January 31, 2010

Questions for Calvin

Dinner at the White House with Queen Elizabeth, appearances on the Today Show, the Jay Leno Show, and the David Letterman Show, two wins and a third in the last three runnings of the Kentucky Derby. He has ridden the Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, in each of her last nine victories. Calvin Borel is undoubtedly the most popular jockey in America. Today he is with Zipse at the Track.

ZATT- With the year you had in 2009, would you call it the most satisfying one in your career?

CB - Yes 2009 was a very satisfying year to say the least. By far my best year to date, however, in terms of my career on the whole, I think the most satisfying period of time for me was in 2006 when Mr. Carl Nafzger told me that he and Mr. Tafel had decided that I would be Street Sense's jockey. Win lose or draw they would not take me off. they trusted me with a horse that had the potential to take them to the Derby, and I, at that time, was not a hall of fame rider, and there were several riding at the time who could have easily replaced me. Never won a classic, never hit the board in the Derby, so they trusted me, and that was satisfying. The moment you realize every second of hard work is about to pay off, because I knew Street could win the Derby. That was a very satisfying moment for me, and yes, this year has been incredible, but I look back to one decision made by two men that changed my life forever and I have to be so thankful for their trust in me that opened the door for so many more incredible moments in my career to happen.

ZATT- Leparoux, Dominguez, and Gomez all had great years, but many people were very disappointed that you were not one of the Eclipse finalists, what are your feelings?

CB - No, to be honest, I'm not disappointed. An Eclipse Award would have been a nice acknowledgment by the turf writers for a year that called for me to make many tough decisions. It was a year that saw in the first time in history, a rider give up his mount in the Derby in favor of another horse in the Preakness. There was a lot of pressure there, to give up your shot at a Triple Crown because you believe so whole heartedly in your filly. I ride everyday with Julien and I know what an amazing rider he is…he reminds me frequently throughout the meet at Churchill. Garrett and I have been friends for a long time and I can tell you he is one of the best our sport has ever seen. And anyone who can break records like Ramon did this year on a circuit as tough as New York gets respect from me any day of the week. So yes, it would have been nice, but I will happily stand behind these three anytime. I have my Derby trophies, the trust of the man who owns the best horse in the world, and my health I can't ask for much else.

ZATT - Speaking of the Eclipse Awards, did you expect Rachel to win the Horse of the Year?

CB - Yes, I did. Both are tremendous race mares, and I could sit here and go over all of the various reasons why Rachel was the logical choice, but we've been there and done that and we've moved on. There is no excuse for negativity or animosity in discussing these horses campaigns. This has been so good for racing, and if we don't recognize that and use it to promote racing we will lose a chance to bring racing back to center stage where it belongs.

ZATT- What do you think sets Rachel Alexandra apart from other horses you have ridden?

CB - Rachel has a huge stride. Plain and simple. She has so much power in her hindquarters she is able to jump about 27 feet in one stride. As she takes one stride, horses on her side are talking two, or one and a half. To cover this ground so effortlessly is what makes her what she is. She knows what her job is, too. She is very smart and competitive. She would dig down so deep before she would ever let a other horse pass her. She is versatile as well, she does not need the lead but will give it to you if you want it, she isn't picky. She knows where the finish line is. She doesn’t fight for the lead all the way around like some horses with natural speed do. But, all things considered, it's her stride that makes her what she is.

ZATT - Who do you consider to be the best horse you have ridden, other than Rachel?

CB - I've ridden a lot of nice horses, many, many who have never made it to the races or never had a chance to show what they were. When I think of Rachel there's one horse in particular that reminds me of her, a mare called Halo America. I rode her in the late nineties for Bobby Barnett. She had a lot of natural speed, and a nice long stride, and when those gates would break, it would be hell trying to get past her. She was always so game, she would get right on top of the rail and just cruise... I've never ridden a horse that comes close to Rachel in terms of ability, but Halo was fun to ride, very game, and she loved her job. Street Sense was completely different in running style but he had an acceleration that was unreal, always felt like I was being shot out of a cannon, and Street was a very smart horse, knew right were the finish line was. Those were my two favorites.

ZATT - Are you looking forward to the day that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta face off on the track?

CB - I am looking forward to it. It will be so good for the sport, and I’m happy the Mosses decided to bring Big Z back for 2010. It's all very, very exciting!

ZATT - What do you think will be the result of that match up?

CB - Well I can tell you this, it will be very exciting, and I surely don't underestimate Big Z, that's for sure. However, I will be as confident in Rachel as I always have been, and ride her to win.

ZATT - Naysayers seem to think that Rachel will have a hard time getting the ten furlongs of the Breeders‘ Cup Classic, does this worry you at all?

CB - The Classic distance won't be a problem for Rachel, especially over Churchill Downs surface that she loves so much. I don't see it being a problem at all.

ZATT - Rachel did not run last year’s Classic because it was on a synthetic surface, was this a big disappointment for you?

CB - No I am not. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Jackson. It was his decision to make, he owns the horse, and we should respect that. I feel like he designed a campaign for her to showcase her talent and ability and it resulted in Rachel making history at America's most prestigious race meeting. Mr. Jackson did what he thought best for his horse and I am happy with how it turned out.

ZATT - Do you have a strong preference for riding over dirt, turf, or synthetics?

CB - I am not a fan of synthetic surfaces. I have to be honest, and I always will be when asked about racing surfaces. There's no reason to try to hide behind some pc answer to the question. I never have liked them.

ZATT - I know you have ridden several possible Derby horses for this year, but I wanted to ask you specifically about Dryfly, who looked good recently winning the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, does he have you excited as a potential Derby horse?

CB - Dryfly is a very nice colt. I have great hopes for him, but only time will tell, as it does with most racehorses.

ZATT - OK, Calvin, one more question…How is married life treating you?

CB - Married life is fantastic…thanks!

January 30, 2010

Down and Derby c13

A quiet week at Down and Derby Central with no changes among my Top 20. Things will change next week with considerable action, highlighted by the first major prep in California, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Expected entrants include American Lion, Tiz Chrome, Hawaiian Springs, Dave in Dixie, and Caracortado. For now, I will concentrate on recent works for the horses on the big list. 13 weeks/91 days/2,190 hours…

 The Top 20

1 Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike - Private Feeling by Belong to Me)
Owner - M. Pegram
Trainer - B. Baffert
Jockey - G. Gomez
Last Workout - 5f in :59.00 @SA 1/16

2 Buddy’s Saint (St. Liam - Tuzia by Blushing John)
Owner - Kingfield Stables
Trainer - B. Levine
Jockey - J. Lezcano
Last Workout - 5f in 1:01.00 @GP 1/30

3 Super Saver (Maria’s Mon - Supercharger by A.P. Indy)
Owner - WinStar Farms
Trainer - T. Pletcher
Jockey - C. Borel
Last Workout - 3f in :38.50 @PMM 1/24

4 American Lion (Tiznow - Storm Tide by Storm Cat)
Owner - WinStar Farms
Trainer - E. Harty
Jockey - J. Leparoux
Last Workout - 6f in 1:14.30 @Hol 1/25

5 William’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy - Blush by Menifee)
Owner - K. Ramsey
Trainer - M. Maker
Jockey - J. Leparoux
Last Workout - 4f in :47.35 @GP 1/19

6 Winslow Homer (Unbridled’s Song - Summer Raven by Summer Squall)
Owner - Fox Hill Farms
Trainer - A. Dutrow
Jockey - R. Dominguez
Last Workout - 4f in :50.30 @PMM 1/18

7 Ron the Greek (Full Mandate - Flambé by Fortunate Prospect)
Owner - J. Hammer
Trainer - T. Amoss
Jockey - J. Graham
Last Workout - 5f in 1:02.80 @FG 1/15

8 Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil - Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat)
Owner - R. La Penta
Trainer - N. Zito
Jockey - J. Rose
Last Workout - 5f in :59.30 @PMM 1/16

9 Dryfly (Jump Start - Creeksider by Topsider)
Owner - C. Cella
Trainer - L. Whiting
Jockey - C. Borel
Last Workout - 4f in :49.20 @ OP 1/27

10 Uptowncharlybrown (Limehouse - La Ilimunada by Langfuhr)
Owner - Fantasy Lane Stable
Trainer - A. Seewald
Jockey - D. Centeno
Last Workout - 3f in :36.20 @Tam 1/11

11 Tiz Chrome (Tiznow - Woodland Shadow by Woodman)
Owner - Schiappa/Lanni/Mercedes
Trainer - B. Baffert
Jockey - G. Gomez
Last Workout - 6f in 1:12.60 @SA 1/25

12 Connemara (Giant's Causeway - Satin Sunrise by Mr. Leader)
Owner - Magnier/Smith/Tabor
Trainer - T. Pletcher
Jockey - R. Baze
Last Workout - 4f in :47.00 @SA 1/30

13 Awesome Act (Awesome Again - Houdini‘s Honey by Mr. Prospector)
Owner - S. Roy/Vinery
Trainer - J. Noseda
Jockey - R. Moore
Last Workout - No Info - Connections announced he is coming to America soon.

