Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Posts Tagged ‘Thoroughbred Horse Racing’

Dan & Groupie: 2 Champs in One Day

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 8, 2013

Wise Dan Wise Dan has been the picture of perfection this year and has left little doubt that he is the deserving Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male and Champion Male Turf Horse. After Curlin became the first horse to win back-to-back Horse of the Year titles since Cigar in 1995-96 we were treated to the extraordinary historical feat of three consecutive power-house females taking home America’s top prize. Now America’s reigning Horse of the Year title is once again resting on the muscular shoulders of an alpha male among the nation’s best and fastest.

In three starts this year Wise Dan has ruled his roost, adding the Grade 1 Makers 46 Mile, Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap to his impressive resume of wins. Now he returns to Saratoga on Saturday to attempt a repeat of his 2012 victory in the Fourstardave Handicap (Gr.2), a move that has sparked controversy due to the Grade 2 status of the race and Wise Dan’s status as defending Horse of the Year.

I personally don’t have a problem with his placement in the Fourstardave or with the fact that it’s a Grade 2 race. The race is 1 mile long, it’s run on the turf and it’s a race that Wise Dan has already won. Those are three very good things in his favor. You can’t blame his connections for placing him in a spot where he did so well last year, plus it set him up for three straight Grade 1 wins to finish out his 2012 campaign. It’s not the toughest spot to run and it’s not a Grade 1 race, but I honestly don’t have a problem with seeing the Horse of the Year running in his second consecutive Grade 2 race when we know that there are more Grade 1’s down the road where he will have a chance to face the best and defend his Horse of the Year title. By this time last year he had won a Grade 3, finished 2nd in a Grade 1 and was about to win the Grade 2 Fourstardave. This year he has won two Grade 1’s, a Grade 2 and is back to defend his Fourstardave Handicap victory, so by my estimation he’s run in tougher spots more often this year than he did at this point last year.

Two weeks ago Wise Dan turned in one of the best workouts of the Saratoga meet, blazing five furlongs in :57.38. The chestnut gelding most recently breezed an easy four furlongs in :49.59 so I think it’s safe to say he appears ready to bring his “A” game to the track once again. Last weekend we were treated to a very impressive performance by Cross Traffic to capture the Whitney Invitational Handicap (Gr.1) in front-running fashion and just two weekends ago Belmont Stakes champ Palace Malice returned to win the Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr.2) in the 2nd fastest running time since the race was changed to its current 1 1/8 mile distance 50 years ago. Now it’s Wise Dan’s turn to once again conquer the “Graveyard of Champions” and make grand old Saratoga come alive.

I can’t sign off without mentioning that Champion Female Sprinter Groupie Doll is finally making her long-awaited 2013 debut in the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park on Saturday. She absolutely towers over this field of 11 other fillies and mares and enters off two straight bullet works. If she’s ever going to be vulnerable now is the time, but I think her recent works prove that she is ready to run good enough to return to the winners circle.

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Posted in Fourstardave Handicap, Gardenia Stakes, Groupie Doll, Wise Dan | Tagged: , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

It’s Gonna Be a Dandy!

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 26, 2013

Palace Malice Belmont It’s been almost seven full weeks since Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes (Gr.1) by more than 3 lengths and now finally the classic winning son of Curlin is ready to grace the track again. The Todd Pletcher trained 3-year-old colt heads a field of 9 other sophomore contenders in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga and he’s looking like a very strong favorite. I’m trying not to let my “Curlin bias” cloud my better judgment here, but from all indications it seems that Palace Malice is even better and stronger than he was before winning the Belmont Stakes. Pletcher has said repeatedly since the Belmont that the striking bay colt is full of energy and improving with each passing day. He even went so far as to say that the rugged Triple Crown campaign seems to have infused Palace Malice with more energy than he had before and his last three works seem to confirm that, especially his 1:00.32 five furlong workout on July 14. If he wins the Jim Dandy rest assured the race for champion 3-year-old colt this year will heat up even more, and the fact that Oxbow and Verrazano will be facing off in the Haskell on the exact same day just adds to the drama and excitement of the weekend. This is the kind of weekend a racing fan lives for.

Of the nine other challengers set to face the Belmont champ, Matt Winn Stakes (Gr.3) victor Code West, Dwyer Stakes (Gr.2) winner Moreno, Peter Pan (Gr.2) champ Freedom Child, Midnight Lute colt Mylute and Gotham Stakes (Gr.3) winner Vyjack appear to be the toughest challengers. Vyjack is cross-entered in the Grade 1 Haskell where he drew post position #1 after drawing post #10 in the Jim Dandy. A decision on which race he will contest is expected sometime today. Trainer Rudy Rodriquez guided the bay gelding through wins in the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes and Grade 3 Gotham Stakes earlier this year before he finished a very solid third in the Wood Memorial Stakes (Gr.1). After an 18th place finish in the Derby and an 8th place finish in the Belmont, Vyjack is looking to retrieve his earlier reputation and place himself once again towards the top of the three-year-old roster.

