April 30, 2010

Oaks Day Doings

First thing first, Blind Luck may not be the most talented filly in the world, but she is a champion through and through. I was thoroughly impressed with her from-dead-last rally, and here’s why: The pace was quite moderate, it would have been so much easier for Blind Luck to uncork her patented rally with a brisk pace. She has rallied before, but circling a full field of 14 was a whole new ball game. She passed this new test with flying colors. Finally, the filly she nipped at the wire, Evening Jewel, is obviously very good, underrated, and most importantly, she was absolutely full of run in the stretch. Only a gritty champion like Blind Luck could have beat her today. Blind Luck is a champion, and it will take a Devil May Care upset win in the Derby to steal one bit of her sophomore filly thunder.

Now for the less happy news. Rachel Alexandra lost. Again. Rachel Alexandra ran the greatest race I have ever seen a filly run in last year’s Haskell runaway. Since then, things have been anything but easy. Three races and three doggedly tough photo finishes. The first she won, in the Woodward, and the last two she has been defeated. The two losses this year were good races by normal horse’s standards, but Rachel Alexandra is no normal horse. Clearly Rachel is not, to this point at least, the same Rachel we grew to love in 2009. It is not uncommon for fillies to regress after time away from the races. Filly winners of the Kentucky Derby illustrate this phenomenon. Genuine Risk only ran in allowance company as an older filly, winning two of three, and Winning Colors, finished out of the money in five out of her seven starts at four years of age. It is still too early to tell what this means for Rachel’s future, but I will never see her as anything but the champion that she is. Do not give up on her yet.

And now for another shameless plug…ZATT the Magazine has launched!!! It’s official, my dream is a reality. Please join me at http://www.zattmag.com/.

Derby tease (more to come tomorrow.) The Kentucky Derby will be won by one of these five: Awesome Act, Lookin at Lucky, Mission Impazible, Super Saver, or Devil May Care.

April 29, 2010

Down and Derby – It’s Awesome!

The waiting is almost over. The final moments of anticipation disappear, as the clock ticks closer to seeing twenty of the best three-year-old Thoroughbreds in the world test themselves in the most exciting two minutes in sports. I feel the importance of the moment as my palms sweat and my breathing shallows. The final seconds seem to move in super slow motion as the horses circle behind the two Kentucky Derby starting gates and are led into their ultimate date with destiny. One of them will be two minutes away from immortality. We are almost there. The 136th Run for the Roses is upon us, and it is finally time to get Down and Derby!!!
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 28, 2010

Labor Pains, Dad, and the Derby

I’m not sure if my story is unique, but it has led me to becoming a huge fan of Thoroughbred horse racing. Let me begin from the beginning. On June 5, 1969 a male baby was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. By the time Brian Daniel Zipse was introduced to the world, I was already destined to love the horses. Flash back a few year earlier, and so the joke goes…my father and mother had just arrived to the parking lot of Arlington Park, when my very pregnant mother turned and said, “I think I am going into labor!” My dad, already looking at his racing form, countered with, “OK, let me go in and play the Double and then we’ll head to the hospital.” I honestly do not know how much of that anecdote is based in reality, but that is how my father tells it, and I am sticking to it. It can be no wonder that the result of the pregnancy, my older brother David, and I would love horse racing. We are our father’s sons.

My father was a first generation horse fan, as he became enthralled with the sport in his late teens. He was fortunate enough to have a buddy that indoctrinated him to the ways of racing in Chicago in the 1950’s. I was even more fortunate. My father would take his young sons to the races all the time. By the time I was born, the small Zipse clan had moved to the East Coast, and while Chicago had great racing in the 50’s and 60’s, New York more than ever, was the center of the racing universe. As a tyke, we would make the trek over the George Washington and Throgs Neck Bridges on a regular basis to get to Belmont Park. In those days New Jersey had a rule that you had to be twelve years old to enter their racetracks, so Belmont was the place for us to be. Good thing too. I witnessed horses like Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Ruffian, Forego, and Wajima at a very young age. Yes, I was there when Secretariat stormed home by 31 lengths to win the Triple Crown. I still remember the grandstand shaking beneath my four-year-old feet. It seemed Belmont had stars running each and every Saturday.

By the time I was nine, I started breaking New Jersey’s age rule. A big kid… I was never carded. Monmouth Park became my second racing home, but Belmont was still racing’s hub. Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid helped me complete my first decade of life. While I enjoyed many sports growing up, my favorite heroes were always of the four-legged variety. At Belmont Park we would often meet up with my dad’s racing buddies. Guys like Belmont Bill would become like surrogate uncles to me. Half the fun of going to the races in those days, was listening to the magical language the adults used when talking about the horses. I am proud to say I could talk horses and read the Form at the age most kids were tackling Curious George. My dad and his buddies knew what they were talking about. By the way, Belmont Bill would soon become noted handicapping author Dr. William Quirin.

Another chapter in my horse racing journey came when my dad and those same buddies formed a partnership to buy a few broodmares. In their infinite wisdom, the group targeted Explodent as their broodmare sire of choice. The newly formed Triomphe Farm had legendary trainer P.G. Johnson claim one Explodent filly and then another soon after. The partnership included only intelligent men, who also happened to be opinionated. Not surprisingly, it would only last a handful of years. While it did last, it was a lot of fun. We would visit the mares at their New York farm, feeding them apples and carrots. We followed intently the progress of the foals they produced, and when one of the first, a daughter of our first broodmare, Triomphe’s Glory won a New York bred allowance at Belmont, it was a different and special kind of feeling. Even though we had sold the filly at auction, it was fabulous to see her succeed. As I mentioned, the partnership disbanded and the Zipse family was no longer in the breeding business, but those days helped to affirm my love not only of racing but of the horses themselves.

I was always an animal lover, so much so, that my parents always thought I would grow up to be a veterinarian. While that never happened, horses always held a special place in my heart. I consider them to be the most beautiful and majestic creatures on God’s earth, and I will love them until the day I die. I believe my appreciation for horses as individuals only adds to my appreciation of the game, and as you can probably tell by now, the game is in my blood. I am lucky enough to love both sides, the beauty of the game and the horse, as well as the analytical side. There is not much better than studying the Daily Racing Form and solving the mathematical puzzle of how the race should unfold. For me racing is the perfect combination of sport, nature, and testing my cognitive abilities.

Growing up, it was never a consideration to let the horses fade from my full attention. Some of my favorite childhood memories are the trips we would make centered around the horses. Day trips to Delaware Park and vacations up to Saratoga were especially memorable. In my teens, the equine heroes kept coming. Maybe not quite like the glory days of the 70’s, but racing always has stars, and I have always been there to appreciate them. Horses like Princess Rooney, Lady’s Secret, and Sunday Silence gave me pure joy to watch. They also gave me something always to look forward to. When it came time to go off to college, the University of Louisville was a natural choice. While my grades at U of L may have suffered, I had a great group of friends, and I was in the heart of horse country. Heaven. We had made trips before to see racing at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, but I had never been to the biggest day of racing itself, the Kentucky Derby.

My first Derby in person was in 1990. It was amazing. The whole week is one big celebration, as the city of Louisville swells to twice its normal population. Twenty or so of my college friends and I filed into the Churchill Downs infield. We batted about 50% in sneaking in our illegal contraband, mostly good old fashioned Kentucky bourbon, so the party was on. While many were there strictly for Kentucky’s biggest party, I was also there for the great horses. My first infield was quite the scene, but I was able to still remain true to my roots. I made bets and watched what I could see of the races. Many of my friends followed me and listened intently to my picks, as I was the resident horse expert, and somehow, someway the day ended as happily as I could have possibly hoped. Through the alcohol induced haze, and the frolicking, in what had become the mud-field, my friends and I witnessed a powerful colt burst past the pack and easily win that Kentucky Derby. His name was Unbridled, and he had been the horse I had been picking all Spring. At 10-1, he rewarded all of his backers handsomely. I was one of them and so were many of my friends. Unbridled was the day’s star, but my friends looked at me as if I was a handicapping god as they cashed in. Some of them are still fans of racing to this day. Silly I know, but it was a great day.