14 Eightyfiveinafifty (Forest Camp - Lifeinthefastlane by Unbridled‘s Song)
Owner - Contessa/Moirano
Trainer - G. Contessa
Jockey - J. Chavez
Last Workout - 7f in 1:27.00 @Aqu 1/27

15 Rule (Roman Ruler - Rockcide by Personal Flag)
Owner - WinStar Farms
Trainer - T. Pletcher
Jockey - J. Velazquez
Last Workout - 5f in 1:01.50 @PMM 1/24

16 Hawaiian Springs (Stephen Got Even - Sarasota by Luhuk)
Owner - J. Hadley
Trainer - K. Walsh
Jockey - J. Talamo
Last Workout - 6f in 1:14.00 @Hol 1/24

17 Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway - Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
Owner - Zayat Stables
Trainer - T. Pletcher
Jockey - J. Castellano
Last Workout - 4f in :50.30 @PMM 1/24

18 Bulls and Bears (Holy Bull - Cherokee Canyon by Cherokee Run)
Owner - Klaravich Stables
Trainer - R. Violette
Jockey - A. Garcia
Last Workout - 4f in :49.30 @PMM 1/27

19 Noble’s Promise (Cuvee - The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick)
Owner - Chasing Dreams Racing
Trainer - K. McPeek
Jockey - R. Bejarano
Last Workout - None in 2010

20 Conveyance (Indian Charlie - Emptythetill by Holy Bull)
Owner - Zabeel Racing
Trainer - B. Baffert
Jockey - G. Gomez
Last Workout - 5f in :59.40 @SA 1/28

January 29, 2010

Primetime … Primetime … Primetime

Back when television was first becoming a necessity for the American family, horse racing was big. Stars like Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Swaps, Nashua, Round Table, and Bold Ruler, were well represented on TV, and they were well known in households across the nation. Horse racing was a natural for television. It is one of the rare sports where it is great to watch in person or on TV. Many sports are clearly better in person, and some are much better on the boob tube. Sure, I would rather be at the racetrack and see these beautiful animals in person, but watching a good horse race translates quite well on the television. There are simply facets of the race that can be seen better through the camera coverage that television provides. Additionally, races generally last two minutes or less, so the viewing audience is left with pure excitement over a short period of time. Unfortunately, for the sport of horse racing, quality television exposure has been on the decline ever since, thus rendering the Sport of Kings a second class citizen in America’s sporting landscape.

Whether we like it or not, television makes a sport big, or it makes a sport small, in the consciousness of the nation. For years now, the trend has been for TV to downgrade the importance of our beloved sport. Who is to blame? An easy answer would be television, for networks have continuously lessened the amount of quality racing that can be seen by a national audience. A more accurate answer however, would be horse racing. Television does not need to bend to the will of horse racing. It is clearly the other way around. TV is the thing that the American public can not do without, therefore racing needs to bend to the will of television. Currently horse racing is one of the absolute worst examples of a sport willing to make changes to fit into the needs of the mighty TV. This may sound harsh to some, but if we truly want our sport to become more healthy again, we have to start thinking outside the box, or should I say inside the box, the idiot box.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta offer horse racing a huge opportunity, but also a major responsibility. Possibly the two greatest female race horses ever to step on an American racetrack are contemporaries. All indications from their respective camps indicate that a match up will happen at least once. Forget about this race or that race, forget about Saturday afternoon. My humble advice for this sport, is to go to the television executives and tell them we have the biggest and best match-up in our sport in more than 30 years. Tell them that this race, or better yet, races, could appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans, it could appeal to viewers of all ages, it could appeal to women every bit as much as men, it could be the most exciting two minutes in sports. And most importantly tell them that we, as a sport, will do whatever necessary to make it the watched event that it should be. Be prepared to bend. Primetime on a Thursday night…do it. Each horse's preliminary races are shown during halftime of the NBA playoffs…do it. The big show will only last half an hour…do it. The race will be run immediately following NCIS…do it. You get the idea. Horse racing, let go of the old and embrace the new. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta offer our sport an incredible opportunity to shine, the question is whether we will grab it or not.

January 28, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Bred in Florida, both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector’s blood flow through my veins.

*I won my first three career races and earned my first two stakes wins under the twin spires.

*My six career stakes wins were at five different distances.

*My racing career consisted of three seasons, with similar successes in each year.

*I raced on turf and dirt, but all of my wins were on one surface.

*I ran at ten tracks in seven states, but I was a winner at only five tracks in three states.

*This chestnut was never a downtown kind of guy.

*Churchill Downs was my favorite track, with my only loss there coming in the Kentucky Derby.

*I only ran once in anything other than a stakes race, and I won 33% of my career starts.

*Who was my favorite owner? I can not say, I had so many of them.

*My dad played ball, my mom played the harmonica.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

January 27, 2010

Triple Crown's Lovable Losers - The Race

Ladies and gentleman, who says you don’t get a second chance in life? Today in Louisville, Kentucky, we have assembled a star studded field of 16 Thoroughbreds who indeed do get their second chance. All of the horses entered today are remembered for their great ability, but they are also remembered for being unable to win any of their Triple Crown starts. Today, one mile and a quarter is all that stands in the way of redemption for one of these fine horses. Famed Churchill Downs is brimming with more than 100,000 racing enthusiasts who have all came today to see this super field slug it out. It is a rather brisk day here in Kentucky, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees. There is a chill to the air, but the crowd is warmed by their great anticipation for what will happen. There goes Steve Buttleman, the Churchill Downs bugler, and it’s the call to post! The horses look fabulous as they step out on to the fast main track. The crowd is absolutely roaring with excitement.

Leading the stars on the track is Congaree, one of today‘s longshots at 21-1. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, he should be a factor on the early pace. The number 2 is the great, Alydar, with his usual pilot, Jorge Velasquez. With no Affirmed to battle, will today be his day? Many in today’s crowd think so; he has been made a solid favorite at 4-1. Next is the beautiful gray Free House, who looks over at fascination at the boisterous crowd. Kent Desormeaux is in the irons, and he will be sent off at 17-1. The 4 is the winner of the first ever Breeders’ Cup race, Chief’s Crown. Don MacBeth will ride the son of Danzig, who is 13-1. After that comes the stretch running, Cryptoclearance, ridden today by Jose Santos, he is the longest shot on the board at 30-1. The number 6 is one of the favorites, Sham, who was unlucky enough to test Secretariat, during his Triple Crown run. Laffit Pincay will pilot the son of Pretense, who is currently at 7-1. The 7 is the speedy Hard Spun, with Mario Pino back in the irons. The youngest horse in the race, Hard Spun is getting a great deal of support at 9-1. Next in line is Discovery. Yesteryear‘s Iron Horse, and the Horse of the Year of 1935 still looks great and is being let go at 11-1. Let’s get in a quick word for our most generous sponsor. This most distinguished post parade is brought to you today by Zip Zap Zo Shaving Gel, for the closest of close shaves.

Back to the post parade, and there is Forty Niner, the juvenile champ of 1987. Ridden today by Pat Day, Fort Niner is currently listed at 15-1. And there is Skip Away, the iron horse. The fans have made him one of the favorites at 7-1, and he is looking absolutely grand today with rider Mike Smith aboard. The number 11 is Honest Pleasure, the horse who came so close to knocking off Forego in the 1976 Marlboro Cup, is at 15-1. Next is Slew O’ Gold, the two-time champion of the early eighties. Angel Cordero once again rides the 8-1 shot. The 13 is the late running Captain Bodgit, at 15-1 with Alex Solis up. Next is the 22-1 chance and handsome son of In Reality, Believe It, who was clearly born in the wrong year. The 15 is the 1973 three-year-old champ, Key to the Mint. He will be ridden by Braulio Baeza and is listed at 17-1. And finally the late entrant in the 16 hole is Medaglia D’Oro, who is well supported at 12-1. Wow! What a field. The historic race is almost upon us. The horses are loading well, let’s get ready to race! They’re all in, and…They’re Off!!!

For the early lead ... that's Hard Spun in the center of the racetrack. Congaree is out fast from the rail. Forty Niner and Free House move up quickly and there goes Skip Away and Honest Pleasure from the outside. It’s a cavalry charge in front of the stands for the first time. Six of them, and they all want the early lead. Discovery, Sham and Chief’s Crown come together with Believe It, who was away smoothly, on their outside with Medaglia D'Oro farther out. Slew O’ Gold is next. Velasquez allows Alydar to drop back on the inside with Key to the Mint and Cryptoclearance will be the early trailer. Back on the lead, it's Hard Spun, Congaree and Honest Pleasure, with Free House, Forty Niner, and Skip Away all within a length. The pace is fast. Sham has moved up with Believe It on his outside. Slew O’ Gold is moving comfortably just behind them on the outside. Alydar has moved off the rail just ahead of Captain Bodgit, who has just two horses beat. :22 and 4 and :45 and 4 for the half; they’re really winging on the front end. Hard Spun and Honest Pleasure are going head and head with Free House, Congaree, Forty Niner and Skip Away four abreast and in close pursuit. Sham, Chief’s Crown, Medaglia D'Oro and Slew O’ Gold are moving together and trail the leading pack by about three lengths. Believe It is next with Discovery, it’s gap of four more lengths back to Captain Bodgit, Key to the Mint, and Alydar. Cryptoclearance trails the field.

The field heads into the far turn. Honest Pleasure and Hard Spun are still battling on the front end in 1:09 and 4. Skip Away has moved up to challenge with Free House and Congaree. Pincay has Sham on the inside and right behind the leaders. Slew O’ Gold is in the middle of the pack and now Alydar has maneuvered to the outside, followed by Captain Bodgit. Congaree and Forty Niner are the first to drop off this brutal pace, as Skip Away and Free House have now joined the leaders. It is four of them together with Sham making a bold move on the turn, followed by Discovery, Chief’s Crown and Slew O’ Gold. Alydar and Captain Bodgit are now starting to pick off horses on the outside with Key to the Mint making his run in between horses.

