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Maggie Wolfendale is possibly the coolest lady ever. I’ve never met her, but she seems very nice and I find her paddock judging at NYRA to be incredibly insightful. And she gallops her boyfriend’s horses in the morning too!

Maggie Wolfendale is possibly the coolest lady ever. I’ve never met her, but she seems very nice and I find her paddock judging at NYRA to be incredibly insightful. And she gallops her boyfriend’s horses in the morning too!

Chrome Controversy Continues: Press Release Edition

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California Chrome’s courageous 4th place in the Belmont Stakes was achieved despite injury and after a long hard-fought Triple Crown run. Despite this acknowledgement, his reputation has suffered significantly through negative press.

A bit of background before I comment:

It’s not every year that die-hard racing fans are treated to a Triple Crown run. I for one felt very fortunate, getting the opportunity to watch the historic attempt live in the flesh. Alas, despite all of this, the excitement of California Chrome's winning streak and unbridled celebrity came crashing down simultaneously and in the worst way possible. The post-Belmont response of Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was so negatively charged in the minds of onlookers— both Chromies and outsiders— that the thought of handing Chrome just the top three-year-old Eclipse began feeling distant. It’s worth mentioning that I’ll Have Another achieved the award after a very similar race record without question, even after retiring before the Belmont. 

In the days following the Belmont, Mr. Coburn made a heartfelt apology and all seemed forgiven with the summer and fall classics as well as a four-year-old campaign in the future. Good press continued on behalf of the horse himself, as Chrome returned to training sooner than expected. However, all that good will was tarnished by talk of a $50,000 appearance fee that was required in order for California Chrome to parade at Del Mar. In response, DAP Racing sent out this press release.

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Mr. Coburn was a refreshing change of scenery for fans, speaking out against Churchill Downs and campaigning their tough-as-nails homebred California Chrome. I know everyone at Belmont Park that day enjoyed him.

On to the commentary part…

The thing about the media is that it is a double-edged sword. It can do good, but it can also do much harm. It depends on how you handle it, as demonstrated by the charismatic Charles Howard of Seabiscuit fame. I agree with many points Mr. Coburn mentioned in his press release; I do not think it unreasonable to request some type of aid when it comes time to truck a valuable horse like Chrome out to Del Mar purely for marketing purposes. It was also very unprofessional for a sizeable establishment like Del Mar— which I doubt needs much help breaking attendance records— to let something like this leak out in hopes of pressuring DAP to cave in. They may not have caved in Del Mar’s favor obviously, but judging by the language of the release, they may have sacrificed some of their valor. It is possible to flash a figurative middle finger in public, and I swear by the gods it’s a hundred times classier and more awesome if it reads a little more poetic than prose. [Read: Lebron James’ departure letter from the Miami Heat]

Advice I would like to offer as food for thought:

  1. Treat the places and people who were good to you: maybe Chrome’s home base of Los Alamitos would be a good start.
  2. I realize I have none of the financial success that DAP has had, but I thought to myself the other day how I couldn’t fathom doing much beyond paying off my debts and buying a house if I won the lottery. Perhaps do an appearance or something of that nature for racing’s charities. The Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund as well as the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance are good starting points.
  3. If you want another shot at Tonalist, Saratoga will offer some good racing AND great hospitality for you. They may even be tempted to sweeten the deal if Chrome ships out east again.

To close this message out, I am actually glad to see DAP fire back at Del Mar. It creates transparency within racing, which is very much needed in a time plagued by illicit drug use and mysterious injuries/deaths/retirements. In the age of social media and free Wi-Fi, we shouldn’t have to read about this in a book published ten years from now, wondering out loud why we didn’t hear their side of the story for the Del Mar controversy until then. It allows us to see behind the veil, and it would be fitting if California Chrome was the one to level the playing field between the backstretch and the grandstand. 

Discreet Marq came out for a morning workout at Belmont Park.

This is what heart looks like!: Nobody was able to get by pacesetter Moreno until very late in the 10-furlong Suburban Handicap (II).

The Pizza Man Set to Deliver in the Stars and Stripes Handicap

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Yes, you all knew that kind of headline just had to happen. We on Tumblr love pizza.

In a series of prep races for the big Arlington Million (I) a month away, Arlington Park has enticed a variety of up-and-comers, improvers, and current turf heavyweights to ship on over and get some batting practice in. For the potential improvers, the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) is a pretty level affair, with just one horse actually making this race a handicap— last year’s Illinois-bred three-year-old of the year, The Pizza Man.

Weather looks dicey on both Friday and Saturday, so I will handicap this race anticipating a “good” turf course.

