March 31, 2010

Wood-Working on ZATT

New York’s premier prep for the Kentucky Derby, the Wood Memorial, will celebrate its 86th edition this Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack. In its rich and storied past, the Wood has seen such winners as Gallant Fox, Count Fleet, Assault, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Damascus, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Pleasant Colony, Slew O’ Gold, Easy Goer, Unbridled’s Song, Fusaichi Pegasus, Empire Maker, Bellamy Road, and I Want Revenge. It has consistently been one of the most important springboards to the Run for the Roses, and this year’s running sets up to be a strong one. With some realistic handicapping, the Wood boils down to a four horse race. Each of the big four of Eskendereya, Awesome Act, Schoolyard Dreams, and Jackson Bend, has a chance to win Saturday and then make a big splash at Churchill Downs. Let’s take a closer look at the Wood Memorial’s fantastic four:

Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway—Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher   Jockey: John Velazquez   ZATT Odds: 6-5
Eskendereya has been freshened since his monster effort in the Fountain of Youth. In his time away, the Florida Derby finish of Ice Box and Pleasant Prince 1-2, only served to flatter the Wood Memorial favorite. Pletcher believes the beautifully bred colt will run all day, and a performance similar to his last at Gulfstream will make him one of the two choices in Louisville. He appears to be the number one bullet in Pletcher’s brigade of prospects.

Awesome Act (Awesome Again—Houdinis Honey by Mr. Prospector)
Trainer: Jeremy Noseda   Jockey: Julien Leparoux   ZATT Odds: 2-1
A quality English import, with breeding that suggests a route of ground on dirt, makes for a most interesting Kentucky Derby prospect. Another solid effort, now against tougher competition, in his second dirt race will make the European a hot choice in Kentucky. The chestnut colt, trained by the same Englishman who brought us BC winner Wilko, certainly had the look of quality in his first two U.S. starts.

Schoolyard Dreams (Stephen Got Even—Hear This by Prospector’s Music)
Trainer: Derek Ryan   Jockey: Ramon Dominguez   ZATT Odds: 5-1
He has all the look of a horse who is getting good at the right time, and has bounced back from an excellent effort in the Tampa Bay Derby with a bullet work over the deep strip in Tampa. The Wood Memorial should offer a good gauge for the Tampa Bay Derby which I have rated very highly. Conditioner Derek Ryan has been high on this colt for a long time and, in the Wood, will finally get the rider he has been wanting to ride Dreams, in Ramon Dominguez.

Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil—Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat)
Trainer: Nick Zito   Jockey: Calvin Borel   ZATT Odds: 5-1
He ran a big race in the Holy Bull, but will have to show improvement after running a well beaten second in the Fountain of Youth, to none other than Eskendereya. I refuse to take this one too lightly, however. He is trained by master conditioner Nick Zito, and has run well in all of his eight starts. Maybe the Fountain of Youth was not his best, he was preferred to Eskendereya by bettors that day, and maybe Zito has him geared up for the big ones. He is still a horse to fear.

March 30, 2010

Remembering ... Hansel

My recent trip to Turfway Park for Saturday’s Lane’s End Stakes got me into a bit of a nostalgic mood. While I have been to Turfway, or Latonia as it was formerly called, many times in the past, it had been several years since I had been to the Northern Kentucky oval. It seemed smaller than I remembered, a common phenomenon I guess. Being there brought back a flood of happy memories, and in recalling visits of the past, there was one memory that stood head and shoulders above the rest. The year was 1991, and a handsome bay colt’s performance that day was the cause of my vivid memory. In fact, it was not just his huge performance in the Jim Beam, (now called the Lane’s End) but it was also the magnificent year he had following that day at Turfway.

Handsome Hansel was a looker right from the beginning. Hansel (Woodman--Count On Bonnie, by Dancing Count) was owned by Joe Allbritton's Lazy Lane Farm and trained by Frank Brothers. He was the picture of health when he arrived on the scene for a maiden special weight at Arlington Park in early June of his juvenile season. Hansel won easy in his debut under Randy Romero and would never again run in anything but graded stakes. In his next start he was an easy winner in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. The future was bright. Unfortunately, he was still green and could not stick with the lightning quick Deposit Ticket in the Sapling and Hopeful. The season ended on a high note though, when Hansel returned to Chicago to win the Arlington-Washington Futurity, despite traffic problems. It was the second graded stakes win in only five starts for Hansel, and he wintered as one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

1991 did not start well for the beautiful bay. He bled in his first start, the Fountain of Youth, and finished fifth. A few weeks later he bore out on the turn and was beaten easily when third to juvenile champion Fly So Free and Strike the Gold. He left Florida 0 for 2 and fans wondered if he was a true Derby threat. Away from the heat and humidity of Florida, and armed with new rider Jerry Bailey, Hansel was now ready to re-announce himself to the world. I remember it well. Hansel broke from the three hole under rider Jerry Bailey and sat just behind race favorites, Californian shipper Apollo, and classy middle distance specialist Richman, around the first turn as those two set a fast pace on the fast track. He trailed by two lengths down the backstretch before making his move on the turn for home. Richman resisted, but it was clear that Hansel was too much horse. He drew away for an easy score and obliterated the track record by more than two seconds. It was an eye opening score, and everyone noticed.

Following the Jim Beam record breaking run, Hansel was the hot horse. Only three horses challenged him in the Lexington Stakes, and it was a route. Hansel would head to Louisville off a nine length runaway. Off these two wins, he was bet down to the 5-2 favorite in the Derby over such stalwarts as Fly So Free, Best Pal and Strike the Gold. The fans would be right about Hansel, just not on that day. Bouncing around between horses in the large Derby field, Handsome Hansel had nothing when the horses turned for home. The Kentucky Derby favorite checked in a disappointing tenth, but his connections knew that the real Hansel had not showed at Churchill. It was on to Pimlico and a heavy dose of redemption.

In the Preakness, bettors doubted Hansel after the debacle in the Derby. Sent off at a lifetime high of 9-1, those who stuck with the horse who had looked so good at Turfway and Keeneland, but not Churchill, were handsomely rewarded.  It was a good day for horse betting. In one of the most impressive Preakness wins ever, Hansel and Jerry Bailey stalked a fast pace, challenged on the turn and absolutely cantered home the easiest kind of winner. Once again the teletimer would be a big part of the story, as Hansel’s seven length romp produced a time of 1:54 flat. It was one of the fastest middle jewels ever run and it stamped Hansel as a bona fide star.

While the Preakness was an explosive display of Hansel’s talent, it was in the Belmont, where Hansel began to show what he was truly made of. Not favored in part due to the fact that he would not run with Lasix for the first time since bleeding in the Fountain of Youth, Hansel was made a second choice to the stretch running Derby winner, Strike the Gold.  A wager on Hansel and a bet on the Belmont Stakes was once again wise, but it would not be easy.  Hansel would pressure a fast pace, one of the fastest in Belmont Stakes history. He would fight hard to put away the early speed and when he finally did turning for home, it looked like the Derby winner had him in his sights. Strike the Gold had sat way behind the brisk pace and was now flying on the outside passing horses one by one. The Frank Brothers trainee had something left though, and it was a race for the wire. Hansel was striding to the wire, but Strike the Gold was gaining with every stride. Ordinary horses would have succumbed to the fast fractions and demanding Belmont stretch in the grueling 1 ½ miles of the Test of Champions. Hansel was not ordinary though. He dug in and hit the wire a head in front of the Strike the Gold rush. The Derby debacle was a distant memory, Hansel had just run two huge races to win the final two legs of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont would be the last moment in the glow of the winner’s circle for Hansel. He ran only two more times, a troubled and well beaten third place finish in the Haskell, and then a swan song in the Mid-Summer Derby. In the Travers, Hansel showed the heart of a champion as he chased Corporate Report around the entire track. He was beaten that day by a neck, but when you consider he hurt himself in the stretch and still almost got up for the win, you realize just what kind of horse he was. In his game Travers effort, Hansel had tore a tendon. Unable to return to the races, Hansel was retired that Fall. He was voted champion 3-year-old male of 1991 after winning four graded stakes, including the two classics. For his career he won half of his 14 starts and earned just a shade under three million dollars.

At stud, he proved to be a useful sire with 18 stakes winners, and many more as a broodmare sire. His stud career is now coming to an end and Handsome Hansel should enjoy a very nice life in his golden years thanks to his old owner. Joe Allbritton purchased his star in Japan and brought him back to his Lazy Lane Farm in Virginia. Originally, Hansel was bought by Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm following his retirement. He first stood at Gainsborough near in Kentucky, and then at Questroyal Stud in New York before being sold to a Japanese stud farm at Hidaka Stallion Station. At the time of the sale in 1999, Allbritton expressed an interest in re-acquiring Hansel in the future. True to his word, Allbritton purchased Hansel back in 2006 after his breeding prospects waned. Well done Mr. Allbritton, this is exactly how a proud and beautiful Thoroughbred should be treated. I remember you Hansel.

