The Brock Talk

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Endorsement Makes Talk's Kentucky Elite Eight

Last week it was the sweet sixteen in conjunction with the NCAA men's basketball tournament, so staying in line with March Madness, here's our Kentucky Derby Elite Eight. I didn't expect the top eight to move much this week unless Conveyance or Discreetly Mine ran a big race in their respective Derby preps. I was correct in that neither Conveyance nor Discreetly Mine would crack into my elite eight, but since mouths are often judged by the money behind them, I must disclose my inability to profit from the outcome of the Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) or it's pier in New Mexico, the Sunland Derby (gr. 3).

And even if you would have told me that Mission Impazible would win in Louisiana and Endorsement would take the Sunland Derby, I would have calculated wrong as to which would be more impressive.

Mission Impazible came to Louisiana from the powerful Todd Pletcher barn and a less than ideal trip while running fourth in the grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in February. But the 10-1 shot, stalked favored Discreetly Mine and A Little Warm through a comfortable pace before switching to the outside to rundown the leaders nearing the end of the long Fair Grounds stretch.

Despite the win, however, I hesitate to make him one of my top contenders as I suspect Mission Impazible may not have even been the best horse in the Louisiana Derby. Third-place finisher Drosselmeyer and jockey Kent Desormeaux spent the better part of the far turn trying to keep from running up on the barrier of leaders in front of them. It was a nice race and I like the improving pattern in Mission Impazible's races - just not enough for me to place him to be among my elite.

On the other hand, and also coming from Oaklawn Park but from the maiden ranks, Endorsement cruised to an upset win over Conveyance in the Sunland Derby. Being a son of the leading sire Distorted Humor, from the powerful WinStar Farm, with jockey Robby Albarado and a $450,000 Keenland September yearling purchase, he had plenty of credentials, except those on the track. His three career races were spent trying to win for the first time.

But as he and Conveyance raced toward the stretch at Sunland, it was apparent that Endorsement had the edge as Albarado had not moved a muscle and Martin Garcia on Conveyance was scrubbing away asking for more. After a battle to mid-stretch, Endorsement seemed to pull away with ease and in the end hit the wire with an impressive 101 Beyer Speed Figure. It was a difficult performance to ignore and enough to make The Brock Talk's Elite Eight.

The Kentucky Derby Elite Eight
1-Lookin at Lucky: Trainer Bob Baffert has called a last minute audible and will stay at home with Lookin at Lucky for the Santa Anita Derby Saturday instead of the planned Arkansas Derby in two weeks. Baffert trained Derby winners Silver Charm ('97) and Real Quiet ('98) both prepped with runner-up performances in the Santa Anita Derby.
2-Noble's Promise: Ran a big race in the Rebel to almost take down Lookin at Lucky and may now be the favorite in Arkansas Derby with the later's departure.
3-Eskendereya: His eye-popping victory in the Fountain of Youth also gave him a big edge with a 106 Beyer Speed Figure. But that may be the challenge for Pletcher to keep him on the path of improvement in the Wood Memorial and into Kentucky.
4-Odysseus: His very late move in the last 100 yards of the Tampa Bay Derby was unusual, but impressive.
5-Awesome Act: British import invaded Yankee territory more successfully the second time in winning New York's Gotham Stakes. Now he'll have home field advantage over Florida invaders in the Wood.
6-Endorsement: Despite the big beyer number (101) and impressive Sunland Derby, I can't put him ahead of the rest until they have their final preparations as well.
7-Dublin: Has the stalking running style I like and I'm counting on the experience of four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas to manage the needed improvement. He will likely meet Noble's Promise again at home in Arkansas.
8-Schoolyard Dreams: Looked the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby until the photo finish was published. Next stop Wood Memorial.

Click here to see the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance 3-Year-Old Male Standings

The Horse Named Brock
Last summer when the two-year-old began to run, Backtalk caught our attention as we continue to enjoy him in his effort to reach the Kentucky Derby.

This year, we will have an obvious youngster to trail as Jess Jackson named his $2.3 million Distorted Humor colt Brock.

According to, Brock is in early training at the Robert Scalon Training Center in Florida preparing for a possible first journey to the races in May.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Setting The Scene for the First, of the Two Most Exciting Minutes In Sports

Saturday in New Orleans and Sunday near El Paso, we will be treated to perhaps the preambles to the first minute of the most exciting two minutes in sports. Because this weekend, two of the top three big front runners on most Derby lists, Discreetly Mine and Conveyance, make their final tune-ups for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands to be run May 6. The other, Sidney's Candy, runs in the Santa Anita Derby next week.

