Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Horse That God Would Want To Ride

There are any number of Saturday Afternoon Horses that have converged in Lexington, Kentucky for the World Equestrian Games. The horse I have been waiting to see, lived up to every and all expectations. Moorlands Totilas, a ten year old Dutch bred, black stallion, ridden by Edward Gal, got a score of 84.043, clinching the Team Gold Medal for his team mates and for the Netherlands. "Toto" has been breaking records every where he goes, and he is the only horse to ever own the World Record for the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the Freestyle, all at the same time. While I am probably not going to run out and buy his book , I am in awe everytime I see this horse move. Here is a video of some of his test in the team competition on Tuesday. Towards the end of the video, watch his tempi changes. At the collected canter, you can really get a feel of how a horse changes leads.
It is an international cinch, and odds-on, that this horse will win the Gold this weekend , in the Special and the Freestyle. Someone said, if God wanted a horse, Moorlands Totilas would be that horse. I can add a few more to that list, but, I'm sure God would love to throw his leg over Toto. And so would I.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's Just Curious To Me

Jess Jackson decided to retire Rachel Alexandra a day after she worked a bullet on the Saratoga training track. That was a sparkling work, as a 48 on the training track is a 46 and change anywhere else. I know when I got my Virtual Stable notice, I thought “hmm…she’s ready to rumble.” So the only logical conclusion is that she didn’t come out of the work in good shape. I mean, a bullet is an indication that a horse is sharp, enthusiastic and sittin’on go. So perhaps something is amiss, something went wrong, maybe something’s been brewing, and the work exacerbated it…we will probably never know. It’s a tough job to keep horses sound and happy, as things can go wrong in a New York minute. 
But maybe now, finally, they are really listening to Rachel. I say finally, because what Rachel has been saying for some time now, has fallen on deaf ears.

And that's always been curious to me. 

What is true, to quote Mr. Jackson, is “it’s time to retire our champion, and reward her with a less stressful life”.

Is it just me, or maybe Rachel should have been rewarded a year ago, after her amazingly successful, yet highly stressful, very ambitious and  maybe borderline reckless, campaign? After all, Mr. Jackson, did she not reward you enough last year? Ok, maybe it made sense to give the Horse of the Year 4 months stall rest and try to bring her back as a 4 year old. But if you understood horse talk, you could hear her saying all year , “Maybe this isn’t working out like we all wanted it to... I’m  just not really feelin’ it this year”

But at least now they’re really listening to Rachel. Finally.
It’s just curious to me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Maria and Nobby beat Shiekh Mo

The 100 Mile Endurance event was completed yesterday at the World Equestrian Games, in Lexington Kentucky. The team Gold went to the team from the United Arab Emerites, comprised of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum ( Darley Stud), his son, the crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan Mohammed al Maktoum, his younger son, Sheikh Majid Mohammed al Maktoum, and a cousin, Sheikh Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum. The event lasted close to 11 hours, which included all the mandatory rest periods. Actual time on the course was 7 hours, 35 minutes, 44 seconds.

Out of 100 entries, 55 horses completed the course. Riders and team officials hailed the 100 mile course around the Kentucky horse Park, which crossed land owned by 26 different land owners, a great success.

The Individual Gold Medal, however went to Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton, with her 15 year old French bred horse,Nobby. Maria’s husband, is one of the Shiekh’s top trainers. And it’s a good thing too, because though Maria rode for the first 5 months of her pregnancy, her husband took over and kept Nobby fit. Maria gave birth to her daughter, also named Maria, just 7 WEEKS AGO! And she got back in the saddle just 2 weeks ago.

Maria also won the Gold at the 2008 World Championships and the 2009 European Championships. This trifecta has never been accomplished before.

Some of the Gold Medalist’s quotes after her victory:

“It’s been really difficult to train and feed the baby and everything,” Ponton admitted. “Last year when I got pregnant, I thought I could do [the 2010 World Games]. But everybody kept telling me it was impossible. I feel well. It’s like it never happened, having a baby.”

