Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guest Post: The Race Track as a Clearing in the Forest: Unbeaten Paths to Historic Horse Races

--Mark Cramer

It is French Derby and French Oaks season. These exciting horse races take place in a setting of great beauty that is best appreciated in a primeval way.  

Our well-known year of 1776 also refers to the first public horse race at Fontainebleau race course, in a sprawling, boulder-strewn forest about 37 miles south of Paris. Seventeen years before he was beheaded, Louis XIV was in attendance on that memorable day in the history of the sport of kings. Today, Fontainebleau is one of France’s 251 race courses, and horse racing has become a spectacle for the proletariat, with low admission fare (sometimes free) and a pari-mutuel system (invented in France) that has spread to the most remote regions of the country.

Today’s Fontainebleau race course, also known as Hippodrome de la Solle, dates back to its re-inauguration in 1862, when Emperor Napoléon II was in attendance along with 30,000 spectators. One of the great traditions that began with Fontainebleau is the integration of race tracks within forests, usually not far from a great castle (click here for photos).

Just a few of the other tracks that have followed in this tradition are Longchamp (Boulogne Forest), Compiègne, set within a forest of the same name, and Chantilly, whose forest contains hiking trails that crisscross with miles of cushiony dirt paths where Thoroughbreds enjoy their morning gallops. 
Chantilly race course and training center, a bit more than 30 miles north of Paris, is in today’s racing news, hosting the French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club, June 2) and the French Oaks (Prix de Diane, June 16).

Horses run past Les Grandes Ecuries at Chantilly
Racing Post Photo
An article in Sports Illustrated (June 8, 1964) named Chantilly “the most beautiful racetrack in the world”:

Our mirror… reflects Chantilly, an hour's drive from Paris—Chantilly, with its verdant turf, its winding gallops through the birches, lindens and oaks of the ancient forest, its Renaissance château. Chantilly has been the seat of classical French racing since 1830, a place which every summer attracts those people who love beauty and good racing. Chantilly, we feel, is the fairest of them all. With the château as backdrop, restive horses and jockeys await the start, a horse takes a long lead into the woods…

The racetrack at Compiègne, near the Oise River north of Paris, dating back to 1875, is so integrated with its forest that its recent private sale is being legally contested partly because the forestry department was not allowed a say in the transaction. Its surrounding structures, in half-timbered style, add some old English flavor to the landscape architecture.

The Finish Line at Compiegne
The quality of the landscape architecture of most French tracks is enhanced by the fact that people get there by walking from the train station. With only minimal parking areas needed, you don’t find rows of cars breaking up the bucolic view.

The landscape architecture of Longchamp, in the Boulogne Forest east of Paris, is punctuated by the presence of a legendary windmill on the far turn, as well as an 1860’s man-made waterfall across from the backstretch.  

Part of the fun of going racing in these tracks-in-the-woods is coming out of the footpaths and seeing the forest suddenly open its curtains before you into a race track. For Fontainebleau, my racing partner Alan Kennedy and I took the train from Paris (Gare de Lyon station) and got off 35 minutes later at the elegant town of Bois le Roi, already within the forest. Using the contour map published by the Institut Géographique National (map 2417 OT).

We left the town going west on a residential street until making a left on the Routes des Ventes Bouchard walking path. At the first fork in the wooded path, we took the second right (south) on Route de la Butte Saint-Louis, which ended at Departmental Route D606. We turned left on the roadside for a few meters. To avoid the cars on D606, we turned right toward the backstretch (still invisible behind the forest) on Route de Luxembourg. As soon as we came out into a clearing, the track spread magnificently before us and we turned left. But it still took awhile to get from the backstretch to the grandstand. All in all, round trip to and from the train station was only 7 ½ miles.

For Chantilly, take the train from Gare du Nord until the Orry-la-Ville stop (or you can cheat and continue directly to Chantilly). From Orry la Ville, get out of the station on the left side of the tracks, walk through the parking lot in the same direction as the train, go under the train bridge and cross a road into the forest. Follow the path along the train tracks until your second right. Essentially, you are simply going a little deeper into the forest to get away from the trains but still walking parallel to the tracks. The halfway point is a descent to a pretty lake, where you come upon a medieval tower (Château de la Reine Blanche) that houses an outdoor café. Alan and I did this trip once on our bikes and a second time on foot.

Château de la Reine Blanche
Following the lake, which is set in a hole in the ground, re-ascend on the other side and continue in the same direction as the train tracks. Any number of paths will lead you in the direction of Chantilly.

You know you’re near when you cross hoof-printed training tracks, and then it will be only a few minutes to the paddock and the track.

It’s 7 ½ miles from Orry to the track, passing through the contiguous forests of Coye and Chantilly. You can avoid a return walk by taking the train back to Paris from the Chantilly station. On the map, the black line refers to the train tracks. Always keep to the right of the train tracks and you will not miss the track.

With the exercise and clean, fresh air, the handicapping mind will be ready to operate at maximum capacity.

The castle at Chantilly can be seen directly from the grandstand. On the other hand, the castle at Fontainebleau requires an additional hike south from the track: or take a taxi for a few minutes over a much more direct route.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

GUEST BLOG: High Drama at the Grand Steeplechase of Paris

Why isn’t jump racing more popular in the USA?

by Mark Cramer

The 2013 edition of the Gras Savoye Grand Steeplechase of Paris brought racing fans a multitude of dramatic plots and subplots in a 5,800 meter race (3 miles and 5/8) with 23 varied obstacles, including a river jump and a long open-ditch jump.

David Cottin: from the operating table to the Grand Steeplechase

Ten days before the big race at Auteuil, in west Paris, jockey David Cottin fell and broke his collarbone. He was operated on Monday, six days before the big event on May 19. The 23-year-old Cottin did not want to miss his chance to win this race for the first time, aboard Shannon Rock, who had finished second in last year’s edition.

Can a 12-year-old win her fourth Grand Steeple?

Mid Dancer won this legendary race in France in 2007, 2011 and 2012, as an 11-year old.

Since 1950, only two other 10-year-olds besides Mid Dancer had ever won this race, and only one other 11-year old (back in 1962) besides Mid Dancer was able to get the job done. Mid Dancer’s sire was the American, Midyan, in turn sired by Miswaki.

