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Happy Mother’s Day everyone, celebrating all mothers everywhere! Here’s one of my favorite equine moms Pilfer— To Honor and Serve's mom— with her '12 Bernardini filly. (Photo by Siena Farm)

Happy Mother’s Day everyone, celebrating all mothers everywhere! Here’s one of my favorite equine moms PilferTo Honor and Serve's mom— with her '12 Bernardini filly. (Photo by Siena Farm)

Racing Beat: April 21

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I’ve been kind of dead on updating this week, I realize and apologize. Let’s hope my academic hustlin’ will pay off in the form of a sexy GPA and won’t get in the way of my choosing a Derby winner.

Winning Cause making the Derby quite possibly? Pedigree is tops, but he’s only been winning on Keeneland’s main *shrugs*

I have this idea of booking the school’s green-screen studio space, shooting myself “running away” from something, then chroma-key in a video of Alpha so it looks like he can’t catch me. Get it? Because he’s slow? Kekekeke

Handsome Mike was an interesting bet to win at Keeneland last week, which he did, but not at those goofy odds. Why does he keep getting bettors’ attention?

Goodbye Black Caviar. It’s been nice having you around. There aren’t any words fit enough to describe you. I hope you go to Animal Kingdom.

Glad to be right about something. Departing caught my eye winning like he did without Lasix, but was plagued by bad trips when he needed a better one.

I have no idea who I like for the Oaks.

Wonder what they’ll name the new full brother to Zenyatta.

Pilfer has been bred back To Bernardini. As a To Honor and Serve fan and an early watcher of Elnaawi (by Street Sense), I think this may be the only time I’m interested in a Bernardini spam.

Feeling a bit weird not liking any Zayat horses heading into the Kentucky Derby.

It has occurred to me multiple times that I have yet to see a Kentucky Derby winner in the flesh. The only horse that could change that anytime soon is Palace Malice should he win the roses in the coming weeks…

Dear Bob Baffert, while you’re shipping Game On Dude around to the most prestigious, high-dollar dirt races, please remember the northeast.

Revolutionary and Red Rifle have been workout mates lately. I need a picture of those two.

Tweet o’ the Week: I tried out Gizoogle for a few minutes and look what happened

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What is one of your absolute favorite race horse names? Now, let me be clear... I'm not asking for a favorite horse. Some of my favorite names belong to dirt cheap claimers that I just hate and I know that I'm not alone with that. :)

Asked by intothestretch

Good question! I am very very guilty of loving horses based on their names, and hating others because of the same reason. Thus, my first impression of I’ll Have Another was pure hatred.

The first ones that comes to mind is Purple Egg and the turf gelding Yummy With Butter, out of the mare Sophisticatedbagel. It’s just too perfect. I enjoy a little goofiness. I know I used to mention favorite names I found— many of them being claimers— in past Racing Beats.

I also remember loving Awesome Feather because of her name, even though it probably came from pairing her parents’ names together (which I normally kind of hate, it’s pretty uncreative).

And of course, meaningful and or powerful-sounding names cannot be done without! To Honor and Serve, Well Armed, and Rose to Gold are a few in that department.

Cheerleading Camp Practice for Eblouissante

I am no stranger to enormous fan bases as well as enormous hate bases, but I am carefree in admitting that I am a big fan of Zenyatta. She is part of the reason I got into the deeper aspects of horse racing. After watching that amazing 2009 Triple Crown season with Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra, I enjoyed watching replays of their races and stumbled upon a mention that a horse named Zenyatta was better than Rachel. How on earth could someone be better than Rachel? I thought. I was skeptical and even outraged that someone could suggest that possibility. However, upon watching her fireworks, I became an instant fan of Z. She was big, fast, and just a wonderful being on and off the track complete with her own set of quirks. I related to her instantly in her slow-to-bloom ways of climbing the track ladder, being obviously bigger than her male counterparts, and simply condescending in her late dashes. How many brilliant athletes do you know of that are also wonderful people?

