The Brock Talk

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks In Advance

Well this is one of the better Thanksgivings we've had in horse racing and horse racing betting. So like all the other bloggers, newspaper columnists and turf writers, let me give thanks for Rachel, Chip, Mike, Tim, Zenyatta, Goldikova and the Jayaramans. Thanks to Jerry, Ann, Julian, Jess, John and Gio. Thank you Steve, Hal, Quality, Bob, Garret, Kent, Sea, Rip and Dixie. Thanks to the Birdstone boys, Mine That and Summer and without sounding like a J.R.R. Tolkien character, thanks to my Presious.

But I'm also thankful for what looks like a potentially fun 2010. Rachel Alexandra is back in training at Steve Asmussen's barn at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Mine That Bird is a gelding, so he's not going anywhere. I don't know that Zenyatta has been officially retired and we've got Quality Road, Summer Bird and the like to look forward to in the older horse ranks next year. It appears Gio Ponti is going to be America's best representative in the rich Dubai World Cup next spring.

We may not have another Rachel Alexandra coming along but if you're not exited about the potential of She Be Wild, Blind Luck, Beautician, Biofuel and Negligee not to mention Hot Dixie Chick and Awesome Maria.

And there is a host of boys coming along led by Lookin for Lucky looking for the roses come the first Saturday in May. Others include Aspire, Dublin, D' Funnybone and Vale of York is surely planning on a Kentucky invasion from Dubai.

So thank you optimism. And thank you horse racing for the perpetual gift thereof.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Closer Look At The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Jinx

The psychiatric condition commonly referred to a PBCS (Post Breeders' Cup Syndrome) aflects thousands of racing fans each year at this time with anxiety and mild depression caused by a sudden decrease in handicapping and the placing of losing trifecta and Pick-4 tickets into a tax records shoe box.

Researchers believe the side effects of this affliction may be reduced this year due to the embattled debate over Horse of the Year, but recommend that persons suffering from PBCS be prepared for a reoccurance of symptoms once the annoncement is made as to who gets the golden Eclipse Award.

Little is know about this disease other than early handicapping of the Kentucky Derby and perscribed daily plays on Gulfstream, Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Aqueduct winter racing have been known to ease the suffering.

I'm not a psychiatrist... I just play one on this blog.

I must warn you that my therapy begins by taking you to a very dark, dark place that many of you may have already erased from your memory due to the shock and pain you may have felt when you first experienced the event.

I'm sorry. But I think it's important that we talk about the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile now. I know Lookin at Lucky may have been your key horse. Or if he wasn't, I doubt Vale of York was. It's painful. I know. But let's push through this together.

History tells us that Vale of York has little chance of pulling off the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby double. Only Street Sense in 2006-07 has been able to accomplish the feat of taking the Juvenile and repeating in the Kentucky Derby winner's circle some six months later.

His connections of trainer Saeed bin Suroor and Goldophin Racing certainly have a good record of getting horses to the Kentucky Derby - having been to the run for the roses with seven horses going back to Worldly Manner in 1999 who finished seventh. The problem lies in looking at their results after each respective Derby. As a team their best finish came in 2000 when China Visit finished sixth and Curule was seventh. They have also finished eighth twice with Express Tour in 2001 and Regal Ransom last year; ninth with Essence of Dubai in 2002 and 14th with Desert Party, also in 2009.

The news doesn't get much better for Juvenile runner-up Lookin at Lucky, although he races from the barn of trainer Bob Baffert who has won three Kentucky Derbies with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem.

The historical bad news is two-fold for Lookin at Lucky however. First, none of those Baffert-trained Derby winners even started in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and never has a Juvenile runner-up come back to win the Derby. Although 10 of the Juvenile bride's maids have made to the Derby the following year, the best Derby finish by a Juvey second-place finisher goes to Easy Goer who pulled off a Juvenile-Derby runner-up/runner-up double in 1988-89.