As I became a responsible adult, my love for racing never waned. From the days working as a hotwalker in college to following the sport closely ever since, I always fantasized about a career of some sort in racing. It never really happened until something amazing occurred. A filly named Rachel Alexandra came into my life. I became so completely enamored with her, that it energized me to start writing about the game I love in earnest. Thanks to encouragement from so many wonderful people involved in this great sport, like my writing idol, Steve Haskin, I started my own blog, Zipse at the Track. It has been my way of expressing my love for Thoroughbred horse racing, and it is my sincere hope that in some small way it has helped attract more fans to the game. Just as I had parents who helped me nurture my love for horses, I now am lucky to have a wife who supports my great interest. We also have a not quite two-year-old daughter who loves to watch the horses with her daddy. Many of you have read my writing, and as I embark on a new project, an online racing magazine called ZATT the Magazine, I hope you will continue to enjoy my small contribution to the sport I love.

This piece was my racing biography submitted to the Thoroughbred Racing in New York (TRNY) group run by Ernie Munick on Facebook.  The link to their site is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8466519122#!/topic.php?uid=8466519122&topic=19510

April 27, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Before I jump into more Derby and Oaks thoughts, I would like to pass on some exciting news happening here at ZATT headquarters…

ZATT the Magazine is ready to launch! A personal dream of mine is just days away from becoming reality. The online magazine will launch this Friday morning at http://www.zattmag.com/. Look for many of the features you have come to expect on this blog, as well as much, much more. Special thanks to Issue #1 contributors: Steve Haskin, Bill Pressey, Ciaran De Barra, Claire Novak, Kate Hunter, Kerry Thomas, Sid Fernando, Marti McGinnis, Eric Kalet, Marti Guzman, Cecilia G. Felix, Jamie Newell, Patrick Sheehan and Sue Kawczynski. ZATT the Magazine promises to be bigger and better than I have ever done before, and it truly is “For the Love of Thoroughbred Horse Racing!”

I am honored to announce that I have been named the Thoroughbred Racing in New York (TRNY) Member of the Week. This is a sensational Facebook group run by the most creative man in the business, Ernie Munick. As Member of the Week, I was able to write a piece on how I fell in love with horses and racing. I plan to publish the piece on ZATT soon, but in the meantime, please check it out at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8466519122#!/topic.php?uid=8466519122&topic=19510 If you are not yet a Facebook member or a TRNY member, join up, it is most worthwhile.

ZATT on the radio - I will be previewing Churchill’s huge weekend, Derby et al, on Steve Borstein’s daily sports show. The show airs live from Steve’s studios in Farmington, NM... home of Chip Woolley, trainer of Mine That Bird. It can be found live on this website http://www.foxsports1340.com/. Click on the "listen live" button on the center of the home page .... the show is called "First Sports with Steve Bortstein." My time slot is scheduled to be Friday, Oaks Day, at 9:30am EST. It is a live show, so be sure to tune in Friday morning!

OK! Now back to business…

One of my favorite, if not my favorite, bets of the year is the Oaks-Derby Double. Derby action can begin early and what better way to begin, than starting your bet off with a win in the Kentucky Oaks. I have had some big scores with this bet in the past, and once again, I am looking for a solid payoff this year. At the time of this writing, Devil May Care is still possible for either race, but I am guessing that the Derby will be the choice. So with that in mind and barring any last minute changes, here is my Oaks-Derby play:

Kentucky Oaks (2) - Blind Luck (the favorite, but a must play) and It’s Tea Time (a quickly developing Dynaformer filly with some nice odds.)

Kentucky Derby (7) - Awesome Act (my top play with the odds), Lookin at Lucky (the one to beat), Endorsement (the now horse), Devil May Care (the filly has a shot), Mission Impazible (might be ready to peak), Super Saver (Borel on a Churchill horse…beware), Sidney’s Candy (not sure, but he might be this good),

There you have it…14 combinations with many of them likely to pay well into the triple digits. Good luck!

April 26, 2010

Derby? Oaks? I’ll Take Rachel

What a weekend! The Derby, the Oaks and a heaping handful of other graded stakes will create a cornucopia of racing delights for anyone that calls themselves a fan of Thoroughbred horse racing. In a two day stretch, Churchill Downs will sport no less than a dozen stakes races. Clearly there is no place better to be this Friday and Saturday, than a few miles off the banks of the Ohio River, and under the historic twin spires. Everyone knows the headliner. It is the Kentucky Derby, the Run for the Roses, the First Saturday in May. Quite simply it is the most famous race in the world for our equine stars. Its feminine counterpart, the Kentucky Oaks, plays a supporting role to the Derby with class, style, and historical significance. When a sophomore filly crosses the line in the Kentucky Oaks it cements her place in history. This year, Derby and Oaks aside, there is something else big brewing in Derby City.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 25, 2010

Eskendereya Out

For the second consecutive year, the early Kentucky Derby favorite is out. Eskendereya, the strong favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, has been removed from consideration from the run for the roses because of swelling in his left front leg. Bad news for his connections, and fans especially, but it is also bad news for any race fan that wants to see the best horses compete in the world’s most important race. Seriousness of the injury is not yet known, but for Saturday, the deal is done. Eskendereya is out of the Kentucky Derby.

The rumor mill was rampant yesterday when the word leaked out that Eskendereya would not work out at all this weekend. Fueling the speculation, was the fact that Eskendereya was the only Pletcher horse not to have his front bandages removed in his stall. The rumors were true, and the bad news was clear to the trainer by this morning. The swelling, which extends from the ankle to the knee, was worse than yesterday and meant that Eskendereya has no chance of being at his best in six short days.

One possible ramification of the disappointment, could be that Pletcher’s star filly, Devil May Care, is even more likely now to run against the boys. With the defection of her more publicized barn mate, Devil May Care can now enter the Derby with her regular rider, John Velazquez in tow. A difficult decision may be a whole lot easier now for Team Pletcher. A small consolation, but this could prove to be very good news for a stable that right now has to be in a little bit of shell-shock.

For Pletcher, this is a major blow for the hugely successful trainer who is already saddled with a Kentucky Derby albatross. Zero for twenty four, and maybe after today’s news, you can say and counting. Eskendereya is the colt that Pletcher calls the best he has ever brought to Louisville, and now he will not be saddling one of the race favorites. The good news for Mr. Pletcher is with his embarrassment of riches, he still may have a horse that can break his much publicized losing streak. Mission Impazible, Super Saver, Devil May Care, are you ready to step to the plate? Don’t be surprised if the answer is yes and today’s great disappointment is replaced with the greatest joy a trainer can celebrate in six days time.

Photo by Sue Kawczynski

April 24, 2010

Time Trials at Churchill Downs

With a name like the Derby Trial you figure the race would be an important stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby. In the past, that was the case. The Derby Trial used to mean something. It was a common occurrence to see the Derby winner come out of the Derby Trial. Horses like Black Gold, Assault, Whirlaway, Citation, Ponder, Dark Star, Iron Liege, and Tim Tam, prepped for Kentucky Derby glory, and in some cases even a run at the Triple Crown, in the Derby Trial Stakes. But alas, times have changed. No longer in vogue to run horses so quickly back, the Derby Trial stopped becoming a major prep race. Although in more modern times it has been a reasonable prep for the Preakness or Belmont Stakes…maybe the Preakness Trial would be a better name. There still is reason to be hopeful that a Derby Trial runner could someday again where the roses. With the recent overflow of horses wanting in to the Kentucky Derby, and the accompanying graded stakes earnings rule, the Derby Trial may become a sort of “last chance saloon” for potential Derby contenders.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 23, 2010

Should She Oaks or Should She Derby?