Can Nathalie Desoutter become the first woman to win the Grand Steeplechase?

Miss Desoutter would be riding Quarouso, for trainer Jean-Paul Gallorini, who also trained Shannon Rock. Desoutter had been riding hot, with 5 wins in her last 30 races and nearly 50% in the money. I had once seen Desoutter fall from a horse that was prepping for a major stakes race. She was back aboard for the big race and ended up finishing second.

A few days after that great ride, I asked her if she had not become hesitant or shy about getting back on the same horse after such a fall.

“It was my own fault,” she said, “and I knew what I had to do so that the same thing would not happen again.”

In Sunday’s Grand Steeplechase, Quarouso galloped near the leaders but began to run out of gas before the last of 23 jumps, after having leaped elegantly over the long open-ditch jump and the river jump right in front of the grandstand. Desoutter and her partner finished 8th of 16.

Mid Dancer came up with a courageous late run before his fan club, but could only capture third place, some distance from the two leaders.

David Cottin and his partner Shannon Rock (6.4/1) caught the favorite Belle la Vie (4.5/1) in the last 100 meters and looked like a winner with about 75 meters to go. Belle la Vie’s rider Bertrand Lestrade changed leads and his partner burst back forwardly to win by a half length.

“I needed to jump a little less high over the final hurdle,” Cottin told the press, “because Shannon Rock stopped slightly after the jump, and that may have cost us the victory.”

Of the 16 starters, two were eventually stopped from fatigue and four threw their riders. Regarding falls, after speaking with several jump riders, I’ve discovered a level of courageous competitiveness that my cowardly soul cannot fathom. It is so pronounced that a fall makes them even more eager to reach a peak performance, as was the case with Nathalie Desoutter previously and David Cottin in the 2013 Grand Steeplechase of Paris.

In her last 100 races, Desoutter has fallen or been thrown 7 times and on three occasions has come back to finish in the money. Cottin had only fallen twice in his last 100 races, finishing fourth after the earlier fall.  Back in August of 2012, rider Benoit Giquel was thrown in three of four races. He came back to win three of his next five with another second thrown in.

All drama aside, in some countries, various advocacy organizations, including animal rights groups, have called for banning obstacle racing. As I once noted, a medical journal in Australia listed being a jockey as more dangerous than being a boxer, with only off-shore fisherman having more risk to lives.  

The Australian and New Zealand racing industries responded to the protests with measures to make the game safer for both horse and rider. This included a new transparency, with statistics being published on fall rates and jockey and horse fatalities.

One of the ways to make it safer for horse-and-rider partners is for a rider to simply stop a horse during a race when doubts arise about the horse’s condition or stability. Even with an amazing 37% in the money statistic, David Cottin has stopped his horses 25 times in his last 100 races.

Bertrand Lestrade has stopped his horses in 22 of his last 100 races. In the race immediately following the “stop”, he’s won 8 of 22! He’s fallen in 8 of his last 100 races, coming back to win twice and place twice. These statistics are illustrations of the incredible sense of competitiveness of the best jump jockeys. 

You’d think bettors would shy away from obstacle races, where the race can end abruptly for the horse they’ve bet, long before the stretch drive. But in places like France, England and Ireland, bettors perceive that the jumpers are more formful than the flats.

Raised on American racing, I had shied away from playing races where my horse might fall or be stopped during the race. I blotted out the jumpers from my racing boundaries until I discovered obstacle racing in both France and England.

Sunday’s Grand Steeplechase certainly proved to me that American players and fans should at least have the chance to judge for themselves whether or not they’d like to add this genre to their bouquet of aesthetic racing pleasures.

The 12-year old Mid Dancer may be an extreme case, but he illustrates the greater longevity of jump horses compared to flat racers. Jump race fans and players get to follow longer horse careers and thus become more attached to their equine heroes.

I lost my win bet on David Cottin, but I collected the placé (show) bet on my system of betting jockeys in their race following a fall. 



Friday, May 17, 2013

Preakness Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GI Preakness S. (by post position):

Orb - Nothing particularly interesting to say about him. He was a very deserving winner of the Derby and clearly best that day (though I suppose you could make the argument that Normandy Invasion might have cut it close with a more patient ride). He did get an extremely fast pace to close into, however, and any result that occurs over slop has to be taken with a little bit of skepticism. Derby winners that are closers tend to be more vulnerable in the Preakness, but he should get the right set-up again and may just be better than these. It’s not like you can bet him to win, but you obviously can’t toss him either.

Goldencents - Thought he’d find the Derby pace too hot and the distance too far and he did. Slightly less ground to cover here, but still enough company up front. Not using, and hoping he gets play thanks to his connections.

Titletown Five - Loved him in the Derby Trial because he was cutting back to a mile, but he could only manage a fourth-place finish. More ground doesn’t seem like it will be to the speedball's advantage. One thing puzzles me, though: the presence of Julien Leparoux in the saddle. He’s not exactly a speed rider, so maybe they’re planning on taking back? Still can’t include on top, but he’s a tricky read for that reason.

Departing - Guessing he probably gets bet down to second choice as the fresh face with a lot of upside. Could still be any kind, so I’ll use him defensively in some wagers, but he’s got some knocks. He beat absolutely nothing in the Texas Heritage S. and Illinois Derby (granted, he was pretty wide in the latter), and was clearly third-best in the Louisiana Derby. Plus the 97 Beyer he earned at Sam Houston--the only figure that makes him competitive--feels a bit suspect when you look at what the next three runners in the field earned before that race and after. Underlaid, but definitely not out of the question.

Mylute - Please, please, please let this horse be 5-1 come Saturday. No disrespect to Rosie, who’s a fine rider, but the way she gets bet in these big races is crazy. I’m just not seeing it with this horse and think his fifth in the Derby was a bit of a clunk up.

- Ran an extremely brave race to be sixth in the Derby--was the best finisher of the pace horses. But can’t really envision him taking a step in the right direction form-wise here. This will be his 10th race since October with no breaks--could probably use a freshening.