Interestingly though, three Juvenile place horses have come back to win the Preakness. Point Given, 2nd in the 2000 Juvenile behind Macho Uno, won the 2001 Preakness and Belmont; and Afleet Alex, second behind Wilko in the 2004 Juvenile, won the Preakness in 2005. Tank's Prospect, second in the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1984, got it all started when he came back to win the Preakness the following year.

Also interesting is the fact that Juvenile third-place finishers have had more success in the Derby than any of their top two finishing counterparts. Good news for Noble's Promise, but don't go racing to the future book location near you just yet.

Success for Juvy third-place finishers started with the first Breeders' Cup winner when Spend a Buck finished third in 1984 behind Chief's Crown and Tank's Prospect, then came back to win the 1985 Derby. Alysheba did the same thing two years later finishing third behind Capote and Qualify in the Juvenile, before taking the 1987 Derby.

Since then, things have been a little dry for the Juvenile bronze medalists so-to-speak. Tejano Run finished third in the 1994 Juvenile behind Timber Country and Eltish before finishing second in the Derby behind Grindstone; and Cat Thief finished third in both the 1998 Juvenile and 1999 Kentucky Derby.

Now I don't know if I've given you the winner of the 2010 Kentucky Derby or if any of this will be of much five months from now. But we've helped create an awareness for those suffering from PBCS... and I hope our time together has helped.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hollywood Park Attracts Breeders' Cup Stars

Hollywood Park, draped in a cloud of uncertainty about their future and opening the Fall meeting on of all days Friday the 13th, has been blessed with plenty of good news this week from Breeders' Cup horsemen.

Trainer Bobby Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio has indicated that Ventura, second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. 1) at Santa Anita, is expected to return in Hollywood Park's $300,000 Matriarch (gr. IT) on Nov. 28. Frankel, who ha been absent from the barn for sometime battling cancer, has won the one-mile turf race a record eight times.

Ventura, who is expected to retire to the breeding farm for the 2010 breeding season, won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and has won two of five starts including the grade 1 Woodbine Mile in Canada this year.

The 2-year-old racing for the 27-day Autumn meeting at Hollywood Park also got a boost from Kentucky-based trainer Kenneth McPeek when he announced that his powerful group of Breeders' Cup freshmen would stay in Southern California.

The two biggest young stars, Noble's Promise and Beautician are scheduled to run in the track's premier 2-year-old races on the weekend of Dec. 19-20. Noble's Promise, third in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. 1), is being pointed for the $750,000 Cash Call Futurity (gr. 1) while Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) runner-up Beautician is scheduled to run the next day in the $300,000 Hollywood Starlet (gr. 1).

McPeek has also said that Bridgetown (2nd in Juvenile Turf), House of Grace (3rd in Juvenile Fillies Turf) and Juvenile Fillies eighth-place finisher Connie and Michael will remain in Southern California.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Breeders' Cup Thoughts, Comments and Questions

Despite the fact that owner Jerry Moss indicated in a post-Classic press conference that Zenyatta may have run her last race, promoters and presidents are pressing on.

Gulfsteam Park new president and general manager Tim Dunn has indicated they will try to recruit the two super stars to Florida for the grade 1 Donn Handicap on Jan. 6, the day before the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Sam Houston Race Park and Gallery Furniture have announced a $1.5 million race at 1-1/8 miles on dirt for Jan. 30 as part of their John B. Connally Turf Festival, "in the event that both parties are interested in participating,” said Andrea Young, president and chief operating officer of Sam Houston in a press release.

Zenyatta came out of the Classic in good order and remains at Santa Anita while Rachel Alexandra is in Steve Asmussen's barn at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Gio Ponti may be pointed toward another multi-million dollar, international event as trainer Christophe Clement suggest the Dubai World Cup may be a target in late March.

Who was the last Breeders' Cup Classic winner to not be named Horse of the Year? Answer below.

Although trainer Bob Baffert was incredibly dissappointed in the second-place finish by Lookin at Lucky in the Juvenile, odds are the son of Smart Strike will be the favorite on most Kentucky Derby future books this winter. Baffert will also be losing his brilliant Sprinter Zensational, who will be retired to Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Kentucky for stallion duty where he will stand for a $25,000 fee.

