photo
My next opportunity should come in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic. That’s right, the gorgeous, chestnut gelding will soon be hobnobbing with the Sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates. Talk about a Cinderella story. The 1 ½ mile Dubai Sheema Classic will be run at the brand new Meydan Race Course on March 27. In that race, Passion will face some of the best turf horses from all over the world. I can not tell you for sure that he will win, but I can safely say he is the horse that the rest of the field will have to worry about. You can bet your bottom dollar he will be out and winging on the Meydan turf course. Today, Presious Passion showed that he is in excellent shape and all systems are go for the trip to Dubai.
Presious Passion won the Mac Diarmida Stakes for the second consecutive year. It marked the Mary Hartmann trained gelding's 14th career victory on the grass in 41 starts on the lawn. He his quickly closing in on the $3 million dollar mark in career earnings. A number that will significantly rise with a strong performance in the desert. At seven years young, Presious Passion shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, in fact he seems to be as good, if not better, than ever. His run a few races back in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was full of class, and now today he has returned to his winning ways. I can not imagine I would get any argument in saying that he is an absolute joy to watch run. I will take it one step further…If you don’t like Presious Passion, then you don’t like horse racing.
February 28, 2010
February 27, 2010
Amen Hallelujah scored her biggest win to date in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes. Facing the prospect of letting the betting favorite alone on the lead, Amen Hallelujah took the onus upon herself to do all the heavy lifting. She pressured the fast filly Bickersons early, and reeled her in with ease as they straightened out. From there it was a stroll in the park, as the disheartened favorite backed out. Amen Hallelujah went on about her business and cruised to a 6 ¼ length runaway. In the process she ran approximately three lengths faster than the older stakes fillies who ran the same distance in the previous race. Very impressive indeed for the Chicago filly
Why do I call her a Chicago filly? Her Chicago connection began last June when she ran fifth in her lifetime debut at Arlington. She followed that up with three more races at the Chicagoland oval. In those races, Amen Hallelujah improved with every start, breaking her maiden in her third start, before impressively running away from a field of winners in her fourth and final start at Arlington Park. I do not know if she will ever run at Arlington again, but those first four races are enough for me to always consider her a Chicago horse.
Amen Hallelujah is an attractive dark bay daughter of Montbrook, and the Concorde’s Tune mare, Sara’s Success. She is owned by the partnership of IEAH and Whizway Farms and trained by Richard Dutrow. She was ridden to victory today by Julien Leperoux, this being the first time the Eclipse Award winning jockey partnered with Amen Hallelujah. She clearly did well with her new rider, but most importantly, she did very well on a brand new surface. After seven good efforts on synthetic surfaces, Amen Hallelujah was finally given the chance to see what she could do on good old fashioned dirt. Today’s result speaks volumes, of both her versatility, but also her affinity for dirt. It was not a big surprise that she liked it, as Dutrow had predicted that she would be better on the more traditional surface, after watching her work on both surfaces.
After such a dominant win, the question becomes…what’s next? The obvious answer would be to bring her back in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes in three weeks time. The Bonnie Miss is a 1 1/8 mile race and would represent the longest distance that Amen Hallelujah has run to date. It is also the same day as Gulfstream’s biggest race, the Florida Derby, giving the option to her connections of going for the gusto. While the Florida Derby may be a bit much for her right now, the Bonnie Miss and then the Kentucky Oaks seems like a very likely progression. Distance will be a question, but today’s romp at a mile gives me high hopes that one more furlong will be within her scope. Her future appears to be very bright, and with today’s win, she moves even higher up my ranking of the best sophomore fillies in the nation, into a top three position. Regardless of what she accomplishes in the future, it is always nice when a Chicago horse makes good. I will be watching.
February 26, 2010
Bambera is a Venezuelan bred, four-year-old daughter of the Sadler’s Wells sire Water Poet and has come to the States on an absolute roll. Her last race was in December, and it was her first outside of Venezuela. In that outing, Bambera romped in the biggest race in the Caribbean. It was in the Clasico Internacional del Caribe at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico. In the Clasico, otherwise known as the Caribbean Derby, Bambera defeated the best three-year-olds in Central America both male and female. The big win furthered her impressive resume. Bambera improved her overall record to 16 wins in 18 races and has now won six in a row. Amazingly she had 13 wins out of 14 starts last season. The only time she was defeated last year was a narrow loss when 2nd in one of the Triple Crown races in her native Venezuela. Bambera came that close to sweeping both the Venezuelan Triple Tiara and Triple Crown. Most of Bambera’s wins have been tour-de-force displays of overwhelming talent.
