The Brock Talk

Monday, November 29, 2010

Derby Notice Served

Just as everyone became comfortable with Breeders’ Cup top two finishers Uncle Mo and Boys of Toscanova being the standouts from this 2-year-old crop, To Honor and Serve wins the grade 2 Remsen Stakes and is at least making room for himself on the Derby trail. While To Honor and Serves' the two-length margin of victory over runner-up Mucho Macho Man in the grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Saturday may not have been eye-popping, the ease at which the son of Bernardini raced wire-to-wire and the 1:50.3 time has turned some heads. It was the fastest time for the 1-1/8 mile Remsen since Java Gold’s 1:49.60 in 1986 and was more than 2.80 seconds faster than Dixie City's grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes win a race earlier. Believe It set the Remsen Stakes record in 1977 with his time of 1:47.80.

There is also the tradition of the Remsen as a producer of Derby winners and runners among the top of the sophomore class. Although it has been since Go For Gin in 1994 and Thunder Gulch in 1995 since a Remsen winner also took the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, Remsen winners also include 1992 Preakness (gr. 1) winner Pine Bluff, 2006 Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) winner Bluegrass Cat and 2007 Wood Memorial (gr. 1) winner Nobiz Like Shobiz more recently. Kentucky Derby winners Pleasant Colony (1980), Northern Dancer (1964), Carry Back (1960) and Johnstown (1938) also won the Remsen Stakes as 2-year-olds.

Trainer Bill Mott said after the Remsen that To Honor and Serve will be pointing toward the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs and will soon travel to the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida for a Winter base.

Along with his victory in the grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct, it is likely To Honor and Serve will be weighted within 10 pounds of the top weighted 2-year-old male in the 2010 Experimental Free Handicap, with the likely high weight being assigned to Uncle Mo. To Honor and Serve has a nice low dosage index of 2.38, so he is likely going to be a dual qualifier for those that take note of such things.

To Honor and Serve is regally bred, by young sire Bernardini, currently the second leading freshman sire in the country with more than $1.2 million in progeny earnings. Bernardini is by sire of sires A.P. Indy and as a runner, became the first horse since Damascus in 1967 to win the Preakness, Travers (gr. 1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) in the same year before finishing second to Invasor in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

To Honor and Serve is equally classy on the bottom side of the pedigree with both first dam Pilfer, by Deputy Minister; and Misty Hour, by Miswaki, stakes winners. He also has plenty of Buckpasser, Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector throughout both the top and bottom lines of his family so distance does not appear to be a genetic challenge for To Honor and Serve. He has had promise from a very young age apparently as he sold for $250,000 at the 2008 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and then $575,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

Be cautious that it remains very early to be touting the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner. After all, the 2010 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park remains as the final grade 1 race for 2-year-olds open to colts and geldings on the calendar.

But To Honor and Serve has certainly stepped up on the medal stands among his divisional leaders and looks to be the contenders when the Triple Crown trail resumes early next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Uncle Mo And His Derby Trail Momentum

More than a week after what many consider the best Breeders’ Cup in the 27-year history of the event, it’s final criteria for judgment is still more than five months away. The final question to be asked: Will Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Uncle Mo, go on to victory in the Kentucky Derby?

In the previous 26 editions for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, only one winner has gone on to take the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense became the only horse to win both races when he won the 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Kentucky Derby. Similar to Uncle Mo, Street Sense won his Juvenile at Churchill Downs by a record 10-length margin in 2006, almost doubling the record margin set by eventual Horse of the Year Favorite Trick who won the Juvenile by 5-1/2 lengths. Arazi in 1991 and Brocco two years later, both won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by five lengths.

Uncle Mo won by only 4-1/2 lengths as the favorite over second choice Boys of Tosconova, who was a full six lengths ahead of third place finisher Roque Romance. So the final margin in the Juvenile is a bit misleading for Uncle Mo, who seemed to have an easy time winning that day.

