RSS Feed for this Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bandini is Back

- Bandini (Fusaichi Pegasus) sure landed in a tough allowance spot at Gulfstream on Wednesday. Many considered him to be the most physically impressive horse going into the Derby last year; he was the 6.80 to 1 third choice and finished 19th and that was it until now. And who would doubt that Pletcher could have him ready. He brought Monarch Lane back off a similar layoff earlier in the meet and he won by six; Keyed Entry hadn’t raced since July before the first of his two spectacular wins this year.

At 3-1 in the morning line, he’s second choice to Silver Wagon (Wagon Limit), forever known as the winner of the Hopeful. That was back in 2003, and since then he’s won once – an allowance race at Gulfstream last year. On first glance he looks like the type who just doesn’t like to win, but he really has been running in tough company – four Grade 1’s just last year – and doing so quite competitively. However his last effort in the Kenny Noe was a bit disappointing, losing at 4-5 to a couple of slugs in Mister Fotis and Storm Surge. So maybe he really doesn't like to win.

Wanderin Boy
(Seeking the Gold) has run triple digit Beyers in the second race of his cycles, and he comes off a reasonably good second in his first race since last March. That was a long layoff, and for some reason I get the feeling he may need another race this time. Record Buster has been gone since running last in an allowance at Saratoga. Do you think maybe it wasn’t a great idea to run him in a Grade 1 in his 4th career start? Still, he could give Wanderin Boy a tussle up front.

So it’s all Bandini, with Dark Cheetah coming along for the exacta. It would seem from his form that he doesn’t want to go this long, but that was before Dutrow took over and he switched to the dirt. He’s coming off a win at six furlongs in which he closed after a poor start, and there would seem to be no reason, at least pedigree-wise, why this son of Storm Cat out of a half-sister to Bernstein and Caress couldn’t get this one mile distance.

- Strong Contender is fast becoming one of the more intriguing of the cast of characters; not too much unlike Bandini was last year, though the latter had a bit more experience. John Ward told the Albany Times-Union :

"I think he has made kind of a buzz down here,'' Ward said from Florida. "We saw a great, big, strong dynamic horse who ran very big. He is on the Derby trail. If you looked at his eyes after that race, you saw no tired glaze.''
Look for him to take his share of action in Pool Two this weekend.

$16 million!!!!

Reason and logic went right out the window at Calder today when a two-year old colt sold for $16 million, the highest price ever at a public auction. For that money, this horse should not only win the Triple Crown, but he should present the trophies to himself and make the acceptance speeches on behalf of his filthy rich Coolmore owners, who should really be forced to cough up some money to help the refugees from Darfur, I mean, please.

The colt is by Forestry, and he worked two furlongs in 4/5ths of a second in the under tack show. He's out of an Unbridled mare who is a half sister to recent Gulfstream graduate Burmilla, who I wrote about in this post, when I referred to her as "expensive" due to her $850,000 purchase price. Ha, a mere bag of shells indeed. Walter called to say that he's posted at 8-1 in the 2007 Derby future pool.

Kickback On Polytrack Grumbling

- I was watching some races from Turfway the other night, and the kickback seemed even thicker than usual. The people who had claimed that "The most obvious advantage to Polytrack is no kickback" must have also believed that the government of Dubai should be running our ports. I’ve seen some posters on the Derby List speculate that there could conceivably be adverse long-term health effects on the horses that breathe in the synthetic material. Perhaps in a few years, we could see Lawyer Ron, who didn’t care for the surface himself, represent his comrades in a class-action suit against the manufacturers. But that's all just speculation.

Now comes word in Bloodhorse that my observation was prescient - the kickback was more pronounced, and in fact, track officials were summoned into a meeting with jockeys after the 8th race on Saturday. .…The jockeys who called the meeting told officials the track seemed different than it had several days before.

"Some of the fiber was sitting on top of the surface, and it got colder, so it was flying a little more than normal," Elliston said. "The surface was a little looser. We asked them if the surface was unsafe, and they said it wasn't. They were just providing feedback." [Bloodhorse]
Track president Bob Elliston speculated that the cold weather makes the surface looser, “but we haven't definitely determined what needs to be done."

The incident comes after some recent grumbling about the surface. Railbird linked to an article in the Guardian UK containing complaints that Polytrack made it harder to pick winners, reducing betting "to the level of a lottery, almost," and citing a reduction in winning favorite percentage from 36% to 30% at one race meeting there.

And then there was Andy Beyer’s column in which he complained that the lack of a track bias and more uniformity will deprive bettors of many of those edges [that] come from detecting differences in racetracks. [Washington Post] Patrick at Pulling Hair partially countered those complaints by pointing out that: good speed will still kill in racing, and cheap speed will set up for stalkers, and ludicrous speed will be used on ships in Spaceballs and set up for closers.

Beyer wrote that the sameness of Polytrack will deprive the game of its subtleties and make it too predictable, comparing it to that usual whipping boy, harness racing. In response to that, I’ll say that despite the fact that the trotters race the same distance every time, discerning bettors can still get plenty of juice from variable factors such as post positions, different pace scenarios, driver changes, track sizes (half mile to mile configurations), class moves, and, of course, our old friend the tote board. That being the case, I don’t need to list for you readers all the variables that would still make thoroughbred racing the fascinating and potentially profitable game that it is, even if track biases are reduced. As Patrick said, bettors don't get kicks out of cheap speed going gate to wire, and the reduction in breakdowns and the incredible 80% increase in total handle at Turfway shows that whatever its faults, Polytrack has been fantastic for the horses and the bettors. And what else can you ask for?

Notes - Feb 27

- It was a useful prep for Lawyer Ron, and that’s high praise for his trainer Bob Holthus. The Beyer of 95 indicates that the colt took a step back from his breakthrough in the Risen Star, likely just what he wanted with two more preps left to crank him up. This time he rocketed right to the front, where John McGee had a real handful. The trainer explained: “If he had been going a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth, we probably couldn’t have done that. But going a mile into that [first] turn, we kind of took advantage of that post position.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] More importantly, he showed that can fight off a challenge. He also came back a little tired. "That was the first time in his last three races that he came back and was blowing.” [DRF]. It was his first race in six weeks and he needed it. I’d look for him to be really tough in the Rebel, where he may face some interesting new faces like Keyed Entry, Private Vow, and perhaps even Strong Contender. I really don’t know if Lawyer Ron will get a mile and a quarter, I have my doubts; but I think he’s going to make a lot of noise at least up until then.

Dan Peitz, trainer of Steppenwolfer, was understandably pretty happy. “I am not only happy, I am thrilled....Going a mile, I didn’t know if we could handle everything. Our horse wants to run farther.”

- John Ward is even more optimistic.....smug?......about Strong Contender than we thought. "I could probably run him just once more before the Derby, but I have to make sure we have some graded money..” That would make the Derby his 4th career start. Ward said of his allowance win that “he was more seasoned than expected for only the second start of his career.” [Daily Racing Form] And the really good news is that he’s leaning towards the Gotham as his next start.

- It’s hardly a surprise to read that the Jockeys’ Guild is planning to file a suit against Wayne Gertmenian and his Matrix Capital. The Guild’s counsel Barry Broad said he has never seen a more corrupt union management team than the Guild's former managers.