So dominant in Venezuela, and then in Puerto Rico, Her Royal Highness, as she is lovingly known as in her native land, needs to find bigger and better contests for her immense talent. This has prompted Bambera’s connections to take her on the road where they will test her against the toughest dirt competition in the world. Yesterday we learned that is likely to include a race against Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Invitational. If she lines up against those two in seven weeks, The Happening at Hot Springs will be a race that is even bigger than when Canonero pulled of his stunner 39 years ago.
What did the original Venezuelan sensation do after the Kentucky Derby, you ask? Proving that his Churchill romp was no fluke, Canonero came back two weeks later to win the Preakness by a length and a half and broke the track record in the process. When the Caracas Cannonball started in the Belmont Stakes, in hopes of the first Triple Crown in 23 years, he attracted what at the time was the largest Belmont crowd in history. Triple Crown glory was not to be, as Canonero, who was clearly not at the peak of health for the Belmont, finished fourth. What he accomplished in the Derby and the Preakness was memorable enough in America, but in Venezuela he was a national hero. Can Bambera make the kind of splash that Canonero did?
There is reason to be hopeful. While Canonero was promising in Venezuela, he was far from the star that Bambera is. Compare her sparkling record to Canonero’s record of six wins from ten starts in their homeland. She has proven herself to be superior, not only to the females, but also to the best males that the country has to offer. She is an outstanding horse who should be competitive at high levels in America. How competitive, and whether that will put a scare into America’s Queens is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure, her entry against Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom adds a little spice to an already tasty dish.
February 25, 2010
*I was bred in one nation, but ran exclusively in two other countries.
February 24, 2010
I started a poll, there on the left, a few days ago and the more I considered the votes coming in, the more I realized it required a little write-up. These are the ten crops that I have identified as the best in American racing history. To qualify, the horses did not need to be bred in America, but they did need to have made a name for themselves on American racetracks. I highlighted each year by listing the top five runners (not an easy task in many cases) of each year. The year represents the standouts' three-year-old season. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did researching it, and please let me know what you think…which year did I leave out? What horse should I have included in my top fives?
February 23, 2010
HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Arkansas — Fifty thousand trading cards of champions Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will be printed Wednesday, February 24, to provide free souvenirs of the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming on April 9.
February 22, 2010
A ZATT Guest Blog - by Jay Valter
February 21, 2010
All of a sudden the Derby Trail just got a whole lot downer and derbier with several important preps being run yesterday. The theme of the day was Mr. Todd Pletcher, who scored with three Derby prep wins, topped by a scintillating score by Eskendereya. All of yesterday’s preps, and a non winner of one allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs, went a long way in rattling the cage of ZATT’s master list. I can’t wait for more days like yesterday.
February 20, 2010
My favorite turf horse returned today at Gulfstream Park and earned a hard fought victory in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park. His name is Courageous Cat, and he certainly lives up to his name. Last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he ran second to the great French mare Goldikova, Courageous Cat showed no ill effects from the three and a half month layoff. He stalked a fast pace, as he normally does, pounced as the field straightened out and was very game in holding off a spirited rally by longshot Cherokee Artist to win by a head. A good enough return race for the Bill Mott trainee until you consider the final time. The one mile race on the lawn was run in 1:31.58. Horses simply can not run a flat mile much faster than that, and in fact, the race was less than one fifth of a second behind the world record for the distance. The Gulfstream Park turf course is playing fast, but for a return race, and one in which he was giving the field weight, it was most impressive.
I first time I saw this colt, was last Summer at Belmont Park, where I was impressed with both his physical look, as well as his quick burst of speed. Courageous Cat is an attractive bay with three white stockings and a long white blaze that stretches all the way down his nose. What I saw that first day, when he broke his maiden on the grass, was a horse who could run fast early and then explode into another gear to put his competition away. He was placed directly into stakes races after the maiden score, and he continued to impress. He won an overnight stake at Belmont, shading 1:40 for a 1 1/16 in the process, before easily annexing the Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga. That day he ran 1:45.90 for the nine furlongs. His three race skein was broken in the Grade 1 Jamaica, where he steadied, when the real running began and was beaten by the classy Take the Points by ¾ of a length. In that defeat, he showed a lot of heart as he re-rallied, after he looked like he was out of the race. On Breeders’ Cup Day, Courageous Cat made a name for himself. He knocked on the door of stardom when he surged to the lead at the eighth pole before succumbing to the irresistible rush of Goldikova. Ignored that afternoon at nearly 23-1, he was the best performing of my longshot selections in the BC races, and I will be a fan of his for the duration.
