There are a few sires out there that I’m currently drooling with anticipation over in hopes that they will soon have a Derby winner. Dual-Classic winner Tiznow makes that shortlist as a stallion with obvious distance-siring class, albeit with very few prospects showing enough competitiveness early on to even make the cut for the starting gate of the May classic. But as I’ve learned this year, one can hold out hope and extinguish pedigree bias.
I first saw Tourist at Belmont Park on September 28 in what would be his debut race. The race was far too short for the long-legged colt, who would finish a good third in a field of 10 colts, barnstorming 7 furlongs on a track that did not favor his off-the-pace tactics. Tall and lofty, while he didn’t win that day the look of him as a racehorse certainly captured my attention. He made his second start on October 26, again at Belmont going a mile, but was on the receiving end of some interference by longshot Cool Samurai in the race won by Wicked Strong. He ultimately finished a shuffled-back 7th.
Sire Tiznow needs little introduction as the only winner of two Breeders’ Cup Classics and was a late-but-true bloomer as a three-year-old, a trait which he seems to pass on. Well Armed, Tiz Miz Sue, Morning Line, Colonel John, Tizway, and others all seemed to hit their stride no sooner than the middle of their three-year-old year but were unquestionably excellent horses once they developed. Dam Unbridled Melody is by the late, early-bird sire Unbridled’s Song, who frequently passes on speed early, and Tourist is her second foal to race. A winner thrice at the allowance level going shorter distances, her damsire Sky Classic was a champion in Canada as a two, four, and five-year-old racing on the turf, just missing the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1992 by a nose but still won the Eclipse Award. Another key notable is Tourist’s repeated references to Northern Dancer (x3) and Seattle Slew (x2), and two mentions up close of the mare Incantation, best known as the broodmare of Seattle Song, a G1 winner in France and the U.S. This makes Tourist an uncommon link to both the Man o’ War male line through Tiznow and the female line through Incantation, who goes back to U-Boat.
While WinStar is known to usually have some strong contenders on the Triple Crown trail, at this point Tourist is still a ways off from breaking his maiden. Trainer Bill Mott is not particularly well known for bringing in heavy artillery for the Kentucky Derby, if any at all. But hey, Gemologist made it… Revolutionary was 2nd this year… eh?
More Suffolk Downs sibling royalty! Jo Jo is a half to graded stakes-placed gelding Setsuko, who is best known as one of Game On Dude's most fierce rivals and a habitual runner-up in the biggest G1 races out west.
Dullahan retires with a tendon injury and curiosity as to whether or not the U.S. market supports synthetic breeding. The Unbridled’s Song in him should help him move a bit in attracting interest. Weeps for a Dullahan-less future… RIP buddy, it was a pleasure seeing you at Belmont.
Rest in peace, Hoofit [NZ]. Game all day, and a source of “pick a horse based on their name” joy. Also RIP to Take Control. And Formulaforsuccess, who I saw race this year/photographed.
I get ridiculously starstruck in horse racing… the guy photographer who pointed out Honor Code to me at Belmont goes by “Easy Goer” on Flickr. Had I known that I would have tensed up just like I did when I was in line at Saratoga next to “Rock and Racehorses.” >.> #incurable
Already interested in what the headlines might say when Flashback comes back, er or returns? What sounds better?
An anti-casino protester broke the nose of a 60-year-old supporter/track employee at a Suffolk Downs rally this past week. Not great press for them. Polls currently show 49% of East Boston voters support a casino at the Downs— which will be receiving a city vote on November 5— while 43% dissent. The vote will be even more intriguing now that Suffolk has dropped Caesars as a management partner after finding out they had history of criminal activity overseas. THE PLOT THICKENS!
If only we could bet on who we think will finish last. Alpha's a near-lock in the Dirt Mile!
Don’t let me down Joe Talamo, Moreno has been doing surprisingly well every time out and needs an A+ ride to stay alive in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
I’m glad I got to see Mizdirection in the flesh before she retires as a broodmare prospect selling at the November sale. She had one of my favorite Breeders’ Cup performances from last year— 2nd just to Calidoscopio [ARG]— and is just such a cool mare.
