Monday, June 27, 2011

A Day Fit For a Queen

--Christina Bossinakis

   Queen’s Plate day started out sunny but, by the time the Bossinakis tribe (my mother Lily, uncle Costa and aunt Artemis) set off for Woodbine, it looked like we might get yet another round of rain. Luckily for us, we were spared the predominant theme since my arrival in Toronto last Wednesday. Back up in the Woodbine Club dining room, we found ourselves in great company–seated nearby was Martin Schwartz (owner of Plate runner Bowman’s Causeway); the West Point team, headed by the always dapper Terry Finley (represented by Enduring Star); and the connections of Queen’splatekitten (Nicholas Brady’s Mill House), including agent Steve Young and trainer Todd Pletcher. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Pletcher, who was at Belmont Saturday to accept the trophy for Buster’s Ready’s runaway victory in the GI Mother Goose S., arrived at the Toronto oval shortly after noon before jumping back on a plane to New York not long after a fifth with the ‘Kitten’ in the feature. Oh, did I forget to mention that this is the way he spent his birthday? And that’s one of the reasons why I refer to him as ‘T-Train.’ (other than the obvious reason, of course). Sometimes I swear he is superhuman. His dedication, discipline and commitment to his clients and horses are really quite admirable.

   As for our dining experience, the staff was very attentive, and accommodating, and the food was superb, with plenty of fresh seafood and a tasty dessert selection (and this coming from the daughter of an accomplished pastry chef!). As for the Bossinakis crew, we kicked off Sunday the same way we concluded Saturday–winning. The big score of the day, however, came from Costa, who hit a healthy payday of $600. That’s the great thing about horse racing, sometimes blind luck proves more lucrative than over analysis.
A couple of races prior to the Plate, we accompanied the Romeo family (of Big Red Mike fame) down to the paddock to watch their horse, Daniel Be Good, in an allowance (optional claimer). (FYI: ‘Daniel’ came home a winner in the race prior to last year’s Queen’s Plate...that’s TWO wins in front of the Queen for Terra Racing). The whole crew seemed to be in the paddock Sunday: Dom, and his sons Steve and Frank, who also had his wife Rose and son Mike in tow. (Note: If you have the chance to see Mike, you will know precisely why he is the namesake for the Queen’s Plate hero). With speed appearing to hold up well earlier in the day, ‘Daniel’ seemed to have a very good chance at 7-1, and though he ran admirably, he weakened late to be a close-up third. I must say that it was such a pleasure to get to know the Romeos. They are people of the highest class who have a tremendous passion and affection for our game. We certainly would be blessed if we had more of them in our industry.
Christina and Lily Bossinakis in the Woodbine Paddock
   The paddock area prior to the Queen’s Plate can best be described as a mass of humanity, and horseflesh. Inglorious was led out of the saddling enclosure and into the paddock fairly early, and never seemed to turn a hair. I observed her owner, Vernon Dubinsky, rushing back and forth between the bay filly (Post 9, saddled in the center of the enclosure) and his other entrant, Seawatch (Post 12, situated at the far corner). In all honesty, if races were based on looks, I would have given the nod to Check Your Soul, who looked absolutely stupendous. Just a picture of health and confidence. Also getting a notable mention was Queen’splatekitten. While those two might have collected the ribbon for sexiness (at least of the equine variety), it was obviously not their day. (Check Your Soul tired late to be seventh). On the front side, the atmosphere leading into the race was almost electric, only muted by the seemingly endless loading process. The stands looked filled to capacity, however, I am told that was nothing compared to last year when Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance. When all was said and done, the winner of the Woodbine Oaks came away with a 2 1/2-length win, becoming the 34th filly to collect the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown. Returning in front of the stands amid a rousing ovation, the filly was greeted by her visibly moved trainer, Josie Carroll, who was collecting her second Plate win following her 2006 score with Edenwold. The day couldn’t have ended more fittingly with a pair of gallant ladies collaborating to win the "Gallop for the Guineas." Bringing down the curtain on my Queen’s Plate experience, I couldn’t help but think just how gracious and helpful our friends at Woodbine were during my visit, which really added to the whole experience.

March to the Winner's Circle
   This morning, I was greeted with an absolutely stunning day for my departure (after most of my trip was spent under an umbrella!). However, I can’t really complain, because the weather really cooperated when it had to. And while I was sitting in the airport sipping on my Tim Horton’s coffee (Dunkin’ who??), I couldn’t help thinking, this may not be my town, but they sure are my people.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lights Out at Woodbine

--Christina Bossinakis

   With less than 24 hours until the running of the 152nd Queen’s Plate, Saturday provided a good start to a great weekend of racing at Woodbine in Toronto. On this particular occasion, I had the pleasure of being escorted to the races by my uncle Costa Bossinakis (and you thought the female version of a Bossinakis was a handful!) and his long time associate, Frank Romeo, whose Terra Stables campaigned last year’s Queen’s Plate hero Big Red Mike. I must admit, I was a bit anxious when we arrived at the track, shortly after the third race. Frank was being a great host, leading us past the walking ring and paddock, and through the Canadian Hall of Fame (a must see if you visit the track). However, to be honest, I had just one thing on my mind--bet Clement Rock in the fourth. Thankfully, we made it up to our station on the fourth floor in the Woodbine Club in time for us to go to town on the Mark Casse 3-year-old. I cashed out on the next two as well, which made it a pretty good day on the betting front. Fingers crossed, Sunday will prove as fruitful.

I’ve been to racetracks all over the country, but I experienced a ‘first’ at Woodbine Saturday--a blackout. (I missed the famous Big Brown/Belmont power outage as I was at Epsom for the Derby) It was as dark as pitch in the owners club where we were seated, and before the backup lights had a chance to kick on, most seemed to be only marginally concerned. As for me, I took a renewed interest in my Cosmo, which I had been sadly neglecting while I ran back and forth between the paddock and the betting window. In total, the power couldn’t have been off for more than about 10 minutes, and when it came back on, it was back to business. Racing folk really are a hard core bunch.

