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.
Opinion post warning! I wanted to bring up some questions about the NTRA Moment of the Year, which is voted on by racing fans. Here are the choices:
Rosie Napravnik becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, guiding Believe You Can to victory (I’m okay with this)
I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez pull the upset from post 19 in the Kentucky Derby (Definitely okay with this)
I’ll Have Another runs down Bodemeister to win the Preakness by a neck (All right)
On the eve of a highly anticipated Triple Crown bid, I’ll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes (No)
For the first time since 1874, the Travers ends in a dead heat as Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together (Yes for the excitement, no as a handicapper/judge… what a disappointing Travers)
Haskell winner Paynter overcomes deadly battles with laminitis and colitis and begins rehab for a possible 2013 campaign (No… not really a moment…)
For the second straight year, Royal Delta wins the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith, who registers his record 16th Breeders’ Cup riding win (Okay with this)
Groupie Doll trounces her opponents in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Yup, okay with this)
Shanghai Bobby digs in under Rosie Napravnik to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and remain undefeated (Ehhh… maybe for his fans this was a good moment, but as a handicapper I kind of have to snuff at this because he’s clearly no good for 10 furlongs and beat out a weak field)
Wise Dan breaks the course record in capturing the Breeders’ Cup Mile over an international field (Sure! But I think Animal Kingdom stole the show)
Fort Larned holds off Mucho Macho Man to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Okay with this)
Shackleford ends his career on a winning note in the Clark Handicap (Okay I suppose, but the Met Mile was his crowning moment)
Bob Ehalt seems to think judging by this article that the stand-out option is I’ll Have Another’s scratch from the Belmont. I personally question why that is even a choice. It wasn’t a real “moment” but a news story. It was a lack of a moment. Scratching a day before the Belmont sent ripples throughout the racing community, inspiring negative and sad emotions with a lot of controversy and sadness summoned from fans, connections, and even the competition. But it was not a moment, and to pick the scratch over his Derby and Preakness victories is actually kind of insulting if you’re a fan of IHA.
Generally I was kind of “meh” about this year’s Triple Crown because from the get-go, all the good three-year-olds seemed to misfire except I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Dullahan. Union Rags never had a shot in the Derby, which provided extra feel-good emotions when he edged by Paynter in the Belmont. THAT was the moment that should have been on the ballot: after all Matz and Wyeth struggled to get this horse in the clear during a major 3-year-old race plus the additional subplot involving Mike Smith and the Zayat team falling short of yet another Triple Crown win. What happened to Paynter later on was not just one moment, either, as triumphant as his survival was.
Also, why would I vote for something negative? I may have voted for it had it been a negative outcome, such as I’ll Have Another entering, trying his hardest, and losing, for the strong memory we’d all have of it. But a scratch? Not really memorable because you can’t remember something that never happened. I don’t see many people talking about scratches they remember in infamy. Maybe one could argue it’s an historic scratch, but really there are better historic choices here which leads me to whom I voted for…
A star player all year long with several races being top-notch moments of her own career, Royal Delta conquered what many felt was the toughest race of the year and did it while showing a whole new dimension to her ability by going gate-to-wire which is unusual for her. Mike Smith wrapped up a Breeders’ Cup win record, and Royal Delta became the first mare since the legendary Bayakoa [ARG] to cap back-to-back distaffs.
I am no stranger to enormous fan bases as well as enormous hate bases, but I am carefree in admitting that I am a big fan of Zenyatta. She is part of the reason I got into the deeper aspects of horse racing. After watching that amazing 2009 Triple Crown season with Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra, I enjoyed watching replays of their races and stumbled upon a mention that a horse named Zenyatta was better than Rachel. How on earth could someone be better than Rachel? I thought. I was skeptical and even outraged that someone could suggest that possibility. However, upon watching her fireworks, I became an instant fan of Z. She was big, fast, and just a wonderful being on and off the track complete with her own set of quirks. I related to her instantly in her slow-to-bloom ways of climbing the track ladder, being obviously bigger than her male counterparts, and simply condescending in her late dashes. How many brilliant athletes do you know of that are also wonderful people?
After all this, it should come as no surprise I’m looking forward to watching her little sister Eblouissante run on Friday. I am risking being late to work to watch this three-year-old filly run for the first time, if anything because I missed watching so many of Zenyatta’s races live. After two years of disappointments with the Bernardini crops, I am hopeful this one will be different. Stay Thirsty and Alpha were both very adept early in their careers, but both hit an awkward patch, blossomed, then faded again. Both resemble their beautiful sire very little, and while “Ebby” is still maturing mentally and physically, she’s probably my pick of the litter looking so much like her sister. I also liked another Bernardini from the same crop who now that I think about it, looks a lot like Ebby: unfortunately, Spare Change has not raced successfully recently.