$150,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/2 miles on turf at Arlington Park. Post Time: Saturday, July 12 at 4:25pm CST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Moro Tap - Victor Espinoza, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - Big love for any Tapit colt! Skychai’s 4-year-old has been racing on the turf for quite a while with very mild results, being unable to beat some very nice horses (namely War Dancer and Infinite Magic) but able to nab others in select situations. Namely a closing type, Moro Tap’s past performances show he’s a terrible horse at the break. Coming off the rail, that could be doubly problematic, and he doesn’t have Napravnik in this race like he’s been getting lately. However, he does have two good back-to-back workouts, although nothing to suggest he’s seriously worthy at 5-1 odds. 15-1 maybe.

2) Mister Marti Gras - Eduardo Perez, 117 lbs, Chris Block - Ah, an old iron horse! The Belong To Me gelding has been pretty successful at Arlington Park between their all-weather surface and the turf course, and he comes into this race humming off a 1 1/16 mile allowance here over “good” turf. Everything looks pretty good as Mister rounds into top form. Distance should not be an issue, but he has knocked heads with The Pizza Man before and lost out.

3) Suntracer - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Chris Block - In a move that might create a conflict of interest, Chris Block enters one of his own along with Mister Marti Gras in the form of this Kitten’s Joy, who most recently fell short by a head to War Dancer in the Louisville Handicap (III). With many of his starts coming on the turf at elongated distances and getting turf jockey Leparoux, Suntracer is not a bad bet and nearly had War Dancer’s measure last out. Block has a great record bringing in horses back from a bit of a layoff, so definitely use Suntracer in those exotics.

4) Bubba’s Big Show - Stephanie Slinger, 117 lbs, Rhonda Thurman - Another horse with some great turf pedigree, the Mizzen Mast gelding won twice this year for the first time in his life, the first in a Hawthorne $25k maiden claimer and the second in a $50k claimer non-winner of 2 at Arlington. Distance and class stretch-out here, Bubba’s connections are small and humble but both jockey and trainer spit out some good statistics for their risk-taking move in enter the gelding here. Still, a deserving longshot stepping up.

5) Dreams Cut Short - Joe Bravo, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - It’s not exactly rocket science that Mike Maker is good with fresh claimers, as he turned this Belong To Me gelding right around and won with him immediately at Churchill Downs last month, stepping up from $25k to $40k claiming races. Greatly improved since switching barns, the bulk of this horse’s success came on polytrack. He will have to improve even more to rob this field.

6) Seton Hall - Brian Hernandez Jr, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The only horse in this field who has gone 10 furlongs AND won at it, the Lion Heart gelding is 2nd off the layoff here after finishing 2nd in his first start back at Churchill, moving past horses but not gaining ground on the eventual winner in a 9-furlong race. Wilkes does a very good job of turning his horses around off the layoff and Seton Hall is an old pro at this game. Look for him to hit the board.

7) The Pizza Man - Florent Geroux, 121 lbs, Roger Brueggemann - The English Channel gelding comes into this field 2nd off the layoff, finishing 1st in his first start back since the fall in a 1 1/16 mile stake here at Arlington, and he’s been 2-for-2 with Brueggemann thus far. Classy and set to be near the pace, The Pizza Man could very well prevail as the likely favorite and a 6-time winner of 9 races at Arlington.

8) Olympic Thunder - Alan Garcia, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Brazilian-bred and winless since shipping to the United States for the past two or so years, the Durban Thunder [BRZ] son hasn’t been further than 2 1/2 lengths from the win in each of his races this year. Not overly bad a horse, but he’s been lacking that something that keeps him from hitting the board, never mind winning. More ground may help, but I’m not counting on him to win.

9) O’Prado Ole - Channing Hill, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The youngest horse in the field owned by Donegal Racing of Dullahan fame, the English Channel colt could do no better than 5th this year in 3 starts although he won both of his two wins on the grass as a juvenile. What really sells O’Prado Ole are his connections, as Dale Romans has a good 3rd-off-the-layoff return as does Channing Hill with grass types. Exotics must.