Among Saturday’s highlights, a Reade Baker 2-year-old filly named Tu Endie Wei put in a sparkling performance in winning the My Dear S. The half-sister to Canadian Horse of the Year Biofuel certainly looks like she has a successful career ahead of her. I also got a huge kick out of seeing many of Canada’s top racing figures, having received much of my early racing instruction watching operations like Kinghaven Farms, Sam-Son Farm and Knob Hill Farms dominate the local scene. While the majority of Canada’s top connections were out in full force today, including local trainers Michael Doyle, Mark Casse, Roger Attfield and Josie Carroll (there are too many to recount here), Sunday’s Queen’s Plate card will surely draw some of America’s finest. With the opening act over, I am looking forward eagerly to the headlining show.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekend Stakes Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

GII NEW YORK S. (Saturday, Belmont, Race 6) - The filly and mare turf division has been very muddled this year with no clear divisional leader, so up-and-coming types should be given extra consideration. #2 PRIZE CATCH fits the bill. She's already four, but wasn't stepped up into stakes company until her seventh career start last time, when she took an overnight event going 1 1/16 miles. She got her final 5/16 in a speedy :29.16 to overcome a slow early pace, and has shown similarly impressive late acceleration in the past. The daughter of A.P. Indy out of a Seattle Dancer mare who also produced MGSW router Lead Story (Editor's Note) should relish the added ground.

GI MOTHER GOOSE S. (Saturday, Belmont, Race 9) - Joyful Victory was exposed in the GI Kentucky Oaks last time when fourth as the 2-1 chalk, and while she faces a slightly softer group here, she's still guaranteed to be overbet. #5 BUSTER'S READY will be tough to beat off her last--that runner-up effort in the GII Black-eyed Susan was a significant improvement on her previous efforts, but it's not like it came  under advantageous circumstances. She chased an above-average pace three wide, and still dusted her fellow pacesetters while earning the field's highest Beyer Speed Figure of 96.

GIII DEBUTANTE S. (Saturday, Churchill Downs, Race 10) - #3 TIPPY TOES will have to improve to win, but she is the only juvenile filly in this field who has proven she can rate effectively--a key in a race that will be contested at a distance farther than any of these have gone before. While some might view the fact that her connections ran her for a $50K tag in her first two starts as a negative, she was facing colts in the debut and with early 2-year-olds there really isn't much difference between higher-level claimers and straight maidens. It's very possible that she'll just be outclassed here or that one of the more talented members of this group will prove capable of rating, but a double-digit price on Tippy Toes will offer more than fair value to take a shot that the race will collapse.

SWEET AND SASSY S. (Saturday, Delaware, Race 9) - #7 BELLE OF THE HALL began her career very promisingly last year at three, taking two stakes races and running third in the GI Test. She finished off her sophomore campaign by finishing last in the GI Gazelle, but that was her only route attempt and can easily be thrown out. She returned in January to be seventh in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, but the West Point colorbearer was always caught between horses and never had a fair chance to get uncorked in the stretch. We can toss her last because it came on Tampa's quirky main track, and all of a sudden her form looks much more inviting. Trainer Tom Albertrani hits at an 18% clip off the bench with dirt sprinters (courtesy of DRF Formulator), so Belle of the Hall should come out ready to run.

GIII BOILING SPRING S. (Saturday, Monmouth, Race 10) - This is one of the more interesting races of the weekend, and one where you could go a number of ways. It's possible that Summer Soiree will like the turf, but her performance in the Kentucky Oaks was so poor that it would be wise to play against her at what figures to be a relatively short price. She hasn't been very good at all besides her two races for Larry Jones. Pontenuovo's 2010 French form puts her about a furlong ahead of this group--after annexing a Group 3 while still a maiden Aug. 1, she was third behind colts in the G1 Prix Morny three weeks later. Winner Dream Ahead returned to take the G1 Middle Park S. at Newmarket by nine lengths, and runner-up Tin Horse upset the G1 French 2,000 Guineas last month. She was last of five when stretched out to a mile, but the ground was heavy that day, so that's not enough evidence to conclude she doesn't want to go this far and her fourth-place finish in a Group 3 at Newbury last time Apr. 16 also probably puts her on top here. With all that being said, however, she's probably a play against. Conditioner Patrick Biancone is 0-for-7 with his imports over the past year (courtesy of DRF Formulator), and you should never take the lower-priced Euro in a field where there's more than one. So, I'll take the higher-priced Euro invader, #9 JANICELLAINE. With only two mediocre starts in Britain under her belt, there isn't much form to go on here. But the confidence displayed by Roger Attfield, who hasn't had this horse for long, to ship down from Canada for a graded event is something to note (her only published work came at MTH, but I'm assuming she originally arrived at Attfield's WO base). Attfield has only shipped two runners to the Jersey Shore over the past five seasons--one of them, Red Birkin, finished first in the 2007 renewal of this event before being DQ'd to third. Attfield has exceptional numbers over a much larger sample size in New York, so when he ships to the East coast, he means business.

C. BARLEY S. (Saturday, Woodbine, Race 4) - Despite being a half to Bridgetown (Speightstown), #7 CLEMENT ROCK was ignored last time in his turf debut, posting the upset at 11-1. If that effort is any indication, he has a bright future on the lawn. Towards the back early, the homebred had to make his rally along the rail, displaying several quick bursts of speed in the process. He got his final 5/16 in an exceptional :28.31--nearly a full second faster than the runner-up. There's not much to contend with in this group, and it's very possible that Clement Rock's 6-1 morning line quote is double what his odds will be at post time, but look for him to be flying late.

MY DEAR S. (Saturday, Woodbine, Race 7) - Virtually every member of this 14-horse field can win, so it's important to seek out value. #6 HENNY'S HEART figures to be the biggest overlay of the bunch. She's still a maiden, but fell 3/4 of a length short of first-out success against the boys here May 15. The horse who beat her, Banner Bill, came back a week ago to take the Victoria S. by 5 3/4 lengths. Henny's Heart came up one slot short again June 11, but the front-running winner slowed the pace down and simply got the jump on her. Henny's Heart's ability to rate is an asset, and she should appreciate an extra 1/16 of a mile to get uncorked.

