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I just thought I should warn my few readers that over the next few weeks, I’ll almost definitely be really irregular and weird about posting. That’s partly to do with being sick out of my mind, and partly to do with exams coming up in a week and a bit. Not a pleasant combination.

Though, I will mention that we are in for a huge Florida Derby this weekend. Only eight entered, but some of the names involved include Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, Dialed In and Flashpoint, who opted for this race over the sprint-distance Swale earlier on the card. The remaining three aren’t exactly pushovers, either: Arch Traveler, Bowman’s Causeway and Shackleford have each shown flashes of brilliance in their careers.

Just to give you an idea of how intense this race is, let’s have a look at the pace scenario and take it apart a bit.

Flashpoint is all speed, and will almost certainly go to the lead; his success in this race depends, much like The Factor, on how far he can carry his terrific sprint. Soldat has been on the lead all year, but his best efforts as a two-year-old came from off the pace, and he’ll have to return to that style to have much of a shot here. He breaks from the rail, which may make rating a bit troublesome, but if he can tuck just in behind Flashpoint early and avoid too much trouble, he has every chance to prove he has not only the talent to win a Kentucky Derby, but the running style. To Honor and Serve will probably try to rate off Flashpoint as well. I don’t have much to say about him, except this: if you’re a fan (as I still am), he’d better run huge if he’s going to have any shot at the roses. Not much room for error after having picked a two-prep schedule.

Arch Traveler, who won a nine furlong race at Gulfstream in his last start, is looking for his third victory in a row. He went to the lead in his last race, but was passed on the first turn and allowed the position change without a fuss. His style looks to be pretty flexible, but expect him to be sitting with Soldat just off of Flashpoint. In fact, he may prove to be the source of Soldat’s traffic trouble, should any arise. The major knock against him is that he’s probably just not fast enough, having needed more than 1:52 to navigate nine furlongs last out.

Bowman’s Causeway has been pretty versatile as well, but he seems to like coming from about midpack or even a bit further back. He ran a deceptively good fourth in the Fountain of Youth to Soldat, Gourmet Dinner and To Honor and Serve, and was entered in a recent allowance just to get a bit of a workout, finishing third. The fact that he hasn’t won anything but a maiden race will turn a lot of people off, but he may be a live long shot, especially given that his easy maiden victory came over the likes of Praetereo, who was a huge winner at nine furlongs in his next outing. Plus, with the possibility of a hot pace, he’ll have plenty to run at.

Likewise for Shackleford, Stay Thirsty and Dialed In. Shackleford is a huge talent if he can only untangle his legs and his brain, and admittedly this probably isn’t the best place to be trying to do so. Still, he deserves as much of a chance to improve as any. Stay Thirsty is another horse who needs to get a lot faster to be a factor, but has every right to do so. He’s a monster work horse in the morning, and with a sire like Bernardini you can only expect him to improve as he ages. The Gotham was a great prep race in the most important sense of the term: he got plenty of experience and conditioning out of it, and he’s definitely going to be sharper this time out.

And then there’s Dialed In, who will be hoping for some serious pace in front of him. The almost supernatural Holy Bull winner will be coming out of the clouds, you can bet on it, but my major question is if he’s any better prepared for this race than he was for that allowance race that he lost. He’d only had two works before then, and I’m not sure I’ve heard enough about him working for this race to be too confident. I have no idea what Zito has planned… but hey, he did pretty well with Ice Box (who was basically Dialed In with hot sauce for an attitude) last year, so who knows?

I have to say that Soldat is my favourite in general, and my favourite long shot is Bowman’s Causeway. But really, the only really big surprises would be Arch Traveler or Shackleford, who I don’t believe have the speed and/or experience to tackle these.

And now, I’m going to sleep. Tomorrow, the studying begins.


But I did want to mention that Astrology really disappointed me in the Sunland Derby. I wasn’t at all impressed with anything to come out of that race, and Astrology least of all because expectations had been building up so high. After all, here was a horse who’d won a graded stakes as a two-year-old, presumably with an entrapped epiglottis. Surely now that he could breathe properly, we would see what he’s really made of.

