July 31, 2010

Saturdays at Saratoga

Just another typical Saturday at the Spa. Graded stakes at Saratoga tend to attract racing’s elite, and today’s headliners are no exception. Named after the mythical goddess of the hunt, the Grade 1 Diana has attracted several of the best turf fillies in the nation. Meanwhile the Jim Dandy, named after the horse who pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in racing history, offers an opportunity for several promising colts to ascend their names up the still wide open sophomore male division.
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July 29, 2010

His Ashes Were Laid to Rest at the Finish Line

To Alan Seewald, who died suddenly this Spring, the Haskell was to be his Kentucky Derby. Seewald’s last wish, which he expressed to his wife Kate the day before he passed, was that Uptowncharlybrown run in the Haskell.

As the trainer of Uptowncharlybrown, Seewald knew that he had the kind of talent needed to compete in New Jersey’s most important race. He also saw, in this powerful son of Limehouse, the best horse to ever set foot in his barn. In a career that spanned four decades, it was Monmouth Park that Seewald called home, and at Monmouth, the Haskell is the big one. So it would be the big race for his big horse.

Suffering a fatal heart attack in his sleep, on the morning of April 12, Seewald would not live to see the big day. Despite his death, and subsequent transfer of Charly to the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin, the first part of his wish will come true, however. Uptowncharlybrown will be one of eight three-year-olds to line up in the starting gate for Sunday’s one million dollar Haskell Invitational.

Uptowncharlybrown will have his work cut out for him, when he takes on a deep field that includes juvenile champion and Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky, and Kentucky Derby hero Super Saver. Derby runner-up Ice Box, Preakness runner-up First Dude, and the up-and-coming Trappe Shot also figure to receive heavy attention from the bettors. Rounding out the field will be two salty colts in Afleet Again, and Our Dark Knight, who like Charly, may have what it takes to pull off an upset.

Is Charly good enough to get the job done? I think he may be. Uptowncharlybrown won his first two starts for fun before losing his last four starts in the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby, Lexington, and Belmont Stakes. In each of those races, Charly was competitive, but not able to take home a big prize. Frankly, he will need to run his career best to win the Haskell, but it is certainly within his reach. In this crop of sophomores, without a major stand out, Charly is already not that far from the top. Not blessed with any racing luck in his last four races, it may just come down to things falling his way at Monmouth.

Charly will have thousands rooting for him on Sunday. Foremost among them will be his large ownership group that race under the name Fantasy Lane Stable. A nicer group of owners you will never meet. I have been lucky enough to get to know some of them, and I am clearly better off for being able to call them friends. Folks like Jennifer Weigand, Patrick Sheehan, and John Popovich would literally give you the shirt off their backs, if that is what you may need. They deserve this, and they will get a big win someday with one of their horses. Why not Charly in the Haskell?

No matter how Charly fares in the Haskell, The spirit of Alan Seewald will be at the finish line waiting for him in more ways than one. I know somehow he will be there to see the horse he loved, run in the race he yearned to win, and there is good reason to feel this way. In a fitting ceremony, Alan Seewald’s ashes were laid to rest at the Monmouth Park finish line. You can bet that this writer will be pulling for Charly to be the one to reach that finish line first.

I ask you, how can you do anything but root for Uptowncharlybrown in Sunday’s Haskell?

July 28, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I was owned and bred by a powerful American farm / racing stable, but was not bred in Kentucky.

*My dam is more well known than my sire, and I had some impressive siblings.

*I was far from the only champion for my trainer, whose success ran in the family.

*Five different jockeys rode me on racedays, all of them have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

*I won more than half of my starts and never once finished out of the money.

*My only attempt at Saratoga ended with a disappointing 3rd place finish as an odds-on favorite..

*My stakes wins were evenly split between my juvenile and sophomore seasons.

*Many of my most important wins occurred in New York, but my richest victory was in New Jersey.

*My career was cut short by injury, but I still managed to be a two-time champion.

*I have one major thing in common with the horse who was the answer to last week‘s Who Am I ???

*Unfortunately, I was beaten by a head in my final career start, losing to a Belmont winner.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

July 27, 2010

Remembering … Ferdinand

By the time the 1986 Kentucky Derby rolled around, master horseman Charlie Whittingham had his big horse ready to peak. Ferdinand was a strapping chestnut colt owned and bred by Howard and Elizabeth Keck, and was a bit of a slow developer. He ran five times as a juvenile with but one win. He had developed into a stakes performer over the Winter, and scored his first added money triumph in the Santa Catalina Stakes. But still, after being well beaten by division leader Snow Chief in the Santa Anita Derby, the son of superior sire Nijinsky shipped to Louisville with only two wins in nine races. At post time, Ferdinand, with regular rider Willie Shoemaker on his back, would be sent off as a 17-1 outsider, but his Hall of Fame trainer was full of belief that the colt was ready. He was right.

Breaking from the one-hole, Ferdinand was squeezed a bit early on, and quickly dropped to last in the 16-horse field. The pace was strong and Ferdinand was allowed to relax early. When Shoemaker asked him for run, it was clear that the Bald Eagle’s trainee was ready to respond, but traffic would be a major issue. Ferdinand weaved his way through horses and looked ready to pounce spinning out of the Churchill Downs turn. Passing horses on the outside, Ferdinand was now near the leaders, but as the field straightened out, he was completely blocked by a wall of horses all vying for the Kentucky Derby lead. In an instant, Ferdinand and the Shoe darted through a hole and towards the inside. It was a bold and decisive move. Now on the inside of his competition, Ferdinand was clear to run, and he proved too strong for the rest. He spurted clear and hit the wire 2 ¼ lengths a winner. It was a special win. Whittingham at 73 was long respected, and Shoemaker was never more loved after becoming the oldest rider ever to win the Derby at 54. Ferdinand and his connections were the toast of the nation.

