October 31, 2009

The Foals of ‘54 - It was a Very Good Year

One night at Claiborne Farm something miraculous occurred. Two of the most influential thoroughbreds in American history were born in the same birthing barn at the historic farm just moments apart. These two horses, so near each other at birth, would go on to become the kingpins of the greatest crop of horses we have ever seen.

Bold Ruler was an outstanding racehorse and an even greater sire. On the track, many race goers felt that he should have been the juvenile champ in addition to his 3-year-old championship and Horse of the Year titles in 1957 and his Sprinter Championship of 1958. Bold Ruler won 23 out of 33 lifetime races, despite the fierce competition he would face throughout his career. Gallant Man would become his greatest rival from his peers, and together they should have swept the Triple Crown series of 1957. Bold Ruler counts the Preakness among his numerous stakes victories. The son of Nasrullah danced every dance, often with extreme weights placed upon his back, and usually came out on top despite being hampered by physical problems throughout his lifetime. In the breeding shed, he also danced every dance to the tune of leading the American Sire's List eight times in the sixties running into the seventies. His influence was so great on American breeding that seven of the ten Kentucky Derby winners of the 1970's traced directly to Bold Ruler in their male lines. He sired numerous champions including Gamely and Wajima, and of course, the incomparable, Secretariat.

His late night pal from Claiborne, Round Table was a true iron horse. Round Table would survive to the grand old age of 33. Along the way, he would sire more than 80 stakes winners as one of the preeminent studs at the powerful Claiborne Farm. As influential as his bloodlines proved to be, It was on the track where Round Table was most impressive. In only four seasons of racing, Round Table would run 66 times. In 43 of those races he would be the victor. He won the Eclipse Award for Turf Champion in three consecutive years and was named Horse of the Year in 1958. Like Bold Ruler he carried staggering weights to victory often, including 136 pounds in a win in the prestigious United Nations Handicap. Round Table is to this day still considered the gold standard to which grass horses are compared. He started on the turf 16 times, winning 14. He carried 130 or more in nine of those starts, set three American records (all with 132 pounds) and equaled a track record in another. Amazingly, Round Table was as good on the dirt as he was on the lawn. Round Table won 29 races on dirt and won at distances from half a mile to a mile and five-eighths, setting more track records than he did on the turf and did so from one end of the country to the other.

Can you imagine a horse that won as much as Gallant Man taking a backseat to anyone? That is what happened to this remarkable horse. Gallant Man won the Belmont Stakes, and surely would have won the 1957 Kentucky Derby had it not been for the infamous mistake of jockey Willie Shoemaker who briefly stood up at the 16th pole. He also won the Travers, Met Mile, Hollywood Gold Cup, Peter Pan, Sunset Handicap, Nassau County Handicap, and the Hibiscus at 6 furlongs and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 2 miles, proving his great versatility. Despite beating Bold Ruler several times in their many encounters, he could not quite reach the zenith that the other two horses reached. Because of Bold Ruler and Round Table, Gallant Man was never awarded a racing honor or a championship of any kind. After retiring Gallant Man did receive the accolades he so richly deserved though, as he was elected to the Hall of Fame and ranks #36 in Blood-Horse magazine’s List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, in which, Round Table ranks #17 and Bold Ruler ranks #19.

Gen. Duke was so good during his short career that despite the big 3 beginning to peak for the Kentucky Derby, it was widely acknowledged that it would be the good General who would be favored in the 1957 edition of the Run for the Roses. Unfortunately, Gen. Duke’s career was cut short with an injury that would not allow him to race in the Derby or ever again. On an even sadder note, he was put down the following year after contracting Wobbles. Before the others would converge at the Derby, Gen. Duke would race in ten impressive races as a 3-year-old. He is best remembered for his duals with the horse that would become the Kentucky Derby favorite, Bold Ruler, in which they split four decisions in Florida. In their third encounter Bold Ruler beat the General by a neck setting a track record in the Flamingo. Gen. Duke would soon turn the tables in a big way, defeating Bold Ruler by 1 ½ lengths and tying Swaps’ world record of 1:46 and 4 for the 9 furlongs. An amazing feat for such a young horse, but right in line for this group of supreme 3-year-olds.

Lost in the greatness of Bold Ruler, Round Table, Gallant Man and Gen. Duke were such stalwarts as the Calumet pair of Iron Liege, the Kentucky Derby winner of 1957 and Barbizon, the 2-year-old champion of 1956. Both colts were owned by Calumet, who clearly believed that Gen. Duke was the star of the barn. Or how about the speedy Federal Hill who was good enough to beat Gen. Duke in the Derby Trial and set a track record in his Louisiana Derby win. These fine horses were overshadowed to be certain, but they were excellent additions to the amazing foal crop of 1954.

Sure there were other crops that were outstanding, such as 1964 (Dr. Fager, Damascus, In Reality & Fort Marcy), 1970 (Secretariat, Forego, Sham & Our Native), 1975 (Affirmed, Alydar, Believe It, Sensitive Prince, Dave’s Friend & Nasty and Bold), 1984 (Alysheba, Bet Twice, Java Gold, Lost Code, Cryptoclearance & Gulch), 1994 (Silver Charm, Free House, Touch Gold, Awesome Again, Pulpit & Captain Bodgit), but none were quite like the foal crop of 1954. Scores of exciting races were run, unbelievable winning records were compiled, track records dropped like flies, and Eclipse Awards were handed out like Chinese food flyers. Bold Ruler, Round Table, Gallant Man, Gen. Duke, Iron Liege, Barbizon, Federal Hill…your storyteller gracefully exits as Sinatra croons… It was a Very Good Year.

October 30, 2009

The Fantastic Fours - Take 2

One week from Day 1. Breeders’ Cup is so close, I can smell the sweet fragrance of the Fall championship racing of my youth. It is true what they say, olfactory receptors can snap you back into distant memories more acutely than any of the other senses. The smell of the Autumn air fires millions of neurons, making me instantly happy and thinking horses. The early homework has been done. I have tore into the pre-entry past performances with all the voracity of a rottweiler with a new chew toy. Listed below are my top four choices for each Breeders’ Cup race…I have included the fourth horse especially for all my friends who like a little action in the superfecta.

1. Cloudy’s Knight - Oh what a story this would be! His last race was super.
2. Mastery - European youngster is a classy sort who loves the distance.
3. Nite Light - Will be joined on the front end by Black Astor.
4. Father Time - Not quite as good as Mastery in England.

1. Smart Seattle - Motion charge is primed to return to the winner’s circle.
2. Lillie Langtry - Euro shipper has great form in England and Ireland.
3. House of Grace - Beware the undefeated filly down the lane.
4. Hatheer - Should appreciate the return to turf.

1. Ventura - Defending champ’s in fine fettle and is strictly the one to beat.
2. Informed Decision - Hard to ignore her 6 for 6 record on synthetics.
3. Evita Argentina - Her last effort was not the real Evita Argentina.
4. Seventh Street - Classy filly drops down in distance; beware.

1. Blind Luck - Unheralded filly does nothing wrong; closing in on an Eclipse.
2. Beautician - Trip at Keeneland was a nightmare; gets another chance.
3. Always a Princess - Off the pace & more experienced, she’ll be a handful.
4. Devil May Care - Undefeated Pletcher filly has talent.

1. Pure Clan - Quality filly is versatile; ready to pull of a West Coast upset
2. Magical Fantasy - Streaking filly is a threat to defend her home turf.
3. Forever Together - Defending champ should appreciate return to firm.
4. Midday - Classy 3-year-old shoulders European flag.

1. Careless Jewel - Speed to burn; Can they catch her?
2. Music Note - A monster at three, she is rounding back into scary form.
3. Proviso - First performance on synthetic puts her in with a chance.
4. Lethal Heat - Beware the game California bred.

1. Interactif - The most promising U.S. turf juvenile in years should win this.
2. Pounced - Gosden colt may be the European’s top threat.
3. Buzzword - Experienced juvenile carries the Godolphin silks.
4. Viscount Nelson - Bred to be a champion, but may prefer a softer turf.

1. Diamondrella - Might be just the mare to nail the boys going down the hill.
2. California Flag - Speed is always dangerous on this course.
3. Silver Timber - Getting better with each start; streaks down the stretch.
4. Yankee Ingenuity - Longshot play may love the firm Santa Anita turf.

1. Mastercraftsman - Too much class to ignore.
2. Chocolate Candy - I’ll try this guy one more time at juicy odds.
3. Midshipman - Returns to the scene of his biggest triumph; dangerous.
4. Crown of Thorns - One mile distance should benefit this Mandella charge.

1. Lookin at Lucky - Does what he has to do; the best juvenile in the country.
2. Aikenite - Getting better with each run; Lucky’s #1 threat.
3. Pulsion - Long winded son of Include should be up for a share.
4. Eskendereya - Steps up in class, but this one is very intriguing.

1. Godilkova - Champion filly looks to join Miesque as female Mile repeaters.
2. Court Vision - Dutrow says he has him figured out…maybe so.
3. Justenuffhumor - Will firm turf bring back his best stuff?
4. Cowboy Cal - Is never easy to run by this salty son of Giant’s Causeway.

1. Gayego - Godolphin has this talented colt ready to roll, all systems go.
2. Capt. Candyman Can - Can not deny this honest sprinter’s consistent rush.
3. Zensational - Grade 1 talent finally faces the acid test.
4. Fatal Bullet - Speedy Canadian loves the synthetics.

1. Presious Passion - America’s best hope will lead them on a merry chase.
2. Conduit - Returning champ will be tough to deny in the lane.
3. Spanish Moon - Sir Michael Stoute has this horse fresh and ready.
4. Dar Re Mi - Would not be a surprise if the filly proved best in here.

1. Rip Van Winkle - The 2nd best colt in the world should love 1 ¼ on Pro-Ride.
2. Einstein - A very tough customer and he likes this surface.
3. Gio Ponti - Probably not his best surface, but still a big threat at 1 ¼.
4. Colonel John - It is put up or shut up time; ready to bring his best?

October 29, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I was born in Maryland, became a star in New York, and passed away in Kentucky.

*If you added up all of my losses, the sum total would be but one.

*In my only race at Saratoga, I won by more than 7 lengths. My only race at Keeneland, I won by twice that much.

