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The 138th Preakness Stakes is coming (Video by Maryland Racing)

Joining afleet-alexandra… more horse racing valentines!

Joining afleet-alexandra… more horse racing valentines!

Market Quote caused quite a stir on Sunday at Santa Anita. The three-year-old daughter of After Market stood still in the gates for a good 3 seconds in her debut over a mile on grass, but then made a Zenyatta-like move to win with Joe Talamo up. Considering how fast the Santa Anita course typically is, it was a very impressive performance for a horse making her first start. Congrats to trainer John Shirreffs and owner/breeders Martin and Pam Wygod on their “good one!”

The Unforgettable Races of 2012: #20-11


The sport of kings played spectator to even more thrills and surprises in 2012, with favorites and unexpected surprises all playing their roles and making the crowd roar from California to Dubai. Of course, there’s no one right answer in determining which performance was best or which horse was most compelling in their victories. It was difficult sifting through so many races, and while I’m compelled to include more, I’ll keep it to twenty unforgettable races. Because I’m more an expert on North American racing, yes there will be a bias towards American races, so do be wary of what I wound up picking. Let’s get started…

20) Game On Dude gets redemption in Californian (II) blowout - “STRAIGHT AND STRONG!” After a disappointing 12th place performance in the Dubai World Cup (I), “the Dude” shipped back home to Santa Anita to go wire-to-wire in the 9-furlong Californian. He toyed with the field from the start, and ran away on the far turn to cement an incredible 8 1/2 length victory. Watch it here

19) Alpha and Golden Ticket dead-heat in Travers (I) - A jumbled race from the betting windows, longshot Golden Ticket refused to yield to encroaching favorite Alpha in the stretch of the three-year-old classic and the two colts hit the wire together for the first time in the race’s long history. Watch it here

18) Ron the Greek catches Wise Dan in unexpected Stephen Foster (I) result - The heavy favorite in a strong field, Wise Dan looked like the winner coming to the line of the 10-furlong Churchill Downs race only to be caught by rail runner Ron the Greek. It was Wise Dan’s lone loss of the year by a short head. Watch it here

17) Fort Larned runs to the nines, upsets Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) - Down but not out, the Ian Wilkes trainee celebrated his jockey’s birthday by wiring the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, deflecting a determined Mucho Macho Man in the stretch to register an upset win. Watch it here

16) Believe You Can leads Rosie Napravnik to first Kentucky Oaks (I) - For the first time since the race started in 1875, a female jockey prevailed aboard the Larry Jones entry with a name all too fitting for making history. The lilies fell to Believe You Can in an upset performance at the Downs. Watch it here

15) Groupie Doll much the best among the best in Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (I) - There was no denying that Groupie Doll was the “lock” of the Breeders’ Cup championships. She broke smooth and slow to creep up on the pacesetters and from there it was repetitive brilliance as the four-year-old filly romped to her fifth win of the year and third G1. Watch it here

14) Bodemeister turns Arkansas Derby (I) into a runaway - He was not the favorite, but by the looks of things he should have been. The rapidly-improving stablemate of Secret Circle took his stablemate head on in the Oaklawn stretch and poured it on from there, outclassing the more experienced colts to register a a nearly 10-length romp to become the Derby favorite. Watch it here

13) Little Mike notches yet another surprise ousting top horses in Breeders’ Cup Turf (I) - The cheap little gelding gave a big performance in yet another world class race, funneling through the inside rail from off-the-pace to upset some of the world’s best grass horses when he appeared to be off his game. Watch it here

12) I’ll Have Another catches Bodemeister once more in Preakness (I) - The Derby winner still had something to prove in the shorter, tighter second leg of the Triple Crown but replicated a similar sort of brilliance as he did in Kentucky. With Bodemeister jetting off to a widening lead in the stretch, I’ll Have Another caught his rival again in the waning moments of the race to stay alive for the Triple Crown. Watch it here

11) Royal Delta squishes top field, shows new front-running dimension in her defense of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (I) - The toughest race in the championships, returning champion Royal Delta made it look too easy to be real as she set her sights on the lead and held it down to discourage a field full of top G1-winning fillies in another brilliant performance. Watch it here

Stay tuned for races #10-1!

