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Archive for the ‘Triple Crown’ 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 »

Summer Campaigns Begin

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 24, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Palace Malice Captures the 145th Belmont Stakes

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

Here Comes the Belmont

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 4, 2013

It’s been a long time since I last posted here, but I’m finally back and ready to talk about the 2013 Belmont Stakes and more. This year has had its fair share of excitement this year and the prospect of Champions like Wise Dan and Royal Delta racing throughout the remainder of the year is exhilarating to say the least.

The 2013 Triple Crown season has given rise to two of the most thrilling and feel-good themes in decades. There seems to be redemption around every corner this year, from Orb becoming the first Kentucky Derby winner for beloved veteran trainer Shug McGaughey to the great Gary Stevens winning the Preakness aboard Oxbow just months into his comeback year. To sum up; this season has been the stuff of legend and fairy tales. Once again there will be no Triple Crown winner, which means fans have now endured a 35 year drought, but the initial disappointment can’t diminish the achievements and luster of how special the 2013 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories have been.

Now the attention has shifted to the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes; the Test of Champions. As with each running the foremost question surrounding each contender regards their ability to handle the 1 ½ mile distance and in most cases it’s the breeding that many turn to. This year’s edition seems to carry plenty of stamina in the family trees so I think the winning factors will come down to talent, class and experience.

The level of excitement that accompanies the running of the Belmont Stakes usually hinges on just two questions: Is there a horse with a shot at winning the Triple Crown? If not; Will there be a rematch between the Kentucky Derby winner and the Preakness winner? Fortunately for us racing fans we are almost assured a rematch between Orb and Oxbow this year. If that’s not enough to get you excited, try the return of the 2nd and 3rd place Derby runners as well as the 3rd place finisher in the Kentucky Oaks, add to that list a son of Curlin who set some of the fastest fractions in Derby history for the first ¾ of a mile as well as Overanalyze, Vyjack and about six others and you’ve got a field worthy of Grade 1 Classic status. The prospect of a filly running in an American classic is always a popular draw among fans and with Unlimited Budget and Rosie Napravnik confirmed to run there will be great appeal.

My sentimental favorite for the Belmont is Palace Malice. Anyone who knows me knows I’m just about the biggest Curlin fan in the world. I have Curlin mugs, hats, shirts, autographed pictures…the works. To see a son of Curlin running in the Classics this year has been thrilling to say the least. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with Mike Smith’s ride on Palace Malice in the Kentucky Derby, but that’s all in the past and it’s way easier to sit on the couch and yell instructions at the jockey thinking that they should have done this or that, but the actual race is riddled with unexpected factors that sometimes can’t be controlled. That being said I don’t know if Palace Malice is good enough to win the Belmont, but he shouldn’t have an issue with the distance if he’s anything like Curlin and I’d bet anything he’s in the best shape of his life after running those crazy fractions in the Derby, plus he’s posted three nice works at Belmont since the Derby. Another thing I like about him is the fact that the blinkers come off in the Belmont, like they should have been in the Derby.

Now on to the non-sentimental favorites. I still think Orb is at the top of this class for now, despite his inexplicably dull 4th place finish in the Preakness. He just didn’t seem to be himself at all on Preakness day. He looked spectacular in the paddock and post parade and had a great position down the backstretch, but just didn’t have that aggressive punch this time that usually carries him to the front. Trainer Shug McGaughey doesn’t appear too concerned that Orb will duplicate his Preakness performance in the Belmont and neither am I. He still looks like the class of the field to me right now.

Of the contenders most likely to win the Belmont other than Orb it looks like Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Oxbow, Frac Daddy, Unlimited Budget, Vyjavk and Golden Soul are the most logical candidates. Oxbow has proven to be very versatile with his running style and with the very experienced and savvy Gary Stevens scheduled to ride again I think he has a great chance to register another strong performance. For me though I won’t be picking him as a win candidate unless he looks exceptional during the warm-up.

Revolutionary is a horse after my own heart. It doesn’t seem to matter what gets thrown at this horse, he still manages to find his way into the winners circle or the top three. He dealt with terrible traffic woes in the Derby and still finished a strong 3rd so I’m betting he’ll be right in the thick of things at the Belmont finish and I’m also really curious to see what would happen if both he and Orb bring their best races to the table and get clear running room.