*My trainer was born in Kentucky, became a hero in New York, and passed away in Florida.

*When I won my Eclipse Award, I was still undefeated.

*It is no wonder that I could run, both my Dad and my Mom produced champions other than myself.

*At stud I produced many stakes winners and four millionaires, but my only champion raced far removed from his proud papa.

*I raced less than 10 times, but I made a lasting impression on those who saw me in person.

*I had both a full sister and a full brother who were major stakes winners, proof that Mom and Dad really loved each other.

*My final 5 stakes wins were at 5 different tracks and in 4 different states.

*I was retired to a farm in Kentucky mainly because I was more valuable at stud, than I was on the track.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

October 28, 2009

Breeders' Cup Buzz

They’re almost here. 14 races. More than a hundred and fifty of the finest runners the world has to offer will congregate for a two-day celebration of the race. Thoroughbred horse racing is the most beautiful sport in the world and the main participants are the most honest, humble, and hardest trying athletes that you will ever find. The Breeders’ Cup is the greatest of all horse racing celebrations, as it brings together more of the world’s best than any other set of races, anywhere. Zipse at the Track illustrates the majesty and beauty of the sport through the written word, therefore thoughts of who will not be there or why the Breeders’ Cup is back for a consecutive year at Santa Anita are merely dust in the wind. This is Breeders’ Cup and I love it.

Aidan O’Brien’s recent announcement that Mastercraftsman would most likely run in the Dirt Mile rather than the Classic promises major ramifications for both races. In the Dirt Mile, Mastercraftsman moves right to the top of my list. He is a world class performer with experience over a synthetic surface and outstanding performances at the flat mile distance. In a race full of question marks, Mastercraftsman may be the horse with the fewest questions. If he travels well to California, he should be a major force. Meanwhile, in the biggest of all Breeders’ Cup races, the Classic, O’Brien has suggested a huge vote of confidence in his charge, Rip Van Winkle. Separating the two horses is risky business, as both horses would have a shot in the Classic, a race O’Brien has come very close to winning, but never has. By splitting them, he brazenly displays his confidence in Rip and looks to win the lesser affair with his other solid horse. Trainers are known to be wrong as often as they are correct, but dismiss Rip Van Winkle at your own peril.

Will she or won’t she? That is the question that so many of us are eagerly awaiting. Whether Zenyatta runs in the Classic or the Ladies Classic, she is sure to bring that special brand of excitement that only she can. She clearly has something to gain and something to lose in either race. If she runs in the Ladies Classic, she has a better chance to keep her amazing undefeated record intact, but she also could fall greatly in stature by losing a race that she would be expected to win. If Zenyatta takes the plunge and enters the Classic, she would have more to win…a place in immortality, and less to lose if she were beaten in a race that she would be only one of many with a chance to win. The danger of course in the Classic would be putting her chance of the undefeated career in major jeopardy. An interesting decision from every angle…will she or won’t she?

Todd Pletcher has refilled the cupboards and will make a strong play for Breeders’ Cup glory. His strongest suit will come in the races for 2-year-olds, where he should have at least one card to play in all four races. In the Juvenile, Pletcher will have two well bred, good looking colts in Aikenite and Eskendereya. They are developing quickly and could trump the favored Lookin at Lucky. I am most impressed with his son of Broken Vow, Interactif, who is the likely favorite in the Juvenile Turf. Interactif needs only to repeat his first two turf tries at Saratoga and Keeneland to become a BC winner. Pletcher will also be well represented with the undefeated Devil May Care in the Juvenile Fillies and Rose Catherine and Dad’s Crazy in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Look for Todd Pletcher and his string of youngsters to make a great deal of noise in Santa Anita.

Breeders’ Cup Flashback --- 25 years ago the inaugural BC was run at Hollywood Park. In the first ever Classic, Slew O’ Gold was supposed to rule the roost. He had dominated the handicap division from his New York base, where he was in full flight for Horse-of-the-Year. In opposition that day was the quirky colt from the Jack Van Berg barn, Gate Dancer. The hooded wonder was trying to beat the heavily favored son of Seattle Slew, while trying to supplant another son of Seattle Slew, Swale, for the three-year-old championship. At 31-1, little attention was paid to the well traveled 4-year-old, Wild Again. It would be a race for the ages. Wild Again beat off the early competition and, despite the testing fractions, would brace for the challenge of both superstars. First Slew O’ Gold on the far turn and then Gate Dancer outside the eighth pole would throw everything but the kitchen sink at the longshot son of Icecapade. The three horses came together as they battled head and head and chest to chest. Wild Again on the rail, Gate Dancer with his white hood on the outside and Slew O’ Gold in between. It was a Hollywood script kind of finish that day at Hollywood. In what may be his greatest ever ride, Pat Day, the master of getting that little bit extra out of his pace setters, pumped and drove Wild Again to a narrow and heart-stopping victory. A long inquiry would only reverse 2nd and 3rd place results. It may have been the very first Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was wild, Wild Again.

October 26, 2009

Remembering ... Paradise Creek

Who was the best American turf horse of the 1990s? A tough selection to be sure, but I know whom I would pick…Paradise Creek. A model of consistency, the Creek ran 24 times on the lawn spanning four marvelous seasons. Keeping the very best company, he won 14 times and finished 2nd in seven others. There was only one occasion, in these 24 turf races, where Paradise Creek did not prove a major factor. It is always a joy to root for a horse that you know will fire every time, and Paradise Creek was one of those rare horses. He was never afraid to hop on a plane and bring his A game, starting his career in upstate New York and finishing it in the Land of the Rising Sun. In between, the Creek would win stakes at eight different tracks all over the country. There was an antagonist in his story, the brilliant miler, Lure, who would get the best of my hero on more than one occasion. In the end though, Paradise Creek persevered and was never better then his final season. At 5-years-old, he was deservingly named the champion grass horse of 1994. From the beginning, I followed his career closely and I have wonderful memories of this terrific grass horse.

It all began in the Summer of 1991, when I was fortunate enough to be in the stands for the start of his career. It looked like Paradise Creek was an older horse running against babies as he demolished a full field of well bred juveniles at Saratoga. The 11 length beating was so thorough, that from this Maiden Special Weight on the turf, Bill Mott placed him next in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. The Hopeful would be Paradise Creek’s only lifetime race on the dirt and he finished 4th in the field of nine. That would be it for his juvenile season, but that one magnificent turf race made a lasting impression on me. From that race, I would be a fan of his for life.

After a lengthy layoff, the Bertram Firestone owned and bred colt returned in the Summer to dominate three consecutive turf races in New York. I kept an eye on him from a distance and I jumped at the chance to see him once again as he shipped in to Chicago for the Grade 1 Secretariat. Disappointment, as the Creek was held off a slow place, had brief traffic issues and then gallantly gained to no avail against the talented frontrunner, Ghazi. I went home that day knowing that Paradise Creek was the best horse, but it would be the first of many tough defeats for the son of Irish River; good thing he would go on to win so many. He continued his 3-year-old campaign with two more seconds, first in a turf stake at the Meadowlands and then in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. His 2nd place finish in the Mile was validation for my belief in him, as he rallied to beat every horse in the stellar field except for his new nemesis, Lure. Paradise Creek was dismissed at 30-1 odds that day, it was a mistake that bettors would not make again.

After gamely winning the Hollywood Derby to end his three-year old campaign, Paradise Creek was slowed by setbacks in his four-year-old season and he would win only one of five races. In three consecutive races that year, he would taste defeat at the hands of that pesky middle distance star. Lure was one of the finest milers ever to run on American grass, but to me he was a thorn in the side, because he was to Paradise Creek.

Finally completely healthy at five, the Creek would get off to an early start, winning three turf stakes at Gulfstream to begin the year. In his Ft. Lauderdale score he stopped the teletimer of the 1 1/16 race in 1:39 and 1. Revenge proved a dish best served in Kentucky, as it was there that he first spanked his rival Lure in winning by four lengths at Churchill Downs. He would go on to beat him again in the Dixie, and then rattle off wins in the Manhattan, Arlington Million, and DC International. Eight major stakes wins already that year and he was doing it so impressively. In the Manhattan at Belmont, he won off by 6 ¾ lengths and his final time was an unbelievable 1:57 and 3 for the 10 furlongs. It remains one of the fastest races I have ever seen. All my time watching and rooting for this lord of the grass was paying off in a big way. This amazing year brought him to the Breeders’ Cup Turf as a prohibitive 4-5 favorite in a 14 horse field full of talent. There was one problem though, Paradise Creek had never in his career been farther than 1 ¼ miles. This would be one of the toughest fields of his life and he would need to run one quarter mile farther than he had ever gone before. I was there in the crowded Churchill Downs grandstand as this beautiful dark brown champion made a big, powerful early move to take command on the far turn. For a second I thought the Creek was home free as Pat Day guided him to a clear lead in the stretch. My heart sank though, as he began to shorten strides and the European monsters, Tikkanen and Hatoof gobbled him up. Paradise Creek finished a winded, but gallant 3rd. It would be his final race for me to see him and in the United States.

Looking back, my favorite race out of all of Paradise Creek’s excellent career had to be the afternoon of August 28, 1994. Having spent much of my life in Chicago, the Arlington Million is a race close to my heart. This would be Paradise Creek’s only attempt in the Million and I wanted badly to see him win. There was not much money to be made…he was a 9-5 favorite and it certainly was not his most impressive win…he won by ¾ of a length, but it was my horse winning the Million. He had done it, I can still see him crossing the wire in front. It was a day of joy and a day of satisfaction as the horse I had followed and admired for so long, won the race I wanted to see him win.

Paradise Creek would go on to end his career in the Japan Cup, which at the time was the world’s richest race. His new Japanese owner wanted a chance to see him compete one time in his homeland before sending him off to a successful stud career in Japan. In a race that no American has won in the past 18 years, Paradise Creek would run huge one last time. Just three short weeks after his demanding run in the BC Turf and with a trip across the world under his belt, Paradise Creek ran like a champion. Sticking his nose in front only yards before the wire of the 12 furlong marathon, but it was not to be. He lost the scantest of photos in a head-bobbing finish. To this day I still believe he won the race, but the Japanese stewards awarded the photo to a Japanese horse, and once again, the Creek would have to swallow a tough defeat. A great turf champion, Paradise Creek fell short of absolute superstardom with his losses to Lure, his 2nd place finishes in the Breeders’ Cup and his whisker of a defeat in his final race, but you must appreciate this horse who performed so well in 23 out of his 24 lifetime turf races. I know I appreciate him…I remember you Paradise Creek.

