More Suffolk Downs sibling royalty! Jo Jo is a half to graded stakes-placed gelding Setsuko, who is best known as one of Game On Dude's most fierce rivals and a habitual runner-up in the biggest G1 races out west.
Dullahan retires with a tendon injury and curiosity as to whether or not the U.S. market supports synthetic breeding. The Unbridled’s Song in him should help him move a bit in attracting interest. Weeps for a Dullahan-less future… RIP buddy, it was a pleasure seeing you at Belmont.
Rest in peace, Hoofit [NZ]. Game all day, and a source of “pick a horse based on their name” joy. Also RIP to Take Control. And Formulaforsuccess, who I saw race this year/photographed.
I get ridiculously starstruck in horse racing… the guy photographer who pointed out Honor Code to me at Belmont goes by “Easy Goer” on Flickr. Had I known that I would have tensed up just like I did when I was in line at Saratoga next to “Rock and Racehorses.” >.> #incurable
Already interested in what the headlines might say when Flashback comes back, er or returns? What sounds better?
An anti-casino protester broke the nose of a 60-year-old supporter/track employee at a Suffolk Downs rally this past week. Not great press for them. Polls currently show 49% of East Boston voters support a casino at the Downs— which will be receiving a city vote on November 5— while 43% dissent. The vote will be even more intriguing now that Suffolk has dropped Caesars as a management partner after finding out they had history of criminal activity overseas. THE PLOT THICKENS!
If only we could bet on who we think will finish last. Alpha's a near-lock in the Dirt Mile!
Don’t let me down Joe Talamo, Moreno has been doing surprisingly well every time out and needs an A+ ride to stay alive in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
I’m glad I got to see Mizdirection in the flesh before she retires as a broodmare prospect selling at the November sale. She had one of my favorite Breeders’ Cup performances from last year— 2nd just to Calidoscopio [ARG]— and is just such a cool mare.
I’m beginning to sense that maybe it’s not such a grand comeback story that Point of Entry is returning straight to the Breeders’ Cup Turf after a 5-month layoff and dozens of pins in his leg. Let the man go into retirement peacefully!
Another cool mare set to retire: Include Me Out. Includes are pretty darn cool by nature.
Tweet o’ the Week: I get jealous of these people who get to go on multi-farm tours
Just how good is the Jockey Club Gold Cup this year? 7 out of 8 horses have at least one Group/Grade 1 win to their credit, there’s one Kentucky Derby winner, one Belmont winner, and the returning Jockey Club Gold Cup winner of two years’ past. With many horses looking poised to sit off the pace and spring big numbers when asked, this is more than likely going to be a big, defining race for the winner.
Much to my luck, Super Saturday looks like it’s going to be beautiful out for once! Read on to see my top 3 for the JCGC.
I’m sad to report that this blog will be affected by the Tumblr epidemic known as backtoschoolitis as of September 5. I promise I’ll get vaccinated for next year.
Yeah, sure, the Jockey Club Gold Cup will be a great prep for Cross Traffic… do it… I’ll get fantastic odds on the real winner!
I don’t normally talk about follower counts, but I’ve been gaining between 1 and 5 *every* day since my Saratoga trip. I blame the original photos. Hi everyone and thank you! I’m always pining for new pony paparazzi adventures! Currently on the calendar: Belmont’s Super Saturday on September 28, the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in November, and a visit to Sequel Stallions— home of Freud, Bluegrass Cat, and many others— in January!
What happened to War Academy?
Expedia has been bribing me all month with flight deals… every single roundtrip flight from Hartford, CT to Ft. Lauderdale, FL has been under $200 heading into November, which is a peak travel time for snowbirds. Let’s hope it stays that way for Florida Derby time! INEVITABLE SKY TRIP!
Female jockey power: newcomer Janelle Campbell rode Makeitorbreakit to a 70-1 upset at Suffolk Downs this week.
That card at Saratoga yesterday was the worst excuse for a Saturday lineup I’ve seen in quite a while with the most backwards [at least in long-term legitimacy] results. That’s okay though, it’ll skew the odds in later races in my favor. We all remember Stay Thirsty in the mud and we all know how he ultimately did elsewhere.
Rest in peace, Indygo Shiner.
People have suggested in the past that I was ridiculous to try to always include weather information in my breakdowns. *looks at Saratoga’s card yesterday* OH YEAH, TERRIBLE, SILLY DUMB ME FOR WANTING TO KNOW IF IT WOULD RAIN AT ALL THE DAY OF OR THE DAY BEFORE.
I was watching “The Cup” on Friday and all of a sudden, MAD-EYE MOODY! Dah!
How does one acquire a “buzzer” and what is it?
