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Pace Essential for Many in BC Sprint

The souped-up Santa Anita main is bound to play well with the speed demons in the 6-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I), but given that come-from-behinders have done well in the past, who is the best bet of the bunch?

Contenders are:

  • Coil -The handsome G1-winning Point Given colt has proven a nice sprinter winning the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (I) from off-the-pace and is capable of improving more off that win.
  • Gantry - The southern gentleman shipped west, the Pulpit gelding is lightly-raced coming in with a 3-1-1 record out of 5 starts this year and is capable of some awesome performances given running room. His last start was a trafficky 2nd in the Temperance Hill back in September, but he looks well and wants a sizzling pace.
  • Amazombie - Mike Smith remarked following the defending champion’s last start that he was expectedly a bit short running 4th, but then the Northern Afleet gelding underwent some precautionary tests. What’s going on? I don’t know, but apparently he’s working similarly to his win last year and looks to make another bold move closing in on the pace. Out of the money just once at Santa Anita (last out), can he do it again?
  • Smiling Tiger - The son of Hold That Tiger is winless in 3 starts this year and was a hopeless 5th last out in the Triple Bend (I). He’s at his favored distance but will need to hop off that 5-month layoff stronger than ever.
  • Capital Account - The Closing Argument son has yet to finish out of the money running in Cali this year, doing well to surge from behind to never be too far from the front. He missed beating stablemate Coil last out by a head and has been spitting bullets. Upset?
  • Justin Phillip - A tough year for the First Samurai colt, he just doesn’t get a break at the stakes level but isn’t ordinarily beaten by much blowing in from off-the-pace. Doesn’t look as sharp.
  • Poseidon’s Warrior - The muddier the better for this Speightstown colt, who got his calling this year winning the sloppy Vanderbilt (I) then was 3rd last out in the good-rated dirt of the Vosburgh (I), beaten just 3 lengths. Choice pick if the ground gets tainted.
  • Trinniberg - Usually a “need the lead” type, the Teuflesberg colt won 3 graded stakes this year wire-to-wire at 7 furlongs and improved much to stay game in 2nd last out, losing by just a half-length to Well Spelled after sacrificing the lead. He’s worthy, and because of his recent losses will do well at the window.
  • Hamazing Destiny - The son of Salt Lake has just one win this year in 8 starts in the Maryland Sprint (I) back in the spring, running 2nd last out to Emcee in the Forego (I). If he looks good going in, he might have a shot here.
  • The Lumber Guy - The Grand Slam sophomore is 2-for-2 at 6 furlongs and can close as well as lead the way. With Johnny V back to try to make the pair 2-for-2 together, I anticipate a really tough contender.
  • Sum of the Parts- The Speightstown colt has been great this year, catapulting to the Sprint with a wire-to-wire win in the Phoenix (III) last out. The class step up will be a challenge.

The Lumber Guy - He’s got all the markings of a horse who will do very well here

Capital Account - Could very well beat them all out coming from behind at a better price than his stablemate

Gantry - Super tough at 6 furlongs, just give him some space!

Coil - Great colt who looks to keep on improving

Amazombie - Adept closer, if he can recover that form in time

Weekend Stake Tip: It’s a Feelgood Sport

Handicapping was done lightly this weekend, but fruitful— much more so than last weekend where I finished in the red (losing money as opposed to the usual gain of $15-20 on average or at least breaking even). The handicapped race of the week nailed the exacta of Teeth of the Dog, Fast Falcon in what was a really thrilling rendition of the Dwyer (II), despite a LOT of handicappers out there insisting Unstoppable U was fresh for the test. I hope to see both of these colts try the Travers (I). Additional wagers were won on a runner-up Juddmonte Empire Maker colt named Input at 14-1 (usually I don’t wager on undercard races, but this one offered great value and was super strong in this race) over at Belmont, top pick Camp Victory at 10-1 in the Triple Bend (I), and Hansen in the Iowa Derby (III).