October 25, 2009

Talent, Kiwi and Balloons

Vineyard Haven has become one of my favorite horses. The horse I thought was the best two-year-old in the nation last year, has come back like gangbusters since his unfruitful time in Dubai. Some horses flourish with a long Winter in the Arabian wonderland, Vineyard Haven was clearly not one of those horses. One failed race in a key eleven month stretch of his career, and I am left wondering what might have been. Vineyard Haven returned to America and finally made it to the races on the last Saturday of August, where he faced the finest field of 3-year-old sprinters assembled all year. The race included Capt. Candyman Can, Munnings, and Big Drama. Vineyard Haven, without the benefit of a prep race, ran erratically down the lane and still hit the wire first. It was the kind of race that horses just don’t do off such a layoff, or at least they do not do it more than once in a blue moon. The grey horse with the blue blinkers and silks was at again yesterday with a scintillating performance at Laurel Park in the De Francis Dash. It was a race that a lesser horse would have struggled home fifth. Vineyard Haven broke from the rail, which was not a good spot with the abundance of speed in the race. He stayed up close early, but dropped back a little as the leading group blazed an opening quarter in 21 and change. He quickly found himself stuck on the rail and the holes in front of him were disappearing. Alan Garcia and Vineyard Haven waited, and they waited, until things finally cleared enough for him. Still it appeared third was about the best he would muster as Fleet Valid was still full of run and Ravalo was charging on the outside. Then it happened, the horse of superior talent kicked it in, and like a silver streak, he made a devastating burst on the fence to win the De Francis Dash by half a length. Vineyard Haven is the real deal, and I, for one, will be watching every move that he makes.

Also on Saturday, So You Think, a New Zealand bred son of High Chapparal dominated the $3 million Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racing Club in Australia. Becoming the first 3-year-old to win the very prestigious Cox Plate in five years. In only his fifth lifetime start, So You Think stamped himself a star with the huge win. Piloted by Glen Boss, who was fined for excessive celebration, So You Think surprisingly set the early pace and when the running really started, he scampered home much the best. Final margin of victory was 2 ½ lengths for the happy supporters of the bay colt. One of his supporters is legendary trainer, Bart Cummings. Cummings had stated this inexperienced youngster had a big chance, and when he talks it is best to listen. The octogenarian is perhaps the most successful trainer in the world. This was his 4th Cox Plate winner which is dwarfed by his unbelievable 12 wins in the Melbourne Cup out of his 256 Group 1 victories. At 82, Bart Cummings is clearly still going strong and when he says that So You Think may become his best horse ever, it would be wise for everyone to listen.

The synthetic surface at Keeneland appears to be like no other racing strip in the country. I say this because time and time again form coming from other places does not hold up at the beautiful Lexington track. On this Polytrack surface, it seems that all the horses start with a clean slate. Handicapping is thrown virtually out the window. The result on the tote board is…balloons. Large win, place and show prices and monstrous payoffs on the exotics stun the crowd. An excellent example of this happened again yesterday in the feature race. The $300,000 Raven Run Stakes came down to three fillies as Don‘ttalktome desperately tried to hold off Satans Quick Chick on the rail and Slides Choice on the outside. Satans Quick Chick surged on the rail to win with Slides Choice a rallying 2nd and Don’ttalktome a near miss 3rd . The odds of these fillies? 23-1, 49-1, and 41-1. How ‘bout them apples? I will not bore you with the measly payoffs, rather I will jump right to the superfecta payout. A ten cent wager on the winning ticket returned $5,930 to the lucky few holding the ticket. Not a bad return on your investment.

October 24, 2009

An Indian Summer at Vineyard Haven

An Indian Summer is an unusual stretch of sun and balmy temperatures in the Autumn. Vineyard Haven is a beautiful section of Martha’s Vineyard. Today at Laurel, the gorgeous race horse, Vineyard Haven will be heating up the Fall Maryland landscape as he and seven older sprinters blaze 6 furlongs in the revived De Francis Dash. OK, I admit it, I am a sucker for the look of certain types of horses, ever since the days of the Lone Ranger, I have loved the appearance of a gray horse, so white, that you strain to see any pigmentation at all. Vineyard Haven is one of those horses. The strapping son of Lido Palace is also an extremely talented horse.

Vineyard Haven has been through a great deal of change, but also, has accomplished much in his young life. The record may read only three wins from six races, but there is so much more to this achromatic talent. His first race was at Calder last Summer for Lynne Scace. Both the partnership and the race were short lived as Vineyard Haven scorched the Miami oval, romped in the race, and was quickly snapped up by a Bobby Frankel partnership. After a 3rd place finish in the Sanford, the now Frankel trained Haven rattled off two monstrous efforts. He won the two most important juvenile races in New York, the Hopeful and the Champagne, and he did it in style. Those wins were so impressive that he garnered much support for the notion that he was the best 2-year-old in the nation. I was one of those people that considered him to be the top of last year’s juvenile class. Vineyard Haven’s smashing triumphs in the Hopeful and Champagne also led to an offer too good to refuse.

Godolphin made the astronomical offer, and it was off to Dubai. The trip did not help to advance the talented colt and the Spring was basically lost, with only a 4th place finish in the UAE 2000 Guineas to show for his time in Dubai. After another long layoff, Haven returned in the toughest sprint in the nation for 3-year-olds, the King’s Bishop at Saratoga, and he won. Well sort of, he ran an absolute bang-up race to finish first, but his errant path in the stretch brought his number down. Still, it was a remarkable effort, considering he had only one race this year and it was six months earlier on the other side of the globe. Today in the De Francis Dash, Vineyard Haven moves another step forward to reach his great potential. A good performance here will send him back to New York for the prestigious Cigar Mile. Today’s contest will not be a walk in the park though, as the field is littered with fast older sprinters.

Chief among his rivals today is Fleet Valid who has reeled off four straight pips at Monmouth Park and Roaring Lion, a rousing winner of the Maryland Million Sprint over this track last month. Both horses are as sharp as a tack and should not be taken lightly. In Ah Day and True Quality, Vineyard Haven will meet two horses of quality who may not be in their best form, but have that back class that always makes you worry. The horse that could well give Vineyard Haven the most worry is Ravalo. A professional sprinter who many outside of the East Coast know little about, despite this horse being as tough as nails. He has won 13 out of 27 including 10 stakes wins. Clearly, Vineyard Haven will have to run big to defeat this field, and I think he will, today at Laurel.

Maryland racing is not what it used to be; I remember a day when the D.C. International and the Laurel Futurity were as big as any races in the country. The state fights on though. The Preakness is staying at Pimlico and Laurel has come back with its’ biggest race. Let us hope that the return of the De Francis Dash, after a one year hiatus, is a real corker as we witness an Indian Summer at Vineyard Haven.

October 23, 2009

A Visit Down Under - The Cox Plate

G’day Mate. With a slight lull in American racing until the Breeders’ Cup, I will take this opportunity to introduce you to a little racing down under. It is the middle of Springtime in Australia and the racing season is at its’ peak. Australia is a nation of sports fanatics and racing is high on their list. The AFL, or Australian Rules Football as we know it, is the biggest of all the sports in the nation, but after that, the great sport of horse racing is right there in the hearts of the sport minded. Excitement is in the air, as tomorrow is one of the biggest days in Australian racing with the running of the Cox Plate.

The W.S Cox Plate, currently called the Tatts Cox Plate for the sponsor, was inaugurated in 1922, and it was named in honor of the founder of Moonee Valley Racing Club, William Samuel Cox. Moonee Valley is one of the major race courses of Australia and is found just outside of Melbourne. Melbourne being the second largest city in Australia, and located in the Southeast corner of the nation. The Cox Plate is held in late October each year and falls between the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the Spring Racing Carnival. The Cox Plate is considered by most as the second biggest race held in Australia only behind the Melbourne Cup. Although to some, it is the ultimate race in the country. Ryan Martin, a former jockey down under explained it to me this way, “The race I look forward to the most is the Cox Plate. It is the greatest race in our country. It’s run at Moonee Valley, which is my favorite track. The pressure is always on, and then they go early at the valley down past the school at the 600m, only the toughest of the toughest survive and win....To me this is the one single race I would love to win as a jockey!”

Whether or not it is regarded in the same fervor as the Melbourne Cup by Australians, the Cox Plate is regarded as the best weight-for-age race in the country and it carries as much history as it does prestige.

The Cox Plate has always attracted a field of the best horses in the nation with a national honor roll of champions. The famed list of stars to win the race include: Phar Lap in 1930 & 1931, Rising Fast in 1954, Tobin Bronze in 1967, Gunsynd in 1972, the ill-fated Dulcify in 1979, Kingston Town in 1980-1982, Strawberry Road in 1983, Might and Power in 1998, Northerly in 2001 & 2002, Fields of Omagh in 2003 & 2006, and the great mares Sunline in 1999 & 2000, and Makybe Diva in 2005. Make no mistake, stamping your name on the trophy is a huge accomplishment. The Cox Plate is contested at 2,040 meters (slightly more than 1 ¼ miles) over the Moonee Valley turf course and the horses run in the same left to right direction familiar to us in the States.

In this year’s edition, a full field on 14 runners will vie for the prize. Including:

1. El Segundo
2. Zipping
3. Vision And Power
4. Nom Du Jeu
5. Scenic Shot
6. Black Piranha
7. Sir Slick
8. Road To Rock
9. Speed Gifted
10. Whobegotyou
11. Heart Of Dreams
12. Rock Kingdom
13. Manhattan Rain
14. So You Think

Whobegotyou is the favorite for the race and is trained by Mark Kavanagh, the same trainer who won the race last year. The son of Street Cry is a perfect 4 for 4 over the Moonvee Valley course. Whobegotyou has of late, been tangling with his top rival Heart of Dreams, the likely second choice of the bettors. The English bred gelding, Speed Gifted and the lightly raced 3-year-old, So You Think are also given a big chance. Female conditioner, Gai Waterhouse, has two entrants, Rock Kingdom and Manhattan Rain, the former being supplemented for $130,000 in the $3 million (just under $2.8 million U.S.) race. Two 8-year-olds will contest the race again; Zipping was 2nd last year and El Segundo won the 2007 Cox Plate.

