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The fillies have completely taken over horse racing. There’s no other way to put it. Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. Goldikova. Stacelita. Winter Memories. Turbulent Descent. Inglorious. Zazu. Young Ann of the Dance, a daughter of English Channel, taking Arlington’s boys by storm.

And now, fresh from Saratoga, a trio of spectacular juveniles with futures so bright it hurts to look at them. Millionreasonswhy, daughter of Grand Slam. My Miss Aurelia, by Smart Strike. And Stopshoppingmaria, the powerful daughter of Halo’s line through More Than Ready. I should mention that these are pedigrees that fascinate me, in the context of the fillies in question being so young. Grand Slam isn’t a name one usually associates with powerful two-year-olds. Smart Strike has had very few foals, with the notable exception of Lookin at Lucky, perform at the highest level so soon. And though More Than Ready has had his share of top juveniles (Ready’s Image and More Than Real spring to mind), how often do you see a filly this good, this young bred on the cross of Halo and Buckpasser? It boggles the mind.

A hopeful part of me wants to celebrate and declare that the old blood is returning. The great lines of Hail to Reason, Prince John, Turn-To, Damascus and Graustark, the ones who ran forever. That maybe through all this mess of synthetic surfaces, medication and soft horses, the gems are finding their way to the top. A second part of me is fascinated by the sexual dimorphism on display of late. Why is it that the fillies flourish so, while the male divisions, save for a few diamonds, wilt and wither? Why do Blind Luck and Goldikova roar across the track time and time again, regardless of the distance each must travel in order to do so, while Animal Kingdom and Tapizar (remember him?) drop like flies?

Uncle Mo I must exclude from this. He exists still on a plane of his own, where colts show in grade ones while their livers burst with infection, and must not be lumped together with the mortals, not unless he completely falls apart in his return in the King’s Bishop, which I believe may put on display a spark of the extraordinary. But meanwhile, it is the fairer sex which dominates the sport while the colts and geldings and stallions fall short.

You go, girls.

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As a biology student with a horse racing blog, I feel the need to have a go at this whole Lasix controversy that the Breeders’ Cup started by announcing it would be fading out the use of the drug during the championship, with a ban in place by 2013.

If you’d like the short version: go, BC, go. Furosemide (Lasix’s actual chemical name) has well-documented dangers associated with it, and even used properly in the best-case scenario, it masks deeper-running problems that will be a detriment to the breed if cycled in the gene pool. Furthermore, there are better, non-chemical ways to improve respiration and soundness of respiratory soft tissues.

Long version, ho.

To find the most common side effects of furosemide, one need look no further than Wikipedia. Listed amongst possible risks associated with overdose are┬ádehydration, change in drinking patterns and urination, seizures, gasto-intestinal disturbances (colic), kidney damage, lethargy, collapse, and coma. Now, it should be fairly obvious to a person with an ounce of critical thinking that these are risks associated with overdose, and not responsible use, right? Well… yes, and no. Even on its best day, furosemide is a difficult compound for the kidneys to process and dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are extremely common. This can and does result in post-race weight loss, which is probably responsible for the “bounce” phenomenon by which racehorses are noted to run poorly one race after a particularly good performance.

An observation of this kind I can easily dig up is from the career of Super Saver, who was raced sparingly before the Arkansas Derby. After running quite well in that final prep, he won the Kentucky Derby with considerable ease. Unfortunately, he then lost what looked like half of his body condition, finished up the track in the Preakness and never ran well again. Consider what this means in the context of medication: his body was used to light work, and a dose of furosemide every five to six weeks or so. Then, he gets three doses in five weeks, from Oaklawn to Churchill to Pimlico. Is it any wonder that he lost so much weight?

For the record, I’m not the first person to make the connection between the dehydration side-effect of furosemide and the long interval in the modern racing schedule, but I mention it here because it’s an important angle to consider. A horse administered furosemide on race day will, as a result of the systemic stress exerted by the drug, take longer to recover physically after a race. Because of this, his training will be lighter immediately following an outing. On average, a horse who races on furosemide will train less than one who races drug-free. See where I’m going with this? As usual, it all links back to my usual rants about soundness and tissue loading. The positive effects of frequent, fast sprints at a young age on bones and on the soft tissue of the respiratory tract have been well documented, and I’ve expounded on them in the past, so I’m not going to do it again. All I will say is that the use of Lasix robs a horse of developing anywhere near the soundness and endurance he otherwise might achieve.

Another angle to consider is the masking effect of furosemide. Yes, it might prevent bleeding in a horse susceptible to bleeding. But on the other hand, if every horse races with Lasix, how are we to know which ones are the bleeders? In many cases I imagine one cannot know. These horses are then cycled right back into the gene pool, where they pass on their weak soft tissues to offspring. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a bad thing.

