September 30, 2010

Of Zenyatta and Rants from the Peanut Gallery

I love Zenyatta, but yet I must admit there have been times in the last eleven months where I felt that some of her fans have a chip on their shoulder the size of the mighty mare that they adore. Over this period, I could not write anything positive about Rachel Alexandra without being chastised or lectured in the process. Now of course, this is not all Zen fans. Far from it. Most are wonderful admirers, gracious in victory, who do not seek to insult others, in order to build up their own rooting interest. I understand, I get it. Zenyatta was the victim of circumstance when it came time to decide Horse of the Year two years in a row. Zenyatta is a hero to millions. She has drawn in new fans in droves, and quite simply is a godsend for the sport. On the track, she is one in a million. I believe she is a fantastic race mare, hell, I think she is the best female athlete we have seen in the universe. Sorry. I did qualify that as female, seeing as I am a Chicagoan, and we had a guy a few years back named Michael.

On Saturday, the world has the privilege to witness Zenyatta racing again. The undefeated, and soon to be three-time champion, Zenyatta towers over the field like a skyscraper in the middle of a corn field, as she goes for lucky number 19 in the $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes (formerly the Zenyatta Stakes [formerly the Lady’s Secret Stakes]).

Now for the bad news … Zenyatta’s 2010 campaign, including her race in two days, does not deserve to place her atop the current Horse of the Year polls. {Insert expletives here.} The only reason that she holds this spot, is because of what she has accomplished over her career. She simply has not beaten one horse of top quality this year. The only notable horse she has raced against in 2010 is St Trinians, and she was coming off a 6th place finish in her previous start.

Does this fact take anything away from Zenyatta as a racehorse? Absolutely not. Rather, it is only an assessment of the campaign her handlers have chosen for her to this point of the year.

Am I hear to announce that her owners have cheated the racing public? No. They are her owners, and they can choose to do whatever they want, which of course could have spelled retirement a long time ago.

If Zenyatta is not my current Horse of the Year, who is? This year there are no historic seasons to compete against. My current leader is Blame, because of the quality of the fields he has defeated in his undefeated season so far, but he is on schedule to run only five races the entire year for crying out loud. Ahhh, but that is a rant for another day

Do all these mismatches take anything away from her career as many have suggested? I honestly don’t think so. It seems like an apples or oranges situation. If she had been running in hard races against males regularly, like some other great mares of the past have done, we may have been treated to some great races along the way, but I doubt that she would still be undefeated, and I feel that it is very likely that she would have already been retired. There is a lot to be said for longevity and perfection.

Do I think she can still deserve to win Horse of the Year at the conclusion of 2010? That’s an easy one … Yes! If she wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic, her easy campaign leading up to it will just have been a perfect series of preps. If she wins the Classic, Zenyatta will be Horse of the Year, and the vote will be deservingly unanimous.

Love them, hate them, or somewhere in between, these are my opinions. Thank you for listening.

September 29, 2010

Who Am I ???

*A one-time Eclipse Award winner, I was bred in Kentucky, and trained by a Hall of Famer.

*Well traveled, I competed in stakes races at eleven different racetracks and won stakes at seven of those tracks.

*Popular with the bettors, I was sent off as the favorite 25 times.

*Exactly one half of my lifetime victories came during my championship season.

*Dirt was my surface; I never raced on anything else.

*I won more stakes at Santa Anita than anywhere else, but was defeated by the same horse in the Big Cap who had beaten me in an early juvenile stakes.

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

*I was a multiple graded stakes winner in each of my three years of racing.

*In the money more than 30 times, I was one victory shy of winning half of my lifetime starts .

*My longest winning streak consisted of five straight graded stakes tallies.

*One of my losses came in the Kentucky Derby, where I was considered one of the horses to beat.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

Farewell to My Champion

This will not be my grand send off to Rachel Alexandra, that will come later. For now, I only want to offer a few words to all of her wonderful fans, who like me, fell hard for the beautiful girl. Personally, I fell in love with Rachel during a couple of Autumn stakes races at Churchill Downs of her juvenile year. I saw something then that enlivened my heart, thrilled my mind, and transformed me into a little boy again. I have never been disappointed one second in being her devoted fan ever since. Rachel will be missed dearly. I find it difficult to wrap my head around never seeing her run another race right now. Like all things in life though, we move on, as Rachel will. When I look back at the last two years, I am left with fantastic memories that elicited powerful emotions both then and now. I need to say thank you for everything that Rachel did for me. It has been a wonderful ride, and in fact I started writing about horses because of her. There would be no blog here if it was not for Rachel Alexandra. I wish her a long and happy lifetime as she embarks on a new stage of her life. I look forward to the day when I can feed her a carrot and reminisce. See you soon girl.

September 28, 2010

Remembering ... Real Quiet

With every heart pounding stride it was becoming painfully evident that the quest for racing’s holy grail was in jeopardy. Only seconds before, Mike Pegram’s Real Quiet had seemed home free, as he and Rider Kent Desormeaux had stormed to a commanding lead early in the stretch. He was on the verge of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed had outfought his great rival Alydar to the Belmont Stakes wire twenty years earlier. While Affirmed had to best the great Alydar in three straight classic races, Real Quiet’s foil was Victory Gallop. The late developing son of Cryptoclearance had finished second to Real Quiet in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and was back to challenge for a third time. The two proud colts were now in the midst of thrilling the second largest crowd to see the race in the rich history of the Belmont Stakes. The thrilling duel, down the Belmont stretch, brought the crowd first to a fever pitch, and then to an eerie silence on a gorgeous June afternoon in New York.

Immortality would slip away from Real Quiet on that day, as Victory Gallop methodically reeled him in during the final few strides of the Belmont Stakes. In the end, Real Quiet had been beaten a scant nose, and in that tiny margin, the hopes of millions of race fans, desperately seeking a new hero, were dashed. Adding to the drama of the closest Belmont since the Affirmed/Alydar epic, was the announcement after the race that stewards might have disqualified him if he had won the race, due to bumping Victory Gallop twice nearing the finish. It marked the second year in a row that Real Quiet’s trainer Bob Baffert was denied after coming agonizingly close to completing a Triple Crown. He had been turned away the year before when Silver Charm was passed by Touch Gold late in the race. This near miss was closer though, much closer. I could not help but feel for Real Quiet and his connections. I was not alone in my disappointment.

Real Quiet was bred by Little Hill Farm in Kentucky, and born on March 7, 1995. The bay colt was by sired Quiet American, out of the Believe It mare, Really Blue. His narrow frame and crooked knees did not attract much attention from prospective buyers, and so the young colt was snatched up at auction by trainer Bob Baffert, to be owned by his friend Mike Pegram, for a mere $17,000 as a yearling. The bargain purchase would set the stage for Real Quiet joining Seattle Slew as a quintessential rags to riches racing story.

The first time I saw Real Quiet in person was a very memorable day for me. It happened to be my first ever visit to Santa Anita Park, and I had decided my money would be on the bargain basement colt. The loser of his first six races, including two at the Downs of Santa Fe in New Mexico, Real Quiet had blossomed when stretched out in the Fall of his juvenile year. He broke his maiden impressively at Santa Anita and culminated his two-year-old season by winning the Hollywood Futurity. My first experience at Santa Anita and seeing Real Quiet came in the 1998 Santa Anita Derby. I bet on The Fish, so nicknamed by Baffert because of his skinny appearance from head on, as he faced off against California’s other top sophomores in Artax, and Baffert’s new star, Indian Charlie. My selection ran a solid race that day as he made a strong rally and split horses early in the stretch to finish second to his favored stablemate. Indian Charlie was too good for him that time, and at that distance, but Real Quiet had the look of a colt who would thrive at the longer distances to come. Things would soon be different.

The 1998 Kentucky Derby seemed like it was ripe for the taking. Ligthly raced Indian Charlie was the favorite despite questions about his ability to get the Derby distance. Real Quiet and Victory Gallop were two of many of the horses thought to have a real chance to pull the upset. Pull the upset he did. Sent off at 8-1, Real Quiet stormed to the lead on the far turn and had enough to hold off the strong late rally of Victory Gallop, with Indian Charlie checking in third. It was no surprise to winning trainer, Bob Baffert, who knew the colt was peaking at the right time. Two weeks later further demonstrated how good Real Quiet was becoming, as he clinched the first two legs of the Triple Crown with an easy 2 ¼ length score in the Preakness Stakes. Victory Gallop again rallied for second, but this time he could not come close to The Fish. The Belmont, three weeks later, may have been opportunity lost, but it completed an awesome stretch of racing in a five-week period for Real Quiet.

