Rail Runner

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Archive for the ‘Saratoga Racetrack’ Category

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.

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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 »

Critiquing Wise Dan

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 13, 2013

Wise Dan There were plenty of detractors eager to criticize owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti decision to have Wise Dan defend his title in the Fourstardave Handicap last week, mainly because it was a race run at Wise Dan’s preferred distance of 1 mile on the turf and it would be the second consecutive Grade 2 race for the defending Horse of the Year. They say a good horse does his own talking on the track and that’s exactly what Wise Dan did, winning his 8th consecutive graded stakes race and 2nd consecutive Fourstardave Handicap (Gr.2) while missing the course record at Saratoga by just 3/5 of a second. Still, the critics remain and it seems that his win has created even more hoopla over his current campaign course than before.

From what I can gather it seems the storm began brewing almost immediately after Fink announced that they would not be pointing the 3-time champion towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr.1), but will instead attempt to defend his Breeders’ Cup Mile (Gr.1) win from last year. “I don’t care what anybody says”, Fink said, further stating that he doesn’t care “at all” about winning Horse of the Year again. It seems that Fink is bound and determined to keep his striking chestnut gelding on the turf and at his preferred distance of one mile. I’ve heard my share of criticism from fans about this decision and the decision to run in the Fourstardave Handicap, but I found it very ironic when I read an article this morning by Sam Walker of the Racing Post, brought to my attention by a Facebook status from The Paulick Report.

In his article Walker brings up some relevant points about fans wanting to see Wise Dan run outside of his comfort zone by trying some of the nation’s premier dirt races, but I think he goes a little too far in his criticism of American Turf racing, calling it “second tier” and claiming that “it doesn’t take a great horse to excel in that division”. He goes on to state that “the situation is nothing like being the best miler in Europe or the best sprinter in Australia”, even insinuating that American turf runners carry no global significance. I agree with Walker that American turf racing does not carry the same status or hold the same stature as that of European or Australian racing in general, but when he says that being “the best turf horse in American is like being the best harness, quarter horse or show pony” he has gone too far. I’m sure he has plenty of pride in the fine racing of his beloved Europe, but to claim our turf racing cannot stand toe-to-toe with some of the world’s greatest turf races is absurd. The Arlington Million, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Mile and many others proves that fact. I find his article insulting and somewhat naïve. The article is mainly written as a piece to state that Wise Dan is good enough to run well and defend his Horse of the Year title on dirt, but it was tough seeing past the insults for me to enjoy the rest.

Yes, Wise Dan hasn’t faced the toughest competition this year, and his connections are steadfast in their opinion that their champion should remain on the turf and preferably race at the one mile distance, but I still think there is an element of duplicity to Mr. Walker’s words, after all the great Frankel ran in 7 straight mile races without so much as a disparaging remark from Walker. I’m not making a comparison between Wise Dan and Frankel, just stating the obvious: both horses love the 1 mile distance on the turf and both were allowed to remain in their comfort zone during championship seasons. Frankel raced those 7 time over the course of just over 14 months, Wise Dan in 12 months. Frankel certainly faced stiffer competition and remained in Grade 1 company, but I think it’s important to note that his greatness was not diminished by racing in those 7 races, it was enhanced. It would be great to see Wise Dan challenged with an outside-the-box dirt race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but if Fink and LoPresti keep him on the grass at a mile I think it’s best to just try and enjoy his campaign while he’s still with us.

Posted in Charlie LoPresti, Fourstardave Handicap, Frankel, Morton Fink, Saratoga Racetrack, Shadwell Turf Mile, Wise Dan | Tagged: , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Another “Grand” Weekend of Racing

Posted by Brian Appleton on January 9, 2010

Who’s ready for a grand weekend of racing yet again? After last week and Quality Road’s Hal’s Hope victory, it seems as if fans are starting to come awake, realizing the Triple Crown drama is about to begin. Four months filled with brand-spanking-new three year olds has now begun. From January thru April these youngsters will take to the most prestigious tracks in America attempting to prove they deserve a piece of history in the greatest race in the world; the Kentucky Derby.