GII KING EDWARD S. (Saturday, Woodbine, Race 8) - Grand Adventure took this race in impressive fashion last year, and a repeat of that performance would be tough to best, but the 5-year-old just doesn't seem to be the same horse this year--he's a play against. This is a definite spread race in multi-race wagers, but #3 SILVER ROCK is the most likely winner. After breaking through in his fifth start following a few close calls, the Melnyk homebred has strung together three wins--all with fast late rallies. There's an abundance of speed signed on here, and Silver Rock figures to get a perfect set up in search of his fourth-straight victory.

QUEEN'S PLATE (Sunday, Woodbine, Race 10) - It's tough to land on the chalk in a 17-horse field, but #13 CHECK YOUR SOUL is the best horse in this race, and might even offer a tiny bit of value at his 3-1 morning line (Inglorious could take more money than expected and help inflate Check Your Soul's price). He has overcome slow paces and been extremely visually impressive in his two wins over the track against better competition than what Inglorious and Queen'splate Kitten beat last time. Traffic trouble is probably his biggest potential obstacle. Since this race can be such a head-scratcher and the next two choices will be slightly overbet, I'll take some shots for second with Bowman's Causeway, Imhotep, Pender Harbour and Enduring Star.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Age of Wonderment: A Champagne Toast to Older Mares

Breeder Rob Whiteley has long held that older mares are unfairly discriminated against. He insists that if a buyer has an attractive foal or yearling in front of him or her, there's no reason to look past the horse's attributes and guess at whether the womb from whence it sprang will prove a hindrance. (Well, put that way, it just sounds silly, doesn't it?) Still, some buyers prefer to pass on weanlings and yearlings out of older mares. 

I'm not aware of any studies that fall on one side of the issue or another, but Whiteley's line of reasoning makes sense to me. And while you might have your own thoughts about the subject, it's tough to argue with the success Whiteley's had breeding out of mares with some age on them. On Belmont Stakes day, he and co-breeder Brandywine Farm, owned by Jim and Pam Robinson, were represented by Ruler On Ice (Roman Ruler), who posted the big 24-1 upset. Ruler On Ice's win fell on the one-year anniversary of his half-sister Champagne d'Oro's victory in the GI Acorn S. Champagne d'Oro, by Medaglia d'Oro, was an even bigger price on Belmont day in 2010, winning at 39-1, but later proved it was no fluke with a win in the GI Test S. at Saratoga. 

Both horses were produced by the Saratoga Six mare Champagne Glow, who as a foal of 1988 is now 23. A half-sister to the Grade I winners Grand Canyon (Fappiano) and Jurado (Alleged), Champagne Glow was a juvenile stakes winner and Grade I placed (behind Meadow Star) in the Frizette S. in 1990. She sold for $150,000 as a broodmare in 1997, then, two years later, was acquired by Whiteley and partner Dr. Christopher Elia's Oratis Thoroughbreds for $70,000 while in foal to Favorite Trick. An 11-year-old at the time, she had had seven previous foals, none of whom had earned black-type. And it would be five more until she came up with Champagne d'Oro--her 12th foal and her first black-type winner.

Champagne Glow was thus 19 when she had Champagne d'Oro and 20 when she had Ruler On Ice, which is really a testament to Whiteley's faith in the mare, and older mares in general. Many would have written her off at that point and sent her out to pasture. (Ensuring she would, in fact, be sent out to pasture when her breeding days were done, Whiteley and Elia gave Jim and Pam Robinson a 50% share in her and several other older mares under the agreement that the mares would live out their days at Brandywine.) 

Champagne Glow at 23 at Brandywine Farm

In today's day and age, and given the market's contraction, it's not uncommon to see nice-pedigreed, black-type mares whose first three or four foals haven't done much, go through the ring and barely bring the in utero stud fee. And sellers are more than happy (well, happy might not be the right word) to part ways with a mare like that. Hell, maybe that's just smart business in this climate. Many buyers are going to be a bit reluctant to take a chance on the offspring of a mare who hasn't yet produced, so who can blame them? Young, unproven mares are a safer bet. Yet it's refreshing to see a mare like Champagne Glow given a chance to succeed over the long haul, and maybe the lesson for smaller breeders with a limited budget is that there's value to be had shopping for an older mare. 

Interestingly, Champagne Glow had a counterpart in Europe last week, as regards aged mares producing Grade/Group 1 winners. Darara (Ire) (Top Ville {Ire}), foaled in 1983, was 24 when she had Rewilding (GB) (Tiger Hill {Ire}), who at Royal Ascot doubled his Group1 tally when beating So You Think (NZ) (High Chaparral {Ire}) in the G1 Prince of Wales's S. That added to his earlier victory in this year's G1 Dubai Sheema Classic. 

Champagne Glow
Unlike Champagne Glow, Darara showed promise early--her first foal was a stakes winner--but she too did her best work in her later years. Watership Down Stud's blue hen now has four Group 1 winners to her credit, and they were born when she was aged 10 (Darazari {Ire}); 16 (the roughly $5.2 million record-priced yearling Diaghilev {Ire}); 22 (the very fine Dar Re Mi {GB}); and Rewilding at 24. All of which made the Ir470,000gns Watership Down paid for the half-sister to Darshaan (GB) as a broodmare in 1994--also when she was 11--seem like a bargain.

June in general has been a terrific month for the offspring of older mares. Acclamation (Unusual Heat), who recently defended his title in the GI Charles Wittingham Memorial H. at Hollywood Park, was born to a mare who was 18 at the time (and who hadn't previously produced a stakes winner). The Belmont Stakes undercard was flush with such runners. Trappe Shot (Tapit)'s dam was 19 when she had him, C. S. Silk (Medaglia d'Oro)'s dam was 18, and Justin Philip (First Samurai)'s dam was 14. In Europe, meanwhile, Reliable Man (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}), winner of the G1 Prix du Jockey Club, was born to a mare who was 15 at the time, while G1 Gold Cup hero Fame and Glory (GB) (Montjeu {Ire})'s dam was 13. 