Despite being sidelined after his sensational Triple Crown chase, his accomplishments in the first half of 1998 earned him the Eclipse Award as Champion three-year-old male. Real Quiet would further demonstrate his class when returning the following Spring as an older horse. After a couple of narrow defeats, off the layoff, in graded stakes in the South, Real Quiet would be reacquainted with a classic distance in the historic Pimlico Special. I must admit I did not bet The Fish that day, because he was up against one of my all-time favorites in Free House. Real Quiet would prove that last year’s Triple Crown was no fluke by earning a hard fought neck victory over his accomplished foe. Interestingly, Gary Stevens was the winning rider that day, yes the same Gary Stevens who had ridden Victory Gallop on that fateful day at Belmont Park. By winning the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, he became only one of five horses ever to win both the Preakness and the Pimlico Special, joining four Triple Crown winners, Assualt, Citation, War Admiral, and Whirlaway to win both races.

After the big win at Pimlico, Real Quiet was upset by the hard hitting Behrens in the Mass Cap, before heading back to Southern California for a date in the Hollywood God Cup. Proving once again that he was a terror at classic distances, The Fish won the ten furlong Gold Cup by a half length. It marked his fifth race at a 1 3/16 or farther, with only the nose loss in the Belmont blemishing his perfect record. The Gold Cup would send Real Quiet out as a winner, as shortly after the Gold Cup in June, Real Quiet suffered a fractured bone in his right front leg and never raced again. All told he won 6 of his 20 starts, finishing in the money 17 times, and earned $3,271,802. Real Quiet was a horse who was not afraid to rise to the occasion, as five of those six wins came in grade 1 races.

After retirement, the bay stallion entered stud at Vinery in 2000 and later moved to Taylor Made Farm before being relocated to Pennsylvania. As a sire, he produced Midnight Lute and two other Grade 1 winners, Pussycat Doll, and Wonder Lady Anne L. Midnight Lute would of course win back to back Breeder’s Cup Sprints and was named the Champion Sprinter of 2007. It is with great sadness that I report that Real Quiet’s stallion career has come to a tragic end.

The fifteen-year-old stallion passed away suddenly after a freak accident in his paddock yesterday afternoon at Penn Ridge Farms, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Frankly, it was not my plan to write about the 1998 champion, Real Quiet today, but when I had heard that he had died, my duty was clear. It is always tough to lose a popular horse, and in Real Quiet, racing lost a real champion yesterday. No horse has ever come so close without winning the Triple Crown. He will always be remembered for his heartbreaking loss, but as he proved on many occasions since that afternoon at Belmont Park, The Fish was far more than the horse who narrowly missed out on becoming the 12th ever winner of America‘s Triple Crown. I remember you Real Quiet.

September 27, 2010

Oh No! Derek Simon Beat Me

I tend to concentrate on the sport of thoroughbred horse racing, dealing with what’s going on, what’s coming up, and in general celebrating the stars of our sport. My esteemed colleague, Derek Simon, on the other hand, looks at the sport from a different point of view. An innovative and expert handicapper, Derek concentrates on the gambling aspect of the sport. Vive la difference! Because of this, we rarely write about handicapping the same races, but it happened this past Saturday when we both decided to concentrate on the Pennsylvania and Super Derbies for our columns. Derek is a heckuva nice guy, and I certainly never wish him anything but the best. On Saturday, however, my competitive juices began to flow. I wanted to win this impromptu handicapping challenge. Here is how the races unfolded …
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 26, 2010

The Bloodlines of Frankel

After only three career starts, Frankel has turf writers pounding their thesauri in search of new superlatives to describe the handsome colt. Yesterday at the Ascot Festival, Frankel exceeded the hype machine by running his competition into the ground with a scintillating ten-length runaway in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes. The impressive juvenile, named after the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, has been much talked about before he even made his career debut, and his first three starts have more than sufficiently fueled the fire for talks of greatness. Yesterday’s romp came on the heels of a 13-length virtuoso at Doncaster. Reality rarely ever approaches hyperbole in the world of racing, but in the case of Frankel it has become quickly clear that we are looking at a young horse far from the ordinary. Frankel is trained by Henry Cecil, and was bred in England by his owner, Juddmonte Farm. Let’s take a look at those bloodlines for some clues into where this new star inherited his ability.

Frankel is a son of Galileo, who not only was a champion racehorse, winning the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in an eight race career, but is also about as well bred as a racehorse could be. Galileo’s sire is the champion Sadlers Wells, who as possibly Northern Dancer’s most prolific son, has been the dominant sire in European racing over the past quarter century. Including Galileo, he has sired more than 70 grade/group 1 winners around the world. Galileo’s dam is Urban Sea, who like her son, was both a champion racer, as well as a producer of champions. On the track, Urban Sea was good enough to beat the males in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and as a broodmare she has proved even greater. She has produced many topnotch horses, the most noteworthy, along with Galileo, being the great Sea the Stars. Urban Sea is a also a grandaughter of the great American sire, Mr. Prospector, giving Galileo a wonderful mix of speed and ample stamina.

On the female side, Frankel has a little more speed influence which may explain his precociousness in his first three races at distances of seven furlongs and one mile. His dam is Kind, a fast, stakes winning daughter of champion sire Danehill. Danehill, despite a shortened career as a sire due to passing at the age of 17, was a spectacular sire in both hemispheres. His influence is Australia may be even greater than his great success as a sire in Europe. A son of the great American sire Danzig, Danehill was best at shorter distances as a runner, but proved to be able to produce horses of quality at all distances. Frankel’s second dam is Rainbow Lake, a daughter of champion Rainbow Quest out of a Stage Door Johnny mare, giving Kind‘s female family a strong stamina base. Besides Kind, Rainbow Lake produced the champion Powerscourt, who made a big splash in consecutive runnings of the Arlington Million. Although a young broodmare, Frankel is not Kind’s first offspring of note, as she also produced three-year-old stakes winner Bullet Train, who was one of the favorites for this year’s Epsom Derby.

With this kind of regal breeding, it is no wonder that Frankel has been well regarded from the beginning. He has the looks to match and considering the ability he has shown in his first three starts, he truly could be any kind. Frankel is still largely untested, but all signs point to a star in the making.

September 25, 2010

Derby Double Dipping

As Seinfeld’s George Costanza would attest, sometimes it can be fun to double dip. To dip once, enjoy, and then dip again. Taking a page from Costanza, that is exactly what I will be doing this afternoon. I’ll be looking for bigger game than chips though, as I dip twice into the Derby pool. Today’s Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park) and Louisiana Downs’ Super Derby offer two competitive fields mixing it up in hopes of climbing the division ladder. It will be for many running today, the last chance to get a graded stake win against their own age, as the older horses loom. Also on the line will be one final opportunity to prove that they are good enough and belong to run five weeks from now at the Breeders’ Cup. In handicapping the duo of Derbies, I found that I have strong feelings for horses that will be somewhat ignored by the bettors, which of course is always a good thing.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 24, 2010

Rip vs. Mak in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

A field of eight is set to do battle in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II stakes in England on Saturday afternoon. This one mile affair, run over the hallowed grounds of Ascot Racecourse, looks to be the most important race of the weekend worldwide, and could prove one of the more important miles of the year. At stake is an automatic invitation to the Breeder’s Cup Mile, but that might not be the only BC race to be targeted by the race winner. Remember this is the same race that produced Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator, the two English 3-year-olds who ran past our tiring champion Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic of 2008. That 1-2 finish at Santa Anita matched the result at the Ascot Festival just weeks earlier. This year’s race should be another good one with, once again, major Breeders’ Cup implications.

Two of the top colts in Europe loom the pair to beat on Saturday. The defending champion is back, as Rip Van Winkle, used a triumph last year to propel him to near favoritism in the BC Classic. He did not get it done in America, but the beautiful bay continues to be one of the glamour boys of European racing. The son of Galileo has only one win this year, but it came in impressive, late-running fashion in the Group 1 Juddmonte International two starts ago. The Aidan O’Brien trained colt is coming off a well beaten second place finish in the Irish Champion, but he should be ready to roll now that he isback at the flat mile distance in which he's performed well in the past. Rip Van Winkle will be my top pick to pull off the minor upset over his younger and favored competition.