Ridden for the second consecutive time by Garrett Gomez, today’s victory was Courageous Cat’s fourth win in seven career starts on the grass. It marked his third stakes win and second graded stakes tally. So far, so good for the impeccably bred son of Storm Cat and Tranquility Lake. A homebred for Pam and Martin Wygod, Courageous Cat is very lightly raced and still on the improve. If he remains healthy, he will give the American side a wonderful opportunity to reclaim the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. A task made all the taller by the fact that the two-time defending champion Goldikova is preparing to begin her five-year-old season and another raid on our Breeders’ Cup. Can he beat her? Only time will tell, but now a year older and with more experience there for the offing, I think he just may be the horse to take down the French Superstar. He has courage, and he has speed. He is…One Courageous Cat.
February 19, 2010
Consider this a formal warning. He is at it again. Quiet for more than 3,000 years, Odysseus the Cunning has returned to carry out a new master plan. Once again he will use the form of a horse to pull the wool over the eyes of the unobservant. A quick recap of history, or Greek mythology, whichever you prefer to call it, reminds us how Odysseus masterminded the plot that took down Troy. Seeking to gain entrance into Troy, Odysseus ordered a large wooden horse to be built. Its insides were hollow so that soldiers could hide inside. Once the horse had been built, many Greek warriors, along with Odysseus, climbed inside. The rest of the Greek fleet sailed away to deceive the Trojans. One Greek, Sinon, was left behind. When the Trojans came to marvel at the giant horse, Sinon pretended to be angry with the Greeks, saying he had been deserted. He convinced the Trojans that the wooden horse was safe and would also bring them great luck. The Trojans celebrated victory, and dragged the wooden horse into Troy. That night, after most of Troy was sleeping or drunk, Sinon let the Greek warriors out from the horse, and the Trojans were quickly defeated. He may be using a different type of horse to complete his agenda, but the end game is very much the same.
A half brother to multiple stakes winner Once Around, Odysseus rallied for second in his debut at Aqueduct last Fall, after getting away slowly in the maiden sprint. His connections were patient with the chestnut son of Malibu Moon and he returned with a hard fought half-length win at seven furlongs in a January maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park. It was after that maiden win that I first became very aware of the Thomas Albertrani colt and the threat which he represents. After Wednesday, I am now even more weary. The Padua Stables’ Odysseus romped home 15 lengths clear of an allowance field at Tampa Bay Downs in near-track record time. This was a field he was expected to handle, but the way he accomplished the task was eye-catching, as he stalked the leader, and then blew his doors off with mild encouragement by rider Rajiv Maragh. Notice that Odysseus the Cunning has stayed off the mainstream radar to this point, but he did not earn his moniker for nothing. He knows he will need to rack up some graded earnings before his raid on Louisville. With that end in mind, expect Odysseus to reappear at Tampa Bay Downs for their upcoming Derby. Following that, you can expect the meticulous plan to continue on, all the way to the Run for the Roses.
Will Louisville be wiped off the map, much the same way Troy was thousands of years ago? I certainly hope not, as I have many friends in greater Louisville. In the end, I believe the city on the Ohio River has nothing to worry about, it is the other fine horses and their connections that I fear for the most. Odysseus is most cunning, and much like he had his sights squarely on Troy, he now has Louisville all lined up for a sacking unlike anything seen since the last time he schemed. Does he have the horse to succeed? After Wednesday, I would not be surprised if he does. Consider yourself warned.
February 18, 2010
*I was not bred in Kentucky nor Florida, but I was still a very well bred American home bred.
February 17, 2010
Born with his own fan base, to say Lentenor has been watched closely throughout his young life would be a major understatement. The attractive bay son of Dynaformer and La Ville Rouge has yet to disappoint his throngs of followers. His latest race was a sharp maiden score over the Gulfstream Park turf course in a maiden special weight. Today the competition will get more contentious for Lentenor, as he takes on winners for the first time. Eleven other three-year-olds are entered for the race, including several promising turfers. The Kiaran McLaughlin trained pair of Saint Eligius and Krypton, and turf winners Stately Victor, Doubles Partner, and Becky‘s Kitten head the opposition. Make no mistake, though, all eyes will be on Lentenor.