Overanalyze has won the Arkansas Derby, Remsen and Futurity Stakes so we know he’s very classy, but his 11th place finish in the Derby was less than stellar. Perhaps it was the sloppy track or the traffic, but either way I’m inclined to think he has what it takes to compete with the Belmont field. He already defeated Oxbow and Frac Daddy so if he likes the 1 ½ miles we could be in for a year with 3 separate Classic winners. Vyjack seems to be a very good horse, but I think he might be just a little bit behind the likes of Orb and Oxbow.

Unlimited Budget is an exciting Belmont contender not just because she’s a filly with the nation’s hottest female jockey slated to ride her, but because she’s very, very good. I was a little bit disappointed with her performance in the Kentucky Oaks though. From a visual standpoint she didn’t make up a whole lot of ground in the home stretch and it’s going to be a whole lot longer in the Belmont homestretch. For me I’m not sure she’s ready to beat the top boys, but she’s definitely coming into this race in tiptop shape as her bullet :47.55 breeze at Belmont Sunday proves. It will be the first time since Rags to Riches won the Belmont over Curlin in 2007 that a filly enters the Belmont Stakes starting gate.

Golden Soul is a very questionable contender for me. Trainer Dallas Stewart kept the Perfect Soul colt out of the Preakness Stakes after the colt’s runner-up effort in the Derby left him more worn-out than expected. He returned to post a strong 1:00.40 five furlong work at Churchill Downs last Thursday, but I think he’s a toss for me. Frac Daddy is training very well, but I don’t think he’s ready to beat the likes of Orb, Revolutionary or Oxbow right now.

In just five days a new Belmont Stakes champion will be crowned. Will Orb or Oxbow add a second Classic trophy to their mantle or will history be made by the performance of another talented runner? I eagerly await the results.

Posted in Always in a Tiz, Belmont Stakes, Frac Daddy, Freedom Child, Giant Finish, Golden Soul, Incognito, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Orb, Overanalyze, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Preakness Stakes, Revolutionary, Triple Crown, Unlimited Budget, Vyjack, Will Take Charge | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Belmont Stakes Wrap-Up: The Icing on the Cake

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 13, 2011

Ruler On Ice was the only horse in the Belmont Stakes field with a win on a wet track and when the mud settled at the end of the day, he was still the only horse with a win on a wet track, except now he had two. In a year that has proven to be one of the most interesting and unique Triple Crown quests of the last decade, we have seen three exciting performances from three different colts in each leg of the Crown.

On Saturday evening twelve sophomores lined up in the starting gate for the 143rd Belmont Stakes (gr.1) to run the longest race of their careers.

I watched the Belmont Stakes (gr.1) with a friend of mine and her parents this year and for the first time had a “Belmont Bash”. We missed watching the Acorn Stakes (gr.1) live as I didn’t get out of work until 15 minutes before the race was run but we caught all the other graded stakes on the card. Trappe Shot easily had the most impressive win of the day at Belmont in my opinion. He absolutely demolished a strong field in the True North, winning by 8 ½ lengths. I was actually able to pick the top three in the True North except that I had Trappe Shot second behind Calibrachoa.

Justin Phillip ran the third slowest winning time in the history of the Woody Stephens Stakes and J J’s Lucky Train still wasn’t able to catch him. At least he finished ahead of my friends pick (Derivative) who finished last and gave us a good laugh, all in fun of course.

The Just a Game Stakes was a pleasant surprise when my longshot pick, C. S. Silk led almost all the way to handily defeat the field at odds of 12-1 with Amen Hallelujah finishing third. Aviate apparently missed the memo and finished far back in sixth, ruining what would have been a perfect top three for me. My friend took second with Fantasia.

Gio Ponti and Prince Will I am were my 1-2 picks in the Manhattan. Gio Ponti has been a favorite of mine for the last several years and I love that even though he may not win all the time he’s always close and driving hard at the finish. In his first trip back from the Dubai, Gio Ponti rallied with a huge effort from far back to finish a fast closing third behind Bim Bam in second. This time my friend smoked the field with her choice of Mission Approved to win as that one wired the field at odds of 21-1.

