The Brock Talk

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kelso, Kardashian And Other Breeders' Cup Thoughts, Comments and Questions

After the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series Friday night and the St. Louis Rams defeated the Saints Sunday, I found myself looking through the Breeders’ Cup past performances double-checking there were any Missouri-breds or Fairmont Park ship-ins I missed… Trying to watch the Breeders’ Cup draw reminded me of days holding horse after horse while they were
being shod, proof reading and my doctor's waiting room… The Breeders’ Cup post position draw is another case of the book being much better than the movie… When asked at dinner who was the best Breeders’ Cup story this year, this blogger responded with Classic contender Flat Out, 70-year trainer Charles "Scooter" Dickey (photo) and wife Dana. Win the $5 million Classic or not, it will be difficult to match Scooter’s post Jockey Club Gold Cup when the emotions kept him from initial TV interview. Dana is recovering from a serious illness this year… I remind some angry Tweeters that the morning line is supposed to be the line maker’s prediction of how the public will bet the race. It is not supposed to be the line maker’s order of finish probabilities… This bloggers favorite Breeders’ Cup moment: Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway turning around a very bad day at the races with their $140.80 exacta… Not to dis on Goldikova’s pursuit of four consecutive wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but Kelso winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup five times from 1960-64 is the cake taker…

Cold Play
The saddle towels for the first Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park were all yellow… ESPN/NBC analysts Jerry Bailey has won a record 15 Breeders’ Cup races. Leading active jockey in same category: Mike Smith with 13 trips to the Breeders’ Cup winners’ circle… This blogger’s least favorite Breeders’ Cup moment excluding injuries and trajedies: Zenyatta losing her first career race to Blame in the 2010 Classic. I see that race now and think to myself that it surely must have been longer than a year ago… Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien invades the United States again. This summer, he completed a Grade 1 double at Arlington Park when he won the Arlington Million with Cape Blanco (Ire) and the Secretariat Stakes with Irish Derby (G1) winner Treasure Beach (Ire)… Biggest disappointment of the week: Uncle Mo in the Classic or the Kim Kardashian marriage.

The Graduates
Stable mates and Classic foes Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty both ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. Uncle Mo won the 2010 Juvenile to finish the year undefeated and was eventually named the divisional champion. Stay Thirsty finished fifth in the 09 Juvenile before winning the 2010 Gotham and Travers Stakes… Shared Account, Uncle Mo, Goldikova, Big Drama, Eldaafer and Chamberlain Bridge return to the Breeders’ Cup as winners of Breeders’ Cup races last year. They are trying to join only eleven other thoroughbreds with multiple Breeders' Cup wins.

Long Grudge Match
Gio Ponti was second to Goldikova last year and returns again in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Longer Grudge Match: Courageous Cat returns to the Mile for the first time since running second to Goldikova two years ago. Longest Grudge Match: Eldaafer will have to defend his title in the Marathon against A.U. Miner and Giant Oak, fourth and fifth-place finishers last year respectively. Should all three start in the Marathon again this year, they will have run 10-1/2 miles in the two races between them... More Grudge Match: Midday returns to avenge her runner-up finish in last year's Filly and Mare Turf to Shared Account, also returning in this year's race.

Ouija Board Says
The great Ouija Board is the only horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race twice in non consecutive years with a loss in the race in between. Ouija Board won the 2004 and 2006 Filly and Mare Turf but was second in that race in 2005. Da Hoss won the 1996 and 1998 Mile but missed the 1997 version of the race. California Flag tries to match Ouija Board after winning the Turf Sprint in 2009 and finishing 8th in that race last year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Most Likely Breeders' Cup Winner In First Juvenile Sprint

One week from today we’ll be enjoying the first day of Breeders’ Cup 2011. Churchill Downs’ Friday, Nov. 4 card has six Breeders’ Cup races beginning with the new $500,000 Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint (gr. 1) and concluding with the $2 million Ladies Classic (gr. 1). Nine Breeders’ Cup races follow on the card Saturday, Nov. 5 highlighted by the $5 million Breeder Cup Classic (gr. 1).

Perusing through the Breeders’ Cup pre-entries and their accompanying past performances, the horses begin to define themselves in my mind. Where are the key horses? Who is the most likely winner regardless of odds? Who’s the best bet?

Should she run in the Ladies Classic, Havre de Grace (photo right) would be the most likely winner and equally popular with the betting public. Although I wrote in the blog a few days ago about the talent and depth of the distaff division this year, Havre de Grace is in a class by herself against fillies and mares and I would expect her to go off near even odds. In her last race, the Larry Jones-trained Havre de Grace won the Beldame (gr. 1) at Belmont Park by 8-1/2 lengths over Ladies Classic bound Royal Delta, Satan’s Quick Chick and has already defeated the boys once in the Woodward Handicap (gr. 1) at Saratoga just two starts back.

All signs have Havre de Grace headed to the Classic on Saturday where a victory would make her only the second female to win the Classic and a favorite to become the third consecutive female Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra was Horse of the Year in 2009 and Zenyatta received the honor last year. By 2005 Classic winner St. Liam, Havre de Grace would also be only the second Classic winner with a Classic winner as a sire and the third to by another Breeders’ Cup winner. In 2004, Ghostzapper won the Classic as the son of Awesome Again, the 1998 Classic winner. Alphabet Soup, the 1996 Classic winner, was by 1985 Mile (gr. 1) winner Cozzene.

Having said that, the “most likely to win” label moves from the last Breeders’ Cup race of the day to the first Breeders’ Cup race on Friday, the $500,000 Sentien Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The Juvenile Sprint makes its debut in 2011 and is the only ungraded race on the World Championship menu this year.

Trainer Bob Baffert (left) probably had little to no input in writing of the conditions of the new race, but Breeders’ Cup officials may as well have. A Hall of Fame trainer with seven career Breeders’ Cup victories, Baffert has won the Juvenile (gr. 1) twice and the Sprint (gr. 1) three times. Of three grade 1 races for 2-year-olds run each year in Southern California, Baffert has won the Del Mar Futurity ten times, and the Norfolk and Hollywood/CashCall futurities five times each.

A former Quarter Horse trainer from the Arizona border town of Nogales, Baffert knows how to train very young horses to run very short distances very fast. The only trainer to have more Breeders’ Cup Juvenile titles is D. Wayne Lukas, another Quarter Horse alum, with five Breeders' Cup Juvenile titles.

It would be idiotic to infer that Baffert will win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint every year, but it looks like he will get a good start Friday as he saddles probable favorite Secret Circle.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Secret Circle will be making his third start in the 6 furlong Juvenile Sprint. Secret Circle debuted at Del Mar in July, winning a 5-1/2 furlong maiden race by seven and one-quarter lengths on Polytrack. He then duplicated that effort at Santa Anita Oct. 10, this time winning the $71,000 Jack Goodman Stakes at 6 furlongs by five and one-quarter lengths. Both races are the fastest at their distance among Juvenile Sprint competitors and in both races, the Daily Racing Form trackman described Secret Circle as being “under a long hold.” In other words, there may have been something left in the Secret Circle tank.

Also attractive about Secret’s Circle is that he looks as if he may rate based on his performance in the Goodman. In that race, Secret’s Circle broke well but Bejarano quickly settled him into third, eight lengths off of front runner Sweep Swap. He then swept three-wide in the turn and wore down his foes in upper stretch before easily drawing away.

Many times in Breeders’ Cup Sprint races, the concentration of so much speed creates frantic paces early. While horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Filly and Mare Sprint from gate-to-wire (see Big Drama winning the Sprint last year), the flexibility of being able to come from behind a torrid pace can be quite an asset.

Secret Circle’s main competition in the Juvenile Sprint should come from Hansen, a fast gray son of Tapit who has won a maiden race at Turfway Park and the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile by 12-1/4 and 13-1/4 lengths respectively. As impressive as it was however, Hansen’s maiden race was more than a second and a-half slower than Special Secret’s maiden race. Both races were run on Polytrack. Hansen’s Kentucky Cup victory was also at Turfway Park, so the Juvenile Sprint will be his first trip over natural dirt at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, also long known for success with 2-year-olds, brings Seeker to the Juvenile Sprint. After breaking his maiden in his second start over 5-1/2 furlongs at Saratoga, Asmussen tried the son of Hard Spun in the grade 2 Nashua on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park at six furlongs. There he was third behind fellow Juvenile Sprinters Vexor, the winner, and Trinniberg in second. Although the Nashua was graded, the final time of 1:10.71 for six furlongs was again slower than Secret Circle’s 1:08.27 in the Goodman.

Run as the fifth race on Friday, the Juvenile Sprint is part of the Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6. There is also a Pick3, Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta and a Daily Double available, so there figures to be plenty opportunity to capitalize on Secret Circle’s projected low odds. He makes the perfect key horse in any of these exotic bets.

