The leading juvenile in the nation, Kantharos, has been retired, it was announced today. The son of Lion Heart, owned by Stonestreet Stables, and trained by Steve Asmussen, suffered a career finishing leg fracture while galloping out following a five furlong workout yesterday at Saratoga. Already a two-time graded stakes winner, Kantharos retires with a perfect record in three starts. Here is a video of each of his devastating wins.
August 31, 2010
August 30, 2010
I was so looking forward to this past weekend. On Saturday, it would be the 141st running of the Travers Stakes. One of the most prestigious and historic races in America, this year’s edition featured a full field of eleven sophomore colts who appeared extremely evenly matched on paper. Then on Sunday, it was to be the next chapter of the Rachel Alexandra story. I have made no secret of my affection for the filly, and the Personal Ensign offered her numerous new challenges. It would be her first grade 1 of the year, her first race with one of the most respected horses in the country in Life at Ten, and her first attempt at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. My anticipation for the weekend at Saratoga was intense, and heightening the anticipation was my personal confidence in the feeling that I knew who were going to win these two races.
August 29, 2010
|It’s time boys and girls. It’s time to open your eyes and see what is in front of you. Rachel Alexandra is ready, are you? |
To those who said she could not get the distance. Today is the day. In today’s Personal Ensign, she will get that classic ten furlongs that so many have doubted she could handle. What do we know about her chances to handle a mile and a quarter? Rachel is sired by the excellent runner Medaglia d’Oro, who won the ten furlong Travers, and was second in the 12 furlong Belmont, not to mention consecutive seconds in the 1 ¼ mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was no surprise that he could get the distance, being out of the superior sire line of Sadler’s Wells. Will his daughter be able to navigate the classic distance? In races at nine furlongs or longer, Rachel has a perfect record of seven wins in seven tries. The day she won the 1 3/16 Preakness by one length, she was hounded for most of the first mile by a world class sprinter named Big Drama. Handle the distance? Rachel can and will.
To those who said she could beat top competition. Today is the day. Life at Ten is the now horse. She has won six in a row, including a grade 1 and a grade 2 in her last two starts. She is coming off a win at this distance, and I have seen many pick her to win the Personal Ensign. Good. I am glad that Rachel will run against a really good horse. Is she as good as Rachel? Whether you look at Beyer speed figures, or the Ragozin numbers, Life at Ten is simply not in the same stratosphere as the future Hall of Famer. She wasn’t last year, and she is not this year, and once they go around the track today that will become clear. I hope Life at Ten brings her best today, I honestly do, she will need it to test Rachel today. Personally I think Life at Ten’s race for second with the rapidly improving Miss Singhsix might be the interesting contest. Bring it on Life at Ten.
To those who said she could not run like she did last year, and no longer handle grade 1 competition. Today will be further evidence that the ultimate plan is working. Last year she was pushed early for the big races of the Spring and Summer. She passed with flying colors and in historic fashion. In winning all five grade 1 races she entered, Rachel did things never before done by a sophomore filly. Her average margin of victory in those grade 1 wins was by an astounding figure of more than nine lengths. This year she has been asked much more judiciously to have her at her best in November. She is getting better month by month, and is already running big. Don’t forget in her win in the Fleur de Lis, she carried more weight and ran faster than did the much respected Blame in winning the Foster a few races later. Races in which he was all out, and she was not. Despite her easy wins in her last two, people are not satisfied. Fine. This year is designed for her to have plenty more left in the tank as the races become more important. The Breeders’ Cup is the goal this year. Rachel has already defeated a dozen horses who have won grade 1 races. That list will grow today. Is she the same horse as last year? I think in the end, she will prove to be even better.
Rachel Alexandra runs today in the Personal Ensign … I say enjoy the show!
August 28, 2010
Durability in thoroughbred horse racing is not what it used to be. Gone are the warriors of the past that danced every dance, year after year. You seldom see horses any more who can run well against the highest levels of competition over periods of four, five, even six seasons of racing. Where have horses like Kelso, Forego, and John Henry gone? There may be no timeless, gelding greats of that ilk in today’s Pacific Classic, but we do have a horse who has been unafraid to knock heads with the big boys in each of his five seasons of racing. A horse who will go anywhere, run on anything, and without fail, give 100%. His name is Awesome Gem.
August 27, 2010
|There is no doubt that the Mid-Summer Derby is one of my favorite races of the season. Year and year out, it acts as a great bridge between the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup. This year’s edition of the Travers is no different. What it lacks in superstars, it makes up for with competitiveness. There is literally not one horse, among the eleven, that would be a major surprise to me if they crossed the wire first. Having said that, I have a couple of reasons why I believe Fly Down may be the one to prove victorious.|
Reason number one is stamina. In watching years of Travers, it occurs to me that this is a race in which the need for stamina is somewhat underrated. Saratoga’s dirt course combined with the classic distance seem to weed out the horses that do not appreciate the extra furlong. This year there is a clear division, in my mind at least, between horses who will get the distance, and those who will deploy the parachute at some point in the stretch. You can make a case that the only four likely to not need an oxygen tank at the eighth pole are the four horses who ran (and did well) in the triple crown races, namely Super Saver, Ice Box, First Dude, and Fly Down. The other seven have never been the distance for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is the Travers will prove a tough race to attempt the distance for the first time. I would be more likely to forgive this drawback if any of the other seven had breeding that screamed distance … none do.