It was on to the Belmont Stakes (gr.1) and the toughest decision of the night. I went with Mucho Macho Man along with my friend’s father while she went with her winning Preakness stakes pick Shackleford and her mother stuck to the Animal Kingdom bandwagon. As the horses came through the tunnel and the crowd began to cheer, 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice began to act up just a bit, tossing his head and kicking his heels. I knew my friend loves a fractious horse before the race so I turned to her and started joking that she should choose him which she was already thinking about the minute he began his pre-race antics. Ultimately she decided to stick with Shackleford when we both realized it was Ruler On Ice, who had been one of our “there’s no way he’s going to hit the board” targets in the paddock. One thing we all agree on was that Isn’t He Perfect had the best chance to finish last.

We each gave our supporting horses a whoop for support as the field loaded into the gate to the vast swelling roars of the more than 55,000 strong in attendance at Belmont Park.  The bell rang and immediately it was Shackelford who bounced away from the gates like a shot, getting clear of the field within the first few strides and angling toward the inside rail. As I tried to spot my top three choices my eyes flitted to Animal Kingdom just as Mucho Macho Man came over onto him from the 10 post and the Derby champion clipped heels with Monzon, throwing jockey John Velazquez onto his neck and yanking his feel out of the stirrups. It was a miracle the two athletes didn’t go down and a credit to both that they were able to still find their way toward the inside rail as they entered the first turn. It took Velasquez almost 1/16 of a mile to get his foot back in the stirrup and by that time he knew all chances at victory had been lost for his valiant steed.

Meanwhile upfront Shackleford led the field through a steady opening quarter mile in :23.92 with Ruler On Ice just behind in second and the Mike Repole owned Stay Thirsty just to his inside third. Mucho Macho Man raced mid-pack with Nehro one spot ahead in fifth. Animal Kingdom was far behind in last as the field raced through a much slower half in :49.08, about 7 lengths from the back of the pack.

As the field approached the far turn Shackleford continued to lead with Ruler On Ice just a half length behind and Stay Thirsty right there. Brilliant Speed began to move up from fourth as Animal Kingdom came alive midway around the turn and began passing horses with resolve. Into the stretch it was still Shackleford but Ruler On Ice edged up to take the lead on his outside. Stay Thirsty came through on the inside as Brilliant Speed charged on the far outside to challenge Ruler On Ice but quickly weakened as Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty turned it into a two horse race with the wire approaching. Shackleford had had it with just 200 yards to go, quickly backing up to Animal Kingdom who was also showing signs of fatigue after his amazing rally. With the roar of the crowd washing over the track, the two leaders fought it out tooth and nail down to the finish where Ruler On Ice squeezed out a victory by three parts of a length over a very game Stay Thirsty with Brilliant Speed another length back in third.

The winner paid $51.50, $26 and $13.60 while a $2 exacta paid a whopping $928, the $2 trifecta paid $8,268 and the $2 superfecta paid a mind boggling $74,052.

Nehro was able to get up for fourth, nabbing Shackleford by a nose while Animal Kingdom finished close behind in sixth. Both the Preakness and Derby winner proved their class more than ever to me in the Belmont. Animal Kingdom overcame what could have been a disastrous start to still post a strong, albeit short lived rally that saw him finish far ahead of the rest of the field. Shackleford led the field all the way into the stretch and well past the 1 ¼ mile mark and still tried to hang tough when challenged, but in the end the distance proved too much.

Overall the Belmont Stakes appeared to be a big success this year as total handle, attendance and TV ratings especially were way up, coming in at 55% higher than 2010 ratings. NBC/Versus did a terrific job for the most part I thought, my only complaint was when the Manhattan was about to run they didn’t show the field coming onto the track and warming up.

Except for Drosselmeyer’s finishing time of 2:31.57 in 2010, Ruler On Ice posted the slowest running of the Belmont Stakes since 2000, further confirming many people’s belief that this is indeed a very weak crop of runners. I disagree, I think it’s just an average crop that is unusually competitive and you can’t argue that Shackleford and Animal Kingdom haven’t been consistent.

