Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kauto Star, Superstar

--Gary King

It's very difficult, and ultimately unfair to compare horses across different generations. Who really knows if a modern great such as Sea The Stars would have beaten a past legend like Nijinsky II. At the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to remain objective and very often the heart rules the head--for me more than most. However, this is often where the beauty lies.

In my opinion, Kauto Star is the finest National Hunt racehorse of my generation. For those of you who don’t know, Kauto Star won his fifth G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton in Britain, Dec. 26.

Kauto Star is what jump racing is all about. The sport remains extremely popular in Britain and Ireland, and has the ability to make the front pages--highlighted in Friday's TDN. It appears to be part of the social fabric, with the perception being that the smaller owner/breeder has a greater chance of competing against the game’s biggest players. Eight out of ten people on the street in Britain and Ireland would be able to name a jumper, with Kauto Star being the public’s favorite.

He is a unique animal, and his talent shows no signs of abating as he nears the ripe old age of 12. His record breaking achievement at Kempton tops an illustrious career, which also includes two G1 Cheltenham Gold Cups, two G1 Tingle Creeks and four G1 Betfair Chases. I can’t even begin to fathom what this would translate to on the flat. Let’s just say it’s unprecedented.

It has been a privilege to witness Kauto’s remarkable exploits since his unveiling in 2003. His lifetime record of 40-23-7-4 is testament to his ability and remarkable consistency. Denman, Imperial Commander and Long Run have all challenged and briefly surpassed, but none of these horses have been able to match Kauto’s sustained class.

Kauto possesses an extraordinary combination of attributes, something that is rarely seen in the jumping sphere. He has all the quality of a flat horse, combined with the gritty determination and will-to-win of an old fashioned chaser. He did miss a few fences in his younger days, but his jumping has generally been top-notch over the years.

Kauto Star                   

Long Run got the upper hand in last season’s G1 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and may well get his head in front again in March. The steep climb to finish and left-handed track should play to the strengths of the young pretender. However, it would take a brave man to back against the rejuvenated Kauto Star. Many people had written him off, including myself, after he failed to sparkle in a disappointing campaign last season. However, like all great champions Kauto showed that he had a couple of big fights left in him. Could he possibly have a few more up his sleeve?

Time nor tide waits for no man/horse, and the day will come when Kauto Star no longer reigns supreme. He will be replaced and other great horses will go on to challenge his records, and maybe even eclipse them. However, it's extremely unlikely that I will ever see the likes of him again.

Thanks for the memories, Kauto. It has been a privilege.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It Takes a Village: One Mare's Journey Back to the Bluegrass

-Sarah Andrew

Since January 2010, I've photographed well over 2,500 horses in need. I volunteer my time, skill, and camera equipment, and I try to put a face to the "unwanted" horse population. In addition to local rescues and farms, I visit Camelot Auction in Cranbury, NJ every Thursday and photograph the horses who were sold to the feedlot the night before. A group of dedicated horse lovers networks these horses every week, sharing the horses' photos and descriptions everywhere from feed stores to Facebook. The grassroots volunteer effort has made an impact; since November 2009, no horses have shipped to slaughter from this auction. Over 2,800 horses sold privately and have been given one more chance to get out of the slaughter pipeline.

Although there is no way to track every horse and it is unrealistic to believe that they all found their perfect owners, there are countless success stories of horses who found appropriate homes. This is the story of one of those horses.
In mid-April 2011, when Derby Fever was in full swing, I photographed Hip #241, a bay Thoroughbred mare with a big left knee. She was a big-bodied girl with an elegant head adorned by a crooked heart-shaped star. She wore a hand-me-down halter that belonged to another broodmare. Being a sucker for a bay with a pretty face, I spent a little time with her after I did my photos. She was gentle and her doe eyes gave her a look of polite bewilderment.

Each week, the feedlot horses are usually available until the Saturday after the auction. As of Thursday morning, nobody had bought the bay mare. This was her auction description: "#241 15.3 hds 6 yr old mare led thru sweet in the pen no other info given $375.00 (note: this mare has a big left knee)"

Tattoo research revealed that her name was Indian Delight, and she earned $134,560 on the track, running against the likes of Life At Ten, Sugar Swirl, Indyanne, Secret Gypsy, and Persistently. Her last race was in May 2010.

Thursday night, she was still available. Nervous about the mare's welfare, I called TDN Vice President Sue Finley, who assured me that together, we would find her a home. Friday morning rolled around, and the mare was still available. The TDN staff pooled their funds and together, we paid the purchase price for Indian Delight.

Many phone calls were made that week. Through the network of wonderful TDN readers, a few farms offered a home for Indian Delight. With the help of many horse advocate friends, the mare's transportation and a month of quarantine were scheduled. Horses who have entered the auction circuit are recommended to be placed in temporary isolation care to make sure they have not caught any diseases in their travels.

On Kentucky Derby Day, I visited Indian Delight in Pennsylvania at the isolation care facility. She had already picked up a little weight, and her shaggy winter coat was almost gone. The bay mare still had her doe-eyed expression, but this time she looked a little less bewildered by her surroundings.
At the end of her stay at the farm, transportation was again arranged and "our" mare headed to Kentucky to live at Fallbrook Farm. Although they were not the owners or breeders of Indian Delight, Mr. and Mrs. Randal generously offered to take her into their care.

The week before the 2011 Saratoga meet opened, I drove out to Kentucky to visit Indian Delight at Fallbrook. As I headed down up driveway, I could not help but smile at Fallbrook's gently rolling hills of bluegrass and beautiful barns. My smile turned into an ear-to-ear grin when I saw my friend Indian Delight peek her head out of her stall. Gone was her winter fuzz, and it was replaced by her gleaming summer coat, resplendent with dapples. She was the picture of health, a wonderful model for my photos.
Summer turned to fall and the air got cold. In December, I made my way back out to Kentucky to visit Indian Delight, who was sporting a healthy, shiny winter coat and a custom nameplate on her halter. She is still comfortable on her knee. I was delighted to see her in her large paddock, happily rolling, grazing, and playing with her equine friends. Her look of bewilderment from the auction barn is gone, and it has been replaced by a look of contentedness.

This is a story of a lucky mare, but it's also a story of the generosity of the horse community. So many people reached out and played a part, big or small, in finding the best home possible for this mare. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped in the true spirit of horsemanship, and got Indian Delight to Fallbrook, where she is the queen of the farm. It took a village to help one mare get back to the Bluegrass.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's All About Confidence

--Gary King

The power of confidence in determining market conditions cannot be underestimated. Confidence, or the lack thereof, often encourages irrational behavior and unpredictable decision making. The Thoroughbred industry is no exception. The industry is based on many tangible factors and sound fundamentals, but confidence and opinion appear to dictate.

The results achieved at auctions over recent months highlight this point. Gross, average and median figures soared to record levels in many instances, which was a welcome relief, but somewhat unexpected. Of course, there were several unique factors at play, including quality dispersals at Keeneland November, but much of it was simply down to market confidence. The ball got rolling at Fasig-Tipton in August and just kept on rolling.

What has changed so much in the past 12 months? The short answer is not a whole lot. The industry is still plagued by a number of inherent weaknesses, and the wider macroeconomic environment remains unstable. People just wanted to invest in horseflesh in the latter part of 2011, whether that be weanlings, yearlings or breeding stock. The majority of this was fueled by domestic demand, aided by the usual strong international presence.

Despite the recent upturn, it’s important to prevent complacency setting in. Industry participants have had a tendency to bury their heads in the sand, although this mentality has changed slightly in recent times. Several critical issues need to be addressed, sooner rather than later. Personally, I find the growing reliance on slot money a most worrying development. Gaming companies, that supplement purses in the first few years to gain acceptance will not continue to prop up racing--and why should they? This whole dependency reminds me of the Irish racing industry’s reliance on government funding a few years back. It’s an unsustainable model, and the industry would be better served using it as a crutch while searching for self-financing solutions.

