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Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Derby’ Category

Odysseus: Heart of a Champion

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 10, 2010

For American horse racing nothing gets the blood flowing like an exciting Triple Crown candidate emerging out of nowhere to stamp himself as a possible contender in the months before the Kentucky Derby. In February of this year a stunning chestnut colt romped to a 15 length victory over the Tampa Bay Downs racing surface to remain undefeated

in 2 starts for the year, the other being a maiden sprint. His performance earned immediate buzz as a possible Kentucky Derby candidate but it was his next start where colt showed just how good he really was. In just his fourth lifetime start Odysseus turned in the most determined Kentucky Derby prep of the year and stamped his name firmly across the hearts of thousands of fans across the country.

It was the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby and Odysseus was up against race favorite, and future Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver as well as the very talented Schoolyard Dream. Super Saver led the field from the gate and down the backstretch while Odysseus sat just behind with Schoolyard Dreams taking up the rear. Coming off the turn Schoolyard Dreams sprung into action from far back, brushing past Odysseus and bursting to the lead, a nose ahead of Super Saver.

After receiving the perfect stalking trip all down the backstretch, Odysseus looked to be floundering helplessly entering the homestretch. The sudden move by Schoolyard Dreams seemed to have thrown the inexperienced colt for a loop. Up front Schoolyard Dreams and Super Saver were furiously battling it out, head and head while Odysseus lack of experience seemed to be getting the better of him. Swerving to the outside and finding himself blocked in by Gleam of Hope, Odysseus suddenly darted forward into an invisible hole along the inside of a dueling Super Saver and Schoolyard Dreams. In the blink of an eye he transformed the race into a rout, surging to the wire first by a lip.

Sadly for the racing community Odysseus was sidelined one month later after hyper extending his left knee in the Bluegrass Stakes (gr.1) after which a bone chip was discovered.

Now just four months later, in what has to be one of the most tragic weekends I have ever witnessed in thoroughbred horse racing, on the morning of August 9th Odysseus’ short but brilliant life was brought to a heartbreaking end as the colt lost a battle with laminitis. He was euthanized at Haygard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky from complications due to laminitis after being treated for colitis. The news is especially saddening coming just two days after the sudden death of the 6 year old mare Tuscan Evening. I truly believe that Odysseus was one of the most naturally gifted young colts I have ever seen race. In his brief but shining career he achieved more things than some horses complete in several seasons of racing.

His talents may never have been fully realized yet he displayed the heart of a true champion through his courage, grit and determination.

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Posted in Odysseus, Schoolyard Dreams, Super Saver, Tampa Bay Derby | 12 Comments »

Picking the Preakness

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 13, 2010

Super Saver

The contenders for the 2010 Preakness Stakes are confirmed, post positions have been drawn and a controversial advertising campaign is generating more outside interest in the race than has been shown in years. A field of twelve talented young thoroughbreds are set to face-off in the Preakness Stakes this Saturday. Of the 20 contenders to run in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago only five are returning to contest the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Kentucky Derby champion Super Saver leads the pack this time around and enters as the deserving favorite.

On Wednesday post positions were drawn and Super Saver drew post #8 right alongside Derby favorite Lookin At Lucky in #7. Super Saver is coming into the Preakness looking fresh, full of himself and ready to run another highly competitive race. Trainer Todd Pletcher has stated that he wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone and has the utmost confidence in his Derby winning charge.

Lookin At Lucky might finally get a chance to run his race here if his #7 post position is any indication. Lucky number seven? We’ll see, but trainer Bob Baffert is certainly happy with the post his star runner has received this time around, saying that he’s just happy to see the colt get a decent post after being hung out to dry in the two biggest races of his career; the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. He will be ridden for the first time by jockey Martin Garcia who Bob Baffert says knows the horse better than former jockey Garrett Gomez.

Kentucky Derby third place finisher and the third choice in the Preakness Stakes, Paddy O’Prado, is coming into the race off an impressive performance in the Derby in which jockey Kent Desormeaux was severely criticized for a ride in which some thought he gave up on the horse before crossing the finish line. Both are coming into the race with something to prove. Desormeaux, who won the race in 2008 aboard race favorite Big Brown, will be looking to prove he can ride a good race on a horse some say would have finished better than third in the Derby and Paddy O’Prado will be looking to prove he can run just as good a race as he did in the Derby on fast track conditions.

Jackson Bend enters the Preakness Stakes off a twelfth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, his only start where he did not hit the board in 10 lifetime starts. Some people still don’t believe this tough little colt can get the distance but

Jackson Bend

nothing has altered the faith of trainer Nick Zito so far. And why should he have doubts about the colts ability after the way he’s been working after the Derby. Two days before leaving for Pimlico Jackson Bend sizzled a four furlong work in typical fashion, running the distance in :46 3/5ths, the fastest of 69 works at the same distance.

Dublin, coming off a seventh place finish in the Derby, looks to make a drastic step forward after missing out on every opportunity given him this year. He has loads of talent, that much is certain and respected trainer D. Wayne Lukas still has faith in the colt but nothing he has done this year has quite lived up to expectations. He has been consistent this year is nothing else, especially if given a dry track and a clear stretch run. He will be breaking from the #12 hole.