Makfi became a sudden star when winning the English 2000 Guineas in May. The classic win came in only his third lifetime start. Enthusiasm for his potential was tempered temporarily when he ran poorly at Ascot in his next race, but that race came with an excuse of coming out of the June race worse for the wear. He confirmed the form of the Guineas win, and himself as one of the top milers in the world, when he returned to easily defeat champion Goldikova at Deauville in his last start. Should the son of Dubawi run back to that race, he will give Rip everything he wants in his quest to win back-to-back runnings. The rest of the field will all have juicy odds, with Poet's Voice looking like the most interesting of the bunch. The Godolphin entrant is likely to have his work cut out for him tomorrow against the top two from a class standpoint, but he is starting to live up to his potential that he flashed as a juvenile, and is coming off a smart score in the Celebration Mile.

Ascot Racecourse is one racecourse that I have always wanted to visit, and the QE II would be a wonderful race to witness live. It will not happen again this year, but it will someday. For now I will be content to be a most interested observer from afar. A win by Rip Van Winkle or Makfi should send them to America as one of the favorites for the Breeders‘ Cup Mile, or perhaps they will opt for the riches of the Classic instead. Or maybe a new shooter will emerge and head to the United States off a big win.

September 23, 2010

If You Could Pick One Horse …

If you could pick one horse as the most likely to win on Breeders’ Cup weekend, who would it be? The obvious choices that come to mind may be Goldikova or Zenyatta, and seeing how each great mare has won in two consecutive Breeders’ Cups, it would be hard to argue with either. They do have obstacles however, in the form of the two deepest fields of the weekend. The defending Classic winner, Zenyatta, will be facing the best males in the world, and this year she will have to ship in to face them on their surface. Her greatest challenge may come from Blame, who has proven to love the Churchill strip. He is also unbeaten this year and still improving, making him a formidable road block to Zenyatta’s quest for a perfect 20. Meanwhile, Goldikova will no doubt be heavily favored to achieve an unprecedented third consecutive BC Mile victory. Coming off a loss in her latest, Goldikova is an international superstar, but things could be much tougher this time around. Top to bottom the Mile looks like the deepest field, with tigers like, Gio Ponti, Makfi, Court Vision, Sidney’s Candy, and Paco Boy, just to name a few, ready to challenge her supremacy.

Last year’s Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra is the likely favorite for the Ladies’ Classic, but sophomore Blind Luck is in the midst of a sparkling season, and should give the 2010 version of Rachel a true test. Paddy O’Prado has become the now horse on American turf, but let’s face it, 12 furlongs on the grass is clearly the Europeans race to lose, whomever their top candidate may be. Discreetly Mine has been the sprinter I have been on all Summer, but the sprint is almost always a race that proves to be a wide open slugfest, rather than a spot for an easily selected winner. Possibly Boys at Tosconova in the Juvenile, or Tell a Kelly in the Juvenile Fillies, have already impressed enough where you think they will roll to victory in the Breeders’ Cup. Maybe, as these are races where the favorites are usually factors, but I would say it is too early to count on such inexperienced youngsters as singles a month and a half out.

So where does that leave us? Are there any sure things this year? No sure things, and frankly that is one of the many reasons why I love this game, but there is one horse that stands out in her respective field. A filly who won at the Breeders’ Cup last year, and has improved with age to become a much better horse this year.  Her name is Midday, and I consider her the horse to beat in the BC Filly & Mare Turf by a long way.  Eleven furlongs is a perfect trip for her and Midday is currently on a group 1 roll in Europe. The Breeders’ Cup has been the race her connections have pointed her for since the beginning of her campaign. Unfortunately, some of her toughest competition like Dar Re Mi, Sariska, and the ill-fated Tuscan Evening, will not be at Churchill Downs, making her an even greater threat.  That’s my opinion for the most likely winner at least, I want to know what you think. Who is the one horse you think is most likely to win at the Breeders’ Cup?

September 22, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Bred in Kentucky, I was a grandson of one of the greatest sires in American history.

*I won more than half of my starts during my four seasons on the racetrack.

*In my best season, I won an allowance by 7 ½ over a future Breeders‘ Cup winner, and then three straight grade 1 stakes.

*Popular with the bettors, I was bet below 2-1 on 17 occasions, including in each of my stakes wins.

*In my career defining victory, I was a romping winner despite spotting the runner-up twenty pounds.

*I may have been foaled in Kentucky, but I was a New Yorker, with all but one of my races taking place in the Empire State.

*My only trip outside of New York, was just across the Hudson, where I ran 4th, snapping a six-race win streak.

*The distance of my victories had a three-quarter mile spread between the shortest and longest.

*My greatest accomplishment was in doing something that only other three others could do. Unfortunately they are all in the Hall of Fame and I am not.

*As a sire, I produced a millionaire daughter, and a son who created quite a stir at Pimlico.

*I was surrounded by successful people; my owner, trainer, and regular rider are all members of racing‘s Hall of Fame.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

Remembering ... Invasor

When I think I about the greatest horses I have ever seen, the names of Secretariat and Spectacular Bid immediately spring to mind. They were horses from my childhood and they were too fantastic ever to forget. Over the years, there have been plenty of great horses who have come and gone since. None of them could ever quite match my exalted estimation of those two, but nonetheless were unforgettable in their own right. One of these greats was, and is, Invasor. Although he ruled racetracks all over the globe but a few years ago, I fear Invasor is somewhat underappreciated by the racing public. This is far from the case in his native land.

A true South American sensation, Invasor is a national treasure in more than one country. Although he never competed at a racetrack in Argentina, he is beloved for having been foaled there. Today he stands as the shining example of the nation’s breeding industry. And if he is considered extremely popular in Argentina, then he is an equine god in Uruguay. Almost immediately after the nation was dealt a major blow, as the national team (soccer) failed to qualify for the following year’s World Cup, Invasor stepped in to give the country something to be proud of again. Uruguay embraced him as a sports hero while he dominated their 2005 Triple Crown. In the calendar year of 2005, Invasor would begin by impressively breaking his maiden in a 5 ½ furlong race to romping home a winner in the final leg of their Triple Crown at a distance of 13 furlongs. As an undefeated winner of their most important races, Invasor was the hero of Uruguayan racing, but this would only be the beginning.

It would be Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum who would give Invasor the opportunity to prove to the rest of the world what kind of horse he was. Sheik Hamdan made owners Juan Luis Vio Bado and Pablo Hernandez Trucido an offer for the son of Candy Stripes out of the Interprete mare Quendom that could not be refused. The $1.5 million sale was finalized and Invasor would be off to conquer new worlds. Uruguay may have seen their horse leave the borders, but they would soon rejoice in watching him become the best of the world.

The first time I saw Invasor race would be his first race in America, the 2006 Pimlico Special. There was a red hot speed horse in the race named Wanderin Boy who figured to control the pace. He would be a heavy favorite against the South American import who was let go at odds of 6-1. I actually bet on Invasor that day, mainly because of the chasm in odds between him and the favorite. I remember thinking that he had been placed in a very tough spot in his only loss. That loss came in the UAE Derby, where Invasor had finished 4th in a 13 horse field in his previous start. He had not been close to the ultra talented winner, Discreet Cat, but he was close to second, after traveling across the world, having a long layoff, and coming out of marathon to compete in a relative sprint. To top it off, he gave Discreet Cat nine pounds that day as a slightly older Southern Hemisphere horse.

Not that this spot would be much easier, as new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had placed him in the grade one Maryland race off another long journey. He had been working well, and I decided he obviously had some class and was worth a shot at the odds. My expectations were exceeded. Stalking Wanderin Boy during the early part of the race, it looked like Invasor had no shot when Wanderin Boy spurted clear at the head of the stretch, but that was when the American legend of Invasor would be born. Invasor dropped to the inside and suddenly started reeling in the front runner. I was surprised as in a matter of seconds, he had gone from a horse that I wondered if he could hold second to a powerful winner. The final margin was 1 ¼ lengths, but it was a visually impressive stretch run and in fast time.