And Baffert should be off to a fast start in the yet to be written history of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Churchill Downs Barn Notes

by Travers Manley and Gary Yunt | Churchill Downs Communications
Oct. 27, 2011

HUNT CROSSING INJURED, WILL MISS JUVENILE SPRINT – Hunt Crossing, runaway winner of the NATC Futurity at Monmouth Park, suffered an injury to his right knee during his most recent work at Churchill Downs and will miss the $500,000 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

“He worked on Monday and then we noticed he was off Tuesday morning and that’s when we found it,” trainer Todd Pletcher (photo) said. “He underwent surgery yesterday.”

Dell Ennis’ Hunt Crossing, who also was being considered for the Grade III, $100,000 Iroquois on Sunday, worked five furlongs Monday in 1:02.60, which was the 46th fastest of 60 at the distance.

The 2-year-old son of Corinthian has a career record that stands at 2-0-0 from three lifetime starts, with his lone loss coming in the Hopeful (GI) at Saratoga, and earnings of $110,417.

The plans for the horses in the Pletcher barn who are still pointing to the Breeders’ Cup were confirmed Thursday morning.

“All of our (Breeders’ Cup) Friday horses will work this Saturday and all of our (Breeders’ Cup) Saturday horses will work Sunday,” Pletcher said.

Included in the group of horses working Sunday will be Mike Repole’s Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, who are scheduled to work at 6 a.m. EDT. It will be the final major move for the duo of 3-year-old colts in preparation for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).

Also, mounts have been confirmed for eight of Pletcher’s 10 remaining Breeders’ Cup hopefuls. Aikenite (Sentient Jet Sprint or Dirt Mile), Stay Thirsty (Classic) and Sweet Cat (Juvenile Fillies Turf) will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Finale (Juvenile Turf), Stopshoppingmaria (Juvenile Fillies Turf or Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies), Super Espresso (Ladies’ Classic), Sidney’s Candy (TVG Mile) and Uncle Mo (Classic) will be ridden by John Velazquez.

FOR STARTERS, LEPAROUX HAS THE CALL IN SEVEN BREEDERS’ CUP RACES – Julien Leparoux has accomplished a lot at Churchill Downs since picking up his initial victory beneath the Twin Spires in the 2005 Fall Meet.

The 28-year-old native of France already ranks 10th in all-time victories at the track with 503 and has won or shared eight riding titles, including the past two.

A five-time Breeders’ Cup winner, Leparoux has the call in seven races for the World Championships here next week with the possibility of one or two more according to his agent, Steve Bass.

Breeders’ Cup mounts for Leparoux include Seeker (Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint), Brigantin (Marathon), Daddy Nose Best (Juvenile Turf), Camp Victory (Turf Sprint), Sabercat (Grey Goose Juvenile), Turallure (TVG Mile) and Wilburn (Dirt Mile).

Leparoux got his first Breeders’ Cup victory in 2007 aboard Nownownow in the Juvenile Turf at Monmouth and in 2008 won the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Forever Together. In 2009 at Santa Anita, Leparoux pulled off a hat trick, winning with Furthest Land (Dirt Mile), Informed Decision (Filly & Mare Sprint) and She Be Wild (Juvenile Fillies).

BARN TALK – Two new riders will join the jockey colony here for the Fall Meet that begins its 21-day run on Sunday: Jermaine Bridgmohan and apprentice Ronald Richard. Bridgmohan, the 23-year-old younger brother of Shaun Bridgmohan, is riding at Hawthorne now and will move his tack to Kentucky beginning the week after the Breeders’ Cup. Tommy Owen is Bridgmohan’s agent. Richard, a 17-year-old native of Louisiana, has ridden at Ellis Park and Lone Star Park as well as Keeneland. Scott Ward has the book for Richard, who plans to ride this winter at Fair Grounds. …

Arriving here Wednesday night from Lone Star Park was Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint hopeful Jake Mo. Owned by Stephen Brown, Jake Mo is trained by Allen Milligan who plans to work the Giacomo colt Saturday morning. Milligan said that Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo to victory in the 2005 Kentucky Derby, would have the mount on Jake Mo. Smith has ridden 13 Breeders’ Cup winners, second only to Jerry Bailey’s 15 for the most all time in the history of the World Championships. …

Rocket Twentyone, upset winner of the Arlington-Washington Lassie (GIII) and pre-entered in both the Grade I, $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade II, $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, is scheduled to work Friday morning at approximately 8:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) for owner Frank Fletcher and trainer Tom Howard. Regular rider Eddie Razo Jr. will be in the irons for the workout.

Photo Credit: Reed Palmer - Churchill Downs

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breeders' Cup By The Numbers

The Breeders’ Cup has now been run 27 times now. From the inaugural running at Hollywood Park in 1984 to the 2011 version next week (Nov. 4-5) at Churchill Downs, the Breeders’ Cup builds what all great sporting events have - history. And history means numbers. I don’t know if horse racing fans and bettors like numbers more than our baseball friends currently watching the World Series, but most of us thoroughbred fans like our numbers.

So we looked at the Breeders’ Cup and their history and came up with a few numbers that we thought may be of interest to you.

140,332,198 – The highest number of total dollars wagered on a single-day Breeders’ Cup event on Nov. 4, 2006 at Churchill Downs. Last year Churchill Downs handled the two-day record $173,857,697 for a Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5-6.

10,246,800 – The record number of career dollars earned by a Breeders’ Cup starter. That was Curlin's bankroll going into the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. That Classic was won by Raven's Pass at 13-to-1 odds while Curlin finished fourth as the 4-to-5 odds-on favorite. (Editor's Note: Thanks to reader Eddie D. who corrected me on this number. I previously published Skip Away and his $9,616,360 as the record holder as per the Breeders' Cup website.)

470 – The total number of foreign based starters in the Breeders’ Cup in the first 27 years. The first Breeders’ Cup had 11 foreign-based starters, of which six were in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. 1) including winner Lashkari. Last year at Churchill Downs, 25 horses came from overseas with Dangerous Midge winning the Turf and Goldikova (photo right) taking her third consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. 1). The most ever Foreign-based horses to start in a Breeders’ Cup came to Santa Anita in 2009 when 34 horses not based in the United States ran, of which a record six won.

349 – The number of starters in the Breeders’ Cup Mile during the previous 27 years making it the most popular Breeders’ Cup race among horsemen. The Sprint is second with 339 starters and the Juvenile is third with 324.

77 – The age of trainer Philip G. Johnson when he set the record as the oldest trainer to win a Breeders’ Cup race when Valponi won the 2002 Classic.

56 – The age of jockey Bill Shoemaker when he set the record as the oldest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Shoemaker was 56 when he won the 1987 Classic with Ferdinand.

52 – The number of Breeders’ Cup races won by horses breaking from post position two or four – 26 each and leading all other post positions in that category. Post number one is third with 24 winners.

14 – The number of Breeders’ Cup races that have finished with the official winning margin being a nose. Difficult to say which was the most dramatic, but Personal Ensign putting in that stretch run in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies Classic) on a dark on sloppy day at Churchill Downs to catch Winning Colors gets my vote. Ferdinand and Alysheba were so close at the wire of the 1987 Classic that their jockeys, Bill Shoemaker and Chris McCarron aboard respectively, both recalled asking each other who had won while galloping out just past the wire. What about Macho Uno holding off Point Given to win the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. For the record, Blame was a head in front of Zenyatta in the 2009 Classic. There are 17 Breeders’ Cup races with the official winning margin a head.

13-1/2 – The number of lengths that made up Inside Information’s record winning margin in the 1995 Distaff over Heavenly Prize. Second: Street Sense and his ten length victory over Circular Quay in the 2006 Juvenile with Pleasant Home having the third longest winning margin, defeating Society Selection in the 2005 Distaff.

13 – The number of Breeders’ Cup winners who have sired Breeders’ Cup winners. Awesome Again, winner of the 1998 Classic, leads the pack with four of his get winning Breeders’ Cup races. Awesome Again has sired Wilko, winner of the 2004 Juvenile; Ghostzapper (2004 Classic); Round Pond (2006 Distaff) and Ginger Punch (2007) Distaff.

3 – The number of mares that have produced two multiple Breeders’ Cup winners. Primal Force (by Blushing Groom) is the dam of Awesome Again (1998 Classic) and Macho Uno (2000 Juvenile). Sweet Catomine (2004 Juvenile Fillies) and Life is Sweet (2009 Distaff) are both out of the Kris S. mare Sweet Life; and the Kahyasi (IRE) mare Hasili (IRE) produced Banks Hill and Intercontinental, winners of the 2001 and 2005 Filly and Mare Turf.

1 – The number of horse who have won three Breeders’ Cup races. Goldikova returns this year to try for her four Breeders’ Cup Mile. Ouija Board won the Filly and Mare Turf in 2004 and 2006 and was second in that race in 2005 to 15-to-1 long shot Intercontinental.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CD Barn Notes: BC Mile Hope Sidney's Candy Works On Turf

by Travers Manley and Gary Yunt | Churchill Downs Communications

Sidney's Candy, headed for the TVG Mile, breezed a half-mile on turf under Annie Finney. (Reed Palmer, CD)

PLETCHER SETTLES IN; SIDNEY’S CANDY WORKS ON TURF – Trainer Todd Pletcher, who saddled three of his six Breeders’ Cup winners at last year’s World Championships at Churchill Downs, began the process of improving on his career total Tuesday morning starting at 6 o’clock with light exercise from Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) hopefuls Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty and concluding just before 10 o’clock with a half-mile grass work from Sidney’s Candy for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI).