Will Take Charge - Was probably the toughest read for me going into the Derby, and ended up featuring him a bit more in bets than my cheat sheet opinions might have suggested (at the expense of having more stuff with Golden Soul, of course). I wanted more to go on with him before the Derby, and didn’t get it when Verrazano dropped anchor right in front of him. He was moving right with the winner when he was stopped, but who knows if he would have sustained that bid or flattened? In danger of being a wise guy horse off that obvious trouble, but hopefully the public finds others to bet. Will be one of my main uses because I still think he’s somewhat unexposed.

Govenor Charlie - Have never been a fan--thought the Sunland Derby was very weak and don’t like that he missed the big one because of a minor setback. Not interested.

Itsmyluckyday - Ok, I’ll bite one more time. Grew increasingly high on him leading up to the Derby, and clearly wasn’t alone as he was bet down to an underlaid 9-1. While a previous win in the slop made me unconcerned with the track condition, it’s pretty clear that Itsmyluckyday hated the surface two weeks ago--he never looked comfortable and was spinning his wheels for much of the race. Think the way to beat Orb will be to get the jump on him, and this one has best running style to do so. 8-1 or better is good enough for me to take the plunge one more time because I still the think the case for him in the Derby is valid if it was merely a matter of the slop last time.

Undercard Thoughts:

Race 4 - Rollicking S. - Wow--a 2-year-old stakes race already? While Wesley Ward is exceptionally good with his debuting juveniles, they’re usually very good bet-againsts after they win first out. According to DRF Formulator, Ward’s just 2-for-20 with a $1.25 in 2-year-old stakes races coming off debut wins over the past five seasons. With two Ward runners as the top two morning-line choices here, there should be plenty of value to be had. I really, really like Debt Ceiling (8-1) at a nice price. I thought his winning Laurel debut was very visually impressive and am glad that he earned a low Beyer Speed Figure--early juvenile figures tend to be irrelevant. I also think he has a huge edge considering he’s been off since Mar. 30. Debut winners often regress second out, and in a field full of them, it can’t hurt to have the horse who has had the most time to recuperate. His worktab since that effort jumps off the page, and his dam was a precocious speedball who became a stakes winner at three. My other anti-Ward use is Knit One Purr Too (15-1)--she also looked good to me visually in her debut and will be ignored.

Race 6 - Chick Lang S. - When I first scanned the entries for this card I thought to myself that Zee Bros would probably be extremely tough cutting back to six furlongs, but now I’m not so sure--Bobcat Jim and Brave Dave are both also insanely fast early and I think this race has meltdown written all over it (feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record lately, but the pace figures don’t lie). Turnbacks like Res Judicata (10-1) are my go-to plays in spots like these. I think he moved too soon in the Pennsylvania Nursery S. in December and has been flattered by the subsequent exploits of winner Officer Alex and third-place finisher Siete de Oros. He probably needed the race and didn’t completely embarrass himself anyway in the GIII Swale, and seemed to find the mile trip just a bit too long last time when second in the Fit to Fight (note the late lead change). He did cycle back up to his Beyer top at the Big A, and with a pair of bullet works leading up to this, I think he’s poised to turn in a career best. I’ll be more than happy with 8-1 or better, and will be making a sizeable 4 with 7,8,9 exacta box as well.

Race 7 - James W. Murphy S. - I’ve always thought Notacatbutallama’s form was dressed up, so any race where he’s going to be short will offer value (9-5 on the morning line seems a bit low, though). There are two really interesting pedigree plays here in a wide-open affair. Wry Me (20-1) is by Sharp Humor--not a particularly strong turf influence--but his dam was by all-grass Silver Hawk and she dropped a full-sister to Wry Me who was mostly a grass performer. He only has one race on dirt that fits (his very nice Mar. 16 optional claiming win), but don’t be surprised if he pulls off the shocker on the surface switch. The D. Wayne putting a grass horse back on grass angle worked with Skyring at 8.8-1 in this event last year, and “The Coach” has another son of English Channel in Red Wings (10-1) this time. His dirt form isn’t so bad, but he’s always figured to prefer the sod. English Channels’s turf exploits are well documented, and dam Heavenly Ransom (Red Ransom) was five-for-six in her career--all on turf--including a win in the 2006 GIII Wilshire H. over MGISW Ticker Tape.

Race 9 - GIII Gallorette H. - Won’t be letting many (if any) horses knock me out of the first leg of the pick four here (except for maybe perpetual underlay Pianist). I really thought Hard Not to Like (10-1) was going to have a big year after taking the GIII Marshua’s River in her first start for Michael Matz in January, but she’s been a disappointment in her last two. Still, that last winning performance stacks up well with this group, and she figures to sit a perfect trip right behind a fairly moderate pace. Can she rediscover her best form? We’ll see.

Race 10 - GIII Maryland Sprint H. - That was a pretty big race Sage Valley ran when we last saw him in November, but I’m not sure I buy it completely and now he has a lay-off and outside draw to contend with. This is another spread race for me, with Candyman E (6-1), Poseidon’s Warrior (10-1) and Hardened Wildcat (4-1) interesting me the most.