Finally, there are better ways to help a bleeder, or any other horse for that matter, breathe easier. One method which is gaining popularity and which I personally think will be a boon to trainers who consider it is the use of nasal strips, as developed by FLAIR. In theory (and as demonstrated by several studies), nasal strips tents the skin above the nasal valve, increase the diameter of the nasal passages, decrease air resistance and increase the volume of air taken in with each breath. Glowing testimonials come from champions in every equine performance field, from polo to trick riding to international eventing. One recent high-class wearer is Mighty Caroline, winner of the GIII Sorrento Stakes (for two-year-old fillies) at Del Mar. Another way to improve the structural integrity of the respiratory tissues, as I said, is to mildly stress them out once in a while. Bodies are good at compensating for and adapting to things like that.

So basically I am of the opinion that Mike Repole and everyone else who’s whining about the BC’s move should shut up and read Wikipedia. And maybe do a class in drug action, ’cause this one’s a doozy.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner, raced before the advent of Lasix.

Just so you know.


Number one: who let Sheikh Mo get away with buying all the sale-toppers? Where are my local filthy rich people!? Two 1.2 million dollar yearlings for the Sheikh: half-brothers to Super Saver and Havre de Grace by the hottest sires around.

Number two: having watched the sale, one of the most exciting horses I saw go through the ring was the Indian Charlie colt out of Kokadrie. He sold to Mark Casse (agent) for $550,000 and I will be watching him like a stalker. Another one in this category was the Sky Mesa half-sister to Funny Moon, who sold for $300,000.

Number three: Curlin’s most expensive offering, the colt out of Private Status, looked like fresh meat for pinhookers who might take advantage of his late birthday and slightly less developed frame to turn a huge profit at the two-year-old sales, but it looks like buyer Centennial Farms is going to send him straight to trainer Jimmy Jerkens and try their luck with him themselves. All the best to them; he looked great.

Number four: My hunch pick, the Hard Spun colt out of Campionessa, brought $290,000, which is more than I thought he would bring but less than I think he’s worth. This is a very charismatic animal with a great head on his plentiful shoulders, as evidenced by how little equipment he wears on his head even in such stressful environments as the auction ring. Another stalkable. Unfortunately, the buyer was a bloodstock agent based in the UK. If they export him, I will be sad face.

Number five: One of the huge steals of the sale was hip 158. Third-last in the ring, the son of Midnight Lute from the family of Too Much Bling sold for only $100,000. Another bargain: Bobby Flay got a beautiful (if jittery) daughter of Tapit and the Irish mare Jig for $110,000.

Number six: Horses who didn’t bring nearly enough money (and consequently did not sell–one is tempted to say, “DUH”) include a Dixie Union half sister to Plum Pretty ($95,000–I mean, really), a Speightstown colt out of Inny River ($215,000), a son of Hard Spun out of the full sister to Barbaro’s dam, La Ville Rouge ($220,000), a glorious full sister to Careless Jewel ($345,000) and…

Number seven: Curlin’s masterpiece, hip 98, who RNA’d at $380,000. I was shocked at the lack of interest, and I congratulate the owner on the high reserve because, if they want to eventually sell her, she could easily be a million-dollar two-year-old. And if they don’t, I have no doubt that she’ll make a runner.


Maybe Baffert should just take the blinkers off all his horses. Except poor Irish Gypsy, who never stood a chance today… and we’ll come to these things in a second.

Saratoga has been playing like a conveyer belt all weekend, though it was more pronounced today than yesterday. Tizway won the Whitney from a perfect stalking position while long shot Friend or Foe looked for a while like he would go all the way on the lead; tons of respect to Giant Oak, who seemed to be the only powerful closer of the weekend at the Spa, nipping the pacesetter for third. Still, it does look like we have something of a division leader now in Tizway, who ran his GI win streak to two. Meanwhile, Turbulent Descent rated just behind three long shots including Pomeroys Pistol, who stayed on for second. There was really no beating Turbulent Descent on that day.

Prayer For Relief, a Baffert horse who does not run with blinkers, won the West Virginia Derby in convincing fashion after looking like he’d flattened out on the stretch. Maybe a light bulb just flipped on in his head, because right around the sixteenth pole, he put on a hell of a lunge for the wire. Runner-up Rush Now, a beautiful white-faced son of Tiznow, ran very well for the place, but Prayer For Relief found another gear and looked like he was in another league.