After his big score in the Run for the Roses, Ferdinand returned to run two solid races to complete the Triple Crown series. In the Preakness, he came from far back to finish 2nd , while in the Belmont, Ferdinand caught a sloppy track and could never get to the speedy Danzig Connection. He was 3rd that day, beaten only 1 ½ lengths, and it would be the only day I would see the West Coast star in action. After the rigors of the Triple Crown, Ferdinand was given a long break before returning to run one of his most impressive races. The day after Christmas, 1986, Ferdinand was entered in a strong field of 12 in the Malibu Stakes. Proving his class, Ferdinand, a true distance horse, rallied by his talented nemesis, Snow Chief, to win by 1 ¼ lengths in the seven furlong affair. After this win, Ferdinand would run his final 16 races at 1 1/8 miles or longer, but in the Malibu he proved that he could beat the best at any distance. The Malibu set up Ferdinand well for his four-year-old season. A season that would culminate with a Horse of the Year award.

As a four-year-old, Ferdinand was at his best, but wins would not come easy. He ran well each and every time out, but despite his effort, a six race losing streak started the season. Two nail-biting losses highlighted the first half of the year. In the Strub Stakes, he lost by a nose to Snow Chief. A month later he returned to defeat his rival in the Santa Anita Handicap, only to lose out to Broad Brush again by a nose. The losing streak would finally end, and the big colt looked outstanding in winning the Hollywood Gold Cup, Cabrillo, and Goodwood. The winning streak seemed like fair retribution for the horse who had been so good all year.

Ferdinand still had one last test to pass, and it was administered to him in spades in his final race of the season. He went on to meet Alysheba in the Breeder's Cup Classic, and it there the world would see a classic battle between two proud Kentucky Derby winners. Ferdinand was game and strong, and he defeated the onrushing Alysheba in dramatic style, winning by a nose after a head-to-head battle down to the wire. It was the final crowning achievement for Ferdinand on the racetrack, and he was rewarded by being named America’s best of 1987.

Unfortunately, Ferdinand returned from his BC Classic victory to go 0 for 6 as a five-year-old, but would give the champion Alysheba everything he wanted in memorable battles in the San Bernardino and Santa Anita Handicaps that Spring. He was retired after an uncharacteristic poor performance when 5th in the Goodwood Handicap that Fall. All in all, Ferdinand would win 8 out of 29 lifetime starts, with 23 in-the-money finishes. A record that at first glance might not seem sterling, but when you consider that 17 of those races were in grade 1 stakes, and that he was able to win nearly $4 million dollars more than twenty years ago, and you begin to realize what a strong horse he was. Ferdinand was able to win on the two biggest stages in American racing and was always a threat to win major races in all four seasons he ran.

Ferdinand was retired to Claiborne Farm in 1989 with high hopes for success at stud, after all he was a well bred and durable classic winner. It did not happen. He was quickly defined as a disappointment as a stallion. Much like many fine horses, Ferdinand was not able to pass on his quality as a runner to his offspring. You can only stand on your racing laurels for so long in the big money business of thoroughbred breeding. At eleven years old, and only eight years removed from being draped in roses, Ferdinand’s value as a stallion was drastically lower than a few years before. He was sold to Japanese breeding interests and shipped across the globe to stand stud.

After several years of breeding in Japan, it became apparent that the once proud runner was now a financial liability to his owners. In many nations, thoroughbreds, whose financial usefulness runs dry, have their lives ended at the hands of humans who once showered these horses with admiration. And in 2002, so it was for Ferdinand. Details are a little fuzzy, but the end was horribly clear. Ferdinand’s life was extinguished in a Japanese slaughterhouse. It was an unspeakable fate for a marvelous horse.

Not the only top American racehorse to die in a foreign slaughterhouse, Ferdinand joined Exceller, the only horse to beat two Triple Crown winners in a race, as the most famous of these heartbreaking deaths. Some good has come from their tragic ends. American owners now commonly have clauses written into stallion sales, where they can buy back their horses after breeding careers end. Anti-slaughter supporters are at an all-time high, and people like Alex Brown work tirelessly to protect the horses we love. One of the best organizations in championing the overall welfare of horses is named after Ferdinand. Please visit Friends of Ferdinand to see how you can support the cause.

Ferdinand was a very good horse and deserved so much better. Not that all beautiful thoroughbred horses do not deserve better, but this was Ferdinand, a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. He was a champion, with the heart of a champion. When I try to imagine what Ferdinand may have gone through those final moments, I still lose it.  I remember you Ferdinand.