Without question, the recent sales have been a tremendous boost after a few tough years. Breeders, owners, et al. are looking to 2012 with renewed optimism. However, market confidence is very fickle and tends to ebb and flow. The industry has and always will be sensitive to fluctuations due to its very nature. Saying that, a largely self-financed model that promotes quality over quantity would reduce the negative ramifications associated with these swings.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On 'Redux' and 'Records'

--Brian DiDonato

Media coverage of Rapid Redux’s win streak highlights a widespread manipulation of fact for the sake of a “good” story, and also demonstrates the necessity for the sport to better define historical periods and class levels and keep better records.

In the week or so leading up to Rapid Redux’s quest for 19 wins in a calendar year at Laurel Tuesday, it was generally accepted by the media that a victory by the 5-year-old would tie him for some sort of record with Hall of Famers Roseben and Citation. That “record” required one to ignore any horse who competed before 1900, and to rule out Camarero’s incredible feats in Puerto Rico in the 1950s because they did not occur in continental North America.

A further wrinkle was added when Doug Salvatore, a sharp horseplayer and contributor to the Erie Times-News, discovered Donald Macdonald, who won 22 races at American tracks in 1913.

We confirmed Donald Macdonald’s record with The Jockey Club, and ran a story in last Saturday’s TDN, but other media outlets ignored this new find--even after Rapid Redux won on Tuesday. A vocal minority continued to point out Donald Macdonald’s exploits, however, and eventually most stories covering Rapid Redux’s record were changed to credit him with tying a “modern era” record held by Citation alone.

From May 5, 1921 edition of Daily Racing Form - "Veteran Stars of the Turf: Groups of the 5-year-old and Over Leaders for the Last 16 Years of American Racing"
Of course, this distinction brings up an obvious question--what do we define as the "modern era" in North American horse racing?

The general definition of the term “modern era” is too vague to bring clarity to this situation, and racing itself does not have any set cut-off for what should be considered modern. There have been many benchmarks in the history of American racing--some which occurred before Donald Macdonald (i.e. the introduction of pari-mutuel wagering in 1908) and some that occurred after (i.e. the common use of starting gates around 1940)--but there is no obvious reason to choose one or another... unless you’re looking to make a story seem more interesting or important than it actually is.

It seems that if one wishes to separate Rapid Redux from Donald Macdonald, he must also separate Rapid Redux from Citation. Racing has changed drastically from 1948 to now--to lump Rapid Redux and Citation into the same era would be inaccurate or arbitrary, especially if we are unwilling to also include “The Donald.”

I’d go as far as to say that Rapid Redux holds the “modern era” record--which would probably best be marked by the introduction of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984--(for non-stakes horses) all on his own.

Horse racing is different from other sports because, despite holding races at varying class levels and implementing a grading system, we do not have a designated “major league”--at least not explicitly.

In the eyes of many racing fans and members of the media, when it comes to records involving totals or streaks, a win is a win. But to say that Rapid Redux’s victories, which came against small fields of horses who at one point were dangled by their connections for bargain basement prices, are equal to those of Citation, Cigar, Zenyatta or even Awesome Feather is absurd.

What makes a seasonal or career sports record worthy of celebration is that it is the product of extreme talent or success at the highest level over a significant period of time.

Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships was achieved by defeating the best golfers of his generation at some of the most challenging venues; Barry Bonds’s home run records (controversies surrounding them not withstanding) came against the best pitchers in the world; and, perhaps most relevant, Cal Ripken, Jr.’s record for consecutive games played was only noteworthy because of the level at which he competed 2,632 times in a row.

Someone who has played in 2,633 men’s league softball games cannot stake claim to Ripken’s record, and nobody mentions Crash Davis in the same breath as Babe Ruth when he breaks the minor league record for career home runs in the 1988 film “Bull Durham.”

Truly important records are only approachable by the absolute best competitors of a given sport. How many thousands of horses over the course of history could win each race that Rapid Redux did if given the same opportunity?

All this isn’t to say that Rapid Redux isn’t a nice enough horse or that what he has accomplished should be completely ignored. He won more times in 2011 than Tizway, Havre de Grace and Drosselmeyer started combined, and he has shipped far more than most stakes horses. Plus, the mainstream publicity he has garnered can’t be bad for racing (nor will it prove to be particularly positive--we have seen that stories of this type have no meaningful impact on the racing economy. The 2011 Breeders’ Cup, the first post-Zenyatta, showed declines in handle despite an additional race.).

But seemingly serious calls for Rapid Redux to be named Horse of the Year or to receive a special Eclipse Award are extremely misguided and overzealous. He’s a gutsy horse who has managed to buck the trend of runners making fewer and fewer starts per year, but what he has done must be viewed within its context and with a healthy dose of perspective.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: HBO's Luck

--Justina Severni

The pilot episode of HBO’s new series “Luck” is exactly what you’d expect of a horse racing drama airing on HBO. The show, created by David Milch, is dramatic, mysterious and shows the seedier side of the sport as well as the people associated with it. From a purely cinematic standpoint, the show looks promising. Its dark tone is conveyed in both the gritty subject matter and the green tinted lens used throughout the pilot to create a grimy distortion of beautiful Santa Anita Park. The acting is solid, and it appears that both Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte will be able to carry the show with their talent and ability to portray powerful, tormented characters. “Luck” doesn’t come off as a television show about horse racing, rather a show that will use horse racing as a vehicle in which to tell the stories of its characters. The racetrack brings together people from diverse backgrounds, providing Milch an easy common tie between plot lines and characters.

As with most dramas, “Luck” is an extremely exaggerated picture of life. The distortion between the price of the Pick 6 ticket and the number of picks was one of the most obvious to those familiar with the sport. Some of the characters such as the wise old trainer, naive youngster and the band of degenerate gamblers, come off as stereotypical, but hopefully they will become more fully formed throughout the season. The shadiness of the characters and actions in “Luck” must be taken by any reasonable viewer with a grain of salt. Its characters and plot lines create good drama, not a realistic portrayal of reality.

Although “Luck” focuses on the uglier side of the sport, I don’t think it will necessarily negatively affect horse racing. I’m sure the cringe inducing breakdown scene won’t send viewers immediately flocking to the track, but the show overall might at least get a wider audience interested in the sport. If the positive cinematic portrayals of racing in “Seabiscuit” and “Secretariat” didn’t encourage viewers to take to the track, that demographic won’t change its opinion based on an HBO show. However, the demographic HBO is most often viewed by, males ages 18-34, might become more interested in racing, or more specifically gambling. Becoming well-versed in handicapping is not as easy as picking up casino games, but portrayals of handicapping/betting in “Luck” might make it seem less intimidating to younger generations. The pilot alone introduced the Pick 6 to many of its viewers.

At this point, with the numerous problems within the industry, simply reminding people that horse racing is still around is helpful. In the state the sport is in, any news is good news. Racing fans can only hope that the goriness of the drama stays off the track (it appears in the preview that the setting will branch out from the track with a shot of a blood drenched boat), that viewers don’t believe the show to be an accurate representation of the industry, and that it at least piques the viewer’s interest in the sport.

Justina Severni is a recent graduate of Trinity College in Hartford. Her interest in horses started when she began riding on at her family farm in Connecticut, and has continued through her years of riding and training. She first experienced the track during a vacation to Saratoga Springs, and her love of horses and the thrill of racing has kept her watching ever since.

Zodiac: The King of Maryland

-Sarah Andrew

No drive to Kentucky is complete without a visit to Zodiac, one of the gamest Thoroughbreds I've ever met.

You can read about Zodiac in my June 2011 post on the TDN blog (click here). The 8-year-old stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding was placed in the care of Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, MD after he and over 50 other horses were seized as a result of a West Virginia cruelty case.

For many months, Zodiac's condition was touch-and-go, from his severely emaciated condition, to the ulcers in his digestive system and eyes, to the fevers, to the lymphangitis. I followed the Days End Notes from the Barn blog every day, smiling with every improvement and wincing with every setback. I visited the farm twice during his most critical times; despite his weakened condition, he always turned his head to greet visitors in his stall.

In November 2010, he took his first walk without the sling (video).