What'd I tell ya about Presious Passion? Was he fun to watch or what?

A favorite Tweet:
skipaway2000 Kanye West: "Yo Rachel, Im really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but Zenyatta had one of the best races of all time!!"

I loved the Randy Moss big betting board on ESPN's Breeders' Cup telecast which allowed Moss to illustrate a wagering strategy with win and exacta bets before each race. It was entertaining and educational.

Early television ratings indicate that the Breeders' Cup telecasts on ESPN from 3:30-6:30 remained relatively flat compared to last year with a .9 rating. The 1:30-3:30 segment on ABC dropped slightly and Friday's telecast remained fairly steady. Total common pool wagering for both days dropped approximately 7% compared to last year with two fewer races carded while on-track attendance was up.

I'm not going to say I'm encouraged by these numbers, but considering the economy in general and the California economy specifically, I'd say there's more silver lining there than what it might appear.

I think Quality Road is still a little hacked about how things went at the starting gate at Santa Anita before the Breeders' Cup Classic. Scratched after refusing to load into the starting gate and superficially hurting himself in the process, the Florida Derby winner trained by Todd Pletcher was reportedly not to keen to step on his return flight to New York either. While there was no incident of any consequence at the airport, Pletcher and transportation officials decided not to push the issue with the colt. Quality Road will now travel back to New York via van with a layover and a few days rest at Churchill Downs.

Trivia Answer: Pleasantly Perfect won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic while Mineshaft was given the Horse of the Year title with seven wins from nine races that year including the grade 1 wins in the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Breeders' Cup Turf winner Conduit will be retired to stud at Shigeyuki Okada's of Big Red Farm in Japan. Colonel John, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic and winner of the 2008 Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) and Travers (gr. 1) has been retired and will stand at WinStar Farm in Kentucky.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Breeders' Cup Classic Seperates The Debate

Back in early August I wrote on this blog that if both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would go undefeated for the remainder of the year, that Zenyatta would have a half-game lead in the race for Horse of the Year.

I'm sticking to my guns.

Strong arguements can be made by both camps about the quality of those left in the wakes of the two greats, but for me the bottom line is Zenyatta showed up for the Breeders' Cup and Rachel stayed home.

One of the biggest marketing challenges we have as a sport, is that our Breeders' Cup World Championship is just slightly less definitive than the Bowl Championship Series in college football at determining our respective champions. Americans don't like champions with no playoff in other words. So if horse racing is going to bill the Breeders' Cup as a championship, it should at least have enough impact to act as the breaker to this apparent and future ties.

I also have to discount the "synthetics" issue. With synthetic tracks in California, Kentucky, Illionois, Canada and Europe, they are now a part of the game. Like domed stadiums, synthetic turf and night games in football and baseball - Polytrack and Pro-Ride are "unnatural". And all can affect the outcome of a game.

Everybody else plays on with no regard (other than wagering) to who won or lost on natural grass, synthetic turf or at night. So should horse racing.

I also discount the "travel" arguement. Zenyatta races in the only state where racing stays at a consistent level year around. Races, purses and weather in Kentucky, New York and Florida all force the top horses to move along with their top trainers.

Which means Rachel was in her home stall when she raced in Arkansas, Kentucky and New York. She shipped about nine hours by van from Hot Springs, Ark., to New Orleans to win the grade 2 Fairgrounds Oaks and about four hours by van from Saratoga, NY., to Monmouth Park for her grade 1 Haskell romp over Summer Bird. That doesn't exactly make Rachel a road warrior when Zenyatta twice made the three-hour van ride from her stall at Hollywood Park to Del Mar.

Rachel did race against the boys three times in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward while Zenyatta only raced against males in the Breeders' Cup. But the Breeders' Cup was at a 1-1/4 miles, the classic distance that Rachel never attempted.

