|Pletcher & my boyfriend|
Another horse that had some pre-race hype swirling around racing circles heading into her career debut was Close Hatches, from the Bill Mott barn. From a very nice Juddmonte family, I chatted quite a lot about her young sire, First Defense, who was trained by Bobby Frankel and had as good a pedigree as you might find in the stud book. She was elegant and refined (quite like dad) and she looked like the real deal in the paddock prior to the race. She made short work of her rivals that day and went on to win her next two, including the Apr. 6 GII Gazelle S. at Aqueduct. Can you say Kentucky Oaks lock?
Well, I don’t know about that (it’s a brutally tough field this year), largely due to another filly I saw over the winter. Dreaming of Julia (hold on, Pletcher has another good 3-year-old??) won her first three at in New York, including the GI Frizette before finishing third in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Understandably, she was favored for her sophomore bow. Also in the race that day was Mark Hennig’s Live Lively, sent off second choice behind the Stonestreet filly. Truthfully, ‘Julia’ looked good that day but ‘Lively’ looked awesome. My top paddock horse, she was all dappled out and was prancing around like a filly with a mission. John would often joke on how ‘it’s not a beauty contest,’ but all joking aside, when they feel really good, they generally look that way and Live Lively ran to the way she looked in the paddock. As for Julia, she was beaten that day, however, she became the very definition of the importance of looking at horses before the race and observing first hand the development and change in them from race to race. Julia, who I thought looked good prior to her 2013 debut (by the way, there is a different standard to which I held Todd’s horses throughout the meet, since you always expected them to look ‘good’, at least), looked like Pegasus (yes, more Greek mythology in my blogs) prior to her latest start in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks on Mar. 30. So what was I saying about Close Hatches being a lock come Oaks day? Not so fast.
I think if I had to pinpoint the most memorable day of the meet, it would be a toss up between the GI Gulfstream Park Turf H. on Feb. 9 (happy birthday to me) and the GI Florida Derby. Guys, if you’ve never made it down to Gulfstream Park, those are the kind of days you’d want to show up for. The electricity and excitement surrounding the GP Turf H., which was featuring Kentucky Derby hero Animal Kingdom and multiple Grade I winner Point of Entry, was positively amazing. The applause that erupted when Animal Kingdom, who was making his final start in the U.S. before heading abroad to race and stand stud, strode into the paddock was unbelievable. For all of those who gripe about how troubled our sport is and seem obsessed with constantly lamenting all that is wrong with the game, this was a glowing reminder of how grossly limited a view that is. Here were two champions who looked the part, ran like titans and gave fans a top class show. The fact that Animal Kingdom went on to take the G1 Dubai World Cup after running second behind Point of Entry is just the cherry on the top.
I couldn’t wrap up this trip down memory lane without a mention of the queen herself, Royal Delta. Her 2013 unveiling came courtesy of the Feb. 13 GIII Sabin S., a race she finished second in last year. I had the chance to see Royal Delta in New York previously, and without a doubt, she had matured into a much bigger and stronger looking animal than she had ever been before. It was that noticeable. Once again, the crowd embraced their two-time champion with the love and respect that was so rightly deserved. She entered the paddock engulfed by applause and exited exactly the same way, with her loyal subjects cheering her on. She did get beat when going over to Dubai for another shot at the World Cup, but quite frankly, who cares? She is a champion and, on the day I was fortunate enough to see her, she was a