And while Uncle Mo ran the second fastest Beyer Speed Figure in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 108, his time of 1:42.60 was just above the middle of the pack as the tenth fastest of 24 Breeders’ Cup Juveniles run at the distance of 1-1/16th miles. (Three times the race has been run at a mile [1984-'85, '87]. Also, Capote covered 1-1/4 miles winning the 1986 Juvenile at Santa Anita and in 2002, Vindication had to cover 1-1/8 miles to win the Juvenile at Arlington Park.) Midshipman ran the fastest Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2008 over Santa Anita’s PolyTrack, covering the 1-1/16 miles in 1:40.94. Interestingly, ranking just above Uncle Mo is Street Sense, who ran over Churchill Downs as a juvenile just 1/100th of a second faster than Uncle Mo, winning in 1:59.66.

Although, Street Sense is the only winner of the Juvenile to come back and take the Derby next Spring, four other Juvenile starters have returned to take the Run for the Roses including Spend A Buck, third in the 1984 Juvenile, Alysheba (3rd, 1986) Sea Hero (7th, 1992) and Mine That Bird (13th, 2008).

Among the most popular and simple handicapping angles for those in search of a Kentucky Derby winner is the old “dual qualifier” angle. In order to be qualified, a horse must have been weighted within ten pounds of the high weighted 2-year-old in the Experimental Free Handicap and have a dosage index of 4.00 or less. Although the Experimental Free Handicap is not published until January, Uncle Mo is very likely to be named as the high weighted 2-year-old colt in 2010 by the panel of racing secretaries consisting of Ben Huffman of Churchill Downs, P.J. Campo of the New York Racing Association and Thomas S. Robbins of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Developed by the late Daily Racing Form columnist and pedigree expert Leon Rasmussen, the system held up well until the late 1990s when Silver Charm won the Derby as a dual qualifier in 1997. Since then, only two dual qualifiers have won the Kentucky Derby including Super Saver last year and Street Sense in 2007. With the expected high ranking in the Experimental Free Handicap and a Dosage Index of 2.20, Uncle Mo has the credentials.

This week trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole said they have shipped Uncle Mo to Jimmy Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala. Fla. for a month vacation with daily walks and some relaxing paddock time. Connections said Uncle Mo will return to training with Pletcher at the Palm Meadows training center around Dec. 1 and that his road to the Kentucky Derby is likely include two races. Because Repole is a New Yorker, the planned final Derby preparation for Uncle Mo is the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Race Track.

Since 1937, only 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby with only two races as 3-year-old to prepare, but the list includes Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird and Super Saver, the winner’s of the last four.

Should Uncle Mo remain in the Pletcher barn and jockey John Velazquez keep the mount until the first Saturday in May, Uncle Mo will also share two other statistics with Street Sense. He will go to the post after being saddled by a one-time Derby winning trainer and a jockey looking for his first trip to the illustrious Derby winners’ circle. Street Sense was trained by Carl Nafzger, who had previously won the Derby with Unbridled in 1990 and was ridden by Kentucky Derby maiden jockey Calvin Borel. Pletcher won his first Kentucky Derby with Super Saver last year and Velazquez is still searching for his.

There are of course, many other questions and challenges Uncle Mo must overcome before he can realistically be expected to contend in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 – not the least of which is his sire Indian Charlie. Standing at Airdrie Farm in Kentucky for a healthy $70,000 per breeding, Indian Charlie has had little success at producing runners that can get the classic 10 furlong distance of the Derby. On the track, Indian Charlie won the 1998 Santa Anita Derby at 1-1/8 miles but was third in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby behind Real Quiet.

As a sire, Indian Charlie had Conveyance on the Triple Crown trail last year under trainer Bob Baffert. Conveyance won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, both graded races at eight furlongs. Although Conveyance had plenty of speed to lead the 2010 Kentucky Derby field for nearly a mile, he slowed quickly in the final two furlongs and finished 15th. Among his current top performers, only the 4-year-old gelding Indian Dance and 4-year-old filly Moon Charmer are stakes winners further than 8 furlongs. Moon Charmer won the $50,000 Farer Belle Handicap at 8-1/2 furlongs and Indian Dance won the $62,000 Harry E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at 9 furlongs.