Instead, we got a poorly-trained animal who was rank early and painfully slow late. I guess if you’re going to be charitable you can point to the wicked early fractions and the fact that he did not, in fact, quit–just got dead tired. In fact, it could be reasonably and convincingly argued that his problems are entirely the fault of his trainer, who somehow managed to sit idly on him all spring and has now put him in a horrible position for actually making the Kentucky Derby. We’ll see, I suppose. Haskin still likes him.

Meanwhile, Elite Alex, who was an appallingly unlucky fourth in the Louisiana Derby, will be running back in the Arkansas Derby… which was always the plan anyway. Hopefully he can actually get a decent post and show off what he’s made of, because making up eleven lengths in the final 3/16ths at Fair Grounds is amazing.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Master of Hounds is being considered for the Kentucky Derby. INTRIGUE!

So you think we were done with the superfillies when Rachel and Zenyatta retired? Did you think that long parade of Rags to Riches through Octave, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady and Tough Tiz’s Sis was just too much and now we were going to have a slump of the equine fairer sex?

Well, apparently not.

As of right now, we are faced not only with Kathmanblu, Zazu and Turbulent Descent, but Joyful Victory, Summer Soiree, Arienza, Might, and now the divine coming-out party of Plum Pretty.

Kathmanblu, Zazu and Turbulent Descent you undoubtedly know already, I’ve already had my Joyful Victory ramble and I did mention the powerful victories of Summer Soiree and Might in my blog from a few hours ago. And now Arienza, daughter of Giant’s Causeway and Horse of the Year Azeri, has won for the second time in as many starts in a condescendingly easy effort at Oaklawn, and Plum Pretty…

Turns out, all the third-place finisher in the GI Las Virgenes Stakes needed was a little more distance. Yes, Zazu and Turbulent Descent beat her there, and yes, the fillies she faced in the Sunland Park Oaks were hardly the calibre of those previous rivals. But I don’t care who you beat when you beat them by twenty-five lengths.

With that in mind, an updated top ten for the Oaks:

1. Joyful Victory
2. Zazu
3. Kathmanblu
4. Plum Pretty
5. Summer Soiree
6. R Heat Lightning
7. Dancinginherdreams
8. Arienza
9. Pomeroys Pistol
10. Dixie City

I had to tag Arienza on at the bottom there, even if I have no idea if she’s even being pointed for the Oaks. She just looks way too much like mom to leave her off.

It’s true. I totally do.

That being said: Mucho Macho Man ran really well considering his shoe came off right out of the gate, and I’m doing the GKJSHDGJHA:LKGHKJDSG dance at Rosie Napravnik having a Derby horse in gutsy little Pants On Fire, whom she was riding for the first time in the GII Louisiana Derby. Mission Impazible, Apart and Giant Oak looked great finishing one-two-three in the GII New Orleans Handicap, and I look forward to seeing them in action as the year progresses. Blame’s full sister Might easily broke her maiden in her second start (also for Rosie!), though Bind suffered a defeat in his allowance, probably because he was rank as an old gym sock the whole way around and never got into his best stride.

Larry Jones continues to merrily sweep his way back into the three-year-old fillies scene, saddling Summer Soiree, a daughter of War Front (!!!!!!!), to a devastating 10 3/4 length victory in the Bourbonette Oaks on the undercard of the GII Vinery Spiral Stakes. In her debut (and only previous start), Summer Soiree creamed a maiden field at Oaklawn by 9 3/4.

Okay, jeez, War Front. This thing’s babies can run on anything, and at any distance they please. Soldat: brilliant on turf and dirt, favoured in next week’s GI Florida Derby. The Factor: track record at six furlongs, almost track record at seven furlongs, and a 6 3/4 length victory in the GII Rebel Stakes at 8.5 furlongs. Summer Soiree: maiden win at Oaklawn on dirt, stakes debut annihilation on polytrack. This stallion, I’m telling you, is threatening to take over from Tapit as My Favourite Stud.

