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I feel about as sick as can be at the moment, so my thoughts aren’t especially coherent, but a few factoids from Memorial Day and thereabouts:

1. Tizway ran the Met Mile in 1:32.90. That is terrifyingly quick.

2. Tapit is, as of May 31st, the top sire in North America for 2011. His progeny have earned $3,241,174 since January 1st, topping the $3,198,723 by Giant’s Causeway. Furthermore, Tapit has 69 fewer runners than Giant’s Causeway. Wow.

3. Zenyatta has been confirmed pregnant at 60 days after mating. This is a huge landmark because the percentages of mares that lose foals drops like a rock after successfully passing sixty. There is now a very good chance the Horse of the Year will carry Bernardini’s foal to term.

4. One of my favourite babies from last year, Winter Memories, made a successful second start of the season, smashing her competition to tiny bits of humiliated horseflesh in the GII Sands Point Stakes. She ripped through her final three-eighths in :29.27, including a last sixteenth in :05.90 seconds, devastatingly employing the rocket-propelled turn of foot that hooked me last fall when she won the GIII Miss Grillo with a similar move. The magnificent daughter of El Prado now has four wins from five starts, her only loss a second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Based on her two starts this year, I’d say Winter Memories has a pretty good chance at avenging that loss when the Cup returns to Churchill in the fall.

5. It’s looking more and more like Rick Dutrow won’t slither his way out of this one. I’m so happy.

6. Animal Kingdom vs. Shackleford Belmont?! YES? PLEASE??? omg so close come on guys I can’t take the suspenssse


Last year, not one single horse ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown. This year, it’s becoming increasingly likely that we’ll be treated to three such warriors: Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and the indomitable Mucho Macho Man, who once again threw a shoe in the Preakness (trainer Kathy Ritvo is seeking out a possible cause for this repeated weirdness). I submit, ladies (and gentlemen?), that this year’s crop isn’t getting the recognition it deserves. Specifically, small-time trainers who do a better job than the big-time ones aren’t getting the recognition they deserve for doing a much better job than their supposed superiors.

Graham Motion, Dale Romans, Kathy Ritvo: my hat is off.

Speaking of Dale Romans, bad luck with Paddy O’Prado in the Dixie Stakes, which was Paddy’s triumphant return to racing and which he won emphatically. He came out of the race with a foot bruise and what turned out to be a fracture, and has been sent off to stud. This is a gigantic crying shame, because this son of El Prado matured magnificently into his four-year-old season and I think he’d have been a serious Horse of the Year contender in a year without a real dirt handicap standout. As it stands, it’s looking more and more like Horse of the Year will go to a three-year-old. Whether that’s Animal Kingdom, Shackleford or some other rising star whose best we haven’t yet seen, this crop is really on the improve and doesn’t seem to have that much competition in the older horse ranks.

Anyway. Those are my idle thoughts for the night. I’m going to go curl up and conk out for the second night straight. Did I mention I did a training clinic with a guy who works for Cavalia? Fantastic stuff. I learned more about horses’ minds in three days than I probably have in four years. Hat. Off. Sir.

that Shackleford is one hell of a horse. Washed out and nutty before the race, :22 and change quarter, green in the stretch and still held off the Derby winner. I’m disappointed, but if Animal Kingdom goes in the Belmont I have every confidence in him.

It would be excellent for the sport if the two of them went to New York for the tie-breaker. If Shackleford could slow the pace in the early fractions of the mile and a half, he would have a better chance at holding off an extremely capable closer like Animal Kingdom–but then, Animal Kingdom would have a whole extra 5/16ths to close that gap.

Oh, and one more thing: Johnny V has earned a whole lot of my respect. On the far turn, he put Animal Kingdom through a hole that simply was not there. You gutsy S.O.B.

And Animal Kingdom looks good. Shackleford and Sway Away each seemed awfully close to washing out at last observation. Mucho Macho Man has been practically invisible, an impressive feat considering his sheer size. The computer simulation says it’s Animal Kingdom over Dialed In. The facebook poll says it’s Animal Kingdom over Mucho Macho Man.

