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Archive for the ‘Curlin’ Category

Palace Malice: Thrills & Chills

Posted by Brian Appleton on September 5, 2014

Post Parade - 2014 Whitney Stakes

Post Parade – 2014 Whitney Stakes

Horse racing fans know there’s nothing worse than opening up your email or web browser and reading a headline announcing the injury and subsequent retirement of a favorite horse. For me the last two years have been a blast, I’ve had the privilege along with thousands of other passionate racing fans, to watch, attend and share in the joy of a special colt named Palace Malice. Today that racetrack journey has sadly come to an end and I’m once again having a hard time saying goodbye to a horse that has grown to become one of my most beloved racing stars. For me Palace Malice became the kind of horse that transformed a feature race into so much more than just a competition, he became the sole reason I wanted to watch that race. It didn’t matter who the competition was or what the “experts” were saying, I was always convinced he could emerge victorious.

I’m not sure how many people can brag that they saw him win his maiden win. I did and it endeared him to me even more. Catching a future star winning their maiden is like winning the lottery of horse racing bragging rights for fans. It makes each race all the more gripping and each high and low so much more influential. I think I was destined to love Palace Malice from the beginning, seeing as I was such a huge fan of Curlin and already carried a sense of expectancy and hope that he would produce offspring that carried his heart and talent onto the track. Palace Malice’s sophomore season seemed plagued by horrible trips and not-quite-there performances that always had him coming up short of a win, but still garnering plenty of attention for his grit and determination in the face of adversity. His 7th place finish in the Louisiana Derby (Gr.2) after getting slammed, blocked and bounced around more than a ball in a Ping-Pong tournament was one of the best off-the-board finishes I have seen in my life. When he came back two weeks later to finish second by a nose in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr.1) it was obvious to everyone that he had some serious racing chops and was going to have a strong presence in the three-year-old division.

The 2013 Belmont Stakes will always be one of my favorites. The 12th place performance of Palace Malice in the derby after setting insane fractions on the front-end all the way in the far turn at Churchill Downs seemed to have convinced most people that he couldn’t handle the pressure of racing in the Classics. Not only did he handle the pressure, Palace Malice rolled to a 3 ¼ length win with jockey Mike Smith at odds of almost 14-1. I remember sitting in my apartment watching the race unfold on television and slowly realizing that Palace Malice was looking stronger than any of the other runners in the race as the field navigated the far turn. “Curlin’s son is going to win the Belmont”, I said it under my breath at first, afraid to say it too loud. I said it again and again until finally I was shouting at the top of my lungs, my roommate covering his ears as I pounded the couch to a pulp and screamed it for all I was worth, “CURLIN’S SON IS GOING TO WIN THE BELMONT!”. Those are the kinds of moments that made Palace Malice so special. I could make a complete fool of myself, screaming my head off, pumping my fists and stomping my feet, but the euphoria and ecstasy of the moment would not abate. My horse was going to win. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd-5c4l-iKs

After the Belmont Palace Malice thrilled with a victory in the Jim Dandy before running a game 4th in the Travers Stakes, but proving once again that he would run his heart out not matter the hand dealt to him. After that he was a clear but distant second behind a monster performance from Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr.1). In the Breeders’ Cup it appeared the effort of his long campaign had finally caught up with him. He finished 6th after a perfect stalking trip while Mucho Macho Man ran his heart out to defeat Will Take Charge by a nose. That performance most likely cost him the three-year-old championship to Will Take Charge but, I was still convinced he was the best.

If Palace Malice was good in 2013 he was absolutely brilliant in 2014. Right off the bat he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (Gr.2), defeating a stubborn Golden Ticket by a head after a determined stretch-duel that had me once again screaming for him to succeed. Having your favorite horse return from a layoff to ace their first race back is an incredible feeling and makes the future look so bright. I remember boldly declaring he would go on to be Horse of the Year to anyone who would listen. After Gulfstream Palace Malice shipped to Louisiana and snatched a runaway victory in the New Orleans Handicap (Gr.2), defeating Normandy Invasion by more than 4 lengths. From New Orleans Palace Malice headed to Belmont and romped by 9 ¾ lengths in the Westchester Stakes (Gr.3) over a small field. It was little more than a paid workout that received criticism from many for its lack of competitive depth, but I was just thrilled to see him still winning and doing it easily. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA2GA2ibdbo