And now, to wait for the Sunland Derby replay to go up.

No post yesterday because I suck. Also because I woke up, spent three hours baking for my stepdad’s birthday, ran out the door to classes, spent four hours in classes, ran to the bus, watched the bus drive away without me, fumed all the way home on the slower bus, scarfed food, glugged coffee, and ran back out the door to the barn. When I got home, I discovered that my Christopher Hitchens books had come in from Amazon and at that point all hope of posting to the blog whizzed right out the window. So, there are my excuses for being lazy.

The big news that I missed, of course, was the Dubai World Cup draw. A full field of fourteen will go to post, including horses representing owners from the United Arab Emirates,  United States, Japan, England, Ireland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the Chechen Republic (many of those from the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and Chechen were actually bred in Kentucky, but we’ll ignore that for now).

The field is pretty much wide open, with Juddmonte’s star Twice Over appointed the tepid 4-1 favourite. Perennial American graded performer (he lost the Travers by a nose) and Saudi Arabian defector Fly Down opens at 6-1. Also running are Gio Ponti, twice the Eclipse champion turf horse, and a huge Japanese trio in Buena Vista, Transcend and Victoire Pisa. Buena Vista, a five-year-old mare, was Japan’s 2010 Horse of the Year. Transcend, meanwhile, recently notched the JP-I Japan Cup Dirt and JP-I February Stakes. Victoire Pisa is a multiple Japanese graded winner on turf. Check out the full field here.

Meanwhile, I’m still freaking out over Dangerous Midge vs. Champ Pegasus vs. Bourbon Bay. Also, Sweet Ducky, recently purchased by the president of Chechnya, hasn’t been ruled out as a Kentucky Derby prospect. How he runs in the U.A.E. Derby tomorrow will determine whether he flies back stateside.

Dialed In worked a bullet half-mile in :47 2/5 for the Florida Derby, but I’m still having a hard time with the super conservative schedule Zito’s been rolling out for this horse. It sure seemed to work against him in that allowance he barely lost last time… the continued weirdness has given me the heebies.

Three pretty major Derby preps tomorrow: the GII Louisiana Derby, GIII Sunland Derby and GIII Vinery Spiral Stakes (previously the Lane’s End). And each of those races has a clear favourite with a big opportunity to stamp himself a serious contender. Mucho Macho Man looks to tower over his competition in ability as well as in physical stature in the Louisiana Derby; horses such as Wilkinson, Elite Alex and Machen have every right to challenge him, but they’d have to improve enormously to catch Macho, who appears to be on the improve himself. The Sunland Derby has been billed as Astrology’s coming-out party, the first time the graded stakes-winning son of A.P. Indy will run without an entrapped epiglottis. He intrigues the hell out of me, despite the fact that I hate that his seasonal debut will come but six weeks out from the Derby itself. His schedule here on out is going to be dense, and if he can handle it, he’s a superhorse. The Spiral, meanwhile, has as its favourite Positive Response. Beneath him in the betting will be such horses as Animal Kingdom, Thirtyfirststreet and King Congie.

Also to watch: a mile and 70 yard allowance on the Louisiana Derby undercard featuring Bind. Yeah, that Bind.

So, Astrology’s finally making his debut on Saturday in the GIII Sunland Derby, and with only six weeks to the Derby he’s going to have to make another start three weeks out to have any chance at the Kentucky Derby. That would mean a very long layoff and an impossibly dense schedule for a horse who was apparently running through his two-year-old season with an entrapped epiglottis. He’s a talented animal, but not that talented. Even if he wins the Sunland Derby, he doesn’t have much of a chance.

BUT that’s not the big excitement of the moment. That honour goes to the Dubai Sheema Classic to be run at Meydan, also this Saturday. The big draw?

