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"Before the Weekend" Derby Top 10

This will probably be my last Derby list before the profiles are started for the big race. This was a bit tougher to make since there are still a lot of major points races left to be run and things could easily get complicated. Ranked in order:

10) Commissioner - Got going too late after a bad start in the Sunland Derby to be up for second. If he can get a clear run to get some point gains in the Arkansas Derby, he’s a candidate.

9) Hoppertunity - Gets a big boost if Mike Smith sticks around as a horse who clearly wants more ground. 

8) Social Inclusion - If he shows something in the Wood— and by something I mean a first or second place finish— I’ll become a believer. Fast, late-improving son of Pioneerof the Nile.

7) Bayern** - Hope he goes to the Arkansas Derby and wins. He’s talented enough for it. I’m stubborn to completely drop him out of sight.

6) Samraat - Stays on the list if he can show me something in the Wood tomorrow. I need to see him not immediately go to the lead and try to hang on.

5) Strong Mandate - Whether or not this Tiznow colt shines in May, he’s a legitimate 10-furlong horse who doesn’t really display any pickiness in regards to surface conditions or what kind of trip he has to make.

4) Candy Boy - His win in the Robert B. Lewis told me all I needed to know. He’s been in my top 10 for the bulk of the year and there’s little telling me he won’t yield at 10 furlongs. My biggest concern is the Candy Ride curse…

3) Tapiture - This horse just needs a better jockey and he’s very game to do well and even show yet another dimension. His off-the-pace style and tactical speed speaks for itself.

2) California Chrome - Brilliant horse who I’ve been watching for a while… but I admit, I was too stubborn to include immediately in the very first top ten list as he hadn’t shown me enough to include a California-bred. He looks like he just needed some time just like another really good California horse who won a couple years ago…

1) Ring Weekend - I can’t really explain this one much more beyond a good feeling and all the right subtle winks. He’s chestnut, he’s by Tapit, trained by Graham Motion, and the thing that really sold me after his impressive Tampa Bay Derby (II) win was the fact he’s being sent to the Calder Derby instead of the Blue Grass. They’re giving this colt time to develop— not throwing him into a huge field in a big points race— and chances to boost his confidence before shipping to Churchill. He’s getting better and better and has some tactical speed to boot.

Derby Top 10: February List

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I’m making this list a bit later than I originally anticipated, but a constant flow of races, injuries, and other shortcomings have altered the January list quite a bit since I first edited that top 10.

10) Samraat - A game horse who dug in all the way last out to win a stubborn edition of the Withers Stakes (III) like a champ. I’m interested to see if he stretches out from here and if his undefeated class will hold up.

9) Dance With Fate - He narrowly lost the El Camino Real (III) to a poly specialist and should get better from here on out. I’ll be daft if he falls short somehow in the Blue Grass (I) and doesn’t make the Derby gate.

8) Candy Boy - The Candy Ride [ARG] colt often makes a stirring move too late, and it appeared to be too little too late in the Robert B. Lewis (II), but he got up just in time to take that race despite a bit of a messy trip getting stuck behind horses. Keen to see how he does going forward, he looks like a happy little horse.

7) Conquest Titan - The Birdstone colt made up very substantial ground late in the Holy Bull (II), and had just too much to do by the time he caught up with Cairo Prince to be 2nd. He’s made a lot of progress since turning 3 and shouldn’t shy away from getting more ground next out in the Florida Derby (I).

6) Cairo Prince - Brilliant in the Holy Bull (II), the Pioneerofthenile colt looked the part of a nearly undefeated Derby contender when romping home by 5 lengths, practically unopposed. Trainer Kieran McLaughlin is pushing for his Derby start to feel more like a “2nd off the layoff” than trying to build him up anymore than he currently is. I have to disagree with Prince not needing to improve in order to win, because this is a very good group of three-year-olds.

5) Tonalist - On my radar because of my great love for his trainer Christophe Clement— who is usually armed to the teeth with grass horses— the bay Tapit colt made an impression closing in to win a dirt allowance race at Gulfstream going 9 furlongs. His family looks awesome too: his dam is out of Toll Fee, a half sister to Havre de Grace’s dam Easter Bunnette. There’s too much to like and not enough room to list it all.

4) Top Billing - It’s tough to avoid mentioning such a good-looking colt by Curlin, who is on the precipice of proving himself worthy of a starting spot in May. Stacked with Northern Dancer and Nashua references, Top Billing is a half to the dam of Bodemeister and on paper, looks the part of a Derby winner even more so than his trainer’s call to fame from last year in Orb. Can he keep winning, starting with Saturday’s loaded Fountain of Youth (II)?

3) Strong Mandate - I hoped and prayed we would see a similarly talented colt when the Tiznow trainee of D. Wayne Lukas made his sophomore debut, and I doubt anyone was disappointed by his run in the Southwest Stakes (III). Had he had a shorter trip, he would have made a case for the win first off the layoff, and was phenomenally better than the rest of the field. Everything about this horse STILL looks very solid, and he’s keen to improve next out.

