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I’ve been rambling on for quite some months now about how this year’s crop of three-year-olds is certifiably badass, with weekly doses of awesome coming in the form of Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, Boys at Toscanova, Comma to the Top, Jaycito, JP’s Gusto, J B’s Thunder, Brethren, The Factor, Tapizar, Soldat, Wilkinson and Dialed In (what a list!), and today, I wanted to write a blog about how this spectacular group is definitely the best to come around since Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday in 2007 and may very well turn out to be the best in decades.

Only, Bill Finley beat me to it.

This blog post at ESPN’s horse racing site says everything that I’ve been thinking all this time: several of the horses listed above have the potential to climb into the pantheon, to be named among the best the sport has ever seen. Uncle Mo recalls memories of Seattle Slew and the Bid, Tapizar runs full seconds faster than his elders of more than a year, The Factor breaks a track record at two, Dialed In runs last to first in a field of proven stakes horses with only a single race to his credit…

Tomorrow, February begins: a new month of Derby drama rolls out before us. Tapizar will seek to grasp the California division by the throat in a couple of weeks in the GII Robert B. Lewis Stakes; then come the GI Las Virgenes for fillies, the GIII Sam F. Davis, the GII San Vicente, the GIII El Camino Real Derby, the GIII Southwest, the GII Risen Star, the GII Fountain of Youth, the GIII Rachel Alexandra for fillies, the GII Hutcheson, the GII Davona Dale for fillies… just in February. Ladies and gents, over the course of the next four weeks, we will come to know a very great deal indeed about the most exciting crop of colts in a long, long time.


…and other similarly bad puns, because there’s a new kid in town. Big time. In two career starts, he’s won a maiden race and a graded stakes. His trainer was on the board in all three Triple Crown races last year, each time with a different horse. He wasn’t even supposed to run in this race, having been scratched from an allowance last week when the track came up sloppy. His jockey’s whip was so inconspicuous near the finish that I thought he must have dropped it after giving a single left-handed reminder about mid-stretch.

He is Dialed In, the son of Horse of the Year Mineshaft and the Storm Cat mare Miss Doolittle, and he just stole the Holy Bull show.

That this colt was even entered in the GIII Holy Bull Stakes already spoke volumes of what Nick Zito thought of Dialed In beforehand; Zito doesn’t rush his horses from maiden races to graded stakes under any but the most extraordinary circumstances–which are exactly what came up when Zito’s preferred allowance race came up sloppy, and the Holy Bull was only a week away. Soldat ran off with that allowance race in high style, but one wonders if that would have been the case had Dialed In stuck around, because the explosive force of this thing’s stretch run is something unseen at least since Pyro’s Risen Star Stakes of 2008.

Now consider that Pyro had several graded stakes outings as a two-year-old, including a runner-up finish to War Pass in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to work on his finishing kick; Dialed In had only one single race on his resume, and that only a maiden special weight. Granted, the performance he delivered therein was enough to make him the second choice in the Holy Bull, but I’ve never, ever seen a second-time starter do what this horse did today: drop fifteen lengths off the pace in a graded stakes and sustain a powerful burst of speed over the course of roughly three-eighths of a mile. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve seen one do anything close to that for a quarter.

Yes, the pacemakers helped him out a little bit, going six furlongs in 1:10.33 and slowing down the last quarter for a :24 4/5. But Dialed In began his run while said pacemakers were going a quarter in roughly :24, meaning that the winner probably ran better than a twelve-clip for his final three-eighths, finishing up in 1:35.19. Remember that a twelve-clip mile is 1:36–it’s always good to see a young horse finishing stronger than he begins, and let me say this again, because I can’t say it enough: to see a second-time starter do it is almost unthinkable.

There is no guarantee, of course, that he is as good as he looked today. Pyro was ill-managed, tossed into the GI Blue Grass Stakes on a surface he loathed, and only regained his magnificent foot as a four-year-old when he won the GI Forego Handicap. Nick Zito now has the responsibility for nurturing the talent and potential of this remarkable animal, of guiding him and hopefully watching him flourish. It’s Zito, though, so I’m not altogether too worried. In all likelihood, we’ll get to see what Dialed In is made of in the coming months.

