Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Holy Bull

--Brian DiDonato

Breeders’ Cup winners have historically been significant underlays in their subsequent return races, and Hansen (Tapit) should be no exception in Gulfstream's GIII Holy Bull S. Sunday. While his Eclipse-earning form in 2011 was solid, it’s likely that he will regress off the bench--especially with serious early pressure. Recent maiden breaker Silver Max (Badge of Silver) has proven unable to rate, and if My Adonis (Pleasantly Perfect) runs as quick early as he did last time in the GIII Delta Jackpot (95 Moss Pace Figure - 23 points above par), he’ll add more fuel to the fire. My Adonis has run slower early in past efforts, but he enters this race with three straight bullet drills, including a :34 4/5 spin at Palm Meadows Jan. 22--much faster than what any of the other nine workers at that distance went in.

With Fort Loudon (Awesome of Course)’s speed figures ruling him out for the top slot, this becomes a two-horse race between Algorithms (Bernardini) and Consortium (Bernardini). While the former came out ahead in the first "Battle of the Bernardinis" here with a slightly tougher trip going 6 1/2 furlongs Dec. 16, Consortium offers more upside--especially at this longer distance. Algorithms hails from a family of predominantly sprinters (namely Keyed Entry and Justin Phillip), whereas Consortium is the first foal out of a GSW at 1 1/8 miles who was out of a nine-furlong GSW herself. Consortium also gets Lasix for the first time--trainer Kiaran McLaughlin boasts a $2.28 ROI (23%) over the past five years with horses adding Lasix in stakes races, according to DRF Formulator. McLaughlin swept Aqueduct’s 3-year-old stakes Jan. 7 with Captivating Lass (A.P. Indy) and Alpha (Bernardini)--both were adding Lasix and ran new Beyer tops in victory.

Consortium won’t be too high of a price facing just five foes, but his odds will be inflated thanks to the presence of Hansen. Something in the 3-1 or 7-2 range would be value. A straight double with Sacristy (Pulpit) in the preceding GII Forward Gal S. might also be a worthwhile play. While she figures to be a short price, if the field remains intact, she is a very likely winner due to the projected pace scenario.

For a longshot, take a look at In The Beat (Street Sense) in Race 7, a tough 8 1/2-furlong allowance that features several runners that should probably be in the Holy Bull. While In The Beat only has one race in his career that makes him competitive here, his Nov. 26 maiden breaker was very solid and hard to explain away. He came from far off a slow pace, earned a competitive Beyer with this bunch (83) and has been flattered by runner-up Radiant Talent (Johannesburg), who earned an 88 when donning cap and gown before finishing a solid second in a Fair Grounds allowance. In The Beat figures to appreciate this trip, despite failing to show up at a mile here Jan. 7. He was never put into the race in that effort behind a slow pace, and now gets a rider change with several solid-looking drills in the interim for team Street Sense (Tafel/Nafzger).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge: Day Two

- Sarah Andrew

You can read about Day One on the TDN Blog (click here).

Day Two of the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge at last weekend’s Maryland Horse World Expo drew a much larger crowd than the first day. Three Thoroughbreds were led, tacked up, into the brightly lit Cow Palace Arena. Four X The Trouble regarded the bleachers, food stands, sound system, and running children carefully with a cocked head and bright eyes.

For the benefit of the folks who were not able to attend Friday’s evaluation and introduction to the Retired Racehorse Training Program (RRTP) and the Trainer Challenge, president Steuart Pittman went over the rules and introduced the participating trainers and horses.

Noticeably absent from Saturday’s activities was High Level, the versatile chestnut chosen by trainer Tiffany Catledge. Steuart Pittman announced that High Level had developed a stone bruise. While he healed, Catledge would work with the alternate, Solidify, the tall dark bay gelding from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue.

In order to maintain an authentic training experience, none of the horses in the Challenge were allowed to be ridden since they retired from the track. With the exception of one brief under-saddle evaluation to check for physical issues, these horses had been turned out since their retirement.