History made and repeated: Mike Smith wins his record-breaking 16th Breeders’ Cup win, surpassing Jerry Bailey’s record of 15, while Royal Delta becomes only the second mare to win two Ladies’ Classics back-to-back after the great Bayakoa [ARG].
Mr. Besilu, thank you for spending $8 million on this mare who was totally worth it as she keeps on winning with her original trainer and will hopefully try for the Classic next year… that is, if you’re sticking to your game plan.

History made and repeated: Mike Smith wins his record-breaking 16th Breeders’ Cup win, surpassing Jerry Bailey’s record of 15, while Royal Delta becomes only the second mare to win two Ladies’ Classics back-to-back after the great Bayakoa [ARG].

Mr. Besilu, thank you for spending $8 million on this mare who was totally worth it as she keeps on winning with her original trainer and will hopefully try for the Classic next year… that is, if you’re sticking to your game plan.

People have opinions, horses have the facts.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas

The pari-mutuel windows were well-decorated at Belmont Park with past legends. This blog being called “The Galloping Hat Rack,” I naturally had to photograph Exterminator alongside Man o’ War and Regret.
(Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

The pari-mutuel windows were well-decorated at Belmont Park with past legends. This blog being called “The Galloping Hat Rack,” I naturally had to photograph Exterminator alongside Man o’ War and Regret.

(Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

Running and Horse Racing

While I realize it’s probably an off-kilter way of looking at the equine form, I often times will relate to racehorses as a runner myself. I started following horse racing around the same time I started track and field in middle school, and over time began noticing and comparing little things here and there that today help influence some weird choices and viewpoints when I handicap a race.

I ran basically everything competitively, but predominantly the 300-meter hurdle, which I insist to this day is the most difficult event in track and field. I visually noted which physical type was best to win certain events— I noticed smaller girls getting the 5 points in the sprints while the wiry types would win the distance events— and how difficult it was to run certain styles. Running from behind most of the way probably felt easier, but it took a tremendous surge of energy and courage trying to catch the leader by the end. Running on the front end could be done in winning style if you preferred running alone uncontested and could handle a high cruising speed.

I also learned this way that freakish things can happen from my own personal experience, and now that it’s Belmont time and I dare to doubt the champion, it’s prompted me to reflect on the seemingly impossible.

My preferred method of running no matter what the event was comparable to Rachel Alexandra, a big reason why I liked the Preakness winner from the start. Jet to the lead, set a fast pace to dissuade others from coming close, and then fight off anyone who tried to meet on even terms. It was a winning strategy that clicked for me, as I ran both boys and girls off their feet while letting them think they had a chance of passing me by.

Of course, I couldn’t keep in front every time, and I varsity-lettered just once in 3 years due to frustrating events that kept me doing events I did not want to do. If a horse isn’t happy and it’s not running its preferred distance, it’s not going to give it its all. I was ready to bow out of hurdling due to the anxiety it caused me hearing fellow runners falling face-first behind me, and I wanted to do other things.

The longest I ever ran somewhat competitively to that point at the age of 13 was a 400-meter race, which is about a 1/4 mile sprint. It’s a long way to sprint, and remembering what was said about Man o’ War, that he was too big to get out of his own way trying to sprint, I felt I would be better at mid-distance. I was in eighth grade and often passed for a high school junior at my height, and that was unfortunately a double-edged sword as no one wanted me to do anything but the nefarious hurdle events for that same reason.

Everyone has to run the 9-minute mile in gym class at some point, and on a hot afternoon in June when track season was winding to a halt, I was ready to give a good show. The show wound up being what I would later call my “Secretariat moment.” With it being gym class, there would be no one to help push me, so it was predictably going to be a timed trial. Firing off the line, I knew by the end of the first 100 meters I was going way too fast, but with all watching I was not about to slow it down. Halfway through, I was beginning to cook as expected, but did not back down.

