My 2006 Kentucky Derby pick: Steppenwolfer, who finished 3rd
Yup, I thought his name was badass and he was a beauty. Yes I heard of Barbaro, but Barbaro is not as badass a name as Steppenwolfer and hey I was a dumb 16-year-old. Glad to say this is Steppenwolfer in his new forever home as a happy, foxhunting kind of gelding down the road from Michael Matz and Jonathan Sheppard. (Photo Courtesy of Gail Thayer)
Experts are comparing Orb's final workout today (4 panels in :47.89) to the final works of Street Sense and Barbaro before the Kentucky Derby. Orb reels in his stablemate to his inside and coasts without a prod of encouragement several lengths in front by the time they hit the wire.
My mommy inadvertently added to the Fred Stone art gallery I have going on in my room away at school. Barbaro, Zenyatta, and a medley of champions like John Henry and Secretariat. My wall is full of pony.
Ehmmm… I’ve toppled off the wagon a bit with the start of spring semester. Forgivies. I still have a crapload of things to unpack from Christmas and a new schedule to adjust to, which I am trying to change around today. GOOD CLASSES. GIVE IT ME! I also gotta pick up a magical grant application that will hopefully give me $500 toward financing my pony documentary.
I haven’t forgotten about the video. In fact it is much of what I’ve been thinking about, but I’ve been lazy. I have decided to wait until after Eblouissante's second start today to comment further because that makes the most sense. Laziness + freakish control over how I want things + too many things going on + Netflix = delays. I'm a delay fish.
Better news? After class Friday (tomorrow) I’ll be announcing the Derby Handicap Contest process/guidelines/rest of info this year. For those who did it last year the Holy Bull is shaping up to be much, much deeper than the two-horse race between Hansen and Algorithms. DUN DUN DUN! Prepare thyself!
Instead of a typical stakes analysis, I’ll be doing the late pick 4 at Gulfstream Saturday, which has a very decadent card for the Sunshine Millions. Palace Malice is running in the first race, yeehaw! So… yes… like I said, late pick 4… hopefully done by later today as soon as I get my grown-up stuff done.
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.
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.
Tomorrow’s Weekend Stake Tip is going to feature me strangling myself in utter frustration… once again I sit on the sidelines and both of my longshot picks win (Well Spelled at 14-1 and Dust and Diamonds at 12-1).
Imagine a world where Unbridled’s Song was sterile while Cigar wasn’t. Now, imagine that world where Barbaro never got hurt and Bernardini never got a chance to win the Preakness. Whoa, right?
I’m starting to accept that America’s Best Racing won’t ever welcome mention of this blog (or any other “little guys”) in their notebook despite some attempts. Maybe they remember me from the Belmont Stakes when their booth people didn’t know who the horses were on my shirt (Union Rags and Hansen *facepalm*).
If Trevor Denman really isn’t calling the Breeders’ Cup (a rumor), I want Vic Stauffer to do it. He gets so into it.
How freakin’ ironic is it to think that Optimizer was once a dirt runner who made his mark as a closer, but is now a graded winner on grass wiring fields?
I will admit, Handsome Mikeis pretty handsome.
I wasn’t favoring Rolling Fog to be anything special just yet, but I’m also kind of glad to see him sidelined from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I). Barclay Tagg’s wisdom about that race “ruining” good juveniles came into light with this year’s Triple Crown if you think back on it.
The more research I do on pedigree/trainer-biased injuries in racehorses, the more likely I feel I’m going to be gruff on how I make my early picks for the Kentucky Derby.
I haven’t seen the rest of the Beldame possibles yet, but I can only hope for good odds on Royal Delta.
Happy retirement to a deserving Calder pony, Mad Flatter. (With that said, how many more retirements did we have this week… 5? Mad Flatter, Boys at Tosconova, Redeemed, Awesome Gem, The Factor… agh!)
I’m okay with the 2013 Oaks logo, but that Derby one needs to go back to the drawing board.
Rest in peace, Spurious Precision. You had a cool name and moved something special.
I scare myself to death wearing headphones and having a live track video minimized that is silent until… *loudly* “TWO MINUTES.” I can’t be the only one that jumps…
The unexpected retirement of Caleb’s Posse has me looking for a new best sprinter. Just hearing that Shackleford, who just barely bested Caleb in the Met Mile (I), was legitimately tired for the first time following the race which featured a duel between the two, makes me proud to see such tenacity between two excellent dirt milers. We’ll miss ya, Caleb.
The Travers logo has been revealed!
I didn’t know horses liked to go canoeing…
Can I’ll Have Another replicate a similar horse’s success in Japan (Sunday Silence)? Winner of two legs over a more popular rival, flawed conformation, cheap auction purchase, generally unwanted in North American breeding?
If you haven’t heard the one about the Asmussen mares turning up at a kill auction recently, you need to Google that one.
Taking bets now for how many Bernardinis will make the Breeders’ Cup races this year. Also, taking bets for a side pool that win or lose, the stud fee for 2013 will not drop.
Guess I probably won’t get to see Shackleford before he retires… the blaze face’s heading for the Forego Stakes (II).
I looked up Rattlesnake Bridge this week… he had a 3-furlong breeze in :37 on June 18 at Belmont. Maybe a Saratoga return?
Seriously Santa Anita? Stop trying to reinvent yourself by renaming races. Now I have no idea which one is which! This is dumb!
How Malibu Moon (2012 fee: $70,000) horses sell for so much at auction, I’ll never know… why not consider “middle market” sires more often like Include ($12,500) and Proud Citizen ($10,000) who are doing a hell of a lot better at the races?
