The Brock Talk

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.

Handicapping The Filly and Mare Turf

Click here to see my handicapping column for ThorFan as I address the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf to be run Friday at Churchill Downs.

Our regular Wednesday blog will be posted later this afternoon as is normal.

Click Here For ThoroFan Column

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Notes - Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies Roundup, Part 2

From Breeders' Cup Press Release

Animal Spirits – The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf contender walked the shedrow Tuesday morning in the same barn that housed 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said the 2yo son of Arch came out of his Monday morning work of 4f in 49 1/5 fine.

“Being a younger horse with only two races under his belt, I put him in company with Trading Paint and put him on the inside to get him every little bit of seasoning he could possibly get,” Stall explained.

“Robby (Albarado) was in the saddle and said we’re right on schedule. He said he shied away from the purple signage along the rail, but that’s what these young horses will do and he was under the lights. So he was just in company to get around there and get a little more seasoning. He looked good this morning, too.”

Animal Spirits, winner of the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 9, will return to the racetrack to gallop Wednesday.

Caspar Netscher – Alan McCabe’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf contender Caspar Netscher went out to the main track Tuesday and cantered a couple of circuits before heading back to the barn. McCabe said that he was very pleased with the condition of his charge and plans to do a slightly stronger canter Wednesday.

Daddy Nose Best – Bob and Cathy Zollars’ 2yo son of Scat Daddy has only one win from five career starts, but according to trainer Steve Asmussen, the 30-1 shot shouldn’t be discounted from Saturday’s Juvenile Turf.

“We’re happy he got in (to the race) and I’m very anxious to run him on Saturday,” Asmussen said.

A maiden winner two starts back over the Saratoga turf, he last finished a late- closing third last out in the Summer Stakes.

“The Summer was a strong prep for this race last year (producing winner More Than Real), so we feel good about our chances,” Asmussen said. “I think he ran well in the Summer, but I also think he can run better than that. We had him entered at Saratoga a week earlier than he broke his maiden and he was excluded and didn’t get to run.

“Running him and breaking the maiden a week later going into the Summer had him flatter than we wanted. I think that week would have been very important to him, to get there and get settled in.

“I think that’s why he was so flat early in the race,” he continued. “There wasn’t much pace. He gave himself a tremendous amount to do, and he still loped up there for third. I think he’s a horse that’s capable of more acceleration and a sharper race.”

Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard for the colt’s last three starts, gets the return call on Saturday.

Fantastic Song – Trainer Chad Brown sent the Lemon Drop Kid colt out for a routine 1 3/8 m gallop Tuesday morning.

“He will gallop into the race,” Brown said. “He’s pretty sharp right now.”

Farraaj – Farraaj, trained by Roger Varian went out on to the dirt Tuesday morning to get used to his new environment and walked a circuit of the track.

“It was all a bit new to him and he was having a good look around. It is slightly different to Newmarket,” said Varian.

Finale – Trainer Todd Pletcher was admittedly perplexed when this son of Scat Daddy failed to be a serious threat in his first two starts at Belmont Park. A trip to the turf quickly remedied that.

The 2yo colt responded with three consecutive victories on grass, two in minor stakes. He is 5-1 on the morning line in a full field of 14 despite drawing post 13. John Velazquez has the mount.

“That was the only post position we really weren’t too pleased with,” said Pletcher, who has nine other Breeders’ Cup entrants. “He may have a future. He worked the other day and went very well for a 2-year-old working with a horse like Sidney’s Candy. He was right there with him.”

Lucky Chappy, State of Play – Trainer Graham Motion’s two Juvenile Turf hopefuls both galloped 1m Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

Although their training schedules were similar, Team Valor International’s 2-year-olds are “very different horses,” according to their trainer.

“They are very different horses. Lucky Chappy is a very European type. He had a rough go last time in that he walked away from the gate – typical of the Europeans first time (in the U.S.). I don’t think he’ll do that Saturday. I thought he ran a very creditable race, actually, considering how much ground he gave up early.

“State of Play is very professional, very nice work horse in the morning. He’s a really good horse. He’s had sort of a mixed-up month getting here. It’s been disappointing but having said that, he’s had two very good works. I feel very good about running him.”

