Monday, November 29, 2010

Stars of 2011?

Who can resist a whole card full of two year old races? It’s a tradition at this time of year, at the end of the Churchill fall meet. While it’s not for everyone, I love it. Not only can you catch some longshots you might see some future stars. There were several eye catching performances on Saturday that are definitely worth watching for the future.

One of the colts I was anxious to see Saturday was Brethren, the half to the Derby winner, Super Saver. A big, good looking colt by Distorted Humor, he has a lot more size to him than his brother did at this time last year. Coming off his maiden score at Belmont he stretched out nicely to the mile distance, while being wide most of the way. Looks like there’s some definite talent there.

In the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, three colts dueled to the wire. The winner, Santiva, (Giant’s Causeway) prevailed while being in tight, sandwiched between the other two, and showed a dimension of gameness that you don’t see too often. Already stakes placed on synthetic and now a stakes winner on dirt, this could be a very versatile and useful colt.

Tapizar broke his maiden in the last race of the day in his 4th career start. The son of Tapit romped by 10. Not sure what was behind him, but he got the job done and looked good doing it. His time for the mile and 1/16th was faster than the Ky. Jockey Club, a half hour earlier. He was the second Tapit to win on the card, the other was Winchill.

Kathmanblue, the (Bluegrass Cat) filly that won the Grade II Golden Rod, proved she can run on anything. Having just finished 3rd in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies on turf with a troubled trip, she was wheeled back on 3 weeks rest. Switched back to dirt, she ran away and hid from the rest of the field and in a time faster than the colt’s race. How would you like to have her in the barn?

Another horse that bears watching for next time is First and Ten ( Forestry), another WinStar horse trained by farm trainer Richard Budge. The colt did nothing wrong, and just looked like he needed the race. Look for him to graduate soon.

You never know when you will find A Saturday Afternoon Horse, but there were definitely a few on display at Churchill over the weekend.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Double DQ and Saturday Stakes Action

Don’t mess with Dan !
The Clark Handicap at Churchill yesterday was one of the most roughly run Grade One’s I have seen in sometime. Successful Dan was rank throughout, but still had something left to hold off Giant Oak. Unfortunately, he was DQ’d from first to third because of his bearing out and slamming into Redding Colliery inside the 16th pole.At the same time, Demarcation who was up front, interfered with stable mate Dubious Miss, and was placed last for that infraction. Are you  still with me on all this? It took the stewards at least ten minutes to sort it all out. Congrats to the winner, Giant Oak, who ran a big race,stayed out of trouble and had a dream trip. A Grade One is a Grade One win anyway you can get it and I am happy for the horse and his connections.

But the real story was the out-of-control Successful Dan. Usually when horses are this rank, they never finish up. This horse seemed to be loving all the trouble he gave Leparoux, and didn’t mind intimidating Redding Colliery either. He was just full of himself the whole trip and as trainer Charles Lopresti said after the race “It was a winning race” It sure was. You don’t want to get in a fight with this horse. He is a warrior. We’ll just file this away for next time.

Aqueduct is full of stakes action today. In the Grade I Gazelle, I like No Such Word. Another win machine, she has certainly kept good company this year and is the class of the field. It would also be nice if Cindy Jones finishes up with a nice win here, while handing the reins back over to Larry.

Looking at the Grade I Cigar Mile, I am all about Bribon. He loves to win, and he loves the Big A. I am taking a stand against the 4 horses in here who last raced 3 weeks ago in the Breeder’s Cup, though 3 of them have worked since then.

In the Grade II Remson, I am going to take a long look at Bandbox. I know, I know, To Honor and Serve is the “now” horse, and I will go back and take a look at the replay. But it was a 5 horse field. And he will be odds on. I like Ramon on Bandbox, I like that he has already won on two surfaces, and I like the bullet at Laurel. He may be outclassed, but I may take a shot. Another horse in here that’s interesting is Mountain Town, who ran a big one to Uncle Mo, who will be this year’s 2 year old champ.

Over at Churchill, in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, I like Cane Garden Bay. He will appreciate the added distance. Of course if To Honor and Serve blows away the field earlier in the day in NewYork, then I will be forced to re-evaluate just how good Astrology is.