In May 2011, he put on a show for me in his paddock, leaping and playing with wild abandon.
In December 2011, I planned a quick trip to Kentucky, and of course, stopped to visit my friend Zodiac on my way. Gone was the brittle coat and gaunt frame. Before me stood a handsome chestnut, full of life and basking in the attention of the volunteers at the rescue.
He no longer stood meekly for photos, but instead tossed his head impatiently if I took too long setting up my shots.
His coat glowed, eyes full of life, and he carried himself with pride. During our session, he posed this way and that; it is such a joy to photograph a horse like Zodiac.
I wasn't sure if "Zody" would appreciate wearing a wreath and Santa hat for his Christmas photo, but he handled his new attire with aplomb, carrying the pine wreath like a blanket of roses. I should have known that the "Miracle Horse" would not disappoint me.
Although his racing days are over, Zodiac continues to earn money and gain loyal fans. A recent calendar contest raised over $15,000 for the rescue, and my photo of Zodiac was selected for the cover. You can learn more about the efforts of Days End Farm Horse Rescue at this link or by visiting their page on Facebook.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Second Chances...

--Steve Sherack

TDN’s Racing Editor Steve Sherack reveals three more maidens to keep an eye on this winter in his latest installment of Second Chances. Click here to view previous entries.

James Hirschmann III and B J Wright’s BOAT TRIP (c, 2, Harlan’s Holiday--Turning Wheel {GSW-Fr, $142,092}, by Seeking The Gold), a $100,000 OBSMAR purchase, has gained valuable racing experience during his first two trips to post for conditioner Michael Pender in Southern California.

Co-owned and trained by the red-hot connections of GI Hollywood Derby and GII Oak Tree Derby upsetter Ultimate Eagle (Mizzen Mast) and the classy GII Citation H. winner Jeranimo (Congaree), the bay debuted with a close fifth at 95-1 after enduring a wide trip in a key race at Santa Anita Nov. 5 (TDN Video).

The form for that heat has held up quite well with the first three finishers already returning with big efforts, led by the top two Hodge (City Place) and Brother Francis (Lion Heart) resurfacing with placings in the GIII Hollywood Prevue S. Nov. 24; third-place finisher Bling Cha Bling (Too Much Bling) switched to grass to earn his diploma in style at Hollywood Dec. 10. 

Backed at 15-1 in his second career start in Inglewood Nov. 27 (TDN Video), Boat Trip was closer to the pace after being dealt a more favorable inside draw. Under a nice hold in third through a sharp opening quarter in :21.98, the half-brother to G3 UAE 2000 Guineas third Rallying Cry (War Chant) was guided out three wide on the turn for home, and kept on coming in the stretch to complete the trifecta, only 3/4 of a length behind $825,000 OBSAPR topper Macho Rocket (Macho Uno).

The final time for the six-furlong affair was 1:10.06. Boat Trip, bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock and Samac, received a 75 Beyer Speed Figure.

“It’s the perfect prototypical progression of a racehorse,” explained Pender, who maintains a select 20-horse string. “He seems to be taking everything in stride and he’s really starting to come around now. He’s our big horse for next year.”

Pender added that Boat Trip could re-appear in a mile dirt race at Santa Anita Dec. 29. He has returned to the worktab with a five-furlong move in 1:01.40 at Hollywood Park Dec. 7.

The well-bred SIR BOND (c, 2, Street Sense--Emmaus, by Silver Deputy), out of an unraced daughter of the bluehen mare La Affirmed (Affirmed), appears poised for bigger and better things following an encouraging debut second behind the talented Hierro (Hard Spun) (Sept. 8 Second Chances graduate) at Churchill Downs Nov. 9 (TDN Video).

Given a 9-1 chance, the Jerry Durant colorbearer was away from the stalls awkwardly and trailed the field of 10 through an opening quarter in :23.19. He began to pick up the pace with an eye-catching wide rally on the turn for home and finished with interest to report home a clear-cut second, 5 1/4 lengths behind the aforementioned “TDN Rising Star.”

The final time for seven furlongs was 1:23 3/5. Sir Bond, a $260,000 KEEAPR graduate, earned a solid 74 Beyer. The half-brother to MGSW Wiseman’s Ferry (Hennessy) was bred in Kentucky by Nursery Place and Robert T. Manfuso.

Under the watchful eye of veteran trainer Neil Howard, Sir Bond has remained busy on the worktab since his unveiling. He has posted four subsequent workouts, most recently covering four furlongs in :50 at Fair Grounds Dec. 11.

TREASURED UP (f, 2, Medaglia d’Oro--Melisma, by Well Decorated), a $450,000 FTSAUG yearling acquisition by Spendthrift Farm, rounds out the lot.

Backed at 5-2 to get it right at first asking in an 11-horse field beneath the lights at Turfway Park Dec. 3 (TDN Video), the dark bay reported home a respectable second, beaten three lengths.

Ridden along early to chase in third through an opening quarter in :22.45 over the tricky Polytrack, the half-sister to millionaire Choctaw Nation (Louis Quatorze) stayed one-paced after switching to her right lead in the stretch while chasing the wire-to-wire winner to the finish. She earned a 64 Beyer.

Trained by Al Stall Jr., a change in surface to dirt (likely to come at Fair Grounds) and some added distance should help do the trick from this pricey filly. She was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bienvenue, Peb!

   Sometimes, when the economic news in our industry is bad, and the PR is bad, and I'm having a bad day at the TDN offices, I find it helpful to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and remember what it was that I initially loved about this industry so much, anyway.
   For me, the same few things usually come to mind. The joy of going to Belmont Park as a teenager with eight hard-earned dollars, and coming home with twelve. I picture the Affirmed-Alydar Belmont. Steve Cauthen. An afternoon spent by the Saratoga paddock. And stopping on the way to high school to buy the Daily Racing Form and seeing what Peb had drawn for that day's Equine Comedy.
   When I was about 16, I took a tour of the Saratoga backstretch in one of those trams you always see trolling around at the Spa. The highlight of it, for me, was the book of Peb's sketches they gave you at the end of it. I can still see it to this day; printed in landscape, with a brown glossy cover, full of sketches that brought the horses to life.
   I've always humanized animals in my mind's eye; have always imagined what they were thinking and feeling, pictured them as ironic, funny, sarcastic. Steve Crist used to tease me, and say, `You know what they're thinking, Sue? `Da dum dum dum. Da dum dum dum.'
   But Peb? Peb got it. Peb knew what horses were secretly thinking, and it was way more clever than I had even imagined. We were kindred spirits, I felt (only he was really talented, and I was, well, not.)
   Adding to my love of Peb was the fact that I was (and am) a total Francophile. My dad was a French teacher, and I studied the language all through grammar school and high school, and, having no chance to actually be sent to France on my dad's high school teacher's salary, settled for making it my major in college.

Peb: a self-portrait.

   But two years in a row, I had an exchange student from France, Sophie, and if she had very little interest in learning English, I was more than happy to speak French with her all day long, copying her accent and learning idiomatic expressions. It was the peak of my French abilities in life, and it was good timing, too.
   She loved the racetrack, and we spent a couple of weeks at Saratoga, where one day, we happened to walk past Peb and his son, Remi, who were, naturally, speaking French with one another. Sophie turned and replied to something Remi had said, and we all struck up a conversation in French. Near the end of our chat, Peb turned to me and asked, "When are you going back home to France?" I said, "I'm not from France. I'm from Connecticut." He was somewhat confused and said, "But you live now in France?" I told him I had never even been to France, but had learned the language in school. He genuinely appeared shocked that it wasn't my native language. To this day, I think it's the nicest compliment anyone has ever paid me. (Hearing me speak now, he probably wonders how he ever made such a mistake.)
   So imagine my delight to be told by my co-publisher, Barry Weisbord, a few months ago that Peb was interested in working with the TDN, and I was to bring that to fruition. In case you missed it, his take on the Arizona symposium, his first sketch in the TDN, is on page 6 in the Wednesday, Dec. 7 edition.

Eric Beitia rode Salduci to Pierre Bellocq Jr.'s first win as a
trainer, but his real victory was being sketched by Peb.
Peb's other son, Remi, is holding the horse,
with Peb to his left.