At the Expo, Pittman explained, “I told [the trainers] they could sleep in the stalls with the horses if they wanted to, to bond with them, but they couldn’t get on them. Tiffany asked, ‘Can we just get on them once just to make sure it’s OK?’ and I said, ‘No, I want this to be as real as possible.’ ”

And real it was. Eric Dierks was in the saddle on the dapple grey mare, Brazilian Wedding, before Pittman completed his introduction. Bitted in a loose-ring snaffle with no martingale and wearing brushing boots on her legs, the mare walked around the ring in both directions, with one ear on her rider and one ear on the crowd.

Tiffany Catledge let Solidify feel the weight of a rider by standing in the left stirrup and leaning on the saddle before she swung her right leg over his back. True to his Fonzie-esque attitude, the 6-year-old gelding was just as cool on Saturday as he was on Friday. Catledge settled lightly into the saddle and walked on. Solidify was fitted with a D-ring snaffle, brushing boots, training yoke (minus the martingale attachment), and a smart-looking bridle, generously donated by the folks at Five Star Tack.

Once Kerry Blackmer gently mounted up, Four X The Trouble prowled the arena, neck still turned toward the crowd. He sported a baucher bit, polo wraps, and a simple breastplate. Blackmer allowed him to check out his surroundings while she maintained soft contact on the reins.

The riders asked their horses to trot, and the horses responded with sensitivity and intelligence. Brazilian Wedding was the first to relax into a soft, huntery trot. While she was understandably tense through the back and neck, her responsiveness and trust in her rider was impressive. With training and suppling exercises, her gaits will only get better.

Four X The Trouble seemed to improve with work. Once he was given a task, he looked less at the crowd and focused more on his rider. Solidify was tense at the beginning of his trot work, but he lengthened his stride and relaxed his topline a bit after a short amount of time.

The arena was small, less than 60’ x 120’. Pittman upped the ante when he asked the trainers to canter their horses. One by one, each horse cantered around the arena. The stereotype that an ex-racehorse is unable to pick up both leads was put to rest by all three of these versatile equine athletes, who each picked up left and right leads on the first attempt.

My favorite part of the session was seeing the grins of the riders and the crowd. With each challenge, the riders beamed at their game horses. The skill and talent of these riders was inspiring. Each rider struck a delicate balance with hand and leg. Some of the horses were more comfortable with a little more rein contact and leg, and some were happier with less. Blackmer’s balance in the saddle helped her with Four X The Trouble’s canter. She sat in a half seat, heels flexed, and maintained contact with his mouth for guidance. Catledge used a little more leg on Solidify and let him have a little slack in the rein. Brazilian Wedding struck up a nice rhythm with her canter as Dierks grinned from ear to ear.

The session was a tremendous success for all the horses and trainers. The riders dismounted, gave their horses pats on the necks, and walked them in hand for a few minutes as the judges asked questions about their rides. Trainers, owners, judges, and spectators were all delighted, and I for one can’t wait to see the progress these horses will have made in five weeks.

Want to get involved? Join in the fun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge: Day One

- Sarah Andrew

"Is he sober?"

Amidst the hurry and scurry of the Maryland Horse World Expo, a big-boned, dark bay gelding stood quietly while he was groomed, politely flicking his ears forward when people opened his stall door.

Beverly Strauss, co-founder and Executive Director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, looked up from her grooming, and seemed surprised before she smiled and replied, "All he gets is hay and water."

The 6-year-old gelding who was standing so quietly that an onlooker asked if he was tranquilized is named Solidify (Alajwad--Kali Dearest, by Dearest Doctor) and he is one of the four horses taking part in the Retired Racehorse Training Project Trainer Challenge. In December 2011, Solidify finished second in a claiming event at Finger Lakes, his 16th start of the year, and his 43rd lifetime start. After retiring from the track, he had a few weeks of downtime, and in January 2012, he was at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, charming everyone he met with his friendly face and cool demeanor.

Solidify and Bev Strauss

The Retired Racehorse Training Project (RRTP) is a 501(c)3 charity. President Steuart Pittman, a three-day event rider, clinician, and trainer, is actively involved in expanding the market for retired Thoroughbred racehorses. Pittman is based at Dodon Farm in Davidsonville, MD, and travels the country teaching clinics, including 2009's successful Retired Racehorse Training Symposium.