If the facebook poll is right, I will be one very happy puppy.

That is what I am. And I don’t really have an excuse, either; I’m just kind of fried. But I figured if I didn’t post today then there would be something very, very wrong with me, given that the Preakness was drawn last night.

I think that it’s extremely likely that the Preakness winner will have run in the Kentucky Derby. Whether that’s Animal Kingdom or someone else, the class of the field seems to have come from Churchill, with few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Astrology, who ran his best-ever E speed figure in the Jerome Handicap last time out, finishing second to Adios Charlie, and who looks to be on a serious upswing. He has a big leap in performance to make (probably of about ten E points) if he’s going to win on Saturday, but he shouldn’t be overlooked, especially to take a piece of the lesser prizes.

Moving out from Astrology’s rail post, the next really intriguing horses we find are Flashpoint and Shackleford, side by side in posts 4 and 5. Now, that promises fireworks. Coming off of a pair of gorgeous five furlong works, including a May 6 bullet at Keeneland in :59 flat, Flashpoint looks to bounce back from a lacklustre performance in the Florida Derby in which he never even made the lead. If that’s any indication, this horse wants to be on the front end, and badly. The question becomes how fast he’s willing to go with Kentucky Derby pacesetter Shackleford–no slouch, as he held on determinedly for fourth–pressing him hard from the outside. The only other legitimate speed in this race belongs to Dance City, the third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby after chasing the suicide fractions of J P’s Gusto (who finished well up the track). Dance City breaks from the 8 post, but with only Sway Away and Midnight Interlude (both liable to fall a bit off the pace) between him and the aforementioned fireworks, he’s more likely to try and cross over and sit in third than to gun for the lead.

Speaking of Sway Away, the horse that was just barely kept out of the Kentucky Derby finally gets his shot to prove himself in this company. I don’t personally think he’s up for it; he hasn’t won since his debut and his speed figures are unpredictable at best. I am, however, still intrigued by Midnight Interlude, on whom Bob Baffert is still quite high despite the “goose egg” (Baffert’s words) he laid in the Derby.

Mucho Macho Man is probably still my favourite. He ran back to his best speed figures in the Kentucky Derby, and was pretty much the only horse to get visibly stronger in the final sixteenth of a mile. His lungs have got to be the size of tents and his bones as strong as steel from all the throwback racing he’s done, and I think he’s set to make another leap forward, especially given that gorgeous :49 1/5 half he put up on the Belmont slop. Class on class on class, this one.

Dialed In is… well, I think he’s a bit of an unknown quantity. His speed figures have been really consistent–including the 92 he ran in the Kentucky Derby–and I don’t know if he’s really as good as he looked in the Holy Bull or if this is as good as it gets. I’ve never been a fan of his training schedule, so we’ll see.

Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby, you might like to know.

In the 12, 13 and 14 are a trio of relative long shots: Isn’t He Perfect, who keeps running fifth or sixth in stakes races; Concealed Identity, who took a while to warm up but won the Federico Tesio Stakes last out; and Mr. Commons, who was third in the Santa Anita Derby in his stakes debut. Of the three, Mr. Commons clearly seems to have the most upside, but I don’t think any of them are major threats. Same for Norman Asbjornson and King Congie.

My picks: Mucho Macho Man over Animal Kingdom and Shackleford (or possibly Midnight Interlude).

This weekend I’ve got a clinic with a trainer from Cavalia; I will still be blogging about the Preakness, I’m sure, but I may be slightly absent.

Shackleford has added his name to the list of Derby starters probable for the Preakness, and if Nehro goes as well (Asmussen is still undecided), that would mean that the top four all head to Baltimore. I don’t have to tell you how awesome that would be. Add beaten favourite Dialed In, and you already have the makings of an excellent lineup.But there’s more:  Bob Baffert is considering both Midnight Interlude and The Factor, while Asmussen has confirmed Astrology’s intentions for Pimlico. More possibles include Concealed Identity, Dance City, Flashpoint, King Congie, Mr. Commons, Norman Asbjornson, Prime Cut, Saratoga Red, and Sway Away. The Preakness field is limited to fourteen, and if you were counting, I just named seventeen possible/probables.

