The Brock Talk

Friday, May 11, 2012

Florida finger prints cover Kentucky Derby day

Although there were no Florida-breds in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands this year, there were plenty of Marion County finger prints all around Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. As many as 11 of the Derby starters had connections to the Ocala area, including the top three finishers.

Winner I’ll Have Another was purchased out of the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Victor Avilia of Ocala, who works as an exercise rider at Dr. Barry Eisaman’s Eisaman Equine in Williston, Fla. Avilia purchased the son of Flower Alley for $11,000 before returning to Ocala to train the colt with the assistance of Eisaman.

Derby runner-up Bodemeister received his early training from J.B. and Kevin McKathan at their training Center in Citra and third-place finisher Dullahan spent time at Gold Mark Training Center in Ocala.

After six months of training I’ll Have Another, Avilia sold the colt under Eisaman’s consignment at the 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Spring April Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training for $35,000. (See story on page 53). If you’re keeping score, that is $24,000 in profit that hit the Marion County economy. Add to that the feed, employees, veterinary care and supplies, land, barns, race track maintenance, transportation and tack spent on I’ll Have Another during his stay here in Marion County, and one can begin to calculate the impact one young thoroughbred has on the area and Florida economy. According to one Ocala-area farm manager, the cost to train a yearling into his 2-year-old year and up to the date of his sale, hovers around $90 per day. So for a horse like I’ll Have Another who was brought to Marion County in September of 2010 and sold in April of 2011. That roughly equates to nearly $19,000. With several thousand yearlings coming to Marion County each year, their total impact on the economy is hundreds of millions. If one uses the horses that pass through just the four two-year-old in training sales conducted in Florida this year, they alone generate some $40,000,000 in economic impact before there is ever a hand raised to bid on them. A conservative estimate is that these two-year-olds will generate some $85,000,000 in gross receipts at these four auctions.

It wasn’t just Derby horses at Churchill Downs that day that received their early training in Ocala. Little Mike, winner of the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic received his early training from James Crupi and his team at New Castle Farm in Ocala. Bred in Florida by Carlo Vaccarezza of Parkland and owned by his wife Priscilla, Little Mike is trained by Dale Romans. But Vaccarezza is quick to point out that Crupi deserves much of the credit for the success of the 5-year-old gelding.

“I want to give a lot of credit to Jimmy Crupi,” Vaccarezza said after the Turf Classic. “He had the horse since he was a baby. He took his time, never rushed it with the horse and broke him the right way. And like he tells me, a strong foundation goes a long way.”

The Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) run at Churchill on Derby day, was also won by a Florida-bred in Great Attack. Bred by Edward Seltzer of Williston and Murray Durst of Hollywood, Great Attack is also by the Stonewall Farm Ocala stallion Greatness. In winning the $125,000 Turf Sprint, Great Attack was just ahead of Bridgetown in second, who is yet another local product. Bridgetown is owned by Melnyk Racing Stables and bred by Eugene Melnyck, owner of Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala.

So don‘t be misled when the Kentucky Derby does not feature a registered Florida-bred. At one time or another, most of them have considered Marion County home. A closer look at the other stakes at Churchill Downs that day and there is little doubt the major impact Florida breeding and training continues to have on thoroughbred racing on a national scale.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Keyed Entry filly, Wildcat Heir colt quickest at April Under Tack show’s second session

Press Release, Joe DiOrio Photo

Hip No. 363, a filly by the Bridlewood Farm stallion Keyed Entry, and Hip No. 488, a colt by the Journeyman Stud stallion Wildcat Heir, worked quarters in :20 4/5 to post the fastest works at the distance at the second session of the Under Tack Show for the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s 2012 Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The bay filly by Keyed Entry, consigned by H.J. Parra Racing Stables, is out of Dixie Image, by Halo’s Image, a full sister to millionaire OBS graduate Southern Image. The chestnut colt by Wildcat Heir, named Spare No Expense and consigned by Journeyman Bloodstock (Brent and Crystal Fernung), Agent, is out of Golden Horseshoe, by Belong to Me, a daughter of stakes winner Striking Profile.

Three horses worked quarters in :21 flat. Hip No. 316, consigned by Nickajack/Rey de Oros, is a dark bay or brown colt by Bob and John out of Credential, by Valid Appeal, a half sister to stakes winner Table the Motion. Hip No. 352, a gray or roan Concorde’s Tune colt consigned by Ocala Stud, is out of Delta Silks, by the Ocala Stud stallion Montbrook, a half sister to stakes winner Rocky River. Hip No. 379, Dubai Bob, consigned by Eddie Woods, Agent, is a chestnut colt by Forestry out of Dreamworld, by Unbridled’s Song, a half sister to graded stakes placed Womble.

Six youngsters shared honors for the session’s fastest eighth, each stopping the timer in :10 flat. Hip No. 469, consigned by Ricky Leppala, Agent, is a bay filly by Tiznow out of Gdanska, by Danzig. Hip No. 518, Foundthecandy, is a chestnut filly by Candy Ride (ARG) consigned by Old South Farm, Agent, out of Harlow Gold, by Orientate, a half sister to graded stakes winning OBS graduate Sea of Tranquility. Hip No. 529, Shawtown, consigned by Costanzo Sales, is a chestnut colt by Cowtown Cat out of grade one stakes placed Her She Shawklit, by Air Forbes Won, and is a half brother to graded stakes winning millionaire Crafty Shaw. Hip No. 566, a bay colt by Sky Mesa consigned by Wavertree Stables, Inc. (Ciaran Dunne), Agent, is out of graded stakes winner Ing Ing (FR), by Bering (GB), a half sister to grade one winner Execute. Hip No. 567, consigned by McKathan Bros., Agent, is a chestnut filly by Candy Ride (ARG) out of stakes winner Into Reality, by Untuttable. Hip No. 584, Indian Splendor, a dark bay or brown filly by Indian Ocean consigned by Ravensway (Rick and Christine Lopez), Agent, is out of Jeet, by Tactical Advantage, a half sister to stakes winner Rich Pearl.

Two horses worked three eighths in :33 3/5. Hip No. 489, a bay colt by Wild Desert consigned by Blue River Bloodstock, Agent, is out of Golden Park, by Touch Gold, and is a half brother to stakes placed Artie Luvsto Party. Hip No. 502, La Thali, a chestnut filly by Ecclesiastic consigned by Tres Potrillos, is out of Gratorious, by Honor Grades, a half sister to stakes placed Voluptuous.
The Under Tack Show resumes Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. with Hip No’s 599 – 898 scheduled to breeze.

The workouts were recorded and videos will be available on the OBS website at, in their entirety or by individual hip number. They will also be available for viewing in the video room adjacent to the Horsemen’s Lounge in the sales pavilion as well as several kiosks in the lobby and the covered walking ring. In-room viewing is available at Holiday Inn, The Courtyard by Marriott, Homewood Suites, Residence Inn and the Ocala Hilton, plus lounge viewing is available at the Hilton. Under Tack Show results are posted on the OBS website.

In addition to catalogs for upcoming sales, the OBS website includes sales results, the latest news regarding OBS graduates, sales schedules, nominations, credit requests, travel information and other news relevant to OBS consignors and customers. E-Mail should be addressed to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For catalogs or more information regarding the OBS Spring Sale or OBS website, please call (352) 237-2154.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Near miss Saturday for Florida-breds

Close is only good in horseshoes and hand granades. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Close but no cigar.