The Devil is down in Kentucky, she is looking for a classic to win…but which classic? Devil May Care, my personal top pick for the Kentucky Oaks, is also being considered for the Kentucky Derby according to trainer Todd Pletcher. As the horse I am looking forward most to seeing in the Oaks, the news was a little disappointing.  But with the recent successes, against the boys in our classics, of Rags to Riches, Rachel Alexandra, and Zenyatta, it should come as no surprise. The daughter of Malibu Moon will be evaluated by Pletcher in the coming days, and then he and owner John Greathouse of Glencrest Farm will make the decision. This big decision raises many questions.

Ultimately who makes the final decision on where she runs? Usually that is the owner, but not always. If it is Greathouse, does he value a good shot in the Oaks more than a much bigger roll of the dice in the Derby? I could not blame him if he wished to take the ultimate plunge and go for the gusto on Saturday. If it is Pletcher who decides, does he want to pass on a good shot in the Oaks, and a very possible win in both races, to give himself one more bullet in an already loaded arsenal for an elusive Kentucky Derby win? Devil May Care could raise Pletcher’s entrants to the staggering number of seven, including certain favorite Eskendereya, but she would be his only runner in the Oaks. It would seem that depending on who makes the decision, the answer could be different.

Just how good is the filly, Devil May Care? This question will be a lot easier to answer in a week or so, but I think she may be worth all this talk. Devil May Care had enough class to win the prestigious, Grade 1 Frizette Stakes last Fall. What made the win especially noteworthy was that she was making only her second lifetime start. After two losses with big excuses in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Silverbulletday Stakes, she bounced back with an eye catching score in the Bonnie Miss Stakes in her last start. She appeared a bit green in that win, as if she is still learning. Her third race of the year, whether it be the Derby or the Oaks, may be the race Pletcher has her really ready to roll.

Will she appreciate the extra distance found in the Derby? Pletcher maintains that one of the main reasons he and the owner are thinking Derby is because of the longer distance. From the very beginning, Pletcher has said Devil May Care wants to run all day. He was certainly right about Rags to Riches wanting a distance, and what better chance to prove his belief than in the Kentucky Derby.

Another question would be who would ride her.  If she were to enter the Derby, I have strong suspicion that she would need a new rider. John Velazquez already has a fair horse to ride in Eskendereya. Is this a factor in the decision making?

And finally, if she were my filly what would I do? The answer may surprise you, I know it surprised me. As a fan, I want to see her run in and win the Kentucky Oaks, but as an owner, I honestly believe I would opt for the Derby. As I have mentioned, I consider her the horse to beat in the Oaks, and I would not have her in the top five (she would be in my top ten) of my Derby selections. That chance would be good enough, though. A chance at winning the Kentucky Derby is awfully hard to pass up…don’t you think?

April 22, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I finished first in seven out of twenty five lifetime starts over my four-year racing career.

*My three biggest victories came within a span of just eight weeks.

*I was bred in Kentucky and owned by a successful Chicago businessman.

*I was ridden by a total of eight jockeys and had a different rider for each stakes win.

*My Run for the Roses ended in a middle of the pack finish.

*I never won a Triple Crown race, but I did beat the Preakness and Belmont winners.

*I had two trainers, one was an American and the other came from the land of the Beatles.

*All of my four stakes wins came in the same season, and three of them were of the grade 1 variety.

*In my best season, I won six times out of thirteen starts.

*My first grade 1 win was won as a longshot, in my last grade 1 win, I was an odds-on favorite.

*I raced at twelve different tracks in my career and in distances ranging from five furlongs to a mile and a half.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

April 21, 2010

Remembering ... Bet Twice

For me the story of Bet Twice begins in the early 80’s at Delaware Park. A favorite destination for our family during my childhood, going to Delaware was like a unique vacation day. There was something special about that three-hour drive to the rural racetrack location. Good memories abound. We saw plenty of good horses there over the years, and one that particularly stands out was a beautiful colt by the champion Nijinsky, named Sportin’ Life. Horses for courses was a tag that fit him perfectly. Not quite grade 1 material when he raced elsewhere, there was something about Delaware Park that brought out all of Sportin’ Life’s immense talent. Simply put, I would not have bet anyone racing in those days to beat him at Delaware. Flash forward a handful of years, and the young sire reproduced the talent that I was so familiar with. Foaled in Kentucky, Bet Twice was a strapping son Sportin' Life out of the multiple stakes producing mare Golden Dust. He was bred by William S. Farish III and E. J. Hudson and was born on what is now Kentucky’s Lane's End Farm.

His main owner, Robert Levy, was well known in New Jersey as the owner of Atlantic City Race Course, so it was no surprise to see Bet Twice begin his career under the tutelage of New Jersey mainstay Jimmy Croll. What was a surprise, was to see an untested juvenile come from the clouds to power by his opponents in the Monmouth Park stretch. Not the norm at the speed favoring Jersey shore oval, especially for the babies. Bet Twice was far from a normal Thoroughbred though. I was lucky enough to see two of his first three races in person at Monmouth Park, and today his remarkable stretch running ability in those two-year-old sprints still stick vividly in my mind. After an impressive win in the prestigious Sapling Stakes, Bet Twice would take his show on the road to win major juvenile races in the Laurel Futurity and the Arlington-Washington Futurity. Sent off as a favorite in a marvelous Champagne field that fall at Belmont Park, I saw Bet Twice for a third time in person. He could not get up that day, finishing a competitive third in the stacked field. It would be the last time I would see him until he returned to Belmont almost seven months later.

Bet Twice’s performances after winning his first five races was a bit spotty. Early in his three year-old season Bet Twice looked like a champ in winning the Fountain of Youth for fun, but then returned to run an uninspired fifth in the Florida Derby at odds-on. There was an excuse, but still Bet Twice was somewhat ignored at 10-1 on Kentucky Derby Day. It was not known yet, but a great rivalry was about to unfold in that Kentucky Derby. Alysheba and Bet Twice had met already when they shipped across country to run third and fourth respectively in the previous Fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Kentucky Derby would be their second meeting, and this time they would be the stars of the show. Bet Twice gained command as the field straightened out, but Alysheba closed in fast. Now a part of Derby lore, Bet Twice came out into Alysheba’s path sending the son of Alydar perilously to his knees. In an instant, Alysheba got up from his knees and soared to superstardom, leaving Bet Twice a valiant, but vanquished second place finisher. The Preakness two weeks later would be more of the same, only without the drama. Once again, Alysheba would collar Bet Twice in the stretch, and run by him rival before the wire. Two down, but the Belmont would offer another chance for Bet Twice to turn the tables.

After narrow losses in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Bet Twice was now ready for his greatest race. In the 1987 Belmont Stakes, ridden by regular jockey, Craig Perret, Bet Twice absolutely decimated the top notch field. He made a quick and decisive past Gone West outside the half mile pole, and “poof!” Just like that the race was over. His win by 14 lengths was one of the most impressive in Belmont history. Watching in the stands that day, I could not help feel bad for the likeable Alysheba team who had been denied the Triple Crown, but also I felt a sense of pride for the Monmouth horse who I had watched in the very beginning. Alysheba’s quest was not the only thing denied that day, the win by Bet Twice and trainer Jimmy Croll ended the incredible five-year Belmont Stakes streak fashioned by Woody Stephens. With the victory in the Belmont and runner-up performances in the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, Bet Twice also snatched the first ever $1,000,000 Chrysler Triple Crown Bonus from Alysheba who finished fourth by virtue of losing a three-way photo with Cryptoclearance and Gulch.

Bet Twice would return from Belmont glory, to run another phenomenal race in his next start. It was a three horse showdown between the two stars of the Triple Crown and the new hotshot, Lost Code, who had been winning the “other” derbies around the nation as if they were going out of style. The race set up perfectly for a three horse battle. Here is how I described what I call the greatest race ever run at Monmouth Park in an earlier column…

As they turned for home Bet Twice cornered like an Italian sports car and was breathing down the neck of the speedy Lost Code. Alysheba and Chris McCarron had swung out and lost considerable momentum to the other two who were accelerating by the fence. Lost Code with Gene St. Leon aboard was giving Bet Twice everything he had and they would ding-dong it down the entire Monmouth stretch. Alysheba was now finding new gears on the outside. The crowd was deafening. As they approached the wire Bet Twice edged ahead of the gallant Lost Code and Alysheba’s desperate attempt to catch up would fall just short. Craig Perret pumped his fist and whip in exultation as Bet Twice defeated Alysheba by a neck and it was another neck back to Lost Code. The Monmouth horse had won. Bet Twice’s trainer Jimmy Croll and rider Craig Perret were Monmouth through and through and they had done it. What a race. Bet Twice had defended his home turf and in defeat Alysheba and Lost Code proved that they were stars no matter the situation.