There is much that can happen in the 165 days between now and the Kentucky Derby. Soundness, health, maturity and racing luck will also be keys to the success of Uncle Mo next year and while they are high in importance, they are perhaps the least over which Pletcher has control.

But with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his pocket and a Champion 2-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award surely on the way, Uncle Mo has plenty of credentials to carry the spotlight into his sophomore year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Funnies

Just in case you are finding the Horse of the Year debate tiresome or aggravating or perhaps this week has not been the best for you at work. I thought I would bring you some laughs about horse racing that I have found on the ol' internet during the last week.

If you are not a tweeter yet, perhaps this will be the catalyst prompting you to give it a try. Twitter offers a feature called hashtags in which a topic is preceded by the "#" sign. For example the Breeders' Cup hashtag is #BC10. Every tweet that includes that hashtag is also available for reading by anybody on Twitter, regardless of whether you follow them or they follow you or not. There are hashtags for nearly every topic imaginable from #america to #Zodiac and everything in between.

One Twitter hashtag that caught my attention this week was #popsonghorses. Following are just a few of the hundreds of tweets over the last two days and still going.

@AndyScoggin: Secretariat Agent Man
@Andy Scoggin: Seabiscuit of Love
@markahorn: Me and Smarty Jones
@tencentcielo: Rock Hard Ten Me Amadeus
@skipaway2000: The Lion Heart Sleeps Tonight
@adyady14: Denman in the Mirror
@markahorn: I've been searching for a heart of Goldikova
@youhet: The Theme From Mineshaft
@skipaway2000: Pour Some Shergar On Me
@AndyScoggin: Grindstone Cowboy
@superfecta: All That Jazil
@TheBrockTalk: Brick Housebuster
@superfecta: Danzig Queen
@BklynBckstretch: Seattle Smooth Operator
@markahorn: It's raining Menifee
@davismedpr: Behkabad Company
@liamdelaney1: Sound Of Sunday Silence

The other horse racing funny that caught my eye this week is a YouTube remake of a satirical dubbing of a Adolph Hitler movie last year following a NFL Dallas Cowboy game. The video has been adopted to satire Zenyatta losing the Breeders' Cup.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life At Ten, Players, Fans Deserve Respect From Breeders' Cup and Kentucky Officials

The setting is just before the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last Friday. While conducting an interview with ESPN’s Jerry Bailey while warming up second favorite Life At Ten, jockey John Velazquez told Bailey and a national television audience that she was not warming up well. According to ESPN and The Paulick Report, ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman contacted the Churchill Downs stewards by telephone before the race and notified them of the troubling conversation between Velazquez and Bailey. But no action was taken before the race by the stewards or Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham to follow-up on the information from ESPN regarding the physical condition of the Life At Ten.

Life at Ten, normally a filly who likes to race to the lead, broke last, was never competitive in the least and was eventually eased to the wire by Velazquez. It can be argued the 5-year-old mare’s safety was compromised. There is no doubt that those who wagered on Life At Ten were not represented properly and lost money when they should not have. And that is saying it nicely.

In an explanation published by The Paulick Report, KHRC spokesman Dick Brown explained the matter by by saying there was no consideration given to scratch Life at Ten as there was “no dialogue with the track veterinarians or the stewards from the outrider, Velasquez or Pletcher indicating a problem with the horse that would have led to her possibly being scratched.”

Wednesday, chief state steward John Veitch told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jennie Rees that it was unfortunate, but “there's nothing we can do for [the bettors].” In a prepared statement, the KHRC said “The KHRC takes seriously the safety of horses and jockeys – before, during and after each race. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission firmly believes its veterinarians and racing stewards acted properly in all instances regarding this race.” They did not mention of how seriously they take the interests of the wagering public or the fans.

The KHRC also said in that prepared statement, “From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic.”

Despite the fact that neither Pletcher from his location in the grandstand far from Life at Ten, nor Velazquez aboard her, formerly requested the state veterinarian to examine Life At Ten before the race, seems inconsequential and sophomoric as a explanation. It is sure to be helpful to the official veterinarians to have a questionable horse brought to their attention, but by no means should they pass the blame on the person who's job it is to ride the horse - not diagnose it.

