The Brock Talk

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Twas The Night Before Racing

‘Twas the night before Christmas
Inside the barn area fence
Not a creature was stirring
Not track maintenance.

The hay nets were hung
From the stall doors with care
Hoping the guy with the sweet feed
Soon would be there.

The horses were all standing
Asleep in their bedding
While the grooms played the tunes
Of the Spanish Helen Redding
(Soy mujer, me oigo rugir!)

With mama closing the tack room
And I shutting light
We took a look down the shed row
Before calling it a night

When suddenly we heard
A bang and clang
It sounded as if
The starting gate rang

But the race track was closed
And the gate crew was drinking
So I turned to mama while wonderin’
What she was thinking?

Then a sudden red light
And with little alarm
I saw something land
Atop the test barn

It was the thoroughbred season!
There were no sulkies around!
So certainly this was
A sleigh that we found

I recognized the harness
And the reins were no mystery
But those were sure reindeer
“Track security is history!”

Then out from the sleigh
Jumped the driver dressed in red
He looks at me smiling
And says “Can you watch my sled?”

“I have peppermints here
Maidens and Claimers by name
Then suddenly he vanished
And I’m holding Rudolph’s reins

In less than a second
He was back and set to go
“How fast is this sleigh?”
He said, “You’ll never know!

“I use Christmas Spirit
To power this thing
For this team of reindeer
The world’s a bullring

“This is a very fast group
And this is a magical little bag
But don’t get ideas
They don’t run for a tag!”

Then a little toy trumpet
He brought to his lips
And he played Boots and Saddles
With his hands on his hips

I laughed then looked up
And he was gone in a sec
Then I looked down
And saw the win pic

As I looked at it closer
What a wonderful sight
It was Santa on the left
And me on the right

Donner was center
The rest were in back
And I don’t know who they were
But there were elves in the sack

He sprang to his sleigh
to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew
to Los Al then to Thistle.

But then I heard him say
with a laugh and a roar,
"Happy Christmas to all
And hit a pick-four!”

Monday, December 12, 2011

CashCall Stars Can Emerge From Long Shadows Cast by Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Our last look into the 2011 chrystal ball that is next year’s road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands presents itself Saturday in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park. Run in the shadow of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the CashCall Futurity has neither the $1 million purse nor history of producing divisional champions like the more prestigious Juvenile, but they are both grade 1 and their winners have donned an equal number of rose blankets – one each. Street Sense is the only horse to win both Juvenile (2006) and Kentucky Derby (’07) while Real Quiet won the 1997 CashCall and the Derby the following year.

Both races are also run at distance of 1-1/16 miles.

Championship voters don’t seem to emphasized the similarities between the two races however, and have given the Juvenile significantly more weight in determining their selections. For disclosure, I agree the Juvenile should have greater importance than other grade 1 races in determining the year-end champion. If the industry is going to call the Breeders’ Cup a World Championship, they (we) need to treat it like one. The Eclipse Award voters have that well since the Breedeer Cup first ran some 27 years ago.

Since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was first won by Chief’s Crown in 1984, 20 winners have been named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt or Gelding for that year. Since Roving Boy won the CashCall (then Hollywood Futurity) in 1982 and the corresponding divisional championship, only CashCall winners Declan’s Moon and Looking at Lucky have been honored with Eclipse Awards. The four others named divisional champions during that 27-year span without winning either the CashCall nor the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were Forty Niner (1987), Easy Goer (1988), Dehere (1993) and Maria’s Mon (1995). All four were named 2-year-old male champions after winning their respective Champagne Stakes in New York but losing or not running in the Juvenile.

Forty Niner, Maria Mon’s and Declan’s Moon were champions that did not start in the Breeders’ Cup while Looking at Lucky, Dehere and Easy Goer won the divisional honor after losing in the Breeders’ Cup. Looking at Lucky and Easy Goer were second to long shot Vale of York and Is It True in 1988 and 2009 Juveniles respectively. Dehere was eighth as the odds-on favorite in the 1987 Juvenile won by Success Express before winning his 2-year-old male championship.

What makes the CashCall of more interest is the annual participation and sometimes domination by three-time Derby winning trainer and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert has won two of the last three CashCall Futurities and a record five total. Known as the other silver-haired fox from
Arizona (former University of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olsen being the first white-haired legend from the Grand Canyon State), Baffert has won the CashCall with Real Quiet, Captain Steve (1999), Point Given (2000) (photo left), Poineerof the Nile (‘08) and Looking at Lucky.

Also adding to the uniqueness of the CashCall is the artificial Cushion Track material that makes up the main track at Hollywood Park. Last year, Comma to the Top made the CashCall his fifth-straight win, but all were on artificial main tracks or grass. In his first race on natural dirt, Comma to the Top came back to run second in the Santa Anita Derby and then last in the Kentucky Derby, also on dirt. Looking at Lucky would eventually win the Preakness and then repeat as the division champion and show he could run on natural dir and Pioneerof the Nile was second on natural dirt in the Kentucky Derby.

Now, Santa Anita will have their natural dirt for the second time for their winter prep races leading up to the Derby, so any natural dirt-challenged winner of the CashCall will now likely be exposed sooner or prepare the Kentucky Derby over the PolyTrack surfaces at Turfway Park and/ or Keeneland. (see 2010 Derby winner Animal Kingdom.) Any plans to take the Southern California, New York, Arkansas, Florida or Louisiana roads to Kentucky, mean running on natural dirt.

According to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, Baffert will again be loaded for the CashCall with three 2-year-olds set for the 1-1/16-mile race. Del Mar Futurity winner Drill will try to return to the winners’ circle after graded stakes loses in the Norfolk, Juvenile and Delta Jackpot. Maiden winner Sky Kingdom and Real Quiet Stakes winner Liason will also be saddled by Baffert in this CashCall Futurity.

Not sure other CashCall contenders Basmati and Longview Drive, the place and show horses in the Delta Jackpot in their last start, don’t appear to have enough credentials for the championship, even with a big performance in the CashCall.

No matter, the CashCall winner is sure to move up near the top of many Kentucky Derby 2012 lists of contenders. Winter Future Books will be adjusted and for some, rosy dreams will begin to bloom for others. Regardless of who gets honored with the 2-year-old male title, it will be the Derby that holds all the glamour and history and the CashCall Futurity is more than a month closer than its Breeders’ Cup brother-race. The CashCall Futurity now crawls from beneath the long shadow cast by the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and at least one shining star will emerge and walk into the Hollywood Park winners’ circle Saturday.

Then on to the road that may lead to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Twitter: Putting Betting Butts In Seats 140 characters at a time

Without getting into politics on a nice Friday before one of the final weekends of the Fall, but one phrase I find a bit insulting is “It is unpatriotic to criticize the President.” Forget the first amendment right of freedom of speech, I believe our government is built on a foundation strong enough to withstand challenge and at time thrive on criticism and change. That idea of improvement through criticism – I hope – also helps keep me grounded at a blogger.

With that in mind, I have to take a swipe at my alma matre, the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in Tucson, Arizona. This week, the RTIP is hosting the 38th Annual Symposium on Racing and Gaming at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson. The symposium held this year Dec. 5-8 has been a mainstay in the racing and gaming industry since 1974 and continues today to attract the brightest and most successful leaders of our industry as both speakers and attendees.

My first exposure to the symposium came in 1979 when as a University accounting major and part-time janitor at the Student Union, I stumbled across a panel in session and sat and listened. I’ll be honest the “sitting instead of mopping” was more the catalyst than my interest in the speaker, (they were debating race-day medication then too), but it peaked my interest and the next semester I was taking Breeds and Registry Associations taught by Richard Quatlander and on my way to a career in horse racing.

I have not attended the symposium for some time now, but that has strictly been a factor of scheduling and economics. If I could be there, I would be there. I am also a RTIP Alumni Association board member so my devotion to the program should not be a question. Unless one should bring up my financial short coming as a contributing alumni, (I am a dues paying alumni association member BTW), I’m an RTIP Alum in good standing.

What has got my gander now is not the fault of the RTIP, but I just think they should be doing more to bring the industry up to speed with Social Media. There seems to be a new social website pop up around every cyber corner these days, but the two mainstays are Facebook and Twitter. Judging within the limitations of this blog, Google+ seems to be making a big run too. We’ll see.

But the two big boys are Facebook and Twitter. And oddly enough about this social media thing, the most successful sites are the easiest to use. That’s my short way of saying no race track executive or manager has any excuse as why their track and or department do not have Twitter and Facebook accounts. It's not the RTIP program that is responsible for this industry-wide resistance to technology, but they should be on the lead in the race to stamp out lousy racetrack tweets.

But the truth about the racing industry is that it is woefully behind in the social media world. And the only horse racing industry program at a major university in the world, is not helping as much as I expect. And I expect a college to lead in any progressive field – in this case social media.

RTIP program director Doug Reed does appear to be trying. In fact, the four-day symposium has by my count, five panels in which Facebook or Twitter may be addressed: Racing’s Young Guns, Managing Your Business on the Internet, Your Social Media Toolbox: What’s In It, and Social Media and the ADW: Match Made in Heaven. These are all good topics and I’m sure the speakers were interesting and informative. Again, I’m not in Tucson and didn't hear the panels.