So all in all an exciting and invigorating Triple Crown run this year that kept us all guessing and on our toes. The Belmont was a complete miss for me and sadly I was going to choose Stay Thirsty as my Belmont win pick early last week but decided against it but he proved he is very game. He either likes the wet conditions or moved forward in a big way from his horrible Kentucky Derby finish.

There was one thing I was right on the money with in the Belmont Stakes; Isn’t He Perfect finished dead last.

Posted in Animal Kingdom, Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Brilliant Speed, C. S. Silk, Gio Ponti, It's Tricky, Justin Philip, Kentucky Derby, Nehro, Preakness Stakes, Ruler On Ice, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty, Triple Crown | 2 Comments »

From the Preakness to the Belmont

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 25, 2011

It’s Wednesday, April 25th, 2011 and, just like that, the Preakness Stakes is four days in the past and all eyes are turned toward the June 11th, 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes (Gr.1) and the potential for an exciting matchup between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners. But for a moment I would like to look back at the Preakness Stakes before surging ahead to the Belmont and try to make some sense out of exactly what happened.

On May 21st, Preakness Stakes day, I was flying back home from Ireland with no cell phone service after a week of spotty internet service in Dublin and was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to debark and embrace cell coverage and internet availability with open arms. Within minutes of landing the seatbelt sign flashed off, cell phones came out en mass and startup screens blinked to life as beeps, bleeps, buzzers and rings announced a flood of notifications. The first thing I did with my long lost internet use was go straight to the BloodHorse.com and check up on the latest Preakness updates. Very quickly I realized that it was after 4:00 P.M. and the Preakness was set to go off in a matter of hours so I switched to Twitter and read the minute to minute updates from my faithful racing fanatic friends. Most of the prerace twitter concerned the antics of Shackleford, who was putting up quite a show and was completely drenched in sweat during the post parade. By the time the field had reached the gate nearly everyone was saying to toss the son of Forestry. The drive from Logan International Airport in Boston to my house in Connecticut takes about two hours and by the time familiar landscapes were flying past my car window the Preakness field had left the gate and we were less than two minutes away from crowning a new champion.

“Shackleford wins!” I had refreshed Twitter for the hundredth time since the Preakness field had broken from the gates and my screen was now filled with the surprised exclamations of pronouncing Shackelford the winner. I actually gave a short whoop of delight; Shackleford had been one of my top three picks for the Preakness and one of three colts I had been planning to profile while in Ireland on my blog. His gritty front-running Kentucky Derby effort had won me over completely when he hung on for fourth after leading from the start, finishing 8 ½ lengths behind Animal Kingdom.

The bell rang and Flashpoint streaked out of post four in the Preakness field like he had been shot from a cannon with a flaming tail to boot. Shackleford was hot on his heels from post five, Dialed In had dropped back to last with Animal Kingdom 13th of 14 as they entered the first turn. The opening quarter was a rapid :22.69 as the leading pair continued to blaze along. Astrology sat just behind the top two with Midnight Interlude to his outside as Mucho Macho Man rated about 7 lengths off the frontrunners. Down the backstretch positions remained relatively unchanged, Shackleford edged to within a neck of Flashpoint, pushing him through a half that went in :46.87. As the far turn loomed ahead Shackleford made his move and quickly put Flashpoint away as Animal Kingdom swept around the horses from the back. The field thundered into the homestretch with Shackleford leading by one length and pulling away. From behind the leaders Astrology was finally able to find some running room and made a bold move for the lead but from the center of the track it was Animal Kingdom moving the best of all. Closing swiftly with every stride the Kentucky Derby winner inhaled the field in a matter of seconds while Shackleford pulled two lengths clear of Astrology. Down to the wire the two colts laid it all out on the line, the roars of the crowd roaring across the track in wave upon wave as neither rival gave an inch. The final margin of victory came down to a half length in favor of Shackelford who showed millions of fans across the country just how big his heart is and how much talent he possesses. Animal Kingdom ran a terrific race in defeat and came within half a length of continuing his Triple Crown pursuit, proving to any doubters that he is indeed the real deal.