After all this, it should come as no surprise I’m looking forward to watching her little sister Eblouissante run on Friday. I am risking being late to work to watch this three-year-old filly run for the first time, if anything because I missed watching so many of Zenyatta’s races live. After two years of disappointments with the Bernardini crops, I am hopeful this one will be different. Stay Thirsty and Alpha were both very adept early in their careers, but both hit an awkward patch, blossomed, then faded again. Both resemble their beautiful sire very little, and while “Ebby” is still maturing mentally and physically, she’s probably my pick of the litter looking so much like her sister. I also liked another Bernardini from the same crop who now that I think about it, looks a lot like Ebby: unfortunately, Spare Change has not raced successfully recently.

Whether or not you know this gal’s pressure to perform, it should be a fantastic race to watch. Hollywood Park has one of my top favorite announcers in Vic Stauffer, who called many of Zenyatta’s most memorable wins and always gets really into it. The race should be full of green horses as a maiden special weight, but at the 1 1/16 mile distance, should also give us a good hint as to what we can expect to see from Ebby in the future— how much speed versus her stretch-out potential. With so much anticipation much like Archwarrior's over the summer, I'm also predicting a lot of scratches…

Eblouissante means “dazzling” in French, and while I try to keep a lid on feeling confident in my juvenile judging capabilities, I suspect I’ll see something similar on Friday. If not, I’ll at least get a sliver of the old thrills and chills I got watching Zen score at Hollywood Park.

Racing Beat: Breeders’ Cup 2012 Edition

I think I might take a break from handicapping and slow up posts this week… call it a mini vacation or whatever!

I have a right to vote, and will be exercising that right tomorrow, but I wish I could vote in Wise Dan for Horse of the Year. Simply dominating no matter what the surface!

I HAVE REVERSE-PSYCHIC DREAMS! The horse I dreamed would win by open lengths for both this year and last year came in last in the Classic: Alpha and before that Stay Thirsty. Because of last year, I called for Alpha to repeat his brother’s performance and surprise, surprise. Maybe I should pause my dream next year and see who runs LAST!

On that note: that Bernardini curse I suspected before is being confirmed. His greatest sons Alpha, Stay Thirsty, and To Honor and Serve all blossomed in the summertime only to fold to last— and To Honor and Serve was the only horse to seriously “back up” in the Classic— in the fall championships.

This was going to be the best Breeders’ Cup of my lifetime aaaaaand look who didn’t show up. EVERYBODY!! But still… no injuries (that I know of), no breakdowns, and emphatic, stubborn winners and a couple records were made. It was a great year.

I hope I was not the only one too busy with the Breeders’ Cup to notice I hardly paid Halloween any mind. What? It’s today?

It kind of sucks knowing both Juvenile winners are likely to be sprinters if they amount to anything. Beholder is by sprint champion Henny Hughes (and obviously runs like she’ll sprint) and Shanghai Bobby is by one of my least favorite sires Harlan’s Holiday who rarely sires anything good that is older than 2.

So yeah, I just enabled the reply option for 2+ week long followers of the blog. How long has this thing been available? I feel very dumb right about now…

Only 55k in attendance for the Classic? That’s small change compared to the 85k at the Belmont this year!

Aw, Nereid! I hope you and Bourbon Bay are okay.

Good to see Damascus getting a stakes named after him on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. If only he had a G1 named after him, I’d be happier.

Mine That Bird and Dullahan's mama Mining My Own is being bred to Bodemeister in 2013. Aww yeah.

One statistic I’m shocked at myself for not using again to score higher in the Juvenile and Dirt Mile: Tapit has sired 3 Breeders’ Cup winners already including 2 juvenile winners.

I wonder how the Lasix issue will pan out from here… no 5-scale visual bleeders in the Juvie races, but there were a few minor bleeders.

If one can make an argument that Royal Delta should not be a candidate for Horse of the Year based on the fact she ran against mares (who generally looked tougher anyway this year), you can make the same point about I’ll Have Another who ran against three-year-olds.

I wonder if Bob Baffert will be calling up Chantal Sutherland anytime soon.

Tweet o’ the Week goes to the best horse who didn’t run: Bridleless Wyatt!

*Drum roll* Breeders’ Cup Classic Picks

A race that takes practically all year to plan out and then a whole week to strategize, I went all-out this year in thinking about the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I). Much easier than last year’s clusterf—k race, there were some definitive toss-outs, a lot of maybes, and a couple of gems in the mix. Form and adaptability to the track bias are probably the two most important factors followed closely by pace, recent works, and raw ability. 