“I feel really well, I just want to go back to the hotel and see the baby”

‘[The course] was really, really difficult. Really fast for me and really difficult. People say it is flat. It’s not flat at all. It was the most difficult race I’ve won with Nobby,”

“The only difference was that I could not sleep all night because I had to feed the baby.”

Ok, let me get this straight… You have a baby 7 weeks ago… you start back riding TWO WEEKS ago… you don’t sleep the night before the big event, because, hey the baby has to eat, right?… and then you are in the saddle for over 7 hours, you ride in a 100 mile endurance race, probably the most difficult Endurance Race in the World, and you WIN, beating all the members of the Gold Medal Winning Team from the UAE, the best team in the world…. AND as you cross the finish line, you don't even look tired! 
Whatever this woman eats and drinks, well I want some of that, too!

 All I can say is ... WOW ! Way to go, Maria! Congrats to you and your great little horse Nobby!!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coolin' Out... taking a look back at a not-so-quiet-Saturday

Congratulations to Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard on his 1000th training win over fences. On the flat, or over fences, he can do it all. He is in a class by himself.

Nice job from Nick Zito on his 3rd Pennsylvania Derby win, to tie Woody Steve’s record. Morning Line, hung on gamely through the mile and 1/8th, to hold off another good effort by First Dude.

But the Dude did not disappoint. Taking a little longer than most to put it all together, he showed another dimension. After attending the pace the whole way, he looked to be tiring, when he got squeezed inside the 16th pole, and then swung to the outside, not easy for a big dude, and re-rallied to almost get the win. Have to give him credit for trying. Maybe now, he has the game figured out.

Good looking win by the home bred Apart, in the Super Derby. No doubt about it, the patient Al Stall and owner/breeder Adele Dilschnieder have another good one.

My Jen ( Kenneally / Leparoux) ran a big one at 12 to one to win the “Win and Your’re In” Gallant Bloom at Belmont.This was her first stakes win. Sarah Louise finished third in a good effort after a long layoff.

Kudos to HRTV for their interview with Rene Douglas. Some very positive energy there, with the paralyzed rider, who is  slowly putting his life back together. He was instrumental in finding Golden Moka, who although, OTB in the Super Derby, will make some money for his owners, Good Friends Stable.

Zenyatta worked Saturday, with Mike Smith aboard, in her final prep for next week’s Lady Secret. She worked ¾’s in 1:13 & 4/5ths, in company.

Looked like an easy win for Frankel in the Group ll Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot. Khalid Abdullah’s 2 year old, named for the Hall of Famer, coasted in the 1 mile event, by 10. Trainer Henry Cecil, has high praise for the colt, but questions whether he will get the Derby distance.

Poet’s Voice got up to beat Rip Van Winkle in the QE II, by just a nose. He is looking ahead to the BC Mile. Where Rip will go is anybody’s guess.

The WEG games started at the Kentucky Horse Park, yesterday with the Reining competition. The opening ceremonies included dignitaries, celebrities and of course, horse entertainment. An introduction was given by the HRH Princess Haya, president of the International Equestrian Federation. There is some live coverage, online at USEF Network.

John and Gina Greathouse, owner of the filly Devil May Care, selected the Gluck Center for Equine Research, at the University of Kentucky, to receive a nice donation, sponsored by Bet Fair TVG. The donation was a result of DMC winning the most points in the BetFair TVG Triple Tiara this year. Kudos to all involved.

And many thanks to The Knight Sky Racing for providing weekly, cyberspace contests for handicappers. I got lucky this weekend with my exacta box in the PA Derby. Not how I planned it, but a win is a win!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Will This Be The Dude's Derby?

This Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby could belong to First Dude. Though he is still looking for his second lifetime win, and I see no reason why he shouldn't get it over the Philly Park oval, and in a million dollar race. He is the class of the field, is turning back in distance, and he is in with 114 lbs, if  rider Robbie Albarado, doesn't eat a lot for dinner tonight. That means he is dropping 12 lbs from his third place finish in the Travers!  His last 6 races were all Grade One's, and he has been competitive against the very best. I think the 114 lbs will be a huge advantage in here, and I look for him to bounce right out of his outside post and go gate to wire. I don't see anyone catching him.
The Kent Stakes at Delaware, is a Grade II for 3 year olds, going a mile and 1/8th over the turf.There's a nice field assembled here, with Hall of Fame Stakes winner, Interactif, winner of the American Derby, Workin for Hops, Lentenor ( Barbaro's little brother) and the ready-to-step-into-stakes-company, They Call Me Giant.
I like this improving colt, and I look for a good effort here. Workin For Hops is another in here that looks tough. He is very consistent, is trained by the always under the radar, 30% trainer Mike Stidham, and also has good karma in his corner. If you don't know anything about the owner/breeder, Estrorace LLC, have a look. And don't miss their "latest news".  A horse that throws a party? Now that's my kind of horse.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Man that Gallops Zenyatta

Found a very interesting piece on Steve Willard, Zenyatta's exercise rider, who will be retiring along with her, after the Breeder's Cup in November. The article was written by Stephanie Diaz, for The Pilot, out of Southern Pines, North Carolina. ( Great job, Stephanie !)  Stephanie writes about Steve's background, his character and his various experiences at the racetrack. She details how he started with horses, and the ups and downs of his life. She talks about the many good horses that Steve rode before he  became Zenyatta's regular rider by the "process of elimination". She also describes the physical problems that  older exercise riders like Steve deal with and how they cope.  Steve seems very humble about his part in Zenyatta's life. It's nice to see how much respect he has for John Shirreffs ( whom he calls "the Nebraska farmer") and Mario Espinosa, and all who are involved in caring for the big mare. It has certainly been a team effort, and  I hope he knows just how extremely important he has been in all of this too.  
While the primary story is Steve's, there's lots of insight and details about Zenyatta's personality that I had never read before. And you know, I just can't get enough of that. So have a look, you will enjoy it.
Click here to read "An Affair to Remember "

Friday, September 17, 2010

Northern Dancer - Sire of Sires, and, Hey! Where's my Money?