Schoolyard Dreams will come into the Preakness as the most well rested and fresh contender of them all after last having finished fourth in the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 3rd, but he will not be coming in unprepared. According to trainer Derek Ryan Schoolyard Dreams will greatly benefit from the long time in-between races and only finished so poorly in the Wood Memorial because he ran back only three weeks after finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Caracortado also enters the Preakness having last raced on April 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby, a race in which he

Caracortado

finished a troubled fourth after being compromised entering the stretch. This will be the California geldings first start on natural dirt and though recent synthetic-to-dirt form has been exceptional of late there is never any way to tell how a horse will take to the conditions. His works have been very good leading up to the Preakness and if there is any one horse in the field that can steal the spotlight in a magical Cinderella-styled way, it would be Caracortado.

Pleasant Prince missed getting in the Derby starting gate due to insufficient earnings and a poor showing in the Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs. Prior to a third place finish in the Derby Trial he finished an uninspiring seventh in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. His connections have no grand belief that he will actually win the Preakness but think the colt deserves a shot at a piece of the action.

Todd Pletcher remains true to form in the Preakness by entering not only Derby victor Super Saver but also the well traveled Aikenite. Aikenite last finished second to Hurricane Ike in the Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes. His race record for the year is somewhat confusing, but his finish in the Derby Trial looked much more promising than his previous 2010 preps.

Yawanna Twist, who last finished second in the Illinois Derby on April 3rd, will be searching for another Preakness victory for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr. after Big Brown’s victory in 2008.

Northern Giant gives trainer D. Wayne Lukas his second starter in the 2010 Preakness along with Dublin. Terry Thompson will be switching mounts from Dublin to Northern Giant after perennial leading jockey Garrett Gomez picked up the mount on Dublin.

First Dude will be the second starter for trainer Dale Romans in this year’s Preakness after his star pupil Paddy O’Prado. His odds of 20-1 say that he won’t be much of a threat but with jockey Ramon Dominguez riding him his chances could be better than they at first seem.

Much like the Derby this year, the Preakness Stakes seems like it could be pretty much anybody’s race. Lookin At Lucky retains my vote as the top pick here after failing to place in the Derby in a race which virtually deprived him

Lookin At Lucky

of any fighting chance. I’ve been a huge Jackson Bend advocate all year. Now though I’m not sure not that he can truly get this distance against this competition but for the sake of loyalty I’m taking him as my second pick. Super Saver looks too good right now to leave out of any top three picks and could easily, and not surprisingly win again, so I’m taking him as my third pick.  Schoolyard Dreams would be my fourth pick and Paddy O’Prado my fifth, but that’s just a shot in the dark.

Post time for the Preakness Stakes is set for 6:12 p.m. Enjoy the weekend’s extravaganza of racings finest and good luck to all. Who are your picks for the 2010 Preakness Stakes?

Posted in Aikenite, Bob Baffert, Calvin Borel, Caracortado, Churchill Downs, D Wayne Lukas, Derby Trial, Dublin, First Dude, Handicapping, Hurricane Ike, Illinois Derby, Jackson Bend, Kent Desormeaux, Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky, Paddy O'Prado, Pleasant Prince, Preakness Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Schoolyard Dreams, Super Saver, Synthetic(s), Tampa Bay Derby, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Todd Pletcher, Uncategorized, Wood Memorial, Ywanna Twist | Leave a Comment »

Saving Face: Preakness Stakes Taking Shape

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 9, 2010

It has been exactly one week since my glorious trip to the Kentucky Derby and since then I have had some time to evaluate and re-evaluate what transpired in the 136th running of the Derby. In my last post I believe I undervalued the significance of Super Saver’s Derby victory and also the quality of the colt. It is only 7 days away from the Preakness Stakes where Super Saver and jockey Calvin Borel will attempt to prove they are able to take a shot at winning the Triple Crown. Up to this time I have been saying that Super Saver had everything go his way in his Derby win and is over-rated to put it nicely, stating that I didn’t think he even had a chance at winning the Triple Crown or Preakness Stakes. Okay, so he did get a muddy track to run on in the Derby and he did have the best Derby jockey in recent history and he was the recipient of a perfect trip. The muddy track was just good luck, the perfect trip and good jockey, that was skill and talent. Calvin Borel is incredible, three Kentucky Derby wins in four years is one of the most sparkling feats in Triple Crown history if you ask me. His skill as a rider is staggering and his ability to keep his cool while competing at the highest level of competition under the utmost public scrutiny is astounding. Then there’s the horse, Super Saver is no slouch and no matter how sore I was (okay am) about the pounding Lookin At Lucky received in the Derby, there is no denying that the winner was very deserving.