I’m beginning to sense that maybe it’s not such a grand comeback story that Point of Entry is returning straight to the Breeders’ Cup Turf after a 5-month layoff and dozens of pins in his leg. Let the man go into retirement peacefully!
Another cool mare set to retire: Include Me Out. Includes are pretty darn cool by nature.
Tweet o’ the Week: I get jealous of these people who get to go on multi-farm tours
Taking the lesson I learned last year to heart and planning the Breeders’ Cup Handicap contest MEGA EARLY before school decimates my attention span. I’m about 95% sure the format will be changed from being like the official “Fantasycapping” (choice of $20 win, place, show or $10 exacta box) to choosing just one horse per race for a mythical $2 win/place/show wager. It’s simpler and will level the playing field.
A TVG analyst’s Pick 6 selections cashed for $53,000. What the what. Eat your heart out, DRF.
It’s not all bad. Take Charge Indy will probably be the next Pulpit… if we’re all lucky…
Anyone else think that Alpha might be retired to stud soon after running poorly (if at all) at his old stomping grounds?
Thank you thank you to the intelligent people at the Breeders’ Cup who brought back the Distaff name. Now if we can only get all those fall stakes at Santa Anita their old names back.
I’m a little saddened by the retirement of Tres Borrachos. He and Kettle Corn were/are some of my random favorite runners out west. CHESTNUT GELDING POWER!
I kicked myself when Spicer Cub won at 15-1 odds the other day. The whole reason I have this virtual stable thing is to know when horses I like are running so I can get a bet in if they’re good enough odds. 15-1 is kind of criminal!
Best new two-year-old sires to follow? Pioneerof the Nile and Colonel John.
I can now make jokes about Consortium taking a nap at Saratoga without too much whiplash. Poor guy, I was worried when he fell over after racing while I was at the track, then got up after being down on his side for a while and seemed to be okay when he got back to the barn.
Shackleford's fans *might* get to root on his brother this week: Dare Me, a son of Johannesburg, is an also-eligible at Delaware Park on Wednesday.
Good news for his fans: Secret Circle is back on the work tab!
I am pleased to announce that after 2 week(ish) of intermittently trying, I won 10 horseshoes on Blazing Silks’ spinny game. WHO’S YOUR DADDY? IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME.
Wilburn made news last year retiring early to take advantage of the Bernardini blood value by being his first son to stand at stud. For 2013, we’ve got at least 6 new ones by Bernardini by my count on Stallion Register, more than new sires that are by pensioned A.P. Indy (5) and deceased Dynaformer (4).
Aqueduct is thinking about changing their inner track to synthetic. While I’m sure synthetic/turf breeders would like an opportunity to get a good shot at NYRA’s gold, have we learned nothing so far about surfaces?
I wonder how good Midnight Lute's half brother Steel Guitar (by Unbridled’s Song) is going to be. He hasn’t broken his maiden yet, and was 3rd in his 3rd try last time out in a 6-furlong maiden special weight at Turfway. He gathered buzz as the heavy favorite, but was beaten 6+ lengths.
Last night my feed blew up with news alerts that Shanghai Bobby won the Eclipse for Best 2-Year-Old Male. Last I checked that wasn’t news…
An unreal accomplishment of luck, determination, and humility: Morton Fink has just one mare in his business and it is the dam of his 3-time Eclipse champion Wise Dan.
Oh my stars, my leading lady Blind Luck is a madre now :’)
My heart was a little broken to see so many races go sloppy on Saturday, which is easily one of the biggest reasons I did not place any money down on anyone. I should have though at least on Ron the Greek and Oxbow, who I naturally favored in the Lecomte (III). Ughhhhh. Important to note that despite a restricted field on an off track, Ron the Greek got an impressive 115 Beyer his first start back!
What’s up with Vinery that has caused all the stallions to go to WinStar?