March 29, 2010

Where Did He Come From???

Bob Baffert’s undefeated 3-5 shot, Conveyance, was loping along on an uncontested lead. Expected early pressure from sprinter Classical Slew was nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, morning line second choice Tempted to Tapit chose to stalk and offered no pace bother to the heavy favorite. The closest pursuer to Conveyance’s early lead was longshot Endorsement. It appeared to be as simple as Wire-to-Wire 101, and Baffert was already preparing his victory speech, but then something funny happened. This is why they run the race my friends…Halfway through the race, you could see that Endorsement was sitting very comfortably behind Conveyance. Jockey Robby Albarado was sitting as chilly as the cartoon penguin with Endorsement, who was now cutting into Conveyance’s lead. As they turned for home, it was clear who the stronger horse was, and it was not the undefeated colt who had been so high on the Kentucky Derby list of many. Instead it was Endorsement who proved an easy winner as he drew clear down the lane. At odds of nearly 12-1, and with only a maiden win in three starts, where did this kind of overpowering performance come from?
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March 28, 2010

The Day’s Key Prep and Down and Derby c5

With several rich Derby preps run yesterday, surely there was a key race pointing out one of the big contenders to wear the roses in five weeks. Was it the $2 million UAE Derby? No, the only good Northern Hemisphere three-year-old in the field, Mendip, could not handle his slightly older competition down the lane. No Derby winner there. Was it in the big race I attended, Turfway Park’s Lane’s End Stakes? No, while the winner Dean’s Kitten looked good running away from his competition, I believe he will find things much tougher Derby day both with competition and a traditional dirt surface. Then it must have come from the Louisiana Derby with its 13 horse field of Derby contenders. Sorry, While the Louisiana Derby had a bunch of good horses in the field, there were zero standouts nor Kentucky Derby winners in that field, including winner Mission Impazible. What then was yesterday’s key race? None other than the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park. Favored in the race was Positive Split, who had been very competitive against Ice Box and Pleasant Prince in his last two races. It was the winner Exhi, that told me the most about the Derby, however. Is Exhi a Derby horse? Absolutely not, but he is a $100,000 stakes winner after yesterday. In Exhi’s previous race he was absolutely obliterated by Odysseus. Running second that day, Exhi was left in the wake of Odysseus to the tune of a 15 length thrashing. Now that I know Exhi is of stakes quality, it makes me all the more impressed with Odysseus. By the way, the horse Odysseus beat in his maiden win in January, Forward Harch, also came back to win nicely yesterday. With this said, let’s see how it effects my latest Down and Derby…

The Top 20

1 Odysseus (Malibu Moon - Persimmon Hill by Conquistador Cielo)
The Tampa Bay Derby winner is developing fast. Now that we know horses he has beaten are coming back and running well, it is time for me to take the plunge. Odysseus is my top Kentucky Derby selection.

2 Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike - Private Feeling by Belong to Me)
He is the champ, and I see no reason to expect that he will not run well in five weeks. Back home in Southern California, look for him to be the horse to beat in the Santa Anita Derby and then be the Kentucky Derby favorite.

3 Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway - Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew)
Still waiting for the owner of the single best race run by this crop to reappear. The waiting will be over in six days with the Wood Memorial. He better be ready to fire another big shot, because that field is stacked.

4 Awesome Act (Awesome Again - Houdini‘s Honey by Mr. Prospector)
I still find the English Invader with the dirt breeding to be the most interesting prospect of the bunch, and of course his Gotham win did nothing to dispel that notion. The Wood should tell us a lot.

5 Super Saver (Maria’s Mon - Supercharger by A.P. Indy)
The forgotten horse. Do not forget this one has already run big at Churchill, and his return to the races was a game performance in the Tampa Bay Derby. Look for another solid effort in next week’s Wood Memorial.

6 Caracortado (Cat Dreams - Mons Venus by Maria’s Mon)
I still think he was the best of the San Felipe field despite his third place finish. The true test will happen in the Santa Anita Derby where he will face an even stiffer challenge.

7 Dublin (Afleet Alex - Classy Mirage by Storm Bird)
Is he a ten furlong horse? Lukas seems to think so. The Rebel was a small disappointment, let’s see if this big, strapping son of Afleet Alex can bounce back with a big performance in the Arkansas Derby.

8 Conveyance (Indian Charlie - Emptythetill by Holy Bull)
Beware the undefeated horse. I am not sure if he will be strong down the Churchill Downs stretch, but until beaten, I respect him. Flattered by Mission Implazible’s win, the Baffert winner is in New Mexico today.

9 Ice Box (Pulpit - Spice Island by Tabasco Cat)
I am thinking the Florida Derby will be the opposite of a key race in five weeks time, but this son of Pulpit is improving and clearly is in good hands with Nick Zito.

10 Schoolyard Dreams (Stephen Got Even - Hear This by Prospector‘s Music)
Interested to see what this year’s Musket Man (Both trained by Derek Ryan) can do in the Illinois Derby. I have a feeling it will be another case of flattering my number one horse.

11 Alphie’s Bet (Tribal Rule - Miss Alphie by Candi‘s Gold)
Stormed down the lane in the Sham Stakes like he may be any kind. We shall soon see with this Alexis Barba runner, because a loaded field in the Santa Anita Derby will be next.

12 Noble’s Promise (Cuvee - The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick)
I know, I know, he is a really nice horse. I am not arguing that. What I am arguing is that a horse with this sprint breeding can ever be a major factor in the grueling Kentucky Derby.

13 Sidney’s Candy (Candy Ride- Fair Exchange by Storm Cat)
I am not convinced yet on this impressive winner of the San Felipe. With a tough test coming in the Santa Anita Derby and then a contested pace in the Kentucky Derby, I think it is only a matter of time until his bubble bursts.

14 Interactif (Broken Vow - Broad Pennant by Broad Brush)
I like this horses breeding and there is little to fault with his performances to date. Here are my two issues with him: He looks like he is best on the grass and his recent style of being close to the pace will make things tough.

15 Rule (Roman Ruler - Rockcide by Personal Flag)
A classy horse to be sure, and a horse that I expect to have a very nice career. A horse that runs one-two-three in the Kentucky Derby? I just can’t see it happening.

16 Pleasant Prince (Indy King - Archduchess by Pleasant Tap)
This horse is improving and is bred to run long, so why do I not have him higher on my list? He has run three straight times against Ice Box, and I thought Ice Box was better each time…and I am not gung ho over Ice Box.

17 Mission Impazible (Unbridled’s Song - La Paz by Hold Your Peace)
I did not think too much of his chances in the Louisiana Derby, shame on me. I do not think too much of his chances in the Kentucky Derby, luckily I do not think he will make me look silly again.

18 Backtalk (Smarty Jones - Apasionata Sonata by Affirmed)
This is one interesting horse. He was an excellent juvenile and his return to the races at Delta Downs was deceptively good. I am eager to see what his blazing work means Illinois Derby Day. Beware the Affirmed broodmares.

19 Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil - Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat)
Holding on to a spot in the Top 20 is this classy Zito runner. The Wood Memorial should be a great barometer to see if he can compete against the big boys over a route of ground.

20 Nacho Friend (Friends Lake - You’renotlistening by Kennedy Road)
I like his distance breeding and his potential for improvement. The Sunland Derby run later today should tell us if he is a real candidate to make some noise in Louisville.

March 27, 2010

No Favorites Please

The good news is that there are several big races this weekend both here and abroad. The even better news is that in four of the biggest races, the favorites appear vulnerable and in some cases should not be favored. One of my favorite propositions as a better is when I feel strongly that the favorite will not win. Add in the fact that I have identified live horses with solid odds in each race, and my wagering interest is heightened to an even greater level. As a whole, the weekend offers great betting opportunities starting with the races from Dubai on Saturday morning. Here are my four favorite betting races of the weekend:
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March 26, 2010

The City of Gold or Florence Y’all

The proverbial fork in the road has presented itself to your fearless author, and I must admit it created a few sleepless nights. Making my first horse racing road trip of 2010 is not something I take lightly. When I decided this would be the weekend for my trip, it just became a matter or where to go. I quickly narrowed it down to either Meydan Racecourse in Dubai or Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky. You can see my dilemma. I could picture myself flying first class, and sipping champagne on Emirates Airlines jetting to the Jewel of the Middle East. But, I could just as easily see myself gassing up the Hyundai and making the 4 ½ hour drive to Suburban Cincinnati with an Egg McMuffin in hand. Clearly you can see why I tossed and turned nightly.