I have never been to a running of the W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racing Club, nor for that matter have I ever been to Australia, but it is a dream of mine to visit the country, after all the racing is too good to pass. Someday, yours truly will be there in person living out a dream.

October 22, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I am from Europe and my trainer from South America, but we came to the United States together.

*I was a champion at five, but I was better at the age of four.

*I became an American when my ownership changed before my final season of racing, transferring to American owners and an American trainer.

*My father was also a champion, but not in America.

*I won multiple stakes in France and California, but I was a New York success story, winning seven stakes there.

*In my only race at Saratoga, I equaled a world record on the turf.

*I often carried a lot of weight on my back, including 131 in one of my stakes wins. Not bad for a girl!

*I was a champion on dirt, but I was better on the grass.

*I would have won an Eclipse Award at four had there been an award for my category that year … the category was added the following year.

*I defeated the boys in two consecutive Grade 1 races.

*I retired to a farm in Pennsylvania and was the dam of 11 runners including a graded stakes winner and a juvenile champion in Italy.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

October 21, 2009

The Fantastic Fours

Sixteen more days to Graceland. Time to roll up the sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty. Presented for your amusement are my Fantastic Four in each Breeders’ Cup race. Horses are listed in the respective races which I feel they are most likely to run given the information available today. Of course, this is subject to change as new info rolls in. Do not forget to tell me who you like!

1. Nite Light - Controlling speed at 1 ¾ miles should be tough to catch.
2. Father Time
3. Mastery
4. Unusual Suspect

1. Smart Seattle - Motion charge is primed to return to the winner’s circle.
2. House of Grace
3. Hatheer
4. Bay to Bay

1. Ventura - Defending champ’s in great fettle and is strictly the one to beat.
2. Informed Decision
3. Indian Blessing
4. Seventh Street

1. Blind Luck - Unheralded filly does nothing wrong; closing in on an Eclipse.
2. Devil May Care
3. Beautician
4. Always a Princess

1. Pure Clan - Quality mare is versatile; ready to pull of a West Coast upset.
2. Magical Fantasy
3. Midday
4. Forever Together

1. Zenyatta - Hard to look past for number 14, if this is the race she chooses.
2. Careless Jewel
3. Music Note
4. Lethal Heat

1. Interactif - The most promising U.S. turf juvenile in years should win this.
2. Pounced
3. Bridgetown
4. Viscount Nelson

1. Diamondrella - Might be just the mare to nail the boys going down the hill.
2. California Flag
3. Silver Timber
4. Cannonball

1. Misremembered - Baffert has local colt primed for one mile in open affair.
2. Chocolate Candy
3. Girolamo
4. Crown of Thorns

1. Lookin at Lucky - Does what he has to do; the best juvenile in the country.
2. Aikenite
3. Beethoven
4. Noble’s Promise

1. Godilkova - Champion mare will join Miesque as mare repeaters in the Mile.
2. Court Vision
3. Cowboy Cal
4. Zacinto

1. Gayego - Godolphin has this talented colt ready to roll, all systems go.
2. Capt. Candyman Can
3. Zensational
4. Midshipman

1. Presious Passion - America’s best hope will lead them on a merry chase.
2. Conduit
3. Spanish Moon
4. Dar Re Mi

1. Rip Van Winkle - The 2nd best colt in the world should love 1¼ on Pro-Ride.
2. Gio Ponti
3. Einstein
4. Colonel John

October 19, 2009

Remembering ... Riva Ridge

Riva Ridge had come into the world at the perfect time. It had been almost ten years since Meadow Stable had a champion, Cicada in the early sixties. The patriarch of the farm, Christopher Chenery was in failing health and the future of one of the most successful farms in American history was in serious jeopardy. They were looking for a star horse that would buoy the racing, the breeding and the finances. Along came Riva Ridge. In the Fall of 1971, he was the savior and unquestioned favorite of Meadow Stable, the venerable Virginian farm that was struggling to survive. Riva Ridge was a well bred son of First Landing, but his looks did not promise greatness. He had long legs and skinny body, conformation wise, he was no champion. Riva Ridge would certainly outrun his looks, but by the Fall of 1972, he was a lemon temporarily squeezed dry and he was the forgotten horse. Completely overshadowed on the American racing scene by his own stablemate Secretariat, Riva Ridge was all but ignored by fans, visitors to the barn and throngs of media. Maybe he was born at the worst possible time.

It all began well for him. In 1971 Riva Ridge was the toast of the nation as he thoroughly dominated his 2-year-old peers. After a solid start to his life of racing in which he won two of his first four starts, Riva Ridge took it to a phenomenal level. He overpowered his foes in five consecutive major stakes for juveniles. The skinny little horse seemed to just skip over the dirt as he racked up easy wins in the Flash Stakes, Futurity, Champagne, Laurel Futurity, and the rich Garden State Stakes. Meadow Stable, in Riva Ridge, had the great horse that they so dearly needed. He was an overwhelming champion and looked like a horse who could possibly win the Triple Crown. At the time, his younger stablemate was a promising, but untested yearling

As a 3-year-old, Riva got off to a flying start easily winning the Hibiscus in Florida and then the prestigious Blue Grass. In between, his six race winning streak had been broken in the muddy Everglades Stakes. Riva Ridge ended a 16 year drought by 2-year-old champions on the first Saturday of May when he won the 1972 Kentucky Derby. It was a dominating performance in the biggest race. Riva Ridge was a star. Perhaps in a foreshadowing of his luck to come, the Preakness came up sloppy, not a track condition that Riva Ridge liked. He struggled home 4th and large hopes for the first Triple Crown in 24 years were dashed. If there was any question as to whether he was the best colt in the country, Riva ended that talk quickly with a smashing score in the Belmont Stakes. He was well on his way to another Eclipse Award, but then his handlers made some mistakes. After the Triple Crown, they shipped across country to run in the Hollywood Derby. Riva won the race but was pressured every step of the way by multiple horses. Lucien Lauren, his trainer, knew he was exhausted and should have taken a long rest. Despite this, they continued to run Riva Ridge and run Riva Ridge. It was not pretty. His people kept hoping for a return to form, but Riva had nothing more to give. Five poor performances and five losses. Riva Ridge had deserved a rest and instead lost his reputation and he lost the end of the year awards. Secretariat, meanwhile had become a huge star as a juvenile and was named Horse of the Year.

Given a lengthy rest, Riva Ridge was back to his old self as a four-year-old. He consistently ran well and was throwing down some very impressive times. In the Massachusetts Handicap, Riva equaled Suffolk Down's 1 1/8 mile track record. He set a new world record, under 127 pounds, in the 1 3/16 mile Brooklyn with a 1:52 2/5 final time. Riva Ridge also set a track record in the nine furlong Stuyvesant at Aqueduct, but perhaps his best race at 4, was his 2nd place finish in the new race, the Marlboro Cup. In that race Riva Ridge broke the previous 9 furlong world record, carrying 127 pounds and giving weight to the race winner, Secretariat, who of course became the new world record holder. So even at his best, he would play second fiddle to one Secretariat. Riva won the Eclipse Award as Champion older male for 1973. He was still in the enormous shadow of his incomparable barnmate, who had become the most impressive Triple Crown winner in history, but he had earned sweet redemption after his souring at the end of the previous year.

Riva Ridge retired to stud to Claiborne Farm at the end of 1973. His final race record reads 17 wins from 30 starts, he earned over $1.1 million and two Eclipse Awards. He certainly would have been one of those rare horses to win three consecutive Eclipse Awards, had he not been terribly mismanaged in the Fall of his 3-year-old season. He was an ugly duckling who could run. Everybody who spent any time with Riva, could not help but love the horse with the kind disposition, in fact, Penny Chenery, who owned probably the most popular horse in America since Man O’ War, always considered Riva Ridge her favorite above Secretariat. He may have been overshadowed by his younger stablemate, but Riva Ridge is one horse who should never be forgotten.

October 18, 2009

The Curious Case of Lethal Heat

Have you heard about the plans for the good 4-year-old mare from California, Lethal Heat? No? Well let me tell you what Lethal Heat and her conditioner Barry Abrams have in store for the horse racing world…

On November 6 at approximately 3:45 PM PST in the 8th race at Santa Anita, Lethal Heat will run in the Breeders‘ Cup Ladies Classic. Then on November 7 at approximately 11:23 AM PST in the 3rd race at Santa Anita, Lethal Heat will run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Wow! I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Has there ever been a case of a thoroughbred race horse competing in such an ambitious schedule? Not in the Breeders’ Cup, but yes, it has been done before. More than a hundred years ago it was commonplace for horses to run in multiple heats in a day, and in other countries, these preliminary races were held in more recent times. Even since heats were done away with in America, there have been examples of horses who attempted the quickest of turnarounds.

In 1936, Rushaway, one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, not only ran on consecutive days, but he won…both races! On May 22, he won the Illinois Derby in the suburbs of Chicago. After the race, his trainer checked to see how he was feeling. When asked, Rushaway exclaimed “I feel good!” It was on to Northern Kentucky. On May 23, Rushaway ran in and won the Latonia Derby. To this day, Rushaway still has a stakes race named after him at Turfway Park, formerly known as Latonia.

In the Fall of 1975, No Bias, a talented sprinter who won ten races including the Vosburgh, ran on consecutive days at Belmont Park. On the 12th of October he ran to victory in an allowance race. With that sharpener under his belt, No Bias returned the following day to compete in the prestigious Fall Highweight Handicap. He finished 2nd to the top mare, Honorable Miss. In a post-race interview, No Bias responded to the question of, “what’s next?” with this famous quote, “I’m going back to the barn to take a nap.”