Updated Kentucky Derby top ten:

1. Tapizar
2. To Honor and Serve
3. Brethren
4. Uncle Mo
5. Dialed In
6. Rogue Romance
7. The Factor
8. Clubhouse Ride
9. Jaycito
10. Pluck

And for fans of Curlinello: his stock has risen thanks to archrival Sweet Ducky’s very good second-place finish in the Holy Bull. Watch for both to reappear on the Derby trail; they deserve a shot.

Just thought you should know that losing by three quarters of a length at a distances shorter than her ideal after coming into the stretch seven or eight wide does not in any way move her down the list. If anything, Tapit’s grey ballerina of a daughter has just cemented her position as the best three-year-old filly in training, in my opinion. Here’s my updated top ten after the GII Forward Gal, with an updated Derby top ten probably coming later in the day after the Holy Bull replay goes up.

Kentucky Oaks:
1. Dancinginherdreams
2. Awesome Feather (if she’s able)
3. Kathmanblu
4. Zazu
5. Royal Delta
6. Turbulent Descent
7. Dixie City
8. California Nectar
9. Pomeroys Pistol
10. Delightful Mary

R Heat Lightning drops off the list after her disappointing showing in the Forward Gal, the distance of which should have been right up her alley; California Nectar moves up into R Heat Lightning’s vacated spot and Pomeroys Pistol makes her debut on the list after winning the Forward Gal. The other eight remain unchanged.

Also at some point, I would encourage the pedigree nuts among you to check out the Fasig-Tipton March catalogue, which has half-siblings and offspring of all kinds of royalty, including halves to Haynesfield, Diplomat Lady, Sinister Minister, Dream Rush, Court Vision, Dublin, Black Seventeen, Gabby’s Golden Gal, Cash Included, and Henny Hughes, and a full brother to Dunkirk. Yikes!

(The Sinister Minister and Henny Hughes halves are by Hard Spun. Yay. </fangirl>)

…which will be REALLY soon, I wanted to say a few little things:

1. It looks like Bernardini may have another legitimate Triple Crown contender if Crossbow is as good as he looked in his allowance race today.

2. Caracortado has sure as hell found new life on turf–I sincerely hope he stays on his new favourite surface, because he’s very, very good.

3. Thank you, Kent Desormeaux, for taking the very large, not particularly maneuverable speed horse back into traffic, thereby breaking all his momentum and screwing up his chances at anything other than a listless fourth-place finish. Mark my words, First Dude is still better than this. And if he’s not, when I’m rich, I will personally buy and geld him and keep him for my own.

4. And speaking of buying and keeping forever, Presious Passion. I fear he’s gone for good, folks–he gave his whole heart to the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf and hasn’t been the same since. For the courage he has displayed, the pure joy of speed, he deserves a great honking big blue grass pasture to run in for the rest of his years. Just give me another ten years or so and when I’m filthy stinking rich he, First Dude, Molinaro Social and Tenor (the half-TB mare I ride who is my baby) can be buddies.

Hear that? It’s the sound of me dreaming don’t you even think of crushing my dreams okay

Larry Jones and Fox Hill Farms may have another good one: only months after Jones came out of retirement, a bay colt named Commander (by Broken Vow out of the Deputy Minister mare Pout) has caught a few eyes. Commander won his debut in September at Delaware Park, and was idle until two weeks ago, when he finished a good third in an allowance at Oaklawn. Jones will turn him around quickly for tomorrow’s NW1X allowance. A sign of confidence? It could very well be.

Also tomorrow, a maiden sprint event at Santa Anita has attracted two starters from Bob Baffert (who is so red-hot right now it would probably burn to touch his stylish glasses), Tokubetsu and Midnight Interlude, and the War Front colt Le Mans from the Steve Asmussen barn. Expect the winner to get a big bandwagon very quickly.