Give it up for both Ultra Blend and Zazu (and the classy-as-hell Switch while we’re at it), who put on a spectacular stretch drive in the Clement Hirsch and proved yet again that the fillies and mares are still the ones with the magic on this continent. Zazu, who was attempting to become the first three-year-old ever to win the GI Hirsch, was stopped at the rail at the top of the stretch only to come flying down the rail at the end, very nearly wresting the lead from Ultra Blend, whose sweeping bid on the far outside seemed a tribute to the great mare who won the previous three runnings of this race. Garrett Gomez, who rode Zazu, feels the order of the top two might have been reversed if the daughter of Tapit had gotten out just a little bit sooner. Hopefully we’ll find out if he’s right the next time these talented racehorses–and Switch, too, for that matter–meet again.

Now, on to the matter of Baffert and blinkers. He took them off Coil, and suddenly Coil turned into Point Given. Brigand, who ran the first poor race of his young career today, seems to be exhibiting a similar pattern. He was very keen early in the Best Pal, ran up to challenge for the lead and had little to give late when the closers came flying. I would take the blinkers off this son of Flatter and see if he can rate; he has the pedigree for distance and displayed a ton of talent in his first two starts.

Finally, back to Saratoga and its weekend-long love affair with speed, which murdered the chances of closers Champagne d’Oro and Irish Gypsy in the Honorable Miss Handicap (and gave front-running 9-5 shot Tar Heel Mom a free pass to the winner’s circle) and no doubt resulted in the heartbreaking result of the Vanderbilt.

Trappe Shot ran his heart out. He never stopped to take a breath once during the long run from turn to wire, and at the finish looked like he might even have caught long shot Sean Avery, who set quick fractions but was never pressed on the lead. The final time of 1:09.71 was spectacular for the tough, heavy condition of the track, which was playing easier on the rail…where Trappe Shot never set foot and where Sean Avery spent the whole race. There is no doubt in my mind that Trappe Shot was the best horse in that race. The racing gods placed their favour on the wrong nose.

And yet… do you know, I’ve seen Sean Avery in person before? At Saratoga, too. He was in the maiden race won by Munnings. SMALL WORLD

 

In auction type news, the Saratoga yearling sale opens tomorrow with session one. After compulsively staring at pedigrees and videos and TrueNicks reports, I narrowed down the list from 160 to 17, with six favourites: hips 56, 68, 90, 98, 122 and 140.

56: Superfection
Bay colt, April 11
Medaglia d’Oro x Supercharger (A.P. Indy)
Yeah, that’s right: a half-brother to Super Saver and Brethren, by Medaglia d’Oro. To make matters worse, he Nicks an A++. The pocketbooks of millionaires everywhere are doomed.

68:
Grey colt, March 21
Distorted Humor x Wait a While (Maria’s Mon)
The first foal of multiple GI-winning champion Wait a While is sure to bring a huge price, especially when the sire is the might Distorted Humor, a perpetual force on the sire lists (4th so far this year) and responsible for the likes of Funny Cide, Flower Alley, Hystericalady and Commentator among his seven millionaire offspring. First reports from the sale ground indicate that he moves like a friggin’ cloud.

90:
Bay colt, March 14
Hard Spun x Campionessa (A.P. Indy)
A hunch pick, more than anything. Campionessa comes from a relatively modest family, though she has her fair share of stakes-winning relatives and her dam is GI winner Pacific Squall. But my adoration stems more from his good balance, strong shoulder and topline, sprightly walk and overall kind demeanour; you can see from his “virtual inspection” video that he is easily led with no chains despite being very alert, and stands willingly for his tiny female handler despite his attention obviously being all over the place. He would be my bargain buy, a probably lower-priced individual who I’m sure would pay dividends. And if not… he looks like he’d make a brilliant jumper. xD

98:
Chestnut filly, January 15
Curlin x Collect Call (Meadowlake)
Half to Old Fashioned. One of Curlin’s first born. Huge, perfectly balanced, with shoulder and leg imported directly from daddy. Nineteen months old and looks four. Years old, that is. And she is the love of my life.

122:
Gray filly, March 25
Macho Uno x Freedom Come (Lit de Justice)
A full sister to Harlem Rocker, this one’s just the prettiest thing. A slim filly with a huge walk, she looks almost identical in structure to her big brother, only on a less-developed scale. Very excited to watch this one grow into her bones.

140:
Brown filly, January 30
Medaglia d’Oro x Intangaroo (Orientate)
The first foal of GI winner Intangaroo gets an A++ nick and… is basically a Medaglia filly through and through. Her walk is elegant, her topline looks like one long, flat line, and her shoulder and front legs are perfect. She may be faulted for very slight sickle hocks, but honestly that’s just being excessively picky.

 

Anybody got a yearling they’d jump on if they had too much money?


Curlin. I love him so. I will always love him so. He is perfect.

His babies are also perfect.