Pam (under attack) & Jim Robinson, together with
new addition Einstein (attacking) and Taylor
I emailed Whiteley the other day to congratulate him on Belmont, and asked about Champagne Glow's slow start. He tried to shoulder the blame, then offered some more insight on the older-mare debate. "Don't blame this good mare for her slow start…It took me a while to figure her out and get it right," he said. "It may not happen, but this should be the final nail in the coffin of that silly and enduring sales myth and stigma that older mares lose their ability to produce good horses as they get older. The genetics don't change, and if they produce a quality foal, it IS a quality foal."

Incidentally, one need only to see the condition of Champagne Glow to believe she's still capable--now at 23--of throwing a quality foal. A resident of Brandywine Farm near Paris, Kentucky, she looks in great shape. On Tuesday, Jim and Pam Robinson were nice enough to show me around the property, a sprawling 600-acre farm that is home to some 200 broodmares and 120 foals. Pam said there was no real secret in taking care of the older mares. "We have a tendency to separate some of these older girls out and put them into similar groups," she said. "We'll put four or five in together and get them out of the big herds. But it's all just practicing good, basic horsemanship."

During his unexpected debut on the national stage after the Belmont, the gelded Ruler On Ice gave the impression of a horse you could be a handful at times. But the Robinsons remember him as a horse who just needed to be kept busy. "He was energetic and very full of himself," said Pam. "He was never a problem child, but always wanted something to do. We gave him a jolly ball--which we'll do with a lot of the colts--to help him occupy his time, and he'd throw the thing around. Champagne d'Oro was actually bigger than he was, but he was very well-balanced and very well made."

Champagne Glow will have to wait a year to see if she can make it three straight stakes winners--she didn't have a foal in 2009. Her 2010 foal, a filly by A.P. Warrior, sold as a weanling to Bill and Susan Casner for $130,000 at last year's Keeneland November Sale. According to the Robinsons, the Casners originally considered pinhooking the filly back at the yearling sales, but well before the Belmont, nixed that idea. "Bill gave the filly to his wife, and Sue said, 'No, we're not selling her," laughed Jim. Champagne Glow did not produce a foal this year, but has been bred back to Roman Ruler. And who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come for this golden girl.

Mares and foals led out at Brandywine Farm                   photos by Lucas Marquardt

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On the Comeback Trail...

--Steve Sherack

Looking for some fresh runners that can make an immediate impact from the sidelines? Keep an eye out for Arresting Officer (c, 3, Officer--Gold Roses, by Seeking the Gold) and Funny Sunny (f, 3, Sharp Humor--Sunny Laugh, by Relaunch).

The California-bred Arresting Officer immediately caught the eye with a sharp debut maiden win going six furlongs for trainer Mike Mitchell at the Oak Tree meeting in late October (TDN Video). Away from the stalls slowly, the two-year-old was rushed up along the inside to challenge for the lead through an opening quarter in :22.44. With Joe Talamo aboard, the chestnut rebroke in the stretch and drew off to win in style by a geared-down 5 3/4 lengths.

Backed at 4-5 while negotiating an extra furlong in the California Breeders' Champion S. at Santa Anita Dec. 26, Arresting Officer was parked out four wide through a half mile in a snappy :44.39. He gained the lead at the top of the straight and began to edge clear in the stretch, but just didn’t have quite enough left in the tank to hold off a late rally to his inside and got tagged by a half-length (TDN Video).

Subsequently transferred to Richard Mandella, Arresting Officer has posted five workouts at Santa Anita since, including a five-furlong move in 1:00 4/5 June 9 and a sharp six-furlong drill in 1:12 June 15. The $47,000 KEESEP yearling graduate is owned by S N R Investments LLC.

Amanda Pope went to $380,000 to acquire Funny Sunny from WinStar’s draft at the Keeneland November sale following a smart debut win at Hoosier Park for conditioner Richard Budge Oct. 13. A good second to Oh Carole (Unbridled’s Song) while making her first start for the Bob Hess Jr. barn in a Gulfstream allowance Jan. 30 (TDN Video), the gray’s purchase price looked like a bargain in her next attempt in Hallandale Feb. 25.

Chasing in second through an opening quarter in :22.33 in that first-level allowance, Funny Sunny gained command as they turned for home and opened daylight in the stretch after a couple of taps from Kent Desormeaux’s whip to score by 10 3/4 lengths, good for a 95 Beyer Speed Figure (TDN Video). Missing in action since, Funny Sunny has breezed twice at Belmont Park, posting a three-furlong bullet in :36 June 7 and an easy five-furlong move in 1:03 2/5 June 13.

Check back with this blog for future updates as these two promising sophomores near their return to the races.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


-- M Kizenko

Every spring, racing fans are reminded that the last horse to sweep the Triple Crown was Affirmed, who resisted Alydar to the last in 1978. When the 3-year-olds hit New York for the Belmont--Triple Crown on the line or not--the footage of Secretariat’s emphatic victory in 1973 is held up as the pinnacle of performance, and rightly so. But nestled between those two champions is Seattle Slew’s brazen run through the 1977 Classics, when he led every step of the Belmont to complete the Triple Crown while still unbeaten

   Secretariat is honored with a Grade I race on grass at Arlington every August, and Affirmed will get his due this afternoon with a Grade III race for 3-year-olds that didn’t come to hand quickly enough for the Triple Crown trail. But why no love for Slew? He was a first-ballot inductee to the Hall of Fame, and established himself as one of the most fashionable and successful sires of his day.

   Peter Pan. Jim Dandy. Hill Prince. King’s Bishop. Those aren’t exactly household names, but they all have graded stakes named for them at the New York tracks. When I was growing up, I was sure that the Peter Pan was named for the J.M. Barrie character who so memorably became a Disney movie. To my surprise, the race honors the 1907 Belmont winner. Jim Dandy surprised Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers, and is now memorialized at Saratoga. Hill Prince was the champion 2-year-old of 1949 who captured the Preakness the following season. King’s Bishop secured the Michigan Mile and One-Eighth H. and Pontiac Grand Prix S. at three before heading to New York and winning the GII Carter and GIII Fall Highweight as a 4-year-old in 1973. A sprint in his name was established at Saratoga in 1984 and quickly moved up the graded ranks before becoming the nation’s premier seven-furlong event for 3-year-olds.