Dangerous Midge vs. Champ Pegasus vs. Bourbon Bay. Yeah, you read right: the Breeders’ Cup Turf 1-2 re-matched, and toss in Bourbon Bay to renew his rivalry with Champ. Wow.

Every year, the Derby is the crossroads of many intriguing stories, and amongst them is always the feel-good story, the Cinderella horse, the little guy. This year, the little guy is seventeen hands tall, but we’ll look past that at his heart-warming story, as written here by Steve Haskin. Trainer Kathy Ritvo’s resilience appears mirrored by the mammoth in her care, as Mucho Macho Man, who won’t turn three until June 15th–that’s after the Belmont Stakes, if you were wondering–competed among the best while giving away as many as six months in age to his rivals at two. He finally had his breakout moment in the GII Risen Star Stakes, an effort that put on display the monstrous creature he’s grown to be.

I do believe that the son of Macho Uno is every bit good enough to win this weekend’s GII Louisiana Derby. In fact, I expect him to. Should he dominate, as I believe he can, and should Kathy Ritvo train him carefully during the six-week layoff from Louisiana to Louisville, this big baby (I still can’t get over the fact that he’s still two and will be until June) will be primed to make a big splash in Kentucky.

Tomorrow and Thursday, we’ll have a chat about the longer shots in the field. For now, tell me what you think of Macho!

With its super early field draws. Oh, well, lots more time to chew over what’s going to go down this coming weekend.

But first, The Factor’s GII Rebel Stakes Beyer figure: 103. That makes a streak of three consecutive 100+ Beyers for Baffert’s colt, beginning with his maiden explosion (108) and followed up by the GII San Vicente (103). No other horse on the Derby trail has come close to such a streak–and only Soldat has come close to such a figure so far this year.

Okay, so. Louisiana Derby. GII. Nine furlongs. Thirteen entrants. Plenty of intrigue:

– Mucho Macho Man. How good is he?
– Machen. After a blitz of a victory at Fair Grounds, he ran flat in the Risen Star but was stepping up pretty steeply. Could he redeem himself?
– Wilkinson. Idle since a victory in the LeComte, will he have enough class to compete?
– Pants On Fire. Also idle since getting nosed out by Wilkinson, he’ll carry Fair Grounds top dog Rosie Napravnik.
– Elite Alex. Bad-luck colt drew outside again, but the long stretch should be very much to his liking.
– Majestic Harbor. Huge maiden winner after stretching out to two turns–gets a big class test.

And those will be my major points of interest in the days to come. Meanwhile, Kathmanblu has opted out of the GII Fair Grounds Oaks, leaving Inglorious the tepid 3-1 favourite over Niji’s Grand Girl (4-1) and Grandacious (6-1). Chantal Sutherland is once again in to ride Inglorious, who chased Kathmanblu home in the GIII Rachel Alexandra Stakes last out for her first career defeat (and first career start on dirt). Rosie Napravnik will be on 8-1 Snow Fall, a last-out winner and a daughter of War Front (could he be having a more impressive first crop?), which will mark a rare occasion in horse racing: two girl jocks in the same graded stakes. Let’s cheer for that exacta.

In all seriousness, Snow Fall has a major shot at picking up the pieces, though I do think Inglorious is the best filly in the race. Snow Fall has been improving by leaps and bounds in her three starts (a show, a place and a win), and ran greenly in the stretch of her lone victory, drifting in across the path of rival Tapia once she’d gone clear. A bit more season should stamp that habit out, and Rosie could have a nice filly on her hands. The race will certainly be fun to watch.

In light of the Rebel Stakes, The Factor jumps three spots to number four… but you can consider him co-third with Premier Pegasus. I honestly don’t know which one I like better right now.