July 26, 2010

Good Vibrations for Good Friends

We all know of the tragic events last Spring at Arlington Park. Popular jockey Rene Douglas was seriously injured in a racing accident on May 23, 2009, and has been paralyzed from the waist down since. A native of Panama, Douglas came to the United States in 1983 and enjoyed great success. A winner of more than 3,000 races in North America, Douglas scored his biggest victory in the 1996 Belmont Stakes aboard Editor’s Note. In my neck of the woods, Douglas proved to be the dominant rider at Arlington Park over the past decade. He won six riding titles in an eight-year stretch, and was often on the horse to beat in many of Arlington’s stakes races, but that all changed in the blink of an eye. The terrible fall and resulting injury pulled the rider far from the sport in which he excelled.
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July 24, 2010

Rachel, Turf Meets Surf, and the Spa

I have to admit it, I’m excited. A grade 1 turf stake at Del Mar, and a historic grade 1 race at Saratoga are enough to get the juices flowing, but today is about more. Any day that Rachel Alexandra runs has become a big day for yours truly. I am not sure how much longer we will see Rachel and Zenyatta on the track, so I am in full celebrate the moment mode today. People have actually told me, “yeah, but there is no one in there against her…who cares?” I care. Any chance to see Rachel run is special, and frankly, I am set for a show today. All the great horses over the years have run against inferior horses at times. You think Man O’ War was running against a champion when he won by 100 lengths? The answer of course is no, but it is not the competition we remember, rather it is what the incredible Man O’ War did that day. He won a stakes race by 100 lengths! That race was at 1 5/8 and when Secretariat won by 31 lengths, he did it in the 12 furlong Belmont, so I am not expecting Rachel to win by 30 or more, but it should be something to see. A 14 length win is my prediction, and I will be cheering for Rachel every step of the way. Now on to some more competitive races.
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July 23, 2010

Rachel Does New Jersey

The Jersey Shore is unlike any other place on earth. Big hair and sub shops. Speedos worn by guys named Vinnie and mini golf. Traffic on the Parkway and slices on the beach. Skee ball and teeny-weeny bikinis. It takes someone special to thrive in these type of surroundings. Bruce Springsteen comes to mind ... and now we have Rachel. Get ready Jersey Shore-ites, Rachel is back!

The New Jersey oval by the shore was able to pull off quite a coup thanks to a lot of hard work. After literally months of courting owner Jess Jackson, Monmouth Park filled their dance card with a big fish, or make that a big horse, in one Miss Rachel Alexandra. Saying no, much to the dismay of the good folks at NYRA, to the Grade 1 Ruffian next week, Rachel will return to the sight of her greatest performance, to run tomorrow in Monmouth’s Lady’s Secret Stakes. That’s right I said it, I consider her Haskell run of 2009 to be even greater than when she became the first female in 80 years to win the Preakness Stakes. It was more impressive to me, than when she became the first filly ever to win the prestigious Woodward. It was better than the 20 length thrashing she gave to her overmatched foes in the Kentucky Oaks, and I was more impressed by the Haskell than when she won the Mother Goose by 19, geared down late, and run in record time.

The Haskell was the only race where she faced the top three-year-old male of 2009, Summer Bird. It proved to be no contest. Rachel ran away from Summer Bird that day as if he was just another jersey-bred hoping to cash a second place check. Calvin Borel gave a twirl of the whip at the top of the stretch, and “poof!” she was gone. In winning the meeting of soon to be champions by an easy six lengths, Rachel did the Jersey Shore thing that day the likes of which has not been seen in many a day. It is only fitting that she should make a return engagement to Monmouth and give her Garden State fans what they have been waiting for since 12 months before.

With the field for the Lady’s Secret coming up decidedly weak, it is not so much a question of whether our heroine will win, but rather how she will do it tomorrow.  What will we see?  A winning margin of 10, 15, 20 lengths?  A time even faster than the 1:47 1/5 she ran in the Haskell?  Expect a show, I know I do. Rachel does New Jersey II … do not miss it!

July 22, 2010

Big Drama in South Florida (and a little drama too)

Not since Tony Montana prowled the streets has there been this much drama in South Florida. What’s with all the drama? As in much with life, it all begins with Mom.

Riveting Drama is an unraced, 16 year-old Florida broodmare, and without setting foot on the Calder grounds, she became the star of their Summit of Speed on July 10. The daughter of prolific Sunshine State sire, Notebook, has produced seven horses of racing age and all of them are winners. She had produced a stakes winning, and a stakes placed filly previously, but it is her two current colts who really have people talking. Her juvenile son, Little Drama was a romping winner in the Frank Gomez Memorial Stakes, and on the same card, her four-year-old son, Big Drama, returned to the top form that he displayed last Summer. Riveting Drama was barren the year between her two boys, so they are her only runners on the track right now, but she does have two young full sisters to Little Drama to watch out for in the future.

Big brother Big Drama used a sharp middle move to take over the Smile Stakes on the turn. Opening up a big lead in the stretch, the winner of over $1.4 million easily held off the late charge of Mambo Meister to win by 1 ½ lengths. It was the eighth win in only 13 starts for the son of Montbrook, including seven stakes wins. Big Drama was classy enough to hang around for 5th in last Spring’s Preakness, but this year his races are likely to be confined to sprints. It is sprinting where Big Drama has the best chance to become a champion for owner and breeder Harold L. Queen, and as was evident in the Smile, he has the talent to be a real threat in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. It was his second stakes wins in two races this year, and he is now likely to hit the road and be tested in some of the big sprints in the Northeast in preparation for the BC Sprint.

Not to be outdone by his older sibling, Little Drama announced his potential as a future star with a 9 ½ length dismantling of his juvenile foes in the Gomez. After clipping heels in a 2nd place finish in his only previous start, the David Fawkes trained, and Elbar Coa ridden youngster ran away from his competition in breaking his maiden in the 5 ½ furlong stakes. Queen and Fawkes will now point their new talent for the Florida Stallion series in an attempt to pull of the same sweep they engineered with Big Drama. If Little Drama can pull off the feat it would come as no surprise to his connections. Coa calls the colt’s potential unlimited, while Queen feels that the juvenile is even better than his older brother was at the same time two years ago. High praise indeed.

As we watch the developments of these two talented Dramas in the coming months, let’s never forget the girl that got them there. Riveting Drama is one heckuva Mom!