"I've never seen anything this crazy...It was done in such a straight-forward manner. In unions, I've seen some specific accusations of corruption, usually over one specific matter or one person, but this occurred on so many levels. The degree of this, in my experience, is totally unprecedented." [Thoroughbred Times]
What is surprising is that it took this long to decide to file suit; what’s even more surprising is that there have been no criminal charges filed (though the FBI is investigating); and what’s most surprising of all is that Pepperdine University STILL has his phony bio posted as fact on its website, chief detente negotiator in Moscow and all! Hello?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Board Watching

- Made it to the Big A again on Sunday, this time unaccompanied by the Head Chef, who was only able to stand it there for two more races after Highland Cat’s race on Saturday. The good news is that I lost. That’s actually progress, for when I’m really off, as I’ve felt lately, I’m just unable to concentrate, get no handle on the races at all, and tend to just not bet at all. I have no problem going to the track or spending hours watching on TV and not making a single bet if I’m not feeling it, though that's certainly not the preferred outcome. In the past, I’ve actually taken months off at a time when I’ve felt this way, turning to high culture instead, and not so much as picking up a Form. But since I enjoy writing this blog so much, and because I figure that you’re not much interested in the latest retrospective of mid-20th century Japanese cinema screening at Lincoln Center, I’m forging on.

I got into it a bit more on Sunday, and even though I lost, I at least observed some interesting tote board action, which I always love to write about. The 4th was a state-bred maiden race, and a couple of first-timers took the money, one expected, the other one not. Anthony Dutrow, hitting at 35% at this meeting, sent out Ferocious Fires (Lite the Fuse), 5-1 in the morning line. However, he was a solid 2-1 favorite throughout; the tote board just said “winner.” No value in the win pool, so I looked for a horse or two for exotics. New Testament (Testimonial) was 12-1 morning line for trainer John Candlin. Not only is this guy a low percentage trainer (6 for his last 254) he has zero debut winners with 62 such starters over the last five years, and his best finish has been third. Whatsmore, the lowest odds any of his debut runners went off at was 9-1, and all but one of the rest were over 20-1!

Yet with just four published workouts and nothing special in his bloodlines, this horse hung around 7 or 8-1 the whole time, and then got slammed down to 6-1 on the last flash for good measure - oh man, I love that last flash confirmation! Candlin owns the horse, so it’s not like it was some big-pocketed owner throwing money away; there had to be a reason. So I boxed New Testament with Ferocious Fires in the exacta. They’re off, you lose! Yeah, New Testament was left at the gate, but Ferocious Fires ran to his betting and crushed the field by eight. We’ll watch for New Testament next time; had to be something going on there.

The fifth was a dismal $15K claimer for non-winners of two, ugh. But here, another low percentage trainer was taking the money. Thomas Walsh doesn’t do much these days; he has one winner in 38 starters going back to the beginning of ’05. Here he sent out I’m All In, 10-1 morning line, winless in six lifetime dirt races, and double digit odds since his one win on the grass last spring. He was dropping in class though and did figure to have a shot, and someone else apparently thought so too. Not only was he 4-1, but he was bet on the nose in the win pool. For new readers, that’s when a horse is bet disproportionately to win as compared to the show pool, an indication that it’s getting the “smart” money. It’s one of my favorite tote board angles, so why I stood and watched as he rallied for the win ($10.60), I can’t say exactly. Except that it was a pretty putrid race, after all.

Another hot money horse in the 6th at Gulfstream. Rich Sense was 5-1 morning line in this 50K turf claiming event; he’d run 5th in the same class last time, and was claimed by trainer Mike Mitchell. Talk about hot – Mitchell was 6 for 14 at the meet coming in. Whatsmore, he’s high percentage in all the applicable categories – 29% first off the claim, 34% 2nd off layoff, 28% blinkers on. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he was 5-2, and again, bet squarely on the nose. And not only did he win, he was fairly monstrous – last AND widest on the first turn (I HATE that, and was cursing Bejarano), five wide on the final turn, but up in time in a :28.4 final 2 1/2 furlongs. But no, I didn’t cash, as I tried to nail a cold one with post time favorite Spiritual Drift.

And finally, just to show that nothing really makes much sense at the track, consider Gulfstream’s 9th race winner Handlewoman (Elusive Quality). This first time starter was 10-1 morning line for crack conditioner Steve Asmussen, who has sent out 35 debut winners in the last 12 months; light on workouts, dull on the board at 9.50-1, she wins by a length and a half. Unusual for Asmussen to score at a price first time out? Usually, yeah – in fact, 14 of those 35 winners in the last year were less than 2-1. But consider that four of his last five such winners paid 8.50-1 or more, including bombs of 14-1 and 23-1. So go figure. Chinese cinema, anyone?

- Bobby Frankel’s impressive New Regina, now two-for-two in the U.S. after her rousing come-from-behind win on the grass in the 6th at Santa Anita Sunday, is a close relative of GP Handicap winner Einstein (Spend A Buck). The latter’s dam, Gay Charm, is the second dam of New Regina. New Regina’s sire, Royal Academy, is inbred to Menow, from whom Einstein descends directly in his sire line (5th sire).

- It took about ten seconds for the Head Chef to observe Frank Lyons and Gary Siebel on TVG yesterday and deduce that Lyons absolutely despises Siebel and couldn't stand to be on the same set with him. I'm not quite as adept in interpreting body language, but Frank certainly didn't look too happy. Maybe he was just having a bad day. I'll take his job if he doesn't like it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Saturday Night Notes - Feb 25

- The best race I saw today was the Gulfstream Park BC Handicap. It was a classic stretch duel; Go Deputy appeared ready to surge past Einstein midstretch, but the leader dug in to repulse the challenge and was edging away a bit at the wire. Bejarano found himself on the lead and patiently rated him, even letting Gun Salute edge ahead on the backstretch. He went :51 2 to the half and 1:18 to six furlongs – that’s a :26.3 quarter. From there he sprinted home with quarters of :24.2 and :23.4, and the final 3/16ths in :17.2. Yet Go Deputy, who was wide on the far turn, was able to draw nearly even in the stretch and fight on grimly to miss by a neck.

Einstein (Spend A Buck) became a Grade 1 winner in only his sixth career race, his first try beyond a mile and an eighth, and first stakes effort. The possibilities seem endless for this colt; so I’m puzzled as to why his trainer Helen Pitts mentioned the UAE Derby as a possible next start. Einstein is a Southern Hemisphere three-year old and thus is eligible for that age-restricted dirt race. He’s shown great ability on the turf, and though he has on the dirt too, those efforts were in races taken off the turf and run on wet tracks. He’s never run on a fast dirt track such as what he would almost certainly face in Dubai. Whatsmore, there’s the issue of the long-term effects of the trip. Pitts told Bloodhorse: "Dubai is hard on a horse, but it's a great opportunity to consider.." A great opportunity perhaps for the connections, but not necessarily for the horse. I can’t imagine how shipping halfway around the world to run on a strange surface could possibly be in the best interests of this horse.

Go Deputy is an even more interesting story - a six-year old who got his fifth win in only 12 career starts; he missed all of 2004. But since coming off a seven month layoff in October, he’s progressed steadily in five starts from allowance company to being a legitimate Grade 1 horse and yet another potential star for Todd Pletcher. I thought he was the best horse in the race; he was relentless despite being wide and having the pace decidedly against him. He’s a half brother to the multiple Grade 1 winner (Strub, Pacific Classic) Dare And Go, and comes from a female family that includes the likes of Ogygian, Commendable, Honour and Glory, Dr. Patches, Quiet American, and Tartan Stable turf star Who’s For Dinner, remember him? This year, Go Deputy has won at distances from a mile and a sixteenth to today’s 1 7/16ths marathon.