Tweet o’ the Week: He looked ready… wretched rain…
The G1 race won and lost by some of the greatest ever to race, the Woodward Stakes returns for another year with 7 horses lining up to take a shot. Five of them are from the Whitney (I), and hope for a decent shot now that Cross Traffic has been pulled somewhat last-minute from contention in favor of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Not a whole lot of big surprises have resulted in past runnings, and I am proud to say I’ve picked the winners of the last two editions: To Honor and Serve and Havre de Grace.
A chance for storms clouds Saratoga on Saturday, but nothing more concrete than that. Nobody in the field is a true “mudder,” but Fort Larned has struggled on an off track at Belmont last year in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Mucho Macho Man flailed on it earlier in the year racing at Gulfstream. Again, not expecting slop…
$750,000 Woodward Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga. Post Time: Saturday, August 31 at 5:45pm EST.
1) Ron the Greek - Javier Castellano, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate stallion was a leader in these competitive dirt races last year, but hasn’t been winning much of them this year, last out finishing a decent 4th in the Whitney. Due to the injury of his usual jockey, he gets the leading meet rider Castellano and is apt to try to close in just as he did last time. Second twice in three past Saratoga starts, Ron will need pace to win, which with the defection of Cross Traffic, he is unlikely to get on a track that typically doesn’t favor closers anyway.
2) Successful Dan - Julien Leparoux, Charles LoPresti - The half to Wise Dan by Successful Appeal, the “other Dan” had an incident leading up to the post parade of the Whitney last out, but still managed to kick on again in the stretch to finish a humble 2nd in a race he probably could have won. Trainer LoPresti boasts this gelding’s last 3-panel workout time was probably better than shown because of fog, and I agree with him. Take Cross Traffic out of the race, and Successful Dan could finally get that successful trip he’s been searching for all season. Top 3 horse at worst.
3) Fort Larned - Brian Hernandez Jr, Ian Wilkes - The E Dubai son had a jumbled start which affected his positioning last out in the Whitney, where he had no real excuse to finish a disappointing 5th. His connections say he looks relaxed and ready. Fort Larned’s Whitney looked like the hodgepodge mess he got handed in his Stephen Foster burnout last year, where he was floated wide and got discouraged to finish out of the money. If he can eliminate a jumbled start, it’s in the bag. If not, well…
4) Flat Out - Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott - I have a peculiar habit of always liking whomever Junior Alvarado rides when I’m at the races, and the G1 winning son of Flatter shouldn’t be discounted. Never off the board in his 3 Saratoga starts— but no wins— Flat Out has beaten Cross Traffic earlier in the spring and won his last start in the Suburban (II). Flat Out looks to be in good form coming into this race, but he usually requires a weak pacesetter to peter out for him to make an appearance in the winners’ circle. Even if Fort Larned fails to spring to the front, I don’t see him making a winning move. This race might even be a prep for a repeat in the JCGC, which has always been his forte.
5) Paynter - Rafael Bejarano, Bob Baffert - The Awesome Again “miracle colt” returns to the east in his first appearance since running a heroic 2nd to Union Rags in the 2012 Belmont Stakes. A conventional dirt beast, Paynter showed heart and talent in just missing to Kettle Corn last out at Del Mar, and he looks to be in good shape. I do not like shippers coming to Saratoga, but given the fact that this is Paynter and we had a runaway shipper win last weekend, I will make an exception. He will likely try to sit off of Fort Larned, or secure the lead again should that horse fail the break. He can win this.
6) Mucho Macho Man - Edgar Prado, Kathy Ritvo - The Macho Uno colt showed signs of improvement running 3rd last out in the Whitney, where he stayed steady to miss by 2 1/2 lengths to a persistent Cross Traffic and game Successful Dan. Many issues I have about this horse: I *did* like him for last year’s Classic, but it appears we have a different horse for 2013, where he is winless in 3 starts. Mucho is a fast breezer when he’s coming into his really good victories, and he’s just been loping lately. He did next to nothing in the Whitney when the stretch came into view, just as he did with a weaker field at Aqueduct after his pull-up in the Sunshine Millions where they played with blinkers. I love Prado, but I would be shocked if this horse came to life and won.
7) Alpha - John Velazquez, Kieran McLaughlin - The Bernardini colt was handed his first Saratoga loss last out in the Whitney following a similarly lousy performance in the Met Mile, both in which he was beaten by about 7 lengths and was simply outrun. Johnny V is a nice addition, and to his credit he breezed out 4 panels in :47 and change. He would have to be an improved creature and a true horse-for-the-course to win though.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Fort Larned (Scratched due to injury)
3) Successful Dan
[edit: with the defection of Fort Larned, I’ll move up Flat Out as the #3 choice]
I’m still not budging from the Fort Larned bandwagon. Yes he is the type of horse who needs to have things go his way, but we all saw what that type of horse did last weekend when Will Take Charge took the Travers, and this horse has got class. Paynter is a big threat on conventional dirt, and will likely be there should Fort Larned decide to miss darting to the front again. Successful Dan should have won the Whitney, and has the right kind of class to win.