Looking for a more recent precedent? How about this one … In 2005 Golden Man ran a good 3rd in Monmouth Park’s Long Branch Stakes. A solid performance by a good horse, but nothing particular noteworthy, until he showed up the following day at Delaware Park. Much to the surprise of racing officials at Delaware, who assumed he would be scratched, trainer Tony Dutrow informed them that Golden Man was there and ready to run. They checked on the horse and he was fine, even muttering to one official, “to bring it on” when asked about his prospects for the race. Dutrow said it was his owners decision to run the horse, and run he did. Golden Man finished 2nd in the $300,000 Leonard Richards Stakes to the classy colt Sun King. Stuff of lore, to be sure, but only four short years ago.

Barry Abrams is known for running his horses on short rest and he has previously given Lethal Heat the chance to run in back to back weeks. In 2008, Lethal Heat strung together two of her best races that year when she beat colts in the Real Good Deal Stakes at Del Mar and then came back a week later to run a solid third in the Del Mar Oaks. Most recently, the classy filly finished a solid 2nd against the boys in the Cal Cup Classic and followed it up one week later with an excellent 2nd to the great Zenyatta in the Lady’s Secret.

This Hollywood story raises many questions … Will Lethal Heat really run in two Breeders’ Cup races? Can she manage to run well in both or possibly even win one? Will Abrams look to run her back on Sunday as well? Will these races have a negative long term effect on this really good filly? Will Lethal Heat learn to talk like all of these other horses??? You better stay tuned race fans.

October 17, 2009

Grass, Canadian Style

From the land of snowdrifts, and Ice Hockey, comes a serious day of grass racing from Woodbine. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

In the prestigious Canadian International, a European runner Jukebox Jury is listed as the favorite. The gray son of Montjeu, has flourished since he has stretched out in distance. As a 3-year-old he gets a seven pound weight break from the rest of the field despite the fact that he has won major stakes already in three different countries. In his last race, Jukebox Jury traveled to Germany and won his first Group 1 event. While he proved no match for Sea the Stars and Rip Van Winkle this Summer, he has steadily improved and at his best is a major player in this. Several of the International runners are exiting the Northern Dancer, run four weeks ago over this course and distance. In the roughly run stretch of the Northern Dance anyone of four horses (Just as Well, Marsh Side, Champs Elysees, and Quijano) had a chance to win with a clean trip. All return today. The surprise winner of the Canadian International last year, Marsh Side finished first in the Northern Dancer, but was taken down and placed fourth for bothering the other three. Taking the worst of it was Champs Elysees, who finished fourth, beaten 1 ¼ lengths, but was completely shut off on the rail and Just as Well, who was blocked and altered course only to fall a ½ length short. Just as Well was the main beneficiary of the disqualification and was the named the winner by order of the Stewards. The six-year-old son of A.P. Indy has finally reached full maturity under master conditioner Jonathan Sheppard and has been a model of consistency in his last several races. With a race over the track and the distance, Just as Well is my pick to take home all the marbles.

The E.P. Taylor has always been the fairer sex’s most valued turf race over the border. This year’s edition is dominated by Euro shippers. Rainbow View is a Kentucky bred daughter of Dynaformer. She was England’s champion juvenile filly last year with four wins in four starts. This year she has not been as fortunate with only one win in her six starts as she has failed against such stalwarts as Goldikova, Ghanaati, and Sariska. The one win did come in her last race though, as she won a Group 1 race in Ireland at one mile. The distance loving English mare Look Here should be Rainbow View’s primary threat. Look Here has won only 2 of 8 starts in Europe, but the company she has been keeping has been stellar. She has consistently faced the males and has consistently been a factor. In her only race at this distance she was only beaten 1 length by the top older mare in Europe, Dar Re Mi. This race should come down to which of these top Europeans takes to the 1 ¼ mile distance best, as Rainbow View stretches out from a mile and Look Here shortens up from her usual marathons. I like the less preferred of the two, Look Here, because of her greater consistency against top class horses. Look for Look Here to return to the glory of her English Oaks score last Summer.

The $500,000 Neartic is the least prestigious of today’s races, but it may have the most horses who go on to the Breeders’ Cup. Some of the top turf sprinters in the world will duke it out at 6 furlongs. America is well represented with turf toughies, Hero’s Reward, Chamberlain Bridge, Storm Treasure, Little Nick, and the Linda Rice runner, Karakorum Elektra. Anyone who watched the recent Saratoga meet knows that Rice is not to be discounted in turf sprints. Canada counters with Field Commission and my pick, Jungle Wave. You know I do not tout too many favorites on Zipse at the Track, but Jungle Wave’s Woodbine form is simply too good to ignore. The 4-year-old Hold that Tiger gelding is undefeated in four fast turf sprints this year. He is coming off a bang up 4th place finish in the Woodbine Mile, which should only toughen him up for any stretch battles today back at his preferred sprint distance. Favored or not, I like Jungle Wave.

October 16, 2009

Leggo My Gayego

With just three short weeks to go until the two-day horse racing bonanza that is the Breeder’s Cup, your fearless author is ready to go out on the proverbial limb and start touting some horses that will not be favored come November 6 & 7. That’s right, no odds-on chalk for this guy, only live horses with square odds and a real chance to win. The first Zipse Special comes in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

In the Sprint, we will have a heavy, heavy favorite in Zensational. The 3-year-old Bob Baffert trainee has dominated the California sprint scene, easily racking up Grade 1 wins. I expect him to be in the 4-5 range, and at those odds, every other horse in the field should have betting value. I say “no thank you” to the favorite who has been running in small fields against weak competition. Instead, I look for the bold, blue silks of worldwide powerhouse Godolphin to be carried into the winner’s circle of the Sprint with Gayego, their 4-year-old son of 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion Gilded Time.

Much like his sire, Gayego has been ambitiously placed throughout the entirety of his career. A sharp winner in his very first start, Gayego moved quickly up the ranks and won a big Kentucky Derby prep in just his fifth start. That win, his most important to date, was won on pure class, as the 1 1/8 mile distance of last year’s Arkansas Derby does not suit his talents. That major win thrust him into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but the classic distances proved not to be his cup of tea. As he matured, he has developed into a world class sprinter. In races under a mile, he has a sparkling record, as he can relax early and make a powerful move on the far turn. He has already defeated a world class sprint field in his first start of the year in Dubai. This year he is unbeaten in three sprints and with his win in the recent Ancient Title, Gayego has proven to travel well over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface. His earnings of $1.3 million, in his well spaced 13 race career, point out his class, and with only four races so far this year, he is a fresh horse. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor should have him ready to peak at race time.

Heavily favored Zensational will have plenty of company early as the leading pack carves out testing fractions. This will set things up perfectly for a horse of quality to pick them up in the stretch and that horse will be Gayego as he rolls by them all down the lane. Gayego will win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and will be named the 2009 Sprinter of the year, remember you heard it here first.

October 15, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I won 7 out of 11 races during my championship season and 3 of 13 the rest of my career.

*I was bred at a legendary farm in Kentucky, but I never raced in Kentucky.

*I ran at 2, 3, and 4, but I did not win my first stakes race until I was 5-years-old.

*My father had all the qualities of a champion, although he never actually was one.

*I am a world traveler, fluent in three languages.

*In a three race stretch, I defeated two Hall-of-Famers, two Horses-of-the-Year, three Breeders’ Cup winners and four Eclipse Award winners.

*I was given a bad rap because of my name, I blame my mother.

*I had two different trainers, one is in the Hall of Fame, the other got in trouble with reptile juice.

*I have two wins in million dollar races.

*My six stakes wins came at five different racetracks and at five different distances.

*In my last career race, I finished 6th.

*I never raced in the Breeders’ Cup, although I did defeat two BC Classic winners and one BC Sprint winner.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

October 14, 2009

Wise Times with Chris DeCarlo

Do you remember what you were doing that Summer when you were 17 years old? Personally, I was an immature kid who thought I knew a lot more than I actually did. Yours truly was finishing my last year at Summer Camp, and preparing for my senior year of high school. How did I prepare for my senior year, you ask? By going to Monmouth or Belmont as much as possible, of course. Chris DeCarlo, on the other hand, had recently finished his first full year as a professional jockey. Chris had been destined to be a jockey from a very young age in large part due to his lifetime friendship with family friend and Hall of Fame rider, Angel Cordero. He is a few months older than me (sorry Chris), but in the Summer of ‘86, we were both 17 and Jersey kids who loved the horses.

That Summer I had my eye on a 3-year-old son of Mr. Leader. Wise Times was a horse who had shown flashes of great potential, but had not put it all together in any sort of consistent manner. He had won the Lexington Stakes impressively at Keeneland, but then finished a well beaten 9th in the Kentucky Derby. He followed that up with two 2nd place finishes in allowance races at Belmont. I felt those defeats were deceptively good, as they were open races against older horses early in the Summer, but with a record of 3 wins from 12 races, he wasn’t on anyone’s short list of top three-year-olds. His young English trainer, Phil Gleaves, brought him to the Jersey Shore in hopes of getting him back into stakes caliber form. Gleaves enlisted a good, but young, rider to work him in the mornings. Enter Christopher DeCarlo.

Chris and Wise Times got along together well and when it was time for his first race at Monmouth, he got the mount. An allowance race devoid of much talent, Wise Times and his teenage rider outclassed the field. I saw the race and I was quite impressed with the rallying horse blowing them away on the normally speed favoring strip. It was a win impressive enough to get Wise Times into the big race at Monmouth, the Haskell. When Haskell Day arrived, I was excited to see what this horse could do. It is not often that in a huge race, the horse I really like best is a double-digit longshot. I brazenly touted him to friends and family. Small potatoes compared to what Chris DeCarlo was about to do. Chris liked Wise Time a great deal, but he was not overly confident against this stellar field and on a track that was playing kind to early speed. Help arrived as the heavens opened a few races before the Haskell and the rain effectively took the edge off the speed bias. It was all Wise Times needed, storming down the lane at odds of 11-1, he easily defeated such stalwarts as Danzig Connection, Broad Brush, and Personal Flag. Chris had won the Haskell, his home state’s biggest race at 17. We both felt like wise guys in our own way.