Will the feds finally step in after the steady stream of (mostly) bullshit articles from The New York Times? On that note, I wish horse racing was like playing games— cheaters banned for life.
I don’t think putting Hansen in the West Virginia Derby (II) as opposed to the richer Haskell (I) is a bad move at all. Let him mentally mature and test the waters post-Derby there before facing off against Bodemeister. I wonder if they’ve considered tossing Dominguez at this point.
Alex Brown Racing (a website that gained popularity as a source for all things Barbaro for his fans) now has its own podcast of sorts. Naturally, being an awkward person, I have veered away from participating and or creating podcasts. Plus mine would go something like this: “OH MA GAWD HOW CUTE IS COZZETTI? HOW ABOUT ATIGUN? RAAAAAAGSY!” Repeat for 60 minutes.
While I didn’t have her down to win (rooting for Izzy Rules), I’m glad Switch is Breeders’ Cup-bound after the A Gleam (II) yesterday. She gave one of the most memorable performances up against Zenyatta, after all.
The Arch is strong with you: graded winner Keertana has been retired and bred to the awesome Claiborne stallion while her half sister Snow Top Mountain went to Arch’s son and BC Classic winner, Blame.
I realize this probably bothers no one else but… Doug O’Neill, could you please shave your face?
$1 million minimum Pick 4/6 on Belmont Day… TIME FOR ME TO BE LUCKY! (No but seriously, I *might* be buying into a players’ pool… need dat college money)
Update on retired sensation Princess Arabella: she’s now in foal to Tapit, meaning A.P. Indy inbreeding and even more Mr. Prospector >.> (Did I mention Arch has zero Mr. Prospector?)
Happy retirement to Silver Medallion! Looks like Silver Max will be taking your spotlight.
Typical me behavior: generally unenthusiastic about watching $30,000 horses trot around a ring… GUNG HO ABOUT WATCHING $7,000 HORSES BARRELING DOWN THE STRETCH!
Me Friday: Wilkinson at 20-1? That’s a pretty good odds for a horse who was so good last year… well okay, he’ll be against Mr. Commons but still… *fast forward to Saturday* WHY IN THE HELL DID I CHOOSE TO NOT BET TODAY?! WHY DID I PUT MY FAMILY FIRST? WHYYYY AGHHH 44-1!
Thank you, Jerry Crawford, for telling Dale Romans to STFU about putting Dullahan in the Preakness. He’s arguably the best fresh horse in the Belmont running now *thinks of Shackleford*
They ought to make jackets with jockey silk colors! I need a new track/spring jacket!
Where’s Coil nowadays?
People need to stop making a big deal about this alleged milkshaking incident… please do yourselves a favor and read up on the science behind the elevated CO2 levels in racehorses.
Dynaformer's last foal— a filly— was born this past week. Can I suggest the name Barbara for her? The last usage of the name in the States was in 1996 for an unraced mare.
Tweet o’ the Week:
After a couple frustrating years working in video games, the new NTRA site err, I mean, “America’s Best Racing” site drives me batshit with HUGE-ASS EFFIN FLASH SLIDESHOW right smack on the page… making you scroll down if you want to read anything quickly. I hate that shit. It’s unfortunately popular and empty-looking… I’ll just stop now before I fly into a rant about design. At least they’re not using Comic Sans.
TIME TO GIVE DAWNA SOME MONEY!! I really shouldn’t be looking, but look what I found! A white grandbaby of A.P. Indy with a chestnut medicine hat! Only $20K!
The Racing Beat is back after a Derby-influenced hiatus! And Winter Memories won her first start of the year!
Reason #12000 why I would make a good horse racing spokeslady: I’ve been around Spanish communities and people long enough to know how to pronounce the jockeys’ names properly and understand their broken, heavily-accented English. It’s not Mar-tin Garcia, it’s Mar-teen Garcia.
The Derby broadcast was not as delicious as I felt it could possibly be. Couple that with the obvious lack of expertise by NBC Sports (camera pans to talk about a specific contender and films El Padrino getting his tongue tied) and I feel slighted.
I keep hearing that people supposedly all supported Union Rags because they thought he was the next Barbaro. Nope, not for me anyways. I supported him on paper, sight unseen, because I have such tremendous faith in Matz as a trainer. He doesn’t have a super popular pedigree i.e. Bernardini, A.P. Indy, Giant’s Causeway, Empire Maker. He was bred in Pennsylvania on a small-scale farm. He’s big, magnificent, and always tries hard. Barbaro had nothing to do with it.
I am absolutely crushed that Pluck is not returning to racing, even more so they’re sending him to stand in Australia.
GO BODE GO!
One more month until the mighty Belmont Stakes and I could not be more excited about going. Possibly Union Rags and Alpha… Dullahan… I really wish Team Valor had saved Went the Day Well for this specific race, as well.
Tweet O’ the Week:
Stanley Gold is back at his stomping grounds at Calder doing what he does best: winning! Great job to a horse who had a rough spring, Fort Loudon!
Mark Valeski has a new fan: me! Rosie’s going to have her best year yet with Larry Jones’ horses.
Yummy With Butter has some competition as the best racehorse name ever: Hastings standout Spaghetti Mouse.
I’m in the process of reading as much as I can about the usage of furosemides (Lasix/Salix) in horse racing. As of right now, I am all for a gradual pull-out from race-day medications, but would like to learn as much as possible as I continue to form a personal opinion on the matter.
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.