Value Pick: If Fort Larned (4-1) sticks with his morning line odds, there you go. Paynter likely to be bet to the moon.
GAME ON DUDEEEEEEEEEEEEE! What was that again about not being able to get 10 furlongs or do poly?
As some of you know, I work nights in a hospital and I was weirdly delighted to come across bottles of furosemide aka Lasix the other day while in the cardiovascular wing. I’ll probably be excited the day I get old and get injected with this stuff… I AM A RACEHORSE!
The internet broke out into applause when Doug O’Neill claimed back Toomanytomatoes in a 22-way shake. *claps*
How do Group 1 races in Europe get filled to the brim but most U.S. G1 races get like 5 entries?
My original, very first Speightstown love came back: Wine Police! I’ll have to dig through the Galloping Hat Rack archives to find my first posts about him, but aw yeah!
I want to go to Del Mar one day so I can tell you guys whether it’s better than Saratoga or not… I doubt it… that ocean will have to be pristine with no cigarette butts or inconveniently placed rocks anywhere!
I am now 3-for-3 in predicting losers of major stakes races in my dreams: Alpha, Stay Thirsty, and now Verrazano.
The crushing feeling one gets when not one, but two horses are put down. Rest in peace, Sarava’s Dancer and Kris Royal. Could the 3rd and 4th fatalities of this Saratoga meet be blamed on a super fast track [for the biggest stakes weekend]? It’s possible.
Ego boost: I noticed my blog’s weekly page view counts exploded last week, particularly on Friday and Saturday. I wonder why, it’s not like I made any outer links. The pick 4 stuff I’ve been doing lately is the only new thing I’ve been doing… this is just like all those times I got referred as an “expert” by other people. It just feels weird.
Mike Smith can’t seem to win. One day he’s blamed for Palace Malice's poor run, the very next day he's applauded for riding Royal Delta. And people suggest “backseat training” is more of a problem.
I’m stuck between feeling elated that Bustle finally won a race— and on the turf at Saratoga, no less— and feeling irked that she got claimed from the Matzes. :/
Do you ever wonder if a few really stupid things were different, that one could like a horse more? Just sayin’, they should have done away with braiding Rachel Alexandra's mane… not a big fan of the braids… Tapizar's looked ok, but eh!
There’s nothing quite like watching Royal Delta run. She merely gallops under a hand ride while other top horses like Authenticity are driving to [try to] get within touching distance.
I still have Mudflats in my virtual stable. I was just about ready to delete him when he finally won at Del Mar after dropping way down in class. I wonder how much they bought him for early in the year… BIG MISTAKE. My virtual stable actually did pretty good this weekend…
Tweet o’ the Week: I want this kind of backside access :’(
A match-up of some of the best handicap horses in the country, the Whitney Invitational (I) looks strong once again this year with returning champ and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned leading the fray with Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man, the dizzying speedster Cross Traffic, the strong record breaker Successful Dan, and last year’s Travers (I) winner Alpha surfacing for the challenge. It’s the key race of the $500,000 Late Pick 4 and the first Breeders’ Cup Fantasy Capping race. Weather looks likely to be beautiful in New York this weekend with possibility of spot showers that shouldn’t affect the main too much.
"TUMBLR’S BEST HANDICAPPERS" FANTASY CAPPING CREW! This is our first race to nail! Have some Brisnet PP’s to help with your picks.
$750,000 Whitney Handicap Invitational (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga. Post Time: Saturday, August 3 at 5:45pm EST.
1) Successful Dan - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Charles Lopresti - While likely not going to stay at his 12-1 morning line odds (who the hell wrote that?), the Wiseman’s Ferry gelding and full brother to Horse of the Year Wise Dan was favored as the horse to beat in his last start in the Stephen Foster (I), where he was outmoved by the big favorite here, Fort Larned. That was his 2nd start off a long layoff, and nowhere near his track record-breaking best, and he has never been worse than 3rd at this 9-furlong distance. While it will be his Saratoga debut and Lopresti has sighed over being stuck on the rail, “Dan” should be considered a threat as one of the classiest in the field. However, he has some serious work to do on recovering those old big numbers of his.