10) Dad Are We Here - James Graham, 119 lbs, Doug Matthews - A winner twice this year, the 7-year-old son of Pure Prize was 6th last out to The Pizza Man, but won back-to-back allowances at Fair Grounds earlier this year. Stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time, Dad won’t get a rapid enough pace to close into. Not a lot to see here.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) The Pizza Man (5-2)

2) Suntracer (4-1)

3) Mister Marti Gras (4-1)

Whether the grass is firm or good, the picks here don’t change a whole lot. The Pizza Man looks to be in good form and has the class to snuff out most of the field with very little effort. There won’t be a whole lot of pace to contend with either, and he could very well skirt off to an uncontested lead and win that way. Suntracer isn’t new to the distance game and fell just a bit short of War Dancer last out. Chris Block has him ready to go. It would be goofy to leave out Mister Marti Gras, who has won or placed in 2/3 of his lifetime starts and is rounding into good form right now. I think he’s better on poly and dirt, but he’s very good right now nonetheless.

Value Pick: O’Prado Ole (10-1) is interesting despite not winning much this year. If he doesn’t get any better from this angle, I don’t know if he ever will.

Recepta

Recepta

Mylute

Mylute

Flying Jib [GB] after finishing 8th in the Belmont Oaks (I)

Flying Jib [GB] after finishing 8th in the Belmont Oaks (I)

Vyjack

Vyjack

Belmont at Its Best: The Inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival

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It was good to see ol’ Secretariat again, all aglow in the summer sunshine on Stars and Stripes Day.

I would describe myself as a dedicated racing fan, but in the same breath, mention that I am also a drive-by-myself, full-time floor scrubbin’, just-graduated-from-college kid who drives a duct-taped 1999 Toyota Camry and scoffs at the thought of paying for gas AND the insane bridge tolls in New York. So with that said, I have to pick the days I go to the track wisely where I can get the most bang for my buck, and lucky for me, the inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival repaid me for my efforts.

It’s not commonplace for most U.S. races to attract very many international entries, but the purse sizes of the $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational (I), formerly the Jamaica Handicap (I), and the $1 million “Win and You’re In” Belmont Oaks Invitational (I), formerly the Garden City stakes (I), lured a handful of promising three-year-olds from their stomping grounds to Long Island. Attracting just 5 horses last year, the revitalized $500,000 Suburban Handicap (II) drew a full field of routers going the original 10 furlongs again. Even the James Marvin Handicap-turned-$400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship, “just” a G3 status race, beckoned a full field that demanded respect. It was a great day in the making for racing fans, paired with a mystery voucher and T-shirt giveaway and most importantly— food trucks! I’M STILL GROWING! Maybe not any taller, but WIDER!

Almost immediately upon opening the gates to the track, there was a crowd. Not the massively overwhelming type or the type full of drunk college kids— I saw not a single one all day— but a lot of families and racing fans, many of whom seemed to be there for the first time. Between all the food trucks of virtually every taste and texture and the outrageously perfect weather, the atmosphere of the day was sublime.

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Sam the Bugler gives a bugling lesson early in the card and took some selfies with the kids

Most important aspect of the day that is impossible to leave out: the racing! For the first time in a while, I had a good betting day at Belmont Park although regretfully I did not wager half as much as I should have since for once, I did not sift through the card beforehand. Lesson learned, I suppose! There was a lot of value plays that panned out for the lucky few and so many excellent performances, some of which I think will go down as very memorable moments:

In the Dwyer (III), which was won last year by my guy Moreno— one of my few and proudest straight trifecta victories!— there was a small group of three-year-olds, offering one of the stiffest opportunities at the betting terminals. Kid Cruz, hot off a sizzling Easy Goer Stakes win a month ago, was the horse to beat, going up against undefeated stablemate Captain Serious and the promising challenger Tiz Dark. In the end, the race set up perfectly for the 3-5 Kid Cruz, who swept in late just as he did in June for another deserving graded stakes win. It was a proud moment again for me, after I had to deal with post-Preakness shame after listing him on top, the only career start of his that he totally blew. Watch out for this closer in the coming months! Final say: Kid Cruz is the real deal! Obviously bad betting race!

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I have labeled myself a pretty blah sprint handicapper, and my usual go-to strategy of betting the Speightstown in the race was looking pretty folly as Central Banker, a horse who has grown into his role quite a bit this year, was the likely favorite. The inaugural Belmont Sprint Championship (III) had lots of good horses, but I admit to not really checking it out from a betting perspective. That wound up not being the real draw as the race caught fire in the stretch; Clearly Now came up from off the pace and just plain took off like he was breaking from the gate again, putting some serious daylight between himself and the rest of the horses. I was so flattered and in awe, and it came as no surprise as it was announced that he had broken the track record for 7 furlongs. Amazing. Final say: Clearly Now steals the show! Best performance I’ve seen in a while!