Reason number two is pace. A full field of eleven gunning for a million dollar win should ensure solid early fractions. Also, in looking over the field’s past performances, there are several horses in here who need to be on or near the lead. The combination of those two things have bells and whistles going off in my handicapping brain. A fast and contested pace, with many of the field’s contestants not wanting the distance anyway, should lead to some serious staggering down the lane. It also should set the race up nicely for the closers. For that reason, I prefer Nick Zito’s pair of Fly Down and Ice Box over my other two contenders based on stamina, Super Saver and First Dude, who both want to be part of the early pace.
Of Fly Down and Ice Box, I believe the former is just a better horse, and will beat his barn mate. A repeat of his Dwyer or Belmont performance should be plenty good enough to see Fly Down victorious in tomorrow’s Travers, and don’t be too surprised if you see New York Nick Zito all smiles after the race with a 1-2 finish.
It ought to be a fun, and counting the hours down in anticipation of the big race, has me recalling some of my favorite Travers. There may be none more memorable than my very first. The year was 1978 … for my memories on that epic showdown, please visit today’s piece on ZATT History.
August 26, 2010
|There is a late-Summer ritual in my home that goes something like this … My wife Candice and I will be flicking through the channels when we will pause at an NFL pre-season game. As football fans we take a quick look, but if I happen to be in charge of the remote control that evening, that’s all it is. A quick look. Candice will invariably counter with, “Don’t you want to watch that?” when I say no, she looks at me quizzically and says, “But it’s the Bears!” I explain that it is only the pre-season, and those games mean next to nothing to me. She gives me a bit of a, “hummmph” and we move on, until the next time we happen upon a Chicago Bears pre-season game. On a side note, we rarely ever miss a Bears regular season game, and if they are in the playoffs, it becomes an event. Why all the football talk today? Our little ritual reminds me a great deal of the current season of the superstar filly, Rachel Alexandra.|
After completing the greatest season by any sophomore filly in the history of the sport last year, Rachel has lost some of her luster to many who follow the sport. As we all know, Rachel began the 2010 season with two narrow defeats in the New Orleans Ladies, and the La Troienne, after a lengthy layoff. In her next two starts, Rachel easily won the Fleur de Lis, and the Lady’s Secret. For most any horse, these four races to begin the season would be met with praise and excitement for the future, but of course, Rachel is not any horse. She is held to a higher standard. This is especially true because the other phenomenal female of modern racing, Zenyatta, has refused to lose in 18 historic starts. But let’s take a look at where Rachel stands as the real important races are set to commence. Much like your favorite football team, Rachel has worked her way through the pre-season, and the early part of the regular season, and is now readying for the important games of the late season and playoffs. This building up during the season is very common in sports, as it is in racing.
Many of the greatest fillies I have ever seen have started their four-year-old seasons slowly. Princess Rooney lost three of her first four races as an older horse before winning her final five starts. Her season and career culminated with her best race ever as she romped home in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Distaff. After a brief freshening in her four-year-old season, Lady’s Secret was defeated by fillies in two separate races before peaking at the end of the year, and taking home Horse of the Year honors. Perhaps the best example can be found with Desert Vixen. A remarkable filly who won back-to-back Eclipse Awards in 1973 and 1974, Desert Vixen ran rough shod over her competition as a three-year-old by winning her final eight races in overpowering fashion. She finished that year with an 8 ½ length romp in the Beldame, leaving Hall of Famer Susan’s Girl in her wake, and setting a track record in the process. To start her career as an older horse, Desert Vixen would lose 5 of her first 6 races. Imagine what the naysayers would be saying today. Proving that the early part of the season meant little, she would go on to win another Eclipse, highlighted by easy wins in the Maskette and Matchmaker, a 12 length masterpiece in the Beldame, and incredibly almost winning the top turf race of the year. On that day, Desert Vixen ran 2nd in the DC International in her only lifetime try on turf, and beating Dahlia in the process. So you see, it is not how you start the year, but how you finish it, that is most important.
While some have chose to dismiss her chances against excellent horses like Zenyatta, Blame, and Quality Road, the truth is that Rachel Alexandra is a very special filly who has 13 wins and 4 seconds in 17 races since her debut very early in her juvenile season. She is through the ‘returning to form’ phase of her season, and in the next ten weeks she will have every opportunity to prove her greatness all over again. On Sunday, she will run in the Personal Ensign. A grade 1 at 1 ¼ miles, she will face one of the best horses in America, in Life at Ten, who has won six straight, as well as the improving mare Miss Singhsix. A good test, and one that will lead to progressively more difficult assignments.
A win in the Personal Ensign will lead to the Beldame. A win in the Beldame will lead to the Breeders’ Cup. A win in the Breeders’ Cup will be the icing on the cake. Let the playoffs begin. Will it be easy? Hardly. Can she do it? Yes she can.
Photo by Patrick Sheehan
August 25, 2010
|*I fit more than thirty races into my three seasons of racing, with the most coming in my Eclipse Award year. |
*My stakes victories were won at a range of distances of more than 3 ½ furlongs apart.
