May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

Today is a day to celebrate the memory of our fallen soldiers. It is also traditionally one of the finest racing days of the year. As usual there are big stakes and great cards all over the nation on Memorial Day. So today I wish you all a happy holiday… now let’s talk horses. Lone Star Park, Hollywood Park, and Monmouth Park all have multiple stakes to keep a close eye on, but no race today is bigger than the return of the brilliant Quality Road in Belmont Park’s historic Met Mile. A career that has been filled with setbacks, but also with the promise of ultimate quality, has led Quality Road to be one of the most interesting horses on our racing landscape in years. Today, another chapter of the Quality Road saga will be written.
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May 30, 2010

The Dudes

With the big race only six days away, I have decided to get back to some good old fashioned journalism. To those ends, I hit the backstretch early to obtain inside information from some of the major players in the Test of Champions. Mission accomplished. What follows are two highly informative interviews as a direct result of all my effort. After all nothing is too good for my readers.

Part 1 (First Dude)

ZAAT: Mr. Dude, thanks so much for…

First Dude: “Look, let me explain something. I'm not Mr. Dude. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. That, or Duder. His Dudeness. Or El Duderino, if, you know, you're not into the whole brevity thing.”

ZAAT: Sorry Dude.

First Dude: “That’s OK ZATT. By the way that’s an interesting name…ZATT, what is that Dutch-Hungarian?”

ZATT:  Uh…no. Actually it is an acronym for Zipse at…

First Dude: “Come on, man, it was just a little joke. Besides, I don’t think my fans care what ZATT stands for.”

ZATT: Probably so Dudeness. Anyway…I wanted to ask you about your performance in the Preakness.

First Dude: “No big thing man. I just ran.”

ZATT:  That is awfully humble of you considering what a great race you ran. I figured that you were trying to pound your competition into dust that day.

First Dude:  “ZATT, you can't talk like that, man. These guys are like me, they're pacificists. Smokey was a conscientious objector.”

ZATT:  Uh...I see, and…Smokey???

First Dude:  “Smokey. You know…Jackson Bend. He likes to be called Smokey. So that‘s we call him.”

ZATT:  Interesting. But back to you; you showed great talent and heart with your close 2nd place finish in the Preakness. Is it that talent and heart that makes you the kind of horse that you are?

First Dude: “Sure. That and a pair of testicles.”

ZATT:  Wow, that is more information than I was expecting, but thank you for your candor. One more quick question…

First Dude:  “Good, starting to get a little hungry here.”

ZATT:  What is your prediction for the Belmont?

First Dude:  “My prediction? Well like Woody said, look for the horse who will benefit. And you will, uh, you know, you'll, uh, you know what I'm trying to say…”

Part 2 (Game On Dude) will be published on Tuesday.

Special thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen, whose film The Big Lebowski, was a not so subtle influence on this piece, and were responsible for some of the quotes of both First Dude and Game on Dude.

May 29, 2010

True Hall of Famers

Well done voters! Four greats were inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame yesterday, and in my eyes they could not be more deserving. Randy Romero, Azeri, Best Pal, and Point Given are in. I congratulate each for the ultimate honor. As a lifelong fan of Thoroughbred horse racing, one of my favorite days of the year is the announcement of brand new members of the Hall of Fame. It makes me think back about their wonderful careers, which is always fun, but it also re-invigorates me for the upcoming races and future greats. I look forward to the induction ceremony, which will take place August 13 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Saratoga. Let’s take a look at why they were so deserving.
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May 28, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won the majority of my starts, and never finished worse than second in my two seasons of racing.

*Undefeated at two, my average margin of victory as a juvenile was just a hair under five lengths.

*I was a Derby winner, but it was not the one on the first Saturday in May.

*My two biggest victories came on opposite coasts, one ending my juvenile season, the other ending my sophomore season.

*I proved to be quite popular with the bettors; I was favored in every single start.

*I was ridden by the same Hall of Fame rider in each of my last seven starts.

*My trainer has had many top horses since, but I was his first superstar.

*I inherited some of my speed from my grandsire, the great Mr. Prospector.

*My seven stakes wins included victories in the East, West, and Midwest, although I never raced in New York or Kentucky.

*After retirement, I was sent far from my home to enjoy a career as a stallion.

*My largest margin of victory was by more than twenty lengths.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

May 27, 2010

The Belmont List

With the Test of Champions just around the corner, I decided to have a little fun with the classic race. There have been 31 winners of the Belmont Stakes since Affirmed outgamed Alydar to become the eleventh winner of the Triple Crown. Today I took on the unenviable task of ranking them 1 through 31. The basis for the ranking was on their overall racing career and a blending of excellence and accomplishments. Have fun and please let me know where you think I may have gone astray...

 1. Easy Goer 20-14-5-1
 2. Point Given 13-9-3-0
 3. Risen Star 11-8-2-1
 4. A.P. Indy 11-8-0-1
 5. Afleet Alex 12-8-2-1
 6. Conquistador Cielo 13-9-0-2
 7. Swale 14-9-2-2
 8. Coastal 14-8-1-3
 9. Thunder Gulch 16-9-2-2
10. Rags to Riches 7-5-1-0
11. Bet Twice 26-10-6-4
12. Empire Maker 8-4-3-1
13. Hansel 14-7-2-3
14. Lemon Drop Kid 24-10-3-3
15. Victory Gallop 17-9-5-1
16. Summer Bird 8-4-1-1
17. Tabasco Cat 18-8-3-2
18. Birdstone 9-5-0-0
19. Touch Gold 15-6-3-1
20. Crème Fraiche 64-17-12-13
21. Danzig Connection 17-6-5-4
22. Temperance Hill 31-11-4-2
23. Colonial Affair 20-7-4-3
24. Caveat 21-6-4-3
25. Go and Go 15-6-0-2
26. Summing 23-7-5-1
27. Editor’s Note 31-6-4-3
28. Jazil 11-2-5-0
29. Sarava 17-3-3-0
30. Commendable 12-2-1-1
31. Da’ Tara 17-2-5-2

May 26, 2010

Back On a Quality Road

It is hard to believe that Quality Road has only made nine lifetime starts. This is a colt who has been making racing headlines from day one. Let’s take a quick look at a timeline of highlights:

November 29, 2008 - His racing debut results in one of the highest Beyers of any juvenile of 2008, as he easily wins a 6 ½ furlong maiden race at Aqueduct.

February 28, 2009 - After a disappointing 2nd place finish in his three-year-old debut, Quality Road destroys his competition in his first stakes try in the Fountain of Youth.

March 28, 2009 - He breaks the track record while winning the Grade 1 Florida Derby in only his 4th lifetime start, making him the early favorite for the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

April 27, 2009 - It is announced that a second quarter crack will keep Quality Road, the likely favorite for the Run for the Roses, out of the big race at Churchill Downs.

June 15, 2009 - News comes in that owner and breeder Edward P. Evans has transferred Quality Road from trainer Jimmy Jerkens to the barn of Todd Pletcher.