Well, you get the point.

It was a day of near misses in big races for Florida-breds on Saturday as five horses that are a product of the Sunshine State finished second in five different graded races around the country. Obviously, finishing second is not as good as winning, but a near miss in a graded stake is nothing to sneeze at and quite frankly, is a proud accomplishment.

Plus, it does create some very nice black type. And black type with a “Gr” in a sale catalogue or stallion advertisement can often have a positive financial impact that is far greater than the difference between a first and second-place check in a race.

In the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes for older fillies and mares at Keeneland, the Adena Springs-bred mare Bay to Bay finished second to winner Daisy Devine in the 1 1/16-mile race.

It happened twice at Oaklawn Park as Santa Anita Handicap (Gr. 1) winner Ron the Greek, who was bred by Jack T. Hammer, made a furious rally in the final strides of the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap but was unable to catch winner Alternation. Earlier that day at the Arkansas track, Donald Dizney’s homebred 5-year-old horse Apriority, was caught five wide in the far turn of the six furlong Count Fleet (G3), then drifted out in the stretch to lose narrowly to Outta Tune.

Duke of Mischief, a product of Marilyn McMaster’s Florida breeding program, tried to defend his title in the $1 million Charles Town Classic (G2) and looked like he might repeat when he took the lead at the top of the stretch. But the successful defense was not to be as he was caught and passed by eventual winner Caixa Electronica.

Further north in New York, C C’s Pal was unable to pull the upset over It’s Tricky, but hung on for second in the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap. Bred in Florida by Beth Bayer, the 5-year-old mare is also a $7,000 graduate of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company October Sale as a weanling in 2007.

Do not despair too much Florida breeders. There were plenty of Florida-bred winners on the day including Master Rick, winner of the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn and Immortal Eyes’ victory in the Webb Snyder Stakes at Charles Town.

Florida-breds also won several nice allowance races that day including June Cleaver, a Paul Sharp-bred filly who captured a $49,000 non-winners other than race at Keeneland; They Call Him El, a 5-year-old gelding bred by Tiffany A. Atteberry DVM and Beth Hendry who won a similarly conditioned $33,040 allowance race at Golden Gate; and Joyous Music, who was bred in Florida by John O. Sutton and won a $35,000 allowance event at Charles Town. E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Florida home-bred R King of the Road also took a very nice $62,000 allowance at Aqueduct.

Oaklawn fans witnessed Deadly Card, a 3-year-old Florida gelding bred by Guilherme and Angela Bombonato, break his maiden; while Jewelian Rose did the same a Tampa Bay Downs for breeder Annie-o-Productions.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Master Rick Takes Northern Spur Stakes

The results of the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn Park answer the age old question as to why they run horse races.

Before the race, it was difficult to see how Drill could be beat. He was a Southern California-based multiple stakes winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and the Grade 2 San Vincente. He came from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who had won his fifth and sixth consecutive stakes at the Arkansas track later in the day when Alternation won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and Bodemeister took the Arkansas Derby (G1). Drill was by far the richest competitor in the Northern Spur with $339,710 and the only one with even a six figures bankroll. His pilot was Rafael Bejarano, the second leading rider at the current Santa Anita meeting. Obviously the wagering public thought the same as they made Drill the odds-on favorite at 3-5.

But none of that mattered to Florida-bred Master Rick.

During the early stages of the race, jockey Corey Nakatani had Master Rick placed behind the moderate pace of leader Double Rah Rah, who ran the first quarter of a mile in :24 seconds and the half in an even slower :48.40. Around the far turn, Master Rick came from between horses to get to the front while Drill raced four-wide to get to even terms with the leader and the two began their battle. They bobbed heads until just inside the eighth pole when Master Rick pulled away, winning by 1 ¼ legnths. Master Rick completed the one mile Northern Spur in 1:36.73.

Master Rick gave his supporters $12.60 for their $2 win tickets and gave trainer Steve Asmussen and Nakatani their fifth win together on the day.

Asmussen began the final two days of the Oaklawn meeting one race behind Allen Milligan, who had led the standings for most of the meeting. But Asmussen won three races on Friday to Milligan’s one, then pulled ahead for the title with the big final day concluding the “Fifth Season” with 36 wins to Milligan’s 31.

“It’s a great day for Steve [Asmussen] and I’m really happy to be part of his team,” Nakatani said after winning on Master Rick. “And I’m very [happy] for owner [Richard L. Davis.]” Despite all the success the jockey and Asmussen had earlier, like those who bet Drill and 9-5 second choice Explain, even Nakatani was taken aback by Master Rick’s performance in the Northern Spur. “It shaped up a little better than I thought it would,” he continued. “I was biding my time and about the half-mile pole, I let him out a little bit and when Drill came to me, I opened up a little bit on him. Hoping it would work and it did.”

It was only the second win for Master Rick who had just broke his maiden at Oaklawn Mar. 17 after four tries in previous races. Bred by English Ranch Farms, Master Rick earned $60,000 for the win and increased his earnings to $94,930.

Master Rick is a graduate of the last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training where he sold for $47,000. That same sale begins a week from today and runs four days through Apr. 28 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company located on SW 60th Avenue.

“It was a good opportunity for [Master Rick] today,” Asmussen said. “But we’re going to find more big races for him.”

Drill, who was bred in Kentucky by Stonewall Farm which is now located in Ocala, hung on for second and finished eight lengths ahead of third-place finisher Explain. Drill, a son of the late stallion Lawyer Ron, only returned $2.20 for a $2 place ticket but the $2 exacta with Master Rick on top paid a nice $26.00.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A New Journey

Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association/Florida Equine Publications press release.

Former Texas Thoroughbred Editor, Brock Sheridan of Arlington, Texas will be joining the staff of Florida Equine Publications, Inc. (FEP) in March as the new Editor-In–Chief. Sheridan replaces former longtime editor Michael Compton who left at the end of 2011 in order to pursue a new business opportunity.

In addition to a stint at QuarterWeek magazine as Associate Editor, Sheridan’s career has included managerial experience in track publicity, marketing and racing departments. A graduate from the University of Arizona in Business/Race Track Management, he also has worked in the financial services industry. Sheridan currently authors the leading industry blog The Brock Talk and consults in the various aspects of social media and communications.

“Brock was a very comfortable, while unanimous selection of the entire Executive Committee”, remarked FEP and Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Assn. (FTBOA) president Phil Matthews who chaired a panel consisting of all officer-directors which then interviewed a number of quality finalists for the position. “In addition to his having previously served as an equine publication editor as well as having some good industry experience, we really liked Brock from a value-added standpoint with his knowledge in the areas of digital communications-particularly the social media.”

“I have long known Brock to be a passionate advocate of the horse breeding and racing industry,” observed FEP and FTBOA CEO Lonny Powell. “We look forward to him getting his arms around our FEP operations while also getting out and introducing himself to our membership and industry. We will be leaning even more heavily upon our editor and the FEP arm of the FTBOA to contribute to the public relations and marketing of our Association, members and horses through aggressive and innovative communications and awareness programs.”

“I am looking forward to joining the FTBOA team and serving the Florida breeders and owners that comprise the Association membership,” Sheridan said. “It is an honor to be chosen by Dr. Matthews and the Executive Committee to continue the excellence that is Florida Equine Publications. I am privileged and excited to further develop the FTBOA and FEP communications and be a part of the Florida thoroughbred breeding and racing industry with its rich tradition and history.”