Jeremy Plonk on ESPN’s horse racing page has pointed out that Soldat’s victory in a muddy allowance at Gulfstream was run in faster time than either Dunkirk’s allowance or Barbaro’s Holy Bull Stakes.

Still working on informative content, folks. Sorry for the delay, but McGill is kicking me in the pants. One-hour conference to give on equine infectious anemia on Tuesday, comparative anatomy test on Monday… Sometimes I think about how I’ve only finished four of fifteen weeks so far, and then I make this face: 8C Fortunately, once the conference is done, I’ll have about two weeks or so before midterms rear their ugly head, so… yay for that.

Yaaaaaaaaay Sunshine Millions weekend yaaaayyy Holy Bull Stakes yaaaaaayyyyyy a bunch of other stakes too for a total of TEN STAKES RACES OMG YAAAAAAAY

‘Scuse me. I just rode around in the cold and humid, mostly without stirrups while the half-Thoroughbred, half-Connemara unstoppable speed machine mare under me tried her level best to do a respectable impression of a rocket ship, so… a little tired at the moment. JUST A WARNING ‘CAUSE YOU’LL PROBABLY BE ABLE TO TELL

Let us begin.

The Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint (Gulfstream Park) kicks off Sunshine Millions day; Jessica Is Back has a class edge on paper, having won the GI Princess Rooney Handicap last summer, but in her last start she flopped as the favourite in the Sugar Swirl Stakes. That makes Amen Hallelujah, a multiple GII winner, a more attractive proposition, particularly since the consistent filly has also tallied a second place finish to Champagne d’Oro in the GI Acorn Stakes. A potential upset may loom, however, with the apparently endlessly talented but extremely inexperienced four-year-old Feel That Fire, who has started only three times but won her last two, including a maiden victory against males. Wildcat Heiress, breaking from the rail, is four for five lifetime though never against such company as these; she has tons of speed. Expect to see her on the lead.

The bafflingly named Askbut I Won’ttell (yes, that is where the spaces go) figures to go off the favourite in the Filly & Mare Turf. Her last two starts were both 9f graded stakes, and she won each one, meaning that if she were to win her race on Saturday it would basically just be routine at this point. However, she will have to contend with Dynaslew, a GII winner at Saratoga in 2010. A full field of fourteen will go to post unless something drastic happens; the race was completely filled including one also-eligible, the improving Jet Blue Girl.

By contrast, only eight go to post for the Sunshine Millions Sprint, topped by GI winner Cost of Freedom, who basically has all the class the race has to offer. If he loses this, then he’s really on his way down, fast.

Two horses in the Turf come into the race undefeated on the grass; they are Jeranimo and Caracortado, and each will surely have his backers. He began his career on green with an allowance victory, and followed that up with the GII San Gabriel Stakes in December. Caracortado won his single grass race two starts back; last out he ran third to record-breakers Twirling Candy and Smiling Tiger in the GI Malibu Stakes. The Usual Q.T. is also an extraordinary turf horse when he puts his mind to it. But there’s an old friend in this race who is not to be forgotten; his name is Presious Passion, and on one magical day in 2009 he nearly grew wings. It would break my heart if he’s nothing left to give, but trainer Mary Hartmann scratched him from an allowance last week to run in this race instead, so… there may be hope.

If GI winner and Eclipse finalist Evening Jewel doesn’t win the Distaff, I may be forced to eat my hat. Briecat looks like the only other legitimate class.

The Classic is nothing if not interesting. A couple of older warriors, Dry Martini and Duke of Mischief, seek to reclaim some of their old glory. Meanwhile, First Dude may be the richest horse ever to be eligible for a non-winners-of-one-except allowance condition, and takes a steep drop in class to try and find the winner’s circle for only the second time in his career. I have been in love with First Dude since the Preakness, when he was basically the biggest character on the backside despite being so little known. For those who aren’t aware, his head is too big, his nose is too Roman and he tries to eat the potted plants. I dare you not to adore him by Sunday.

