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Not all Canadians suck that much at knowing anything about horse racing, just FYI for anyone who happens to be watching the Queen’s Plate broadcast. What a bunch of morons.

One of the analysts is referring to the horses as “it.” Another one just questioned Inglorious’s presence in the Plate because she ran three fifths of a second slower in the Woodbine Oaks than Check Your Soul did in the Plate Trial. I… There aren’t even real criticisms to make. This is almost funny.

 

EDIT: And now it really is funny because she won. Fillies. I’m telling you.

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This is my “Holy crap Zazu could you possibly be braver” post but also my “EEEE Summer Soiree is back” post.

Make no mistake: Plum Pretty ran a fantastic race in the Hollywood Oaks, but Zazu, roaring up the rail through a hole so small as to make Mine That Bird proud, won on pure courage. That undefinable thing that we call heart? She’s got it.

Meanwhile, Summer Soiree has served notice to the older turf ladies that she’s going to be a force to reckon with when she starts dancing in their ballroom. Eight and a half and going clear. Wow.


There is a filly in the Debutante whose name is Culotte. Yes, I know what culottes are. But in modern French the word typically refers to panties.

This may be my favourite thing since Panty Raid.


Yes, I’ve heard about the tornado at Churchill. No, I’m not going to weigh in on the particulars. There isn’t much to have an opinion about, other than the efficiency and workmanship of the staff who got all the people and horses out without an injury. Actually, to hell with it, here’s my opinion: these people should be getting a lot more credit than god for what some people are predictably calling a miracle. By the way, the backstretch chapel sustained a good deal of damage.

Politicized remarks aside, we’ve got some pretty good racing to look forward to this weekend. The Queen’s Plate, Canada’s Kentucky Derby and the oldest continuously run race in North America, features a full field of seventeen horses. They include favoured Check Your Soul, winner of the Plate Trial last month, Trial runner-up Bowman’s Causeway (who shook up the Derby trail this spring in Florida), Queen’splatekitten and former Kentucky Oaks contender (and Woodbine Oaks winner) Inglorious. The filly is the richest horse in the field with earnings of $650,0o0, and is a perfect four-for-four at Woodbine since debuting in a Woodbine stakes last year. I adore her.

On the Plate undercard is the Singspiel Stakes, which features a very strong field including champion Rahy’s Attorney, Grassy and Musketier.

But first, Saturday racing will bring us (hopefully) Plum Pretty vs. Zazu in the Hollywood Oaks, and Joyful Victory in the Mother Goose. The female divisions really are powerful this year, aren’t they? I’m starting to think Horse of the Year might go to the winner of the former Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Awesome Gem and Astrology will be bringing a little star power to Iowa this year. Awesome Gem, fresh off a win in the Lone Star Park Handicap, will go favoured in the Cornhusker, while the Iowa Derby features Astrology versus Ohio Derby winner Caleb’s Posse.

Finally, in perhaps the most exciting event of the weekend, the juveniles begin to run in graded stakes. Churchill’s GIII Debutante will feature an undefeated Texas-bred by the name of Shocktime, who has won her two starts by an average margin of almost eleven lengths. Oh, boy.


How, exactly, did I miss this? I suck.

 

Baffert, what have you been hiding from me?


Definitely, without a doubt, the strongest division in American racing this year is the distaff. With that unbelievable last-to-first rally in the Vanity, Blind Luck has probably reasserted herself as the best older filly in the country, though she’ll have Awesome Maria to contend with in the very near future. Switch is no slouch either, and when Havre de Grace returns, it’ll most likely be a four-horse show.

Awesome Maria turned aside a brief challenge by Life At Ten at the top of the Belmont stretch in the GI Ogden Phipps Handicap, then hit the afterburners. Roaring clear, the beautiful grey was never in danger from a pair of bids by the two Medaglia d’Oro fillies, Payton d’Oro and Super Espresso, who would finish second and third. Her final time of 1:41.40 was exquisite, by the way, especially given how much more weight she carried than the rest of the field: the minimum difference was seven pounds after the scratch of second highest weighted Unrivaled Belle. Awesome Maria is now four for four as a four-year-old, making her a serious contender for the championship should she continue performing as she has.

But still, the best performance of the weekend belongs to Blind Luck. “Eye-Popping,” shouts the Blood-Horse headline. “The magnificent Blind Luck,” the article begins. I can’t possibly agree more. Once again, the little chestnut champion, almost Arabian in appearance, proved it doesn’t matter how slow they go at the start: she will sprout wings if that’s what it takes to catch them. I have to admit, when I saw the three quarters go up in 1:14.56, I thought there was no chance for her to make up the ground. We already saw Street Game pull the trick the Vanity frontrunners were trying, and it left him with a seven-length win in a graded stake. Longer shot though she might have been, Miss Match was still a grade one winner, and Joe Talamo was riding her to do it again.