In other words, hang on to your hats, folks. We’re in for a fun couple of weeks.

More news: the race portion of the NBC broadcast, from 6-7pm, earned ratings of 9.7/22. Final national ratings won’t be available for a little while, but that basically means the Kentucky Derby was seen on 9.7 million televisions across the U.S., or 22% of all American televisions in use at the time. Them’s some pretty strong numbers for a race that wasn’t supposed to be generating much buzz. Major kudos to NBC for evidently making the broadcast attractive to a wide audience.

I also never got the chance to flail like a mad thing over the victory by First Dude in the GIII Alysheba Stakes. I’ve been waiting for that horse to win a big one for ever. My mother, who all but adopted him during the post parade before last year’s Preakness Stakes (in which he would finish second), grinned nearly as broadly as I did when the photo finish results came back. And furthermore, Plum Pretty and Blind Luck are still lovely.

Finally, Archarcharch has been formally retired after his injury in the Kentucky Derby was determined to be more complex than initially determined. He will receive surgical correction for the lateral condylar fracture in his left front leg, and further therapy as his injuries demand, before going to stud. And I really hope he gets a chance to make his mark on the breed; he has rich, tough bloodlines, and this injury was a complete fluke. The fact that he did not finish last and wasn’t even running lame (Jon Court felt something different, but the colt was only visibly lame once he was down to a walk) is an enormous compliment to just how tough he is.

As I predicted, Animal Kingdom (1st) and Mucho Macho Man (3rd) are already being readied for the Preakness, and Nehro (2nd) is being hemmed and hawed over. Nick Zito has surprised me by announcing Dialed In’s (8th) candidacy for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but then again I’d forgotten about the fact that he’s eligible for the Preakness 5.5, a giant freaking bonus of $5.5 million awarded to a Preakness winner who also won other listed races. Dialed In is eligible based on his wins in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. Pliochippus reports that the Racing Post have announced that Master of Hounds (5th) may return in the Belmont Stakes, which makes me a happy puppy because I adored his late run up the rail and he’s got the pedigree to absolutely thrive at Belmont Park–his sire, Kingmambo, has even already fathered a Belmont winner in Lemon Drop Kid.

Non-Derby runners being considered for/pointed to the Preakness include Dance City, who was third to Archarcharch (15th, lateral condylar fracture) and Nehro in the Arkansas Derby. Norman Asbjornson, second to Stay Thirsty (12th) in the Gotham and fourth to Toby’s Corner in the Wood Memorial, worked a strong mile this weekend in preparation for the Preakness. Concealed Identity, a son of Smarty Jones, came from off the pace in the Baltimore prep for the middle jewel yesterday, taking the Federico Tesio Stakes by two lengths. Of the three, I like Dance City the best; he seems to be a top quality colt on the upswing, and I loved the way he hung on at Arkansas despite chasing a very fast pace. Before that, he went nose to nose with the highly-regarded Cal Nation, eventually subduing that one in an allowance race that also featured Bowman’s Causeway, who finished third. Dance City will be a sleeper in the Preakness and should not be taken lightly.

Okay, guys, big deep breath. This is where I start chipping away at the Derby winner and trying to figure out how he flew under so many radars.

Well, actually, that last part is pretty easy. He’d never run on dirt before, he’d only run in four races total, one stakes race, and only a grade three at that. The Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park does not have a reputation as a maker of Derby horses. Neither do second place finishes in Gulfstream turf allowances. For a lot of people, myself included, Animal Kingdom was an easy toss. There were clues, of course, for those who were lucky enough to watch him train on the Churchill dirt, and who said that he was thriving on it. Yet it seemed like one of the only people who had Animal Kingdom to win was George Costanza.