2) Bayern - Now, I don’t like horses who only have a couple of starts and aren’t battle-tested And Kaleem Shah horses have already burned me in the past (Fed Biz!). But 2-for-2 so far and armed with an effortless, powerful turn of foot and early speed, the son of Offlee Wild grabbed my attention in his most recent allowance win, reminding me of Big Brown. He demolished allowance company at a mile, and should keep on progressing from there despite being a May foal (a May 3 one at that, Derby day is his birthday).

1) Honor Code - It’s tough to topple what I perceive to be the perfect package in A.P. Indy colt Honor Code, who has flashed speed, stamina, heart, and an easygoing mentality with no real preference for positioning or surface condition. All signs point to a really promising colt come his three-year-old debut, which ought to be coming sooner than later. However, if he’s delayed any later than he is, he’s almost as good as out.

Honorable Mentions

Mexikoma has been training very well at Palm Meadows, being brought along slowly prepping for his first start of the year.

Loved Tapiture's defining move to win the Southwest Stakes (III), but I'm waiting on him to not have such an easy trip.

I want Commissioner to show me something else before I decide how much I like him. Constitution, too, as much as I enjoyed his last race.

Matterhorn keeps his mention, and will run in a tough allowance race on Saturday.

Mosler looks ready for a race and keeps a mention.

Shared Belief's gone missing from the track and from this list.

Tourist drops off the top 10 but keeps his mention. He finally broke his maiden at Aqueduct and will hopefully pursue a stake soon.

Wicked Strong's stocks drop after a messy Holy Bull (II), where his stretch drive suddenly went missing despite two horses making a very strong case coming from way back.

Casiguapo: A wrong equipment change and hopefully a better trip can leverage the Sightseeing colt.

Hartford looked splendid gearing down to win his first race at competitive Gulfstream. I’m very interested to see if he wants any part of two turns, and that is going to be the question of the day for him.

I have to include No Nay Never after the turf colt has been producing great workout reports on the dirt. Plus I got to talk to one of his part-owners at Sequel Stallions, and it’s inevitable he’ll at least try dirt.

The Return of Birdstone

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As a racehorse, he was neither tall nor impressive. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone made headlines the day he upset Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes— ending the chestnut bullet’s Triple Crown dreams— and again when he sired the 2009 Derby and Belmont winners in an unlikely freshman sire’s first assault on American classic breeding. Birdstone has had a few good ones since Mine That Bird and Summer Bird graced us with their presence, but is this the year where his progeny make a serious comeback?

February is a bit early to make any Birdstone assumptions, as most little Birds don’t spread their wings until later on. Many past hopeful sons made their mark later on than February— Mountain Eagle was on the tip of many a tongue last year— but this year, as soon as Breeders’ Cup time there was at least one Birdstone making the rounds, catching even my attention.

Mexikoma is a beautiful example of a Birdstone, albeit the definition of “the little engine that could.” (Photo by Dana Wimpfheimer)

I wrote about Mexikoma with high regard going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) back in November. Here was a small but good-looking colt out of Team Valor’s barn who wasn’t flashy like Havana, but offered a glimpse of a good two-year-old with the potential to be a nice three-year-old. Like many, he didn’t have the best race and finished 7th. But beforehand, he progressed much switching from turf to dirt to break his maiden at Delaware Park, roaring home by 14 1/2 lengths, after which he was privately acquired by Team Valor. He took the race over on the turn despite breaking from the 8-hole, and romped from there in the 1-mile event. And surprise! Through his dam, he is related to Juba! He has yet to make his three-year-old debut, but he is looking more ready every day, with 5 and 6-furlong breezes at Palm Meadows. He is entered for an allowance race on Fountain of Youth (II) day at Gulfstream Park, although he will break from the far-outside #10 post.

Conquest Titan looks to be the narrow, leggy type. Physically, he looks likely to get the distance and mature into a nice three-year-old. (Photo by BloodHorse)

The second, and one of the most interesting to burst off the Breeders’ Cup scene and into finer flesh, is Conquest Titan. He was an also-ran up until his most recent Churchill Downs race, where he crushed a field that included Gulfstream Park Derby winner General A Rod running from last to first despite slipping at one point. Racing just beyond that mark at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull (II), Conquest Titan made another impressive run from way back but was too late to catch Cairo Prince in another great effort. Imagining how much closer he could have been had he not had to circle the field so late makes me think even more highly of him. The plan for Titan is to skip the heavily-attended Fountain of Youth (II) this Saturday in favor of the April Florida Derby (I), a move that will also be mimicked by Cairo Prince.

It seems every year has a top sire or two when it comes to dazzling three-year-olds. Last year it was Midnight Lute and Into Mischief. Can this be Birdstone’s year again, during a trend where Fappiano-line horses have been prevailing very consistently? (And while perusing PedigreeQuery, I also can’t wait for a horse named Larry Birdstone to debut!)

