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Sophomore Sinkhole

El Padrino was impressive on the Triple Crown trail, but has been MIA since the Run for the Roses.

Who wants some stats? Everybody loves stats, probably as much as they love Raymond. We saw one of the most talented crops of juvenile take the stage in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I), and while a whopping 10 out of 13 of them won stakes leading up to the Derby, we’ve since seen one of the worst injury/retirement rates hit the sophomore male crop:

  • Out of 20 Derby runners, 6 of them have been pronounced retired.
  • Out of the top 5 finishers of the Derby, only Dullahan is still currently active.
  • Out of all 20, only Alpha is being [definitively] considered for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I).
  • 5 of them suffered some type of injury ranging from minor to career-ending between the 3 TC races.
  • Trinniberg is a possible for the BC Sprint, Dullahan a probable for Turf or possibly Classic.
  • Daddy Nose Best, Optimizer, and Dullahan are now career turf/synth horses.
  • 5 of the 20 runners have not made a start since the Triple Crown wrapped.
  • Post-Triple Crown stakes winners: Optimizer (G3 Kent on grass), Dullahan (G1 Pacific Classic on synthetic), Alpha (G2 Jim Dandy and G1 deadheat in Travers), Prospective (G3 Ohio Derby), and Trinniberg (G2 Woody Stephens, sprint).
  • The only horses to have raced against older horses so far this year: Dullahan, Prospective, Daddy Long Legs. Only Dullahan has won against them, and by a nose.

Looking back, was this one of the best years or one of the worst years for three-year-old talent, or should we blame the temptations the breeding industry offers?

Oh baby Street Life, I hope you’re okay after that ankle bump in the Travers. In an alternate universe, you won the race for me. Please let’s not retire this guy. (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Oh baby Street Life, I hope you’re okay after that ankle bump in the Travers. In an alternate universe, you won the race for me. Please let’s not retire this guy. (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

The Lowest of the Lows

One of the toughest races to pick apart on Belmont Stakes day was one of its stakes on the undercard: The True North Handicap (II), which featured several graded and recent stakes winners with a whole lot of value scattered about. While it was difficult siding with any one particular horse from a gambling perspective, it was easy to find delight with the two towering G1 winners in the field: Smiling Tiger, under new ownership and Mike Smith for the first time, and the New York-bred Giant Ryan, a big winner on the Belmont dirt last year winning the Vosburgh Invitational (I).

Wearing the easily-recognizable Shivananda colors with red bridle, the bay son of Freud was calm and collected in the post parade as the 120-pound high-weight, and would have to fly out of the six post to get away from this field. I put a couple bucks on rail horse Pacific Ocean, who had plenty of late gas and was a recent Rick Dutrow transfer— those frequently do very well right off the bat— and hoped for the best as well as a couple good stills with my DSLR. What happened next was something I always feared to see.

Cursing under my breath as Pacific Ocean gunned immediately to the front, I readied the barrel of the lens to track the leaders into the homestretch, dropping frames all rapid rabbit as Caixa Eletronica collared Justin Phillip in yet another unlucky Zayat run for a stakes. There was an abrupt WOMP! sound of something heavy striking the dirt and the crowd winced with a thousand voices. My first breakdown in person was a mighty sprinter champion, and all my insides shrank inwardly. Giant Ryan was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill horse. With much of his win streak last year commencing in Miami’s Calder Race Course, he felt like my brother similar with how Awesome Feather, Gourmet Dinner, and Fort Loudon gravitated to me. Now here we were, just feet away from each other, two ex-South Floridians in New York. My legs were hurting from standing and sitting, but I imagine his pain eclipsed my own.