The highlight of the summer no doubt has to be the Saratoga meet, the star attraction being the Travers Stakes (I) held in late August. Michael Matz trainee Teeth of the Dog proved his mettle again on Saturday while winning the Dwyer (II) in a test that determined his talent as well as his fortitude. The biggest question that determined who I wound up picking, Teeth of the Dog or Fast Falcon for the win, was whether or not the Dog was really 5 pounds better than that sharp runner-up of the Easy Goer. People tend to discount weight imposts now that no one gets a 10 or 15 pound break like they did in the old days, but they’re still important in certain races. Rewatching the Easy Goer footage, Teeth of the Dog did not endure the best trip and was rolling in the stretch. I don’t think Fast Falcon would have caught him had he moved earlier. Thus, you can imagine my fright when the Dog went to the early speed and was charged by Fast Falcon in the stretch, with the win being settled by a dramatic duel. Oy! Teeth of the Dog has some class, all right. Watch replay below

Unless I’m feeling good about a particular horse, I usually stray away from the sprints. However, with word out about trainer Mike Mitchell’s brain tumor, I felt a major power play brewing in the wide-open Triple Bend (I). Mitchell’s daughter is engaged to jockey Julien Leparoux, and with regular Joe Talamo aboard a talented darkhorse in Camp Victory, it was a no-brainer pick at 10-1. The Factor would be a bold favorite with his flashy speed, but with so many inconsistencies to his record, he was a hard sell off his Dubai crumble. Smiling Tiger also failed to impress me racing on Belmont Stakes Day, so he was also out. For a while it looked like the rail-running The Factor would keep burning oil right to the wire but in came Camp Victory! With competitive speed numbers, the underdog from a recovering trainer put the pedal to the floor in the stretch and established one of the most memorable sprint wins I’ve seen so far this year. While the New England Patriots couldn’t pull off an emotion-based win in the Super Bowl, don’t count out racehorses and their jockeys. Watch replay here

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.

Smiling Tiger and Mike Smith before The True North Handicap (II) (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

Smiling Tiger and Mike Smith before The True North Handicap (II) (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

Uncle Mo’s Stud Rights Sold, Smiling Tiger For Sale

Breaking right along with the Kentucky sunshine this morning are a few tidbits of news from the Thoroughbred race world worthy of noting.

Mike Repole (grumble…) has announced the sale of Uncle Mo's breeding rights to Ashford Stud, though he has retained all of his star colt's racing rights. With that said, he reminds the public that Uncle Mo “could” race in 2012. For a guy who was all up in arms about promoting the industry more back in the spring, he sure seems trigger-happy about retiring Mo should the colt falter from brilliance again. Basically, I sense if Uncle Mo loses the Breeders' Cup Classic (I) and comes up short worser than a nose, he's done. Ashford Stud currently stands stallions such as Lookin At Lucky, Fusaichi Pegasus, Scat Daddy, and others.

For those curious as to why Smiling Tiger [pictured] was not making his next anticipated start in the Ancient Title Stakes (I) against The Factor again, perhaps this is why: he’s for sale! An amazing, record-breaking sprinter, Smiling Tiger has won three Grade I races but has shown some signs of faltering his usual whirlwind speed. He has now been consigned to the Fasig-Tipton November Sale, and the four-year-old colt should make big bucks regardless as to whether or not he can race full-tilt anymore.

The Factor Tames ‘Tiger in Glorious Return

By the conclusion of the Pat O’Brien Stakes (I), Smiling Tiger let out out a mew as young-blood The Factor broke away from their speed duel to clinch his first victory in months at Del Mar.

In an astonishing comeback, the roan son of War Front had his plate full of older horses and very accomplished sprinters ready to fight, including top California sprinter Smiling Tiger and skilled miler Crown of Thorns. The colt, trained by Bob Baffert, was originally meant to start in Saturday’s King Bishop Stakes (I), but was entered instead at local Del Mar for the same distance and grade.

Despite being the second choice to Smiling Tiger, The Factor set up a sizzling speed duel with the favorite early on, setting in just behind him as the former set up the first quarter in 22 1/2. Crown of Thorns, Don Tito, and Camp Victory settled some three lengths behind the leaders heading into the far turn, at which point The Factor creeped up from his slightly-stalking position to engage Smiling Tiger head-to-head. 

Turning for home, neither appeared to fold and all jockeys went to their sticks. It was The Factor who showed some guts, drawing away from Smiling Tiger with an eighth left and holding that edge all the way to the wire. Camp Victory snuck up on Smiling Tiger to register a second place at the wire.

I’ve said several horses in this three-year-old group would make fitting milers, and The Factor has officially resumed his title as the most quick-footed of this group. Smiling Tiger is no easy target, especially considering he broke Spectacular Bid's record earlier this year. The Factor himself was a record-breaker in his maiden, and it doesn't seem his previous ankle injury and throat surgery had any dulling effect on him.

You’ve got a live one, Mr. Baffert.

Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

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

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