To make matters more interesting, both Conveyance and Discreetly Mine, are from two powerful stables that also include the current Derby favorites, Eskendereya and Lookin' at Lucky. Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert trains Conveyance and Lookin' at Lucky among other Derby hopefuls, while Todd Pletcher (left) has Discreetly Mine and Eskendereya in his arsenal. According to the Paulick Report, those two have won seven of the 20 graded races for 3-year-old males this year.

If the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands were run tomorrow, the first 60 seconds would likely include the three speedsters mentioned above near the front end of the race with the two favorites tucked neatly away mid-pack. It's a great mystery as to what happens next, but after Sunday, we should have a better idea about what should happen up to that point.

Discreetly Mine runs Saturday in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) in his final prep for the Derby and appears the most likely to be leading the pack around the first turn of the 1-1/8 mile race - just as he did in winning the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Feb. 20.

If Discreetly Mine should have any early challengers, Wow Wow Wow and The Program are among the canidates.

Wow Wow Wow, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, led the grade 3 Gotham Stakes in New York through the first half-mile but faded badly to finish eighth. Although he has a trained nicely since, he is 30-1 in the Louisana Derby morning line.

Bob Baffert ships The Program in from California where he showed speed early in his career until he faded to fourth after leading the CashCall Futurity (gr. 1) in December. Since then, it appears Baffert has wanted The Program to settle into more of a patient running style as show in his last race, finishing third behind Alphie's Bet in the Sham Stakes (gr. 3) at Santa Anita.

Should Discreetly Mine be allowed to run unchallenged again, that could mean trouble for Tony Dutrow trainee A Little Warm; and Pletcher's other entry, Drosslemeyer, the second and third choices on the morning line respectively and both stalkers.

In New Mexico, the undefeated Conveyance (right) looks to be in a similar boat with no other obvious front runners likely to get the early lead in the Sunland Derby if Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia want it for the 9-5 favorite.

Only two other runners in the Sunland Derby have gate-to-wire victories to their credit, and both were against maidens. Endorsement did so against maidens last time out at Oaklawn Park, and Tempted to Tapit the same at Aqueduct in the mud in January.

Several things stand out about Tempted to Tapit however, making him the 3-1 morning line second choice. He achieved a big 100 Beyer Speed Figure in that one-mile maiden race, then came back to run second to Discreetly Mine in the Risen Star. The son of Tapit breaks from the eleven hole Sunday however, possibly compromising his ability to get to the front.

Breaking from the six hole just inside Conveyance in the seven, Nacho Friend will have every opportunity to pressure whomever finds themselves in front. Third behind Awesome Act and Yawanna Twist in the Gotham, Nacho friend was forced to race four-wide after racing near the front in the early stages of that race. He has the talent to pressure and honest pace from Conveyance, but I'm sure trainer Kelly Breen would like to have some help from Tempted to Tapit or perhaps Classical Slew, 3rd in the San Vincente behind Sidney's Candy.

So I look for both Discreetly Mine and Conveyance to have big races this weekend, simply because both seem to have an pace advantage over their foes. Baffert is certainly not afraid to take a front runner to Kentucky having saddled wire-to-wire Derby winner War Emblem in 2002 and Pletcher, I'm sure, will take his first Derby win nearly any way he can get it. So I don't look for the running styles of either runner to change.

What I am looking for though, are more clues to that second minute mystery in Kentucky in May.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kentucky Derby Sweet Sixteen

We have just more than 40 days until the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum brands and we're through the first week of NCAA Basketball March Madness so I submit my sweet sixteen for the Kentucky Derby. Sixteen, of course, is a large number and probably more than most horse players are considering right now, but we'll whittle this list down in the weeks ahead. But I will be the first to say that Mine That Bird, Giacomo and War Emblem weren't on my sixteen-deep list on their respective Derby days.