   Talking to him and working out the details over the past few months has been nothing short of one of the greatest privileges I've ever had in racing. In one of our earliest conversations, I told him that when I was 17 or so, I had a friend, Eric Beitia, who had come from a poor childhood in Panama to try to make it in New York. He was having some success as an apprentice at Aqueduct, and one day, after he was done riding, I handed him the Daily Racing Form with a sketch that Peb had drawn of him. He sat in the stands for the longest time, staring at the picture, and he finally said that this--being sketched by Peb--much more than any individual victory, was how he knew he had finally made it.
   Peb was moved by the story; Eric was tragically killed a few years later by a hitchhiker looking to steal his car, and Peb told me that he had done the sketch when Eric had ridden Salduci for his son, Pierre, giving him his first win as a trainer. He sent me the win photo.
   Racing's troubles are well-documented. But it has its marvelous aspects, as well. And if you're making a list of things that are great about racing, in my mind, Peb sits comfortably near the top of that list. At 84 years old, he's a treasure.
   The TDN is immeasurably proud to bring our audience his work, and I am personally honored to have a small role in letting the imaginations of his horses be heard once again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Never Too Early to Have a Derby Horse

--Brian DiDonato

With the 2011 racing season mostly wrapped up, it’s time to shift focus back to the soon-to-be 3-year-olds who will find their way onto the Triple Crown trail. The Derby horse profile is pretty well-established at this point. You’re generally looking for an individual with 2-year-old foundation--but not too much--who gives the impression that he still has room to improve and mature in the coming year. A stout pedigree is a must, and the more under-the-radar at this point, the better for bragging rights and future wagers.

With all that in mind, my early, sure to change six times (it already has once) Derby horse is GII Remsen S. fourth-place finisher Done Talking (Broken Vow).

Owned by Midlantic-based Skeedattle Stable and trained by Hamilton Smith, the bay is out of the Dixieland Band mare Dixie Talking, who was a Maryland-bred stakes winner going long at two in 2004 and a winner of the seven-furlong GIII Cicada S. the following season in her final of four career starts. Dixie Talking, who also produced a 2-year-old stakes winner of last year, is out of Gin Talking (Allen’s Prospect), a four-time stakes winner at nine furlongs who annexed the 2000 GIII Anne Arundel S. by four lengths. She was also second in a 10-furlong handicap.

Done Talking’s sire, Broken Vow (Unbridled), was a MGSW at 1 1/8 miles and Grade I-placed at 1 1/4 miles. His top earner to date is Unbridled Belle, a pure router who was a GSW and MGISP at 1 1/4 miles and a GISW at 1 1/8 miles. His other top progeny include Sassy Image, a MGISW sprinter this year who proved she could handle a route of ground when taking the GIII Pocahontas S. and GII Golden Rod S. in 2009; GISW sprinter/miler Cotton Blossom; MGSW turf router Interactif, who was second in the 10-furlong GII Virginia Derby; GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. winner Private Vow; Canadian MGSW Matt’s Broken Vow, winner of the 1 3/8-mile Canadian Derby; and, most recently, this past Saturday’s winner of the nine-furlong GIII Fred W. Hooper H. at Calder, Jimanator.

Done Talking’s pedigree suggests he should have no problem with Classic distances, and his performance on the track further supports that notion.

After finishing up well to be third sprinting on debut at Delaware in August, Done Talking filled the same slot, beaten eight lengths by a runaway winner who set an average pace on a loose lead, trying an extended mile Sept. 10 (video). He traveled greenly for much of that race, found himself in tight several times, and never gave the impression that he would hit the board before figuring it all out far too late and running on for a piece.

Backed down to 4-5 when returning in a similar spot Oct. 18, Done Talking finally broke through despite another eventful trip (video). Last from the gate, he was guided to the rail by Rosie Napravnik and briefly moved up to travel in a perfect stalking position in third. He got a bit keen at that point, however, and Napravnik wrangled him back to last behind a pace that was absurdly slow--21 points below par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale. It appeared on the far turn as if Done Talking was floundering a bit, but he tipped out as they straightened and, after a brief bobble, leveled off nicely to score geared down by 1 3/4 lengths.

Done Talking overcame a similarly slow pace to take a one-mile allowance at Parx Nov. 7 by the same margin in his final prep for the Remsen (video). Odds-on choice Yourhonorandglory (Lawyer Ron), who was coming off a 7 3/4-length graduation tally, controlled the pace and opened up a three-length advantage turning for home, but he could not hold off the resolute rally of Done Talking, who came home a full second faster than the chalk. Yourhonorandglory did appear to be struggling with the trip late, but he returned to score as the 3-2 choice going slightly farther back at Parx Monday, earning a 78 Beyer.

Let go at 21-1 in the Remsen, Done Talking again found himself too far back off glacial early splits--this time 11 points below par according to Moss (video). Still in dead last at the head of the lane while full of run, he weaved his way through horses to come up just a length short. The bay covered his final furlong in :11.97--very fast for a 2-year-old going nine furlongs for the first time--and significantly quicker than winner O’Prado Again (El Prado {Ire})’s come-home time of :12.32.

Done Talking earned a 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his Remsen--certainly nothing off the charts--but he has gotten progressively faster in each of his races despite
less-than-perfect set-ups/trips. There’s no reason he can’t continue to improve and get faster, plus it’s not like this year’s 2-year-olds have been running many big figures. He’s a progressive sort that should appreciate 10 furlongs--now he just needs to earn his way into the starting gate for the first Saturday in May.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Win or Lose; it's still the Breeders' Cup

by Christina Bossinakis

   I arrived in Louisville early Thursday morning, and was promptly greeted by gloom and torrential rains that were making their way through the area. After a brief visit to the Churchill Downs press box, I headed over to check into my hotel and ready for the evenings festivities. On my dance card was a cocktail party hosted by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and TDN Publisher Barry Weisbord. Upon arrival, guests were greeted with a refreshing Vodka-based cocktail (Grey Goose, of course). Held in a local airport hangar (I know it sounds odd, but one would never know where they actually were once inside), the event featured live music in addition to an international panel of chefs (reportedly hand picked by Mr. Flay), who were offering delectable creations from 15 countries. With tremendous flags arranged in a cubic shape hanging from above, each mini stage was adorned with white lights and linens, making it resemble something right off the planet Krypton (yes, I’m referring to Superman’s birthplace). Each station presented food from a particular country on one side of the platform, while the opposing side offered a corresponding cocktail meant to compliment the fare. I must admit, I’ve been to quite a few pre-race press parties along the way, but this definitely was the most novel and inspired. Many industry notables were on the scene and Bobby, who was in fine form, was as good a host as one could ask for.

   After a couple of cocktails, a group of us headed over to the renowned Louisville-area French restaurant, Le Relais. Among those in the party were CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool, Coolmore’s inimitable Richard Henry, Bo Derek (looking great, but minus the braids--sorry guys), Bloodstock agent Patrick Lawley-Waklin, who has been associated with such powerhouses as Sam-Son Farms and the Evans family, and the connections of Miss Match, who was slated to run in Friday’s GI Ladies' Classic. The mare, who won last March’s GI Santa Margarita S., was represented by trainer Neil Drysdale, his wife Shawn Dugan (who gets a special shout out as an entertainment director extraordinaire), in addition to the Australian contingent--the mare’s owner Matthew Cloros and Arrowfield’s Jon Freyer, who secured the filly for Cloros before her Grade I score (insert applause here). An amusing side note: Having called North America my home since birth, and having visited Australia only once, I had never laid eyes upon the Sydney-based owner of the mare, so I had always imagined somebody born in the era of the second World War. In fact, Matt is a young entrepreneur (he is the master behind the ultra- successful Australian company Redback Boots), and who, I’m told, is quite attractive (that’s an affirmative ladies). But back to the restaurant. Although a little tricky to find--as Mr. Henry might attest--the venue’s food and wine definitely lived up to all the hype. But in my mind, my dinner company was, without a doubt, the best feature of the evening. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by an amazingly accomplished group of people that are not only razor sharp and seriously passionate about our sport, but who are also as down to earth and fun as anybody you’re ever going to meet. Good times.