Lucky Chappy, who finished third in his U.S. debut after winning twice in Italy, will be ridden by Joel Rosario.

State of Play, who won twice at Saratoga to launch his career, will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez.

Majestic City – “We had a good schooling day today,” said trainer Peter Miller. “He jogged, stood in the gate and made a trip to the paddock.”

The chestnut son of City Zip has been listed as the 4-1 morning-line favorite in the Juvenile Turf and has drawn post 8.

“The eight-hole is just right,” said the trainer, who’ll be sending out his second Breeders’ Cup starter. “It will give our rider (Garrett Gomez) a perfect spot to survey the situation.”

Miller indicated that he was going to look into galloping his charge on the turf course Wednesday. His start in the Juvenile Turf will be his first on the grass after four earlier outings on synthetic surfaces in California and one at Keeneland.

“I don’t have much doubt he’ll handle the grass,” he said. “I worked him twice on it at Santa Anita and he went just fine.”

Tequila Factor – A three-time winner from six starts, the 2yo son of Pure Prize needs a scratch by Friday morning in order to draw into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf from the also-eligible list. An undisclosed percentage of the colt was recently purchased from Coby Tresner by Darrell and Evelyn Yates, longtime clients of new trainer Wayne Catalano.

“The original owners were on the backstretch of Keeneland looking to sell part of the horse and take up some of the expense going into the Breeders’ Cup,” Catalano explained. “We did a little research on the horse and Mr. Yates didn’t mind taking a little shot to go to the Breeders’ Cup. The horse has won three races already, and shows he’s got some talent. The Yates’ enjoy racing, so they get to come down and have a good time. It would be nice if they got into the race.”

Should he get a chance to run on Saturday, Rafael Bejarano would be the jockey.

Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Nov. 4-5
$1 Million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (Grade II) 1 Mile (Turf)

Ann of the Dance – The daughter of 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner English Channel was out on the racetrack early Tuesday morning with Heather Irion in the irons. The filly jogged to the wire and then galloped 1 ½ m.

“She’s doing great,” said Irion, assistant to trainer Marty Wolfson. “She’s very happy to be training. She’s doing so well. I wish the race was farther than a mile.”

Ann of the Dance, a 30-1 longshot in the field of 14, finished ninth last time out in the Alcibiades Stakes on Oct. 7 on the Polytrack at Keeneland. She was purchased privately by Farnsworth Stables after the Alcibiades and this will be her first start for her new connections.

Customer Base – Glen Hill Farm’s Customer Base, undefeated in two starts and coming into the Juvenile Fillies Turf off an allowance victory at Keeeland on Oct. 19, might be taking a significant step up in class against a field packed with graded stakes fillies, but trainer Tom Proctor sees potential in the daughter of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (1999-2000) runner Lemon Drop Kid.

“She’s a young filly, and hopefully, she’s got a nice career in front of her,” he said of the $170,000 yearling purchase at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sales.

Dayatthespa – The City Zip filly, trained by Chad Brown, galloped 1 3/8 m Tuesday morning.

In her debut at Saratoga Race Course, Dayatthespa won a 5 1/2f race by four lengths. On September 17 at Woodbine, she was second in the Natalma.

“She really looks good physically,” Brown said. “She’s got an excellent post (2). Ramon Dominguez knows her real well and I think she’s sitting on a good race.”

Elusive Kate – The 2-1 morning-line favorite cleared quarantine Tuesday morning and went out to the turf course at 9:30 a.m. for her first bit of exercise since shipping from Europe on Saturday. -MORE-

Owned by Magnolia Racing and Rachel Hood, the Elusive Quality filly, trained by John Gosden, brings a four-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup. In her last start, she won the Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium de Pouliches on Oct. 2 at Longchamp.

Somali Lemonade – The undefeated Lemon Drop Kid filly made her first appearance over the Churchill Downs turf course Tuesday, having an easy gallop.
“She came out of her race at Keeneland (the Jessamine Stakes) well,” trainer Michael Matz said. “I don’t think the 14 post will hurt her. It’s her style to drop back and come from out it. As long as she doesn’t have to go too wide, she should be OK.”