Before you wager on the Northern Dancer Breeder’s Cup Stakes Sunday at Woodbine you need to know a little bit about, probably, the greatest TB sire in modern history. Yes, he was little. Some say 14.2, some say a shade over 15 hands. I saw him in his retirement at Windfields Farm and I’m here to tell you, I would be surprised if he measured 15 hands! But what he didn’t have in size, he more than made up for on the race track and even more importantly, in the breeding shed. The great Northern Dancer was a rare, sire of sires. A winner of two jewels of the American Triple Crown, this Canadian- bred sired 146 stakes winners, and a remarkable 26 of them were Champions world-wide. Foaled in 1961, by Nearctic, (Nearco) out of Natalma, (Native Dancer), he was bred by Canadian business tycoon and philanthropist, Edward P Taylor. Northern Dancer was so small, that when offered for sale as a yearling, no one wanted him. As a result, he was sent to one of Taylor’s trainers. And not only was he small, but he was unruly and rambunctious, unless he was around Mr. Taylor’s wife, Winifred. It is said that he was one of her favorites, even as an unraced colt; she gave him lots of attention and he was calm and quiet when around her. However, there were thoughts of gelding the little man - good thing they didn’t.
Here are some horses we would not have had, if it wasn’t for the great Northern Dancer. He was the sire of so many important stallions including Danzig, Lyphard, Secreto, The Minstrel, Nijinsky II, Storm Bird, Vice Regent, Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells. And as a result, we wouldn’t have had their sons, Danehill, Lure, Belong to Me, Honor Grades, Pine Bluff. Dancing Brave, Shadeed, Royal Academy, Green Dancer, Barathea, El Prado, Storm Cat, Summer Squall, Deputy Minister, Theatrical, and the list goes on and on …
Northern Dancer’s stud fee started out at $25,000, and ended up at over 1 million, with no guarantee. In the early 80’s, his yearlings routinely brought over a million dollars.
The Northern Dancer Breeder’s Cup Stakes is a mile and a half event on the E.P Taylor Turf Course on Sunday. It is a Grade I, worth $750,000, for 3 year olds and up, and the results might have some, but not much, impact for the Breeder’s Cup 1 &1/2 Turf in November. I say this because the European contingent is always very strong at this distance, and all others are up against it. Many of Europe’s top turf horses did not have this race on their schedule, and either will go to the Arc in 2 weeks, or just train on to the Cup. However, it is a “Win and You’re In”, so the winner will have an automatic berth into the BC Turf. Nominations closed with 26 entries, with 2 supplemental entries. Several of those nominated chose to run in last week’s shorter (1 & 3/8’s) Bowling Green at Belmont. All in all, it is not a strong field for a Grade I with such a big purse.
A little background in last year’s race… Marsh Side won the race but was D’Q’d for interference with the horses that finished 3rd and 4th. This gave the win to Just as Well, the second place finisher, and Marsh Side was placed 4th. Then, this past June, the decision was reversed and Marsh Side, on paper, was awarded the win. BUT, the purse money has yet to be distributed, because Jonathan Sheppard, (trainer of Just as Well) is contesting it.

Oh sorry, I have to take this  hypothetical phone call from the Woodbine Stewards…

….Yes… thanks for returning my call…I was just wondering where my money was ?....Yes, the win-place bet on Marsh Side from last year’s Northern Dancer, and the exacta bet, Marsh Side and Just as Well?.... Yes, well, I know he was DQ’d, but then he was re-instated, and awarded the win…. So I thought now, you could give me my winnings? Oh, you know, let’s make this easy… Just give my winnings to any one of the great equine charities, like Old Friends, or the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund…how’s that sound?  Does that work for you? Because, I’d be fine with that…. OK, then ...Thanks very much….

Again, sorry for the interruption….

As the Handicapper chosen to handicap this race for the Handicapper’s Corner at ThoroFan, I have commented on all the contenders, at their website. Good luck with your wagers on all the good turf racing this weekend!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Star of The Show

The opening session of the Keeneland Fall Sales was a big success last night. The evening session, first of two, was a different format from years past, and from early reports, it was a good change for the venue. There is a second evening session tonight. The sale then continues daily, until September 26th.
The sales topper was a stunning colt by A.P. Indy out of the Grade I winning mare, Balance. She herself, being a half sister to the undefeated Champion, Zenyatta. The colt was purchased by Ben Leon for $4.2 million, in the name of his racing stable, Besilu Stables. The colt was bred by John and Jerry Amerman , who owns the dam, and was consigned by Mill Ridge, as sales agent. Mr. Leon outbid Coolmore, among others to get the colt.The colt will go to Todd Pletcher.
Mr. Leon also had the sales topper, another A. P Indy colt, at the Saratoga Yearling Sales last month.
Have a look at the Star of opening night at the Keeneland Sales.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Talk Turf To Me

There is nothing like a couple of days of all-turf racing, to pick your head up and get you back into a handicapping state of mind.