- First Samurai’s mile work in 1:37.60 went in fractions of :49-2/5, 1:01-3/5 and 1:13-3/5. Clockers caught him galloping out a mile and an eighth in 1:53-3/5. [NY Daily News]

- Spanish Chestnut was supposed to make his comeback at Turf Paradise on Saturday, but he instead breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 (6/27) at Santa Anita.

- Bandini may make his first start since the Kentucky Derby in the Grade 2 Richter Scale on Gulfstream on Fountain of Youth day next Saturday, where he may face BC Sprint winner Silver Train; there's a cool matchup!

Rough Start for Highland Cat

- Another awkward looking start by Highland Cat was compounded when he was given a sound bump sideways by Uncle Festor as the latter was stumbling out of the adjacent stall and dumping jockey Kyle Kaenal. From there it was a familiar story – a brief move forward approaching the far turn, but then flattening out and finishing with a modicum of interest, this time for 6th, good for a purse share of $294. The Head Chef was very excited that at least he didn’t finish last.

Bill Turner held court in the paddock before the race with several of the partners, and told us that the colt was still immature, and that sometimes you “don’t see the horse you got.” He feels that he will improve slowly but surely as the year goes on, and that he’ll turn out to be a “useful” horse. I asked him about the turf, and he said that he has a lot of turf on his female side, which of course I already knew. After the race, he said that Highland Cat will “never” race well on the inner track, and that he’ll improve on the main; I think I’ve heard something along those lines before about trying the inner. Turner feels that the horse has a good turn of foot that he’s not showing in his races. If he really does have that ability, I think he’s more likely to show it on the grass.

(I’d sent an email about Highland Cat to TVG’s Trackside Live in a shameless attempt to promote this blog, and although they read my name on the air, passed on the information about the unpublished information about the horse having been gelded, and thanked me for watching, they didn’t fall for the bait and give me a plug.)

I stuck around for the third to see what Jennifer Pederson and owner Ernie Paragallo were touting as the second coming of Achilles of Troy. There was an aura around Scanlon’s Song that contributed to his being the 4-5 favorite; shows what a little hype will do. That was to a large extent created by his owner and trainer comparing him favorably to his better known stablemate and announcing plans to ship to Turfway for the Battaglia and Lane’s End as if a smashing win here was a foregone conclusion. So when he started moving up around the turn, I expected to see him replicate his winning move from his maiden race, in which he was 29-1. But when the eventual winner Greeley’s Legacy blew by outside of him like he was standing still, it was obvious that Scanlon’s Song is not quite as good as Achilles of Troy. I wouldn’t be shocked if owner Paragallo comes up with an excuse and sends him to Turfway anyway.

- Just watched the Southwest. Lawyer Ron would have no part of the early challenges that were expected to materialized and dragged John McKee to the front; they’re saying on TVG that the saddle may have slipped a bit. And he once again was able to kick away from the field once he turned for home, though this time he had to show some moxie to hold off a tough and improving Steppenwolfer, who moves forward in stature with the performance. The time was 1:40 for the mile; but as you know, the track has been slow; and he came home in :12 3/5. More on the race later.

Pletcher Rolls On

- Todd Pletcher, who added two more winners on Friday, is locked and loaded at Gulfstream on Saturday with live entrants in five of the 11 races. In the 5th, Danaslam (Grand Slam) moves inside in quest of her third win in her last four starts, and looks the part of 5-2 morning line favorite.

In the 6th, a six furlong allowance, three-year old Exclusive Quality (Elusive Quality), makes his first start, as the 5-2 morning line choice, since his snazzy maiden win on January 7. He’s a $850,000 yearling out of a Glitterman mare who’s a half-sister to Brave Deed, second in the Test to Jersey Girl in 1998. Also in the race is Union Course (Dixie Union), making his first start of the year; he was a close second in the Flash at Belmont last June, and then spent the summer chasing Henny Hughes and Private Vow.

The 7th is the first division of a three year-old maiden special sprint, and in this race, Bluegrass Cat connections Pletcher/WinStar debut Ultimate Goal, a homebred Storm Cat colt out of Grade 1 stakes winner Sister Act (Saint Ballado). Starting just inside of him on the rail is another high-priced yearling making his debut for the John Ward/Oxley team. Minister’s Bid was also bred by WinStar, but purchased at Keeneland September for $750,000. He’s by Deputy Minister, out of graded stakes winner Princess Pietrina, and has shown speed in the morning.

The tenth is the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders Cup at that popular 1 7/16th mile distance on the grass, and Pletcher has one of the main contenders in Go Deputy (Deputy Minister). He was a close second to Honor And War in the Mac Diarmada Stakes with a lifetime best 101 Beyer, and looks like a horse on the improve as he takes on four Grade 1 winners.

And finally, in the 11th, the second of the maiden special heats, Pletcher unveils Prize Cat, yet another Storm Cat colt who is also out of a Grade 1 winner. Plenty of Light (Colonial Light) took the Spinster in 2000, defeating Spain, who went on to win the BC Distaff that fall. Pletcher hasn’t had a debut winner at Gulfstream since January 8th, spanning 16 such starters, including two from Aqueduct, nine of those at 5-1 or less.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Not Yet Time For The Hammer

- I must admit that when I got home from work this evening, rather than check out the late Pick 3 from Santa Anita, I went right to CNBC for the final of the men’s curling. After watching for the last week, I was just starting to finally understand the game when Canada scored six in a single end to bury Finland, who conceded after the eighth. I’m hooked, I have to admit it. And apparently they are in Newfoundland too.

The last shot in each “end” (think innings) is called the hammer, and it’s considered to be such an advantage that teams will sometimes sacrifice a point to have it in the next end (a team that scores a point in an end sacrifices the hammer for the subsequent one). Similarly, trainers of the Derby hopefuls want to have the “hammer” on May 6, even if it means settling for some minor shares in March or April. This year, the idea of “less is better” in terms of the number of preps and/or career starts seems to be advancing, with several horses considered contenders mapping courses that will leave them light on experience and foundation. Private Vow hasn’t even started yet, and neither has Your Tent Or Mine, who from the sound of it has been spending his mornings on Laguna Beach instead of on the racetrack.

On the other hand, I wonder how horses like Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron (Langfuhr) can maintain their top form over a period of several months, and contemplate whether they’re using their hammer now. The latter has been racing without a layoff line since last August, and will be making his 12th career start when he goes off as the favorite in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Only his last three races have been on fast dirt (non-synthetic), and, while he may not have faced too much, his form could be considered downright spectacular, if not a bit freakish, improving from a 92 to 97 to a 106 Beyer. But if he’s really going to run in all three Oaklawn preps, you would think that at some point, they not going to want him to run a 106. How many 106's can a horse run and still have enough in the tank for three Triple Crown races in five weeks?

Yet his workouts for the Southwest have been sensational, the most recent a five furlong move in a flat minute (2/40); he seems good to go, and I have no particular reason to want to take a stand against him, in this case anyway.

If not for the hype and his close relation to champion Mineshaft, Music School (A.P. Indy) would probably be considered a middling contender in this race. He showed some class to be sure when he came back with a win around two turns in his first race since June (and second in his career), but it was nothing special - an 89 Beyer with a :26 2/5 final quarter. Neil Howard expects him to improve. "The way he's eating, and the way he looks and the way he's been training, all signs are indicating that he should be able to add a little bit to that last effort.." [Daily Racing Form] But if he’s bet down to second choice as he very well may be, I’ll check out the exacta prices with the favorite and Steppenwolfer (Aptitude), who improved nicely in his last and should run well if he continues to progress. His trainer Dan Peitz, however, isn’t looking for the hammer in this mile race, and feels he’ll continue to improve as the distances do. “I might be wrong, but I can’t get to a mile and an eighth and farther fast enough..” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

- Brad Free in the Form points out that, though last year’s successful juveniles have generally been showing sharp form thus far at three, one area of the country has been a notable exception.