Now we turn our eyes ahead to the Belmont Stakes and for the first time since 2005 it appears both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners could be headed for the 1 ½ mile classic. Shackleford doesn’t seem well suited for 1 ½ miles but has proven it is stupid to underestimate his skills. Training and attitude should give us a decent idea of how he comes into the race if he does indeed head for the Belmont but stamina issues can only be answered by running so there I will just have to take a “wait and see” approach. With his distinctive broad white blaze across his face and flaming chestnut coat Shackleford looks the part of a champion and is easy to spot in a crowd.

Animal Kingdom - Anne M. Eberhardt

Animal Kingdom might have been able to catch Shackleford in the Preakness if the race had been 1/16 of a mile longer like in the Derby but regardless he has shown an affinity for dirt and a devastating late kick that propels him better than the entire class of 2011 so far. 1 ½ miles should be right up his alley. Mucho Macho Man finished sixth in the Preakness after losing his left front shoe, the same thing that happened when he finished third in the Louisiana Derby earlier in the year. Either this big guy likes to run barefoot or he just has bad luck. In the Derby he closed well but late to get up for the third and I think he will be better suited for the longer 1 ½ miles at Belmont than either the Derby or Preakness winner.

Notable Derby and or Preakness starters not listed as possible for the Belmont Stakes right now are Dialed In, who finished 8th in the Derby and 4th in the Preakness, and Astrology, who finished a very promising third in the Preakness after being unable to sustain his strong early move in the stretch.

Returning to the classic scene are five Kentucky Derby alumni led by second place finishing Nehro along with European Master of Hounds (5th), Santiva (6th), Brilliant Speed (7th) and Stay Thirsty (12th). Nehro looks like a monster just coming into his own and his closing Derby run was brilliant. He should love the added distance of the Belmont Stakes more than any other returning contender.

Posted in Animal Kingdom, Astrology, Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Brilliant Speed, Dialed In, Kentucky Derby, Master of Hounds, Nehro, Preakness Stakes, Santiva, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty, Triple Crown | 14 Comments »

Altering the Picture

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 15, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the Preakness Stakes (Gr.1) is only six days away from being run already. The Derby feels like it was just yesterday and now everything has shifted to Baltimore and the second jewel in the Triple Crown. On Monday I will be leaving for Ireland until Saturday night so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to stay on top of the Preakness updates and news but I’ll try my best to get at least one post in before the weekend. Also I’ll be posting over on Horse Racing Nation about the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes probably sometime around Wednesday so keep an eye out there and I hope to hear some of your thoughts on the races.

The 2011 Peter Pan Stakes had one of the best fields I have seen in a number of years and produced an end result that was worthy of high-class billing. As the best known non-Triple Crown prep race for the Belmont Stakes, the Peter Pan often seems to fill with colts that were unable to make the Kentucky Derby cut or just weren’t good enough to compete there, thus giving the race a distinctive second-tier quality feel. Not so this year as a strong field of ten sophomore colts lined up to make their mark at Belmont Park with Alternation putting in a terrific rally to defeat Adios Charlie by a nose in the 9 furlong test. Alternation finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby in his last start while Adios Charlie was coming off an impressive score in the Jerome. Both colts ran great races and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of them throughout the year. Prime Cut ran on for third.

I wish I had more time to recap some of the weekend races but I have a ton of things to finish up before I head out for my trip tomorrow. Until next time!

Posted in Adios Charlie, Alternation, Belmont Park, Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Peter Pan Stakes, Prime Cut, Triple Crown | 5 Comments »

Warming up to the Preakness Stakes

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 11, 2011

Sometimes leftovers can taste better than the meal and that’s the way it’s looking with the May 12st Preakness Stakes (gr.1). With the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters chosen by their graded stakes earnings some horses are inevitably left out and forced to wait another two weeks for the Preakness Stakes to prove their mettle. When Uncle Mo was scratched from the Derby on Friday morning Sway Away was currently sitting at number #21 on the graded stakes earnings list but was still prevented from running in the Derby because of the starters policy that will not allow another horse to be entered if one has scratched out. Churchill Downs is currently contemplating changing the policy to allow horses to enter after scratches.