Trainers participating in the RRTP Trainer Challenge will select a recently retired Thoroughbred, ride the horse for five weeks, and present the horse for judging at February's Pennsylvania Horse World Expo. Judges will be evaluating the work of the trainers and the preparation of the horses. At the end of the Challenge, the horses will be offered for sale (or adoption). As a lifelong rider and Thoroughbred enthusiast, I leapt at the opportunity to cover the event. I hear many misconceptions about the breed and the industries from both the sporthorse world and the racing world, and I was eager to watch these professionals tackle the challenges that people face when they work with horses off the track.

On Friday, Jan. 20, the RRTP Trainer Challenge officially began. Three trainers were selected to participate in the challenge: Kerry Blackmer of Frederick, MD; Tiffany Catledge of Middleburg, VA; and Eric Dierks of Tryon, NC.

Four horses were available for the three trainers' selections for the Challenge, with one horse as an alternate. The horses were brought from the barns to the Exhibition Hall Arena, where their athletic ability and conformation were assessed by the trainers in front of the Horse Expo crowd. 

Solidify: cool, calm, collected

I saw a little spring in Solidify's step as Bev walked him up the hill to the arena. He looked dapper in his trace clip and his signature blue MidAtlantic Horse Rescue wool cooler. The sight of the rows of trailers and a few horses in the distance changed his laid-back expression to a keen one. He waited outside the Exhibition Hall, gamely standing his ground every time the chain-operated arena door roared open and shut, resting his chin on Bev, and mugging for peppermints. Before the Challenge began, Bev put the finishing touches on Solidify, and led him into the waiting area.

First up for evaluation was Four X The Trouble (Domestic Dispute--Rynot, by Caveat), also known as "Tempest." Four X The Trouble was bred by Robin Coblyn in Clarksburg, MD, with both sporthorse and racehorse careers in mind. Robin carefully evaluates pedigree, because her broodmares perform double duty, producing racehorses one year and sporthorses the next. Tempest lived up to his name during his evaluation, and he was the most spirited of the bunch. His short back gave him power and agility. He displayed his athleticism for the trainers and crowd, while also showing off his good mind as he handled his strange surroundings with style.
Four X The Trouble

Four X The Trouble

It is difficult to imagine what these horses thought about their new surroundings. Although they were accustomed to racetrack life, the sights and smells of the Horse Expo could not possibly have been anything like what they had experienced before. Solidify showcased his adaptable nature and trainability as he trotted around the arena at liberty, calmly responding to his handlers. Steuart Pittman particularly liked his conformation, and remarked that his shoulder and withers made him look like he was built to be quite the jumper. Pittman also remarked that he may be the sleeper of the bunch because he was so laid-back in personality, but the crowd and trainers murmured with approval when Solidify broke into a lofty, powerful canter. The $4,000 claimer had a perfect "10" canter.

Brazilian Wedding

 Brazilian Wedding (Milwaukee Brew--Lady In Tails, by Black Tie Affair {Ire}), a 16.1h grey mare, retired off a win, also in December 2011. She came from Three Plain Bays Farm in Conowingo, MD. Like Solidify, she was extremely athletic, but in a different way; she moved more like a hunter, with graceful, sweeping strides. She was bold, feminine, and serene. Her presence and class made her quite the crowd pleaser.

The future is bright for the fourth horse, High Level (Mutakddim--Maria's Crown, by Maria's Mon). Started by trainer and Show Jumping Hall of Famer Rodney Jenkins, High Level raced until 2009, when a little heat was felt in his ankles. Owner/breeder Jim Falk of Cornwell Farm gave him time off to prevent an injury, and the ankles never gave the horse any trouble. High Level was ready to either return to the track, become a steeplechaser, or become a show horse. Falk chose to send the muscular chestnut to the Trainer Challenge, and he looked balanced and game on Friday.

High Level

To the trainers participating in the Challenge, the big picture was key. I noticed them paying particular attention to the overall look and way of going of each horse, and performing less specific evaluations of individual parts of the horses. Size of the horse was important, and Eric Dierks went for a taller horse to match his own height; Brazilian Wedding was his pick.