Having already won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. 2)by five lengths last November over the Churchill Downs strip, Super Saver obviously loves the track and had proven his worth against the best Kentucky juveniles. Prior to the Kentucky Derby this year Super Saver finished close up in both his 2010 prep races. In his 2010 debut he finished a credible third, a half length behind Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams in a thrilling rendition of the Tampa Bay Derby (gr.3). Next he finished second behind long-shot winner Line of David in the Arkansas Derby (gr.1) after steadily gaining ground in the stretch, losing by a mere neck. The signs were all there for me to see, he improved in every single start this year, had an impressive win over the Churchill Downs track to his credit and had Derby wizard Calvin Borel in the irons. His Kentucky Derby win makes complete sense.

Now that I have amended my prior poor attitude toward this year’s Derby winner we can move on to the Preakness Stakes and the intriguing field that is beginning to take shape there.

Super Saver leads the pack of confirmed Preakness starters and other familiar names are either joined, or poised to join his on the roster. Derby 7th place finisher Dublin continues down the Triple Crown trail for trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the Preakness and looks to prove that his continued hype and strong juvenile reputation is still warranted. He finished third in both his two previous Derby preps this year, the last coming a head behind Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby.

Aikenite is confirmed for the Preakness according to trainer Todd Pletcher which means he will most likely have at least two starters in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Kentucky Derby 3rd place finisher Paddy O’Prado is coming back in the Preakness with his connections riding high on confidence. His performance in the Derby was deceivingly good but with so much going on in the stretch run his move was primarily missed. With another effort like the one he produced in the Derby he could make a huge statement in the Preakness.

Caracortado, the gelding who was denied a run at the roses after finishing 4th in the Santa Anita Derby (gr.1), is back and looks like he is ready to run to his best form next Saturday. After winning the first 5 starts of his career Caracortado quickly became the “buzz” horse on the Derby trail earlier this year but after two losing efforts he has fallen far behind the rest of the pack. If the recent winning form of synthetic-to-dirt horses is any indication his chances in the Preakness are looking very good.

Schoolyard Dreams, Hurricane Ike, Jackson Bend, Pleasant Prince, A Little Warm, Turf Melody and Make Music for me are other possible starters for the Preakness with Schoolyard Dreams, Jackson Bend and Hurricane Ike looking the best. The connections of Schoolyard Dreams couldn’t be any more confident coming into the race, stating that they are coming to win.

Lookin At Lucky is the biggest name right now not confirmed for the Preakness Stakes with trainer Bob Baffert unwilling to commit until he is certain it is the best thing for the colt. He is 52% to go according to the latest from Baffert and it seems doubtful he will bypass the race unless something drastic happens to alter his situation. After a horrible trip in the Derby in which the talented son of Smart Strike was unable to do his true running, the 2009 Champion 2-year-old Male will be looking for redemption in the Preakness and also looks to take back the mantle of best 3-year-old colt.

Posted in A Little Warm, Aikenite, Arkansas Derby, Bob Baffert, Calvin Borel, Caracortado, Churchill Downs, D Wayne Lukas, Dublin, Handicapping, Hurricane Ike, Jackson Bend, Kentucky Derby, Line of David, Lookin at Lucky, Make Music For Me, Paddy O'Prado, Pleasant Prince, Preakness Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Schoolyard Dreams, Super Saver, Synthetic(s), Tampa Bay Derby, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Todd Pletcher, Turf Melody, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Lexington Stakes: The Final Prep

Posted by Brian Appleton on April 16, 2010

This weekend’s Lexington Stakes will officially be the last Kentucky Derby prep of the year, although races such as the Derby Trial do present the opportunity for more horses to get some last minute earnings, the prep races officially end this weekend but the real race hasn’t even started. For months and months on end the most important, influential and wealthy people in racing dedicate themselves to finding one special horse. One horse that will forever change their lives and stamp their names in the history books alongside those of the immortals from past decades. The Kentucky Derby is the race of all races, the one that every trainer, owner and jockey desires to win. It is the Pink Panther of all diamonds, the 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR Mustang of all sports cars and the Holy Grail of thoroughbred horse racing. In short, it is probably the hardest and most coveted race in the world to win.

Two weeks from Saturday the 136th Kentucky Derby will take place and one horse will finish ahead of 19 vanquished

Connemara

foes, to be immortalized forever but until the horses enter the starting gate, the game is not over yet. In the Lexington Stakes one horse has a chance of entering the Derby gate and even if he should win, his status for the Derby remains uncertain. Connemara, a horse that I quite honestly forgot about in the last month. His graded earnings currently stand at $138,500 and with the Lexington Stakes winner’s purse of $180,000 he would just make the Derby field. On February 20th, the same day that Derby favorite Eskendereya was playing “catch me” with his opponents in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes, Connemara won the El Camino Real Derby (Gr.3) by a diminishing length in California. Both colts are offspring of talented young sire Giant’s Causeway, both have stunning chestnut coats and present a tall striking image. That is where the similarities stop though. While Eskendereya runs as close to the pace as he can, Connemara does his best running from the back of the pack. Instead of launching one quick, stunning turn of foot around the turn to gain the lead, he tends to be more of a grinder.  He slowly accelerates around the turn until he gains enough speed to begin picking off his opposition in the stretch.