1-Lookin at Lucky: Twice this horse has overcome trouble in big races and he was just a nose short in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile from overcoming it all. His Rebel victory was more than impressive and his professionalism and talent make him my top choice. Arkansas Derby next.
2-Noble's Promise: Ran a big race in the Rebel to almost take down Lookin at Lucky. Looking forward to the rematch in the Arkansas Derby.
3-Eskendereya: His eye-popping victory in the Fountain of Youth also gave him a big edge with a 106 Beyer Speed Figure. But that may be the challenge for Pletcher to keep him on the path of improvement in the Wood Memorial and into Kentucky.
4-Odysseus: His very late move in the last 100 yards of the Tampa Bay Derby was unusual, but impressive.
5-Awesome Act: British import invaded Yankee territory more successfully the second time in winning New York's Gotham Stakes. Now he'll have home field advantage over Florida invaders in the Wood.
6-Dublin: Has the stalking running style I like and I'm counting on the experience of four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas to manage the needed improvement. He will meet Lookin at Lucky and Noble's Promise again at home in Arkansas.
7-Schoolyard Dreams: Looked the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby until the photo finish was published. Next stop Illinois.
8-Jackson Bend: Chased home Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Winslow Homer in the Holy Bull. Will have another tough task next race in the Wood Memorial. Coming from the Nick Zito stable is a plus.
9-Conveyance: Winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn over Dublin and his looking to carry the New Mexico flag into Kentucky after next start in Sunland Derby. Bob Baffert trainee is one of many speed horses on Derby trail.
10-Ice Box: What's not to like about his race in the Florida Derby other than the timing of the race six weeks before the Derby. His 99 Beyer number is the second best by a 3-year-old male in a race more than a mile this year.
11-Interactif: Stuck behind a slow pace of Sidney's Candy in San Felipe. I look for improvement in Santa Anita Derby.
12-Pleasant Prince: As far as I can tell, there's not much more than a nose separating him from Ice Box.
13-Discreetly Mine: Risen Star Stakes winner will look better if he can settle behind the early leaders in the Louisiana Derby.
14-Tempted to Tapit: There's going to be a son of Tapit become a 3-year-old star sometime soon and this gelding has the talent as shown with his 100 Beyer at a mile in the mud at Aqueduct in January. Second to Discreetly Mine in Risen Star and goes to New Mexico for the Sunland Derby.
15-American Lion: Seemed to be fighting the entire way in the San Felipe. I look for a big improvement in the Santa Anita Derby.
16-Sidney's Candy: San Felipe winner is the California leader and has the tools and apparent talent for the Santa Anita Derby and then Kentucky. The transition from Pro-Ride to dirt is my main concern. Front-running style is another.

Time Not On The Side of Ice Box

In looking at Ice Box in the Florida Derby (gr. 1) I don't see much wrong with the performance. Like most runners with a come-from-behind style, he seemingly galloped along far back behind a solid pace then excelled with agility and speed on the far turn, raced around the field and chased down the stubborn leaders Rule and Pleasant Prince for the win.

No doubt the quick pace benefited Ice Box and the stalking Pleasant Prince while potentially hindering the chances of front-running Rule, but a similar if not quicker pace is more than likely in the Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses will also be a run through traffic for Ice Box and any other late runners and the large field in Kentucky will accentuate racing luck.

There are two obvious points to make about the 2010 Florida Derby however. First, it was without the first three finishers from the main local prep, the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2), including the impressive winner Eskendereya who defected to New York for the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) in two weeks. Which takes us to the second point regarding the Florida Derby and it's new time slot six weeks before the Derby.

That timing makes the Florida Derby a bit like mama bear's porridge. A month and-a-half may be too long to train leading up to the biggest race in the world. And it may not be enough time to squeeze in another start. Thus the delimma for Nick Zito (photo) and Wesley Ward, the trainers of Ice Box and Pleasant Prince respectively.

The Florida Derby has a long history of producing Kentucky Derby winners, but it also has a reputation for moving around the calendar. Thunder Gulch won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby in 1995, as did Monarchos in 2001. But there was a seven week gap before Kentucky during those years. Both horses raced again before winning their Derbies and both finished second - Thunder Gulch in the Louisiana Derby and Monarchos in the Wood Memorial.

Big Brown and Barbaro, the last two Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winners in 2008 and '06 respectively, both had only five weeks between the two races. Both went directly from Florida to Kentucky.

Neither Zito nor Ward have indicated their plans, other than to say they both want to go to Kentucky, as does trainer Todd Pletcher with Florida Derby third-place finisher Rule. All three trainers are well qualified to take the Derby but only Zito has done it - with Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go For Gin in 1994.

Zito did tell ESPN's Paul Moran that he is "going to try as hard as I can to win the Kentucky Derby with this horse." Coming from Zito that means something. But how he plans to manage it, remains to be seen. Then comes the if.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rags Go Braugh!

As most native Irishmen and women will tell you, Saint Patrick's Day is a much bigger deal in the United States than in the native homeland. No city in Ireland paints the river green like our Chicago and there is no St. Patrick's Day parade as old as our New York City version that began in 1762 - 14 years before we were the United States of America.