Sweet baby Atigun is set to return in Oaklawn’s Razorback (III). D’aww! It’s a little short for him though at a mile and a sixteenth >.>
Unlike my Derby Top 10, I’m having some issues narrowing down just 10 I like for the Oaks.
Mark Valeski was close to that win hot off a layoff in the Louisiana Handicap. Along with Believe You Can and Smitten, a three-year-old Tapit filly I like, Larry Jones has a string of contenders again this year.
Dale Romans wins, Ramon Dominguez wins, Little Mike loses. :( Sad sigh.
Tweet o’ the Week: Not to sully the glory, but I was kind of thinking the same thing
Remembering favorites from 2012. The toxins and the endorphins had to be released from my system…
While I was still sans-betting account, I would typically only watch a little bit of racing on TVG (when you live with four other people who are habitual TV mongers, it is a rare occurrence to be able to watch horse racing for an afternoon). It was August the 15th, a day after I turned 22, and I was tuning into the Saratoga races which is one of my favorite tracks. The track was soupy and the field was small for the historic Saratoga Special (II). I had scant knowledge of the competition, although obviously the Todd Pletcher trained son of Unbridled’s Song, Stat, was the favorite. Going over the field on Equibase, I immediately favored the horse with the Michael Matz connections named Union Rags because to me, if Michael thinks a young two-year-old is ready for a stakes, rain or shine, he’s going to be the one to beat regardless of the tote. I remembered Barbaro for an instance, and how slowly that star gained his power transitioning into a three-year-old. Rags was a respectable 3-1 at post time.
I was going against my aversion to rail horses in picking Union Rags for the win, and sight unseen, I was naturally pleased to see on TV that he was this big, hulking bay colt with a shock of white on his face. He went to challenge the lead and won big by 7 lengths, all despite the off track and a terrible case of swerving in the stretch. It was in that instant I knew I found my Derby horse for 2012.
Rags duplicated that awesome wide win margin in the Champagne Stakes (I), showing his ability on a fast track while coming from behind a wall of horses at the top of the stretch. If he wasn’t a favorite for the best juvenile already, his 5-length beat-up of Alpha sealed the deal.
The buildup to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) was slow and personally painful. Apart from the Classic and the Turf Mile, there was no greater anticipation mounting than that for the Juvenile race. Despite the non-graded status and rankness, the one I was watching out for was Hansen, another colt I was able to catch blitzing his challengers on TVG one afternoon. It felt too ironic to be true, being able to catch my two favorites on TVG without having heard or seen them before. Could Hansen keep that speed burning for another sixteenth? Between Union Rags and Hansen, I could scarcely pick which one I liked more. With Hansen, you had sheer brilliance and mythical beauty. With Union Rags, the build of a champion with the modesty typical of his Pennsylvania roots. Because of a freakish Halloween blizzard, my power was knocked out for the entire Breeders’ Cup week, but by far the Juvenile Colts had the most electrifying race. Rags swerved again and again, looking like a duck on dry land trying to catch Hansen. Failing at the wire, I was shocked soon again when Hansen won the Eclipse Award by a landslide. How? Why? Did no voter see the raw potential in Rags had he just had a better trip, or a longer distance? Had I been asked in January to rank my top three, it would have gone Union Rags, Hansen, Alpha in that order.
2012 reeked of redemption, and originally, I thought it was going to be all Union Rags to take back his top spot without dispute. Hansen endured a tough beginning to take second in the Holy Bull (II), setting up early doubt for Rags’ comeback in the Fountain of Youth (II). Between the long layoff, his infamous swerving, and an unexpected jockey change to Julien Leparoux, he would receive a brickload of scrutiny. Sure enough, he was sent off a relatively soft 6-5 at Gulfstream Park. With $20 of my own on his nose to win, favored Discreet Dancer folded early as Rags took his patented loop around the wall at the top of the stretch. Never asked, he won by 4 lengths and unofficially vindicated himself post-Eclipse awards.