My trip to Sequel Stallions

Let it be known that I had a lot of farms I wanted to visit, but ultimately couldn’t because a) I’m dumb and I think I can handle 132843729x more than I probably should in a given day and b) because of a, I didn’t take a personal day from work and didn’t take into account that I would have had 6 or 7 hours of sleep tops over the weekend heading into the school week. I’m dumb, like I said. Now on to pony!

Hudson, New York is a very very farmy place. You drive west on the Mass Pike, get off of I-91 onto the Taconic Parkway— which is a very remote highway traveling through the mountains, or at least it is on the weekends, then you hop off to follow more country roads full of snowy fields, cattle, and grain mills. Normally I enjoy this type of scenery, but I had to drive 5 miles out of town just to find a bathroom. Sequel Stallions is a very nice place though, a world of reaching pastureland and a brand-spanking new stallion facility that currently houses Emcee, Mission Impazible, Freud, Noble Causeway, Forty Tales, and Desert Party. I first heard of the farm about a year or so ago and originally loved Noonmark, who is no longer at the farm unfortunately as well as Girolamo. Daaaang!

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Hey look it’s me photobombing the stallion show narrator. She was a nice lady, among the other nice people working at Sequel.

The folks at the farm put together a nice event inside the stallion complex, part of which was partitioned off for the show attendees (I do believe it’s the actual open breeding area during the season) and the partition was HEATED! BONUS POINTS, especially when it’s in the teens and snowing outside! We also all got a lovely catered lunch before the show, and I was so lucky to be seated next to the owners of Forty Tales! They’re really lovely people, and we got into how they’re originally from New Zealand and that Forty Tales was the first Thoroughbred they ever bought and how exciting it was when he won the Woody Stephens (they weren’t expecting him to win either!). I’m a bit of a shy fly at times, and it can be somewhat awkward going to these events attended by cliquey breeders, most of whom have money and they all know each other. Thus, it was a relief and a delight to connect with great owners of a horse I know.

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The first one out to show was the man of the house: Freud! Responsible for passing on many a blaze face in the New York circuit, Freud was a big sturdy-looking guy with an authoritative personality and plenty of spice. You just gotta love him and what he’s done for New York Thoroughbred breeding. He looks like he just got into a bucket of cream!

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Mission Impazible made it a mission to try and blur all of my shots. Watch out Freud! Bad boys are always a temptation!

Keeping everyone on their toes, Mission Impazible was one of the big reasons I wanted to come out to the stallion open house here. He was a favorite of mine in his racing days, and I recall plugging away for him to win the Clark Handicap won by Wise Dan. A very fit horse, Impazible bucked and reared impatiently and hated to stand still. We were informed he looked so good because his owners had swam him over the summer after he was announced as retired. I imagine a lot of people who were also there to inspect him were very pleased. His owners also mentioned that his first crop ought to be very good, and one horse that is in foal to him is a half-sister to Shared Belief.

Next out was a horse I was also excited about seeing in the flesh: Sanford Stakes (II) winner and my 2009 Kentucky Derby rooting interest, Desert Party! A handsome son of Street Cry [IRE], Desert Party looked like the complete package coming out: relaxed, attentive, good size, and an even better build to compliment the speed he showed as a young racehorse. I’m looking forward to seeing the first Desert Parties race this year.

Also gracing everyone with his presence was the underdog of the barn whose offspring are just starting to race: Noble Causeway. A $1.5 million sale yearling and a son of Giant’s Causeway, his bloodlines are already being very well-received among New York breeders, and I think he will be getting some more attention soon. I read somewhere that his first crop was very small… something like 20 horses… but has yielded Damon Runyon winner Samraat (who is racing in the Withers this Saturday!). He was a nice big chestnut and reminded me a bit of Eskendereya.

They saved the “new boys” for last, and the first one out was a bit hesitant to do so. Emcee lit up the New York scene in his racing days, and is most remembered for his runaway win in the 2012 Forego Stakes where he romped over Jersey Town, Caixa Eletronica, Jackson Bend, and others. Unfortunately I’m not sure what my flash card did with any of my Emcee files or my Noble Causeway shots…

Last of all to come out was Forty Tales, who had possibly the most calm demeanor of the bunch and certainly for a new stallion off the track. He was small and finely manufactured, and granted me special permission to take his picture, posing for several seconds.

All in all it was a nice afternoon, inhibited by a small snowstorm and colder than normal temperatures and then hampered more by camera equipment/short amount of time and access per stallion (I’ll accept fault with that though, it was a new camera that I hadn’t had the time to fully learn first coupled with a slower lens than I’m used to). I hope to share one more farm with everyone before I call it a season!

Kentucky Derby Musings: Holy Bull Stakes

Early prep races for the Kentucky Derby are absolutely horrid to handicap. You have several horses, in this case eleven, most of whom are coming off sizeable layoffs and growth spurts with the intention of preparing for longer, more serious races than this one. But, Cairo Prince made for not just a fitting winner as a grandson of Holy Bull, but as a promising prospect as the distances get longer. There’s little more annoying to me than seeing sprinter types win Derby preps and everyone going up in arms that they’re going to win it all. Not so!