The Metropolitan Mile might have been Palace Malice’s finest moment. It is a race that makes a colt a stallion many say and it most definitely increases a stallion prospects value tremendously. A strong field of 12 was entered for the Met Mile but Palace Malice stood out, even with the presence of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Gr.1) winner Goldencents in the field. Breaking from post number one Palace Malice ran just behind the lead set by Broadway Empire and Goldencents, inside of Clearly Now and Moreno. As the field came off the turn it was apparent that Goldencents had gotten the jump on Palace Malice as Broadway Empire began to fade, cutting off the path Palace Malice was traveling. John Velazquez masterfully guided Palace Malice to the outside of Broadway Empire and then drove through the opening between the rail and an accelerating Goldencents. Once he had clear running room Palace Malice charged ahead with a vengeance and seized the lead, winning by one length over Goldencents with Romansh just back in third. I’m pretty sure I reached an unseemly decibel with my shouts and screams of encouragement and excitement once Palace Malice got into high gear, one or two of the neighborhood dogs might even be hard of hearing now, but my euphoria couldn’t be contained after that brilliant performance. Now that some time has passed the Met Mile field has proven to be an even stronger in retrospect. Moreno went on to win the Whitney and finish a close second in the Woodward, both Grade 1 events, while Goldencents romped to victory in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (Gr.2) at Del Mar, setting a track record in the process and Clearly Now won the Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (Gr.3) over Palace by more than 6 lengths. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoL-0tfRLic

Sadly Palace Malice finished a fading 6th in his final race, the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse. Moreno went gate-to-wire over Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge to capture the Grade 1 event and while it was immensely disappointing to see such a lackluster performance from Palace Malice, it seems obvious now that he was not quite himself. Owner Cot Campbell said they performed a scintigraphy and discovered a bone bruise in his left hind cannon bone after the Whitney. Unfortunately it could endanger Palace Malice by running again so they made the courageous and appropriate decision to retire him. The Bloodhorse reported that Cambell said, “His career has been a wonderful thing at this stage of my career; I’ve enjoyed it to the utmost. I’d like it to continue, but he doesn’t owe us a thing.”
I echo the sentiments of Mr. Cambell in saying that I’d like the Palace Malice trip to keep on going and never end, but all good things must come to an end. Now he enters phase two of his career with a stellar list of accomplishments and legions of adoring fans that will never forget the thrills and chills he gave us. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit him at stud and fawn over him in person.


Posted in Curlin, Palace Malice | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

144th Travers a Star-Studded Event

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 22, 2013

2013 Travers Stakes The 144th Travers Stakes presents a unique case for the die-hard racing fan this year: it is impossibly easy to promote. For those of us that spend the better part of our 365 days a year checking the Blood Horse, Daily Racing Form, and social media sites on a daily basis for news on our beloved hooved heroes, only to struggle when it comes time to explain just how amazing a race like the Travers Stakes, Alabama, Haskell or Jim Dandy Stakes are to the “fair weather fans” who have just a vague recollection of the Kentucky Derby winner, sometimes the Preakness winner and almost never the Belmont winner, the 2013 Travers Stakes is a dream come true.

The 2013 Travers features Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano all in the same race. Now that they’re all entered in the same race, the trouble is trying to decide on a favorite, or better yet, separating the favorites and choosing just one to win. I for one am solidly behind Palace Malice yet again. Since winning the Belmont Stakes on June 8th this son of Curlin has done everything right, even going on to capture the Jim Dandy Stakes last month in the 2nd fastest running since the race was shortened to its current 1 1/8 mile distance in 1972. Trainer Todd Pletcher can’t seem to find enough praise for the bay colt these days and has been very pleased with the way he has trained since the Jim Dandy. The fact that Palace Malice comes off two straight graded stakes wins in two of the biggest 3-year-old races in the nation, is 2-for-2 at Saratoga and seems to still be improving makes him the horse to beat in my eyes. Plus the Jim Dandy has proven to be the most effective prep race for the Travers Stakes, especially in recent years.

It’s no secret that Todd Pletcher’s stable is loaded with incredible talent this year and the fact that he has both Palace Malice and Verrazano in the same year in the same race is incredible. Verrazano has only one defeat to his name, a 14th place finish in the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby when he received a gash above his knee leaving the gate and then failed to mount any sort of challenge. Since beginning his career in January at Gulfstream Park, he has won his 6 races by a combined 46 ¾ lengths while racking up two Grade 1 wins, as well as a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 victory. A lot of people have expressed concern about his ability to get the distance because of his pedigree, but I firmly believe a good horse can overcome their pedigree, and Verrazano is a good horse. I just don’t think he’s as good as Palace Malice right now.