July 21, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I was owned and bred by a powerful Kentucky farm / racing stable.

*I was a multiple grade 1 performer on turf and dirt, with grade 1 wins on both surfaces.

*My trainer was a son of a Hall of Fame trainer, and my regular rider is in the Hall of Fame.

*In fact, every jockey that ever rode me has been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

*I finished in the money in 96% of my lifetime starts, with my only off the board finish coming in an allowance race of my Eclipse Award winning season.

*I was never able to produce a single winner.

*In my championship season, I won three grade 1 races, but I was not favored in any of them.

*My eight graded stakes victories occurred at seven different racetracks.

*My sire was perhaps best known as a broodmare sire, but I was not the only champion he produced.

*Besides Thoroughbred horse racing, football was always my favorite sport.

*I won 4 of my final 5 starts, but unfortunately, I was beaten in my final career start at odds of 11-10.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

July 19, 2010

Rachel and Macho 10 Months Later

Who can ever forget the 2009 running of the Woodward Stakes? It was one of the most exciting editions ever of the traditionally outstanding race. Rachel Alexandra was the toast of racing, and she was in search of something unique. A three-year-old filly running in a major grade 1 dirt race, against the males, is simply not attempted these days. But she went for it on that day, and what a race it was. Never getting a second of breathing room on the front end, Rachel was hounded by Da’Tara and then Past the Point on a strong pace. After dispatching her early competition, she was tested by the stout challenges of the top two from the recent Whitney, Bullsbay and Macho Again. Tested and then some. Sparked by the contentious pace and a dream trip through the field, it would be Macho Again who would be the stiffest challenge of her remarkable season. It was close, but he could not beat Rachel the Great. Nearly ten months later, I saw both horses recently a few races apart in Louisville. Their respective results were markedly different, and now their lives will diverge even further.
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July 18, 2010

Tiptoeing Through the Turf

No disrespect to impressive Delaware Handicap winner, Life at Ten, or upset Swaps Stakes winner Skipshot, but yesterday, July 17, 2010, was a day for the turf. Turf runners in Chicago, Virginia, and Delaware took center stage and did not disappoint.

Paddy O’Prado did not take it to a new level yesterday, but he did affirm his excellent recent form over the grass. Yesterday’s strong win in the Virginia Derby was similar to his win in the Colonial Turf Cup, and Palm Beach Stakes before that. He did however, flaunt a new winning style in which he relaxed and dropped much farther off the early lead, before uncoiling a decisive punch that quickly thrust him into the lead. Versatility is yet another quality in his corner, as Paddy O’Prado takes another step forward to becoming only the second American three-year-old to be named turf champion in the past twenty years.

Just before the Paddy show in Virginia, the colt who was beaten by him in the Turf Cup, was an impressive winner at Arlington Park. Without the specter of the big horse, Workin For Hops appeared to be out for little more than a Saturday stroll. Stalking the pacesetter until ready to pounce, the son of City Zip left little doubt of his superiority as he opened up an easy five length advantage in mid-stretch before coasting home an easy winner of the American Derby. It was a win that stamped as one of the best three-year-old turf horses in the nation, and should set him up well for a shot at the prestigious Secretariat Stakes in five weeks time. A race in which he might very well have to deal with Paddy O’Prado once again.

After the sophomore colts it was the older fillies who most impressed on the turfy Saturday. Tuscan Evening did it again. What more can you say? The five-year-old Irish import has now run six times in 2010 with six graded stakes scores. Barely more than halfway through the season, and she is dangerously close to clinching the Eclipse Award already. Yesterday was simple, too simple. Able to lope through an opening half mile in a pedestrian :51, Tuscan Evening was able to sprint home and hold off the challenge of Eclair de Lune in winning the Modesty Handicap. Things will get tougher for her in the future, but it is hard to fault her record no matter the early fractions the speedster is setting.

Treat Gently is admittedly a horse I knew little about before last month, but the beautifully bred Juddmonte mare, trained by Bill Mott, has opened my eyes quickly. Following a romping win in last month’s Sheepshead Bay, Treat Gently was one of the choices in yesterday’s Robert G. Dick Memorial, and she rewarded that support with a stylish victory. Sweeping by the leaders on the far turn, she never looked like anything but a winner as she edged away from her competition. The win was further prove that the daughter of Cape Cross relishes the distance which will be a factor in her favor this year in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Can he get the distance? That was the only big question facing Rahystrada before yesterday’s Arlington Handicap. The answer was a resounding yes. The six-year-old son of Rahy continued his upward ascent and fine turf form with a solid half length victory over the rallying Just as Well, who was gunning for a repeat in the Arlington Million prep. For Rahystrada, trainer Byron Hughes, and rider Inez Karlsson, the win was among the biggest in their respective careers, but would be nothing compared to what they could accomplish at the same course and distance on August 21. The competition will be tougher, but you can no longer take this improving gelding for granted.

Fans at Colonial Downs may have not only seen the best three-year-old turf horse in Paddy O’Prado, but they may have seen the best sophomore filly as well in Check the Label. The daughter of Stormin Fever, entered yesterday’s Virginia Oaks off an impressive win in the Sands Point Stakes. In winning for the fifth time on the grass, Check the Label was even more impressive yesterday. Stumbling at the start, she trailed early off a slow pace, and had her powerful rally stunted behind a wall of horses. She patiently waited, and when a hole opened the race was over, as she zoomed to an easy victory. It is hard to imagine any three-year-old filly that could have handled her yesterday.