The exception to significance of 2-year-old stakes has been in the Midwest; top autumn races in Chicago and Kentucky have had negligible national impact. Sorcerer's Stone was brilliant in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 18, but he could not be found one month later in the Breeders' Cup. It prefaced a trend.

Away from home, Midwest horses have been foiled. High Cotton, runner-up twice last fall in graded stakes at Churchill Downs, was eased in a Wednesday allowance at Gulfstream. Catcominatcha, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, has been a non-factor twice this winter at Gulfstream. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
- Please feel free to email me with comments, questions, suggestions, links, or whatever.

News and Notes - Feb 24

- Brother Derek, established as the 6-1 Derby favorite by the Form’s Mike Watchmaker, solidified that status with what seems to have been a fairly spectacular six furlong workout on Thursday. His time of 1:12.20 was not only the fastest of 23, but was two full seconds faster than anyone else. In addition, he was well off the rail, and, according to the Form, well within himself through the final quarter-mile. One trainer watching from the grandstand caught Brother Derek's final furlong in 11.80 seconds.

"It looked like he went in 1:15," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "He seems to be slowly coming up to his best.
And that’s the trick, to have him at his best not next Saturday, when he runs in the Santa Catalina, but a full two months after that. Amongst his opponents is expected to be Latent Heat. He’ll go straight to stakes company off his maiden win, as no suitable allowance races have filled. Though he feels he really has no other option, Frankel, always quick with facts and figures, defended the move:
When asked about Latent Heat's lack of experience going two turns, Frankel shrugged it off, reminding everyone that Medaglia d'Oro also did it back in 2002, going from a maiden win to capture the San Felipe Stakes, also a mile-and-a-sixteenth race. [NY Daily News]
- As a half-hearted Mardi Gras gets under way in New Orleans, construction is well under way at the Fair Grounds with an eye towards reopening for its 2006-07 meeting. Track president Randy Soth said that obtaining an insurance policy is the main issue at this point, as the facility is expected to be ready for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this spring.

One part of the track that is not being built, however, is the slots parlor which generated so much angst and controversy, all of which was washed away by Katrina. Still, Soth expects that horsemen will not be disappointed by the purses.
Even without slots, Soth said purses at the 2006-07 meet would be large. "The (off-track betting) business has been fabulous," he said. "A very cursory analysis of what kind of purse level we'd be looking at is right around $300,000 per day."

At the last Fair Grounds meeting held in New Orleans, in 2004-05, purses averaged $267,784 per day. [New Orleans Times Picayune]

Highland Cat To Get A Taste

- It’s a pretty tough spot for Highland Cat (Tactical Cat) in the second at the Big A on Saturday. For new readers, he's one of the horses I own a small piece of through Castle Village Farm; some background on him is in this post. One thing for sure is that he’ll hear his name announced as having an "equipment" change – he’s listed as a colt in the Racing Form and the NYRA entries, but was gelded after his last start on December 2. He’s moving back up to maiden specials, a show of confidence by Bill Turner, who has only one win in 32 starts in 2006, and a reputation from bringing horses around slowly. Highland Cat has four listed works, including a pretty decent half in :49 2/5 on Tuesday (6/27). He’ll have to move his speed figures forward big time to compete in this race. At least the presence of Great Point and Flashy Bull in his pp lines gives him a little street cred.

Tasteyville (With Approval) seems strictly the one to beat. He’s run well against some tough colts in his last two, finishing third to Scanlon’s Song (who will make his second career start in the third) and Marco Bay, a subsequent graduate by nine lengths; and second by a neck to Jazil, Kiaran McLaughlin’s well-bred colt who ran second to Corinthian at Gulfstream. I love his female family; his second dam is Toll Fee, a half-sister to Plugged Nickle; and here’s another one inbred to Buckpasser, 3x4 in this case. He didn’t run well on the turf earlier in his career, but I think he’ll eventually end up trying it again. The one big question about Tasteyville is that his trainer Pat Kelly is even colder than Turner, at 1 for 50 in 2006.

Madison Blues (Sultry Song) stretches out for John Terranova; he was 80-1 in his debut, and gained ground in the stretch when finishing 7th. He’s also inbred to Buckpasser (4x4), and he has tons of turf horses in his distaff family, including French Grade 1 winners Hernando and Johann Quartz. His third dam is the extremely well-named Pass A Glance (Buckpasser-Come Hither Look).

Clear the Way (Littlebitlively) has shown Beyer improvement, but tries two turns for the first time. He’s out of multiple graded stakes winner Wood So, and a half to a couple of minor stakes winners.

Darley has an entry of typically well-bred colts, but one of them, Botany Bay (Storm Cat), has been a disaster on the track in two tries. Scots Pine (Forestry) has shown early speed, but tires from his efforts and finished four lengths behind Tasteyville in the Jazil race.

All Play (Thunder Gulch) was three behind Tasteyville in the Scanlon’s Song race.

One guy who could be scary if he draws in from the AE list is Santa’s Special (Marquetry). He’s shown ability in two sprint tries for the Pedersen/Paragallo team and stretches out here. Who knows, if he wins his owner might say he’s as good as Achilles of Troy too.

This race doesn’t seem quite as tough as it did on first glance. There are some expensive colts from high-profile outfits that have fired blanks, especially a Lukas entry of colts by Giant’s Causeway and Storm Cat, both beaten very badly in each of their four combined starts. The only real proven commodity is Tasteyville, who I think will be hard to beat. Madison Blues is intriguing, but may be meant for grass later on. I still think that Highland Cat belongs on the grass; it seems obvious from watching his races that he backs away from dirt in the face. Perhaps the addition of blinkers and his gelding will help him stay closer and more focused; he’s reported to be doing very well since his return from the farm. But realistically, I’d have to be thrilled to get a piece of the purse.

- Another thing to keep in mind is that the Castle Village partnership is in a seemingly eternal slump – they haven’t been to the winner’s circle since Angel Dancer won on September 21. There have been many seconds and thirds, including a second by Introspect in a NY-bred stakes last weekend. That's probably enough to pay the bills, but it’s been a long drought as far as the top spot goes. It would be an upset if Highland Cat breaks that streak.

[UPDATE: Castle Village's Fighting Speedy won the 7th at Aqueduct on Thursday. So much for that losing streak!]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thinking of Gulfstream and Maiden Turf Races

- A couple more columnists weigh in with criticism of Gulstream. The key issue for me is, as Dave Joseph wrote in the Sun-Sentinal, is that the whole concept defeats the purpose for tourists coming to the track. I suppose I’ll go down there some day, but I have no desire really to resume my annual trips there. I love horse racing to be sure as you know, but I'm a tourist too. The relaxing out back in the backyard sun and shade was an important part of those trips. I looked forward to the races I took off as much as the ones that I was running around before. I never ever imagined that the backyard would become a thing of the past! I just figured they were going to stick a new building in front of it. I used to want to kiss the grass when I'd come in through the backyard clubhouse entrance for the first time each year after arriving from New York; I never had the proper chance to kiss it goodbye.

