- A classy three-year old debut for Winstar Farm’s Bluegrass Cat in the Sam F Davis, who I’ll now have to grudgingly include amongst my contenders for the Derby. The Beyers were right on the nose in this one, as generally seems to be the case, and he looked every bit of a 3-5 shot, just sitting chilly behind the leaders and taking over when asked. There was no real tote board enthusiasm for anyone else in the race. Hesanoldsalt was 6-1, was pretty much outclassed and is off the list; thanks a lot, guy. Pletcher is going to take Bluegrass Cat to the Tampa Bay Derby on March 18, which would leave time for one more prep, for a total of three, before Kentucky. He raced four times at two, and thus, should things continue to go according to plan, should have the proper foundation and conditioning to be a Derby winner. After the race, John Velasquez said all the things you’d want to hear.
“He rated [held off the leaders] perfectly. I was just biding my time out there. I think he is getting better. He's doing everything very easy. He has responded to everything we have asked so far." [Tampa Tribune]This is strictly an “establishment” horse that it’s hard for me to get pumped up for; no feel-good stories here. An Eclipse-winning and sometimes surly trainer currently battling a medication suspension, a huge Kentucky racing/breeding operation and the highest-priced sire in the world doesn’t add up to much in the way of charisma. So I don’t mind saying that he’s not my top personal preference here. He’s essentially a Phipps-bred; his unraced A.P. Indy dam descends from usual Phipps suspects Numbered Account and Dance Number, and is a full sister to Accelerator and Daydreaming. This is also the family of Private Account and Rhythm, familiar Phipps names all.
It was a great day for the racetrack in Tampa as well. Partly due to Gulfstream’s bungling of their prep series, the race drew a good field and a record all-sources handle. And a great day for Bill Mott, who took the other two stakes on the card. His three-year old filly Crystal Current, winner of the Suncoast Stakes, is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Supreme, who, like her daughter, campaigned for Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stable. She’s bred a bit similarly to Bluegrass Cat; they are both closely inbred (3x4) to Secretariat, and A.P. Indy is the sire of Crystal Current and the broodmare sire of Bluegrass Cat. Mott also scored with his solid turfer My Lordship, who took the Endeavor BC Stakes. And to top things off, Mott’s Taittinger Rose won the G3 Sabin at Gulfstream.
- There’s a huge crafts fair going on here in Sarasota this weekend, and I ran across an artist names Patrish, whose specialty is Dramatic Equine on Canvas. Amongst her work are old program pages from stakes races, mostly Triple Crown affairs, with watercolors of the winning horses sketched over them. Like this one. You know I wasn’t leaving that booth empty-handed! I picked up one from the 1978 Preakness, with Affirmed, trained by ‘Lazaro S. Barrera,’ edging Alydar. Affirmed was even money in the program, with Alydar 7-5. The third choice, at 8-1, was Believe It, trained by 'Woodford C. Stephens,' and ridden by 'Edward Maple.'
I also couldn’t resist one of the great pacer Niatross, sketched strikingly over a program page for a race called the Elsie Berger Invitational Pace. It actually doesn’t note on the page what track the race took place at or when, but I subsequently discovered that it was run on December 7, 1980, at Pompano Park, and was the final race of his storied career. Starting from the 8 post, Niatross went out in style in this race, winning by 15 lengths and taking his 37th win in 39 starts spanning 1979-80. One of those two losses occurred at Saratoga harness on July 5, 1980, when he fell over the rail. He also lost his subsequent race at the Meadowlands when he broke stride in the qualifier for the Meadowlands Pace; he recovered to finish 4th and qualify for the final, which he won over Storm Damage and Tyler B, and with yours truly in attendance. He then won his last 18 starts, and also shattered the world record in a thoroughbred-prompted time trial at Lexington, when he lowered the then-standard of 1:52.4 by over three seconds to 1:49.1.