July 17, 2010

Arlington Million Preview Day Winners

The Modesty Handicap kicks off the first of three consecutive graded turf stakes today at Arlington Park. It appears to be strictly a three horse race, and quite a threesome they are. In Tuscan Evening, Rainbow View, and Hot Cha Cha, you have three of the best turf mares in the nation, and all from different regions, squaring off for the first time today. Tuscan Evening is the deserving favorite with her perfect record in five graded turf stakes this year. She is the deserving favorite, but one I will try to beat. The lush Arlington turf course is far different than the firm strips she has grown accustomed to in Southern California. That fact, coupled with the class of her two rivals today, should spell trouble for the chalk today. I think Hot Cha Cha, the Midwesterner, and Rainbow View, the classy European, are both rounding into top form and good enough to get the job done. I will take last year’s QE II winner, Hot Cha Cha narrowly...
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July 16, 2010

How Far Can Paddy Go?

Quick … what do Kitten’s Joy, Sunshine Forever, Manila, Mac Diarmida, Johnny D., Secretariat, and Run the Gantlet have in common? While I give you a few seconds to mull that over, please read on about the horse I believe most likely to be remembered as a superstar from the foal crop of 2007.

In the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup last month, Paddy O'Prado who had finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and 6th in the Preakness in his previous two outings, went wide coming out of the turn, before making an electrifying move under regular rider Kent Desormeaux to take over from Two Notch Road. From there, he accelerated down the Colonial Downs stretch to win by three lengths over Arlington Classic winner Workin for Hops. To say it was an impressive score would not do it justice. The win in the Turf Cup was only the second career victory for the El Prado colt owned by Jerry Crawford and trained by Dale Romans, a figure that should be on the rise soon.

It was an impressive win to be sure, but how can I predict such lofty heights for a horse with only two victories in nine starts? Easy. Paddy O’Prado is the best turf horse in the nation.

No, not the best three-year-old turf horse, but the best horse running on American grass period. Hyperbole? I don’t think so. The Turf Cup was the best performance by any grass horse this year, and the observant race goer could see it coming. Good performances in the Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby underlined how good this attractive gray colt was getting. He drew raves from those who saw him train up to the Derby. One thing to remember with those performances though, is that they were not on his surface. Paddy O’Prado is a turf horse. Remember his maiden breaking run back in March? Paddy pointed at things to come as he easily dispatched a solid stakes field in the Palm Beach Stakes. That day he blistered the teletimer in 1:45.40 for the nine furlongs over Gulfstream Park’s turf course.

With trainer Romans making the wise decision to skip the Belmont Stakes and focus on grass racing, the sky is now the limit. I see the Colonial Turf Cup as the first of many turf stakes for the future turf champ, continuing tomorrow. Look for Paddy O’Prado to handle a strong field in the Virginia Derby that includes Interactif, Stately Victor, and Krypton. From there it should be on to Chicago for Arlington Million Day as he marches towards the Breeders’ Cup. A march that I see culminating with an Eclipse Award as America’s best turf horse.

Will Paddy O’Prado keep it rolling in the Virginia Derby? Will Dale Romans be so impressed with another win that he enters Paddy O’Prado in the Arlington Million next? Will I be right, and he will become only the eighth American three-year-old to be named turf champion in my lifetime? Stay tuned…

Oh, I almost forgot, the answer to my opening question is: they are the only American three-year-olds to be named turf champion in the past 40 years. But you already had figured that out, now didn’t you?

July 15, 2010

Jimmy Durante says “Hot Cha Cha”

Couldn’t you just imagine Jimmy Durante being a huge fan of Hot Cha Cha? Granted I am taking some literary license here, as the famous line of the legendary entertainer was more like Ha Cha Cha Chaaaa, but hey, I don’t think the Schnozzola would mind if he was still with us. Hot Cha Cha is a four-year-old daughter of Cactus Ridge, owned and bred by Nelson McMakin, and she is the Midwestern representative of a tri-headed star war in Saturday’s Grade 3 Modesty Stakes at Arlington Park. And come Saturday, I have to believe that Durante will be watching from above.

With California streaker Tuscan Evening getting the lion’s share of the attention, and the East Coast based, and well traveled Rainbow View, with Jonathan Sheppard and Julien Leparoux in her corner, also garnering major attention, Hot Cha Cha could be the forgotten star. But a star she is. She proved that last year with overpowering victories over this course and then at Keeneland. She ran right by a solid field in Arlington’s Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes last September with regualar rider James Graham, before entering the most important race for three-year-old turf filliesin America, the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October. She crushed her competition by 4 ½ lengths on that day, icing the soggy field like Frosty the Snowman. Durante would have been proud … “Hot Cha Cha!”

Making those consecutive wins even more impressive were the respective turf conditions. In the Pucker Up,  Hot Cha Cha caught a dry, firm grass course, while in Kentucky, for the QE II, soft, bog like conditions were the order of the day. Since those wins, troubled trips beat her a few times, but each time the sophomore filly has accounted herself well. She is coming off a professional score in the Locust Grove at Churchill Downs in June.

Trainer Phil Sims believes his star filly has the stamina to love the extra distance of her next two races, the Modesty, and then the big prize, next month’s Beverly D, are both run at 1 3/16 miles. This is farther than Hot Cha Cha has ever been, but with the way she finishes her 9 furlong races, there is good reason to believe that Sims will be right.

Tuscan Evening will be favored, and Rainbow View may be preferred as the second choice, but discount the Midwest filly at your own peril. As they cross the wire on Saturday afternoon, listen closely, and you just might hear Jimmy Durante saying, “Hot Cha Cha!” or maybe that will be me…I do a pretty bad imitation of Durante.

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!