Orb has been away from the races ever since finishing third behind Palace Malice and Oxbow in the Belmont Stakes, resting up at Fair Hill before returning to the work tab in early July. After rattling off 5 straight wins earlier in the year, culminating in a Kentucky Derby romp before finishing a disappointing 4th in the Preakness Stakes we were practically ready to hand him the 3-year-old Male Championship. That has all changed now, the Kentucky Derby winner is now the underdog. That alone says a lot for how loaded the field is in the Travers. Of all the contestants lining up to take a run at Saratoga’s premier race for sophomore colts, Orb has posted the best workouts hands down. Three straight bullet works, each as impressive as the last makes me think Orb and trainer Shug McGaughey are out to prove something. If I’m being honest I’d have to say that Orb scares me more than Verrazano right now and I think he’s going to present the biggest challenge to Palace Malice.

The “Big Three” might be the ones stealing all the headlines and probably make up for about 90% of bettors selections in the Travers, but one of them winning is by no means a done deal. Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer, Ramansh, Transparent and Golden Soul make up the remainder of the field and at least four of them seem capable of springing an upset. Will Take Charge seems most likely to benefit from the added distance of the 1 ¼ mile Travers while Moreno seems like the one that could most be negatively affected by the added distance. Will Take Charge ran a great race to earn second in the Jim Dandy, rallying from far back to miss catching Palace Malice by one length. He had a terrible run in the Triple Crown, but seems to have turned things around after his promising run in the Jim Dandy.

Moreno won the Dwyer Stakes impressively before finishing a tiring third as the initial pacesetting in the Jim Dandy and despite trainer Eric Guillot’s comments regarding the colts ability to win the Travers I doubt he can carry his speed over the 1 ¼ mile distance. If he couldn’t keep up at 1 1/8 miles I don’t think he’s going to stop Palace Malice, Orb, Verrazano or even Will Take Charge at 1 ¼ miles.

War Dancer seems to be the most logical longshot pick after Will Take Charge, but I think Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano are still at the head of this class. There’s nothing we racing fans love more than a showdown of our top athletes and with three of the nation’s very best in the same starting gate on Saturday it promises to be just that. The 2013 Travers Stakes is going to be an amazing race and I’m going with Palace Malice all the way. It’s not Saturday yet, but with only three days left before the 144th running of the “Midsummers Derby” at beautiful old Saratoga, this dream lineup of champion-caliber colts is about as close to happening as you can get.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Curlin, Kentucky Derby, Moreno, Orb, Palace Malice, Preakness Stakes, Saratoga Racetrack, Travers Stakes, Triple Crown, Verrazano, Will Take Charge | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Lots of Malice in the Jim Dandy

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 27, 2013

PalaceMaliceJimDandy2013_7AC298 On a day when the big favorites were failing to live up to their expectations, with Kauai Katie finishing dead-last in the Prioress Stakes (Gr.1) and Stephanie’s Kitten and Centre Court running 3rd and Last of five in the Grade 1 Diana, Palace Malice delivered a show worthy of a favorite and then some. The son of Curlin went off as the well-backed 6-5 favorite and leaped out of the gate just a half-length behind Moreno at the break. Freedom Child and Code West ran in 3rd and 4th down the backstretch, with Will Take Charge not far behind and Mylute taking up the rear. After an opening quarter in :24.06 and a half in :47.48 jockey Mike Smith moved Palace Malice smoothly up to challenge Moreno for the lead as they rounded the far turn and those two hit the stretch as one. For a moment it seemed that Moreno would give Palace Malice a run for his money, but Mike Smith gave one solid flick of the whip and the Belmont Stakes champ roared to the lead, ears pricked and striding out strong towards the wire. Will Take Charge launched an excellent challenge from well back in the field to pass Moreno mid-stretch and take second, just one length behind the winner.

Palace Malice had something to prove in the Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr.2) after falling victim to some of the worst luck in the nation along the Triple Crown trail earlier this year, prior to capturing the Belmont Stakes. This win erased any doubts as to whether or not his Belmont win was legitimate. Not only did he win the Jim Dandy decisively, but he finished in a time of 1:47.37 for the 1 1/8 miles, the 2nd fastest time in the history of the Jim Dandy and just behind the 1:47.26 stakes record set by Louis Quatorze in 1996. He is also the first horse since 1982 to capture both the Belmont and Jim Dandy Stakes. He earned a sparkling 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his thrilling victory. It surprised many when he sat a close second right behind Moreno in the Jim Dandy, but that’s one of the things that makes him such an exceptional racehorse now, he’s learning how to stay out of traffic trouble and utilize his speed at the right time. I’m sure Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith deserves a lot of the credit for such a complete turnaround.