A bay colt with a tiny white star on his forehead, it has been said by many around him that Invasor is a horse with great intelligence and presence. These qualities helped him achieve things on the track seemingly out of reach. The Pimlico Special was my first understanding of this. An easy could be next out win in the Suburban Handicap placed Invasor atop the older male contingent on the East Coast. It was then on to Saratoga for another glimpse at what was inside of this horse. The Whitney Handicap assembled a strong field of nine. Among them was a good Nick Zito colt named Sun King who was about to run the race of his life. It would be to no avail. You see Invasor would not let him win. Invasor had stayed closed to the pace under teenage rider Fernando Jara and pounced to contend for the lead early in the lane. As he often did in races, he did not just blow right by his competition. It was as if he enjoyed testing the other horses for awhile before putting the hammer down. In the Whitney though, it looked to be a losing tactic, for on the outside Sun King had a full head of steam and was quickly bearing down on the leaders. Almost instantly, Invasor put it into another gear, and the rest of the field was left far behind. Sun King kept coming, but Invasor would not let him by. This was another clue for the world to discover just what he was made of, and the best was yet to come.

The $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic would be a showdown between the three leading candidates for Horse of the Year. Invasor was there, along with the West Coast star Lava Man, the new glamour boy of our sport, Bernardini, and ten other horses sporting strong credentials. Bernardini had been winning stakes races on the East Coast in scintillating fashion and was made a strong favorite. Invasor who had only won the Whitney by a nose, was relegated to third choice at 6-1. A minor setback had kept Invasor away from the races for three months, but that mattered little to this horse. Proving his superiority, Invasor unleashed a powerful closing charge down the center of the track to eyeball Bernardini at the 16th pole. Bernardini would have no answer, and the horse from Uruguay pulled away for a one length victory in the race of the year in the United States.

The win would clinch both Horse of the Year and champion older male for Invasor, and in 2007 he would pick up where he left off. Despite a troubled trip in the Donn Handicap, Invasor was an easy and ridiculously effortless winner of the first big race of the year. He looked even better than he had the previous year in racking up his 5th grade one victory in the United States in only five races. It would be on to Dubai next for the champion, where he would get a chance to avenge his only career loss.

It is the world’s richest race and the 2007 World Cup brought together top horses from all over the globe. Adding to the intrigue of the big race was the inclusion of the still highly regarded, Discreet Cat, who was the only other horse to finish first in a race entered by Invasor. The race proved to be a two-horse match, but it was the American export, Premium Tap, who would provide the drama. The drama would not last long though, as soon as Invasor loped alongside his rival, the world knew it would just be a matter of time before the inevidble would happen. For when Invasor drew eyeball to eyeball with another horse, his force proved irresistible. Premium Tap would give it everything he had, and the two would match strides for a large part of the stretch, as the rest, including Discreet Cat, were left far behind. Invasor seemingly enjoyed the test, but kicked clear late for a powerful and efficient two length score. Invasor’s return to Nad Al Sheba was a triumphant one. He was celebrated by a global audience of fans of racing, as he won the world’s richest race in front of owner Sheikh Hamdan.

There could no longer be any doubt, Invasor was the best horse in the world. He proved it everywhere he ran. He was globally recognized as the highest ranked horse all over the world, something not easily achieved in our sometimes fractured sport. Unfortunately, this affirmation of greatness would be short lived. After working a strong five furlongs on a Saturday morning in late June at Belmont Park in preparation for defense of his Suburban Handicap victory, Invasor came back injured. The problem was discovered later at McLaughlin's barn and X-rays revealed a fracture to the top of the sesamoid bone. The great horse would be retired and sent to stud at his owner’s Shadwell breeding operation in Lexington, Kentucky. His first crop are yearlings now. I am eagerly awaiting his offspring to hit the track in 2011.

You would think that a horse who won grade one races on three separate continents, was Horse of the Year in two nations, was an undefeated Triple Crown winner, and was a winner of the two richest dirt races in the world, should never suffer from an identity crisis. All of this was accomplished by a horse whose career was cut short just when he appeared to be at his most dominant. He was victorious in 11 of his 12 career starts for earnings of over $7.8 million. He was Invasor the Invader. He deserves to respected as one of the very best horses of the 21st century, if not the very best. I remember you Invasor.

photo courtesy of Rickelle Nelson

September 20, 2010

46 Days and Counting … ZATT’s Breeders’ Cup Rankings

1. Temple City
2. A.U. Miner
3. Eldaafer
4. Alcomo
5. Cloudy’s Knight

1. White Moonstone
2. Roxy Gap
3. New Normal
4. Fancy Point
5. Winter Memories
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 19, 2010

Before the Breeders’ Cup, There is October 2

I try to temper my anticipation for the Breeders’ Cup because I know it is still almost seven weeks away, but it is not easy when I think about what will be at this year’s two-day smorgasbord. I honestly believe that this year’s Cup is shaping up as one of the best in history. Luckily, I have great racing in the meantime to help me get through the next 47 days. Speaking of great racing, with each passing day, I am becoming more excited for a day of racing only 12 days out. October 2 has always looked good on paper, but now as we move closer to the big Breeders’ Cup prep day, horses are coming out of the woodwork to make one final push towards Louisville. Decisions are still not finalized, but this is what the day will potentially look like.

Super Saturday at Belmont Park will be just that. I will be in attendance, and my mouth has already began to water at the thought of Blame being tested by Rail Trip, Afleet Express, and Fly Down in the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, Rachel Alexandra attempting to regain her dominance over Eastern females in the Beldame, Paddy O’ Prado wading into the older turf waters for the first time in the Turf Classic, and the brilliant Japanese filly, Red Desire making her American debut in the Flower Bowl Invitational. Throw in the speedsters in the Vosburgh, and I will be in a grade one state of mind.

Not to be outdone, the stars will be out at Hollywood Park, and no star shines brighter than the Queen of Perfection. Adding to the occasion is the fact that the Lady’s Secret Stakes will almost certainly be Zenyatta’s swan song at a California racetrack. While the proceedings may be dominated by the Big Z; Twirling Candy, Richard’s Kid, and Crown of Thorns will headline a most intriguing Goodwood Stakes, and J. P’s Gusto will look to keep his stakes streak going in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes. Add a couple of graded turf stakes for the distaffers, including the always interesting Yellow Ribbon, and you can see that both coasts will be loaded on the 2nd of October.

If you can’t make it to the Atlantic or the Pacific, how about the top three-year-old in the nation making an appearance in the Hoosier State, as Looking at Lucky uses the Indiana Derby as his Classic prep. The Indiana Oaks should serve as a tasty side dish for the Indiana doings. Staying in the Midwest, just up 65 North a ways, and Hawthorne should produce a Classic contender, as it plays host to the half a million dollar Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Back east, Parx (sounds weird doesn’t it?) Philadelphia will have one of the best races of the day with Blind Luck, Devil May Care, and Havre De Grace renewing their rivalry in the rich Cotillion Stakes. A little farther south, it’s Maryland Million Day at Laurel. The day’s racing riches seem almost boundless.

October 2 may be no Breeders’ Cup Day, but as you can see, it will be an awesome day of racing that should keep us satisfied until we can all get together at Churchill Downs.

September 18, 2010

Canadian Bacon

If you expected this article to be about funny man John Candy and his final completed movie, I am sorry to disappoint you. Although, who can ever forget his wonderful roles in films such as Stripes, and Uncle Buck. He is missed. What an actor, how funny he was in Planes, Trains and Automobiles? But I digress, for today’s article is all about the huge weekend of racing at Woodbine Racetrack. Five graded stakes, and all of them on turf, are sure to bring back the sizzle to racing north of the border.

Today it will be the juveniles who take center stage with the running of the Grade 3 Natalma Stakes for the girls, and the $250,000 Summer Stakes for the boys.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 17, 2010

Love American Style

While the world awaits her next race at Hollywood Park, ZATT has learned some juicy information from reliable and trustworthy sources, about the undefeated Queen of Racing.  Apparently Zenyatta has her eye on a beau.  His name is Indian Charlie, and truth be told, he's a bit of a player.

Tall, dark, and handsome, Charlie is an older man who still can make the girls swoon.  I sincerely hope Zen knows what she is getting into because there is no doubt that Charlie has been around the block a few times.  Stories of Charlie's exploits with the fairer sex have become legendary in the bluegrass.  I have even obtained Jockey Club papers which list Indian Charlie as the father of children all over the world.  Needless to say Queen Zen would not be his first romantic tango, and this writer for one, is quite skeptical that she will be his last

News of this forthcoming hook-up has reached Ireland, and apparently has Sea the Stars in a bit of a tizzy.  Handlers say he has barely touched his feed bucket in days.  Meanwhile back in America, I have learned that Giant's Causeway is in a state of denial and refuses to believe that Zenyatta could ever be with another man

More on this breaking story will come soon, but for now I leave you with the following questions ... Will Giant's Causeway need an equine shrink?  Can Sea the Stars ever be satisfied with 150 mares next year if Zenyatta is not among them.  Can Indian Charlie change his ways and become a one-woman man?  Will Zenyatta play hard to get one more time, and choose to race again next year?