This year the Preakness Stakes seems to be attracting a full, strong field of 14 starters with Sway Away being one of them. It took virtually a matter of minutes after Animal Kingdom’s Derby victory for trainer Graham Motion to declare his horse a definite Preakness Starter so the Triple Crown hopes for 2011 at least remains alive. Animal Kingdom’s final time for the Derby was a respectable 2:02.04 but it was his closing half mile in :47 1/5 which is now the second fasted closing half mile in the Derby ever, behind only Secretariat’s closing half, was brilliant. It’s hard to believe he won the Derby with such relative ease with only four prior starts. The question now is can he add the Preakness to his trophy case, and the really big question is can he win the Triple Crown? I think the ability is there but I’m not confident he can get the job done in the Triple. The Preakness seems doable even with the strong field but add the Belmont three weeks later and that’s asking an awful lot of such an inexperienced runner.

Included among the list of possible starters is Derby runner-up, Nehro, who is more likely to pass on the race than he is to run, and Derby third place finisher Mucho Macho Man as well as fourth place finisher Shackleford along with Santiva and Derby favorite Dialed In. Astrology could be headed to the Preakness fort trainer Steve Asmussen after bypassing the Derby.

Other possible Preakness starters include; Prime Cut, Dance City, Flashpoint, King Congie, Mr. Commons, Norman Asbjornson, The Factor, Isn’t He Perfect and Harlan’s Hello.

The most intriguing of these is the possibility of The Factor running. After he flipped his palate and ran seventh as the heavy favorite in the Arkansas Derby the Bob Baffert colt will be making a fairly quick turnaround after surgery to correct his problem. Flashpoint is also an interesting addition. He was last seen finishing fourth in the Florida Derby (gr.1) after winning the Hutcheson Stakes (gr.2) by more than seven lengths.

So as things stand now the Preakness appears to be shaping up as a very competitive race. The Derby is only the beginning not the end, we still have two legs of the Triple Crown left and much more room for surprises.

Uncle Mo it appears will be skipping all the three year old classics as the son of Indian Charlie has been sent to WinStar Farms in Kentucky to diagnose and receive treatment for a yet undiscovered ailment. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the goal is to get him healthy and bring him back to win Champion Three Year Old Male and Horse of the Year.

Posted in Animal Kingdom, Dialed In, Flashpoint, Kentucky Derby, Mucho Macho Man, Preakness Stakes, Santiva, Shackleford, The Factor, Triple Crown, Uncle Mo | 2 Comments »

The Sport of Kings

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 6, 2010

So many things can incite passion in people, politics, music, relationships, money and power are just a few small examples but one thing in particular can many times get a person more riled than anything else in the whole wide world. Sports. It’s the engine that drives almost every single American weekend. Whether it be Football, Baseball, Basketball or Soccer one thing is clear, Americans, and in fact a large population of the entire planet thrive off of the thrill that comes with a winning moment. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a victory to create a thrill and a defeat can provoke more passion than a win.

Thoroughbred Horse Racing is all about the passion people infuse into the industry, passion of the race, the horse, the jockey, passion of the game. By the mid to late 1970’s Thoroughbred Horse Racing began to slide from its position as the leading sport in the nation, losing its status as the most popular and watched sport in the nation. Today racing is considered a minor sport by most casual sports fans and completely ignored by others. Aside from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and, to a lesser degree, the Breeders’ Cup, horse racing is well hidden from the public’s eye. In contrast almost the entire first half of the century was dominated by Thoroughbred Horse Racing with the only real threats coming from Boxing and later Baseball. With three Triple Crown winners in the 1970’s the sport was veritably assured a spot in the public’s eye but entering the early 80’s things changed quickly. The 80’s were headlined mostly by Basketball thanks in many respects to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and the 90’s-to-present have been completely ruled by Football.

Somewhere along the line racing dropped the ball and managed not to acclimate with the times. There is however always hope for a sport if the fans have passion. Ever since I could read I have digested all the reading material I could ever find in relation to racing and while I have only been following live racing since 2006 there is one thing I know beyond a doubt: we have some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the sports industry. The list of things that are wrong in the industry is certainly a long one and quite discouraging at times but I believe there is just as much reason for concern as there is for hope.