Enjoy the good racing this weekend and good luck if you are playing in the NTRA/West Point Handicapping Contest.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A BIG Thank You

The big day is almost here. My stuffing is ready, and it’s the best! Give me stuffing and cranberry sauce, and I'm happy.Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I am grateful for so many things, and that list gets longer all the time.

One guy who seems to have his “gratitude attitude” working just fine is horse owner Mike Repole. After reading this enlightening interview at the Paulick Report, you can’t help but root for him and his horses. If you didn’t know much about him, you will after reading this piece. In it, he reveals his enthusiasm and passion for horse racing, his competitive nature, his solid family values and a gratefulness for friends and associates. If you were a “class” handicapper, let’s just say, you would be taking a long look at him. Here’s a horse owner with a conscience. Though a professed “winaholic”, and very competitive, what is very apparent, is his serious concern about what happens to horses when their careers are over. After winning the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile with Uncle Mo, he made a very generous donation to several equine retirement groups. He’s doing his part.

A big Thank You to ALL the Mike Repoles out there, for not forgetting about our retired friends.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jackpot Day

I found myself in a little jackpot yesterday about something I said, so the only sensible thing to do is to move on to another jackpot.

Today is Delta Jackpot Day! Here’s a little track I have never been to, but someday would like to get to. It is six furlong oval with two chutes, one for QH racing and one for TB racing with a stretch of 660 feet. Don’t really follow it enough to know how it plays, but my guess is the turns are tight and good speed prevails more often than not.

The Delta Jackpot has a million dollar purse, and for anyone that has a 2 year old that wasn’t good enough or maybe wasn’t ready for the BC Juvenile, this is the spot. A win here is the best way to secure a spot in next year’s Derby. The earnings will assure it. A field of 10 will go postward, and I believe it is the first time that the race has been held during the day, and not under lights. I could be wrong about that, but at least there's no snow, like last year.

I like the fact that Kelly Breen has had Sweet Ducky there getting accustomed to the surface, and has a nice bullet move over the track. He is also a horse that has won going two turns . He seems to have had issues at the start, perhaps being mostly down inside so I think he make appreciate breaking from the outside.

Blue Laser will probably be favored in here, as he has just come off a win in a Grade III at Woodbine. He is untested on dirt though, but looks to be the class of the field. Interestingly, Rockin Heat, second to Blue Laser in both of his last starts, is running today at Woodbine in a MSW ( dropping from Stakes Company) He is 9/5 in the 5th race. Not sure why he has not broken through yet. But he has been on my watch list, and I think today will be his day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Schooling Travis Stone

I almost signed up on Facebook today, just to comment on Travis Stone’s blog. I said ”almost”. I don’t really have a need for Facebook, so my comments will appear in this format.

Mr. Stone,
It is astounding to me that you describe Zenyatta’s finish in the Classic, as “she ran her race, but she came up short." Yes, in one sense, saying she came up short is a nice way to say that she lost the race. And maybe that's what you meant.
However, it’s interesting , that as a race-caller, you think this. Because in true racing terms, coming up short has always meant that a horse did not have the fitness, the conditioning, the “bottom, or the “air” to persevere to the finish line.
Zenyatta most definitely finished up strong, with her sustained and powerful long strides - one long stride to Blame’s two; she was getting to Blame - she just ran out of racetrack.
Blame was courageous to hang on, but Mr. Stone, I know as a racecaller you have watched a lot of races, but you need to go back and take another look. Zenyatta was NOT a short horse.

Ok, so in a fantasy world, let’s pretend both horses were running back in a few weeks, under the same conditions and you were handicapping the race. Who actually finished up stronger ? From watching the Classic, who do you think would have "more in the tank"? I know who my money would be on.

Blame prevailed by inches; Zenyatta needed  those few inches to grasp victory.  The race is over. Blame got there first. It's one race .It's inches.
And because everyone's perception of reality differs, the debate will rage on.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Miss Bobby Frankel

Almost a year has gone by since the passing of Bobby Frankel. I never met Bobby, but I knew several people who knew him from his days in New York. I think I would have liked him though, a consummate horseman with an edge. From what I’ve always heard, not an easy guy to get to know, but all I know is he appeared to love his animals. Who can forget the year he missed the Breeder’s Cup to stay home with his beloved dog, “Happy ?”