September 16, 2010

Remembering ... Housebuster

Driving on Route 3 to the Meadowlands that evening, I had no idea what I was about to see. Juvenile stakes are fun for just that reason, and the 1989 Morven Stakes would be a wonderful example of a star being born. Housebuster was sired by Mt. Livermore out of the Great Above mare, Big Dreams, and in his first two starts had been 3rd and then 1st in two maiden races on sloppy Meadowlands’ tracks. One of several youngsters in the field, Housebuster was to get a fast track for the first time. The result was positively explosive. Setting blazing fractions, Housebuster hit the stretch in front and widened his advantage from there to hit the wire best by seven lengths. It was but a small stakes at the Meadowlands, but in my mind, this one, was the real deal.

It would then come as no surprise when Housebuster would take Florida by storm as the 1990 racing season began. The now three-year-old had been transferred to trainer Jimmy Croll after be trained by Ronald Benshoff for his three juvenile starts. Bred in Kentucky by Blanche P. Levy, Housebuster was owned by her son, Robert. He began in January, and went on a stakes winning skein that has been seldom seen since. He won the Spectacular Bid by 2 ¼, the Hutcheson by 3, and then the Swale by 1. In the Swale he defeated one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites, Summer Squall, and by sweeping the sprint stakes at Gulfstream, the name Housebuster was now on the national map.

From Florida, the traveling road show headed to Kentucky and that is where the fun really began. In Keeneland’s Lafayette Stakes, Housebuster took things to a whole new impressive level. A small field lined up against the new star, and he in turn treated them badly, winning off by 11 lengths. It was on to the Twin Spires and Churchill Downs for a run in the prestigious Derby Trial. The Trial would be the Croll-trained sophomore’s first attempt at a flat mile. No problemo, as Housebuster proved strong down the lane to pull clear from his competition by 5 ¼ widening lengths. A star in Kentucky, his connections wisely had no illusions of grandeur, and kept their one-turn colt away from the powerful calling of the Triple Crown. No Derby for this guy, but he was shipped to New York for a possibly even bigger challenge.

Fresh off a facile win in the Withers, his seventh straight stakes score, Housebuster entered the 1990 Met Mile, for a showdown against the superstar of New York racing, Easy Goer. Also in the field was a rapidly improving Californian named Criminal Type who was coming off a big win in the Pimlico Special. With regular rider, Craig Perret in the irons, Housebuster would look his top older rivals in the eye and give them everything they could possibly want. He set all the pace, and laid down blazing fractions at that. He fought the length of the stretch with Five-year-old Criminal Type breathing down his neck, before finally succumbing in the final strides. He finished a game second, defeated by a neck, and easily beating the great Easy Goer with eventual 1991 Horse of the Year, Black Tie Affair, much farther back. Criminal Type would go on to be named Horse of the Year that year, but I was even more impressed with the young Housebuster.

In defeat, Housebuster had proven himself as one of the best horses in the nation. He would continue his amazing three-year-old season with three more overpowering victories, culminating with the Jerome Handicap in which the dark bay routed his opposition by 13 devastating lengths, with the good colt Citidancer finishing a distant second. He had certainly come a long way since I first saw him in in the Morven Stakes less than a year earlier. In his first ten races of 1990, Housebuster had nine easy wins, all stakes, with the game and narrow defeat in the Met Mile being his only blemish. The Vosburgh at Belmont would be next, but Housebuster sustained injuries in the race which he finished up the track, putting an end to his amazing season. I recall that prior to the Vosburgh, Housebuster was my choice for Horse of the Year despite being a sophomore sprinter. After the Vosburgh, that idea was no longer reality, but it goes to show just how good the young colt was.

Housebuster began his older career by not being able to hold off possibly the top two handicap horses in the nation in Unbridled and Black Tie Affair in a pair of seven furlong stakes. He quickly turned it around with an impressive victory over the latter, who would be ultimately named Horse of the Year, in Aqueduct’s Carter Handicap. Soon after, Housebuster would be assigned one of his most important tests. In the Summer of 1991, the DeFrancis Dash was billed as a dual between the last two Sprint Champions. Housebuster would face the defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint winning filly, Safely Kept. It would be no contest. In fairness to the filly, Safely Kept would have her chances compromised by a slow break, but it proved to be another dominating performance for the four-year-old colt. Housebuster would win off by five lengths and be well on his way to another championship.

Housebuster, who had missed the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont the year before because of an injury, would finally get his BC chance in his final career start. Coming off wins in the DeFrancis, Forego, and Vosburgh, he was sent off as an overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the 11 horse field which included some of the best sprinters in the world. Bettors were so confident in his ability that no other horse in the field was bet below 8.8-1. Unfortunately, the race did not go well. Housebuster would contest through suicidal fractions including a :21 first quarter. He was ready to pounce as the horses straightened out, and even at the 3/16 pole it looked like the champion had a big shot to win. It was not to be. Housebuster shortened stride just as he got to the lead and dropped back quickly as the European invader Sheikh Albadou zoomed right by for an easy win. The great sprinter checked in ninth. After the race it was revealed that the whip of the rider of the front runner had bothered Housebuster in the stretch, and much worse yet, the sensational sprinter had injured his left front leg leaving the gate. He had gamely contested a blazing pace for five furlongs on three good legs. Housebuster would be retired soon after the disappointment.

All in all Housebuster won 15 of his lifetime 22 starts and as noted, many of his wins came by wide margins. He earned $1,229,696 while never racing on anything but dirt, nor ever running beyond one mile. He captured 14 stakes, and 11 of them were graded. After retirement, Housebuster became a vagabond and successful sire, with Hong Kong Horse of the Year and twice champion miler Electronic Unicorn being the best. Housebuster died in 2005 at the age of 18 after standing stud all over the world. His second career as a stallion brought him from Kentucky to Japan to New Zealand to Argentina and finally to West Virginia, where he passed away.

Can a horse who never had any Breeders’ Cup success still be considered a great horse? Housebuster is proof that the answer is yes. His outstanding record and his flare in winning made him the repeat winner of the Eclipse Award as the outstanding sprinter in 1990 and 1991. Housebuster is the only horse to do that since the great filly Ta Wee turned the trick back in 1970. She may have been a few years before my time, but I was lucky enough to follow Housebuster’s outstanding career from the beginning. I remember you Housebuster.

September 15, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Bred in Kentucky, I was an American champion who went winless at Kentucky tracks.

*My sire’s most important win came in a race no longer run, his sire was a Horse of the Year.

*I won eight stakes, all of them graded, and the first six were split equally between only two tracks.

*My best known offspring won just under three times as much in earnings as I did.

*I was a regular in the Breeders’ Cup, but unfortunately each result got progressively worse.

*I did not mind carrying a lot of weight, once winning a race with more than 130 pounds on my back.

*My first stakes win and my last stakes win were a couple of weeks shy of being exactly three years apart.

*I won greater than one-third of my more than 30 lifetime starts.

*My most regular rider was on board each time during my string of five straight stakes wins.

*The majority of my stakes wins occurred in my sophomore season, which was not my Eclipse Award winning season.

*Both my trainer and I have passed away. He is in the Hall of Fame, I am not.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

September 13, 2010

Finally … That’s the Al Khali I’ve been Waiting For

Blocked completely for much of the stretch, the task seemed absolutely hopeless for Al Khali and new rider Alan Garcia. Leader Strike a Deal was resilient on the lead, and recent grade 1 winner Winchester was bearing down on him on the outside. Al Khali was clearly full of run, but desperately seeking racing room until Garcia found the opportunity to yank him to the outside. Within an instant of altering course, Al Khali’s rally was launched like only the folks at Cape Canaveral could appreciate, carrying him to a sudden and measured neck victory over favored Winchester.

