August 31, 2010

Kantharos Has Been Retired

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 30, 2010

ZATT is Silenced

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.
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August 29, 2010

Time to Open Your Eyes … This is Rachel

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

Fourth Time's a Charm

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.
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August 27, 2010

Here’s Why Fly Down Wins

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

For Rachel the Season Begins Now

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

Who Am I ???

*I was bred in Kentucky, and I was named after a Methodist church.

*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

A Travers Miracle

Time for a little multiple choice, ZATT style: Which one of these outlandish statements is true?

A) One of our Triple Crown winners entered the Kentucky Derby 0 for 6.
B) A Hungarian race mare retired undefeated … after 54 starts.
C) The 1981 Horse of the Year was kidnapped at stud and never found.
D) A three-year-old colt will attempt to win the Travers after only one start.

A bit of a trick question, as the answer is all of the above. Yes, in 1919 Sir Barton swept the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont after losing all six starts before the Run for the Roses. Native Hungarian Kincsem, won each of her 54 starts in the late 1870’s throughout Europe. Shergar, Europe’s Horse of the Year and 10 length winner of the Epsom Derby, was kidnapped a little over a year after gong to stud in Ireland. The crime was never solved and the horse was never found. Amazing and true stories that are part of racing’s lore.

On Saturday, Admiral Alex will try to add his name to the fantastic stories of racing’s rich history, when he runs in Saratoga‘s $1 million Travers Stakes. While many far more accomplished horses are still straddling the fence on whether or not to run, such is not the case for the recent maiden winner Admiral Alex. He has his connections confident that the colt belongs in the race and is in with a chance. And his connections are not a couple neophytes. Owner/Trainer Leon Blusiewicz has been training horses for some 37 years, while rider Kent Desormeaux won last year’s Travers, as well as, six triple crown races.

Who is this horse who has his connections so excited after only one start? Admiral Alex made his one and only start in a Maiden Special Weight on July 31 at Saratoga. He won the 1 1/8 mile race by one length in a time of 1:49.76. That’s it, that’s the entire recap of his racing career.

In fairness, Blusiewicz has liked and talked about Admiral Alex for a long time. Several setbacks had delayed the expected debut of the chestnut colt for a full year, but now everything seems to be finally coming together for him. Admiral Alex is called the best horse he has ever trained by Blusiewicz. Probably hyperbole, but it was a statement that caught my attention, especially since I loved one of his good ones. Willa on the Move was one of my favorites and a grade 1 winner for Blusiewicz in the late 80’s. Clearly his trainer thinks he is a special horse, how about his world class jockey?

More of the same, as Kent Desormeaux is also touting the horse whom he works in the mornings, and was aboard for his only start. Desormeaux has gone as far as to say that he will be very disappointed if Admiral Alex doesn’t win. Strong words indeed. Should we really take the word of these experienced horsemen and expect a colt who has run only once in his career to actually run big in the Travers?

My guess is Admiral Alex will be up against it on Saturday, but one thing I have learned in watching a lifetime worth of horse races, is never say never. What if Blusiewicz and Desormeaux are right and the son of Afleet Alex runs a big race, or what if, dare I say, he somehow manages to hit the wire first. What a story that would be, a Travers miracle … stranger things have happened.

August 23, 2010

Tracking a Champion

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?
Race – February 13, 2010 – Santa Anita – Las Virgenes (GrI)
  Result – 1st by a nose.
Race – March 6, 2010 – Santa Anita – Santa Anita Oaks (GrI)
  Result – 3rd by a ½ length.
Race – April 2, 2010 – Oaklawn Park – Fantasy Stakes (GrII)
  Result – 1st by 2 ½ lengths.
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August 22, 2010

The House Horse and Paddy O’Prado is Too Good

“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

More Than Just a Million

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.
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August 20, 2010

Revenge: I Want it, You Want it, but Will We Get it?

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.