   With Thursday’s rains having passed through, Friday dawned dry, albeit cloudy. It was just a typical fall day in Kentucky, cool but not frigid. By the time the first Breeders’ Cup race of the afternoon went off, however, the sun had broken through and warmed things up considerably. Stationed in the Turf Club with many of the principals from the night before, we were greeted by a good day of racing, punctuated by a seriously impressive performance by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s My Miss Aurelia. It represented a bit of a full-circle moment for me since I was actually at Keeneland and covered the story for the TDN when she sold as a yearling for $550,000 in 2010. Even though I don’t have a vested interest in these horses, I always find myself so appreciative of watching them grow and develop into top shelf performers, and even more so, when they become champions. My Miss Aurelia’s performance definitely made it difficult to vote for anybody else at the end of the year, that’s for sure.

Left to right: Reiley McDonald, Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, Shawn Dugan, Jon Freyer,
Matt Cloros & Christina Bossinakis

   While everybody in the Miss Match camp was having a good old time early in the card, it became increasingly evident as the anticipation and nervousness began to mount as the final Breeders’ Cup race of the day approached. Even with the sun’s appearance earlier, the track still retained a lot of moisture in it by the time the Ladies’ Classic went off. In the moments leading up to the race, the excitement among the Argentine-bred’s connections was palpable. While horses had shown they could come from off the pace during the day, Miss Match--a well-reputed closer--seemed like she might belie her 8-1 odds. As it turned out, she didn’t have the cleanest of trips and took more than her fair share of mud in her face, prompting a mud-caked Garrett Gomez to conclude that she had no way of seeing through the all the muck and mire. It is my understanding that the mare will head to the breeding shed next season, and she has certainly done enough to warrant it. One side note: you can often gage the merits of a person by the way they handle victory as well as defeat, and the 6-year-old’s connections, above all her owner, showed exemplary class after a pretty tough result. While things might not have gone quite as planned for some of the other participants in the race as well, the connections of Royal Delta were certainly rewarded generously, which continued into this week when she brought $8.5 million at the Keeneland November sale. It reminds me of earlier telecasts of Wide World of Sports that kicked off with the phrase ‘The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.’ I guess if you’ve been in this game long enough, you have experienced both in good measure.

   Following the race, the Miss Match team lingered for another drink (or maybe it was two?) before adjourning to a very enjoyable dinner. I must admit, the whole experience underscored something that I’ve known for some time but sometimes forget. There is so much time, not to mention a boatload of preparation, put in to get a horse to a Breeders’ Cup race, so it goes without saying that losing is a real drag (I actually had another word in mind here). But for so many that devote heaps of energy and resources to the game, it is obvious that people’s love of the sport and, simply being part of a great day of racing like the Breeders’ Cup, makes it all worth it, win or lose.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BC Analysis: Saturday

--Brian DiDonato

CLASSIC - While Uncle Mo is the most talented horse in this race, he's a terrible bet here. He's simply had too much go wrong in 2011, and now must stretch out two furlongs to a distance he's never gone before. Havre de Grace is also a guaranteed underlay, in part because she's the type of horse who the public latches on to, and also because she's probably best at nine furlongs. Add to the mix a likely over-the-top, unproven on dirt So You Think, who in my estimation will be about a third the price he should be, and the value on a major contender continues to balloon. Flat Out is by far the most reliable runner in this race, and he's an absolute must-bet. While Havre de Grace beat him in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward, she got the jump on him after being closer to a below average pace. Flat Out was gaining on her late (his final eighth came in :12.75 to her :12.87), and also passed her during the gallop out. He had no trouble getting this distance last out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and figures to get plenty of pace to run at. Game On Dude will be gunned to the lead because his connections have decided that he has to be ridden that way, and To Honor and Serve and the Repole pair shouldn't be far behind. Flat Out doesn't capture the public's imagination the way others in this field do, but he's undoubtedly the most likely winner of the Classic and sure to be a huge overlay.

MILE - This is an easy race to get excited about as a fan, but perhaps not quite as much as a bettor. The problem is that while the argument can be made that Goldikova has lost a step now at the age of six, she's still very much the horse to beat at a short price. To complicate things further, if you don't concede the race to her, you have to go very deep. I'll spread with a number of contenders to various degrees, and will also take a small shot with Byword to win. The Juddmonte homebred was just a half-length back of Goldikova in the G1 Prix d'Ispahan last May, and has had an abbreviated campaign in 2011, but may to be back in top form. He took the G2 Prix Dollar last time at Longchamp Oct. 1 despite traffic trouble, and runner-up Cirrus des Aigles flattered that effort big time by returning to annex the G1 Champion S. at Ascot over So You Think. Note that while most of Byword's major successes have come at longer distances, he does sport a 4-3-1-0 record at a mile.

JUVENILE - The notion that Union Rags overcame a bad trip in the Champagne couldn't be more misguided--he sat in the perfect spot behind a hot pace and had to wait only briefly for running room. The fact that he ran slower than filly My Miss Aurelia did in the Frizette one race earlier further tempers my enthusiasm. He can win and he has to be included protectively in pick 3s/4s, but he's going to be overbet. I think very highly of Dullahan, but if this race were on Polytrack or if he was in the turf race, I'd be much more confident in him. He's always been very green, but has shown flashes of serious ability, and he overcame an absurdly wide trip to finally break through in the GI Breeders' Futurity last time (his Trakus chart is amazing--he traveled 51 feet more than the runner-up, which equates to about six lengths). He's obviously got the pedigree to handle dirt, as he's a half-brother to Mine That Bird by a sire (Even The Score) who was versatile as a racehorse and has been versatile as a producer. It's hard to tell much from his early races on this track as they were sprints and he was extremely green, and his workout Saturday was uninspiring, but he doesn't strike me as a horse that would turn heads in the morning. There are plenty of reasons to believe he'll be fine on the main track, but he could also very easily be a trap horse, so I'll use him and make him my tentative top pick, but won't lean too heavily on him. The others I'll try to beat Union Rags with are Take Charge Indy, who feels like the type who could wake up in a big way on dirt and might get my win money depending on his price; visually impressive (albeit with an easy trip) G2 Royal Lodge winner Daddy Long Legs, who tries dirt for the first time and has an American pedigree; and untested speedster Hansen.

TURF - He's not exactly a secret, but I had a hard time getting past Sea Moon here. The Europeans clearly have this race locked up, and Sea Moon offers by far the most upside with just five starts under his belt. His eight-length romp in the G2 Great Voltigeur S. at York in August over a weak field earned a field's best 126 Racing Post rating, and came at this distance. He was clearly best in the G1 St. Leger last time, as he was trapped down inside of horses for almost the entire stretch run. That he finished third with the trip he had was a testament to his very serious ability, and note that Sir Michael Stoute used the St. Leger as a springboard to Conduit's first of two BC Turf wins. St Nicholas Abbey is the under-the-radar Euro, and is probably the race's second most likely winner.

DIRT MILE - The obvious players in here (The Factor, Wilburn, Caleb's Posse and Trappe Shot--think Shackleford's over the top) are no secret and will all be on my tickets somewhere, but how about Tres Borrachos to spice things up a bit? In a race where two of the favorites are stretch-outs, the 6-year-old veteran turns back off a fifth-place finish in the GI Goodwood in which battled through an opening half that was 13 points above par on the Moss Pace Figure scale. He was third in June going seven panels with a 98 Beyer, and took a weak renewal of the 1 1/16-mile GII San Diego H. with a 97--those figures probably aren't quite good enough to win this, but he did run consecutive 106s in 2009. His dam was a sprinter/miler, and he has always given the impression that he too would be best at 7-8 furlongs, but shockingly, he's only gone a flat mile once in his career. Tres Borrachos probably isn't as talented as some of these at their respective bests, but he could show up with something close to a career top, which would put him in the mix.