1. Uncle Mo
2. Soldat
3. Premier Pegasus
4. The Factor
5. Dialed In
6. Mucho Macho Man
7. Stay Thirsty
8. Jaycito
9. To Honor and Serve
10. Santiva

Here’s a number to chew on: 1:42.19. The amount of time it took for The Factor to erase doubts of his two-turn endurance, and do it in style, drawing off by more than six lengths in the GII Rebel Stakes. Here’s another number to chew on: 1:42.07. The amount of time it took Smarty Jones to run the same race in 2004. You have to go back to 1987 to find a horse who did it faster. Another: 1:42.02, the final time for Havre de Grace in the GIII Azeri Stakes earlier in the day–and a stakes record to boot. And one more: 1:48.29, the final time for the other 8.5 furlong race on yesterday’s Oaklawn Card.

Right. Okay. Give me a minute while I digest this.

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought The Factor would be swallowed up at the top of the stretch. He’d just gone a half-mile in :46.77 at Oaklawn, for pity’s sake. After three quarters in 1:10.98, clear evidence that the leader was tiring, I was certain he was cooked. Done. Deep fried. Smarty Jones Stakes winner Caleb’s Posse was soaring on the far outside, chewing up and spitting out rival after rival with brutal efficiency, and GIII Southwest Stakes winner Archarcharch was still running up the inside, determinedly fighting on after chasing the wicked pace. Then, the steel grey colt who appeared to be lagging swapped leads and surprised the living daylight out of me.

War Front’s son was nowhere near finished. Shaken up by Martin Garcia, The Factor stretched out and ripped home his final sixteenth in :06.20. Bob Baffert mentioned that his star in the making was blowing pretty hard after the race, but after such an effort the bullish young colt had every right to be tired–and will have taken away several tons of valuable experience and irreplaceable conditioning over the deep, unforgiving Oaklawn strip. As Baffert said, this horse was definitely going to go nine furlongs yesterday; he deserves every right to have a go at the GI Arkansas Derby in April and, if that goes well, the roses in May.

Caleb’s Posse deserves respect after his effort, which saw him stage a huge move on the turn and pose a serious threat to The Factor at the top of the stretch; he just couldn’t keep going when the War Front colt re-broke. Likewise Archarcharch proved as tough and consistent as usual, giving chase early and keeping those legs whirring when the lactic acid undoubtedly set in. He’s likely to improve as he ages, and as the distances increase.

In other news from yesterday, Havre de Grace took one step toward evening the score between herself and archrival Blind Luck with a stakes record-equalling score in the GIII Azeri Stakes. Their rivalry stands at two victories apiece, with the tiebreaker coming when Blind Luck finishing ahead of Havre de Grace in the GI Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. Blind Luck seems endlessly afflicted with seconditis, but Havre de Grace has been on a relentless improving curve, and the trainer switch to Larry Jones can’t hurt. Let’s also keep in mind that Havre de Grace ran the race faster than such horses as Hystericalady and Round Pond. Oof.

And speaking of scary fast fillies, how about Hilda’s Passion in the GII Inside Information Stakes, casually running the wings off of Big Drama’s old record? The final time of 1:20.45 is the fastest any horse has run on the Gulfstream dirt, and set after opening fractions of :22.07 and :44.20. After a productive winter/spring campaign, Pletcher plans on giving his dominant filly a bit of a rest and sending her next in the GI Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby day. It’ll be interesting to see who shows up to challenge her, because honestly, I can’t think of a filly or mare who can.

Finally, Malibu Pier notched a stylish, fighting win in the GII Santa Ana stakes, while Doubles Partner came back off his winter layoff in style, finishing a neck the best in a blanket finish of four legitimate horses. Doubles Partner is by Rock Hard Ten out of Serena’s Sister (Rahy), a full sister to champion Serena’s Song. His final time was a thoroughly respectable 1:40.67 for 8.5 furlongs.

Not much happening later today, but a point of interest may be the second career start of Brock, Jess Jackson’s $2.3 million two-year-old. He started once and was humiliated in a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga, which in hindsight was sort of to be expected from a colt who’s by Distorted Humor and 3×3 to Mr. Prospector. Now stationed in southern California, he’ll be trying a one-mile special weight at Santa Anita. Stay tuned!

Calendar of Nerdisms

March 2011
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