*I raced multiple times on both turf and dirt, but I only excelled on one.
*All but one of my nine stakes wins either occurred in Arkansas or New York.
*I was ridden by the same Hall of Fame jockey 23 times, including six stakes wins.
*I count a Horse of the Year, a turf champion, a 2y.o. champion, a 3y.o. champion, a 3y.o. filly champion, and an older female champion, among my victims.
*I wore blinkers in my first 3 stakes wins, did not wear them in my next six stakes victories, and then wore them in my final five lifetime starts.
*Arguably my two most important victories came at the same distance and at the same racetrack.
*I was not the most famous horse of my age the year that I won my championship.
*My graded stakes wins included a win at 2-5, as well as, a victory at more than 50-1.
You should know by now … Who Am I ???
August 24, 2010
Time for a little multiple choice, ZATT style: Which one of these outlandish statements is true?
August 23, 2010
Is this the type of campaign you would like to see your favorite horse contest? Does this resume make Blind Luck a legitimate Horse of the Year candidate?
August 22, 2010
|“I’d rather win this race than the Kentucky Derby,” the words came from Richard Duchossois, as he tried to hold back the tears. He got his wish. The man who has championed Chicago racing for nearly thirty years, finally won the race that he always wanted. The Grade 1 Beverly D. is one of the premier turf races for fillies and mares held in America, but more importantly it is the race that is named after his late wife. |
In a race that looked about as wide open as a race could look going in, it was the house horse, Éclair de Lune, who took over the contest as the field turned for home. Sprinting for the wire, the four-year-old German bred was easily able to hold off the late charge of Hot Cha Cha and Gypsy’s Warning to win by 1 ½ lengths. It was the third lifetime win in ten starts for the filly Duchossois purchased last Fall, and her first in four starts in America. As Éclair de Lune crossed the wire, it didn’t take long for the large Arlington crowd to realize that the winner was Mr. D’s horse. The horse, local rider Junior Alvarado, and legendary trainer Ron McAnally received a rousing applause for their achievement, but it was the owner of Arlington Park who brought the fans to their feet. Beverly Duchossois passed away thirty years ago, and yesterday it was a beloved 88-year-old man who emotionally accepted the winner’s trophy in the race that he always wanted to win.
Not to be outdone by the house horse, Paddy O’Prado once again flashed the brilliance that we have come to expect this Summer. More than just a budding turf star, the son of recently deceased sire, El Prado, has now reached a point where it would be tough not to call the three-year-old colt the finest turf horse in North America. Despite his overwhelming favoritism at 1-2, yesterday’s task was not an easy one. Local horse Workin For Hops had been very impressive in winning the first two legs of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, and European raider, Wigmore Hall was coming off two wins in England and had looked great since arriving in Chicago. Both of Paddy’s main rivals would run their race yesterday, but it would make little matter in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes.
Paddy 'O Prado made a quick and decisive thrust early in the Arlington stretch overwhelming the local hope. As the English horse made a bold rally on the outside, it was soon evident that Paddy O’Prado had plenty left in the tank. The margin may have been only a length and a quarter, but it looked like they could have gone around the track again without threatening the winner. Next up for the powerful gray will be Belmont's Turf Classic in six weeks. It will be his first attempt against older horses, and from there Paddy O’Prado will have a date in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, where he will likely be America’s best chance to reclaim victory for the home team.
What’s this, the Arlington Million only gets third billing on ZATT? I’m afraid so. In quest of becoming the first back-to-back winner in the 28-year history of the Arlington Million, Gio Ponti ran a winning type of race. At the back of the pack for the first part of the race, he uncorked a powerful rally that carried him widest of all turning for home. Once straightened out, he continued his powerful acceleration to collar leader Tazeez, and quickly assumed control of the prestigious race. I would like to tell you that Gio Ponti coasted home and was a most popular winner of the Million, but of course, I can not.
On Million Day 2010, there would be a fly in the ointment, and that fly’s name was Debussy. A four-year-old Irish bred colt, trained by John Gosden, Debussy was a grade 2 winner in France and a grade 3 winner in England, but had won only 4 of 13 lifetime starts and had earned about one-tenth of the earnings of Gio Ponti. That would all change yesterday, as the son of Diesis showed a brilliant turn of foot in the final eighth of a mile to shock the favorite. With young rider William Buick in tow, Debussy waited patiently early in the stretch, before bursting through a seam and angling to the rail. As Gio Ponti looked to be home free, there appeared Debussy running like a horse afire along the paint. Before anyone knew what had hit them, Debussy had shot to the lead and won going away by a half length. The victory would have been sweet for Gio Ponti, but the European horse had earned the victory. It was easily the biggest win in Debussy’s career, and for those lucky enough to back him, his 11-1 odds were an excellent reward.
Photo by Four Footed Fotos
August 21, 2010
Excitement is in the air this morning here at Arlington Park as we are only hours away from the International Festival of Racing. Headlining the Turf Festival will be the 28th edition of the Arlington Million, a race that has seen most everything in its history. There was the legendary, innaugural and two-time winner, John Henry, doing his thing, and then the Miracle Million of 1985 which was held just weeks after the fire that destroyed Arlington Park. In more recent runnings we’ve witnessed Gary Stevens dumped from his mount, Storming Home, only yards from hitting the wire first, and the erratic path of Powerscourt that cost him back-to-back victories in the Million. Consecutive Arlington Million wins will be the theme of the day, as Gio Ponti will be heavily favored to do just that and become the first horse ever to officialy repeat Million glory.