There are times when I look at the Gulfstream past performances, and see the type of race that transports me back there, to the old Gulfstream. I can practically smell the suntan lotion, and picture the stains on the Racing Form if I dripped some, or sweated on it. I can feel the breeze in the shade of the outdoor rooftop bar/restaurant, and visualize the asshole who stole my table the last time I was there. I picture the palm trees against the deep blue late afternoon sky as the sun set behind the paddock tote board. And then I realize it’s not the same place, not even the same track, which was replaced by the nine furlong oval that is costing the track important Derby prospects.

There were a couple of such races there on Thursday, Gulfstream races to be sure – two divisions of a maiden special route on the grass, and boy, do we like to bet on these races. Look at the handle amounts for the ten races; these two seem to have the largest ones of the day. These are two races during which you can be sure you wouldn’t have found me sitting in the sun. Many maiden grass races are merely guessing games, with first-timers, first-time turfers, and, this time of year, horses coming off layoffs - why do we love to bet these? They can test all of our handicapping skills, involving form and class, pedigree, knowledge of trainer patterns and tendencies, and, critically, watching the tote board. I’m often drawn to races that involve the latter; it’s a special kind of ego trip when I catch a live one. Besides the satisfaction of getting in on a good thing, it makes me feel that I was a real smart guy, able to interpret the subtle inflections of the tote board.

In the 6th, the bettors made Coburn (Pivotal), a British import who was making his second U.S. start, the 2-1 choice despite his horrible outside post. His trainer Graham Motion has just two wins and a second in 31 starts at the meeting; and this one settled for third. The winner, Noble Deeds (Old Trieste) was 6-1 in the morning line, but the 7-2 second choice at post time, over entries from Mott and Pletcher. He’s trained by Stanley Hough, who has been sharp the last couple of weeks. It was his fifth winner from his last ten starters, with a second and three thirds. Noble Deeds is out of a Argentinean stakes winner by Southern Halo who is a half sister to Brunilda, a grassy stakes winner last year at Monmouth.

There was a hot horse in the 10th; Lima Papa was 12-1 in the morning line; his two prior races were on the dirt, and he lost both badly by a combined 26 lengths. He was sent out by the hot Jimmy Jerkins barn, and man this guy can be streaky; he’d won with five out of his previous nine starters. Lima Papa is by Unbridled’s Song, out of Dynasty (Time for a Change), who won the Lake George stakes on the grass at Saratoga; she’s a half to a winner in Ireland, and this is also the family of Epsom Derby winner Benny the Dip. 12-1 morning line became 4-1, and sure enough, Lima Papa popped out of the gate, set a quick pace, and held on for a good third.

Rallying impressively for the win was morning line and post time favorite Devil’s Preacher. This is a nice looking three-year old son of Pulpit; a $475,000 yearling who always fires and graduated here in his 4th career start. His dam, by Chief’s Crown, is a half-sister to Santa Anita Derby winner Personal Hope, 4th in the Derby and Preakness. Devil’s Preacher’s 5th dam is Rare Perfume, the dam of Belmont winner Jaipur, and Rare Perfume. He's inbred 4x4 to Secretariat and Raise A Native. This was a stylish win; he rallied from second to last and seemed to just glide past the field while widest of all on the turn. Then, after seeming to stall midstretch, he kicked it into high gear, getting up for the win over longshot Swift Strike in a final furlong of 11.90 seconds. I'm adding this one to the watch list.

- Speaking of Stanley Hough, I remember touting him for his prowess with two year-olds during the Saratoga meet. He ended up with three such winners there. I honestly had to look back to recall the name Discreet Cat (Forestry); remember him? His debut appearance was a win with a Beyer of 106; how many two-year olds ran faster than that in 2005? Walter probably would have found him at 12-1 in the Derby futures after that race. He was sold shortly thereafter to Godolphin for who-knows-how many million, and has anyone heard anything about him of late? He must be all the way up to, like, 35-1 now.

Another of Hough’s Saratoga juvenile winners was Sensation (Dixie Union), the filly who went on to take the Astarita, but disappoint in the Juvenile Fillies. She closed at 35-1 in Pool One of the Oaks futures pool, but still hasn’t started since the Breeders Cup.

His third winner was Mystic Ruler, who took his debut on the turf. He’s by Fusaichi Pegasus, out of a grassy stakes winner in Buffalo Berry (Sri Pekan), and a half brother to turf stakes winner Chattahoochee War. However, like Discreet Cat, this colt has not been seen since his debut win.

Notes - Feb 23

- The 6-1 morning line on Strong Contender (Maria’s Mon) was a pipe dream to be sure; try $6.60 for a $2 win bet, and even that may turn out to a bargain in retrospect. Edgar Prado was duly impressed. "Other horses could come to him and he would just take off again ... a really nice ride. And he did it easy, and that's the scary part." [Sun-Sentinal] He was able to lope along through a very easy quarter of :23.81, and when Big Lover rushed up on the rail, he looked like he repulsed him easily. But as Walter pointed out in the comments section, covering for me as I traveled back home to chilly New York, he was actually zipping the second quarter in :22.08. Trainer John Ward would prefer another allowance spot, but the Rebel or the Gotham are possibilities, and we’re obviously rooting for the latter, which would set up a compelling match with Achilles of Troy.

Still, this is a horse with only two lifetime starts, so it’s a bit surprising to see a horseman like Ward, who is not generally subject to flights of fantasy, so insistent on rushing him up to the Derby, which would likely be only his 5th career start. He must either think he has an absolute freak on his hands, or has fallen victim to Derby fever like the rest of us.

- This quote by Winstar Farm’s Elliot Walden shows part of what’s wrong with the game.

"The thing that makes [Bluegrass Cat] so exciting is not just the ability he's shown on the racetrack, but the ability he's going to have in the stallion barn. You don't get horses bred like he is very often that can match the stallion potential with the racing performance.” [Thoroughbred Times]
Five races into his career, and you can already hear the pencils being sharpened on calculating his stud fee, determining desirable broodmare matches, and plans for shuttling. Don’t expect to see this one around at four; nor later this year should his Triple Crown campaign turn out to be a success. Why take the risk on something as trivial as the Breeders Cup or an Eclipse Award if a fat stud fee is already assured?

- Great job by Brad of Brad Buys A Yearling in catching this story on Thoroughbred Times about an improper dose of Lasix administered to eventual Eclipse winner Intercontinental last September. The CHRB didn’t release information on the incident until last week when it slipped the official ruling onto their website, which made any official protest, required within 72 hours of the posting, unlikely, if not impossible given the fact that the announcement lacks useful details such as the race and horse involved.

My only problem with Brad’s post is that he actually seems to have taken the time to make some calls and dig into the story, revealing, among other things, an inaccurate statement by CHRB Executive Director Ingrid Fermin in the TT article to the effect that a protest would have to be lodged within 72 hours of the race, not the posting. I thought racing writers didn’t have to do things like that! What, are you trying to make us all look bad?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tell the Truth. Please.

- Owner Ernie Paragallo, whose Achilles of Troy will stay in New York to prepare for the Derby, is still touting his one-time starter Scanlon’s Song (Partner’s Hero) as being not only equal to, but possibly better than his stablemate. Scanlon’s Song will take the Polytrack route – the March 4 John Battaglia and the March 25 Lane’s End at Turfway. Paragallo says that only one of the two would go to the Derby.

``Honestly, I've got mixed reservations, I don't want both of them to go....If I have enough confidence in one or the other, then we'll see. You are blessed to have horses like this. The thing I'm not looking forward to are the hassles with the press because, the problem with me is that if you ask me something, I'm going to tell the truth, and sometimes people don't like to hear the truth.'' [Albany Times-Union]
Oh, we just love to hear the truth. Do tell.