Spinning out of the turn that’s Skip Away who has stuck his head in front. Sham ducks to the rail and Hard Spun is resolute between them. Slew O’ Gold angles out and Discovery looks for racing room. Alydar is now really moving, but is going to have go eight wide. That’s Skip Away and Sham who have edged a half length in front, but Slew O’ Gold is a threatening presence on the outside. Hard Spun is weakening and Discovery is still in with a chance. Here come’s Alydar full of momentum on the outside and Captain Bodgit too. It’s Sham being joined by Slew O’ Gold, Skip Away is still there and Alydar is making up ground with every stride. It’s Slew O’ Gold, but Sham comes back at him from the rail and out in the middle of the track Alydar is flying. It is going to be one of these three. Sham has a nose in front, Slew o’ Gold, and Alydar is still gaining. Sham and Slew O’ Gold. Sham and Slew O’ Gold. Alydar is way outside, the three will hit the wire together, and at the finish it’s gonna be…too close to call! Alydar was on the outside, Sham on the inside and Slew O‘ Gold was between horses. Wow!!! What a race!

The photo is being studied, and apparently studied some more. I know I couldn’t tell. After this much time, we could be looking at a dead heat. No, the number 2 has gone up! Alydar! Alydar is finally a winner!!!

The crowd let’s out another loud roar. 16 great horses just gave us their all. Alydar’s connections are over the moon, John Veitch is literally skipping into the winner’s circle. Alydar is the winner, but what a race all of these horses just ran. The photo revealed three marvelous horses noses apart and at the finish, the top eight horses were separated only by an incredible 3 lengths. The first eight under the wire were, Alydar 1st, Slew O’ Gold 2nd, Sham 3rd, Captain Bodgit 4th, Discovery 5th, Skip Away 6th, Key to the Mint 7th, and Chief’s Crown 8th. Alydar paid $10.20 to his happy supporters and ran one of the fastest 1 ¼ ever run at Churchill Downs with a final time of 1:59.75. Well racing fans, it was an incredible day and an incredible race. Alydar has done it…he has earned the title as the best of Triple Crown‘s Lovable Losers.

January 25, 2010

Remembering ... Skip Away

I always liked Skip Away. He began his career at my old stomping grounds, running his first three races at Monmouth Park in the Summer of 1995. Trained by one of my favorite trainers, Sonny Hine, it was natural for me to gravitate towards the powerful gray. Skip Away was also a son of Skip Trial, whom I had been a fan of ten years earlier, when he upset Spend a Buck in the Haskell Invitational. Racing in the name of the trainer’s wife Carolyn, Skip Away improved with every race as a juvenile and won his third start by more than 12 lengths. It was his first try around two turns and prompted his connections to never run him again in a sprint race. I watched with interest as he went to New York and lost by a nose and a neck in the prestigious Cowdin and Remsen Stakes. Those would be his final starts at two as he finished his opening season with one win in six starts. With a little luck, his record could have been much better and I was eager to see what this Jersey horse could do the following Spring.

Things got off to a messy start for Skippy at three, as he bled in his first race back and was eased. One month later, and now running with Lasix, he earned his second career win in his eighth career start with a 12 length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. From there on, Skip Away would make 30 more starts, every one of them was a major stakes race. A third place finish in the Florida Derby to the ultra talented Unbridled’s Song proceeded a trip to Kentucky. I drove down to Keeneland to support my old New Jersey friend and what happened that day forever changed my mind about Skip Away. The Blue Grass had a wet fast track and finally everything went Skippy’s way. He demolished a strong field and broke the stakes record for nine furlongs in the important race. Going in, I saw him as a nice horse that I would follow and hopefully see win some stakes. Leaving Keeneland that day, I thought I saw the birth of something very special. This strong gray horse with bright red and yellow silks, red shadow roll, and red and yellow blinkers was fun to watch…and now I knew he was really good.

The Triple Crown was disappointing, but did little to discourage my faith in him. As many horses often do in the Derby, Skip Away, for whatever reason ran his poorest race. From his outside post position he failed to threaten and backed out to finish 12th of 19. Many of the Derby horses did not come back in the Preakness, and I expected him to win. Skip Away ran well, but Louis Quatorze was a quality speed horse who got out on the lead and he was not comimg back. Skippy chased him around the track to finish second. In the third leg, he ran well in the Belmont, but could not hold off the late charge of Editor’s Note, finishing second again. For what it’s worth, Skip Away was one of only two horses I ever picked in all three Classics without winning any of them. Alydar was the other. After the grueling Triple Crown, I expected a rest for my favorite horse.

I was surprised to see him running two weeks later in the Ohio Derby. Skippy was now on his way to earning his title as an Iron Horse. He won the Ohio race easily and followed with a win back at his home track in the Haskell. A hard fought loss, when steadied on the rail in the Travers was next and then he was shipped north to easily win the Molson Million. It would be no rest for the weary, as Hine would enter Skippy for his toughest test yet in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. There he would face Cigar who was closing in on his second consecutive Horse of the Year title. The bettors loved Cigar to the tune of 1-5, while Skip Away, despite his excellent season, was nearly 6-1. I must admit, while very hopeful, I was not confident that my favorite could knock off Cigar. He did. Cigar had every chance to roll by him late, but Skip Away determinedly held off the champion. Overjoyed, I knew this would mean a championship for Skippy. He danced every dance and won half of his 12 starts against the toughest of competition. Skip Away was a most deserving three-year-old champ.

As a four-year-old Skip Away became rivals with very talented and much more lightly raced handicap stars, Formal Gold and Will’s Way. It produced some excellent match-ups and Skip Away did win a couple of them in the Mass Cap and Suburban, but he was more often beaten. Hine continued to enter him in every big handicap race out there and Skippy responded with solid efforts every time, resulting in more seconds and thirds than wins. Things would change in the Fall. Formal Gold, who was the leader of the division, was injured and retired, and Skippy, as he had done the previous year, finished with a bang. He overpowered the fields in both the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in California, proving that he was the best horse at the classic American distance of ten furlongs on either coast. It was enough for Skippy to win a second Eclipse as the top older male, but he was narrowly denied the Horse-of-the-Year award to the undefeated juvenile, Favorite Trick. It was hard to knock the season of the two-year-old, but I was disappointed and so was Hine.

Finally at five, Skippy took it to a whole new level. Knowing that he had the best horse in the country, Hine told the world where Skip Away would run that year and he welcomed anyone to come and try to beat him. It proved futile for the competition, as Skippy built on his fabulous finish to 1997. In a marvelous display of class and durability, Skip Away won the Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Pimlico Special, Mass Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Iselin Handicap, and Woodward to begin his season. That brought his streak to nine straight wins in big races from one corner of the country to the other, most of them in devastating style. He was a powerhouse in every possible sense of the word. Skip Away was not only an iron horse, he was a great horse. Finally succumbing to his taxing schedule, or possibly to tracks he did not care for, Skippy was well beaten in his final two starts, the Jockey Club and the BC Classic. It did not matter, the Florida bred out of the Diplomat Way mare, Ignot Way, had more than proved himself on countless occasions. Skip Away was named Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year for 1998.

Skip Away had done his sire, Skip Trial, two better, as both fine horses ran 38 times in their career, with Skippy winning 18 to his dad’s 16. He of course did it on a bigger stage, as Sonny Hine raced him in all the big races. His career earnings totaled nearly ten million dollars and he entered racing’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Unfortunately his likeable trainer, Sonny Hine passed away at the age of 69 in 2000, after a three-year battle with cancer. For me, Skip Away was a favorite, because I had followed him from the very beginning. It was a great run for fans of Skip Away that lasted longer, with more to cheer about than just about any horse I have seen. He began stud duty in 1999 and stands today at Hopewell Farm in Midway, Kentucky. As a stallion, he has been useful, but has produced nothing near himself. Perhaps it was not the talent that made Skippy such a wonderful horse. Perhaps it was something deep inside that made him better than the rest. I remember you Skip Away.

January 24, 2010

Here’s Why I Like Ron the Greek

Yes, I have heard them all…One should never put too much stock in one single race. The field for the LeComte is infinitely lighter than it will be on the first Saturday in May. A horse that comes from so far behind is at the mercy of the pace. How could a horse that runs his first three races at Hoosier Park, Delta Downs, and Remington Park ever make it big? These concerns are certainly not without merit, but every once in a while a horse comes along that beats the odds. I believe Ron the Greek may well be that kind of horse.

In yesterday’s LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, Ron the Greek came from the clouds to inhale a solid field of sophomores. The highly regarded Maximus Ruler set down solid fractions and after six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 looked strong on the lead. Meanwhile Ron the Greek was languishing at the back of the pack a full fifteen lengths behind. What happened from there was one of the more impressive stretch runs you will ever see. Still second to last as the horses straightened out for the stretch run, Ron the Greek swung to the outside and unleashed a furious kick that jettisoned him to a rather easy 1 ½ length score. Final time for the one mile and forty yards was a solid 1:40 flat. A closer look at Ron the Greek’s splits reveal what his opponents had to deal with. Ron the Greek ran his first six furlongs in 1:15 1/5, which means he finished the race in :24 4/5, a decent close if we are talking about the final quarter mile. But, of course, we are not. That final :24 4/5 was over a quarter mile plus 40 yards, meaning that Ron the Greek was running the last two furlongs, of this distance race, in just over 22 seconds. Major racehorse time to be sure and the kind of closing kick that strikes fear in the hearts of rival trainers at Louisville.