“I am here through the Breeders’ Cup,” said Pletcher, whose last contingent of World Championship runners arrived from New York on Monday morning.

Leading that contingent was the Repole Stable-owned duo of Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty. Both colts jogged once around the main track Tuesday, with Hector Ramos on Uncle Mo and Fernando Zamora on Stay Thirsty.

Pletcher plans to work both colts on Sunday.

“We pre-entered 11 altogether,” Pletcher said. “Hunt Crossing (Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint), Stopshoppingmaria (Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies), Sweet Cat (Juvenile Fillies Turf), Her Smile (Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint), Super Espresso (Ladies’ Classic), Finale (Juvenile Turf), Rule (Dirt Mile), Sidney’s Candy (Mile), and Aikenite who was cross-entered in the Sentient Jet Sprint and Dirt Mile, plus Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty.”

Uncle Mo won the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) last year and Pletcher’s other winners were Pluck in the Juvenile Turf and More Than Real in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

“I feel good about all my horses and it looks like the ones that came in yesterday all shipped well,” Pletcher said. “We have some important works coming up and you hold your breath (until the event is here).”

Pletcher was asked if there were any of his runners that might be flying under the radar coming into this year’s championships.

"We’ve got a few that are in that category,” Pletcher said with a laugh. “Her Smile won the Prioress (GI) and got the perfect set-up and would need something similar. Super Espresso, we are going off her work here the other day (five furlongs in 1:01.60 over a fast track Saturday). She trained here in the spring before going to Pimlico (for a victory in the GIII DuPont Distaff), so for her it is racetrack related. Aikenite runs well here.”

WinStar Farm and Rubio B Stable’s Sidney’s Candy covered a half-mile on firm turf in :50 under exercise rider Annie Finney. Clockers got the first quarter in 27 seconds flat and a gallop-out time of 1:03.40 for five furlongs.

“It was a good work,” Pletcher said of Sidney’s Candy, who ran third in the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) at Keeneland in his most recent start on Oct. 8. “It looked like he got over the ground well and finished strong.”

FIELDS TAKING SHAPE FOR OPENING-DAY POCAHONTAS AND IROQUOIS – A trio of Grade III winners are expected to be among the names to pass the entry box Thursday for the 43rd running of the $150,000 Pocahontas (GII) at a mile on the main track to be run Sunday.

The Pocahontas and the 30th running of the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII) share top billing on Sunday’s opening-day program of the 21-day Fall Meeting that runs through Nov. 27. Sunday’s card, “Stars of Tomorrow I” will feature racing exclusively for 2-year-olds.

Heading the list of probables according to Churchill Downs racing officials are Believe You Can, Flashy Lassie and Georgie’s Angel.

Brereton Jones’ Believe You Can has won her past three starts, capped by a victory in the Tempted (GIII) at Belmont Park on Oct. 2. Barry King’s Flashy Lassie won the Debutante (GIII) here in June and Georgie’s Angel, beaten favorite in the Tempted, won the Schuylerville (GIII) at Saratoga. Georgie’s Angel is owned by Sheffer Racing Stable, Ronald Stocks, Betsy Wells and Kelly Weitsma.

Other probable starters for the Pocahontas, won last year by Dancinginherdreams, include And Why Not, Aubby K, Best of Times, Glinda the Good, Heart of Destiny, Spirited Miss and Taxi Dancer.

Lantern Hill Farm’s Motor City, third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII), tops the list of probables for the Iroquois. Other likely starters for the Iroquois, won last year by Astrology, include Hollywood Script, Mark Valeski, Purely Determined and Seven Lively Sins.

BARN TALK – Buff Bradley, trainer and co-owner of Groupie Doll, plans to bring the 3-year-old filly back in the Nov. 12 Mrs. Revere (GII) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Groupie Doll finished second in last Saturday’s Lexus Raven Run (GII) at Keeneland. …

Bisnath Parboo, trainer of Breeders’ Cup hopefuls Giant Ryan and Trinniberg, plans to work both horses Wednesday morning. Trinniberg (Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint candidate) is scheduled to work three furlongs or a half-mile out of the gate at 7:15 with Giant Ryan (Grade I Sentient Jet Sprint) slated to work a half-mile or five furlongs after the renovation break. Willie Martinez is scheduled to be in the saddle for both works.

WORK TAB – Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, working toward an expected start in Saturday’s Fayette (GII) at Keeneland, breezed three furlongs in :36.20 over a fast track. …

Lantern Hill Farm’s Motor City, a candidate for Sunday’s 30th running of the $100,000-added Iroquois (GIII), worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 before the renovation break under Calvin Borel. The work was the fifth fastest of 37 at the distance. …

Working six furlongs in 1:18.40 on the firm Matt Winn Turf Course was Gaillardia Racing’s Wilkinson, who was third in the Jamaica Handicap (GI) in his most recent start.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Deep Ladies Classic Division Can Withstand Defections, Retirements and Injuries

At one time this year - as recent as early October – the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic had the potential to be one for ages. The $2 million feature race on ESPN’s Friday night, Nov. 4 telecast, was to feature Havre de Grace and Blink Luck, two 4-year-old fillies that have produced one of the best rivalries of our generation over the last two years. During the 16 months, Havre de Grace and Blind Luck have met six times, in which five they finished first and second. Blind Luck has the edge on wins 3-2. )The only race neither filly won in which they both ran, Blind Luck was second and Havre de Grace was third in last year’s Ladies Classic behind winner Unrivaled Belle.

Blind Luck is headed to Kentucky in November, but she will be traveling to Lexington for the Keeneland November Sale Nov. 7-17 to be sold at public auction. Havre de Grace arrived at Churchill Downs Monday for the Breeders’ Cup, but she is being pointed toward the $5 million Classic against males Saturday, Nov. 5.

Okay then. Regroup. The Ladies Classic fans should be used to important defections after Zenyatta ran in the previous two Classics instead of the Ladies Classics won by Life is Sweet in 2009 and Unrivaled Belle.

Then more bad news when trainer John Sadler announced that Zazu, (who is a bit of a Zenyatta impersonator with the same green and teal Moss colors and come from out of the clouds running style), but a grade 1 winner of the Lady’s Secret Stakes in her own right, will miss this year’s Ladies Classic because of inflamation in a shoulder. Telling Daily Racing Form’s David Grening, “"We're going to bypass the Ladies' Classic," Sadler said. "She came out of her work a little off. We put her in the nuclear scan, and it revealed a little inflammation. The timing is lousy, but the prognosis for next year is 100 percent."

As a racing fan, I’ll take that trade. Zazu could easily develop into one of next year’s distaff stars, depending on what owners Fox Hill Farm decide to do with Havre de Grace in 2012 of course.

Even after all the defections, however, this Ladies Classic will still have some star power.

Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. 1) winner Aruna is trained by 2011 Kentucky Derby winning trainer Graham Motion and is starting to attract some attention. Although the Ladies Classic would be the first race on natural dirt for Aruna, the Spinster was her first start on polytrack after career on turf. Motion had entered Aruna in the Spinster after scratching the Mr. Greely filly from the Flower Bowl Handicap (gr. 1) on the Belmont Park turf because of weather.

Since the Spinster is also a Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic “Win and You’re In” race, Motion has said he is considering the Ladies Classic for Aruna. As Frank Angst pointed out in his Oct. 11 analysis of the Ladies Classic for Thoroughbred Times, “Much like Motion’s Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Aruna would be making her first career dirt start at Churchill Downs if she enters the Ladies Classic.”

More seasoned on dirt is Ultra Bend, who was second to Zazu in the Lady’s Secret and stakes winner of two races over synthetic tracks taking the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar and the Milady (gr. 2) at Hollywood Park. In 23 career starts, Ultra Bend has been first, second or third 21 times.

At ages four and five respectively, Aruna and Ultra Bend will also have an age advantage over three of the other popular contenders in the Ladies Classic.

No match for Havre de Grace in the Oct. 1 Beldame Stakes (gr. 1) at Belmont, second-place finisher Royal Delta now comes into the Ladies Classic among the favorites. Among the 3-year-old fillies in the Classic, Royal Delta comes into the Ladies Classic as the winner of this year’s Alabama Stakes (gr. 1) at Saratoga and grade 2 Black Eyed Susan in May. Royal Delta is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott (photo above), who will be attempting to win his fourth Ladies Classic after previously winning the race with Ajina, 1997; Escena, 1998 and Unrivaled Belle.