But a special St. Patty's Day gift arrived in Ireland Wednesday when 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches gave birth to a colt by 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Henrythenavigator.

Rags to Riches is best remembered for deafeating future Horse of the Year and Preakness (gr. 1) winner Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes (gr. 1). It was the first time a filly had taken the prestigious race since Tanya in 1905 and only third time since the filly Ruthless won the first Belmont in 1867. As Belmont Park track announcer Tom Durkin so famously said as she passed the finish line, "Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history!"

2007 Belmont Stakes

That year the Todd Pletcher-trained Rags To Riches also won the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. 1) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1) and was named the Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of 2007.

After her retirement in 2008, Rags to Riches was sent to broodmare duty at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky where she produced her first foal last year, a filly by Giant's Causeway named Riches Causeway. According to, Rags to Riches will stay in Ireland and is now scheduled to be bred to Galileo, winner of the group 1 Epsom Derby, Irish Derby Stakes, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2001.

With the special arrival of a St. Patrick's Day foal in Ireland out of a champion like Rags To Riches, we can only hope that the owners are a bit more creative on their second try at naming her foals after the Riches Causeway tag in their first attempt. Yah-ah-ah-w-w-n!

Rags go Braugh was the first to come to my mind but I have since thought of Henrytheleprachaun, Hank's Pot of Gold, Henry the Rich, and a whole list of others. But I'd love to hear some other suggestions.

Florida Derby May Rule
The first grade 1 prep race for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum takes place Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $750,000 Florida Derby.

A race that has produced five of the last 20 Derby winners and two of the last four in Big Brown and Barbaro, the 2010 version has been wrought with the Florida defections. The first three finishers in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2), the local prep race for the Florida Derby, have all headed elsewhere to make their final start before the Kentucky Derby.

Although trainer Todd Pletcher is sending Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2) winner Eskendereya to New York for the Wood Memorial in two weeks, he leaves Rule in the Florida for the 1-1/8 mile Florida Derby.

Rule is coming off of a front-running victory in the grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs February 13 over Schoolyard Dreams, the apparent winner of last weekend's Tampa Bay Derby before losing a photo finish to Odysseus. Rule is also trying to add to a four-race winning streak that goes back to last year and includes wins in the Jean Lafitte Futurity and Delta Jackpot (gr. 3) at Delta Downs in Louisiana.

Although Rule may get the financial attention as the favorite, Lentenor (right) will get the sentimental support. A full brother to the ill-fated Barbaro, who won this race and the Kentucky Derby, Lentenor will also run under the green, blue and white silks of Lael Stables, and made famous by his brother. This will the first time on dirt and in stakes company for Lentenor, who has only a win over maidens on the Gulfstream turf course Jan. 20 and a second in a Feb. 17 allowance race on his 2010 record.

The fourth, fifth and sixth place finishers in the Fountain of Youth, Ice Box, Pleasant Prince and Pulsion respectively, are also hoping for some significant improvement and a possible ticket to Kentucky.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Horse Racing's St. Patrick's Day All Stars

Gate Dancer – Very few thoroughbreds ran like every day was St. Patrick’s Day like Gate Dancer who spent his carrier running into and over, the best horses of his generation. He also ran under the green silks of Kenneth Opstein.

Shecky Greene – The 1973 Champion Sprinter has the distinction of leading the 1973 Kentucky Derby for six furlongs, escorting Secretariat to his record setting victory. Ironic that I have nothing funny to say about a horse named after a comedian.

“Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons – Won three Kentucky Derbies and two Triple Crowns with Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), and Johnstown (1939).

Charlie Whittingham and D. Wayne Lukas – Ooh new! Yew doan’t ‘onor a Whittingham and a Lukas oon St. Paddy’s dee! But they were the two most dominant trainers of my lifetime with green and white colors.

Edward Riley Bradley – His white silks with green hoops won four Kentucky Derbies with Behave Yourself (1921), Bubbling Over (1926), Burgoo King (1932), Brokers Tip (1933). The Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap at Fair Grounds is named in his honor.

The Green Dancer – The French Classic winner went on to become a sire of champions and an influential broodmare sire.

Shergar (right) – The Irish-bred 1981 European Horse of the Year and record Epsom Derby winner became infamous when two years later, on 8 February 1983, he was stolen from the Ballymany Stud, near The Curraghin County Kildare, Ireland by masked gunmen. The body of Shergar was never discovered. The incident has been the inspiration for several books, documentaries, and a film.

