December 20, 2010

ZATT Has Moved to Horse Racing Nation

December 19, 2010

Down and Derby - The Holiday Edition

1. Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) Todd Pletcher - The unquestioned king of the juveniles has people triple crown dreaming.

2. To Honor and Serve (Bernardini) Bill Mott- The best at Aqueduct. How will that translate to Louisville?

3. Boys at Tosconova (Officer) Rick Dutrow - Classy and talented, but can the son of Officer go a distance?

4. Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno) Katherine Ritvo - Been chasing Mott’s colt; distance should be no problem.

5. Premier Pegasus (Fusaichi Pegasus) Myung Cho- Looking good sprinting and bred to handle a route of ground.

6. Cool Blue Red Hot (Harlan’s Holiday) Angel Penna Jr. - Only faced maidens so far, but plenty of upside.

7. Dialed In (Mineshaft) Nick Zito - One race, and it was a doozy. Has the look of a Derby type of horse.

8. Santiva (Bernardini) Eddie Kenneally - Like the way he battled in between horses over the Churchill strip.

9. Comma to the Top (Bwana Charlie) Peter Miller - Electrifying at Hollywood, but I have my 10 furlong doubts.

10. Jaycito (Victory Gallop) Bob Baffert - BC Juvenile bolt makes this well bred colt a bit of an enigma.

11. Stay Thirsty (Bernardini) Todd Pletcher - Love the name, love the looks, but he needs to improve to run with Mo.

12. Tapizar (Tapit) Steve Asmussen - Ran away from his competition at Churchill like a real runner.

13. Brethren (Distorted Humor) Todd Pletcher - Super Saver’s little bro has impressed in his first two starts.

14. Sway Away (Afleet Alex) Jeff Bonde - Been away from the races for some time, but I liked what I saw at Del Mar.

15. Rogue Romance (Smarty Jones) Ken McPeek - Switch back to dirt earned him a distant 3rd in the BC.

16. J P’s Gusto (Successful Appeal) David Hofmans - Solid in California, what happened in the Juvenile?

17. Astrology (A. P. Indy) Steve Asmussen - Kentucky Jockey Club favorite ran well, but was outgamed to the wire.

18. Clubhouse Ride (Candy Ride) Craig Lewis- Dropped way back at Hollywood, but was full of run down the lane.

19. Mountain Town (Cape Town) Rick Dutrow - No match in the Remsen, maybe more distance will get him in the picture.

20. Gourmet Dinner (Trippi) Steve Standridge - Still not a big believer in this game colt at 10 furlongs, but he already has the earnings.

21. Major Gain (More Than Ready) Wayne Catalano - Dirt race was promising as he battled from the rail.

22. Archarcharch (Arch) Jinks Fires - Went from maiden to stakes winner yesterday. I like his distance potential.

23. Coil (Point Given) Tom Proctor - Recent maiden winner is by Point Given out of a Theatrical mare = distance.

24. Sherriff Cogburn
(Vindication) Don Von Hemel - Eager to see the return of this Midwestern flash.

25. Smash (Smart Strike) Bob Baffert - The maiden win was impressive, but no racing since July.

Here is To Honor and Serve handling Mucho Macho Man and Mountain Town in the Remsen.

December 18, 2010

Comma to the Top Scores in Tedious CashCall Futurity

In one of longest awaited races I have ever seen, Comma to the Top, favored at 5-2, stalked early pacesetter High Level Jeff in second position, through moderate early fractions, before accelerating on the far turn to take command of the grade one affair. Under Corey Nakatani, the son of Bwana Charlie drew clear to an insurmountable lead early in the lane, and at the wire was nearly two lengths in front over a hard charging J P's Gusto, with longshot Clubhouse Ride getting up late for third. It was the sixth victory in ten starts for the Florida bred gelding. Final time for the 1 1/16 miles on the Cushion Track was 31:44.72. 

Did Hollywood Park really let that horse delay one of their biggest races of the year a full 30 minutes in a driving rainstorm???

December 17, 2010

ZATT’s First Annual Fan of the Year - Tim Reynolds

Tim Reynolds is by no means your average fan of horse racing, and today I honor his great love for the sport by naming him the 2010 Fan of the Year. Whether it be going to the races at Churchill Downs, or visiting retired runners at horse farms, or the room in his home dedicated to racing’s stars, Tim lives and breathes the greatest sport in the world.

It all started for Tim 21 years ago when he picked out a fiery, near black stallion in the post parade of the 1989 Kentucky Derby. As a native to Louisville, he had watched several Derbies before, but seeing Sunday Silence that afternoon ignited a fire for the sport that continues to burn today. At the time, twelve-year-old Tim had no idea that he was in store for one of the best Triple Crown series in history, as his new favorite and Easy Goer would battle it out in each race. He still will watch their epic stretch dual in the Preakness as a source of inspiration.

There were countless wonderful people that I considered for the award this year, but it was Tim who I felt to be the most deserving. Inspiration is one of the main reasons in his favor. He recognizes the great courage and heart our racing heroes display. Horses like Seattle Slew, Sunday Silence, and Tiznow, who overcame adversity to become champions, mean more to him than most people. While Tim has suffered great personal tragedy over the past few years, like those racing champions that he loves, he battles on with both style and grace.

Not that long ago, Tim’s fondness for thoroughbred horse racing was a lonely endeavor. Family and friends did not have the passion for the game like him. Facebook changed all that. Tim dove right in and quickly made horse racing friends by the droves. It is on Facebook that Tim earned my recognition of not only a great guy, but also an amazing source of information, knowledge, and entertainment of both past and present goings on in the sport. Don’t get me wrong, he is more than only horses, but if you are a fan of racing, do yourself a favor and become a Facebook friend of Tim (Tiznow) Reynolds. If you are lucky your friendship will lead to meeting him at the races. He is one of the more pleasurable people to join in watching the races.