After it was all over, though, after the dust settled and the bright chestnut coat of racing’s newest rising star was revealed, by a hose, from under layers of Kentucky dirt, after he was paraded into the lush horseshoe-shaped winner’s circle and draped with roses, after the heartbreak of watching Archarcharch disappear into an ambulance had dulled and lifted a little with good news, I began to think. Was this a fluke? Had I missed something? I remembered having looked at him for a little while before dismissing him as extremely unlikely. Specifically, I remembered looking at his family.

So I dug up his pedigree again. Then, I hit myself. In the face. Repeatedly, and quite hard. I had realized, very quickly, that I was an idiot for having let this one go without so much as a second glance.

There’s a phenomenon in genetics that I studied a little a few months ago called “hybrid vigour.” No one can really explain exactly how it works, but the basic rule is that when breeding two individuals together, the less related those individuals are, the higher quality the offspring will be. In dairy cattle, this manifests as good health and high milk production. In purebred dogs, much lower incidence of breed-specific disease. And so on. Hybrid vigour is a major reason why, if I ever manage to get filthy rich like I’d like to, I want to import fresh racing blood from places like South Africa, Australia and Brazil. Under this light, imagine my heart clenching with excitement when I reminded myself of Animal Kingdom’s family.

In his first two generations alone, this year’s Derby winner has a Brazilian, two Germans, an Irish mare, an English mare, and an American-born stallion that stood in Argentina. His sire, the Brazilian-born Leroidesanimaux (pronounced “luh rwah days annie moe,” meaning “king of the animals”) is also the sire of dirt-loving GI winner Always a Princess, twice the conqueror of Blind Luck. The father of Leroidesanimaux, American-born Candy Stripes, is himself the sire of Argentinean superstar Invasor, who soared right past Bernardini in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At Churchill Downs, in case you were wondering. Animal’s dam, the German mare Dalicia, made twenty-one starts and is a GIII winner. Her sire, the German stallion Acatenango, made twenty-four starts, was a GI winner and five times led the German sire list. His offspring include GI winners in Germany, Japan, France, the U.S. and Canada. One of his daughters, Borgia, won the male-dominated Deutsches Derby, a group I in Germany.

The first and only five-cross instance of inbreeding in Animal Kingdom’s pedigree comes in the fourth generation, to Northern Dancer’s son Lyphard, who happens to be my favourite source of Dancer inbreeding for his extraordinary record of passing soundness, given the occasional delicacy of such blood.

Animal Kingdom is the only horse ever to be bred on the cross of Leroidesanimaux and Acatenango, which is certainly not a surprise given that they were born pretty much on opposite ends of the Earth. In fact, it would be difficult to say when if ever Acatenango’s line–tail-male German, through and through–has come into contact with that of Blushing Groom before. This is a rare and extraordinary meeting of families which may just have created something unexpected and wonderful.

Looking back at his good-but-not-great record of two wins and two seconds from four starts, all on synthetics or grass, none particularly quick, it is awfully tempting to conclude that Animal Kingdom was simply screaming out for dirt, begging to run over the surface that made Always a Princess and Invasor shine. In hindsight, that’s not a terribly far-fetched claim to make, but no one can blame anyone for not seeing it before. Leroidesanimaux was a grass horse. All that European blood shouts for turf.

And yet.

Basically the word of the day. Archarcharch’s horrid luck and injury (more on that later) just proves that the universe has no sense of poetry or style and that any deity that might exist is capricious and mean (atheism looking better by the minute, ain’t it?). Animal Kingdom came out of nowhere and no one has any idea if this was a fluke or if he can possibly do it again. Mucho Macho Man ran like crazy to get third despite still being two years old, and I will never stop loving him. Nehro is probably a freak of nature. Pants On Fire ran out of energy halfway around the far turn, probably due to having been kicked around like a rag doll in mid-race. Shackleford was awesome, though no doubt helped by the unusually slow fractions. I will be looking forward to seeing him again.