Kentucky Downs has full fields of grass racing, over what is the most “European style" course in the country. The one mile and 3/8’s course used to be called Dueling Grounds, and it is in Franklin, Kentucky. There will be turf racing on Saturdays and Mondays, for the next two weeks, for a total of 4 racing days. The races are run as part of the Turfway Park card and alternate, starting after the 2nd race. Saturday starts off with the Kentucky Cup Turf Festival, which includes 3 stakes races, the Gr .III Kentucky Cup Turf at a mile and ½, the Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf, at 1 mile, and the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at 6 furlongs

Cloudy’s Knight will return this year to defend his title in the Turf Cup, provided he came out of yesterday's work, in good shape. He won this race last year after a long layoff from a tendon injury. After his win in the Cup, and under the remarkable care of Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, Cloudy’s Knight went on to win 4 more stakes and was beaten a nose in the Breeder’s Cup Marathon! He is back, this year, at age 10!. Will history repeat?

Because the course is undulating, I always look for horses who have performed well over the course. There is an uphill /downhill component, a big, sweeping turn and a somewhat tighter turn. Let’s just say, there’s a little bit of everything. Horses need to be fit, ready and pretty tractable. When a horse does well here, I always take that into consideration, when handicapping on other courses. If a horse is coming from Fair Hill, I take a look at that angle, too. You want a jock that has some familiarity with the course, too. Last year, Orlando Mojica, Miguel Mena, Leandro Goncalves, Larry Melancon, Victor Lebron and Tony Farina all had multiple wins there. I see a different group here this year, and I look for Brice Blanc , Freddie Lenclud and Alex Solis to adapt well . The meet’s leading trainer last year, was Todd Pletcher, with William Bradley and Bill Mott, also having multiple wins. Graham Motion, George Arnold, Ken McPeek , Helen Pitts and of course Jonathan Sheppard , will all have a strong presence this year. I can hardly wait for the PP’s !!!

If you have any insights or tips on the racing at Kentucky Downs, let it be heard!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Souped Up

Zenyatta's 3 year old 1/2 brother took to the turf today and broke his maiden in the 5th at Saratoga. Souper Spectacular, a very expensive ( 1million +) Keeneland '08 September yearling, by Giant's Causeway out of Vertigineaux, by Kris S, broke sharp, stalked the pace and showed some guts to take command at the top of the stretch,  to draw off by a couple. While not a spectacular time, the colt looks like he's still learning, and could move forward from this. Owned by Charlotte Weber's, Live Oak Plantation, she is the granddaughter of Campbell Soup founder, John Dorrance and sits on the Board of Directors of that Company. She was the TOBA outstanding owner and breeder of 1991, National Owner of the Year in 2005, and  recieved the Penny Chenery Distinctive Woman in Racing Award in 2005. She has campaigned champion Miesque's Approval, and the multiple Graded Stakes winner, My Typhoon, who is a 1/2 sister to Sea of Stars  the 2009 European Horse of the Year.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lots of Questions, But Not With Quality Road

My head is starting to hurt from all the handicapping I have been doing, so as much as I hate to see the Saratoga meet come to a close this weekend, I will enjoy a few days off, after Monday. ( Well, I say that now, but...who knows?)
I cannot see anyone coming close to beating Quality Road in the Woodward tomorrow, even at the mile and an eighth distance. He is just so much better than any of these. One has to wonder if they are REALLY pointing him towards the Classic in November, or to the Mile? And that's 2 months away. Will they  just train him up to that? I am getting ahead of myself here, but I really think he is a lock, at least for tomorrow. 
One of the toughest races on the card to handicap tomorrow is the Forego.Girolamo is back after a long layoff, and you have several talented horses in here that LOVE the distance. The outcome of the Forego will have lots of Breeder's Cup implications. How will that all shakedown?
Tomorrow's 5th race is a maiden race, going a mile on the inner. And there is a 1/2 brother to Zenyatta in here! Souper Spectacular is a chestnut colt by Giant's Causeway out of the Kris S mare, Vertigineaux. He has run twice on dirt, and now he is stretching out and going to the turf.  I'm looking forward to watching this horse. Will the surface switch make all the difference?
Will tropical storm Earl drop any rain on the Saratoga surfaces? Mother Nature will just make us wait for the answer to that one.