Young guns Raj Mutti (@raj_hastingsRC) and Andrea Young (@ayounghouston) have twitter accounts among the young guns and both are active account. Young and Muttie tweeted as recent as Thursday.

But I am curious as to why no "How To Tweet" panel. I know that Twitter was specifically addressed on past panel discussions, but judging by the progress the industry has made since those discussions, those panels were ineffective. The industry has moved little in the last two years in terms of social media.

Again, I don’t mean to criticize the current speakers, moderators and topics nor those who produced the program. I’m saying, until horse racing gets twitter, facebook and to a degree now Google+, there should be a panel every year walking the executives through the doors to 2011 business.

Might I suggest a very simple panel topic for next year’s symposium: Twitter: Putting Betting Butts In Seats 140 characters at a time. And here’s your potential panelist:

Ed DeRosa, director of marketing at Bloodstock Research Information Systems, and has the twitter handle @EJXD2 among others. An astute handicapper, DeRosa has more than 2,400 followers and is among the most present on Twitter (it seems). I suspect time management is among his best assets with regard to his seemingly ever presence on twitter, but I admire his debating ability too. If one wants to learn how to engage fans on Twitter, DeRosa could have written the book regarding the topic as it relates to horse racing on twitter. He’ll question, comment and correct on twitter with the best of them.

Brian Zipse, managing editor at Horse Racing Nation website and goes by the twitter handle @Zipseatthetrack. A few years ago Zipse started his horse racing blog Zipse At The Track and built it to become one of the most popular blogs in our sport. I have yet to meet Zipse, but I feel I know him quite well through Social Media. I have seen Zipse market his blog on Facebook and Twitter until it became part of Horse Racing Nation in September 2010 when they hired him as managing editor. His success in the horse racing social media market is measurable.

Susie Blackmon, blogger and founder of #horsebiz, Blackmon (@SusieBlackmon) is also a curator and western lifestyle enthusiast in Ocala, Florida. She has more than 18,000 twitter followers and is also quite active and ahead of the curve on Google+. Blackmon’s well organized network begins with a landing page that allows users to easily choose from her nine social networks or five websites. Blackmon also markets her network with a personal touch on several social media which should somehow be the backbone of any social media campaign.

Molly Jo Rosen. Blogger, radio host and handicapper are among Rosen’s assets but her twitter ranks among the best. With nearly 2,000 followers, @mollyjorosen is another with an apparent ever presence on twitter. Maybe it’s just that she seems to tweet the most during racing – whatever – Rosen rocks and rolls on racing twitter. Rosen tweets are sometimes fun, sometimes opinionated, sometimes keen and smart. But her passion for the sport is evident in the quality and quantity of her every tweet. I’d like to hear her speak about her twitter marketing.

Penelope Miller, Social Media Director,!/NTRA. Since Miller has taken over the social media for the NTRA, the differences were swift and have been vast. No longer do NTRA tweets come 30 at-a-time two or three times a day. There is actually strategy and personal potential customer awareness that seems to make the difference between and successful and an eventually dormant twitter account.

Should I post something positive about the NTRA on the blog or find an article that may be of interest to the folks at the NTRA, I often copy @NTRA. And the most amazing thing can happen. Hill or somebody in her department respond and might even throw down that ultimate compliment in the twitter world – the RT (They retweet your tweet to their followers.) When you have just more than 2,100 followers and the NTRA has more than 6,000 twitter followers, the RT can have a very big impact on the blog and potentially additional followers on twitter.

There are a few tracks that do well on Twitter and they need to be recognized. It would not be fair to clump them among the drag-behinds that I hope read this. Remington Park under the leadership of Yanni Vance, and Canterbury Park having been effective as has Delaware Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

There are also many other who would among those quickly inducted into The Brock Talk twitter Hall of Fame. I must also disclose that I have infact, spent hours trying to update this blog to allow easier access to my accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Some of that is attributed to my very limited html knowledge. It is frustrating. But racetracks do not have that excuse – or they shouldn’t.

So I asked my old Alma Matre: Keep pounding that social media drum Mr. Reed. Keep pounding that drum please.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TBT Endorses Scott Stevens for Woolf Award

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been ringing up endorsements of late with the likes of former Vice President Dan Quail and the Sioux City Journal offering support. However, Romney still trails front-runner New Gingrich by some 15 points in a recent Gallup Poll.

Yesterday, Turf Paradise track announcer Michael Chamberlain wrote an endorsement on his blog They Are Off and today I’m following suite. Let’s hope Mr. Stevens does better with the Woolf voters than Romney is pollsters.

I first met Scott Stevens in 1980 at Les Bois Park in Boise, Idaho. He was the leading rider at that summer meeting and I was an assistant starter. Scott’s father Ron, trained and brother Gary was the leading apprentice and nobody outside of then Jockeys’ Guild representative Taylor Powell knew of the talent at the small track in Southern Idaho at that time.

It has been some 20 years since I last spoke with Scott, but as a friend, I have followed his now 30-plus year career.

Brother Gary Stevens made the major leagues of horse racing as a jockey but Scott has been no stranger to success either. Gary graduated to a Hall of Fame career including winning the Kentucky Derby three times (1988, Winning Colors; ’95, Grindstone; Silver Charm, 1997) and five other Triple Crown races. Scott graduated to a successful level on mid-west circuits like Turf Paradise, where he has won more than 4,000 races; and Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where he is the all-time leading rider.

Scott Stevens has overcome several life-threatening injuries during his career including a spill at Canterbury Park in 2010 that left him with a broken sternum, both collarbones and several broken ribs -- some in more than one place -- and had a tear in his spleen. He has since returned to riding at both Turf Paradise and Canterbury but for the second consecutive year was injured at the Shakopee, Minn. Oval, breaking his right shoulder in a morning starting gate accident.

But it is not leading rider statistics, tenacity to recover from injury or Hall of Fame inductions (Scott Stevens is a member of both the Canterbury Park and Idaho Halls), that have made Stevens’ career or garnered his Woolf nomination. Scott Stevens has long been known as a leader in the jockeys’ quarters and has worked off the track throughout his career for the betterment of his fellow riders and in the communities outside of racing also.

The George Woolf Memorial Award is presented annually by Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles to a jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack. The award was first presented to jockey Gordon Glisson in 1950 and Gary Stevens won in 1996. Interestingly, Gary Stevens also played George Woolf in the 2003 major motion picture Seabiscuit. Should Scott win the Woolf Award, he and Gary will be the only brothers to be so honored. Ismail and Pat Valenzuela are uncle and nephew and won the George Woolf in 1963 and 1982 respectively.

The one-time-only award is voted on by members of the Jockeys' Guild who chose from among their peers nominated by Guild regional managers. The trophy that goes along with the award is a one-foot-high replica of the life-size statue of George Woolf that, along with a bronze sculpture of his favorite mount, Seabiscuit, has a place of honor in the Santa Anita Paddock Gardens.

Other nominees for the 2012 George Woolf award are jockeys Ramon Dominguez, Corey Lanerie, Martin Pedroza, and DeShawn Parker.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

First let me again say thank you for coming through so well last year. Havre de Grace and Blind Luck continued their rivalry, the new Santa Anita surface seems to be working, New York has their racinos up and running and Hollywood Park is still open.

This year, I’m toning it down a little bit. Asking for less and hoping that less strain helps you again deliver the items on my wish list and I see them under the tree on Christmas morning – and throughout the entire new year.

I know you’re busy St. Nick, so without further ado:

1 - You keep delivering – and I’ll keep asking. Santa, do what you can to keep Hollywood Park open for another year.

2 - Good TV Ratings for all horse racing telecasts this year. While television ratings for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands remains solid and competitive with major sports such as NBA basketball and major league baseball, it attracts far more viewers than other horse racing telecasts, network or cable. Even the Breeders' Cup can't compete with Kentucky Derby ratings.

So let's ride the coat tails of the Kentucky Derby itself.

This year NBC will provide live coverage of six major Derby prep races over four weeks leading up to the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May. Good ratings will not only help - and further validate horse racing as a big time sport. A solid amount of viewers watching the Arkansas Derby, for instance, should translate to even better Kentucky Derby television ratings. Wouldn't that be nice?

The series will be highlighted by an NBC telecast of the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial April 7. The 90-minute live telecast will originate from Aqueduct Race Track in New York and Santa Anita near Los Angeles and is the third telecast of the series following the Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park in Kentucky Mar. 24 and the Florida Derby from Gulfstream Park Mar. 31. The Spiral Stakes and Florida Derby will be on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) while the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby will be on CNBC on April 14.

3 - I’m not going to ask for a Triple Crown winner again. Since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes back in 1978, American racing has gone without a Triple Crown winner the past 33 years. Each year I ask for a Triple Crown winner and each year, I am rejected. Since Big Brown won the Derby and Preakness in 2008, we haven’t even had hope for a Triple Crown winner going into the Belmont.

So maybe Triple Crown winner is too much to put on a Christmas list. All I ask: Don’t take away our hope even before the Derby because of something silly like an equine liver disease. Not silly as in not sereious. Silly as in "What the dog gone it was that all about?" (See Union Rags)

4 - How about if Tim Tebow were to buy a race horse. We’ll take his winning magic as part of the package but you can keep his passing game. Give that to some Pop Warner team.