On hunches alone, these are the horses I expect we will see again in Baltimore in two weeks: Animal Kingdom (duh), Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Midnight Interlude. Animal Kingdom, being the Derby winner, is kind of expected to give it another go in the Preakness. Mucho Macho Man is indestructible, only hitting his best stride at the end and will be very, very competitive should he go on. Shackleford appears to be one of those Lion Heart/Hard Spun types who can just keep going, and based on how strongly he was still running by the end he wouldn’t surprise me by reappearing. Midnight Interlude barely had any chance to run at all, and if he’s all right, Bob Baffert is no stranger to running horses who run poorly in the Derby back two weeks later at Pimlico–with great success, while he’s at it.

Others who could run back are Nehro, who is getting conditioning like crazy and apparently thriving on it with his frequent-race schedule, and Master of Hounds. The Euro of the field stormed up the rail in the final quarter of a mile to snatch fifth, taking very well indeed to the dirt in his first try on it. If he stays in the U.S. (which I think he definitely should, though who knows what his owners think), I expect him to reappear shortly.

Don’t expect to see Dialed In again until the Belmont. Nick Zito likes to run Derby also-rans five weeks later. Likewise Pants On Fire and others are more likely to show up again at Belmont Park.

On Archarcharch and his injury: he suffered a lateral condylar fracture in his right front leg, as I’m sure most of you have read. Unfortunately, I doubt very many people actually have access to information about what that means. Fortunately, I’ve done anatomy courses and can give you a general idea. The lateral condyle of the cannon bone, first, is not a major weight-bearing structure. This is a good thing. Its main function is to serve as an attachment site for tendons that move the lower limb. Fractures here range in severity, but based on the comments of lead vet Dr. Larry Bramlage, it sounds like baby Arch has not drastically injured himself. Bramlage has reported that he will require surgery and some screws to properly correct the fractured condyle, but that the injury is, in no way, shape or form, life-threatening. Furthermore this type of injury can be overcome completely–that is, there have been horses who have suffered a lateral condylar fracture and returned to racing–but this possibility should be considered a long shot until we hear more details, and it would take quite a while to do.

More opinion-ing to come when I’m not still all sadface about this whole race.

I’m not quite done flailing like a crazy person, no.

Through painstaking efforts over the course of several days and way too many hours spent poring over past performances and video replays, I’ve managed to knock and slice my Derby picks (and by that I mean “runners that I couldn’t possibly scratch completely off my list”) down to five horses: Archarcharch, Twice the Appeal, Pants On Fire, Mucho Macho Man and Midnight Interlude.

Archarcharch still won’t let me go even after drawing the dreaded rail post. He’s versatile, kicks it in like a steam train when he’s called upon, and has a dream pedigree for ten furlongs on dirt. Let us not forget, after all, what another Arch colt did over a mile and a quarter of Churchill dirt last fall. Twice the Appeal is undefeated on conventional dirt (his three losses came on turf and two different synthetic surfaces), picks up Calvin Borel and drew near but not on the rail, which is pretty much a perfect recipe for Borel to work his magic. Pants On Fire may be running for just the second time while completely healthy, comes into the race training like a bear and will be carrying 111 pounds of pure fire in the shape of one Rosie Napravnik into battle. Mucho Macho Man has foundation to die for despite coming into the race fresh, has been trained with an eye on making him even tougher than the tough S.O.B. that he already is, and has faced more adversity than most of his rivals combined. Finally Midnight Interlude has the look and the feel of a developing Curlin or Bernardini, ran like a seasoned pro in the GI Santa Anita Derby (his very first stakes start) and seems unable to produce anything but bullet workouts in the mornings for master trainer Bob Baffert.

Should the rain turn the racetrack sloppy, it is interesting to note that four Derby horses have won in the slop: Twice the Appeal, Pants On Fire, Midnight Interlude and Soldat. Of those, only Soldat did not actually break his maiden on a wet track. Pants On Fire’s muddy Delaware Park victory came in his debut. I just thought those were some interesting little factoids which might influence our collective choices should the rain come down too hard.



Let’s talk about gorgeous rides and very close things.

Calendar of Nerdisms

May 2011
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