Veitch, a former trainer now in the Hall of Fame, the two other stewards, the KHRC and the state veterinarian are attempting to explain this away by saying they didn’t know about her condition because the communication with ESPN was not part of racetrack protocol.

Equally ludicrous is the explanation of veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage that Life At Ten was simply not acting well before the race, creating a gray area that made it difficult for the state veterinarian to make a diagnosis sufficient for recommending a scratch. Bramlage represents the American Association of Equine Practitioners on many national horse racing telecasts explaining to viewers the implications and complications of equine injuries that may occur while on the air and is a prominent equine surgeon in Kentucky.

A former race track and current equine veterinarian told The Brock Talk that Life At Ten was in distress galloping out of the post parade and was cramping to point of causing apparent lameness. Anybody who has had cramps whether from athletic exertion, late night ziti or anything in between knows effortless running is often not an option. That condition changed little before Life At Ten got to the starting gate and should have been recognized by Dr. Bryce as lameness with no need to diagnose the cause as tying up.

To add insult to this situation is the possible prohibition of pre-race, on-track interviews of jockeys by television. Telling the Courier-Journal that “From the time a horse leaves the paddock until the time he starts, nobody (other than officials) should have communication with that jockey one way or the other,” Veitch also said that jockeys should not be distracted. Not only is that insulting the intelligence of jockeys, but archaic in a sports media world where NASCAR drivers and NFL football players wear live microphones into and throughout live competition.

It also tells me that Veitch and the stewards received information from ESPN that they could not process properly and their solution is to stop the information. In the future, if they don’t know about potential problems in a horse race, they can’t be held accountable. It seems unlikely however, that this solution will have any benefit to the horse, the horse player or the fan.

Until the Churchill Downs stewards and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission figure that much out, they are far from correcting the embarrassment that was Life At Ten in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time, Not Awards Will Define Zenyatta

In the days since Zenyatta failed to win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a scant nose, breaking her 19-race win streak and the hearts of fans everywhere, the attention on her has waned but certainly not vanished. Randy Moss on ESPN called her the undisputed greatest female race horse of all time moments after the race. CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Ausgood, the Today show on NBC, SportsCenter on ESPN and any number of other network programs replayed the Classic into Sunday, with more accompanying editorial than horse racing is usually given after other major events in the sport such as the Kentucky Derby or a failed Triple Crown Belmont.

There is a “Zenyatta HOY (Horse of the Year) 2010” Facebook page with nearly 3,000 fans, Twitter, internet discussion boards and blogs are jammed full of those espousing her while few still cling to their criticism of the great mare. That debate will rage until the golden Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year is presented in January. If Zenyatta is not named Horse of the Year – judging from last year – the dissatisfaction talks will continue months longer.

Even if the voting goes to Zenyatta, nothing will really be solved. Eclipse Awards are not determined on the track. There are no qualifications. Not even a victory in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships can guaranteed a trophy. Last year Zenyatta proved that. Five wins in five starts including four grade 1 races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic was enough for Zenyatta to earn only 42% of the vote. Rachel Alexandra took 56% of the vote and the trophy.

This year, it appears Zenyatta will be denied the Horse of the Year title because she missed winning the Classic by a nose. Those voters will ignore her five wins this year – all in grade 1 races present it to Classic winner Blame. Yes, Blame, they will say, had a better year than Zenyatta. They will give him the award despite his record of only three wins (two grade 1) from four starts before the Classic.

Both Zenyatta and Blame finished second once this year. Zenyatta to Blame by a nose in the Classic – Blame finished four lengths behind Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

But because there are no official qualifications, the race for horse of the year is not won or lost on the track. It is nothing more than a popularity contest. Whoever is most popular among the The Eclipse Awards sponsors – the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers Association – get the awards.

That is not an accusation of hypocrisy, nor a complaint of how the system works. Horse racing doesn’t have the benefit of other sports that can solve such championship issues in strict competition. So we are left defining our champions by ballot.