August 3, 2009 - Recovered from his quarter crack problems, and making his first start for his new high profile trainer, Quality Road grabs his 2nd track record with a scintillating win against top sprinters in the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga

August 29, 2009 - Despite his lack of racing, Quality Road is the clear favorite in the prestigious Travers. Fractious in the gate, he has a tough trip in the slop and tires late to finish 3rd in the Mid-summer Derby to the new leader of the division, Summer Bird.

October 3, 2009 - Another meeting with Summer Bird again plays out on a sloppy track in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This time Quality Road is more competitive, but again succumbs late to the soon to be sophomore champion.

November 7, 2009 - Quality Road becomes so traumatized that he will not load into the Breeders’ Cup Classic starting gate in what becomes a scary scene. He suffers minor injuries and suffers mentally as well, needing to be vanned all the way back to Belmont Park from Southern California after refusing to get on the plane.

November 20, 2009 - The racing community is surprised to learn that Quality Road, less than two weeks removed from his BC incident, may run in the Cigar Mile after schooling in the starting gate several days. The plan is eventually scrapped and Quality Road is sent South for the Winter.

Like I said, it is hard to believe that Quality Road has only run nine times, and judging from his last performance, it is clear his story is far from over.

His most recent race was undoubtedly his best race to date and what a performance it was. In the Donn, Quality Road stalked the lead of Past the Point closely, and smoothly moved up to challenge the leader on the turn. The powerful bay colt took over the lead before straightening out for the stretch, and "poof!" the race was over. Quality Road enjoyed a sudden advantage at the top of the lane, and from there put his immense talent on display when asked by rider John Velazquez. His lead extended with every awesome stride, crossing the wire more than a dozen lengths in front in the grade 1 affair. Final time over the Gulfstream strip was 1:47.49, giving Quality Road his third track record in only those nine starts.

What’s next for Quality Road? Tune in to Monday’s Met Mile and find out!

May 25, 2010

Remembering ... Sysonby

Growing up, my favorite book was undoubtedly the American Racing Manual, and my favorite section of the book was the Hall of Champions. I would read, and re-read every word and study the race records of the greatest of the greats. I soaked up as much information as I possibly could. Of special interest were the horses of yesteryear. I was a Man O’ War junkie…go ahead, ask me a question about Man O’ War. Two horses that go even farther back, were also of great interest, in Colin and Sysonby. Colin retired undefeated, while Sysonby did not, but as the oldest horses in the Hall of Champions, I was fascinated by both. Truth be told, I was even more interested in Sysonby. As a kid, I liked the name, and deep down, I must admit that there is something appealing about near perfection rather than actual perfection. I am but a flawed human being after all, and it is OK for my heroes to be flawed as well. Sysonby was flawed; he lost once in 15 starts, and he did not survive past the age of four-years-old.

His story from the beginning was an interesting one. At barely 15 hands, Sysonby did not have the appearance of an all-time great. A small and plain colt, Sysonby was not recognized early on as the star he would become. Owner, James R. Keene raced his horses both in England and the United States, and he had great champions on both sides of the Atlantic. He originally planned to sell the son of Melton and Optime, but because of urging by his son, kept the small yearling. After reluctantly retaining ownership, Keene then planned to send him off to race in England, but was tricked by trainer James G. Rowe, Sr. He didn't want to lose Sysonby, and convinced the owner that he was not healthy enough to survive the voyage. The plan to make him appear sickly was successful and Rowe would train the future champion in America.

When Sysonby reached the track as a juvenile, there was little doubt that he was a good one. He romped in his opening race at Brighton Beach and came back two days later to score in the Brighton Junior Stakes in easy fashion. He followed with impressive wins in prestigious stakes, the Flash and the Saratoga Special. He entered The Futurity at Sheepshead Bay as the top juvenile in the nation. Sysonby was the clear favorite even with his hefty impost of 127 pounds. The field was loaded with future Kentucky Derby winner, Agile, future Belmont winning filly, Tanya, champion filly Artful, Canadian champion Oiseau, and the unbeaten Tradition. It was said to be the strongest field the famous two-year-old race had ever seen, and Sysonby would be beaten. Artful pulled off the upset, winning by five lengths. Sysonby never threatened, and lost 2nd by a nose to Tradition. This defeat in his fifth lifetime race would prove to be his last. Three weeks after his loss in The Futurity, Sysonby won the Junior Champion Stakes by three lengths to complete his championship juvenile season with five wins in six starts.

At the age of three, Sysonby would take things to a whole new level. In his first start, he was given a huge test. He was asked to give weight to older horses in the Metropolitan. Sysonby dead heated with Race King, a five-year-old carrying ten pounds less than the three-year-old star, while the rest of the field was left far behind. After the Met, things got much easier for Sysonby. He returned to Sheepshead Bay, the site of his only defeat, and won the Tidal Stakes by five lengths over the Kentucky Derby winner Agile. The easy stakes victories continued, including an effortless score over the Belmont winner Tanya in the Lawrence Realization. In Saratoga's Great Republic Stakes, Sysonby would put on a special show. It is said that he fell up to seventy five yards behind the leaders, after blowing the start, before rallying to defeat a strong field.

He finished his great season of 1905 with an easy victory in the two and a quarter mile Annual Champion Stakes at Sheepshead Bay. Sysonby finished his sophomore season undefeated in nine starts, winning at distances ranging from a mile to 2 ¼ miles. He won every start, but the Met Mile, easily and did it against the top competition of his day. Sysonby was named Horse of the Year, and champion three-year-old colt, and had earned the whopping total (in those days) of $184,438. A plan to return to the races at four, unfortunately, would never happen.

The great horse met the ultimate tragedy in the Summer of 1906. Sysonby's life was cut short by what was first thought of as a skin disease, but later was believed to be a liver disease. Unable to recover from the sickness, Sysonby died from the disease at age 4. Over four thousand fans attended his burial in front of Keene's stables to celebrate the life of the great horse. Sysonby was later exhumed, and his skeleton has been on display since 1907 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Despite never having the opportunity to race as an older horse, Sysonby is still considered one of the greatest horses ever to set foot on an American racetrack. 15 races and 14 victories, and most of them in high style. Oh, and by the way, in that one race that he did lose as a juvenile, The Futurity at Sheepshead Bay, Sysonby was believed to have been drugged. His groom admitted to tranqulizing the great colt before the race for his own monetary gain. If not for that incident, it is quite likely that Sysonby would be one of the rare great horses who was never beaten. I remember you Sysonby.

Research for this article was obtained from a variety of sources including: The New York Times, The American Racing Manual, The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and The Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame website.