   Triple Crown winners Count Fleet (1942) and Whirlaway (1941) have black-type events named for them in the heart of the winter at Aqueduct’s inner track meet. Riva Ridge, the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner who toiled in the shadow of his stablemate Secretariat, had a sprint on the Belmont S. undercard from 1985-2005, when it was renamed in honor of Woody Stephens, who saddled five straight Belmont winners from 1982-1986.

   The New York Racing Association has been quick to honor the best fillies to grace its tracks: the ill-fated Ruffian and Go for Wand are memorialized with Grade I events. The peerless Personal Ensign also has one (as do Beldame and Frizette), but it appears to be a different story for males. There have been a series of overnight stakes named for New York-based horses whose talents span the spectrum; the Easy Goer and Xtra Heat were recently contested, while the next condition book has races named for the likes of Once Wild and Rob n Gin.

   Like NYRA, the California tracks mostly stick to locale names and racing personages for graded stakes in the Golden State, but Best Pal, Native Diver and Triple Bend did distinguish themselves enough for posterity.

   It’s certainly a marked contrast to Fair Grounds, which is eager to give a nod to champions who passed through New Orleans. Risen Star, Mineshaft and now Rachel Alexandra are all graded stakes events.

   But why not rename, say, the Peter Pan for Seattle Slew? His male-line descendants to have won that May contest include Slew O’ Gold, A.P. Indy, Purge, Oratory, Sightseeing and Casino Drive, while this year’s winner, Alternation, is out of a Seattle Slew mare.

   The Travers, you’re good. However, if you’ve ever wondered who exactly the Wood Memorial, Jerome and Dwyer honor, I can recommend The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America by William H. P. Robertson. Of course, there’s Google and Wikipedia these days.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Get Me To The Eighth Pole, Baby

--Andy Belfiore

   Before he gets to the starting gate for the GI Belmont S., Jesus Castanon might want to have a few words with Angel Cordero Jr. There has been a lot of talk that Castanon’s Belmont mount Shackleford (Forestry) will give it up like the Red Sox in September when he hits the long stretch at Big Sandy. Thirty-five years ago, that’s what they were saying about Bold Forbes. Cordero wasn’t listening.

   Bold Forbes was a top-drawer 2-year-old in 1975, winning five straight in Puerto Rico before heading to New York and tagging the Tremont and Saratoga Special onto his winning streak. Sidelined by bucked shins, he lost the first two starts of his comeback, but hit his best stride at the end of February 1976 and reeled off wins in the San Jacinto S. at Santa Anita and the Bay Shore S. at Aqueduct.

   But there was a lot of doubt about his stamina. Bold Forbes was by Irish Castle, who was quick enough to win the Hopeful at two, but went 0-for-9 at three and four. And he didn’t know the meaning of the word “rate.” The colt left the blocks like he was late for the bus, and there was no slowing him down til he hit the wire.

   He handled the nine furlongs of the Wood Memorial in track-record time, yet they still questioned if he could get a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby. Bold Forbes answered that query with an in-your-face yes. Favored Honest Pleasure tested him early and charged at him late, but he couldn’t get by him, and Cordero’s “Puerto Rican Rolls-Royce” was draped in the blanket of roses (video).

   His headstrong ways did cost him in the Preakness--Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure hooked up right out of the gate at Pimlico and scorched through six furlongs in 1:09 flat, besting the then-track record of 1:09 1/5. It is still the fastest three-quarters in Preakness history. Honest Pleasure spit it and beat just one home; Bold Forbes was gasping, but still managed to run third, beaten four lengths by Elocutionist.

Bold Forbes (red silks) breaks from the gate in the Belmont   Coglianese Photo
   Shaking off a badly grabbed quarter, Bold Forbes headed to Belmont Park. Honest Pleasure and Elocutionist both opted out of the final jewel in the Triple Crown, helping the Derby winner’s chances. But, as the late great sportswriter Bill Leggett reported in Sports Illustrated, he faced nine rivals in the 1 1/2-mile test because “owners and trainers of colts of modest talent could not believe that the sprinting Bold Forbes would be able to carry his speed over the full distance.”

   Cordero’s response? His DRF quote was, “I told [Bold Forbes], ‘Get me to the eighth pole, baby, and I’ll take it from there.’”

   That’s just the way it worked out. In one of the most masterful rides of a career defined by them, Cordero took Bold Forbes right to the lead, but kept him well off the rail in an attempt to slow the runaway train just a little. Bold Forbes had four lengths on the field after an opening quarter in :23 4/5, with Cordero motionless in the saddle. He’d opened up by seven after a half in :47 and six furlongs in 1:11 1/5. Best Laid Plans made a run at him on the turn, but Cordero didn’t flinch, and he was drawing off again as they hit the mile in 1:36.

Shackleford & Castanon
   Five in front when they wheeled into the stretch, Bold Forbes did what he’d been asked. He carried Cordero to the eighth pole, and then his Hall of Fame pilot went to work. Using the whip judiciously, Cordero squeezed til Bold Forbes was bone dry, but they hit the wire a neck in front of McKenzie Bridge (video).

   Before the race, Cordero told Leggett, “People can say that Bold Forbes will not get a mile and a half. Let them talk. Let’s wait until the race is run. But remember the fish: he only gets caught when he opens his mouth.”

   Cordero walked the walk in the 1976 Belmont. Maybe Castanon can get him to talk the talk, and, with a little advice from one of the greatest riders of all time, silence those doubting Shackleford.