Whether or not you know this gal’s pressure to perform, it should be a fantastic race to watch. Hollywood Park has one of my top favorite announcers in Vic Stauffer, who called many of Zenyatta’s most memorable wins and always gets really into it. The race should be full of green horses as a maiden special weight, but at the 1 1/16 mile distance, should also give us a good hint as to what we can expect to see from Ebby in the future— how much speed versus her stretch-out potential. With so much anticipation much like Archwarrior’s over the summer, I’m also predicting a lot of scratches…
Eblouissante means “dazzling” in French, and while I try to keep a lid on feeling confident in my juvenile judging capabilities, I suspect I’ll see something similar on Friday. If not, I’ll at least get a sliver of the old thrills and chills I got watching Zen score at Hollywood Park.
Bluegrass Cat, who ran second to Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, was the winner of the 2005 Nashua Stakes in 1:38.02. This year’s champion Violence broke the stakes record, running the mile race in 1:35.32 (a difference of some 14 lengths).
I think post-Breeders’ Cup opinions on two-year-olds are no longer considered “early bird,” so it’s that time again to kickstart the Derby Watch series once again. Last year at this time I recall liking the looks of Street Sense’s first crop, Union Rags was my unparalleled Derby favorite from the get-go, and Hansen was humming with early speed. I also liked Alpha fresh off his maiden score and a few horses photographed at the Breeders’ Cup (Sabercat, Majestic City, Optimizer but only as a turf horse!), and that’s about it from there. Who do I like this year so far?
I only discussed a handful of horses in “Early Bird Watch,” and admit I forgot about a couple of them (Sign, Evolutionary) that I know I would have otherwise included. However to start things off, I have to highlight one of the weekend’s best juvie efforts from colt Violence, who I did cover in my Early Bird Watch after a bumpy, but winning debut effort in August.
Stalking pacesetter and favorite big-bucks stablemate Darwin, the Medaglia d’Oro colt trained by Todd Pletcher swerved and wavered in the Aqueduct stretch but managed to snatch the win away from Vegas No Show by 2 lengths while setting a new stakes record. The colt showed remarkable ability early by sitting off the fast pace and coming in wide before showing his inexperience by cutting into his competitor. While he’s got a while to go before he is as good as his Breeders’ Cup winning stablemate Shanghai Bobby, he has long-term potential should he avoid future stewards’ inquiries.
I think Hard Spun colt Vegas No Show could have some ability next year as his older siblings have shown me, starting off somewhat slowly then bursting with talent after the spring. The Nashua (II), despite being a mere mile in distance, has a way of showcasing some good early Derby talent.
I think I might take a break from handicapping and slow up posts this week… call it a mini vacation or whatever!
I have a right to vote, and will be exercising that right tomorrow, but I wish I could vote in Wise Dan for Horse of the Year. Simply dominating no matter what the surface!
I HAVE REVERSE-PSYCHIC DREAMS! The horse I dreamed would win by open lengths for both this year and last year came in last in the Classic: Alpha and before that Stay Thirsty. Because of last year, I called for Alpha to repeat his brother’s performance and surprise, surprise. Maybe I should pause my dream next year and see who runs LAST!
On that note: that Bernardini curse I suspected before is being confirmed. His greatest sons Alpha, Stay Thirsty, and To Honor and Serve all blossomed in the summertime only to fold to last— and To Honor and Serve was the only horse to seriously “back up” in the Classic— in the fall championships.
This was going to be the best Breeders’ Cup of my lifetime aaaaaand look who didn’t show up. EVERYBODY!! But still… no injuries (that I know of), no breakdowns, and emphatic, stubborn winners and a couple records were made. It was a great year.
I hope I was not the only one too busy with the Breeders’ Cup to notice I hardly paid Halloween any mind. What? It’s today?
It kind of sucks knowing both Juvenile winners are likely to be sprinters if they amount to anything. Beholder is by sprint champion Henny Hughes (and obviously runs like she’ll sprint) and Shanghai Bobby is by one of my least favorite sires Harlan’s Holiday who rarely sires anything good that is older than 2.
So yeah, I just enabled the reply option for 2+ week long followers of the blog. How long has this thing been available? I feel very dumb right about now…
Only 55k in attendance for the Classic? That’s small change compared to the 85k at the Belmont this year!
Aw, Nereid! I hope you and Bourbon Bay are okay.
Good to see Damascus getting a stakes named after him on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. If only he had a G1 named after him, I’d be happier.
Mine That Bird and Dullahan’s mama Mining My Own is being bred to Bodemeister in 2013. Aww yeah.
One statistic I’m shocked at myself for not using again to score higher in the Juvenile and Dirt Mile: Tapit has sired 3 Breeders’ Cup winners already including 2 juvenile winners.