Wise Times would have two more days in the sun, winning the Travers and Super Derby before badly going off form. Just weeks after the victory, which is still the biggest of his career, Chris DeCarlo felt the sting of the incredible lows that can accompany the thrilling highs of racing. A few days before he was to ride the Travers winner, he was injured riding for Allen Jerkens at Monmouth, breaking his wrist and finger. He lost the opportunity for two more enormous victories on the horse that he helped turn the corner to stardom. 23 years later and he still calls New Jersey home. His riding career since, has been one of a journeyman, but a successful one at that. For the past several years he has prospered being a consistently used rider by the powerful Todd Pletcher stable, winning countless stakes around the country. Unfortunately, this year has seen Chris catch a bit of the old seconditis. When I asked Chris if all these narrow misses get him down, he said “No way, they just make me mad.”

He has grown up a lot since that day in 1986, we both have. Back then we were a couple of New Jersey kids on opposite sides of the rail who thought we were hot stuff when Wise Times won the Haskell. Today we are a couple of 40-year-old family men who still love the horses. I am proud to call Christopher DeCarlo a friend. Wise Times indeed.

October 12, 2009

Remembering ... Melair

It was the Summer of 1986 and something was brewing on the West Coast. There was a California bred filly who was winning races so easily and so fast that she was turning heads of even the most hard-boiled trainer on the Southern California circuit. She was a roan, 3-year-old daughter of Debonair Roger out of the stakes producing mare Melrose Nugget and her name was Melair. During a ten week span from late April to early July, she went from a maiden to the toast of the racing nation.

Just how could this unknown filly with rather obscure breeding, owned by retired school teachers, trained by a young trainer, and ridden by a young rider, ascend the American racing scene so quickly?

Melair began her career late mostly because her owners did not to care to race their horses at two. Once she finally did make it to the track, she wasted no time in winning her debut by 3 ½ lengths against maidens at Hollywood Park on April 25. After that, she was a 9 length winner in allowance company, breaking the track's 6 furlong record with a clocking of 1:08 3/5. Melair’s third race was her first in a stakes, and she passed that test with flying colors with a 7 ½ length win of the 7 furlong Railbird Stakes on June 4. Melair’s meteoric rise to stardom would be given her legitimate test in her next race, the Railbird Stakes on June 21. There she would face the filly who had been the leader of the West Coast 3-year-old fillies, Hidden Light. Trained by legendary conditioner Charlie Whittingham, it was truly a match-up of the old guard against the new in more ways than one. Fans had little trouble in deciding who they would favor as they made the new sensation a heavy favorite. Melair would not disappoint. Hidden Light challenged her on the turn, but the Silver Streak proved much too much in the one mile affair. Pulling clear by 3 ½, Melair had proven herself to be a California star. It would be in her fifth and final race that she slapped the racing establishment in the face and said yes, Melair is not only a good Cal-bred, but she is a national superstar.

July 5, 1986 at Hollywood Park was supposed to be the return home of the conquering hero, Snow Chief. Also a California bred, Snow Chief had been the star of California before heading East to win the Florida Derby and when he arrived in Louisville, he was a heavy Kentucky Derby favorite. He failed in the Derby, but had rebounded to win the Preakness and the rich Jersey Derby. Snow Chief was well on his way to an Eclipse Award as the 3-year-old champion. The Silver Screen Handicap, it was decided would be the race that Melair would try the colts. An ambitious test for the lightly raced 3-year-old filly, to face the top colt in the country, but it showed the confidence her trainer, John Sadler, had in her. Snow Chief did not run his best that day as he could not stay with the Silver Streak early and then was disheartened in the lane checking in 3rd, beaten 11 lengths. Frankly it would not have mattered if he had run the best race of his life on this day. Melair, ridden by Patrick Valenzueala, scorched the earth in the Silver Screen, running one of the fastest miles ever run, 1:32 3/5 in beating the nice colt Southern Halo by 6 ½ lengths. Along the way she set fractions of 22 1/5, 44 3/5, 1:08, and 1:19 4/5. That’s right I said 1:19 4/5! Everyone knew the name of Melair after that performance.

We never got to see her on a racetrack again, however, as Melair was twice taken out of training because of serious bouts of colic. We are left to our imaginations to wonder how good this modestly bred daughter of Debonair Roger, owned by Bea Rous and Marriane Millard could have been. What we do know is that for ten weeks and five races at Hollywood Park, no horse could touch her.

Colic finished her racing career far too early, and in the end, Melair finally succumbed to her recurring bouts with the gastrointestinal infirmity. She was put to rest on May 24, 1999, at the age of 16 because of complications from colic. It proved to be the only thing the Silver Streak could not outrun. I remember you Melair.

October 11, 2009

Zenyatta Mondatta

She did it again!

Like a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo amongst a bunch of dull gray Chevy Cavaliers, to say that Zenyatta stands out from her competition is an understatement of monumental proportions. Before the race even begins, all eyes can not help but to be entranced upon the amazon mare with the cavorting tendencies. She is the bride at a wedding, the queen at a coronation, the unquestioned star of the show.

And then the race begins…

Like a runaway steam locomotive rolling down the tracks, Zenyatta may take a minute to really get rolling, but when she does…look out! Close your eyes and you can hear the ever quickening chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga…CHOO-CHOO !!! What a frightening sound that must be to her overmatched rivals, as this train, dressed in a 5-year-old mares clothing, begins to build amazing speed as she hurtles herself towards her ultimate destination…the finish line. Look closely and you can see a puff of white smoke billowing from her nostrils.

And then they hit the stretch…

Like a dense London fog, Zenyatta envelops the field in a shroud of invisibility. You can see the fog coming, but there is nothing you can do. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. As sure as death and taxes, the fog has come in and it renders her foes into a state of oblivion. Bright as the sun, Zenyatta is the only one left for our eyes to see, for once again the fog has rolled in.

She is Zenyatta, Zenyatta Mondatta.

Daughter of Street Cry and Vertigineux, Zenyatta is an equine who was placed on this world to break the spirits of those who dare try to vanquish her. The Queen remains unscathed, untouched, and unbeaten. 13 for 13 and counting. The horse racing world waits on baited breath for the announcement of where she will race next. Number 14 may be her toughest test yet, and someday her historic streak on the racetrack may come to an end, but always remember there has never been anyone quite like her.

October 10, 2009

The Goodbird, Lady Z, Yellow Mamba and Oak Tree Cal

Four major stakes punctuate Oak Tree at Santa Anita’s most important day of racing leading to the Breeders‘ Cup. A Breeders’ Cup that will be hosted for the second straight year by Santa Anita. Like it or lump it, in their infinite wisdom, the good people at Breeders’ Cup have found reason to hold our biggest day of racing at the same place in consecutive years. Your storyteller makes no choice on that contentious topic today, rather I choose to celebrate in what we do have in the land of sunshine and synthetics.

The Goodwood asks the old age question of 3-year-olds taking on their elders. Mine That Bird, the star of the first Saturday in May, prepares for a Classic run in his first try against older horses. So far Mine That Bird has yet to win since the Derby, although he has run well. Most racing fans want to see him do well, they want the winner of the most prestigious race in the world, the Kentucky Derby, to win races after he departs Churchill Downs. On this topic, you can call me Joe Regular Guy, as I also want to see the plucky gelding do well. Am I predicting victory for him today? No, but I will be rooting for him to have a good run in the stretch which will set him up with a chance in the Classic at his preferred distance of 10 furlongs. Today I think the pace scenario sets up well for a horse who can stay closer to the early lead. Colonel John and Parading should stalk the mediocre pace set by the Three Drunks and be ready for a winning first run. Of the two, I prefer the good Colonel to prove best today.

The Lady’s Secret features the amazing mare Zenyatta. Today is the day she can tie the record for longest winning streak to start a career of any major horse on a national scale. Personal Ensign won all of her 13 races in 1986 through 1988. The similarities between these mares on opposite Coasts some 21 years apart is almost scary. Personal Ensign won her final race by her chinny, chin, chin, much as Zenyatta did in her last race, but the big Z has more work to do, with at least two more races in her future. Her explosive late run and physicality is reminiscent of the great gelding of the seventies Forego and today the hulking mare will get it done and tie the record. This will move her one step closer to her ultimate destiny on November 6 or November 7 in which she will go for number 14.

In the Yellow Ribbon, Black Mamba, who has been a top turf mare in California for years, sees her racing career almost to an end and what could be a better way to go out than as a winner in the Yellow Ribbon and then the BC Filly & Mare Turf. The six year old mare will be sold as a broodmare prospect soon and I predict she still has a trick or two up her sleeve. Whether or not she can beat all the best in the Breeders’ Cup remains to be seen, but I look for her to turn the tables today on her top rival Magical Fantasy. Last time they faced each other at this distance, Mamba was beaten a nose. In her last race she regained her confidence against lesser mares and is now fully ready to fire one last best shot. Look for a Yellow Mamba.

The Oak Tree Mile sees the return to California of Cowboy Cal. It has been a while since the Cowboy has seen the winner’s circle, but he has done nothing but run against the best. I expect him to thoroughly enjoy a race with no Gio Ponti or Justenuffhumor in the mix. This alone might be enough to see him get it done, but I believe he will also be better off on the firm Santa Anita lawn at a flat mile. Today Oak Tree Cal will earn his ticket to face the best in the BC Mile.

October 9, 2009

Opening Day

Fall can be a magical time of year and that is especially true amongst the rolling bluegrass hills of Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington has long been the bucolic home for the thoroughbred horse industry and Keeneland is Lexington’s idyllic home for the races. Opening day of the Fall meet, at the national landmark that is Keeneland, gets off to a rousing start with the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes and the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes. Large fields and quality horses are the norm at Keeneland and today certainly does not disappoint.

The Alcibiades offers a full field of twelve juvenile misses. Two of the most promising fillies in the country lead the way. She Be Wild has been a monster in her three races at Arlington Park and while she steps up in class, there are several tip-offs that she may be the real deal. In each race she has displayed a high cruising speed to remain close to the action and then quickly put the race away as the fields straightened out. She has not been asked yet to run her best, despite her times being easily faster than the counterpart male races of the same day. In Beautician, I see a filly who has a world of potential and is on the verge of becoming a star. She has run into the blazingly fast Hot Dixie Chick in her last two, but showed real class and determination in running strong seconds. Stretching out should only improve this gray daughter of Dehere, who thoroughly impressed me with her powerful stride. Of the two, I give a slight edge to Beautician, but either filly could be a champion. I would be surprised if one these two promising fillies does not come out victorious today.