Fresh Vs. Fit: Recipe for Belmont Success

-- Christina Bossinakis

   It’s that time of year--in fact, one of my favorite periods of the racing season--Belmont Stakes week. I guess living about an hour from Belmont Park (that’s if you manage to hit the Belt Prkwy before 6 a.m.) has given me a very strong appreciation and affection for the final leg of the Triple Crown. Every year, I  make the pilgrimage with some of my esteemed colleagues from the TDN to New York to enjoy the week’s festivities. I was at Belmont Monday morning to watch Animal Kingdom and Nehro have their first works over the track. Animal Kingdom not only worked well, but he looked really good doing it. Quite frankly, I think the Belmont is Animal Kingdom’s to lose. He looks the part, acts the part and will have no excuses if he doesn’t get up in time Saturday. On the other hand, Nehro didn’t leave quite the same impression. However, in his defense, Nehro did pretty much what his connections wanted him to do, and by all accounts, he didn’t wow the masses heading into the Kentucky Derby either, so should we be worried? Not strictly based on that fact, I think.

   Then there is the Preakness winner, Shackleford. He definitely is nice to look at and moves well over the track. In all honesty, I didn’t think much of him prior to the Preakness, but he definitely has shown incremental improvement in his latest few races. His tactical speed appears to be a big plus in a race that doesn’t have a whole lot of early running types to speak of, and although his sire doesn’t scream distance, his female line definitely offers Classic quality. Also, not to be overlooked in the Belmont is the freshness factor. Shackleford is by no means a little slight and delicate flower (think more L L Cool J), and appears to have negotiated the grueling Triple Crown looking no worse for his efforts. However, we won’t really know how much his top notch recent efforts have taken out of him until he hits that long Belmont stretch..

Animal Kingdom                 Sherackatthetrack Photo
   Speaking of freshness, there are a couple of horses in here that might offer some interest at a price. Monzon came home a winner in the Count Fleet S. on the inner track at the Big A Jan. 1, but couldn’t get it together when fifth in Tampa’s GIII Sam F. Davis S. Feb. 12. In my mind, Tampa’s main track is unique, so I generally try not to penalize a horse that runs poorly there. Last time out, he came home sixth in the May 14 GII Peter Pan S., but he seemed to have some excuses, so there could be some improvement in him with a cleaner trip this time. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he is by Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, who in turn has already sired a Belmont winner, Point Given.

   Master of Hounds is another horse that exceeded my expectations in the Derby. Third in Group 1 company in England last year, the bay came home sixth–beaten only three lengths–in the GII BC Juvenile Turf. A nose back in second on the synthetic in the G2 UAE Derby, he was far back in the early going of the Derby, negotiated his way through the mass of horseflesh and got up for fifth, beaten 5 ½ lengths. He’s been off since that effort, which is positive, however, all the flying back and forth from Europe has to take something out of a horse. In any case, I’m not sure he’s good enough to win, but could definitely get a piece of it.

Shackleford       Sherackatthetrack Photo
Past is Present...

   Jotting down some of my thoughts on this weekend’s Belmont contenders has reminded me of a story I wrote several years back. In 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing trainer D. Wayne Lukas (now a Hall of Famer) for a feature that ran in the Belmont Stakes Souvenir Program. When asked what kind of horse it took to win ‘The Test of a Champion’, Lukas offered some very insightful and pertinent points.

   "All of the Belmont horses have to be extremely sound and they’ve got to have an iron constitution," he explained. "They can’t be delicate. They have to be the kind of horses that can stand the stress and strain of getting there and do it on that day. Most people think that a 1 1/2-mile race should suit a horse who’s a natural stayer. I do think that they have to have that quality to stay a mile-and-a-half, but I think they also have to have a turn of foot and some tactical speed. It becomes a test of having a horse that’s fresh and on his game. [Trainer] Woody [Stephens] proved that with his five winners, because he would sit in New York and wait for everybody to go through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and then he’d pick them up and whip them."

   While it’s true, Woody Stephens mastered the art of defeating battle-worn rivals with his daisy-fresh runners, Lukas didn’t. Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch and Editor’s Note ran in the first two Triple Crown events before culminating the five-week stretch with a win at Belmont. Lukas’ most recent Belmont winner, Commendable, ran in the Derby, but bypassed the Preakness.

   I think the point is, regardless of whether a trainer brings a fresh horse or one that has danced every dance, it comes down to how well he or she knows his/her horse. Stephens knew what worked best for him, and Lukas knew what worked for his operation. On Saturday, we will see who will establish their recipe for Belmont success.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: Belmont Stakes Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

The Belmont is a very quirky race that rarely yields a particularly formful result. In the last 10 runnings of the "Test of the Champion," the winner has paid, on average, more than $38. But, with that in mind, and my usual contrarian instincts temporarily kept at bay, I'm going to do the unthinkable--pick. . . the. . . favorite. With Alternation puzzlingly skipping the race that suited him so well, I've got no choice. I'll be shopping around for some prices underneath, and I'll still play other runners on top in certain bets, but I think Animal Kingdom is a very likely winner at a short price. See below for my detailed take on every Belmont entrant.

#9 Animal Kingdom - For those who didn't believe after his decisive win in the Derby, the chestnut turned in a very similar performance in the Preakness--pairing up 103 Beyer Speed Figures. The difference in winning and coming up a close second (in addition to Shackleford's gutsy performance) was probably the shorter distance and how far back Animal Kingdom was early. His 32 early Moss Pace Figure was 26 points slower than the equivalent figure he earned in the Derby, which was more in line with previous efforts, so it's very likely that Animal Kingdom can and will be closer early on Saturday--especially if he breaks a little more alertly. Animal Kingdom's stamina-laden pedigree has been well-documented, so distance the is of no concern. The biggest question mark for Animal Kingdom is how he's doing coming off two big races in a short time period, but a fast and very visually impressive work Monday morning should put those worries quickly to bed.