May 24, 2010

A Canadian Champion

Picture it, a longshot is flying down the lane, picking off horses one by one. She is literally gaining with every stride; judging by her rate of rally, she should have no problem sweeping by the leaders for the victory. All of a sudden, one of the horses she is about to pass makes a sharp right hand turn sideswiping the stretch runner. The bumping is strong, throwing her temporarily off stride and carrying the filly much wider than she already was. After regaining stride, she kicks into high gear again, only to run out of ground, and finishes a fast closing 4th. I felt bad, as she was my longshot pick, and I stood to collect a few shillings if she had won. Just think how her connections must have felt. Pretty unlucky if this race was in a claiming event, right? Yes it would have been, but this was no claiming race. In fact it was last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and the unlucky loser was Biofuel.
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May 23, 2010

Canford Cliffs Can Do

Royal Ascot’s St James's Palace Stakes on June the 15th promises to be a most interesting affair for race fans on both sides of the big pond. With horses like the undefeated English 2000 Guineas winner, Makfi, the 2nd place finisher in both the French and English Guineas, Dick Turpin, and the American star, Noble’s Promise, lining up to do battle, it should be a world class event. With all due respect to each of those excellent three-year-olds, I believe the winner of the Group 1 St James's Palace just ran yesterday at the Curragh. Sent off as the 9-4 favorite, Canford Cliffs fulfilled all the expectations he had been carrying since last Spring, with his scintillating three length success in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

This is the same horse that both jockey, Richard Hughes and trainer Richard Hannon had been raving about even before his first stakes win. Canford Cliffs romped home by six lengths in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last June, in only his second lifetime start. He had run well since, but not quite well enough to get a win in three stakes races since that fantastic start to his career. He was coming off a rallying 3rd place finish in the year's first classic at Newmarket in the English 2,000 Guineas three weeks ago. Going in to yesterday's race doubters questioned the son of Tagula’s ability to handle the mile against top company. Those doubts were laid to rest as Canford Cliffs relaxed early, and exploded down the lane to canter clear of his outclassed competition. A firmer turf course and a quicker early tempo then seen in England certainly proved to his liking. The impressive victory in the Irish Classic was sweet vindication for his connection's belief that the colt is the best that Hughes has ever rode for his father-in-law, and the best horse the conditioner has ever had in 40 years as a trainer.

A return to Royal Ascot next month for the St James's Palace Stakes will be a huge test for the stretch running Canford Cliffs. The race is shaping up as a key event, and the mile run over the historic course should provide some clarity as to who is the top sophomore miler in Europe. Makfi is unbeaten and the winner of the most important mile to date. Dick Turpin has proved to be top class on numerous occasions, and Noble’s Promise is a most interesting American invader, but from what I saw yesterday, it will be Canford Cliffs who is the one they will all have to beat.

May 22, 2010

Why Monmouth Will Succeed

Bold moves create big questions. Will the Million Dollar Meet be the future of racing? Or will the big plan not be what it’s cracked up to be, further weakening the sport on the East Coast? One thing is for sure, all of racing will be tuned in to watch Monmouth Park’s risky endeavor of shortening the race week to three days while offering 50 million dollars in purses over a 50 day race meet beginning today. My money is on Monmouth, I think their bold initiative will be a big success. Here are just a few of my favorite reasons for the prediction:
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May 21, 2010

Vacation Over … What’s Next?

Seven days in Maryland over and out. I had more than my fill of crabs, the boardwalk, and sand in my…well you get the idea. Candie, Kendra and I did have a great time, and who knows, maybe we will make it back to Ocean City, Maryland sometime down the road. We decided on Maryland in the first place strictly to visit Pimlico, and a couple of days there was an experience that I will not soon forget. The pilgrimage to Pimlico and the Preakness was something I needed to do. Would I recommend the Baltimore oval as a racetrack destination? Maybe. It is different than any other racetrack I have ever been to, and as you know, I have been to a lot. A city track that is either old, or steeped in tradition, depending on your point-of-view, I will say that Pimlico puts on a good show for the Preakness. The traditionalist side in me hopes that Maryland never loses the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Heading back to Chicagoland on a jet plane, or actually a Mazda 5, in our case, I got to thinking about what is on the horizon for us horse racing fans. That is what I do after all, as the mile markers whiz by. Maryland to Delaware, back into Maryland, to Pennslylvania, to Ohio, to Indiana, and finally home in Illinois. Of course I’m going to think about the horses at least a little. Here’s what I was thinking about. The queen of the turf mile, Goldikova, returns on Sunday in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp, and she should have her hands full with the classy filly, Stacelita. Eight days after that, the Met Mile will be the third race of 2010 for Quality Road. In case you missed it, his last race in the Donn Handicap was one of the most impressive performances seen so far in the 21st century.

Keeping my attention at Belmont Park, the Test of Champions, will be run six days later. While this year’s Belmont Stakes does not boast a list of big names, it is still a Classic, and one that I am salivating over as a betting race. One week later, Zenyatta the great, puts her unblemished record on the line in the Vanity at Hollywood Park, and that same weekend I will be road tripping to Louisville for a sure to be interesting Stephen Foster Handicap. Finally the first half of June may include the next race for my favorite horse Rachel Alexandra, and who knows, maybe it will be the race where we see the real Rachel. Am I deflated by another year without a Triple Crown winner? Nope, not me.

May 20, 2010

Remembering ... Snow Chief

Snow Chief was a Classic winner and an American champion. The California bred, near black colt was a consistent and dominant star in 1985 through 1987. He was the all-time leading California bred earner until surpassed by Best Pal, and still is fourth behind only Tiznow, Best Pal and Lava Man. Snow Chief was bred by Carl Grinstead in the name of his Blue Diamond Ranch, and owned in partnership with retired vaudevillian, Ben Rochelle. Together the two gentleman in their seventies, were known as the Sunshine Boys, and they enjoyed every second of Snow Chief’s rise to prominence. Snow Chief was trained throughout his career by Mel Stute who had already been at the training game for forty years, and also was a beloved personality on the Southern Californian racing circuit.

Despite his modest breeding, it was clear that Snow Chief was destined to become a star early in his career. Most notably winning the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes by three lengths and the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity by more than six lengths as a juvenile. Left in his Hollywood Futurity wake that day, was next Spring‘s Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand. It was the beginning of a great rivalry and one that Snow Chief would get the better of more often than not. In the three-year, nine-race rivalry he defeated the champion Ferdinand six times in nine meetings. All told Snow Chief won five of nine starts at two, including four stakes wins.

Snow Chief began his three-year-old campaign much the same as he finished 1985, winning four straight stakes. He traveled from Southern California to Northern California, to Florida, and back again to Southern California in racking up stylish wins in the California Breeders' Champion, the El Camino Real Derby, the Florida Derby and finally a six length thrashing of his Santa Anita Derby foes. It was no wonder that Snow Chief was the hot 2-1 favorite in that year's Kentucky Derby. The Derby would not be his day, however. Snow Chief chased the sprinter fractions set by speedball Groovy and had nothing left for the demanding Derby stretch. He faded to finish in 11th place in the field of 16, while his previous whipping boy, Ferdinand, rallied strongly on the inside under Bill Shoemaker to snare the roses. It was a big disappointment to his connections, but they resisted the urge to take their colt back to their home base in California.