Thanks much to doing my profiles on all 12 entries (plus one with Dullahan who elected to go to the Turf), I was able to whittle things down after the post draw and the final works. My immediate toss-outs I’d be shocked to see win: Handsome Mike and Alpha. Horses I give a mild chance to: Brilliant Speed, Nonios, Flat Out, To Honor and Serve, and Richard’s Kid. From what’s left I was able to pick out 3 I really liked (all I considered strongly for a win) and then decide on the order:

Pick #3: Pool Play - Performs awesomely and is at the top of his game right now coming into the Classic. I was seriously flip-flopping him to win, but I am still concerned about the class and speed jump he’ll face, even as a closer who will likely benefit from the speed. 2-for-2 on dirt, I’m using him!

Pick #2: Game On Dude - Loved him all year and declared shortly after his second place last year in this race that he’d come back next year to win it. He has every chance to win it and Horse of the Year and I think he’s one of the best horses in the country. But can the Dude conquer a tough field at 10 furlongs, which is not his sharpest distance? Who can he sit off of this race to ensure he’s pumped to go in the stretch? After watching the Dude all year, he’s in rarely-seen energetic form. But, I hate picking the chalk and there’s one that I think could beat him…

Pick #1: Fort Larned - A classic-looking horse that is bred to go 10 furlongs, Fort Larned’s my top choice for these reasons and more. He’s established triple-digit Beyers consistently and despite having only dealt with 9 furlongs, his finishes have been strong enough to suggest he’ll do just as well with another. He could sit off of Game On Dude in the early goings and attack late, and he’s got enough speed where it counts to win.

Exotic notes: Ron the Greek could run up late, but I was too concerned to use him in my top 3 because a) he may or may not be off his usual consistency and b) he’s very often far far back. Mucho Macho Man hung in the Woodward, though I do vouch for his conditioner on getting this awesome colt appropriately prepared. To Honor and Serve, Nonios, Richard’s Kid, Flat Out and possibly Brilliant Speed are all considerable in that order.

Value Pick: Fort Larned

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #4: To Honor and Serve

To Honor and Serve (KY)

Basics:

(Bernardini x Pilfer, by Deputy Minister)

  • Trainer: Bill Mott (Cigar, Drosselmeyer, Royal Delta)
  • Jockey: John Velazquez
  • Owned by: Live Oak Plantation
  • Career Record: 16: 8-1-3
  • Earnings: $1,798,840

Vital Stats:

  • 2012 Record: 5: 2-0-1
  • TrueNicks rating: “A+” Variant 5.34
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2012: 118
  • Lost last prep [4th, Kelso Handicap, by about 10 1/2 lengths]
  • Ran 7th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic
  • Has only won once outside of New York
  • Trainer won last year’s Classic-Ladies’ Classic double

Summary: THAS was appropriately hyped up at the start of the year following up his 7th in the Classic with a big win in the Cigar Mile (I). A good sophomore who got things started late, he continued on the warpath as a four-year-old and despite weighing between the Dirt Mile and the Classic, both trainer and owner appear optimistic about his chances in the Big One. Sporting classic lineage and good looks to match, this son of Bernardini looks to go out with a bang in his final start before retiring to stud at Gainesway.

Prep Schedule: Taking a 5-month layoff from his Cigar Mile (I) win, THAS romped by 5 1/4 lengths over 3 rivals in the 1-mile Westchester (III) at Belmont, then stuck around New York for the Met Mile (I) in May where he was stuck on the rail to lose by 3 to Preakness winner (I) Shackleford and Dirt Mile (I) champ Caleb’s Posse. He looked hazy as a well-beaten 4th in the 9-furlong Suburban (II), losing by some 7 1/2 lengths, but roared back into contention to courageously swat out Mucho Macho Man in the 9-furlong Woodward (I). In his final prep over a wet going, he was bumped and went wide to refuse to do better than 4th.

Running Style: Stalking

Pros: As a horse who could handle a mile well, THAS has the unique ability to win at the one-turn and be competitively fast enough to last in the Classic. Laying right off the pace, he won’t encounter much traffic and has a stayer’s pedigree. He also will be keeping John Velazquez, his most compatible rider.