FEP is a subsidiary of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. The Florida Horse magazine is the flagship publication for the association going to all its members and industry participants with ties to Florida. The Florida Horse helps market the thoroughbred industry in the Sunshine State. Other publications published by FEP include Wire To Wire, Florida’s Daily Racing Digest, Wire To and Horse Capital Digest.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kentucky Derby Bubble At $120,000

This week Churchill Downs released the current rankings of 3-year-olds by graded earnings, which determines which horses may enter the $2 million Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) to be run May 5.

No surprise that last year’s Champion 2-Year-Old Male Hansen sits atop the list with $1,160,000, of which $1,080,000 was earned when he captured the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs last November. In his first start of 2012 Hansen was second to Algorithms in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. 3) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 29.

Second to Hansen in both the Juvenile and on the graded earnings list is Union Rags with $830,000 of which $360,000 was earned in the Juvenile and all earned last year as a 2-year-old. Sabercat is third on the list with the $600,000 he earned in the grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot run at Delta Downs in Louisiana, also run last November.

However, the most important slots on the graded earnings list are much further down where Battle Hardened, Brother Francis and the filly Disposablepleasure sit tied for 18th with $120,000 each in graded earnings. For it is those three horses and their respective earnings that currently define the amount needed to make the top 20. Twenty is the maximum number of starters allowed in the Run for the Roses.

The owners, trainers, jockeys and fans of all the 3-year-olds currently below the $120,000 mark should not fret too much however, as that number will change many times in the next 77 days before the Derby. Some of the horses currently in the top 20 will be forced out of contention due to injury while others may just not have the Kentucky Derby in their plans. Both instances would lower the $120,000 mark.

Two fillies, On Fire Baby and Disposablepleasure, are on the list and they have the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) as an option. There are also two foriegn-based horses on the list in Wrote and Genten. Wrote, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, is based in Ireland with trainer Aidan O'Brien. O'Brien crossed the Atlantic many times last year with Cape Blanco and won the Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Horse in North America. O'Brien has started two horses in the Kentucky Derby. Johannesburg and Castle Gondolfo finished eighth and 12th respectively in the 2002 Derby. O'Brien has won six Breeders' Cup races over the years from more than 70 starters.

Trainer Yoshito Yahagi has Genten at his base in Japan and has never started a horse in either the Derby nor the Breeders' Cup.

There are some 31 graded races for 3-year-olds remaining before the Derby. That equates to some 150 opportunities to earn graded money, which of course, could drive up the $120,000 number.

Twenty horses have entered the Kentucky Derby every year since 2004 and in 11 of the past 13 years. Interestingly, last year Derby Kitten was the last to qualify for the Derby with $120,000 but it took a record $218,750 for Make Music For Me to get into the Run for Roses two years ago. Over the last five years, the final horse to make the Derby field has averaged $132,750 in graded earnings.

Graded stakes are considered graded or group status as assigned to the race by the International Cataloguing Standards Committee in Part I of the International Cataloguing Standards as published by The Jockey Club Information Systems, Inc. each year.

In the case of a tie for the final entry position or the determination of all remaining starters, preference is given to horses that accumulated the highest earnings in non-restricted stakes races. If a tie still remains, the final spots in the starting gate will be determined by lot or a “shake.”

For the first time since 1984, there will be an “also eligible” list with as many as four horses eligible to draw into the field until scratch time on Friday, May 4 at 9 a.m. ET.

Top 32 Graded Stakes Earners
Rank, Horse, Graded Earnings, Trainer
Thru Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012

1. Hansen, $1,160,000, Mike Maker
2. Union Rags, $830,000, Michael Matz
3. Sabercat $600,000, Steve Asmussen
4. Wrote-IRE $556,630, Aidan O’Brien
5. Creative Cause $488,000, Mike Harrington
6. Liaison $375,000, Bob Baffert
7. Dullahan $375,000, Dale Romans
8. Excaper $240,736, Ian Black
9. Algorithms $240,000, Todd Pletcher
10. On Fire Baby (f) $211,729, Gary Hartlage
11. Drill $210,000, Bob Baffert
12. Alpha $180,000, Kiaran McLaughlin
13. Rousing Sermon $164,000, Jerry Hollendorfer
14. Prospective $155,452, Mark Casse
15. I’ll Have Another $151,000, Doug O’Neill
16. Currency Swap $150,000, Teresa Pompay
17. Genten $123,826, Yoshito Yahagi
t-18. Battle Hardened $120,000, Eddie Kenneally
t-18. Brother Francis $120,000, Jim Cassidy
t-18. Disposablepleasure (f) $120,000, Todd Pletcher
21. Mr. Bowling $115,848, Larry Jones
22. Jack’s in the Deck $105,000, Robin Graham
23. Gemologist $103,855, Todd Pletcher
24. Longview Drive $102,000, Jerry Hollendorfer
25. Fly Lexis Fly $99,481, Neil Drysdale
26. Take Charge Indy $98,400, Pat Byrne
27. Daddy Long Legs $94,030, Aidan O’Brien
28. Red Duke $90,823 Maxilead Ltd. John Quinn
t-29. Overdriven $90,000, Todd Pletcher
t-29. Reneesgotzip (f) $90,000, Peter Miller
t-29. State of Play $90,000, Graham Motion
t-29. Thunder Moccasin $90,000, Todd Pletcher

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Formed by Industry Leaders

Reprinted Press Release

A broad-based group of Thoroughbred industry stakeholders announced Thursday the establishment of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) — an organization designed to serve as both the accrediting body for aftercare facilities that care for Thoroughbreds following the conclusion of their racing careers and a fundraising body to support these approved facilities.

Funded initially by seed money from Breeders’ Cup, Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association, the TAA is comprised of owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, jockeys, aftercare professionals and other industry groups.

“It is our responsibility as owners, tracks, breeders, trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents, and anyone who has a stake in the game to take responsibility for the aftercare of these great animals who are the keystone of our sport,” said TAA board President and Thoroughbred owner Jack Wolf. “Securing support and funding from Breeders' Cup, The Jockey Club, Keeneland and so many other great organizations speaks to the credibility and importance of our effort and is so greatly appreciated.”

Additional support of the TAA has been provided by Adena Springs North, CARMA, Fasig-Tipton, The Jockeys’ Guild, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, The New York Racing Association, Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company and Thoroughbred Charities of America. The organization also received staff support from Thoroughbred Charities of America, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). The NTRA will continue to provide that support on an ongoing basis.

The TAA will accredit aftercare facilities based on a Code of Standards covering operations, education, horse management, facility services and adoption policies. Simultaneously, the TAA will raise funds on behalf of accredited facilities via institutional contributions that are to be directed 100% to program services rather than to fundraising or general administrative costs.

“The Breeders’ Cup is proud to be one of the initial funders for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and fully support the TAA goals of an industry-wide, annually funded program committed to the placement or second-career retraining of retired Thoroughbreds on a national scale,” said Craig Fravel, President and CEO of Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. “Through the contributions of our sport’s stakeholders, we can help ensure that our horses are treated in a dignified manner throughout their lives.”