The Green Monkey – If it weren’t for whiskey, the Irish would rule the world. If it weren’t for The Green Monkey, bloodstock agents would rule horse racing. A record $16-million price was the most ever for a Thoroughbred sold at public auction when The Green Monkey sold at Fasig-Tipton Florida in 2006. He went on to win as many races as my adopted cat, Rusty Green.

Barry Fitzgerald - The longtime character actor played trainer Shawn O'Hara in the 1949 film The Story of Seabiscuit and Martin Donovan in the 1947 horse racing film Easy Come, Easy Go.

Clem McCarthy – “the voice of the Derby” in radio and film from 1928-50.

Tom Durkin – The longtime voice of New York racing, network television and the Breeders' Cup from inception through 2005. Durkin has earned fame in this decade from calling the Kentucky Derby and most Triple Crown races for NBC since 1981.

Honorable Mention:
Leprachaun Racing
Emerald Downs
Paddy Gallagher
Eoin Harty
Kiaran McLaughlin
Aiden O’Brien
Shug McGaughey
Jerry Bailey
John Dooley

Monday, March 15, 2010

When Rachel Speaks, Asmussen Listens

Now that we know that 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will not be going to Oaklawn Park to meet the undefeated Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Invitational, our retrospect allows us to confirm what some have suspected all along. Rachel Alexandra seems to have very much enjoyed her vacation and is taking her own sweet time in coming back. And apparently principal owner Jess Jackson is living true to his word that he "will let Rachel Alexandra tells us when she's ready."

Even back in early February, when the $5 million Rachel v. Zenyatta Apple Blossom was on for April 3, a few days later Jackson announced in a press release the race was off. Asmussen was quoted in that release as saying "Getting to this level of fitness after a six-month layoff takes time."

A short time later, the race was back on - this time, scheduled 6 days later on April 9.

Caution Flag!

Even going back to the post Eclipse Award ceremonies when Jackson talked with TVG about Rachel Alexandra's return and awkwardly talked about her first "untimed" work in 17 seconds. I knew a valet in Prescott that could do that in a gunny sack.

But looking at it now, it was probably Rachel Alexandra just not being overly excited about being back at work after six months. We've all been there trying to get back in the swing of things after a holiday.

I suspect on a cold and damp January morning at the Fair Grounds, exercise rider Dominic Terry motioned to Rachel that they were going for a nice easy work. And Rachel responded something like, "uhhh. Yeah! Like a real easy work. Hello?" Hence, the "untimed" work.

Caution Flag.

But like the professional that she is, Rachel soon picked up the pace and we began to see glimpses of her greatness in subsequent morning efforts. All of them were right on schedule and each one more impressive than the last.

But even then, Asmussen was saying in February that “I thought she looked beautiful. She went :50 3/5 today off of her :52 the other day. I think that’s pretty much the progression that we’re expecting.” While in the next breath he was saying they would "do what’s right by her.”

Caution Flag.

Then the loss Saturday to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. On paper, Zardana appeared to be a horse Rachel Alexandra could outrun easily. Even with Asmussen facing the difficult challenge of "not tightening the screws" on Rachel's machine until the Apple Blossom, Zardana seemed to be a mismatch.

By Sunday afternoon, the Race for the Ages was off.

It could not have been an easy decision for Jackson either - not with the every fan, media member, horse racing facebooker and tweeter clamoring for it. But somewhere inside the final eighth of a mile in the Ladies, Rachel Alexandra said "Nyet."

My teeth gnashed as much as the next person's. But there are a few things to understand before we all begin to complain, strut, point, and or discount the Horse of the Year vote.

Nobody would have wanted a sub-par Apple Blossom. Even the biggest Zenyatta fans (of which I am one) would have experienced an empty victory if a less than prime Rachel Alexandra would have shown up in Hot Springs, Ark.

That was never going to happen. I know the entire Asmussen family enough to know they all speak English, Spanish and French. I've never heard any of them speak equine, but I've seen 'em understand it.

So if Rachel is saying "slow down just a little," I'm glad Asmussen is there to understand it and Jackson is there to listen.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Return of Rachel and Zenyatta, And The Derby Favorite To Boot

This Saturday may be the most anticipated day of racing outside of the Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup in years with the 2010 debuts of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in New Orleans, the undefeated Champion Zenyatta in California and Kentucky Derby favorite Lookin at Lucky in Arkansas. Of the three, Lookin at Lucky certainly has the most to prove, but the ladies also need to be aware of any spilled icing that may cause a slip during their respective cake walks this weekend.