Munnings

This weekend yet another promising three year old from 2009 returns to action, this time in the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes (gr.3) January 9th. Munnings, winner of last year’s Woody Stephen’s (gr.2) and Tom Fool Handicap (gr.2), and third place finisher in last year’s Haskell, Kings Bishop and Vosburgh Stakes, will certainly be the favorite off his impressive and highly consistent 3 year old campaign. His two biggest threats, at least on paper, appear to be Custom for Carlos and Past the Point. Custom of Carlos finished third to Big Drama and This Ones for Phil in late March last year and won the Jersey Shore (gr.3) in early July by more than 6 lengths. In his last start on November 21, he won the Bet On Sunshine Handicap at Churchill Downs by more than 3 lengths. He posted the fastest work of 41 recorded times at the same distance of half a mile at Gulfstream on January 4th. Past the Point last out finished second in the Bold Ruler Handicap (gr.3) on October 31. His last victory on August 6 came at Saratoga against an optional claiming allowance field. Munnings will probably get this one, especially if he gets the dry track that he prefers, but I’m kind of hoping for a Past the Point upset here.

1st: Munnings

2nd: Past the Point

3rd: Custom for Carlos

The Spectacular Bid Stakes also at Gulfstream on January 9th is led by Westover Wildcat. Westover Wildcat is the high weight at 120 pounds here due to his victory in the Bold Lad Stakes on October 25th. Previously he had

Discreetly Mine

finished 5th in the Hopeful (gr.1) at Saratoga. Futurity (gr2) and Champagne (gr.1) runner-up Discreetly Mine makes his first start for new trainer Todd Pletcher in the Spectacular Bid Stakes. There are also some noteworthy allowance winners in this race; Grand Times has put together two consecutive wins. He won an allowance race by 2 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 12. Call Shot is another allowance winner coming into the Spectacular Bid Stakes for trainer Wayne Catalano. Finishing 6th in the Iroquois Stakes (gr3.) at Churchill Downs, Call Shot also won an allowance race at Keeneland. A Little Warm exploded last out in his 4th try, winning his maiden by 10 ¾ lengths. He will be ridden by Jockey Jeremy Rose here. I’m probably going to get destroyed for my top three choices here, but I’m not very impressed with Westover Wildcat at this point. He’s probably able to at least place against this field, but I’m choosing against him in favor of some of the allowance winners. I love how allowance/maiden winners can come from nowhere at this point on the Triple Crown trail and put themselves in-line for the ultimate run.

1st: Discreetly Mine

2nd: A Little Warm

3rd: Grand Times

Before I sign-off, I wanted to make note of a couple of colts, one of which just happens to be among my early favorites for the Derby. Eskedereya was my

Eskendereya

second choice behind Lookin at Lucky for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. On January he proved without a doubt he can indeed run, and that his Pilgrim Stakes victory at Belmont on October 4th, was no fluke. In a one-mile NW1X at Gulfstream Park, Eskendereya drove to the lead from the start, setting fractions of :24.78, and :47.78. Around the far turn he repelled the bid of Middle of the Nite, surged ahead, then held off Thank u Philippe for a comfortable 1 ½ lengths. This gorgeous chestnut is most likely headed for the Fountain of Youth Stakes and a possible show-down with ultra-impressive Buddy’s Saint in February. Take Control has the perfect everything; family, looks and, so-far, ability. His sire A.P. Indy is consistently one of the highest earning stallions in the world aside from being a top-class racehorse in his day. His dam Azeri is the highly popular and talented 2002 Horse of the Year. In his first race out, Take Control did exactly that, living up to his name, his family heritage and the fans expectations. 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri is apparently very good at two things: winning and producing winners. On December 30, the regally bred colt defeated favored Ivory Fudge at Santa Anita by 1 ½ lengths. He will be very closely watched and followed from here on out.

Best of luck with your choices this weekend everyone. It should be a very fun weekend to watch. I just want to say before leaving, that I can’t wait to start coving Buddy’s Saint on here, that horse excites me to no end.

One more thing… RACHEL ALEXANDRA for Horse of the Year! Go Rachel GO!