Highland Cat Set For Saturday

- Highland Cat seems to be ready for his first start as a gelding; he completed his preparations for Saturday’s race, a maiden special at a mile and seventy yards on the Big A inner track for a fat purse of $44,000. He got a half mile in 49.43 breezing, the 6th fastest of 27 at that distance.

- I missed the story about Michael Matz deciding to hold Barbaro out until the Florida Derby, and then the five weeks up until the Derby. That’s considered to be an unusual approach, and James Scully on lets Matz have it.

Only one start in the 13 weeks before the Kentucky Derby? Say it isn't so. No tiger has the same stripes and all horses are different, but the Kentucky Derby is a 1 1/4-mile beast that eats up lightly raced horses. Matz, who owns no Kentucky Derby experience, couldn't be taking a bigger chance with the future of Barbaro. No horse in his lifetime has won the Kentucky Derby with only one race in the previous 13 weeks, and I would ask him who is the last horse to enter the Kentucky Derby under the same scenario (or worse) and then capture a Grade 1 event later in his career? Barbaro's connections can only hope that he will be the first.
However, last year, Closing Argument took a similar route; after winning the Holy Bull, he didn’t race again until the Blue Grass on April 16. Thus he also had one prep in 13 weeks, though that prep was more ideally situated three, instead of five weeks before the big race. Though he didn’t win, he was quite possibly the best horse in the race. So perhaps in this day and age, it’s not quite as unorthodox approach as it may seem. The one thing I fervently hope for is that the track is fast for the Florida Derby, so we have an idea one way or another about Barbaro on a dry fast track.

Monday’s cancellation at Oaklawn means that Music School may start in the rescheduled Southwest Stakes on Saturday.

The way that Bluegrass Cat returned to the races last weekend doesn’t make me anxious to go against High Cotton in this allowance at Gulfstream on Wednesday. But in the unlikely event that Strong Contender goes off at his morning line of 6-1, he’d have to be worth a shot. John Ward is still quite serious about the Derby for this one, looking to use the Wood or Blue Grass as a final prep. When he worked in :59.60 on Friday, he completed his final eighth in 11 seconds before galloping out a mile in 1:41 and change.

Bob and John worked a half in 49.40 (34/70). Baffert seems undecided whether to race him in the March 4 Santa Catalina, or wait until the March 18 San Felipe. Itsallboutthechase worked five in 1:01.20 (6/19).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tuesday Morning Notes - Feb 21

- Still hanging in Florida, where the weather is gorgeous (sorry) and the posting light.

- The NY Daily News reports that Kentucky Derby “contender” Private Vow breezed six furlongs yesterday morning in 1:15.20 at the Palm Meadow Training Center in Florida. Steve Asmussen is pointing him to the Rebel on March18 for his sophomore debut. But it’s hard for me to put the “contender” label on any horse who plans to go into the Derby with just two preps after a long layoff, which apparently is the plan.

As Todd Pletcher prepares to bring High Cotton back to the races on Wednesday, he reported that Half Ours is off the Derby trail after re-aggravating an injury he suffered as a 2-year-old.

"He's back on the farm in Ocala for some stall rest for now....He reopened the old fracture. We'll just monitor him and see how quickly it heals." [Daily Racing Form]
- Nice win for Buzzard’s Bay in the All American at Golden Gate; it’s his first win since last year’s Santa Anita Derby and only the 4th of his career. His time for the nine furlongs was an excellent 1:47 1/5. "The light bulb went on today," [jockey Jose] Valdivia said. "Hopefully, it will stay on." []

- Wayne Lukas announced that Folklore is not yet “into her program” and will miss the Santa Anita Oaks.

- The lack of incisive press coverage of our favorite game has been something my fellow turf bloggers have been talking about lately; we’ve been discussing the idea of giving out awards to recognize efforts of good reporting when we see it. Here’s one worth reading by Bill Finley on The trades reported without much comment or anaylsis the firing of jockey agent Jim Pegram by Garrett Gomez. Finley takes an in-depth look at Pegram’s key role in the resurrection of Gomez’s career after two years off due to substance abuse problems. He concludes of Gomez: He's got a lot of attributes. Apparently, loyalty isn't one of them. []

Fantastic Price

- Not bad, 4-1 on Fantastic Shirl, a half sister to Shakespeare by turf champion Fantastic Light making her career debut a winning one for Bill Mott on the turf on Sunday at Gulfstream, eh? Are the bettors there paying too much attention to the Horse Wizard machines?

Er no, I guess that’s not it. Maybe they were paying too much attention to Todd Pletcher. His first time starter, Babyifurgoodtogo (Elusive Quality) was the 4-1 second choice in the morning line behind Mott’s filly, but was sent off as the 2-1 favorite, despite an awful name and little in her pedigree to indicate she would love the grass. She didn’t, and ran 9th.

Of course, it wasn’t a lost day for Pletcher; his three-year old filly Dyna’s Destiny took the Gaily Gaily Stakes at the Gulf. It’s her second stakes win in as many attempts in 2006 for this full sister to Dynamist, who won the grassy Denise Rhudy Stakes last year.

- Well, being down in Florida, who would have thought that it’s actually cold elsewhere in the nation. The freezing cold that has cancelled Oaklawn’s holiday card and postponed the Southwest Stakes until Saturday should have no effect on that track’s Derby prep series, as it still leaves three weeks until the Rebel. Oaklawn hadn’t lost any live dates to winter weather since Feb. 27, 2003.

- Patience is paying off for Bruce Headley and his four-year old Surf Cat, who made a dynamic return off a four-month layoff to win the San Carlos at Santa Anita in dynamic style. He made up more than six lengths from the half-mile pole despite the final three furlongs going in :36 4/5, for a final seven furlong time of 1:22.09, and left the more experienced Congrats and Imperialism in his wake.

A couple of last year’s more highly touted three-year olds that have not shown good form at four are Buzzard’s Bay and Greeley’s Galaxy, who will square off Monday at Golden Gate in the G3 All American Handicap. Greeley’s Galaxy is listed as 8-1, and trainer Warren Stute was quite frank in talking about his prospects.

"Evidently, he's not as good as we thought .....We picked this race hoping it would be an easier field, and we're putting blinkers on him hoping that will sharpen him up and he'll show a little more zip. I was very disappointed in his race in the Strub, so I hope he bounces back."
And Ron Ellis is similarly disappointed with Buzzard’s Bay.
"He has more ability than his performances recently.....I'd heard that he bled (in his trachea) really badly in the Affirmed and maybe he's still thinking about that. That last race was really disappointing to me. If he had been second to Lava Man (the Classic winner), I'd have been OK with that, but he didn't really battle it out.” []
Unfortunately, the pair will be running a trio trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who has a virtual monopoly on Northern California stakes races these days.

- John Ward’s Strong Contender (Maria’s Mon), who has been burning up the track in the A.M., most recently with a bullet five furlongs (out of 10) in :59.60 on Saturday, will finally make his three-year old debut at Gulfstream on Wednesday. Also making his 2006 debut in the race will be High Cotton, yet another of the 800 or so Triple Crown nominees from Pletcher, as if he doesn’t already have enough going for him these days. His Keyed Entry had his first work since the Hutcheson, a leisurely half in :49.26 (24/46).

Nick Zito had a couple of his prospects make nice moves on Friday – Superfly got a half in :47.20 (2/21); and Doc Cheney five furlongs in :59.80 (2/10).