For the record, those three are, in order: a half-brother to Secret Status, out of an Argentinean GI winner, and a half-sister to Old Fashioned. The third one is my new favourite thing ever. I mean it. I want her.


Zazu and Switch. Together. Gah.

Also Trappe Shot in the Vanderbilt and Brigand in the Best Pal I think somebody out there thought it was my birthday. Alas, no, my birthday is in September. In exactly one month less a day, in fact.

The whole field for the Vanderbilt is pretty good, come to think of it. Trappe Shot is joined by Noble’s Promise, Atta Boy Roy, Hamazing Destiny and Calibrachoa, among others, though on talent Trappe Shot appears about a furlong the best. Noble’s Promise on his best day can make it interesting, but the imposing chestnut by Tapit will be a deserving favourite to take his first GI.

And who is Brigand, you ask? Remember when Bob Baffert and Khaleem Shah shelled out $925,000 in March for the fastest damn son of Flatter anyone had ever seen? Remember the quarter mile in :20 3/5? Well, after flying through 5.5 furlongs in 1:04.94 in his July 3rd debut, he came back fourteen days later to finish second to Majestic City in the GIII Hollywood Juvenile Championship. In this, his third race, he returns a mere twenty-one days later to stretch out slightly to 6.5 furlongs in the GII Best Pal Stakes. Remember, this is a son of Flatter–a stallion bred on the cross of A.P. Indy and Mr. Prospector, route horses both–out of a mare by the old warrior Quiet American. This pedigree screams distance at the top of its blue-blooded lungs. His 3×4 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector would seem to work against precocious development. And yet, Brigand scorched a twenty-second quarter when he’d barely turned two (he’s a march foal), won an early July debut at five and a half furlongs and, just five weeks after his first start, will be competing in his second graded stakes and going off as the favourite.

Give it to Bob Baffert, ladies and gentlemen. He knows how to pick ’em, and he sure as hell knows how to train ’em. To hell with light schedules. Go, Brigand, go.


Everywhere I look, I see racing journalists whining about how wide-open and muddied the three-year-old championship race is this year. Call me crazy, but I think we saw our winner yesterday afternoon, and he’s a big red son of a big red stallion named Point Given. In fact, I’ve thought so for a while, as you’ll recall I made him my nutty long-shot pick for the Eclipse a month ago. Nothing has changed, except that I may now actually like him more.

Before the Haskell, Coil had been more or less one-dimensional, winning his races on or near the lead and growing impatient if the pace wasn’t fast enough. Jockey Martin Garcia, quickly becoming a bit of a horse whisperer for Bob Baffert, told the boss he wanted to rate the horse. After running rank in the Swaps at Hollywood and getting nipped at the wire, Garcia convinced Baffert to remove Coil’s blinkers for the Haskell. Off they came, and when the gate opened at Monmouth, the red horse was in the middle of taking a step backwards.

He broke walking, and almost immediately spotted the entire field. Baffert was heard in the stands, wondering aloud why they’d even bothered coming.

A good horse can overcome a little adversity. But when suddenly he is taken out of every comfort zone at once–when he is racing not only on dirt but away from Hollywood Park for the first time in his life, when he has just undergone an equipment change, when he is forced to take back last when in every single race before he has been within two lengths of the lead, when the earth is pounding him mercilessly between the eyes and when the only path to victory is so wide he might as well be running on the apron–that’s when the spark of a great horse may be struck. No, I can’t yet claim greatness for Coil, but boy, does he ever show the signs.

It was another extraordinary race for Shackleford who, as ever, never stopped trying over the entirety of the nine furlong race. Trainer Dale Romans is considering pointing him to the Woodward Stakes against older males rather than the Travers vs. Coil and Stay Thirsty, which is an intriguing possibility. Given the aforementioned murky quality of both the three-year-old and handicap divisions, Shack’s performance against his elders might offer some valuable clarity. He is, after all, one of the more consistent runners of the crop, with a third, a win and a fourth in the Triple Crown races and a second in the Haskell.

Plus, should he step up and win the Woodward, I will suddenly hold great hope for Coil in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

And since I can’t stop talking about Coil for more than ten minutes at a time this past day or so, another note: he was awarded a preliminary Beyer figure of 96 for the Haskell, while Stay Thirsty’s Jim Dandy performance earned him a 106. I can’t shake the feeling that’s all backwards. Yeah, Stay Thirsty won by open lengths, but he wasn’t beating much. That, and Coil’s final time of 1:48 1/5 was nearly identical to Big Brown’s in 2008, and he was running on a very slow track, and he beat not one, but two winners of Triple Crown races. I hope the prelim will be revised upward, or I will be forced to ignore speed figures even more than I already do.

So, Coil. Coil. Yep, Coil. In conclusion, Coil.