Relatively new to handicapping, Tim has already become an accomplished handicapper. I have first hand knowledge of Tim’s ability to pick the ponies, as he gave me the straight trifecta in a full-field, major stakes race. It was one of the first races we ever discussed together, and I have since seen numerous occasions where his picks are better than most. Good handicapping aside, Tim is a fan first and foremost. In fact, he rarely bets more in a day than a nice dinner would cost. He is there not to make money, but rather to get a glimpse of history or the next potential star in the making. He had that opportunity in May of 2008 when he noticed a striking filly on the walkover that had a very distinguishable blaze and a beautiful color. Her name was Rachel Alexandra, and he was fortunate enough to see her first race in person. She became one of Tim’s all-time favorites.

I first met Tim at this year’s Stephen Foster. We shared an old love for Sunday Silence, and also a new love for Rachel Alexandra, who happened to romp that day. Tim was like an old friend the first time I spent time with him. He is a regular guy, but with a ton of class. He is smart, but not pretentious. He is fun to be around. I feel confident in saying that everyone is better off just by knowing Tim Reynolds. I know I am. There will be many more Fans of the Year as time passes, but there will never be another innaugural winner. I can’t think of a more good natured, passionate, all-around great guy to hold that distinction. Tim Reynolds of Sunday Silence Drive (that‘s really the street he lives on), I salute you, and the world of horse racing salutes you. Congratulations, you are the Fan of the Year.

December 16, 2010

CashCall Futurity Features An Eclectic Bunch

The CashCall Futurity is the last chance of the calendar year to see top Kentucky Derby prospects duke it out. This year’s grade 1, mile and 1/16th race at Hollywood Park may not have any of the current favorites for next year’s Run for the Roses, but what it lacks in star power, it makes up for with a number of interesting prospects. So much so, that a case easily could be made for anyone in the ten horse field.

Favoritism should be contested between the following five horses: Comma to the Top is the now horse and the one to beat. Experienced with nine starts already, the gelded son of Bwana Charlie enters off an impressive four race win streak. A fifth straight win may boil down to whether the speedster can handle early pressure against quality horses. Local threat, Industry Leader, a son of Cherokee Run, looks primed to stretch-out after two sharp efforts over the Hollywood strip for trainer Kristin Mulhall. In his second start, he looked strong as chased home Premier Pegasus in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes. The most accomplished horse in the race is four-time stakes winner J P's Gusto, who will hope to return to top form as he returns to a synthetic surface. He proved no match at all for Uncle Mo last time in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on dirt. Rustler Hustler may be the most interesting colt in the race. He is shipping in from the East Coast off of two straight stakes scores on the grass. The last was a visually impressive romp at Belmont Park. He has already won a synthetic surface and has been working sharply on the Gulfstream Park dirt for new trainer Rick Dutrow. Shipping in from Florida is Gourmet Dinner who continued to surprise bettors with an impressive win in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot in his latest effort. With four wins and one second in five stars, and a win around two-turns, the son of Trippi merits respect.

Meanwhile, each of the other five colts in the race offer plenty of hope.  The best bred horse in the race is Clubhouse Ride. The son of Candy Ride out of a Seeking the Gold mare, shipped East to run third in the Delta Jackpot, where he made a bold move before flattening out while going two-turns for the first time. Recent winner over the track, Riveting Reason is a stablemate of highly regarded Premier Pegasus, and has the early speed to keep Comma to the Top busy early. Two races back he set the pace in the BC Juvenile. Ronin Dax has already traveled from San Diego, to Toronto, to Louisville, and back to Hollywood in his brief career. After a sharp debut win, the son of Tapit has not met with much racing luck in two subsequent stakes tries. High Level Jeff makes his second start for new connections after impressing in his first two races in South Florida. He did not live up to his billing in his first try on the West Coast, but his breeding suggests that he may improve around a route of ground. And finally, Slammer Time is coming off a nice win in the Cal Cup Juvenile Stakes. The son of Grand Slam is moving up in class, but seems to be improving with each and every start.

Ten horses and they all have a chance to win, but you can’t bet them all. I am going to go out on a limb and select a big longshot for this year‘s CashCall Futurity. Clubhouse Ride is an improving and well bred colt who should improve in his second try at a distance. With P-Val in the irons, he’ll be my pick to click at big odds.

December 15, 2010

Who Am I ???

*I was a Kentucky bred, owned and bred by the same powerhouse farm.

*I won 64% of my lifetime starts, and 78% of those wins came in stakes races.

*My first career defeat came when I ran 2nd as the heavy favorite in New York’s premier juvenile race.

*I never ran in the Kentucky Derby, but I once was favored in a grade 1 race at Churchill Downs.

*My Hall of Fame conditioner no longer trains, but he remains very involved in the sport of horse racing.

*I was ridden by the same Hall of Fame rider in all but two of my races.

*Finishing 9th in my final career start at Saratoga, I was beaten by two future Eclipse Award winners, who finished 1-2.

*I won my first five starts by an average margin of nearly six lengths.

*Appreciated by the bettors, I was favored at 8-5 or lower in every start excluding my first and last race.

*My Eclipse Award was the result of my first of two seasons on the track.