Dierks and Brazilian Wedding

Eric was first to pick a horse because he was the first to answer a trivia question correctly. This was his question: "Hall of Fame show jumper Idle Dice (‘Jonlyle’ to The Jockey Club) ran at Charles Town before Rodney Jenkins made him the top show jumper of his era. How old was he when he won his last Grand Prix?" The answer is 21.

Dierks (left), Catledge (center), Blackmer (right)

Tiffany Catledge chose next, and selected the versatile High Level. Kerry Blackmer chose Four X The Trouble, and said that his personality and size were major contributors to her choice. Steuart Pittman could not have been happier. He loved the scope (and withers!) of Solidify, and he was looking forward to working with the "sleeper" from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue for five weeks while the other trainers worked with their selected horses.

Solidify the "sleeper"

The enthusiasm for this project is infectious. I heard excitement in the voices of the owners/breeders in the videos on the RRTP website, the comments of the fans, and when I spoke with Steuart Pittman and Beverly Strauss. The horses are stunning athletes, and they are truly showcasing the athleticism, trainability, and adaptability of the breed. This project shows a lot of promise both for racehorse owners and for people who are learning how to train racehorses for their second careers. The Maryland Horse Breeders Association is a sponsor of the Retired Racehorse Training Project, and I hope to see many more individuals and organizations from the racing world support this effort as well.

You can read my account of Day Two of the Trainer Challenge in Thursday's TDN. Visit the Retired Racehorse Training Project's website for videos, trainer blogs, and the latest news:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Grand Finale Down Under

--Christina Bossinakis

   Last Monday morning, not-so-bright but certainly early, I departed the Gold Coast and arrived at the Brisbane airport. Lacking any pep in my step because of my ongoing battle with fatigue (the Broadbeach hot spot Moo Moos every night could do that to you) and a developing cold, I lumbered onto a flight headed for Sydney, and ‘lo and behold, who should I cross paths with once again, but John and Kris Messara. Shortly after arriving in Sydney and while waiting for our baggage, my cousins (it seems to have stuck) kindly invited me to their Sydney home for dinner Thursday evening. Following a week of great experiences and even better coincidences, this would certainly be a treat.

   Before I would be spending any time in the city, however, plans called for a midweek field trip to Coolmore in Jerry’s Plains with some of my nearest and dearest friends. Embarking on the journey were Asiyah (who could certainly tell you a story or two about my university days in Montreal), her Aussie husband Shane, her mom Annila and baby Gabby. We were greeted by a lovely day and an equally warm welcome by Australia’s Coolmore team.

Coolmore Australia
   Our visit kicked off with a stop at the stallion barn, where we saw residents Royal Academy and Encosta de Lago, Haradasun, Oratorio and Choisir (now those are hindquarters!), all of whom looked magnificent. We later headed off to see some of the broodmares, including G1 Australian Oaks winner Circles of Gold, dam of champions Elvstroem and Haradasun; Samantha’s Choice, dam of champion 3YO and leading sire Redoute’s Choice; and the Group 1-winning daugher of Serena’s Song, Sophisticat (a $3.4-million yearling purchase). We also paid a visit to the Fastnet Rock--Rose of Cimmaron colt that brought the sales’ topping A$960,000 at last week’s Magic Millions sale on the Gold Coast. Hanging out in a very large paddock with a young buddy, the super-refined yearling gave me a knowing glance as I approached, as if there was a sense of recognition from the week before. Or maybe it was just a look of annoyance given I was interrupting snacktime? Truth of it was, the handsome bay is a seriously laid back colt, who couldn’t have cared less if we had brought along a troupe of dancing monkeys with us. Good thing we left those at home.

   Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was a visit with arguably (not by me) Australia’s greatest route mare, Makybe Diva. The fairest comparison by North American standards, and the only other mare from this era I might dare compare her, would be Zenyatta. When you take a moment to look at the 13-year-old’s list of accomplishments on the racetrack, it is really quite extraordinary. A two-time Australian Horse of the Year; multiple divisional champion; seven-time Group 1 winner, including three wins in the G1 Melbourne Cup; and earner of over A$14.5 million. That is some of the most serious street cred most of us will ever have a chance to gaze upon. With a Lonhro colt at her side, ‘the Diva’ certainly lived up to her name on the track and, quite deservedly, is relishing the royal treatment she is now enjoying as a broodmare.