I’m very pleased to see that Curlin is producing some truly top-class colts and fillies and watching Palace Malice this year has been exciting and truly inspiring to me. It should be very interesting to see what Oxbow and Verrazano do in the Haskell Sunday. If either one wins or runs big, the Travers Stakes will easily become one of the most highly anticipated races of the year.

Posted in Curlin, Jim Dandy, Moreno, Palace Malice, Will Take Charge | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Reneesgotzip & Musings on Curlin’s Runners

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 19, 2013

Reneeesgotzip How impressive was Reneesgotzip’s win yesterday at Del Mar? Very, very impressive. The four-year-old City Zip filly absolutely romped with style in her 2013 debut and against a very strong field as well. The second the gates sprang open Reneesgotzip burst to the lead and never looked back, sizzling her first quarter in :21.75 as she began to open up on the field. Dual Grade 1 winner Executiveprivilege tracked in 4th, more than 8 lengths behind the flying leader, who by now was 4 lengths out ahead of the field. By the time she reached the stretch she’d blazed through the opening half mile in :44.48 and was homeward bound, at least 8 lengths the best. Reneesgotzip ran the 5/8ths in a staggering :56.63 before finally slowing down a bit as she approached the wire. Executiveprivilege ran an excellent race to close from well back to get second, but there was no catching the brilliant Reneesgotzip who flew home more than 5 lengths the best.

I’ve been looking forward to Reneesgotzip’s first race of 2013 with great anticipation ever since her excellent 3rd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last November. It was that race that caused me to closely follow her career with renewed respect. She’s not only endowed with incredible speed and class, but also has proven to be versatile, running well on the grass, dirt and synthetic surfaces.

This weekend is opening weekend at grand, historic old Saratoga Racecourse. In one weeks’ time the Jim Dandy Stakes will take off at Saratoga and we will finally get to see Palace Malice back in action along with the likes of Freedom Child and Vyjack. The son of Curlin is doing fantastic according to trainer Todd Pletcher and looks stronger than ever. Speaking of Curlin offspring, the dual-Horse of the Year had four winners in two days’ time this past weekend. Two-year-old Ride On Curlin set a new track record at Ellis Park on Saturday in just his second start, running the 5 ½ furlongs in 1:03 flat. Now word has it he could be headed for the Saratoga Special unless some buyer comes along and hands him over to another trainer with a different schedule in mind. For now though, trainer Billy Gowan seems to believe he has a pretty special colt on his hands. Stopshoppingdebbie came out Sunday to keep her perfect record intact in her 4th lifetime start, taking the Kent Handicap at Emerald Downs by a very determined head after a stretch long duel. It’s very exciting to see Curlin’s runners doing so well and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for his offspring this year.

Don’t forget to check out my post about Royal Delta defending her title in the Delaware Handicap over on Horse Racing Nation. I think the champ is ready to roll again.

Posted in Curlin, Executiveprivilege, Palace Malice, Reneesgotzip, Ride On Curlin, Royal Delta, Stopshoppingdebbie | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Summer Campaigns Begin

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 24, 2013

verrazano Summer is here and so is the next phase of the racing season. The sophomore class of 2013 has made their Triple Crown bids and are now targeting the country’s most prestigious stakes races for their summer campaigns. As the season stands now Oxbow and Orb should be considered the leaders of the division due to their Classic wins and consistent performances throughout the year. Contrary to what many seem to think, I believe this crop is actually pretty good and has proven to be very durable. Orb and Oxbow both ran four times in 2013 before the Derby and then competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Even Palace Malice, who skipped the Preakness Stakes, ran four times before the Derby including just 2 weeks between his disastrous Louisiana Derby run and his strong Toyota Blue Grass Stakes runner-up effort. Running four times before the Derby isn’t a spectacular feat, but coming through the first half of the year and the Triple Crown season without any serious injuries and always performing well is admirable.

Verrazano began the summer season for this crop with a scintillating 9 ¼ length win in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes that was sadly marred by the injury of Itsmyluckyday. The More Than Ready colt ran the 1 1/16 mile distance in a very solid time of 1:41.72. Visually it was a very flashy win, but with Itsmyluckyday being taken out of contention with the injury it was basically a paid workout for Verrazano, so there wasn’t really a challenge to measure his worth coming off his 14th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Still, there is the good running time to take into consideration and it was just a prep race for the Haskell Invitational Stakes on July 28th so his real test will come at the end of next month. He is a dynamic runner with a large fan base so it would be nice to see him come back with a big win in the Haskell, plus it would make the battle for leadership of the division even more intriguing.