July 14, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I was a classic Kentucky bred with two Kentucky Derby winners in my pedigree.

*My two-season racing career produced one Eclipse Award championship.

*I raced at five tracks, in my relatively short career, and won at four of them. The only track where I did not win was the sight of my only off-the-board performance.

*Never let go at higher than 2-1, I was clearly popular with the bettors.

*My most memorable victory was special, you had to see it to believe it.

*I was once favored over a Hall of Fame inductee at Belmont, but I was not successful.

*As a sire, I have stood in three different countries and produced major winners all over the world.

*I was ridden by five different riders. Two are still riding and three are in Racing’s Hall of Fame.

*My accomplishment at Saratoga can be tied, but it will not be broken.

*I won my final career race, and defeated that year‘s Kentucky Derby winner in the process.

*Horse racing was my favorite sport, followed closely by roundball.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

July 12, 2010

Hall of Fame … Yes or No?

Entry into Racing’s Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor a Thoroughbred horse can achieve. As a racing fan, I always enjoy thinking about who may, or may not, become Hall of Famers. There is a five year waiting period after retirement, but let’s jump the gun and take a look at the cases for our current stars.

Gio Ponti has work to do. He has the advantage of being an Eclipse winner in both the older male and turf divisions, but if his career ended today, I believe the answer would be no. Another Arlington Million victory, or a first BC win would make the consistent, multiple grade 1 winner hard to turn away from the Hall’s front door.
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July 11, 2010

A Grade 1 Winning Mule?

No, it is not what you are thinking, a mule did not actually win a grade 1 stakes this weekend. Rather it was one of the so called mules that ran in the Fleur de Lis Stakes on June 12 at Churchill Downs. Jessica Is Back became another on the long list of horses treated rudely by Rachel, to come back and win a grade 1 win race. In fact, both winners of the two biggest races at Calder’s Summit of Speed yesterday were formerly vanquished by Rachel, as Big Drama was also a big winner yesterday. When horses are as good as Rachel Alexandra, it becomes too easy to assume the horses she is routing are not very good, but that is what great horses do.

Sara Louise, Dream Empress, Just Jenda, Gabby’s Golden Gal, Mine That Bird, Musket Man, Big Drama, Take the Points, Flashing, Malibu Prayer, Summer Bird, Papa Clem, Duke of Mischief, Munnings, Macho Again, Bullsbay, Da’Tara, Jessica Is Back, etc… The list of major wins continues to grow for the beaten by Rachel club.

All world beaters? No. But, please do not call them mules just because they get thrashed by Rachel. I congratulate Jessica Is Back, who clearly is a nice horse.

In her five races this year, Jessica Is Back ran 2nd in a $300,000 stakes at Gulfstream, won a stakes race by nine lengths, gave the top older mare Life at Ten all she could handle in Chicago, ran unsuccessfully against Rachel, and then yesterday she won the grade 1 Princess Rooney going away. Pretty good for a mule!

July 10, 2010

Beat the Big Favorite and Arlington Goes Green

Four giants of the American racing landscape in twenty-ten are all in action today. Current leader of the three-year-old filly division, Blind Luck, super sprinter, D'Funnybone, defending turf and older male champion, Gio Ponti, and the top older male on the left coast, Rail Trip, will each go off as a prohibitive favorite in big stakes races around the nation. All of them figure to be difficult for their competition to handle, as they try to strengthen their hand for year end awards. As I see it, only three of them will make it out of the weekend unscathed, and one will be taken down at odds low enough to expect the toteboard to light up. Which big favorite do I think will go down? I’ll give you a hint … in the Man O‘ War, Gio Ponti will get back to his winning ways, at Calder, D’Funnybone is close to a sure thing, and Blind Luck towers over her Delaware Oaks competition.
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July 9, 2010

Boutique Me

A day at the races should be something to look forward to. Like a child going to Disneyland, I want to be giddy with anticipation at the thought of arriving at the track, immersing myself in the day’s festivities, and watching exciting racing. But alas, there are forces at work that conspire against my idealistic notion.

The United States is a nation that has not always embraced the benefits of moderation, and the horse racing world is as guilty as anyone. There is too much racing and at too many places. To say this ultimately dilutes the product of racing is a major understatement. Less quality, small fields, small attendance, and small handle go hand-in-hand with the over proliferation, and worst of all it takes away from the experience of the fan.

How can we get back the thrill? I offer the answer of shorter race meets or less days of racing. Boutique racing is the norm in countries where racing is more popular than in America. Short race meets with less racing translates to higher quality. Attending the races at Royal Ascot in England is an event. Their extra short meets are memorable rather than ho-hum.

Even in the U.S. the benefits of the boutique meet seem quite evident. Places like Del Mar, Keeneland, and Saratoga thrive because of their recognition of quality over quantity, although, I am worried that the special feeling of these tracks might be lost if they continue expanding dates. Could you imagine what would happen to these places if they started running there 200 days a year?

You can also look at the current Monmouth experiment for a wonderful example of moderation as a step in the right direction. While not a boutique meet in duration, Monmouth has gone with the boutique idea weekly. Offering only three days of racing a week is accomplishing the goal of providing a better product. Shouldn’t that be what we all want?

This matter is the topic du jour for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance. Please check out their main page to find numerous other points-of-view, and see if they agree with me that less can be so much more.

July 8, 2010

I am Impressed

Who has impressed me so far in 2010? Take a look…

1) Quality Road - February 6
The big bay’s win in the Donn was hands down the best performance of 2010. The 12 3/4 length win in the grade 1 race, garnered a monster Beyer of 121.