Makybe Diva & CBoss

   To cap off an already spectacular day, Peter O’Brien invited us back to his house for some beer (the boys were certainly ready), lovely wine (we are in the Hunter Valley, after all) and a great barbeque, commandeered by grill master Shane McGrath. Also in attendance was GM Michael Kirwan and his children, who are quite honestly the most polite and respectful youngsters I have encountered in quite some time. A quick sidenote, if you ever encounter Coolmore’s stud manager and he tries to feign ignorance in the kitchen, don’t believe him. He has a set of knife skills that would have even Bobby Flay reaching for the blade sharpener. Great horses, great food and even better company; our trip to Coolmore certainly ticked all the boxes.

The great Danehill

   The week, and my trip, concluded with a small dinner party at Casa Messara in Sydney. The soiree--hosted by the remarkable Kris Messara--kicked off with a small group of ladies, including Sky (tv) presenter and personal friend Jo McKinnon, TVN presenter Caroline Searcy (these ladies are as good as it gets) and Arrowfield’s Megan Kelso. The gathering of ladies enjoyed spectacular views and lovely appetizers ahead of a wonderful meal. Half way through dinner, Arrowfield master John Messara arrived--accompanied by Racing NSW’s board member Tony Hodgson--after having attended the Sydney launch of the movie Buck. What ensued was plenty of thought provoking and interesting conversation that really made the occasion one I will remember for a very long time. Very early on, it was clear that I was in the presence of industry leaders and their knowledge and insight into Australian racing was really refreshing for someone with a decidedly North American perspective.

   During the course of my three-week visit in Oz, I encountered innumerable experiences that made my trip so enjoyable, but it will be the people I encountered along the way that will make my trip to Australia rank as one of the best ever. It never ceased to amaze me just how generous, genuinely warm and welcoming the locals are, and not because they have to be, but simply because it is their way. I loved every moment of it and met many people who, I am confident, will remain friends well beyond my return. The visit also underlined one of the best things about our industry, which is no matter which racing venue you might venture to on the international stage, you will always find and enjoy a sense of comradery with the locals simply by extension of our sheer love of the game. For those who have yet to make the trip down under, you should definitely work it out for this next year, because it is really something to experience.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Second Chances: Gulfstream Maiden Watch

--Steve Sherack

TDN’s Racing Editor Steve Sherack reveals a pair of Gulfstream maidens that need to be on your radar.

Silverton Hill’s BIG BLUE SPIRIT (GB) (c, 3, Invincible Spirit {Ire}--Blue Sail, by Kingmambo), a debut second behind subsequent G3 JRA Killavullan S. hero Nephrite (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) for trainer Kevin Prendergast at The Curragh Sept. 25, stamped himself as one to watch following a very promising U.S. debut at Gulfstream Dec. 29 (TDN Video).

Favored at 9-5 while stretching to a mile on grass for conditioner Darrin Miller, the bay was up against it as soon as they sprung the latch, checking shortly after the break. With Johnny Velazquez aboard, the 85,000gns TATOCT yearling purchase quickly rushed up along the rail to reach contention, but had to tap on the brakes once again after finding some traffic on the clubhouse turn. Eighth through a half mile in :49.10, Big Blue Spirit raced under cover while under a tight hold on the turn for home, was finally angled out for run in mid-stretch and came charging late between horses to gamely get the nod for second.

Big Blue Spirit, out of a full-sister to G1 Poule D'Essai Des Pouliches heroine Bluemamba, has been entered in the sixth race at Gulfstream Park Saturday, a 1 1/8-mile $51k maiden special weight on the lawn (Bris PPs). With a five-furlong bullet at Payson in the interim, he is certainly worth a bet at 6-1 on the morning-line.

The bar was set high for COLONIAL FLAG (f, 3, Pleasant Tap--Silk n’ Sapphire, by Smart Strike) even before she set foot in a starting gate.