Three of the runners from the Belmont Stakes have returned to the worktab in the past week, including Belmont victor Palace Malice who breezed an easy :49.45 half mile for trainer Todd Pletcher on Sunday at Belmont Park. Pletcher remarked that he felt that the son of Curlin was “just telling me to give [him] a breeze,” so just two weeks after his victory in the Belmont Stakes Palace Malice has begun his preparation for the Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr.2) on July 27th. This colt makes me like him more and more; he has Curlin for a sire, runs his heart out every time he hits the track and is apparently full of energy and raring to go just two weeks after the biggest race of his life. I can’t wait for the Jim Dandy Stakes to see what he’s capable of after garnering his first big win.

Dreaming of Julia failed to live up to her reputation once again on Saturday and this time there was no excuse for her distant second place finish behind the brilliant Close Hatches in the Mother Goose Stakes. The result was a huge surprise to me. Not that I doubted the talent or ability of Close Hatches, (I even remarked to a friend that if there was an upset Close Hatches was the only one I’d pick) it was just that the talent Dreaming of Julia flashed in the Gulfstream Park Oaks was so huge that my opinion of her ability was bloated beyond proportion. She ran a decent second, but Close Hatches stole the show with her powerful 7 ¼ length win. The First Defence filly proved that the undefeated record she lost in the wake of her 7th place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, was no fluke. Her final time of 1:41.36 for the 1 1/16 mile distance was very solid and the top three fillies finished 1-2-3 so I think her win is a legitimate one based on her own ability and not a factor of Dreaming of Julia’s falling short. The 3-year-old filly division is just as dynamic and confusing as the 3-year-old male division now and is shaping up for a very exciting summer season.

Posted in Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Close Hatches, Curlin, Dreaming of Julia, Gulfstream Park Oaks, Haskell Invitational Stakes, Itsmyluckyday, Jim Dandy, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose Stakes, Orb, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Pegasus Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Triple Crown, Verrazano | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Palace Malice Captures the 145th Belmont Stakes

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 9, 2013

Palace Malice Belmont “A SON OF CURLIN’S GOING TO WIN THE BELMONT! CURLIN’S SON IS GOING TO WIN THE BELMONT!” I’m sure the entire apartment building was aware of my allegiance during the stretch drive of the 145th Belmont Stakes, but the high-pitched decibels I was giving off was just my way of expressing my joy in its rawest form. The 145th Belmont Stakes could not have ended any better for me personally. I have made no secret of my adoration for Curlin and his offspring and watching Palace Malice capture the final jewel of the Triple Crown provided the most gratifying flow of emotions I have experienced in racing since watching Curlin and Rachel Alexandra campaigning across the nation.

Palace Malice has been on the brink of winning a big race all year long and today, at Belmont Park on the big sandy oval, he finally seized his moment to shine. The entire field of 14 broke cleanly from the gate as long-shot Frac Daddy jumped straight to the lead with fellow long-shot Freedom Child in close pursuit. Palace Malice with Hall of Fame Rider Mike Smith aboard worked his way up from the 12 post to rate patiently in fourth going into the first turn as Preaknes Stakes winner Oxbow and jockey Gary Stevens moved quickly past Freedom Child and into second. Kentucky Derby winner Orb raced second to last down the backside as Frac Daddy set blazing fractions of :23.11 for the opening quarter and :46.66 for the half mile. Oxbow took command shortly after the half mile marker with Freedom Child making a brief bid to move with him, but ultimately fading away. Mike Smite meanwhile allowed Palace Malice to edge up into third as the field approached the final turn with Oxbow still in the lead. From the back of the pack Orb began to unleash an impressive rally, moving into contention quickly as the homestretch loomed large. Palace Malice though continued to gain ground on Oxbow, moving with fluid, even strides on the outside to take command as the field came roaring into the stretch with the crowd on its feet. Down the long Belmont homestretch Palace Malice continued to slowly extend his lead, showing obvious signs of tiring as he approached the wire, but nevertheless holding on to win by more than three lengths over a very game Oxbow, with Orb another 1 ¾ lengths back in third.