My wife Candie knew that I was in a state or turmoil, and she tried to get my mind off the pressing decision. I appreciated her trying to help, but all I kept thinking was “The City of Gold or Florence Y’all?” I must have muttered that phrase countless times in my attempted sleep, because she would ask each morning, “So, did you decide between the City of Gold or Florence Y’all?”

No, after days of pained contemplation, I still had not decided. I would need to be analytical about this problem. I decided to concentrate on the pros for each locale. Always the optimist, I generally stick more with the pros than the cons. Here is what I came up with:
Dubai has the greatest horse racing facility ever imagined in Meydan Racecourse. It boasts eight races to be run on World Cup Day, each featuring some of the greatest horses from all over the world. The World Cup is the single richest race in the world. Dubai features world class hotels and restaurants. Sights to see abound. It has gorgeous golf courses and Summer like weather. Dubai offers an exotic location that I would dream about visiting someday. Luxurious accommodations and royal treatment would be a certainty. Heck, it even has indoor ski slopes and a Dolphinarium. 

Meanwhile, Florence has 5-Way Chili and one of the biggest days of racing that Turfway Park has to offer. Florence truly is the pulse of magnificent Northern Kentucky. Besides the excellent racing, Lane’s End Day also offers Eric Davis and Chris Sabo at the track for a bottle signing from 8am to 11am on Saturday. The limited edition Maker's Mark bottle commemorates the Lane's End and the 1990 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Since Sabo and I have a bit of history, he once tried to steal my date at Wrigley Field, the bottle signing becomes an unexpected bonus.

What a decision. I ultimately needed to pick one and stick with the choice.

In the end, I just could not fight off the irresistible urge to get back to my old Kentucky home. Never mind the thousands of dollars the Dubai trip would have cost. Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky it is. The Lane’s End features a horse, in Connemara, I have been following since his first career race. Also on the card will be five other stakes including the Bourbonette Oaks and the Rushaway Stakes. It should be a wonderful day of racing, and by the way, I can still watch the races from Meydan and enjoy their great racing card via simulcast. Will I regret not being there in person? Not at all, I will get there someday. Have I made the right decision? No regrets, Lane’s End Day is going to be fabulous. Will the path I have chosen for this weekend forever alter my future as a turf writer? That’s way too deep a question for this particular column, but I will leave you with these final words of wisdom…I’m headed to Florence Y’all.

March 25, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I began my career in Maryland and won seven of my first eight starts.

*I was an East Coaster, but both of my trips to the left coast resulted in victories.

*In my only attempt at 10 furlongs, I was 2nd, beaten only ¾ of a length in a grade 1 stakes race at Belmont.

*I won multiple stakes in each of my three seasons of racing.

*Bred in Maryland, the great Bold Ruler was my grandsire.

*I had many different riders and two different trainers. Both of my trainers are now members of the Hall of Fame.

*I was known more as a sprinter, but I did defeat a champion around two turns.

*I lost my final career start by a neck when I gave the winner, a son of Northern Dancer, 15 pounds in a stakes race at Aqueduct.

*I raced at 13 different racetracks in my 31 career starts.

*Carrying a lot of weight never bothered me, I carried more than 130 pounds in more than one of my wins.

*If you are thinking I may be a bay or a chestnut, you are way off base.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

March 24, 2010

Derby Morning Line … for the Trainers

1 Todd Pletcher 5-2 (Eskendereya, Super Saver, Rule, Connemara, Interactif, Discreetly Mine & Aikenite)
Pletcher’s army is deeper than ever, giving him his best chance yet to win his first Run for the Roses.

2 Bob Baffert 3-1 (Lookin at Lucky, Conveyance & The Program)
Last time Baffert’s great Derby streak began he finished 2nd the year previous with Cavonnier. Last year Pioneerofthe Nile was 2nd…

3 Nick Zito 10-1 (Ice Box, Fly Down & Jackson Bend)
It’s been 16 years since New York Nick won his second Derby. Is he overdue for a third?

4 Thomas Amoss 15-1 (Ron the Greek & Backtalk)
Solid conditioner has two interesting candidates. The Louisiana and Illinois Derbies should tell us more.

5 D. Wayne Lukas 15-1 (Dublin, Northern Giant & Wow Wow Wow)
13 time winner in Triple Crown races and 4 time Derby winner must be respected. Dublin looks like his best chance.

6 Alexis Barba 15-1 (Alphie’s Bet & Make Music For Me)
With two legitimate contenders, she could become the biggest story on the Derby trail.

7 Kenneth McPeek 15-1 (Noble’s Promise)
Tejano Run was his best hope with a 2nd in 1995. Now 15 years later, he will try to stretch out the talent of his game colt, Noble’s Promise.

8 Jeremy Noseda 15-1 (Awesome Act)
English trainer who brought us Wilko is back looking for America’s biggest prize, and in Awesome Act, he may have the colt to get it done.

9 Michael Machowsky 20-1 (Caracortado & Nextdoorneighbor)
Nextdoorneighbor disappointed in last, so hopes may rest solely on the Cal bred gelding, Caracortado.

10 Thomas Albertrani 20-1 (Odysseus)
Won the Preakness and Travers with Bernardini. This year’s hope is firmly pinned on the lightly raced Odysseus.

11 John Sadler 20-1 (Sidney’s Candy & Dave in Dixie)
He has a speed horse and a closer, is either one good enough? Only time will tell.

12 Richard Dutrow 20-1 (Homeboy Kris, D’Funnybone & Radiohead)
2008 winner took a hit with Radiohead’s poor performance and announcement D’Funnybone was Preakness bound, but IEAH may buy him something better.

13 Derek Ryan 30-1 (Schoolyard Dreams)
He got great experience last year with Musket Man, this year he is back for more with big dreams.

14 Wesley Ward 30-1 (Pleasant Prince)
A win at Royal Ascot last year followed by a Kentucky Derby win this year would be an enviable double.

15 Field 12-1 (Everyone else)
There is still plenty of time for a horse and trainer to step up in a big way…see 2009.

March 23, 2010

Remembering ... Affirmed

The first time I recall seeing Affirmed in person was the 1977 Champagne Stakes. I will not sugar coat what I am about to tell you. Affirmed was not the horse I rooted for. The three year stretch from 1977 through 1979 may have been the greatest run in the history of racing. Not that the several years proceeding it weren’t great, but there was something special about those years with Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid. The Triple Crown could not have been more tangible. Slew won it, Bid should have won it, and Affirmed and Alydar staged the greatest series that will ever be seen in Louisville, Baltimore, and New York. But back to my dirty little secret; I rooted for Alydar against Affirmed time and time again. I rooted for Seattle Slew against Affirmed, and I most certainly rooted for Spectacular Bid against Affirmed. Do not hold this against me. Now more than thirty years removed, I come not to bury Affirmed, but to praise him.

Please do not misunderstand, I never disliked the great chestnut colt, I just happened to like his main adversaries more. No rival was more important to Affirmed than Alydar. So intense and so long running was their rivalry, that you can not possibly recall one without thinking of the other. Affirmed and Alydar. Alydar and Affirmed, and so it was in the Fall of 1977. Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew was on the shelf, and two powerful juveniles were more than willing to step up and take center stage. The big showdown at Belmont in the Champagne was not the first match up of the best two youngsters in the nation, but it was the most important to date. Affirmed had already gotten the best of his Calumet rival in three out of four meetings, including consecutive wins in the Hopeful and the Futurity with his new teenage rider Steve Cauthen. Affirmed was made the favorite, but my group and I were all there to see Alydar beat him. As the race unfolded, Affirmed was part of a four prong battle on the turn, and as he slowly pulled away from the rest, it was Alydar who swung out to the middle of the track and began to fly. Affirmed could not quicken enough to challenge Alydar’s explosive kick and the most important juvenile race of the year went to Alydar. Leaving the track that day we all felt that it was Alydar who was destined to be the great champion. Little did we know that he would never again finish ahead of Affirmed.

The colts came back a few weeks later at Laurel and Affirmed got the best of Alydar for the fourth time. Unlike the Champagne, where Alydar struck quickly and swooped by on the outside, Affirmed was ready for Alydar and outfought him to the wire. The Laurel Futurity clinched the championship for the son of Exclusive Native, out of the Crafty Admiral mare, Won’t Tell You. A Florida homebred for Louis Wolfson, Affirmed ran under Wolfson’s Harbor View Farm silks and was conditioned by Cuban born trainer, Laz Barrera. It was Barrera’s duty to have his charge ready for the big races upcoming.