With a winning performance today, Lentenor will likely step on to the path of his older, full brother, Barbaro, who left the comforts of the turf course to tackle bigger things on the dirt. In 2006, Barbaro used a victory in the Florida Derby to propel himself to a tour de force win in the Kentucky Derby. Lentenor’s connections of trainer Michael Matz and owner’s Roy and Gretchen Jackson are the same team who campaigned Barbaro. In Barbaro they had a wonderful horse who’s life was cut tragically short. He took them to monumental highs, and then unspeakable lows. His connections proved to be of great class throughout the saga, and millions would love to see them rewarded with another top horse. I, for one, would love to see Lentenor given a chance in the Florida Derby.
Barbaro was a beautiful horse, and I understand why so many have rooted so vociferously for his brothers Nicanor and Lentenor. I took the attitude, to wait and see what kind of horses they were before rooting too hard. I had no intention of becoming a big fan/believer only because they were brothers of Barbaro. Clearly Nicanor had talent, but has had health issues. In Lentenor, I see even more potential. I have studied the films of his first three races closely, and I really think the Jacksons and Matz are on to something here. Lentenor has the look of a horse that is getting better and better with development. If he remains healthy, I have little doubt that he will become a stakes horse. It is a little too early for me to tout him as a Derby horse yet, but I certainly can not dismiss him either. Today, I expect a victory, and after that the possibilities become a whole lot more exciting.
February 15, 2010
|When I think of the term Iron Lady, the first mare that springs to mind is the great D. Wayne Lukas horse, Lady’s Secret, and deservingly so. She was far from the only hickory mare that Lukas trained though. An almost equally tough female, as the Iron Lady, was Serena’s Song. The first time I saw this champion in person was also one of her most memorable races. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was the scene for what was supposed to be the coronation for the great Flanders. No one told this to the other half of the Lukas entry. Serena’s Song did not look nearly as impressive as her entry mate on paper, but horse races are not run on paper. Serena’s Song and Flanders hooked up on the lead soon after the start, and there they would remain every step of the way. The unheralded Serena’s Song ridden by Corey Nakatani on the outside and the undefeated Flanders with Pat Day on the inside battled in unison through testing fractions as the crowd roared. It is rare to see entry mates take each other on so early in the race, but Lukas had told both jockeys that they were on their own and to go for the win. As the fillies straightened out for the stretch run it looked like Serena on the outside might upstage Flanders, but the favored part of the pair was resolute with Day on the rail. It would be a head bobbing battle to the wire. Flanders got the bob, and was declared the winner by half a head, in what remains the greatest juvenile filly race I have ever seen. She claimed her year-end championship, although it was bittersweet as she returned from the race with an injury and would never race again. For the unheralded half of the entry, it was her doorway to superstardom. Never again would Serena’s Song be taken for granted.|
Serena’s Song was foaled in 1992, sired by Rahy out of Imagining, by Northfields, she was bred in Kentucky by Dr. Howard Baker. At the yearling sales, Serena was not one of the hot tickets. Her small size kept many buyers away, but her athleticism caught the eye of the premier trainer in the business. Lukas would purchase Serena’s Song for $150,000 for two of his top clients, Bob and Beverly Lewis. The choice would prove to be an incredible success, although early on it was not so clear.
Serena’s Song two-year-old season was a bit inconsistent, but she did manage to win the Landaluce Stakes and Grade 1 Oak Leak Stakes on the West Coast before her epic battle with Flanders. She also displayed the toughness and durability that would make her a true star. As a juvenile, Serena’s Song started 10 times, and won 4, earning almost $600,000. After her fabulous performance in the BC Juvenile Fillies, Serena‘s Song returned in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet Stakes. She once again dueled on the lead, this time with the highly regarded Urbane, and this time she came out on top. By the end of the 1994 season, she was considered the best young filly not named Flanders. Her winning ways would continue into the Spring of her sophomore season.