Race 11 - GII Dixie S. - Yet another excellent and competitive race--I didn’t realize how good of a card this was until really digging into it. You’ve got to be pretty forgiving to get to him, but how about Forte Dei Marmi (15-1)? His performance in the Dixie here a year ago was pretty solid (covered his final furlong in a super-fast :10.74) against what might have been a stronger group, and his subsequent races at Woodbine, though at longer distances, might be better than anything else this field has done. His last three have been absolutely abysmal--he was vanned off in the Elkhorn last time--so why is the 7-year-old being shipped down here? Trainer Roger Attfield isn’t one to simply run a horse for the sake of running, and the Hall of Famer boasts a win and two third-place finishes from the five times he’s shipped runners down from Canada to compete on this card over the past five years. With a couple of quick works over the Woodbine Poly since the Keeneland debacle, maybe the real Forte Dei Marmi shows up?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Black-Eyed Susan Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GII Black-Eyed Susan S. - Both favorites here look somewhat vulnerable, especially
Fiftyshadesofhay. Besides her one monster performance over a wet/fast surface when romping in the Santa Ysabel (the pace she was a part of was extremely quick), she seems a bit exposed. She has been facing Beholder, who ran much better than most of us expected in the Oaks, but is clearly not in that one's league. An abundance of speed here won't do her any favors--especially with the addition of blinkers--and my biggest concern is that trainer Bob Baffert opted to bypass the Oaks after Fiftyshadesofhay didn't ship well. Even if she's reportedly doing better now, that's a major negative for a shorter-priced horse.
   My knocks on Emollient are a little weaker, and I'll use her defensively in the pick four because she figures to be taken back off the pace this time. But she's been somewhat in and out in her career and her Ashland romp seemed to come out of nowhere. It was almost reminiscent of Dreaming of Julia's Gulfstream Park Oaks, where Emollient was 30 lengths back. Empire Makers absolutely love the Keeneland synthetic for whatever reason, so I wouldn't expect her to match that effort back on dirt. Also add to that the fact that Emollient was another who skipped the Oaks, and that fellow Mott/Juddmonte runner Close Hatches ran a total clunker in that spot, and I'd be less-than-enthused to take 9-5 on her.
   There are two horses who interest me and who I'll feature in pick threes and fours. I think Maracuya (8-1) might be the most talented runner in the race, and she has everything going for her except for pace dynamics. She beat a couple of next-out winners in her sprint debut at Gulfstream in early March, and set a very hot pace (+12 first quarter on the Moss Pace Figure scale) but kept going in a one-mile optional claimer later in the month. The horse she beat took the Calder Oaks in the slop next out with a 90 Beyer. Maracuya’s pedigree is extremely interesting and Pimlico-specific. Her sire Big Brown took the Preakness here, obviously, and her half-sister Payton d'Oro (Medaglia d'Oro) annexed the 2009 running of this race (Maybe it's misguided or a bit too specific to expect track preferences to be passed on, but I've seen what I think is that phenomenon in the past. If genetics determine the physical characteristics that decide a horse's preference for dirt or turf, why can't they be relevant here too?) With all that being said, Maracuya has "wise guy horse" written all over her and I doubt she'll go off at her 8-1 morning line. I also have no idea if she can rate at nine furlongs, so while I'll use her prominently, I can't bet her to win.
   I can, however, bet Marathon Lady (12-1) to win. Her maiden breaker in the Oaklawn slop three back was solid enough, and the runner-up is two-for-two since. Let go at 31-1 off that effort in the GIII Bourbonette Oaks over Turfway's Polytrack, the bay fell a nose short to Silsita in a spirited duel, earning a competitive 92 Beyer. There are two obvious reasons to question the quality of that race:

1. Silsita finished dead last in the Oaks. But she's clearly a turf/synthetic horse, so that doesn't mean much to me (Third-place finisher and GISW Pure Fun was also a non-factor in the Oaks, but her form is inconclusive).

2. The Beyer for that race seems a bit high compared to what Silsita and Marathon Lady have earned in other races. That's valid, but a closer look at the figure history of also-rans allays any concern that it's an inaccurate number.

   Marathon Lady was third last time behind Oaks pace casualty Rose to Gold and Black-Eyed Susan participant Manuka Honey, but that was a complete merry-go-round affair, where the top three travelled that way all the way around. Marathon Lady didn't appear to love the sloppy conditions (despite having won on a similar strip two starts earlier) and was widest throughout, so I'm willing to give her a pass and be grateful for the additional value she'll offer thanks to that trip. Her sire Graeme Hall won the GII Arkansas Derby and GII Jim Dandy at 1 1/8 miles and she's from a South American female family, which usually means stoutness, so more distance should suit.

Undercard Thoughts:

Race 2 - MSW, 1 1/16mT - Queen Jezebel (15-1) was a decent third in an Apr. 13 off-the-turfer here in her first start for Jose Corrales after a non-effort last summer at Del Mar for John Shirreffs. With her pedigree, I’m surprised she could even stand up on dirt--she’s by Motivator (GB) out of a Paris House (GB) mare who was MSW and GSP in England and GSP in Ireland, all in sprints. Queen Jezebel almost certainly has to be a better grass horse, and she doesn’t need to improve too much to match up very favorably with these. Adding to her appeal is Corrales’s exceptional stats second off the bench. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five seasons, he’s 10-for-21 (48%) with a $3.43 ROI second off the lay-off with maidens (29% with a $2.64 ROI second off the bench overall). I’d also be sure to use Jessica C (10-1). She was backed down to favoritism in a field of 12 going five panels here Apr. 14, but only got going late to finish a close sixth. Her half-brother Proceed Bee took the GIII Hawthorne Derby over nine furlongs of turf and her second dam annexed the Diana at the same trip, so more real estate on grass should be right up her alley.

Race 8 - Miss Preakness S. - This is another race that has a complete overload of early speed on paper, and it’s always tough determining who will find themselves back farther than usual just by default. Blueeyesintherein ran a decent race two weeks ago to be fifth in the GIII Eight Belles as be part of a quick pace, but she’s definitely shown the ability to come from off it and I’m not sure why she was so close last time. I’ll use her and think she’ll be somewhat tough, but the short turnaround may be ambitious (have a feeling that there’s a chance she scratches) and I’d like to find some better value in this full field. Lighthouse Bay (8-1) rates a longshot chance. She broke her maiden in front of a trio of next-out winners at Belmont in October before taking a roughly run stakes race at Laurel a month later (That video replay appears to be unavailable for some reason, and I hate flying blind, but the most important thing about her trip that day to me was that she wasn’t on the lead, and I can glean that from the chart). The chestnut resurfaced in a Gulfstream optional claimer Apr. 4, and set an opening split in :21.81 that was good for a 101 Moss Pace Figure, 15 points above par. She faded to fifth and earned a 73 Beyer, but can clearly much better with a less demanding trip. I’m guessing she’s capable of something in the high 80’s, which puts her right there if she bides her time early.