#7 Monzon - Since I picked the chalk on top, I can't help but go longshot hunting with my second choice. I was high on Monzon coming into the Peter Pan because of his very impressive and subsequently validated win in the Count Fleet S. over the winter at Aqueduct, but he checked in a disappointing sixth. He was very far out of it early behind a neutral pace and seemed to be putting in a threatening move at the top of the lane, but sort of flattened late. A glance at the come-home times in the Peter Pan shows that, after the winner Alternation (:12.30), runner-up Adios Charlie (:12.68) and Monzon (:12.69) were moving much better late than the rest of the field. Monzon did less running early, obviously, but it's something at least mildly interesting to note. Trainer Ignacio Correas IV has run a limited number of horses in the U.S., so it is difficult to generate a sufficient sample size for determining if he does better first or second off the lay-off. Using DRF Formulator, I decided to include Correas' stats with first and second timers in my handicapping based on the principle that the techniques used to get a horse ready to win on debut are the same as getting a previously raced horse to win first off the bench. The modified stats are telling--Correas is 2/24 (8%) with his firsters and first off the lay-off runners, but he is 5/17 (29%) with his second timers and second off the lay-off types. The numbers still aren't perfect, but they're enough to be confident that Monzon will be better in his second start back off the bench. He's a classic "maybe horse”--not one to rely on by any means, but a runner who has enough sneaky positives to take a chance on and feature in bets. The "maybes" might turn out to be "NOs," but at 30-1, Monzon is the type of quirky horse that can juice up the exotics.

#6 Nehro - My Derby pick gave a good account of himself on the first Saturday in May, and while he was ridden slightly more aggressively than he should have been, his mild trip excuses don't come close to accounting for how easily Animal Kingdom beat him. His connections did the right thing to bypass the Preakness, and that freshness edge is not to be taken lightly, but his main rival does not appear any worse for wear, so there isn't much reason to expect Nehro to turn the tables. He's still very talented, can be up close if he needs to be and should have no problem with the distance, but something unforeseen--like a rough trip for the favorite--might be necessary for Nehro to find the winner's circle. I'll still use him prominently on all of my tickets, but I think that after a string of races where he was an overlay, he'll be slightly overbet this time.

#1 Master of Hounds - This European invader is a total “wise guy” horse, but he does offer some positives. Everyone could see that he was running on late in the Derby, but there's more to it than that. It has been all but proven by now that the inside part of the track on Derby weekend was the last place to be, but Master of  Hounds traveled on the inside for part of the early running of the Derby and was steered to the rail while he was turning it on the stretch. His final quarter of :24.13 was only slower than Animal Kingdom, Dialed In and (surprisingly) Twice the Appeal's. Stamina isn’t an issue pedigree-wise, but he'll have to prove he isn't over the top. Master of Hounds has only run twice this year, but he has been subjected to several long intercontinental trips. If he's 100%, he can make an impact.

#4 Santiva -  He was slow last year, but has progressed from two to three despite a fairly uneventful start to the year. His sixth-place finish in the Derby last time earned him a new Beyer top (95), and with good spacing between his races, it's likely he's ready for another step forward. A son of Giant's Causeway shouldn't have much trouble going this long, and while his dam is a half to the brilliant sprinter Safely Kept, Santiva's siblings have seemed to prefer routing. He can hit the board at a price.

#12 Shackleford - I'm a fan of his and had him high on my list in both the Derby and Preakness, but I think his pedigree will catch up with him here. Granted, he outperformed his breeding in that gutsy Preakness win, but he didn't give the appearance of wanting any more ground. His Derby run was underrated because of where on the track he did his running and misconceptions about the pace, but not enough to use him on top here. I fear him, especially considering the expected pace scenario, but think that there will be too many horses running late for him to hold off--even though he's more talented than almost all of them.

#10 Mucho Macho Man - As always, he's a threat to hit the board, but he'll be an underlay in the win pool. Despite a lofty reputation and more than $600,000 in the bank, he has only won twice. His backers have always pointed to his late foaling date and lanky frame as evidence that he's got room for improvement, but Mucho Macho Man has run just about the same race in his last seven outings. He's much more an exposed picture of consistency than the lightly raced, ready to explode type that he has been made out to be by many. Mucho Macho Man also has significant distance limitations pedigree-wise. He sports the field's lowest Tomlinson rating for the distance and his dam side pedigree is very sprint-oriented. His win odds on the board will probably be 1/3 of what they should be, but it's tough to toss him completely from second and third because of how consistent he is.

#5 Brilliant Speed - I didn't expect him to take to the dirt last time, and while he ran a credible seventh, it might have been more due to his stamina than his affinity for dirt. He probably simply outstayed others who were more distance challenged. He'll be overbet off of that misleading late run and because of his pedigree, and I'll stick with my original opinion that he's not a dirt horse.

#8 Prime Cut - His Beyer figures do not compare favorably with his competition, and he has come up in lower level races in his last two. His unraced dam is a half to useful sprinter Disco Rico and his well-bred sire Bernstein was purely a sprinter, so it's not as if the distance will help move him up to the level of his rivals.

#2 Stay Thirsty - He hasn't progressed at all since his debut last July, and his three off-the-board finishes came the three times he was stepped into Grade I company. It's a bit of a fallacy to think more distance is going to be positive for him--he's more of a precocious middle distance horse than a true router.

#3 Ruler On Ice - Nothing about his form makes him look competitive here, and his pedigree is not well-suited to more ground. He was beaten by Concealed Identity in the Tesio last time, and that runner was outclassed in the Preakness. With the addition of blinkers and some quick recent works, he might add to the early pace, but he won't be around late.

#11 Isn't He Perfect - He should get the distance, but not nearly fast enough to be a contender.

I'll use my top four--to varying degrees--in the Pick 4, and my main vertical wager will be a trifecta key of Animal Kingdom over Monzon, Nehro, Master of Hounds and Santiva. I'll also probably be forced to make a small win bet on Monzon because of what his price will be.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Zodiac: Nine Months Later

-Sarah Andrew

 September 2010: I met Zodiac at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Maryland. The stakes-winning gelding retired from racing a year earlier with earnings of over $200,000 in 26 starts.

I walked into his stall and he gingerly turned his head to greet his visitor. The weight of his body was supported by an Anderson Sling, he was receiving round-the-clock intravenous fluids, and his legs were bandaged from top to bottom. 

Zodiac's body score on the Henneke Scale was a 1, which is severely emaciated. He suffered from ulcers both in his digestive system and in his eyes, and the staff battled his lymphangitis with ice wraps and medicine. He ran sporadic low-grade fevers, and received blood plasma to aid in his recovery.