Serena’s Song became dominant at age three, winning 9 of 13 starts. Her connections showed little worry in running against males, as she bested them in the Jim Beam at Turfway Park and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. She would also handle older females in the prestigious Beldame, in this superlative season. After an easy win in the Jim Beam, which followed impressive wins in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks, Lukas planned on sending his star filly to the Kentucky Oaks, but was overruled by owner Bob Lewis, who had not yet won the Kentucky Derby. Lewis would have two Derby wins in his future, but it was not to be for Serena. In the Derby, Serena’s Song blistered the track with fractions of :22 2/5, :45 4/5, 1:10 1/5, and 1:35 3/5 for the mile. It proved to be too much for the great filly, as she tired and finished 16th. The Derby did not knock her out for long as she returned soon to take the Mother Goose and readied herself for another attempt against the boys. The opportunity came about in the Haskell, and yours truly watched in admiration as she beat the boys again. I remember watching her and thinking how low she held her head as she ran. Many top horses have run this way, but it especially struck me that day at Monmouth Park. It was just another way this special filly stood out. She went on to win the Gazelle and Beldame that Fall, further proving her dominance in the division. Her season ended in disappointment with a 5th place finish in a wet BC Distaff at Belmont Park, but nonetheless, Serena’s Song was rewarded for her remarkable season with an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old filly.
As an older horse, Serena’s Song continued to rack up frequent flyer miles as well as earnings. She was entered in seemingly every big race for older females as well as several more tries against males. She did not win nearly as often as she did at three, but she still managed to further her Iron Lady reputation. At four, she won five out of fifteen races including three grade 1s and was second seven times, including the Whitney and the BC Distaff. Winless in her final seven starts, although 2nd in six of those races, it was clear that Serena’s Song was a bit of a tired horse at the end of her four-year-old season. Much discussion about her returning for a fourth season ensued, but in the end, they decided she had done enough. At retirement Serena's Song stood as the richest female racehorse in American history when she called it quits with more than $3.2 million. Just like all earnings records, it has since been broken, but to hold the record at all was a huge accomplishment. All told, Serena’s Song was victorious in an amazing 17 graded stakes and was second in many more, in only three years of racing. She received her ultimate honor when she was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
In her second career, Serena’s Song has also proven a terrific success. Upon retirement, Serena’s Song was sent to Denali Stud near Paris, Kentucky to begin life as a broodmare. Among her offspring are three stakes winners. Sophisticat and Grand Reward both by Storm Cat and Serena’s Tune by Mr. Prospector have carried on the name of Serena’s Song quite well. Of course she will always be best remembered as a runner, and for good reason. Her sophomore season may have been her most successful, but she was a model of consistent excellence throughout her career and was as durable as they come. She fell just one win short of winning half of her 38 races, and I can’t think of another horse, in the last twenty years, who danced every dance quite as often as she did. She was tough as nails. I remember you Serena’s Song.
February 14, 2010
I have always thought that one of the most enjoyable things about Thoroughbred horse racing is in the finding of new stars. Their potential is limitless. I daydream about future races and how good they may become. The anticipation of their next race is heightened by the newness of their fame. Horse racing parades an endless supply of future possible stars, but until you see them do something special, they are unproven. When some actually become good enough to take it to the for real level, you want to be among the first to appreciate their ability. I saw two such horses yesterday at Santa Anita Park, in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Santa Maria Handicap. Neither Caracortado nor St Trinians were well known outside of Southern California before yesterday, but after respective superlative performances, they can fly under the radar no longer.
Just two races later in the sunny California afternoon came the five-year-old English import, St Trinians. Despite starting her career in Europe, the daughter of Piccolo is far more experienced on the synthetic surfaces than the turf that is so common across the Atlantic. St Trinians came into the Santa Maria undefeated in three start since arriving in the United States, but was clearly not the headliner going in. Standing in her path was the BC Ladies Classic winner Life Is Sweet, who had four major wins over this course last year. Despite the accomplishments of Life Is Sweet, St Trinians’ recent form could not be ignored and she actually went off a slight favorite. Much like Caracortado, she exploded past her rivals at the top of the stretch, and then was strong down the lane, easily holding of the fast finish of Life Is Sweet. Also like Caracortado, she won by 1 3/4 lengths, and completed 1 1/16 miles on the Pro-Ride in 1:41.73. The time was .02 faster than Caracortado, meaning St Trinians now has the fastest time at the distance for the meet. Ridden by Joel Rosario for the third consecutive race, St Trinians is trained by Mike Mitchell and now has won seven times in eleven starts and sports an impressive seven out of ten record on a synthetic surface. After yesterday, you have to believe she will be on the invitation list for the Apple Blossom and, if she accepts, she has a meeting with Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in her near future.
Will either St Trinians or Caracortado become champions this year? Chances are not, but as of yesterday they have proven that they deserve great respect. I know I will be watching them closely from here on in…I love the new stars of racing.