5 - Bring Frankel the horse to the United States. Although he is the 2011 European Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old, he is named after one of the great American horsemen of our time. Frankel the horse is named for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. A five-time Eclipse Award winner as champion trainer, Bobby Frankel trained many great horses for Frankel’s owner Juddmonte Farm.

6 - I still haven’t seen trainer Dale Romans and Huckleberry Hound in the same place. Coincidence?

7 - I’ve know you to sneak down to races a time or two each year Santa. I’ve see you and Prancer at Silks lounge at Arlington Park betting Saratoga and Del Mar. But let’s face it – neither of you have time to get to the track in the winter. In fact, I’d like to wish for a winter break on all-tracks after the Breeders’ Cup. Tha’t right Santa – no racing from early November through January. I’ve thought this through Santa and know that it will leave money on the table and create holiday hardships for many people who sell mutual tickets, clean stalls or sell hot dogs and maybe we should wait for the economy to get rolling again before we jump into this. But every sport needs some resemblance of a season.

Most major sports in America need some form of contraction to increase interest and eventually profits in the long run. We know pro football doesn’t work in Los Angeles and baseball is a flop in Tampa Bay. Why there is hockey in Dallas and Phoenix is beyond me. The two lowest attended teams in the NHL, neither Dallas or Phoenix average less than 11,500. That is 2,000 less fans per night than the Columbus Blue Jackets. (I played hockey and had to look up the mascot for Columbus.)

Horse racing also needs to get smaller. And I’d start with no winter racing. Sorry Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds et. al. Your over supplying the market.

8 - And finally Santa, keep all of the jockeys, exercise riders, trainers, stable hands and of course the horses, safe throughout the year.


Brock Sheridan

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gulfstream Park's Wide Open Spectacular Bid Stakes May See Price Repeat

The $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park has never produced a Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands winner but Groovy still ranks third on the list of all-time fastest quarter and half-mile fractions in the Run for the Roses. After winning the inaugural Spectacular Bid Stakes in 1986, the Texas-bred Groovy lead for just about six furlongs before faltering and finishing last in that Derby.

The last Spectacular Bid Stakes starter to make it to Kentucky was Discreetly Mine, a fourth-place finisher behind A Little Warm in the Spectacular Bid two years ago and 13th in the subsequent Kentucky Derby.

So don’t look for the winter future book favorite to come out of Saturday’s featured Spectacular Bid Stakes for opening day at Gulfstream Park. The Specatular Bid, named for the 1979 Kentucky Derby (photo right) winner and 1980 Horse of the Year, the Spectacular Bid has traditionally been the first 3-year-old stake of the prestigious Gulfstream Park meeting. This year, the seven furlong Spectacular Bid will be run for 2-year-olds for the first time due to the early opening day for Gulfstream Park. At first glance, no Kentucky Derby winner jumps out of the Daily Racing Form, but it appears there are some colts with potential.

Morning line favorite Luke of York makes his first start on dirt after narrowly winning his first two races on Polytrack. The humbly-bred son of Put It Back broke his maiden by a nose at Arlington Park in late September then came back to win the $125,000 Keeneland 75th Anniversary Stakes Oct. 15, again by a nose. Rajiv Marach rides Luke of York for trainer James P DiVito and is 5-to-2 in the morning line.

Vexor, the second choice among the field of eight at 3-to-1 morning line odds, backs down in class after finishing ninth behind Secret Circle in the $454,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs. Vexor is the only Bid runner with graded stakes experience adding a grade 2 victory in the Nashua Stakes at Belmont October 2 to his past performances. Also of budgetary friendly bloodlines as a son of Wildcat Heir, Vexor was eighth in the grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, some 42 lengths behind winner Currency Swap. A close look at the John Kimmel trainee before the race may indicate which Vexor will be breaking from the starting gate in Saturday’s Spectacular Bid. He runs as if he has handicapped the race running well against grade 1 or less, but flopping when in the grade 1 Hopeful or on the national stage of the Juvey Sprint.

Town Prize, 8-1 in the morning line, and Ancient Rome, (4-1), have a little more blue running in their blood being by Speightstown and Roman Ruler respectively. Ancient Rome moves out of maiden company for the first time in the Spectacular Bid after winning his second start by more than seven lengths. Town Prize has won two of three races including a maiden and an allowance, but finished third in the $150,000 Colin Stakes at Woodbine in July. Town Prize is another making his natural dirt debut after all of his previous starts were on Polytrack.

Town Prize, Ancient Rome and Vexor are the only three starters to have a wire-to-wire victory under their belts and should provide an honest pace. Vexor will have a slight advantage, breaking from post three while Ancient Rome is number seven and Town Prize eight. Most of the other Spectacular Bid entrants are true stalkers with a fondness to run within two-to-four lengths off the leaders early. Longshot Rex’s Last Tour is the only Bid foe with a win coming from as far back as five lengths. Number one Jordon’s Image (8-to-1 morning line), rallied from ten lengths back four starts back, but only managed a third and it was against maiden claimers.

For Oby may be the choice for some as he is the only starter to have won at seven furlongs, having done so in his last out in the J. Price Juvenile over fellow Spectacular Bid runner Jordon’s Image. At 6-to-1, For Oby is at an attractive price and gets Alan Gacia in the saddle for trainer Pedro Maestre.

7 - Ancient Rome
2- Rex's Last Tour
3 - Vexor

Friday, November 18, 2011

Basmati May Be Main Course in Delta Downs Jackpot

This weekend racing fans turn their attention to south Louisiana and the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot as ten 2-year-olds try to win the 1-1/16 race and boost their graded earnings.

In just less than six months, entries will be taken for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands and the 20 horses with the most earnings in graded races will qualify. That makes the grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot significant in that the $600,000 winner’s check will viturally qualify them for the Derby. Of course there is still the challenge of keeping a horse injury-free and train into top form for the May 5 Derby, but Saturday’s Delta Downs Jackpot winner will not have to worry about acquiring more graded earnings to have the opportunity to run in Kentucky.

In fact, Since the Jackpot was first graded in 2006, Z Humor has been the only Jackpot winner to make it to the Derby, finishing 14th in 2008. Other Jackpot winners such as Big Drama and Rule, have gone on to successful racing careers after winning the Jackpot, but only one has made it to the Derby.

That may change in 2012, however, as the Delta Downs racing department has this year put together the most accomplished field in the short ten-year history of the race.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has entered Drill, giving the Jackpot its first grade 1 winner. Drill, a son of first crop sire Lawyer Ron, picked up his grade 1 victory in the Del Mar Futurity in September. Racing in the famous gold and red silks of Mike Peagram, Drill has since finished second to Creative Cause in the grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing a disappointing 10th in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. Pegram owns Drill with partners Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

Trainer Kelly Breen has been working on home field advantage in the Jackpot since he shipped My Adonis to Delta Downs in late October to win the Jean Lafitte Futurity, the local prep race for the Jackpot. My Adonis moved to the Vinton, Louisiana track from Monmouth Park in New Jersey where he where broke his maiden in his fourth attempt. Jockey Eddie Trijuillo also returns to Delta Downs to again ride My Adonis, the 4-to-1 second choice in the Jackpot morning line.

Morning line third choice Seven Lively Sins comes from Churchill Downs where he finished second by just three-quarters of a length behind Motor City in the grade 3 Iroquios in his last out. Trained by Louisiana-native Al Stall, Jr. Seven Lively Sins broke his maiden over Keeneland’s Polytrack main track in his second start. Assigned 9-to-2 odds by the line maker, Seven Lively Sins will again be ridden by Julien Leparoux, currently the leading rider at Churchill Downs.

Also flying from California for the Jackpot are Basmati and Longview Drive. Basmati was fifth and fourth as a maiden in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes respectively and has since won a maiden race at Santa Anita. Corey Nakatani will ride Basmati for trainer Doug O’Neil.

The mysterious horse is Canadian invader Dougs Buddy. Trained by Joan Petrowski, Doug’s Buddy is not coming from prominent racing circles around Woodbine Race Course in Toronto, but from the much lesser known Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta. The Kentucky-bred son of Badge of Silver is undefeated in four starts at Northlands, including winning three ungraded stakes. Dougs Buddy is taking a step up in class and has traveled the furthest distance, but offers a good return at 20-to-1 odds in the morning line.

Deciphering the Delta Downs Jackpot
Delta Downs features a six furlong track, but because the Jackpot starts out of the 550-yard Quarter Horse chute, the field makes only two turns in a 1-1/16 race. That leaves a long straight run to the first turn and plenty of time and track for the 10-horse field to sort itself out. Therefore, post position should be of no concern.

My Adonis has the only experience racing at Delta Downs as he won the Jean Lafitte Futurity after closely stalking early leader Top Cat Boogie. Looking through the charts of races this week, it appears horses must follow that pattern and be on or very near the lead going into the far turn. The track configuration may have something to do with that as the tighter far turn and short stretch make it more difficult for closers to make their move.

All of the speed in the Jackpot should come from the inside as the Jerry Hollendorfer trained Longview Drive, Seven Lively Sins and Basmati break from the one, two and four posts respectively. Tiz Moe, My Adonis and Drill should fall into the second flight with Laurie’s Rocket, Sabercat, Doug’s Buddy and Jake Mo also trying to stay with striking distance.