2) Mucho Macho Man - Edgar Prado, 119 lbs, Kathy Ritvo - Around this time last year, I was favoring this Macho Uno colt to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (obviously I had a change of heart in November when I surmised that Fort Larned would win). Not yet a G1 winner or a Saratoga winner in 2 past tries, Mucho has had a rough year struggling in the mud in the Sunshine Millions then was beaten by about 4 lengths last out in an overnight stakes at Belmont. San Pablo was the worthy winner of that race, but MMM looked a snorish third slightly behind Hymn Book, who most recently finished 2nd in the Monmouth Cup (II). On the plus side, his class level is unquestionably good and he has a strong record on a fast track, finishing out of the top 3 only twice in 17 starts. Mucho turned a strong 4 panel work back in June, and has since been preparing to go long for this race. Ideally built, he will be at a price for his class if you’re willing to excuse his last start as something he needed. To me personally, clockers need to be singing Mucho’s praises for him to have a shot against Fort Larned, and he’s only been graded as “workmanlike” lately.
3) Fort Larned - Brian Hernandez Jr, 122 lbs, Ian Wilkes - Unraced since his titanic “unchallenged, gallantly” 5-length conquering of the Stephen Foster (I), the E Dubai stallion was the winner of last year’s Whitney in a playful romp and by the numbers, he should be able to repeat. Known to throw a clunker here and there if he’s forced wide, Fort Larned reads like a single but keep in mind how often favorites fail at Saratoga.
4) Cross Traffic - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Todd Pletcher - I was shocked at how fleet-footed this Unbridled’s Song colt was, reminding me much of his sidelined gray stablemate and fellow Unbridled’s Song son, Graydar, who managed to defy my expectations of holding his speed up for 9 furlongs in a G1 stake. He was scarcely bested last out by Sahara Sky and multi-graded winner Flat Out— both at a mile, and is super consistent in his running and rating style. Very quick, Cross Traffic looks to be maxed out as a miler, though I thought similarly of Graydar. At 5-2, he is overbet for an unproven horse at the distance, but surely use him in exotic plays.
5) Ron the Greek - Jose Lezcano, 118 lbs, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate son was tops last year coming into this race, but has looked better since he departed from his peak form last summer. Out of the money just twice at this distance in 12 tries, Ron the Greek will try to take advantage of all the speed in his race and recover his old form. A tall order of an entry, Ron sparkled on an off track earlier this year in the Sunshine Millions, got pinched to lose by a half length in the Charles Town (II), but couldn’t catch Fort Larned last out in the Stephen Foster (I). Saratoga is not a closer-favoring track, and even with all the speed up front, Ron would need to have an ideal trip where he’s not too far off this year (as he was last year) and will need to improve. Use in your exotics.
6) Alpha - Joel Rosario, 115 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - The Bernardini colt and last year’s Travers (I) winner, Alpha has seen better days, losing pretty badly in all 3 starts this year in Dubai. Unruly in his last start in the Suburban (II), he’s been training better since returning to the States. Dare I say it, he has a shot. Bernardinis are tops in New York, and this colt is 3-for-3 over Saratoga’s main under a featherweight. Hell, if Stay Thirsty can beat Groupie Doll at Aqueduct, I’m a monkey’s uncle to doubt Alpha. Use in your exotics for sure at 10-1 (on that note, how is “Dan” 12-1 and Alpha freaking 10-1?)
7) Csaba - Luis Saez, 114 lbs, Philip Gleaves - The Kitten’s Joy colt is a past G3 winner back in Florida, and ships here out of trying to take advantage of a sheer dumb luck strategy that the pace up front will fall apart. Should a freak rainstorm break out, use him. Otherwise, he probably doesn’t belong as a horse who can’t compete with classier types.
8) Fast Falcon - Junior Alvarado, 114 lbs, Nick Zito - Awesome Again progeny typically improve with age, and Fast Falcon looks to be no exception when nearly besting Percussion at this distance, and later the pair finished 2-3 to Calidoscopio [ARG]. He was beaten 2 1/2 length last out to Flat Out and Last Gunfighter at this distance, and has some serious late pace kick. Should the pacesetters wear each other out, Fast Falcon looks likely to gallop up there, but at this class level, he probably won’t be good enough to win. Exotic horse for sure though.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Fort Larned (even)
2) Successful Dan (4-1)
3) Fast Falcon (9-1)
I’m fairly confident Fort Larned is the all-around best horse in the field who shouldn’t encounter a whole lot of trouble as a horse who can sit off of Cross Traffic’s hot pace, pounce when that one [likely] folds, and hold off the late movers with his class. I had issues picking 2nd the most, ultimately going with the classy Successful Dan over MMM, whom I’m not sure is the same horse he was last year. Fast Falcon is keen for 3rd, and can conquer other classy horses here with a pace setup.
Value Pick: I’m not sure which one bettors are likely to ignore more, but Fast Falcon (9-1 or better) looks keen for the top 3 and Alpha (12-1 or better) loves this track. Neither will likely win, but they are must-haves in the exotic category.