“The Jockey Club’s involvement and support of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is a natural extension of our other ongoing efforts in the area of Thoroughbred aftercare,” said James L. Gagliano, The Jockey Club’s President and Chief Operating Officer. “The accreditation and proper funding for aftercare facilities will greatly enhance the well-being of our equine athletes, and we encourage other groups and individuals from all segments of our sport to support this Alliance .”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Three Saturday Stakes Have Kentucky Derby Implications

Tampa Bay Downs, Santa Anita Park and Aqueduct Racetrack may be where the next winner of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) may be found Saturday as the three tracks each feature prep races for the American classic. Although the May 5 Derby is still more than three months away, several 3-year-old thoroughbreds will be running in three races and their connections are likely thinking roses.

All three stakes are graded, which means the top finishers in each race will be credited with their corresponding earnings in the quest to qualify for the Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters and gives preference to those entrants with the most earnings in graded races. Last year Derby Kitten was the last to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with $120,000 in graded earnings while the year before, eventual fourth-place finisher Make Music For Me needed a record $218,750 to earn a place in the Derby starting gate. In 2009, it took a record low $55,500 for Nowhere to Hide to complete the Kentucky Derby field.

Aqueduct will host the $200,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III), Santa Anita features the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) and Tampa Bay Downs presents the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. All three races will be run over 1-1/16 miles.

It has been nearly 70 years since Count Fleet won both the Withers and Kentucky Derby, but the Withers used to be run in late April. The late Count Fleet was usually just one week before the Kentucky Derby and much too close to the Derby for most Withers winners. The race was not run last year, but the Withers has returned and is now part of Aqueduct’s lead-up to the Triple Crown. After the Withers, Aqueduct will offer the $400,000 Gotham in March and the $1 million Wood Memorial in April.

Named for the late California owner who won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999, the Robert B. Lewis will be run for the 74th time at Santa Anita. Formerly the Santa Catalina Stakes, the last winner of this race to go on to take the Run for the Roses was Ferdinand in 1986. Although 2009 Robert Lewis winner Pioneerof the Nile was second to long shot Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby that year.

After the Lewis, the natural progression to the Triple Crown races for California-based horses is the Mar. 10 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 7. There is also the seven furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Feb. 19 for Derby and/or Triple Crown hopefuls.

First run in 1991, the much younger Sam F. Davis Stakes has never had its winner also take the Kentucky Derby. General Quarters is the most recent Davis winner to start in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 10th in 2009. The Sam F. Davis is the main local prep race for the Mar. 10 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) which produced 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver.

Two contenders this weekend are on most “Derby Watch” lists including Alpha, the even money morning line favorite in the Withers; and Liason, the 9-to-5 morning line top choice in the Robert Lewis.

In his most recent start, Alpha won the $150,000 Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct Jan. 7 but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is cautious when talking about the Kentucky Derby. “The Withers is an important race because it’s graded and you don’t get to run in the Derby unless you have those graded stakes earnings,” McLaughlin said. “When you look at the schedule, you start with the first Saturday in May (the traditional day of the Kentucky Derby), and work back from there. We are taking the Withers as an important step, and maybe, maybe, afterward we’ll talk about what we’re going to do.” Currently Alpha has $60,000 in graded earnings from finishing second to Union Rags in last year’s Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert (photo left) will saddle the Liason and Sky Kingdom in an attempt to win his record fourth Robert B. Lewis Stakes which would tie him with Ron McAnally (1976, 1980, 1982, 1997) and Charlie Whittingham (1964, 1970, 1986, 1988) for the most victories in this race. Liason has won three consecutive races since finishing third in his first start last fall at Del Mar near San Diego. Since then, the son of Indian Charlie has won a maiden race at Santa Anita, the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes and CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. Should he make it to the Kentucky Derby, Liason should be eligible with is $450,000 in graded earnings from winning the CashCall Futurity.

Sky Kingdom was fourth in the CashCall but was an impressive allowance winner at Santa Anita on Jan. 12, winning a mile and one-sixteenth test by 4 ½ lengths, “easily.”

“I just want them to have a good race,” Baffert said. “They’ve had a few starts now where they’ve got enough foundation and they’ve done well. You just want them to stay healthy.”

Gulfstream Park Derby winner Reveron is the 3-to-1 morning line favorite in the Sam Davis and is making his first start in a graded race. Trained by Agustin Bezra, Reveron too has won three straight including victories over maidens and against allowance company at Calder Race Course near Miami in November before winning the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Horse of the Year Defense Starts Early for Havre de Grace

It will be very easy to cheer for 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace (photo right) this year. After all, owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones are the popular sort with fans who are beginning to especially appreciate those keeping their equine stars around the track a bit longer. For that reason alone, there will be just a few more cheering on those red and white silks of Fox Hill Farms worn by jockey Gabriel Saez aboard Havre de Grace in 2012.

Havre de Grace may also pick up some fans from her rival, the recently retired Blind Luck. Why would a fan begrudge Blind Luck for retiring earlier than Havre de Grace? No matter the reason for her retirement, Blind Luck was an equine version of Winston Wolfe. She was the sort who would take the call, write down the address and then travel anywhere, anytime and take care of business.

One may also assume any further accolades accomplished by Havre de Grace on the track, really just add to the racing legacy of Blind Luck. Point being, Havre de Grace should have plenty of fans this year. But from the looks of things early this year, while training well at Oaklawn Park, Havre de will not have a monopoly on popularity among racing fans.

The Florida Sunshine Millions gave affirmation to fans of Mucho Macho Man as he won the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic and Awesome Feather, winner of the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff.

Mucho Macho Man continues his wave of acclaim that started during his 3-year-old old season. The Kathy Ritvo-trainee joined only Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness (gr. 1) winner Shackleford as the only three horses to start in every Triple Crown race last year. The Florida-bred son of Macho Uno was third in the Derby but disappointed with off-the-board finishes in the Preakness and Belmont.

Mucho Macho Man was given a break after the Belmont but returned with vigor easily winning an allowance race at Aqueduct in November before making his 2012 debut in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

Awesome Feather also returned to the races in New York last Fall after tendon injuries sidelined her for most of her sophomore year. After an undefeated and championship season as a 2-year-old, Awesome Feather came back from her lay-off last year and won the Le Slew Stakes at Belmont in October and the Gazelle Stakes (gr. 1) at Aqueduct in November. Although many of her wins have come against fellow Florida-breds, Awesome Feather has had little trouble when stepping up to open, grade I races. And as long as she keeps that race record unblemished, her fame will continue to grow along with the streak.

Few horses in North America carry the esteem of a Kentucky Derby winner, and it seems all systems are go for Animal Kingdom’s return in 2012. After his sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) won by Ruler on Ice last year, a hairline fracture in the left hock of Animal Kingdom was discovered and ended his year. But the now 4-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux has been doing well for trainer Graham Motion who saw Animal Kingdom put in a bullet work Jan. 25 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, going five furlongs on grass in :59 4/5.

According to reports, owner Team Valor International manager Barry Irwin says Animal Kingdom is scheduled to race again in the grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes Feb. 25. Irwin said the 1-1/16 mile race on the Tampa Bay Downs turf will act as preparation for the $10 million, group 1 Dubai World Cup Mar. 31 at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Shackleford (photo left) is also working toward his return to the races at Palm Meadows for trainer Dale Romans who says the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 11. Last seen finishing second to Caleb’s Posse in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, Shackleford also had runner-up finishes last year in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Haskell Invitational (gr. I) and Indiana Derby (gr. 2). His “catch me if you can” running style also keeps Shackleford popular among his fans.