In his Belmont and Haskell wins, Bet Twice had his two finest hours in consecutive races. These wins would cement his place in history and in my memories. After them, Bet Twice would have his moments, but never again be able to produce this kind of greatness.

As a four year-old, Bet Twice biggest claim to fame was a win in the Pinlico Special. In that race he beat a quality field that included old rivals Lost Code, Cryptoclearance, and of course, Alysheba. It would not be the last meeting for the great foes, but it would mark the last time that Bet Twice would find himself in the winner’s circle. There would be no wins after this grade 1 score in May for Bet Twice, but nor a lack of trying. He continued to run in all the big races and gave his Monmouth Park fans one more chance to appreciate him, with another spirited battle with Alysheba in the Iselin Handicap. On that day Alysheba would wear down Bet Twice late, much as he had in the Derby and the Preakness. All in all the two would face off a total of nine times with the two-time champion Alysheba getting the best of his dogged rival five times. Meaning that Bet Twice defeated the great Alysheba four times. He really was a special horse.

He finished his career with ten wins in twenty six starts and that consistently against the best competition the late 80’s had to offer. Bet Twice earned over 3.3 million dollars in his three-year career. Coincidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing Bet Twice in person a whopping nine times. Who knew that Alysheba and I had so much in common? After retirement, Bet Twice stood at stud for several years at Muirfield Farm in Maryland, before being pensioned at the age of 12. He passed away three years later at the far too young age of 15 at Muirfield. His young death was a blow to me, as I always felt a strong connection to this horse, in large part because of my fondness of his sire, and his strong New Jersey connections, but more than anything I respected his as a runner. He was a bit of a throwback; he danced every dance and was always a threat to win. A true warrior, I remember you Bet Twice.

April 20, 2010

My Morning Lines - Derby & Oaks 4/20

Kentucky Derby
Eskendereya 5-2
Lookin At Lucky 5-1
Sidney's Candy 7-1
Endorsement 12-1
Super Saver 15-1
Ice Box 15-1
Awesome Act 20-1
Dublin 20-1
Mission Impazible 20-1
Noble's Promise 25-1
Line of David 25-1
American Lion 25-1
Rule 30-1
Stately Victor 30-1
Paddy O'Prado 30-1
Eightyfiveinafifty 30-1
Discreetly Mine 35-1
Dean's Kitten 35-1
Conveyance 35-1
Homeboykris 50-1

Kentucky Oaks
Blind Luck 2-1
Devil May Care 5-1
Crisp 6-1
Evening Jewel 10-1
Amen Hallelujah 10-1
Quiet Temper 10-1
It's Tea Time 12-1
Tidal Pool 12-1
Jody Slew 20-1
Sassy Image 25-1
Ailalea 30-1
Beautician 30-1
Bella Diamante 40-1
Joanie's Catch 40-1

April 19, 2010

And the California Turf Beat Goes On

Two more turf stakes were run this weekend at Santa Anita Park, and the results were anything but a surprise. The current queen and king of the California turf scene, Tuscan Evening and Bourban Bay continued their winning ways. Not quite considered among the top turf horses in America yet, both horses have made strong arguments to be considered as such soon. Tuscan Evening has won carrying her early speed from 6 ½ furlongs to a 1 ¼ miles in winning one race in each month of 2010. Meanwhile, Bourbon Bay has demonstrated an affinity for distance racing in also winning one race each month so far this year. While they have different ways of accomplishing their goals, both runners have proven to be superior than any competition currently seen on the lawns of Southern California.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 18, 2010

Distance - The Dirty Little Word in American Racing

Distance. The word itself doesn’t sound so bad. So why has it become a nasty little four letter word when used in the context of American Racing? Distance in other countries is a concept revered. A high percentage of the best races in Europe are run over 12 furlongs. The race that stops a nation down under, The Melbourne Cup, is a two mile jaunt. Meanwhile in America we breed for speed. Microwave ovens and drive-thru fast food, we want things fast. Is that why we do not want to wait to develop our horses and have them run a distance of ground? Do we need to see our investments return money sooner than other cultures? Or perhaps watching a race for 2 ½ minutes or more is simply too long for our instant gratification needs. Whatever the reason, in America we breed for speed. The result has steadily produced a more fragile animal than what we see in places like Europe and Australia.

It wasn’t always this way. The prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, now a comparative 10 furlong sprint, used to be run at two miles. It was contested at this distance for more than fifty years, and it was far from the only long distance race in our nation. Now the closing leg of our coveted Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, at 1 ½ miles, has become a bit of a dinosaur. It is a race in which the main story is the distance rather than the horses that run. It is not too late to change this disturbing trend. Certainly a change in breeding philosophy is vital. The Breeder’s Cup Marathon is a step in the right direction. We also need to value the distance races we still have.

Today’s closing feature at Santa Anita Park is the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, and I will be watching. I remember the days when the San Juan Capistrano was won by stalwarts such as Exceller, Tiller, John Henry, Lemhi Gold, and Erin’s Isle, and that was only in a six year stretch. Nearly thirty years have passed since the glory days of the longest graded stakes race in America. In step with the speed trend our nation’s breeders have created, the San Juan Capistrano has slowly and steadily become a less important race in our racing schedule. It has lost its grade 1 status, and the now grade 2 race does not attract the kind of horses it used to. In the late 80’s we had Great Communicator and in the 90’s, we saw top horses like Kotashan, and Bien Bien win the 1 ¾ turf race, but it has been a steady decline of talent since then.

I am somewhat hopeful that the favorite of this year’s edition, Bourbon Bay, may be the real deal, and actually be a threat when the Breeders’ Cup Turf rolls around. Or who knows, maybe a trip to Australia for the Melbourne Cup may be in his future. Only time will tell. Even more than today’s entrants though, I root for the race itself. Let’s stop the speed trend, and strengthen the breed. At 14 furlongs, the San Juan Capistrano is clearly a throwback. If we want to get back to breeding a stronger American Thoroughbred, I certainly hope races like the San Juan Capistrano never become a throw-away.

April 17, 2010

Twenty Horses – There Must be a Better Way

The Kentucky Derby is unlike any other race in the world. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown, and has a colorful and rich history. It attracts funny hats and fans from all over the world. Simply put, the Kentucky Derby is the race everyone wants to win. It can be no wonder than that the race attracts as many prospective starters as it does. Now more than ever, The Derby tests the boundaries of how many horses can safely and fairly run 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May. Twenty horses is the limit, and believe it or not, I think that is a good number. Sure it is a bigger field than just about any other race going, but it is supposed to be special, it is supposed to be an amazing happening, it is after all the Kentucky Derby. In a twenty horse field, many horses have tough trips, while some miraculously have no trouble whatsoever. This magical trip only adds to the mysticism that is the Derby. Limiting the field to 12 or 14, I do not believe, is in the best interest of maintaining the grandeur of the greatest race. This one race a year, we like to see the twenty horse field make a cavalry charge for the first turn.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 16, 2010

Let’s Win One for Alan Seewald

“Alan had an incredible soft side to him that everyone loved. All you had to do was pay him a compliment and he would have this big smile, lower his head, turn on heel and walk away saying he had to do some work or something. He didn’t like the attention. (Jennifer laughs) … I really will miss him!” -Jennifer Weigand, a Fantasy Lane Stable Owner.