The arguements for both are strong and my intention is to no way dispare Rachel Alexandra. I just have to go back to what I said in August. All things being equal, and the debate over these two mares is about as close as you can get, the Breeders' Cup Classic winner gets the nod.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Emotions Run High During Breeders' Cup Ladies Day

It was a day of feel good stories at Santa Anita during Breeder' Cup Ladies day as European legend Henry Cecil picked up his first Breeders' Cup win from seven previous starts. Cecil has been the champion trainer in Britian nine times but fell on hard times around the new millineum with personal health problems and the loss of three major, long-standing owners who had died. So all of England must have celebrated when Midday took the Emirates Airline Filly and Mare Turf with Midday.

Trainer Dale Romans was a bit emotional after Tapitsfly won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for owner Frank I. Jones Jr. Jones. Jones has been in horse racing for decades in the Midwest and has had only two trainers. Dale's father Jerry, who passed away in 2000, was the only other one.

Almost making the happy list was the nine-year-old Cloudy's Nite, who missed by the most narrow of margins in the Breeder' Cup Marathon. The tight photo finish also cost jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. an opportunity to join Julie Krone as the only female to ever ride a Breeders' Cup winner. Krone won the 2003 Juvenile Fillies with Halfbridled.

Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner Life Is Sweet seemed happy to leave for the saddling paddock without stablemate Zenyatta along side for a change, but it appears she may have received some running instructions from the big mare. Losing to her stablemate in three of her previous four races, Life is Sweet's late running move down the middle of the Santa Anita stretch looked like a smaller version of Zenyatta coming to the wire.

We get to see the real thing Saturday.

Special get well wishes go out to Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel who has been battling cancer from his home in Southern California for the last six months while still managing his stable. Jay Privman reported on ESPN that Frankel has recently been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. You can send your well wishes to Frankel on Facebook on the Bobby Frankel Get Well Soon card.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ladies Still Classic With Jewels, Music And The Beach

Now that it's official that super mare Zenyatta is running in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday, one might think the Ladies Classic will be compromised in popularity. Certainly fewer fans will tune in to watch the Friday card on ESPN now that Zenyatta has decided to take on her male counterparts, but I still have the Ladies Classic ranked among my most anticipated of the weekend.

Morning line favorite Music Note (photo) has won seven of her 11 career starts and hasn't started outside a grade 1 race since the weekend Big Brown won the Preakness last May. She's the best of the New York mares having demolished her competition in the grade 1 Ballerina and grade 1 Beldame in her last two starts and may have given Zenyatta a run for her money if she had entered the Ladies Classic. She is trained by Saeed bin Suroor for the powerful Goldolfin Stables, who will also start Cocoa Beach in the Ladies Classic.

There are storylines galore in Ladies Classic with close second choice Careless Jewel going for her sixth straight win and the John Sherriffs-trained Life is Sweet trying to take advantage of her neighbor (Zenyatta) staying in the barn on race day for a change.

Fans of the very popular Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel have plenty reasons to not miss the Ladies Classic as well. Frankel has been absent from his barn for months battling health challenges that hasn't stopped him sending his usual arsenal to the Breeders' Cup.

Proviso will be saddled by Frankel assistants Humberto Ascanio and Sally Lundy in the Ladies Classic and comes into this race off of a victory in the grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. She was disqualified from her Spinster win and placed second for inteference in the stretch but was still impressive considering it was her first start in the United States and she acheived a 99 Beyer speed figure in the performance.

After finishing as the runner-up to Zenyatta in this race last year, Cocoa Beach has never quite returned to her top form and has been relegated to second string status in the bin Suroor barn behind Music Note. She was a good third behind Zenyatta and Lethal Heat in the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita in her last start, but her morning work this week made one think she might be on the verge of a big race. The time was a good :59.40 for five furlongs, but she looked effortless in skipping over Pro-Ride in the pre-dawn work while her exercise ride sat motionless aboard. At 8-1 in the morning line, she's worth some consideration.

So if you've decided that you're going to work Friday now that Zenyatta is racing Saturday, you may want to consider rehearsing your flu voice. You know... when you call in sick.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Classic Opportunities

I'm not sure the robot from Lost In Space needs to be rolling around the Santa Anita barn area warning Breeders' Cup Classic trainers of danger, but the work by Mine That Bird on Monday morning should be of concern to those who have written him off.