So there we have it. The 145th Belmont Stakes has been written in to the history books and a son of the great Curlin snatched the win at odds of 13-1. Palace Malice has assured his place in history and I for one am very excited at what his future might hold. He has natural speed that enables him to stay close to the pace and has proven on multiple occasions now that he can run on or close to the lead with fast fractions. The final time for the Belmont was a very slow 2:30.70, but that can’t dampen my enthusiasm for his win. For Curlin to get a Grade 1 classic winner in his very first crop of foals is a huge moment of pride for me. With the Preakness winner finishing second and the Derby winner finishing third in the Belmont, I think that the top three year olds have validated their performances in the Classics this year and have shown admirable consistency. When asked directly after the running of the Belmont what he thought helped Palace Malice finally find the winners circle, Mike Smith said it was removing the blinkers. I for one was relieved when I heard he would be running without the blinkers, as I’m sure many others were too and without the extra equipment in the way the beautiful bay colt was able to rate, relax and pounce his way to a perfect Belmont score.

Posted in Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Curlin, Orb, Oxbow, Triple Crown | 10 Comments »

2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies: Best long-shots and Favorites

Posted by Brian Appleton on November 4, 2011

Juvenile races have always been the toughest ones for me to handicap. The Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) has produced a full field of 14 promising fillies this year, sorting out the good from the bad is perhaps not as challenging as it appears when looking at the entries. I believe there are five fillies with a good chance to win, and three with a good chance to hit the board. I hate to say it, but I think this one is all about the favorites for the win. There has been a lot of consistency among the top five contestants this year, hence the reason for three undefeated, Grade 1 winners entered in the field.

My Miss Aurelia is the deserving morning line favorite for the race off the strength of her 5 ½ length romp over Stopshoppingmaria in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes early last month at Belmont Park, but it’s an undefeated daughter of Empire Maker that I like the most right now. Grace Hall won her debut at Delaware Park by three lengths in late July before winning the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes over the gifted Judy the Beauty. She followed that win up with a easy three length score in the Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park on October 1st, winning in a hand ride after contesting the lead. So far all three wins by Grace Hall have been accomplished with just a hand ride, implying there is much more to this filly than we have seen so far.

My Miss Aurelia ran a huge race in the Frizette, capturing the race in front-running fashion by more than five lengths, and defeating Stopshoppingmaria handily for the second time in her three race career. She also defeated third place finisher Miss Netta in the Frizette, a filly I think has a lot of potential to movfe forward in the Juvenile Fillies today. My Miss Aurelia is a daughter of Smart Strike and is owned by Barbara Banke, wife to the late Jess Jackson of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra fame. I think the greatest weakness for this filly could be her front-running tactics, even though juvenile fillies have fared very well in recent years running on the front end, I think there are some very classy fillies behind her this time that will not let her run away in the stretch.

Weemissfrankie is the undisputed leader of West Coast juvenile fillies after back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Debutante Stakes and most recently in the Oak Leaf Stakes where she ran down the very talented Candrea, who is also slated to take part in the Breeders’ Cup. She could not have been more impressive in her Oak Leaf score where she ran down Candrea just before the wire, closing from fifth place and coming into the stretch four wide, while still catching the leader and winning by half a length under a vigorous hand ride. She ran a fantastic :59.20 five furlong work one week ago at Santa Anita to signal how fit and ready she is to run.

Miss Netta has raced just two times in her short career so far, but has shown incredible potential. She broke her maiden at first asking, taking a six furlong at Saratoga in late August but almost three lengths, running on the lead from gate, to wire. Her next start came in the Frizette Stakes (gr.1) at Belmont Park where she just happened to run into the monster we know as My Miss Aurelia, finishing a distant, but decisive third. On paper her performance looks back, but it was actually very good. She broke awkwardly, immediately dropping four lengths off the field and running very greenly for jockey Rajiv Maragh. By the time My Miss Aurelia was approaching the far turn, Miss Netta was far more than twelve lengths off the back of the pack, but began to eat up the ground and settle for Rajiv Maragh as they entered the far turn. Coming into the stretch My Miss Aurelia was pulling well clear of Stopshoppingmaria up front, but Miss Netta was flying home fastest of all, running an incredible race to get up for third, finishing almost three lengths ahead of Holiday Soiree in fourth. She could be sitting on a huge race at Churchill Downs today and her :46.87 bullet work at Belmont last weekend proves she is coming into this race very sharp.

Candrea ran a big race in the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr.1), a race that in most cases would have been a winning race if not for Weemissfrankie. She pressed the pace in second, took over from the pacesetter coming into the stretch and began to draw off and accelerate approaching the wire. Unfortunately for her, Weemissfrankie was just too good and flew by her on the outside late to snag the win by half a length. This Bob Baffert trained filly won the first two starts of her career by a combined 7 ½ lengths. She likes to sit close to the pace and launch her bid off the turn, tactics that will keep her close to the front-running My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies if she has the speed. She had a good :48.80 half mile breeze at Churchill Downs recently and is another that looks like a candidate to run a good race.