Running out of the long chute to start the race and the abundance of speed in the race is a formula for a fast first quarter of a mile, but again the sharper turns should come into play. Should a jockey hit the first turn at Delta Downs too fast, they can find themselves on the way to Houston by way of the outside rail.

Seven Lively Sins are the most likely to survive among the speedsters and My Adonis and Drill should be plenty close enough to strike with Doug’s Buddy just off them.

In the Del Mar Futurity, Drill showed he had the type of acceleration needed to be effective at Delta Downs moving from fifth to first down the stretch. However, Drill has been unable to repeat that since.

On the other end of the spectrum, Basmati looks as if he is getting better and might turn the tables after losing to Drill both at Del Mar and Santa Anita. My Adonis should benefit from the home field advantage and with any improvement off of his last race there, should also be among those fighting for the win.

For the price, Doug’s Buddy get’s my interest as well. Although the competition at Northlands Park isn’t what he will be facing at Delta Downs, it is a five furlong oval at Northlands Park so the tight turns should be of little concern. As a grade 3, the Jackpot is a logical next step in trying to further define the talent of Doug's Buddy and it never seems a great idea to eliminate and undefeated race horse – even one from Canada.

Brock’s Picks
#4 – Basmati
#5 – My Adonis
#9 – Doug’s Buddy

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kentucky Derby Musings With My Friend Captain Obvious

I ran into Captain Obvious the other day at the track and as happens between many horse racing enthusiasts this time of year, 2-year-olds became the topic of discussion – specifically as they relate to the 2012 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.

As is the case most of the time with Obvious, I was not surprised which horses he was going to follow this winter, through the spring Derby prep races and into the Run for the Roses.

“Hansen is my Derby horse,” the Captain proclaimed as if bestowing knowledge and insight into the conversation. “He’s had three races and not only has he won all three, but he’s been in front from the first jump to the wire in every one of ‘em. Never even been headed yet. He won the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvey at a mile and a-sixteenth, so he’s the Derby horse to watch, that’s for sure.”

Why was I then surprised to hear him say Union Rags was also on his Derby radar. Radar? I thought. You don’t need radar to find Union Rags on a list of Derby contenders. You need glasses and maybe even a new hearing aid if you hadn’t heard of Union Rags. He was a head off of being the undefeated champion of the class when the favorite in the Juvenile, he just missed catching Hansen to finish second. It was on TV and everything.

I won’t continue to bore you like Captain Obvious can me with his plebian prognostications, only to say that he list Juvenile third and fourth-place finishers Creative Cause and Dullahan respectively as the others he is watching along with the winners of the Delta Jackpot this Saturday and the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park December 17.

“Really?” I asked. And just before I had a chance to get too agitated, Captain Obvious turned and trotted toward the betting windows, disappearing into the simulcasting crowd on his way to betting another 6-to-5 shot to show.

Two of the horses that Captain Obvious may be looking at are Liaison and Arousing Sermon, the first two finishers I the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park Saturday. The Real Quiet is the local prep race for the CashCall Futurity.

His other Derby horse runs Saturday, when the $1 million Delta Jackpot features by far the most accomplished field in the eight times the race has been run during its nine year history. The Delta Jackpot did not run in 2006 due to hurricane Rita. Because of the large purse and graded status, the winner of the Delta Jackpot will have plenty of graded earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Entry eligibility for the Derby is based on earnings in graded races. No preference is given to grade 1 races over grade 2 or 3. Management at Delta Downs in tiny Vinton, Louisiana have taken advantage of the clause and are now bringing top 2-year-olds to Cajun country each December.

Run as a grade 3 since 2006, the Delta Jackpot has attracted its first grade 1 winner in Del Mar Futurity winner Drill. Since Del Mar, Drill was second to Creative Cause in the Norfolk and a disappointing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Although listed as the 2-to-1 favorite in the Delta Jackpot, the Bob Baffert trainee will have plenty of competition in Vinton. Norfolk fourth-place finisher Basmatie and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Longview Drive are also heading to Louisiana from California. From Churchill Downs comes Seven Lively Sins off a second in the grade 3 Iroquios Stakes and allowance winners Jake Mo and Laurie’s Rocket.

There are others 2-year-olds to keep an eye on so far, outside of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, CashCall Futurityand Delta Jackpot.

For those not in the Captain Obvious camp, Sheihk Mohammed al Maktoum’s Darley Stables and trainer Kiarin McLaughlin unleashed a good looking son of Bernardini on a field of maidens at Aqueduct over the weekend. A bit of a surprise winning at 13-to-1 odds, Consortium stalked the leaders after breaking well before jockey Alan Garcia let him roll 3-wide around the field and win confidently by nearly five lengths.

After the race, McLaughlin told the Aqueduct public relations staff, “[Consortium] broke sharply and was able to sit and wait. It’s another nice win for Bernardini, he is a great sire.” The stallion fee for second crop sire Bernardini, who stands at Darley Stud, has been doubled to $150,000 for the 2012 breeding season due to his great success in the breeding shed. Consortium is also the first foal out of the Machiavellian mare Marietta, a grade 3 winner of both the Iowa and Arlington Oaks during her racing career. McLaughlin also said they were undecided as to his next start or as to whether he will stay at Aqueduct or move to Gulfstream Park for the winter.

On the west coast, the Empire Maker colt Empire Way has garnered some attention after winning a maiden race at Hollywood Park Sunday. Empire Way is out of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess, making him a full brother to Alabama Stakes (gr. 1) and Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) winner Royal Delta. Empire Way is trained by Mike Harrington and was ridden by Joel Rosario.

Who knows. Maybe for the first time since Street Since in 2006-’07 Hansen will win the Kentucky Derby after taking the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Then Captain Obvious and probably a whole bunch more can say on the first Sunday of May next year, they picked the Derby winner six months earlier. No matter how you look at it, it would be impressive.

It would just be a little more impressive if we can find the Derby winner coming out of a rather anonymous maiden race. But that won’t change my friend Captain Obvious. He’ll still be betting show tickets on favorites.

A few others of Note:
Hierro - A winner in his third try at Churchill Downs Nov. 9 against maidens he his by Hard Spun, second in the Derby himself and currently the second leading first-crop sire.
Common Bond - A half brother to To Honor and Serve who had some trouble while finishing sixth to Consortium in the bump and run seventh race on Saturday, Nov. 13.
Motor City - A son of Street Sense who won the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on opening day Oct. 30. Motor City is trained by Ian Wilkes and is ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Havre de Grace Was Tops In A Difficult Year

It has been a rough year for the Horse of the Year award. So troubled has the year been for those horses pursuing the golden Eclipse award, that I have pondered the dilemma for more than a week since the completion of the Breeders’ Cup, and still, I am not adamant about my selection.

For disclosure, I do not vote for Horse of the Year. That honor has been bestowed upon the folks at Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. But if I did have a vote this year, I would approach it the following way.

It would be difficult to give the award to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer (photo right). His only victory this year other than the Classic came in the $60,000 One Count Stakes at Belmont Park in May. No matter the significance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it needs a little more help than the One Count Stakes to confirm a Horse of the Year.

Others under consideration had difficult days at the Breeders’ Cup that may have eliminated them from Horse of the Year. The Breeders' Cup is billed as the World Championship after all.

Goldikova was attempting an unprecedented fourth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile hoping to add to her record three straight, but was unable to overcome a trip filled with traffic difficulties this and finished third. And one third place finish in American does not a Horse of the Year make.

Classic favorite Flat Out went into the Breeders’ Cup off of a win in the grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, two seconds in the Woodward and Whitney, Saratoga’s two main events for older horses, and third in the grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont in July. Flat Out also had one of the better human interest stories this year in 70-year-old trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey, but a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic compromised the Horse of the Year chances for Flat Out.

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom should also be considered. Although Animal Kingdom has not run since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes June 11, the Kentucky is certainly the most noteworthy race in America and its winner she be duly noted.

There is also some precedent for Animal Kingdom being named Horse of the Year – at least from a chronological standpoint. In 1999, Cat Thief won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at nearly 20-to-1 odds over favored Behrens in seventh. That year Charismatic was named Horse of the Year after being injured in the Belmont Stakes and not running thereafter. Like Animal Kingdom, Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby but unlike Animal Kingdom, also had a victory in the Preakness and in the grade 2 Lexington. Animal Kingdom has the grade 2 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes win to match Charasmatic's Lexington and of course the Kentucky Derby, but no Preakness.

Stay Thirsty is another from the 3-year-old ranks that should get some attention from the Horse of the Year voters. He has three graded stakes wins this year in the Travers (gr. 1), Jim Dandy (gr. 2) and Gotham Stakes (gr. 3). Hurting him, however, was his performance in the Kentucky Derby (12th) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (11th).

Game On Dude deserves consideration from Horse of the Year voters based on his two grade 1 victories this year in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Goodwood Stakes, again at Santa Anita, in October. He was also second in the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup this summer but probably still needed to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to solidify the Horse of the Year award. Zenyatta can run second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and be named Horse of the Year. But can Game On Dude do it? I’m not so sure.