I wonder how the Lasix issue will pan out from here… no 5-scale visual bleeders in the Juvie races, but there were a few minor bleeders.
If one can make an argument that Royal Delta should not be a candidate for Horse of the Year based on the fact she ran against mares (who generally looked tougher anyway this year), you can make the same point about I’ll Have Another who ran against three-year-olds.
I wonder if Bob Baffert will be calling up Chantal Sutherland anytime soon.
Tweet o’ the Week goes to the best horse who didn’t run: Bridleless Wyatt!
A race that takes practically all year to plan out and then a whole week to strategize, I went all-out this year in thinking about the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I). Much easier than last year’s clusterf—k race, there were some definitive toss-outs, a lot of maybes, and a couple of gems in the mix. Form and adaptability to the track bias are probably the two most important factors followed closely by pace, recent works, and raw ability.
Thanks much to doing my profiles on all 12 entries (plus one with Dullahan who elected to go to the Turf), I was able to whittle things down after the post draw and the final works. My immediate toss-outs I’d be shocked to see win: Handsome Mike and Alpha. Horses I give a mild chance to: Brilliant Speed, Nonios, Flat Out, To Honor and Serve, and Richard’s Kid. From what’s left I was able to pick out 3 I really liked (all I considered strongly for a win) and then decide on the order:
Pick #3: Pool Play - Performs awesomely and is at the top of his game right now coming into the Classic. I was seriously flip-flopping him to win, but I am still concerned about the class and speed jump he’ll face, even as a closer who will likely benefit from the speed. 2-for-2 on dirt, I’m using him!
Pick #2: Game On Dude - Loved him all year and declared shortly after his second place last year in this race that he’d come back next year to win it. He has every chance to win it and Horse of the Year and I think he’s one of the best horses in the country. But can the Dude conquer a tough field at 10 furlongs, which is not his sharpest distance? Who can he sit off of this race to ensure he’s pumped to go in the stretch? After watching the Dude all year, he’s in rarely-seen energetic form. But, I hate picking the chalk and there’s one that I think could beat him…
Pick #1: Fort Larned - A classic-looking horse that is bred to go 10 furlongs, Fort Larned’s my top choice for these reasons and more. He’s established triple-digit Beyers consistently and despite having only dealt with 9 furlongs, his finishes have been strong enough to suggest he’ll do just as well with another. He could sit off of Game On Dude in the early goings and attack late, and he’s got enough speed where it counts to win.
Exotic notes: Ron the Greek could run up late, but I was too concerned to use him in my top 3 because a) he may or may not be off his usual consistency and b) he’s very often far far back. Mucho Macho Man hung in the Woodward, though I do vouch for his conditioner on getting this awesome colt appropriately prepared. To Honor and Serve, Nonios, Richard’s Kid, Flat Out and possibly Brilliant Speed are all considerable in that order.
Lost last prep [6th, Pennsylvania Derby (II), by about 4 lengths]
Has never won outside of New York
Aims to be the first 3-year-old to win the Classic without a prep against older horses
Summary: Sporting an impressive 50% career win ratio that includes the Jim Dandy-Travers double, Alpha was a top juvenile last year as the Champagne (I) runner-up and continued on that path to be a top competitor during this year’s Triple Crown preps. Just as his sire, he bloomed late and like sibling Stay Thirsty, was at his peak during the key summer months where he racked up his best performances. Royally bred with the Godolphin blue silks, he often finds himself out front.
Prep Schedule: Alpha started off his sophomore year with a strong win in the Count Fleet followed by a 3 1/4-length score in the Withers (III) at Aqueduct. He was outdueled by the undefeated Gemologist next out in the 9-furlong Wood (I) before breaking badly to disappoint as 12th in the Kentucky Derby (I). Some weeks later, he was back in charge wiring the 9-furlong Jim Dandy (II) and cashed in big with his first G1, dead-heating with Golden Ticket in the Travers (I) at 10 furlongs. Wheeling back for a rematch in the 9-furlong Pennsylvania Derby (II), Alpha disappointed as the favorite to finish a weakened 6th.
Running Style: Off-the-pace/stalker
Pros: McLaughlin has had a great year with Alpha, Questing, and It’s Tricky and a win in the Travers (I) catapults Alpha towards the top of the active 3-year-old male list. Very consistent and bred to go the distance with a proven 10-furlong win at one of the most competitive tracks in the country.
Cons: His prep schedule is overly conservative to some, often dodging big name horses that would probably beat him. His outside-of-New York record is also appalling: in 3 starts, his best finish was his second-to-last place effort in the Pennsylvania Derby (II).
Final Word: Once high on Alpha, I find he has too many excuses going on. I vouched for him to dispatch a relatively easy field in the Pennsylvania Derby after a string of nice works and look what happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished last.