I had put down my camera, but then mentally kicked myself to pull it out again. No one following this blog would likely see anything about this outside of a press release, and I knew it was something that was important to document. Not the gore factor, but the caring that went into it. Jockey Willie Martinez, after being thrown to the dirt when Giant Ryan stumbled, picked himself up and immediately went to the horse’s aid. The bay speedster struggled to rise, Martinez steadying him once he did and kept him calm, placing a caring hand on his forehead. The equine ambulance arrived within seconds, with track employees hoisting the ominous black sheet between the injured and the watching eyes in the stands. It didn’t look bad enough for an instant euthanization— I saw no bone or blood that hinted at a compound fracture— but I knew the prognosis was going to be among the toughest odds he’d ever face.

Bisnath Parboo and presumably a Shivananda family member looked distraught as their champion loaded onto the van. Unsurprisingly, with a such a prominent stakes day, there were more than a few on the apron who were not horse people, if they were people at all. There were heartless Alpo jokes and drunken quips that the horse deserved to die for losing them $5, and the valor on the scene only amazed me further because all the attention the connections had to give was to the injured one, who acted the perfect gentleman every limp of the way.

Meanwhile in the winner’s circle, Mike Repole was collecting his trophy for Caixa Eletronica’s stirring win. Despite the chestnut’s effort and probably one of the most impressive runs of the day, the scene was stolen by Giant Ryan. In an impractical, impulsive kind of way, I wanted to blame Repole for the bad karma he left in New York last year, hailing Uncle Mo's second in the King's Bishop (I) as “the lowest of the lows.” While the Shivanandas would win big within hours with Trinniberg, possibly this year’s quickest three-year-old, but the sore spot would remain. This was the lowest of the lows. No one would get to see Giant Ryan again as the horse would succumb to the onset of laminitis while awaiting surgery, but he and his connections personified the heart of the game. With thousands of dollars waiting at the wire, it was the horse that everyone cared about first and foremost without another thought.

While I hope to never have to see this sort of thing happen again— an unfortunately false hope— the experience was a lesson worth learning. Forget the headless presses you read about putting racehorses through a grinder; I have openly scoffed Parboo and Shivananda horses again and again in the past, so to see such a compassionate display convinces me that on every level, where there is bad, there is also much more good. Giant Ryan was fast, brilliant, still a gifted runner at 6 years old, and will be impossible for me to forget even now that he is gone.

A Crownless Season

The news arrived via text after an overnight shift, working back-to-back operating rooms in the labor & delivery unit from 11pm to 7:30am.

I’ll Have Another’s scratched!

The reply back was hazy and mild. That’s ok. Part of the magic of the Triple Crown races is their surprises in unexpected ways. While we didn’t get Street Sense or Curlin to win it in 2007, we instead got the first filly to win the Belmont in about a hundred years. And we still have “Rags” to pin our hopes on.

Well, maybe the crowds won’t be as bad, but I would certainly lack that raucous noise of an impending Triple Crown run. Even worse though, considering how I posted about the “worst thing” to happen during a Belmont run the other day, this is probably right up there with the news that I’ll Have Another is not only scratched, but retired for good.

I blame the jinx on experts writing in about Cookie’s lack of a forceful stud value increase even if he was going to win it all tomorrow. I blame it on Reddam having to give him his name… in my experience of dealing with horses, they always seem to go against their names in the worst ways (example: we had a horse named Khaptive Hearts… she was anything but sweet!) I blame it on the cruel racing gods, who just plain refuse to give the Triple Crown to anyone less than very extraordinary.

While I never exactly supported I’ll Have Another… okay, I always rooted against him!… I’ll miss that nasal strip and the feelgood sensation of his underdog, chestnut hooves on the soil. Next year, maybe we’ll be surprised once again.

Junebugred and Consortium Out

Ugh, what the hell.

Both Junebugred— winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes— and Consortium, a promising Bernardini colt, are the latest contenders off the Triple Crown trail due to bone chips. Junebugred’s is in his ankle while Consortium has a knee chip. 

While both are scheduled to have surgery and recover, don’t expect to see either again until sometime in the summer at the earliest. Junebugred’s chip might help explain the colt’s sixth place finish last out in the Southwest Stakes’ (II) loaded first division. Consortium was entered to run in Saturday’s Gotham Stakes (III), in what would have been a highly anticipated rematch against runner-up Hansen and third-place My Adonis.