Having the best record in the most graded stakes this year was the filly Havre de Grace (photo left). She won five of seven starts in 2012, three of which were grade 1 including a win over older males in the Woodward. Her fourth-place finish in the Classic and the fact that four of her five wins came against fillies and mares will be her Achilles heel among Eclipse voters.

Unlike Favorite Trick in 1997 and Secretariat in 1972, the 2012 Horse of the Year is not likely to come from the 2-year-old ranks. Like Favorite Trick, Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Hansen finished the year undefeated, but that was only Hansen’s third start of the year and first in graded stakes company. Hansen’s other victories, while impressive with 12-1/4 and 12-1/4 winning margins, came in the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile and a maiden race, both at Turfway Park.

Juvenile Favorite Union Rags has wins in the grade 2 Saratoga Special and grade 1 Champagne Stakes but very much needed to win the Juvenile in order to be considered for Horse of the Year. Instead, a second place keeps him in contention for divisional honors, but probably not for Horse of the Year.

Maybe the Horse of the Year title will go to a horse that did not run in the Breeders’ Cup. Acclamation finished 2012 with five consecutive wins in graded stakes including three grade 1 wins – something only he has accomplished this year. His grade 1 victories came in the Charlie Whittingham Stakes at Hollywood Park and the Eddie Read and Pacific Classic at Del Mar. A tenth-place finish in the grade 3 Charles Town Classic and no appearance in the Breeders’ Cup will be the hurdles facing Acclamation with voters. They will just have to decide what is the biggest detriment to a Horse of the Year - losing in the Breeders’ Cup or not running at all.

It has been a difficult year for racing stars. Again the Kentucky Derby has failed to win another race after the Run for the Roses and a long shot takes the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler On Ice also finished the year with no victories after their trips to the winners’ circle in their respective Triple Crown races.

I don’t have a vote in the Eclipse Awards, but for records’ sake, Havre de Grace deserves to become the third consecutive female to be named Horse of the Year in a close call over Acclamation. Helping Havre de Grace is her appearance at five different tracks this year in four different states. Acclamation raced at four tracks in two states. Havre de Grace raced primarily against females while Acclamation won most of his races on the grass. However, both have grade 1 wins against older male horses on dirt around two turns. Neither Acclamation nor Havre de Grace won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it has been four years since Curlin won the Classic and the Horse of the year.

It is not an easy year to vote for Horse of the Year, but it should again go to another female. She may not be as accomplished at her most recent predecessors, but seldom ever have been. What matters is that Havre de Grace had the best year of any thoroughbred this year.

And for that, Havre de Grace should be honored with golden Eclipse Award for a rich and accomplished year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Uncle Mo Shadow Will Not Cast Over Stay Thirsty Stud Career

In what might be the greatest revenge in the stallion community since the success of Alydar over Affirmed, Stay Thirsty appears destined to do the same to Uncle Mo. The Uncle Mo/Stay Thirsty rivalry on the track does not compare to the battle tested years Affirmed and Alydar went at each other. Alydar and Affirmed (photo right) met five times as 2-year-olds and four more times at age three. Affirmed won seven times including the epic Triple Crown of 1978; and Alydar won two, including their last meeting in the 1978 Travers when he won through the disqualification of Affirmed.

At stud, Alydar was a major success producing Belmont winner Easy Goer and Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alysheba among his get. He was the leading sire in North America in 1990, sire of 10 champions and his runners earned more than $24 million. Affirmed became known more as a producer of turf runners, with perhaps his best runners being the multiple grass champion filly Flawlessly; and Arlington Million winner The Tin Man. Affirmed had similar numbers as Alydar with 9 champions, but Alydar’s stallion career ended at the peak of his productivity when he mysteriously suffered a shattered leg while in his stall and had to be euthanized.

Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo met only twice on the track, both in Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs. Last year, Stay Thirsty was fifth to Uncle Mo’s victory in the Juvenile. This year Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty finished 10th and 11th respectively in the Classic. So they really didn’t have much of a rivalry on the track.

But there was a rivalry for recognition between the two, especially since both came from the same shed row of trainer Todd Pletcher and raced for outgoing owner Mike Repole. And no matter what he did, Stay Thirsty seem to ever remain in the shadow of his stable mate Uncle Mo.

Uncle Mo was everybody’s all-everything from the time he broke his maiden by 14-1/2 lengths at Saratoga through his undefeated championship season and being the winter racebook favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, during his 2-year-old seaso, Stay Thirsty had finished second to Boys At Toscanova in the Hopeful Stakes after breaking also breaking his maiden at Saratoga, but only by five lengths. Stay Thirsty went into the Juvenile as an anonymous 13-to-1 shot and came out as a fifth-place whatchmacallit.

Things looked up for Stay Thirsty (photo left) after winning the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in early March, but after a seventh-place finish in the Florida Derby and a 12th in the Kentucky Derby, Stay Thirsty was moving ever closer to staying home. A second-place finish to Ruler on Ice in the Belmont Stakes awoke some, but not enough to make Stay Thirsty the favorite in his next start, the grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes. Stay Thirsty won the Jim Dandy impressively by four lengths and went to the Travers as the favorite, but only by one dime to the dollar more popular. Stay Thirsty was 2.5-to-1 in the Jim Dandy and the 2.4-to-1 favorite in the Travers.

As if aware of the slight, Stay Thirsty galloped around the Saratoga oval and won the Travers nearly gate-to-wire and suddenly he was atop the 3-year-old class looking down. In his first test against older horses in the grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Stay Thirsty was a good third behind eventual Classic winner Drosselmeyer and Classic favorite Flat Out. He looked primed to be competitive and possibly be among the favorites for the Classic.

But earlier that same day at Belmont, Uncle Mo had turned heads by winning the grade 1 Kelso Mile in only his second race after being sidelined and missing the Triple Crown. And during the weeks leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Uncle Mo again took the spotlight from Stay Thirsty.

Owner Mike Repole decided to run Uncle Mo in the Classic instead of the Dirt Mile and before the Classic, Uncle Mo would go off at 5-to-1 odds compared to Stay Thirsty back in double digits at 11-to-1.

Uncle Mo will have a year to get the jump on Stay Thirsty in the breeding shed, but I doubt it will make much of a difference.

Uncle Mo begins his stallion career as the grandson of In Excess (Ire), one of the top stallions in California before being pensioned in July. Stay Thirsty, who will race at age four according to his Facebook page, will begin his stallion career next year as the grandson of A.P. Indy, one of the top stallions of his generation.

Uncle Mo is by Indian Charlie, whose first runners hit the track in 2002 and who stood last year at Airdrie Stud in Midway, Kentucky for $70,000. On the track, Indian Charlie’s biggest win came in the 1-1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby. As one might expect from his racing career, Indian Charlie has had a difficult time producing any runners that could go to the next level at 1-1/4 miles.

Stay Thirsty is by Bernardini, winner of the Preakness, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup - two of which are at the classic distance of 1-1/4 miles. After his first crop hit the track this year as 3-year-olds with Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve among them, Bernardini’s fee has been raised to $150,000 by Darley Stud in Lexington, Kentucky.

Uncle Mo has the 2-year-old championship but in the end, Stay Thirsty has something much more important to breeders’, a grade 1 win at 10 furlongs (1-1/4 miles). In fact, Uncle Mo never won at 1-1/8 miles, finishing third in the Wood Memorial in his only attempt at that distance. Stay Thirsty won the 9 furlong Jim Dandy and 1-1/4 mile Travers.

Americans are known to breed for speed and Uncle Mo is well armed with pedigree and past performances to produce that in his runners.

But Americans still pay for distance. And Stay Thirsty will be much more likely to produce winners who can compete at the Classic distance. And likely to some day emerge from the Shadow of Uncle Mo and shine as if he was Alydar himself.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Film To Tell Old Friends Story

Editor's Note: Filmmakers Dan Rhema and Dave Henry have launched their new documentary project about Michael Blowen and the Thoroughbreds of Old Friends Farm. The Brock Talk blog and the Thoroughbred Blogger's Alliance are proud to support Old Friends Farm. The following is an introduction to the film by Producer Dan Rhema and Director David Henry.

The grace and power of thoroughbred racehorses stirs something deep within the human spirit. We cheer them on, pay big money, and shower them with an affection bordering on idolatry—so long as they continue to win or breed more winners. Once their usefulness is gone, their entertainment value exhausted, many are cast aside. Out of the public eye they are neglected, abused, euthanized, or sold overseas to countries where they can be legally slaughtered for consumption. Not even Kentucky Derby winners are safe.

In 2002, retired Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen learned that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been slaughtered in Japan. When he found out that champion racehorses Sunshine Forever and Criminal Type were awaiting the same fate, he immediately began raising money and negotiating with their owners to secure their transport back to the United States.

Today, Blowen and his wife, former Globe columnist Diane White, share the rolling pastureland surrounding their home with 68 cashiered thoroughbreds and are hosts to more than 20,000 visitors each year. Supported by donations and scores of volunteers, Old Friends is a favorite destination for former jockeys, thoroughbred owners such as A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss, and celebrity fans that include Albert Brooks, Angie Dickinson, and Jack Nicholson.