*As my name would attest, I had absolutely no fear of the dark.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

Brian Zipse Joining Horse Racing Nation

Popular blogger will move Zipse At The Track To Growing Horse Racing Site

December 15, 2010 - Horse Racing Nation announced that Brian Zipse, author of the popular blog Zipse At The Track, will be joining Horse Racing Nation as Managing Editor starting this week.

“Brian is incredibly passionate about racing, and in less than two years took Zipse At The Track from inception to one of the most popular blogs in racing,” said Mark Midland, co-founder and managing partner of Horse Racing Nation. “His talents and enthusiasm will be a big part of our growth next year.”

Zipse At The Track will move to where Brian will continue to write his daily articles on horse racing, help drive the site’s social media efforts and add his editorial skills to the overall content of the website.

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing fan since birth. Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Horse Racing Nation team,” said Zipse. “With our combined vision and efforts in action, I'm excited about what we'll be able to offer the fans and the community who love horse racing as much as we do.”

A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when not following the horses.

Horse Racing Nation is a fan-powered horse racing community with horse profiles, race results, video replays, photos and free selections, all powered by the horse racing community. Horse Racing Nation was launched in April 2009 and features unique elements for horse racing fans including Stakes Tracker, a constantly updated profile of upcoming stakes races, and the Derby Power Rankings, a fan-based ranking of future Kentucky Derby contenders.


December 14, 2010

Zenyatta and the Ghost of Native Dancer

The parallels are frightening. Two of the most popular horses in modern history were perfect examples of power and athleticism. They did not need to win by ten lengths to prove their superiority over their peers. They raced, and they won. Time and time again, they won. Native Dancer, and then Zenyatta nearly 60 years later, were perfect. Or at least as perfect as we could hope our thoroughbred stars to be. You know the old saying about history repeating itself. It seems as if the race of the year, maybe the race so far of the 21st century, was just a little bit of history repeating. As if somehow haunted by the Grey Ghost, Zenyatta fell victim to the racing gods that evening at Churchill Downs, and poof, just like that, her undefeated career went up in smoke.

We all know her story … from 2007 through 2010, Zenyatta won her first 19 races. She entered her final career race with all the fanfare of a rock star. She danced and pranced her way into the public consciousness, and into their hearts as well. Zenyatta is as popular as any race horse has been in at least 30 years. The Breeders’ Cup crowd was bubbling over with anticipation and excitement to see her succeed and head off into the sunset untethered by a single defeat. As it had been 57 years earlier for Native Dancer. He was racing’s first television star. American household’s welcomed him into their living rooms on a regular basis. The Kentucky Derby of 1953 may not have been his final race of his career, but it was the most important. Undefeated and Horse of the Year as a juvenile, the Grey Ghost stormed into Louisville as the people’s horse. He was unblemished through eleven races. The Run for the Roses was destined to be his. It was not.

The twin spires proved to be a harsh defender of the sacred undefeated career for Native Dancer. The great colt would rebound in his next ten races to retire with 21 wins in 22 career starts. His name will forever be included in the pantheon of all-time greats, but still I wonder, what if. What if he had been able to start rolling just a few strides earlier? What if he had been able to eclipse that pesky Dark Star? How would Native Dancer be remembered now?

No one blames Dark Star. He was a very good horse who ran a great Kentucky Derby. On that day, he won the race. Flash forward to modern day, and I do not blame Blame. He is a good horse. A very, very good horse. Better than Dark Star was, but still, he will never be remembered like Zenyatta will be. He won the race fair and square, but as in 1953, Zenyatta was so very close.

In the end it was one desperate head that broke up the perfect game for Zenyatta, as it had for Native Dancer. Both met their demise under the famed twin spires of Churchill Downs on the biggest of days. So very close to perfection, but not meant to be. Was Zenyatta done in by the curse of Native Dancer? Maybe. I will leave you with this one last thought … Native Dancer was denied the Horse of the Year award in 1953, because of that one heartbreaking, and narrow defeat. Well that, and a superlative season by Tom Fool. Something tells me that Zenyatta will not be so cursed.

December 13, 2010

Prince Will I Am Fascinates Me

Is it just me, or is Prince Will I Am one fascinating horse. He ‘s only won three races lifetime races, yet I find myself oddly drawn to him. I want to know where he is running next, and I make sure to make the necessary arrangements to watch the race live. Happily his next race is this Saturday in Calder’s W. L. McKnight Handicap. The McKnight is a grade 2 turf race at twelve furlongs. While I will not be able to be in South Florida to see him in person, you can bet I will be tuned in to see the race as it run. Why so much interest in Prince Will I Am? Let me see if I can explain.

His most recent race provided the most drama yet. He was entered in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, a feat in its own right considering he had started in maiden claiming less than twelve months before. That’s right, the second week of November last year, Prince Will I Am made his debut in a maiden claiming race at Churchill Downs. Given virtually little chance at 46-1, he stormed home from last, after an awkward start, to win going away at the wire. Why he paid $93.80 in that maiden claiming race, granted it was for a $80,000 tag, is a mystery to me. A son of Victory Gallop out of a Dynaformer mare, Prince Will I Am is a well bred colt. Well not quite, he’s actually a ridgling, but I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. The 14 furlong race became one of the more widely talked about BC races because of the scene in the winners circle. An incensed Calvin Borel needed to be held back by several people to avoid getting into a donnybrook with fellow rider Javier Castellano, because of dangerous race riding. What horse was in the middle of all the trouble? You guessed it. It was Prince Will I Am who slammed into Romp on the far turn which almost sent Martin Garcia flying off into the path of Borel’s mount A.U. Miner. Through it all, Prince Will I Am ran big to finish second against his older competition in the Marathon, before being disqualified and placed 10th.