The potential petite pitfalls for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are time and weight respectively.

Throughout her comeback from a six-month vacation, trainer Steve Asmussen has expressed concerns about the tight training schedule of Rachel Alexandra leading up to the weekend's New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. Rachel Alexandra will be running in the Ladies to prepare for the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational versus Zenyatta April 9 at Oaklawn Park. Remember, the Apple Blossom has been moved back one week in order to accommodate Rachel Alexandra's schedule.

Majority owner Jess Jackson declined the Apple Blossom invitation in early February when Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella first offered to increase the purse ten-fold in order to attract the famous pair. At that time, Rachel Alexandra had just returned to serious training and had only two, easy four furlong works under her.

Since then however, Rachel has looked better with each morning appearance and should have few other problems as the 1-to-5 morning line favorite in the $200,000, 1-1/16 Ladies.

Zenyatta's challenge is a bit more burdensome, (shall we say), as she goes into the grade 1, $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational with a 127 pound weight assignment, giving away between 12 and 19 pounds to her foes. It's not as if Zenyatta hasn't done this against grade 1 competition before however.

Last June, Zenyatta carried 129 pounds in winning the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, 15 pounds more than runner-up Briecat; and 13 pounds more than third-place finisher Dawn after Dawn.

So Zenyatta (right) is 1-to-9 in the morning line with Striking Dancer, Gripsholm Castle and Floating Heart, the first three finishers respectively in the grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita, presenting the stiffest competition.

Lookin at Lucky (left) has more serious hurdles in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) at Oaklawn Park. It will be his first start since winning the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December and he faces a notable adversary in Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) runner-up Dublin.

Trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, Dublin won the prestigious Hopeful Stakes (gr. 1) as a 2-year-old before a since-corrected breathing problem hindered him late in his juvenile year. He was a fast closing second to the undefeated Conveyance in the short stretch run of the one mile Southwest. The longer stretch and recent experience should be significantly beneficial to Dublin.

Despite not starting this year, the Bob Baffert-trained Lookin at Lucky is at the top of most lists as the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum in May.

Champion She Be Wild Heads Florida Oaks.
Further South in Florida, Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 2009 She Be Wild is hoping her second start on natural dirt is more productive than her first as she heads into the Florida Oaks (gr. 3) Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. The Wayne Catalano-trained filly debuted on dirt Jan. 31 with a dissappointed fifth in the grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

She Be Wild will be facing the local starlett, the Florida-bred filly Diva Delite, winner of the Gasparilla and Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay in her last two starts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Final Rachel Alexandra Work Has A Look...

Trainer Steve Asmussen put 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra through her final serious work at Fair Grounds Monday in preparation for her first race of the year Saturday in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes. Going a half-mile in 49 seconds while under the careful hold of exercise rider Dominic Terry, Rachel Alexandra easily covered the first quarter of a mile in 25.20 before straightening away for the final quarter in 23.80 and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.80.

Rachel Alexandra will be making her first start in the 1-1/16 miles Ladies since winning the grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes over older males Macho Again and Bullsbay at Saratoga Sept. 5 six months ago.

Asmussen has expressed concerns to the media regarding Rachel Alexandra's fitness coming into the New Orleans Ladies and I'm sure that concern is justified knowing how he manages his stable with precise timing of training regimes in relation to condition books and stakes schedules. In December and January, I doubt Asmussen was planning on a confrontation with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Zenyatta in early April.

But Rachel at 75% should be enough to win the Ladies and give her ample time to further prepare for her bout against Zenyatta in the $5 million Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in early April.

Based on Rachel Alexandra's demeanor during her assigned workout on Monday - I doubt she cares. As Terry guides her out of a gallop and into the work at the 5/8ths pole (the first green and white pole you see in the video), Rachel seems intent on the cantering horses to her outside, repeatedly turning her head towards them.

As the red and white four furlong pole passes and Terry asked Rachel to begin the work, her attention stays on her fellow thoroughbreds going about their more leisurely morning business to her outside, as if to say "come on!" Not until she leaves the busy morning backstretch, does she turn her attention toward her work. Just passed the trees, she passes the last galloper to her outside and begins to stride out without any urging from Terry, looking just as professional as possible, changing leads as if on script.