After that winning ride, it seemed the patient Leparoux was perfect for Rags. An unhurried, top rider on the grass in Kentucky, he didn’t seem to feel too concerned about any of Rags’ opposition, taking to Twitter that the horse was incredible and that he would make everyone proud on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Seated in Stella Artois-sponsored pants, Leparoux would spoil Rags’ second chance at a $1 million first prize in the Florida Derby (I), getting caught immediately behind a wall of horses while making little to no effort from there to get away. Ex-rider Castellano pinned them inside the entire time in a move Leparoux should have anticipated— Castellano knew Rags and was on the second-choice El Padrino. Making up ground late, he was unable to catch front-runner Take Charge Indy and a modest stretch run from Reveron kept him in third. His reputation was soiled, and not a single person in the Rags trench loved Leparoux that day. It was a greenhorn incident that should have never happened.
Despite the loss and the rise of new stakes winners— Dullahan, Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another— Union Rags was named the second-choice betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby, just behind Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister. His conquerors in the field were sent off at surprisingly lesser odds; Hansen was 10-1 on the morning line while Take Charge Indy took in 15-1 odds. The reasoning behind the odds wasn’t just fan-inspired mania, for a Union Rags nod seemed to have its appeal to even the most discriminating gambler: He had never been passed in the stretch, had never shown his full measure, and physically looked the part of a Derby winner. The drawbacks, however, were just as obvious: he’s been too frequently plagued by bad luck and jockey error (while retaining Leparoux) and wasn’t fast enough at the break to be safe from the #3 post. The odds bounced around from a few dollars for a five to 6-1 on and off Derby day, settling on 5-1 at post time. I was uneasy the most at the sight of the #3 spot— no matter what the connections said at the time, I hated hated hated his chances that close to the inside despite being a leisurely runner at the break. Sure enough, Rags was shoved out of contention early at the break. It was difficult to watch the rest of the race, but impossible to dismiss the top 3 runners with winner I’ll Have Another biting down hard in the stretch once again to overpower Bodemeister. The California invader would do it again in the Preakness, and perhaps out of blind infatuation, I was unable to fully appreciate IHA because I was so distracted by Union Rags.
Come June, I was ready to admit that I’ll Have Another was a fine horse. He had won two classics over a very good horse in Bodemeister, all after having an excellent California campaign over tough competition. Considering how much I liked a similar underdog in Funny Cide after he defeated my favored Empire Maker, I’m still not sure why I didn’t replicate that love for I’ll Have Another, who always ran with his heart on his shoulder and his ears forward. Plans were made to go to the Belmont Stakes for the first time, and while I felt guilty about it, there was no question that I was going to be rooting for Union Rags, who once again, wore the unlucky #3.
Was he a blind favorite? Yes, considering my history. But was he was a valid favorite? I certainly thought so. He had the correct build of a distance-seeking Belmont horse and made his best moves late. Plus, he was getting one of the smartest jockeys around with John Velazquez. Dullahan was scary coming into the race fresh as well, and I admit now that I dismissed Paynter as a “too much, too soon” entry. I thought Street Life had a good chance as well… the rest of the field had something to prove. I swore if I’ll Have Another won, there would be no more senseless personal grudges. There would be no longshot winner this year, of that much I was certain.
Optimizer balked before jetting to what would become his new favorite spot in a race— the lead!— in the Belmont Stakes.
The surplus that was guaranteed to fill Belmont to the rafters vanished on Saturday, as I’ll Have Another was scratched two days prior to his magnum opus. A modest 85,000 came to the race, and those wise enough to bring rain gear were rewarded, as it drizzled on and off all day. My winners for the day were few and far between, and as the race drew near I began to get a little nervous. Am I going to jinx him by being here? Or worse yet, telling everyone that asks that he’s going to win? Unstoppable U was the wise guy pick, Dullahan the favorite alongside Union Rags. A family friend who frequently hit the Belmont trifecta every year was going with Paynter. How much nervous energy was I wasting on all this, possibly to pan out to disappointment? I hadn’t slept the night before, and was already exhausted from the elements, the excitement, and the arduous ride over the Throgs Neck to Long Island. I reminded myself again: Never passed in the stretch.
