The Brock Talk

Thursday, January 6, 2011

San Pasqual and Hal's Hope among first pages of 2011 Older Horse Story

No doubt the older horse ranks of 2011 have been depleted with the retirement of Horse of the Year candidates Zenyatta and Blame, as well as stars Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road and Lookin at Lucky. Those five horses alone will leave quite a void in the handicap division and horse racing as a whole.

But the new year has just been celebrated and it’s time to look ahead.

The preview of the older horse class of 2011 got an early start with the the grade 1 Hill ‘N’ Dale Cigar Mile at Aqueduct November 27, where we saw 34-1 longshot Jersey Town upset Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Haynesfield. Finishing an uncharacteristic eighth in the Cigar Mile was Musket Man, a determined competitor with six wins from 18 career starts who has only finished off the board in two of those races. In the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) he was stepped on in the first turn and was never in contention.

It appears all three of the aforementioned Cigar Mile horses will be back in 2011.

On the west coast, trainer John Sadler started the Santa Anita season with a bang the day after Christmas winning both the grade 1 Malibu Stakes with Twirling Candy; and the grade III Sir Beauford Stakes with last year’s Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Sidney’s Candy (photo right). On a very fast and new, natural dirt surface at Santa Anita, Twirling Candy broke the main dirt track record for seven furlongs, a record previously set by Spectacular Bid in 1980, by stopping the clock in 1:19.70. Almost equally impressive was Sidney’s Candy in winning the Sir Beauford (gr. III) by more than seven lengths. Both appear to be pointing for 4-year-old campaigns in 2011 with Twirling Candy set for the Strub Series at Santa Anita which also includes the Jan. 15 San Fernando (gr. II) for 4-year-olds going 1-1/16 miles and the Feb. 5 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at nine furlongs.

Also in Southern California, trainer Bob Baffert has said 6-year-old Richard’s Kid will be back for 2011, however his schedule may include the Dubai World Cup (gr. 1-UAE) which usually negates a North American campaign for much of the year. However the trainer may still have some options as he has indicated that Misremembered, winner of the 2010 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), will be back in 2011. Baffert also has Alcindor, although fourth in the Malibu in his most recent start, he is a colt who has captured some attention in Southern California.

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner Dakota Phone is also slated for a 2011 return Saturday. Although he finished fourth behind Aggie Engineer in the Dec. 4 Native Diver Handicap over Hollywood Park’s Cushion track after his Breeder's Cup win at Churchill Downs, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee gets a rematch with Aggie Engineer over Santa Anita’s new dirt surface in the grade II San Pasqual Handicap.

There will be a preview of the handicap division on the East coast Saturday as well at Gulfstream Park in the grade III Hal’s Hope Stakes. Won last year by Quality Road, the 2011 version is headed by the Todd Pletcher-trained Rule and the Morning Line from the Nick Zito barn.

Rule will be making his first start since finishing third last year in the Florida Derby (gr. I) behind Ice Box. On the other hand, Morning Line begins his 4-year-old season after winning the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) in September and finishing second to Dakota Phone in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

So the handicap class of 2011 doesn’t have as much star power as last year’s group. The reality is that few ever have or ever will. You don’t find Zenyattas and Rachel Alexandras in every generation. But this group has plenty of intrigue and uncertainty, which of course, is supposed to make for better horse racing. And it’s time to put down the champagne and find out who we’ll be debating about this time next year in the Horse of the Year race.

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