The Belmont was a fitting finale to an amazing Spring. In the Belmont, Alydar hooked Affirmed early in the race and they proceeded to run around the immense Belmont oval in unison. Matching strides, heart, and will in perfect tandem, neither great colt would give an inch. An adoring Belmont crowd went crazy, as the rivals traded narrow advantages down the stretch. What led to this unforgettable encounter was right out of a Hollywood movie script. Not wanting to battle with Alydar all Winter, Barrera took Affirmed to California to prepare for the Derby. Affirmed was an easy winner in an allowance, the San Felipe, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Hollywood Derby in March and April. The juvenile champ marched to the Run for the Roses on a five race win streak. On the other side of the nation, Alydar was laying waste to his opposition. So impressive was the son of Raise a Native that he, and not Affirmed, was made the favorite in Louisville. The stage was set for an epic battle, and it was not wise to underestimate Affirmed. He earned hard fought victories in the Derby and then two weeks later in the Preakness, with Alydar not far behind in either contest. Thus setting up Affirmed’s attempt at immortality as a Triple Crown winner, and against the bravest of foes. The crowd screamed as Affirmed surged on the rail to stick his nose in front. Alydar stayed with him, but could not get by. Affirmed won by desperate inches in what may have been the greatest race ever run. The Test of Champions produced two, but only one could win, and once again it was Affirmed. He became the 11th Triple Crown champion. 32 years later we are still waiting for the 12th.

Saratoga was the site of the tenth edition of Affirmed and Alydar. I have never seen such a crowd at Saratoga, as I did that day for the Travers. Since the Belmont, Alydar destroyed an Arlington Classic field and then did the same to older horses in the Whitney. Meanwhile Affirmed was life and death to get up in the last few strides against the quality speed horse, Sensitive Prince in the Jim Dandy. Once again Alydar fans had hope that this time it could be different. Different it was. In a blink of an eye Affirmed, with replacement rider Laffit Pincay sitting in the irons, cut in front of the charging Alydar entering the far turn. The move severely hampered Alydar’s chances and when Affirmed hit the wire in front of Alydar, the inquiry signal went up immediately. The infraction had been bad enough to take down the Triple Crown winner. Alydar was declared the winner, giving him his third victory in ten tries against Affirmed. It would be the last time the two would ever meet.

Like a great team getting better as the year goes on to peak for the playoffs, the four-year-old Affirmed was building momentum for the huge races in the Fall at Belmont. After the Travers DQ, Affirmed had not been able to handle the older Seattle Slew in the Fall races as a three-year-old. The losing streak hit five when Affirmed lost his first two efforts of 1979. What was wrong with the Triple Crown winner? People did not have to wonder for long as Affirmed, now reunited with Laffit Pincay after being part of Steve Cauthen’s horrible losing streak, began winning again. Beginning with a ten length romp in the Strub Stakes, Affirmed would reel off six straight wins, including five grade 1 stakes. It was clear there was only one horse that could challenge the powerhouse that Affirmed had become. His name was Spectacular Bid, and Spectacular he was. The super sophomore became the third truly great horse to challenge Affirmed. The meeting would be the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Horse of the Year honors were on the line. Sent to the lead early, the beautiful chestnut was impossible to pass. Each time Spectacular Bid would make a run at Affirmed, the older colt would have an answer. He crossed the Belmont Park finish line ¾ of a length the best. Affirmed was the bond that tied together Seattle Slew, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, and himself. A Golden Age of racing, and more often than not, Affirmed was the victor.

The win was the great Affirmed’s final race. He was rightfully honored once again. Affirmed was the 2-year-old Champion of 1977, 3-year-old Champion of 1978, Handicap Male Champion of 1979, as well as Horse of the Year of both 1978 and 1979. Despite his outstanding competition, Affirmed finished first in 23 of his 29 lifetime starts, with a disqualification in the Travers. He became the first horse ever to earn $2 million, was an obvious induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, and was the greatest horse ever for his Hall of Fame trainer and riders.

Affirmed was syndicated at a then-record 14.4 million dollars. At stud, Affirmed became a solid and steady success. He may not have sired the immediate brilliance of Alydar or Seattle Slew, but much like he did on the track, Affirmed kept fighting on. He sired over 80 stakes winners, including nine champions. Notable offspring included Flawlessly, The Tin Man and Peteski. Affirmed’s sons and daughters were equally adept on turf as dirt and today I consider him to be one of the best broodmare sires in the world.

In a curious personal side note to the story of Affirmed, I was at Calumet Farm in the early 80’s when an older mare was to be sent to the breeding shed for an encounter with Alydar. The mare was none other than Won’t Tell You. Someone in my group coined the date, Alydar’s final revenge. Affirmed’s mom had a travel issue that day and we never saw the mating, but it was nice for us Alydar fans to know that he finally ended up on top. But I digress, Affirmed was a star by every sense of the word. The great horse’s life ended at the age of 26, when in 2001, he was euthanized after falling seriously ill with laminitis. The fight with laminitis was the champion’s first battle that he could not win. I remember you Affirmed.

March 22, 2010

Amen Hallelujah Done in by a Devil

In yesterday’s column, I expounded the qualities of Malibu Moon as a world class sire. In a perfect lead-in for today’s column, A daughter of Malibu Moon happens to be my number one star of the week. While favorites D’Funnybone and Unrivaled Belle scored in the Swale and Rampart, and Nick Zito’s longshot Ice Box got up in the final jump to win the Florida Derby, it was Todd Pletcher’s filly, Devil May Care, who stole the show. By Malibu Moon out of the Red Ransom mare, Kelli’s Ransom, Devil May Care won her second graded stake in her short career. Last Fall she pointed out her class by accounting for the Grade 1 Frizette in only her second lifetime start. She had some troubles in her last few starts, starting with a cross-country sojourn to run in the BC Juvenile Fillies. A tall order for a young filly who had only two races under her belt. It was her first try on a synthetic surface and she was hindered by a rough trip ending any chance she had for a Breeders’ Cup win. In her first start this year, Devil May Care left her race in the starting gate. Her fractiousness cost her when the real running began, as she flattened out for a fifth place finish in the Silverbulletday Stakes. Her connections lost no faith and brought her right back against a solid field in the Bonnie Miss.

March 21, 2010

Bella Luna

Don’t look now, but there is a sire who is quietly building a strong pair of contenders for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. In the past week his progeny, Odysseus and Devil May Care, scored in major preps. His name is Malibu Moon, and I consider him one of the best sires in America and he has done it under the radar of many. Regally bred, the 13-year-old sire is a son of the great A.P. Indy out of a grade 1 winning Mr. Prospector mare named Macoumba. Bred to be a standout on the track, Malibu Moon only raced two times in his career, where he displayed the precociousness of his mother by running 2nd in a maiden in April and then impressively winning a May maiden in racehorse time. Malibu Moon was clearly a horse with a big future, but it would not be on the track, as a fracture in his knee ended his career almost before it began. The big colt was sent to Country Life Farm in Maryland.

Country Life Farm is the oldest stud farm in Maryland and is the birthplace of Hall of Fame runner Cigar. It is not a farm with the most expensive sires in the world, however. Malibu Moon took to stud life smoothly at the young age of three. Because of his lack of a racing career, he was not predicted for stardom as a sire. Despite his pedigree and good looks, he began his career at stud for the small fee of $3,000. Standing in Maryland with a small stud fee, Malibu Moon was not sent blueblood mares by any means. Yet despite of this, he was an immediate success, siring multiple stakes winners in his first two crops. In his second crop, he sired the 2004 juvenile champion Declan’s Moon. Suddenly Malibu Moon was a hot commodity. As Business Manager at Country Life Farm, Michael Pons, tells it, “He got too good to stay in the minor leagues, he had to go to the majors.” In American breeding, the majors is the bluegrass of Kentucky.

First on to Castleton Lyons in Kentucky and then on to legendary Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Malibu Moon has made a steady climb up the ranks of American stallions. B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm is the majority owner of Malibu Moon, with both Country Life and Castleton Lyons retaining a one quarter interest in the top stud. At Spendthrift, he now stands for $40,000 and covers a high quality list of mares. Malibu Moon is that rare stud who has proved successful at every level of breeding, from the basement to the penthouse, he continues to shine.

In 2009, Malibu Moon was represented by 12 different stakes winners. This represents the fourth consecutive year he led A.P. Indy sires in number of stakes winners. He now rivals the outstanding sire Pulpit, as the leader of the great Seattle Slew-A.P. Indy line. A short list of horses sired by Malibu Moon in his first seven crops include Declan’s Moon, Malibu Mint, Life at Ten, Ah Day, Moon Catcher, Perfect Moon, Malibu Moonshine, Sara Louise, Raw Silk, Malibu Prayer, Luna Vega, By The Light, Bon Jovi Girl, and of course, current sophomore stars Odysseus and Devil May Care. In Odysseus and Devil May Care, Malibu Moon has two horses with a legitimate chance to take home the big prizes at Churchill Downs.