Rachel Alexandra

Posted in Belmont Park, Breeders Cup Juvenile, Eskendereya, Fountain Of Youth Stakes, Handicapping, Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky, Quality Road, Rachel Alexandra, Saratoga Racetrack, Thorougbred Horse Racing | 4 Comments »

Quality Road: Hope for the Older Horse Division of 2010

Posted by Brian Appleton on January 4, 2010

Is it just me, or does it seem like we could be in for one of the most spectacular years for older horses in generations? The returns of Rachel Alexandra, Mine that Bird, Quality Road, and Summer Bird (health permitting) all herald good things for the fans and horse racing as a whole. When was the last time all three winners of the Triple Crown races returned the following year to slug it out for top honors yet again? Not to mention the returns of big name horses like Gio Ponti, who rose to new heights of

Quality Road wins the Hal's Hope Stakes

prominence in 2009, and Life Is Sweet, who is now completely free of Zenyatta and, therefore, given a clear shot at the Older Female Division title for the first time. Plus I still hold out hope that Einstein could be returned for one more racing campaign. Who doesn’t like Einstein? If not for his poor showing in the Classic in November and losing the Clark by less than a length he would probably be in a dead-lock with Gio Ponti for Older Male championship honors. If there was a television sitcom/show made around this horse, it would probably be called Everybody Loves Einstein. Rail Trip is also coming back for a greater shot at glory in 2010 after a good, but somewhat short, 2009 season that ended with his 3rd place showing in the Pacific Classic.

After the Breeders’ Cup is over and most of the major horses are either put away for the year or retired, it’s hard to wait for weeks and weeks on end to watch some real “quality” racing. Watching Quality Road winning the Hal’s Hope Stakes at Gulfstream was a real “pick me up”. He kicked the year off with an exciting and thoroughly dominating victory, making an emphatic statement in the older horse ranks. If he can keep things going this way for the rest of the year, his fellow four year olds of “yester-year” will have to work very hard to slow him down.

Quality Road wins the Hal's Hope Stakes

Showing no ill effects from his traumatic Breeders’ Cup Classic gate incident, Quality Road loaded into #2 like an angel for the Hal’s Hope and waited patiently while the remainder of the field was loaded. The gates sprung and you could practically say the race was over from there. Flying to the lead, Quality Road took firm control of the pace, posting a sluggish :25.15 for the first quarter-mile. Looking the confident part of a winner, he continued to lead the field down the backstretch and around the far turn, with You and I Forever, Spin Master and Harlem Rocker right there in good striking position. Around the last turn Quality Road floated a bit wide, allowing You and I Forever to slip through on the inside. For a moment it appeared that he might be in trouble, almost conceding the lead to You and I Forever for a fraction of a second. But Jockey John Velazquez roused his mount with a vigorous shake of the reins and the contest was over. Quality Road pulled away from You and I Forever as quickly as the other had closed the gap coming off the turn, and opened up as he drove for the wire. He coasted home a widening 2 ¾ lengths with no assistance from the whip, perfectly content to lope home the easy winner. The Donn Handicap (gr.1) at Gulfstream on February 6th is now the son of Elusive Quality’s next target according to trainer Todd Pletcher. Only four more weeks and we get to see this big guy in action yet again. After a brilliant but troubled 3 year old campaign, Quality Road now appears ready to seize the moment and leave his problems behind.

As a three year old, Quality Road won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr.2) and Florida Derby (gr.1) at Gulfstream in highly impressive fashion, making him the probable favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He unfortunately had to be withdrawn from the Derby a few days before it was to be run due to foot problems. He was put away for rest and recovery until the summer. He returned in the Amsterdam Stakes (gr.2) at Saratoga in August, winning a visually impressive race and smashing the track record for six and half furlongs. His final time of 1:13.45 was so fast it was at first believed to be a malfunction of the timer. Track announcer John Imbriale called out: “Ladies

Summer Bird wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup

and Gentlemen, we know that Quality Road is a particularly fast 3 year old, but I don’t think those times on the board are correct, but we’ll check it out.” The previous time of 1:14 2/5 was set 30 years previous by Topsider in 1979. After his overwhelming return, Quality Road next placed third to Summer Bird in the Travers Stakes and was defeated a scant length by Summer Bird in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