Old Friends will present the stories of these extraordinary athletes and their passionate advocate and rescuer Michael Blowen, who went from being a newspaper critic with zero interest in horse racing (“I thought it was stupid”) to an insatiable fan who apprenticed himself to famed trainer Carlos Figueroa so he could be a better handicapper, to owner of a 52-acre thoroughbred retirement home in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Old Friends will show how one individual with a passionate belief has rescued so many thoroughbreds in jeopardy and inspired others to join the cause. Our production schedule includes interviews with Hall of Fame jockeys, trainers, owners, celebrity fans, and an assortment characters who populate the colorful world of thoroughbred racing. As we go about conducting our research and filming interviews, we’ll be making use of these opportunities to compile an important archive of photos, memorabilia, and oral histories surrounding these extraordinary athletes. With your help, we’ll be able to complete production in time to premiere Old Friends during the 2012 Kentucky Derby Festival.

Thank you for helping us tell the story of Michael Blowen and the champion racehorses who reside at Old Friends.

Dan Rhema Writer-producer

David Henry Director

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kentucky Derby Conditions Help Wrong Horses Qualify

The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is in the books and with it, the $1,080,000 in graded earnings that went to the winner, Hansen (inside horse photo right). Favorite Union Rags missed catching Hansen by just a head in the Juvenile, but still pulled down $360,000 for finishing second and pushing him over $800,000 in graded earnings - or money won in America’s most significant races for 2-year-olds. Graded earnings are not so significant now; for Hansen and Union Rags the differences are small anyway. For horses at this level in their 2-year-old career, graded earnings often only eliminate the $30,000 or so made in the maiden ranks.

Graded earnings become more important when planning for the 2012 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. And when a horse has enough graded earnings to qualify for the Derby by the preceding new year, it makes those plans much, much less stressful.

In the case that more than 20 horses want to enter the Kentucky Derby, the conditions of the race give preference to those with the most earnings in graded races. At least twenty horses have entered the Kentucky Derby every year since 2004 with it taking an average of $128,708 to make the entry box over the last six years.

Six months ago, Derby Kitten was the last “bubble” horse to get into the Derby with $120,000. Eventual Preakness winner Shackleford was also one of the final qualifiers for the 2011 Kentucky Derby with $212,000 in graded earnings at entry time. Nowhere to Hide made it into the Derby starting gate with the least graded earnings ($55,500 in 2009) while it took Make Music For Me a record $218,750 to enter in 2010. The Kentucky Derby has been limited to 20 starters since 1975.

Granted, the Derby is still seven months away and the graded earnings list may not be as popular in the water cooler circles as March Madness Basketball brackets or Super Bowl office pools that feature the over/under on how long it takes to sing the National Anthem; but the graded earnings list will be widely followed by racing fans before the first Saturday in May of 2012 arrives.

Whether graded earnings is the best qualifier for a Kentucky Derby field has been the topic of much debate since they were first used to determine the Derby field in 1986. Under particular fire is the rationale behind using performances from horse’s 2-year-old seasons to determine who qualifies for the Derby, run one-third of the way into a horse's 3-year-old campaign.

It is puzzling that the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is so influential on Derby qualifiers when it has only produced one Kentucky Derby winner in 27 years. Street Sense won the 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Kentucky Derby. However, Street Sense was also the last Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to even start in the Kentucky Derby. Among the 2011 Derby field, only 12th-place finisher Stay Thirsty had started in the Juvenile.

Other grade 1 races for 2-year-olds have had been even less productive in producing Kentucky Derby winners, yet graded money earned by running in these races in 2011, will help qualify horses for America’s most important race in 2012.

The last Kentucky Derby winner that also won the grade 1 Champagne Stakes at two was Sea Hero in 1992 and 1993. The last Champagne winner to start in the Derby was Scat Daddy, 18th in the 2007 Derby. By the time the Derby comes around again on May 5, 2012, it will have been two years since a Norfolk Stakes (gr. 1) winner made to Kentucky for the Derby when Lookin at Lucky was sixth in the 2010. No winner of the Norfolk Stakes has ever won the Kentucky Derby the following year. It has been since 1984 when Swale won the Kentucky Derby after winning what is now the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity, Keeneland’s Fall grade 1 event for 2-year-old colts and geldings.

Yet Dullahan, winner of the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Juvenile, and Creative Cause, the Norfolk winner and fourth in the Juvenile, join Hansen and Union Rags with enough money already to qualify for the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

There is still the grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park with its $750,000 purse and the $1 million Delta Jackpot (gr. 3) at Delta Downs yet to be run before year’s end.

Previously known as the Hollywood Futurity, the CashCall Futurity has had plenty of prestige in its 31-year history with its winners including Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given, Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, Best Pal and Snow Chief.

But the Delta Downs Jackpot was designed to be affiliated with the Kentucky Derby. Sponsored by Boyd Gaming, the Delta Downs Jackpot was first run in 2002 at one mile. The next year, the race was increased to 1-1/16 miles in distance and given a $1 million money with hopes of attracting top horses. The plan worked and in 2006 the Delta Jackpot ran as a grade 3 race.

Once the graded status came, the major horsemen followed. Delta Downs Jackpot winners included Birdbirdistheword (2006), Z Humor (2007-DH), Turf War (2007-DH) Big Drama (2008), Rule (2009), and Gourment Dinner last year. Only Z Humor has made it to the Derby, finishing 14th, but Rule and Big Drama went on to productive careers. Rule stayed on the Kentucky Derby trail winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. 3) and finished third in the Florida Derby before being sidelined by injury. Big Drama just retired as the winner of the 2010 Breeders' Cup Sprint and earnings of more than $2.7 million.

Pre-entries for the November 19, Delta Jackpot include Drill, the Bob Baffert-trained winner of the grade 1 Del Mar Futurity but a disappointing tenth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; and Jake Mo, fifth in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The day at Delta Downs also includes the $500,000 Delta Downs Princess among the eight stakes and $2.2 million in purses that night.

There are no rooms available at the Delta Downs Casino and Hotel for Friday or Saturday night next week, so the Delta Downs Jackpot has put “butts in seats” as they say in sports marketing. It has also promoted the racing instituted by Director of Racing Chris Warren who has channeled the casino money effectively into his racing program. As a further indication of the Jackpot quality, trainers Steve Asmussen, Kelly Breem, Al Stall Jr., Bret Calhoun and Jerry Hollendorfer also have horses pre-entered in the Jackpot.

The Delta Downs Jackpot will also create another 2-year-old qualified for the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Along with the CashCall Futurity winner, the top four finishers from the Juvenile; Wrote, winner of the Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Sprint winner Secret Circle, at least eight 2-year-olds will have more than the $300,000 In graded earnings, more than what is expected to be needed to enter the Kentucky Derby.

By no means does that mean that all eight will make it to the Kentucky Derby. But it does mean that these eight will have less pressure put on them in February, March and April when other 3-year-olds are trying to accumulate graded earnings. Logic and history tell us the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial and such have the greatest impact on the Kentucky Derby.

Horses in those races are making their final preparations for Kentucky and have already overcome many of the obstacles that will stop a great many of the top 2-year-olds from the year before. And it would be a shame to see an close third-place finisher in the grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes get excluded because a horse earned money in the grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs nearly a year ago.

But that is the way the Kentucky Derby conditions read. And until they are changed, I hope the south Louisiana fans get to see a future Kentucky Derby winner. And I congratulate Delta Downs management for taking advantage.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Breeders' Cup Losses: If It Makes You Feel Any Better...

Well, Breeders’ Cup 2011 is in the books and there were some pretty-pretty-pretty big disappointments - pretty big disappointments at Churchill Downs this weekend.

All-in-all it was another great two days of racing with plenty of champions and stories resulting. The story of jockey
Joseph O’Brien winning the Turf aboard St. Nichols Abbey (IRE) for his father, trainer Aidan, ranks as one of the best stories of this year's World Championships. (Ire). (How closely related Joseph O'Brien is to Taylor Swift is a topic for another blog but...) Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott taking both the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday with Drosselmeyer and the Ladies Classic Friday with Royal Delta; are also among the more popular story lines.

But the disappointsments certainly have their share of the round ups, reviews and results.

From a wagering standpoint, the three biggest disappointments were Union Rags, Goldikova and Turbulent Descent. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Secret Circle was the biggest favorite of the day. Going to the post with 2-to-5 odds, Secret Circle managed to fight off the late charge of runner-up Shumoss and getting off to a popular start. Two more favorites would win Breeders’ Cup races Friday afternoon and early evening with Miss Aurelia winning the Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies and the Ladies Classic going to Royal Delta. But there were some diffucult races for handicappers and fans in between.

The most popular loser Friday was Turbulent Descent, who was given the lowest morning line odds at 6-to-5 in the Filly and Mare Sprint by Churchill Downs line maker Mike Battaglia. Battaglia was not far off on his line as Turbulent Descent went to the gate with 7-to-5 odds, only to finish fifth behind $42.40 long shot winner Musical Romance.

But Turbulent Descent was far from the biggest disappointment during the 28th running of the Breeders’ Cup. That honor goes to Union Rags, the second-place finisher in the $2 million Juvenile at 11-to-10 Saturday. But don’t blame the young son of Dixie Union too much. After breaking well from post ten, jockey Javier Castellano could not manage any closer to the rail in the short run to the first turn and was caught four wide. Allowing Union Rags to relax in a comfortable stride down the backstretch, Castellano never left the four path, and was again caught wide around the far turn. Union Rags made a great effort down the long Churchill Downs stretch running at eventual winner Hansen, but fell a dramatic head short.