I’ve been kind of dead on updating this week, I realize and apologize. Let’s hope my academic hustlin’ will pay off in the form of a sexy GPA and won’t get in the way of my choosing a Derby winner.
Winning Cause making the Derby quite possibly? Pedigree is tops, but he’s only been winning on Keeneland’s main *shrugs*
I have this idea of booking the school’s green-screen studio space, shooting myself “running away” from something, then chroma-key in a video of Alpha so it looks like he can’t catch me. Get it? Because he’s slow? Kekekeke
Handsome Mike was an interesting bet to win at Keeneland last week, which he did, but not at those goofy odds. Why does he keep getting bettors’ attention?
Goodbye Black Caviar. It’s been nice having you around. There aren’t any words fit enough to describe you. I hope you go to Animal Kingdom.
Glad to be right about something. Departing caught my eye winning like he did without Lasix, but was plagued by bad trips when he needed a better one.
I have no idea who I like for the Oaks.
Wonder what they’ll name the new full brother to Zenyatta.
Pilfer has been bred back To Bernardini. As a To Honor and Serve fan and an early watcher of Elnaawi (by Street Sense), I think this may be the only time I’m interested in a Bernardini spam.
Feeling a bit weird not liking any Zayat horses heading into the Kentucky Derby.
It has occurred to me multiple times that I have yet to see a Kentucky Derby winner in the flesh. The only horse that could change that anytime soon is Palace Malice should he win the roses in the coming weeks…
Dear Bob Baffert, while you’re shipping Game On Dude around to the most prestigious, high-dollar dirt races, please remember the northeast.
Revolutionary and Red Rifle have been workout mates lately. I need a picture of those two.
Tweet o’ the Week: I tried out Gizoogle for a few minutes and look what happened
I wonder if Europe is obsessing hard over Goldikova's baby boy as much as people here are obsessing over Rachel's and Zenyatta's. One out of these three doing badass would be a pleasing percentage.
Proof Frankel's baby brother is going to be even better than him: HE HAS A BLAZE!
I’m already sick of this dumb Kentucky Derby points system. One of the biggest motivating factors behind it is that it’ll be “easier” for the public to follow. Ok, maybe? But wouldn’t winning the big races that ought to be televised be even more of a help? The Santa Anita Derby, the Florida Derby, the Wood, the Arkansas… come on now…
My mother the pedigrees-I-know/buttcapper will be dismayed to hear that Quiet American has been pensioned. So much sad.
I am so unbelievably pissed at Joel Rosario for that shitty ride on Animal Kingdom. Who was it on here that hated him already? Was it you Paige?
One horse I forgot to mention but meant to in my last Derby Top 10 update: Texas Bling, the super longshot that won the Springboard Mile. He’s an Oklahoma bred and an underdog at that, but he’s been working super well according to reports. On a similar note, Dewey Square may try turf… his last workout earlier today was over it.
There goes Coolmore jumping the shark again by buying an interest in Verrazano.
I am dying I want to see Gary Stevens ride in the flesh so bad.
There’s not much to see yet brewing in Dubai: Travers (I) champ Alpha ran last in the Al Maktoum Challenge (II) while Lovely Pass won the UAE 1000 Guineas in achingly slow time (1:39 flat for the mile).
Rumor has it Keeneland is looking to rip out their poly in favor of dirt. I’m all for it; handicapping would be made easier and horsemen would take competing on the surface much more seriously. History is full of doubters when it comes to horses who only win on synthetic.
As I continue working on my Oaks Top 10, I’m keen to include a filly of Phil Simms’, partially because of her name: Miffed, a three-year-old daughter of Purge, who is worth watching.
Sweet baby Street Life is off to be a California sire. All dreams of him standing in New York are dashed.
An old favorite in Wasted Tears just had her first foal, but I died when I saw that it was a colt by Malibu Moon. Ugh. No. At least he has a cool facial marking?
Tweet o’ the Week: More cute babby picture time, this one by Even the Score
When I saw that it was raining in Florida, any temptation I had of entering into the Pick 4 was null. Wet grass and a sloppy going on the main can really mess with your picks when they are made with fast and firm surfaces in mind. But, at least Ron the Greekdid win the Sunshine Millions Classic like I wanted. I considered Sprint winner Off the Jak a mild threat, with my second and third choices coming in right behind him. The Turf was of course off with the yielding grass, but I was glad to see Teaks North get the win as I’ve liked him in the past. As I’ve mentioned in past Weekend Stake Tips, the best horse on a yielding course is an able pacesetter; Teaks North wired this race while runner-up Doubles Partner struggled with the soft going to gain on him. The maiden claimer went to a decent horse Milwaukee Brew with most of my picks doing poorly.