Trainer Bob Baffert is always a staple at the nation’s biggest races and usually brings some of the best players into the game and this time he’s bringing Matt Winn Stakes (Gr.3) winner Code West. The Lemon Drop Kid colt finished second in the Risen Star Stakes (Gr.2) in February, a half-length ahead of Palace Malice, and then ran 6th in the Louisiana Derby (Gr.2) one month later. He enters the Jim Dandy off two straight wins, most recently having captured the Matt Winn Stakes by a head after holding off a very determined Uncaptured down the length of the stretch. He previously had captured a 1 1/16 mile allowance race by 6 ¾ lengths. This colt is an excellent worker, three of last five works have all earned bullet status, with his most recent being a :46.00 flat four furlong move. He’s fit, he’s talented and it looks like he’s improving so he’s going to be a big threat. My only concern with him is the distance. He’s bred to get the 1 1/8 miles, but his only two wins this year were at the 1 1/16 mile distance and he finished 6th after tiring late in the Louisiana Derby at the 1 1/8 mile distance.

Moreno looks to improve won his maiden just two starts back at Belmont Park, just a few hours before Palace Malice captured the Belmont Stakes. He won his mile maiden by more than 6 lengths that day before coming back one month later to romp by 7 lengths in the 1 1/16 mile Dwyer Stakes (Gr.2). IN both starts he broke on top and never looked back. I really like this cot a lot and the fact that he’s a son of Ghostzapper just adds to his appeal. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him take a piece of the action at Saratoga on Saturday.

Freedom Child is a tough one to figure out. After his 13 length romp in the Peter Pan Stakes (Gr.2) he became one of the well-regarded newcomers in the Belmont Stakes and then finished second to last in a 14 horse field without any obvious excuses. He’s got nice breeding and has shown flashes of brilliance, but when it comes down to it I just don’t feel confident backing him.

Mylute finished 7th in the Risen Star Stakes earlier in the year, well behind Code West and Palace Malice, but followed that up by finishing just a neck behind Revolutionary in second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. After finishing 5th in the Kentucky Derby, the son of Midnight Lute has yet to start after finishing third to Oxbow and Itsmyluckyday in the Preakness Stakes. He definitely has the ability to be highly competitive against the best this crop has to offer, so his chances in the Jim Dandy cannot be underestimated just because he hasn’t broken through with a win in the big leagues. That being said I don’t think he’ll upset Palace Malice.

The rest of the field is completed by Rebel Stakes (Gr.2) winner Will Take Charge who completed his triple crown season with 8th, 7th and 10th place finishes in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes respectively. He was one of the most physically striking colts on the triple crown trail this year in my humble opinion, but looks have not done much for him since defeating Oxbow in the Rebel. Looking Cool enters off a victory in the Iowa Derby (Gr.3) by a neck, Perfect Title enters off a 1 ¼ length allowance score at Churchill Downs and Bashaar enters off a 3rd place run in the Iowa Derby. None appear to be in the same league as the rest of the field.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Curlin fan and as such, a huge Palace Malice fan, so I’ll be rooting with all my heart for jockey Mike Smith and the Belmont Stakes victor to make the magic happen again.

Posted in Bob Baffert, Code West, Freedom Child, Jim Dandy, Moreno, Mylute, Palace Malice, Todd Pletcher, Vyjack, Will Take Charge | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Reneesgotzip & Musings on Curlin’s Runners

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 19, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Optimizer Pursues His Grade 1 Win

Posted by Brian Appleton on July 11, 2013

optimizer I’ve become a much bigger fan of Optimizer this year than I ever was during his 2012 sophomore campaign. His record wasn’t the greatest that year and certainly wouldn’t have scared away any competition with only two wins and three additional on-the-board finishes in graded stakes races, but he ran 14 times in a single year. That’s more than many horses run during their entire careers at the top of this game so I think it’s fair to call Optimizer a rugged, talented and hard running throwback. He’s run 7 times already this year, beginning with two impressive back-to-back wins in the Grade 3 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap and Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap. After a 4th and 4th place finish in the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap (Gr.2) and Oaklawn Handicap (Gr.2) respectively, Optimizer came back alive with a fantastic runner-up finish to reigning horse of the year Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. After that he finished third, less than a length behind victorious Skyring in the Dixie Stakes (Gr.2) after a tight trip on the inside. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed, but each time he’s faced the best this year, he’s run his best and his runner-up finish to Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap on June 8th was no exception.

The Grade 1 Man ‘O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park offers the perfect opportunity for Optimizer to finally seize his elusive Grade 1 win. There’s no Wise Dan or Point of Entry to contend with and what’s more I think he’s a perfect fit for the 1 1/8 mile turf distance. This should be Optimizer’s race to lose.

His biggest challenge could come from the Shug McGaughey trained Boisterous, recent winner of the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes on June 9th and runner-up in the Bel Ali Stakes (Gr.3) to Successful Dan in his two starts this year. He finished 2012 with consecutive victories in the Knickerbocker Stakes (Gr.3) and Red Smith Handicap (Gr.2) followed by a runner-up finish in the River City Handicap (Gr.3). He seems to be improving with age and maturity and posted two good 4 furlong works in preparation for the Man ‘O’ War Stakes.