Few missed his antics in the starting gate in early November at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and he was subsequently given regular gate schooling and prepared for an early return to the races in 2010. After the way he won the Hal’s Hope, you have to wonder how he would have fared in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if things had gone differently. He has never raced on synthetics before, but he also likes a dry track better than the wet ones he got in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Classic was a good consistency. If he makes it to the Breeders’ Cup this year, I will eagerly anticipate his performance over a dirt track with hopefully clear skies and his well-known fellow 2009 3-year old graduates hard on his heels.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Breeders Cup Classic, Dunkirk, Einstein, Florida Derby, Fountain Of Youth Stakes, Gio Ponti, Handicapping, Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Life Is Sweet, Mine That Bird, Preakness Stakes, Quality Road, Rachel Alexandra, Saratoga Racetrack, Summer Bird, Synthetic(s), Thorougbred Horse Racing, Travers Stakes, Zenyatta | 8 Comments »

Reflections of 2009: Part 3 and Miscellaneous Racing Updates

Posted by Brian Appleton on December 18, 2009

Rachel Alexandra winning the Woodward Stakes

Zenyatta winning the Classic

We begin with August continued because I realize I left-out/forgot a whole bunch of really good races with key players. August 1st, a day before Rachel Alexandra’s tour-de-force in the Haskell against the boys, Mine that Bird was soundly defeated in his return to the races by 23-1 long-shot Soul Warrior and runner-up Big Drama in the West Virginia Derby. Forever Together was able to enhance her illustrious standings in the filly and mare turf division with a strong repeat win in the Diana Stakes at Saratoga the same day, solidifying her shot at a second running in the Breeders’ Cup. Magical Fantasy roared to her third consecutive score in the John C. Mabee on the 16th, also making a strong case for her participation in the Breeders’ Cup. Six days later it was back to the flashy three year old filly Careless Jewel in the Alabama, a race she won by 11 lengths in true super-star form. Some began to question whether or not Careless Jewel might just be able to give Rachel Alexandra a run for her money after the Alabama win, a race in which she extended her winning streak to four. One week later Indian Blessing was back as the slight favorite against Informed Decision with Music Note the third choice in the Ballerina. But in the end it was Music Note who ran away from Indian Blessing at the top of the stretch, winning by more than 5 lengths with Informed Decision running third. That same day Sara Louise, famous for being the last horse to defeat Rachel Alexandra, returned from a nine-month layoff to win the Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga by more than 3 lengths, signaling that she would be a major contender in the filly and mare sprint division.

September brought the undisputed queen of east coast racing back into the limelight. On the 5th, Rachel Alexandra attempted to accomplish what no filly or mare in history had been able to do before, win the prestigious Woodward Stakes. After leading the field through suicidal opening fractions and being tested constantly down the backstretch, Rachel Alexandra opened up slightly coming into the stretch, then repelled the bid of Bullsbay and held on to defeat Macho Again who came flying at the end, by a head. It was one of the most courageous, determined and miraculous performances ever witnessed in the historic race. The next day Zensational extended his grade 1 winning streak to 3 in a row when taking the Pat O’Brien Breeders’ Cup Stakes, thus assuring himself solid favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The same day 24-1 long shot Richard’s Kid just got up in time to win the Pacific Classic over hard-knocking Einstein in front of a crowd of more than 42,000 spectators. Lookin At Lucky seized the lead in the race for leading two year old male the next day, taking down the Del Mar Futurity to remain undefeated in four races, adding a second grade 1 win onto his resume. On September 12th Informed Decision returned to her winning ways after finishing third behind Music Note and Indian Blessing at Saratoga in the Ballerina, adding the Presque Isle Downs Masters to her list of wins. With only one loss in the year, and her sights set squarely on the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, she

Indian Blessing & Sara Louise

was quickly becoming a heavily backed choice to win. On the 26th Indian Blessing also returned to her winning ways in one of the most terrific stretch battles of the decade. In the Gallant Bloom Handicap three year old Sara Louise and defending 2008 Gallant Bloom winner Indian Blessing hooked up at the top of the turn and battled the length of the stretch with Indian Blessing maintaining a slight advantage. The two fillies fought tooth and nail, neither willing to give an inch. In the end Indian Blessing emerged the victor and showed that despite having lost all her previous three races in 2009, she was back and better than ever. Sara Louise was courageous in defeat and gained far more respect for her effort than she lost.