Through the stretch, Rachel Alexandra keeps her ears pricked as if asking Terry "when can we run?" until the finish line when she twist her ears in frustration as if knowing the work is done with no conquest. Then as she gallops out around the turn, Rachel Alexandra seems to offer one last challenge to a seemingly innocent galloping fellow equine galloping in the middle of the track. You can see Terry tug on the left reign telling Rachel "not today."

The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has drawn post position number 2 in the New Orleans Ladies and will be facing just four other rivals.

John Sherriffs, the trainer of Zenyatta, will be shipping grade 2 Bayakoa Stakes winner Zardana from California to New Orleans for the Ladies and is the most likely challenger. In her most recent start, the Brazilian-bred Zardana finished fourth in the grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita.

The Ladies field also includes Unforgotten, a multiple stakes winner of $548,563; and Clear Sailing and Fighter Wing, the first two finishers respectively in the Pelleteri Stakes at Fair Grounds in February.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vale May Be Lifted Off Derby Trail

The Derby trail has never run through Dubai as we have illustrated before, but Vale of York's journey may have ended a bit more abruptly than expected.

The win in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) over future champion Lookin' at Lucky in November, placed Vale of York (photo) among the early Kentucky Derby contenders. But that dream appears to be side-tracked - if not off track - after a dull fifth-place performance in the 1-3/16 mile Al Bastakiya Stakes at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai Mar. 4.

It wasn't so much the fifth place finish that was troubling as the way in which Vale of York seemed uncomfortable from start to finish in the Al Bastakiya. Jockey Ahmed Ajtebi was forced to battle Vale of York early in the race as the horse threw his head and not finding a comfortable stride. Once settled, Vale of York appearded to make a mild move around the far turn, but flattened out late.

Should Vale of York remain pointed for Kentucky, the logical next race would be the $2 million UAE Derby (gr. 2) Mar. 27 where he will likely again face Mendip, the easy 6 1/4-length winner of the Al Bastakiya and a possible Derby horse for the powerful Goldophin Racing.

Add Wow Wow Wow To My Derby Hopefuls
You don't have to think a horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby to say you "like" him. Part of the fun of the pre-Kentucky Derby season is following the apparent not-so-obviously-great and see if they may blossom by the time the first Saturday in May rolls around.

Backtalk, recent winner of the Sportsman's Paradise Stakes at Delta Downs is such a horse for me. So is Wow Wow Wow.

My fondness for Wow Wow Wow has less to do with the horse, really, and more to do with trainer D. Wayne Lukas. With Wow Wow Wow shipping from his base at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas to New York for the grade 3 Gotham Stakes, it means Lukas has multiple chances at winning his fifth Kentucky Derby with Southwest Stakes runner-up Dublin also coming from the his barn.

Should Lukas somehow take his fifth Derby, it will break the current tie with H.J. "Dick" Thompson, who won his four Derbies with Behave Yourself (1921), Bubbling Over (1926), Burgoo King (1932), Brokers Tip (1933) and leave him one shy of Ben A. Jones' six. Jones won with Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952) with Citation and Whirlaway both taking the Triple Crown.

Lukas won his Kentucky Derbies with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995),
Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic in 1999. But his Derby wins tell only a fraction of the story of his Hall of Fame career. Lukas was the first trainer to hit the $100 million mark in earnings and has five Preakness and four Belmont wins on his resume as well. Only Lukas and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons have 13 wins in Triple Crown races.

Lukas, a former school teacher and Quarter Horse trainer, has a record 42 starters in the Kentucky Derby, the most recent was Flying Private finishing last a year ago. Before that, Going Wild finished 18th in 2005. He started eight Derby horses in the '00 decade with only Proud Citizen lighting the board with his second place finish behind War Emblem in 2002.

Wow Wow Wow will have to improve off of his eighth-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Jan. 18, and appeared to get better while coming back to win an allowance race at Oaklawn in February.

Given that, the Gotham seems to makes sense on two fronts for Wow Wow Wow. Back home in Arkansas, Lukas will send Dublin to the Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) on March 13 where he will likely face Lookin at Lucky and Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) winner Conveyance which may prove to difficult a test for a horse like Wow Wow Wow looking to gain confidence.

The Gotham Stakes is headed by lukewarm morning line favorite Awesome Act, a British import with only a maiden victory in his win column who made his first trip to the new world last November to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While the other main contenders are Peppi Knows, winner of the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 6; and Nacho Friend, making his first start since finishing a traffic riddled fourth behind Balktalk in the Sanford Stakes (gr. 2) at Saratoga last summer.