Algorithms is off the Derby trail with a fractured splint in his right leg, most likely incurred during training. Really disappointing news, I think he was Todd Pletcher’s best bet.

Algorithms is off the Derby trail with a fractured splint in his right leg, most likely incurred during training. Really disappointing news, I think he was Todd Pletcher’s best bet.

RIP Banned (2007-2011), who was euthanized today.

RIP Banned (2007-2011), who was euthanized today.

Awesome Feather on the Comeback Trail

The last time the world saw Awesome Feather run, the bright bay filly flew first under the wire in front of thousands at Churchill Downs. She donned purple silks with yellow polka dots and was piloted by a mostly unknown jockey (Jeffrey Sanchez) based at Calder Race Course in Miami. Today, she’s three years old, a Breeders’ Cup winner, and has a new owner who is itching to race her within a month or so.

Frank Stronach of Adena Springs and Gulfstream Park fame has given Awesome Feather a lot of recuperation time following the filly’s unfortunate long-term injury she endured late last year, discovered shortly after he plunked down $2.3 million at auction for her. She’s been a steady breezer over the summer months at Belmont Park, and is now looking to make her first 2011 start.

Hot trainer Chad Brown has spoken highly of the Awesome Of Course filly, who recently spurted a 4-furlong breeze at Belmont in a sharp :48 and change. If all goes well, with no more minor hurdles, “eventually she could be ready to run in a month.”

While hope has glimmered significantly of the undefeated filly making more headlines at Churchill Downs again, the thought of seeing her race again is more than enough good news. Many of last year’s star juvenile fillies, including R Heat Lightning and Joyful Victory, have sustained injuries or muddled starts as sophomores this year, so it would be fantastic to see this star filly shine again in what has become a very heated division. 

The Boys Are Back in Town

Three amazing three-year-old colts are back in the game, including one name I thought we may never get to see again: Uncle Mo's old arch-rival, Boys at Tosconova [pictured]!

Out of contention since he finished second to Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race in November, the gorgeous bay colt took a longer breather than expected after he didn’t seem himself in the race. He took a long vacation from training without anything exact being named as the cause, and his absence was one of the first of many harsh blows to the 2011 Triple Crown trail. Trainer Rick Dutrow had the Officer son breezing 3 furlongs over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track in 39 1/5. Good to see him back in action!

Another name that’s welcoming to see is Tapizar, another early favorite in the Triple Crown trail who chipped a bone after finishing fifth in the Robert E. Lewis (II) as the favorite. Steve Asmussen welcomed the bay colt back to the track with a four furlong breeze at Saratoga in an easy 52 4/5.

Also back in training is Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, who logged in his first jog following knee chip surgery he sustained in the Belmont Stakes.

Not a casualty but still back to work also is Mucho Macho Man, who has been breezing happily over the Oklahoma track.

No plans have been made just yet for any of these colts, though interest had been expressed earlier in June that Nehro would make the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) this November. Good luck boys and glad to see you all back at work!

Breaking: First Dude Retired

I think I heard the sound of a dinner plate shattering. But that glass was actually my heart.

Winner of the enthralling 2011 Hollywood Gold Cup, First Dude won his first grade I prize only to come up with a career-ending injury. Trainer Bob Baffert reported that the 4-year-old son of Stephen Got Even came out of the event with a strained tendon, which would take around 8 months to heal. With stud plans around the corner, the decision was made to retire the horse earlier than planned.

“It’s a devastating blow to us because he loves Churchill Downs and we were really excited about the Breeders’ Cup. He is a big, solid and smart horse. He is just beautiful. He is very balanced for a big horse. He was becoming a great horse. He was going to have a huge year.

With no return trip to Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup Classic for First Dude, the picture just became wide open again. No definite plans have made for where First Dude will stand his first season at stud just yet.

In the meantime, best wishes to the victorious Dude on a recovery speedier than his closing fractions.

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


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