The Lexington Stakes will be Connemara’s first start on polytrack and he breaks from post position 10 in the field of 12. His biggest challenge appears to be Uptowncharlybrown, winner of the Pasco Stakes in the beginning of the year and 5th

Uptowncharlybrown

place finisher behind Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby in March. Uptowncharlybrown will most likely take much of the support in

Exhi

the race due to the fact that his trainer, Alan Seewald, passed away at the age of 62 on Monday. Connemara and Uptowncharlybrown represent the only two horses with fairly recognizable names in the race as the rest of the field is completed by one stakes winner in Exhi. The rest of the field enters the race with only allowance and maiden wins to their credit.

The Todd Pletcher trained Connemara looks like he has a class-edge over the field here assuming he takes to the dirt and is able to run his race.

Uptowncharlybrown is the obvious second choice and the hard part is trying to decide who might finish out the top three. Krypton won an allowance race by more than 6 lengths a couple weeks ago at Keenland and looks like the best shot at an upset here.

Posted in Connemara, El Camino Real Derby, Eskendereya, Exhi, Handicapping, Keeneland, Kentucky Derby, Krypton, Lexington Stakes, Synthetic(s), Tampa Bay Derby, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Todd Pletcher, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Apple Blossom, Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes

Posted by Brian Appleton on April 8, 2010

This weekend can pretty much be called a two-day gala with Friday’s Apple Blossom Handicap and Saturyday’s Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes. Granted the Apple Blossom is one race so it’s hardly a gala but when you consider that Zenyatta is the race headliner the scenario changes in seconds. The great undefeated Zenyatta could conceivably steal the weekend show and will most likely garner as much if not much more attention than both Kentucky Derby preps put together. That’s not to say the fields for the Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes are weak and unworthy of consideration. Quite the contrary in fact, but the overwhelming star power of racings greatest mare of all time is just too much competition to ask of talented  young three year old colts.

The Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap was setting up as the meeting point

Zenyatta

of two of the greatest females ever to grace the track in racing history earlier this year when the respective parties of Champion Zenyatta and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra agree to enter for a purse of $5 million dollars. Unfortunately Rachel Alexandra was withdrawn from consideration when she lost the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in her season debut and her connections felt she was not yet ready to face Zenyatta. The Apple Blossom Handicap is now a one horse show and it’s all about Zenyatta. Is there anyone left who is brave enough to actually state outright that they are choosing against Zenyatta anymore and that their horse actually stands a chance? It’s almost laughable to think she might lose the race.

Undefeated in 15 lifetime starts, Zenyatta is perfection in motion and over the course of the last three years has been defying everything the history books and experts say should and shouldn’t be possible. In the Apple Blossom she will going for her 16th straight victory, that’s the real race here. If she succeeds she will have equaled the feat of the incredible 1948 Triple Crown champion Citation and will enter the record books as the greatest mare in the history of this illustrious sport. Zenyatta will be making just her

Zenyatta

second start on natural dirt in the Apple Blossom after winning the 2008 renewal of the Apple Blossom. In the 2008 Apple Blossom she went off as the second choice, it was the first and only time in her life that she was not sent off as the favorite. This time around she will be the overwhelming favorite seeing as she has been a sure thing in this sport up to this point and there are no indications that situation is about to change anytime soon. Zenyatta just keeps climbing the ladder of prominence higher and higher with no end in sight, when she stops is anyone’s guess.

Only four brave souls were entered against Zenyatta this time around and not a one has a single grade 1 win to her credit. Leading the lagging pack is Larry

Just Jenda

and Cindy Jones’ Just Jenda, the only other graded stakes winner in the field aside from Zenyatta. She enters the Apple Blossom on a three race losing streak, her last victory coming in the Monmouth Oaks (gr.3) in the summer of 2009.

War Echo enters the race off a well-beaten 5th place finish in the Azeri Stakes in which she finished behind 4th place finisher Just Jenda. She has lost both her 2010 starts.

Taptam enters off a 9th place finish in the Azeri, but previously won two consecutive starts. This will be her first time trying the 9 furlong distance.

Be Fair holds the distinction of being the only contestant to enter the Apple Blossom with a victory in her last start, aside from Zenyatta that is who has only victories to her credit. She won an allowance race at Oaklawn this year in early March.

The field entered against Zenyatta pales horribly in comparison with her powerful image and their records are so drastically different that it’s almost impossible to compare them. Suffice it to say this could be billed as the equivalent of a singing contest between Celine Dion and four preschoolers.

The Arkansas Derby boasts a very strong field of graded stakes winners and

Noble's Promise

“supporting cast” Kentucky Derby prospects just waiting to steal the spot light. From the powerhouse stable of Todd Pletcher comes one of his most prized pupils. Super Saver was installed as the slight favorite in the Arkansas Derby off his close third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby behind a victorious Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams. He had previously won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr.2) at Churchill Downs as a juvenile by more than 5 lengths. Calvin Borel gets the mount on the front-running favorite. The suspicion here is that they will attempt to get this colt to rate off the pace this time around. He did very well in the Tampa Bay Derby to hold onto third by half a length after setting the fractions up front.