Since I don’t have time to handicap the entire field, I tried to choose three long-shot fillies that I think have the best shots at hitting the board for a price. My first is two-time stakes winner, Say a Novena. This filly has won three of her six career starts so far and most recently captured the Brandywine Stakes at Parx Racing after missing by one length in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park in early September. Her biggest problem is that she has never run past seven furlongs yet, but in all of her stakes tries, which make up her last four consecutive starts, she has finished running well and never tired late. She could be a nice value if she runs well today with morning line odds of 30-1.

Awesome Belle has taken the same course to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies that 2010 Juvenile winner Awesome Feather took, and they just happen to both be daughters of Awesome of Course. Awesome Belle enters the Juvenile off a 7 ½ length romp in the 1 1/16 mile My Dear Girl Stakes at Calder Race Course. The My Dear Girl Stakes is the final race in the Florida Stallion Series which Awesome Feather won last year. This year Awesome Belle didn’t fare as well, finishing fifth in the Desert Vixen Stakes after a bad trip in the stretch, and finished third in the Susan’s Girl Stakes after finding herself in tight quarters and unable to catch the top two. I think she’s beginning to improve and really good shot to hit the board. Her morning line odds are 20-1 and her most recent work was a :48.20 half mile move at Calder.

Rocket Twentyone is undefeated in two starts, but most recently captured the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr.2) at Arlington Park on September 10th. The one thing she will seriously need to improve on is her speed is she hopes to finish in the top half of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies field. She ran the one mile Arlington-Washing Lassie in a slow time of 1:39.13, and has been working up to the race equally as slow. As a daughter of Indian Charlie you know she has a chance to improve, but it’s highly doubtful she can win. Maybe hit the board, and with odds of 20-1 it might be worth a shot.

So there are my three long-shot choices, of the three I like Awesome Belle much the best. Of the top five fillies in the field I like Grace Hall, Miss Netta, Weemissfrankie, and My Miss Aurelia in that order. Good luck to all and enjoy the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Friday card.

Posted in Awesome Belle, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Candrea, Curlin, Grace Hall, Miss Netta, My Miss Aurelia, Rachel Alexandra, Rocket Twentyone, Say a Novena, Weemissfrankie | Leave a Comment »

Fillies All Around

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 28, 2011

It’s becoming the norm now, but just a few years ago it was an almost unheard of occurrence: fillies facing the boys. Rags To Riches was the first to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling in 2007, defeating future champion and dual-Horse of the Year Curlin in the Belmont Stakes, along with a talented cast of sophomore males including Hard Spun and Tiago. Eight Belles turned in a tragically stellar performance to finish ahead of the nation’s best 3-year-old males in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, second only to the freakish Big Brown. In 2009 Rachel Alexandra took the shattered glass fragments and ground them to dust with the most powerful trio of Grade 1 wins a filly ever strung together in a single season to defeat males. She captured the Preakness Stakes, Haskell and Woodward Stakes, defeating the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winners while making a mockery of the Older Male division. Zenyatta took a thrilling page out of the book in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic when she flung the dust to the wind, “girl-handling” a stellar field of international males to become the first female winner of the prestigious event. She came ever so close to making it back-to-back magical wins in the 2010 Classic when she missed by an excruciating nose to Blame after an impossible stretch rally. Add to those aforementioned fillies the names of Zarkava, Goldikova and Indian Blessing on the international front and you’ve got a massive amount of domination going on across the globe where the fillies are concerned.

2011 seems to be continuing the popular trend as Austrailian super-star, and #1 rated race horse in the world, Black Caviar has sustained her unbeaten ways, defeating the best males down under with disdainful ease. Keertana took down a solid cast of males in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap, becoming the first female to win the race in its 74 running’s, nailing the decision by a nose in a three horse photo finish. Her historic win kept the movement alive in the North America, but it was Inglorious who really raised the bar this year in Canada. The 152nd running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate is the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown which includes the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on July 17th at Fort Erie and the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes On August 7th at Woodbine on grass. On Saturday Inglorious became the 34th filly to win the prized race and the first since 2001 with her impressive 2 ½ length romp in the Queen’s Plate. She tracked race favorite Check Your Soul into the stretch, responded with an explosive kick at the urging of jockey Luis Contreras and rolled home an easy winner over 16 males rivals, the largest field since 1999.