I was surprised to see Prince Will I Am in the BC Marathon in the first place, as it seemed he had really found his niche on the grass. Although I probably shouldn’t have, seeing as the great Ernie Munick had made him his Marathon selection months before. Did I say that just right, Ernie? Questioning anywhere this horse runs is probably a silly proposition. Did I mention that his trainer, Michelle Nehei, has a Ph.D. in neuroscience? I only hope I just spelled neuroscience correctly. Anyway, before the Marathon, Prince Will I Am was coming off three straight grass races that culminated with a last-to-first rush in Belmont’s Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap at nine furlongs. That day he paid more than twenty dollars, and came after his first win on the grass in an optional claiming race at 1 3/8 miles at Saratoga. So we now know that he can run on turf or dirt, and run as long as you want him to, but wait, there is more to this fascinating ridgling. The first race that really hooked me to him was the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Run at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack, Prince Will I Am may have finished 5th that day, but trust me, it was an excellent performance. Last early in a talented field of twelve, he came flying on the inside, only to be blocked and steadied. He split horses under, ironically, Calvin Borel and was beaten only 2 ¼ lengths by the winner.

Turf, dirt, synthetics, any distance, have I convinced you yet that Prince Will I Am is a fascinating race horse? Here’s a few more tidbits; he was more than 40-1 in his first three races, and more than 20-1 in his first five races. After winning that maiden claiming debut, he was put in against Eskendereya twice and Drosselmeyer in his next three races. I'm not even sure if he is named after British royalty, or the front man for the Black-Eyed Peas. The more I find out about this horse, the more I like. What will Prince Will I Am do next? Better tune in to the McKnight.

December 12, 2010

Farewell Mack Miller

The world of racing lost a great horseman and an even better man yesterday with the passing of Hall of Fame conditioner, Mack Miller. He died Saturday morning at the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Miller had been hospitalized since the 5th of December, after suffering a stroke. He was 89 years old. The passing of Miller represents the last, and for me, the finest of the old guard. Growing up, my father taught me to respect the old masters of the sport. Trainers like P.G. Johnson, Woody Stephens, Thomas Kelly, and of course, Mack Miller were mainstays of this group. Their charges could never be dismissed from a race simply because of the barns they represented. Miller was my absolute favorite of the bunch.

By the time I was eight years old, Miller, already a successful trainer, was named the private trainer for Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable. There was always a certain amount of magic connected to the yellow and gray silks of Rokeby. They were primarily homebreds of Mellon, who radiated beautiful pedigree and better looks. Rokeby and Miller did not have as many runners as some of the biggest outfits, but when you saw one in a race, you knew they had a big shot to win. Miller was a great horsemen and his horses came to the track ready to run. Sometimes I bet on them, sometimes I did not, but I always respected them.

Destined to be a horseman, Miller grew up a short drive from Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. After serving in the United States Air Force, in 1947 he came home to work for Calumet Farm. By 1949, Miller took out his own training license, and won his first race in 1950. In 1955, he trained his initial stakes winner, Oil Painting, and his first champion, Leallah, one year later. In the 60’s he became the private trainer for Charles W. Engelhard, Jr., for whom he conditioned such stalwarts as Halo, Tentam, and Hawaii. My appreciation for Miller was born through his Rokeby connection though, and horses like Upper Nile, Winter’s Tale, Fit to Fight, Wild Applause, Glowing Honor, Hero’s Honor, Java Gold, Crusader Sword, Red Ransom, and finally Sea Hero did Miller proud.

While Java Gold was the horse Miller considered to be his best, it was with Sea Hero that Miller finally won the Kentucky Derby. The big win came in 1993, six years after he had been inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame. He was 71 and his friend and his longtime client Paul Mellon was 85, and together they formed as gentlemanly and likeable winning Derby pair as racing has ever known.

That was the thing about Miller, after 46 years as a successful trainer and breeder (He was the co-breeder of such nice horses as De La Rose, the 1981 Champion Female Turf Horse, Chilukki, the 1999 Champion Two-year-old Filly, and Kentucky Oaks winner, Lite Light), he may be remembered more for the person he was. I have met a lot of great people in nearly forty years as a fan of racing, but few hold the distinction of never having anything close to a negative thing being said about them. His friend Paul Mellon was one, and MacKenzie Miller was most certainly another.

December 11, 2010

Star Guitar B. Goode

I had the great privilege of watching today’s races with Chuck Berry. As expected, he had many profound things to say, but what he told me after the Louisiana Champions Day Classic was way too cool to keep to myself.

Deep down Louisiana in old New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a racetrack made of earth and tar
Where lived a country horse named Star Guitar
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could win some races just like a ringing a bell

Go go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Star Guitar is Good

He used to carry his jockey like a gunny sack
Go graze beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the other trainers would see him working in the shade
Running with the rhythm that his four hooves made
People at the races they would stop for fun
Oh my that little country horse could run

Go go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Star Guitar is Good

His mother told him "Someday you will be a star,
And you will be the leader of the race by far.
Many people coming from miles around
To see him win before the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Star Guitar runs tonight."

Go go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Go Star Guitar go
Star Guitar is Good

December 10, 2010

Terrific Tampa Poised for Opening Day

Play Ball! Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! Or maybe just a more dignified Call to the Post. Tomorrow is opening day number 85 at Tampa Bay Downs, and the little track in Oldsmar, Florida only seems to be getting better. Fan friendly, betting friendly, and weather friendly, the West Florida oval simply gets it. While some tracks seem to forget that the fans are the most important element in our sport, they prefer to bend over backwards to make it an enjoyable, and hopefully profitable experience had by all. I plan to make the long trip down this Winter to see some great live racing. I hope to see many of you there. Here are just a few why reasons why Tampa Bay Downs should be commended, visited, and supported.