TURF SPRINT - Havelock is the most reliable runner in this race--he's won the last four turf sprints he's contested, and has the versatility to travel in mid-pack or towards the back. It seemed like he was left with way too much to do last time in the GIII Woodford, but he flew home late to get up and clear (the early pace was hot, however). He should get just enough pace to set up his late rally again, and even though his style isn't optimal for five furlongs, he sports a 6-4-0-1 record at the distance. A crazy longshot to include might be Grand Adventure, who has run races in the past that would win this for fun. He's been a disappointment in 2011, but he's had just enough of an excuse in most of his races this year that perhaps he can turn it around--especially on firm turf and at a shorter distance--at astronomical odds.

SPRINT - I'd love to lock this morning line in place, as Big Drama is a very significant underlay at 5-2, while Jackson Bend is a huge overlay at 7-2. The former has simply had too much go wrong this year to back with any confidence, and he's very unlikely to be at his best, which is something he'll have to be to hold off this group and defend his title. Jackson Bend has enjoyed a sharp form reversal since cutting back to one-turn races, and while trainer Nick Zito seemed a bit apprehensive to shorten his charge up to six furlongs rather than keep him at a mile, the chestnut is two-for-two at the trip. The 112 Beyer he earned in the GII Kelso H. when second to Uncle Mo came when dead last early behind a very slow pace, and he probably made his visually impressive bid to challenge last year's 2-year-old champ a bit prematurely. Force Freeze might be the longshot play. I made a case for him in an earlier post before the Vosburgh, and he almost ran down Giant Ryan to get it done in the mud. He appeared to slow down when tipped out into the center of the track, and may have been traveling in a deeper part of the lane than the winner. His stalking style could allow him to work out a nice trip.

JUVENILE TURF - Like the filly version of this event, this is clearly a spread race. With so many places to go, it seems like a good idea to start with the Euros. I want no part of exposed sprinter Caspar Netscher and, while he's got a shot and is certainly one to use, Farraaj seems to be a wise guy horse from what I've read and heard. Wrote is very interesting--or at least as interesting as a horse can be in an inscrutable race that anyone can win. I loved his performance to be third last time in the G2 Royal Lodge over Newmarket's Rowley Mile behind stablemate and Juvenile contender Daddy Long Legs. He was last early behind what seemed to be a slow pace set by his Ballydoyle buddy and, when producing his run, was inexplicably guided towards a blocked rail before being taken back outside by Jamie Spencer. He loomed ominously before tailing off a bit late, but the final furlong of that course is uphill (granted, the previous furlong is downhill), so going from a mile there to a mile at Churchill Downs could almost be considered a turn back. He gives the impression of a horse that will love a firm American turf course, and trainer Aidan O'Brien is having a huge year Stateside after suffering from an extended rough patch previously. I'm expecting a breakout performance from Wrote, and doubt any American horse can hang with him if he runs that sort of race.

MARATHON - I find it hard to get excited about this race, but Cease would pique my interest if he stayed at his 6-1 morning line price or somehow drifted up. The lightly raced 4-year-old from the connections that campaigned Blame turned in two serious efforts in the slop at Saratoga going nine furlongs, but showed he could handle a dry track and more distance when a close-up third in the GIII Hawthorne Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. It's possible that the outside was the place to be in Chicago that day, and Cease got a poor ride, hung out wide in no-man's land around the first turn and striking the front a bit too soon while switching inside to the dead rail. To be beaten only a half-length with a 98 Beyer was an accomplishment considering his trip, and he still has plenty of upside--the only question that remains is how much he'll be bet. . . he's sort of obvious.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BC Analysis: Friday

--Brian DiDonato

LADIES' CLASSIC - This race lost a lot of its intrigue with the defections of Blind Luck, Havre de Grace and, to a lesser extent, Aruna, but should serve as a definitive showdown between the top of this year's crop of sophomore fillies. While Plum Pretty is proven over the strip and It's Tricky has been very good at times, Royal Delta is the best of this bunch and will leave little doubt of that on Friday. The argument can certainly be made that Royal Delta's romp over the aforementioned pair in the Alabama was due mostly to the added eighth and that the CCA Oaks in which Royal Delta was a distant third behind It's Tricky and Plum Pretty at this distance was a better indicator of their relative abilities. But Royal Delta clearly needed the CCA Oaks off the bench after missing some training time, and it's hard to imagine that an extra furlong made that much of a difference for three fillies extremely well-bred to handle any distance of ground. And while Royal Delta regressed from a 97 Beyer to 91 when finishing second to Havre de Grace in the Beldame, she was forced to lay much closer than optimal because of the strange go-stop-go ride Life At Ten received and the ominous presence of the heavy favorite. She figures to have the pace in front of her to allow her to relax and has been working very well for this, so look for Royal Delta to sweep by in the lane and earn champion 3-year-old filly honors.

F/M TURF - This feels like a race you just want to survive in the pick 3s/4s. There are a number of logical contenders, but no huge secrets. I'd probably go with Nahrain on top, as she overcame some trouble to beat Announce in the G1 Prix de L'Opera last time. Announce's running lines (which include Cirrus des Aigles, Sarafina and Stacelita) make her a contender as well, while also flattering the lightly raced Nahrain.

JUVENILE FILLIES - My Miss Aurelia has displayed by far the most ability of this group so far, but she's no lock to get this two-turn route--especially with what looks like a ton of company up front. Her dam My Miss Storm Cat (Sea of Secrets) was a super speedy sprinter. Of the logical closers, Northern Passion should be the best price. The only question is whether she can handle the dirt, as her impressive and subsequently validated GIII Natalma win came on the Woodbine sod and her two previous good efforts were on the Polytrack. Northern Passion's first dam was all turf, but she's a full-sister to Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Ginger Gold (Golden Gear), a MSW on dirt and second in the GI Selene S. at this distance. Trainer Mark Casse has been dominant with his 2-year-olds up at Woodbine this season, and he upset the GI Stephen Foster H. in June here with turf-to-dirter Pool Play.

F/M SPRINT - I just don't buy the Turbulent Descent hype. Only her win in the GI Test last time against 3-year-olds broke the 100 Beyer mark, and now she's been off since early August. I understand that they decided early to keep her sprinting, but the way she has been managed screams vulnerability. There's no way she should be a shorter price than Switch, and there are quite a few longshots worth taking a look at. Tanda is the most intriguing of those longshots, as she has very serious back form that makes her plenty competitive here. The bay enjoyed a nice streak last year at three with a trio of wins, capped of by a defeat of Switch in the GIII Railbird at this distance at Hollywood with a 98 Beyer. She then shipped east for the GI Acorn at Belmont, and overcame a tardy start to be third behind Champagne d'Oro after making a crazy sweeping six-wide move turning for home. Tanda has been somewhat oddly handled since then, trying some turf and longer distances with mild success. She was switched from Dan Hendricks to Mike Mitchell two back, and has since annexed a weak renewal of the GIII Rancho Bernando H. on Del Mar's main track and finished third in the GIII Senator Ken Maddy down the hill at Santa Anita with a wide journey. She might find her old form for a conditioner who is 1-for-4 with 100% ITM going turf to dirt in stakes over the past five years, according to DRF Formulator.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF - This event is as inscrutable as you'll find all weekend, and has the look of a chaos race written all over it. I'm very much against the two favorites. Somali Lemonade's 14 post is a serious concern for her, and her deep closing style already makes her susceptible to traffic problems. It's hard to fault Elusive Kate's European form, but history shows that you are never supposed to take a short-priced European in a Breeders' Cup race. There are too many other higher priced options to concede that a Euro invader will win this race for the first time. On the morning line, Stephanie's Kitten is the value. Her third-place finish in the GIII Natalma was excellent considering how wide she was, and there was plently to like about her GI Alcibiades victory. A hot pace helped her, but the track was playing to inside speed and she rallied wide. Also-rans from that race ran one-two in last weekend's GII Pocahontas. It's very likely that Stephanie's Kitten will go off much lower than her morning line quote, however, and anything under 8-1 or so might not be value. While Stephanie's Kitten is probably coming down in odds from 12-1, the movement on Pure Gossip will probably be the opposite. She was let go at 23-1 when absolutely exploding in the GIII Miss Grillo at Belmont over soft sod, and perhaps the turf condition that day coupled with her connections, who are very well-known in New York, but not nationally, will let her get lost on the board. She's not without question marks--she enjoyed a dream trip in the Miss Grillo and that soft turf may very well have been to her liking (she hails from the family of yielding turf freak Street Game)--but the potential for her to actually be as good as she looked last time makes her interesting.