- And hey, check this out! On Saturday, our filly Christening worked a half in :48.12 at Belmont, the third fastest of 47 at the distance, wow! Too bad she hasn’t been able to get her gate card, ugh. Her debut has therefore been pushed back to next month.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Morning Notes - Feb 19

- 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.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Derby Prep Tests Beyers

- It’s a travel day, as the Head Chef and I head down to Longboat Key, FL for a long weekend with our younger (nice) daughters, so I’ll have to keep it fairly brief (or as much as I know how) as I struggle to wrap things up at the damn day job, yuck.

The Sam F Davis will be run at a mile and a sixteenth at Tampa tomorrow, and this one is begging for Grade 3 status for sure. Todd Pletcher’s Bluegrass Cat is expected to be the favorite; he won three in a row to close out 2005, including wins in NY in the Nashua and Remsen, the latter around two turns. This seems like yet another interesting test of the Beyer figs. The Remsen went in a slow 1:52 1/5 over a track that didn’t seem particularly sluggish, other than that race and the Demoiselle, a two-year old filly stakes contested at the same nine furlong distance that went in 1:52 4/5, and the only other two-turn race of the day. Yet Bluegrass Cat earned a Beyer of 95, just a point below what he got for the Nashua. He also took a lethargic 13 4/5 to complete the final furlong.

So I imagine the Beyer boys were ‘projecting’ here again, and I don’t think even they would object to me characterizing such projections as a guess; an educated one, to be sure, but they do go back occasionally to revise those numbers if they prove to be way off. If you look at the BRIS figures, which are “raw” speed figures, Bluegrass Cat was downgraded to a 95 in the Remsen from a 101 in the Nashua (BRIS numbers are not to be compared with Beyers, it’s a different scale); and that 95 was actually slower than his maiden win on BRIS. Now, my main question about the horse’s Beyer in the Remsen is this: how do you project a speed figure for a horse going around two turns for the first time? How can you say how fast you expected the race to go when the horse is doing something he’s never done before?

On the other hand, you have Hesanoldsalt, whose Beyers have not broken 79, even though his winning time of 1:50 2/5 in his last race was nearly two seconds faster than that of Bluegrass Cat. On BRIS, Hesanoldsalt earned a 94 for his last allowance win, which makes him quite competitive with Pletcher’s horse. So there you go. As you know if you read my Derby Top Ten, I’ll be going with Zito’s colt, and I hope the low Beyers translate into a fair price. Of course, I usually end up acknowledging the accuracy of the Beyers; but I’m hoping that after this race, the boys will have to go back and take a second look.

Don’t ignore R Loyal Man (More Than Ready), extremely impressive at shorter distances over this track, his last a seven furlong win in 1:22 2/5 in the Pasco; he tries two turns for the first time. His second dam is a half to successful sire Halo’s Image. Laptop Computer (Notebook) also stretches out; his last was a second to the impressive subsequent winner Barbican.

- More on Round Pond’s amazing comeback win from Robert Yates in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, whose local coverage from Oaklawn is as good as anything you’ll see around the country. He reports that in recording the fastest six furlongs of the meeting, she was never asked for her best by regular rider Stewart Elliott.

- Go west, young Polytrack!

- And Sue over at Post Parade takes on Pamela Anderson, telling her that as a member of PETA, rather than boycotting the Derby she should be tackling more important issues, such as:

Organizations that allow testing of silicone implants into animals to ensure the safety for human use, or testing on animals with hair-bleaching chemicals to ensure human use, or the American Kennel Club that allows whippets to run around JFK airport without the appropriate boarding passes, or at the very least, proper leashes.
Woo-hoo, cat fight, lol!!! You tell her!!

- That’s it for today, see you next from sunny Florida!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thursday Night Notes - Feb 16

- Trainer Steven Krebs did a fine job filling in for the suspended Scott Lake, winning two races yesterday at Aqueduct. [NY Daily News] Lake, the current national leader in wins with 56, was suspended for 15 days for a drug positive for a bronchial dialator and is banned from the grounds. However, life goes on as his horses race on under the nominal care of his assistant. Amazing. Lake’s winning percentage had dropped off sharply around midway through last year, and some felt that it coincided with the institution of NYRA’s detention barns. This year he has 16 wins in 88 starts at the Big A.

Almost equally amazing is the news that business is up at Aqueduct over last year. Last year must have been pretty damn bad. On-track handle is up a whopping 22%; total handle was up 5% over last January, but that was despite the cutoff of rebate shops since then. Field size is up only a little bit, but perhaps the quality and competition is better this year.

Nine races today at Aqueduct offer purses totaling $330,000. Ten races at Gulfstream total $211,000. For many owners and trainers, the stark economics of racing have caught and overtaken the luxury of sunshine. [Newsday]
- The long and costly war between horsemen and management over VLT revenues at Monticello harness is over, but only because both sides agreed to binding arbitration. So the purses, which were cut in half, will be restored, and in return the horsemen will once again allow out-of-state simulcasting; that ban had cost the track well over half their handle. There was concern that some outlets wouldn’t pick up the track once the signal resumed, but a spokesman for the US Trotting Association dismissed those fears, especially in February, when few tracks are racing. "Quite frankly, if it was an attractive product before the strike, it will be an attractive product after." [Record]

Not So Brilliant

- Back on January 6, Brilliant (War Chant) was favored over Well Said (Aptitude), but the latter got up for the win. The two met on Thursday at Oaklawn; Brilliant had graduated since then, and Well Said had been idle since. In this race, Brilliant was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a competitive looking field, and Well Said was a whopping 11-1. And once again, it was Well Said prevailing in the stretch drive. This is the kind of race that when I was young and foolish and didn’t know that much, I would have had this on the nose, and would have said, incredulously, to my more knowledgeable friends, “C’mon, how can he be 11-1 when he beat this horse last time?” I didn’t know anything about hot trainers and ‘moving forward’ and ‘third race of the cycle,’ and ‘dead on the board,’ and at times like these, I was better off that way.

Still, I must still say that this one was a big overlay. It helped that John Servis’ Jolted and Jostled and Stalwartly were in the race to draw money; and actually, the former was a bit dead on the board himself as the 4-1 third choice. He was once again extremely wide both turns, but this time came up empty.

But the day wasn’t a total loss at all for Servis, as Round Pond made a smashing return in her first race since July. She won decisively and easily in 1:09.93 – WOW, the way this track has played, that is flying! How many times do you see the comment sharp effort in the race chart?

- Point of Impact finally got his maiden win; a pretty flashy performance I thought, though he was extremely green as Walter pointed out before. Victor Espinoza just bided his time, keeping him wide on both turns, and it seemed like a push-button move that he made on the turn to sweep to the lead. He lugged in, and was under some urging to win by a length. But it was nice progress from the fiasco in his last. He sure has a long way to go to be a Derby contender; wouldn’t some summer stakes be a more realistic target?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Derby Top Ten

- Here we go again. Time for the Left at the Gate top ten of who we think will be making headlines on or around the first Saturday of May.

1) Hesanoldsalt – Well, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s either another absurd pick that will quickly blend in with all of my others, or a stroke of genius for which I’ll be remembered for years. After totally dominating the run-up to the Derby last year, Zito is under the radar this year – none of his horses were listed in the first futures pool. Forget Great Point and Superfly, this is the one who I think Zito believes is his best prospect. He skips the flawed Gulfstream prep series and ships to Tampa this weekend, so we’ll know if I’m way off in just a few days. A winner at nine furlongs by Broad Brush, an old-time campaigner who survived the Triple Crown series to become a handicap star at four, out of personal fave Cox’s Ridge, he has the breeding and the running style to step up big time.