Many horses in the field, however, appeared to be the victims of poor trips or just not taking to the challenge of the race that well. Chad Brown and Fox Hill have since announced that it will be back to one-turns for Coup de Grace, who stopped running once he realized there was another turn at the end of the backstretch. Conquest Titan also made an impressive run late from way back, but was too late to catch the winner who held the advantage straight from the gate.

As mentioned, most of these horses are coming off layoffs and have a ways to go before the first Saturday in May fitness-wise. But I’m also curious as to how well some horses dealt with the pace as well as the track, which is normally speed-favoring. The field split into two groups during the race, with Cairo Prince coming from behind the pace in the first group to win easily with 2nd and 3rd place coming from way behind in the second group. Remove Cairo Prince from the equation, and it would have been a pretty boring race, but I would anticipate seeing these horses improve in their second starts off the layoff. I’m not a fan of Harlan’s Holiday progeny, but I recall Intense Holiday having a compromised trip in the Remsen and he did not look too awful here either. Regardless, Cairo Prince was much the best and even better when you take into account he did not utilize the fast rail, which added even more lengths to his trip.

Keane Stud Visit

The awesome part about keeping a blog that people actually read— a true rarity, especially on Tumblr— is feeling even more encouraged than ever to do new things. On Saturday I made my first-ever Thoroughbred stud farm visit to Keane Stud in Amenia, New York. It was snowing cotton balls intermittently, and a truck began spinning out while we were both trying to make it up the hilly road to the farm, but after conquering Winter Storm Nemo last year on bald tires, I was well-prepared for the wintery conditions.

While I’ll let the photos and video I took do most of the talking, it was a nice little winter day in New York. They weren’t able to show off the stallions quite as much due to the snowfall, but they did bring out the handsome boys to show off to the breeders that came by:

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First out was the new guy, The Lumber Guy, who was super calm for a stallion who is just getting used to farm life. He was still in fighting trim when they led him out, but stood there as cool as the new snow. He is light-bodied for a horse who was a pure sprinter at heart, and seemed way more interested in the yearlings playing in a far-off pasture than the crowd that came to see him.

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Second out was Frost Giant, who got a bit jealous of Lumber when he went out first. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s the boss of the stallion barn, and why not at a $10,000 stud fee? He’s probably my favorite of the bunch that I saw, very fresh attitude and loved the spotlight. He even let me take a selfie with him for my Facebook profile and denied to pose for anybody else mwahahahaha!

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Third and last out was Dublin. If I wanted a serious racehorse, I would put a big circle and multiple asterisks by him. Huge huge horse with some major guns to his anatomy. Sometimes, on the outside looking in, I think we’ve all questioned why certain horses who retired before their prime are such a hit with breeders… and now I kind of know why. I’ve been to stud farms in the past— not Thoroughbred ones though— and the impression an excellent specimen has on you in the flesh can allow you to look past some things. Dublin is from an excellent family of racehorses anyway, with Afleet Alex as his sire and his female family hailing from Triple Tiara winner Dark Mirage. I snuck him a candy when he was in his stall… at first I wasn’t sure if he would know what it was or liked them, but he was right up against the bars begging for it when I began unwrapping it then suction-cupped it out of my hand. Dublin likes his starlight peppermints!

Disco Rico was also on display, but wasn’t led out. I don’t know why, he had a ton of people interested in him. He was too busy munching on hay to pose for me.

I have some other upcoming stud farm visits down on my calendar for next weekend, so do stay tuned.

Eclipse Choices, However Some Aren’t Popular

I’m not a voter—unfortunately— but the popular thing to do among followers of racing who don’t get to vote is talk about who we would vote for if we had the distinction. Tonight’s Eclipse Awards strongly favor certain horses in certain categories, several of which I’m not gung-ho about— namely the Juvenile and 3-year-old filly categories:

Horse of the Year: Wise Dan

Much kudos again to Wise Dan, who ran a nearly undefeated banner year once again on the turf. I wish his campaign had been a little more challenging, but it’s a given that Morton Fink is now after Goldikova’s threepeat wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (I). Arguably the best horse in the world and almost certainly in this country.

Juvenile Colt: Havana

Conqueror of the mighty Honor Code— who is among the sensible short list of Kentucky Derby favorites— Havana showed class at the top level of racing at Saratoga before nearly winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he ran excellent against an unfavorable setup.

Juvenile Filly: Chriselliam

Simply wowed me in the Juvenile Turf Filly and deserves the win in a sketchy category with that superb display of speed she showed in that race that portrayed greatness far beyond a two-year-old horse.

Three-Year-Old Male: Will Take Charge

The best of a rather muddled year, Will Take Charge was the best of the three-year-olds and proved it in his thrilling Travers victory when other stars began to wane. He was frustratingly close to upsetting the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which had him pushed to the back when he began to roll and was running much the best when he hit the wire a nose too slow, then bested Game On Dude in the Clark. Had he changed up his campaign a little bit— such as using the Jockey Club Gold Cup instead of the Pennsylvania Derby to prep— I might have moved him up to Horse of the Year.