The post parade began after what felt like an eternity. Street Life, the apple of my eye for the latter half of the Triple Crown trail, was adorable in person, as was my dearest underdog of the trail, Atigun. Optimizer was being a brute and refused to go into the gate. Five Sixteen was docile under Rosie Napravnik. Guyana Star Dweej was placid and homely. Unstoppable U shined, his gray coat matching the overcast skies. Ravelo’s Boy was long in body and low to the ground. My Adonis, the smallish chestnut, was last to go in to his outside post. A breath later, they were off and the long wait began for the horses to come back around again.
Photo ops of Rags were few and far between in the post parade, but he looked ready!
Disheartened to see Street Life get away poorly, my attention shifted nervous to Union Rags who yet again was behind horses on the inside, but was optimistically farther up than usual. Paynter setting the pace… Optimizer’s up front? That’s weird… Dullahan is far back… Not a whole lot changed during the race, but as they approached the far turn, Rags began crawling closer to the leaders. I readied my camera as they moved towards the homestretch, taking my eyes off the monitor as I settled in for a good clean shot. As they came nearer, the crowd began to rumble and I zoomed in as far as my focal length would allow. Through my viewfinder, I could see the blue-and-yellow silks of Paynter… Atigun was trying hard to keep up on the outside… and THE BLAZE FACE OF UNION RAGS WAS COMING THROUGH ON THE INSIDE!
The excitement was too much of a rush to handle. It felt like the entire grandstand was standing behind me, shouting for one or the other to prevail, the vibration humming through the fabric of my clothes. Rags drew even with Paynter within leaps of the wire and I dropped the camera.
The moment I lost my mind when I saw that blaze pop through…
Aaaaaand there goes my camera…
So I didn’t get a very good, clear shot of Union Rags. But I did get to cash a win bet that day, and experience one of the most amazing moments ever as a fan. Getting to go to Belmont Park was an experience in itself, but I felt all my work and faith was validated that day. Using your heartstrings isn’t a viable betting strategy in the long term, but betting the horse with the most heart often is.
While there was no chance I was ever going to miss going to that race, the memento of it became doubly important after what happened next. In July, Union Rags was injured and off for the rest of the year, and then retired permanently shortly after that announcement was made. I can count on one hand the number of moments that caused me to need to take a day away from the sport, and that instance cost me a day of seclusion. I had only known him for 11 months though I got to see his final and greatest moment. The way it ended so abruptly all felt extremely unjust.
Unfortunately, like many sports, horse racing is a business and its athletes are exposed to serious injury even in the simplest of warmups. Just as I expected, the 2012 Triple Crown trail was memorable, though not in the same way I expected. I missed seeing Rags quite a bit for the rest of the year, but if I was to be honest with myself, I don’t think he could have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year. He went out on a high note, and I trust he will have a successful future as a sire. Not too many are going to be able to creep by Paynter at his best!
In the meantime, I’m still watching the Matz barn like a hawk.
Trinniberg along with other major Triple Crown trail upstarts like Mucho Macho Man, Big Drama, Storm in May, and Imawildandcrazyguy all got their start at Calder.
It wouldn’t be a blog done rightly by me if I included no Floridian prospects. After rooting home Trinniberg this year in many of his starts, the Calder-based colt was the lone three-year-old and Derby participant to ring in a Breeders’ Cup victory in the loaded Sprint race. While he was 68-1 in nearly running Currency Swap off his feet as a juvenile, he can’t be counted out of the year’s best and with that said, it’s not too early to start looking at what Florida has to offer the 2013 Derby. Starting things off, I like what the DRF’s intuitive clocker Mike Welsch had to say about one debuting colt this weekend at Calder Race Course. His name is, ironically, Value Trap.