With leading older fillies Havre de Grace and Blind Luck both in top form now and possibly heading for a showdown in the Delaware Handicap, the connections of both fillies have expressed an interest in facing males this year, possibly in the Breeders’ Cup this fall. That would make things even more interesting not to mention garnering some much needed publicity for the sport. I for one hope to see both fillies face and defeat the males this year, this is a trend racing fans love and can root for with more pronounced passion.

Posted in Big Brown, Black Caviar, Blind Luck, Curlin, Eight Belles, Goldikova, Havre de Grace, Indian Blessing, Inglorious, Keertana, Rachel Alexandra, Rags To Riches, Zarkava, Zenyatta | Leave a Comment »

Awesome Gem: 8 Years Young

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 25, 2011

How often do you see a thoroughbred racehorse win a Grade 1 race at the age of seven and then return the next year to win a Grade 3 at age eight? I think it’s safe to say that’s an incredibly rare feat to pull off in this day and age of racing where the best athletes are retired after one or two solid campaign seasons. Awesome Gem is the exception to the rule. He began his career in August of 2006 at Hollywood Park, taking three tries to break his maiden and then won an allowance, finished second in a Grade 2 and won a Grade 3. Beginning in 2007 the Awesome Again gelding has participated in four Breeders’ Cup events with his best finish coming in a strong third place finish behind Curlin and Hard Spun in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.1) at Monmouth Park.

This Saturday the 8-year-old veteran will try to win his first back-to-back Graded Stakes when he takes on a competitive field of ten others in the $300,000, Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. In his last start Awesome Gem captured the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr.3) by one length, defeating Game On Dude and Thiskyhasnolimit. Two starts back he was closing best of all in the Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes but ran out of stretch, finishing fourth, beaten for the win by just ¼ length. He seems to be at the top of his game and this is the perfect year for him to perform well with the older male division is complete confusion. If he wins the Cornhusker and is able to defend his title in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (gr.1) he could have as good a shot as any at a chance for the championship title. It’s a huge “if” to assume he will win two more graded stakes races through July when he hasn’t even been able to string together two wins since 2006, but I’ll be rooting for the impossible.

It’s very hard to find a horse as consistent and durable as Awesome Gem, not to mention plucky. No matter what happens in the race it’s practically a proven fact that he’ll be coming flying at the end.

Posted in Awesome Gem, Cornhusker Handicap, Curlin, Hard Spun | Leave a Comment »

A Precious Gem, isn’t he Awesome?

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 1, 2011

Tizway took the Met Mile by storm Monday, posting a spectacular winning time of 1:32.90, less than 1/10 of a second off the stakes record and just 3/5 of a second off of the track record, the fastest clocking since 1996. The Metropolitan Handicap was the first Grade 1 win for the 6-year-old son of Tiznow. For an excellent recap of Tiznow’s Met Mile victory read Joe DePalo’s article on Horse Racing Nation.

Gemstones and jewels are valued according to their rarity and overall quality and if Awesome Gem’s value was to be measured, he would rate pretty high.  The 8-year-old Awesome Again gelding has continually proven to be one of the nation’s most competitive males ever since his third place finish in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.1) behind Curlin and Hard Spun. On Monday Awesome Gem showed once again just how special he is when he rallied from just off the pace to take the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr.3) at Lone Star Park in Texas, defeating a short but solid field of five.

Breaking from the gates Awesome Gem got away well in fourth position as Lydia’s Last Step went to the lead with Game On Dude less than half a length away in second. Flat Out rode the rail in fourth to the inside of Awesome Gem with Thiskyhasnolimit in last but less than four lengths from the lead. After a slow opening quarter in :24.51 the three back runners strung out behind the two leaders with Awesome Gem just two lengths back, another two in front of Thiskyhasnolimit, now half a length ahead of Flat Out. Entering the far turn Awesome Gem kicked into high gear and made a rapid move two come on even terms with Lydia’s Last Step and Game On Dude. Coming off the turn Awesome Gem easily disposed of a mild rally from Game On Dude and plunged down the stretch for his first win since taking the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10th last year.

At the finish line his margin of victory was just one length, but he was clearly the best. Flat Out lived up to his name, coming flying from dead last and far back in the homestretch to snag second after making up more than seven lengths. Awesome Gem has commanded my respect ever since his game effort in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic when he denied Street Sense third place behind his Triple Crown rivals and I have tried my best to support him in each and every start since then. He has truly proven to be as rare and precious as a gem, one to be treasured and appreciated in this modern age of racing where our best runners are carted off to the breeding shed after one solid season of racing.

Posted in Awesome Gem, Curlin, Hard Spun, Met Mile, Metropolitan Handicap, Tizway | Leave a Comment »

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