I didn’t publish my Lecomte choices due to lack of time (thanks to newly-begun spring semester), but I favored the winner Oxbow, who was my #10 choice on my Derby Top Ten article, although favored Avie’s Quality got a bad trip. I also liked runner-up Golden Soul mainly because of his pedigree (by Perfect Soul [IRE], who I think combines the best of Europe and America together), and I’ll keep him on my watch list down the road. Oxbow won the 1 mile and 70 yard prep by a whopping 11 1/4 lengths in a wire-to-wire romp, looking like a top steed just like his full brother Paynter. D. Wayne Lukas is back… or is it too soon to say it? Lest we forget the long list of Lecomte winners who didn’t do a damn thing in the big Derby. The track at Fair Grounds was fast for the race, now let’s see Oxbow get some Derby points!
Heading into the Derby Handicap Contest later this week with the exciting Holy Bull Stakes (III), I want to just touch upon a few points I learned last year, which was my first year of really investigating all the prep races. It will be easier this year with the Derby points system (though not necessarily a fair process), and I hope to embellish upon a few good pointers as we continue down Derby road.
1) Don’t fall inlove with anyone too early - Horses like Sky Kingdom didn’t fare too well and disappeared early on and possibly blinded me from potentially good horses.
2) History is made to be rewritten - Yes, we’ve been without a Derby winner that never ran as a two-year-old for quite some time, but as you can see, Bodemeister nearly did it and ran off with some incredible performances. I wouldn’t use the history angle ever.
3) Talent vs. experience - The two big factors in determining the ability of a three-year-old, particularly through mid-March. One matters more than the other, but be wary to not give one more importance than the other. A horse needs talent to win big races, but experience is indispensable.
4) THROW OUT THE TWO-YEAR-OLD YEAR - It doesn’t mean diddly outside of getting the horse some experience. If you were a good student in high school, does that mean you will be a good college student? Nope. Same thing applies to racehorses.
5) Losses can mean nothing - In my book, a horse needs to learn about losing, which is why I dislike undefeated horses that dodge challenging fields that would actually test them (Alpha, Gemologist). A loss can also indicate a horse’s strengths and weaknesses from a trainer’s perspective and allow for a better strategy next time. Additionally, if a horse loses because of a poor trip— by how much did he lose and how did the horse react? Did it give up in the stretch or did it try to finish fast? Look at these losing races hard.
6) Speed ability - The Derby is a long race, but the winner needs to have some potential to turn foot quickly when asked so the opponents they pass will have little to no time to react if they’re able to. I’ll Have Another had great speed he was taught to carry over a good distance in his workouts, as did many of the top finishers from last year.
7) Staying power - Now that I mentioned speed, a horse needs to also be able to stay running those extra furlongs. The addition of one furlong makes more of a difference than you think, with many horses who romped at 8 or 9 furlongs failing when stretched any further.
8) Pedigree matters - The ancestry of a horse comes to view in the stretch of the Derby. Breeders say it’s 50-50 between the sire and the dam, others say it’s 60% the mare that matters. Either way, look at both parents. At least one of them should hint at 10 furlongs— and no, I don’t think a win at 9 furlongs cuts it, it must be 10. With so many breeders concentrating on early talent and speed, I am quick to dismiss a lot of horses after a certain point with sprinter sires or who do not have bloodlines that spawn distance-getters… I’m looking at YOU, Indian Charlie.
9) Track conditions - Not all poly is created equal, and not all dirt is the same. A horse that raced in New York’s deep furrows may or may not be better equipped on a souped-up surface at Gulfstream. A horse that wins on dry, fast goings will likely struggle in mud. Even the shape of a track can matter. I’d like to discuss this further, but it’s a point that needs reminding.
10) Equipment changes - Usually noted in the entry book, these can be things like blinkers, Lasix, and the ultimate “equipment change”— the gelding of a colt. Whether or not these things actually will help the horse are up to your judgment, but they’re important to note in many cases.
Remembering favorites from 2012. The toxins and the endorphins had to be released from my system…
While I was still sans-betting account, I would typically only watch a little bit of racing on TVG (when you live with four other people who are habitual TV mongers, it is a rare occurrence to be able to watch horse racing for an afternoon). It was August the 15th, a day after I turned 22, and I was tuning into the Saratoga races which is one of my favorite tracks. The track was soupy and the field was small for the historic Saratoga Special (II). I had scant knowledge of the competition, although obviously the Todd Pletcher trained son of Unbridled’s Song, Stat, was the favorite. Going over the field on Equibase, I immediately favored the horse with the Michael Matz connections named Union Rags because to me, if Michael thinks a young two-year-old is ready for a stakes, rain or shine, he’s going to be the one to beat regardless of the tote. I remembered Barbaro for an instance, and how slowly that star gained his power transitioning into a three-year-old. Rags was a respectable 3-1 at post time.