He returned for new trainer Rick Dutrow on July 4th weekend, to run an unspectacular 3rd in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap. While not winning, I Want Revenge showed enough in the effort to still leave plenty of hope for his many fans. Improvement of that effort, which came 15 months after his previous race, could return him to his place among the nation’s elite. Phase 2 of the I Want Revenge Tour will commence in Monmouth Park’s Iselin Stakes tomorrow. He will have his work cut out for him in the $300,000 1 1/8 mile test. The Iselin has drawn a small but solid field of older males trying to prove they have what it takes to advance on to Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup in early November.

Breaking from the rail will be Sir Whimsey, an experienced son of Jump Start who has shown flashes of this kind of ability in the past. Back with trainer Steve Asmussen, Sir Whimsey is in fine fettle and is coming off to sharp efforts at Monmouth and Delaware. Next is the speed of the race, Our Edge, running for the slumping Nick Zito. He won a grade 3 last Summer by seven lengths, but has not showed that kind of ability since. Our Edge will be out there winging and does like the track. In the 3 hole will be Duke of Mischief. A bit of an inconsistent sort, Duke of Mischief is a threat on his best, as evidenced by easy wins in the Iowa Derby and the Oaklawn Handicap.

Next in line is the horse I consider the one to beat in the Iselin, Redding Colliery. The four-year-old son of Mineshaft has been on the improve since coming from Dubai last Summer. Yet to run under the bright lights of grade 1 racing, Redding Colliery seems to be getting better with every start. He has won 3 of 4 starts this year for conditioner, Kiaran McLaughlin, and his performance in his last race was startling. He turned a solid field of the Lone Star Handicap, into a one horse show under rider Anna Napravnik. Freshened since that win, a repeat of that effort will send hurtling his way to the bigtime.

Finally, breaking outside of I Want Revenge, is my top selection for the race, Gone Astray. At the end of last Summer, I felt that Gone Astray had become one of the better sophomores in the nation. After a solid 2nd to Blame at Saratoga, the Claude McGaughey trained runner dismantled his competition in the Pennsylvania and Ohio Derbies. I was quickly proven wrong as Gone Astray proceeded to go on a four-race losing streak, without sniffing the winner’s circle. That all changed in last month’s Salvator Mile, as the powerful son of Dixie Union was suddenly back on his game. Romping home by five lengths, I knew this was the same horse I admired last Summer, and I am expecting more of the same tomorrow.

So my top picks in the Iselin are Gone Astray and Redding Colliery, but I must admit, I am hoping that I am wrong … Wouldn’t it be nice to see the same I Want Revenge that we all enjoyed last Spring?

August 19, 2010

Beer Money

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.

The betting favorite for the Secretariat will be Paddy O‘Prado, and deservedly so. A three-year-old son of recently deceased El Prado, the gray colt has thoroughly impressed since his return to the turf after attempting the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Trained by Dale Romans, Paddy O’Prado has won only 3 of 10 lifetime starts, but most importantly, he has turned his last three turf tries into powerful displays of his significant prowess on the green. Last time out he easily accounted for the Virginia Derby defeating Interactif, who came back to win a graded stakes on the Saratoga lawn last week. Before that, Paddy O’Prado easily dispatched his top Secretariat rival in the final furlong of the Colonial Turf Cup.

On that day, Workin For Hops, proved no match for Paddy O’Prado, but he since came back to run his best race yet in the American Derby. In that race, he pressed pacesetter Marcello through moderate fractions, before authoritatively taking command on the final turn and opening a big lead in the stretch with seemingly little effort. With rider Francisco Torres in tow, he cantered home best by 2 1/4 lengths in the 1 3/16 mile grade 2 turf affair. A son of the surprising new turf sire star, City Zip, the extra sixteenth of a mile looks like it will be no problem for Workin For Hops. In attendance that day, I felt that his vanquisher in the Colonial Turf Cup may have had his hands full with him on his home course of Arlington in the American Derby.