Don’t Pay to Play - I’ve long been an advocate of racetracks not charging admission to get inside the building to spend money. Once again this year, Tampa Bay Downs offers free Grandstand admission and parking. And after you are in the building, they offer $2 pint domestic draft beer specials every weekday afternoon during live racing, and a new rotisserie chicken stand located on the first floor of the Grandstand … if you are into those sort of things.

Reduced Takeouts - When tracks lower takeouts, horse player’s notice. Despite this, it amazes me that many tracks continue to maintain or even raise already high takeouts. The 2010-2011 race meeting will see a decrease in takeout for Pick 3, Pick 4, Super Hi-5 and Pick Six wagering to 18% from last year’s 19% rate. The decrease in takeout is nothing new, but rather a pleasing trend that has been going on for the past several years.

Wagering Offerings - I love the new trend in racing where many tracks have offered lower minimums on exotic wagering. Add Tampa Bay to the list. New this season will be a 50 cent Pick Three wager, which along with 50 cent Pick Fours, 50 cent Trifectas, and 10 cent Superfectas give the little guy, like me, a chance to become more involved in the really big payouts.

Full Fields - If there is one thing I enjoy to see and bet on a race card, it is a full day of large fields. I don’t know about you, but 4 or 5 horse races don’t do it for me. Last year, Tampa Bay Downs had a fantastic average field size of 8.95 horses per race, and they have every intention on bettering that average this year.

and last but certainly not least...

Quality Racing - Once an afterthought of Winter racing, Tampa Bay Downs continues to improve the quality of horses racing there, and is moving up the landscape of major racing. This season’s 91-day meet is highlighted by March 12, with the 31st renewal of Festival Day. The track’s premiere race day features the Tampa Bay Derby, freshly awarded grade 2 status and up to a $350,000 purse for 2011. Last year‘s edition proved to be a real slobberknocker, with Odysseus, Schoolyard Dreams, and future Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, hitting the wire together. Also on the Festival Day card are the Grade 3 Hillsborough Stakes on the grass, and the Suncoast Stakes for three-year-old fillies. Another notable race is the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, formerly the Tampa Bay Breeders’ Cup, which was upgraded to grade 3 status for the first time for 2011, following last season’s exciting battle between grade 1 winner Karelian and the likely repeating turf champion, Gio Ponti. Tampa Bay Downs also makes life easy for those watching their quality racing from home with live video streaming of all races and free race replays on their website.

December 9, 2010

Remembering ... Waquoit

No wonder he was tough, his first 13 races came on the mean streets of Boston. Or at least eleven of them at Suffolk, and two more at nearby Rockingham Park. Waquoit was a warrior, and more than twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing him run in person several times. Whether it was in person or on television, I always looked forward to seeing the rags to riches New Englander mix it up with a great group of handicap stars of the late eighties. I watched him develop from a nice allowance race in the minor leagues of Boston racing, into one of the best horses in the world. He had blazing speed and could carry it as far as you asked him. He was strong on fast tracks, but if the track came up sloppy, he was unbeatable.

Bred in Kentucky by Frank Mackle Jr., Waquoit was a grey son of Relaunch and Grey Parlo, and was a $15,000 bargain purchase by owner Joseph Federico at the 1984 Keeneland September yearling sale. Waquoit would become a family affair for New England based horsemen, as Federico would turn over his purchase to trainer Guido Federico, the owner’s cousin.

He made his debut in August of 1985. It took the juvenile three races to break his maiden, but when he did, he sprinted home by eight lengths. Staying in New England, not many people noticed as he finished his initial year of racing with three minor stakes wins in his final four races of the season. As a sophomore, Waquoit displayed more flashes of talent, but still looked like a local type well into the Summer of 1986. But he got better, and tougher. After an especially impressive allowance win at Suffolk, the decision was made to give him a shot against the big boys. The opportunity would come in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park in October. It was a crucial race in the horse’s career, as an ugly defeat may have dissuaded his connections from trying the big time again. Waquoit did not disappoint. After a three length victory over the highly regarded Mogambo, it was clear that the inexpensive colt from Boston had real class.

After developing into a very good three-year-old, Waquoit would take things to a whole new level at the age of four. Making his seasonal debut in late May, he would begin a five race winning streak with an easy win at his home track of Suffolk. Displaying the versatility of a champion, Waquoit would then win a six furlong race at Suffolk in 1:09.4 in June, and then the 1 ½ mile Brooklyn Handicap giving away oodles of weight at Belmont in July. A strong accomplishment in its own right, but when you consider that he won the Mass Cap, and the Michigan Mile and One-Eighth by more than seven lengths in between, you can begin to see why I held this tenacious gray in such high regard. In fact, it was that win in the 1987 Mass Cap where I first fell in love with him. It was vintage Waquoit.

His perfect season of 1987 would come to a screeching halt at Monmouth in the Iselin Stakes. Finishing fourth that day, Waquoit came out of the race with an injury and would be put away until the Spring of his five-year-old season. If 1987 was his unfulfilled break-out season, 1988 would be the year that Waquoit would show the racing world exactly what he could do. After the long layoff, he came back with a romping win in a minor stakes at Suffolk, before two consecutive second place finishes against top handicap horses, Lost Code and Personal Flag. At this point it was not clear if Waquoit had come back from his injury as good as he had been in his previous season. Those concerns would not last long.