2) Eskendereya - February 20 & April 3
Take your pick. In the Fountain of Youth Eskendereya showed he was the most brilliant sophomore in the land, and in the Wood Memorial, he repeated the performance.

3) Zenyatta - June 13
After two good victories over lackluster fields to start the year, the Big Z showed her greatness once again, as she ran into a big performance by St Trinians in the Vanity, but inhaled her late as per usual.

4) Rachel Alexandra - June 12
Two narrow losses after her long layoff had the racing world buzzing about her demise. Not so fast my friends, her Fleur de Lis win was vintage Rachel Alexandra.

5) Concord Point - June 26
First try on dirt, and…wow! If the Iowa Derby is a true indication of this colt’s ability on dirt, then he may become a major force in the second half of 2010.

6) Blame - June 12
Carried less weight and ran a little than slower than Rachel did on the same day, but still his dogged rally on a speed favoring track in the Grade 1 Foster was very impressive and a great way to prepare for this Fall’s BC Classic.

7) Lookin at Lucky - March 13
Unlucky as usual, this classy colt’s first race of 2010 was racked with trouble, yet he still managed to run down the loose and formidable Noble’s Promise, to win this year’s Rebel Stakes like a true champion.

8) Boys at Tosconova - July 2
I am placing myself open for much criticism with this high rating, but that is how impressed I was with this juvenile son of Officer’s maiden win last week. Not sure what his future will hold, but this performance was absolute bigtime.

9) Majesticperfection - June 25
A sprint stakes at Iowa gets this one into the top 10? Yes, he defeated top sprinters and he did it such a way that you just know this horse is the real deal. He is 6f in 1:07.24 kinda fast.

10) Rail Trip - June 12
Bigger, better, and more mature, the California gelding may be ready to tackle the nation’s best, if he continues to look as impressive as he did in his effortless runaway in the Californian.

11) Exhi - June 27
Four straight stakes wins, and each one more impressive than the last, gets this striking sophomore a spot on this list vis a vis an eight length runaway in the Victoria Park Stakes.

12) Redding Colliery - May 31
Who? This late developing son of Mineshaft is a horse on the improve. His last effort in winning the Lone Star Handicap, by nearly seven lengths, earned a 111 Beyer, signaling him as one to watch.

13) Paddy O’ Prado - June 19
The top single performance by any turf horse was turned in by three-year-old Paddy O’Prado, in an alarmingly easy win in the Colonial Turf Cup. He should stay on turf after that performance.

14) Kantharos - July 3
Proving that the juvenile maiden win in the slop was no fluke, Kantharos made an absolute mockery of the Bashford Manor Stakes, and did it in racehorse time.

15) Hollywood Hit - May 9
Announced himself as the fastest thing going on a synthetic surface with a sharp win over Fatal Bullet in Woodbine’s Vigil Stakes. Any horse who runs 7f in 1:20 flat catches my attention.

16) Tuscan Evening - May 29
Her impressive win streak in stakes races continued in the Gamely, and in it, she proved her class by defeating a champion in Forever Together.

July 7, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I won less than half of my lifetime starts, but at 49%, I was pretty close.

*My first stakes victory came in Illinois, but my biggest win came in the Old Line State.

*I raced in seven states and at 15 different racetracks, and I won in all of those states and at 12 of those tracks.

*I once won ten consecutive races, but unfortunately followed that up with an eight race losing streak.

*Despite coming off that losing streak, I was still favored in my most important win.

*I can thank my owner for my somewhat unique name.

*I lived to the age of 24, but I was inducted into Racing‘s Hall of Fame after my death.

*I proved tough as could be in some fantastic battles with a Triple Crown winner.

*I ended my career with just over 500 times more in earnings than my bargain purchase price.

*For my ability, I give much credit to my sire who passed along the goods.

*Two times a champion, I was never a Horse of the Year, because of that Triple Crown winner.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

July 5, 2010

A Canadian Chip of the Old Block

Do you recall a horse named Tenpins? In the early part of the last decade, he became one of those horses who I had a ton of respect for. You know the type, tough as nails and game through the wire. He was not around for the Triple Crown of 2001, nor was he a star under the bright lights of New York or California. What he was … was a really good horse. The big chestnut won graded stakes in Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey. Tenpins won more than half of his lifetime starts and earned more than a million dollars. Much to my pleasure, I was able to catch a glimpse of this old warrior in the form of one of his sons. Big Red Mike is a three-year-old chestnut gelding who appears to have inherited not only his sire’s talent, but also his strong desire to get to the wire ahead of his competition. Yesterday he put these attributes to great use and became the equine toast of a nation.
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July 4, 2010

Celebrating the 4th at Arlington Park

If you‘ve never been to Arlington Park in suburban Chicago, I urge you to make the trip. The track, facility, and the grounds are unmatched in the United States for pristine beauty. Arlington Park, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1985, is simply a showplace for the Thoroughbred. I had a wonderful time there today, and in the process saw a champion mare win for the first time in 2010. Seeing a champion in person is something that never grows old for me, and as I watched the other big races from around the country, it occurred to me that the grey mare might not be the only champion female winning today.

Of course the champion I saw in person was Informed Decision, winning the Chicago Handicap. It is a race that she also won last year on her way to the Eclipse Award as the nation’s best female sprinter. Today’s race was tougher than expected as Informed Decision had to outgame the upstart, longshot speedster, Rinterval, to the wire. At the finish, she was a head better than her rival, who was in receipt of seven pounds, as the two mares pulled clear of the rest of the field. After being upset in her first two starts of the year, and being tested by an unknown today, it appears that the champ may not be quite the force that she was in 2009. Her three races this year, while not as impressive as last year for sure, have been solid, and a little improvement may get her to a level contending for another championship. I would not put anything past this beautiful grey mare who has now won 12 times in 17 lifetime races.