I am happy to report that friends of mine have ventured into thoroughbred ownership, and their first horse is a three-year-old son of Malibu Moon. Michael and Lynn Horvath bought stake in a Country Life partnership for a single horse. They were specifically looking for a Maryland based horse out of Malibu Moon. Moon was a sire they had grown to like from their trips to the races. Lacrosse Moon, out of a Temperence Hill mare, fit the bill. The colt has been working steadily and is getting close to a first career start. Look for him to make his career debut at the upcoming Pimlico meet. Considering he is a son of Malibu Moon, they may just have something there. Best of luck Lacrosse Moon.

Malibu Moon is one of those rare sires who has not seen his stud fee drop because of the economic downturn. His fee has held steady at $40,000 for several years, and he is the clear king of the heap at Spendthrift Farm. A sire I have long liked and often considered underrated, I think the secret of Malibu Moon is now completely out of the bag Come Oaks and Derby weekend, he may well be the toast of the bluegrass. One thing is for sure, Malibu Moon is a stud.

March 20, 2010

Bambera Si, Christine Yes … Lentenor No

South Florida is hotter than usual today, as five graded stakes highlight a marvelous racing card at Gulfstream Park. The racetrack’s most important race, the Grade 1 Florida Derby, is the headliner, but it may be a couple of fillies who steal the spotlight. Much talked about, but not yet tested in American stakes racing, Christine Daae and Bambera take the first step to major goals this afternoon in the Bonnie Miss and Rampart Stakes respectively. Also of great interest to many will be the acid test for Lentenor in the Florida Derby. Lentenor of course is a full brother to the ill fated Barbaro and is owned and trained by the Jacksons and Michael Matz who ran the Florida and Kentucky Derby winner of 2006. How will these potential stars do in their indoctrination to graded stakes racing? Let’s take a look at their chances…
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

March 19, 2010

Morning Line Mistakes

Every horse player takes a look at the morning line odds as one of the first steps in breaking down a race. A good morning line can be a useful tool by offering a general guideline as to how each respective horse will be bet by the general public, but there in lies the rub. It is, or should be, nothing else. A morning line should not represent the odds maker’s personal feelings of what will happen in the race, nor should it be a calculation of the individual’s estimation of what odds a horse deserves to be. When an odds maker utilizes one of these rationales for setting the morning line, it does an injustice to the betting public.

Plain and simple the best morning lines are the ones that closest mirror the odds of the horses when betting closes. Major differences in morning line odds and final odds are problematic for horseplayers, especially for those who bet early. If your betting is influenced by the odds, and it certainly should be to a point, morning line odds that are not close to the final odds create misconceptions and confuse wagering strategies.

Are all morning line odds going to be right on? Of course not, there will always be cases where horses are bet either more or less than anticipated by the best of oddsmakers. If the morning line made sense, this can in turn offer overlays or underlays that can be taken advantage of by savvy horse players. A good morning line helps the handicapper to discover the horse that will be an overlay (higher odds than you think the horse should be) and therefore a great horse to bet, or conversely the underlay (lower odds than you believe the horse should be) that you should avoid betting. Well calculated morning line odds can make the job of handicapping easier for the average bettor. For the opposite reason, a bad morning line creates confusion that can even change the way people bet, and for the wrong reasons.

As I said before, morning line odds are not an exact science, and I do not take much exception when, for instance, a maiden race (lesser proven horses) has a drastically different set of final odds to the morning line. I have less patience for a morning line on a high profile stakes race that is not well thought out. Case in point, tomorrow’s Grade 3 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

In the race, Venezuelan superstar Bambera makes her first run in the United States. The morning line, as laid out by the Gulfstream Park odds maker, has Bambera listed as the 8-1 fifth choice. Is this realistic? No, it will not be close to the final odds. I list Bambera as the 5-2 favorite on my personal morning line. I make no distinction as to whether she is the horse to beat, or what odds I believe she deserves, but rather I am predicting what she will go off at when betting closes. That is what the morning line is supposed to be. I feel sorry for all those bettors who are licking their lips in anticipation because of Gulfstream’s morning line. It is simply a bad morning line. Bambera will not be 8-1, not even close.

March 18, 2010

Who Am I ???

*A Kentucky bred, I boast Mr. Prospector and Danzig as my great grandsires.

*I won a total six stakes races, three of them were Grade 1s, and three of them were won by at least six lengths.

*I raced in two consecutive Breeders‘ Cups and two consecutive Santa Anita Handicaps, but I won none of them.

*I raced well on turf and dirt, but dirt was my most successful surface.

*Well traveled, I raced in two different countries and my first six career starts took place in six different states.

*I earned more than two million dollars in my four year racing career.

*Trainers and jockeys came and went, I had three different trainers and I lost count after ten riders.

*Rumor has it, ZATT was there the day my dad won the Louisiana Derby.

*As a sophomore, I was victorious in stakes on opposite corners of the nation.

*Unfortunately, I finished my career on a fifteen race losing streak, most of them in Grade 1 races.

*If you are thinking I may be a bay or a chestnut, you are way off base.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

March 17, 2010

Down and Derby c6.5

Here is the brand new Down and Derby Top 20:

1 Lookin at Lucky Bothered badly on the backstretch, the champ made a big statement in the Rebel.
2 Eskendereya Fountain of Youth explosion was the single best performance of this crop.
3 Awesome Act I can't decide if he reminds me most of John, Paul, George, or Ringo.
4 Odysseus Left for dead on the turn, how on earth did this Greek God get up for the win???
5 Rule Tampa Bay Derby result makes this gritty speedster look even better.
6 Super Saver Much like Rachel, a good return race that should set him up well for future races.
7 Connemara His win in San Francisco was a little slow, but I absolutely love the well bred colt’s upside.
8 Caracortado Scarred in the San Felipe, but in his defense, everything was against the gelded son of Cat Dreams.
9 Ron the Greek Speed is lining up for the Derby, beware the last-to-first closer from modest beginnings.
10 Schoolyard Dreams This Tampa based colt is improving with every start, see Musket Man.
11 Dublin Lukas hope made a premature move and was only 3rd best in the Rebel, may have bounced a bit.
12 Noble’s Promise He proved once again that he is as solid as he is classy, but at 1 ¼, I will take a pass.
13 Conveyance I am not a total believer in this one’s ability to get the distance, but he is undefeated.
14 Alphie’s Bet Closed like a freight train in his Sham win, better competition next time.
15 Interactif First try on a synthetic surface was promising for this Pletcher colt best known for turf.
16 Drosselmeyer Looks like this WinStar runner is headed back for another try in the Big Easy.
17 Stay Put Margolis stretch runner will get more pace to run at in his next try.
18 Sidney’s Candy Speedy colt went wire to wire in the San Felipe, 10 furlongs may be another story.
19 Discreetly Mine Everything went his way in the Risen Star, let’s see if he can repeat in the Louisiana Derby.
20 Jackson Bend Distance challenged, Zito fighter gets another chance in New York’s Wood Memorial.

For More on ZATT's take on the Derby Please visit Stride Magazine Online for today's story - Click Here

Be sure to come back to Zipse at the Track to comment on the D & D Top 20 list and magazine article.

March 16, 2010

Remembering ... Vigors

I always tell my friends who have never seen a Thoroughbred horse race in person, that it is an experience they will never forget. Horses and jockeys racing by at 40 miles per hour is a visceral wonder for the senses. It makes no difference if you are watching a $5,000 claimer or a grade 1 stakes race, the sights and sounds at the races are unlike anything else in the world. Often all it takes is one trip to the track to hook a person for life. Even more memorable is that one special horse you can simply not take your eyes off of for a second. A horse with unique characteristics, looks, or running style that beckons feelings deep within. You become an instant fan, devoting yourself to this horse in rooting spirit. Today I remember a horse that evoked these feelings in me. Although I only saw him race one time in person, Vigors was a horse that I will never forget. The day I saw Vigors up close was the inaugural running of the Turf Classic at Aqueduct Race Course.