And that is exactly why fans of Blame and Zenyatta and Goldikova, or even Uncle Mo, should relax a bit for the next few months. Because in the end, that title will matter little.

Nothing defines greatness better than time. And time will surely lay on the side of the great mare Zenyatta. In fact, time may somehow morph Zenyatta’s final loss into something far more positive than we can imagine in few days, weeks or even years following.

Jim Thorpe was stripped from his Olympic Gold medals and quarterback Johnny Unitas finished his illustrious career with a dismal season as a crippled former champion in San Diego. Willie Mays retired as a New York Met and Michael Jordan left basketball as a Washington Wizard.

Zenyatta’s loss in her final start may be more defining than disappointing final seasons or Olympic bureaucracy, but time will likely put the race into perspective non-the-less. In fact history and time will define her legacy much better than any awards.

And time has a habit of examining cultural impact as well as wins and losses. So Zenyatta's appearance on Los Angeles Dodgers' billboards, Oprah Winfrey magazines and 60 Minutes television shows have also been stuffed into her virtual time capsules. And there are very few thoroughbreds that have carried ammunition that heavy into retirement. Cigar was perhaps most recently in that realm of popularity among non-race fans.

So time will be the final judge for Zenyatta. We just have to be a bit more patient for the results.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Female Sprinters Bring Handicapping Challenges And Possible Rewards To Match

The Sentient Jet Filly and Mare Sprint may not have all the history of many of the other Breeders’ Cup races having been run only three times, but the third renewal may be one of the best wagering opportunities of the two days. With a full field of 14 set to go to the post and four of the six favorites breaking from outside the number 10 post position, there may be some opportunities.

Favorite Rightly So comes into the Breeders’ Cup off of wire-to-wire victories in the the grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga Aug. 28 and the July 5 Bed of Roses Handicap (gr. 2) at Belmont Park. She appears to be plenty fast enough to get to the lead with plenty of time before the final turn having a full three-eighths of-a-mile before making the turn. She is stands out with defending champion Informed Decision, Gabby’s Golden Gal and Champagne d’Oro as the only fillies or mares coming into this race with grade 1 win at the seven furlong distance of this year’s female Sprint. Trainer Tony Dutrow has told the press he has no concerns about the outside post, but that is probably not his only concern.

Defending champion Informed Decision appears to have lost some of her form from last year and comes into this race off of a nice third-place finish in the six furlong TCA Stakes (gr. 2) at Keeneland behind fellow Sprint entrant Dubai Majesty over the Keeneland synthetic. She is a multiple grade 1 winner and has won three times at this distance. She also won the Humana Distaff (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs last year and finished a good third in that race again in July, so she does seem to have a fondness for the Churchill Downs surface. That along with the benefit of breaking from post 4 may give her the boost she needs to repeat but betting her at anything less than her 7-2 morning line does not seem to offer enough return for the risk.

The female sprinter who may throw a monkey-wrench into this race is Bob Baffert-trained Gabby’s Golden Gal breaking from post number seven at 15-1 odds. Although she has not raced since winning the grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface in January, her Saturday morning work at Hollywood Park was very impressive, going a half-mile in :46 4/5 with the greatest of ease. She has all the qualifications to win this race but they were all accomplished more than 10 months ago.

At 15-1 morning line odds and the 1 post, My Jen could also offer some value. In her last race she defeated fellow Breeders’ Cup foes Moontune Missy and Sara Loise in the grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont Sept. 25. But the 3-year-old filly has taken exceptionally well to the Churchill Downs surface since arriving from New York and has the stalking running style that might set up well for her if she can manage to stay out of trouble along the rail of a full field of sprinters.

Breaking two gates outside of My Jen, Secret Gypsy will be trying to add to her three-race winning streak in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Since winning the $100,000 Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows in June, Secret Gypsy has won graded stakes at Saratoga and Del Mar while compiling her six-race record this year at six different tracks. She also has a victory over Churchill Downs from five starts under the Twin Spires, but Secret Gypsy seems to take her race track with her wherever she runs. She has no grade 1 wins during her 17-race career, but at 12-1, it may not be wise to discount her.