Skara Glen Stable, W. S. Farish and ENL Stables LLC went to $475,000 to acquire the 3/4-sister to GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf victress Shared Account (Pleasantly Perfect) as a Keeneland September yearling, and she was backed at odds of 9-2 in her Jan. 14 unveiling negotiating a mile on the Gulfstream weeds (TDN Video).

Trained by Michael Matz, she was outsprinted early and settled in eighth while saving ground through fractions of :23.91 and :49.63. Loaded for bear on the far turn, Colonial Flag had nowhere to run once they straightened for home, forcing jockey Julien Leparoux to check hard. The situation didn’t get any better until deep stretch, but once finally clear, the dark bay looked like she was shot out of a cannon to report home fifth, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths.

Better luck next time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eclipse Voters Have Some Explaining to Do

By Alan Carasso

   Listen, I am not the smartest guy in the world. I don’t pretend to believe that my opinions are always correct. These aren’t sour grapes. But this year’s Eclipse results were among the most disturbing and unbelievable outcomes that I can remember in the handful of years that I’ve had the honor of casting a ballot.
   First of all, to the eight percent of voters from the various blocs who did not return their ballots, shame on you. Presumably, there were some extenuating circumstances, but if I represented one of the voting blocs, I’d make sure I found out just why.
   Let’s start with the night’s slam dunks. Havre de Grace was a deserving Horse of the Year and champion older mare, and Thoroughbred racing is thrilled to have its queen back for a 5-year-old campaign. The juvenile divisions were formful (though who thought Stephanie’s Kitten over My Miss Aurelia made sense?), and the fact that Royal Delta was not a unanimous selection for 3-year-old filly is nothing short of embarrassing, with no disrespect to Awesome Feather and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty. The turf divisions went the direction of deserving favorites, and among the human categories, kudos to the voters who gave the nod to Bill Mott, who was quick to credit his sweep of both Breeders’ Cup Classics as the key to his victory.
   Now, the grayer areas. Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of Thoroughbreds and I appreciate a top performance as much as the next guy. But the results from remaining divisions were puzzling, at a minimum. I’ll begin with the least objectionable of the remainder--the 3-year-old colts. By virtue of his win in the Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom became just the fourth winner of that race to earn a championship in the last 10 years, and he narrowly outpointed the luckless Caleb’s Posse. The latter was clearly the best sprinter of his age group (and arguably the best sprinter, period), and this voter–and 110 of my colleagues–thought he’d earned the award with wins in the GI King’s Bishop S. and GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, earning figures in each of those events far superior to Animal Kingdom’s Derby. But, you know what? I can live with that result.
   It was a good night for California and Cal-breds Monday. In hindsight, I probably didn’t give Amazombie the credit he deserved for his 2011 campaign, but I still voted for Caleb’s Posse, and I almost wish they’d gone in the Sprint with him to settle this one on the track. The fact that Amazombie won is less surprising to me than the margin of victory. As an aside, I declared that Regally Ready would win the Turf Sprint when he won down the hill at Santa Anita last winter, but was he a better or more talented sprinter than Jackson Bend, who didn’t even get a spot on the ballot? Um, no. I’ll get to the other Cal-bred at the back end of this.
   In preparing to interview Adam Lazarus for a TDN Take Two piece back in October, I reviewed Musical Romance’s record and was struck by her consistency, if not her brilliance. Looking ahead, I thought if you could get past Turbulent Descent in the F/M Sprint, anyone else could win it and why not her? So, when Adam said it was going to take a Powerball jackpot to motivate him to supplement her, I was seriously bummed. Then, when trainer Bill Kaplan posted on his website that they reasoned the F/M Sprint was a chance of a lifetime, I told almost everyone I knew to bet her. Apparently, I don’t know all that many people, because she was 20-1 on the big day and I cashed a nice ticket (thanks, Steve D.!). Now, I am thrilled on a personal level for Adam, more than I can say in words. That Musical Romance not only won the Eclipse, but swamped arguably more accomplished rivals was, to me, the night’s biggest surprise and upset. That said, heartfelt congratulations to Adam!
   And now to Acclamation, who not only won older male but was closest to Havre de Grace in HOY balloting. Wow. What can I say? This blows me away. I love a good turf horse, and his relentless running style led to five wins from seven starts, including the GI Pacific Classic. A great season? No doubt about it. A championship campaign? Can’t see how. In his one trip beyond the borders of California, Acclamation was 10th of 10 in the GIII Charles Town Classic. I’d have gone for Game on Dude, who was one game dude all season long, ahead of Acclamation, but I voted for Tizway. Frankly, I’d have included Tizway in the slam dunk category going in. OK, he was down the field in West Virginia as well, but he returned to run a monster race in the GI Met Mile and silenced his critics by seeing out the nine furlongs of the GI Whitney H. Both races earned Beyers north of 110. Acclamation didn’t run anything close to that. Tizway missed the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was training extremely well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he suffered a career-ending injury. The emotional toll it exacted on owner William Clifton and trainer Jim Bond was palpable in phone conversations with each the day of the injury.
   But this isn’t about tears or sentiment or voting with one’s heart. I voted for the fastest horse in training in 2011, whose season was cut short. In the end, I couldn’t take that away from him. Criminal Type and In Excess (Ire) completed the Met Mile/Whitney double in consecutive years in 1990 and 1991, but it hadn’t been done since, and for that, I felt he deserved top billing. He, in fact, got my vote for Horse of the Year.
   Eclipse Award voting can be a very personal exercise, with a wide range of opinions. Here’s hoping it’s never this confusing or disappointing again.