A repeat win against a strong field in the Brooklyn Handicap would get Waquoit back in the winner’s circle. It also earned him a brief rest before the big races of the Fall. His next race would be the Woodward Stakes, and to this day, I still consider it one of the finest handicap races I have ever seen. Eight horses would line up in the Belmont starting gate and every one of them was of grade one quality. My money would be on the speedy gray. I was a fan of his yes, but I could not believe that such a classy horse as Waquoit was being let go at 16-1, loaded field or not. I would not cash my ticket that day, but he certainly gave me plenty to cheer for. The great Alysheba would need to summon all of his class to narrowly defeat Forty Niner and Waquoit in the Woodward, shattering the track record in the process. It was one of those races that you never forget.

Clearly in the best form of his impressive career, Waquoit would get in two more starts in the 1988 season. With Alysheba out of town, he would be made a heavy favorite in the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup. At his favorite distance of 1 ½ miles, and on a wet track that he loved, Waquoit proved unbeatable, destroying the field by 15 lengths. He was then made the second choice in one of the strongest Breeders’ Cup Classic fields in history. Pressured in the early stages by the speedy Slew City Slew, he would weaken down the lane to finish third to Alysheba and Seeking the Gold under the twin spires of Churchill Downs. The fact that he even ran in the Classic was pretty amazing when you consider his owners had to supplement him for the big race to the tune of $360,000. They believed in their horse, and got back most of the fee in finishing third.

The Classic would be the last time we would see Waquoit slugging it out on the track. He was retired and sent to stud for the 1989 breeding season. Syndicated for $3 million, Waquoit took residence at the Northview Stallion Station which had previously been part of legendary Windfields Farm of Maryland. The most notable of his many sons and daughters was the millionaire, grade 1 winner Halo America who inherited much of her father’s looks, speed, and tenacity. Waquoit, a New England racing legend and a fine Maryland sire, was euthanized on June 14, 2007 at the age of 24. Still at Northview, he had succumbed to the infirmities of old age.

As a son of Relaunch, out of broodmare sire Grey Dawn II, I always looked forward to the day that Waquoit would take his immense class, talent and heart to the green stuff. Alas, his grass debut would never come. With his speed, breeding, and ability to thrive at twelve furlongs, I can only imagine how good Waquoit would have been on turf. Looking back though I must say with 19 wins and more than $2.2 million earned, he did just fine on the dirt. Just fine indeed. I remember you Waquoit.

December 8, 2010

Who Am I ???

*A homebred with impeccable breeding, I was not a son of the bluegrass.

*I won just a shade under half of my starts while winning a grand total of nine stakes races.

*My sire and his sire lost less races in their combined careers than I did in any one of my three seasons of racing.

*I never ran in the Kentucky Derby, but one of my initial stakes wins came at Churchill Downs.

*Both my owner and my trainer are members of Racing‘s Hall of Fame, so is my most regular rider.

*My final career race was on the grass, but that was not the norm.

*I won stakes in each of my three years on the track, but two-thirds came in one season.

*My greatest rival and I faced each other ten times over three seasons, and I got the better of him four times.

*I was a multiple stakes winner at each of the three major New York racetracks.

*My Eclipse Award was the result of my 2nd season on the track.

*Not to sound overly boastful, but everyone wishes they had me.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???

December 7, 2010

Future Star Watch - Alcindor

Never one to go to long without a star in his barn, Bob Baffert may have another colt with the talent to place his name next to the long line of major stakes winners for the silver haired Hall of Fame trainer. A late-developing three-year-old, Alcindor is a son of Unbridled's Song out of the Storm Cat mare Zing. Purchased for $1.15 million by Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, he is a big, tall colt who was given plenty of time to grow into his frame. Because of his size, and the talent Baffert could see early on, the Kentucky bred was pegged with the rather auspicious name of Alcindor. Named after the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had changed his name from Lew Alcindor, Baffert’s new star has impressed greatly in his first two starts.

On Sunday November 28, the dark bay made a big splash with his second triumph in as many starts. Alcindor had little trouble with a more experienced group of allowance foes, romping home in a seven furlong affair at Hollywood Park by 7 ½ lengths in the sprightly time of 1:21.67. The impressive win was number 1,999 for his trainer and followed a strong debut victory just five weeks earlier. That day, he stalked blazing fractions before rallying from third to get up and nail favored Chapman's Peak by a nose. He ran the six furlongs in 1:09.45 under jockey Martin Garcia as the well backed second choice in the wagering. His early success has been little surprise to those around the backstretch. Along with his obvious physical attributes, he displayed major talent in his morning works, flashing two bullet works at five furlongs and six furlongs this August at Hollywood Park. Clearly he has not disappointed so far in the afternoons.

With the name, the connections, and the buzz generated by his first few performances on the track, Alcindor has quickly become one of the most talked about horses in Southern California. If he continues to progress, he may just have the talent to become one of the top handicap horses on the West Coast. With the Strub Series for newly turned four-year-olds just around the corner, it looks like he will have the opportunity to do just that. His first major test is expected to come in the $250,000 Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita the day after Christmas. With the expected tough opposition he will have to face in the Malibu, it is unlikely that the race will be a slam-dunk for him … much more likely to be a sky-hook.

December 6, 2010

A Sporting Chance

This blog is, and always has been, my medium for sharing my love for thoroughbred horse racing with the world. While I always do my best to relay my thoughts and information on everything going on within the sport, sometimes words alone are simply not enough to capture the essence and the heartbeat of racing. Today I was passed on a wonderful piece that does just that.