Noble’s Promise enters this race off one of the strongest losing efforts on the Derby trail so far this year. In his last start he finished a neck behind Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel Stakes over the same course in his 3-year-old debut. This tough-luck colt has finished behind Lookin At Lucky every time the two face each other, but with the Lookin At Lucky not entered this time around it appears to be his race to lose. He shows up every time and runs his heart out so you can bet he’ll be competitive in the Arkansas Derby.

Dublin has not quite failed to live up to the billing trainer D. Wayne Lukas bestowed upon him last year, but neither has he done a whole lot to reinforce his highly-touted billing. The talented son of  Afleet Alex last won the

Dublin

Hopefull Stakes (gr.1) in September. He finished a strong second in his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes (gr.3) then followed that up with a 3rd place finish to Lookin At Lucky and Noble’s Promise in the Rebel Stakes. He has proven himself to be very consistent this year but has yet to capture that elusive victory.

Northern Giant, Uh Oh Bango, Pulsion, New Madrid, Berberis and Line of David complete the field. Uh Oh Bango could present the biggest outside challenge after running 4th in the Rebel and finishing second by a neck to

Super Saver

Rule in the Boyd Gaming Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. 3) in December. This will be his second start of the year and he looks like the kind of colt that is slowly but surely improving. Northern Giant last finished second to Dean’s Kitten in the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. 3). Line of David is an intriguing entry for trainer John Sadler.  He enters off a 4 ½ length allowance victory.

I think Noble’s Promise will break through with a well-deserved victory here and finally step out from the enormous shadow cast by Lookin At Lucky. Super Saver will probably be very sharp off his third place Tampa Bay Derby win but I like Dublin for second.

The $750,000 Bluegrass Stakes (gr.1) is probably the most intriguing Derby

Odysseus (middle with no blinkers)

prep this weekend and also the toughest one to handicap. A field of 9 gifted runners were entered with Florida Derby second place finisher Pleasant Prince installed as the 3-1 favorite. Pleasant Prince has finished behind Ice Box in his last three starts and looks to earn enough graded stakes money in the Bluegrass to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. While Pleasant Prince is certainly talented and has plenty of ability, I do not believe he is the best horse in the field.

Odysseus comes into the Bluegrass Stakes riding a hot three race win streak which includes one of the year’s most impressive Derby prep victories. In the Tampa Bay Derby last out Odysseus turned certain defeat at the top of the stretch into resounding victory by re-rallying after being passed in the stretch to win by a thrilling nose over Schoolyard Dreams. While Schoolyard Dreams did not flatter his form in the Wood Memorial last weekend, I still believe this is one of the best colts of the year and he will find a way to win this race. He is still very inexperienced and green but his talent shines through every time he steps onto the track. This will be his first start on polytrack.

Interactif enters the Bluegrass as the stronger half of a Todd Pletcher entered duo with Aikenite. Interactif has lost his only two races this year by a mere

Interactif

nose in his 2010 debut and a fast closing second by a half length to Sidney’s Candy in the San Felipe (gr.2). Aikenite last finished third to leading Kentucky Derby contender Eskendereya in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes (gr.2) and will be looking for a breakthrough performance here. A win, second or third place finish would assure Aikenite a starting position in the Derby with his earnings already standing at $218,000.

First Dude, Paddy O’Prado, Make Music for Me, Codoy and Stately Victor round out the field.

Odysseus seems like the kind of colt that anything could conceivably be possible with and so far he has won on sheer talent alone. If he can put all his immaturity issues behind him in the Bluegrass he should win this going away. Interactif, Aikenite and Pleasant Prince are hard to separate for me. If there is a good strong pace up front, Pleasant Prince and Aikenite will benefit the most but Interactif is more consistent and competitive in top tier races than either one. First Dude and Codoy are also intriguing entries but looked a little out-classed at this point.

Aside from the big three races this weekend there are a bunch of high-class runners competing across the nation in graded stakes races, the most obvious of these is the return of Informed Decision in the Vinery Madison (gr.1) today and the return of Forever Together in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr.2) on Saturday. Enjoy the races. Go Zenyatta!

Posted in Aikenite, Apple Blossom Handicap, Arkansas Derby, Be Fair, Berberis, Bluegrass Stakes, Calvin Borel, Citation, Codoy, Dublin, Eskendereya, First Dude, Forever Together, Ice Box, Informed Decision, Interactif, Jenny Wiley Stakes, Just Jenda, Kentucky Derby, Line of David, Lookin at Lucky, Make Music For Me, Noble's Promise, Northern Giant, Odysseus, Paddy O'Prado, Pleasant Prince, Pulsion, Rachel Alexandra, Rebel Stakes, Rule, Schoolyard Dreams, Sidney's Candy, Stately Victor, Super Saver, Tampa Bay Derby, Taptam, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Todd Pletcher, Uh Oh Bango, Uncategorized, Vinery Madison, War Echo, Zenyatta | 3 Comments »

The Highs and Lows: Racing’s Big Weekend

Posted by Brian Appleton on March 15, 2010

Zardana Upsets Rachel Alexandra

For any other horse, passing the finish line only ¾ of a length behind the winner after a sustained stretch duel and finishing more than 11 lengths ahead of the 3rd place finisher in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes would warrant rave comments about the talent and potential of the contestant. Unfortunately for Rachel Alexandra, she isn’t any other horse and to millions of racing fans across the nation nothing short of perfection is expected. In her 2010 four-year-old debut dual-champion filly Rachel Alexandra threw her heart on the line and regrettably she came up short in the end. Days prior to the New Orleans Ladies trainer Steve Asmussen made a point of saying that Rachel was not yet 100% fit for her return to the races and it turns out he was right.