The GII Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park is just about the most exciting thing ever. No, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it makes me squeal and do little backflips in my head because it features R Heat Lightning, a GI winner last seen finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, against Dancinginherdreams, the porcelain grey ballerina of a filly who has already wormed her way into my heart. Dancinginherdreams is undefeated in two starts, including a last-to-first maelstrom of a finish at Keeneland in her debut and a thorough whipping of the GII Pocahontas field at Churchill. Furthermore, she’s been training like a bull lately. Other threats come from stakes winners Devilish Lady (who is on a four-race winning streak and is already a veteran of ten starts) and Alexandra Rylee.

The filly Switch, perhaps best known for coming within a half-length of taking down Zenyatta, bids for her second consecutive GI victory in the Santa Monica Stakes. Last out, she set a stakes record in the GI La Brea at seven furlongs, the distance of the Santa Monica. And honestly? I can’t see anyone in here beating her.

Finally, the GIII Holy Bull Stakes. So begins the Gulfstream road to Louisville: Rick Dutrow has withdrawn Boys at Toscanova from the race because, apparently, he wasn’t showing the same energy he had at Saratoga. I think that’s Dutrow for “He’s an Officer colt and he’s tailing off already.” That leaves a wide-open field, potentially led by GIII Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner; other horses with serious shots are Mucho Macho Man (who is perhaps the three-year-old with the best worktab in Florida), Major Gain, Dialed In and Black N Beauty. My favourites in this race are Black N Beauty and Mucho Macho Man, in that order; Black N Beauty is an Ontario-bred (HAVE I MENTIONED I’M CANADIAN) son of Devil His Due, a stallion who has unfairly fallen out of fashion. He’s gorgeous, he’s improving, he’s very quick, but then so is Mucho Macho Man–and I’ve already mentioned Macho’s awesome series of works. I love them both. They’re my hypothetical boxed exacta.

Oh, and for fans of Curlinello, the Holy Bull should prove a litmus test of sorts as to his class; the horse who beat him in their last two starts, Sweet Ducky, has also been entered.

And finally: the thought process that went into choosing Bernardini. Interesting tidbit therefrom: Zenyatta has a half-sister by Bernardini named Eblouissante. That’s “AY-blue-ee-SONT,” French for dazzling, and I literally cringe when I think of how the track announcers are going to mangle it.

Millions post tomorrow or Friday, because Zenyatta takes precedence.

Bloodhorse came out with the news today that reigning horse of the year Zenyatta is to be bred to young sire Bernardini. To be honest, I expected the Mosses to pick a Lane’s End stallion (so that Zenyatta wouldn’t have to be moved in order to be bred) and I thought aging super-sire A.P. Indy was the perfect match. Well, I got one out of two right–A.P. Indy is on the menu, only it’s his son that gets the honour of being the great mare’s first.

So, let’s talk about the choice. Stallion and mare differ quite a bit in the construction of their back ends (specifically, Zenyatta’s built more uphill from haunch to shoulder), but the discrepancy isn’t something anyone will, or should be worrying about. Matching Zenyatta with a stallion who is smaller than her also seems like a good plan–though at more than seventeen hands, it would have been a little hard to find a stud who isn’t. Anyone will tell you that Bernardini’s conformation and balance are exemplary, so I’m not even going there.

Bernardini has only had one crop of two-year-olds race, but they far exceeded expectations. That isn’t to say folks didn’t expect the son of A.P. Indy to be successful–to the contrary, he has the aura of an Heir Apparent to him. The surprise was not in his success, but how soon it came. Bernardini was not remotely precocious, making his first stakes start in the Preakness in May as a three-year-old. Therefore, imagine the widened eyes and lifted brows when his sons and daughters came ripping out of the gate, making him the leading freshman sire by graded wins and by stakes wins in general. He already has two grade or group I winners–A Z Warrior in the U.S. and Biondetti in Italy. His GII-winning son To Honor and Serve is considered one of the leading three or four Kentucky Derby prospects early in the game, and another son, Stay Thirsty, has his eye on roses as well.