There is a lot riding on tomorrow’s Lexington Stakes. For some, it is a final opportunity to earn enough in graded stakes to enter the Kentucky Derby. For others it is an opportunity to win a big race at one of America’s most beautiful tracks. But for one horse and his myriad of connections, it offers the unique opportunity to honor a man. A good man that deserves to be honored. Trainer Alan Seewald passed away this past Monday, in his sleep, at the age of 62 years young. It was a shocking and saddening blow to his family and to all of the many people that knew him on the racetrack. His horse, Uptowncharlybrown, is running in the Lexington Stakes tomorrow at Keeneland, and a win would serve to celebrate the life and work of Alan Seewald.

“Losing Alan Seewald this week was not only a devastating blow to his family, but his FLS family as well. He was held in very high regard and I don’t think you could find a more honest, genuine, passionate, all-around wonderful person to be around at the track.” -Patrick Sheehan, a Fantasy Lane Stable Owner.

Alan Seewald was born January 15, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. He received his trainer’s license at the age of 36 and has been a solid trainer on the New Jersey racing circuit for the past 26 years. This Spring, Alan Seewald was closing in on 1,000 career wins from his 5,700 plus starts. Growing up in New Jersey, I always liked to see his name as the trainer of a horse I was liking. His horses were ready to win. My favorite Seewald horse was a hard knocking New Jersey horse named Teddy Drone. I remember seeing Teddy win a fast allowance race at Monmouth Park early in his career. Seewald kept this horse healthy for a long career and Teddy would go on to win 31 times in 89 races. He won many small stakes on the East Coast, and when he was sharp he could give the big boys a run for their money. Teddy Drone was around for years, was easy to love, and in retrospect you have to give a lot of credit to his trainer, Alan Seewald. Seewald trained a lot of good horses over the years, but Teddy Drone is one I personally will never forget. Alan Seewald was much more than just a trainer, but that is how I knew him, and how I admired him. He is survived by his wife Kathleen, sons Ryan and Shane, and grandson Blake.

“We enter Uptowncharlybrown in this weekend's Lexington Stakes with a heavy heart after losing this wonderful man way too soon. This will be a very sentimental and emotional race for us all and should good fortune shine upon us Saturday afternoon, and Charly wins the race, it will certainly be done in Alan's honor. I think it would be a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to this sport, his horses, his owners and most of all, his family. He always acted in the best interest of the animals and we would all love to see Charly cross the wire first, to pay tribute to all of his efforts.” -Patrick Sheehan

Is Uptowncharlybrown worthy of this responsibility? Yes. In his career, Uptowncharlybrown, has won half of his four career starts. His first win came last December in his career debut. In that race, Charly romped by 9 lengths. He followed that up with a 6 length score in Tampa Bay’s Pasco Stakes. Charly has not found success in graded stakes yet, as he finished 3rd in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in February, and is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby five weeks ago, but it should only be a matter of time. Neither race was too disappointing, as he was closing fast down the middle of the track in the Davis, and then had little chance when bottled-up on the rail all the way around in the Tampa Bay Derby.  A race in which he only beaten less than three lengths. Seewald had decided to run Charly in the Lexington, because of how well he felt the son of Limehouse was doing since his last race.

“Losing Alan was such a shocking, devastating blow to all of the partners. A win in the Lexington on Saturday would substantiate for everyone exactly what Alan saw in Charly from the very first time he saw him in the sale last year. Alan thought the world of him, believed he had the potential to be a champion and never wavered from that opinion of Charly. A win for Charly would be one more for the “Good Guys” in racing and a perfect tribute to Alan’s Legacy – you do right by the horse and he will do right by you. Win or lose, we can all learn from Alan’s patience, understanding and dedication to his horses. He was a great trainer in his own right and we will miss him dearly.” -Jennifer Weigand

I do not know if Uptowncharlybrown will win tomorrow’s Lexington Stakes, he is certainly one of the ones to beat, but what I do know, is that he deserves to win. I know I will be rooting hard for him. Alan Seewald was a good trainer and a good man, who has left this world too soon. To Uptowncharlybrown, Linda White, Alan’s assistant who has taken over training duties, and the entire Fantasy Lane Stable team, I say let’s win one for Alan Seewald.

Linda White, Uptowncharlybrown & Alan Seewald
Photo by Kate Seewald

April 15, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I was classically bred in Kentucky. Who knows how good my sire would have been if his career had not been cut short.

*A favorite with the bettors, I was favored in nearly 80% of my races and I won more than 60% of the time..

*Undefeated as a juvenile, my largest margin of victory came in my first career start.

*In my biggest career victory, I left the Kentucky Derby winner well behind.

*My elderly trainer worked for my well known owners for many, many years.

*My Kentucky Derby story was that there was no story.

*I finished 3rd in my final career start, which was the richest race I ever ran in.

*I never ran on turf or synthetics, and my worst career race was on a sloppy track.

*I ran in six different states in my career and I was victorious in each of those states.

*My conditioner was best known for his fillies; I may have been his most talented colt.

*I was bet down to below even money in more than half of my races including a Triple Crown race.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

April 14, 2010

Who is Your Derby Dark Star???

As the days leading to the Kentucky Derby wind down, we all start to form allegiances to the horses we will back in the big race. Whether we show it in the form of our wagering dollars or not, we all want our pick to do well when the gates spring open. It is a big thrill to see a horse we like cross the Churchill Downs wire first, even if the only connection is that of a fan. If you are like me, you will have more than one horse that you root for in the Derby, and a few of those, will be horses not favored to win. Derby dark horses if you will. But given one of the most famous upsets in the history of the Kentucky Derby, it seems there may be a better name for these horses. Let’s scratch the dark horse and instead call them dark stars. Of course this moniker comes directly from the 1953 Kentucky Derby champion Dark Star.

Dark Star was a brown colt by Royal Gem out of the Bull Dog mare, Isolde. Owned by Harry Guggenheim, trained by Eddie Hayward, and ridden by Henry Moreno, Dark Star was the 5th choice at just under 25-1 in the eleven horse Derby field. The speedy colt had won the Derby Trial just days before, but was not paid much attention, largely because of the presence of the Gray Ghost. Native Dancer was more than a champion, he was a national hero. A television star and a Horse of the Year as a juvenile, the undefeated gray colt entered the starting gate as an overwhelming 7-10 in America‘s most famous race. In one of the most surprising upsets ever seen, jockey Henry Moreno guided Dark Star from an outside post to a wire-to-wire win, holding off the Ghost in a furious stretch run to prevail by a diminishing margin. The photo revealed Dark Star had held on by a head. Race fans everywhere were stunned.

The Derby would be the only time in 22 career starts that Native Dancer would be defeated. It was nothing for wins for racing‘s star after that day. He rebounded quickly with a win in the Withers, and then exacted a small level of revenge over his Derby vanquisher in the Preakness. Dark Star would tire to finish a distant fifth that day and never again would win a big race. Native Dancer would go on to win the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, as well as, the Dwyer Stakes, Arlington Classic, Travers Stakes and the American Derby. Thereby cementing is place as an all-time great in American racing. How was Native Dancer beaten? As an old friend would say…“Reason tatters the forces tear loose from the axis.” Whatever you may call it, upsets happen, and Dark Star did defeat Native Dancer in one of the most famous Run for the Roses ever run. Can it happen this year?

Other than the Derby favorite, Eskendereya, and the two colts who will be nearest to him in odds, Lookin at Lucky and Sidney’s Candy, I think you can consider everyone else in the race as a potential dark star. It is very possible after the first three choices, everyone in the field will have double digit odds. That leaves 17 legitimate opportunites for this year’s Derby to produce a Dark Star like result. Of course many of those 17 will not turn out to be legitimate. It is our job to separate the pretenders from the real contenders. Maybe we will find a one day upsetter, like Dark Star, or maybe they will go on to greater futures. For now I am only worried about one race. I have begun the process and my Dark Star top five includes Awesome Act, Endorsement, Mission Impazible, Setsuko, and Super Saver in no particular order. I ask you all…Who is your Derby Dark Star???