Race 9 - Jim McKay Turf Sprint - I’m writing this on Tuesday hoping that Bruce Brown opts to send Spring to the Sky (10-1) here and run Night Officer Thursday at Belmont. Both are cross-entered in the same spots, and while Spring to the Sky is a shorter price on the morning line at Belmont, from a tactical standpoint, he makes a lot more sense at Pimlico, while his late-running stablemate figures to get more pace at Belmont (Update: My hopes were answered). Spring to the Sky displayed some serious early speed in his first three races on dirt, but was subsequently stretched out and put on the lawn for three stakes tries. He didn’t embarrass himself, finishing third in Saratoga’s Duluth S. behind Summer Front. He also developed the ability to rate slightly, which came in handy when facing the equally fast Sum of the Parts in Belmont’s grassy six-furlong Groovy S. in September. Spring to the Sky tracked that runner--who had won his last three--and ran him down nicely in the stretch after it looked like Sum of the Parts wouldn’t be catchable. Sum of the Parts came back to take Keeneland’s GIII Phoenix S. before dueling his way to fourth in the GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Spring to the Sky was a distant last in the GIII Bold Ruler going seven furlongs on dirt in October, but that’s not his game and only serves to dirty his form. He has Bridgetown drawn to his outside, but I think he’s faster than that runner if Javier Castellano wants him to be, and since they opted for this spot, he’s definitely being sent.

Race 11 - The Very One S. - Sensible Lady isn’t really going to be 6-1, is she? The Tim Salzman trainee is two-for-two at this course and distance, thanks to a pair of victories over Jazzy Idea here last year, including an upset win at 24-1 in this event. Jazzy Idea would be nowhere close to 6-1 in this spot considering she beat Jim McKay Turf Sprint 9-5 morning-line shot Ben’s Cat (as a 3-year-old filly facing older males) in the Laurel Dash in October. Sensible Lady did finish behind three of these foes last time in Keeneland’s Giant’s Causeway S., but it seemed like she just sort of got tired late after looking like she might blow by everyone. She probably needed the race off a six-month break, and I’d expect a big step forward back on her home turf. It also can’t hurt that Sweet Cassiopeia, winner of her last five including the Giant’s Causeway, is drawn out in 13. There isn’t much room before the turn going five furlongs on the Pimlico turf course, so the favorite is likely going to have to overcome significant ground loss.

Race 12 - GIII Pimlico Special - So much for what looked like a comeback for this once-prestigious event--this field is pretty uninspiring. The top two morning line choices look very tough, but if somebody’s going to pull off the upset it’s probably Brimstone Island (12-1). He’s consistent, occasionally almost fast enough and figures to love this nine-furlong trip at which he’s never been sent being being by Tiznow out of a Broad Brush Mare.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


by Mark Cramer

At first the TDN series “History of Drugs in Racing” had me ready to look for an anti-depressant. Racing has been one of my great lovers, and I now learned that she’s been cheating on me. But then I thought back to a visit to the Gina Rarick stables in Maisons-Laffitte, where the only American trainer in France introduced me to her horses, elaborating on the different dietary needs of each one, as if she ran a school for chefs. Gina races in a country were race-day medication is prohibited.
I considered that for both animal and human athletes, a thoughtful diet should make a positive difference. I began looking into the diet of human athletes who have some distinction in longevity, stamina or speed. I recalled the great Illinois claiming horse Maxwell G, who raced for 13 years, starting 234 times and winning 47 races. Longtime champion trainer Richard Hazelton reclaimed Maxwell G several times, calling the hard-knocking claimer his favorite horse.
The human equivalent of Maxwell G is Fauja Singh. Mr. Singh was a runner as a young adult but stopped participating in competition for family reasons. After witnessing the death of his son, he started to run again at the age of 90 (that’s not a typo) in order to confront his depression. He moved from India to the UK and worked up to running in marathons, in New York, London and other venues. As a child, Fauja Singh did not have what we call “good conformation”. He had scrawny, weak legs and did not walk until he was five. In his mid-90s he began finishing marathons around the world in record time for a lower age group. At the age of 100 he became the first known centenarian to complete the demanding 26 miles (the Toronto Waterfront Marathon). Singh attributed his longevity to his abstaining from alcohol and smoking, and to his vegetarian diet. He got much of his protein from milk and yogurt, and he says that ginger tea had a positive effect.
Mr. Singh’s story is one of longevity.
Diet-related stamina stories abound, as well. One comes from the UK’s Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winner in the 2012 Olympics of the 87-mile road cycling race. A vegetarian, Armistead explains that she trained with Kenyan champions from the Rift Valley who were vegetarians except for unusual occasions such as weddings and funerals. Armistead makes up for any missing protein by stocking up on quinoa grains, which can be prepared to taste similar to pasta. The quinoa angle hit home for me, since I used to run 10 kilometers at 12,000 feet above sea level in La Paz, Bolivia, and quinoa, in soup or pancakes, was an important staple of my own diet.
Carl Lewis
I don’t claim to have empirical evidence and am merely exploring natural alternatives to drugs with a few anecdotal examples among the dozens I’ve collected. You can counter my hypothesis with the example of Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, who loves McDonald’s chicken nuggets. In reference to Bolt’s legendary turn of foot, you might ask whether diet for longevity or stamina would differ from what is good for quick bursts of sprint speed. We know that champion 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses was a vegetarian.  Sprinter Carl Lewis became a vegetarian in mid-career and he argues that his best race ever was in 1991, when he won the 100-meter at the world championships at the age of 30: not a young age in the realm of sprint runners.
Olympic wrestler and zen-practicing vegetarian Christopher Campbell won a bronze medal in Barcelona, 1992, at the age of 37. Today the average world-class wrestling career ends by the age of 24, according to
Of course, the vegetarian factor might be a false correlation. The above athlete vegetarians are all thoughtful and conscious of their overall diet. They probably eat wholesome foods in general and don’t hang out in junk food emporiums. The above stories suggest that a thoughtful diet may be a meaningful factor in enhancing athletic performance and longevity: possibly more substantial and certainly more long-lasting than drugs.
Trainer Gina Rarick has resorted to dietary methods to get the best performance from her horses. For example, she mixed garlic flakes in the feed of her filly Turfani to increase blood circulation, and judging by the results, it worked. A $2 flat win bet on all of drug-free Turfani’s races would have returned of profit of over 50%.
In order to convince the racing establishment to stop the drug madness, horror stories about doping can be accompanied by examples of happy alternatives. Let’s look for more.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Kentucky Derby 139: Winners & Winners

by Alan Carasso

Now that the dust has settled on Kentucky Derby 139, one that was satisfying on many different levels, some thoughts:

Claude McGaughey III: Shug’s work with Orb has been a study in equine management from the word go. Possessed of some of the fire which lives in his female family, Orb was something of a problem child in his first three starts, and when he finally broke his maiden fourth time out (Revolutionary third), it was plainly one step at a time as the colt shipped down to Payson Park for the winter. After clearing his first allowance condition, Shug went on record saying he’d have preferred a two-other-than, but those are hard to come by and, with really nowhere else to go, put Orb in the GII Fountain of Youth. He won that, defeating Violence, but even then, McGaughey felt the jury was still out. When Orb followed up in the GI Florida Derby, only then did the conditioner realize he was on to something big. Shug has always been classy, even before I visited his barn at Keeneland in 1995 when he had Inside Information for the GI Spinster (she beat Mariah’s Storm that year before airing in the Distaff). He doesn’t know it, but he watched Coronado’s Quest win the ‘98 Haskell from the TDN box at Monmouth, and took the win (narrowly over Belmont winner Victory Gallop) in his stride. Not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, it was touching to see just how overcome he was with emotion following the win, and most of the racing world is thrilled that he’s finally scaled these heights. Hats off, too, to the Phipps and Janney families, two institutions in the Bluegrass.
(C) Reed Palmer

Joel Rosario: He’s 28 and already a rock star, perhaps the closest thing this country has seen to a ‘Boy Wonder’ since Steve Cauthen. It’s never easy to shift tack from California to the East Coast, but Rosario’s transition has been seamless. He attracted the attention of most of the top barns in Florida over the winter, and earned the mount on Animal Kingdom. A Dubai World Cup and Kentucky Derby in the span of five weeks (and about 3/4 of a million dollars in earnings) is a tremendous feat, not to mention his record 38 winners at Keeneland and his double-digit wins in the first few days at Churchill. All of the Dominican Republic was watching and cheering home their native son. It was front-page news the next day.

Rosie Napravnik: Quietly, ‘Girl Wonder’ had a weekend of her own to remember. She won Friday's GII Alysheba S. on Take Charge Indy and piloted Delaunay to a powerhouse score in the GII Churchill Downs Saturday. Both horses earned 109 Beyers--can you say Breeders’ Cup? Though her big Derby hope Shanghai Bobby went to the sidelines, Rosie picked up the mount on Mylute for the big race and rode him a treat, running on for fifth while not missing second by too much.

Maggi Moss: The Iowa-based owner had a memorable Friday-Saturday Daily Double with So Many Ways in the GIII Eight Belles S. and the aforementioned performance of Delaunay in the Churchill Downs S. Since being claimed for $40,000 last May 12, Delaunay is seven for eight and has earned just shy of $567,000 for Moss alone. Astonishing stuff.

Wise Dan: The Point of Entry scratch (logical as it was) was a bummer, but what can you say about Dan? Shows up every time, runs on anything, he’s simply amazing.

Charles Fipke: Never one to shy away from taking a swing, was represented in the Derby by the slow-starting Java’s War and Golden Soul, the 11th-hour addition many assumed was a toss. Well, you know what happens when you assume.

Todd Pletcher: OK, most of his five Derby runners didn’t acquit themselves particularly well (track conditions probably had some say in this), but he did manage to saddle home the first, third and fourth in Friday’s GI Kentucky Oaks, no small feat. And Revolutionary hardly embarrassed himself in the Derby, finishing a good third. Thinking is Pletcher will be back.

Dr. Scholls: For the uptick in the sales of rubber galoshes to horsemen for the walk over (OK, this is made up).

My TDN cohorts DiDonato and Sherack: DiDonato is nothing short of amazing with his finds. Put me onto 11-1 winner of the Turf Sprint Saturday and I got Chamberlain Bridge to run second (mercifully!) for a $250 score. He also managed to use Golden Soul second for the Derby exacta (uh, I didn’t have that one). Much in the same way I locked onto Street Sense off his maiden, Sherack has been an Orb guy the whole way and put his money where his mouth was on him and Delaunay. Kudos, boys. Can I borrow five bucks?

Racing at large: Despite the off track and the inclement weather, the Derby and other races were truly run affairs with few excuses, other than the underfoot conditions, and absent tragedy (no disrespect here to Dr. Bramlage). TV viewership was up, and, for at least one day, the sun shone down on our Old Kentucky Home, figuratively if not literally.

Live Tweeting the Derby? Why not!

by Carly Silver

If, like me, you weren't able to make the trip to Louisville for the 2013 Kentucky Derby, you probably kept up with the latest Derby developments via NBC Sports' coverage-and social media. Guests Tweeted out pictures of the most outrageous hats and complained about the rainy weather, while those watching from home observed reporters' comments and cheered on the favorites.

Is it a negative to live-Tweet the Derby coverage? Yes and no. If you're fortunate enough to be in attendance, don't focus on your smart phone. Soak in the atmosphere of the race, the track, the people. It's a once-a-year occasion that you should appreciate being able to attend. Don't bother Tweeting pictures of the crowd--it's not that important. I can only hope that no one tried to live-Tweet that actual race.

If you're at home, then I advise that you go wild on the comments. After all, what are you going to miss--one minute of NBC interviewing Todd Pletcher? For example, Catherine Toner ( posted witty observations on the NBC coverage. When noting how little the NBC sportscasters chatted about Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, triumphing in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Toner wrote, "NBC recap: Some horse won a race, Dan something. The little man riding him looked happy, but he wasn't Rosie, so who cares." She commented on TVG's remark that Mylute would get the "housewives' vote" because of his female rider, Rosie Napravnik. As usual, it's left up to the astute viewer to note the reporters' idiotic remarks and/or glaring omissions.

Kevin Martin (, contributor to, also kept the commentary lively. He reflected that, if the networks were going to broadcast funny "fluff" pieces, they should bring on more humorous commentators to deliver the material. Echoing Toner, Martin opined, "Attention ?@NBCSports?? - The Horse of the Year is about to run and you haven't said s**t about it. Are you f'n kidding me!?!?!?!"

Celebrities took to Twitter to broadcast their hats. TV personality and lawyer Star Jones ( boasted about her lovely hat. Country star Miranda Lambert ( posted a charming picture of her in a yellow fascinator, while model Coco Rocha ( covered Derby fashion for NBC-and chatted about her Philip Treacy hat.