August 20, 2010
Sixteen months ago, I Want Revenge was the now horse. In the Gotham he rolled through the Kentucky Derby prep like the rest of the field was running in peanut butter. In the Wood Memorial, he was left far behind at the break, and then blocked making his initial move, before relenting for an improbable and impressive win. From those powerful wins at Aqueduct, the I Want Revenge train was headed full steam ahead for Louisville, Kentucky and The Run for the Roses. It was not to be. The morning line favorite, he was injured shortly before the race, and the big horse was derailed for more than a year.
August 19, 2010
Saturday’s Grade One Secretariat Stakes is all set to be a showdown between two of the best young turf horses in the nation. One has been making headlines since he broke his maiden in a graded stakes this Spring. Taking a brief sojourn off the lawn to run 3rd in the Kentucky Derby, he has come back to be a fearsome force on the grass. The other meanwhile, has been flying much lower as to stay off the national radar, but on Saturday he can burst onto the national scene by becoming only the fourth horse ever to sweep Arlington’s Mid-America Triple. The two horses I speak of, are of course, Paddy O’Prado and Workin For Hops, and Saturday will mark their second ever meeting.
August 18, 2010
August 17, 2010
The Secretariat Stakes (Grade 1) $400,000 Guaranteed
1 Paddy O’Prado K. Desormeaux 1-1
2 Mister Marti Gras E. Perez 10-1
3 Cherokee Lord J. Felix 30-1
4 Wigmore Hall (IRE) J. Spencer 5-1
5 Dean’s Kitten J. Leparoux 8-1
6 Two Notch Road M. Baze 12-1
7 Workin For Hops F. Torres 5-2
I have long heralded Paddy O’Prado as the heir apparent to America’s turf throne, but I fully expect him to have his hands full with the local horse, Workin For Hops. These are two top horses, and are certainly the best sophomore turfers east of the Mississippi. It should be an excellent matchup between the two, and I am hard pressed to find anyone that might upset their 1-2 finish in the Secretariat. Mister Marti Gras might be the horse to complete my trifecta.
The Beverly D. (Grade 1) $750,000 Guaranteed
1 Pachattack K. Fallon 8-1
2 Hot Cha Cha J. Graham 6-1
3 Acoma J. Castanon 8-1
4 Gypsy’s Warning (SAF) W. Buick 10-1
5 Rainbow View J. Leparoux 4-1
6 Éclair De Lune J. Alvarado 5-1
7 Biased G. Benoist 20-1
8 Romacaca M. Baze 20-1
9 Treat Gently K. Desormeaux 9-2
10 Ave R. Dominguez 5-1
Talk about a wide-open affair, the 2010 Beverly D. looks like a race where just about anyone can win. The favorites, whomever that may turn out to be, are beatable, and the longshots look live. It reminds me of the Kentucky Derby, where the likely favorite should not be much lower than 5-1. Whoever I decide on as my top choice, I have a lot of handicapping still to do, should be a mare with some solid odds. Good luck on this one folks.
The Arlington Million XXVIII (Grade 1) $1,00,000 Guaranteed
1 Marsh Side C. Nakatani 12-1
2 Debussy (IRE) W. Buick 12-1
3 General Quarters J. Graham 8-1
4 Just As Well J. Leparoux 5-1
5 Quite A Handful T. Riggs 30-1
6 Gio Ponti R. Dominguez 7-5
7 Rahystrada I. Karlsson 10-1
8 Tajaweed M. Baze 15-1
9 Tazeez R. Hills 6-1
10 Summit Surge K. Fallon 10-1
All eyes, including mine, will be on defending champion Gio Ponti, who will be favored to become the first ever back-to-back winner of the Million. Consistently among America’s best on the grass in each of his four seasons of racing, it is hard not to like the Christophe Clement trained horse. I think his main challenge this year will come from the Euros, notably Tazeez and Summit Surge, who both sport solid form coming in. My early longshot play is Tajaweed who had a tough trip in last month’s Arlington Handicap.
August 16, 2010
One of the most interesting angles in the handicapping of thoroughbred horse racing is when a horse tries turf for the first time. Seeing a runner that figures to improve from the switch to grass going in, can be an exciting proposition. When that first-time turfer does just that, and steps up his game to win on the lawn, you tend to dream about how good a turf horse he may become. If that horse was already a grade 1 winner, the dreams get raised to a whole new level. Such was the case on Saturday for one of the top sophomores in the nation, as Sidney’s Candy made his turf debut in the feature at Del Mar. Trainer John Sadler never lost faith in his charge despite having lost his last two races following his Santa Anita Derby romp in April. Sadler also was confident that Sidney’s Candy would take to the grass, and expected a big performance from him on Saturday. He got just that, and then some.
August 15, 2010
There were big doings across the pond this morning. An undefeated superstar kept it going in Eastern Europe, while a super mare tasted defeat for the first time in nearly a year. I speak of course of the Hungarian sensation, Overdose, and the two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile champion, Goldikova.