It’s Tricky was the other 3-year-old filly star at Saratoga this summer, taking the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. 1) in July over Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty in second and Royal Delta in third. Later in the Saratoga meeting, It’s Tricky was second to Royal Delta in the Alabama. Trained by Kiaran McGlothlin, It’s Tricky was also second to Plum Pretty in the Oct. 1 in the Cotillion (gr. 2) at Parx Racing near Philadelphia, Pa., in their last race.

Plum Pretty, also fourth in the Alabama, did not have such a great summer at Saratoga, but she is also headed to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and will again be saddled by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Winning the Kentucky Oaks over the Churchill Downs surface in May at the 1-1/8 mile distance will also work in the Medaglia d’Oro filly’s favor.

Between Royal Delta, It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty, they have a decent rivalry going amongst them. All three ran in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama; and Plum Pretty and It’s Tricky faced each other again in the Cottillion. Between them, they have 11 starts against one another.

Like Blind Luck and Havre de Grace last year, however, the 3-year-olds are still racing against older fillies and mares, the most accomplished of which is Aruna - who just happens to be trained by 3-time Ladies Classic winner Mott. The other mare is the ultra-consistent Ultra Bend.

The gap left by Havre de Grace and Blink Luck has not yet been filled and quite frankly is not expected to be. But the Ladies Classic is far from empty. In fact, the Ladies Classic may have as many as ten fillies and mare pre-enter on Monday (including Havre de Grace.) Last year’s champion 2-year-old filly Awesome Feather and Spinster second Pachattack may also be among them.

So by the time the Ladies Classic concludes ladys’ day at the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 4, there should be enough stars to enlighten the gap getting much more narrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Abrams Will Have Unusual Attention On Australia's Melbourne Cup

Read most any biography on Southern California trainer Barry Abrams (photo right), and one learns that he was born in Minsk, Russia, snuck into Poland on a freight train with his family at age five and eventually made it to the United States in 1963 via another stop in Israel. Despite his world travels as a child however, as a adult Abrams has been known more for his keen claims than his international participation.

But that is where Abrams finds himself now with his home-bred Unusual Suspect running in Australia with the ultimate goal being the prestigious Emirates Melbourne Cup Nov. 1. Recently Barry, wife Dyan and David Abrams took on Australian partners R. Te, S. Rose, P. Lord and trainer Michael Kent, in an effort to further promote the stallion career of their grade 1 millionaire down under.

As a son of Abrams’ stallion Unusual Heat, Abrams has more than a little interest in Unusual Suspect as a runner and stallion. Abrams stands Unusual Heat at Harris Ranch near Coalinga, California for a $20,000 fee. This year Unusual Heat is having a banner year with his leading runner being the multiple grade 1 winner Acclamation. Counting wins in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic among his current streak of five consecutive victories. Acclamation had earned $1,126,000 in 2011 before being sidelined recently with a minor foot problem.

Abrams claimed Unusual Heat for $80,000 in 1996 after remembering him from the 1992 Barrett’s Two-Year-Old in Training sale. “I loved (Unusual Heat) as a son of Nureyev and his dam [Rossard] was the best horse in Sweden," Abrams told Shane Anderson during a recent interview on Australia’s Radio Sport National When they brought her over here, she beat the best horses in America in the Flower Bowl Handicap (gr. 1). “Unusual Heat sold for $250,000 as a 2-year-old at Barrett’s, but I didn’t have that kind of money, so I never even bid on him. But I followed him when they took him to Ireland and he won his first race. He was going to be the favorite for [the Irish] 2000 Guiness, but he got hurt. And he kept getting hurt. Four years later when they brought him back to America, I claimed him as a stallion prospect.”

This year, Unusual Heat as a stallion has a Horse of the Year candidate in Acclamation; and a potential Melbourne Cup winner in Unusual Suspect (photo below).

There are other reasons Abrams has Unusual Suspect in Australia other than the new partners. “To keep [Unusual Suspect as a stallion] in America would be hard to do. American breeders just want speed, speed, speed,” Abrams told Anderson during the same broadcast. “But I’m finding that breeders in Australia are breeding to win the [1-1/2 mile BMW] Caufield Cup. They are breeding to win the 3,200 meter (about 2 miles) Melbourne Cup.”

So far Unusual Suspect has had three races in Australia. He was fourth in the Dato Tin Chan Nam Stakes (gr. 2) at a mile at Moonee Valley Race Course in September; then tenth in the 1-1/4 Tab Sportsbet Cranbourne Cup Oct. 9 and sixth, beaten just more than three lengths, in the BMW Caulfield Cup (gr. 1) Oct. 15.

But those losses don’t seem to deter Abrams, whose voice is still recovering from surgery to treat a recurring throat cancer. “Unusual Suspect,” Abrams says with enthusiasm, “He’s the best horse that nobody knows about.”

Should Unusual Suspect win the Melbourne Cup, that will definitely change – at the very least – in Australia. Run each year at 3:00 pm on the first Tuesday of November, the $6.175 million Melbourne Cup is the cornerstone of the historic Melbourne Carnival at Flemington Race Course in Melbourne, Australia. First run in 1861, the Melbourne Cup is the richest sporting event in Australia and is perhaps the closest thing the country has to an unofficial national holiday. In 1880, the Melbourne Cup attracted their first crowd of 100,000 when the population of Australia was only 290,000 and the race continues today to be woven into the social culture of Australia. For years the Melbourne Cup has created as much style as Champions and has been known for decades as “The Race That Stops a Nation.”

When it comes to Unusual Suspect, Abrams is less concerned about stopping a nation, but has his attention on starting a stallion career.

For complete Shane Anderson interview with Barry Abrams on National Sport Radio Sport Click Here (Abram interview is last feature starting at approximately the 20:00 mark.)

Remember Me Rescue Cool Auction Item
I recently ran across this auction item that will benefit Remember Me Rescue here in Texas and it has caught my attention. What a unique auction item this is; and for a good cause.

As described on Donna Keen's My Thoroughbred Blog, The 1.75 liter bottle of Grey Goose Vodka has been autographed by all the top jockeys, great trainers, and legends from the West Coast. Signatures from John Henry's trainer Ron McAnnally to Bob Baffert and beautiful and talented Chantal Sutherland, young Joe Talamo, and Breeders Cup winner David Flores. We have commitments from Patrick Valenzuela, Mike Smith, and many, many others. I will continue to collect autographs until the auction is over.

Click Here To Better See and Bid on item

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

America's Gem Or Just Awesome, Breeders' Cup Loss May Be 2012 Gain

Major League Baseball’s World Series begins tonight so I’m going to use a National Footbal League metaphor to illustrate a point about horse racing’s Breeders’ Cup. I’ll talk to my therapist about this during my next trip, but until then: bear with me.

Like most American boys, I became a football fan long before I understood the game. My mother was a St. Louis native and that is where I spent many summers, listening to Harry Carry on the radio atop my grandparents refrigerator. I would also sometimes get to a preseason football game at old Busch Stadium before returning home to Tucson, so I was a Cardinal fan – baseball and football. In 1960s and ‘70s network television, long before cable, Tucson television stations would telecast the Dallas Cowboy games nearly every week. They weren’t my favorite Cardinals, but I thought Cowboys, in particular wide receiver Bob Hayes, were pretty cool. In my little world, Hayes was thee coolest dude ever as an Olympic Gold Medalist and football player. He was literally the fastest man in the world.

But somewhere along the line, former Cowboy executives Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt decided the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team”. It was a great marketing ploy that exists today and I admit, was pure genius. But it very much griped me as a kid then and still as an Arizona Cardinal fan and resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex today. The Cowboys are much, much less American’s Team in other places compared to my measly little Cardinal red bum. Try convincing some folks at tail gate parties in Pittsburgh, New York or Philadelphia that Dallas is America's team.

My point is: one really has to earn the title as America’s Team or America’s "anything" for that matter. (Olympics and international competition obviously aside) Which finally brings me to my point about horse racing.

One advantage horse racing has over most other major sports is that occasionally we truly can produce a thoroughbred worthy of the title "America’s Horse". Yes we’ve had the American Horse of the Year now for nearly 125 years, but very few of them were special enough to be considered popular enough to become so honored as America’s Horse.

Thoroughbreds with consecutive Horse of the Year titles like Henry of Navarre, in 1894-95 and Cammando in 1900-01; were popular in their time no doubt, but only some of the greats have garned the title as America’s Horse. Horses with household recognition that have stood the test of time like Man o’War, Seabiscut, Whirlaway, Citation, Forego, Kelso, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Cigar have left legacies – not just records.

At times, however, the "America's Horse" may not be a future Hall of Famer, or even have much of a chance at their respective Horse of the Year title. Like minor league baseball players, they are the well traveled winners on the minor circuit that bring a speckle of stardom to the less glorious parks and fields of play. They may even be called up to the big leagues at times; One day knocking one out of Yankee Stadium, the next day on a bus to Altoona. One day winning the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, another day it might be a grade 3 stake in Des Moines.

The 2011 racing season produced one such horse in Awesome Gem (photo upper right). No, he isn’t of the legendary America’s Horse variety, rather he’s the traveler of the sometimes, less glamorous tracks.