After breaking cleanly from the gate, jockey Calvin Borel kept Rachel Alexandra running in second place, right off pacesetting Fighter Wing. Down the backstretch it was clear to see that Borel had his hands full trying to get Rachel to settle down and relax. Approaching the far turn Borel let her loose and she eagerly took the lead. Meanwhile jockey David Flores roused John Shirreffs trained Zardana who responded by shooting up into contention at the top of the stretch. Drawing even with Rachel Alexandra coming off the turn, the two fillies fought tooth and nail the length of the stretch. On the inside Rachel Alexandra slowly began to lose ground, appearing tired and quite unlike her old self. At the wire it was Zardana in front by ¾ of a length. It was certainly not the race Rachel’s connections were hoping for and as most everyone expected majority owner Jess Jackson made the dreaded announcement on March 14th. Rachel Alexandra will not be taking on Zenyatta in the April 9th Apple Blossom Handicap. “She will tell us when her next race will be.” Jackson said in his statement.

One good thing that most likely came from her New Orleans Ladies performance, in fighting for all she was worth Rachel Alexandra has probably gained a much needed tightening for her next race. With so much effort put out this time she should be a great deal sharper next out. Up to this time the reigning Horse of the Year has presented an image made of titanium-enforced-steel, unmovable, unshakable and unbeatable. Now she has to show she can bounce right back from the defeat and progress to bigger and better things. It’s anybody’s guess when the super-star filly will return the races next.

Zenyatta remains undefeated with win #15

Amazing is a word used much too lightly in horse racing but in some cases we can unquestionably say it fits the case perfectly. Zenyatta is amazing. In one of the most impressive, intelligent and athletic displays in decades of racing history Zenyatta subdued a field of 8 other competitors and practically laughed at the history books. The fans turned out in droves at Santa Anita Park Saturday to see one thing; perfection, otherwise known as Zenyatta. Emerging from the paddock Zenyatta elicited cheers of wild enthusiasm from her fans and roars of praise as she danced her way onto the track.

Breaking from the gate slowest of all Zenyatta took her customary position at the rear of field. Entering the final turn the big mare held the same position before turning up the heat. With giant bounding strides she swept into the stretch to find herself stuck behind a wall of horses, all paths seemingly closed. Watching the race over and over I still couldn’t believe what I saw next. Without the slightest hint of hesitation Zenyatta began to swing her head from side to side looking for an opening. By now the field was well on their way to the wire and it appeared the perfect mare might be heading for the first defeat of her career, but jockey Mike Smith hung on for the ride as with lightning fast reflexes Zenyatta darted to the inside rail the instant an opening presented itself. Surging through the gap the super-star was once again blocked from a straight run by the form of front-running Dance to My Tune, in the blink of an eye Zenyatta took back to the outside, ears pricked and seized the lead in a matter of seconds. Crossing the wire 1 ¼ lengths the best Zenyatta cantered into the backstretch to cheers of ecstasy. What makes her win all the more impressive is that jockey Mike Smith never went to the whip, instead mildly urging her along with the reins. After it was all over, not a drop of sweat on her perfectly dappled coat, Zenyatta returned to the winners circle to a hero’s welcome. This race sets her up perfectly for the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 9th, a race which now will be her stepping stone immortality and 16 straight races without the entry of Rachel Alexandra. The incredible 6-year-old mare is now 15-for-15 in her perfect career and only one race away from tying the great Citation’s streak of 16 consecutive races.

Lookin At Lucky wins the Rebel Stakes

It seems this weekend just wouldn’t quit when it came to producing statistically defying performances. But for the loss of Rachel Alexandra this would have been one of the greatest weekends I have ever witnessed in racing. 2009 Champion Two Year Male Lookin At Lucky returned to the races for his 2010 3-year-old debut in a performance that showcased the kind of talent and heart that only comes around once in a lifetime. The Rebel Stakes presented one of the most talent-packed Kentucky Derby preps so far this year. Three Grade 1 winners entered the race as the top three choices and emerged the same. The race unfolded with favorite Lookin At Lucky taking up a comfortable running position in mid-pack with late running Dublin farther back and Noble’ Promise securing a good spot to the outside. Approaching the far turn Lookin At Lucky began to visibly pick up his pace and close in on the frontrunners when he suddenly got cut off and squeezed back. Taking up quickly, it looked like jockey Garrett Gomez might lose his seat as Lookin At Lucky jumped the heels of Noble’s Promise, destroying all momentum he had begun to build. As the field came out of the turn, Dublin shot up from the back, Noble’s Promise seized the lead and Lookin At Lucky came on again. Taking the turn six-wide, Lookin At Lucky dug-in, running for all he was worth and flattening out to the ground until he looked like a speeding arrow, aiming straight and true for Noble’s Promise. As he came flying down the grandstand side the more than 36,000 fans in attendance caught the move and the audience came alive with pleas and screams of encouragement. Out front Noble’s Promise opened up and looked homeward bound, his long-awaited vengeance toward Lookin At Lucky rectified it seemed. At the shadow of the wire Lookin At Lucky’s tremendous run got the job done and the best horse won.