February 13, 2010
The real running has begun and accordingly there have been some major moves up and down the big list. Especially impressive was a Cal bred gelding who began his career in a maiden claimer at Fairplex Park. It just goes to show, an excellent horse can come from anywhere. Without further adieu, ZATT gets Down and Derby…
February 12, 2010
OK, we now know Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, or should I say their owners, have graciously agreed to run against each other for the paltry sum of $5 million. Sportsmen or businessmen? It makes no matter to me, I am much more interested in seeing these two magnificent and historically significant horses square off on the Oaklawn oval, than having any further discussions about their wealthy connections. The pair’s accomplishments to this date are nothing short of phenomenal and the prospect of them testing each other, to see once and for all who is the better lady, is absolutely mouth watering. The world should be watching. Set for Friday, late afternoon on April 9, many worry that this time will not do the race, nor the sport, the justice it deserves. I have a possible solution…why not put The Happening at Hot Springs under the lights, so it can be a Friday night national celebration?
Let’s face it, if we want more people to view the race, a primetime race is far more desirable than a late afternoon post time. The Masters golf tournament will be finishing for the day and the sports fan will be compelled and ready to see racing’s great showdown. Women and girls around the nation will be tuned in to watch the battle of the babes. The excitement created last Summer at Churchill Downs was a clear indication that night racing can add excitement to the festivities of the day’s races, but in the case of The Happening at Hot Springs, the benefits could be far greater. By having the race closer to primetime throughout the nation, viewership could increase exponentially. Churchill Downs was trying to boost attendance, enthusiasm, and handle by offering night racing, and they accomplished all three in a big way with their Friday night cards. Oaklawn would be trying to do the same thing, only not on site, but rather for a national audience. To test the plan Churchill erected temporary lights through an Iowa company, Musco Lighting, who advertises rapid set-up and tear-down, and achieving desired results without breaking the budget. The plan worked so well, that Churchill has now gone to permanent lighting to continue to offer occasional night racing. It is not too late for Oaklawn to change the post times for the day and procure the temporary lighting.
Oaklawn, you did it, the spotlight is shining brightly on your track. The first ever showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta promises to be the biggest match up we have seen in Thoroughbred horse racing since most of us were born. Why not take it one step farther and shine that light just a little brighter…“Ladies and Gentleman, Friday Night at the Races starring two bona fide superstars, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in The Happening at Hot Springs!”
February 11, 2010
*I won more than half of my lifetime starts and only finished out of the money one time.
Oaklawn Park is set to announce that the $5 Million Apple Blossom Invitational is back on. It will be moved from April 3 to Friday, April 9 to accomodate the request of Rachel Alexandra's connections. Both connections have agreed to run.
February 10, 2010
WinStar Farm is in the best position of any owner at this point on the Kentucky Derby highway. Their hand is stacked with four major players ready to march on Louisville the first of May. Three of the four secured their position as early favorites by impressively winning stakes late last year, with Super Saver winning the Kentucky Jockey Club, Rule winning the Delta Jackpot, and American Lion accounting for Hollywood’s Prevue. The final horse of their big four may not be as well known, or even run in a stakes race yet, but he just might have what it takes to be the one horse draped in roses at Churchill Downs. His name is Drosselmeyer. Named for a character from Tchaikovsky's ‘The Nutcracker’, Drosselmeyer is a chestnut colt by Distorted Humor, who has already sired a Derby winner in Funny Cide, out of the grade 1 winning mare, Golden Ballet, a daughter of Moscow Ballet. The well bred sophomore, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, also has a stronger foundation of experience than many of the top candidates, with four two-turn races and a win over the Churchill Downs strip under his belt. He has already run on turf, synthetics, and dirt, but it was his two dirt races that really caught my attention.
We did not need to wait too long for him to reappear. It happened on the last day of January at Gulfstream Park. The nine furlong allowance race gave Drosselmeyer another opportunity to run over a route of ground, and allowed for his first dirt race around two-turns. He passed the challenge with flying colors. Drosselmeyer, ridden again by Kent Desormeaux, had to find room on the turn and for awhile it looked like he might be in trouble. Drosselmeyer was patient and professional and when the hole opened up he showed excellent acceleration and easily edged away from the solid allowance field by 1 ¾ lengths. Once again the final time was solid, 1:49.52, and the way he did it was impressive. I always look for a horse that can be patient and maneuver through openings once presented in the Derby. Drosselmeyer appears to be that type of horse. His two dirt races are impressive enough for him to sky rocket up my list of Derby contenders, which will be out on Saturday.