Trained by Craig Dollase for West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem has run eight times this year at eight different tracks. His past performance sounds like it should be sung by Johnny Cash….”I’ve raced at Golden Gate, Charles Town, Lone Star, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Prairie Meadows, Emerald and Churchill Downs, I’ve raced everywhere man, been on that Sutton plane man, picture taken in Seattle man, took first place in Texas man, I’ve raced everywhere.” Remember, this is in 2011 only.

Based in Dollase’s Southern California barn, Awesome Gem has been to Emerald Downs in Seattle, Washington twice,
running second in the grade 3 Longacres Mile in 2009 but returning to win the Mile this year. The son of Awesome Again has also been to Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, Texas twice with a similar pattern. Awesome Gem finished second in the 2010 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. 3); but returning this year to win it. As indicated by their grade 3 status, the Longacres Mile and Lone Star Park Handicap are not the races that create winners of Eclipse Awards. But they are the marquee events at both tracks and create at least some additional local excitement when horses from those races compete on the international level of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In 2008, he traveled to Hong Kong’s Sha Tin Racecourse for their group 1 Sha Tin Mile and has also made stops in New Jersey to run third in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) behind Curlin and Hard Spun. That was one of two starts in the Classic (he was 7th in the ’09 Classic to Zenyatta) and four starts in the Breeders’ Cup. He was sixth in the ’08 Mile behind Goldikova and seventh as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon last year.

Throw in a trip to Chicago to win the 2009 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. 2) and you pretty much have the highlights of his 45 career starts.

Race number 48 won’t be his record fifth Breeders’ Cup however (joining Better Talk Now, Perfect Drift and Kona Gold with five Breeders’ Cup starts.) Dollace and West Coast president Terry Finley announced on the West Point Thoroughbred web site that Awesome Gem will bypass the Breeders’ Cup. Dollase said In a prepared statement, “Awesome Gem's earned a break this season,” Dollase remarked. “He’s a game old contender who continues to live a healthy and happy life thanks to judicious placement, and we want to do the right thing by him. He came out of his last race with a very minor hind end issue that just needs some time on the farm to resolve."

The good news is that America just might see race number 48 according to Dollace. “He’ll get 60-90 days on the farm,” Dollase said. “We think we’re going to have a lot of success with him next year and he’s earned a well-deserved rest in the meantime.”

Awesome Gem may not be another Citation, Secretariat or Cigar and you can disagree with the America’s Horse moniker and have a point for debate. But that skepticism has little effect on many fans in Texas, Iowa and Washington State to name just a few stops on his $2.7 million career path.

“If you took a map and marked all the places he’s run, you’d be amazed,” Finley remarked. “He’s an aptly-named treasure for our Partners and the West Point team.” Hopefully Awesome Gem will be a treasure for American racing fans again as well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Uncle Mo's 220 Yard Elephant

After Uncle Mo (photo) won the grade 1 Kelso Handicap during Belmont Park’s Super Saturday card Oct. 1, many assumed owner Mike Repole (photo below) would send the colt to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for his next race instead of the 10 furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic.

After all, the Kelso was a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders' Cup Mile, meaning all entry fees for Uncle Mo would be forgone for the $1 million Mile on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. Secondly, the Kelso victory was over older horses, so Uncle Mo’s age as a 3-year-old should be no problem in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Although, Uncle Mo carried 117 pounds compared to runner-up Jackson Bend who toted 121 lbs, Uncle Mo was still a convincing winner. And finally, Repole already has Gotham, Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty headed to Classic. Why not try to win two Breeders’ Cup races that day.

As it stands right now however, Repole wants to have a double barrel shot at the $5 million Classic – Stay Thirsty making up one shot and Uncle Mo the other.

But there is a question regarding Uncle Mo and the classic 1-1/4 distance of the Classic, also run Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. As a son of the successful stallion Indian Charlie, there is a question as to Uncle Mo running and winning over 1-1/4 miles against grade 1 international competition.

It is not so much Uncle Mo’s ability to run faster than his Breeders’ Up Classic rivals (his 1:33.82 time is among the fastest in the 30-year history of the Kelso and it was over a sloppy track), but can he run fast enough, far enough. The Classic is a full two furlongs (440 yards) further than the one mile Kelso.

Uncle Mo won the 1-1/16 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year at Churchill Downs with ease – winning by four lengths. The only time Uncle Mo ran further, he was third, slightly more than a length behind Toby’s Corner in the World Resort Wood Memorial in April preparing for the Kentucky Derby. But that race must be thrown out, because a rare liver ailment discovered in Uncle Mo was just days after the Wood.

The doubt of whether Uncle Mo can win at 10 furlongs, comes most from the record of his sire Indian Charlie. Indian Charlie won the 9 furlong Santa Anita Derby in 1998 and was favored in the Kentucky Derby that year but finished third to stable mate Real Quiet.

Indian Charlie stood for $10,000 during his first year at stud, but now demands a fee of $70,000 for mare owners. And it is quite deserved based on his success as a stallion. A son of In Excess (IRE), Indian Charlie’s most successful offspring to date are Indian Blessing ($2,995,000), Fleet Indian ($1,704,513), Uncle Mo and Pampered Princess $786,125.

Indian Blessing was the 2007 Champion Juvenile Filly and a triple graded stakes winner at two, winning the seven furlong La Brea, the one mile Frizzette and the 1-1/16 mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Eclipse as Champion 2-Year-Old Filly. Fleet Indian won the Obeah Stakes and Beldame at 1-1/8 miles but also won the Personal Ensign and Delaware Handicap, both at 1-1/4 miles. Pampered Princess won the 1-1/8 Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland and the ungraded Wayward Lass.

In 2010, Indian Charlie was represented on the Kentucky Derby trail by Conveyance, who looked impressive in winning the San Rafael at Santa Anita and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, but both were at one mile. In his last race before the Derby, he was upset by Endorsement in the 1-1/8 Sunland Derby. Conveyance eventually ran in the Kentucky Derby and lead for the first six furlongs, but faded badly and finished 15th to winner Super Saver.

So Indian Charlie has had a winner at the 10 furlong classic distance in Fleet Indian, and both races were against top grade competition. But Indian Charlie has had other offspring that were very impressive at 9 furlongs, but just couldn’t get that extra 220 yards to 1-1/4 miles.

Uncle Mo has followed that pattern of winning at 1-1/8 miles easily and has looked like he could have easily gone the extra furlong without threat. But that was almost a year ago against 2-year-olds in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In the Kelso, Uncle Mo won so easily, he appeared as if he could have run to Katmando and back and brought Bob Sieger and his band with him.

This year there will be that extra distance, older competition and $3 million additional on the line in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Some say it’s just another furlong. But it’s also a giant eighth-of-a-mile elephant in the room that needs attention as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

TBT Postponed One Day Until Tuesday

The Brock Talk will not be posted today due to circumstances beyond our control. I will post Tuesday, October 18 and resume our regular schedule thereafter.

We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for reading.

Have a happy and lucky Monday.

Brock Sheridan
The Brock Talk

Friday, October 14, 2011

Breeders' Cup Ladies Class Has Given Racing Great Moments And Great Fillies and Mares

Even though the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic plays a bit of a second-fiddle to the Classic and at times even the Juvenile (gr. 1), it is a race that has given us many memorable moments – some filled with the greatness of some of the most famous female race horses in North American history.

Like most Breeders’ Cup races, the Ladies Classic was first run in 1984 at Hollywood Park. Formerly known as the Breeders’ Cup Distaff until 2008 when it assumed the current name, the Ladies Classic started with a boom.

While the first Breeders’ Cup Classic was missing one of the great icons of that generation when John Henry missed the race due to injury, the first Ladies Classic (Distaff) was filled with filly and mare stars. That year, Distaff favorite Princess Rooney (photo right) came to the Breeders’ Cup with victories in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Clement Hirsch at Santa Anita and finished her Breeders’ Cup preparation with a win at Keeneland in the Spinster Stakes.

Lining up to face the 7-to-10 favorite was Life’s Magic, the eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Champion Filly that year who had taken the Mother Goose Stakes, Alabama Stakes and Monmouth Oaks; Lucky Lucky Lucky, second to Princess Rooney in the Spinster; and Miss Oceana, who was second to Life’s Magic in the Beldame at Belmont Park among the field of seven.

Princess Rooney would not disappoint her supporters that day, winning by seven with jockey Eddie Delahoussaye seven lengths over Life’s Magic in second and Adored in third. So impressive was Princess Rooney that day, that her final time of 2:02-2/5 was a full second faster than Wild Again’s Breeders’ Cup Classic later that same day over the same 1-1/4 mile distance.

Although Life’s Magic was second in the first Breeders’ Cup, she would come back the next year at Aqueduct and take home her own Breeders’ Cup victory, defeating Lady’s Secret (photo below left and later named Champion Older Filly or Mare in 1985.