The second most bitter pill to swallow from a wagering standpoint, also came Saturday at Churchill Downs when Goldikova failed to extend her current record to four consecutive victories in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Just as last year, Goldikova went to post as the 13-to-10 favorite, but this year, traffic problems persisted from the first turn to the home stretch. After an aggressive move turning for home by her jockey Olivier Pelier turning, Goldikova tried valiantly before falling short and but still managed third place. An objection was filed against Goldikova by rider Pat Valenzuela on Courageous Cat, but the steward's left the original order of finish.

Had Goldikova won her four Breeders’ Cup Miles, she would have not quite reached trainer Woody Stephens and his five straight Belmont Stakes victories from 1982 to ’86 or Kelso's five consecutive wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup from 1960-’64. But it would have been quite historic none-the-less. Goldikova is the only horse to win three Breeders’ Cup races - to extend that record would have certainly added to her legacy and the history of the Breeders’ Cup as an international event. Goldikova does have four wins in the prestigious French Prix Rothschile Stakes at Deauville Racecourse among her 17 group and grade 1 wins which is also a record for European females.

No matter the degree of disappointment felt by Goldikova, Union Rags or Turbulent Descent supporters, these pale in comparison to other heavy favorites defeated in previous Breeders’ Cups. Easy Goer supporters went through two beatings from the Breeders' Cup mutuel clerks. As a once defeated 2-year-old, Easy Goer was the 3-to-10 favorite in the 1988 Juvenile, but finished second to Is It True. Like Union Rags, Easy Goer had obstacles galore in the Juvenile including getting bumped at the start by Mountain Ghost, racing wide around the far turn and then jumping the gate tracks nearing the black and white sixteenth pole before the finish.

A year later, Easy Goer was again the favorite in the Classic, this time at 1-to-2, and with a chance to even the score with his west coast nemesis Sunday Silence. Sunday Silence had defeated Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before Easy Goer won the Belmont.

Again, Easy Goer was second to Sunday Silence and was then the record holder of the top two spots on the list of shortest priced Breeders' Cup losers. Housebuster took the second spot away from Easy Goer on the infamous list when he lost the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 2-to-5 when ninth behind winner Sheikh Albadou.

In the seven original Breeders’ Cup races, (Classic, Ladies Classic, Turf, Mile, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Sprint) there have been some 20 odds-on horses defeated. The Breeders’ Cup Turf leads the way as the favorite killer with five going down below even odds from Dancing Brave in 1986, to Sky Classic (’92), Paradise Creek (’94), Kitten’s Joy (’04) and Dylan Thomas in 2007. The Ladies Classic has also not been friendly to odds-on runners. Infirmed in 1987, was the first to be defeated below even odds in the Distaff and has been followed by Banshee Breeze (’08), Robilita (’98) and Sighseek in 2003.

The Classic too has seen four very popular runners leave the course in defeat, beginning with Slew O’Gold in the first Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1984. Off at 3-to-5 coupled with stable mate Mugatea, Slew O’Gold finished third but placed second through disqualification behind 30-1 winner Wild Again. Joining Slew O’Gold and Easy Goer are Cigar losing the Classic at .65-to-1 in 1996 and Curlin losing as the heavy favorite at 9-to-10 in the 2008 Classic.

Yes there were impasses in the Breeders’ Cup this year. Losses by Havre de Grace, Flat Out, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty are among the hardest felt by their fans, regardless of odds. Many popular Breeders' Cup losers before them have returned to write a different chapter to their racing careers. Others have not and retired to attempted to allow time and their breeding careers try to erase their Breeders' Cup calamities. No doubt that just as those memories of losses faded, those loses from this year will also deminish.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Breeders' Cup Saturday Selections

The Breeders' Cup continues today at Churchill Downs with the first Breeders' Cup race (the Marathon) set to break from the gate at 1:20 ET as race three. Seven races are on the docket today culminated by the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

We got the day off right with my Secret Choice, the most likely winner of the two-day event, taking the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. I thought I was on a roll as Stephanie's Kitten won the Juvenile Fillies Turf at 6-1 odds, but things began to go awry when Musical Romance won the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint at 20-1 and Perfect Shirl won the Emirates Airlines Filly and Mare Turf and paid $57.20. I had neither and they both ruined pick-3 tickets.

Today is another day filled with more Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs and I'm hoping Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott get my day started off right and I'm raising my glass to the East toasting trainer Charles "Scooter" Dickey and Flat Out.

Here are my selections and comments for the day.

Breeders' Cup Marathon
#1. Birdrun - As I said, I'm hoping trainer Bill Mott keeps his winning going after taking the Ladies Classic last night with Royal Delta. This son of Belmont winner Birdstone has already shown he can run all day after winning the 1-1/2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park in June. He won't need to run all day, but a good last quarter in the 1-3/4 mile Marathon is what I'm looking for.

Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
#5. Wrote - Tough race to widdle down to one winner, but European invader Wrote will get the nod from The Brock Talk in the Juvenile Turf. He comes from the barn of Irish superstar trainer Aidan O'Brien who saw Wrote finish third in the group 2 Juddmonte Farm Royal Lodge Stakes in his last race. I like to see a last race that is a bit sharper, but he encountered some traffic challenges that looked to have cost him. A cleaner trip in the Juvenile Turf should provide better results.

Breeders' Cup Sprint
#5. Jackson Bend - Made a big run at Classic fave Uncle Mo in the Kelso Handicap last time out, but was shut off by Uncle Mo while trying to make a move at the top of the stretch at Belmont Park. I'm not saying he was on his way to defeating Uncle Mo, but it looked like he lost enough momentum to keep him from launching a bigger challenge. There's no Uncle Mo in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and Jackson Bend should again show the form he had in winning the grade 1 Forego at Saratoga in September.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
#8. Regally Ready - His be st race came over the Churchill Downs Turf Course at today's distance of five furlongs when he captured the grade 3 Turf Sprint in May. Last November, he won an allowance race by seven lengths, again on Churchill Downs turf at five furlongs, so this is you "Horse for the Course" angle.

TVG Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
#8. Caleb's Posse - A disappointment running third to Wilburn in the Indiana Derby (gr. 2) where a slow-slow pace hurt this come-from-behind specialist. Considered a possible Kentucky Derby horse early in the year, Caleb's Posse won the one mile Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park in January. Also won the Ohio Derby (gr. 3) at 1-1/16 miles in June and two graded sprints at Saratoga in August.

Emirates Airlines Breeders' Cup Turf
Midday - Upset second-place finisher in last year's Filly and Mare Turf, Midday returns to Churchill this year to take on the boys. Although this race has never been won by a horse going gate-to-wire, there is a shortage of speed in the 2011 version of this 1-3/8 mile race. Was restrained and taken back to last in the early stages of her last race, where she finished her career worst fifth in the group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot. In her previous races this year, she was much closer to the early lead and won the group 2 Middleton Stakes at York in May and the group 1 Markel Insurance Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in July.

Breedes' Cup Juvenile
Dullahan - Morning line favorite Union Rags will be difficult to beat but Dullahan brings plenty of ammunition into the Juvenile. Trained by Dale Romans, Dullahan won the grade 1 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last out after being steadied in the first turn. Coming off of the Polytrack surface to Churchill Downs is of less concern as time goes on after Animal Kingdom won the Derby coming off a Polytrack win at Turfway Park.

TVG Breeders' Cup Mile
Goldikova - I'm not picking against her. I'm not betting against her. I'm just going to sit back and watch the great mare try to win her fourth straight Breeders Cup Mile.

Breeders' Cup Classic
Flat Out - Favorite Uncle Mo won't be able to get the 1-1/4 mile Classic based on his breeding and quite frankly his one mile preparation for this race. The big filly Havre de Grace looks good on paper, but her training this week as been suspect. That leaves Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out at 6-1 odds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Favorite Union Rags Faces Formidable Foes In Alpha, Creative Cause and Drill

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is always just a little bit more exciting than many of its counterparts. Sure the $2 million purse adds some additional prestige, but it is the potential of producing horse racing’s next super star that attracts us. Like the annual Senior Bowl in college football or high school’s McDonald’s All-American basketball game, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is that last showcase event of the year for many of these 2-year-old thoroughbreds. Next stop: the road to the Kentucky Derby.

The favorite in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is the undefeated Union Rags (photo right). After breaking his maiden at Delaware Park in July, he easily won the 6-1/2 furlong Saratoga Special (gr. 2) in August and the one mile Champagne Stakes (gr. 1) at Belmont Park in October. His sire, the deceased Dixie Union, was fifth in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind long shot winner Anees ($62.60) and counted the 1-1/8 Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) among his multiple grade 1 wins. Dixie Union also sired Dixie Chatter, winner of the 1-1/16 Norfolk (gr. 1); and 1-1/8 mile Pennsylvania Derby (gr. 2) winner Gone Astray, so the 1-1/16 mile distance in the Juvenile should be of little concern.