JUVENILE SPRINT - In all the Breeders' Cup races, Secret Circle might be the most likely winner. He has superior speed figures, and displayed the ability to rate last time in the Jack Goodman S. behind a hot pace. He can lay wherever he needs to, and should handle this field at a short number. If anyone's going to beat the chalk, it'll probably be Shumoos--mostly because she hasn't been proven inferior to Secret Circle on dirt yet. She has some interesting Euro form and a very nice American pedigree for sprinting on the dirt--her second dam was a MGISW going short and Distorted Humor can throw any type of runner.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Frankely Unbelievable

by Andy Belfiore

   It wasn’t his head-turning performance in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. at Ascot that was hard to believe. He’d done it before, treating elite rivals like maybe they should be running for a tag. No, it’s the fact that this superstar of the turf owned by Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah is named for a Jewish guy from Brooklyn who once admitted in a Sports Illustrated article that, long before he became a Hall of Fame trainer, he knew so little about horses he thought they maybe ate meat.

   And it’s not as if Mr. Abdullah makes a habit of naming his horses for people. If you look at the very very very long list of champions and Classic winners bred and/or raced by Juddmonte, there isn’t a single one that honors a human. Many are the result of a mellifluous pairing of sire and dam...Jolypha (LYPHArd--NavaJO Princess), Wandesta (NashWAN--DE STAel), Ryafan (Lear FAN--CaRYA), for instance.

   If there had ever been the motivation to give an admiring nod to someone, the great Juddmonte broodmare Hasili gave her owner nine chances to do so. Instead, he chose names such as Dansili, Banks Hill, Heat Haze, Intercontinental, Cacique, Champs Elysees and Deluxe.

   But, after Bobby Frankel’s untimely passing in November of 2009, Mr. K. Abdullah took a look at the crop of yearlings getting ready to head to the track, and chose the best of the lot to pay his tribute. And it’s not hard to understand why.

   When Juddmonte was honored with the 2009 Eclipse Award for top breeder, racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said during his acceptance speech, “Bobby Frankel was a major part of our success, not only in the U.S., but for Juddmonte worldwide. His care and attention towards the horses was second to none."
Racing Post photo

   Bobby Frankel could be as cantankerous as they come, but no one would argue his equine genius. It could not be more fitting that the horse named for him, who also has a tendency to be headstrong, has been second to none himself.

   The Prince, who normally shuns the spotlight as if it might burn him, was front and center as Frankel, the horse, galloped home to his ninth straight victory at Ascot last Saturday. After the race, he stated simply, “He is the best horse I have ever owned.”

   He obviously held Bobby Frankel in equally high esteem. And, even though it wasn’t always in his nature, somewhere up there, Bobby Frankel is smiling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

--by Nicole Mattei-Lincé

With the conclusion of her widely successful wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater now turns the page from one enchanted tale to the next, this time introducing readers to a new breed of mystical creature, the capaill uisce. The Scorpio Races (Scholastic Inc., 416 pages, $17.99) brings readers a dark tale of this “killer horse” and the people that choose to risk their lives in order to ride them.

Part horse and part what can only be described as “ocean,” the capaill instills both respect and fear in the local townspeople. Held every year, the Scorpio Races bring together the conquering instinct of man and the untamed viscosity of the capaill; the mix of energy creates a dangerous force that can either destroy the rider or lead him to ultimate victory. And the victory is your life; crossing the finish line first is just an added blessing. This delicate balance is ultimately upset when Puck, a young girl, decides to enter the race, the first female ever to ride. In order to keep what remains of her family together, Puck goes against everything her ill-fated parents would have wanted by entering the race, as their lives were taken by the very creatures she plans to ride.

In the same form as her previous novels, Stiefvater develops a strong female protagonist that readers can’t help but find a part of themselves in. Whether it be Puck’s determination, often irrational behavior (as she chooses to enter the race not riding a capaill uisce, but the everyday average American horse, Dove), or devotion to her family, there’s a bit of Puck in us all. Nonetheless, Puck’s brazen nature must be quelled, and her balancing opposition is found in Sean. Sean is everything Puck is not, but both share the fiercely independent and single-minded nature when it comes to horses. As they both train for the Scorpio Races, they discover a unifying balance between themselves, one that makes each of them a stronger individual and an equally stronger team--the same idea behind the relationship of the capaill and its rider.

Unlike the wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, The Scorpio Races offers a convincingly dark tale from the opening lines. The common theme among both the climactic race and the novel is death and survival; the childhood mysticism isn’t as apparent as it was in Shiver, the first installment in the Mercy Falls series. Stiefvater has grown to explore the true origins of fairy tales and their dark beginnings. The Scorpio Races is a thrilling tale of dreams and desperation and how far you will go when everything you’ve ever believed in is put on the line.

The Scorpio Races is available today in hardcover wherever books are sold.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Maiden Breakers Shine on Stakes Loaded Weekend Racecards...

--Steve Sherack

With all of the focus on Breeders’ Cup preview races the past two weekends, and rightfully so, several maiden winners snuck in a bit under the radar with big-time performances.

COACH SICKIE (c, 2, Henny Hughes--Dixie Holiday, by Dixieland Band) looked like the real deal winning his Santa Anita debut for fun Oct. 1 (TDN Video).

Sent off at odds of 6-1, the Michael House colorbearer chased the early leaders in third through a sharp opening quarter in :21.45. With Alonso Quinonez aboard, the $90,000 FTMMAY juvenile graduate cruised up three wide to join the dueling pair entering the stretch and accelerated nicely down the lane to score by 5 1/4 lengths.

Coach Sickie, bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum, stopped the clock for 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.12 over the “fast” track, good for a 78 Beyer Speed Figure. Trained by Jeff Mullins, the bay has already gotten back to business in the a.m., posting a four-furlong breeze in :50.40 at Santa Anita Oct. 10. Coach Sickie is a half brother to GII Carry Back S. runner-up Smash (Smart Strike) and the multiple stakes winning mare Holiday Runner (Meadowlake), who went on to produce MGISW Seventh Street (Street Cry {Ire}).

GOLDEN HISTORY (f, 2, Medaglia d’Oro--User History, by Mr. Prospector) didn’t get much love from the Beyer boys, receiving only a 57 rating following her successful Woodbine unveiling Oct. 2 (TDN Video), but was visually impressive, nontheless.

Backed as the 8-5 favorite, the granddaughter of champion User Friendly (GB) (Slip Anchor {GB}) was outsprinted in seventh through fractions of :22.58 and :45.75. The dark bay began to roll while racing very wide on the turn for home and quickened impressively once switching over to her right lead in the stretch to score by 2 3/4 lengths, stopping the clock for seven furlongs in 1:24.74 over the Polytrack.

Golden History, bred in Kentucky by Stonewall Farm Stallions LLC, was the third highest-priced juvenile at the 2011 OBS March Sale, fetching $450,000 from trainer Mark Casse on behalf of owner John Oxley. She was also the most expensive 2-year-old filly to go through the ring for her leading sire in 2011.

The loaded Bob Baffert barn looks like it has a couple more future stars on its hands.

CONTESTED (f, 2, Ghostzapper--Gold Vault, by Arch), from the family of MGISW Pomeroy (Boundary), earned a “TDN Rising Star” tag with a sharp 6 1/2-length win at second asking at Santa Anita Oct. 2 (TDN Video). Breaking from post 11, the even-money favorite was away alertly and forced the early issue on the outside from third through a blazing opening quarter in :21.72. With Baffert’s go-to-guy Martin Garcia aboard, she revved up three wide on the far turn, took over in hand at the head of affairs and ran away and hid from ‘em in the stretch under mild urging.

Owned by Natalie J. Baffert, the $110,000 KEESEP yearling purchase covered six furlongs over the “fast” going in 1:08.95. She was awarded an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. Contested, bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm LLC, finished a good second behind the promising Egg Drop (Alphabet Soup) in her Del Mar unveiling Sept. 3. The latter failed to land a blow when finishing a disappointing 10th in the GI Darley Alcibiades S. at Keeneland Oct. 7.