As Goldilocks failed to sustain her acceleration on the soft conditions, it was the youngster who would go on. Makfi delivered an explosive turn of foot to drive between her and Paco Boy and pull clear for an impressive victory. Sent off as the 4-1 third choice, the bay colt ridden by Christophe Soumillon proved that he relished the damp going the most, and finished best by 2 1/2 lengths, with Goldikova out-gaming Paco Boy for second. It was his fourth win in only five lifetime starts, and his second of the group 1 variety. In the end, fans of Goldilocks should not take too much worry from this defeat. One of the bears may have gotten her today, but the Deauville turf was too soft. The grass course at Churchill Downs on November 6, may be just right.
Meanwhile, due east from the happenings in France, a national treasure thrilled the home fans today at Kincsem Park in Budapest, Hungary. The result, Overdose winning easily, was no surprise, as he towered over his overmatched Hungarian rivals. The way he won, however offered further prove that the Budapest Bullet may be fully recovered from foot problems that kept him away from the races for well over a year. He is the best horse out of Hungary in more than 130 years, since the great Kincsem completed a perfect 54 for 54 record. In running his own record to a perfect 14 wins in 14 starts, Overdose’s win at about five furlongs was thorough and impressive, rekindling thoughts that this Hungarian sensation, this Budapest Bullet, could be the best sprinter in all the world.
For video replays of both races, I invite you to check them out on ZATT International.
August 14, 2010
Today I point my gaze westward to beautiful Del Mar, as they take things to the turf this weekend. Exciting editions of the La Jolla today and the John C. Mabee tomorrow, make the track where the turf meets the surf, the place to be the next few days. The two graded stakes offer different handicapping challenges, as the La Jolla will have a clear favorite, while the Mabee should offer a more wide open affair on the oddsboard.
August 13, 2010
What does it take to purchase a really nice racehorse? Ask wine mogul, Jess Jackson of Stonerstreet Stable, and the answer might be about 2.3 million dollars. Kinda steep for the average Joe, eh? Well maybe we are asking the wrong person. If we head to a different barn on the Saratoga backstretch, and ask Ralph Nicks, we should receive a more reasonable answer. $11,000. Now doesn’t that sound like a more realistic proposition for most of us with big racing dreams? Let’s take a deeper look at a couple of juveniles who were at decidedly opposite ends of the sales spectrum.
August 12, 2010
Before jumping into today’s column headfirst, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you. You see, today happens to be the one-year anniversary of Zipse at the Track. I started this blog twelve months ago, with the simple idea of sharing my love for thoroughbred horse racing with whomever might stop by to take a look. It truly has been a labor love for me and I feel blessed to have connected with so many of you through your reading of my words. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your loyal support, and I vow to continue writing for as long as you continue to read. But enough about me, let’s get to today’s column about a filly who rocketed by me one afternoon on the Arlington Park turf course…
August 11, 2010
*All five of my graded stakes wins in America occurred at the same racetrack.
*I count a Kentucky Derby winner, a Breeders‘ Cup victor and a Kentucky Derby runner-up, among the horses I defeated.
*Arguably my two best performances were both in million dollar races.
*I was involved in a horrific accident, in which I was the only survivor of the three horses that went down.
*Green was my thing, I never once raced on the dirt.
*I won graded stakes in three different countries and was bred in a fourth.
*Only two jockeys rode me in my final 17 races, one was a George Woolf Memorial Award winner, the other was English.
*I only made one trip to France; c‘est magnifique!
*I had one important thing in common with the recently retired star, Harbinger, as well as BC Classic winner Raven‘s Pass.
You should know by now … Who Am I ???
August 10, 2010
|The Arlington Million, one of my favorite races of the year, is only eleven days away. My memory bank of past Millions is deep and rich. There was the Miracle Million of 1985, and John Henry's fantastic wins in 1981 and 1984. I saw one of my favorites, Paradise Creek win in 1994, and I witnessed the trials and tribulations of Powerscourt in 2004 & 2005. But as far as sheer ability of the winner, no Million meant as much to me as the 1987 running.|
People often ask me, who was the best American turf horse I ever saw. With all due respect to the excellence and longevity of John Henry, my answer for the past 23 years has been the same, the 1987 Million winner, Manila. The first time I saw Manila in person was the 1986 Lexington Stakes. The moment was not lost on me. Manila, A Lyphard colt out of Dona Ysidra, by Le Fabuleux, had taken to turf like a fish to water just a few months before the Lexington. That day at Belmont, he would relentlessly track down a talented turf runner named Glow, who appeared home free in the stretch. It was an impressive and dogged stretch run that I remember left me thinking that Manila was on the cusp of becoming a turf star. Little did I know how soon that would become reality.
Mike Shannon had purchased Manila just months before, from breeder and Filipino businessman Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr., who was a close associate of Phillipines president Ferdinand Marcos. Cojuangco left the country in February 1986 on the plane that carried the deposed dictator to exile in Hawaii. Shannon purchased several of Cojuangco's horses, including the young Lyphard colt who had been 0 for 3 on the dirt as a juvenile for his former owner. But it would not take long for Manila to prove to be the star of the bunch.