Majestic Light was the family horse. I mean that strictly as a fan, our family had no connection to him, but he was my father’s favorite horse of 1976 & 1977, and therefore my brother and I also loved him. We were at Aqueduct that day in hopes of seeing Majestic Light clinch an Eclipse Award as champion turf horse of 1977. I can still see pieces of the program page in my mind’s eye. Majestic Light was the 7, his main rival was the 4, Johnny D., and a longshot from California named Vigors, was the 3. I remember that name catching my eye; I was eight years old and I think names meant a little more to me in those days. I recall that we were all disappointed that the horse we considered Majestic Light’s biggest rival, Exceller was not there that day. Majestic Light, Exceller, and Johnny D. had finished 1-2-3 in three consecutive major turf races that Fall, with each with each winning once. Majestic Light was heavily favored over Johnny D. and his teenage rider Steve Cauthen. The race unfolded exactly how we did not want it to. Johnny D. set a slow pace and the stretch runner Majestic Light was forced to chase. This was not his game and it showed as Johnny D. pulled clear to a 3 ¾ length score. We were disappointed, Johnny D. was named turf champ, but it was the other horse who made an impression on me. Vigors was a big, striking colt and he was almost completely white. He stood out visually, and he ran a deceptively fine race that day. Vigors rallied on the dawdling pace to be lapped on to Majestic Light and the fine French horse, Crow. I would never see him in person again, but his 4th place finish in the Turf Classic was my introduction to a horse I would become enthralled with the following Spring.

By chance, Vigors next race would be on the dirt, two months later at Santa Anita Park. Rain forced the San Marcos off the grass that January afternoon and trainer Larry Sterling chose to run Vigors anyway, as he believed his charge could handle the surface that he had not cared for as a youngster. He was right. As many of life’s greatest stories are born from happenstance, so was this one. In the San Marcos, the big white horse came from way back and inhaled his competition. It was like lightning in a bottle as the now five-year-old son of Grey Dawn II, armed with new rider Darrel McHargue, romped home by more than four lengths over the classy Pay Tribute. Dirt it would be for Vigors from there on. He had switched to grass in his first season of racing, after showing little on the dirt in his first seven races. The grass brought immediate improvement, and as the pigment challenged runner grew into his frame, he became a very solid performer on the grass. As a four-year-old he won a couple of consecutive stakes, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Invitational. Grass had become his career and he raced on the lawn in 21 straight starts. He was one of the better turf handicap horses in California, but far from a national star. Stardom would come with his re-introduction to dirt.

After the awesome performance in the San Marcos, Sterling had to run Vigors again on the dirt. That race would come four weeks later in the Grade 1 San Antonio. It was a solid field that included future Hall of Famer Ancient Title, Pay Tribute, and Crystal Water. Despite the credentials of his opponents, Vigors was made the favorite. On paper it did not make sense for him to be favored, but that is how visually impressive he had been in the San Marcos. If in the San Marcos, Vigors had knocked on the door of stardom, than in the San Antonio he kicked it in. In an explosion of stretch running power, Vigors steamrolled his opposition by seven lengths and broke the Santa Anita track record. Here was a white horse who dropped way back in the early stages, and then unleashed a late run not seen in those parts since Silky Sullivan. The White Tornado was born and California fans flocked to fandom like the Swallows of Capistrano. The Big ‘Cap in March would be next.

Owned and bred by William Hawn, and named for a friend of his, Vigors had everything the fans could want. He had the looks, he had the charisma, and boy could he run. More than 55,000 spectators came for the Big ‘Cap of 1978 and most of them were there to see the White Tornado. For a long time, it looked like it would not be the odds-on favorite’s day. Speedy Mr. Redoy had run away from the field, and it appeared the race might be over coming out of the far turn. No one told Vigors though, and the big white horse gained on the leader so fast and furious that it didn’t seem fair. Mr. Redoy succumbed and Vigors went on to another easy victory. Back home in New Jersey I had been following Vigors win streak through news articles. I was thrilled to finally see a replay of the Santa Anita Handicap and I instantly knew what all his fans in Southern California had felt. It was more than thrilling to see Vigors make his run. I dreamed of seeing him in the Fall against horse like Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Alydar. Unfortunately, it would not happen.

Vigors would get a brief rest, before coming back in the Summer at Hollywood Park. He would once again break the spirit of the front running Mr. Redoy in winning the Bel Air Handicap at odds of 2-5. His popularity was so great that when he returned for Hollywood’s signature event, the Hollywood Gold Cup, three weeks later he was bet down to 7-10. This despite the presence of the excellent Charlie Whittingham trained handicap horse, Exceller. Vigors, weighted down with his heaviest impost to date at 129, did not have his very best that day and was third in a three horse photo with Exceller getting the win on the rail. It was his first defeat in some time, but it did not prevent Hawn from sending his star to the East Coast to challenge Slew and Affirmed. Those meetings would never happen, as a recurrence of an ankle injury ultimately forced the retirement of the White Tornado. Vigors was sent to a moderately successful career at stud. He lived to the age of 21, before passing away in 1994. He may be long since passed, but for many of his fans, like myself, Vigors was one of those horses who will never be forgotten. Watching him was truly an experience.  I remember you Vigors.

March 15, 2010

Here's What I Saw

As far as the big two, Zenyatta won and Rachel did not. While the Zenyatta juggernaut continues to roll on and on, to the tune of an amazing record of 15 wins in 15 starts, Rachel came back from a long layoff to finish 2nd by ¾ of a length to another John Shirreffs trained runner, Zardana. It was not what everyone expected for last year’s Horse of the Year. Rachel was clearly short after six months off and was not pushed too hard by rider Calvin Borel. I have little doubt that she will get a lot out of the loss, and will be much improved for her next race. Unfortunately, that will not come in the Apple Blossom on April 9. Zenyatta will be there after her typical awesome performance, but the connections of Rachel Alexandra feel she is not quite ready for the meeting. Hopefully the two superstars will get a chance to settle things on the track sometime soon.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

March 14, 2010

Reconstructing Rachel

They are only flesh and blood. As great as they are, they have similar imperfections as any of God’s creatures. “They” of course, are the greatest of Thoroughbred race horses, a phrase that certainly best describes Rachel Alexandra. Yesterday the world caught a glimpse of an imperfection, a vulnerability which proves that she is only a horse, not an infallible machine. For that matter, even machines are imperfect. This would be the point in today’s column where I would say the words, “they all lose.” But of course, I can not. Not with Zenyatta out there. The great mare, another of the greatest of Thoroughbred race horses, is the exception to the rule. I applaud her for perfection. Nothing more needs to be said…perfection.

This story is not about Zenyatta, though. It is about Rachel Alexandra. For without her there would not be these daily columns on Zipse at the Track. Without her, 2009 would not have been my favorite year of racing in a long, long time. Rachel has become a loved one, she has a special place in my heart. The stretch run of the New Orleans Ladies was painful to watch. Her defeat stings. It did not make me mad, it did not make me lose belief in her, it just hurt. I have been watching racing all of my life, and I know anything can happen on a given day, but you just never expect your heroes to be defeated. I am hoping the writing of this will be cathartic for me, and I realize her defeat raises many questions among her legions of fans.

Do I think Rachel will retire? No. I believe her connections know how good she still is. There is no reason to retire her now.

Does this loss mean the Horse of the Year voters got it wrong? No, yesterday’s loss takes absolutely nothing away from her championship season.

Do I think Rachel will be as good as last year? Yes, and that is saying a lot. I consider her 2009 to be the greatest season ever by a three-year old filly.

Do I think Rachel will run in the Apple Blossom? I am leaning to no. I believe her connections will decide that she has been rushed, and will decide to reconstruct her foundation to have her peaking for future races. The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic should be the ultimate goal.

As I alluded to in Friday’s column, her loss has been repeated over and over again throughout history. In my lifetime, I saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid defeated by inferior horses on multiple occasions. How can I hold this loss against Rachel, when all those legends went through the same thing.

Rachel Alexandra was defeated. It actually happened. Rachel lost yesterday for the first time in about a year and a half. There were reasons, but I offer no excuses. She was beaten fair and square by Zardana. As great as she is, Rachel Alexandra is only a horse. She is amazing, but fallible, she is beautiful, but vulnerable. I love Rachel today as much as I did 24 hours ago. She will be back. Look out world, Rachel will be back.