Stephanie's Kitten – Surveyors of the work tab could look at Saturday’s 4f in 54 3/5 Churchill turf breeze logged by the 2yo filly Stephanie’s Kitten with a skeptical eye, but according to trainer Wayne Catalano, there is no cause for concern for this Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey Juvenile Fillies Turf contender.

“She went a little bit slower than I wanted, but we didn’t want to do too much and the grass was a little heavy,” Catalano explained. “She had the major work ten days before in that 59 move (Oct. 20 at Keeneland). This was just a maintenance half mile. She had a strong gallop (on Monday), and we made up for the slowish work.”

The daughter of Kitten’s Joy will once again be piloted by John Velazquez, who was aboard for her recent win in the Alcibiades.

Stopshoppingmaria/Sweet Cat – Both 2yo fillies were on the track for gallops Tuesday, their serious work having been finished over the weekend for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“They’ve both been doing well here,” said Pletcher, who had cross-entered Stopshoppingmaria in this race and the Juvenile Fillies. “She (Stopshoppingmaria) had a nice work over this turf course (Oct. 29). That sealed the deal. Plus, she’s a More Than Ready and we won two grass races in the Cup with his offspring last year (Pluck and More Than Real).”

Sweet Cat is a daughter of sire Kitten’s Joy owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. She finished second in the Jessamine at Keeneland in her last start on a yielding turf course.

Stopshoppingmaria, owned by Repole Stable, broke her maiden on the dirt at Saratoga by more than nine lengths, then was a non-threatening second to unbeaten Juvenile Fillies favorite My Miss Aurelia last time out in the Frizette.

Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Nov. 4-5
$500,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint 6 Furlongs

Seeker – Installed as the 4-1 second choice for Friday’s inaugural running of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, Winchell Thoroughbred’s son of Hard Spun swings back off a third-place finish in the Nashua, but trainer Steve Asmussen believes he has a lot more to give.

“I thought his maiden win at Saratoga was impressive and fast, and he did it really nicely,” Asmussen said. “The Nashua wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to unfold, but I didn’t think that he showed a lot of urgency that day. He went through the motions and was just kind of out there for exercise.

“More than the others (Breeders’ Cup horses), we’ve put a little more pressure on him since then, and I think he’s responded. We wanted him to be a little more forward and aggressive. In the Nashua, it looked like he was in the spot, but he wasn’t doing a lot to change his position himself.”

Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard the colt for all three of his starts, gets the return call on Friday.

Shumoos – Fawzi Abdullaa Nass’ colt cleared quarantine Tuesday morning and went to the main track at 6:30 a.m. for some light exercise.

Brian Meehan trains the filly, who is taking on males in the inaugural running of the Juvenile Sprint. Shumoos, a daughter of Distorted Humor out of a Storm Cat mare, will be making her first start on dirt after racing five times on turf and once on a synthetic surface.

Trinniberg – Hopeful Stakes and Nashua Stakes runner-up Trinniberg has worked twice at Churchill Downs since his mid-October arrival and will gallop up to the Juvenile Sprint according to owner Shivananda Parbhoo, whose father Bisnath Parboo trains the 2yo son of Teuflesberg.

“I think he’s adjusted to the Churchill surface better than (Breeders’ Cup Sprint starter) Giant Ryan, and Giant Ryan has taken to the track very well, so that tells you how good this horse has been doing,” Shivananda Parbhoo said.

“Since he’s a 2-year-old, we’ve never worked or trained him with another horse before. We didn’t want to put any real pressure on him,” Parbhoo said. “But after finishing second in his last two races, we thought we needed to change that. His last two breezes have been in company, and we’re really happy with what he has shown us.”

Trinniberg has also schooled several times at the gate since his arrival at Churchill.

“After his last race, the starter at Belmont told me I needed to take the horse to the gate; that when they were putting him in, he wanted to go under the gate,” Parbhoo said. “So that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve taken him to the gate three times since we’ve been here, and his last work was from the gate. And each time he’s been sharp.”