In typical understated fashion, trainer Bill Mott said, “At the eighth pole, I didn’t think we had any chance, but he came with a good run.”
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 12, 2010

Introducing Wonder Girl

Did you ever see a horse in person that you know is really good, but will probably not yet be noticed by a national audience? Have you ever seen a horse that impresses you so much physically that you can’t help but become a fan? Sure you have, and yesterday I was lucky enough to see the daily double in one horse. Mark Dedomenico’s Wonderlandbynight is a gorgeous chestnut daughter of one of my favorite sires, Sky Mesa. With E. T. Baird in the irons, the juvenile filly used the Grade III $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie as her personal coming out party, impressively powering past her 12 rivals to win by 2 ½ lengths. The Mike Reavis trained miss covered the mile over Arlington’s Polytrack surface in 1:36.65, but then had to survive a claim of foul by the jockey of runner-up Jordy Y. The claim was correctly disallowed by the stewards and the two-year-old filly etched her name into an illustrious list of past winners including last year’s Eclipse winner, She Be Wild.

Bred by her trainer, Wonderlandbynight kept her perfect record in tact after four starts. Interestingly, her four wins have come in two stakes races, and in two maiden races. In her first lifetime start, she rallied nicely to finish second against colts, but was later awarded the victory after the winner failed a post-race medication test. Since then she romped home an easy winner against maiden fillies, thereby giving her the rare distinction of being a two-time maiden winner, before grabbing her first stakes victory in her last effort. The Illinois bred filly was coming off that sharp score in the $150,000 Ontario Debutante over 6 ½ furlongs at Woodbine.

Watching Wonderlandbynight stroll into the winner’s circle after the official sign went up, I was struck by several attributes. Most noticeable is the sizeable white blaze that leads the way for the all copper colored filly. A copper coat that glistened in the Chicago sunshine yesterday. Both her size and her presence remind me of a much older filly, as she carries her head proudly like she already knows that she is far from average. Her conformation looked flawless to my quick inspection, and she had a very intelligent look in her alert eyes. Needless to say, I liked what I saw.

The Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland could be next for Wonderlandbynight, as she tries to emulate the path taken to an eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victory by She Be Wild. It would be a lot to ask of the Illinois bred to complete the Lassie-BC double, but she has gained at least one new fan in yours truly. Class will be the question against grade 1 competition, but she is getting better with every start, now has a nice win at a mile, and as I have mentioned, is a real looker. Wonderlandbynight is definitely a filly to keep an eye on race fans.

September 11, 2010

Arlington-Washington Impact

Today I will be rubbing shoulders with the beautiful people at Arlington Park. Or maybe that should be, I will be rubbing shoulders with people at beautiful Arlington Park. Either way, that’s where I’ll be. It’s Arlington-Washington Day at my home track, and the Futurity and the Lassie offer the best juvenile racing of the year in Illinois. Full of history, these graded stakes have long seen some of the finest youngsters in the nation grace their respective winner’s circles. In more recent years, the races have consistently produced horses that have gone on to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, and done well. Just last year, She Be Wild used the Lassie as a springboard to victory in the BC Juvenile Fillies and an Eclipse Award. In the process she joined horses like Gilded Time, Street Sense, and Eliza who also ran in the Futurity or Lassie on their way to Breeders’ Cup victories and championship seasons.
***The remainder of today's column can be found on*** Click Here

September 10, 2010

Frankel Has a Runner

Making only his 2nd career start, a juvenile colt by Galileo, out of Kind by Danehill, won the Frank Whittle Partnership Conditions Stakes today at Doncaster. Winning in spectacular fashion, the bay colt romped home 13 lengths the best for trainer Henry Cecil. Owned by Mr. K. Abdullah, the youngster runs under the familiar green, pink, and white silks of his Juddmonte Farms. The devastating win announced the impressive two-year-old as a potential major force in this Fall‘s big juvenile races, as well as next year‘s classics. Maybe the most interesting thing about the horse is his name. Named after legendary trainer Bobby Frankel, the regally bred colt simply goes by the name Frankel.

As you all know, Hall of Fame conditioner Bobby Frankel passed away last year at the all too young age of 68, after losing a battle with lymphoma. The trainer, who worked his way up from modest beginnings in Brooklyn, became one of the most successful trainers in the nation. After becoming the American trainer for Juddmonte, the two enjoyed incredible success. Juddmonte won six Eclipse Awards as the best owner or breeder after connecting with Frankel. It looks like Mr. Abdullah has selected an outstanding young horse to be a four-legged tribute to the great trainer.

Only time will tell how far Frankel’s talent will carry him, but if he can become half the success that his namesake was, the sky will be the limit for him.

September 9, 2010

Remembering ... Tiznow

Tiznow was his name, but he just as easily could have been called Cee’s Squared. He was a late developing son of the speedy California sire Cee’s Tizzy out of the Seattle Song mare Cee’s Song. Not exactly blessed with the pedigree of stars, he was bred in California by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens and was owned by her Cee’s Stable and Michael Cooper. Tiznow would not make it to the races until the Spring of his three-year-old year, but by the time his career was over a year and a half later, I called him by another name … Mr. Breeders’ Cup.

A title like that does not come easy, and so it would be for Tiznow, who earned it with each and every stride. He would not register his first victory until the last day of May. The 8 ½ length win was impressive but it came in only a maiden race. It was evident though that Tiznow was flourishing around two turns and the powerful bay colt quickly graduated from maiden winner to graded stakes winner in his very next start. After that hard earned neck victory over the highly regarded Dixie Union in the Grade 3 Affirmed, Tiznow would graduate into grade 1 racing, where he would primarily stay for the remainder of his career. He had a few game losses that Summer in second place finishes in the Swaps and Pacific Classic. Improvement for trainer Jay Robbins was happening week to week, and by the Fall he was romping in the Super Derby and beating top West Coast horses in the Goodwood. It was obvious he was a horse on the rise and the Breeder’s Cup Classic would be next.

Tiznow, from his outside post position, pressured Albert the Great every step. As the field straightened out Tiznow was moving better than his strong and speedy rival, but a new challenge was coming in the form of Irish champion Giant’s Causeway. I remember thinking the European horse on the outside was going to zoom right on by. Giant’s Causeway looked great that day, and Tiznow had been battling on the lead the whole way, so when the O‘Brien horse came right up to him, I figured Tiznow was in trouble. That is when the true heart of Tiznow appeared for the world to see. He was not the fastest horse I have ever seen, but he was quite possibly the toughest. Tiznow dug in like a bulldog protecting a steak bone. Suddenly it was apparent that there was no way that the European superstar was going to run away from him. Giant’s Causeway carried his momentum as far as it would take him, but it was now all about the heart of a soon to be American champion. Finding new gears that by right should not have been there, Tiznow looked Giant’s Causeway in the eye, which spelled doom for the European. I was in the crowd at Churchill Downs that day and was thrilled as Tiznow and his regular rider, Chris McCarron, crossed the wire first in a thrilling photo finish.  A maiden less than six months before, Tiznow had earned championship honors.

Defending Horse-of-the-Year Tiznow came back in 2001 and he was strutting his stuff. In March, he made a mockery of a full field of 12 in perhaps the most important older race in California, the Big ‘Cap. The way he won at Santa Anita that day, I felt like it was a safe bet to put my money down on Tiznow for that year’s BC Classic even though it was still almost eight months away. A monkey wrench was thrown into the mix though in the form of a wrenched back. It would keep him away from the races for six months and put a big question mark on Tiznow’s readiness for the Classic. He returned to the races just seven weeks before the Breeder’s Cup, and in two races he looked competitive, but by no means, like the Tiznow we had come to know. So off these third place finishes in both the Woodward and the Goodwood, the defending Horse of the Year would head back to New York for the 2001 Breeders’ Cup, but would he be up to the immense challenge of the Classic?

Tiznow, from his outside post position, relaxed outside of Albert the Great and pounced as they straightened out. The problem was his pounce was not as sharp as Sakhee. I remember thinking the European horse on the outside was going to swoosh right on by. Sakhee looked so strong that day, and Tiznow in between horses did not look like he had the acceleration to stay with the Arc winner. That is when the true heart of Tiznow appeared for the world to see. He was not the fastest horse I have ever seen, but he was quite possibly the toughest. Tiznow dug in like a bulldog protecting a steak bone. Suddenly it was apparent that there was no way that the European superstar was going to run away from him. Sakhee carried his momentum as far as it would take him, but it was now all about the heart of the American champion. Finding new gears that by right should not have been there, Tiznow looked Sakhee in the eye, which spelled doom for the Godolphin runner. The crowd at Belmont Park went bonkers as Tiznow and Chris McCarron crossed the wire first in a thrilling photo finish. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? Tiznow had done it again.