Beginning with the race before the Lexington, Hollywood Park’s Cinema Handicap, Manila went on a stakes skein seldom seen in American turf. He rolled up nine straight stakes victories in a little over a year. After the Lexington, Manila would never run strictly against his age set again. He broke the track record in Atlantic City’s prestigious United Nations Handicap in his very next start, to bring his victory streak to three. After that, Manila would win a graded stakes at the Meadowlands by almost ten lengths, before earning hard fought victories in the Turf Classic and Breeders' Cup Turf, and what’s more, he won those races as a three-year-old. In that season of 1986, he was named the nation's champion grass horse and finished second in the balloting for Horse of the Year to the great filly, Lady's Secret.
Heading into the Breeders’ Cup Turf, all the talk was about another three-year-old turf star. Dancing Brave was the toast of Europe after powerful wins in the 2000 Guineas, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Also a son of Lyphard, Dancing Brave’s press clippings were more than glowing and the colt was thought to be near invincible, despite the presence of Manila, and two other turf tigers in Theatrical and Estrapade. But my friends, that is why they run the race, for it was the other three-year-old who would prove to best on the Santa Anita Turf. As the field straightened for home, it was the great mare Estrapade on the lead, but a three-prong challenge of males was ready to pounce. Manila was moving strongly on the rail, with Theatrical in the middle and Dancing Brave a threatening presence on the outside. The threat never materialized as Dancing Brave hung badly and finished a well beaten fourth at odds of 1-2. Meanwhile Theatrical made a winning move collaring the mare and quickly edging away. Manila’s hole on the rail was closed tightly, and rider Jose Santos had to snatch him up at the 3/16 pole. Theatrical was in full flight and appeared to be long gone, that is, long gone if Manila had been just another horse. Digging down unbelievably deep, Manila accelerated in gargantuan proportions and nailed his older competition at the wire. It was a fantastic performance, and one that saw Manila beat three champions.
Seeing Manila in the Arlington Million the following Summer was especially gratifying for me on many fronts. Despite winning impressively in three straight stakes races to begin 1987, naysayers were doubting him after his first loss in a long time when he ran 2nd in the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. On that afternoon he was beaten by a half length. He did give winner Talakeno 12 pounds in the Baruch, but it was his first non-Manila like performance since I started following him. I was hoping for redemption for the great horse, and I was thrilled that he would be doing it in Chicago’s biggest race. As usual the Million came up tough, and to win he would need to beat the sharp import Sharrood, and his old rival Theatrical. It was no contest. Manila had all of his class and ability on full display in winning the Million easily over Sharrood, while Theatrical was beaten nearly five lengths back in 3rd. The win was ample affirmation of his spot as the nation's leading grass horse. Sadly, only 12 days later to Manila was retired from racing because of a hairline fracture in his left cannon bone. Theatrical would begin his own streak after the Million, culminating with a BC Turf victory and an Eclipse Award. But those of us lucky enough to see Manila’s final race, knew who the best turf horse was.
Overall, Manila won 12 of 18 lifetime starts, including a sensational turf record of 11 wins and 3 seconds in 14 races, and earned $2,692,799. At the time of his retirement, his earnings put him into the top ten all-time. As a stallion, he was initially sent to Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, where he sired multiple Grade 1 winner Bien Bien from his first crop. He was purchased by the Turkish Jockey Club in 1996, where he would spend the second half of his life. Manila went on to sire three champions, and was the leading broodmare sire in 2003 in his new home. He remained in Turkey until the time of his death last year. Manila passed away on February 28, 2009, from an aortic rupture. He was 26 years old.
In case my words have not yet displayed just how special a horse Manila was, perhaps his trainer can do him justice. Leroy Jolley declared that he considered Manila to be the single best horse he ever trained. Powerful words when you consider that this man also trained Genuine Risk, Foolish Pleasure, Ridan, Gulch, Honest Pleasure, General Assembly, Meadow Star, and What a Summer, to name a few. I remember you Manila.
Photo by Frances J. Karon
August 9, 2010
Tuscan Evening is gone. In a shocking and saddening Sunday morning at Del Mar, she collapsed after a workout on the turf course and passed away. Preliminary reports point to a heart attack as the likely cause of death for the five-year-old grade 1 winning mare. The sudden, heartbreaking news sent me into reflection on the marvelous career of a beautiful racehorse.
August 8, 2010
“We were super confident,” Gomez said. “It’s just one of those things you don’t want to say too much so you can let the horse do the talking. He’s trained magnificently for this race and every other race I’ve ridden him in. He’s a magnificent older horse and I can’t wait until we go farther. “If you watched me ride him, I never hit him. I actually moved up at about the three-eighths pole and I felt pretty confident then. I was just biding my time until we turned for home. I just didn’t want to sit too long because he’s got a long consistent run and just keeps coming. … He kept staying on and in that last eighth of a mile, when I finally got right to [Quality Road], I said ‘I got him.”Garrett Gomez had good reason to be confident. His charge Blame rallied relentlessly down the stretch to do what to some was the unthinkable, and nail Quality Road a few strides before the wire.
No matter who you were rooting for, yesterday‘s Whitney Handicap lived up to advance billing. It was supposed to the best race so far in 2010, and it was. Yesterday’s race was a shining example of why we watch horse racing. Three of the best horses in the nation put on a show, and they produced a thrilling stretch run.