It is called A Sporting Chance, and it is a horse racing documentary created by film maker Eric Averkiou. This video is the edited version of the full 30 minute film.  Eric describes the film as, “A documentary film following the daily struggles, tribulations and excitement of the Horse racing industry. Filmed at the headquarters of racing, Newmarket England, the film follows a trainer, a Jockey and numerous staff who work tirelessly for the love of this amazing sport.” 

Without further adieu, please enjoy A Sporting Chance …

December 5, 2010

My Favorite Races of 2010

1) Breeders’ Cup Classic - As if there was any doubt. The Epic race played out by Blame and Zenyatta was an instant classic. Despite the fact that the far more popular Zenyatta lost the photo by a short head to her male competitor, the 2010 edition of the BC Classic was the race of the year, and one of the greatest races I have ever seen.

2) Travers Stakes - If not for the unforgettable drama in the Classic, this year’s Travers would have made for a worthy race of the year. In Saratoga’s most important race, two proud colts hooked up late and battled nose to nose to the wire leaving the rest of the field far behind. Afleet Express would win the photo and the Travers, but Fly Down ran huge and only lost by an eyelash.

3) Fleur de Lis Handicap - It was a tough season for my favorite horse, Rachel Alexandra, but not on this day. Looking like the same filly who had the greatest season of any three-year-old filly in history the year before, Rachel’s performance in the Fleur de Lis allowed this admiring onlooker one last thrilling moment with the filly I loved.

4) Whitney Handicap - It became the changing of the guard when the leader of the handicap division, Quality Road was challenged by the up and coming Blame. It was a challenge that Quality Road could not handle, as Blame took his place as the best male horse in the nation with a thrilling stretch drive in the Whitney.

5) Breeders’ Cup Mile - Goldikova and Gio Ponti. The all-time great French mare against the excellent American challenger. It was set to be a showdown, but it turned into a coronation. Goldikova is an incredible mare, and she was never finer than in this year’s BC Mile. In the process, she became the first horse ever to win three Breeders’ Cup races.

6) Breeders’ Cup Juvenile - No exciting finishes in this one, but this race resonated with me nonetheless for one big reason, and that reason is Uncle Mo. I have not been this excited about a juvenile for many years, and Mo let it all hang out in the biggest race of the year for two-year-olds. I have been on triple crown amber alert ever since.

7) Tampa Bay Derby - It was the photo that seemed to defy our own eyes. Whatever it was, the finish of this Kentucky Derby prep was fantastic, as the ill-fated Odysseus somehow came back to get the win over Schoolyard Dreams by a whisker, with future Derby hero Super Saver a close 3rd.

8) Vanity Handicap - It was just Zenyatta being Zenyatta. One of the best mares in the country, St Trinians ran her heart out on that day, and looked like she might be the first to defeat the undefeated superstar. Of course we all know who would be ahead as they hit the wire. Poor St Trinians.

9) Flower Bowl Handicap - The highlight of my trip to Belmont was the fantastic finish in this filly and mare turf, grade one. Ave was ultimately able to get the job done when she split horses in late stretch to narrowly out duel Changing Skies and Red Desire to the wire.

10) The Preakness - Redemption was sweet for Lookin at Lucky in the middle jewel of the triple crown, as he rebounded from a horrid trip in the Kentucky Derby, to regain his place atop the sophomore division. On a personal note, it was my first Preakness in person, and I was pleased to see a champion strut his stuff.

Photo Courtesy of Reed Palmer Photography

December 4, 2010

In with the New, Out with the Polycrap

Santa Anita will open its brand new dirt track for training this Monday. In the political and economic realities of horse racing in California, it marks a sudden and radical turnabout in the direction of the sport. At perhaps the highest profile track in American racing to go synthetic, the surface has been quickly wiped away, as if to say it was never there in the first place. Bringing back dirt serves as a clear admission that the installation of the synthetic surface, only a few years earlier, was a mistake. It was simply a bad idea. Like many bad ideas it was rushed into and shoved down the throats of everyone connected.

Live and learn. Or did we? Remington Park went to something called Equitrack in 1988. By 1991, the Oklahoma track went back to dirt. Back then, they were the only one to experiment. In 2010 no fewer than nine major North American tracks have a synthetic surface acting as their main track.

American racing and breeding has been geared for dirt racing since its inception. Our horses are dirt horses. Trying to change that may have been doable, but it was not practical. As horse racing struggles to keep its fan base and gambling dollars, now was not the time to go through a reinvention project that would take dozens of years to successfully complete. If synthetic surfaces fulfilled the promise of greater safety and more consistent surfaces, then maybe we could have lived with the long adaptation process of our horses. Unfortunately, the benefits are just not there.

Call it what you want, all-weather track or synthetic surface. Whatever the type, Polytrack, Cushion track, Pro-Ride, or Tapeta, these surfaces have not been good for American racing. They were supposed to make our horses and riders safer. They do not. The injuries might be different, but they remain. Consistency through weather, or from one track to another, is no better than it was on dirt. If anything it is worse. The only thing that shifting to all-weather surfaces at many of our major tracks really accomplished was splintering a sport. A sport that did not need to splintered. Horsemen don’t like it. Gamblers don’t like it.

The state of California was the worst perpetrator in jumping on a shaky bandwagon of artificialness, but they were far from alone. At least Santa Anita realized and acted upon their mistake quickly.

To my own beloved Arlington Park I only have this to say … you are a beacon of beauty and grandeur in the Midwest. You are the trusted keeper of a rich and storied past. You have one of the greatest cities in the world ready to embrace you. Your coffers will soon be reinvigorated by the cold hard cash of slot machines. Your turf course already sparkles in resplendent green … Scrap the crap and return to dirt, and do it now.