In 1986 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Lady’s Secret would return from her runner-up performance the preceding year with a vengeance. But Lady’s Secret began her tear through racing much earlier in the year. That year the dainty filly won 10 of 15 starts, including the Maskette, Beldame and Ruffian for the second consecutive year. She defeated males four times including the Whitney Handicap, which had not been won by a female since Gallorette in 1948. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee would later be named Champion Older Filly or Mare and became only the eighth filly or mare since 1887 to be named Horse of the Year.

It would take only two years before another future Hall of Fame filly would grace the Distaff with her presence – in fact it would be two greats.

Personal Ensign came into the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff undefeated in 12 career starts including wins in the Hemstead Stakes, Shuvee Handicap, Molly Pritchard Handicap, Beldame Stakes (for the second time), Maskette and a victory over males in the Whitney Handicap.

The race featured Winning Colors, who in May had become only the third filly to win the Kentucky Derby.

The two met in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the Kentucky Derby winning filly Winning Colors jumped out to an early lead as always and ran comfortably around the sloppy Churchill Downs track. At the top of the long Churchill Downs streatch, Winning Colors and jockey Gary Stevens started pulling away from a stubborn Goodbye Halo and well on their way to a win. But Personal Ensign had moved into the picture, but was trying to pass Goodbye Halo for second with Winning Colors still keeping her distance from the Goodbye Halo and Personal Ensign, some two lengths behind.

But Personal Ensign began creeping closer toward Winning Colors, but by that time, the finish was insight and time and track appeared to be running out for Personal Ensign and jockey Randy Romero. Driving to catch Winning Colors in apparent vain, the finish line suddenly appeared and the race seemed finished. But just as quickly, Personal Ensign jumped even with Winning Colors in one stride and was a nose ahead the next. Not a fraction of second too soon, Personal Ensign won and would retire with her 13-race undefeated winning streak intact and honors and the Champion Filly or Mare of 1988.

The next two years of the Distaff division belonged to the parrot-mouthed, tongue-hangin’ out Bayakoa, trained by Ron McAnally. In 1989, Bayakoa won the Ruffian, Santa Margarita Invitational, the Apple Blossom, Milady Handicaps and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The following year was almost a repeat. She won the Santa Maria Handicap then took the Santa Margarita, Milady and Breeders’ Cup Distaff for the second time. Today, she remains the only horse to ever win the Distaff twice.

Two years after McAnally returned with another Argentia-bred in Paseana. In 1992, Paseana (who also had a penchant for running with her tongue hanging out) won the Santa Margarita, Milady, Apple Blossom, Vanity, Santa Maria and San Gorgonia Handicaps. But just before the ’92 Breeders’ Cup, Paseana finished second in the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland and many wondered if she would be in top form for the Distaff a month later. Let go with 5-to-2 odds coupled with stable mate Exchange in the Distaff, Paseana stalked pace-setter and favorite Saratoga Dew down the Gulfstream Park backstreatch but passed her with ease just as the field hit the far turn. With ears pricked as if to ask jockey Chris McCarron when to go, Paseana took the Distaff into her own hoofs and began to extend her lead around the turn. By the time they turned for home, Paseana was comfortably in front and went to win by four lengths over Versailles Treaty and be named the Champion Old Mare for the first of two consecutive times.

Ten years later, the star of the Distaff was Azeri after she ran one of the most impressive campaigns for a female Thoroughbred in recent memory. She won the Clement Hirsh, Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup, Santa Margarita, Apple Blossom, Milady Breeders’ Cup, Vanity and Vanity before winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in romp and be named Champion Older Mare and the second Distaff winner to take Horse of the Year. Immediately after the Distaff, future Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith declared Azeri the best filly he had ever ridden.

That was about to change.

On April 5, 2008 Smith was named by trainer John Shirreffs to ride his filly in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Based in California, the filly had been ridden by David Flories in her first three starts, all wins. But Flores did not make the trip from Southern California to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Smith, also based in Southern California, had other mounts that weekend at Oaklawn Park and had ridden for Shirreffs many times before, including winning the Kentucky Derby on Giacomo. At the start of the Apple Blossom, the filly quickly fell back to second to last of the six mares and stayed there until the field reached the far turn. She circled the field (just as she had always done), took command in the stretch and won by a four lengths.

Victories in the Milady, Vanity, Clement Hirsch and Lady’s Secret followed before Zenyatta would make her Breeders’ Cup debut in the $2 million Ladies Classic. Breaking last in a field of eight, her winning running style was repeated and for the ninth consecutive time, Zenyatta was in the winners circle of the 2099 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

There are certainly other great champions to run in the Ladies Classic and exciting stretch runs and close finishes. But these eight fillies and mares are some of the greatest in the history of American horse racing. All but Zenyatta are in the Hall of Fame and she will get on the first ballot in which she is eligible.
Just as it’s winners are glorified in the halls of racing history, the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic has etched its way into horse racing history with a story that is far from being complete. It is unknown when the Ladies Classic story will come to an end – probably not in my lifetime – but I’m sure anticipating the next chapter set to take place at Churchill Downs Nov. 4.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breeders' Cup Juvenile: A Breeders' Cup Race Apart

The $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings has always separated itself from most of the other Breeders’ Cup races and it has been because of a number of reasons. When the inaugural Breeders’ Cup was held at Hollywood Park in 1984, it was Chief’s Crown that won the first race of the day, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the first ever Breeders’ Cup race. The Juvenile would act as the Breeders’ Cup lid-lifter for the first three Breeders’ Cups, but was moved later in the card in 1987, due to the race’s popularity with the bettors, television audience and television executives with ratings and perhaps a Kentucky Derby to promote the next year. This year, there will be 15 Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs Nov. 4-5, and the Juvenile is one of seven with a purse of least $2 million.

All Breeders’ Cup races have the riches and the prestige, no doubt. The $5 million Classic and $3 Turf are cornerstone events with international appeal and have the ability to impact racing and breeding world wide. But the Juvenile has that connection to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, it is notable when a Derby winner runs in the Classic and only Sunday Silence in 1989 and Unbridled a year later have won both races in the same year. But we haven’t seen a Kentucky Derby winner win a race since Big Brown won the Monmouth Stakes back in 2008; and Derby winners Animal Kingdom this year and Super Saver last, did not make it to the Classic, so the Classic does not have that attraction every year.

Not to be too romantic, but the Juvenile brings with it every year, Derby dreams with blankets of red roses on a sunny first Saturday in May.

True, only Street Sense (photo above right) in 1996-97 has won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby the following year, but that doesn’t stop the speculation and knee jerking. (For the record: I raise my hand in blogging court; guilty as charged on both of those counts.) But Americans are almost possessive of the Juvenile winner. If a horse wins the Juvenile, we expect him on the Derby trail next year. When Vale of York was retired after one bad start as a 3-year-old in Dubai, we at the very least were disappointed and at the most even agitated.

When trainer Francois Boutin and owners Allen Paulson and Shiek Mohammed al Maktoum took Arazi back to France after his sensational 1993 Juvenile, they were harshly criticized by the American press and fans. And when they prepped him for the Kentucky Derby with one start in the one mile Prix Omnium, a group 2 grass race at Saint-Cloud in France, we scoffed at the training schedule while at the same time making him odds-on favorite at 3-to-10 in the Derby. Then Arazi finished eighth in the Run for the Roses which only accelerated the criticism.

We love the Juvenile too, because it gives us that glimpse into what we vision in our minds as the Kentucky Derby future.

Those future dreams do not have to emanate from the horse that wins the Juvenile either. Kentucky Derby winners Spend A Buck (’85) (photo left) and Alysheba (’87) both finished third in their respective Breeders’ Cup Juveniles the preceding years. Sea Hero, winner of the 1993 Derby, was seventh in the ’92 Breeders’ Cup Juveniles and Mine That Bird won the 2009 Derby after finishing ninth in preceding year’s Juvenile.

Other great horses have been defeated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Easy Goer was second behind Is It True in the 1988 Juvenile. Best Pal was sixth behind winner Fly So Free. Afleet Alex was second to Wilko. Lookin at Lucky would have his first of what would be several unlucky races in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup, losing to Vale of York by a nose. Last year, Travers winner and Classic contender Stay Thirsty was fifth behind Uncle Mo, also Classic bound next month.

A Juvenile winner in early November is also perfect timing for the stallions that benefit when their get win the Juvenile. With breeding season coming that winter, many mare owners will be impressed by the Juvenile win and the following extra attention the victory gives to the winner’s family.

Three stallions have had great success in producing Juvenile winners and the sires of juvenile winners. Only Kris S., Seattle Slew and Unbridled have two sons each with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile wins. Kris S. sired Brocco (1993) and Action This Day (2003); while Unbridled’s Song (’95) and Anees (’99) are both sons of Unbridled. Seattle Slew is the sire of Juvenile winners Capote (’86) and Vindication (’02).