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For older horses, the Suburban Handicap (II) welcomed back the 10-furlong distance much to the delight of traditionally-minded handicappers, with 11 horses entered, with many stretching out from a mile or taking the next step up from the overplayed 9-furlong distance. I’ve long had eyes and heart for Moreno, who broke wonderfully with the blinkers back on and set out to set a very modest pace out on the lead. The son of Ghostzapper held off challenges that came early and late, ultimately falling in the final moments of the stretch to the deep closer Zivo. A 5-year-old bred in New York and trained by Chad Brown, the heart displayed by Zivo did not mar the tough beat that was handed to Moreno. I hope to see a lot more from this gun show, but he certainly won’t be overlooked by anyone again. Betting-wise, I stayed out of this one yet again, sensing an upset somehow but not knowing who it would be; Last Gunfighter always seems to drop the ball in big graded races and I’ve never liked Romansh. (On a side note, Zivo was that type of horse you see at long odds and wonder what was wrong, what you weren’t immediately seeing that you should have. Bettors failed themselves in this race at 13-1!) Final say: Great race with terrifically gutsy top two! Wish I had show-betted Moreno after all. Aw well, I think Saratoga will be kind to him.

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Considered the highlight of the day despite its non-“Win and You’re In” status, the Belmont Derby (I) attracted some classy Euro shippers to fight the American contingent, which featured the prominent speed demon Bobby’s Kitten. Aidan O’Brien’s Adelaide [GB] was the deserving favorite but had some serious challengers in the form of Gailo Chop, Flamboyant [FR], and Pornichet [FR]. The morning line favoritism fell to poly specialist Toast of New York, who’d be getting another shot on the turf after initially failing on it in his debut, off of which he blossomed into a different horse. With so many shippers, it was reasonable to forget about the Americans… but to such disregarding odds, it was unfathomable. The tempo of the Derby built up to a raucous stretch drive with multiple horses flying late; Adelaide’s patient stalking position gave way to a flurried flight to the front, but he was not alone— storming up the rail came the black silks and cherry cap of the Phipps Stable. Mr Speaker! The connections of Toast of New York could be heard down along the rail, “COME ON, JAMIE [OSBOURNE]! COME ON JAMIE!” But the race turned from a scrambled stretch drive to a duel between two, and in a determined final rush, it was Mr Speaker who ebbed and yawed his way through to win. Considered a potential major player earlier in the year, Mr Speaker captured G1 status that day at an unfathomable 23-1 odds, paying out $49 to his supporters for a $2 win wager. Final say: Holy cow Mr Speaker! I dare not compare him to Point of Entry, but he was so game!

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The final stake of the afternoon, which would invite its victor to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in November, was the first-ever Belmont Oaks (I). Considered the easier of the two big turf races by many handicappers, who were mainly leading toward Euro entry Wonderfully [IRE], it was still a very wide-open affair, especially considering the major upset in the Derby. If I liked anyone in the field, it had to be the beautiful Flying Jib by looks and Sea Queen by virtue of her Christophe Clement connections (although Clement had another filly by Arch in Summer Solo). Again, it was the American turf trainers who showed the way on their home course— Coolmore’s Chad Brown-trained filly Minorette, who packed a wicked turf pedigree, flew courageously to the front late and went eyeball-to-eyeball with the always game Sea Queen. It was a scintillating show that paired with the Belmont Derby like a fine wine, each with the top two boxing it out at the end. Longshot and previously undefeated Summer Solo hashed out the trifecta for a day the Americans joyfully dominated. Final say: We’ll get ‘em next time, Sea Queen! Minorette the deserving, good-looking winner!

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I am so annoyed at myself for not doing my homework a little more on the races, which I strongly feel I would have won more on if I had chosen to handicap them beforehand like I almost always do— by nature, I always put down Lezcano-ridden turf horses as well as Clement and Brown horses regardless of surface. But also by law, if I don’t do my homework beforehand, I don’t typically allow myself to bet. I found out too late that Minorette is a half-sister to an old favorite of mine, Master of Hounds. Ugh! I gotta get it together for Saratoga! I can’t complain too much though, since I still managed to profit off that free $5 voucher I got from attending the races, mostly thanks to the 10-1 Michael Matz horse who won race 1.

On the drive home, many questions surfaced: how good did my photos come out? Is traffic on I-91 going to be bad with the holiday rush? And most importantly, how good did Belmont do with today? I begged the racing gods that the Stars and Stripes went very well for the business end of the sport, and it appears that prayer has been answered with some 11,000 in attendance with more than $18 million wagered.

If you didn’t get to go to this event, do try to make it next year! It beat out most other NYRA days I’ve attended since I started going in 2012 and even many Saratoga days. Next time I will surely do my homework…

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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