The gamble would pay off as two weeks later in Baltimore, Snow Chief exacted his revenge on his old rival with dominating performance in the Preakness. Under more reasonable fractions, Snow Chief took command and easily romped home by four lengths over the Derby winner. It was the first Classic win for any of his connections including his regular rider, Alex Solis. Snow Chief would get no rest after his biggest career win. He came back only nine days later to take the $1 million Jersey Derby at Garden State Park. It would be the only day I got to see him in person. Snow Chief led throughout that day to easily defeat the horse who had beat him out for the juvenile championship, Tasso. I remember thinking after seeing him up close, that he was sure to be that year's champion. After this taxing schedule over the first half of 1986, Snow Chief would only run two more times that year in which he was beaten by the speedy filly Melair in the Silver Screen and by rival Ferdinand in the Malibu. But, with his six stakes triumphs through Memorial Day, there was little doubt that Snow Chief would be a champion, and he was awarded the Eclipse Award as the best three-year-old colt of 1986.

Snow Chief had a shortened season at four which was ended in mid-season due to injury. Following a third place finish in the San Fernando Stakes, he won his biggest race as an older horse, when he outdueled Ferdinand to the wire and won the Charles H. Strub Stakes by a nose. His other major win in 1987 came in the Oaklawn Handicap, where Snow Chief ran the fastest 1 1/8 miles ever run at the Arkansas oval in 1:46 and 3/5. His final career start was a third place finish in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park. Despite defeating Ferdinand in three of their four match-ups as older horses, it was Ferdinand who would go on to be named Horse of the Year largely due to his exciting Breeders‘ Cup Classic win over Alysheba. Snow Chief retired with the impressive record of 24-13-3-5. He was a major stakes winner in each of his three seasons and amassed $3,383,210 in earnings. At stud, he sired a handful of stakes winners, but none that ever came close to the kind of superior racehorse that Snow Chief was.

Snow Chief died of an apparent heart attack on Preakness Saturday, which happened to be on the 24th anniversary of his ultra impressive win in the 1986 Preakness. The 27-year-old, black stallion stood at Eagle Oak Ranch near Paso Robles, California. He lived a long successful life. I remember you Snow Chief.

May 19, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won more than half of my lifetime starts, but finished out of the money eight times.

*Stricken as a juvenile, I did not race until near the end of my two-year-old season, but I went on to win stakes in the next three years.

*My most important victories all came in the state of New York.

*My final two performance were quite possibly the finest races in my excellent career.

*I won my Eclipse Award before my trainer started winning his Eclipse Awards.

*My primary jockey rode me 18 times, including my final 15 starts.

*My career was cut short by the same malady that I was afflicted with as a young horse.

*In my championship season, each of my races was run at a different distance.

*I won more stakes at Belmont than anywhere else, but my maiden win and my first stakes score both came at Aqueduct.

*I was an Easterner; the only time I raced away from the East Coast was a failed attempt in Kentucky.

*I passed away years ago, but I am still remembered as an American champion.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

May 18, 2010

Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Winners Collide

2010 will be a year with three different winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. While we have not had a Triple Crown winner in 32 years, the other two possibilities have been quite common. Since Affirmed swept the elusive series in 1978, there have been 18 three-year-olds who have won two thirds of the Triple Crown, meaning that this will be the 14th time we have had three different winners since we last celebrated a Triple Crown champion. Surprisingly in the first 13 years with a trio of victors, there has been only occurrence where the three met each other on the racetrack after the Triple Crown. That occasion was the 1982 Travers Stakes which brought together the Derby winner, Gato Del Sol, the Preakness winner, Aloma’s Ruler, and the Belmont winner, Conquistador Cielo.

Conquistador Cielo was racing’s newest star, having reeled off a string of breathtaking wins at Belmont Park. He had been recently syndicated for the hefty price tag of $36 million. Racing fans were beginning to use the ‘super horse’ tag for the son of Mr. Prospector trained by Woody Stephens. Conquistador Cielo’s main competition was expected to come from the tough speed horse, Aloma’s Ruler who had run consistently well other than the sloppy Belmont Stakes, and Gato Del Sol, the stretch runner from California who had been the surprise winner in the Run for the Roses. With the big three headlining the Travers, only two others would enter the starting gate. The two decided longshots were New York runner Lejoli and Canada’s top three-year-old, Runaway Groom, but they were mere bit players to the stars of the show who had dominated the Spring’s Triple Crown. Or so it was thought.

Conquistador Cielo, under Eddie Maple took off out of the starting gate and shot to the rail. Just to his outside was Aloma’s Ruler who rushed up quickly to poke his head in front with rider Angel Cordero. Cordero would keep the favorite pinned down on the slow rail all the way around, as the two horses would remain lapped on each other throughout. Strong fractions were carved out of the Saratoga dirt, and surprisingly the Derby winner was in somewhat close pursuit. Gato Del Sol did not want to lose touch with the Preakness and Belmont winner early. The only horse who did lose touch early on, was the Canadian Star, Runaway Groom who was content to trail the field for the first mile. As they entered the stretch, it was apparent that Gato Del Sol would mount no challenge from his closer to the pace than usual position. It thus appeared that Conquistador Cielo and Aloma’s Ruler would take their battle all the way to the wire, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a gray flash began gobbling up ground on the outside. Runaway Groom was gaining with every stride as the now battle weary warriors were weakening from their taxing pace battle. Runaway Groom’s rush was too much for the game Aloma’s Ruler who had edged ahead of Conquistador Cielo in the late stages. Runaway Groom would win the Travers in one of the biggest upsets in the big race’s history.

It was a shocking result, but Runaway Groom was no shrinking violet. He was Canada’s champion sophomore of 1982 and never had been worse than second through his Travers win. The son of Blushing Groom had already won two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, with only a second place finish in the Queens’ Plate keeping him from being a Triple Crown champion. Trained by John DiMario, Runaway Groom became the only horse in racing history to beat three different winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont, all in the same race. He would never reach these kind of heights again, possibly due to his intense schedule in the Summer of 1982. Sent to stud after the following season, Runaway Groom became a hit at stud, siring more than sixty stakes winner including Cherokee Run. He survived until 2007, when he passed away at the age of 28 due to the infirmities of old age.

May 17, 2010

There’s Something Brewing on the Jersey Shore

I write today’s column from our temporary vacation spot on the Maryland Shore. As I gaze out on the Atlantic Ocean from our third-floor patio, my thoughts wander up the coastline about 100 miles. Monmouth Park for years was my second Summer home. I have countless great memories from the South Jersey oval, such as the 1987 War at the Shore with Bet Twice, Alysheba, and Lost Code. During my lifetime, Monmouth Park has attracted quality horses and horsepeople, and has been the second best track on the East Coast. It has held firm to it’s placing just behind Belmont Park in early Summer, and then Saratoga during the second half of the season. Nothing wrong with being second best, right? Well no, there is nothing wrong with being second best, but this year Monmouth Park has other ideas. In 2010 they will unveil the plan.
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May 16, 2010

Belmont Stakes Blues

No Triple Crown this year. So what. We have not had a sweep in 32 years, and I am used to living without one, and now we do not have to worry about being disappointed by the Derby and Preakness winner going down in New York. The Triple Crown should be reserved for the crème de la crème. If we do not have that this year, than so be it, there should be no Triple Crown winner. Personally, I am not going to cry about it, nor am I going to talk about the Belmont as less of a race because there is no opportunity for a Crown winner. The Belmont is still the Belmont, which is one of the most important races in our nation. This year’s edition will be sans a Derby or Preakness winner, which will guarantee a trio of classic winners in 2010. That could make things very interesting later in the year, say in the Travers, with the three winners hooking up. Without a standout, the Belmont promises to be a very interesting race from both a competitive standpoint as well as a wagering opportunity. I know I am already looking forward to betting against the favorite.