Don’t under estimate Game On Dude and his fans either. The runner-up to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and winner of the two Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) also has jockey Chantal Sutherland and trainer Bob Baffert on her team. Both world-class in their trades, they are equally charismatic and media savey.

And then of course there is the possibility of an ultra popular 3-year-old. It has been since Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown in 2008 when we last saw a horse go to the Belmont Stakes for a chance at the Triple Crown and since Affirmed in 1978 when had our last Triple Crown winner. Big Brown was pulled up and finished last in the Belmont Stakes, but as chronicled many times on this blog, not since Big Brown won the 2008 Monmouth Stakes have seen a Kentucky Derby champ even win a subsequent race.

Horse racing is not only due for a popular and post Kentucky Derby successful 3-year-old, but 33 years is long enough to wait for a Triple Crown winner too.

Yes Havre de Grace, unless she repeats as Horse of the Year in 2012, will probably go down in Thoroughbred history as the difficult part of the answer to a trivia question. No doubt her 2011 can not compare to Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta before her.

Looking at some of the horses that are expected to compete in for the 2012 golden Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, things are not going to be any easier for Havre de Grace this year. After all, we now know that Jones and Porter are not afraid to take their champion mare and run against older horses at the highest of levels.

Any way one looks at it however, the race for 2012 Horse of the Year is already interesting. And we have barely started.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Despite Training Trends, Holy Bull Remains Important Step On Kentucky Derby Trail

A couple of things about the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) from an historical point of view may help put this weekend’s early Derby prep into perspective. The $400,000 Holy Bull will be run Sunday at Gulfstream Park with a field of six going the one-turn mile. The lead story line for this year’s Holy Bull Stakes is the 2012 debut of Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner and champion 2-year-old male Hansen (photo right).

Even if Hansen is successful in his debut, there have been few Holy Bull winners who also went on to don the blanket of roses in the winners’ circle of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1). The only Holy Bull winners to also win the Kentucky Derby later were Barbaro in 2006 (photo below left) and Go For Gin in 1994 but others have faired well enough at Churchill Downs.

First run in 1990 as The Preview Stakes, the Holy Bull was created to replace the Flamingo Stakes that had been run at then closed Hialeah race track. The Holy Bull has been run at three different distances in its more than 20-year history, going as far as 1-1/8 miles, to 1-1/16 miles, to its current distance of one mile in various orders and years.

The shortened distance makes the Holy Bull perhaps a more attractive prep race for horses that are considering the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown and need or want at least three starts to prepare for and attempt to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The Holy Bull is part of a series of graded races at Gulfstream Park for 3-year-olds that also includes the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at 1-1/16 miles and the 1-1/8 mile Florida Derby (gr. 1) on Mar. 31. This year the Kentucky Derby will be run May 5.

The 2011 Holy Bull Stakes produced two eventual Kentucky Derby starters in Dialed In and Mucho Macho Man. Dialed In gave trainer Nick Zito his record third victory in the Holy Bull Stakes last year (along with Go For Gin and Suave Prospect in 1995). Dialed In later won the Florida Derby last year before finishing a disappointing ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

Third in last year’s Holy Bull, Mucho Macho Man would go on to also run third in the Kentucky Derby and join Animal Kingdom and Shackleford as the only horses to start in all three Triple Crown races last year. Mucho Macho Man was sixth in the Preakness (gr. I) and seventh in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

West Side Bernie, third in the 2009 Holy Bull Stakes; and Homeboy Kris, third a year later in the Holy Bull, would both make the Kentucky Derby but neither fared well in their Run for the Roses. West Side Bernie was ninth behind Mine That Bird and Homeboy Kris was 16th in the Derby won by Super Saver.

Until last year when two Holy Bull starters made it the Kentucky Derby, the Holy Bull has not had a strong connection to the Derby. Recent Derby winning horsemen have leaned toward starting their promising sophomores only twice before the Kentucky Derby and closer to the race than the late January Holy Bull. Of the last five Kentucky Derby winners since Barbaro, all started in only two Kentucky Derby prep races with only Mine That Bird starting as early as February. The 2009 Derby winner began his 3-year-old year running second in the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park on Feb. 28.

Animal Kingdom last year, Super Saver (2010), Big Brown (2008) and Street Sense (2007) all made their first starts of their respective years in March preceding their Kentucky Derby wins.

Despite being the expected heavy favorite, a victory in Sunday’s Holy Bull is certainly not a necessity for Hansen. His winner’s check of $600,000 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile insures him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if he can stay sound and competitive. The Derby is limited to 20 starters with earnings in graded races used to determine the eligible entrants. But the competition only gets tougher as the Derby draws near and it is doubtful that trainer Mike Maker and owners Dr. Hansen Kendall and Sky Chai Racing want to go to Louisville based only on last year’s accomplishments.

A victory in the Holy Bull would be much more impactful for any of the other five starters, of which none have any graded earnings. The $240,000 first-place check in the Holy Bull would place any of the other five in the top ten on the current list of 3-year-olds with graded earnings and likely enough to eventually qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Currently $105,000 in graded earnings makes the top 20, but that is likely to be a very fluid number during the next three months before those Derby slots are awarded.

Second and third-place checks of $80,000 and $40,000 in the Holy Bull respectively will leave plenty of work for those starting this race with a zero balance in their graded stakes bankrolls – but every little bit may help. West Side Bernie, Homeboy Kris and Mucho Macho Man have proven that a third in the late January Holy Bull does not qualify nor disqualify one from making it to Kentucky for the first Saturday in May.

If nothing else, a good performance in the Holy Bull Sunday remains important in creative rose colored hopeds for these six 3-year-olds, their connections and their quest to make it the prestigious Kentucky Derby.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Sunshine Millions Showcases Florida Stars

The Florida Sunshine Millions takes on a new format in 2012 when the six-race event for Florida-breds highlights the Saturday card at Gulfstream Park. In year’s past, the Sunshine Million consisted of eight races run at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita (four races at each track), with Florida-breds and California-breds competing against each other.

Whether it was the format change or not however, the $1.3 million program has attracted two Champions making their 2012 debuts in Awesome Feather and Musical Romance and the popular Mucho Macho Man, third in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) last year behind winner Animal Kingdom.

Awesome Feather was named Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 2010 after she finished the year undefeated in six races including winning the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs. Last year, her 3-year-old campaign was stymied by tendon issues but she came back late in the year to win two stakes. She won the Le Slew Stakes at Belmont Park and the grade 1 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct last year before trainer Chad Brown gave her a bit of a winter break. The daughter of Awesome of Course has been at Palm Meadows Training Center where she has been preparing for her return in the $300,000 Florida Millions Distaff. A win Saturday would extend her career undefeated streak to nine wins.

Musical Romance was just named the Champion Filly or Mare Sprinter of 2011 after her year that included winning three stakes at Calder Race Course near Miami, the Presque Isle Downs Master Stakes (gr. II) and the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Trained by Bill Kaplan who owns the Concorde’s Tune filly with Adam Lazarus’ Pinnacle Racing Stable, Musical Romance will likely be favored in the $150,000 Sunshine Million Filly and Mare Sprint at six furlongs.

Mucho Macho Man makes his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park the last weekend of January for the second consecutive year having finished fourth behind Dialed In in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) last year. He then won the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and finished third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fairgrounds in New Orleans before going on to the Kentucky Derby. Although he disappointed by finishing sixth and seventh in the Preakness and Belmont respectively, Mucho Macho Man was among only Animal Kingdom and Shackleford to start in all three legs of last year’s Triple Crown.