Into October and Interpatation kicked things off with one of the most surprising upsets of the year. At odds of 43-1, after being passed at the top of the stretch by heavily favored Gio Ponti who was gunning for his 5th consecutive grade 1 win, Interpatation ran the race of his life. Gathering himself for one final surge, he burst past Gio Ponti and went on to win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Despite Gio Ponti’s incredible streak of grade 1’s being snapped in two, the fighter lost little admiration from his public in crossing the line second, apparently not caring for the wet conditions. Music Note fulfilled the role of the favorite that day by winning the Beldame Stakes

Music Note

with complete ease and positioned herself nicely for a second run at the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. The next day it was back to California and Lookin At Lucky easily winning the Norfolk Stakes in his first try around two turns, further solidifying his position as leading two year old male. On the 10th undefeated champion Zenyatta wowed the crowd with her 13th consecutive win, equaling the renowned Personal Ensign’s record and repeating in the Lady’s Secret Stakes. Informed Decision continued to roll the same day, winning the Thoroughbred Club of America over Carlsbad. Magical Fantasy also chimed

Magical Fantasy

in the same day with her third consecutive grade 1 victory in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes while the Goodwood Stakes, with Colonel John and Mine that Bird, was upset by European invader Gitano Hernando.

November this year meant one thing: the Breeders’ Cup is less than one week away…and my family was sick to death of hearing about it! On Breeders’ Cup day #1, Informed Decision slammed the door on any hopes contenders might have had of winning the Eclipse award for Champion Female Sprinter. Gunning for the wire off the turn, Informed Decision turned the tables on defending Champ Ventura and ran her record over synthetics to 7 for 7, securely sewing up the female sprint championship for herself. After having hidden behind Zenyatta for most of the year, Life is Sweet emerged in dramatic last-to-first fashion to dismantle the field in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Careless Jewel led until the final turn and was swallowed up by the field, eventually finishing last. Music Note finished third for the second consecutive year while Life is Sweet rolled to an easy 2 ½ length victory. The next day Goldikova returned to duplicate her win of 2008 in the Breeders’ Cup Mile against males, but this time in

Miesque

Goldikova

much more spectacular fashion. Trainer Freddy Head became the first person to train and ride two time winners of a Breeders’ Cup race. In 1987-88 he rode super-filly Miesque to back-to-back wins in the Mile and in 2008-09 he trained Goldikova through her Mile victories. Later that day Zenyatta became the apple of the industry’s eye with one of the most breath-taking performances in horse racing history. Second to last coming off the final turn, she confidently threaded her way through the crowd, worked her way into the clear on the outside, extended her stride and in a matter of jumps she had overtaken leader Gio Ponti and surged to victory, becoming the first filly or mare in history to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gio Ponti made a strong statement for champion older male in running second while Summer Bird ran well for third. Twenty days later, Sara Louise returned off only 21 days rest from running 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, to win the Top Flight Handicap over Justwhistledixie. Two days later Kodiak Kowboy defeated Vineyard Haven, Pyro and Bribon in the Hill ’n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap in what was to be the last race of his career.

December isn’t quite over yet, we still have some racing to go and then it’s on to 2010 and the Derby trail. A couple of prominent things that I wanted to bring up before I sign off here; First is that Einstein will race one more time in 2010 and if he runs well we may see him through yet another full campaign next year. I was more than excited when I heard this news. If he doesn’t run well I’ll probably drop-dead, when doesn’t he run well? Gio Ponti is heading for the Dubai World Cup in March after his incredible 2009 campaign and however he runs in Dubai will dictate where and when he’ll run back in the States. Presious Passion is running the day after Christmas in the 1 ½ mile W. L. McKnight at Calder. I’ve loved this guy since the very beginning; his name alone makes you want to pay attention. After his words-cannot-do-justice runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, he seems to have ascended to a

Presious Passion

Cloudy's Knight

whole new level of competing. It will be fun to see what he can do again after having won the last two editions of the McKnight. To add to the excitement, Cloudy’s Knight, the incredibly tenacious 9 year old who just missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, is also slated to run in the McKnight. It’s rare to see a duo of horses more than four years old favored in such a big race, but in this case it’s the older, the better. Also of interest, I noticed that Harlem Rocker (prominent on the 2008 Triple Crown Trail) and This Ones for Phil are returning to action in the Kenny Noe Jr. also at Calder on the 26th. This Ones for Phil still holds the highest Beyer speed figure (a 115) for races up to one mile in distance this year.