Here is a list of horses currently looking at the Belmont Stakes, with my earliest of morning lines:

Ice Box   2-1
Fly Down   4-1
First Dude   6-1
Dublin   10-1
Make Music For Me   12-1
Devil May Care   15-1
Uptowncharlybrown   15-1
Game On Dude   15-1
Drosselmeyer   20-1
Stately Victor   20-1
Stay Put   20-1
Setsuko   20-1
New Madrid   20-1

Superstars and world beaters? No, but doesn’t this still look like a pretty interesting race? I will be looking forward to the Belmont Stakes as usual, plus the fabulous card that Belmont puts together for the day. If you want to sing your Belmont Stakes Blues, do it someplace else. ZATT is all in!

May 15, 2010

Ten for Ten

Undefeated superstar, Lookin at Lucky, won the Preakness Stakes today and is now a perfect ten for ten lifetime. That very well could have been my opening line had good fortune been on his side. An overstatement? Perhaps, but Lookin at Lucky once again proved himself to be at the very top of his class once again.

He may not have won the Breeders’ Cup as a juvenile, but with a better trip he would have. Lookin at Lucky was still good enough to win all his other races at two, and easily take home the Eclipse Award as America’s best juvenile.

He may not have won the Kentucky Derby, but he was forced into the rail so forcefully that his chances to win were all but nil after the first quarter mile. After that beginning, finishing in the top third of the field was quite an accomplishment for the son of Smart Strike.

He may not have even won his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, but his trouble in the Santa Anita Derby was severe enough for his jockey, Garrett Gomez to go after rival jockey Victor Espinoza with a right hook. Would he have caught Sidney’s Candy that day? No one knows for sure, but I wouldn’t put it past this horse. Ten races could have easily been ten wins with only a little luck.

Instead Lookin at Lucky has been the brunt of seemingly awful racing luck, but the bottom line is he still has a sparkling record with seven wins in ten tries, including six graded stakes wins. He is already a champion, and in strong contention for another this year, and now he is a classic winner. The horse whose luck needed to change finally had things go his way. He was due, in fact he was overdue. Look out world, Looking at Lucky is back…all he ever needed was a fair chance.

Photo by Cecilia G. Felix

May 14, 2010

Black-Eyed Susan Day and An Old Friend

My first day at Pimlico was interesting, let’s just leave at that. It is nice to be at the Maryland track with so much tradition, and the home of one of America’s biggest races. I explored the place inside and out, and came to the conclusion that it is old. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Adding to my interesting first day at Pimlico was the result of the day’s big race. It was strange. In the Black-Eyed Susan, I had decided to play two horses, Seeking the Title and Diva Delite. Neither of my selections would finish the race. Diva Delite clipped heels with C C’s Pal and fell to the track. Meanwhile Seeking the Title, trying to avoid the fallen horse and jockey, unseated jockey Kent Desormeaux. Julien Leparoux, rider of Diva Delite, received medical attention on the track before he was taken to the Hospital for further examination. Leparoux seems to be OK for the most part, but will no doubt feel the hard spill for awhile. Desormeaux and both fillies, Seeking The Title and Diva Delite, avoided serious injury. Leparoux is scheduled to ride Pleasant Prince in the Preakness, while Desormeaux will be on Paddy O’Prado tomorrow. Acting Happy went on to win the Black-Eyed Susan by 1 1/2 lengths in the bizarre running. I was left to wonder…Pimlico, are you trying to tell me something?

After the unusual Black-Eyed Susan result, I met some more bad news. One of my favorite horses, Skip Away passed away this morning of a heart attack at the age of 17. Skip Away was a horse I remembered on this blog not that long ago, and a horse I had a great affection for. He was a modern day warrior who danced every single dance. Skippy was a son of Skip Trial, who won 18 times in 38 starts. He ran consistently well in top flight competition over four consecutive seasons, amassing more than $9.6 million in earnings. He was a three-time Eclipse Award winner and the 1998 Horse of the Year. Skip Away was a winner of ten grade 1 races, but today on my initial visit to Pimlico, I could not help but to recall a losing effort. In the 1996 Preakness, I liked Skip Away, as I usually did, and was disappointed he could not never reel in the speedy Louis Quatorze. Skip Away finished second in that Preakness, but had many days of redemption after leaving Pimlico. I am sorry to see a true champion leave us so soon. Rest in peace Skippy, you are one horse I will never forget.

Let’s hope that tomorrow is a better today. It should be…tomorrow is Preakness Day.

May 13, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won exactly one quarter of my starts, was in the money in two-thirds of my races, and never once finished 2nd.

*My first eight races were all in the same state until I hit the road in earnest.

*Both of my stakes wins came in my second season of racing.

*Bred in Kentucky, my sire was a champion in two countries and a grandson of the great Northern Dancer.

*All of my trainer‘s best horses were for the same owners, and I was owned by them as well.

*I hold an interesting record in America‘s greatest series of races.

*I ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown, where my average odds were 40-1.

*While well known in U.S. racing, none of my connections (owner, trainer, or jockey) have ever won the Kentucky Derby.

*Both of my stakes wins came at the same American racetrack.

*Today I stand at stud south of the border, quite a bit south.

*I was never a champion myself, but I did defeat two champions, a Derby winner, a Preakness winner, a Belmont winner, a Travers winner, and a Breeders’ Cup winner.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

May 12, 2010

Winning at My First Preakness

Everyone remembers their first time. Whether it is a first kiss or a first visit to Disneyworld, there is something magical about that first time. My friends, I am thrilled to announce that I will be experiencing an important first this week in Maryland. I know what you are thinking, and no, that’s not it! Please remove your mind from the gutter. I am talking about a horse racing related first time. I am somewhat embarrassed to announce (let me whisper this, so no one else overhears) that I have never been to the Preakness. I have never even been to Pimlico for that matter.  I know it’s hard to believe. I have been going to the races since birth and I’ve been to around three dozen different thoroughbred racetracks. I’ve been to countless Kentucky Derbies and Belmont Stakes, but never once to the Preakness. Why? I have no good answer, but I will finally rectify the sad state of affairs in a matter of days. It’s about time, and I consider completing the Triple Crown as a rite of passage of sorts. And every subsequent visit, no matter how many years later, will be compared with this trip, my first Preakness. I am chomping at the bit to get there, and once I get there I plan to win.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

May 11, 2010

ZATT Update - Kathleen O’Connell & Anthony Stephen

Calder’s champion trainer in 2009 continues to impress racing fans and now even the hardcore followers of horse racing agree, Kathleen O’Connell is among the best and most under-appreciated conditioners in the business. After her history-making training title at Calder the veteran trainer took on Jamie Ness and his powerful stable and she tied the nation’s 2009 second leading trainer in wins for the recently concluded meet at Tampa Bay Downs. Tampa’s leading trainer on multiple occasions, Ness found himself in an unusual position facing off against O’Connell, fighting to keep his usual place on top.