Yes, I said three. Musket Man deserves his props. After being forced wide on the first time, the gutty little Yonaguska colt chased Quality Road around the track, and once again ran a big race. It’s clear that he is not quite as good as the top two, but he is quite a horse in his own right. He is still my early pick to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. But make no mistake, yesterday was all about Blame, and he could not be a more deserving star.
Winning stakes in relative anonymity until yesterday, Blame continues to climb to the stratosphere of the racing world. I saw the Al Stall trained bay win last Fall’s Clark Handicap as a three-year-old; I was very impressed. I saw him rally on a speed track to win this year’s Foster; my respect for him grew. In the Whitney, he turned it up another notch. In beating the best male horse in America, he now smoothly steps into that title. Claiborne Farm’s Blame is now the top male horse in the nation. Yesterday’s win was his best yet, his fifth straight in graded stakes, and the scary thing is, he still may be improving. I have a feeling this horse will never be underestimated again.
“I tried to put him into the bridle, but he was just going through the motions, which is strange for him. I was hoping there’d be nobody there, so I got to drifting. I was trying to make it more difficult for the horse on the outside.” So said disappointed rider John Velazquez who was aboard the race favorite.
As for Quality Road, he ran a very good race, but it was not quite what his staunchest of supporters were hoping for. The terrific talent, who can make the speed figure dials spin, has still not proven that he can beat the very best gong a route of ground. Does yesterday prove he can not? Absolutely not, but the question lingers. Until he beats Blame, Zenyatta, Rachel, or all of the above at a classic distance, we just don’t know.
What’s next for these two titans? Well the ultimate answer is the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a showdown with a couple of ladies, but for the immediate future, the Jockey Club Gold Cup would seem to be a sensible stage for Blame-Quality Road II. We shall see. For now I am going to watch the replay of the Whitney about a dozen more times. Race of the year so far? I’d say so!
August 7, 2010
The Queen Z has been buzzing around the Del Mar oval since Wednesday in what is believed to be preparation for a third consecutive victory in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes. Or is she? I don’t know … do you know? As of the writing of this column, it appears nobody knows. Just hours before post time, it seems her connections do not have an answer for millions of Zenyatta followers. The indecision is born from whether the Big Z can handle the synthetic surface of Del Mar, like she does other surfaces, and furthermore, whether or not the surface is safe enough to risk one of the greatest horses ever to set foot on these beautiful grounds. Trainer John Shirreffs has always been hyper-cautious with his big mare, but the cautioness has now been taken to new levels with this last hour waffling. Everyone wants to see Zenyatta run, and everyone wants to see Zenyatta run safely. To Shirreffs I say, make a decision now so your fans know what is going on.
August 6, 2010
|Quality Road is the kind of talent that makes you believe in superheroes. Born with the ability to leap tall buildings and outrun speeding bullets, he has proven to be able to run like the wind and carry his speed for at least nine panels. Tomorrow’s Whitney Handicap, at a mile and an eighth, falls into the realm of his track record breaking history. Therefore it stands to reason that we are just hours from adding his name to an illustrious list of past winners. Horses like War Admiral, Tom Fool, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Alydar, Lady’s Secret, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, and Invasor have snared the Whitney. But wait, not so fast my friends, just ask Secretariat about counting Whitney chickens before they have hatched. Big Red was shocked in this very race by Onion, 37 years ago. Two big reasons not to hand the trophy over to the Road early, come in the form of Blame and Musket Man.|
Blame is all racehorse. Bred to run long and improve with age, the next time Blame runs a bad race, will be the first. As honest as they come, he fires every shot, is getting better on a monthly basis, and is for 1 for 1 over the Saratoga strip. The winner of four consecutive graded stakes, Blame has never faced a magnificent monster like Quality Road before, but after tomorrow’s run, we may be saying the same about Quality Road never having faced anyone like Blame before.
Gritty is a word that best describes Musket Man. Not the quickest horse in the world, nor is he blessed with a Forego like closing kick, but this mucker and grinder knows how to get things done. The winner of six of his first nine races, Musket Man is currently on a three race losing streak, but the luck of the draw has clearly not been on his side. He ran a bang-up race last time in the Met Mile, only to be repelled by Quality Road. Can he turn the tables in the Whitney? Stranger things have happened, and getting nine pounds from the chalk can’t hurt his chances.
Other Whitney contenders include the underrated recent winner of the Suburban Handicap, Haynesfield, who will be looking for a fifth consecutive victory, and the somewhat forgotten Mine That Bird, winner of the Derby, 2nd in the Preakness, and 3rd in the Belmont last year, he is making only his second start of 2010.
Who will win the Whitney? Most likely, Quality Road. At nine furlongs, without much speed, I expect him to be extremely difficult to beat. But even an impressive win tomorrow will not prove that he will beat the best at 10 furlongs this Fall at Churchill Downs. Who will I bet in the Whitney? On this one, the author makes no choice, 2-5 is low, real low, even for Superman.
August 5, 2010
Quality Road vs. Blame - 2010 offers the best older male set we have had in America in years, and Quality Road and Blame sit proudly on top of the division. The good news: we are only 48 hours away from seeing this clash of titans. Throw in Musket Man, and the Whitney is the race of the year so far. Let’s get it on!