I miss reading about Bobby and his Juddmont stars, I miss that his horses always seemed to be live, I miss that he’s no longer part of the racing scene, because he left it way too soon.

This summer while at Saratoga, I made a visit to Cabin Creek Farm, the Bobby Frankel Division of Old Friends. And the spirit of Bobby Frankel is very evident there.

From what I’ve been told, Bobby was very concerned with the plight of the retired race horse and he was very generous with Old Friends.

The sign you see here was made by Bobby because he grew tired of people parking in his spot at his barn at Saratoga. He “borrowed” a NYRA sign and customized it with red tape letters. My guess is he got his point across. At Cabin Creek you will also find his original Eclipse Award. As the story goes, this was the one handed to him on stage that night. But he had them make another one that read “Robert” instead of “Bobby.”

Cabin Creek is a 40 acre facility, located in Greenfield Center, NY a 20 minute ride from the center of Saratoga Springs. It is run by Jo Ann and Mark Pepper, who are dedicated to the health and welfare of retired Thoroughbreds either off the track, or retired from the breeding shed. Travers winners Thunder Rumble and Will’s Way reside there, as well as the infamous maiden Zippy Chippy.

We can’t forget the many horses and places like this that could use our help. It’s tough times for everyone, but even a little bit helps. As a horse owner I have always believed it is imperative to be responsible for what happens to horses we have owned and raced and trust me, it’s not always easy. As a racing fan, I think it’s important to remember how much pleasure we get out of this game because of the horses. It is always about the horses

If you get the chance to visit Old Friends either in Kentucky or New York, take the time to go. You won’t be sorry .Take a look at that homemade sign of Bobby’s. He left his mark on racing, and he won’t let us forget that if we are a part of the racing game in any way, retired horses need our help.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kentucky Weekend Reflections - Part Two

 Pictures from Louisville and Lexington last weekend.

                                                              Zenyatta Saturday morning

                                                              Zenyatta before the Classic

Winter Memories in the Paddock


Goldikova Sunday Morning

Tiznow at WinStar

Rock Hard Ten at Lane's End

A.P.Indy at Lane's End

Rockport Harbor's Dapples at Darley

Old Friends

Lane's End

Derby Winner Super Saver

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Horse of the Year Should Be a Super Star

As much as I like Blame, and I have followed, bet and won on Blame, I honestly don’t think he comes close to Zenyatta for Horse of the Year consideration. And it really surprises me that so many people think otherwise.

Blame is a very talented horse. He got good this year, especially on his home track. In his first race of the year, in mid May, he won the Gr.III Schaeffer at Pimlico, beating No Advantage and Timber Reserve (huh?). Bullsbay was also in the field of 7. He then beat Battle Plan (who unfortunately came out of the race with an injury) and General Quarters (gotta love the old guy) in the Gr.I Steven Foster. The Whitney was another 6 horse field and he JUST GOT UP to beat the brilliant miler Quality Road ( I said “miler”), while giving weight, and Musket Man. Mine That Bird and Haynesfield were “also rans” Believe me, I would love to own ANY one of the above mentioned horses, but are any of them great? Are any of them mile-and- a-quarter- Breeder’s Cup Classic horses???

What does it say about a horse that could not close any ground to a loose-on-the-lead Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup? Sure, we see it happen a lot. But we are talking about a horse that some people think should be a Horse of the Year. You’re kidding me, right? Haynesfield “crushed” his short field of opponents; Ramon was “like a statue”, never moving in an absolute romp. Just where were the challengers? Blame was hard ridden from the ½ mile pole to the wire and never made up any ground. Did he have a bad day? Did he not like the track? Did the speed get away? Did his jock misjudge the pace? Was that a race we expected from a Horse of the Year candidate?

Now people spot their horses where they think they can win. Not all graded stakes are created equal but you run against who shows up. I just look at the races that Blame has run, and honestly, they weren’t that tough. I’m not really seeing any “super star” quality here. Yes, he was first at the wire in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. But he had the perfect trip. There was not a straw in his path. He was life and death to hold off Zenyatta. For Blame, the wire came up just in time. And for Zenyatta, she needed one more stride to get there.