But Blind Luck, and even Switch, are not ordinary horses. Not even a mile in 1:39.03 could keep them from their exquisite stretch runs. Under normal circumstances, nine furlongs in 1:50.69 is nothing to boast about, but when that means you ran your last eighth in under 11 3/5, your name is obviously Blind Luck and you are not mortal. Not too long ago there was another California beauty who made a name for herself running like that. No, little Lucky is not undefeated, but a couple more performances like this, and the comparisons will continue to be made.

Jerry Hollendorfer (one of my favourite active trainers in the US along with Baffert, Jones, Nafzger and Ritvo) has talked of two possible plans for his champion. They could wait for the Del Mar meet, though the concern is that Blind Luck isn’t particularly fond of the surface there. The other: the $750,000 Delaware Handicap, where she would renew her long, bitter rivalry with another extraordinary mare, Havre de Grace. Hollendorfer has a history of shipping Blind Luck all over the country and of never ducking anybody, so don’t be surprised if Delaware Park is graced by the presence of the lithe golden filly with the white blinkers. If I was Larry Jones and Havre de Grace, I would be shivering at the prospect of such a match. After all, this is the best of horse racing.

Before I end on too sentimental a note, I’m so sorry for jinxing it all and saying that I hoped Pool Play didn’t win the Stephen Foster and muck up the division even more. My bad.

And finally: Pants On Fire. Atta girl, Rosie. Girl and horse absolutely clobbered that field–much more clobbering occurred than was apparent in the final margin–with their move around the final turn. Pants kind of dawdled in the stretch under high weight of 123lbs, but he had some left in the tank even after ripping it up in the fourth quarter. This was a great prep for the Haskell, and I really hope to see him entered.


One thing I didn’t mention yesterday that I had wanted to was: Trappe Shot is a freak of nature.

Also, Midnight Interlude is trying turf; Pants On Fire preps for the Haskell in Monmouth’s GIII Pegasus Stakes; an absolutely stellar field of distaffers assembles for the GI Ogden Phipps Handicap; another absolutely stellar field of distaffers assembles for the GI Vanity Handicap; Kathmanblu returns to grass for the GIII Regret; and the handicap horses are still trying to sort themselves out in the GI Stephen Foster Handicap. Phew!

I will be watching Pants On Fire very closely; he’s more or less a speed horse, and Monmouth tends to favour his running style. Should he win convincingly in the Pegasus he will be a major contender in the Haskell for My Favourite Jockey. The Stephen Foster includes the usual cast of characters, minus Alysheba winner First Dude for some reason: to demonstrate how wide-open this field is, Giant Oak is the 7-2 favourite over Crown of Thorns (4-1), Mission Impazible (9-2), Apart (5-1), Regal Ransom (6-1) and Duke of Mischief (6-1). We can only hope the race isn’t won by Equestrio (12-1) or Pool Play (20-1) or something. This division really needs a leader.

As for the distaffers, well. The word is “damn.” In the Ogden Phipps, the favourite is streaking Awesome Maria (124lbs, 7-5), but she will have to contend with champion Unrivaled Belle (122lbs, 2-1), rival Absinthe Minded (116lbs, 6-1), DuPont Stakes one-two Super Espresso (117lbs, 8-1) and Payton D’Oro (116lbs, 8-1), and the struggling but classy Life At Ten (117lbs, 10-1). It’s one hell of a tribute to the strength of a field when Life At Ten is the long shot.

On the opposite coast, the GI Vanity Handicap isn’t so densely packed with talent, but the cream is thick at the top. Miss Match (118lbs, 10-1) and She’s Cheeky (114lbs, 20-1) are the longest shots on the board, relegated to supporting roles by the power trio of St Trinians (119lbs, 5-2), champion Blind Luck (123lbs, 2-1) and the mighty Switch (120lbs, 8-5).

I gotta tell you guys, I think the strongest division out there this year is that of the distaffers, and of them, I believe the strongest to be Havre de Grace, Switch and Blind Luck, so it makes me absolutely vibrate with glee to see two of them go head to head. The addition of St Trinians in the Vanity is just the icing on the moist, delicious cake: in this race last year, she stretched Zenyatta to within a half-length of defeat. I predict fun times.

 


First, Perididdle has provided me with a link to this delicious blog post, which basically made me yell “YES OMG YES” throughout. And another a few posts later, namely, this one, basically sums up my opinion of Animal Kingdom. This colt was probably the best-trained of the Triple Crown bunch this year, and in my opinion only failed to win the Belmont because of the enormous helping of rotten luck heaped on him at the break. Because of a chain reaction for which Rajiv Maragh has now been suspended, Mucho Macho Man came out on the Derby winner, causing Animal Kingdom to clip heels and nearly go down. His jockey, John Velasquez, spent the following quarter of a mile trying to get his foot back into his left stirrup. The King then launched an extraordinary bid around the far turn, but understandably flattened out to finish sixth in the slop.