Making the rally even more impressive, take note that the LeComte was not a race where the pace collapsed. The horses that were near the lead early, were, for the most part, still fighting on in the stretch, and there was clearly only one horse dropping down the hammer in the lane. Make that a Jack Hammer, who happens to be the owner of Ron the Greek.

Trained by Tom Amoss, this bay colt has a powerful frame that reminds me of successful Triple Crown runners Risen Star, Unbridled, and Victory Gallop. Those three also had made little noise running outside of the major markets at two. Each of them flashed their ability in the Spring and continued to grow into their physiques, on their way to big successes as the races became longer. Ron the Greek has the physicality to become that type of horse, as he continues to mature and gets to run at longer distances. He has all the look of a horse who should appreciate the increase in distance as the level of competition gets tougher. When looking for a Derby horse, it is an added benefit to see a horse who has the size and strength to handle the rigors of the Triple Crown series. I remember thinking the exact same thing of Risen Star, the first time I saw him 22 years ago.  Coincidentally, Ron the Greek's next race should be in the Risen Star Stakes.

As far as the tracks that he has run at so far, it only makes him all the more appealing. Running at those small tracks can make it even tougher to consistently explode down the stretch, and that is exactly what he has done in each of his four races. This without the benefit of sizzling early fractions. Imagine what his kick might be if they run in 1:09 or 1:10 early? Yesterday was no aberration, it was just the first time that he got a chance to show off in front of a bigger audience on a more grandiose stage. It will only get bigger from here, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a horse who came from small tracks in Indiana, Louisiana, and Oklahoma become a winner of the Derby, Preakness, or Belmont? I know I will be watching for the big bay closing like a freight train.

January 23, 2010

Down and Derby c14

Less than 100 days to go until Derby Delirium. The Derby trail officially began in earnest today with the LeComte at the Fair Grounds and the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, where no less than four of the participants appear in the top half of this week’s Down and Derby Top 20. Take Control, son of Azeri, is off the trail with sore shins. And away we go…

The Top 20

1 Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike - Private Feeling by Belong to Me)
The freshly crowned juvenile champ showed off his fitness with a sharp five furlong work last week. There is not much to dislike about this one and should maintain his top spot indefinitely. Breeding and connections should serve him well in May.

2 Buddy’s Saint (St. Liam - Tuzia by Blushing John)
The Fountain of Youth should be next for the dazzling winner of Aqueduct’s Nashua and Remsen. He will get his first major test for class in South Florida and I expect him to pass with flying colors. He has been working well for his return.

3 Super Saver (Maria’s Mon - Supercharger by A.P. Indy)
One of many for both WinStar and Todd Pletcher, he finished 2009 with a bang by waltzing home in Churchill Downs’ biggest race for juveniles. He has not yet returned to the worktab, so expect him to get no more than two preps leading to Louisville.

4 American Lion (Tiznow - Storm Tide by Storm Cat)
All reports from California say this one is looking better by the day. An excellent six furlong workout last week has him primed for a return. Look for that return to happen in the Robert B. Lewis, where he should be strictly the one to beat.

5 William’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy - Blush by Menifee)
This confirmed stretch runner seems to be screaming out for more distance. He now has run several good races against quality competition and there is not a reason in the world to think he will not continue to improve and only get tougher as the races get longer.

6 Winslow Homer (Unbridled’s Song - Summer Raven by Summer Squall)
The long legged gray looked good as he got through on the rail to beat a solid field in the Holy Bull. He now has validated his form against cheaper and has shown he can run with the big boys. The future looks bright for the Anthony Dutrow trained colt.

7 Ron the Greek (Full Mandate - Flambé by Fortunate Prospect)
This year’s Silky Sullivan bursts on to this list with a very impressive near last to first run in the Fair Grounds’ stretch. Only having run at smaller tracks in his first three races left me wondering about his class, but no more. This powerfully built bay could love the longer races ahead.

8 Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil - Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat)
The Calder sensation proved his class with a fine effort in the Holy Bull stakes. He could not get by Winslow Homer late, but was not pushed too hard in his return to the races. He should be more fit for his next effort, although distance is still a question.

9 Dryfly (Jump Start - Creeksider by Topsider)
The Lynn Whiting trained gelding got his first class test in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on Monday. The win was very easy, as Borel never needed to ask him for his full effort. The races will get progressively tougher, but I expect him to do well in the Arkansas path to the Derby.

10 Uptowncharlybrown (Limehouse - La Ilimunada by Langfuhr)
Two wins at Tampa gets him in the Top 10? Yes, when you win the races as impressively as this colt has. This attractive chestnut could be the answer to his ownership team of Fantasy Lane Stables’ wildest Derby fantasies. Look for him to continue to dominate on Florida’s West Coast.

11 Tiz Chrome (Tiznow - Woodland Shadow by Woodman)
He has the breeding to go long, the talent to win a major stakes soon and the looks to dazzle. Purchased after his maiden win at Churchill, the Baffert colt can quickly climb this list as soon as he tries two turns. His series of workouts are impressive.

12 Connemara (Giant's Causeway - Satin Sunrise by Mr. Leader)
Call me stubborn, but I am not ready to give up on this well bred and super looking colt. Jockey Russell Baze felt the colt had a lot of untapped running in his disappointing second place finish in the California Derby. I hope that is true, because he will need major improvement to be a threat in Kentucky.

13 Awesome Act (Awesome Again - Houdini‘s Honey by Mr. Prospector)
I am taking a bit of a flyer here, as this horse has never run on dirt and is based in England, but I love the way he finished in the BC Juvenile Turf. I am also high on him because his breeding suggests dirt will be his surface.

14 Eightyfiveinafifty (Forest Camp - Lifeinthefastlane by Unbridled‘s Song)
The star of the Winter track has Aqueduct buzzing and his recent fast workout created more noise. So far the Gary Contessa colt has only had two 6 furlong races, but they were very impressive. If he can stretch his talent to routes, look out.

15 Rule (Roman Ruler - Rockcide by Personal Flag)
A lot to like here for the good looking, well bred, Pletcher trainee. His wins at Delta Downs give him the black type and the earnings to proceed with high hopes, but he will need to pass bigger tests to move up on my list.

16 Hawaiian Springs (Stephen Got Even - Sarasota by Luhuk)
This one was a hard charging second in a tough recent allowance at Santa Anita and has the look and breeding of a horse who should develop. His strong stretch run should suit him well as the races get longer.

17 Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway - Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
He got off to a quick start to 2010 with a sharp win in an allowance at Gulfstream Park last week. Not currently my favorite of the Pletcher stable, the well bred colt has every right to improve into a top horse.

18 Bulls and Bears (Holy Bull - Cherokee Canyon by Cherokee Run)
My favorite juvenile of the 2009 Saratoga meet, has just returned to the work tab and will have to hustle to be ready for the Derby. I have little doubt of this one’s talent and hopefully Rick Violette can get him there.

19 Noble’s Promise (Cuvee - The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick)
This colt is likeable, consistent, and classy and therefore has cracked my top 20, but he is one whom I can’t see relishing the Derby distance. He has not returned to the track for workouts yet, so it will be a little while before his sophomore debut.

20 Conveyance (Indian Charlie - Emptythetill by Holy Bull)
Another of the Baffert contingent, this colt did what he had to do to win the San Rafael without too much trouble. Improvement will be needed though if he is to have a chance against better horses at longer distances.

In addition to the now world famous Down and Derby, I would like to direct you to another Derby list with plenty of merit. Steve Munday from WirePlayers.com has assembled ten experts, including yours truly, to collaborate on a Derby Dozen. Steve will have our consensus up and running every other Tuesday evening. Check out the first ever Derby Dozen now: http://wireplayers.com/blog/1450-derby-dozen-poll-volume-1.html

January 22, 2010

Triple Crown’s Lovable Losers

Whilst you were all safely tucked away in your beds and sleeping without a worry in the world, Zipse at the Track was deep inside his racing laBORatory. Mixing potions, pouring over past performances, a devilish laugh here, and a fortuitous lightning strike there, and voila! Today’s concoction is a collection of horses sure to please. Call yourself a Cubs fan? Think the San Diego Chargers will ever win the Super Bowl? Expecting a return to greatness for New York’s Knickerbockers? This mythical race is for you. Let’s face it; it is fun to root for the lovable loser. Today I offer up a race that celebrates just such a horse. Now don’t get me wrong, these were excellent horses who won many a race, but alas, not when it mattered the most. Racing’s Triple Crown offered a bit too much of a challenge for these fine horses. Many of them ventured into each leg, all of them attempted at least two thirds of the series. Nary a win amongst them. Truly lovable losers. The field has been set, riders have been announced and post positions drawn. Without further ado, here is the field:

1 Congaree 20-1 V. Espinoza
2 Alydar 4-1 J. Velasquez
3 Free House 15-1 K. Desormeaux
4 Chief’s Crown 12-1 D. MacBeth
5 Cryptoclearance 30-1 J. Santos
6 Sham 8-1 L. Pincay
7 Hard Spun 20-1 M. Pino
8 Discovery 8-1 J. Bejshak
9 Forty Niner 15-1 P. Day
10 Skip Away 6-1 M. Smith
11 Honest Pleasure 15-1 J. Vasquez
12 Slew O’ Gold 8-1 A. Cordero
13 Captain Bodgit 15-1 A. Solis
14 Believe It 20-1 E. Maple
15 Key to the Mint 15-1 B. Baeza

Talk amongst yourselves. Who do you like? Who was left out?