After winning the Saratoga Special from the front while laying back in the Champagne, Union Rags has the versatile running style that will be among his biggest assets. In the six previous runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, none of the winners have gone gate-to-wire. Union Rags also showed the ability to overcome adversity in the Champagne (his comment line in the official Daily Racing Form chart for the Champagne is eight lines long). After all that trouble that lasted until deep stretch when he was finally swung out into the clear, Union Rags still defeated fellow Juvenile runner Alpha by five and one-quarter lengths.

Union Rags will be saddled by trainer Michael Matz, best known as the conditioner of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner and ill-fated Barbaro. Matz also has a perfect record in the Breeders’ Cup having won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies Classic) with Round Pond – his only other Breeders’ Cup starter.

Second choice in the morning line at 7-2 is Creative Cause from Southern California. Unlike Union Rags, Creative Cause has a blemish on his record, finishing third in grade 1 Del Mar Futurity behind winner Drill. A closer look at the Del Mar Futurity shows that perhaps Creative Cause should be undefeated after being cut off by Majestic City. Creative Cause was placed second through disqualification, but the spotless record was gone.

The grey/roan Creative Cause comes into the Juvenile off of a nice win in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, avenging the loss to Drill at Del Mar. Creative Cause took the lead at the top of the stretch in the Norfolk and this time got the jump on Drill, the odds-on 3-5 Norfolk favorite. Being by Giant’s Causeway and out of Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. 1) winner and racing millionaire Dream of Summer, Creative Cause comes from an accomplished family. His obstacle might be trainer Mike Harrington and his 9% winning clip.

Undeterred by running second in the Norfolk, trainer Bob Baffert (photo left) comes to the Juvenile with Drill. Looking for his third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after winning with Vindication in 2006 and Midshipman two years later, Baffert is also fourth in Breeders’ Cup earnings with more than $10.7 million. Baffert has taken the blinkers off of Drill for the Juvenile, indicating he might want Drill to make a late run down the long Churchill Downs stretch instead of staying within striking distance throughout.

The likely front runner will be Hansen, an impressive 13-1/4 length winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over Turfway Park’s Polytrack main track. Coming off the artificial surface is of less concern being that Animal Kingdom, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, also came to Churchill Downs in May after winning at Turfway Park. Also a winner of a maiden race at Turfway by 12-1/4 lengths, the Michael Maker-trained Hansen will need a large lead to hold off the late challengers expected in the Juvenile.

Another coming into the Juvenile off of a victory over Polytrack is Dullahan. The Dale Romans-trainee travels to Churchill Downs from Keeneland where he won the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. 1) over Creative Cause’s Del Mar nemisis Majestic City in second; and fellow Juvenile runner Optimizer in third. Of concern about Dullahan are his two failed attempts to break his maiden in June and July. Both races were at Churchill on the main track. Perhaps grass and artificial surfaces are more to Dullahan’s liking. On the other hand, Dullahan’s half-brother, Mine That Bird, was quite fond of Churchill.

At 15-1, Alpha needs consideration as well. He was well beaten by Union Rags in the Champagne, but suffered through a bad start and other traffic problems throughout that race. He broke his maiden by six lengths at Saratoga and comes from the barn of high percentage trainer Kairan McLaughlin.

The more one studies this race, the more Union Rags begins to separate from this group. While sire Dixie Union might not help Union Rags at 1-1/4 (10 furlongs), the mile and one-sixteenth Juvenile should be no problem. Creative Cause looks like a potential challenger, but the Breeders’ Cup is a big show that can illuminate a weakness like Harrington’s low winning percentage. I’ll have Drill and Alpha at higher odds on any multi race tickets.

Brock’s Picks
#10 Union Rags
#9 Alpha
#4 Drill

NYRA photo of Union Rags by Adam Coglianese

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Process of Elimination Produces Classic Winner

There is money to be made betting on the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year.

The large 13-horse field will create large pools and Uncle Mo, the popular Champion 2-Year-Old Male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner from last year, is the very beatable morning line favorite at 5-2. Uncle Mo is by the respected sire Indian Charlie who commands a $70,000 fee from his home at Airdre Stud in Midway, Kentucky. Since his first crop hit the track in 2002, Indian Charlie has produced more than 1,000 winners and more than 100 stakes wins. Along with Uncle Mo, Indian Charlie’s daughters Fleet Indian and Indian Blessing were also champions. Of the three, however, only Fleet Indian won at the Classic distance of 10 furlongs (1.25 miles). She won both the Personal Ensign Stakes in New York and the Delaware Handicap, both at 1-1/4 miles.

Indian Charlie’s nine furlong stigma is further illustrated by his racing career. After winning the prestigious 1-1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby, he finished third to Real Quiet in the Derby. The comment in the Daily Racing Form official chart for Indian Charlie, “held on well to the final furlong then weakened.” In other words, at nine furlongs Indian Charlie was a world beater. But between that last green and white pole and the finish line of a 1-1/4 race, folks from episode one of Biggest Loser were faster.

Combine his distance challenged genetics with his preparation for the Classic in the one mile Kelso Handic ap Oct. 1 at Belmont, and Uncle Mo gets cut from my list of top contenders. Be mindful that Uncle Mo should be the one to catch turning for home and should keep that lead deep into the stretch. So don’t leave him out of any exotic tickets you are considering.
Havre de Grace, the popular 4-year-old filly that already defeated older males this year in the Woodward Stakes, also gets crossed off my Classic list. Should she prove me wrong and win the Classic, Havre de Grace should become the third consecutive female Horse of the Year.

But questions were raised about her training when she abruptly stopped after a five furlong work in 1:02 flat Monday at Churchill. A week earlier at Keeneland, Havre de Grace put in a quick five furlong work over their polytrack, stopping the clock in :58.3. Everything else on her past performances places her among my top choices, but the quick stop in the work is enough of a red flag in a race as competitive as this Classic.

Ruler On Ice, Ice Box, Rattlesnake Bridge and Headache are all long shots, each listed at 30-1 in the morning line. The handicapping paradox however, is that these four represent the only closers in this year’s Classic. Five of the seven Breeders’ Cup Classic winners at Churchill Downs have come from well off the pace including last year’s winner Blame. Closers are also known to have done well in the Kentucky Derby in recent years, giving additional credence to assumption.

It is always difficult to exclude trainer Nick Zito, but his Ice Box has been defeated by nearly 30 lengths in his last two races. History shows that horses need to come into the Classic off of a much better efforts than that. No horse has won the Classic without finishing first, second or third in their final start before the Classic. Rattlesnake Bridge, while third in the Pennsylvania Derby last out behind To Honor and Serve and Ruler On Ice, has never hit triple digit Beyer numbers which makes it difficult to imagine him hitting that big race Saturday. Headache is also speed figure challenged but he has three career wins at Churchill Downs. Ruler On Ice has the Belmont Stakes on his resume so distance should not be a challenge for him and his performance in the Pennsylvania Derby last race was strong.

Game On Dude, winner of the 10 furlong Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Goodwood at 1-1/8 miles in October, has had a difficult time putting together two consecutive good starts. He did win an Optional Claiming before winning the Santa Anita Handicap, but failed to win in the next four starts until the Goodwood. A close second in the Hollywood Gold Cup and a fourth in the Pacific Classic were among those losses, but he looks to need to take a step up from even his career best to win Saturday.

Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve were both on the road to the Kentucky Derby earlier this year but only Stay Thirsty made it. Unfortunately, he finished 12th. In fact, Stay Thirsty has had two starts at Churchill, neither with much success with a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year under the twin spires. Stay Thirsty skipped the Preakness, returned in the Belmont to finish second to Ruler on Ice and eventually became the star 3-year-old of the summer. After two big wins in the Jim Dandy and Travers, he was a solid third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup behind Classic foes Flat Out and Drosselmeyer.
To Honor and Serve also comes into the Classic on a two-race winning streak, taking the Pennsylvania Derby in his last race winning at optional claiming race against older horses at Saratoga before that.

However, neither Stay Thirsty nor To Honor and Serve look quite exceptional enough to win the Classic as 3-year-olds.

The three older horses that will be getting plenty of support will be European invader So You Think (NZ); and Flat Out and Drosselmeyer, the top two finishers in the Jockey Club Gold Cup respectively. Euros, Asians have had little success in the Classic, save for Raven’s Pass winning over Santa Anita’s artificial surface in 2008.

That leaves Flat Out and Drosselmeyer, two older horses that have been turning heads during morning training hours. Not so much that they have been blazing bullet works back and forth, but reports are that both are training with ease and aggressiveness. Flat Out and trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey provide a good story, but its performance that attracts wagers and Flat Out has shown no indication that the Jockey Club Gold Cup was a peak performance.

Flat Out looks to be sharper than Drosselmeyer coming into the Classic, but Drosselmeyer has the flexibility to lay further off the pace and make that big run that can be so important down the long stretch at Churchill Downs. Somebody is going to have to catch Uncle Mo and these two are set to launch a two-pronged attack.

At the wire in the Classic, Flat Out will have the edge over Drosselmeyer with Uncle Mo in third. The long shot with the best chance after Drosselmey is Ruler On Ice.

That leaves, So You Think (NZ), the second choice in the morning line at 5-1, Flat Out (6-1), Game on Dude (10-1), Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve both at 12-1 and Drosselmeyer at 15-1, still left for Classic consideration.

As I said before, there’s money to be made in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year.