In every stall early in the morning and atop her pony every day when the track opens for training, she did not show the pressures of being in a trainer battle for the title, but in her eyes, you could see the intensity that makes her so special. Not blessed with classically bred racehorses or the richest owners, O’Connell continues to compete using her trademark hard work, intelligent use of the condition book, and a steely focus on the well-being of her horses. At a racetrack where brilliant conditioners Wayne Catalano, Dale Bennett, Tom Proctor, and so many others send full-strings for the winter racing, her work ethic powered her runners to upset win after upset win, when she wasn’t sending the morning line favorite to the winner’s circle.

O’Connell is no stranger to the top five in the trainer standings whether at Calder, Tampa or Colonial Downs, but when others would sit back and enjoy their exciting careers she just continues to work harder and smarter than the year before. Readily admitting it is exciting to be in contention every year for training titles, O’Connell flat out refuses to take a breath and admire her fine work instead using the time to find ways to improve her horses. Traveling back and forth to Miami all winter O’Connell prepared her runners to not only share the training title at Tampa but has freshened many of her Calder runners and has them primed for Calder and others for Colonial Downs.

And, as if to prove yet again she has the heart and eye of a champion, O’Connell among her many accomplishments was first to regularly ride and win races with a new face to America's race riding scene when she spotted and rode Anthony Stephen on some of her Tampa winners. The semi-vacationing rider also went on to win several races for multi Breeder’s Cup winner Wayne Catalano at Tampa. Both excellent trainers were first to recognize why he was a superstar in every country he has ridden in and again firmly cements them both as overall brilliant judges of talent from the sales ring to the winner’s circle. Meanwhile, look for Anthony Stephen to make another crack at American racing in the near future.

May 10, 2010

Rail Trip, Tanda and Fly Down

Last year Rail Trip proved that he was one of the top handicap horses in America, highlighted by a smashing victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. This year he may be even better. Making his first start in eight months, and since a minor injury that kept him out of last Fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Rail Trip turned the Mervyn Leroy Handicap into a personal showcase of his immense talent. The 3 ½ length win was as effortless as it was impressive, as he stalked Three Drunks early and then took over the race at his pleasing. The Jay Em Ess owned colt looks bigger, stronger, and more confident than ever now as a five-year-old. Competition in the Mervyn Leroy was not the strongest, and things will surely get tougher for the Ron Ellis trained horse, but on Saturday he served notice that he will be the one to beat in all big handicap races this year in California. A possible showdown with super mare Zenyatta may be in his future, and hopefully the son of Jump Start will take to a dirt surface come Breeders’ Cup Classic time. One thing is for sure, this winner of 7 of 10 lifetime races, is one serious racehorse.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

May 9, 2010

The Fine Art of Eating Crow

I must admit, I woke from bed yesterday morning rather excited at the prospect at once and for all seeing what Drosselmeyer could do. He has been a horse I have been following and liking since last Fall. The Dwyer would be the race where he would leave all excuses in the rearview mirror. I pictured a stalking trip and a powerful explosion at the top of the lane that would carry him six lengths clear of the rest of the field. The impressive win would send him onto the Belmont as one of the horses to beat. Things went exactly as planned, except for one small detail, it wasn’t Drosselmeyer who impressively blitzed the field. Rather it was the Nick Zito trained, Fly Down who now looks like a legitimate up-and-comer, and one that may have a say come four weeks from now in the Belmont Stakes. Ever the optimist, I took the opportunity of being so wrong, to revisit a favorite recipe of mine for last night’s dinner.  The recipe follows...

Here is what you will need:

-1 large crow (de-feather the crow only if you want to take the easy way out)
-4 tablespoons butter or margarine
-2 tablespoons flour
-1/2 cup clear stock
-1/2 cup white wine seasoning
-The rest of that bottle of wine (for rapid consumption)

Cooking Instructions:

-Melt butter or margarine in a heat-proof Dutch oven.
-When hot, sauté the crow gently all over until it's golden brown.
-Remove the bird.
-Add flour, stock and wine, blend smoothly.
-Bring to a boil and add seasoning.
-Return bird to the Dutch oven and cover.
-Cook in preheated 350 degree oven, turning bird while cooking, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bird is tender.

Many of you may never need to eat crow, but if you are like me, and eating crow is far from an unfamiliar occurrence, then by all means try this recipe and enjoy!

May 8, 2010

No Derby, Drosselmeyer to Dwyer

When you possess the kind of hand that WinStar Farm held in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, there is sure to be some success and some failure. One of their colts, Endorsement, was injured in a recent workout, while another talented colt running for WinStar, Rule, did not train his best and was taken out of Kentucky Derby consideration. Yet another of their runners, American Lion made it to the race, but was never a factor and finished 11th. It was not that long ago that WinStar was hopeful that another of their young stars, Drosselmeyer would enter the Kentucky Derby with a real chance to win. It did not happen. Drosselmeyer was likely the best horse in the Louisiana Derby, but lacked racing room at a key juncture of the race. The bad luck resulted in a 3rd place finish, and left the son of Distorted Humor on the outside looking in on the graded earning’s list.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

May 7, 2010

The Middle Jewel Takes Shape

Eight days from race day, and the Preakness field still has questions, but it is much closer to taking shape than it was a couple of days ago. At this time, here are the 14 sophomores I see as most likely to line up in the Preakness starting gate, along with my rating of each:

1 Lookin At Lucky 3-1 Isn’t the 2009 two-year-old champion is due for a fair chance. A grinder who has run well in every start, had no chance in the Derby after the first quarter mile. Needs only that elusive good trip to wear down the Derby winner down the lane, and prove he is still a champion.

2 Super Saver 5-2 The Derby winner has the tactical advantage of being near or on the lead. He has been well handled this year and appears to be in the midst of peaking at the perfect time. He will be the one to pass if you want to win the Preakness, and will have every chance to head to New York as a Triple Crown contender.

3 Caracortado 15-1 California bred gelding was up against slow paces and a rough trip in his last two. The talented colt has been freshened and is doing well for his assault on Baltimore. May get a perfect middle of the pack trip to strike as they straighten out, and if he appreciates a return to the dirt, could be the one to pull the upset.

4 Noble’s Promise 10-1 Solid colt returned from bad luck in the Arkansas Derby to run big at Churchill. He looked strong and full of run on the turn, but then hit the distance wall in the stretch. The 1/16 mile shorter distance of the Preakness should help, but the route is still a question.
***Latest News - Noble's Promise will skip the Preakness and run in England instead, via Ray Paulick.***

5 Hurricane Ike 12-1 The Derby Trial was a big performance in his second dirt try. If the change to dirt is a reason for the apparent rapid improvement, he could prove a dangerous new shooter. The Preakness will be another huge step up for the Sadler trainee, but his last makes him quite interesting.