Days End took Zodiac and seven other Thoroughbreds into their care as the most critical starvation cases in a West Virginia cruelty case which resulted in the seizure of over 50 horses. I met the veterinarian who was caring for the horses, some local Animal Control officers, and the primary caregivers. They all knew their jobs very well and knew every lump and bump on the horses’ bodies. The volunteers of Days End worked day and night to care for these horses. A day sheet hung from each stall door, marked with notations from every visit to the stall: “Filled hay.” “One manure pile.” “Cleaned stall.” “Filled water. Drank half a bucket.”

One day later, I was at the World Equestrian Games, photographing some of the greatest equine athletes in the world. Six hours east, seven mighty Thoroughbreds fought their own daily battle for their lives and they never left my mind once while I was in Lexington.

November 2010:  Once again, I was on the road to Kentucky, this time to photograph the Breeders' Cup. I stopped by Days End to pay a visit to Zodiac. He and the other Thoroughbreds were all showing improvement; most of the other horses were already on a turnout schedule and had shown great improvement in their weight and overall health.

Zodiac was still in his sling, but looked much better. He had gained weight, and did not look as drawn and gaunt as he did in September. So many horses could not have endured what Zodiac had been through, but there was something about this horse that would not quit.

All winter, I read updates on the Days End website, and Zodiac began to improve in leaps and bounds, literally. He was strong enough to stay out of his sling after a few months, and then there was the joyous video posted online of Zodiac taking his first walk outside (Video).

May 2011: Preakness weekend. The horse who greeted me on my latest visit had regained much of the fire and elegance that he had as a racehorse. Zodiac yawned and luxuriated as his personal grooming team readied him for his photo session. It was clear that the volunteers took great pride in showing off their horse, and Zodiac was basking in the attention.

When he was turned loose in his pasture, Zodiac romped like he was making up for lost time... and he was.

Much has been said in praise of the heart of a Thoroughbred. Zodiac showed heart on the track, and again when he fought the hardest battle of his life

Please visit Days End Farm's website or Facebook page for more information about the work they do for horses in need, like Zodiac, and so many others.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: North of the Border

--Brian DiDonato

A trio of interesting stakes for sophomores will take place at Woodbine Sunday, and all three should offer good wagering value.

Inglorious, undefeated over the track, is the 5-2 morning line favorite for the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks and, for some reason, is considered the early favorite for the Queen’s Plate against the boys in three weeks. She’s certainly talented and is probably the most likely winner of Sunday’s event, but she is far from unbeatable. Her Beyer Figures are no better than most of her competitors and, as a daughter of Hennessy, she might be stretching her pedigree slightly at 1 1/8 miles. Her dam was a stakes winner at nine furlongs, however, and her half-brother Sebastian’s Song (Cherokee Run) was third in the Plate Trial--he did seem to have some distance limitations, though.

Marketing Mix has a ton of upside and will finally get to go two turns--she’s by Medaglia d’Oro out of the Kris S. mare Instant Thought, who is a daughter of MGSP turf router Nimble Mind (Lyphard). The dark bay came with an impressive late run to graduate at 6 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland in her second race Apr. 10 and show horse Divalarious (Distorted Humor) was a very impressive graduate on the Belmont sod a week and a half ago. Marketing Mix was left with far too much to do last time in the Fury S., but put in a solid late run to cut the margin between her and Roxy Gap--who probably doesn’t want to go this far--to 3/4 of a length. The 6-1 morning line quote on Marketing Mix is more than fair, and she’d be worth a win bet at 7-2 or better.

Bear’s Chill is a suspect favorite in the Plate Trial. While he has been very impressive in his last two efforts, both came in sprints. He went 8 1/2 furlongs on the grass at Gulfstream before that, and was fourth as the chalk--the only time he has ever finished off the board. He might have needed a race off the bench, his sire was a MGSW at the distance and GISP going longer and his dam was second in the Woodbine Oaks and GSP at 1 1/4 miles but, considering what price he will be, it makes sense to play against Bear’s Chill. Second choice Check Your Soul is a much more likely winner than the favorite. He is proven around two turns--having broken his maiden at 1 1/8 miles on the grass at Keeneland before taking the Wando S. here last time in fast-closing fashion. He traveled his final 5/16ths in a speedy :29.37 while last behind an early pace that came up about as slow as you’ll see on the Moss Pace Figure scale. As if it were earned in a slow-paced turf race, the 74 Beyer Check Your Soul earned last time is not indicative of the quality of his performance because of how slow they went early.

The two maidens in this group are also dangerous and will offer good value both on top and, probably more realistically, underneath. Speed Ring, who I’ve mentioned here before, set the pace on an anti-speed surface at Keeneland when unveiled in April and was taken very wide in his second start here while bet off the board to be the more-fancied half of a 4-5 entry. He finished third, but covered so much more ground than the winner that it can be argued he was best. He’s a full to a Canadian champion 2-year-old filly out of a champion 3-year-old filly and, as a son of A.P. Indy, might have needed a few races to show his best. This is a very aggressive move by trainer Mark Frostad, and it appears that Speed Ring is primed for a big effort against a group that isn’t overly intimidating. Imhotep was a very nice second first out on the turf at Gulfstream, but was caught extremely wide as the favorite over the Keeneland poly while being rushed up early, and understandably tired to fifth in the lane. According to Trakus Data, he traveled 61 more feet than the winner, which accounts for all but a half-length of the 7 1/2 lengths Imhotep was beaten that day. Todd Pletcher is seven-for-19 (37%) on the Woodbine main track over the last five years (stat courtesy of DRF Formulator). I’ll make a small win bet on Speed Ring, but will focus more of my attention on exactas of Check Your Soul over Speed Ring and Imhotep. I’ll also play the reverse combos and the all maiden exacta for less.

If the morning line odds hold up in the Alywow S., Speightstown Lady will be a very significant overlay. She was a sharp debut winner on the main track here Apr. 3, and set an extremely fast pace before getting passed by Bibi’s Doll, who came from last, in an allowance 20 days later. She’s the speed of the speed here, and her dam, a MSW and GSP sprinting, won her turf debut at a mile at Keeneland.