Saturday I am looking forward to seeing Lookin At Lucky and Noble’s Promise clash yet again in the CashCall Futurity. I think it’s Lookin At Lucky’s race to lose.

Posted in Breeders Cup Classic, Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Breeders Cup Juvenile, Breeders Cup Sprint, Careless Jewel, Einstein, Forever Together, Freddy Head, Gio Ponti, Goldikova, Horse of the Year, Indian Blessing, Informed Decision, Justwhistledixie, Life Is Sweet, Lookin at Lucky, Miesque, Mine That Bird, Presious Passion, Rachel Alexandra, Sara Louise, Saratoga Racetrack, Summer Bird, Synthetic(s), Thorougbred Horse Racing, Unbridled Belle, Ventura, Zensational, Zenyatta | 2 Comments »

Reflections of 2009: Part Two

Posted by Brian Appleton on December 11, 2009

 

Rachel Alexandra winning the Haskell

Zenyatta wins the Clement L. Hirsch

Summer Bird winning the Belmont Stakes

June heralds the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes & Belmont Stakes) and the only race of the three not run during May. After Rachel Alexandra’s magnificent Preakness Stakes win the first question everyone wanted answered was whether or not she would return to contest the Belmont Stakes. Her connections opted out of the Belmont, leaving Derby winner Mine that Bird as the main contender. Charitable Man was returning to action in the Belmont after having won the Peter Pan Stakes earlier in the year. Undefeated as a two year old, he was largely unproven against the best three year old colts in the nation and his connections believed he was good enough to run with the best in the Belmont. Dunkirk, the Florida Derby favorite defeated by Quality Road was also returning to action in the Belmont. On June 6, the “other bird” emerged from the shadows and pulled the upset at Belmont in electrifying style. Coming from far off the pace, Summer Bird sloshed through the mud, passing Mine that Bird and Dunkirk to win going away.  Summer Bird and Mine that Bird share the same sire in Birdstone, the horse who upset Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. Earlier in the day Gio Ponti dashed his way into major prominence by winning the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont for his second consecutive grade 1 score. June 27 was a ladies’ day extravaganza. Arguably the two best female horses in thoroughbred racing squared off against hopelessly overmatched fields on separate coasts. In New York Rachel Alexandra destroyed the

Rachel Alexandra

Mother Goose field in stakes record time by 19 ¾ lengths, the largest margin in history. Less than half an hour later in California, Zenyatta carried 129 pounds to yet another easy repeat victory in the Vanity Handicap. Before we leave the month of June I also need to mention that my brother got married on June 6, Belmont Stakes day. I asked him to change the date the week before the wedding so that I could at least watch the race live, but to no avail. (:

Informed Decision

July, the independence month, and Informed Decision kept the ball rolling with her fifth consecutive victory in the Chicago Handicap. After her third consecutive victory people began watching, after the fourth everyone was watching, after the fifth she cemented her position as frontrunner for champion female sprinter. Zensational took center stage the next day in his stakes debut, leading gate to wire to win the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park, and making a bold statement in the California sprint division stakes. Bob Baffert found himself with yet another promising sprinter less than one year after saying goodbye to 2007 champion sprinter and two time winner of the Breeders Cup Sprint, Midnight Lute. July 11 and it was back to Gio Ponti and a star-studded field of runners in the Man O’ War Stakes.  Making a strong case for older male championship and entering the horse of the year picture, Gio Ponti stormed to victory, winning his third consecutive grade one race of the year. The same day trainer Bob Baffert sent out promising two year old colt

Lookin at Lucky

Lookin At Lucky to an impressive debut maiden victory at Hollywood Park. On July 18 a gorgeous gray filly by the name of Careless Jewel came flying onto the national racing scene, winning the Delaware Oaks by more than 7 lengths at odds of 10-1 in her stakes race debut. The very next day on July 19 one of the greatest moments in horse racing history occurred, I turned 21. Alright, maybe not one of the greatest, but I was thrilled nonetheless. In case anyone is interested, I asked for Curlin for my birthday.