For a horse recently turned 3 Lookin At Lucky has been through just about every racing experience and scenario you can think of and comes through smelling like a rose every time. This time he was making his first start of the year, first start with blinkers and first start on dirt yet none of those factors seemed to faze him at all. You can’t even put into words how talented this son of Smart Strike is. He has now won 6 of his 7 lifetime races with his only loss coming in one of the greatest losing efforts in Breeders’ Cup history when finishing second by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after running extremely wide and breaking from the far outside. It is on to either the Wood Memorial (gr.1) on April 3rd or the Arkansas Derby (gr.1) on April 10th for the undisputed king of the 3-year-olds now.

Sidney's Candy wins the San Felipe

The San Felipe was all about Sidney’s Candy. From gate to wire the gorgeous chestnut son of Candy Ride led a deep, talented field of 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls on a wild goose chase. Undefeated Caracortado disappointed somewhat with a dull 3rd place showing, snapping his unbeaten skein of races in the process and seeming to lack his usual closing punch. Taking second was the ever-consistent Interactif from the stable of Todd Pletcher. He was closing well towards the end, but it was always Sidney’s Candy’s race the entire trip around. I’m still not sure what to make of this colt yet. His last two wins have looked super easy and smooth but front-runners always make me cautious. Against colts like Lookin At Lucky, Odysseus, Noble’s Promise or Eskendereya I’m not sure his front-running tactics would hold up.

Odysseus takes the Tampa Bay Derby

Now, what to say about Odysseus? Well, the list of things to say about this horse is much longer than the list of things not to say. What he has accomplished in an extremely short time is unbelievable. In the Tampa Bay Derby Odysseus took on much more experienced and very talented runners such as Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams and Uptowncharlybrown and came out on top in sensational form. He had me jumping out of my skin watching him run. Super Saver took the lead breaking from the gate and led all the way into the backstretch when Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams began to kick it into high gear. Schoolyard Dreams, under a full head of stream, shot by Odysseus and locked into a furious duel with Super Saver over the lead. Odysseus balked after getting almost cut off at the top of the stretch by the fast moving Schoolyard Dream when under a full head of steam and I thought it was all over, but he showed he is no ordinary talent by pulling himself together like a true professional and launching another furious drive to the wire. Kevin over on The Aspiring Horseplayer first brought this phenomenal colt to my attention, before I even heard outlets such as The Blood Horse, Daily Racing Form or Thoroughbred Times mention his name. Kudos to you Kevin and nice call on making him your early Derby pick way back when, looks like you’ve got a live one!

Posted in Apple Blossom Handicap, Bob Baffert, Caracortado, Dave in Dixie, Dublin, Handicapping, Horse of the Year, Interactif, Jess Jackson, Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky, New Orleans Ladies, Noble's Promise, Odysseus, Rachel Alexandra, Rebel Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, Santa Margarita Handicap, Schoolyard Dreams, Sidney's Candy, Super Saver, Synthetic(s), Tampa Bay Derby, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Todd Pletcher, Uh Oh Bango, Uncategorized, Uptowncharlybrown, Zardana, Zenyatta | 6 Comments »

Super Lookin Scar Face: The Rebel, San Felipe & Tampa Bay Derby

Posted by Brian Appleton on March 12, 2010

Lookin At Lucky

Last year one colt held the uncontested lead in the juvenile male division. After posting a record of 5 wins in 6 starts with his only loss coming by a mere head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, this colt literally ran away with the divisional championship and took a solid lead as the favorite for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Lookin At Lucky has slowly been losing some esteem it seems since his victory in the CashCall Futurity and subsequent long rest before returning to the work tab. It is as if people think his time away from the races has somehow allowed a little rust to spread on his shiny coat. Some of it could be the fact that he enters into his 2010 debut in about as difficult a prep race as is possible. Or it could be the fact that super-charged Kentucky Derby contenders have quickly been cropping up left and right throwing talent around more loosely than a ping-pong ball in a tournament and taking some of the attention away from the reigning champ.
The Rebel Stakes (gr.2) at Oaklawn Park is loaded with talent this year and leading the field is 2 Year Old Champion Lookin At Lucky. But for a troubled trip, an unlucky post and the distance of a nose this brilliant son of Smart Strike would be undefeated. Trainer Bob Baffert may know how to train a horse for the Kentucky Derby better than any other man alive and he has handled Lookin At Lucky’s career flawlessly so far. The 3-year-old colt faces a few new challenges this time around. The Rebel will be his first start on dirt, first time shipping and first time wearing blinkers. This is his race to lose but it will be no cakewalk. Entered against him are grade 1 winners Noble’s Promise and Dublin.
Noble’s Promise will be hoping for a different view than his last few races this