August 4, 2010
*I raced, and won, on both turf and dirt, but I am best known for my victories on the dirt.
*My trainer has saddled numerous champions, but I was his first colt to win an Eclipse Award.
*Both of my grade 1 victories required a photo finish.
*I never raced overseas, but I moved there at the turn of the century.
*I was a California based horse, but I did manage to race at Aqueduct Racetrack five times.
*My most important wins occurred in California, Kentucky, and New York.
*My last career race was my worst, I finished 9th on the turf.
*I ran at 2, 3, and 4, and competed in graded stakes in each year, but all of my graded stakes wins occurred in the same season.
*Dad was named after a writer; Mom liked to have a good time.
You should know by now … Who Am I ???
August 3, 2010
I used to wake up in the morning
I used to feel so bad
I got so sick of having sleepless nights
I went and told my dad
He said, "Son now here's some little something"
And stuck them on my wall
And now my nights ain't quite so lonely
In fact I, I don't feel bad at all
Pictures of Rachel made my life so wonderful
Pictures of Rachel helped me sleep at night
Pictures of Rachel solved my childhood problems
Pictures of Rachel helped me feel all right
Pictures of Rachel
Rachel, oh Rachel
Rachel, oh Rachel
Pictures of Rachel
And then one day things weren't quite so fine
I fell in love with Rachel
I asked my dad where Rachel I could find
He said, "Son, now don't be silly"
"She's been dead since 2039"
Oh, how I cried that night
If only I'd been born in Rachel's time
It would have been alright
Pictures of Rachel made my life so wonderful
Pictures of Rachel helped me sleep at night
For me and Rachel are together in my dreams
And I ask you, "Hey mister, have you ever seen"
"Pictures of Rachel?"
Photos by Patrick Sheehan
Lyrics by The Who
August 2, 2010
It’s not always easy, but it can be done. I am pleased to report that I have reached the point in 2010, where if I lose every wager for the rest of the year, I will still have a profitable year. I can say this because, knowing how much I consistently wager, I will not bet as much for the rest of the year as I am already ahead. A nice feeling to be sure, but what does this mean? Should I quit my job, and become a full-time gambler? Should I let the winnings ride, and start placing increasingly larger wagers? Tempting, but my answer is a resounding “no.” I’ve had enough losing steaks to match my hot streaks, I’ve had enough years in the red, and I’ve had enough heartbreaking losses to know better. Come to think of it, it isn’t even that tempting. So why do I do gamble in the first place? A simple answer is because it is fun. A more complex answer would be that it is the ultimate challenge connected to my favorite pastime. It gives me a chance to put my problem solving skills to the test on a regular basis, which in turn only makes the great game of horse racing even more enjoyable.
August 1, 2010
|Is there any doubt as to who the top three-year-old in the nation is now? I don’t think so. It was an absolute cakewalk for Lookin at Lucky today in the Grade 1 Haskell. It seems to be as simple as get a good ride, and Lucky does the rest. After all, he has never lost a race in which he received a good trip. |
On paper it looked like Lucky was the horse to beat going in to the Haskell, but few thought it would be this easy. Considered to be one of the deepest fields of the year, the Haskell Invitational was supposed to be a race where someone would step up and announce themselves as the leader of the division. Mission accomplished. Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky received a perfect stalking trip on the outside by rider Martin Garcia, and effortlessly ranged up on leaders Super Saver and First Dude on the far turn. The race was all but over as Garcia used motionless hands to guide Lucky to the lead. From there only the margin of victory was in doubt as Lookin at Lucky rolled powerfully home about four lengths clear of second place finisher, Trappe Shot.
The juvenile champion of 2009 has firmly grasped hold of divisional leadership looking for another year-end honor, and it will take an awful lot for any horse to knock him off that lofty spot. If Lookin at Lucky wants to clinch the Eclipse in his next start, one of the horses he will have to deal with in the Travers is the impressive Jim Dandy winner.
A Little Warm appeared ready through for a breakthrough performance, and that is precisely what he delivered yesterday in the half million dollar Jim Dandy Stakes. Just as he had done in a recent allowance at Delaware Park, A Little Warm chased Miner’s Reserve through a strong early pace. Collaring his rival, as the two colts straightened out for home, the son of Stormin Fever proved too much down the lane and registered a 1 3/4-length victory. Final time for the race was a snappy 1:47 and 4/5, which is only 3/5 off the stakes record set 14 years ago by classic winner Louis Quatorze. A Little Warm earned his first graded stakes win in the nine furlong, grade 2 Travers prep for trainer Tony Dutrow and owner-breeder Edward P. Evans.
He now sports an impressive record for 2010, with three wins and two seconds from only five starts, after winning his final start in 2009 by more than ten lengths. A Little Warm will put his ability to the ultimate test in four weeks time in the Mid-Summer Derby, where he will try to become the ninth Jim Dandy winner to go on to win the Travers. The double was most recently completed by champion Street Sense in 2007. The ten furlong distance will be an eighth of a mile longer than he has yet attempted, but with this kind of win over the track going in, A Little Warm should be one of the ones to beat in the prestigious Travers. But then again, there is a horse named Lucky.
Photo by Cecilia G. Felix