The big smile and glowing comments after the work by trainer Chip Woolley were nice to hear, but we get that from just about all trainers after a good work. But there are two semi-hidden bits of information that are making me take a second look at the Derby winner in the Classic.

Woolley is just now revealing that Mine That Bird's throat surgery in August, while fully successful, came at a very inopportune time. Woolley said MTB was at the top of his game just before the Travers and the surgery was more detrimental to his training than originally thought. Mine That Bird just wasn't back in top form for the Goodwood, according to Woolley, hence the dissappointing sixth-place finish.

The other hidden nugget from the work is the time of the last eighth of a mile in 11 seconds flat. Is that an omen of the return of the startling late kick we saw in the Derby and the big late run we saw in Preakness from the little Birdstone colt?

Richard's Kid Classic Longshot
Zenyatta is my top choice in the Classic and one really doesn't have to look to far down the morningline to start hitting some pretty good prices on horses like Quality Road, Einstein and Gio Ponti.

But the Bob Baffert-trained Richard's Kid is my longshot choice and will be on the top line with Zenyatt on my trifecta.

He won the Pacific Classic (gr. 1) at this distance at Del Mar and was a closing third in the 1-1/8 mile Goodwood (gr. 1) over Pro-Ride in his last race. He also fits a number of profiles as outline in my Breeders' Cup handicapping bible Crushing the Cup.

According authors Jim Mazur and Peter Mallet, 56% percent of the winners in Breeders' Cup Classics on fast tracks were "rally" horses or "closers". He has a six furlong work in him from Oct. 27 and his half-mile in :47 1/5 Monday morning at Santa Anita was apparently much more impressive to watch than to read about. Of all Classic winners, 96% had a sharp last race and 86% have a grade 1 win.

I Like Gio
All throughout the year, I've thought the older turf horses have been a better lot than their counterparts running on main tracks. And for that reason Gio Ponti (photo) is another that I like an awful lot in the Classic. I would have him on top of my trifecta ticket along with Zenyatta and Richard's Kid, but it is against my betting philosophy. (If you need three tries to pick a winner, you shouldn't be betting trifectas.)

Gio Ponti went on a nationwide, grade 1 tour of turf terror this year winning the Frank Kilroe in California, the Manhattan and Man O War in New York and the Arlington Million in Chicago. If turf horses truly can transfer their turf form to Pro-Ride with no fall off, look out for Gio.

Breeders' Cup Or Bust Update
The Paulick Report and Breeders' Cup Charities are in the midst of a cross-crountry bus tour raising money for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Their latest stop was in New Mexico at Zia Park. Click here to read the update from The Paulick Report.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Zenyatta Headed To The Classic

Jay Privman wrote in his Sunday Daily Racing Form column that trainer John Sherriffs has said that Zenyatta is headed for her first showdown against colts and geldings in the $5 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. 1) Saturday at Santa Anita.

Zenyatta has been pre-entered into both the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) which she won last year, and the Classic. Final entries will be taken Tuesday morning with post positions drawn later that day. She is expected to garner favoritism from the wagering public either race as she tries to remain undefeated in what will be her 14th career start.

There was much a buzz about Classic hopeful Einstein at Santa Anita Sunday following a half-mile work in :47-4/5 with trainer Helen Pitts aboard. Following the work, Pitts admitted that the work was faster than she wanted, but that Einstein moves deceptively fast over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

Earlier this year Einstein won the grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap at the Southern California track and later won the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

Super Derby (gr. 1) winner Regal Ransome also had an impressive work in preperation for the Classic having clicked off five furlongs in :59.36. According to clocker reports on the work, the Goldolphin-owned 3-year-old was impressive in his accelleration late in the work and looked stong in galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.63. Stablemate Girolamo also worked five furlongs Sunday. Although his :59.28 time was faster than Regal Ransom's, it came with more urging from the exercise rider and was not as impressive.

Breeders' Cup Or Bust Update
The Paulick Report and Breeders' Cup Charities are in the midst of a cross-crountry bus tour raising money for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Their latest stop was in Oklahomoa. Click here to read the full story.