Noble's Promise

time around. In his last two starts there have only been two different horses between him and victory. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he was nosed out of second place money by Lookin At Lucky and then was defeated by ¾ of a length by that one in the CashCall Futurity last out. This will also be his first start on dirt but his breeding suggests that it should not be a problem. He has been working his shoes off at Gulfstream Park and appears primed for a big effort.
Dublin carries the hopes of trainer D. Wayne Lukas into the Rebel as his best Kentucky Derby prospect in years. The venerable trainer, who trained such greats as Winning Colors to victory in the Kentucky Derby 1988, trained

Dublin

Dublin to a Grade 1 victory last year before two consecutive unplaced efforts to close out his juvenile season. After having surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis Dublin came back on February 20th to finish a strong closing second in the Southwest Stakes behind undefeated Conveyance. Lukas believes he will run a much improved race in the Rebel off his Southwest performance.
Uh Oh Bango and Cardiff Giant help complete the field. Cardiff Giant finished 3rd in the Southwest to Conveyance and Dublin last out, while Uh Oh Bango finished runner-up to Rule in the Delta Jackpot (gr.3).

 

Caracortado

The San Felipe Stakes

(gr.2) is even more full of talent than the Rebel Stakes which is hard to believe considering the Rebel line-up. Undefeated Caracortado, who’s name in Spanish means Scar Face, heads the field as the favorite off his impressive victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr.2). The California-bred gelding burst onto the scene by defeating highly-touted American Lion and Tiz Chrome in a ridiculously easy performance during the Lewis. A big strapping 3-year-old trained by little-known Michael Machowsky and ridden by small time jockey Paul Atkinson, Caracortado has won all five of his lifetime races with ease and authority that demand respect. He is the big cheese this time around and looks like he deserves the favoritism awarded him.
American Lion returns for a second crack at Caracortado after his

American Lion

seemingly dull 3rd place effort in the Lewis. Winner of the Hollywood Prevue Stakes last year, American Lion must improve off his last effort in order to prove he belongs in the Kentucky Derby gate.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes second place finisher Dave in Dixie also returns for another try against Caracortado here. In the Lewis Stakes his delayed late closing kick caught the eye of more than a few people and many more will be watching him this time around. If he can improve off his last effort, this race could very well end up being his party. There will be plenty of pace for him to close into with the entry of front-running Sidney’s Candy, so his running style will be perfectly suited here.
San Vicente victor Sidney’s Candy takes a major step-up in class in the San Felipe. He won the San Vicente by more than 4 lengths after leading gate-to-wire in his last start. Jockey Joe Talamo retains the mount.
From the ultra-talented stable of trainer Todd Pletcher comes the turf running Interactif. The two time grade 3 winner makes his first start on

Interactif

synthetics in the San Felipe. He enters off a second place finish as the favorite in the Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park after being out-finished to the line by a nose. Grass form translates well in many instances to synthetics so if Interactif can reproduce his winning grass form in the Sal Felipe he stands a good chance.
Caracortado, Dave in Dixie, American Lion, Sidney’s Candy and Interactif all entering the gate together, this is no doubt one of the deepest Derby preps in recent memory.

The Tampa Bay Derby (gr.3) is yet another seemingly talented field.

Super Saver

Super Saver makes his highly-anticipated 3-year-old debut for Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farms. After his impressive five length wire-to-wire Kentucky Jockey Club victory last year, he has retained a good position on most Derby watch lists. His works leading up to the Tampa Bay Derby have been exceptional and trainer Todd Pletcher thinks he is ready to run a big effort here without peaking.
Uptowncharlybrown finished 3rd in the Sam Davis Stakes behind 2nd place finisher Schoolyard Dreams. Both look to improve their game this time around and need to if they hope to progress on toward the Kentucky Derby.
The horse many people will have their eyes on Saturday will be once-defeated Odysseus, the incredibly talented allowance winner who blew his last race open by 15 lengths. This will be his stakes debut and judging by the way he handily defeated his competitors last out, a stakes race is right up his alley. I think he could be the wild card here and might very well take the field.

This weekend is the kind of weekend most of us racing enthusiasts sit around dreaming about for half the year. Aside from the unbelievable line-up of races like the Rebel, San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby, New Orleans Ladies Stakes and Santa Margarita, the Gulfstream Park Handicap with Cool Coal Man, Harlem Rocker and Grasshopper is also slated to be run. On top of that, 3-year-old filly Bickerson’s is running in the Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct and Champion Two Year Old Filly She Be Wild attempts to return to her winning ways in Florida. Enjoy watching the races and good luck to everyone with all your picks and favorites.

Posted in American Lion, Bob Baffert, Breeders Cup Juvenile, Caracortado, Cardiff Giant, Dave in Dixie, Dublin, Handicapping, Interactif, Lookin at Lucky, Noble's Promise, Odysseus, Rebel Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, Schoolyard Dreams, Sidney's Candy, Super Saver, Synthetic(s), Tampa Bay Derby, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Tiz Chrome, Todd Pletcher, Uh Oh Bango, Uptowncharlybrown | 1 Comment »

 
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