Cons: Despite being a good 4-for-7 at 9 furlongs, he was all out to last that long.

Final Word: As a long-time member of the THAS bandwagon, the colt has a shot as one of the year’s better four-year-olds but is not the best for the distance which he needs to be to win a race like this. I mentioned a while back about how good his chances are in the Classic, but I was discouraged by his poor attitude in the Kelso (II) last out.

Make way, lowly peasants! To Honor and Serve needs that rail in the Woodward (I)! (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Make way, lowly peasants! To Honor and Serve needs that rail in the Woodward (I)! (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Weekend Stake Tip: Super Saturday Edition

In the event you didn’t sense it from my tone, I was very unsure about doing any actual things involving money this weekend despite being excited about Super Saturday. Last year, I did all sorts of predictions only to have the track turn up wet at Belmont, which led to I believe all but one race being totally off and Blind Luck getting retired prematurely. What a bad day. This year wasn’t quite that bad, but I only wagered— unsuccessfully, at that— a couple Game On Dude-on-top exactas. At least he won. Out of all the upsets that happened, I was ecstatic to see Barclay Tagg’s Jersey Town snap out of his funk, but I don’t know how good he’ll be for the Dirt Mile. To Honor and Serve definitely took a big step back for me over the weekend.

My best race was shockingly enough a sprint: the Vosburgh won by The Lumber Guy. My first choice Poseidon’s Warrior came in 3rd, third-choice Caixa Eletronica rallied to be 2nd, and second-choice Sean Avery placed 4th.

Between the off track, the bad juju, chalky finishes, and being busy at home for the weekend, it was generally a good decision to stay away from what would have become an all-day affair in front of the TV getting worked up. Off tracks more often than not produce upset winners, and no doubt Santa Anita was too-properly souped up for opening weekend. But, it was not without its purpose, providing a lot of new input that could potentially inflate some odds in time for the Breeders’ Cup:

  • Love And Pride’s odds will likely be unrealistically short— I don’t think she’s that good despite two G1s in row, and with a lot of speed in the Ladies’ Classic she won’t be left alone
  • Ron the Greek’s poor showing in the JCGC was probably due to the track. He likes 10 furlongs and at running that distance at Santa Anita with a lot of speed up front will work in his favor. His continuing lack of a fanbase is also encouraging good odds.
  • Flat Out was a shameful “miss” on my behalf over the weekend being in peak condition and on his favorite track, but he will likely regress off of it.

In regards to Santa Anita, I don’t recall having an awful time of figuring out races there, but over the next month it will demand close inspection leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. Slim Shadey [GB] wired the John Henry Turf on Sunday. Executiveprivilege also went wire-to-wire on the dirt this weekend as well as Love And Pride, and Game On Dude was just off the front end. Is the track biased and will it remain that way into November? For most people it is safe to say it was.

The masterful performance of the weekend goes to the grass: Point of Entry is one of America’s best horses despite battling on yielding grass over the weekend which would have benefited others more than himself. While I did not handicap any turf races for the weekend, out of any of his starts this year, the Joe Hirsch (I) was Point of Entry’s to lose with the predicted poor footing and pressure from in front and behind. He is now the victor of 5 races— 3 of them G1— and if Acclamation was a candidate for it last year, Point of Entry is almost certainly a shoo-in for Horse of the Year nomination should he take down the Euros in November.

Kelso Contenders Hope for Clear Skies

Named after one of history’s greatest geldings, the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup event for the Dirt Mile and is looking like one of the toughest fields running in the star-studded Super Saturday lineup at Belmont. New York heavyweight Rick Dutrow has four of the eight contenders, with 3 other field entries possessing a G1 win at the mile distance.

The weather looks sketchy for Saturday, and a 40-50% chance of rain might mean the two heavy favorites will be particularly vulnerable.

$400,000 Kelso Handicap (II) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, September 29 at 3:30pm EST

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Isn’t He Perfect - Michael Luzzi, 114 lbs, Rick Dutrow - With just 2 wins this year out of 9 starts (both at Belmont), the Pleasantly Perfect colt is finding some middle ground between his two most popular distances in the Kelso’s mile, and while his figures are consistent, they are neither impressive nor enough to scare. Between his off record and his snail-slow 4 panels in :53, he’s the longest shot here to do much.