August, the month when racing turns up the heat. Only two days into the month Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird and newly returned Quality Road faced off against each other in the Haskell Invitational at Monouth Park. Quality Road was coming off a victory in the Amsterdam Stakes, a race which he won in record time after being on the sidelines since before May. Rachel Alexandra continued her path of unequaled brilliance, winning by more than 6 lengths on a

Gio Ponti

sloppy track over Summer Bird in second, becoming just the second filly in more than 40 years to win the prestigious race. August 8 Gio Ponti extended his incredible grade one winning streak to four in the Arlington Million. Back in California Zensational

Zensational

defeated older horses in his first try and sprinted to victory in the Bing Crosby Stakes. Zenyatta picked things up the following day with a heart-pounding repeat victory in the Clement L. Hirsch, just squeaking into the winners circle by a mere nose, the smallest margin of victory in the undefeated mares career. Bob Baffert unleashed maiden winner Lookin At Lucky to lay waste to the Best Pal Stakes earlier the same day. On the 22nd, Careless Jewel returned to the racing scene with an eye-opening 11 length romp in the Alabama Stakes. It was her fourth consecutive win, and were it not for Rachel Alexandra, she would

Careless Jewel

certainly have made a strong case for 3 year old filly honors. The August 29th Travers Stakes headlined the continued ascendency of Summer Bird as the leading 3 year old colt in the nation. Fighting back a stubborn Quality Road the length of the Saratoga stretch, Summer Bird splashed to victory with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard.

Summer Bird

As I was writing this second part, I kept finding more and more major horses I’d left out so guess what? It’s going to be a three-parter now! Please bear with me, and if I’ve forgotten any of your favorites please share anything that comes to mind.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Bob Baffert, Careless Jewel, Charitable Man, Dunkirk, Gio Ponti, Informed Decision, Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky, Mine That Bird, Mother Goose Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Quality Road, Rachel Alexandra, Saratoga Racetrack, Summer Bird, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Travers Stakes, Uncategorized, Ventura, Zensational, Zenyatta | 10 Comments »

Rachel Alexandra Vs. Zenyatta: Battle for Horse of the Year

Posted by Brian Appleton on November 15, 2009

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Zenyatta

 

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Rachel Alexandra

          It has now been one week since Zenyatta’s historic Breeders’ Cup Classic victory and the euphoria is still running strong. Aside from being the most impressive Classic win in the 26 year history of the Breeders’ Cup, it was won by a gargantuan undefeated mare on her home track in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. Who doesn’t like it when the girls can beat the boys? When they defy the odds and throw out the rule book. This year has had its fair share on both accounts.

   The emotion and excitement introduced into thoroughbred horse racing this year has two incredible individuals to thank on that count. Three year old Super filly Rachel Alexandra and the undefeated five year old mare Zenyatta. Both considered by many to be possibly the best of all time depending on who you ask. In any other year these amazing two would each win the championship title of Horse of the Year by a tremendous landslide. Unfortunately for one of them, they just happen to be racing in the same year. To solve this problem I’ve come up with a fool-proof plan for Horse of the Year award: since no one seems able to choose between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, make Curlin Horse of the Year again! (:

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Zenyatta

   As soon as Zenyatta crossed the finish line for the Classic, my mind, just like thousands of others, raced immediately to who would win Horse of the Year. In conquering the prestigious race, Zenyatta completed one of the most amazing careers in history by making the Classic a perfect number fourteen in fourteen lifetime races. She capped off a five-for-five 2009 season which included repeat a win in the Milady Handicap (gr.2) in which she defeated the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner, Life Is Sweet. Next she won the Vanity Handicap (gr.1) while carrying 129 pounds, 13 to 18 pounds more than her opponents, becoming the first horse since 1977 to win while carrying 129 pounds or more. The Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr.1) gave her the third repeat win in a row, and resulted in her closest margin of victory, a nose. In October she scored yet another

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Zenyatta

repeat in the Lady’s Secret Stakes (gr.1) and tied Personal Ensign’s record of winning 13 races while remaining undefeated. The Breeders’ Cup Classic came next, where she trounced one of the strongest fields in recent years, while at the same time bringing her undefeated record to 14 and making it four consecutive grade 1 wins. She raced only in Southern California at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita/Oak Tree. All her victories this year have come over fast/good surfaces, and all over synthetic tracks.