All things look full steam ahead for the powerful colt. Elliott Walden, the Vice President & Racing Manager at WinStar, tells me that Drosselmeyer is doing good and his next race will most likely be the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on February 20. If that is indeed where he runs next, it will mark his sixth race at six different tracks and his fifth race around two-turns. Along with impressive experience already at Churchill Downs, and being trained by one of our sport’s masters, you would have to think that Drosselmeyer will be one of the most well prepared horses in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Yes, I know I might be jumping the gun a bit with that last statement, but this is one colt I really like.
February 8, 2010
Gallant Man turned that around quickly as a sophomore with a win in the six furlong Hibiscus Stakes in Florida. After being well beaten by the brilliant Bold Ruler in the Bahamas, Nerud decided to get Gallant Man out of Florida and away from the more advanced Bold Ruler and Gen. Duke. While those two duked it out in South Florida, Gallant Man was allowed to mature and was now ready for another clash with Bold Ruler. Jamaica’s Wood Memorial was the site, and for the first time, Gallant Man would display the kind of horse he was becoming. In a thrilling stretch duel, Bold Ruler came on again and nipped him by a nose. It was a great race in the last prep for the Kentucky Derby. The two horses broke the track record for nine furlongs and would head to Louisville with obvious momentum.
In the 1957 Kentucky Derby, Gallant Man was shown a great deal of respect by the bettors at just under 4-1. In the field were rivals and future Hall of Famers, Bold Ruler and Round Table. Calumet had lost the brilliant Gen. Duke to an injury and filled his spot with the capable Iron Liege. Iron Liege and Bold Ruler stalked pacesetter Federal Hill until the field hit the quarter pole. Iron Liege surged to the lead as Federal Hill and Bold Ruler could not keep up. The Calumet runner gained a clear lead, but Gallant Man was coming up fast on the outside. Gallant Man had Iron Liege in his sight for Kentucky Derby glory when something bizarre occurred. Gallant Man’s rider Willie Shoemaker stood up in the irons. He had mistaken the sixteenth pole for the finish line. Shoemaker quickly realized his blunder and went back to work on Gallant Man, but fell agonizingly short at the wire. Iron Liege had held on by a desperate nose, with Round Table 3rd and Bold Ruler 4th. Shoemaker admitted after the race that his mistake cost his horse the Kentucky Derby. Human error had just caused Gallant Man to lose the biggest race a horse could win. Making the incident all the more unbelievable, owner Ralph Lowe had a dream two nights before the race that Gallant Man’s rider would stand up early.
After the disheartening loss in the Derby, Gallant Man refused to become a shrinking violet. Sent back to New York, he prepared for a start in the Belmont Stakes with an impressive win in the Peter Pan Stakes over the same strip. When Belmont Day arrived, Bold Ruler, the Derby favorite and Preakness winner was the star, but it was Gallant Man who stole the show. He ran right by the favored Bold Ruler and drew off in the stretch to an eight length win. In so doing he shattered the American record by running the mile and a half in 2:26 and 3/5. This record would stand for 16 more years until a horse named Secretariat came along. After the Peter Pan and Belmont wins, Gallant Man would continue to dominate in New York. Wins in the Nassau County, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup set him up with an opportunity for a championship. It would not be easy though as Round Table had become a dominant force in California on dirt and turf and was successfully moving east and Bold Ruler was freshened and was coming off sharp victories. The meeting of the three would happen in the Trenton Handicap at Garden State Park. The 10 furlong test would decide the championship. Bold Ruler proved too much that day and easily wired the field on the wet track, with Gallant Man finishing 2nd and Round Table was 3rd. Bold Ruler would be named three-year-old champion and Horse of the Year. Round Table was the turf champ, and Gallant Man, despite his fantastic year was shut out from year end awards.
As a four-year-old, Gallant Man only raced five times. He was beaten by his biggest rival, Bold Ruler in the Carter, but then rebounded to win the Met Mile over Bold Ruler. A trip to the West Coast proved successful, as Gallant Man scored in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Sunset Handicap. He ran fifth in his final career start in the Sysonby Handicap and was retired soon after with a leg injury. Gallant Man finished his career with 14 wins in 26 starts. Quite a record when you consider that his career got off to a slow start, and the level of competition he regularly faced as a foal of 1954. He was a brilliant stakes winner at six furlongs as well as a extraordinary stayer, winning three major stakes at twelve furlongs or more, including the two mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Gallant Man was truly dynamic with his speed and endurance. He may have been retired from the races at four, but his career was far from over.