Mucho Macho Man was then sidelined until his successful return when easily winning an Nov. 9 allowance race at Aqueduct. The son of Macho Uno trained by Kathy Ritvo, is perhaps the pre-race star of the $400,000 Sunshine Million Classic, but figures to be well challenged by Adios Charlie and Duke of Mishchief.

Although Adios Charlie did not make it to any of the Triple Crown races last year, he had a successful 3-year-old campaign winning the Jerome (gr. II) at Aqueduct in April and finishing second in the both Peter Pan (gr. II) and Dwyer (gr. II) later in the year.

Duke of Mischief last year won the Charles Town Classic (gr. III) and was second in the Sunshine Classic to Tackleberry. The 6-year-old son of Graeme Hall is a veteran of the older horse ranks with wins in the Philip Iselin (gr. III) and Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) and nearly $1.7 million in earnings on his resume.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rachel Alexandra Colt Will Fight History of Mediocrity Among Peers With Horse of the Year Parents

While not making quite the buzz that Beyonce and Jay Z did with the announcement of their new daughter Blue Ivy Carter, Rachel Alexanda and Curlin have produced the newest celebrity colt in the Thoroughbred world.

According to reports, the colt was born at 2:40 pm Sunday at Stonestreet Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. The 125-pound colt has a white blaze on his face similar to his mother but will have much to live up to with his decorated parents.

Rachel Alexandra (photo right) was named Horse of the Year in 2009 after completing what many consider to be the greatest racing campaign by a 3-year-old filly in North American racing history.

A daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, Rachel Alexandra became the first filly since Nellie Morse in 1924 to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. 1) and only the fifth filly in history to win the second leg of the Triple Crown. She also became the first female to win the grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, a feat duplicated only by 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.

Curlin was a two-time Horse of the Year in 2007-’08 with his most important victories coming in the Preakness and $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) at age three, and the group 1 Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race at $6 million, in 2008 at age four.

Both Curlin and Rachel Alexandra raced for the late Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable with partners. Currently, Rachel Alexandra and the colt are owned by Jackson’s wife, Barbara Banke and partner Hal McCormack. While the colt would surely be of great value at public auction, Banke said in a released statement, “For me and my children, this colt represents Jess’ dream – to raise and race the best. Co-owner Hal McCormick and I look forward to watching him develop and are excited to see him carry the Stonestreet silks as his Mom and Dad did before him.”

Previous to Rachel Alexandra, the last female to be named Horse of the Year was Azeri (photo left) in 2002. After retirement, Azeri was bred to leading sire Storm Cat in 2005, but did not produce a foal. The next three years, Azeri was bred to former Horse of the Year title holders A.P. Indy, Giant’s Causeway (European Horse of the Year), and Ghostzapper.

The A.P. Indy breeding resulted in a colt that sold for $1.9 million as a 2-year-old in training at Keeneland in 2009. The colt, later named Take Control, won only a maiden race and $27,000 at Santa Anita in one career start.

The Giant’s Causeway breeding with Azeri was more successful on the track, producing a filly named Arienza that would win $112,188 from five starts and two wins (although she was purchased for $800,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.) Arienza was also graded stakes placed, finishing second to Joyful Victory in the 2011 Fantasy Stakes (gr. 2) at Oaklawn Park.

Ghostzapper also produced a filly with Azeri who would bring $475,000 a year later in the same Keeneland September yearling sale but has never raced. Azeri currently resides in Japan after being sold at auction herself for $2.25 million to breeder Katsumi Yoshida in the 2009 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. She also had a 2010 foal by Distorted Humor.

Lady’s Secret, the female Horse of the Year in 1986, was also never able to produce a runner any where near her caliber. She produced 13 foals before dying in 2003, with only two earning six figures and two others that won on the track. Her most successful foal was a filly by Mr. Prospector that made $516,602 and another filly by Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. The Seattle Slew filly retired with $115,247 in career earnings. Both won all of their money while racing in Japan.

So while there are many who are excited about the arrival of the new Rachel Alexandra colt with Horse of the Year titles won by both mom and dad, history says the little fella will be fighting a trend of mediocre racing careers by those with similar credentials in their pedigrees.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lecomte Has Kentucky Derby Opportunites For Horses and Fans

The trail to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) passes through New Orleans Saturday as 13 aspiring young thoroughbred line up in the $175,000 Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds. The 1-mile and 70 yards Lecomte is the first serious prep race for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II) April 1, itself a major prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

While some may discount races this early in the year as not having much of an impact on the Derby compared to races in March and April (tell us some more fascinating and useful information there Captain Obvious), it should be noted that the 2009 Lecomte was won by future Kentucky Derby favorite Freisan Fire and Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun in 2007. Between those two, Z Fortune won the Lecomte on his way to starting in the Derby.

Last year 13 of the 20 starters in the Run for the Roses had a January race in their past performances. It should also be noted that 2011 Champion and Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen makes a start next weekend at Gulfstream Park and as recent as Barbaro in 2006, the winner of America’s most prestigious horse race ran in the preceding January.

According to Daily Racing Form, Wynn Casino and Sports Book Las Vegas has given future win odds to some 320 potential Kentucky Derby starters with only 42 (13%) of those having odds of 85-1 or less. Two Lecomte starters make that group of 42. Exfactor at 5-1 in the Lecomte morning line and Hammers Terror (6-1) are both 75-1 to win the Kentucky Derby according to Watchmaker.

Interestingly, Lecomte favorite Shared Property is 4-1 to win Saturday, but has much higher Kentucky odds at 175-1 than Exfactor and Hammers Terror. If one likes to place future book wagers, there might be added value there.

Shared Property is trained by Tom Amoss (photo left) who has won two of the twelve runnings of the Lecomte. Amoss won the first Lecomte in 1999 with Some Actor and won again with Ron the Greek in 2010. Shared Property makes his third career start in the Lecomte after breaking his maiden at Ellis Park in July, winning the Arlington Washington Futurity (gr. III) in September before finishing sixth in the grade 1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity in his last race Oct. 8. The son of the young stallion Scat Daddy breaks from the far outside in the field of 13 but jockey Leanardo Goncalves should have less trouble getting further inside because Shared Property has preferred to win from the back of the pack in previous races.

Exfactor has won four of five career starts including the grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs and more recently the $158,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fairgrounds in December. Trained by Bernie Flint, Exfactor breaks from the more favorable four post with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. Exfactor will be making his first trip around two turns in the Lecomte, so distance may still be a question for the son of Exchange Rate, himself a winner of the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at Fairgrounds in 2000.

Hammers Terror has already won at the mile and 70 yard distance at Fairgrounds, but that was against allowance/optional claiming company. The Michael Stidham trainee makes his stakes debut in the Lecomte after also breaking his maiden at Keeneland in his second try last year.

Seven Lively Sins is the second choice in the Lecomte morning line at 9-2 and makes his third try in stakes company after finishing second in the grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill in October and fourth Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) in November. Seven Lively Sins is 175-1 in the Daily Racing Form line to win the Kentucky Derby.

Of the others in the Lecomte, only Alexander Thegreat (30-1 in the Lecomte morning line) and Adena’s Chance are not listed in Watchmaker’s Daily Racing Form Derby possibilities.