The impressive American Derby win left Estrorace LLC’s Workin for Hops with a perfect 3 for 3 record at Arlington Park, and there is something to be said for the home course advantage. The chestnut gelding had easily accounted for the Arlington Classic two races back in May, and with a win on Saturday, Workin for Hops would become only the second horse to sweep Arlington's Mid-America since it became a turf series, and the first since Honor Glide turned the trick 13 years ago.

Local conditioner, Michael Stidham, trains Workin for Hops and is looking for one of the biggest wins of his career. A victory would only add to what is possibly his most successful season to date, which also includes other recent graded stakes winners, Comedero, Tizaqueena, and Upperline. Stidham feels his charge is better than ever and deserves another chance against Paddy O’ Prado. Seeing what I saw a few weeks ago in the American Derby, I tend to agree. With great respect for Paddy O’Prado, I will be popping open a cold beer for the Secretariat, and watching my wagering money Workin for Hops.

August 18, 2010

Blind Luck vs. Devil May Care ... Who do you like???

Blind Luck - Winner of six graded stakes including the Kentucky Oaks, Blind Luck has never run a bad race in 12 lifetime starts. Always closing fast, Blind Luck has never finished off the board and has become known for her cardiac testing finishes. The daughter of Pollard's Vision began her career in maiden claiming, but she has since proven to be all class, heading into her sternest test of her career at the Spa.

Devil May Care - A winner of three grade 1 stakes and a grade 2 in only eight lifetime starts, Devil May Care's only blemish of late was when she tired against the boys in the Kentucky Derby. Her recent impressive win in the CCA Oaks may have been her best performance to date. She won the Grade 1 Frizette in only her second career start, and trainer Todd Pletcher now has her ready for her best in Saturday's Alabama showdown with Blind Luck.

August 17, 2010

Drawing a Million

I just attended my first post position draw for Arlington Million Day. No bells and whistles this year, just about 30 of us in the racing office, as the fields for the three biggest races in Chicago racing were quickly drawn. The whole event took barely more time than it will take to run all three races on Saturday. Without further adieu, here are the fields, with some early thoughts:

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

Like Taking Candy From a Baby

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.
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August 15, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears, and an Overdose

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.

Ladies first in this piece, but that was not the case at Deauville today. Goldikova, or Goldilocks as I like to call her, was undoubtedly the lead character going into today’s Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois. But on paper, her supporting cast were clearly no slouches, as there were a trio of hungry bears ready to nip at the heels of the French heroine. Papa bear was played by Paco Boy, who had won 11 of 19 lifetime for trainer Richard Hannon, and had given Goldilocks everything she wanted back in June. He was joined today by his ursidae brothers in three-year-old and 2000 Guineas hero, Makfi, and Fuisse, who entered off a three race winning streak. As the real running began, it would be France’s favorite female who took the lead, and it was the class competition of Paco Boy and Makfi who would be her challenge. But Goldi’s kick would not be up to her normal high standards today.

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

Where the Turf Meets the Surf

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.
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August 13, 2010

Opposite Ends of the $pectrum

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.

Even the name sounds powerful; Brock. This is the Distorted Humor colt, who became the most expensive juvenile sold at auction this year, when he was purchased for $2.3 million at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Jackson purchased Brock, who originally sold for $200,000 as a yearling, after the chestnut colt worked an eighth of a mile in :10 3/5 prior to the auction. Tomorrow in the 8th race at Saratoga, the racing career of Brock begins in a $50,000 Maiden Special Weight. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Brock is out of the wonderful daughter of A.P. Indy, Tomisue’s Delight. Deceased now, she was a top mare in the late 90’s and counts Saratoga’s Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes as one of her stakes victories. Among her offspring include Brock’s half-brother, Mr. Sidney, who last year accounted for the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes.