April 13, 2010

Remembering ... Street Sense

Kentucky Derby Day. There is nothing else quite like it in the world. For a dark bay colt named Street Sense, it was the day of crowning achievement. Sent off as the 9-2 favorite in the field of 20, Street Sense was poised to add his name to a most sacred scroll of victors in American racing. The early stages would have his supporters a little concerned, however. Soon after the start, the son of Street Cry eased to the inside rail and relaxed near the rear of the oversized pack. After the first half mile, Street Sense was in 19th place, more than fifteen lengths off the strong pace set by Hard Spun. The juvenile champion remained patient on the rail with rider Calvin Borel up the backstretch, moving off the rail only briefly to pass Storm in May before resuming a rail riding trip. Street Sense began his amazing rally on the far turn and started passing horses as if they were standing still.

Street Sense and Borel would keep true to the rail and it remained open as if it was ordained from a higher power. He deftly got off the rail to go around Sedgefield turning for home and now just had the stubborn Hard Spun to deal with. He accelerated on the leader, and the race was his by the eighth pole. Street Sense powered home to an impressive Kentucky Derby win with an overjoyed Borel celebrating before they even hit the wire, waving his right arm and pumping his fist. It was the first Derby win for Borel and owner James Tafel, and the second for trainer Carl Nafzger, but this day was about the horse. Already a champion, Street Sense became the first BC Juvenile winner to win the Derby, and he did it in smashing style.

A smashing win at Churchill Downs was nothing new to Street Sense. He had been solid in all of his first four starts, but with only one win to date, he was not made one of the favorites in the 2006 BC Juvenile. The one win was in an Arlington Park maiden race, and it was the first time I saw him in person. In that race, there were three stakes quality juveniles in the mix. I was thoroughly impressed as Street Sense stalked fast fractions and easily wore down his opposition with a 1 ¼ length score in his second lifetime start. The win over future stakes horses Izzie’s Halo and Piratesonthelake stamped Street Sense as a horse to watch in my mind. The trio was 13 lengths clear of the rest of the field, furthering my belief that this would be a key race. Two third place finishes ensued as Street Sense was beaten in a sloppy edition of the Arlington Washington Futurity and then weakened after making a huge move in his first try around two-turns in the Grade 1 Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland. They might not have been wins, but they set him up perfectly for a run in the most important race for two-year-olds.

And perfect it was. His Breeders Cup win was a majestic thing of beauty. Street Sense rocketed through on the rail to win the Juvenile by a whopping ten lengths. It is the largest winning margin in the Juvenile's 26 year history and second largest ever in the Breeders' Cup. The other 13 juveniles were left in the dust and Street Sense was an overwhelming winner of an Eclipse Award a few months later.

It was always easy for me to root for Street Sense. He was handled by good people and there was a real sense of consistency to the group. Trainer Carl Nafzger was always one of my favorite trainers, which I am sure is true for a lot of people after Unbridled’s stretch run in the 1990 Kentucky Derby. Nafzger’s number one client has been James Tafel for many years, and their long running relationship has produced many fine runners, but none quite like Street Sense. It was Tafel that bred Street Sense, and in fact it was his idea to breed his Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle to the young sire Street Cry in the first place. Joining the Tafel and Nafzger team was popular rider Calvin Borel, who credits Jim and Gus Tafel, as well as Nafzger, for a lot of the success he has enjoyed. So consistent and loyal is this team, that Borel rode Street Sense in every single one of his thirteen career starts. A stat rarely seen in this day and age, and I for one appreciate this sense of loyalty and teamwork. That consistency proved to be a good thing for their charge.

It bothers me a little when Street Sense is mentioned as strictly a Churchill horse. I saw him run in 1:15 and change for 6 ½ furlongs that day when he broke his maiden in what proved to be a stakes quality field, proving that he could run very fast when needed.  That was just the beginning for Street Sense who would go on to beat the quality runner Any Given Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby, and lose the Blue Grass by a desperate nose on Keeneland’s new Polytrack surface before his Derby win. After the Derby he came within a whisker of winning the Preakness, when he looked like he had the race won before the superstar made one final lunge that nipped him at the wire. Rested for a few months, Street Sense would win the Jim Dandy in easy fashion, before winning for the final time in a hard fought Travers.

As you can see, Street Sense was far more than a one track wonder. His two biggest wins may have come at Churchill, but that is where the biggest races were. He proved to be a star on far more occasions than only those two races. Unfortunately, Street Sense’s only sub-par performance would come in his final race, Curlin’s 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In the end, Street Sense won six of his thirteen starts with four more second place finishes. He brought home a check in every single start to the tune of more than $4.3 million in earnings. He was retired after his three-year-old season after two very successful years on the track and sent to Darley Stud’s Jonabell Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. His first foals are yearlings in 2010. I believe that Street Sense will prove to be an outstanding sire, based on his racing talent, conformation, and breeding. I also believe that Street Sense is not remembered for the outstanding horse that he was because of the result of his final race. Yes, Curlin won easy, and Street Sense labored home a will beaten 4th , (the only time in his career he was out of the money) but remember the track was a sloppy mess that day, and going into that final race he was well respected. Street Sense was the race favorite, while Curlin was the fourth choice. If that race was run on a fast track, who knows how Street Sense would be remembered. I remember you Street Sense.

Photo by Sue Kawczynski

April 12, 2010

Derby Dozen & Oaks Eleven

Inside of three weeks now. Excitement is building. Will we have our first Triple Crown winner in 32 years? Will another Oaks winner use it as a springboard to the Preakness or Belmont? These questions and many more will be answered in the coming days. The most exciting two minutes in sports and its filly counterpart are almost upon us. The wait is almost over. If I sound excited, it’s because I am! Let’s get ready to get Down and Derby!!! Here is how I rate them less than 21 days from kickoff, Ladies first…

1 Devil May Care Back in top form; Pletcher has the horses to sweep the Oaks and the Derby.

2 Blind Luck I thought she was the best of the juvenile fillies, she’s still the one every horse has to beat.

***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 11, 2010

Zenyatta is the Master

As I watch my favorite golf tournament with great interest, I take the time to marvel at the ability of these incredible golfers. The Masters is the perfect name for the greatest golf tournament on earth. Perhaps I appreciate their unbelievable skill just a wee bit more, because I am very familiar with what it takes to play the game well. I am a very good golfer and can play more proficiently than 99% of the world, but truth be told, I can not hold a candle to the men I am watching today. Men like Lee Westwood, Phil Mickleson, and Tiger Woods are true masters. Appreciation of this mastery, and understanding of how truly special what they can do with a golf club and ball, is something as a young man I envied. Now with a little more age, and perhaps wisdom, I find nothing but positives in watching the best in my game. For a myriad of reasons, such as amazing innate talent, a great work ethic to hone their craft, an inner peace and confidence, the courage to excel, I could go on…these greats of the sport are marvelous examples of how one of God’s creatures can reach levels of greatness that boggle the mind.

I do not know how many of my readers could care less about the sport of golf, and I apologize for rambling about the game, but in watching the Masters this weekend, I find a strong correlation between these stars and a certain dark bay mare that ran on Friday. You might be familiar with her. Her name is Zenyatta, and she also boggles the mind.

Watching her gives us a better understanding of the perfection that we can find in the world. Zenyatta is a master of Thoroughbred horse racing. What she can do with rider Mike Smith on her back is simply better than what other horses can do. Watch a typical stakes race anywhere in the world and you will see marvelous athletes doing what they do best. In beautiful rhythm, they run with speed and grace unlike anything else on earth. These stakes horses do it better than 99% of their breed, but truth be told, they can not hold a candle to Zenyatta. Like comparing Tiger Woods to myself on the golf course, Zenyatta is in another stratosphere. I hope we all take the time to marvel and appreciate what we have for as long as she is on the racetrack. We may never see another like her. She is a perfect 16 for 16, but more importantly, what she can do is perfection. What makes her so phenomenal? I don’t know. It is a myriad of qualities too intricate to calculate, that have all come together to create Zenyatta. On this weekend, one of my favorite weekends of the year because of the Masters golf tournament, I find joy and admiration, appreciation and marvel in Zenyatta. She is a true master, or maybe I should just take that one step farther…Zenyatta is the master.