March 13, 2010

Derby Prep Day the 13th

It looks like I picked a good day to start writing for If you like the greatest of horses returning after several months on the sidelines, if you like crucial preps with countless major candidates for the first Saturday in May, if you like the thrill of many of the greatest athletes in the world giving it everything they possibly have to cross the finish line first, then friends, today is a day for you. What has Zipse at the Track (you can call me ZATT for short) so excited? Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the greatest female horses I have ever seen (sorry Ruffian) make their long awaited and agonizingly anticipated returns today in the New Orleans Ladies and the Santa Margarita Handicap respectively. Any day these magnificent horses hit the track it is an instant holiday, and today they both will run. Peaking the interest even more, this will be their only appearance before the big one on April 9. Not taking a backseat to the older females, are three excellent fields of prime Kentucky Derby hopefuls in the Rebel Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, and the Tampa Bay Derby. In these three major preps, no less than 13 of my personal Top 30 horses from the Kentucky Derby master list will be in action today. You may have already guessed that I am expecting Rachel and Zenyatta to win today, so let’s concentrate on the Derby preps.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

March 12, 2010

Rachel will Rock and Zenyatta will Roll

The days are being crossed off the calendar with careful precision. Hopeful fingers turn the page to peek at the month of April and more specifically at the circled date. Circled many times as to highlight the magnitude of what will happen on April 9, 2010. We are only four weeks away from an affair that can reasonably be called the most anticipated race in nearly four score. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have transcended their contemporaries on the track both male and female, and even more telling, they each compare favorably to any female horse to ever set foot on an American racetrack. They are racehorses who have each captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide and are so popular they are attracting new fans to the game on a daily basis. In four weeks, these titans of the track, these goddesses of great racing, will collide in an epic battle that will forever be remembered by millions. Judgement Day. We are close…but not quite there yet. The main hurdle to the magnificent meeting happens tomorrow. What do you call the day before judgement day? Perhaps March 13 will suffice for now.

Tomorrow sees Rachel Alexandra make her first start in more than six months in the newly created New Orleans Ladies while thousands of miles away, Zenyatta returns after more than four months in the Santa Margarita Handicap. We all expect Rachel to rock and Zenyatta to roll, but what if they don’t? What if the unspeakable happens? What if some how, some way, one of them is beaten? I know…blasphemy, but after all these years of following the sport, you come to realize that there are no sure things. There is a precedent for this sort of thing to happen. In 1973, a new race was created to bring together Lucien Laurin’s two great stars. The race, called the Marlboro Cup, would pit the all-time great sophomore Secretariat, and the top older horse in the nation and his stablemate, Riva Ridge. A funny thing happened on the way to the super race though. Secretariat was shocked by Onion and Riva Ridge was surprised by Wichita Oil in their last race before the big one. It did take a little luster off the match-up, but nonetheless a great field was assembled and The Marlboro Cup of 1973 was run, and Secretariat proceeded to run a great race to beat Riva Ridge by 3 ½ lengths, crushing the previous world record for 1 1/8 in the process. Are there any Onions or Wichita Oils in tomorrow’s races?

In the New Orleans Ladies, Rachel faces a small field of four. There are two fillies in the supporting cast that interest me. Clear Sailing is an impeccably bred and lightly raced four-year-old who has gotten better in each of her four starts. She is coming off an impressive late running win in the Pelleteri Stakes and continued improvement could see her become a major player in the older female division this year. The other contender of interest is none other than a John Shirreff’s trained six-year-old mare named Zardana. Zardana has shown marked improvement since a switch off the grass, including an easy win in the Grade 2 Bayakoa at Hollywood Park. Her connections must have high hopes for her on the dirt, to ship her cross country for this one and then probably the Apple Blossom. Real threats to Rachel? Only if the great one is not near her best.

In the Santa Margarita, Zenyatta faces a bigger field than Rachel and will also have to spot her rivals 12 pounds or more. Much as in the New Orleans Ladies, her competition appears up to be up against things, but there are a few fillies with some merit. The first three finishers in the recent Grade 2 La Canada are back to see if they can build on their recent success. Striking Dancer ran her best race to date in taking home the win in the La Canada, but it is the fillies who ran 2nd and 3rd that day, that may offer the big Z the most resistance. Second place finisher Gripsholm Castle made her first appearance stateside in the La Canada. Any improvement at all for the English import could make her the horse for Zenyatta to beat. The filly who finished third that day, Floating Heart, has yet to win a stakes race, but is still relatively lightly raced and had some traffic to deal with last time. She may be ready to run her best race yet, and against Zenyatta, they will all clearly need to their career best to have a chance at upset.

Will either of the stars lose? Highly unlikely in my experienced eyes. I expect them each to show us why we all hold them in such very high regard. Wins by both Rachel and Zenyatta would make the Happening at Hot Springs that much closer to reality. Let’s sit back and watch greatness tomorrow. My prediction: Rachel will rock and Zenyatta will roll.

March 11, 2010

Who Am I ???

*My sire was bred in Ireland, my grandsire in France…I was bred in the bluegrass.

*I won exactly half of the million dollar races in which I competed.

*My five stakes victories ranged in distance between a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and a half.

*Well traveled, I raced in four different nations in my four seasons of racing.

*I am all thoroughbred race horse, but I do have a connection to the family Accipitridae.

*Two of my stakes victories came at Hollywood Park, although they were the least important stakes wins of my career.

*Besides horse racing, my favorite sport was ice hockey.

*I raced in four races each worth at least a million dollars, and each of these races came in a different year.

*Both my trainer and my jockey were inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame.

*I never did much in the East Coast; I ran in Maryland, but never in New York.

*Unfortunately, I finished my career on a five race losing streak.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

March 10, 2010

Q & A with Calder’s First Lady - Kathleen O’Connell

It was my pleasure to sit down recently with the first woman ever to win the training title at Calder Race Course, Kathleen O’Connell. O’Connell has been at her trade for a long time, more than 40 years, and currently she is enjoying all the hard work and dedication she has put into the sport. She lives and breathes Thoroughbred horses and it comes out plainly in our discussion. We got a chance to talk about the current stable star and a few from the past, as well as being a woman in what has traditionally been a man’s game. Enjoy the interview, and by the way, she is still on a roll. At the time of this discussion, Kathleen O’Connell has a commanding lead in the trainer standings at Tampa Bay Downs. No longer known simply as a woman trainer, she is now a star who happens to be a woman.

Photo by Jim Lisa
ZATT- You recently became the first woman ever to win the training title at Calder Race Course, would you call it the most satisfying accomplishment in your career?

KO - I wouldn’t say it is the most satisfying, it is right up there. It is an accomplishment.

ZATT- The horse that clinched the training title was Fly by Phil, in winning the Tropical Park Derby, did that make it even more special?

KO - Yes, it did. I had been training with Mr. Campbell for 19 years. We have had a long and very successful relationship and I am appreciative that I’ve been with him that long. He raises a lot of horses.

ZATT - Where can we expect to see Fly by Phil run next?

KO - I can not say right now. We had a minor set back and he has had three weeks off and will be back in training this week.

ZATT- Is he still a potential Derby horse?

KO - It depends on how much he has lost in the three weeks he has had off. He is a very, very nice horse. I think he can run on any type of surface, which real nice horses do. Dirt, turf, broken glass…

ZATT - The first time you became well known nationally was in 1996, with Blazing Sword, what are your memories of that millionaire?

KO - He was a really, really nice horse and a really, really nice individual. It was great, considering that I had been training with Mr. Campbell for just five or 6 years. You get to know some of the mare lines and their breeding, from working Calder. Blazing Sword showed the talent at short distances, early as a baby. He gave me tremendous hope, and then as he became a rising star…there were no two ways about it.

ZATT - Was he the best horse you ever trained?

KO - Yes, probably so. He had a serous illness that kept him out for a while, but when he returned, he did a lot of good things. I also liked the filly Ivanavinalot.

ZATT - With the success of people like yourself and Linda Rice, it seems that female trainers are reaching new heights, do you consider yourself a pioneer?

KO- Not a pioneer, but I’ve been at it a long time. When I first got my license, they would not allow women to be the named trainer. I had to train under other people’s names, times have changed for the better since.

ZATT - It would seem that women as horse trainers is a natural fit, why do you think it still such a male dominated career?

KO - It’s a tough business because, it is very time consuming. Male dominated, because women still have a big part of the upbringing of children. I think that is why women are not as involved to a certain degree. It is a very devoted thing, it is 24/7 thing, it’s not like a business that you lock up and come back the next day.

ZATT - Do you have any advice for young ladies with dreams of becoming a trainer?

KO - Be willing to sacrifice a lot. I sacrificed relationships, my family…you still go through guilty periods. My mom and dad are in their 80s and I really don’t get see them as often as I Like. They are still in Michigan… I have been in Florida since 1976. Moved Lock, Stock and Barrel out of Michigan in 1984. Its been a big sacrifice. Thank God they are still in good health. Up until two years ago they drove all the way from Michigan because mom hates to fly. They spend time, but is always around racing.

ZATT - How big is your current stable?

KO - I maintain 70 head, between 60 and 70 head the last few years. Split between Tampa and Miami and then Colonial and Miami. Pretty much every Monday, I leave South Florida after training and I’m in Tampa Monday afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday evening I travel back to Miami and back on Friday. When Colonial starts it is just the opposite.