December 3, 2010

Hold On, It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Always looking for the next big thing, of late I have been poring meticulously over as many video replays of juvenile races as humanly possible. News flash … Uncle Mo looks pretty good. The juvenile filly set meanwhile, looks much more contentious. A number of fillies caught my eye as potential budding stars, but to my surprise, a filly on the West Coast may have impressed me more than any other. Ladies and gentleman, her name is Turbulent Descent.

Bred in Florida by Ocala Stud, she is a daughter of first-crop A.P. Indy sire, Congrats, and is out of the Forestry mare Roger’s Sue. Turbulent Descent sold this year for $160,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company Spring Sale of two-year-olds in training. The bay youngster is owned by a partnership which includes Blinkers On Racing Stable and Bill Strauss, and is trained by veteran conditioner Mike Puype. Making her debut on October 3 at Hollywood Park, Turbulent Descent muscled her way through fillies at the top of the lane and was part of a two horse sprint with Canadian Pride to the wire. As the two left the rest of the full field far behind, I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of confidence her rider displayed in riding her to the win. Despite how well the other filly ran, Turbulent Descent appeared to be out for nothing more than a Sunday stroll.

Fresh off her impressive maiden win, and a dazzling five furlong work six days earlier, Turbulent Descent would make her second start in stakes company. As pleasing to the eye as her debut race may have been, she was even more impressive November 21 at Hollywood Park. In that race she looked like a cat playing with five mice, as she took home first prize in the $100,000 Moccasin Stakes. Always in close contact with the leaders under rider David Flores, she took over when ready, and proved best with plenty left in reserve. Much like her maiden race, the margin of victory of 1 ½ lengths offered little evidence of how easy the win actually was. Final time for the seven furlongs over Hollywood Park’s cushion track was a solid 1:23.15.

We will not need to wait long before finding out more about undefeated Turbulent Descent, as the new apple of my eye is due to run next week in the Hollywood Starlet. Many questions should be answered, as it will be her initial race over a route of ground, and her first test against grade one fillies. In the Starlet, she will also find several fillies who have much more experience than she posesses. Whether she can handle the top horses in her division and excel at two-turns is yet to be determined, but one thing is for sure … you better keep an eye on Turbulent Descent.

Photo courtesy of Benoit Photos

December 2, 2010

Making the Grade

Recently I have felt like a college student all over again. No, not keggers and dormitory life, I had been waiting for the grades to come in, and this time it wasn’t on Mrs. Kenny’s Chemistry final, but rather from The American Graded Stakes Committee. Today’s the day. They reviewed the unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to a total of 474 (slightly more that two-thirds) of them. This total is 13 less than the 487 that were graded in 2010. I like to take this information and scan the performances of individual tracks. Which tracks were the winners? Which tracks were the losers? On the day the grading is done, ZATT takes it one step farther and hands out more grades.

A - Charles Town - Big congratulations go out to the West Virginia oval for getting their first ever graded stakes race. The Charles Town Classic will be a grade 3 in 2011.

A - The Breeders’ Cup - The traveling championships that are the Breeders’ Cup saw two of its newer races raised, the Juvenile Turf moved up to a grade 1, and the Marathon became a grade 2, while no BC stakes was downgraded.

B+ - Tampa Bay Downs - The west coast Florida track continued to build momentum today with two upgrades and only one downgrade. Most notably, The Tampa Bay Derby will be grade 2 for the first time in 2011.

B+ - Parx Racing - A new name (again) for the Suburban Philadelphia oval was greeted with one more graded stakes next year, as the usually interesting Turf Monster moves to a grade 3.

B+ - Presque Isle Downs - The Presque Isle Downs Masters has quickly become a race of importance, and today the committee showed their approval by naming it a grade 2.

B - Saratoga - America‘s top race meet added one more grade 2 on top of its already loaded schedule with the upgrading of the With Anticipation for juvenile turfers.

B - Gulfstream Park - Faired much better than its Miami neighbor, Calder, with the movement of only one stakes race. The Marshua’s River will go from ungraded to grade 2 next year.

D - Hollywood Park - Hollywood has remained open, but that is about the only good news for the track besieged by small fields, as they had three races deemed not eligible for grading in 2011.

D - Lone Star Park - Took a hit today, as a signature race, The Lone Star Derby becomes an ungraded stakes next year.

F - Pimlico - If Maryland racing is on death row, today‘s news of three Pimlico stakes being downgraded, only served to move up the execution date.

F - Calder Race Course - The South Florida oval continues to lose quality horses to in-state competition, Tampa Bay Downs. For 2011, they saw three of their races, the Kenny Noe Jr., Memorial Day and Stage Door Betty Handicaps all lowered to ungraded status.

December 1, 2010

Who Am I ???

*Sired by a Horse of the Year, I was bred in Kentucky by my owner.

*I won just a shade under two-thirds of my starts while only finishing out of the money once, and that was the result of an injury.

*Well traveled, I won stakes races on the East Coast, West Coast and the Midwest.

*My victories came at a distance range of ten furlongs between the shortest and the longest, my losses ranged nine furlongs.

*I was a stakes winner at six different tracks, but my first and last both came at Aqueduct.

*My jockeys, including the Hall of Fame ones, liked to wear polka dots.

*My Eclipse Awards were the result of my 2nd season on the track.

*I once carried at least 130 ponds in six consecutive starts.

*My sire won a double digit amount of stakes, and I won quite a few more than he did.

*My greatest rival and I evenly split our four contests over two seasons.

*Despite my name, I was born, bred, and raced in the USA.

You should know by now … Who Am I ???