Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

American Quality

Posted by Brian Appleton on February 5, 2010

This weekend is shaping up to be one of the most star-studded racing spectacles so far this year and the action takes place coast to coast. A troupe of major Kentucky Derby prospects will be grappling with one another over rights to enter the immortal gate the first Saturday in May along with 19 other special 3 year olds.


To kick things off here I’ll start with the Whirlaway Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct. There is a possibility that storms could force the race to be rescheduled, but I’m going to forge ahead anyway and hope for the best. I believe this race can be summed up in one word: Eightyfiveinafifty…or should I say 5 words in 1? Trainer Gary Contessa, a perennial leading trainer at the New York racing circuits, is very high on this young colt. In his last race Eightyfiveinafifty destroyed the field by more than 17 lengths while breaking his maiden and also earning the highest Beyer speed figure of any 3 year old this year, recording a 105. It will be his first time around two turns and he will be going from a six furlong race straight to the Whirlaway distance of 1 1/16 miles. Contessa was quoted as saying: “No doubt he’s the most talented horse I’ve ever trained.” An emphatic and profound statement from a trainer who has trained some of the best. The field for the Whirlaway also includes the more experienced Turf Melody. The Whirlaway will be Turf Melody’s 9th lifetime race at his 9th race track. He last finished 6th in the LeComte and before that won from far back the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park. Peppi Knows won the Finger Lakes Juvenile before finishing second to leading Kentucky Derby contender Buddy’s Saint in the Remsen Stakes. Afleet Again, Three Day Rush and Papa’s Nice Cat complete the field. I am inclined to think Eightyfiveinafifty will run away from this field, but I’ve been fooled before by flashy maiden winners who turn out to be nothing more than sprint or lower class runners.

The Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita has all but been labeled as a match race between two talented sons of dual

American Lion

Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. American Lion and Tiz Chrome. For the record I’m in American Lion’s corner on this one, he looked great winning the Hollywood Prevue last out and Julien Leparoux knows how to ride this colt to perfection. Tiz Chrome has the advantage of Bob Baffert’s training services, something that seems to give every Derby contender an edge no matter the circumstances. Five other 3 year old prospects are due to line up in the Lewis against the two heavy favorites. Caracortado looks to be the biggest threat here and could even end up stealing the top prize. The undefeated gelding looks to make it 5 wins in a row with the Lewis. He enters off a win in the California Breeder’s Championship, a race which is the same distance as the 1 1/16 mile Lewis. Dave in Dixie last finished 6th in the Norfolk Stakes on October 4th after breaking his maiden at Del Mar in late August. Eddie Logan victor Macias is another Bob Baffert trainee entered. Tango Tango and Domination complete the field. I love American Lion and will be rooting for him to win, but I think Caracortado may just as easily prove to be top class.

Quality Road

The Donn Handicap came up a little bit stronger than expected but it shouldn’t change the outcome all that much. Quality Road showed up in a big way when winning the Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park last month and I suspect the results will be very similar this time. If anything I think the son of Elusive Quality will improve off his impressive victory last out and demolish this field. Duke of Mischief, Kiss the Kid, Dry Martini, Mambo Meister, Delightful Kiss, Past the Point, Helsinki and Dubai Gold are all going to do their best to thwart Quality Road’s chances to become one of the best older horses of 2010 on Saturday when they line up in the gate to vie for the top spot. 2010 Iowa Derby victor Duke of Mischief has never found success at the 9 furlong distance but is still an undeniable threat. Kiss the Kid has been mainly a turf horse up to this point and a pretty good one so if he can translate his turf form to dirt he has as good a chance as any, except perhaps Quality Road. Delightful Kiss enters off a 3rd place finish in an optional claimer at Gulfstream after a lengthy layoff. His last victory came in the 2009 Hals Hope Stakes also at Gulfstream. This talented 6 year old has set two track records during the course of his career and if he can return to good form in the Donn he just might be the biggest threat to Quality Road’s victory aspirations. Take the Points will forever be remembered as the runner-up to dual Horse of the Year Curlin in the 2008 Woodward Stakes. He has not managed to pull anything quite that significant out of his bag of tricks since then, but anything can happen twice. I think it’s all Quality Road in the Donn with Take the Points and Delightful Kiss being his biggest challenges.

Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra

In other big new, the biggest no doubt is that Oaklawn Park has offered to raise the purse for the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr.1) to a staggering $5 million if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will race. Zenyatta is as close to a guarantee to run in the Apple Blossom as you can get in this sport. Trainer John Shirreffs has said that the early year goal for Zenyatta has always been the Apple Blossom, so now the ball is in Rachel’s court. Jess Jackson as usual exhibited his gift for evasive speech when stating that Rachel would enter only if she was in top condition, and they felt it was best for her. He said things would be a little tight to get her ready in time, but left the door open enough to keep many people’s hopes alive. I was inclined to believe these two mammoth athletes would not meet up until later in the year, but am now cautiously optimistic that they could meet in the Apple Blossom after all. Usually Jess Jackson will slam a door shut if he thinks the situation is not at least workable. If the race is contested, I believe it will be the most epic race in the rich annals of our sport. The $5 million purse will certainly help both parties remain open and willing to work around any problems that might come up. And with the clamor from the fans growing with every second, the excitement could prove to be too much to for either party to resist. All we can do is hope.

Musket Man

I noticed this morning that the ultra-consistent Musket Man is set to return to the races this Saturday in the Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Winner of the 2009 Tampa Bay and Illinois Derby, Musket Man is best known for his 3rd place finishes in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. If he can make a successful comeback off his long recovery-layoff he will be poised to join Quality Road among the ranks of top tier older horses this year.


7 Responses to “American Quality”

  1. I think the race I’m most looking forward to is the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Very interested in seeing how Tiz Chrome stretches out and American Lion running again. I’m a big American Lion fan but, you can’t argue with Tiz Chrome’s record.

    You’re right about the Whirlaway being threatened. Hopefully NYC doesn’t get that much snow and it’ll go off. We need to see if Eightyfiveinafifty is the same horse going two turns at over a mile.

    • Hey Steve,

      Thanks for always commenting, I love it! (:
      I’m also hoping that Aqueduct doesn’t get snowed out. A horse I’m a part owner of was supposed to run there last Saturday, but when they cancelled live racing after the 3rd race he was entered for this Saturday. I really want to see him run. Eightyfiveinafifty looks like the real deal right now, but I can’t wait to see how he handles the class jump.

  2. Steve and Brian,

    Beware of the rain in the Lewis…we’re supposed to be wet in SoCal Friday and Saturday, not torrential like a few weeks ago, but steady showers. I hope the weather people are wrong because the Lewis has three of my top 3y.o.’s to watch out here (TIZ CHROME, CARACORTADO, AMERICAN LION) plus DAVE IN DIXIE was 4-1 off just a maiden win vs. LOOKIN AT LUCKY but was injured in the Norfolk, and DOMONATION will get a much more contested pace to close into than in the San Rafael.

    Do you really think that “85” is as good as his speed figures and hype? Forest Camp’s are distance challenged and he reminds me of HAYNESFIELD. Price will be prohibitive but he’s the most likely winner. This race is a pass for me. I hope he wins so that I can play against him as the distances increase and he faces more pace pressure.

    I’m thinking QUALITY ROAD will give horse racing a performance in the Donn H. that will make the handicap division nervous about facing him and take the attention away from ZENYATTA and RACHEL. He could be RACHEL’s foil going forward and may set up a fair running of the BC Classic if those three were to meet to decide HOY for 2010. He was at the top of the 3y.o. crop last year until those quarter cracks became a big issue. This is his ideal trip.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks for the rain warning, the weather has been playing havoc with racing recently, especially in the NY area.
      I’m not sold on Tiz Chrome yet, the only thing I really like about him is that Baffert is in charge of his training.
      I think that Eightyfiveinafifty is as good as people are saying. He might not be good enough to beat a horse like Buddy’s Saint or Lookin At Lucky yet, but I think he’s a fast improving colt and if Contessa so adamantly insists that he will handle longer distances fine, I’m inclined to agree.
      The Donn Handicap will be more glory time for Quality Road, I absolutely agree! He didn’t get the proper time to unleash his “monster talent” on the racing world last year, but I think he will burst out of the shadows this year and prove his domination. So long as his feet/hooves hold up I think we’ll see a tremendous year from him and the Donn should be a runaway.
      Thanks for your imput as always, enjoy the show from CA!

      • Brian,

        TIZ CHROME is all potential at this point…he’s built like a fullback, short but powerful lower body, Baffert likens him to SILVER CHARM. The question is whether he has the muscle fiber type to stay a route. I hope we find out he can be quick but nimble around the turns and cruise down the backside like he did in the Stuka S….he’s a flashy lookin’ dude that will really catch the attention of casual fans.

        I hope you enjoy as well.

  3. Carla Ruth said

    You know I considered Past the Point as runner up to Quality Road in the Donn, but then after looking at the PPs I decided that one of two things is going to happen. Either Past the Point is going to the front and Quality Road will put so much pressure on him, he’ll be worn down or Quality Road will go to the front and Past the Point will wear himself out trying to catch up to him like in the Woodward with Rachel. Either way, I don’t expect him to finish in the money. But hey, I could be wrong!

    • That’s a good “point” Carla. Not too many horses in the Donn can stand up to the speed of Quality Road but I expect he will sit a little more off the pace in the Donn than he usually does.

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