The Lecomte is a solid race on its own merit, but it could easily produce a Kentucky Derby contender to follow for the next three and a-half months. It has some apparent opportunities for those who like to bet Kentucky Derby future books too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hansen Gets Rodney Treatment For An Eclipse Champion

Despite his victory in the prestigious Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Monday night being honored with an Eclipse Award as Champion Two-Year-Old Male, one would think Hansen (photo right) returns to training this year among a wave of popularity. After all, his eventual task now is to carry that success to Churchill Downs in May and win America’s most prestigious race, the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Nothing in January insures victory in May of course, but with all of the accolades, one would think the reigning champ would at least be the favorite for the Derby.

Not so fast say the future book odds-makers.

Despite his last two significant accomplishments, the son of the successful young sire Tapit is not among the top three choices to the Kentucky Derby according to the Derby future book on The on-line betting service has Breeders’ Cup runner-up Union Rags as the favorite at 10-1 with Algorithms and Liason both second choice at 12-1. Hansen is co-fourth choice at 15-1 with Alpha. That’s right: Hansen can’t even eek out solo position for fourth choice in the wagering circles.

After a brief break, Hansen has returned to trainer Mike Maker’s barn at Gulfstream Park in Florida where he is expected to make his 2012 debut in a stake race there according to reports.

However, owner Dr. Kendall Hansen has indicated that the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) in late March at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky is the eventual planned Kentucky Derby prep race. Hansen broke his maiden and won the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway in 2011 before winning the prestigious Juvenile. Last year, Animal Kingdom used his victory in the Spiral Stakes as his final race before also winning the Kentucky Derby.

Union Rags was also the heavy post time favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with near even odds and an undefeated record at the time from three starts. Trained by Michael Matz who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with the ill-fated Barbaro, Union Rags won the Saratoga Special and one mile Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old but will need to prove he can handle the longer races leading up to and including the Triple Crown. A son of Dixie Union and out of the Gone West mare Tempo, Union Rags is currently the 10-1 favorite to win the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

Algorithms is from the large group of potential Derby horses trained by 2011 Eclipse Award nominee Todd Pletcher and is also one of many sons of the popular and productive young sire Bernardini. Although he has no stakes wins to his credit, Algorithms is undefeated in two races including a maiden win in June and then an allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park in December, defeating fellow Bernardini son and Derby hopeful Consortium trained by Kairan McLaughlin.

Liason is another in a line of Indian Charlie sons trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. After losing his first start in a one mile allowance race at Del Mar in early September, Liason has won three straight including the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes and grade 1 CashCall Futurity, both 1-1/16 mile races at Hollywood Park in the late Fall.

Along with Hansen at 15-1 in the gohorsebetting future line is Alpha, also by Bernardini. Another trained by McLaughlin, Alpha is one of the first winners on this year’s trail to the Kentucky Derby, taking Aqueduct’s Count Fleet Stakes Jan. 7.

As a 2-year-old, Alpha garnered some attention finishing second to Union Rags in the grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. While not among the favorites in the Juvenile, Alpha compromised his chances before the start of the Juvenile by being fractious in the gate. Alpha still broke well and raced into early competition down the backstretch in the Juvenile, but when the serious running started, Alpha didn’t and eventually finished 11th.

It is still 108 days before the Kentucky Derby which is an eternity for trainers trying to get their horses to the Run for the Roses. And the odds-makers nor their probabilities have any influence as to who will be wearing the blanket of roses at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Like a college football coach ranked number one in preseason polls, Maker and Dr. Hansen will probably tell you they prefer not to wear that extra target on their back as Hansen the thoroughbred begins his sophomore campaign and trip down the trail to Kentucky and beyond.

But for a champion, they they must feel a little too much like a Rodney for a Hansen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fat Lady Still Humming A Few Bars In Horse of the Year Race

I, and many in racing for that matter, expect history tonight at the Eclipse Awards. When they get down to giving out the golden Eclipse trophy for Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace may become the third consecutive female to be so named. Not since Hanover won the first North American Horse of the year title in 1887, has the title gone to females in three consecutive years.

Only once have females been named Horse of the Year in two consecutive years. Twilight Tear in 1944 and Busher in 1945 pulled the Horse of the Year double so-to-speak nearly 70 years ago. Havre de Grace would also be the fourth female in ten years to be Horse of the Year with Azeri getting the title in 2002. So there is certainly no female bias among the Eclipse Award voters.

Rachel Alexandra was Horse of the Year in 2010 after what many consider to be the greatest campaign ever by an American 3-year-old filly. The record setting Zenyatta was Horse of the Year last year. Both were substantially more popular and accomplished than Havre de Grace, but the now 5-year-old daughter of St. Liam (Horse of the Year himself in 2005) is still the favorite this year.

Of course this could all be for not if Acclamation is named Horse of the Year tonight by the voters at Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. And that upset could very well happen. At the very least, the race may be closer than some assume.

Like Havre de Grace, Acclamation, who will likely be named champion grass horse and possibly champion handicap horse at the ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Ca., won five graded races during the year. Havre de Grace is the heavy favorite to also take home an Eclipse for Handicap Mare.

Both won a major grade 1 race around two turns, against older horses on the main track. Acclamation won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and Havre de Grace won the Woodward at Saratoga.

Acclamation’s four other wins included the Jim Murray Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park, the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, the Eddie Read (gr. IT) at Del Mar and the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita.

In addition to the Woodward, Havre de Grace won the Azeri (gr. III) and Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park, the Beldame (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Havre de Grace had two losses last year: losing in July by a nose in the grade 2 Delaware Handicap to finish second to her nemesis Blind Luck. She ended the year finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Acclamation lost twice to start the year before rattling off his five wins in consecutive order. The then 5-year-old horse finished fifth in the Frank E. Kilroe Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita in March, then finished and last of ten in the sloppy Charles Town Classic (gr. III) in West Virginia in February before the Jim Murray.

The Charles Town trip was Acclamation’s only foray away from his base in Southern California running all of his other races at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. Havre de Grace raced in four different states including Arkansas, Delaware, New York and Kentucky.

Havre de Grace ran up a 2011 bankroll of more than $1.3 million while Acclamation was also a millionaire last year with $1,126,000 in earnings.

So despite the popular notion that Havre de Grace will be named Horse of the Year tonight, it is not a certainty. Looking at the actual 2011 race records and statistics of the two horses, there are actually few things that separate them. Havre de Grace will probably get points from certain voters for her travel schedule and for continuing her rivalry with Blind Luck during the year. (The two met for the fifth and sixth time this year: each winning one while the other was second.) Acclamation may be more popular among west coast voters.

No matter where the votes come from or why, tonight's Eclispe Award announcement for Horse of the Year, may be just a little more dramatic than some assume. If not dramatic, at least the Fat Lady has not completely ended her performance.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flat Out, Jackson Bend Make 2012 Debuts at Gulfstream Park

Three years ago this weekend, trainer Charles “Scotter” Dickey won the $50,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park with a promising 3-year-old son of Flatter for owner Art Preston’s Preston Stables LLC. It was a solid three and-a-half length victory for Flat Out in only his third career start and enough to put him on the road to the 2009 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But feet ailments would soon begin to plague Flat Out and during a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 2) in April, a fractured shoulder was added to the colt’s injury list, ending the colt's chances to go to Kentucky for the Run for the Roses.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Dickey and Preston did not retire Flat Out, but put him on a 20-month rehabilitation that resulted in a successful return to the races in December of 2010, winning an optional claiming race at Fairgrounds. Still battling for a full recovery, it would be six months again before his next start, a second place finish to Awesome Gem in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) last May. But that was just the beginning of a year that ended with wins in the grade 2 Suburban Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park, seconds in both the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga and perhaps the top older handicap horse in North America.