Unbridled and Seattle Slew also have additional Juvenile winners, each further down their bloodlines. For Unbridled, it is 2008 Juvenile winner Midshipman, a son of Unbridled’s Song, while Seattle Slew has to go through his prolific son A.P. Indy, the sire of Stephen Got Even and grandsire of Vale of York, to get his other Juvenile winner.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, perhaps even more than those who take much richer races later in the day such as the Classic or Turf, has a certain mystique that seems to set it apart from others on the Breeders’ Cup slate. The extra significance can be attributed as much to its intangible connection to the following year’s Kentucky Derby than even the rich purse, grade 1 status or Breeders’ Cup glory that comes with the festive day.

But whether it is deserved or not some 2-year-old colt will be the next great thoroughbred hope for a Kentucky Derby winner and maybe even more.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Breeders' Cup Juvenile A Big Step On Derby Road

It may be difficult to determine when or where the road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) actually begins. Some might say it as early as the first Sunday of May (the day after the Derby). Others might say it starts with the first grade 1 races for 2-year-olds at the summer resorts tracks of Del Mar in Southern California and Saratoga in upstate New York. Others still says the road does not even begin until the potential contenders turn 3-years-old.

I’m of the school that we are in full swing here in early October. Making it even more exciting now, to perhaps understate the obvious, are the next steps to the Derby - the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) and $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

There are eight grade 1, open stakes on dirt for 2-year-olds in 2011. Five of them are run prior to the Breeders’ Cup. They are the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk on the West coast; the Hopeful and Champagne in the East and Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Champagne winner Union Rags will likely be the favorite for the Juvenile coming off of his impressive win in New York this past weekend. His final time of 1:35.55 was the third fastest since the Champagne was shortened to one mile from 1-1/16 miles in 2005, but that was not the story of Union Rags Saturday.

The big, good looking son of Dixie Union was the favorite at 6-to-5, undefeated in two starts including a seven and-a-quarter-length victory in the grade 2 Saratoga Special in his last race. Before the race there were if Union Rags could become the next Uncle Mo, the Champion 2-Year-Old colt that won last year’s Champagne. But after the race trainer Michael Matz, who also trained Barbaro, was telling Daily Racing Form's David Grening there were similarities between Union Rags and the undefeated 2006 Derby winner. Matz, also making it clear Union Rags had far to go to be compared to Barbaro, admitted that Union Rags reminded him of Barbaro with his ability to accelerate quickly.

That talent was very much evident in the Champagne when Union Rags and jockey Javier Castellano were bumped hard out of the gate, found themselves boxed-in down the backstretch and even squeezed back going into the far turn. Castellano rallied him again around the turn, but kept behind horses out of the turn a far down the stretch. In what looked almost like a replay of I Want Revenge in the 2009 Wood Memorial, when a slight hole opened with less than a eighth of a mile to the finish, Union Rags shot to the lead and almost instantly left the rest of the field behind.

Second choice Alpha made a nice late run to get second in only his second race, but he was not making up any ground on Union Rags.

Champagne Stakes

Further west, Creative Cause took the Norfolk over Drill in a revenge match after the later won the Del Mar Futurity in a rally while Creative Cause was getting interference from Majestic City from the inside. Eventually Creative Cause was placed second, and Majestic City third. But the son of Giant’s Causeway would have none of that in the Norfolk, winning by 3-1/4 lengths over Drill in second and Ruler of Dubai in third.

Norfolk Stakes

It was Majestic City who had been running interference on Creative Cause in the Del Mar Futurity, and it was Majestic City getting passed in the late stages of the Breeders’ Futurity by eventual winner Dullahan. Dullahan, a half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Minethatbird, may be headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf coming off of Keeneland’s Polytrack and a third in the grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes on the grass at Saratoga.

Dixiana Breeders' Futurity

Friday, October 7, 2011

Despite Breeders' Cup Riches, Champagne Thoughts Are Still Of Roses

Last Saturday, Belmont Park presented their prestigious Super Saturday which is also annually billed as the big East coast preview to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships – this year to be held at Churchill Downs in Kentucky on Nov. 5-6. Stars

Uncle Mo (photo right), Havre De Grace, Stacelita and Cape Blanco all put in memorable victories as odds-on favorites and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) winner Flat Out won as the ever so slight second choice at 7-to-5 odds. And now all are headed for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, except Stacelita; ($1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf [gr. 1]); and Cape Blanco, who has been retired.

While Saturday’s Champagne Stakes (gr. 1) is similar to those races in that it is a preview to the Breeders' Cup, (more specifically the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) for these colts), the Champagne has that extra little kick. It is the same extra quality that makes the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or Keeneland’s Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity as captivating as they are. These races are our eyes into the future. Even with the inception of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, the Champagne continues to have that special connection to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1).

First run in 1938, the Breeders’ Futurity is older and quickly had an impact on the Kentucky Derby run seven months later; Johnstown and Whirlaway, the first and third winners of the Breeders’ Futurity, went on to win the 1939 and 1941 Kentucky Derbies respectively. The first Champagne was run in 1946 and Capot became the first Champagne winner to run in the Derby, finishing second to Ponder in the ’49 Run For The Roses. However, Capot would come back and win both the Preakness and Belmont and be one of only a handful of 2-year-olds to be named Horse of the Year.

It would be 1953 before another Champagne winner made it to the Derby, but Fisherman and Flying Fury the year after, would both be also rans in Kentucky. The 1962 Champagne winner Never Bend, came close, finishing second to Chateaugay in the ’63 Derby that also had Candy Spots finishing third and No Robbery fifth. The next year, Champagne champion Roman Brother was fourth to Northern Dancer’s ’64 Derby.

But it would not be until the wild 1970s, that the Champagne Stakes really began to become a bit of Derby crystal ball.

In 1972, Riva Ridge completed the Champagne-Derby double and before the decade was out, Foolish Pleasure (’75), Seattle Slew (’77) (left), and Spectacular Bid (’79) had all done the same. In the 1978 Derby Alydar came up a length and-a-half short from joining the clug and defeating Affirmed. Champagne winners Forty Niner and Easy Goer finished second in consecutive Derbies in 1987-’88; but Sea Hero was able to hit both winners’ circles in the ’92 Champagne and ’93 Derby. Two years later Timber Country became the last to win both races.

Last year, Uncle Mo won the Champagne and was the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby for much of the winter. Then a liver ailment was discovered after his first loss in the Wood Memorial (gr. 1), and he missed the Triple Crown.

It is a difficult double to hit, the Champagne-Kentucky double. And the seven months between the two races are a long seven months indeed. Expecting Saturday’s winner to repeat in the Derby is too much. I think we all admit to that. And of course, we have that $1 million Juvenile in three weeks at Churchill to compel us for now. And it is not for us to question the first what surely must be the first thoughts of the winning owner, trainer and jockey tomorrow. They’ll be thinking Kentucky Derby. And so will most of us for that matter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodwood, Jockey Club Gold Cup Winners Fighting Ugly Stats Going Into Classic

Although they are a million dollars in preparation, the Jockey Cup Gold Cup (gr. 1) and Goodwood Stakes (gr. 1) have done far worse than one might expect in seeing their winners repeat in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) . In fact, of the 49 winners of both races during the Breeders' Cup years beginning in 1984 (five horses have won either the Goodwood or Gold Cup twice), only six have come back to win the Classic - three apiece.

What effect that statistic has on 2011 Goodwood winner Game On Dude or this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup champion Flat Out, is a topic for debate. Much like UFOs and ghosts are debatable in the opinion of some. But there have been some other more obvious reasons for these numbers.

The inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic was won by 30-to-1 long shot Wild Again who had made his start previous to the Classic at Bay Meadows - finishing third in a one mile allowance race on grass. Finishing second through disqualification was, Slew o’ Gold, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That year, Lord at War won the Goodwood, and for the first of what would become 13 times; the Goodwood winner would not start in the Classic.

Trained by Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham, Lord at War won his second Goodwood in 1995 and again the Argentine-bred did not go to the Breeders’ Cup. In 1996 Super Diamond became the third consecutive Goodwood winner to skip the Breeders’ Cup.

In 1997 Whittingham won his third Goodwood in four years with Ferdinand and the horse who had given the bald eagle his first Kentucky Derby victory the year before, gave Whittingham his first Breeders’ Cup Classic in his next start.

There would be another 13 years before Tiznow would win both the Goodwood and the Classic in 2000, but only three more years passed before Pleasantly Perfect would be the last one to win both races.

Although the Jockey Club Gold Cup got off to a fast start with Slew o’ Gold, it would be 11 years before Cigar could win both Gold Cup and Classic. During those years, Gold Cup winners Easy Goer (’89) and Pleasant Tap (’92) got close, but like Slew o’ Gold before them finished second in the Classic. Easy Goer lost to his nemesis Sunday Silence while A.P. Indy defeated Pleasant Tap.

After not starting in the Breeders’ Cup after his first win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1996, Skip Away came back the following year to win his second consecutive Gold Cup in New York. This time owner-trainer Sonny Hines sent Skip Away to the Breeders’ Cup and he put in one of the better performance in the history of the Breeders’ Cup, winning by six lengths at Hollywood Park.