Bred to be outstanding, Brock has the looks and the works to be something special, but that means nothing until he proves it on raceday. Tomorrow’s race is loaded with promising young colts, and Brock will need to run a big race in order to visit the winner’s circle. As a matter of fact, a horse on the outside by Bernardini, named Stay Thirsty, should be considered the horse to beat, off his strong debut performance. Will Brock live up to his lofty price tag? Stay tuned tomorrow. One juvenile who has already surpassed her price tag, debuted less than 24 hours ago.

In the second race yesterday at Saratoga, there were several fillies who cost more than four years at college, but the beauty of racing is that the races are never run on a spreadsheet. For it would not be one of the rich girls who would take home first prize in the $50,000 Maiden Special Weight, rather it was a $11,000 purchase who stole the show. Valiant Passion, a first time starter for the Ralph Nicks barn, was purchased last Fall for that small sum at the Keeneland September sale. Sent off at 30-1, the filly raced greenly and had to steady a few times in the first part of the 5 ½ furlong race. Not to be deterred, the daughter of Lion Heart out of Bold American by Quiet American found room just before the field straightened out, and proceeded to pull away with every stride. Final margin was 9 ¼ impressive lengths, as she completed the race in a solid 1:04.66. Her low sales price is now only a feel good story for her new owners, Ralph Nicks and Barry Berkelhammer, as she arguably ran the most eye-catching performance of any juvenile filly so far this year at the Spa.

After yesterday, Valiant Passion might be worth a whole lot closer to the value of Brock, and only time will tell what destiny has in store for these two juveniles on opposite ends of the sales spectrum.

August 12, 2010

Gorella? She Ran More Like a Gazelle

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…

The setting was the 2006 Beverly D. Stakes, and I was more excited to see the girls that day then the males a little later in the Arlington Million. And why not? It was a wonderful match-up of distaff turfers. Film Maker was there, a hickory turf mare for Graham Motion, and Todd Pletcher had the distance loving star Honey Ryder ready to go. Wend, Sharp Lisa and Live Life were talented front runners, while Rich in Spirit was a solid Midwesterner. None of them were favored though, that distinction clearly fell to a French lightning bolt, named Gorella. She had caught American’s attention with a fantastic finish to be 3rd by ¾ of a length in the previous Fall’s BC Mile, in which, if not for a horrid trip, she was the likely winner.

Sent off as the 6-5 choice by the savvy Arlington turf fans, Gorella would not disappoint. On paper, her victory reads like this; Gorella won the 2006 Beverly D. by 1 ¾ lengths. The final time was 1:53 3/5, one of the fastest 1 3/16 miles ever run at the Suburban Chicago track. But this was the type of performance that you do not want to be satisfied by reading the chart.

At the back of the pack for the first mile of the race, Gorella and her young French rider, Julien Leparoux, seemed to be in no hurry until the horses swung out of the final turn. Running widest of all, Gorella was suddenly asked to run. Sporting easy to notice fluorescent orange silks, the four-year-old filly seemed to take form of a fireball as she stormed down the green stretch. Last-to-first in a matter of seconds, to say the move was merely explosive is an insult. To this day, I have never seen another run quite like it at Arlington Park. Gorella had immense talent, and in the Beverly D., it was on full display for the world to see.

Top mares Film Maker and Honey Ryder were left to fight it out for 2nd with pacesetter Live Life. To further illustrate the quality of Gorella and the Beverly D. of 2006, those two would return next time to run 1-2 in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl.

Sadly, Gorella would only run two more times after the Beverly D. performance, winning the Grade 2 First Lady at Keeneland, and finishing in the middle of the pack against males in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Grape Tree Road was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf female. She was denied the honor by the great globetrotting mare, Ouija Board. Gorella was retired the following Winter, when bone chips were discovered in her ankle. Owned by Martin Schwartz and trained by Patrick Biancone, Gorella was a winner of 7 of 17 starts and earned $1,456,209. The Beverly D. was the second of three consecutive graded stakes wins, and she also was a group 2 winner in France, where she finished in the money in her final two races abroad, both Group 1 affairs. Not afraid to challenge anyone, Gorella ran against the males in four of her final nine races. But, once again, it is not the stats that tell the story. Gorella was a unique talent, and when you got to see her with a clear path down the lane, it was a thing of beauty. As it was that afternoon at Arlington Park four years ago.