The Phoenix Stakes has ten male speedsters clashing at 6 furlongs. Much like the Alcibiades, this race has two horses who appear to stand out. Capt. Candyman Can has been a model of consistency since he began his career last August and has proved a force in every race since he has settled into his niche as a sprinter. Having said this, he will have his hands full as he takes on older horses for the first time. The older horse to be feared most is the speed ball Fatal Bullet. Back on the synthetics that he loves, The Canadian trained son of Red Bullet should whistle early on the front and be almost impossible to catch. Look for him to return to his winning ways as he readies for a return engagement in the BC Sprint.

Friday’s races kick off a FallStars Weekend for Keeneland which includes nine graded stakes. Highlights for Saturday include: Forever Together trying to win back to back First Lady Stakes, a race she used last year to propel her to a BC victory, Justenuffhumor attempting to raise his record to 7 for 7 on the lawn will face a solid Shadwell Mile field. Mr. Nightlinger is favored to win yet another sprint stake on the grass in the Woodford, while Informed Decision looks to remain perfect on synthetic surfaces as she meets the fleet California 3-year-old Carlsbad in the Thoroughbred Club of America. I would like to tell you who tops the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity, but I honestly have no clue as it looks to be one of the most wide open races in recorded history. Sunday brings us the Bourbon Stakes as Interactif looks to build on his scintillating Saratoga score for 2-year-old turfers. The day’s headliner is the Grade 1 Spinster and unfortunately it will not include the beautiful Empire Maker mare, Icon Project, as she had a setback earlier this week. In her absence, Swift Temper seizes the role of horse to beat.

It should be a wonderful meet at one of my favorite racetracks and if you have never been to Keeneland, by all means, this is one racetrack that every fan of horse racing needs to visit.

October 8, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I won eight out of the ten starts that I made in the United States during my two year racing career.

*I was not rushed as a 2-year-old, although I did manage a Grade 1 stakes win at 2.

*My owner, trainer, and jockey came from three different continents.

*I was bred in Kentucky but I never raced there.

*My father was a champion and my brother was a classic winner, so it came as no surprise when I was the highest priced yearling of my year.

*One beverage I could do without is beer.

*At the racetrack, I was a stud. As a stallion, I‘ve been a big winner, siring well over a hundred stakes winners.

*I never once finished second in my Hall of Fame career.

*In my last career race, I won by two lengths.

*My two biggest victories came near the Atlantic Ocean, but my first five wins came near the Pacific Ocean.

*So far, 25 of my children are Grade 1 winners.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

October 7, 2009

Rachel is Rachel

Somebody asked me recently how I could call Rachel Alexandra my favorite horse of all time when I have been following the horses my entire life. He thought surely a horse of yesteryear brought me more joy than my current favorite. He asked me why I saw her as so special to place her closer to my heart than hundreds of other wonderful horses that I have loved over the years. A myriad of reasons crossed my mind, but I really had to think of the very best and most honest answer I could give my inquisitor.

My first thought was just to say, “Well, have you seen her???” Too simple an answer I decided, but everyone out there who loves Rachel like I do, knows exactly what I mean.

I considered what Rachel Alexandra means to the people closest to her. You can see it in what they say, how they act, and their expressions of pure joy simply being around her. No person embodies this more than her jockey, Calvin Borel. Here is a man who has been in the business for 30 years and is at the summit of what he does. One of the best riders in the world, he is closing in on 5,000 career wins. He has ridden many first-rate horses, including Street Sense a champion who won the BC Juvenile, Kentucky Derby and Travers, but Calvin Borel, for all his accomplishments, has never loved a racehorse like he does Rachel. It was so important to him to keep the mount on Rachel when she changed hands, even though he could have ridden the Derby winner. His emotions bubble to the surface whenever he gets a chance to see, talk about, or be on his horse. For him, nothing compares to Rachel Alexandra.

I thought about her sheer brilliance. The way she wins race after race, nine in a row now. Her winning streak has coincided with Borel being named to ride her. Last year she finished off the season with the most impressive race any 2-year-old filly ran, in easily winning the Golden Rod over the classy Sara Louise. In that race she ran much faster than the stakes colts ran the same day. Rachel Alexandra began this year with an 8 length score in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park. On to New Orleans and a win in the Fair Grounds Oaks in which Borel was so confident that he wrapped her up at the 16th pole, she could have won by 20! Back to Oaklawn, and a romping win in the Fantasy. By now everyone in the industry knew about her, but she was about to make herself known to the world. The Kentucky Oaks is arguably the most important race for 3-year-old fillies and all Rachel did was win by over 20 lengths…incredible! This race would lead to a very expensive sale, sending her to new owners and a new trainer.

With the new handlers, came tougher competition, but no less brilliance. Her win in the Preakness was amazing as she broke from the 13 hole and battled on the lead. This is something that Preakness winners just don’t do. Yet Rachel Alexandra overcame and beat the boys in a classic race at a classic distance. Next for her was the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont where she scared off the other 3-year-old fillies. It was a three horse race in which she remarkably ran 1:46 and 1, winning by 19 lengths while being geared down late. After that it was back to the boys. Rachel destroyed the Haskell field, winning off by 6 lengths over 2nd place Summer Bird. Through with 3-year-olds, Rachel looked for new worlds to conquer. She found that test in the prestigious Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. Proving that no test was too great, she was run at by horse after horse. The older boys pressured her every step and she was still able to hold off the perfect trip closer, Macho Again. She was the first female ever to win the Woodward. What a streak, the greatest that I have ever seen a female horse run, brilliant!

I reflected on her beauty. She is a stunningly gorgeous bay filly. Sculpted by a higher power, Rachel Alexandra is everything a thoroughbred racehorse is supposed to be within her 16 hands. Her chiseled body is both feminine and powerful at the same time. She exudes her pure class from the look in her eye, to the way she holds her head, to her perfectly braided mane. Her stride is elegant, efficient and effortless. Rachel’s interrupted blaze further sets her apart from the rest. To be close to her is to know that you are around something truly special.

I recalled the thrill of watching her races. She makes my heart beat out loud every time she enters the starting gate. Maybe the best way for me to describe it is through the exclamations made by the professionals calling her races: “Rachel Alexandra, one of the greatest fillies ever to race at Oaklawn is giving us a spectacular performance in the Fantasy!” “Oh a tour-de-force by the super filly!” “Oh, super filly, you bet!” “Un-be-lievable!” “And the filly did it!” “Rachel Alexandra has defeated the Kentucky Derby winner!” “She’s pouring it on in a dazzling display!“ “Her march to greatness continues!” “Here‘s a filly for the ages, a Haskell legend, Rachel Alexandra did it!” “She is indeed Rachel Alexandra the great!” “Rachel Alexandra raises the rafters here at the Spa!” Pretty well said, don’t you think?

I thought of all those things and more, but in the end, I gave him this simple answer: Rachel Alexandra is the first horse to truly make me feel like a little kid again. What could be better than that?

October 5, 2009

Remembering ... Five Star Flight

I will forever remember the Haskell Invitational of 1981. It was the 1st of August and it was a showdown at the Jersey shore. In one corner you had the defending 2-year-old champion Lord Avie and in the other corner was the challenger and my favorite horse, Five Star Flight. The crowd was divided in their loyalties as they made Lord Avie a slight favorite over the 8-5 challenger. The stretch-running Lord Avie was the best juvenile of 1980 and he looked every bit the champion in winning the Florida Derby earlier in the year. Unfortunately, he came out of that race with an injury, and the early Derby favorite was off the Triple Crown trail. Returning to the races, Lord Avie had won an easy prep a few weeks before the Haskell. Five Star Flight meanwhile was a speedy Florida bred trained by Ben Perkins who had not yet fulfilled the potential that he had flashed several times in his short career. He had looked ready to take it to the next level in the aforementioned Florida Derby, but he dueled on the lead that day and backed out, he too came out of the race an injured horse.

Five Star Flight’s return to the races came sooner than Lord Avie as he reappeared in an allowance race at Monmouth Park less than three months after his Florida Derby injury. One minute and eight seconds after the race began, it was clear that Five Star Flight was still a horse on a path for stardom. Next came one of the greatest allowance race matchups I have ever seen as Five Star Flight and Noble Nashua ding-donged all the way down the Belmont stretch. 1:21 and change was the time as Noble Nashua defended his turf by a short head. Noble Nashua loved Belmont and went on to impressive scores in the Dwyer, Jerome, and Marlboro Cup over this surface later in the season. Five Star Flight was as impressive as a losing horse could be and now it would be time to stretch him back out. The Jersey Derby at Atlantic City would be the site for his first major stakes win as he easily handled the two-turn assignment. Left to chase his tail that day were such fine runners as Tap Shoes, Silver Express, and Willow Hour. It was in that race that yours truly, all of 12 years young and watching from the rail, officially fell in love with the bay son of Top Command.

So now the big day had come, Five Star Flight vs. Lord Avie. I went to the races with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a giddy schoolboy. This was my Christmas. Since I was a child prodigy with the Daily Racing Form, my father had instituted a wonderful financial plan for me. In lieu of a more structured allowance, my father would finance a $2 bet for me on every race, each time we went to the track. Some cynics may see this as contributing to the delinquency of a minor…to me it was a wonderful tradition that I will be proud to carry on with my children. On Haskell Day in 1981 I did something different, something I had never done before. As each race went by, my father asked me how I wanted to bet my $2 and each time I said “No, I will wait for Five Star Flight.” Nine races, so the $2 wagers had accumulated to $18 and I had waited patiently to put it on my favorite horse’s nose. $18 to win for me was about $16 more than my previous biggest wager. The race finally begun and Craig Perret did a masterful job of harnessing the speed of Five Star Flight. His speed was not taxed and as Lord Avie began to roll from the back of the pack of the six-horse affair, it was clear that Five Star Flight was just waiting to sprint home. As Lord Avie easily passed the other runners, Perret let out a notch on Five Star Flight and I was as happy as anyone in attendance as he steadily drew away from the champion for a five length win. My favorite horse had just won New Jersey’s biggest race and my bet returned fifty two dollars… My father had been impressed with my discipline and made the bet an even $20. What a day!