If there is one thing above all else that provides success for racing it is events. I recently read an article online that discussed the reasons for some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster movie successes in history. In every single case the featured movie was not just presented as a movie, it was marketed as “the” movie to see. If you are anybody you’ve seen “that” movie. A perfect recent example of this is James Cameron’s Avatar. It wasn’t the great reviews that made this movie such a winner at the box-office, it wasn’t the special effects or the actors or the music, it was the story and nearly perfect marketing campaign that for weeks put Avatar trailers and images foremost in everyone’s minds. Although it had a big opening weekend, it was the incredible longevity of the movie that made it the highest grossing film in history and the “must have-must see” aura that made it the fastest selling DVD in history. This was an event film, something everyone could talk about and marvel at.

In 2009 Thoroughbred Horse Racing created a plethora of stunning events and gave a much needed, if only temporary, shot-in-the-arm to the industry. First it was Rachel Alexandra’s record smashing Kentucky Oaks win, then Mine that Bird’s Kentucky Derby, then back to Rachel Alexandra for the Preakness, Mother Goose, Haskell and Woodward. Summer Bird helped as well, becoming the first horse since Easy Goer to win the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup while Zenyatta put the exclamation point at the end of the season with a brilliant victory over an international group of males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Churchill Downs nighttime racing has been met with great success so far and has also succeeded in bringing in a new and younger audience. I believe the key to their success is that they created an event, something that was hyped up for months in advance and effectively integrated the old ways with the new. Fans were able to attend and watch the horse races while also having the choice to listen to music, hang out with friends, wager a few dollars and buy cheap drinks and snacks. In two words: fan friendly.

While 2010 seems to be lacking the incredible “kick” given by the 2009 racing year so far, there is great potential. I am still hoping for that “event” this year and believe that it will come, that wow moment when more than just the casual racing fan will stop what they are doing for just a few minutes to witness history in the making. We can still be The Sport of Kings.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Breeders Cup Classic, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird, The Sport of Kings, Thorougbred Horse Racing, Triple Crown, Zenyatta | 2 Comments »

The Belmont and Vanity

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 7, 2010

Drosselmeyer

The 2010 Triple Crown is officially over, another Belmont Stakes champion has been crowned and I am feeling a little confused. What kind of Triple Crown was this? It felt more like a mangled jumble of new faces in each race than an elite series for the nation’s leading 3-year-olds. There were only 8 young three year olds that competed in two legs of the Triple Crown this year and not a single one competed in all three. The Preakness Stakes seemed to make some sense as I believe that Lookin At Lucky is truly a very special colt and will go on to another championship season. The Kentucky Derby was run in the mud and finishes in those condition almost never makes sense but Super Saver is obviously a good horse and Ice Box too. The Belmont Stakes was a complete shake-up. At the wire it was WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer at odds of 13-1 who held off a furious late charging rally by Fly Down to take the victory. Heavy betting favorite Ice Box was nowhere to be found, finishing up the track in 8th, but I agree with trainer Nick Zito when he said that Ice Box is much better than that. Third place finisher First Dude proved yet again that he is one of the best 3-year-olds in the country by holding on gamely to lose by less than 2 lengths after setting most of the pace up front.

Drosselmeyer, with new jockey Mike Smith aboard got a perfect Belmont ride and was able to inch past First Dude in the homestretch while finishing looking very strong. I’m not sure that I think he will be one of the top three colts this year but this is a huge improvement off his last two tries in graded stakes races. Drosselmeyer gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first win in the Belmont Stakes.

In other news one of racings all time greatest will be making her way back to the track this weekend to contest a third consecutive Vanity Handicap. Multiple-champion Zenyatta will be trying to win her third straight Vanity on June 13th

Zenyatta

and her 17th straight victory overall. She is currently tied with such greats as Triple Crown winner Citation and 1990’s superstar Cigar in winning 16 straight races. While the former two won their skeins of races in the midst of glittering careers dotted with the occasional loss, Zenyatta is absolutely and completely perfect in her career so far.

In a very disappointing turn her connections have moved her back to California to race yet again on synthetics after implying that they would pursue a more fan-friendly, dirt based campaign this year, but it is still Zenyatta and anyone who is evenly slightly interested in this sport should watch this race.

Posted in Belmont Stakes, Cigar, Citation, Drosselmeyer, First Dude, Fly Down, Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky, Mike Smith, Preakness Stakes, Super Saver, Triple Crown, Vanity Handicap, Zenyatta | 6 Comments »

 
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