August 11, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I finished first in more than half of my starts, but a disqualification left my average just under 50%.

*I was a stakes winner in all three of my seasons of racing.

*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

Remembering ... Manila

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

2010 Eclipse Award Winner: Tuscan Evening … I Hope

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.
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August 8, 2010

Don’t Blame Me for Gushing

“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

Queen Z, West Virginia Sexiness, and a Booby Trap

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.
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August 6, 2010

Whitney Wonderland

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

Ten Matchups I Need to See

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!

Devil May Care vs. Blind Luck - The best two sophomore fillies, one based in the West, the other in the East, missed out on a meeting in the Kentucky Oaks when Devil May Care ran in the Derby. The two giants in the division, with seven graded stakes wins this year between them, are on a collision course for the August 21 Alabama. I can’t wait.

Vineyard Haven vs. Discreetly Mine - Yes I know there are at least a dozen interesting sprinters tearing up tracks around the country, but after their recent monster performances at the Spa, these are the two that I want to see face off. With Discreetly Mine likely to run against three-year-olds next out, Belmont’s Vosburgh might be the setting for this showdown.

Tuscan Evening vs. Proviso - I am not sure this one will happen, but the records of these two distaff turfers in 2010 is sterling. Mott says the Beverly D against Tuscan Evening is a possibility, which would make the Arlington affair the premier event for girls on the green, and one that would likely decide the Eclipse Award a few months early.

Boys at Tosconova vs. Kantharos - It is awfully early to start jumping on the juvenile bandwagons, but these two colts have been so impressive in their first two starts that I would love to see them race soon, even if they are not the best at the end of the year as the distances get longer. How about a showdown closing day at Saratoga in the Hopeful?

Lookin at Lucky vs. Rail Trip - This seems like a strange request, but they are two of the best horses in America, and they both have something to prove before the Breeders’ Cup. Can Rail trip excel on dirt? Can Lookin at Lucky handle older horses? Maybe, just maybe, we can answer these questions simultaneously in the September 4, Woodward.

Goldikova vs. Canford Cliffs - I venture outside of the borders of the United States for this one. Goldikova is an all-time great and the unquestioned top miler in the world. Canford Cliffs is the upstart on a roll, with three straight major wins. Let’s see the best run again the best; Canford Cliffs is eligible to give Goldi a run for her money.

Gio Ponti vs. Paddy O’Prado - Another example of the reigning turf kingpin taking on the new challenger. I have a ton of respect for Gio Ponti, but in this case I am siding with the young gun. Both horses will run on Arlington Million Day, but in different races. The Turf Classic, in the Fall, may be the opportunity for youth to be served.

Exhi vs. A Little Warm vs. Trappe Shot - While Lookin at Lucky has taken over the division, I believe it is in the non-Triple Crown participants that will provide him the stiffest competition the rest of the way out. In Exhi, A Little Warm, and Trappe Shot, you have three young colts who are becoming very good. Let’s hope all three put on a show in the Travers.

Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta - You didn’t think I would leave this one off the list now did you? Two supreme queens. Two first ballot Hall of Famers. Two of the best I have ever seen. A win would cement the victor’s place in history, a defeat would take nothing away from the loser’s spectacular career. A meeting would be nothing short of the greatest matchup between female horses in the history of racing.

August 4, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won 5 out of 7 races during my championship season, but won only 4 times the rest of my career.

*I was not bred in Kentucky, but I was a grandson of Mr. Prospector and a great grandson of Bold Ruler.

*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

Pictures of Rachel

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

Winning Money at the Racetrack

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.
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August 1, 2010

Major Moves Within the Three-Year-Old Division

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