April 10, 2010

Derby Day in the Natural State

D. Wayne Lukas once ruled over the Derby-Preakness-Belmont landscape with a confident and steady hand that saw him win an incredible 13 times. Such a consistent threat in the Triple Crown races was Lukas, that he once won six consecutive crown races with Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch, Timber Country, and Grindstone in 1994-96. His last win came in 2000 with the longshot Belmont winner Commendable. In the ten years that have passed since the Hall of Fame trainer last found himself in a Spring classic winner’s circle, legitimate opportunities have been notably slim. Lukas hopes to end that streak with either of two colts that he has starting in today’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. In Dublin and Northern Giant, Lukas has a two-prong attack that could well send him onto Louisville on a winning note, and possibly a return to Triple Crown glory.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on Youbet.com*** Click Here

April 9, 2010

Blue Grass to Derby, Still a Viable Route?

Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes has long been one of the most prestigious of all roads leading to the Kentucky Derby. Year in an year out, it produced, if not the Derby winner itself, then at the very least, some strong contenders for the blanket of roses. Something has changed though. No longer do I see the Blue Grass as one of the most important preps, or one of the most likely places for a Derby winner to emerge. What changed? In the Fall of 2006, Keeneland went Polytrack. They decided to take out their dirt surface, after seventy years, and replace it with a synthetic surface. It was called a “safer solution.” Whether it is safer or not, is open for debate, but it is not the topic of the day.

Now that the Blue Grass is on Polytrack and three weeks before the Derby, it is the final prep for any horse hoping to run in both the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby. It would be unheard of, to squeeze in a race between the two, in this age of lighter schedules for our stars. Because of this, the Blue Grass is becoming a less desirable destination for many of the top contenders, as many do not want to run so close to the Derby, especially if it is on a synthetic surface which is so different than that of Churchill Downs. This situation saddens me. In my mind the Blue Grass should be the preeminent prep. There is no place better to be in the Spring than Keeneland. The weather, the facility, the people, and the surroundings…it truly is a slice of Heaven here on earth. Keeneland has an almost mystical appeal to fans of the horse, and I am no different, and the Blue Grass is, at least in my estimation, the grandest day at the Lexington oval. Maybe I am just a bit nostalgic, but when I first became a regular at Keeneland, I saw horses like Summer Squall defeating Unbridled, and heavy hitters Strike the Gold, Prairie Bayou, and Holy Bull, all winning in the Blue Grass. Those times may be lost.

With all due respect to the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita, and Arkansas Derbies, the Blue Grass holds the most special place in my heart of all Derby preps. I do not know how much longer I will be saying this though. Since the transition to Polytrack, the winner of the Blue Grass has finished 11th, 20th, and 10th in the Derby. In a word dismal. Success in the Blue Grass is no longer a strong recommendation for your chances in the Derby. To be fair, Street Sense did run in the Blue Grass before winning the 2007 Derby, although by losing in Lexington to an inferior field, and then winning in Louisville, Street Sense pointed out the vast difference in the two tracks. Why would horsemen want to run on a surface so different only three weeks before the biggest race of their lives? I honestly do not know.

Despite my sadness in the relative importance of this great race, I am rather upbeat with this year’s edition. There are several horses in the race, who I think have a chance to make some noise at Churchill. Most notably Odysseus and Interactif, whom I definitely both include in my top ten Derby candidates. But still, even with a good field running tomorrow, I have to wonder if the result will mean absolutely anything on the First Saturday in May. Probably not. Maybe they should just run the Blue Grass at Churchill Downs. Ouch! I just bit my tongue.

Polytrack Up Close

April 8, 2010

Who Am I ???

*My career began in state bred races, in fact almost half of my career starts were in restricted races.

*Yes, I ran on the First Saturday in May, but unfortunately, I did not win.

*Undefeated as a juvenile, my largest margin of victory came in my first career start.

*In my only career grade 1 stakes win, I defeated two Eclipse Award winners.

*Throughout my entire career, I proved to be quite popular with the bettors.

*My father won four grade 1 stakes, and my daughter won five.

*My trainer and jockey were both victorious in the Kentucky Derby and are in the Hall of Fame.

*I finished 3rd in my final race, which ended a four race winning streak.

*My broodmare sire was also a Kentucky Derby loser, eleven years before me.

*My conditioner won the Kentucky Derby the year before I tried for him.

*If you want my honest opinion, I think Mr. Musselman is both genius and entertaining.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

April 7, 2010

Will You Back the Derby Favorite?

Welcome to Zipse at the Track's Two Dozen Days of Derby.  Each and every day for the next twenty four, you will find Derby, Derby, and more Derby here on ZATT.  So please, if you want to dicuss politics or religion, you are in the wrong place.  I have Kentucky Derby Fever, and I hope you do too.  So when you visit these pages, be prepared for nothing but Talking Derby.  Today, we will discuss the merits of recent Derby favoritism.  The results may surprise you.

If Eskendereya enters the 2010 Kentucky Derby starting gate, he will undoubtedly be the top choice by bettors. He assured this with his recent romp in the Wood Memorial. An enviable position, to be the Kentucky Derby favorite, right? Maybe, but maybe not. Let’s take a look at the performance of the favorites in the last 30 years:

Year   Favorite                      Odds    Finish
2009   Friesan Fire                        3.80-1     18th
2008   Big Brown                          2.40-1     1st
2007   Street Sense                       4.90-1     1st
2006   Sweetnorthernsaint             5.50-1     7th
2005   Bellamy Road                     2.60-1     7th
2004   Smarty Jones                      4.10-1     1st
2003   Empire Maker                    2.50-1     2nd
2002   Harlan's Holiday                 6.00-1     7th
2001   Point Given                        1.80-1     5th
2000   Fusaichi Pegasus                2.30-1     1st
1999   General Challenge (entry)   4.80-1     11th
1998   Indian Charlie                     2.70-1     3rd
1997   Captain Bodgit                   3.10-1     2nd
1996   Unbridled's Song                3.50-1     5th
1995   Timber Country (entry)       3.40-1     3rd
1994   Holy Bull                            2.20-1     12th
1993   Prairie Bayou                     4.40-1     2nd
1992   Arazi                                    .90-1     8th
1991   Hansel                                2.50-1     10th
1990   Mister Frisky                      1.90-1     8th
1989   Easy Goer (entry)                 .80-1     2nd
1988   Private Terms                      3.40-1     9th
1987   Demons Begone                  2.20-1     DNF
1986   Snow Chief                         2.10-1     11th
1985   Chief's Crown                     1.20-1     3rd
1984   Althea (entry)                      2.80-1     19th
1983   Marfa (entry)                       2.40-1     5th
1982   Air Forbes Won                  2.70-1     7th
1981   Proud Appeal (entry)           2.30-1     18th
1980   Rockhill Native                    2.10-1     5th

A closer look at these results reveal that a total of four favorites have won the Kentucky Derby in the past three decades, a winning percentage of only 13.3%.

The average finish for the favorite in this time period is a very surprising 7th place. As you can tell, being the favorite means very little when the race begins.

Looking at the winners over these thirty years, we see 13 horses who had double digit odds, and six of them had odds of over 20-1.

What does this all mean for this year's favorite, Eskendereya? Nothing, he will not be aware of his own odds. But if you think that it is a foregone conclusion that we will see Eskendereya in the winner's circle, history has taught us that you may be in for a rude awakening.

April 6, 2010

Remembering ... Personal Ensign

“The Derby winner is loose on the lead!” The words echoed in my ears, as the great Phipps filly spun her wheels on the messy Churchill Downs’ dirt course. Everything was on the line for Personal Ensign that damp afternoon. A win would ensure her place among the all-time greats of racing history, as she would become the first major American horse to go undefeated since the legendary Colin, some eighty years before. A loss would drop her legacy down a notch, still a special horse, but not with the immortality of a perfect record.