Breaking from the #9 hole in a maiden special weight, the blaze-faced chestnut son of Florida stallion Value Plus rocketed to an early lead in a field of 10 juveniles. He ripped fractions of :21.69, :44.94, and :57.48 before blowing through the full 6-furlong distance in 1:11.49, pausing just once on the turn to take a snort of the humidity before barnstorming down the stretch, the whip never making contact. Mike Welsch, a well-noted correspondent for Daily Racing Form and a fine judge per visual handicapping, proclaimed on Twitter that he was the best 2-year-old he’d seen at Calder all year.
But taking a 6-furlong race at a “B” track says little about a horse’s long-term— and long going— potential. Taking a closer look at his pedigree, I find it a bit disappointing by my own book. Sire Value Plus is a striking gray son of Unbridled’s Song out of a lauded stakes producer, and was precocious himself, breaking his maiden on his debut at Saratoga by a romping 8 3/4 lengths and later broke the track record at Gulfstream for 7 1/2 furlongs. He ran until he was 4, ending his career with a 5th in the Cigar Mile (I) with nothing to suggest he went lame. Roll Over Baby, the Ohio-bred dam of Value Plus, was a bullring stakes winner in sprints and went on to foal stakes winners like herself. Value Trap’s dam is a homebred claimer by Holy Mountain, a G3-winning son of Devil’s Bag who was successful in distance turf races including the 10-furlong Lexington (III) as a three-year-old. It’s a weird mix with horses that like to sit close to or on top of the pace, with some long-term distance and ability questions. All Due Respect, a similarly-bred daughter of Value Plus out of a Devil His Due (by Devil’s Bag) mare, was more than respectable this year with several graded stakes placings ranging from 7-8 furlongs at the top level.
So is Value Trap our next Trinniberg? Maybe, maybe not as with all things horse racing. A pupil of David Fawkes, he has the right connections and possibly the pedigree to make a great sprinter and winner of early Triple Crown preps in Florida, which are shorter and more speed-favoring. Keep an eye on this one.
Take Charge Indy fans will probably be looking for this one to make progress: Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song x Take Charge Lady) as a yearling at Keeneland September. His Saratoga debut landed him a 5th with Joel Rosario up and D. Wayne Lukas as trainer.
Tomorrow’s Weekend Stake Tip is going to feature me strangling myself in utter frustration… once again I sit on the sidelines and both of my longshot picks win (Well Spelled at 14-1 and Dust and Diamonds at 12-1).
Imagine a world where Unbridled’s Song was sterile while Cigar wasn’t. Now, imagine that world where Barbaro never got hurt and Bernardini never got a chance to win the Preakness. Whoa, right?
I’m starting to accept that America’s Best Racing won’t ever welcome mention of this blog (or any other “little guys”) in their notebook despite some attempts. Maybe they remember me from the Belmont Stakes when their booth people didn’t know who the horses were on my shirt (Union Rags and Hansen *facepalm*).
If Trevor Denman really isn’t calling the Breeders’ Cup (a rumor), I want Vic Stauffer to do it. He gets so into it.
How freakin’ ironic is it to think that Optimizer was once a dirt runner who made his mark as a closer, but is now a graded winner on grass wiring fields?
I will admit, Handsome Mikeis pretty handsome.
I wasn’t favoring Rolling Fog to be anything special just yet, but I’m also kind of glad to see him sidelined from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I). Barclay Tagg’s wisdom about that race “ruining” good juveniles came into light with this year’s Triple Crown if you think back on it.
The more research I do on pedigree/trainer-biased injuries in racehorses, the more likely I feel I’m going to be gruff on how I make my early picks for the Kentucky Derby.
I haven’t seen the rest of the Beldame possibles yet, but I can only hope for good odds on Royal Delta.
Happy retirement to a deserving Calder pony, Mad Flatter. (With that said, how many more retirements did we have this week… 5? Mad Flatter, Boys at Tosconova, Redeemed, Awesome Gem, The Factor… agh!)
I’m okay with the 2013 Oaks logo, but that Derby one needs to go back to the drawing board.
Rest in peace, Spurious Precision. You had a cool name and moved something special.
I scare myself to death wearing headphones and having a live track video minimized that is silent until… *loudly* “TWO MINUTES.” I can’t be the only one that jumps…