That day would prove to be Five Star Flight’s greatest moment. Injury issues continued to plague him and he would run only three more times. He was injured in his next race, the Travers, another race I witnessed. After five more months off, he returned in January in California and in his second race back, he impressively won the San Pasqual Handicap in racehorse time. But that would be that, another injury and the well bred grandson of Bold Ruler out of the multiple stakes producer, Sweeping Beauty, was off to stud. He raced only 12 times in his career and won 7. I was lucky enough to see several of his races in person. Five Star Flight has long since passed away, but every time I think of him, I am swept away to my childhood and that special day at Monmouth Park. I remember you Five Star Flight.

October 4, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different …

The Top 10 Performances of the weekend. Let’s count it down.

10) Tie - Varenar and Interpatation both pulled off shocking upsets over a couple of the best turf horses in the world yesterday. Varenar upset Goldikova in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp and Interpatation outlasted Gio Ponti in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Probably the biggest win that either horse will attain but worth a mention for the best of the weekend.

9) Kodiak Kowboy is one tough sprinter when he runs his best and yesterday in the slop of the Vosburgh he ran his best. With the timing of a fine Swiss watch, Kodiak Kowboy unleashed his powerful rally late to run by one of the best sprinters of recent years, Fabulous Strike, for a gritty victory.

8) Mastercraftsman did not beat much in his runaway victory in the Diamond Stakes Friday night in Ireland, but what he did do, was prep effectively for the Breeders' Cup. In his first try on a synthetic surface, Mastercraftsman said “yes” to his connections for a shot at the Classic

7) Awesome Gem was due. If ever a good horse was due for a stakes win, this was the horse. Awesome Gem had run so many good races with no ultimate reward, that you just had to root for him to finally break through for his first stakes win in more than two and a half years. I say good for the old boy, congratulations on your Hawthorne Gold Cup score.

6) Music Note did what she needed to do in a Grade 1 race that was decimated by defections. Her win in the Beldame against an overmatched field, was effortless and it sets her up perfectly for another try in the BC Ladies Classic.

5) Gone Astray is a horse I have been watching for some time and I am confident he is better than most people realize. Yesterday in the Ohio Derby, he met few horses of consequence, but he won authoritatively after chasing down a leader loose on the lead. Big things are in this colt’s future.

4) Pure Clan is pure class. After a tough pace scenario in her last start, the Beverly D, she was primed for her best effort and it was produced over the boggish turf course yesterday at Belmont in the Flower Bowl. She will see different turf conditions in the Breeders’ Cup, but she will be a major factor.

3) Careless Jewel was fantastic yet again as she absolutely toyed with her filly counterparts in the rich Cotillion Stakes at Philadelphia Park. She is now ready to step up and take on the big girls next because she is making a mockery of these 3-year-old races.

2) Summer Bird has taken a stranglehold on the 3-year-old male eclipse award with another huge win in the state of New York. His Jockey Club Gold Cup win was a workmanlike display of consistency and class as he methodically wore down Quality Road. This win places him firmly in the upper echelon of American horses in only his first year of racing.

Drum roll please…and the number 1 performance of the weekend was…

1) Sea the Stars was absolutely spect-Arc-ular in winning the world’s most important race on the grass. He traveled to France and met his largest and toughest field yet, but it made little matter as he verified his greatness with an electrifying two length victory. Stuck down on the rail and a little keen early on, Sea the Stars easily shifted out to get a clear run and then turned on the afterburners to easily dispatch the world class field. If this proves to be his final career race, he certainly leaves the world of racing on a tremendous note.

October 3, 2009

Belmont’s Grade 1 Day

Now if we could just have Grade 1 weather. Yes, I wake up a little disappointed this morning as much like Travers Day, it looks like another big day for NYRA is going to be wet. You never know with the weather, but right now Belmont looks likely to have a sloppy day. This changes things of course for the horses, jockeys, fans, and from my standpoint on the handicapping front. The horses that would have won on a fast track and a firm turf, may very well not win in the wet conditions. It is not often that one racetrack has five Grade 1 races in succession, so let’s still enjoy the quality horses running in big races, but…was a nice sunny day too much to ask? Oh well, at least Woodward Day was a beauty.

The Grade 1 Beldame - Music Note on dirt. Music Note on mud. Music Note in the slop. No odds here, so let’s single her in the Pick-3 and if you are really feeling ambitious, the Pick-6. I do not see her losing this one.

The Grade 1 Vosburgh - I was all set to try to beat favorite Fabulous Strike with the Belmont loving Munnings, but I have lost confidence in his chances of running down the favorite on a wet track. Fabulous Strike is a monster at 6 furlongs and likes a wet track. He should be able to handle Go Go Shoot, who might not like the slop, pretty early and will be long gone. More chalk, so I am relying heavily on the exotics and getting off to a good start in the Pick-4.

The Grade 1 Flower Bowl - I think Pure Clan is the best horse in the race, but I think her advantage actually moves down on a soft turf. Her main rival Dynaforce certainly appreciates plenty of cut to the turf as evidenced by last year’s Flower Bowl and now becomes an even bigger threat. Because of this, I expect bettors to make Dynaforce the favorite and while I fear her, I am sticking with Pure Clan. She is all class, can handle a wet turf and is unlucky to not have an even better record on the grass. All she needs is a reasonable pace, which I think will happen today, to roll in the lane. Today is her day.

The Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic - Gio Ponti is well on his way to being named the turf champion. He can run on any type of grass condition, is very consistent, and appears to like the Belmont turf course. Having said this, I do feel like he is vulnerable today. This is the farthest he has ever run and he has to face defending champ Grand Couturier, on a course condition and a distance that he absolutely loves. I will be rooting for Gio Ponti to continue his winning ways as a fan, but on my multi-race tickets, I will include both him and Grand Couturier.

The Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup - I was really liking the chances of Quality Road on a fast track. A little more question is now in my mind as his top two rivals (Summer Bird and Macho Again) have more quality off-track form than he does. I still do see the race unfolding with Quality Road getting the perfect stalking trip and pouncing on the turn. Maybe the slop will spread out the horses even more and he will be even more likely to run away from them in the stretch. Today is his day to move to the head of the class of 3-year-old males. No matter the condition of the track, I am going to stick with Quality Road as the final horse on my all Grade 1 Pick-4.

Rain or no rain, I am going to enjoy Belmont’s Grade 1 day. I hope you do the same.

October 2, 2009

Bonne Journée Mes Amis

Aujourd'hui, nous allons discuter des grandes courses de ce week-end en France. Le Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe est l'une des courses les plus importantes au monde et se déroulera dimanche à Longchamp…the author now shifts effortlessly into the English language for the benefit of many of his readers…In the Arc, Sea the Stars will be an overwhelming favorite to add this most prestigious race to his effulgent string of accomplishments. The 3-year-old son of Cape Cross out of the amazing mare Urban Sea, is 5 for 5 this year and each of his wins was in Group 1 company. This indubitably will be Sea the Stars’ sternest test yet, though as he travels to France for the first time to take on an international field of worthy candidates. Sea the Stars has proven to be a true champion and is certainly the horse to beat, however this particular racing blogger believes that if he is to lose, Sunday may be the day. A full field of 19 horses could in itself be the downfall of the champion. He will be the horse that all the other jockeys are watching and traffic should be a major factor. If there is indeed an upset, I believe Conduit is the horse with the greatest chance to be the culprit.

Last year Conduit improved dramatically and by the Fall, he was one of the best turf horses in the world. His impressive victories in the St. Ledger and Breeders’ Cup Turf proved the now 4-year-old son of Dalakhani is built for a distance. This year his trainer Sir Michael Stoute has raced Conduit lightly, a plan designed specifically to have him peeking in October and November for his most important races. He has only contested three races in 2009, but is improving with each start. Sea the Stars thrashed him two starts ago, but that was a few furlongs shorter than Conduit prefers. In his last start, he delivered a strong stretch run to win the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Stoute is having another huge year and is very keen on his charges form. Conduit is my pick and will also be a legitimate threat in five weeks to defend his BC Turf title.

On an Arc side note, I will rooting for the English mare Dar Re Mi to run a big race after a horrific decision was rendered by the French stewards to take her down last time in the Prix Vermeille and put up the French heroine Stacelita. It would be fitting if she had the last laugh in France’s most important race.

The weekend kicks off at Longchamp with an appearance by the unquestioned top miler in the world, Goldikova. The 4-year-old daughter of Anabaa is ready to show off her brilliant turn of foot in the 7 furlong Prix de la Foret. This is a distance unfamiliar to Goldikova, but it likely will be no problem for the brilliant mare to shorten up, as she looks for her fourth straight win and her eighth in nine starts. This race should prime Goldikova’s speed well for a raid of California as she seeks back to back wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Also on Saturday, my almost pari-mutual hero, Stotsfold runs his first race since the Arlington Million. He runs in the Group 2 Prix Dollar, and my main interest in the race is to see how the horse, who almost brought me beaucoup wagering dollars, does in his next start. In the Million, he was long odds and I had him along with Gio Ponti boxed in the top two spots on my superfecta ticket. Early in the stretch, it was a matter of 1st or 2nd, 50 yards from the wire, I was begging for him to hold 2nd. At the wire, he was nailed by the classy Just as Well for 2nd. No large superfecta for yours truly. C’est la vie!

October 1, 2009

Who Am I ???

*I finished first in 12 out of 18 lifetime starts over my three year racing career.

*As a 2-year-old, I was winless in three starts.

*I was bred in Kentucky and my grandsire, Northern Dancer, is considered one of the greatest sires in thoroughbred racing history.

*I was ridden to victory by five different jockeys.

*My two biggest victories were in races of at least a million bucks, which was big back in my day.

*In my last race on dirt, I won by eight lengths.

*In my most important triumph, I was not expected to win despite the fact that it was the final race of my championship season.

*I won races at nine different tracks in six different states.

*My favorite color is green and my name comes from a place where I‘ve never been.

*In my final 17 races, I finished no worse than 2nd place.

*I did not receive back-to-back eclipse awards despite my sparkling record of 4 wins and 1 second from 5 starts in my final year.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???