FAST BULLET (c, 3, Speightstown--Renfro Valley Star, by Dayjur), a grandson of champion Brave Raj (Rajab), proved to be well worth the wait, airing by 6 1/4 lengths in his debut at the Great Race Place Oct. 9 (TDN Video).

Not much of a secret at 7-5 while sporting a typical flashy Baffert worktab, the blinkered chestnut was hustled to the front and raced under heavy pressure on the inside through fractions of :21.84 and :44.80. Seemingly unphased by his early efforts, the Zayat Stables representative found another gear when asked the question by Martin Garcia in the stretch and kept finding more to report home an eye-catching winner.

The final time for six was furlongs over the “fast” surface was 1:08.59. One race earlier on the card fillies and mares in the 6 1/2-furlong Louis R. Rowan S. covered the same distance in 1:08.86 before stopping the clock in 1:15.

The half-brother to GIII Hollywood Juvenile Championship S. runner-up Blairs Roarin Star (Roar), bred in Kentucky by Roy Gottlieb, earned a 92 Beyer. He was purchased for $230,000 as a KEESEP yearling.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

She's Back...

--Gary King

Black Caviar (Aus) returns to the track in Saturday's G2 Schillaci S. at Caulfield, trying to equal the mighty Phar Lap's tally of 14 straight wins. The world's greatest sprinter was flawless last season, and has apparently improved physically over the break. She was an incredibly impressive specimen as a four-year-old, so this improvement must be a scary prospect for her rivals at the weekend. Even if the superstar mare fails to progress, Timeform has her 20lbs clear of the field on last season's form. Black Caviar’s effortless stroll in the G1 Newmarket H. at Flemington, where she defeated a high-class field, highlights her remarkable quality. Click here for race replay.

Peter Moody has mapped out a similar route to last season, taking in the G2 Schweppes S. at Moonee Valley Oct. 22 and the G1 Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington Nov. 5, before possibly embarking on an international campaign in 2012. Seeing Australia's equine heroine taking on the world's best at Royal Ascot next year would be a real treat for racing enthusiasts around the world. Saying that, Black Caviar's most difficult assignment could rest a little closer to home. Sepoy (Aus), a rare winner of the G1 Golden Slipper/G1 Blue Diamond double during a most impressive juvenile campaign, made a winning reappearance in the G1 Manikato S. at Moonee Valley last weekend. Despite stumbling at the break, Peter Snowden’s charge earned a 128+ Timeform rating in what looked to be a competitve renewal on paper. Sepoy became the Manikato’s highest rated winner in the last 25 years, and the first sophomore to capture the spoils since Redoute's Choice in 1999. Darley would love if he could go on and emulate Redoute's impressive record at stud, too...

The much anticipated Black Caviar - Sepoy duel is similar to what developed, or failed to develop, between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra in the US last year. The Australians are an extremely proud and competitive nation, and the chances of these two facing off is highly likely. Black Caviar versus Sepoy would shake things up in the Antipodes, and could possibly show the way for other racing nations where defeat is often seen as a travesty. Racing is a competitive sport, and horses of this caliber running against each other is what the game is all about. In my opinion, neither horse would lose much in defeat and their lofty reputations would/should remain intact regardless of the outcome.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Second Chances: Juvenile Maidens to Keep an Eye On

--Steve Sherack
The maiden watch continues in Steve Sherack’s latest installment of Second Chances. Click here to view previous blogs.

CONQUESTA (f, 2, Empire Maker--Turn to Lass {SW, $138,760}, by Bright Launch) ran a remarkable race to place second at 39-1 in her unveiling over the Belmont lawn Sept. 11 (TDN Video).

The Marc Keller colorbearer was away without a hitch from the dreaded one hole and settled into stride while racing in eighth through fractions of :22.46 and :46.40. With Joe Bravo aboard, the $200,000 FTKJUL yearling purchase made an eye-catching sweeping move on the turn for home to slingshot herself into the lead at the head of affairs. She quickly opened a clear advantage and looked to be well on her way to a victory in the stretch, but understandably got a little leg weary late, and couldn’t hold the rally of firster Somali Lemonade (Lemon Drop Kid), who powered to a 1 3/4-length win. The final time for the seven-furlong affair over the “good” going was 1:23.30. Conquesta, bred in Kentucky by Hurstland Farm and Kevin McLaughlin, was awarded a very respectable 82 Beyer. She has returned to the worktab with a pair of easy four furlongs moves over the Belmont training track, most recently covering the distance in :50.81 Oct. 3.

It’s been a pretty quiet year for trainer Robert Ribaudo [five wins from 52 starters], but his barn has suddenly come alive during the Belmont fall meeting, saddling two winners and a second-place finisher from only six starters.

DENDRITE (c, 2, Rockport Harbor--Tustin, by Conquistador Cielo) could be live at a price following a sixth-place finish at 59-1 in his grass debut at Belmont Sept. 17 (TDN Video). Away from the stalls sharply, he bumped slightly with the eventual winner at the start after breaking outward, then quickly dropped back to settle in sixth through easy fractions of :24.25 and :49.29.

Racing well within himself beneath five-pound apprentice Irad Ortiz Jr, the bay began to advance while under a tight hold entering the bend, made a strong four-wide move on the turn to challenge for command at the top of the lane, but failed to quicken in the stretch, and reported home 3 3/4 lengths behind the well-bred Our Entourage (Street Cry {Ire}--Sand Springs). The final time for the 1 1/16-mile affair over the “firm” going was 1:43.81. Our Entourage has been entered to make his next start in Saturday’s GI Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Dendrite, owned in partnership by William Punk Jr. and Philip DiLeo and trained by David Donk, earned a 63 Beyer. Bred in Kentucky by Richard Forbush, he failed to meet his reserve twice in the sales ring, RNA’ing for $19,000 as a KEENOV weanling and $14,500 as a KEESEP yearling. The bay turned in a three-furlong move in :35.85 over the Belmont training track Oct. 4. He is entered to make his second career start in the fifth race at Belmont on Saturday, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on grass (BRIS PPs).

There’s plenty of upside for Samuel H. Rogers Jr.’s homebred SATURDAY'S FOR FUN (c, 2, Any Given Saturday--Changing World {GSW, $394,749}, by Spinning World), who finished with interest to complete the trifecta at 8-1 in his Belmont unveiling on the turf Sept. 28 (TDN Video).

Nudged along in third through an opening quarter in :23.59, the Barclay Tagg trainee showed a little immaturity in the stretch, but looked good once leveling out late to finish within 3 1/2 lengths of good-looking first-time starter Summer Front (War Front), a $475,000 KEEAPR graduate. The final time for six furlongs over the “good” course was 1:11.80. Saturday’s for Fun earned a 54 Beyer.

Rogers’s history with Saturday’s for Fun’s family dates all the way back to the third dam Reach for It (Ack Ack), who he acquired as a broodmare for $65,000 at the 1992 KEENOV sale. He enjoyed more than his share of success campaigning Saturday’s for Fun’s first two dams--Changing World and Reach the Top (Cozzene)--collecting graded stakes victories with each.

Woodford Racing’s BATTLE FORCE (c, 2, Giant’s Causeway--Leo’s Pegasus {SP, $193,312}, by Fusaichi Pegasus) looks like a good one to keep an eye out for on the West Coast.

Making his debut going a mile over the Santa Anita sod Oct. 1 (TDN Video), the bay showed little early interest trailing the field of nine through fractions of :23.22 and :47.73. With Mike Smith in the irons, he hit the gas with a sharp outside move on the turn for home, entered the stretch at least six wide, and was outkicked to the wire by Silentio (Silent Name {Jpn}), who shot through an opening along the rail in the stretch after saving all the ground to score by 3/4 of a length. Battle Force completed the exacta at odds of 10-1.

The final time over the “firm” going was 1:35.73. Battle Force, trained by John Shirreffs, earned a 68 Beyer. He was bred in Kentucky by Manganaro LLC.