Three-Year-Old Filly: Princess of Sylmar

Led an awesome campaign this year that rivals some of history’s finest race mares with victories in the Kentucky Oaks, the Mother Goose, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, and the Beldame. Her connections had the sportsmanship to pay the extra fees to ship her out for the Breeders’ Cup, which was on a track that did not suit her or favor her running style.

Older Male: Game On Dude

While his competition may not have always stood up to the challenge, Game On Dude was consistently good this year in record-setting performances, and there really was no scarier a horse when it came time to race 9 to 10 furlongs, be it in his win across the country at Charles Town or in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Older Female: Royal Delta

Used as the yardstick comparison in her class, Delta had little to prove in her last year of racing before retirement with two G1 wins in the Delaware Handicap and Personal Ensign, cementing her as one of the modern-day greats.

Male Sprinter: Points Offthebench

Had he not been deceased, Points could have very well had no serious challengers for this prize as a horse he beat time and again won the Dirt Mile. He netted 5 wins in 6 starts this year including two G1 wins at Santa Anita against tough company, both over Goldencents.

Female Sprinter: Groupie Doll

This pick was based mainly off the notion that Groupie Doll’s ascent back into the winner’s circle at the Breeders’ Cup was a buildup of smart campaigning as well as horsemanship, where her connections gave her a long, risky break away from the track before bringing her back to top form.

Male Turf Horse: Wise Dan

Read above for Horse of the Year

Female Turf Horse: Laughing

A winner of four straight graded stakes this year at Monmouth and in tough-as-nails New York— including the G1 Diana and G1 Flower Bowl— ranging in distances from a mile to 10 furlongs against top company. She was undefeated before heading into the Breeders’ Cup.

Derby Top 10: January List

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As the road to the Kentucky Derby kicks off, I have made an introductory countdown of sorts of horses I like that will hopefully mature as expected in time for the first Saturday in May. Here goes!:

10) Ironicus - Speed on top with Forty Niner/Danzig backing the ultra classic sire Distorted Humor and distance on the bottom with A.P. Indy daughter Meghan’s Joy, Ironicus is an up-and-comer from the barn of Shug McGaughey who gets his gray coloring from his great damsire, Spectacular Bid. Recently a maiden winner, there’s reason to hope for big things for Ironicus as he continues to mature. His dam side is very strong, with Meghan’s Joy already being a good producer of some winners and being out of graded stakes winner Wild Applause, who is also the dam of Roar (Rachel Alexandra’s damsire), Praise (the dam of Flatter and Congrats), and G1 winner Yell. Wild Applause is also a half to Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero.

9) Tourist - Obviously made an impression upon me racing at Belmont Park, and I still hold him in high regard while anticipating a Tiznow classic winner. Owned by WinStar and trained by Bill Mott, he carries all the right important broodmares from Busanda to La Troienne in his pedigree along with a rare dual mention of Man o’ War from a sire as well as a dam line. Physically, he is a very impressive colt who should be keen to go on.

8) Dance With Fate - Out of all the Breeders’ Cup runners, the nearly-black Two Step Salsa colt caught my eye the most heading into the gate of the Juvenile race, in which he finished 8th. Had he been just a little more in front in the FrontRunner— which he lost in the stretch to the closer Bond Holder— we might be talking about him more. He’s mostly a “looks” pick, but millionaire freshman sire Two Step Salsa lends three traces to Buckpasser, and Danzig and Seattle Slew sit up pretty close in his family— both big pluses.

7) Gold Hawk - Two-for-two so far as a juvenile, the Empire Maker colt made an impression last out closing in from off the pace, going 5-wide then rallying well off the turn to win going away by more than 3 lengths. Pedigree is certainly on his side as well with a Belmont winner for a sire and an Eclipse juvenile champion as a dam. Mumtaz Mahal dominates the back end of his family.

6) Mosler - War Fronts can do just about anything, and Mosler seemed to take to the dirt kindly right away, breaking his maiden on his second try to coast home three lengths in front of Master Lightning at a mile at Belmont. He has not raced since September, but Bill Mott appears to be slowly bringing him back around after an extended break. Arch is the damsire, so it’s reasonable to expect more good things from Mosler.

5) Shared Belief - I have few doubts that this horse will do well where he is best; whether or not it’s going to be dirt at a distance, is still left to be questioned, especially since Candy Rides have done their best on poly and grass as Sidney’s Candy and others have demonstrated. Nevertheless, Jerry Hollendorfer’s a pro at shipping and switching surfaces— ‘ello, Sweet Lulu!— and Shared Belief looked fantastic and Eclipse-worthy in the CashCall.

4) Casiguapo - What I like a lot about Casi is not just his commanding way of running or his blaze face (that helps though), but the throwback kind of training that Mario Morales takes with him… who else worked their two-year-old a mile leading up to the Hopeful? The worst Casi has done on the track to date is a respectable 4th in the Champagne. Much of Casi’s early talent can be explained just by looking at his pedigree— Alydar is on both sides with three total mentions of Raise a Native— with Man o’ War and La Troeinne mentioned multiple times.