Much like the greatest of his peers, Gallant Man was a big success at stud. He produced a total of 52 stakes winners, chief among them was the great race mare Gallant Bloom. He also enjoyed a very successful career as a broodmare sire. Gallant Man was pensioned from stud duty in 1981, and he lived to the ripe old age of 34 years old before passing away at the age of 1988. Would history remember Gallant Man a little differently if Shoemaker had not made the infamous gaff? Yes, but the 1957 Kentucky Derby will always be remembered as one of the more interesting ones in history, because the wrong horse won. Gallant Man will be always remembered for his Derby loss, but he was so much more than that. I remember you Gallant Man.
February 7, 2010
“It was the best of times, It was the worst of times…” I wonder if Charles Dickens was a fan of the horses. Yesterday’s wonderful day of racing had its ‘worst of times’ moments, with the cancellation of Santa Anita’s big card, and a broken bit that had the promising Eightyfiveinafifty looking more like a scared jackrabbit being chased by the wolves. Like a microcosm of life, with the bad came the good. The good, in this case, came in the form of two beautiful four-year-old colts named Quality Road and Musket Man. The two horses have a few things in common. Both colts won for the sixth time in their ninth lifetime start, and neither have ever finished out of the money. Both Musket Man and Quality Road winter in Florida and call the Northeast their home the rest of the year, and both colts fell just short of ultimate glory in the previous season. That is where the similarity ends.
While Quality Road readied for a much anticipated return to the races, it was now Musket Man’s turn to succumb to soreness. A bone bruise would put him on the shelf for the remainder of the year. Quality Road finally returned with a blazing win in the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga, and the pundits dove on to his bandwagon. His mercurial rise back to the top of the division was stunted somewhat by two defeats at the hands of the champion, Summer Bird, in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Those defeats were on messy tracks and to a horse with a great deal more bottom than the talented colt who was now trained by Todd Pletcher. His 2009 season, which was paved with both brilliance and setbacks, would have one final unusual turn. Set to contest America’s richest race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Quality Road balked at the starting gate. The refusal to enter the gate escalated into a scary situation and Quality Road was scratched, but avoided injury. The psychological damage from the incident was evident a few days later when Quality Road would not willingly enter the airplane ready to transport him home. Instead he hit the highway and was driven all the way across the nation back to New York. Through his struggles, Quality Road is now beloved, not only by fans of his immense talent, but also by those who feel for what he went through in November.
Unfinished business is a theme for both horses, as they passed on an early exit to the breeding shed, and returned for their third season of racing. The glamour boy, Quality Road ran an absolute monster race yesterday in winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Every bit of his talent and strength was on display as he destroyed a full field of mediocre stakes horses. His winning margin was nearly 13 lengths as he broke his own track record set in last year’s Florida Derby. In just nine races, it was his third track record and preliminary reports of his Beyer number are set at a gaudy 122. Quality Road has not accomplished as much as the reigning Queens of racing, but he is unquestionably a member of the current racing aristocracy. A King in waiting. Not quite so regal, but in my opinion just as good a story, is the small town, Musket Man. Yesterday he ran a deceptively excellent race in the Super Stakes at Tampa. In his first race in nearly nine months, Musket Man showed everything you could have hoped for, as he stalked a fast pace from a wide position, and then battled with a 7 furlong specialist, who had mustered up a full head of steam, through most of the stretch. They left the rest of the field far behind, and it was a hard fought ½ length victory for the classy Musket Man. It was a perfect return race that should set him up nicely for the bigger things to come.
They come from different sides of the track to be sure, and yesterday’s races may have looked disproportionately more impressive in favor of Quality Road, but both horses are pure quality in their own ways. Each colt has an ultimate goal of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and whether or not that is the venue, I hope they someday meet as two of the best handicap horses in the nation, and don’t be too surprised if the unheralded Musket Man gives the superstar Quality Road everything he wants.
February 6, 2010
How about a little love for the ladies? Today ZATT forsakes the boys and takes a look at the fairer sex, with my first Kentucky Oaks list. Although, with the recent success shown by the girls in the Triple Crown races, some of these may be looking at the Derby as well. Enjoy these talented young ladies.