Therefore on merit alone Bernardini deserves Zenyatta as much as any stallion can–so let’s look at the match in-depth, through the magic of TrueNicks.

Well, would you look at that. A++.

The rating is based on the sire line cross of A.P. Indy and Machiavellian, Zenyatta’s tail-male grandsire, and takes into account all horses bred on that cross. Remarkably, there have only ever been thirteen such horses, three of which have never run. Of the remaining ten, however, six are winners, led by Flashing (GI Test Stakes, GI Gazelle Stakes) and Jilbab (GI Coaching Club American Oaks). This isn’t really an adequate sample size to be extrapolating, but a 20% GI winner from starter rate is kind of insane. And add to that success the class factor of Bernardini and Zenyatta… you’ve got yourself pretty close to a perfect match.

Do you think this is a good match? Why? Who were you hoping she’d go to? Discuss!

I have to study for a test I’m taking tomorrow (on influenza virus, if you’re curious), so no real blog post tonight unless I feel like it much, much later. Instead, I’m going to point you toward Steve Haskin’s moving memorial of the great filly Miesque. Keep a box of tissues nearby.

Sunshine Millions preview-y type stuff probably starts tomorrow. I’m still working on informative content.

On November 19th at Churchill Downs, a colt by Touch Gold broke his maiden after flying to England and back and finishing third at Royal Ascot. Steve Haskin, bamf that he is, was already watching for it to happen, and has pegged Casper’s Touch as an unproven horse to watch as the Kentucky Derby trail heats up.

Would you look at that gorgeous thing? Big, sleek, dark as pitch, and his pedigree, with Touch Gold, Saint Ballado, Buckpasser and Graustark in the first four generations, has got so much stamina in it that it’s a miracle he won so short as eight furlongs. Apparently, he’s to make his two-turn debut in an allowance February fourth and, if he’s successful (and I have a feeling he will be), it’s on to the Derby trail for him.

Not much to say tonight, but before I sign off and fall asleep on my keyboard, I would like to express DISAPPOINT in Churchill Downs for still not having a Kentucky Derby website. Then again, I didn’t use last year’s edition nearly so much as I did the previous few years because it sucked. Twin Spires Inc people, listen up: when blogger Justin Dew is the most popular thing about your website, it is probably not such a good plan to fire him. That is all.

First of all, you are a hockey fan; you just don’t know it yet.

Don’t look all suprised.

Shameless, giddy hockey fan plug aside, I noticed this morning that for the second time, GIII Holy Bull Stakes contender Mucho Macho Man was mentioned on Blood-Horse as having put in an unusually quick, strong workout. On January 15th, he worked five furlongs in :59 1/5, tied for the fastest of 32 works at the distance at Gulfstream that day. This morning, he went the same trip in :59 flat–his third consecutive bullet. Meanwhile, eventual Holy Bull rival Black N Beauty went a half-mile in :49, not an impressive time by comparison.

Different trainers have different styles, it’s true. Dale Romans, who conditions Black N Beauty, evidently doesn’t look for as much speed in a final workout as does Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man. And yet, this brings me back to my theory of strategic concussion and how mammalian skeletons respond to stress: I will bet you many dollars that Mucho Macho Man stays sound longer than Black N Beauty. Their sires are both in possession of good, strong genes, and their offspring tend to start many times but, barring height-of-stardom retirement to stud, Mucho Macho Man has received better training and will stay tough longer. Guaranteed.*

Also, I’ve just realized just how on fire Tapit is right now. Tapizar is my favourite Derby horse as of now, Dancinginherdreams my favourite Oaks horse–and then there’s Zazu, another Oaks contender, and Tell a Kelly, and Tweebster, who looks like he could be a powerful handicap horse, and… wow. This is becoming a hell of a sire. He’s actually got a shot at being my favourite stallion–though Smart Strike will be difficult to knock off that podium. Still, he’s impressing the hell out of me.

*Almost. Devil His Due, sire of Black N Beauty, has sired at least one horse that started eighty-five times, so consider this a genetic freak disclaimer.

Calendar of Nerdisms

January 2011
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