3) Wicked Strong - Could have been the upset winner of the Remsen if it had been a bit longer. Dam Moyne Abbey is by Kentucky Derby & Preakness winner Charismatic and is a half sister to G3 winner Gulch Approval and related some other notable stakes winners. He’s by far one of the most intriguing horses on the list from an improvement angle, as he gets better with every race— as Hard Spuns typically like to do, and distance looks to be his friend already.

2) Strong Mandate - D. Wayne Lukas still has the touch, and even in his “off” races, Strong Mandate still showed he has the grit necessary to grind out a tough Derby prep season. By Tiznow and out of a G1 winning daughter of Deputy Minister who is also the granddam of multi-G1 winning classic horse Ron the Greek, Strong Mandate should do even better as a three-year-old. Watch out, Oaklawn!

1) Honor Code - It’s tough to top a great pedigree, cool-headed personality, and a prevalent will to win that we’ve already seen from this grand A.P. Indy colt, who looks to keep getting better as they try new things with him— including sitting closer to the pace as seen in his Remsen (II) victory. It will be difficult passing this Shug horse, who has already shown he can do mud, which oft spells the end for many a Derby hopeful.

Others Worth Mentioning

  • Jessethemarine - Really cool longshot I liked who won a stakes down in Maryland at 35-1. Needs to be tested and improved, not to mention I don’t think he’s nominated… yet?
  • Coup de Grace - Fox Hill Farms’ newest Tapit venture in 2-for-2 winner Coup de Grace, a streamlined chestnut jet of a colt trained by the same trainer as their Normandy Invasion in Chad Brown. Dam Home Court is a daughter of Storm Cat and Eclipse winner Jewel Princess, who harks back to another Eclipse winner in Queen Empress, who was crowned juvenile champion filly back in the 60s.
  • Cairo Prince - Definitely worth a mention as the Pioneerof the Nile first crop looks sizzling, and he proved to be a tough competitor as a juvenile. Should keep on improving.
  • Juba - Must mention my crown prince of the Triple Crown season. By Tapit, he made a great debut at Aqueduct and should keep improving next out. He is a half to Saint Andaan and his dam Adoradancer is a half to the dam of G1 winner Love Theway Youare.
  • Tap It Rich - Baffert was high on this Tapit colt, who I really like as well. But he will need to stop being a typical Tapit headcase to advance.
  • Michaelmas - An unstarted Elusive Quality colt, he is the son of Ashland (I) winner Christmas Kid and part of a long notable line of excellent winners and producers.
  • Chomsky - Likely in need of more ground after 4 failed efforts to split his maiden, Chomsky is Reddam Racing’s latest venture trained under Mark Hennig and sports a Derby pedigree being by Distorted Humor and out of Meerkat Miss, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway and out of Beware of the Cat, making her a half to Belmont winner Editor’s Note and Hold That Tiger.
  • Hartford - Another Tapit worth watching that has yet to start, Hartford is a full brother to the very talented G1 winner Dance Card.
  • Matterhorn - He has not had a recorded work in some time, but his first-time-out win was impressive enough to mention him here. By Tapit, his dam Winter Garden was relentless at Woodbine in her day, off the board just once with 12 wins in 18 starts.
  • Aslan - I have written stuff previously about this A.P. Indy colt, who while didn’t show much beyond a distant 2nd place finish to King Cyrus, should do better with age.

Some words about Caixa Eletronica

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Sadly I don’t think I ever managed to get a good shot of Caixa!

I think everyone has heard in some way about him at this point, but if you haven’t, I’m sad to tell you that an iron horse is dead. Graded stakes winner Caixa Eletronica collided with another horse, Six Drivers, during a morning workout at Belmont and both had to be euthanized due to “catastrophic” injury.

Caixa wasn’t one of my big favorites, but I saw him four times during my racetrack trips racing at three separate distances: the six-furlong True North (II) in 2012 and 2013, the nine-furlong Whitney Handicap (I) in 2012, and lastly, the seven-furlong Forego (I) last year. This factoid alone speaks highly of his versatility and talent, as he won the 2012 edition of the True North, which sadly also claimed the life of Giant Ryan in a separate accident. He out-closed Justin Phillip to get the win that day, and I remember being very impressed with this claimer-turned-stakes runner who seemed capable of doing it all. Some of my past commentary on Caixa:

He’s been looking great and has hit the board in all but 1 start on an off track. With a fast pace assured, keep an eye on this closing machine.

A winner across various distances with 3 out of 6 races won this year, while Caixa’s a jack of all trades and master of none, he’s a live longshot here should he keep a gear in reserve.

Works are consistently good, and he has yet to finish off the board while at Belmont in three tries.

A special congrats is due to new millionaire Caixa Eletronica, who won last night’s $1 million Charles Town Classic (II) over 1 1/8 miles, despite being considered more of a 7-furlong specialist. Sorry for calling you a mare for so long before figuring out you were a guy.