Here are a few other fun notes from Derby Day:

Kentuckian Brad Broaddus ( quipped, "The Kentucky Derby is an 8 hour buildup to a 2 minute performance. Now I know how my wife feels."

Open Road Media's Iris Blasi ( dished on her family's betting habits: " 'You don't happen to know a bookie, do you?' -My mom, exactly one minute before the Kentucky Derby."

Keith Hawkins ( downed a few too many mint juleps:

"Dear Liver,

Sorry about this weekend.




Friday, May 3, 2013

Kentucky Derby Undercard Analysis

by Brian DiDonato

Click for the TDN Derby Cheat Sheet, presented by Keeneland Select, featuring in-depth Derby analysis from Brian and Steve Sherack.

Race 4 - Msw, 7f - Strike One looks a bit sneaky in here off the bench returning to this strip. He got

completely left at the start of his 6 1/2-furlong unveiling here last June, but put in a head-turning, sweeping move before fading late while displaying some greenness and settling for fourth. The chestnut didn’t factor in a subsequent turf route at Arlington a month later, and was a distant third against four foes going a mile over the Arlington Poly when last seen in September. You wouldn’t think a full-brother to router Summer Doldrums (Street Cry {Ire}) would necessarily want to sprint, but maybe Strike One does. He has a couple of quick works at Palm Meadows in April, and expected progression from the 59 Beyer he earned here last year puts the Brendan Walsh trainee right there at the wire.

Race 5 - Alw, 1 1/16m - It’s entirely possible that he just proves too good for these, but I think horses like Derby defection Code West are always underlays in spots like this. Tiz Adonis is a little intriguing. He broke well to set the pace in a five-horse route at Oaklawn Feb. 3, and while the fractions were average, it was a strangely run event. Another horse made an early move sort of caused the field to get all bunched up, with Tiz Adonis subsequently fading to a fairly close fourth. Third-place finisher Royal Art came back to break his maiden in the same spot Tiz Adonis ran back in, and fifth-place finisher Bashaar, who Tiz Adonis dueled with (if you can call it that), aired by 13 lengths with an 88 Beyer (11-point jump) in the slop next out. Tiz Adonis got a strange stop-go-stop ride next out, but earned his diploma last time despite a wide journey under first-time pilot John Court, who’s back aboard here. The Ron Moquett pupil seems to have figured it all out, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him step forward again. The only question is whether he’s good enough, but the price will be right to find out.

Race 6 - GIII Twin Spires Turf Sprint S. - Not sure I’ve ever seen so little pace in a five-furlong turf sprint. Southern Dude appears to be the speed of the race at first glance, but I don’t think that’s actually the case, especially with Julien Leparoux riding him. I’ll use Southern Dude, but I think the real pace play is Berlino Di Tiger. A Group 1 winner at this trip in his native Brazil, the chestnut chased a :21.21 opening quarter while three deep in his Stateside debut in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Feb. 2 before tiring to eight. He dueled through splits of :21.75 and :44.89 last time in Keeneland’s GIII Shakertown S., and again packed it in, as did the other speeds. Maybe he’s just not very good, but Berlino di Tiger deserves one more chance to show what he can do without having to run too hard early. He might not have to run much at all early here, and they’ll be trying to gun him down in the stretch. Don’t be surprised if he forgets to stop.

Race 7 - GI Humana Distaff - Same Cross couldn’t have been much more impressive in her first three starts on dirt, and seemed destined for success in stakes company. Trainer Larry Jones and owner/breeder Brereton Jones opted to put her on turf for the Happy Ticket S. at the Fair Grounds last time, and she finished a no-excuses fifth at 3-2. Back on the main track here, the 4-year-old could make a big impact while getting a bit more ground to work with. Considering that she was brought along fairly patiently in her first three starts, it has to be a positive sign that she’s being put in a Grade I (maybe not a true Grade I) this time. I’m not banking on the 8-1 morning line being accurate, but I’ll be leaning on Same Cross in the exotics.

Race 8 - GII Distaff Turf Mile - The favorites in here seem pretty formidable, especially defending champ Hungry Island, who probably fits best at the distance and with a fair bit of speed to set her up. I’m intrigued by Karlovy Vary, though, who was second to Hungry Island in a Keeneland allowance last time. Karlovy Vary did all the dirty work pressing a quick pace that day from the two path, while Hungry Island drafted in a perfect ground-saving position. The former clearly ran the better race of the two that day, and while she’s never seemed quite this good despite winning a Grade I, perhaps she’s improved markedly at four. According to DRF Formulator, conditioner Rusty Arnold has struck at a 27% rate with a $3.08 ROI second off the bench in graded stakes over the past five seasons, with Karlovy Vary’s 15-1 upset of the Ashland 13 months ago contributing to that stat.

Race 9 - GII Churchill Downs S. - I’ve thought for a while now that Delaunay looks like a potential Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, and I did well with Trinniberg in last year’s BC, but it seems likely that they’ll compromise each other mightily on the front end here, setting up for some off-the-pace types and an upset. Hierro, Unbridled’s Note and Pass the Dice are a combined six-for-six over the track and I think they’re the three alternatives with the best chance. I’ll box them in the exacta and use all three in the pick four. I’ll also probably use Delaunay defensively in the pick four, because I’m more confident in him running his race than Trinniberg off relatively short rest since flopping in Dubai.