Finally a chance for redemption. One of these excellent horses will put an exclamation point on their careers. The big race will be run next Wednesday, January 27. It will be held at historic Churchill Downs and run at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles over the dirt course. All the horses have entered the race in their lifetime best form. I literally can not wait to see who wins this classic and lovable race.

January 21, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Bred in Kentucky, I was a grandson of two racing greats, one in America and one in England.

*As a 2-year-old, I was not healthy enough to make it to the races.

*I ran at thirteen tracks in nine states and I was a winner at seven tracks in six states.

*My first two stakes appearances were unsuccessful, finishing 13th and 11th respectively.

*I was ridden to victory by six different jockeys, four of whom are members of the Hall of Fame.

*I never won a race on the grass, but I ran awfully well in the times that I tried.

*My racing career consisted of three seasons, with my second season being clearly the best.

*In my 12 stakes wins, I won by an average of more than five lengths.

*I defeated my top rival in two out of our five meetings.

*Santa Anita was my favorite racetrack and it was also where I first became a star.

*I never won an Eclipse Award, but I received the ultimate honor many years later.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

January 20, 2010

Twenty Ten Comes in Like a Lion

The economy is in the toilet. The Thoroughbred breeding business is dropping lower than a contortionist at a limbo contest. There is not much to smile about. Wait just one minute…you know me better than that. I am always smiling, and here is why any fan of racing should be smiling too: With the breeding business hemorrhaging dollars, there is a new trend starting to play itself out. Good horses are not being shuttled off to the breeding shed with hast, because, for the first time in a long time, there is the opportunity to make more money on the racetrack than they can in the breeding shed. Can you imagine that? All of a sudden, many of the best horses are staying in training. What does this mean for the fan, who loves to see great racing? 2010 has more promise for top horses facing off than any year since the glorious 1970s.

Here is a short list of older horses returning in 2010:

Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Goldikova, Informed Decision, Quality Road, Mine That Bird, Blame, Vineyard Haven, I Want Revenge, Rail Trip, Macho Again, The Pamplemousse, Regal Ransom, Desert Party, Misremembered, Girolamo, Musket Man, Bullsbay, Richard’s Kid, Life Is Sweet, Careless Jewel, Stardom Bound, Justwhistledixie, Forever Together, Midday, Presious Passion, Cloudy’s Knight, The Usual QT, Courageous Cat, Battle of Hastings, Take the Points, Furthest Land, Dancing in Silks, Munnings, Custom for Carlos, Evita Argentina, and She’s Our Annie.

This group of older horses comprises the finest group I have seen returning in more that thirty years, and my apologies to all the good ones I neglected to mention. This, of course, does not include any of the promising newly turned sophomores who will be thrilling us on their paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. Every division is strong and deep. Grade 1 races should be just that this year. Rivalries will be born. I predict many fans who have been disillusioned with their favorite horses not sticking around, will once again find reason to want to be at the races and see these stars in person. Buckle up race fans, 2010 should be a fantastic ride.

January 18, 2010

Remembering ... Christmas Past

I have racked my brain trying to remember another year when I witnessed each leg of the Triple Tiara in person. My conclusion is I only did it one time, and I am glad I got to do it that one special Summer. My favorite horse of 1982 was a gray sophomore filly named Christmas Past. At the time, I was just completing the seventh grade and extremely passionate in rooting for my favorites. I know…not much has changed. I found the Triple Tiara of 1982 to be much more interesting than the Triple Crown of that year, in which there were three different winners, Gato Del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler, and Conquistador Cielo. The three race series of the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club Oaks was of greater prestige back in those days, and in that Summer it featured a match up of two outstanding fillies with as little in common as two horses could have.

Christmas Past was a confirmed stretch runner who had blossomed since her trainer Angel Penna Jr. had turned the daughter of Grey Dawn II loose around two turns. Her rival was a plucky New York bred daughter of Northerly, named Cupecoy’s Joy. The New York bred had speed to burn and went as fast as she could for as far as she could, in fact she had just recently led the boys on a merry chase for the first mile of the Kentucky Derby before fading down the Churchill Downs stretch. Not the normal way to lead-in to the Acorn, but her owner Robert Perez, along with non-household names of trainer Alfredo Callejas, and jockey Angel Santiago, was never afraid to take on a challenge. Meanwhile Christmas Past was owned by Cynthia Phipps, a blueblood of American racing and was managed on a much more traditional path. The Kentucky homebred, out of a Phipps family Bold Ruler mare named Yule Log, showed signs of ability while being beaten in sprints, before romping home by 11 lengths in her first try at a distance. From that maiden win, she went directly into graded stakes where she crushed good fields at Hialeah and Gulfstream Park. The stage was set for the fillies from opposite worlds to clash in the Big Apple.

The Acorn turned out to be no contest and a big disappointment for this young race fan. Cupecoy’s Joy was not pushed hard early and trounced the field while breaking Ruffian‘s stakes record. Christmas Past who had dropped back in distance to the Acorn’s flat mile and back to one turn, raced wide and simply had no punch that day as she jogged home in the middle of the pack. Cupecoy’s Joy had thrown down the gauntlet and Christmas Past was reeling. Round two would come just 13 days later and the real Christmas Past would be ready to fight back.

The Mother Goose offered another eighth of a mile, but at expansive Belmont Park, was still run around one turn. Cupecoy’s Joy was again out and winging, but this time Christmas Past would fire. Although no longer the second choice after her Acorn loss, she easily put away the West Coast challenger, Blush With Pride, who was coming off a series of stakes wins including the Kentucky Oaks. She gained on Cupecoy’s Joy the entire length of the stretch, but at one turn, Cupecoy’s Joy was just too tough, holding off my choice by ¾ of a length while far ahead of Blush With Pride. Again beaten, but this time she had run her race and just ran out of ground. That would not be the case in the Coaching Club. At 1 ½ I knew my favorite filly would not be denied, and so it was. On June 28th, Christmas Past finally got her revenge, as she made a big move to collar the speedy favorite before the far turn and methodically wore her down. To the credit of Cupecoy’s Joy she fought on gamely to hold on for second by a nose, but the day belonged to Christmas Past who, with regular rider Jacinto Vasquez aboard, was the easiest kind of winner. For me, it was a Triple Tiara to never forget and a reward for sticking with Christmas Past throughout.

Distance was the thing with Christmas Past. She was full of class and could beat top horses at middle distances, but around two turns she was a monster and the farther they went the better she was. Stylish victories in the Monmouth Oaks and Ruffian Handicap had given her a stranglehold on the three-year-old filly division, as Cupecoy’s Joy was never the same after her second place finish in the Coaching Club Oaks. Christmas Past's distance ability was so respected that she was entered against the top males in the country that Fall at a mile and a half in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It turned out to be a race I was sorry I attended, as it ended in tragedy with four horses going down in a horrific spill that claimed the lives of Timely Writer and Johnny Dance. Lehmi Gold won the race and was named older male champion, Christmas Past finished third in her only career loss around two turns, and was named three-year-old filly champion, but that was a heart-wrenching day to be at the track.

My heroine returned early the next year, and I was thinking Horse of the Year. She began with a walk-in-the-park allowance victory in February which set her up perfectly for another try against the boys. This time at a mile and a quarter distance, it would happen in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap. She would be favored against her eleven male counterparts, and did not disappoint with as she wore down the very talented Crafty Prospector to win by a neck. A grade 1 win against the males was enough to thrill me, but unfortunately it was also enough for her connections to call it a career.

Christmas Past was retired shortly after her win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. It was decided to send the champion to her second career as a broodmare rather than be saddled with the imposing weights that she was sure to be asked to carry the rest of the season. She ended her career with 8 wins in 15 lifetime races, despite going winless sprinting in her first three starts and was only twice out of the money. Her promising broodmare career, that she got an early start on, never did materialize though, as the ten foals she produced only begot six winners and no stakes horses. As many great racing fillies have done before and after her, Christmas Past simply could not produce anything near the talent that she was. Happily, her life after the races would be a long one.

The filly that gave me so much happiness many years ago, was less than three weeks shy of turning 30 when she died. Christmas Past was put to rest due to complications from infirmities of old age on December 13, 2008. She was my favorite horse of 1982, it’s hard to believe that 28 years have past since that Triple Tiara. I remember you Christmas Past.

January 17, 2010

Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra to Share the Spotlight

The racing world was bracing for the most important Horse of the Year announcement in more than 30 years. Would it be Rachel Alexandra the Great or would it be Queen Zenyatta? Many advocated a shared award, so that both deserving horses could be honored. The split Horse of the Year Award was pooh-poohed by the powers that be and voters were left to make a choice. It seems that choice has been made, and the award, come Monday night, will go to the three-year-old filly champion. Rachel Alexandra is thus on the eve of being honored for her historic season, which has been judged to be even more spectacular than that of Zenyatta’s incredible year by a majority of experts. Rachel Alexandra would be alone in the limelight for the first time in four months, but alas standing alone for either one of these superstars is not meant to be. In an announcement heard throughout the world, owners Jerry and Ann Moss yesterday assured that Zenyatta would share Rachel’s spotlight with their timely announcement to eschew retirement and bring back the great mare for one more year of racing. The announcement was not a surprise to many, but nonetheless, the return of Zenyatta gives racing two enormous stories over the long weekend.