The OTHER Horse of the Year...

-Sarah Andrew

In 2011, Havre de Grace delighted racing fans at five different tracks, from her thriller-diller showdown with Blind Luck in the GII Delaware Handicap (video) to her GI Woodward S. performance at Saratoga, in which she gave the boys a proper trouncing (video).

I have fond memories of photographing the tall, bay daughter of Saint Liam. She is both photogenic and charismatic- I spent as much time admiring her as I did photographing her on the morning of the Woodward. After Havre de Grace's Woodward victory, her jubilant connections brought her back to a little grazing area, where she posed this way and that and treated photographers to a photo session in the fading summer light.

At Monday night's Eclipse Awards, the connections of Havre de Grace accepted the award for Horse of the Year. Owner Rick Porter said, "As many of you know, I've seen the lowest of lows in horseracing. And I've seen a lot of highs. But nothing rivals Havre de Grace. She is the most deserving horse. She is the perfect racehorse, as [trainer] Larry [Jones] has said. She has a great demeanor, an absolutely gorgeous body, a heart as big as America and more ability than any horse that I have ever owned. She puts fire in my belly every time she races. She is just an amazing horse and fits the name Harbor of Grace."

 Just three days earlier, another Thoroughbred with a heart the size of America was awarded Horse of the Year honors. He raced in Australia under the name Hurtle (pedigree), but he's much better known as Neville Bardos. The Danzig grandson didn't show much talent on the turf, and was destined for slaughter, according to trainer and rider Boyd Martin. Neville was purchased for $850, and began his second career as an event horse.

In less than five years, the fiery chestnut went from being a slow racehorse to the United States Equestrian Federation's Horse of the Year and a 2012 Olympic hopeful. But along the way, Neville faced an obstacle like no other. In May 2011, he was in a barn fire that took the lives of six horses. Neville suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, but with the help of his devoted owners and a dedicated veterinary team, his miraculous recovery led him to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in England in September, where he finished seventh to cap off a year of unimaginable highs and lows.

I have photographed the team of Neville Bardos and Boyd Martin at both Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the World Equestrian Games. The pair always sports serious game faces, and can be seen from a mile away, thanks to Neville's blaze, which crosses his face at a rakish angle.

The horse was named for Neville Bartos, a character in the Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read books (and subsequent movie). But Neville the horse is living a life that is beyond cinematic.

Congratulations and best wishes for future successes to the connections of Horse of the Year Neville Bardos AND to Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. There is nothing quite like the heart of a Thoroughbred...

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Guide to Horse Racing iPad Apps

--Brian DiDonato

Get an Apple iPad over the holidays and want to know how you can use it for horse racing and sales? I tried out all the major horse-related apps out there, and while there's a definite lack in quantity, there's no shortage of quality. There are sure to be many new apps introduced over the next few years as tablets become more and more popular, but until then, see below for some of the best apps that are currently available.