Race 10 - GI Turf Classic - Hard to imagine on of the two favorites doesn’t take this--at least it allows for spreading elsewhere.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kentucky Oaks Day Analysis

GI Kentucky Oaks - Obviously, any discussion of this race has to start with Dreaming of Julia,
whose 21 3/4-length romp in the Gulfstream Park Oaks last time came from pretty much nowhere--she’s always been decent, but that was otherworldly. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she that if she runs back to that race, she’ll probably have a say. I’m not expecting her to, however. That performance was so anomalous that I’m inclined to cross it out completely, which makes her look more like a fringe contender who might have too much early speed in a race that looks poised for a meltdown. Also note that Pletcher trainees who run huge at Gulfstream often flop elsewhere in their subsequent starts. She’ll be nowhere on my tickets at what has to be a much lower price than her 3-1 morning line (Right? If she wins and pays $8, we should probably all feel a little stupid)...
   Speaking of a meltdown, Silsita, Midnight Lucky, Beholder and Rose to Gold are all tosses for me because they’re too quick early and/or seem to have distance concerns.
    Notice that I didn’t mention Close Hatches, who has been on the lead in her last two--she’s my pick. The theory with her is that she only set the pace in those spots because she was more talented than her competition. She didn’t really look like she was freewheeling out there in either race--she was rating very kindly, but just happened to have nobody to run with. The Juddmonte colorbearer is likely to find herself much farther back this time, especially with the 10 post. She was well out of it in her smashing seven-panel debut (which immediately reminded me of Royal Delta’s unveiling), and I see no reason to expect Joel Rosario to send for the lead or to think she’ll drag her way up there. You could certainly find fault with how easy her last two trips have been, and she hasn’t run particularly fast yet, but the Bill Mott trainee has made an excellent impression since arriving in Kentucky and still appears to have tons of upside. She’s clearly the value.
    In the pick four and other exotics, I’ll also use the obvious Unlimited Budget and Pure Fun, who has been a disappointment in 2013, but may wake back up returning to Churchill. I’ll also toss in a tiny bit of Seaneen Girl underneath. She has a win over the track and could clunk up for third. 
Close Hatches                                       David Alcosser      
Undercard Thoughts:
Race 4 - Alw/OC, 7f - If the field stays intact, there should be enough pace to set up Devious d’Oro. She flew home to score on debut going six furlongs at Oaklawn Feb. 24, and had a tough trip when stretched out Apr. 13. She practically blew the first turn while traveling in last and had a bit of traffic trouble in the lane before running on for third. I’m thinking she might show a better kick cutting back despite a pretty stout pedigree, and is unlikely to take much action.

Race 5 - Msw, 9fT - Strike Charmer at anywhere near her 10-1 morning line would be an absolute gift. The daughter of turf stakes winner Cat Charmer (Storm Cat) (a half-sister herself to Derby third-place finisher Impeachment) didn’t show much early in her Keeneland debut, but came flying in the lane while weaving through traffic to be third. She covered her final quarter in :22.35, more than a full second faster than winner Praia, who’s entered in the Edgewood.

Race 6 - GII La Troienne S. - I don’t have a particularly strong opinion here, but I could see playing a pick three or something using only Authenticity and More Chocolate. Their last-out speed figures are pretty comparable to those earned by On Fire Baby and Believe You Can. The latter might go off at odds-on considering she took the Oaks here a year ago and because perpetually overbet Rosie Napravnik is aboard.

Race 7 - Edgewood S. - What a tough race--would like to have as much coverage as possible. The horse that interests me the most is Adriani, who has had two very tough trips since joining the David Fawkes barn. She chased a quick pace four wide two back at Gulfstream, only to fall a neck short to subsequent GIII Appalachian S. winner Unbelievable Dream. According to Trakus data, Adriani covered 14 feet (about 1.6 lengths) more than the winner that day, and Unbelievable Dream covered a ton more ground than almost everybody else. Third that day was Emotional Kitten, who came back to nip Adriani by a nose last time going this distance at Keeneland. Again, though, Adriani had a major excuse--she pressed crazy opening splits of :22.68 and :47.16. There’s other pace in here, and Joe Rocco Jr. will have to work out a trip from the 11 hole, but Adriani is a whole lot better than she looks at first glance and has to be double-digit odds.

Race 8 - GIII Eight Belles - Yet another brutally tough race with plenty of longshot potential... Morning line favorite Calistoga can obviously win, but she’ll have to contend with the 14 hole and plenty of other pace. There are a few turnbacks who have to be included, most notably So Many Ways, winner of the GI Spinaway S. at this trip last year. For a potential longshot win bet candidate, I like Gold Medal Dancer. She put in a very impressive stretch run at Oaklawn last time to increase her career record to two-for-two. The stablemate and paternal sibling to the aforementioned Devious d’Oro figures to be flying late.

Race 9 - GII Alysheba S. - Maybe he’s hopeless, but I’m taking a small flyer on Right to Vote, whose close defeat at 37-1 first out at Saratoga in 2011 still haunts me. I’m keying in on one race of his as maybe a clue that he can surprise. He was 47-1 in the GII Peter Pan S. last May, but stayed on for second while setting very hot splits behind Mark Valeski, who recently finished second in the GII New Orleans S. and would have been a contender here. Right to Vote earned a 94 Beyer for that effort--considering his trip that day, the potential for improvement from then ,stretching back out and the fact that he gets first-time Lasix on the owner/trainer change here, he may be capable of running a competitive figure at a gigantic price.

Race 10 - GII American Turf S. - Obviously War Dancer would offer value at 6-1 off his crazy run last time, but there’s no way he goes off at that price. I’ll be betting Joelito, who was very sharp in his maiden-breaking turf debut last out. He should get first run on some of the shorter-priced runners in here, and it’s interesting that red-hot Joel Rosario takes the call when he rode 4-1 morning line Admiral Kitten last time and 8-1 shot Fire Guard in his last three. Rosario last piloted Joelito when he split Den’s Legacy and Ive Struck a Nerve sprinting at Del Mar in August.

Race 12 - Msw, 7f - Likely favorite Double Gelato exits a very weak maiden race and trainer Rusty Arnold is two-for-33 (6%) with a $0.57 ROI with his second-time-starting maidens in dirt sprints over the past five years (courtesy DRF Formulator), so there’s value to be had elsewhere. Assuming I’m not broke at this point, I’ll try Greek Life. She showed late interest in her six-furlong unveiling at Fair Grounds Mar. 30, and conditioner Steve Margolis’ numbers in the same category mentioned above for Arnold are much better--he hits at a 28% clip with a $2.16 ROI (Margolis also has Delilahjane here making her second start as well). Greek Life is the first foal out of a stakes-winning mare who was two-for-two at seven panels, including once over this strip.

Good luck Friday, and check back here for Saturday undercard thoughts or in Friday's newsletter for Derby analysis from myself and the "Road to the Derby Showdown" champ himself, Steve Sherack.