Flat Out ended the year with a disappointing sixth place finish behind winner Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs in November and earned some time off for some well deserved rest. But there would be no more long rehabilitation.

Apparently Dickey figures Flat Out has missed enough racing in his career because they start 2012 quickly with his turf debut Saturday in the $100,000 Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. 3T) at Gulfstream Park. The 1-1/16-mile Ft. Lauderdale will be the turf debut for Flat Out against eleven others that include grade 1 winner Teaks North and European group I winner Mutual Trust.

“We worked him on the turf here and decided on this race for a combination of reasons,” Dickey said Wednesday morning. “We still want to try him on the turf and the timing is right to get to the Donn Handicap (gr. I). If we waited and ran him in the Sunshine Millions (Classic on Jan. 28) it would probably be too quick back to make the Donn (Feb. 11).”

The Saturday card at Gulfstream Park also features the grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes at one mile for older horses where the popular Jackson Bend makes his first start of the year. Trained by Nick Zito, the Florida-bred Jackson Bend was last seen finishing third to Amazombie in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) in November. Before that he was second to Uncle Mo in the grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park and he won the grade 1 Forego at Saratoga at seven furlongs.

The Hal’s Hope has drawn a field of nine that also includes Successful Mission and Soaring Empire, both stakes winners at Monmouth Park in New Jersey in their last starts. Successful Mission is making his first start since winning the $77,000 Elkwood Stakes in May and Soaring Empire returns after winning the $100,000 Majestic Light Stakes in late July.

Filly On Fire Baby Challenges Colts in Smarty Jones
Returning to the Smarty Jones Stakes, the 2012 version runs during a special opening weekend Monday card at Oaklawn Park and is the first in a series of races for sophomores leading up to the grade I Arkansas Derby in April then Kentucky Derby in May. The $100,000 Smarty Jones this year is likely to feature the filly On Fire Baby taking on the boys in an interesting early Derby story line. Trained by Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby won the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) and Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs last Fall against fillies.

Trainer Gary Hartlage talking about On Fire Baby

Further west, early action on the Derby trail gets under way in the $100,000 California Derby Saturday at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco where trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has two contenders. Hollendorfer will saddle Russian Greek, winner of the Dec. 10 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate; and maiden race winner Reconstruction.

The California Derby will also include Southern California invader Hodge, third in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) in November; Blacky the Bull and Cahill Chrome, third and fourth respectively in the Gold Rush. The California Derby is the local prep race for the grade 3 El Camino Real Derby in February.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

US Stars Have Dubai World Cup In Sights

With the recent announcement by trainer Bill Mott (photo right) that Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Royal Delta will be pointed to the $10 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airlines, it appears the United States will again be well represented in the March 31 race. Earlier this month, trainer Graham Motion told Daily Racing Form that 2011 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands winner Animal Kingdom is also scheduled for the world’s richest horse race. The Dubai World Cup is run annually at the luxurious Meydan Race Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Royal Delta, purchased for $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Sale by Ben Leon’s Besilu Stables from breeder Palides Investments N. V., has been training lightly at Payson Park training Center in Florida and may make the Dubai World Cup her first start of the year. Last year as a 3-year-old, Royal Delta also won the Alabama Stakes and Black Eyed Susan Stakes in addition to her big score in the Ladies Classic. Mott will be trying for his second World Cup victory after winning the inaugural edition with Cigar in 1996.

Meanwhile, Animal Kingdom has been training more aggressively from Motion’s barn at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland and may be headed to the Gulfstream Park Handicap on grass Feb. 11 before heading to Dubai for the World Cup. Motion also told Daily Racing Form that he has not ruled out a February turf race in Dubai either.

Two-time Dubai World Cup winning trainer Bob Baffert has also indicated that his star older horse, Game On Dude (photo left), may also make the international trip to Dubai this year. Game On Dude was last seen finishing second to Drosselmeyer in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic and also won the Santa Anita Handicap and Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last year. Baffert won the 1998 Dubai World Cup with Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm and the 2001 World Cup with Captain Steve.

Baffert told Daily Racing Form that he is planning to start Game On Dude next in the San Antonio Stakes Feb. 5 at Santa Anita and then will decide between defending his title in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap or shipping to the Dubai World Cup after that.

The 10-furlong Dubai World Cup has been won by North American-based horses seven times. Others include Pleasantly Perfect in 2004 and Invasor, Curlin and Well Armed in 2007-09 respectively. Street Cry, winner of the 2002 World Cup, had raced in the United States at age two and three but was based in Dubai during the winter of his 4-year-old campaign and was owned by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum is the Vice President of the U.A.E., ruler of Dubai and owner of Meydan Race Club.

Help Needed For Large Louisiana Thoroughbred Rescue

The Louisiana Horse Rescue, Remember Me Rescue, Sabine Humane Society and the Louisiana State school of veterinary medicine are asking for your assistance in a 60-horse seizure currently underway in Many, Louisiana.

According to the Remember Me website and reports from KSLA-TV in Shreveport, La., some 25 horses have already been found dead with others assumed buried at the farm owned by Charles Ray Ford, 46, a thoroughbred owner and breeder in the Ark-La-Tex area.

Sabine Parish District Attorney Don Burkett reportedly has been to the site where some 53 broodmares and 20 yearlings were believed to be located as recent as 2010, and has indicated that felony animal cruelty charges will be levied against Ford. KSLA-TV reports also said they were told Burkett would levy a separate charge for each horse affected, whether deceased or starving. Less than half of the broodmares and only six yearlings have been found at the farm.

Horses that are healthy enough to move are being taken to New Orleans where they will be evaluated and rehabilitated. Remember Me reports on their website that the cost to care for the horses is currently $450 per day. Remember Me is a Texas-based horse rescue operation run by Donna Keen, wife of trainer Dallas Keen who races in Texas and Louisiana.

For more information and to help financially, go to the Remember Me website.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back and Better Than Ever

Happy New Year and my apologies for the late start. My wife and I got hit with some kind of cold/flu “this, that and the otheritis” and have been totally out of commission since Christmas. But now it's time to get started and return to the world of blogging about Thoroughbred racing and breeding.

I’m predicting a good year for horse racing with the return of many stars and a sophomore class that has yet to define their leading Kentucky Derby candidates. Five-year-old Caracortado, last seen finishing fifth to Regally Ready in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November, has been one of the first stars of previous years to debut the year successfully, winning the grade 3 (Turf) Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita over the weekend, defeating Really Ready (DH for third) and Victory Pete (second) in the process. Mr. Gruff was the other in the dead heat for show.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and runner-up Union Rags are the probably the two leaders of those trying to get to Kentucky for the Derby presented by Yum! Brands, but like recent years, I’m sure there are many more anonymous stars in the class in weighting who will try to knock them off.

The Eclipse Awards nominations have been announced and I’m hoping Havre de Grace becomes the third consecutive female Horse of the Year, something that has never happened in North American racing history.

As Mike Greenburg of ESPN likes to stay, “We’re back and better than ever” and ready to hit the horse racing blogosphere again.