I was going against my aversion to rail horses in picking Union Rags for the win, and sight unseen, I was naturally pleased to see on TV that he was this big, hulking bay colt with a shock of white on his face. He went to challenge the lead and won big by 7 lengths, all despite the off track and a terrible case of swerving in the stretch. It was in that instant I knew I found my Derby horse for 2012.
Rags duplicated that awesome wide win margin in the Champagne Stakes (I), showing his ability on a fast track while coming from behind a wall of horses at the top of the stretch. If he wasn’t a favorite for the best juvenile already, his 5-length beat-up of Alpha sealed the deal.
The buildup to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) was slow and personally painful. Apart from the Classic and the Turf Mile, there was no greater anticipation mounting than that for the Juvenile race. Despite the non-graded status and rankness, the one I was watching out for was Hansen, another colt I was able to catch blitzing his challengers on TVG one afternoon. It felt too ironic to be true, being able to catch my two favorites on TVG without having heard or seen them before. Could Hansen keep that speed burning for another sixteenth? Between Union Rags and Hansen, I could scarcely pick which one I liked more. With Hansen, you had sheer brilliance and mythical beauty. With Union Rags, the build of a champion with the modesty typical of his Pennsylvania roots. Because of a freakish Halloween blizzard, my power was knocked out for the entire Breeders’ Cup week, but by far the Juvenile Colts had the most electrifying race. Rags swerved again and again, looking like a duck on dry land trying to catch Hansen. Failing at the wire, I was shocked soon again when Hansen won the Eclipse Award by a landslide. How? Why? Did no voter see the raw potential in Rags had he just had a better trip, or a longer distance? Had I been asked in January to rank my top three, it would have gone Union Rags, Hansen, Alpha in that order.
2012 reeked of redemption, and originally, I thought it was going to be all Union Rags to take back his top spot without dispute. Hansen endured a tough beginning to take second in the Holy Bull (II), setting up early doubt for Rags’ comeback in the Fountain of Youth (II). Between the long layoff, his infamous swerving, and an unexpected jockey change to Julien Leparoux, he would receive a brickload of scrutiny. Sure enough, he was sent off a relatively soft 6-5 at Gulfstream Park. With $20 of my own on his nose to win, favored Discreet Dancer folded early as Rags took his patented loop around the wall at the top of the stretch. Never asked, he won by 4 lengths and unofficially vindicated himself post-Eclipse awards.
After that winning ride, it seemed the patient Leparoux was perfect for Rags. An unhurried, top rider on the grass in Kentucky, he didn’t seem to feel too concerned about any of Rags’ opposition, taking to Twitter that the horse was incredible and that he would make everyone proud on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Seated in Stella Artois-sponsored pants, Leparoux would spoil Rags’ second chance at a $1 million first prize in the Florida Derby (I), getting caught immediately behind a wall of horses while making little to no effort from there to get away. Ex-rider Castellano pinned them inside the entire time in a move Leparoux should have anticipated— Castellano knew Rags and was on the second-choice El Padrino. Making up ground late, he was unable to catch front-runner Take Charge Indy and a modest stretch run from Reveron kept him in third. His reputation was soiled, and not a single person in the Rags trench loved Leparoux that day. It was a greenhorn incident that should have never happened.
Despite the loss and the rise of new stakes winners— Dullahan, Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another— Union Rags was named the second-choice betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby, just behind Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister. His conquerors in the field were sent off at surprisingly lesser odds; Hansen was 10-1 on the morning line while Take Charge Indy took in 15-1 odds. The reasoning behind the odds wasn’t just fan-inspired mania, for a Union Rags nod seemed to have its appeal to even the most discriminating gambler: He had never been passed in the stretch, had never shown his full measure, and physically looked the part of a Derby winner. The drawbacks, however, were just as obvious: he’s been too frequently plagued by bad luck and jockey error (while retaining Leparoux) and wasn’t fast enough at the break to be safe from the #3 post. The odds bounced around from a few dollars for a five to 6-1 on and off Derby day, settling on 5-1 at post time. I was uneasy the most at the sight of the #3 spot— no matter what the connections said at the time, I hated hated hated his chances that close to the inside despite being a leisurely runner at the break. Sure enough, Rags was shoved out of contention early at the break. It was difficult to watch the rest of the race, but impossible to dismiss the top 3 runners with winner I’ll Have Another biting down hard in the stretch once again to overpower Bodemeister. The California invader would do it again in the Preakness, and perhaps out of blind infatuation, I was unable to fully appreciate IHA because I was so distracted by Union Rags.