6 Paddy O’Prado 8-1 One of the talked about horses, he ran a big race in Louisville. Not that long ago he was a maiden, but now he may be have progressed enough to be a major threat against anyone. I wonder if he moved up in the slop, but he must be respected off his recent form.

7 Dublin 15-1 D. Wayne’s main hope was a threatening presence at the quarter pole, but once again faded a bit when the real running began. He must be considered a threat on his best, but until he proves to me that he can get a distance, I can not make him one of my top selections.

8 Schoolyard Dreams 20-1 Derek Ryan trained colt defeated the Derby winner just a few races ago, but then disappointed in the Wood Memorial. He has been freshened since then and if he can improve just a little bit, may prove to be horse with a chance in the stretch.

9 Jackson Bend 20-1 Steps in as the only LaPenta/ Zito colt to make the trip to Baltimore. Hard trying little guy deserves another chance after the Derby craziness. I still see the distance as the main drawback to his win chances once again.

10 Aikenite 25-1 Pletcher’s other entrant showed improvement in the Derby Trial, but I believe that was mainly due to the shorter distance. 1 3/16 should prove tough for the son of Yes It’s True, who probably will have a future rallying in one-turn races.

11 A Little Warm 25-1 New shooter went from a stakes win sprinting to a solid effort in the Louisiana Derby. Not sure if he can make another big jump up against these at the Preakness distance, but he should be involved in the early stages.

12 First Dude 30-1 Lightly raced and distance bred, this colt may still have a future, but it is hard to see it happen in the Preakness. This Dale Romans' second string colt looks destined to run much like you would expect a second stringer to run.

13 Pleasant Prince 30-1 The horse who ran close to Ice Box several times seems to be moving in the wrong direction. His connections tried hard to qualify him for the Derby, and it did not work. Now I am afraid they are left with a non-fresh horse with little chance in here.

14 Northern Giant 40-1 Lukas is famous for taking a flyer in Triple Crown races, and that is all that this horse appears to be. I can’t recommend off his Arkansas Derby performance, in which his lack of class seems to have been on display.

May 6, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won more than half of my lifetime starts during my two year racing career.

*Unraced at two, my first stakes win came in May of my three-year-old season.

*In my most memorable race, I narrowly missed out on a Hollywood script type of ending.

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

*Half of my stakes wins came on the turf, and half came on the dirt.

*Champion runners and sires, Bold Ruler and Ribot, were both in my immediate family tree.

*My number one jockey was a Hall of Famer but not native to the United States.

*I was bred to the horse that defeated me by a neck in a grade 1 stakes, and together we produced a graded stakes winner.

*All of my races were in the same state until the final race of my career.

*In my final career start, I gave the winner 14 pounds in the slop, went very wide, and lost by one length.

*My Eclipse Award came at the conclusion of my four-year-old season.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

May 5, 2010

On This Date in History - Secretariat

37 years ago today, May 5, 1973, The great Secretariat stepped on to the Churchill Downs racetrack. For Big Red it was an ultimate chance for redemption in the nation‘s biggest race. The powerful colt who had been named Horse of the Year as a juvenile in 1972, was coming off a stunning loss in the Wood Memorial. The defeat, in which he finished 3rd to stablemate Angle Light, and Sham, the top notch colt trained by Pancho Martin, rendered the invincible colt beatable. Secretariat was still favored to win the Kentucky Derby, but there were many now who thought the Penny Chenery owned chestnut would struggle to win the Run for the Roses, and that Sham was just the horse to usurp his throne.

Sham would run a marvelous race in the Derby, but it was Secretariat who proved to be a champion for all times. Ridden by Ron Turcotte, he would drop far off the pace early on as Sham stayed close to the early lead. Secretariat steadily passed horses on the backstretch to become a menacing presence on the turn. Meanwhile Sham, with a quick thrust that would have proved victorious in almost any other Derby, moved in to take over the lead from pacesetter Shecky Greene. As Sham took command, there was Secretariat still gaining on the outside. The Lucien Laurin trainee collared Sham early in the stretch, and the battle would wage. The rest of the field had been shed away, as the two star colts flashed their brilliance. There soon would be no doubt as to who was the most brilliant. Big Red slowly put away his rival and powered home 2 ½ lengths clear of Sham. Secretariat was more than ten lengths clear of 3rd place finisher Our Native, and the final time for the 1 ¼ miles was 1:59 and 2/5, the fastest in the storied history of the Kentucky Derby. Five weeks later on June 9, Secretariat would put away Sham for the third time, winning the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner in twenty five years.

May 4, 2010

What if Eclipse Awards Went Out Today?

Admittedly handing out awards barely more than 1/3 of the way through the year is a tad bit silly, but hey, I can be silly once in a while...Let's have some fun!

Horse of the Year - Quality Road

Older Male - Quality Road

Older Female - Zenyatta

3-year-old Male - Super Saver

3-year-old Female - Blind Luck

Turf Male - General Quarters

Turf Female - Tuscan Evening

Sprint Male - Kinsale King

Sprint Female - Mona de Momma

2-year-old Male - Lou Brissie

2-year-old Female - Twelve Pack Shelly

Let the debate begin!

May 3, 2010

On to Pimlico

The celebrations of Kentucky Derby glory are winding down. Big winnings from Derby Day are already earmarked for this, that, and the other thing. Time to slow down, and ease up on the racing discussion. Uh…no! The Preakness has always been one of my favorite races of the year. Often the most formful race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness does not feature the twenty horse pinball effect of the Derby. It is at a distance which better matches the horses running, as opposed to the marathon of the Belmont Stakes. It also offers something no other race in the world can boast…a brand new Kentucky Derby champion on his quest to become racing’s twelfth ever Triple Crown winner. For these reasons and many others, the Preakness is truly one of the great American races, and I will diving in head first over the next twelve days to break down the Preakness, ZATT style.

Here is the most current list of Preakness possibles, with my current morning line odds, and quick comment:

Aikenite 25-1 Pletcher plan B runner showed improvement in the Derby Trial, but I think that is because of the shorter distance. 1 3/16 will prove tough for the son of Yes It’s True.

A Little Warm 25-1 He went from a stakes win sprinting to a solid effort in the Louisiana Derby. Not sure if he can make another big jump up against these, but should be a pace factor.

Bushwhacked 20-1 Lightly raced colt is getting better at the right time. I have a lot of respect for his trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, but this is still a lot to ask of a horse who won a maiden sprint in April.

Caracortado 15-1 Scarface returns! Likeable California bred has been freshened since the Santa Anita Derby, should get a good stalking trip, and if he takes to dirt…watch out.

Dublin 15-1 Actually ran a good race in Louisville, but once again came up a little short in the late stages. A nice horse to be sure, but a flat mile may be the distance he is best suited.

Hurricane Ike 15-1 Where did the Derby Trial come from? It was a big performance in his second dirt try. The Preakness will be another huge step up for the Sadler trainee, but his last makes him at least a little interesting.