Gold Cup winners performed miserably for the next ten years as Bernardini was the only one to make the top three in the Classic, finishing second to Invasor in 2006. The next best performances by Gold Cup winners during that time were Albert the Great in 2000 and Evening Attire in 2002, both of which finished fourth.

Like Skip Away, Curlin was a two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner but a one-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Unlike Skip Away ten years before, Curlin pulled off the Gold Cup/Breeders’ Cup double in 2007, winning the Classic over a quagmire track at a rainy Monmouth Park, but was unable to repeat a year later. Curlin had little trouble winning his second Gold Cup as the odds-on favorite at 2-to-5, but was dull in the Breeders’ Cup over Santa Anita’s artificial main track and finished fourth.

The 6-for-54 statistic may be surprising at first glance, but there are many explanations. In the early years of the Breeders’ Cup, the domestic and international nomination of foals was less organized and marketed. Therefore it would have been very expensive for the owners of horses like Lord at War and Crème Fraiche to run in the Breeders’ Cup. In many instances, horses would have to win their respective Breeders’ Cup race in order to come out of the race with a profit. That was a chance many owners were just not willing to take.

There are those winners of Goodwood and Gold Cup that obviously bounced going into the Breeders’ Cup. In 1984 when the Breeders’ Cup first ran, it can easily be argued that the Gold Cup was more prestigious than the Breeders’ Cup. Owners and trainers treated it that way and pointed their horses accordingly. If they came out of the Gold Cup and went to the Classic, fine. But the Gold Cup was the target.

And then there are the more obvious like Aptitude, an easy winner of the 2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup achieving a historically high 123 Beyer Figure at the same time. After the race, trainer Bobby Frankel was immediately concerned about Aptitude bouncing in the Classic, and he was correct. Aptitude finished eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic weeks later.

There is also the fact the Jockey Club Gold Cup was run at 1-1/2 miles until 1999, so Easy Goer was the last Gold Cup winner to try to win the Classic backing up to the 1-1/4 distance. Waquoit, who finished third behind Alysheba in the darkness of an unlit Churchill Downs in 1987; Vandlandingham (’85) and Slew o’Gold all had that challenge as well.

At 1-1/8 miles, the Goodwood set up much better for Classic bound horses, but since the race was first run as the Goodwood Racecourse Stakes as part of an exchange program with Santa Anita and the track in Sussex, England. Its spot on the calendar combined with the distance, the Goodwood morphed into a grade 1 stake by 1997 and its impact on the Classic quickly followed. In 1998 Goodwood winner Silver Charm appeared within reach of victory in the stretch before he drifted out badly and finished in the middle in the track and in second behind Awesome Again.

A year later, Bud Royale took the Goodwood and he too finished second the Classic to 1999 winner Cat Thief. Tiznow used the Goodwood to prepare for both of his Classics wins in 2000-’01, but only won the first Goodwood . In the 2001 Goodwood, Tiznow finished third behind Freedom Crest and Skimming.

Santa Anita also had a cushion track on their main course from 2007-2010 and during that time, Tiago would be the only Goodwood winner to run in the Classic, finishing fifth behind Curlin in that rainy ’07 Classic at Monmouth Park.

This year, Flat Out and Game On Dude will also likely face a considerable onslaught from horses out of other races. Horse of the Year candidate Havre de Grace will once again face the boys in the Classic having already won the Woodward Stakes over her male counterparts at Saratoga this summer. She had a leisurely win the Beldame (gr. 1) Saturday at Belmont Park. Kelso (gr. 2) winner Uncle Mo will also continue his comeback from a mid-season liver ailment that kept him out of the Triple Crown by further graduating into the Classic. Whitney Handicap (gr. 1) winner Tizway, who skipped the Gold Cup because of a fever the week before, is also back on track and training well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

No doubt many handicappers at the Breeders’ Cup will circle Flat Out and Game On Dude on their programs and bet accordingly. Both after all, won their respective last starts nicely. But if history repeats, or even has a significant influence, the 6-for-54 stat will only change in the right hand column.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Breeders' Cup Picture Comes Into Focus

Three impressive winners of grade 1 races Saturday are heading for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic according to their connections, and the trio will likely make up the top three favorites when they go to the post beneath the twin spires of Churchill Downs. One female superstar is among them while another won’t be going to Kentucky to renew the best rivalry in Thoroughbred racing in recent years. A $3 million showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was highly anticipated Sunday evening, but will not materialize as we know now. And then there was that crazy uncle.

That's how the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, to be run Nov. 5,6 at Churchill Downs, is coming into focus.

The three big winners headed for the Classic are Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) winner Flat Out, Goodwood Stakes (gr. 1) winner Game On Dude and the filly who won the Beldame (gr. 1) with ease, Havre de Grace.

Flat Out may have taken the lead away from the absent Tizway in the older horse division with a convincing win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup over 2010 Belmont (gr. 1) winner Drosselmeyer and this year's Travers (gr. 1) winner Stay Thirsty. After winning the grade 2 Suburban at Belmont in July, Flat Out finished the summer running second to Tizway in the Whitney and second to the filly Havre de Grace in the Woodward. With neither in the Gold Cup, Flat Out capitalized and provided an emotional victory for midwest journeyman trainer Charles Dickey.

As impressive as Havre de Grace was in New York however, her nemesis Blind Luck was equally puzzling in California Saturday. Before finishing last by 18 lengths behind winner Zazu in the Ladies Secret Stakes (gr. 1), Blind Luck and never finished worse than second in 21 previous races. According to reports as recent as today, trainer and part owner Jerry Hollendorfer has said they have found no problems but Blind Luck will be heading toward a vacation and will miss the Breeders’ Cup. Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have raced against each other six times in the last two years with Blind Luck winning three and Havre de Grace two. In the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last year won by Unrivaled Belle, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace finished second and third respectively as 3-year-olds.

As Jay Privman mentioned in his Blind Luck update today in Daily Racing Form, “With Blind Luck out of the Ladies’ Classic, and Havre de Grace headed to the BC Classic against males, the top two females in the country are both now bypassing that race, leaving 3-year-olds such as Zazu, Beldame runner-up Royal Delta, and Cotillion Stakes winner Plum Pretty among the leading contenders.”

Zazu iz zertainly, no Zenyata, but zhe doez have the zame Jerry and Ann Moss teal and pink colorz and runz with a zimilar, clozing running ztyle.

Many consider Acclamation, with his four consecutive grade 1 victories, a Horse of the Year candidate and the same can almost can be said of Cape Blanco. This weekend Acclamation won the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. 2) at Santa Anita on the turf for his fifth straight graded stakes win, while Cape Blanco won his third consecutive grade 1 turf stake by taking the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. 1) at Belmont Saturday. Acclamation may still go to the Breeders’ Cup Classic instead of the Turf Classic, but any chance of a showdown between the two was dashed when Anne Marie O’Brien (wife of trainer Aidan O'Brien) tweeted Monday as @aobballydoyle, “Cape Blanco has been retired to stud following an injury he sustained when winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont”.

Uncle Mo fans (led by owner Mike Repole I might add) have certainly been on a roller coaster year in 2011. The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Champion Two-Year-Old Male cruised in his first win of the year in an ungraded stake in Florida before expecting to take the Resorts World Casino Wood Memorial (gr. 1) waltz into the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) as the favorite. But at some point, a liver infliction hit Uncle Mo and he not only finished third in the Wood, but also missed the Derby and much of the year before making a return four months later in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. 1) at Saratoga last month. He finished second, but it was only by a nose to Caleb's Posse and as learned later, with front shoe nearly twisted off in the final sixteenth of a mile.

If some thought that the big return may have drained Uncle Mo, few put money in the mutuel machines to back their belief as Uncle Mo went to the gate as odds on favorite in the Kelso at 6-to-10. Off of a very nice win in the Forego Stakes (gr. 1), Jackson Bend figured to threaten Uncle Mo on paper in the Kelso, and actually tried to do so in the race.

As the short Kelso field raced around the big Belmont Park turn, Uncle Mo lead but Jackson Bend and jockey Corey Nakatani had him in their sights. And as Jackson Bend got closer to Uncle Mo, it seemed he got faster with every stride and passing the leader looked near certain. But as Jackson Ben raced up on the inside of Uncle Mo just as they straightened away for home, John Valenzuela on Uncle Mo would not allow Jackson Bend through along the rail. Suddenly, Uncle Mo was an Italian jail and Jackson Bend was Amanda Knox – trapped and no way to get out.

By the time Nakatani emphatically steered Jackson Bend to the outside to pass, Valenzuela gave an acceleration signal of some type to Uncle Mo and he blasted away from Jackson Bend and won the Kelso by three lengths.

So impressive was the win, that despite receiving free entry fees into the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Repole told reporters that Uncle Mo was Classic bound. There he is expected to meet Havre de Grace, Flat Out and Game on Dude.

What was I said about the favorites in the Classic again?