If Informed Decision is unseated as Eclipse winning sprinting female, it may be a three-year-old New York bred who is able to turn the trick. Fanny Freud is no run of the mill state bred. Take a look at her record, and you get an idea just how good this filly is. The daughter of Freud has now won 8 times with 2 seconds in 10 tries sprinting. Today she easily handled her competition in snaring her first grade 1 victory. Sent off as a heavy 7-10 choice despite the presence of a recent grade 1 winner in Champagne d‘Oro and a sharp stakes winner in Bonnie Blue Flag, Fanny Freud proved much the best in the Prioress. The winning margin ended up only being 1 ¾ lengths, but it seemed far easier than that, as Fanny made a quick and decisive move as the horses straightened out, that settled things early in the lane. From there she coasted home and will now head to Saratoga as clearly the horse to beat in the Spa’s prestigious Test Stakes.

Leaving the female sprinters for just a moment, Maram may have been the horse that most impressed me today. It was not a major stakes that she won, and she only ended up winning the Miss Liberty by a head, but I thought her performance was scintillating. Stuck on the outside, and behind a slow early pace, Maram appeared to be in deep trouble as late as the eighth pole. Still in the 7th position at the stretch call, the four-year-old daughter of Sahm suddenly turned on the afterburners. Gaining on the sharp stakes winning turf filly, Strike the Bell, with every stride, Maram got up in the last few strides to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Gaining all that ground on good fillies, who were sprinting home, speaks volumes of her ability. It was the fifth win in only eight starts for the dark bay filly who has run exclusively on the grass. Always a classy sort, in 2008, she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in only her third lifetime start. Last year she was thrown to the wolves by running in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf off of only two preps. She was not up to the challenge that day, but was still only beaten 3 ½ lengths. Back and healthy this year, I believe the sky is the limit for her now at four, and I see another run and win in the BC as a real possibility.

Photo Courtesy of Four Footed Fotos

July 3, 2010

Returning Stars Come Back with a Bang

America’s Independence Day is one of the more important weekends of our nation. A weekend long celebration of the creation of a sovereign nation, it is a time to enjoy being an American. It also happens to be an important couple of days on our national racing landscape. Traditional powerhouse stakes races litter the holiday weekend. Setting off a large portion of the equine fireworks will be three, four-year-old males that made major marks on the sophomore schedule in 2009. I Want Revenge, Regal Ransom, and Mine That Bird all make their 2010 debuts off extended layoffs this weekend, and returns to top form by any of three will make them major players in an already contentious handicap division.
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July 2, 2010

Appearance Fees in Racing?

Money, money, money.

It happens in tennis, it happens in golf. In fact it happens wherever a person of celebrity desires to pocket a buck at the expense of an event organizer who is more than happy to make the expensive hand out in order to glamorize their show. Now we can add one miss Rachel Alexandra to the list of celebrity cash grabbers.

Is it right, or is it wrong for the Rachel Alexandra ownership to run their star at a track, and at a race, only when the purse is significantly raised ?

It seems to me the idea of appearance fees is Capitalism 101. If the celebrity, or in this case, the owners of the celebrity, are willing to decide where they will appear based on cash, and the event organizers, in this case, a racetrack, are grinning ear-to-ear with their agreement, who are we to say the agreement, rooted in American capitalism, is wrong?

OK, so it is acceptable for a celeb to make some dough by availing themselves to their fans in our chosen form of economics, but what about on the athletic landscape? Doesn’t this smack of forgetting the competition just to assure the attendance of one of the competitors? Doesn’t this lessen the importance of the actual competition? Well, yes and no. In golf, when Tiger Woods is paid $2 million to play in a tournament, while the winner of the tournament gets a measly $650,000, then yes, I apply pressure with my thumb and index finger directly to both nostrils. When the appearance fee is paid regardless of performance, it belittles the event. Does Tiger Woods have as much to play for as Joe in-the-field Golfer? Of course not, he already got his.

Is this a worry in racing? No. Two big reasons why it is different. First off, Rachel does not know of cash. She will run just the same regardless of her owner’s bankbook. Secondly, this appearance fee is the good kind in sports. Jess Jackson is not being paid only to show up, he is being paid when Rachel wins. Many would say, knowing her brilliance, that these two things are the same. Maybe so, but the truth is the extra purse money is out there for all.

Who are the losers as a result of this deal? Not team Rachel. Not Monmouth Park. Not the fans of the sport. We now get to see Rachel, and know ahead of time where we can see her. Also with the purse hike, it should attract at least as good a field as we would have seen in the Ruffian Stakes. Perhaps the losers are NYRA and their elite meet of Saratoga. To them I say, check your Econ textbooks. Monmouth won, fair and square. Besides, Saratoga should still host another Rachel race before their meet is done. Perhaps the American Graded Stakes system is a loser. Monmouth’s Lady’s Secret is ungraded, now rich, but still ungraded. Saratoga’s Ruffian is a grade 1. This may actually only hurt Rachel’s resume, while benefiting the Ruffian winner.

In the end, I am not against this devilish deal between the good people at Monmouth Park and Rachel’s owner, Jess Jackson. It takes nothing away from our sport, even if somewhere Gordon Gekko is smiling.

This matter is the topic du jour for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance http://www.tbablogs.com/, please check out their main page to find numerous other points-of-view. Some not nearly so kind to JJ as I am.