“The Derby winner is loose on the lead!” I kept hearing those words, mainly because my partner, that day, my father, kept saying them playfully after announcer Tom Durkin had said them early in the race. At the eighth pole, it still appeared hopeless as we stared at the TV monitors at the Meadowlands.  Four lengths behind Winning Colors, who was running her best race since winning the Derby half a year earlier, her task appeared too great.

“The Derby winner is loose on the lead!” But Personal Ensign was no ordinary horse. With dogged determination she kicked into another gear. She was the only one who did not know how to lose. Rider Randy Romero kept asking for more and the great filly kept giving more. She ignored the nasty weather and track conditions and reeled in the Derby winner, who was loose on the lead. In the most thrilling finish in the history of the Breeders‘ Cup, Personal Ensign stuck her nose in front of Winning Colors in the final stride. It was a case of a true champion acting like only a true champion could. She retired perfect. Immortality was hers.

Personal Ensign was foaled and raised at Claiborne Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. A dark bay daughter of Private Account out of the Hoist the Flag mare, Grecian Banner, Personal Ensign was bred in Kentucky by her owner, by legendary owner, Ogden Phipps. She was one of the greatest ever to carry the famous black silks and cherry cap of the Phipps family. She arrived on the racing scene in 1986, and began her career winning two races as a juvenile. Her maiden win was so impressive, winning by 13 lengths, that only two others challenged her in the prestigious Frizette Stakes. Sent off at odds on, she displayed her true grit by wearing down an excellent Majestic Light filly named Collins, by a head. Two starts and already a grade 1 winner, Personal Ensign was destined for greatness. Unfortunately she broke her left hind leg in two places while preparing for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Five screws were inserted to aid in healing and to keep the bone together. This was not the end of her career, though, far from it.

The star returned to the races eleven months later, rattling off four consecutive wins against top competition in New York. Despite nearly a year away, and a major injury, Personal Ensign was absolutely dominant in two allowance races at Belmont, before winning the Rare Perfume Stakes and the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes, all with almost shocking ease. Her trainer Shug McGaughey, felt a trip to Hollywood Park for the 1987 Breeders' Cup Distaff would be too much to ask of her in too short a time period, so she was put away for the season, still unbeaten after six career starts.

If her first two seasons were slightly unfulfilled because of the injury, 1988 would be her opportunity to accomplish everything. After winning two stakes easily at Belmont Park, the perfect filly made her first trip outside of New York. Watching that day at Monmouth Park, I remember wondering if the really nice Jersey filly Grecian Flight could give her a race. She could not. Seeing Personal Ensign in person at four was like seeing pure power in the form of a beautiful thoroughbred horse. She won the Molly Pitcher Stakes by eight lengths, and to this day I consider it one of the more impressive wins I have ever seen in person. Next came the males in the Whitney, and another easy win. Number ten. She dropped down to mile and powered by Winning Colors in the Maskette, and then romped with a repeat win in the Beldame. Finally she was able to run in the Breeders’ Cup, so it was on to Kentucky.

The Phipps filly arrived in Louisville with seven grade 1 wins under to her credit, and 12 wins in 12 lifetime starts. After the amazing script played itself out in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she was retired on the highest possible note. Her three year career comprised only thirteen races, but in that span she stamped herself as one of the finest distaffers ever race on America soil.

A perfect racing career led to a perfect broodmare career. Personal Ensign became one of the most important broodmares in American history. Her very first foal, Miner's Mark, was a grade 1 stakes winner. Next came the nice stakes colt, Our Emblem, who went on to sire Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem. Personal Ensign also foaled, Traditionally, was a grade 1 winner at the races and as a sire. Personal Ensign's best runner was undoubtedly, My Flag. My Flag won four grade 1 stakes, including the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She also tried males, and was third in the 1996 Belmont Stakes. Like Personal Ensign, My Flag went on to achieve great success as a broodmare, notably with the Eclipse Award winning filly, Storm Flag Flying, an undefeated juvenile champion. Her BC Juvenile fillies win, meant that three generations of females won the Cup, beginning with Personal Ensign, an amazing feat. Personal Ensign was named the Broodmare of the year in 1996. Her breeding career ended ten years later, after a barren year, at the age of 22. Personal Ensign was pensioned to Claiborne Farm to live her life in comfort, where she remains today at the age of 26.

Whether Personal Ensign is deserving of being called one of the greatest of all time, might be subject to debate, there can be little doubt that she was one of the greatest to appear on the racing scene since Spectacular Bid retired in 1980. Was her racing career ‘managed’ to avoid defeat? That may have played a small part, but more likely she was handled carefully to avoid any worsening of her juvenile injury. I will leave you with this parting shot…it is hard to argue with perfection. I remember you Personal Ensign.

April 5, 2010

Todd Pletcher - The Definition of Due

Todd Pletcher has clearly been the man so far this year on the Kentucky Derby trail. Pletcher’s horses have won this year’s Wood Memorial, Louisiana Derby, Fountain of Youth, Sam F. Davis Stakes and Risen Star Stakes. So dominant is Pletcher, that it is almost hard to imagine a big Derby prep without at least one of his runners in the mix. In this week’s prestigious Blue Grass, he will have two of the favorites in Aikenite and Interactif. In the Arkansas Derby, he has another of the top choices in Super Saver. The Pletcher prep wins are likely to continue. This winning streak is nothing new for the 42 year old conditioner. Pletcher has won four Eclipse Awards as the nation's outstanding trainer. He has led the national standings in earnings four times, and in 2007, he set a record when his stable earned more than $28 million. But despite of all of these personal achievements, his career is incomplete.
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April 4, 2010

Ode to Eskendereya Musket Man

You probably expected me to compose a celebratory piece about a certain Wood Memorial winner today, didn’t you? In a day that was absolutely dominated by a sublime performance by a three-year-old rocket named Eskendereya, I instead offer my readers a different perspective on the beauty of a horse, and the race. Sure it was easy to marvel at the magnificence of Eskendereya as he effortlessly cantered free from quality opposition, barely slowing down on the fast lane to Louisville. I, however, found an even greater amount of joy in watching a horse in a losing effort only 36 minutes later on the same Aqueduct Racecourse. His name is Musket Man and Musket Man is the embodiment of everything I admire in a Thoroughbred horse.  So much so, that today I immortalize him on the pages of ZATT.

Musket Man O’ Musket Man
Whenever you run I believe you can
A gorgeous dark bay with a powerful stride
You always give your fans quite the ride
Thundering hooves and flowing mane
Your competition finds you impossible to tame

I am never afraid to be your admiring tout
For I know on race day you will run your heart out
In the Carter Handicap you may have lost by a nose
But with the race you ran your stock still rose
If you run a bad race it will be your first
More likely you will win each race with a burst

Last year you made noise on the Triple Crown trail
This Breeders’ Cup you may be the colt we all hail
New York, Philly, Tampa, Chicago, Kentucky and Baltimore
You have earned your fans and we are hardcore
Six nice wins already to your credit
There will be many more I believe in fact I will bet it

Ten lifetime races and each time you impress
You have become a great favorite of mine I must confess
Now I vow to follow you both near and far
For me you will never be anything but a star
I will search for your name in hope to see you run
For you Musket Man the best is yet to come

Photo by Sue Kawczynski      
Poem by Brian Zipse

April 3, 2010

Say Yes to Yonaguska

It could be a big day for the young sire Yonaguska. Here is a little refresher on the son of Cherokee Run. Handsome and brilliant as a youngster, he sold for $1,950,000 at the Fasig Tipton, February two-year-olds in training sale of 2000. It did not take long for him to reward his owners as he won Saratoga’s prestigious Hopeful Stakes, defeating eventual juvenile champion Macho Uno in the process. That may have proved to be his greatest win, though, as Yonaguska was never able to beat the big boys going a route of ground. He did go on to be a top notch sprinter, and at three he won the Grade 2 Hutcheson, the Grade 2 Fall Highweight and the Grade 3 Sport Page. At retirement he had accumulated 6 wins from 18 starts and earnings of $536,355. He was sent to stud at Vinery in Kentucky and has proven a success, siring horses who can win sprints, but also longer races as well.
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