High school milers train for their event by running at least 3 miles for practice on a tepid day. I had never gone farther than maybe 2 1/2, and was never trained to go beyond a quarter mile. Rounding the last bend into the final 100 meters, the finish line floating ahead, I felt like I was dragging a sack of potatoes behind me when I heard the boom-boom-boom of rushing feet. Someone, unbeknownst to me, had been tracking me all along and was passing me by in my weakest moment. I had come this whole way at this pace, and now I would finish second? No way in hell. I cut the potato sack loose and came on again, passing that S.O.B. quicker than he passed me and I guess he must have given up as he finished way behind me. The timer stopped at 5:35, a time that would have had me beating most seniors and even podiuming at regionals.

While I consider all kinds of stats and numbers in handicapping, running has taught me quite a bit about what these equine athletes experience on the way to the wire, and which ones to respect and cherish for their efforts. Heart, talent, and personality can count heavily towards a win, and really there’s not much out there that can crunch all that into a nice simple number for you.

The Last Time I’ll Doubt I’ll Have Another

I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much indecision about any horse before.

At first, I had reason to be skeptical of I’ll Have Another. It was the Robert B. Lewis (II), and there was a sizeable field of very interesting horses.

An okay horse who hasn’t raced in a while, O’Neill is testing him out as a refreshed three-year-old who will hopefully improve significantly

I favored Rousing Sermon, who failed to get a good trip managing third while favorite Liasion tripped in the stretch in a crowded cavalry charge. All alone up front was I’ll Have Another, who won pretty easily and even had the figures to show he was deserving. I threw the race out in the Weekend Stake Tip editorial published after that jumbled dash.

Ever the anomaly, it was such a head-scratcher trying to figure out how legitimate the Flower Alley colt was as a Derby contender. He had the cruising speed, but had yet to experience a really poor race traffic-wise, and was never really bothered in the Lewis. Maturity in addition to natural talent is something I look for in a real Derby horse, and I hadn’t seen the real deal just yet in IHA. The inexperienced jockey was a sweet touch to his backstory, and I loved Doug O’Neill’s Charlie Whittingham approach to training (which I hope will catch fire in future Derbies!), but still… it wasn’t enough. Leading up to the Santa Anita Derby (I), I favored Creative Cause, who had a gritty showing against Bodemeister in the San Felipe (II). But, as it would become his custom, IHA only insisted upon being best by the slightest of margins to collect that big G1 prep.

After the Santa Anita, it became clear to me that there was no real reason to doubt this horse anymore. He had blossomed into a great three-year-old and by the looks of that last prep race, could definitely make the 1 1/4 mile distance of the Kentucky Derby. But alas, so could 6 or 7 others with ease, and for no other reason than preferences I shelved him in my top 3 choices. I simply could not bet them all, and I favored immense talent and lightning closers in a race as big as the Derby.

Of course, that race was a doozy and an unpredictable one as favored horses endured poor trips, Bodemeister roared down the lane solo, and IHA was the only one who could catch him in time. It was an excellent ride and a well-deserved victory, but I felt Bodemeister was the best and most promising horse in the race that day. I picked him to wreak revenge in the Preakness, but then caught word on Friday that the rail— Bode’s favored spot— was dead and the colt would not have a shot. Unlike the Derby, IHA and Bode were all alone running down the stretch in a soft field of 11 runners, and IHA got his head in front just in time to nix a photo.

Barring a review of other Belmont races I plan to do, I’m giving IHA 50-50 odds to win the Belmont. Gutierrez is obviously a smart rider, the horse is geared to go long, and nobody has beaten them yet. The doubtful half isn’t so much me comparing the horse to history, but more so who he will face in the Belmont. Dullahan probably would have beaten him had the Derby been a bit longer, Union Rags had a horrible trip, and then we’ve got a fresh bundle of horses coming in who love a good upset. If anything can happen in the Derby, it’ll happen again in the Belmont.

So many Triple Crown hopefuls and individual jewel winners that were longshots in the beginning of the year lit up like fireworks for these three races, but it’s been a long time since one could conquer the odds and the challenges of winning all 3. It’s definitely not impossible as some have suggested— how close were Real Quiet, Charismatic, and Smarty Jones?— but the Belmont is the hardest of them all. In the end, it’s up to the horse, not so much the handicappers, and I haven’t picked a Belmont winner since 2007.

Good luck, IHA. I’ll be watching you the next 3 weeks.

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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