All apps featured in this post are free.

Equineline Sales Catalog offers everything you could possibly want for viewing and editing sales catalogs from Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Standardbred auctions around the world. The features are endless and right on the money--this app was clearly designed by someone who knows what auction buyers, sellers and spectators want and need in an interactive catalog. Once you've downloaded a catalog of your choice from the extensive list of offerings, you can view each page as you normally would, but with a streamlined ease that a regular hard copy can't match. What further sets the app apart from a standard catalog are the ways in which it allows one to mark, edit and categorize pages. The user can add free-hand notes, highlights, underlines or sticky notes. It's also possible to add letter ratings or rate an offering by conformation or veterinary information. Various indexes are available as well as a search function. You can add horses to short lists too, turning each list into its own mini catalog. The app gives you the ability to email annotated pages, and you can even view breeze videos for 2-year-old sales. The only minor issue I had with this app has to do with its writing/highlighting functions. I found it a bit hard to accurately mark exactly where I wanted on a page--using a stylus might correct this.

Equibase Today's Racing is one of several apps featured here that is made for the iPhone, but that runs on the iPad. Touch the "2x" button on the bottom right corner of your screen for a double-sized view that doesn't quite take up the whole iPad screen, but does the job. The graphics of such apps are blurred a bit when blown up, but not enough to have any impact on functionality. The Equibase app offers entries for North American races for the current day as well as the next day, and includes owner, trainer and jockey info as well as morning line odds. There's also a link to purchase handicapping data. Results are available for the previous day as well as the current day, and detailed charts are offered in addition to quick results. Video replays are available for subscription holders. The app also lists scratches and changes for each track for the current day--something that could be very useful when taking your iPad to the track. While this app won't wow you with sharp graphics or features, it's perfectly suitable for looking up what you need to know on the fly.

Racing Post's app, also intended for the iPhone, features European cards and results with significant detail. The race cards include past performance information that can be customized, which is a nice added bonus. Cards are available for the upcoming race day through whatever day is available--usually about a week or so. Results go back about six days and include a fair amount of information. The app's news section lists top stories in chronological order with the most recent news at the top. There's also a video feature section that isn't updated as often. European users can use the app to access and bet through their William Hill account, and there's a link for streaming William Hill radio. This is a useful app for accessing  European racing information regardless of your location, but only European users will have the luxury of taking full advantage of its functionality.

Daily Racing Form TicketMaker helps you structure exotic wagers using the breakthrough methods outlined in Steve Crist's "Exotic Betting." This is another app intended for the iPhone, so it's not the prettiest thing to look at, but it's a very useful tool that gets the job done. It's easy to sort runners into the A, B, C, and X categories and to adjust parameters, and the "callout" function would be useful when placing a bet with a teller at the track. You can also save tickets or email them to yourself or others. The TicketMaker app features a link to the DRF website, but it would be better to simply access the site on Safari--the in-app browser does not address issues of incompatibility between iOS and flash-driven content, so the only difference is a smaller screen. Either way, no Formulator without using some sort of third-party app--I've tried it using the GoToMyPC app and it works well enough.

Hollywood Park's iGoRacing app is only really useful when Hollywood is running, but it is a very aesthetically pleasing app that takes full advantage of the iPad's high resolution screen. Entries, results and changes are available during the meet, and workouts are updated each day for both Hollywood and Santa Anita. There are also some handicapping resources which are a bit more geared to the novice, including a bet calculator for determining the cost of a given wager. One of the app's more appealing functions is live streaming video, which is something hard to come by due to the flash issue on iOS. With a load of information presented in an excellent format, this is a must-have app for the Hollywood Park enthusiast.

The Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup apps haven't, of course, been updated yet for 2012, but both appear like they'll be very useful when the time comes. Don't forget to check them out during the spring and fall respectively.

It's also worth noting that while there is no TDN app, all features on the TDN website are fully functional with Safari. The newsletter itself looks great on the iPad either in Safari or in iBooks, and video replays are compatible with iOS.