ZATT - For all thoroughbred owners who read this, what do you consider to be your biggest strengths that set you apart from other trainers?

KO - I like communication. Communication is the key to any good relationship. We live in a realistic world. I try to do the best for the horses and let the owners know how they are doing. It is so important to be realistic and open. The horses, attitude wise and everything, they are flesh and bone and blood and they get injured and sick and you have to make every race count. That is such a key part of it. You don’t know when they are gong to get sick or when they are going to have a setback. You have to utilize the races that are available.

ZATT - OK, Kathleen, one more question…With the year you had in 2009, what kind of expectations do you have for 2010?

KO - Everyone has high expectations. You have to more or less deal with cards that are sent to you and take it from there. We had a great 2009 and we are having a great run in 2010. It is a great experience. I’m blessed with a solid team, owners and my parent’s work ethic. I love what I do and I love where I do it.

March 8, 2010

Remembering ... Seattle Slew

The first time I ever laid eyes on Seattle Slew was October 16, 1976. It was the day of the Champagne Stakes. The Champagne was the most important juvenile race in the country in those days, and everyone was buzzing about the flashy black colt who had run away with a maiden and an allowance in his first two starts. I remember reading the form that afternoon from the front row of our grandstand seats, and thinking that For The Moment is really a nice two-year-old. This Seattle Slew character would have to be awfully good to handle him in only his third start. Following the Seattle Slew pre-race war dance, the race went pretty much as planned with the unbeaten Slew on the lead and For the Moment in close pursuit. As they straightened out, For the Moment threw his haymaker. Problem was it made absolutely no impact on the big, impressive colt. Seattle Slew commenced a runaway that I had never seen before in such a young horse. It was breathtaking. In a period of four weeks he had gone from an unraced, inexpensive juvenile to an undefeated champion and a clear favorite for next Spring’s Kentucky Derby. Where had he come from?

Foaled in Lexington, Seattle Slew was a son of the talented, but unproven combination of Bold Reasoning and My Charmer. Taken to the Lexington auction conducted by Fasig-Tipton Company in July, Seattle Slew was bought for a bargain basement price of $17,500 by Mickey Taylor, a former lumberman from Washington, his wife Karen, and partner, Dr. Jim Hill. It was Hill who had recommended the purchase to the Taylors. Slew was sent to the Turners, first to Paula who broke the big youngster and then on to husband Billy to take over the race training.

His three-year-old season began much the way his juvenile season ended. Billy Turner waited patiently to begin his season until March 9, when he won an allowance race by nine lengths at Hialeah in track record time for seven furlongs. A few weeks later, Seattle Slew won the Flamingo Stakes by four lengths in the third fastest time in stakes history. Slew then headed back north for the Wood Memorial where he scored another easy victory in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.

The 1977 Triple Crown would be all about Slew. The only real drama was in the first few seconds of the Kentucky Derby, when the heavy favorite was sideswiped coming out of the gate and got a way slowly. It proved no issue for the great horse. Within a quarter mile, he joined For the Moment on the lead and the drama of the Triple Crown was all but over. He crossed the wire first in the Derby over Run Dusty Run, and first in the Preakness over Iron Constitution. Neither margin was big, but it was clear that Slew was much the best. When he crossed the finish line in the Belmont Stakes four lengths ahead of Run Dusty Run, he became the tenth horse ever to win the Triple Crown and the first to do so undefeated. To this day, Seattle Slew is the only horse ever to win the Crown unbeaten. Unfortunately, in the weeks following the Belmont, The Taylors insisted that Slew be shipped to the West Coast to run in Hollywood Park’s Swaps Stakes. It was an ill conceived plan, and one that trainer Billy Turner wanted no part of. The owners won out and it resulted in Slew’s only black mark, as he was not himself in running a distant fourth to the razor sharp J.O. Tobin. This ended the relationship between the Taylors and Turner. It also ended Seattle Slew’s sophomore season, but Slew would be back.

Perhaps Seattle Slew’s greatest attribute was an amazing spirit that so few horses possess the way he did. It was never more apparent than in 1978, when he fought off a life-threatening collapsed left jugular vein at the beginning of the year, and made it successfully back to the races by May. Veterinarians were concerned for his life and had suggested that he would never race again, but Seattle Slew was simply a different kind of horse than the doctors were familiar with. During that four-year-old campaign, Slew also overcame a suspensory ligament injury, a filled ankle, and several other hurdles that would send any other horse off to retirement. Instead Slew emerged once again as a champion under the guidance of new trainer Doug Peterson and produced some of the greatest performances in his career.

After rounding back into top form, despite his ailments, Slew was ready to tackle the new hotshot in racing. Affirmed had become the new toast of racing with his Triple Crown heroics. I remember thinking youth would be served in the Marlboro Cup and surely Slew would succumb to his young challenger. I have never been so wrong. Slew dispatched Affirmed with disdainful ease in the first ever match up of Triple Crown winners. A few weeks later he won the Woodward in even easier fashion, this time he dispatched top handicap horse Exceller. There was no doubt that Seattle Slew was the greatest horse in the world after those performances. In the Jockey Club he would face his two biggest rivals again. It would prove to be the greatest challenge of his career. Here is what I wrote about the race in a previous piece:

It was on to the Jockey Club and there were some changes in store for Slew. This time both Affirmed and Exceller would challenge him and at a distance, 1 ½ miles, that both horses had proven to excel (no pun intended). To make things even more difficult, Harbor View Farm entered a rabbit into the mix. A decent handicap horse named Life’s Hope, who in the JCGC would run as fast as he could for as far as he could, was entered only to bolster the chances of their big horse, Affirmed. If you thought things were stacked against Seattle Slew before the race, it would only get worse. First Slew broke through the starting gate expending precious energy. Then one of the strangest things that I have ever seen in a big race happened. Affirmed broke like a shot and was right in the middle of what could only be called a suicidal speed dual (It was explained after the race that Affirmed‘s saddle slipped and Steve Cauthen had lost control of the great 3-year-old). Seattle Slew had to not only deal with the rabbit, but also the horse that the rabbit was designed to help. Fractions of :22 and 3, :45 and 1, and 1:09 and 2 were amazingly carved out of the Belmont dirt. Remember this was a 1 ½ mile test of endurance. Almost immediately the other three horses, including Exceller were 20 or more lengths behind. First Life’s Hope fell away and then Affirmed soon followed. Slew had sent his rivals on the front packing. But how could he possibly survive this blistering pace himself?

He couldn’t. Exceller, with Bill Shoemaker aboard was gobbling up chunks of ground on the rail at an alarming rate. It looked like he could call his own margin of victory over the tiring Slew. But then something happened. Seattle Slew, the champion that he was, fought back. It still gives me goose bumps to think about. Seattle Slew and Angel Cordero were coming back at him…Wow! Exceller, who had taken almost a full length lead was now desperate to hold of the valiant Slew. The wire came too soon and Exceller had held on to win by a nose.
Defeated, but still the champion, Slew went out in style. After his incredible effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, his connections found a fitting stakes race to make his farewell. On November 11, 1978, Seattle Slew made his final start a winning one with an easy score in the Stuyvesant Handicap at Aqueduct Race Track. It was vintage Slew, as he sprinted to the lead and rolled around the track. The appreciative crowd knew it was his swan song and they roared in approval for their hero. In 17 races, Seattle Slew won easily 14 times, ran 2nd twice in photo finishes, and was only once clearly beaten. He won eclipse awards in each of his three seasons of racing, and he was quickly ushered into Racing’s Hall of Fame after retirement. Slew was further honored by being named as one of the top ten horses in American racing history by various outlets. On my all-time list, Seattle Slew ranked #8 of the greatest of the greats.

Often the very greatest horses can not reproduce anything close to themselves. Seattle Slew was clearly an exception to this rule. A sire of well over a hundred stakes winners, Slew also became a champion Broodmare sire. Slew was so successful at stud that I have little doubt that he proved himself to be the greatest combination of runner and sire of modern American racing. He was the strongest sire of the powerful Bold Ruler line and still today, his descendants carry on the great Seattle Slew line. A very short list of champion sons or daughters sired by Slew include: A.P. Indy, Landaluce, Slew O’ Gold, Swale, and Vindication.

Seattle Slew is arguably the most unforgettable horse of my lifetime. When you consider the talent he displayed throughout his career, the heart and tenacity he displayed in his toughest races, the way he overcame physical setbacks, the flare he showed in winning race after race and the prodigious amount of top horses he produced. Seattle Slew passed in his sleep at the age of 28 on May 7, 1999. Ever the showman, Slew died on the 25th anniversary of his win in the Kentucky Derby. Slew was unforgettable the first time I saw him in the Champagne and he only got better. I remember you Seattle Slew.