The winner was the only horse of the bunch to have won on mud before. This is pretty much the extent of my opinion of him.

Most of my attention recently has been on training. Actually, that’s usually where my attention is. Namely, how crap modern American trainers are. It’s really no mystery to me why the Euros fly over the Atlantic and beat the crap out of the American turf horses year after year after year–it’s not because they have magical exclusive access to the best of the gene pool. Not at all. It’s because these cowboys have no idea what they’re doing. See above blog posts.

I am by no means the most accomplished horseperson out there. I’m sure I know less about practical, day-to-day horse management than even the sad, intellectually starved bunch of stubbornly ignorant American trainers such as Todd Pletcher or Rick Dutrow or Steve Asmussen (I may be the only person who is not surprised that Nehro broke after he was given a five week break as opposed to the series of two-week breaks he was getting without ever fracturing a thing). However, I have been spending several years training myself to know better. I can now back most horses up without touching them. I’ve experienced joinup. At least one horse trusts me enough to follow me halter-less just about anywhere. Plus, I’m less than a year from my first biology degree–specializing in large mammals, no less. There’s a reason or two that I think I might know what I’m talking about.

This was my reply to Perididdle when I read through her links:

“I live in a house full of athletes–my stepdad runs half-marathons and does epic tour-de-l’ile bike rides around the island of Montreal, and my brother won his first black belt at sixteen and looks ready to add a second in another martial art–who train like crazy to do what they do. And in the case of my stepdad, his chronic problems, such as herniated disks from lifting stretchers (he’s a paramedic), got better after he started his hard training regimes.

I would add to the first of these two spectacular blog posts that I believe (though I haven’t found enough evidence to support my hypothesis just yet) that yearlings in the earlier stages of their training would benefit from very short blowout sprints of one to three furlongs before the real cardio training begins. Not only does this provide opportunity to load bone with a ton of much-needed dense tissue, but it has also been shown to correlate to more resilient soft tissues in places like the lungs, where bleeding can be an issue in racehorses. This in conjunction with human experiments showing that cardio strength can be built like crazy using multiple very short intervals in a short period of time–a technique that my brother used to prepare for his police technology college program entrance physical (which he subsequently passed with flying colours).

Anyway, blah blah blah from me again. xD That’s my Big Red Button subject you just touched right thar. I could go on all day. I’m totally fascinated, by the way, by the use of GPS arm-bands and heart monitors by Ballydoyle. That and the interval training, which… YES. Just fantastic.”

Interval training, for those who are unaware, is the practice of repeatedly raising and lowering one’s heart rate in order to improve cardio strength and endurance. It should be fairly intuitive that you can exercise for longer–run longer, bike longer, swim longer–if you periodically give yourself a break. That’s the premise of intervals in a nutshell. I shouldn’t have to explain why this appeals to me so much as someone who dreams of training racehorses.

I run; when I do so, I often chart a course through the local suburban streets that is much longer than what someone of my naturally pitiful endurance (my body was made for extremely fast sprints of about 200m, and I was once a very good defensive captain in soccer if I do say so myself) would be able to achieve if I was running the whole way. But I don’t: I jog until I feel like I’m going to throw up, and then I walk with my hands on my head until I can safely keep the contents of my stomach where they belong. Then I start over again. I mention this for two reasons: the first, related to the above, is a demonstration of the premise. I run probably about twice to three times the distance I otherwise could by giving myself occasional breaks, and therefore get twice to three times the benefit to my cardio than if I did one little loop of twenty minutes or so, which is about my limit at the moment (sad, but true).

The second reason is a bit of a side note, or a tangent, but it was something that came to mind during the broadcasts of the Triple Crown races this year:

I don’t think you should be allowed to train athletes of any kind until you know what it feels like to run until you think you’re going to throw up, and then to go another mile just to see if you can.

So that turned out to not really be a nutshell and not really be much about the Belmont, but whatever, deal with it, I am a bad delinquent blogger anyway.


I am so sorry. This bad blogger has been afflicted with godawful fatigue for the past several days, probably courtesy a low spike in blood iron. However, before I crash into bed, I do have to mention one thing:

For the first time in history, the top seven finishers in the Kentucky Derby will contest the Belmont Stakes. There will be eight Derby runners returning in total. Wow.

Now, wouldn’t it be the most extraordinary thing if the three horses to run in all three Triple Crown races–Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Mucho Macho Man–should comprise the trifecta? I would definitely cry.


…brain too dead from painkillers. And historical fiction (Exit the Actress, by Priya Palmar; buy it immediately). And disappointing hockey games (c’mon, Nucks, you serious?).

If I don’t do it soon, though, somebody fly to Montreal and kick me.