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Rachel Alexandra

   Rachel Alexandra completed one of the most incredible racing campaigns ever in 2009, regardless of age or sex. She competed at the highest level of racing competition and stepped up the game in every single start. She made it into Vogue magazine, sent ratings for the Preakness Stakes through the roof and created legions of fans in a time when horse racing desperately needed an exciting performer. She set two margin of victory records in two of the most prestigious three year old filly races in the country, set a new stakes record in one and defeated males two consecutive time, the last being against older horses. She started the year out by winning the Martha Washington Stakes and Fair Grounds Oaks against her own sex, then romped by more than 8 lengths in the Fantasy Stakes (gr2). Sent to the Kentucky Oaks to try and make history, Rachel Alexandra proved an over-achiever, winning by 20 ¼ lengths while being held back by jockey Calvin Borel the entire length of the stretch and just missing the stakes record. After being purchased by Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick ,Rachel Alexandra was entered in the Preakness Stakes (gr.1) and installed as the favorite. In front of a boisterous, enthusiastic crowd, she held off Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to win by one length, becoming the only horse in history to win the coveted classic from the #13 post, and the first filly in 85 years to win. Next up, the Mother Goose Stakes (gr.1) against two over matched rivals. Crossing the line

Preakness Horse Racing

Rachel Alexandra

19 ¾ lengths clear of the second runner, Rachel Alexandra set a new stakes record and was just off the Belmont track record set by Secretariat in 1973. She then defeated the boys again in the Haskell Invitational (gr.1) by 6 widening lengths, while again just missing the track and stakes records. She defeated Belmont Stakes (gr.1) winner Summer Bird and multiple stakes winner Munnings in the Haskell and was also only the second filly to win in the last 42 years. Next out she defeated older males in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes (gr.1) after setting suicidal

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Rachel Alexandra

fractions on the lead and holding off a fast closing Macho Again by a head. She is now the only filly/mare to ever win the prestigious Woodward Stakes. From May to September she won five consecutive grade 1’s. She raced in Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland and New York while running at different tracks almost every time. She ran on sloppy and fast surfaces and finished her astounding year undefeated in 8 races.

   However you look at Horse of the Year debate, a very compelling case can be made for both candidates. They have both accomplished feats that will probably never be equaled in our lifetimes, and will never be forgotten. People will be discussing this year and these amazing athletes long after we are dead and gone. What they have done this year, no male counterpart was able to do in decades of racing history. They have transcended the base meaning of courage, heart and winning, showing fans what real horse racing is. It’s that feeling you can’t describe when you see your horse come charging down the stretch, heart pounding in your chest. It’s when you know you are witnessing history and it’s all on the line. When you don’t care how loud you yell, or what people think when you jump up and down, looking for all the world like an enraged maniac, gaze fiercely fixed to your television screen. The roars from thousands of fans as Rachel Alexandra crushed the Haskell field and Zenyatta devastated a word-class field in the Classic brings shivers to your spine. These are the moments created by only the greatest athletes in history, moments created from pure love of the sport.

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Zenyatta

   If Zenyatta had won the Breeders’ Cup ladies Classic instead of running in the Classic

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Rachel Alexandra

itself, Rachel Alexandra would still be sitting squarely atop the NTRA polls for Horse of the Year. As it is, Zenyatta could now steal away that once undisputed crown that Rachel has worn and seize the prize herself. You can bet Jess Jackson is kicking himself right about now, I don’t think he really believed the Moss’s would enter Zenyatta against the boys in the Classic.

Who should be Horse of the Year and why?

Rachel Alexandra deserves Horse of the Year.

Posted in Breeders Cup Classic, Curlin, Handicapping, Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby, Life Is Sweet, Mine That Bird, Preakness Stakes, Rachel Alexandra, Saratoga Racetrack, Summer Bird, Synthetic(s), Thorougbred Horse Racing, Uncategorized, Zenyatta | 6 Comments »

 
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