2) Golddigger’s Boy - Jose Lezcano, 115 lbs, Ramon Preciado - The son of Jump Start has landed on the board in every one of his 2012 starts, but all were at the G3 level or lower. He was well-beaten in last year’s Kelso by 18 3/4 lengths on a sloppy surface, not giving him much hope here.

3) Jersey Town - Javier Castellano, 116 lbs, Barclay Tagg -The blaze-faced Speightstown gelding hasn’t had a win since his Cigar Mile (I) in 2010, but has made some good efforts since then, coming in third last out in the Forego (I). He’s missing that edge he used to have and seems to tire even more on an off going. New jockey Castellano will need a magic touch.

4) Tapizar - Corey Nakatani, 117 lbs, Steve Asmussen -The Tapit colt has been digging the mile-and-change distance, winning 2 starts and a second in 4 total this year, and a slight cutback should only aid him in his near-the-pace running style. With the weight break, he should be ready to improve even more off his last win.

5) To Honor and Serve - John Velazquez, 121 lbs, Bill Mott - The Bernardini colt has the ‘11 Cigar Mile (I) and ‘12 Westchester (III) win to his credit and was a tangled third in the Met Mile, drifting out lazily after being boxed in for most of the ride. He came back with a vengeance to win the 1 1/8 mile Woodward in champion spirit, and will cut back to a cozier distance here. He’s capable of throwing some awesome runs as well as some clunkers. If you believe in “on-off” theories, THAS likes to win at least twice in a row before he throws in a bad race, but will need to be at his best. Also not cozy knowing that he’s never been on an off track!

6) Shackleford - Ramon Dominguez, 121 lbs, Dale Romans - The brilliant son of Forestry could possibly top the campaign he had last year as a Preakness-winning sophomore after his Met Mile (I) win over Caleb’s Posse. Shack has shown he does not favor a sloppy track, over which he dragged far back to finish last in the Vanderbilt (I), and he wound up scratching from the Forego (I) with a cough. Definitely ready to get back to work, he blasted a hole through the Churchill dirt whizzing through 4 panels in a dizzy :46 and change. A record of going 1-2 in 2 starts at a mile, Shack is going to be the deserving favorite and one to beat… unless of course the track is a mess… Shack obviously does not like the mud.


7) Gallant Fields - Joel Rosario, 114 lbs, Rick Dutrow - Winless in 7 starts this year, the ex-claimer Smarty Jones gelding has his work cut out for him. Claimed two starts back by J.W. Singer (that’s Teeth of the Dog’s owner), the gelding was third last out in a $75 op claimer to Vosburgh runners Little Drama and Zero Rate Policy after a bumped start. Is he better than the 98 Equibase figure? His works look ok, but he’ll need to return to better form to stand a chance of not being left in the dust.

8) Pacific Ocean - Wilmer Garcia, 116 lbs, Rick Dutrow - The chestnut Ghostzapper gelding is for 5-for-9 in lifetime starts, with his biggest success being the winner of this year’s 7-furlong James Marvin (III) at Saratoga. Sure to be a fast pacesetter whether or not Shackleford decides to go, this may be a furlong or two too far for this sprinterly type who probably likes synthetic more than dirt anyway.

9) Trickmeister - Cornelio Velasquez, 116 lbs, Rick Dutrow - Fed up with the beating he’s taken going further, the raucous Proud Citizen horse aims to return to the top of things by taking an appropriate cut back to the mile distance for the first time. Likely to be up on the pace, Trickmeister has faded well off his old form, but has never been beaten by a bad horse. If he’s lively enough, he can bounce back but I’m not counting on a win here.

Picks in Order: (based on a predicted “good” track)

1) To Honor and Serve

2) Tapizar

3) Shackleford

This is a race that is really up in the air. If it stays fast and dry, Shackleford wins it. If it’s downgraded, I see To Honor and Serve or Tapizar taking the win; horses like Shackleford and Golddigger’s Boy are quick toss-outs if it’s sloppy.

Value Pick: Tapizar

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