The 2010 Filly and Mare Sprint provides great wagering possibilities from the $2 win ticket to the more exotic trifectas and superfectas. Like it’s male counterpart on Saturday which has a rich history of rewarding those that can decipher the sprint puzzle, this race seems primed to follow suite.

1. Secret Gypsy
2. Rightly So
3. Gabby’s Golden Gal

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ladies Classic Should Prove Distaffers Deeper Than Just Zenyatta and Goldikova

When the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) became a staple of the inaurgural Breeders' Cup card, it was designed to showcase the greatest female stars of the sport. That it has done. It was the Distaff in those early years, but it might have well as been known as the inauguration.

From Princess Rooney and early years through Personal Ensign, Bayakoa, Paseanna and Azeri, this race has featured some of the great female runners of recent generations.

At $2,000,000 it is the richest of the Breeders’ Cup races, and at 1-1/8 miles, it is the second longest only to the Filly and Mare Turf at 1-3/8 miles. But Zenyatta, who has taken Churchill Downs by storm with her popularity; and Goldikova, trying to become the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race three times in the Mile and wildly popular in her own right; and the early retirement of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, have seemed to have taken some of the shine out of the old Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

But this army of females casting their amazonian shadows over the colts and geldings at Churchill Downs has depth. Enough so that there are plenty in the Ladies Classic who can stand up on center stage and shine with the best of them.

Perhaps most accustomed to the spotlight at tracks around the country is the 3-year-old sensation Blind Luck. Third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) last year as the West Coast favorite, Blind Luck has added some of the most prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies to her resume of victories. She has won the Las Virgenes (gr. 1) at Santa Anita, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs and the Alabama (gr. 1) at Saratoga among her five graded wins this year.

Although one might assume that a campaign such as that of Blind Luck would advance her above other 3-year-old fillies into to the older ranks of the Ladies Classic with some distance among her class. Not so with Havre de Grace who finished a nose behind Blind Luck in the Del Mar Oak (gr. 2), a neck behind in the Alabama and defeated her in the $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes (gr. 2) at Parx Racing near Philadephia. Although, Havre de Grace received a 10-pound advantage in the Cotillion, she has repeatedly shown she has no intention of cowering to Blind Luck.

Nor do any of the older fillies in this race including 7-2 second choice Life At Ten, the winner of the grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park Oct. 2 and six of her previous seven starts. Three of those wins came in graded races including the grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June. She hails from the powerful Todd Pletcher stable and took on Rachel Alexandra for the early lead in her only loss in the Personal Ensign (gr. 1) so she has plenty of bragging rights to bring into the Ladies Classic.

Pletcher will fire two 4-year-old fillies at the Ladies Classic, as he will also saddle Malibu Prayer, winner of the grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga in early August. Labeled at 8-1 on the morning line with Unrivaled Belle, Malibu Prayer seems to rise to her level of competition and has won the Chilukki Stakes (gr. 2) at Churchill Downs, so she may be fond of the track.

Unrivaled Belle also brings an impressive victory over the Churchill Downs surface into Friday’s race, having defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne (gr. 2) back in April. The 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song was also nominated to the Filly and Mare Sprint, but trainer Bill Mott chose to go in the Ladies Classic after her half-mile work in :49 2/5 this week also noting her apparent fondness for the Churchill Downs surface.

This race has had a preponderance of popular winners with the favorites taking 10 of the 26 previous runnings. But what is notable is that the two biggest longshots to win the Ladies Classic, Spain, (paying $113.90 to win in 2000); and One Dreamer ($96.20 to win in 1994); both accomplished their big upsets at Churchill Downs. Even the last winner of the Ladies Classic at Churchill, Round Pond, paid a nice $29.80 in 2006.