I could now rattle of his lifetime stats, but that was not what Tiznow was all about. You can not see the heart, mind, and soul of this magnificent animal simply by reading past performances or money earned. I could also choose to rattle off the countless stakes winners he has sired since his retirement from racing. Suffice it to say as a stallion, Tiznow is a stud. He was a great example of outrunning his pedigree. These type of horses are often disappointments in the breeding shed. No one told that to Tiznow. He currently stands at WinStar Farm and is one of the best sires in the world, and one of my personal favorites. Anyone who thought that he would not be a great sire underestimated this great horse, which of course, for Tiznow, was far from the first time.

Tiznow was respected, but not expected to win either Classic by the majority of racing fans. Odds of 9-1 and then a shade under 7-1 proved that. In 2000 people doubted that a relatively new horse on the scene, and a three-year-old at that, could defeat the world’s best on the biggest stage. Tiznow proved them wrong. One year later, people doubted that he could overcome his physical problems and defeat the world’s best on the biggest stage once again. Tiznow proved them wrong. It was not until his last hurrah that the true greatness of Tiznow could be fully appreciated.

One performance like his in the Breeders’ Cup Classic would have been enough, but this hickory horse refused to stop at one. Two fantastic years and remarkably similar and equally admirable performances were turned in by the unheralded California bred that will forever mark Tiznow‘s special place in racing history. Someday another other horse will come along who has what it takes to win two Breeder’s Cup Classics, possibly even this year, but Tiznow will always be the first. Tiznow turned the century for American horse racing in grand style. He proved to be a champion in every sense of the word. He was talented yes, but it was his enormous heart and will to win that set him apart from the rest. He was Mr. Breeders’ Cup. He is a Hall of Famer. I remember you Tiznow.

Photo courtesy of Benoit Photo

September 8, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I am one of the only horses ever to be favored in different Breeders‘ Cup races.

*I was a multiple grade 1 winner in each of my seasons on the racetrack.

*Unfortunately both myself and my regular rider are no longer of this world.

*I did something of note in the Triple Crown that may never be done again.

*Dad‘s racing career may have been cut short, but my grandparents achieved historic accomplishments.

*I was only defeated nine times, and one of those was via disqualification in a turf stakes at Saratoga.

*Among the horses I defeated include a handicap champion, a three-year-old champion, and a sprint champion, and one of those was a Horse of the Year.

*I was also a champion, but the truth hurt in my attempt for a second.

*My first six grade 1 victories were contested at six different racetracks from coast to coast.

*The best of my offspring include a Canadian and an Englishman.

*I hold a Breeders‘ Cup distinction that can never be taken away from me.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

September 7, 2010

The Breeders’ Cup - Early Top Fives

59 days to go ...

1. Temple City
2. A.U. Miner
3. Cloudy’s Knight
4. Alcomo
5. Hold Me Back

1. California Flag
2. Chamberlain Bridge
3. Smokey Fire
4. Fatal Bullet
5. Stradivinsky

1. Champagne D’oro
2. Rightly So
3. Sara Louise
4. Mona de Momma
5. Rapport

1. Tell a Kelly
2. Position Limit
3. Twelve Pack Shelley
4. R Heat Lightning
5. Wickedly Perfect

1. Midday
2. Snow Fairy
3. Stacelita
4. Red Desire
5. Éclair de Lune

1. Concord Point
2. Crown of Thorns
3. Warrior’s Reward
4. Trappe Shot
5. Bribon

1. Stay Thirsty
2. Boys at Tosconova
3. J P’s Gusto
4. Uncle Mo
5. Jaycito

1. Goldikova
2. Sidney’s Candy
3. Makfi
4. The Usual Q.T.
5. Courageous Cat

1. Discreetly Mine
2. Big Drama
3. Atta Boy Roy
4. Vineyard Haven
5. Here Comes Ben

1. Paddy O’Prado
2. Fame and Glory
3. Cape Blanco
4. Debussy
5. Gio Ponti

1. Rachel Alexandra
2. Blind Luck
3. Devil May Care
4. Biofuel
5. Evening Jewel

1. Blame
2. Quality Road
3. Zenyatta
4. Lookin at Lucky
5. Twirling Candy

September 6, 2010

How Good is Twirling Candy???

Is he like Seattle Slew, the only horse ever to win the Triple Crown while still undefeated? Or maybe he is more similar to Goggles McCoy who won his first four races before going down in flames in Del Mar’s recent El Cajon Stakes. The answer likely lies somewhere in between. Only time will tell whether Twirling Candy will be closer to a great champion or simply an allowance horse who started his career off in impressive fashion, but one thing is for sure, the sophomore son of Candy Ride has the potential to be a superstar. His strong talent was certainly on display yesterday as Twirling Candy forged a less than straight path, under rider Joel Rosario, to score a very easy 3 ¼ length victory in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby. The win maintained Twirling Candy’s unblemished record, and it also has his connections ready to shoot for the stars.
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September 5, 2010

Here Comes Ben & Lopresti

In a race full of top class sprinters and grade 1 winners, like Vineyard Haven, Big Drama, Warrior’s Reward, Bribon, and Girolamo, little attention was paid to a horse who had never before sniffed graded stakes racing and his trainer who was making his initial attempt at the highest level. Lack of experience against top competition would not matter yesterday though, as the unheralded Kentucky shipper made a strong move between horses at the three sixteenths pole, and then powered past multiple stakes winner Big Drama, to win the $250,000 Forego Handicap by three-quarters of a length. Here Comes Ben, sent off at nearly 10-1, finished the seven panels in a time of 1:22.50 over the fast Saratoga strip. The victory stamped Here Comes Ben's ticket straight to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in two months, as he earned a respectable 104 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.

Outside of Kentucky, Charles Lopresti was not a well known trainer.  Not only did yesterday represent his first starter and winner in a Grade 1 stakes, but it was also his first ever starter at the Spa. Admittedly, Lopresti was a little intimidated bringing up a horse for a big race at Saratoga, but he wanted to test his stable star, Here Comes Ben. Mission accomplished.  In nearly 17 years as a trainer, this is Lopresti's best horse yet, and he will be more at home back in Kentucky, when he saddles Here Comes Ben in the Breeders' Cup.  Rider Alex Solis has quickly become a fan of the dark bay colt, who he has ridden in each of last three impressive starts.

Owned by Brandon and Marianne Chase, Here Comes Ben is now perfect in four starts in 2010. In winning his first try against grade 1 horses, the four-year-old son of Street Cry has now never finished off the board in six tries on the dirt. It is interesting to note that after a non-descript three-year-old season, Here Comes Ben has now run all of his races this year at seven furlongs. The combination of the dirt and especially the fondness for the distance, made Here Comes Ben an attractive play at the odds yesterday, and one that I am pleased to say I did not miss out on. As the Breeders’ Cup approaches, he is clearly a horse on the improve. His best three lifetime races are his last three, with the previous two being run over the same Churchill Downs track that will host the BC.
Even after cashing a nice ticket with him yesterday, Here Comes Ben will not be my top pick come November.  Although the field was weakened with today's news of the injury to Majesticperfection, who may never race again, there is one horse who I like above all others.  His name is Discreetly Mine, and he is on a major, sprinting roll.  As for Here Comes Ben, you must respect a horse who has improved as much as he has this Summer, plus you already know he likes the Churchill surface.  If the BC Sprint was at seven furlongs, I would like him a whole lot more than I will at six, but with his performance in the Forego, we learned not to underestimate him or his trainer any longer.

September 4, 2010

Time to Usher in the Stars of Tomorrow

There is nothing more exciting than discovering racing's next star. A potential Breeders’ Cup, Kentucky Oaks, or even the next Triple Crown champion could be out there. Juveniles have the world at their hooves this time of year. You never know where the next champion is going to come from, and if they happen to have flashed brilliance early on, the expectations can increase exponentially. Four horses whose potential especially fill my imagination with visions of grandeur, are running this holiday weekend in Saratoga’s prestigious, meet-ending stakes for juveniles. Monday’s Hopeful is topped by Boys at Tosconova, Wine Police, and Stay Thirsty, while tomorrow in the Spinaway, I will be watching the filly Valiant Passion closely.
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September 3, 2010

Quality Road Over Troubled Waters

Quality Road remains an enigma. Truly a horse that demands our attention, a new chapter in his saga will unfold tomorrow afternoon in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. Even away from the daily grind, I find my thoughts not drifting too far away from the talented colt.

