Friday, October 21, 2011

Frankely Unbelievable

by Andy Belfiore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

--by Nicole Mattei-Lincé

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Maiden Breakers Shine on Stakes Loaded Weekend Racecards...

--Steve Sherack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 6, 2011

She's Back...

--Gary King

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Second Chances: Juvenile Maidens to Keep an Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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