Ice Box 9-2 The Florida Derby win was clearly no fluke, and all in all you could make a solid argument that he ran best at Churchill. Fast pace made his rally all the more potent and may need the same pace to win at Pimlico.

Jackson Bend 15-1 May be the more likely of the Lapenta/ Zito colts to make the race. Hard trying little guy deserves another chance after the Derby craziness.

Lookin At Lucky
7-2 The trip in the Derby was bad, come to think of it every trip he has had since the Breeders’ Cup have been bad. Sooner or later he will get a good trip. He is the Derby winner’s main threat.

Paddy O Prado 10-1 As many predicted, he ran big in Louisville. Not that long ago he was a maiden, but now he may be have progressed enough to win a big one. Can he do it on a fast track?

Pleasant Prince 25-1 Connections tried hard to qualify him for the Derby, it did not work. Now I am afraid they are left with a non-fresh horse moving in the wrong direction.

Schoolyard Dreams 20-1 He defeated Super Saver just a few races ago, but then disappointed in the Wood Memorial. I still think he may have the potential to be a live longshot in Baltimore.

Super Saver 5-2 Derby winner is progressing with each start. His new found ability to rate makes him doubly tough to handle. The horse to beat to get two thirds of the way to immortality.

Turf Melody 50-1 Motion runner has not been able to scare the top horses in mediocre preps so far. I can’t recommend him to do any better in the Middle Jewel.

May 2, 2010

Super Man, Super Relief and Super Saver!

Today is not the day. I refuse to question the brilliance of the Kentucky Derby champion, Super Saver. I will not add fuel to the doubters who believe he can not win the Triple Crown. Nor will I question whether or not he would have won if Ice Box or Lookin at Lucky had smoother trips. Today is not the day to talk about what would have happened if Eskendereya had been able to run. Today is all about Super Saver. Congratulate him and his handlers for winning the greatest of all American horse races.

43-year-old jockey Calvin Borel continues to amaze. He is a true American hero. Raised from modest beginnings in Louisiana, he now sits squarely atop the world of Thoroughbred jockeys. If it is true what they say, and the Kentucky Derby is the race that everyone wants to win, than Calvin Borel must be the envy of all of America’s jockeys. In the last four years, he has won three Derbies, with a third place finish in the other year. A remarkable run, that will be hard to match again in our lifetimes. Borel has won with a favorite, and he has won with a rank outsider. Every Derby mount he rides has a better chance to win, simply because he is on their back. The most recognizable racetrack in the United States, Churchill Downs, is now Calvin’s track.

Our newest Kentucky Derby winning trainer, Todd Pletcher, has been the most successful trainer in the 21st century. He has broken his own earnings records, as he’s piled up Eclipse Awards. At 42 years of age, he has accomplished more in the sport than most trainers can even dream of, but still there was something missing. A big something. Without a Kentucky Derby win, Pletcher’s career was incomplete. Like the Hall of Fame quarterback who never won the Super Bowl, Pletcher trained with a 100 pound monkey on his back…until yesterday. Happiness? Joy? Perhaps relief is the best description. Todd Pletcher will never again have to answer questions about never having won the big win. He is now poised to have the greatest year in his stellar career. Sweet relief.

As for the Kentucky Derby winner himself, Super Saver is a beautiful colt who has run well in every single one of his races. He has the classic breeding of a champion and has always been considered a horse with the potential to do something really big. In his narrow defeats of 2010, in the Tampa Bay and Arkansas Derbies, he showed courage and gameness despite not being fully cranked up. Super Saver was prepared to peak on the first Saturday in May, and now he is the winner of the Kentucky Derby. He is now the only horse who can win the elusive Triple Crown. Can he win it? Is he the best three-year-old in the nation? We will not start worrying about that until we are within twelve days of the Preakness…on Monday morning!

May 1, 2010

Mission Impazible No Longer for Todd?

As I slowly drifted into a Derby Eve slumber, one name kept rolling through my mind. Surprisingly it was not my top pick, Awesome Act. Nor was it the horse to beat, Lookin at Lucky, or the Girl Power entrant, Devil May Care. It wasn’t even Calvin Borel’s strong entry, Super Saver. Rather my brain was stuck on one name…Mission Impazible. Interesting. What does it all mean? As only a minor believer in the value of hunches or premonitions, I greet this bedtime revelation with skeptical optimism. The good news is that Mission Impazible was already one of my Fab Five, and even better he is clearly the longest shot of the bunch. I have him in several live tickets in Derby Future Exactas, and Oaks-Derby Doubles, so a Mission Impazible victory would be a nice collect. As you may have guessed, the other four members of my Fab Five are the same four mentioned at the beginning of this piece, and I believe the horse that becomes the 136th champion of the Kentucky Derby will be one the five.

With the expected fast pace materializing, I see this as a race that will be very hard for any speed horse to win. Benefiting from the tiring leaders should be the English invader Awesome Act. The son of Awesome Again is well suited to appreciate the grueling late stages of the Kentucky Derby, and his explosive turn of foot should give him every chance as the horse turn for home. Broodmare sire Mr. Prospector, also gives Awesome Act a great chance to thrive on an off track. I expect him to redeem himself for a poor Wood Memorial, where everything went wrong, and premonition or not, he is still my top pick. Lookin at Lucky is hard to ignore. He is bred for the trip, is the juvenile champion, and he is consistent as they come. If not for bad racing luck, Lucky could have an even better record than the excellent 8-6-1-1 that he has compiled. Drawing the 1 post did him no favors, and an off track could compromise his chances, but it should come as no surprise to anyone to see the Bob Baffert trained champion end up in the winner’s circle.  Mission Impazible is a bit of a wildcard, but one with much to like. The son of the mercurial sire Unbridled’s Song has a racing pattern that I like to see in the Derby. He displayed a ton of talent early in his juvenile season and then was put on the shelf with minor physical problems. In his three races this year, he has shown steady improvement culminating with a win in the Louisiana Derby. He is working well, and has solid wet track experience. All in all he is a very attractive longshot. Devil May Care is another who is a bit of unknown. You never know for sure if the filly will be good enough to handle the boys, but clearly recent history is in her corner. Like Mission Impazible, she should get a favorable position in the middle of the pack. She has displayed clear signs of being a good one with wins in the Frizette and Bonnie Miss, and possibly as much as anyone in the field, may have the ability to still improve a great deal. She won her last race nicely, despite running greenly, and Pletcher has always said that she will relish a distance. Rounding out my Fab Five is Super Saver. The only speed horse I have selected, Super Saver has the advantage of excellent experience over both a sloppy track and over the Churchill Downs strip. He has two solid preps under his belt and should be ready to fire his best shot. The pace scenario does worry me a little, but there is no one I would rather have in the irons on Derby Day than Calvin Borel. Super Saver looks the part and is bred to be a Derby winner. At this time it looks like he may be vying for favoritism, but he has too many positives to overlook even if he is a little overbet.

Happy Derby Day everyone. Win, lose, or draw, I hope you all enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports all day long.