On vacation on the shores of Lake Superior, I find peace in looking out on the majestic beast of a lake. Big and beautiful, it is also powerful and unforgiving. I lose myself as my eyes focus on the waves rising up and then crashing down. I wonder about the countless mysteries that must lie beneath the surface. As I ponder the words I use to describe the greatest of all the great lakes, I can’t help but to think about the Lake Superior of race horses. I am speaking of Quality Road, and like the lake, he is big and beautiful, and powerful and unforgiving. He is also a horse full of mystery, and much like the waves of Lake Superior, his career seems to rise and fall with each passing moment.

The wave rose with his successful career debut late in his juvenile season. The single race was impressive enough for many to have him on their early Kentucky Derby watch list.
…and then the wave crashing down as Quality Road was easily defeated in his sophomore debut, beaten in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park as the 7-10 favorite.

The wave rose quickly again in his next two starts as he gained revenge on his vanquisher in winning the Fountain of Youth, and then broke a track record in his Florida Derby triumph. The two stakes wins propelled him to be the most talked about horse on the Derby trail.
…and then the wave crashing down as Quality Road was taken out of consideration for the Run for the Roses due to troublesome quarter cracks. The soreness relented, and Quality Road would not return for his new trainer, Todd Pletcher, until August.

The wave rose again with a vengeance, as Quality Road’s long awaited return to the races produced an electrifying performance and another track record in easily taking the Amsterdam Stakes against a solid field. His bandwagon became packed almost immediately as experts called him the best sophomore male in the nation.
…and then that wave crashed down again as the real sophomore champion, Summer Bird, defeated him consecutively in the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Quality Road‘s star took another hit when his penchant for resisting the starting gate came to a head in the BC Classic causing a frightening situation.

The wave rose one more time as the son of Elusive Quality started his older career with three straight stakes wins, including a tour de force showing in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap that had the speed figure gurus falling over themselves to glorify. The bandwagon was revved up again, and the Horse of the Year talk was aplenty.
…and then the wave came crashing down again. Blame was to blame this time as heavily favored Quality Road could not hold off the improving stretch runner in last month’s Whitney. In the process, Blame snatched the mantle as the best male horse in America from the talented but enigmatic Quality Road.

Tomorrow is the Woodward … look for the fortunes of Quality Road to rise again. Dramamine anyone?

September 2, 2010

Remembering … Dehere

Sitting in the passenger seat, as my wife drives the family truckster, I find myself admiring her driving skills. Temporarily boxed in because of a slow driver who is clearly oblivious to the stay left except when passing rule, my wife is forced to decelerate until she can swing out to the right. She finds her opening and does not hesitate. Because of the forced slow down, it takes a second for the Mazda to accelerate, but then it does, and we are gone. I can feel the pure acceleration deep inside my body, as we move to speeds that leave the offending car behind in a flash. The move sends my memory hurtling back in time to when a juvenile colt named Dehere ruled the Saratoga Summer like I had never seen before.

“You have to see this.” I exclaimed to my father and brother, as I pulled them over to the replay televisions at Saratoga. We hadn’t been at Saratoga long, but I had to see the two-year-old who had left the racing world buzzing days before. The year was 1993 and race replays were not nearly as readily available as they are now. So when I arrived at the Spa, I knew reviewing the race at the track would need to be one of my first tasks. I had just watched the replay and now I needed to show my track partners. The race in question was the Saratoga Special, and back then it was the first in Saratoga’s prestigious three-race series for the youngsters. What I saw on the monitor was stunning. My expectations were high going in and they were only exceeded. Performances like the one that three of us watched is what racing is all about for me. Lightning in a bottle, it was the stuff of legends…

The Special had been the son of Deputy Minister out of Sister Dot’s second lifetime start after an easy maiden win at Monmouth, and I was hooked. Juveniles do not do what I had seen Dehere do, at least they hadn‘t since his broodmare sire Secretariat had come to Saratoga 22 years before. Having been raised in New Jersey, there was a natural attraction for me to Dehere. He was named after the star Seton Hall basketball player Terry Dehere and he was owned and bred by one of the top stables in the Garden State, in Robert Brennan’s Due Process Stable. My sudden infatuation with the bay colt prompted a day trip up to Saratoga for his next race, the Sanford Stakes. I would not be disappointed. Amazingly, more than halfway through the race, new jockey Chris McCarron was getting the heavily favored horse into a eerily similar predicament as he had dealt with in the Saratoga Special. This time he would extricate himself sooner, and the result was poetry to my eyes.

Next it would be on to the final leg of Saratoga’s series for juveniles, the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. If Dehere could win, he would become the first horse in 76 years to sweep the three stakes. The final leg was the biggest, as many a champion had won the Hopeful, and Dehere would add his name to the impressive list. Trainer Reynaldo Nobles had seen enough of the boxed in on the rail performances, and he, along with rider Chris McCarron, would institute new tactics for their star. They knew they had the best horse so they decided to let him roll early. This tactic led to Dehere being in between horse in a strong speed battle. The new style and the heavy pressure on the front end made no difference to this super youngster as he would roll home once again.

After four lifetime races, and three stakes wins at Saratoga, Dehere was becoming a bit of a legend. His odds had plummeted to almost unheard of lows in big races after the Saratoga Special. So when his next start would come around, in the sloppy Futurity, it would be no surprise that Dehere would go once again go off at 2-5. The Futurity would not be a one horse show though. In the field would be another undefeated colt with New Jersey connections, and he was fast. I was in the stands at Belmont that day to see the horse I thought to be a potential legend, but much to my dismay, the speed horse got out there on the slop, and despite a valiant rally by Dehere, splashed home a half length winner. His name was Holy Bull and he would be named an overwhelming Horse of the Year one year later.

The defeat may have broken the aura of invincibility surrounding Dehere, but in truth he had run a huge race on a track that favored the front runners. He would return to Belmont for the biggest race for East Coast juveniles, the Champagne, the following month. Holy Bull had shipped to Florida, so once again the Due Process star was an overwhelming favorite. He easily defeated his overmatched rivals by four lengths in preperation for a trip west. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile of 1993 turned out to be a mess for Dehere. Despite the depth of the field, he was made the 7-10 favorite, but staggered home an uninterested 8th. I am not sure if it was the long trip, first try at two-turns, or the Santa Anita surface that bothered him, but Dehere had come up empty. Even after this failure in the Breeders’ Cup, Dehere would take home the Eclipse Award as the outstanding juvenile of 1993.

Dehere would run only two more times. Both races were at Gulfstream Park in the Winter of 1994. Second in his sophomore debut, Dehere would rebound to win the Fountain of Youth and regain his spot as the early Kentucky Derby favorite. In the process he defeated Holy Bull and the soon to be Kentucky Derby winner, Go For Gin. But for Dehere, there would be no opportunity for Triple Crown glory. A fracture of his right hind cannon bone during training would cut his racing career short. In the end, Dehere retired with 6 wins and 2 seconds in only nine starts, and earned just under three quarters of a million dollars. Since his retirement he has been a relatively successful sire all over the world, standing in Japan, America, and Australia. Today at age 19, he is a shuttle sire for Coolmore Stud. The sire of graded stakes winners in all three nations, Dehere is best known in America as the sire of Graeme Hall and Take Charge Lady.

In sweeping the Saratoga Special, Sanford and Hopeful, I honestly believe that I had never been more impressed by any juvenile through that point of the season. His acceleration in those races was simply unforgettable. While his career may never have reached greater heights after that Summer, it was in that one calandar month in 1993 that had been more than enough for this fan. In that month, I saw Dehere and I saw greatness. I remember you Dehere.

September 1, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Primarily an East Coast horse, only one of my wins occurred west of the Mississippi.

*My victories had a five eighths of a mile spread between the shortest and the longest.

*I was a champion who was bred and owned by a classic Kentucky farm.

*I went out with a bang, as my final career race was a victory on July the 4th.

*Despite coming within a nose of becoming a graded stakes winner in New York, I ended my juvenile season as a maiden.

*I defeated one Eclipse Award winner in all five our meetings, but in my only race against a multiple Horse of the Year, I was well beaten.

*Each of my grade 1 victories came at a distance of a mile and a quarter or more.

*I may not have been the runner that my brother was, but I did accomplish something important that he never did.

*My first five victories, four of them stakes, occurred at five different racetracks.

*I was undefeated in my final season of racing, but all my biggest victories came the year before.

*I owe a large debt of gratitude to Jeanne, as do many others.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???