Trainer Shug McGaughey has won this race three times with Personal Ensign in 1988 at Churchill Downs, Inside Information (’95) and Pleasant Home (2005). Personal Ensign paid $3.00 and Inside Information paid $3.60. But McGaughey won with Pleasant Home at a big price of $63.40 for a $2 win ticket at Belmont so he may be a likely candidate to pull a mild upset this year with Persistently.

Whatever the results of this Ladies Classic this year, the winning lady will like just be asked to sit among the court of Zenyatta and Goldikova in annals of Breeders’ Cup history. But there is certainly no shame in that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh Say Can You See? A British Turf Victory?

The Europeans may not be bringing into the 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. 1) an armada the size of the British fleet that assaulted Fort McHenry during the battle of Baltimore of 1814, but the odds of an American victory are about the same. While Major George Armistead fought off the British naval bombardment; and General Samuel Smith, Rogers Bastion, Navy Commodore John Rogers and the boys defended Baltimore in the end, it is yet to be determined if homeland trainers Bill Mott, Richard Mandella, Steve Hobby and Christophe Clemente can pull the same upset.

According to Mike Watchmaker’s Daily Racing Form graded line, the American with the best chance at the Breeders’ Cup Turf this year is Paddy O’Prado at 8-to-1 odds, who may not choose to even run in the Turf for preference to take on Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. After that our American hopes lay with Winchester (10-1), the winner of the Turf Classic Invitation (gr. 1) at Belmont Park Oct. 2; Al Khali (10-1), winner of the Canadian International (gr. 1) at Woodbine Oct. 16; and California turf star Champ Pegasus (15-1), winner of two graded turf races in his last two starts including the Clement L. Hirsh at the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park Oct. 3; and Telling (20-1), winner of the grade 1 Sword Dancer on the Saratoga grass the last two years but winless in his other 11 starts in 2009-’10.

The Euros have won 10 of the last 13 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf and apparently want to continue their dominance of the grass racing championship on American shores. The captain of the European flagship is Workforce (GB), winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (gr. 1) at Longchamp in France Oct. 3. According to the Crushing the Cup, eight of the last 15 Euro turf winners have come out of the Arc, but none of them out of the race’s winner’s circle. Prix de l’Arc de Triompe winners are winless in five tries in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the last being 2007 Arc winner Dylan Thomas who later finished fifth in the Turf. The closest to pulling off the Arc/Turf double was Tremaplino, who finished second in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Turf after winning the Arc.
But that hasn’t influenced the British punters who have Workforce bet down to the 2.4-to-1 favorite on the BetFair line or Watchmaker, who has him listed as the 2-to-1 favorite on his DRF graded line.

Workforce is a lightly raced 3-year-old colt who set the track record at Epsom winning the group 1 Epsom Derby in June, one of his three career victories from just five races. While trainer Sir Michael Stoute has the Arc/Breeders’ Cup jinx to break, the Turf Classic has historically been a race true to form with favorites producing an above average 35% victorious performances. And of course Sir Stoute has won the Breeders’ Cup Turf four times including the last two with Conduit.

But the prognosticator favorite now appears to be Behkabad (Fr), who finished fourth behind Workforce in the Arc in a troubled trip. Not only is Behkabad appealing to trip handicappers around the world, but it just so happens that Arc also rans have the successful history behind them as well.

Debussy (Ire) has already invaded the United States to plunder the Arlington Million (gr. 1) with his victory Aug. 21 at Arlington Park near Chicago. Trainer John Gosden returned him to Great Britain to run third in the Oct. 16 Champion Stakes (gr. 1) at Newmarket has plenty of support in his return American soil as Watchmaker has him listed at 12-to-1 in his DRF line.

Consider these recent winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf: Conduit (Ire) (2009, 4th in Arc); Shirocco (Ger) (2005, 4th in the Arc), High Chaparral (Ire) (2003, 3rd in the Arc), Daylami (Ire) (1991, 9th in the Arc), Pulsudksi (Ire) (1996, 2nd in the Arc).

Yes the star and stripes may wave over Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup Turf if the Patriots can somehow hold off the Red Coats Saturday. And if they do, the bombs won’t be bursting in air-they’ll be at the cash windows at the home of the brave.