You could make part of the same argument for Zenyatta’s campaign this year. She raced in short fields, with opponents of questionable class. But for a different reason. Several owners and trainers were on record as saying they wanted no part of facing Zenyatta. I don’t recall anyone saying they didn’t want to run against Blame. His opponents were just the best of a very average group of males.

Let’s get back to the Classic. Coming from a long way back, struggling with the track, having a horse back up into you… any one of those excuses could prevent a good horse from getting to the wire first. And though she fell short by mere inches, what Zenyatta did in defeat, only cemented her greatness in my mind. Zenyatta has never failed to fire in 20 starts in 3 years. Biases, loose-on-the-lead speed, traffic trouble, different surfaces ( yes, Oaklawn dirt, Churchill dirt and several synthetic surfaces) pilot error, you name it… Zenyatta runs her race. A few inches short of perfection, and while it may have tarnished her perfect record, her star shines even more brightly on what she has accomplished. No matter what, she has been brilliant every time. Her consistant, explosive rallies show a tenacity, an intensity, and her resolute will to win. This is the hallmark of greatness. This is what makes her a Super Star.

The Horse of the Year should be all about the BEST HORSE of the Year. It’s not really that complicated. The Horse of the Year should be a Super Star. And there should be no question, that Super Star is Zenyatta.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kentucky Weekend Reflections - Part One

My 5 days in Kentucky is in the books.With exciting Breeder’s Cup racing on Friday and Saturday, I made some new friends at the paddock fence, but can’t really say I made any money with my handicapping choices. In addition to Apart, I had the Distaff exacta with  Unbridled Belle and Blind Luck…and I got some show dough with Wilcox Inn and Rogue Romance across the board in their respective races on Saturday. Should have had Chamberlain Bridge (!) and skipping a few races here and there turned out to be a good thing. As for the jockey drama, I am still wishing that Calvin had waited ‘til he got to the Jock’s Room and maybe he could have cooled down a little, and I guess maybe he’s wishing he had waited, too.

Probably my luckiest moment of the entire weekend, though, was on Saturday morning when I saw the Big Mare outside her Barn, happily grazing in all her splendid glory. And on Sunday morning I was able to see and photograph the amazing Goldikova, also outside in the morning sun.
I was back in Lexington on Sunday and Monday, where I attended the BBQ Fundraiser at Old Friends. Michael Blowen and his gracious volunteers put on a nice event with music, good Southern food and lots of auction items. All the horses looked happy and healthy and enjoyed an afternoon of treats and lavish attention. The weather couldn’t have been better.
Many of the farms have Open Houses this time of year, either to promote new stallions or to just promote, in general. Of the 3 that I attended, the best one by far was Lane’s End. This was a lovely catered event, with a very friendly tone towards fans and owner/breeders. Stallions were brought in and out numerous times; questions, comments and photo opportunities were encouraged.
Darley’s Open House was a bit more business orientated, and many of the Farm’s stallions have shuttled and were not there.
It is always a treat to visit WinStar. Though a little late for the “tour” I did get to see all of the stallions including 2010 Leading Sire, Distorted Humor; Tiznow, Colonel John, and the two newly retired colts - Derby winner Super Saver and Hold Me Back. Colonel John has grown a lot, and both Super Saver and Hold Me Back will look a lot more like stallions by next year. WinStar has finished their new training facility ( 7/8ths with a polytrack surface) and I believe the official workouts are now appearing in the Form.
It was great to hear that Well Armed is training well with sights on another Dubai World Cup at age 9! Endorsement is on his way back too!
Lunch at Wallace Station on Old Frankfort Pike is always a treat; try to catch Food Network’s Guy Fieri’s visit there last Spring, on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Took in some of the Keeneland Sales on Monday and watched Coolmore purchase the Grade I winner Society Selection, in foal to Medaglia D’Oro for 1.85 million. Money is still flowing at the Sales, but there are almost 5000 horses for sale there in the next few weeks.With so many horses, there will certainly be some bargains there this year.