I see him as the better Repole entry, and he really likes the mile where he turns it up at the end. If I know Johnny V, he’ll let everyone tire and guide this guy out how he likes. Caixa for the win!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t completely gloss over the anger I felt in the moment hearing about his training accident with all these good mementos of him, and I barked on Twitter that he should have been retired last year— an opinion and a belief that I stand by. Caixa was still winning, but was not as good as used to be. When he ran a sleepy 6th and last the whole way in last year’s True North, I felt it was time to see him off somewhere else.There were apparently plans in motion to send him to Old Friends Cabin Creek (which I feel weird about since his similar stablemate Calibrachoa was retired to stud, not a facility), but to me, they were plans that were too little too late. Why keep running him if he’s obviously not where he used to be, just winning smaller New York stakes races that rarely fill up that much? Of course, I ran into some strong dissenters regarding this opinion, but especially after filming the story of Stud Muffin, who was retired around the same age for the same reason of declining form, I feel pretty offended that they may have wanted to eke another year or so of racing out of Caixa before calling it quits. That was my concern and that is why I responded very negatively when the news first broke. It may have been an unforeseeable training accident that killed him instead of a race accident, but in a sport where nobody typically *really* profits off anything that races, it became an especially unfortunate loss. You can throw money at the problem and still be part of the problem, kind of like that carbon footprint nonsense.

However, what happened to Caixa and what happened to Saginaw may be the beginning ripples of what may happen next. In the age of carriage horses being forced off the streets of New York City, it’s paramount we do what we can to care for our horses, particularly our iron horses who deserve much better than a sudden end on the track, and to improve safety even more on and around the track.

My Year in Horse Racing

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Not all surprises are good fun, but 2013 was especially good to me in horse racing. At the start of the year, I had some racing goals to fulfill, but knew I was going to have a tough time getting through a year where I had to work extra extra hard just to get to college classes, never mind pass them. The summertime and free weekends in between my dire and non-existent life were made pleasant through my favorite pastime of going to the track and blogging about it:

Favorite NEW horses I got to see (and some photograph) this year:

Funny Cide, Orb, Oxbow, Point of Entry, Little Mike, Royal Delta, Princess of Sylmar, Mizdirection, Stephanie’s Kitten, Will Take Charge, Moreno, Verrazano, Groupie Doll, Mucho Macho Man, Goldencents, Graydar, Assateague, Native Singer, Power Broker, Stud Muffin, Swampy Town, Evening Attire, Big Blue Kitten, Imagining, Laughing [IRE], Revolutionary, Juba, Toasting, and Freedom Child.

Meeting many more Tumblrers, other racing folks

It’s always a  highlight meeting new people at the track with which to share memories and an embarrassingly encyclopedic memory of stats, pedigrees, and other racing jargon, but meeting new Tumblr peeps is special, so thank you to all those kids I got to see this year! Even if I didn’t get to meet everyone in-person, the nice comments and support throughout the year was a welcome guest!


Shooting with a fast telephoto lens

Once I came back into having money and time, I was able to rent high-end equipment this year for my foray into horse racing photography. My only regret is not doing it sooner, especially for when I went to Saratoga for two days. My work definitely got a leg up once I was able to have access to a wider aperture and automatic focus. For comparison purposes, a stock automatic Nikon lens I used when I first started shooting races at the 2012 Belmont Stakes:

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and the first time I used an upgraded fancy lens in 2013, the morning of Super Saturday at Belmont in September:

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Getting to visit Aqueduct for the first time

This has been on my list a while. I wasn’t able to go to the Wood Memorial like I had wanted due to work commitments (I should be able to go in 2014!), but I made a powerful effort last month to get there for a very flattering running of the Cigar Mile and Remsen Stakes. Visiting a new track every year is becoming my byline. Dubai next year, right? [har har har]

Meeting Ramon Dominguez and others

I am horribly, horribly starstruck and speechless when acknowledging heroes, so it was both special and awkward to get to have my Funny Cide book signed by Ramon Dominguez, Jose Santos, Richard “Mig,” and Angel Cordero this summer. EGAD! WHAT ARE WORDS?

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Honor Code’s personal impression upon me

He was the first (and few, if not the only one) horse I wrote about this year as a potential Kentucky Derby horse— even before he ran his first race. Something really captivated me about Honor Code, but whether it was his pedigree, his good looks, his fast morning workouts, or something else, it became secondary to me as I had the personal pleasure of randomly seeing him one morning at Belmont Park. I don’t get to go the track all that often, so between that one mythical fall morning shooting workout photos and seeing his first big win in the Remsen (II), I grew a new kind of attachment I’ve yet to have with any other Derby hopeful of mine.