Why is Zenyatta coming back after her supposed retirement, and two separate farewell ceremonies? Several reasons, first and foremost is that Zenyatta is in her prime. At six-years-old, she has clearly never been better and is still rather lightly raced. She did not race at two, and did not make her first appearance until near the end of her three-year-old year. She has been well managed since her debut, and it is no real surprise that she is better than ever at her slightly advanced age. Secondly, despite her unblemished career and two Breeders’ Cup victories, there is the specter of unfinished business. Had their not been as great competition as Rachel Alexandra provides, it would have been easier to let Zenyatta rest on her laurels. Without a Horse of the Year award, Zenyatta still has one last mountain to climb and it is not hard to see why her connections believe that she can do just that. Finally, 2010 provides the challenge of a Breeders’ Cup run on a traditional dirt track at Churchill Downs this year. A win in a third consecutive Breeders’ Cup and on a different surface would cement her place atop the history of the sport.

Those reasons aside, I unequivocally praise the decision to return Zenyatta to the races in 2010. The decision is a sporting one, as Zenyatta has much more to lose than she does to win by returning for her six-year-old season. She could blemish her undefeated record and she could lose her reputation that many hold for her as the greatest horse in America. She will have to leave the friendly confines of Southern California and their synthetic surfaces, if in 2010 she wants to win the kind of races that they no doubt have brought her back for. These new challenges are significant and for the Mosses to be willing to do so shows great courage and the kind of sportsmanship that has been somewhat lost in modern racing. For that, I commend yesterday’s announcement whether it was made on the eve of the Eclipse Awards or not. I also challenge future horse owners to take this lead and give all racing fans a chance to see the best doing what they do best, racing on the track.

Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Their names and their legends will forever be entwined together in the annals of the sport. For those of us lucky enough to be witnessing these stars on the track, we will never be able to think of one without recalling the other. There was just one drawback in their connection of greatness. . . they never faced each other on the racetrack. With yesterday’s announcement, Pandora’s Box has been opened. In this version, Pandora’s Box offers no terrible things, but rather the opportunity for a match up for the ages. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta facing off to see who is the best. The meeting will forever change their ultimate destinies, but in the end it is what we all want to see. After yesterday’s announcement, I fully expect them to race, perhaps as soon as April 3, at Oaklawn Park.

All fans of Thoroughbred horse racing long for the day when another horse finally completes the Holy Grail of racing’s Triple Crown. A Triple Crown winner would capture the attention of even the non-sporting audience, but until that horse crosses the finish line at Belmont Park, nothing could compare to a potential match-up of these equine heroines. It would be the greatest encounter of racing greats since the late ‘70s. Affirmed vs. Alydar, Affirmed vs. Seattle Slew and Affirmed vs. Spectacular Bid were monumental clashes of the sport, however, in those days they were somewhat commonplace. Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta would be like no other race since then, and it would be all the more special because of the rarity. That the two most popular horses so far this century are racing at the same time and are both females is amazing. Think about the anticipation, think how interested you will be to see the outcome. Whether it is once or more than once, we will all remember when they meet for as long as we watch the races.

January 16, 2010

Down and Derby c15

The Top 20

1 Connemara (Giant's Causeway - Satin Sunrise by Mr. Leader)
The half brother of 2004 Derby runner-up, Lion Heart, runs in his first stakes race today in Golden Gate’s California Derby. Anything other than an impressive victory will drop him from my number one spot. Expect him to roll.

2 Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike - Private Feeling by Belong to Me)
The best juvenile in 2009 is taking a bit of a breather until getting in two preps for the Derby. I would like to see one of those preps happen outside the state of California, and on a dirt course. Look for the Sham or the San Felipe at Santa Anita to begin his season.

3 Buddy’s Saint (St. Liam - Tuzia by Blushing John)
The Fountain of Youth should be next for the dazzling winner of Aqueduct’s Nashua and Remsen. There is not much I don’t like about the Bruce Levine trained runner and he retains the top spot in the East at this point.

4 Super Saver (Maria’s Mon - Supercharger by A.P. Indy)
One of many for both WinStar and Todd Pletcher, he finished 2009 with a bang by waltzing home in Churchill Downs’ biggest race for juveniles. The distance bred colt is resting in Florida and should return by March.

5 Piscitelli (Victory Gallop - Rayelle by Relaunch)
Love the breeding, and love the way he was so strong in the BC Juvenile, when by all rights he could have folded up his tent. He’s only won once in five starts, but I expect big things down the road. He is entered in the Holy Bull.

6 Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil - Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat)
The King of the Calder is ready to leave the comfy confines when he heads cross-town for next week’s Holy Bull Stakes. You never know until you get it done elsewhere, but this colt looks good; breeding being the one big question.

7 American Lion (Tiznow - Storm Tide by Storm Cat)
I so want to put this grand looking son of Tiznow higher on my list, but until he runs in something other than a sprint and on a dirt track, questions remain. Look for him to return soon in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita.

8 Winslow Homer (Unbridled’s Song - Summer Raven by Summer Squall)
We will soon see how good the flashy winner of a couple of non-stakes at Saratoga and Philadelphia is. The gray will receive a serious acid test when he makes his first start of the year in a loaded Holy Bull field next week.

9 Take Control (A.P. Indy - Azeri by Jade Hunter)
It’s hard for me to rate a horse who has run in only one maiden race so high, but that is how highly I gauge his potential. Obviously his breeding could not be better and my eyes saw a very talented distance horse in his debut.

10 Awesome Act (Awesome Again - Houdini‘s Honey by Mr. Prospector)
I am taking a bit of a flyer here, as this horse has never run on dirt and is based in England, but I love the way he finished in the BC Juvenile Turf. I am also high on him because his breeding suggests dirt will be his surface.

11 Tiz Chrome (Tiznow - Woodland Shadow by Woodman)
He has the breeding to go long, the talent to win a major stakes soon and the looks to dazzle. Purchased after his maiden win at Churchill, the Baffert colt can quickly climb this list as soon as he tries two turns.

12 Eightyfiveinafifty (Forest Camp - Lifeinthefastlane by Unbridled‘s Song)
Is he talented? Yes, and then some. Will he get a distance? Who knows. So far the Gary Contessa colt has only had two 6 furlong races, but they were very impressive. If he can stretch his talent to routes, look out.

13 Rule (Roman Ruler - Rockcide by Personal Flag)
A lot to like here for the good looking, well bred, Pletcher trainee. His wins at Delta Downs give him the black type and the earnings to proceed with high hopes, but he will need to pass bigger tests to move up on my list.

14 Hawaiian Springs (Stephen Got Even - Sarasota by Luhuk)
This one was a hard charging second in a tough recent allowance at Santa Anita and has the look and breeding of a horse who should develop. His strong stretch run should suit him well as the races get longer.

15 Bulls and Bears (Holy Bull - Cherokee Canyon by Cherokee Run)
My favorite juvenile of the 2009 Saratoga meet, has just returned to the work tab and will have to hustle to be ready for the Derby. I have little doubt of this one’s talent and hopefully Rick Violette can get him there.

16 Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway - Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
He got off to a quick start to 2010 with a sharp win in an allowance at Gulfstream Park last week. Not currently my favorite of the Pletcher stable, the well bred colt has every right to improve into a top horse.

17 Dryfly (Jump Start - Mamselle Nanette by Southern Halo)
The Lynn Whiting trained gelding will get a class test in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on Monday. A win there makes him one of the early favorites for that track’s Arkansas Derby. His nice win at Churchill has me hopeful.

18 Noble’s Promise (Cuvee - The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick)
This colt is likeable, consistent, and classy and therefore has cracked my top 20, but he is one whom I can’t see relishing the Derby distance. Look for him to return sometime soon at Gulfstream, possibly the Fountain of Youth.

19 Conveyance (Indian Charlie - Emptythetill by Holy Bull)
Another of the Baffert contingent, this colt was very impressive in two sprints and now stretches out to a one-turn mile in today’s San Rafael. The field appears weak, leaving this one to dominate at low odds.

20 Pulsion (Include - Spring by Stravinsky)
10 furlongs may be the ticket for this stretch runner who has recovered from a rough BC Juvenile. He has begun to train in South Florida for trainer Patrick Biancone and look for him to make his season debut a little later.

January 15, 2010

Have You Ever Been to Arkansas?

Who doesn’t love Opening Day? Full of anticipation and excitement, the launch of a new season promises everything good in racing. Today, my friends is Opening Day. Oaklawn Park kicks off a 54 day racing season with a nine-race card headlined by the Dixie Belle Stakes for three-year-old fillies going six furlongs. Oaklawn Park is nestled lovingly in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas and located in the resort town of Hot Springs. In recent years, Oaklawn has become much more than a Winter diversion for Midwestern race fans. The quality of racing has been on a steady incline for years and 2010 could offer the best yet.

The meeting’s centerpiece and culmination is the Arkansas Derby, to be run on April 10 and this year it will be televised nationally on NBC. With a purse of a cool million, the Arkansas Derby is now the only Kentucky Derby prep worth seven figures and it boasts a brand new grade 1 status. Leading up to the Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park offers one of the finest long weeks of racing anywhere, beginning on Friday, April 2 with the Fantasy which has a purse increase up to $300,000 this year. After the Fantasy, the next eight days offer eight more stakes including the Oaklawn Handicap and the Apple Blossom. The Apple Blossom already has a lot of buzz connected to it with the possibility of who might be in the starting gate that year. I bet you can guess as to whom I speak. All told, you can see 30 stakes races during the three month season. Other highlights include the three-year-old series of the Smarty Jones on Monday, the Grade 3 Southwest on February 15, and the Grade 2 Rebel on March 13. On March 6, the Razorback and the Azeri offer the older chances a chance to win a graded stake in preparation for the Oaklawn Handicap or the Apple Blossom. On March 13 the Honeybee is run as a final prep for the Fantasy prep race.