Like most stakes for 3-year-olds run this time of year, the Gotham's link to the Kentucky Derby is sporadic at best, but still has a rich history. Last year I Want Revenge went on to take the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) and was among the Derby favorites before an injury forced him off the track.

Other Gotham winners include 1995 Preakness winner Red Bullet, 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer, future multiple champion Lure won the 1992 Gotham and Secretariat won the 1973 Gotham on his way to immortality.

According to Daily Racing Form, Lukas is 0-for-10 in the Gotham going back to 1985. but a good race by Wow Wow Wow could change that, and perhaps a chance at little more.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Louisiana Challengers Lining Up Against Rachel Alexandra

Challengers are lining up to take on Rachel Alexandra when she makes her seasonal debut in the $200,000 Ladies Classic at Fair Grounds in New Orleans in less than two weeks. The Ladies Classic will be the first start of 2010 for the Horse of the Year and will be used to prepare for a possible race against the undefeated Zenyatta in the $5 million Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park April 9.

According to, possible contenders include stablemates of both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Trainer John Sherriffs is considering sending from California Bayakoa Handicap (gr. 2) winner Zardana while Steve Asmussen may enter Pleasantly Blessed, a recent second-place finisher in the $50,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes at Sam Houston in Texas.

The local contingent seems plenty ready to meet the challenge as well with local stakes winners Clear Sailing and Double Espresso and locally stakes placed Fighter Wing and Unforgotten apparently scheduled to run as well.

Clear Sailing appears to have the best credentials coming off of a victory in the $60,000 Pelleteri Stakes at Fairgrounds over Fighter Wing and undefeated in three starts in New Orleans this winter. Double Espresso won the six furlong Pan Zareta Stakes Feb. 20 at Fair Grounds and will be stretching out to make the 1-1/16 mile distance of the Ladies Classic.

Asmussen sent Rachel Alexandra to the track Tuesday morning for a private work at 10:30 along side workmate Depaul. While the final time of the six furlong work was slow at 1:13.60, Asmussen did not appear to be troubled following the work, telling media "it was how fast [Depaul] was, and us wanting to keep her off of [him]."

According to Daily Racing Form reports, Rachel began the work some five lengths behind Depaul and was heavily restrained throughout the early part of the exercise before being allowed to stride out and easily pass Depaul. Rachel Alexandra's final quarter was significantly faster than the last. She started the first quarter of a mile in 25.60 seconds but ran the last quarter of the work in 22.60 seconds.

Backtalk Back On Derby Trail
A few of The Brock Talk favorites hit the winner's circle this past weekend with Backtalk winning the Sportman's Paradise at Delta Downs and Presious Passion taking the $150,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park Sunday.

Admittedly, we stumbled upon Backtalk (photo below) when we posted an update on young sire Speedy Jones' breeding career. Backtalk had just become the first winner of his class for the young sire but then followed up with a nice juvenile career that included wins in the grade 3 Bashford Mandor at Churchill Downs and the grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga. He stumbled late in the year with a fourth in the Hopeful (gr. 1) behind Dublin, Aspire and Aikenite and a sub-par race in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October.

The Sportman's Paradise is not your typical prep race for the Triple Crown, but following the victory, trainer Tom Amoss said the next start for Backtalk will likely be a step up and into a major prep. Although Amoss did not speculate on a race, the grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park or the grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby both will be run March 13 before the Florida Derby (gr. 1), and the Swale Stakes (gr. 2) fall on the following week at Gulfstream Park.

Presious Prevails While Life Is Sweeter in Dubai
Presious Passion made a successful preperation for his planned trip to the Middle East with his win in the 1-3/8 Mac Diarmida for the second consecutive year. Add that to the United Nations (gr. 1T) at Monmouth Park and the W.L. McKnight Stakes (gr. 2T) on the list of races that Presious Passion has won twice. A notable accomplishment to say the least.

Trainer Mary Hartman said plans are to send Presious Passion to Dubai for the $5 million Sheema Classic (gr. 1UAE) at 1-1/2 miles at Meydan Race Course March 27.

In another significant Dubai development, Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) winner Life Is Sweet appears headed to the $10 million Dubai World Classic where she may face the likes of Champion Turf Horse Gio Ponti, two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Vodka, Pacific Classic (gr. 1) and San Antonio Handicap winner Richard's Kid and Breeders' Cup Classic third Twice Over.

Life Is Sweet, a 5-year-old stablemate of Zenyatta's in the John Sherriffs barn, should have no trouble running against the boys having finished third against males in the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last summer, just over seven lengths behind winner Rail Trip.