Assateague’s 23-1 thriller in the De La Rose Stakes

I was feeling sick, but made my pick 4 submission anyway. It was probably the heat that day at Saratoga— even though I announced to everyone who was reading my Twitter feed that it was an absolutely flawless day to be at the races— and I felt myself needing to sit down a bit leading into the height Whitney Day card. I covered three horses in the first leg of the pick 4, and while I’ve been a long-time believer and bettor in Michael Matz’s turf mare Assateague, who is owned by his wife, I did not expect her to win. But she did; the stretch drive was incredible, bearing all of the frenzy of a longshot boiling down the lane in front combined with the thrill of a heart pick paying me back. It was enough to boot out any heat stroking I was doing. I survived the rest of the day feeling brilliant, but despite my heat-loving self who rarely turns her fan on all summer, I had the AC in the car going full-blast from the parking lot to the Half Moon, NY exit. Yikes.

A strong, early belief in Moreno pays off

The Ghostzapper gelding Moreno caught my eye last year while racing fourth in the Frontrunner (I) won by Power Broker out in California, and I even wrote about him on here when that happened. Then in June, I noticed he was on the Belmont Stakes program and just had to bet on him despite a pretty wretched day at the windows. He was my lone winner of the day, cantering home from wire-to-wire at 8-1. Then, he took the Dwyer (III) the same way and then nearly stole the Travers (I) at 42-1. I never felt more like a bloodstock agent than the times I got to follow Moreno from also-ran to surprise star.

Hitting the pick 4, earning more than $100 in a day

I have previously only done a pick 4 once… I missed two legs by a total loss margin of maybe two lengths… and managed to hit my first pick 4 this year on my third try. My first try of 2013 was so so close and would have made for an amazing payoff if Cross Traffic did not win the Whitney, and I came back two weeks later to hit it. I was real close to hitting several in the Breeders’ Cup, each of my 3 tries failing because of one race. I almost always hit at least 3 legs every time I try the pick 4, which is becoming one of my go-to exotic arrangements. DAGH! But altogether, I met my handicapping/wagering goal for the year as a small-time, occasional, I’m-a-poor-comm-major gambler, and I also got another BC straight trifecta (the Mile with Wise Dan, Za Approval, and Silentio finishing in that order) and a boxed trifecta in the Juvenile Turf.

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I got to see my first… and second… Kentucky Derby winner

Because I’ll Have Another defected last year, I never got to see a Derby winner outside of pictures in books and images on a screen (they kept IHA in the paddock to say goodbye at the Belmont last year, I was trackside). So, Orb was my first in-the-flesh Kentucky Derby winner when he was led out to the Belmont, which also marked my first in-the-flesh Preakness winner, Oxbow. But the first Kentucky Derby winner I got to see and photograph, much to my delight because he’s my all-time favorite, was Funny Cide while the gelding was being paraded at Saratoga.

Working on the horse racing-related documentary projects

Up until this year, I had only ever made short fictional student films, with absolutely no experience working with real-life characters and asking them about their stories. Cinema is different from documentary, but spinning off a successful turn to non-fiction in my Intro to Film class, I won a funding grant to create a horse racing-related documentary and then championed a video project for CANTER New England as well as a project on retired racehorse and stakes winner, Stud Muffin. It was the first time I felt like a legitimate filmmaker and storyteller and the first time I was able to really break through what I only read about and interact with stories in the flesh. It even allowed me the first time I ever got to touch and feed carrots to a stakes winner, as well as one Triple Crown runner in 2006 Preakness participant Greeley’s Legacy. I hope the projects keep coming and surprising me in 2014.

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The Beldame Invitational

This race gets its own mention because I think it was the best race I saw all year in person. Yes, better the Belmont and the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Cigar Mile. It was my first and likely only time I got to see the fabulous Royal Delta and the truly talented Princess of Sylmar, who I became an instant fan and follower of after this race. It was a small field, but the noise coming from the stands suggested numbers larger than 10 or 12,000. Unlike the 2012 Belmont, which is still my favorite race ever that I got to see in person, there were more serious fans in the crowd versus a drinking, there-for-the-frills bunch, which was obvious to see from Averie Levanti’s homemade sign and pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to the shouts of “Javi! Javi! Javi!” and the applause for Royal Delta. It reminded me yet again that this is the greatest sport in the world.

Goals for the new year:

  • Visit a new track, if I can (the *if* is in there because 2014 is setting up to be a big year of many changes for me, including location)
  • Improve my track photography and photograph more cool horses
  • Get back on top handicapping-wise. I feel I’ve been overthinking things too much and would like to scale back to older strategies I’ve forgotten about. I know I’ve still got it somewhere deep within…  as shown by my support of Riven Seven (12-1 winner recently in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes) and Fredericksburg (17-1 winner last out). It just needs to come out more often!
  • Horses I want to see next year that I haven’t yet: Wise Dan and Dayatthespa take the top of the “feasible” list.
  • Graduate with the best of my racing work on display at the university festival. It’s looking good to happen too.
  • I’m too afraid to list anything else. Racing has a way of surprising me, as does time and other uncontrollable factors, so I’m just going to sit here and hope for the best as 2014 rolls my way along with the end of my college career.
The best Thoroughbred horse racing blog on Tumblr! Updated daily with handicapping analysis, photos, editorials, and things gathered 'round the web.

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


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