A purse structure that is at its highest level in history has brought both quality and depth, and not only within the horses. Oaklawn continues to attract top horsepeople, and 2010 will be no exception. Two of them, I will have a close eye on, are the young trainer Tim Ice, who hopes to build on his breakout year of 2009, and Corey Nakatani who shifts his tack from Southern California for the first time in twenty years. While the excellent depth of the horses and people on the grounds make for high quality fields at all levels of races, it is the aforementioned stakes races that are most likely to attract the nations biggest stars. With the list of recent stars to run at Oaklawn Park, you can fully expect to see some of America’s best horses make an appearance.

Horses that have run at Oaklawn in the last six years alone include an honor roll to make most any other track envious. 2009 saw Rachel Alexandra inaugurate her season at Oaklawn with a big win in the Martha Washington, she returned to romp in the meet’s premier race for three-year-old fillies, the Fantasy, in a similar devastating performance. In 2008, it was the Power of Zenyatta on display, as the big mare rolled by the quality field of the Apple Blossom in her only career dirt race. Two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, was the star of the season in 2007 as he appeared not once, but twice, collecting impressive scores in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby. Eclipse Award winning Lawyer Ron was the man in 2006, and his time at the Arkansas oval resulted in three stakes wins in the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby before returning the following year to take the Oaklawn Handicap. In 2005, Oaklawn Park was the Winter home for the wonderful racehorse Afleet Alex. His time in Hot Springs culminated with a runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby that may have been the most impressive ever seen in the major Kentucky Derby prep. America’s darling, Smarty Jones, used Oaklawn Park as his own personal road to Louisville and superstardom, when in 2004 he swept the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby.

You get the idea, Oaklawn Park is the place to be. If you’ve never been to Arkansas and beautiful Oaklawn Park, why not make this year the year. Take it from me, you will not be disappointed. Personally, I have wonderful memories from going and I can not wait to get there again. The excitement begins today … today is Opening Day!

January 14, 2010

Who Am I ???

*My first race and my first stakes win, were outside of the United States, but other than those two races, I never raced outside of America.

*I earned more than one and a half million dollars in my racing career.

*I was originally with one top trainer and then was sent to another top trainer, before going back to my original trainer.

*All but one of my wins was on dirt, my favorite surface.

*I won less than half of my lifetime starts, although one more start could have changed that statistic.

*I was a stakes winner at six different racetracks.

*Bred in Kentucky, I have the blood of Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Bold Ruler, Halo, and Roberto.

*I could not get up in my first race, but, in my defense, the race was way too short.

*I assuredly affirm, I am a fan of alliteration.

*My three seasons of racing were pretty consistent as far as starts and wins, but my final season was my best.

*I went out a winner; my final two starts were grade 1 stakes victories.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

January 13, 2010

California Dreamin’ with Stardom Bound

As white as the snow of a Winter’s day, Stardom Bound was the toast of the racing world this time last year. The beautiful daughter of Tapit ruled over Southern Californian peers with an iron hoof. After flying finishes to be second in her first two starts, she tore through her competition to the tune of five consecutive grade 1 wins and collected an Eclipse Award as the juvenile filly champion of 2008. Not since the days of the great Vigors, had there been such a stretch running, silver streak. Her final win of the grade 1 skein was the prestigious Santa Anita Oaks in March. That race marked the first time in the streak where she did not win going away, but it was impressive nonetheless as the gray went very wide and was still seventh in the stretch before unleashing her patented late run to get up on the shadow of the wire. The Kentucky Derby was under consideration. The racing world appeared to be at her mercy.

Flash-forward one Winter and the perfectly pure snow has been mixed with a bit of slush. Stardom Bound has raced just twice since taking the Santa Anita Oaks. Her winning streak ended with a third place finish in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. It was a shocking loss, at odds on, for the champion. It marked her first race outside of the Southern California circuit, and while it had been decided she would not pursue Derby dreams to go for the Oaks, it was still a major blow for the star filly. A minor injury kept her out of the Kentucky Oaks and away from the races for some time. She returned from more than seven months off and finished fifth in the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving weekend. Hopes had been so high. It was a big disappointment for everyone rooting for Stardom Bound and the doubters came out in droves. Many surmised that Stardom Bound was no longer the same filly who had accomplished so much. Would we ever see the real Stardom Bound again?

In Sunday’s El Encino Stakes, Stardom Bound will be back at Santa Anita, the site of her exciting Breeders’ Cup win, for the first time since her win in the Oaks. Once again hopes are high. Mike Smith will be in the saddle, as he has been for every one of her nine previous starts. Stardom Bound, who had been purchased for $5.7 million dollars by IEAH Stables after her BC win, has been trained by Rick Dutrow since leaving California. Despite the Ashland and Gazelle results, her trainer remains confident in her ultimate ability, and the people around her are still believing in big things for their filly. Can a return home begin a return to glory? The homecoming not only brings back familiar surroundings, it also includes a return to the synthetic surface that she loved. There is good reason to be hopeful for success. A win on Sunday would thrill her throngs of followers, but it would also mark a resurrection of one of racing’s biggest stars.

While the El Encino will be the first non-grade 1 race since her second lifetime start, Stardom Bound is not in store for an easy run. Chief among her rivals will be the Bill Mott trained Justwhistledixie. The four-year-old daughter of Dixie Union will attempt to return to winning ways, as the four-time stakes winner has also not seen the winner’s circle since last March. She has yet to run a poor race though, and will be a major threat in her first race in California and on a synthetic surface. Tough competition to be sure for Stardom Bound, but I have a feeling a return to the site of her greatest success just might be the key in revitalizing her career, and wouldn’t we all like to see the old Stardom Bound again?

January 11, 2010

Remembering ... Lost in the Fog

Something was not right, Lost in the Fog was too good to run like that. He had just finished ninth in the Grade 2 Smile Handicap at Calder Race Course. For just about any other horse, it would have been chalked up as simply a bad race, but he was not like other horses. Something was wrong. Lost in the Fog was not a horse who you could lump into a conversation with any other horse labeled as fast, nor was he a horse who occasionally ran the big race dazzling the crowd. He was much more than that. Lost in the Fog was faster than fast, he dazzled not on occasion, but every single race. He would simply run away from his competition. As the races got tougher, it made no matter, Lost in the Fog was simply too good. That’s what made the inconsistency of his final four races so perplexing. Something was not right, and to the horror of racing fans everywhere we soon find out the worst possible news.

Cancer is not something you suspect to stricken a young horse, and for a champion like Lost in the Fog, it was especially shocking. Lost in the Fog was diagnosed with a cantaloupe sized tumor attached to his spleen in August of 2006. The news was felt by everyone in the business. Tears flowed as everyone asked “how could this be?” In June he had impressively won a graded stakes at Churchill Downs. How could he have done that at such an advanced stage of cancer? The only explanation was, that it was Lost in the Fog and he was a special horse. This kind of faith in him led many to believe that he would beat the disease, that somehow, someway, Lost in the Fog would survive. I remember looking every day for fresh news on his health. At first it was believed that he could be saved, and there was no doubt that his loving connections would do everything possible to save him. I was hopeful. Millions were hopeful. Optimism would not last long; more tumors were discovered. Another large cancerous mass found was inoperable. There would be no recovery for this incredible horse. Lost in the Fog’s final days were at his home, where his trainer and crew kept their hero as comfortable as possible for his final days. As soon as they decided he was in more discomfort than he deserved, Lost in the Fog was put to rest.

Lost in the Fog was owned by a San Francisco octogenarian named Harry Aleo. Part of the fun in watching this horse run was Aleo’s joy in his horse’s accomplishments. Aleo had been in racing for years, but never had a big horse, until this one finally came along. The once-in-a-lifetime horse was Lost in the Fog and it changed the life of Aleo and trainer Greg Gilchrist. After his very first race, the three set out barnstorming the nation. Lost in the Fog would log more cross county miles than a normal stable full of horses normally accrue. You could tell that the crusty, conservative owner was having the time of his life. He finally had his big horse and he loved him. Aleo and Gilchrist resisted temptations to stretch their horse out for Kentucky Derby dreams, believing their horse was better off sprinting. They took care of him and Lost in the Fog returned the favor.

Aleo was hounded by prodigious financial offers for the colt, and by reporters who wanted to know if he would sell to one of the big outfits and cash in on the respect the world had for his horse. To Aleo this was silly, he had been waiting all of his life for a horse like this. For this man, it was not about money, it was not a business, he was thrilled to be around a horse of this quality and to watch him run. If only more horse owners could share this attitude.

Aleo and Gilchrist and regular rider, Russell Baze were not the only ones thrilled by Lost in the Fog. His modest beginnings, his traveling show, and his awesome ability, made him an easy horse for people to fall in love with. After a startling win in his first race, a maiden at Golden Gate Fields, Lost in the Fog would win nine consecutive stakes. Amazingly, he would go from San Francisco to Arizona to Florida to New York and back to San Francisco for his first five stakes. He was a horse for the people. From there he would go to New York to Florida to Saratoga and back again to San Francisco. It was an incredible display of consistent brilliance, no matter the travel. The major stakes were racked up one after the other, and the legend of Lost in the Fog grew.