The rest of the field seems like a distant third to me. Al Khali has a resume packed with Graded stakes experience, but he hasn’t won a graded stakes race since taking the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap on September 11th, 2010. Finnegans Wake and Twilight Eclipse finished 4th and 5th respectively in the Manhattan Reserve Handicap (Gr.1) behind Point of Entry and Optimizer. Of the two, Twilight Eclipse is the more accomplished, having won the Pan American Stakes (Gr.2) on March 23rd and the W. L. McKnight Handicap (Gr.2) last November. Exclusive Strike enters off two straight allowance scores, but both races were run in slow times and I think he’s a bit out of his league.

Posted in Al Khali, Boisterous, Man 'O' War Stakes, Optimizer | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Miraculous Return of Paynter

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 12, 2013

In horse racing as with every other sport, events come and go quickly and once some of the bigger events have passed the fans are always looking forward to the next best thing. With the 2013 Triple Crown season now behind us and three new classic winners added to the ranks, American race fans have their sights set forward to the summer campaigns of our biggest stars. A 7-Furlong Allowance race for non-winners of three races at Betfair Hollywood Park wouldn’t warrant a second glance on most days to the casual fan, but this Friday marks the miraculous return of Paynter. Last year after I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister stole most of the spotlight on the Triple Crown trail, Union Rags had to duke it out with a brilliant and lightly raced colt named Paynter in the Belmont Stakes to finally claim his classic glory.

Right off the bat Paynter showed the racing world that he was a serious athlete by breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in mid-February by more than 4 lengths. In his very next start he finished about four lengths behind I’ll Have Another in fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and then returned 21 days later to finish a good second in the Grade 3 Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes. Returned to the track one month later, Paynter smoked an allowance field at Pimlico by almost six lengths and it was on to the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont is where Paynter’s talent truly began to shine through. He seized control of the pace the second the gates sprang open and maintained a tenacious lead into the first turn and down the backstretch. When Unstoppable U attempted to move onto even terms approaching the final turn Paynter very decisively pulled a half-length ahead. Leading the field into the final turn Paynter and jockey Mike Smith looked to be in serious danger of losing the lead to My Adonis rallying on the outside and Union Rags scraping the rails on the inside. As the contenders came roaring into the homestretch the rally of my Adonis moved him onto even terms with Paynter. But Paynter refused to yield and courageously pulled ahead by a full length. It wasn’t until Union Rags snuck up on the inside and just managed to win by a head on the wire that Paynter relinquished the lead. In all but the final few strides of the 1 ½ mile event, Paynter held off every challenge and proved how courageous and determined he was. We hadn’t seen the half of it.

In late July Paynter returned win the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes in a romp. He was now a legitimate and highly respected colt with a bright and promising future. But the best laid plans went seriously awry. After winning the Haskell, Paynter spiked a fever that knocked him out of consideration for the Travers Stakes. He was sent to a clinic to determine the cause and was diagnosed with a serious case of Colitis. On September 4th, 2012 the terrible news was released the Paynter had been diagnosed with a quickly advancing case of Laminitis, a deadly disease among horses and one that claimed the life of famed Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. The news took the racing world by shock and Paynter became the center of a well-spring of prayers and get well wishes. Owner Ahmed Zayat announced that three of Paynter’s four legs had been infected with Laminitis, making his “worst nightmares” come true. The next 24 hours were critical in the treatment of the disease and Paynter was monitored very closely. In addition to the Laminitis, Paynter was still battling his Colitis and as a result was suffering from clotting in his veins due to low protein. Several days passed with cautiously optimistic evaluations regarding Paynter’s condition, but nothing definitive was released.

On September 21, 2012 Ahmed Zayat released the heartwarming news that Paynter had beaten his Laminitis. His battle to live now appeared far more hopeful and while he was still weak and being treated for his Colitis, the fact that Paynter showed the resilience and will to live to beat Laminitis in less than a month speaks volumes for his stature and the skill and loving care he received during his recovery. Sadly Paynter’s woes did not end there. Just a few weeks later Paynter underwent surgery to remove a 15-inch growth discovered on his intestines. Once again he pulled through in good condition and remained stable throughout the healing process. By the end of the year Paynter had fully recovered from his Colitis and it was announced that he would return to training and attempt a racing comeback.

On December 26, 2012 Paynter was announced as the winner of the 2012 Secretariat Vox Populi Award after some serious campaigning by the fans to have his name added to the list of nominees. The same day he arrived at the barns of trainer Bob Baffert in California to begin the slow process of regaining his form. On January 17, 2013 Paynter’s recovery from Laminitis and Colitis was voted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s “Moment of the Year” by the fans.

Paynter’s return to the track is nothing less than miraculous and is something that strikes a chord in every horse lovers heart. This colt has the heart and spirit of a true champion to go through all the pain and suffering that he endured to arrive full circle back on the track. His resilience and determination is a precious gift to the racing world that cannot be underestimated. Whether his finishes first or last on Friday, Paynter is a winner in my book.

Posted in Horse Racing, Paynter, Thoroughbred Horse Racing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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