Come June, I was ready to admit that I’ll Have Another was a fine horse. He had won two classics over a very good horse in Bodemeister, all after having an excellent California campaign over tough competition. Considering how much I liked a similar underdog in Funny Cide after he defeated my favored Empire Maker, I’m still not sure why I didn’t replicate that love for I’ll Have Another, who always ran with his heart on his shoulder and his ears forward. Plans were made to go to the Belmont Stakes for the first time, and while I felt guilty about it, there was no question that I was going to be rooting for Union Rags, who once again, wore the unlucky #3.
Was he a blind favorite? Yes, considering my history. But was he was a valid favorite? I certainly thought so. He had the correct build of a distance-seeking Belmont horse and made his best moves late. Plus, he was getting one of the smartest jockeys around with John Velazquez. Dullahan was scary coming into the race fresh as well, and I admit now that I dismissed Paynter as a “too much, too soon” entry. I thought Street Life had a good chance as well… the rest of the field had something to prove. I swore if I’ll Have Another won, there would be no more senseless personal grudges. There would be no longshot winner this year, of that much I was certain.
Optimizer balked before jetting to what would become his new favorite spot in a race— the lead!— in the Belmont Stakes.
The surplus that was guaranteed to fill Belmont to the rafters vanished on Saturday, as I’ll Have Another was scratched two days prior to his magnum opus. A modest 85,000 came to the race, and those wise enough to bring rain gear were rewarded, as it drizzled on and off all day. My winners for the day were few and far between, and as the race drew near I began to get a little nervous. Am I going to jinx him by being here? Or worse yet, telling everyone that asks that he’s going to win? Unstoppable U was the wise guy pick, Dullahan the favorite alongside Union Rags. A family friend who frequently hit the Belmont trifecta every year was going with Paynter. How much nervous energy was I wasting on all this, possibly to pan out to disappointment? I hadn’t slept the night before, and was already exhausted from the elements, the excitement, and the arduous ride over the Throgs Neck to Long Island. I reminded myself again: Never passed in the stretch.
The post parade began after what felt like an eternity. Street Life, the apple of my eye for the latter half of the Triple Crown trail, was adorable in person, as was my dearest underdog of the trail, Atigun. Optimizer was being a brute and refused to go into the gate. Five Sixteen was docile under Rosie Napravnik. Guyana Star Dweej was placid and homely. Unstoppable U shined, his gray coat matching the overcast skies. Ravelo’s Boy was long in body and low to the ground. My Adonis, the smallish chestnut, was last to go in to his outside post. A breath later, they were off and the long wait began for the horses to come back around again.
Photo ops of Rags were few and far between in the post parade, but he looked ready!
Disheartened to see Street Life get away poorly, my attention shifted nervous to Union Rags who yet again was behind horses on the inside, but was optimistically farther up than usual. Paynter setting the pace… Optimizer’s up front? That’s weird… Dullahan is far back… Not a whole lot changed during the race, but as they approached the far turn, Rags began crawling closer to the leaders. I readied my camera as they moved towards the homestretch, taking my eyes off the monitor as I settled in for a good clean shot. As they came nearer, the crowd began to rumble and I zoomed in as far as my focal length would allow. Through my viewfinder, I could see the blue-and-yellow silks of Paynter… Atigun was trying hard to keep up on the outside… and THE BLAZE FACE OF UNION RAGS WAS COMING THROUGH ON THE INSIDE!
The excitement was too much of a rush to handle. It felt like the entire grandstand was standing behind me, shouting for one or the other to prevail, the vibration humming through the fabric of my clothes. Rags drew even with Paynter within leaps of the wire and I dropped the camera.
The moment I lost my mind when I saw that blaze pop through…
Aaaaaand there goes my camera…
So I didn’t get a very good, clear shot of Union Rags. But I did get to cash a win bet that day, and experience one of the most amazing moments ever as a fan. Getting to go to Belmont Park was an experience in itself, but I felt all my work and faith was validated that day. Using your heartstrings isn’t a viable betting strategy in the long term, but betting the horse with the most heart often is.
While there was no chance I was ever going to miss going to that race, the memento of it became doubly important after what happened next. In July, Union Rags was injured and off for the rest of the year, and then retired permanently shortly after that announcement was made. I can count on one hand the number of moments that caused me to need to take a day away from the sport, and that instance cost me a day of seclusion. I had only known him for 11 months though I got to see his final and greatest moment. The way it ended so abruptly all felt extremely unjust.
Unfortunately, like many sports, horse racing is a business and its athletes are exposed to serious injury even in the simplest of warmups. Just as I expected, the 2012 Triple Crown trail was memorable, though not in the same way I expected. I missed seeing Rags quite a bit for the rest of the year, but if I was to be honest with myself, I don’t think he could have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year. He went out on a high note, and I trust he will have a successful future as a sire. Not too many are going to be able to creep by Paynter at his best!
In the meantime, I’m still watching the Matz barn like a hawk.
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.