Going into the Breeders’ Cup, it was pretty clear that Lost in the Fog would be a champion win, lose, or draw. He was beaten that day, but it would do little to tarnish his image or the incredible record that he compiled in less than one year’s time. I first knew of him after his second career start, a minor stake which he won by a pole in an astounding 1:13 2/5 for 6 ½ furlongs at Turf Paradise. I remember thinking 2-year-olds do not run that fast. Now ten months later he was sent off an overwhelming favorite of 7-10 against the top older sprinters in the nation. He was banged around at the start and battled through suicidal fractions. Eventually he succumbed to the early rigors of the race and his undefeated streak was over. He returned at four to win one of three races, but, as we soon learned, it was not the competition that got him, it was the disease.

Lost in the Fog, the 2005 Eclipse Award Sprinter, was put to rest on September 17, 2006 only a few weeks after doctors found the cancerous tumor in his spleen. The hero of Northern Californian racing, with the crooked blaze, began his career with 10 consecutive wins. Each and every one were tour de forces of blazing speed and ability. His first career defeat did not come until the 2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park, and now less than a year later he was gone, taken from the world by a hideous disease. He may have been already suffering the effects of his illness at the previous year's Breeders' Cup, as doctors believe the tumors may have been growing for up to a year. Sometimes bad things happen to good horses, but this one was especially heartbreaking. Lost in the Fog was better than good, he was great. I remember you Lost in the Fog.

January 10, 2010

Making a Case for Blind Luck

The Eclipse Awards will be handed out next week. Some winners are clear cut, while other awards will not be assured until the announcement. As far as my picks go, I feel rather confident about most of them winning. I look for my selection, Gio Ponti, the excellent grass horse, to win the Older Male award simply because it is a category with no real winner. Take your pick between Ventura and my selection Goldikova for Female Grass Horse, either way I will be happy for a deserving winner. I fully expect Kodiak Kowboy to be rewarded for beating much stronger horses than Zensational in the Sprint division, and I am quietly confident that the numbers will side with the most deserving Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra. Meanwhile there is one Eclipse selection that I have made, that seems to hold little chance to win an award. Her name is Blind Luck.

When the announcement for the Champion Juvenile Filly of 2009 is announced, I expect it to be She Be Wild. She is the Breeders’ Cup Champion and has lost only once in five starts. Her resume is strong and I can see why so many people are voting for her. Here is why I disagree with the majority: Blind Luck is the better horse. Think about it this way, if Blind Luck and She Be Wild were entered against each other in a race tomorrow, I have little doubt as to who would be much preferred in the betting…Blind Luck. Now this is far from the deciding factor for a year-end award, however, if the credentials of the two horses are similar, shouldn’t we be voting for the better horse?

Interestingly both fillies began their career in maiden claiming, up for a tag of $40,000. Both fillies ran fast, She Be Wild won at Arlington winnig by 7 ¼ while Blind Luck won at Calder by 13 ¼. Before her second race, Blind Luck was purchased and shipped to Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn in California. She began her California career with a eye catching rush from last to an easy win in a restricted allowance. From there she took the big step up to Grade 1 company in the Del Mar Debutante and ran a big race where she came flying down the lane to pass everyone but the extremely talented Mi Sueno. Meanwhile, She Be Wild remained in Chicago and dominated in a listed stake and then the Grade 3 Arlington Washington Lassie. Both were impressive, but neither race offered much in competition. She Be Wild then ran a good race, in a losing effort, next time out, when second in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Alciabades. Blind Luck easily won the Grade 1 Oak Leak in her fourth start and both fillies would enter the BC Juvenile Fillies with matching records of three wins and one second in four starts. Blind Luck was the 7-2 favorite.

We all know what happened that day as She Be Wild got through on the rail and won the Breeders’ Cup by ¾ of a length. In my mind it was the case of one horse getting a decidedly better trip than her closest competition. Blind Luck was steadied on the first turn and was a hard trying third, beaten less than one length. Surely, if the trips had been reversed, Blind Luck would have been the winner. She Be Wild has been put away for the year, not running again after her big win. Blind Luck did race again, and what a race it was. In the best performance of any juvenile filly in 2009, Blind Luck dazzled the world with an explosive turn of foot in her romping win in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. It was her fourth Grade 1 race, winning twice, compared to She Be Wild who ran in only two Grade 1 races, winning once.

Like I said, I fully expect She Be Wild to get the championship, and I mean no disrespect to her or her accomplishments, but I know who I think is the better filly, how about you?

January 9, 2010

Down and Derby c16

The Run for the Roses, Christmas, for any self respecting race fan, is only 16 weeks away!

By now you are all familiar with the plan, Zipse at the Track will fill out the Kentucky Derby starting gate with 20 horses, in three categories, to keep your Kentucky bound eyes on. The Big 8 will include the eight horses I feel the most likely to win come the first Saturday in May. The Hidden Dragons will include the horses laying in wait and ready to breathe fire in the near future, and the Forget Me Nots category will feature those horses that may not be currently on the forefront of anyone’s mind, but are eligible to be there, with one solid race. I will unveil the categories one at a time to begin, and after that, they will form a Top 20 list all the way to the Derby. This week, the…

Forget Me Nots

1 Bulls and Bears (Holy Bull - Cherokee Canyon by Cherokee Run)
No, I have not forgotten about this Richard Violette trained colt. His two races, a gutsy maiden win over Discreetly Mine at Belmont, and a fast finishing fifth in Saratoga’s Sanford Stakes, both demonstrated qualities I look forward to in a Derby horse. In his maiden win, he overcame the kind of adversity horses will be tested for in the Derby. In the Sanford, he dropped back to last, swung out for the drive, and despite running erratically while looking for space to run, he came home full of run, but just a little late in the blanket finish. The gray son of Holy Bull had some setbacks that kept him from the races since, but looks to have all the tools to make a big splash when he returns to the races.

2 Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway - Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
One of the Pletcher brigade, Eskendereya has excelled in his two dirt races after beginning his career on the turf. The Breeders Cup Juvenile appears to be a throw out race for the regally bred colt, as he was bothered significantly on a roughly run first turn. Back on dirt, he made most of a good ride on the pace, to easily handle a strong allowance field at Gulfstream Park. The win puts him on track to be a major player in the South Florida preps and further improvement could move the youngster, who is now two for two on dirt, even higher on my Derby chart.

3 Eightyfiveinafifty (Forest Camp - Lifeinthefastlane by Unbridled‘s Song)
The aptly named son of Forest Camp is speeding his way right into everyone’s must watch list. The Derby distance will be a big question mark, but this horse has oodles of ability. He has only two races so far, the first of which was in one of the key maiden races of 2009. He battled through fast fractions and tired late in a stakes quality field (Dublin won the Hopeful in his next start after winning this one) to finish 3rd. After time off from sore shins and a hock issue, he returned today and won a maiden at Aqueduct by 17 lengths. Now it is a question of stretching this talented horse out around two turns, but 2010 is off to a great start for the Gary Contessa trained colt.

4 Noble’s Promise (Cuvee - The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick)
Why is this horse not much higher on my Derby list? Two reasons: breeding and dirt. He clearly was an excellent juvenile, arguably the second best in the country. He ran six races and each one was top-notch, and because of this obvious quality, he earned a place on my list. The problem is he is a colt who has never raced on dirt, and while some horses can make the transition to dirt seamlessly, he has the added negative of breeding that screams sprint. The day a son of Cuvee wins the Derby is the day I stop writing this column. I believe this one may continue to do well until the distance gets to nine or farther. He very well may make it to the Derby starting gate, but that is as far as he will go.

5 Thiskyhasnolimit (Sky Mesa - Lovely Regina by Deputy Minister)
There is much to like about this Steve Asmussen trained colt, but he went from major player to forgotten horse with one questionable performance. His last race saw him finish a well beaten sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club, but being too far off of Super Saver’s pace and then running into heavy traffic left him with no chance. Before that, the beautifully bred son of Sky Mesa ran a big race to win the Iroquois Stakes, his second win over the Churchill strip. Once he learns how to put his talent towards consistent running, he will become a major player once again. The Asmussen stable still likes him and so do I.

6 Pulsion (Include - Spring by Stravinsky)
One of my longshot selections for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he limped across the finish line a well beaten 11th. After the race he came back a little worse for the wear from being banged around hard on the first turn. Fully recovered, the distance bred son of Include is now back on the work tab at Gulfstream Park, in preparation to test the waters on dirt for the first time. Before the rough BC, Pulsion had been a horse on the improve, culminating with a fast closing finish to nab 2nd in Lookin at Lucky’s Norfolk. This is a horse who may appreciate dirt and the added distances that are ahead of him.

On a sad note, I would like to pass on my condolences to the connections of Clutch Player. One of my Hidden Dragons, Clutch Player, owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert, died on Monday after a short battle with a form of pneumonia. Clutch Player was a horse with limitless potential, and I can not imagine the sorrow felt by the people closest to him. He was sadly replaced on my Hidden Dragon list by Hawaiian Springs.

Next week the First Top 20

January 7, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I raced in two countries, but never in the country where I was bred.

*I won more than half of my lifetime races and averaged more than $200,000 in earnings per start.

*I did not do much in my first start, but after that, I ran well in every single race.

*My dear, departed papa ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

*After my biggest career win, I went winless in three tries the rest of that season.

*I defeated two Horses of the Year in my career.

*My stakes wins had a five furlong spread between the shortest and the longest.

*I was ridden by only one jockey in my final season, although I was ridden to victory by six different riders in my career.

*I won races at seven different racetracks in six different states.

*My trainer is no longer a trainer, and my most successful jockey is no longer a jockey, but they are both still involved in the sport.

*I went out a winner; my final two starts were graded stakes victories.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???