2) Bob and John – Love the way Baffert has put some foundation into this one, and he looks to be progressing at a suitable rate to be at his peak in May. I’m way into progeny of Seeking the Gold these days, and the distaff family doesn’t get much more classic than this, with his third dam being Too Bald, the dam of Exceller, Capote, etc.,

3) Charles Hayward – With construction still not underway on the Aqueduct casino, the embattled NYRA chairman takes matters into his own hands and starts to build the facility himself. He announces that he expects to have four machines in operation by the fall, along with one hot dog stand, a keg of beer, and live entertainment recruited from the Times Square subway station.

4) Cause To Believe – Plenty of foundation for this one with eight races to date, including his stylish win in the El Camino, his second win in two tries around two turns. We know that Maria’s Mon can sire a Derby winner, and some nice class on the distaff side, being out of a Storm Cat daughter of Grade 1 winner Cuddles.

5) Stevie Wonderboy – The juvenile champ suffers a setback in his recuperation from ankle surgery when Merv Griffin, attempting to season a dinner of quail, accidentally peppers his horse in the face when he sneaks up from behind without announcing himself. Stevie rears up, suffers a bad jolt to the head, and temporarily thinks that he’s the Vice-President of the United States. He’s seen the next day on the barn phone extension listening in on Griffin’s phone calls, and cruelly tortures a stable cat by hanging it upside down and forcing it to watch old reruns of Rin Tin Tin.

6) Keyed Entry – Lauren Stitch in the Form has him on her list of fast horses that lack Derby breeding, pointing to his sire, the miler Honour and Glory. At the same time however, she acknowledges the stamina and class in his female family (as I did in this post). He’s the most impressive three-year old we’ve seen on the track thus far this year with his blazing Hutcheson complete with the 1:07.61 three-quarters, and his two-turn debut, possibly in the Rebel, Gotham, or Tampa Bay Derby, could very well be the pivotal moment of the Derby prep season.

7) Barbaro – Honestly, I still have my doubts about this one. Yes, he won in the mud in the Holy Bull, and Edgar Prado insists that he had more horse than it appeared visually, when he switched leads near the wire. However, he still has to show that he can run on a fast track. (Though what if it rains on Derby Day?) He merits a spot here because he’s undefeated and proven around two turns. A fast track win in his next race, possibly the Fountain of Youth, could very well vault him to the top of many Derby lists, if he’s not already there.

8) Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones – With his Phoenix Coyotes out of the NHL playoffs (and the Rangers in), the Great One and his wife head to Louisville for the big race. But they’re seen leaving town the day before the race after Ms. Jones loses a reported $100,000 on the post position draw. Gretzky says “I wasn’t involved,” and Jones drops an unspecified amount on a wager that he wouldn’t say that again.

9) Jazil – Possibly the best-bred horse of the entire lot, he’s another son of Seeking the Gold who traces directly back to blue hen mare Blush With Pride, his third dam. He has a big closing kick, which he showed last fall when closing from 18 lengths back to miss by a nose to highly regarded Steppenwolfer at seven furlongs. He was a very game second to Corinthian at nine furlongs earlier this month at Gulfstream in his first race at three. Trainer Kiaran McLauglin nearly got the roses with Closing Argument last year, so he knows how to get them ready, and could have a real handful with this one.

10) Point of Impact – Pretty impressive losing maiden races and working in the A.M., but Baffert needs to get going with this one, starting with his race on Friday. I suppose I’m buying into the hype on this one, but it sure would be nice to see a son of Point Given in the winner’s circle at Churchill.

10A) Itsallboutthechase – Gets another chance after being extremely wide in the Gulfstream slop.

Notes - Feb 15

- Big day for John Servis at Oaklawn Thursday, as his Acorn/Fantasy winner Round Pond makes her first start since running second in the Delaware Oaks last July. His top Derby prospect Jolted and Jostled goes in a first-level allowance, but he meets Brilliant (War Chant), Neil Howard’s “other” horse. There’s also Stalwartly (Gone West), a smart debut winner for Asmussen, and a half-brother to crack sprinter Orientate, who also won stakes at a route.

- Point Determined looks like a cinch against four others at Golden Gate, in which should be nothing more than a workout for Baffert’s son of Point Given. He had previously tabbed him for the March 4 Santa Catalina, and perhaps that race is still not out of the question. Also on the card, good luck to Brad, whose Leave To Appeal drops down to a competitive level for him in the 3rd.

- Achilles of Troy, also on that Lauren Stitch list of no-pedigree Derby pretenders, will stay in New York after all for the Gotham.

- Don't you just hate redboarding?

Choose One From Column A....

- The upcoming bidding process for the New York racing franchise took on the feel of a Chinese restaurant menu with the disclosure that the Committee on the Future of Racing will seek bids under three hypothetical scenarios – that the racing laws are not changed at all, changed “moderately”, whatever that means, and changed drastically. At the same time, new committee member Gary Pretlow added a solemn note when he opined that "I wouldn't count on any sweeping changes in racing law. That doesn't happen here." [Albany Times-Union]

That’s a pretty fatalistic attitude at a time when the state has a historic opportunity to right all the wrongs that have contributed to the state of the New York Racing Association. Maybe Pretlow forgot that miracles can happen – the legislature and governor delivered an on-time budget last year for the first time in some 20 years. But he indicated that what he’s specifically referring to is the all-important concept of merging the OTB’s with the three tracks.

Pretlow said things such as Internet wagering, along with fan rebate and rewards programs might be adopted this year.

'That's not major,' he said.

Pretlow said he believes running the tracks and OTB together is the one thing that can make racing profitable. Some OTBs could agree to the plan voluntarily, but Pretlow said it won't happen legislatively.

'I don't see very many communities giving it up,' he said. [Saratogian]
Indeed, besides providing a handy patronage outlet for politicians, the local OTB’s provide revenue to their local areas, and the system is too far entrenched to be dismantled without a fight. But Jack Knowles, the only racing voice on the committee, hammered home to his fellow committee members the importance of doing just that.
In response to comments by member Bernadette Castro to the effect that she recalled that testimony suggested that OTB mergers would be voluntary, member Jack Knowlton said, "I think we heard from a lot of people testifying that there should be a merger of the OTB and the franchise-holder."

"It was pointed out that nobody anywhere else in the country does it the way we do it here," said Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable. "Clearly the OTBs who testified are not of that opinion, but I think there were more people who said this is something that should be done." [Thoroughbred Times]
Go Jack go! One would like to think that the scenario of no changes in racing law would draw no bids at all, thus sending a clear message to the legislature that major changes are needed. However, it could still very well draw bids from casino and gaming companies who don’t give a rat’s ass about racing anyway. To them, racing would be just another cost of doing business as they eye the riches of slot machines in and around New York City.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tuesday Night Notes - Feb 14

- The three-year old scene shifts to Tampa this weekend for the mile and a sixteenth Sam Davis. I’ll actually be passing through on my way to a visit at the parents’ house near Sarasota (sans parents), but, with the Head Chef and two kids in tow, I’ll not be making an appearance. But Todd Pletcher will, with Bluegrass Cat, making his sophomore debut, and here’s the requisite "he's doing great" trainer comment: “We're right where we want to be with him for his first start. He's dead on to run well." [Daily Racing Form] I believe that this one may just possibly be overrated; I wasn’t blown away with his Remsen, in which he took nearly 14 seconds for the final furlong, and defeated Flashy Bull, who needed five maiden starts and a race that included Highland Cat to finally graduate. I’m far more interested in Zito’s Hesanoldsalt, coming off a stylish win around two turns. He worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 at Gulfstream on Sunday.

During my aforementioned visit to the Big A on Saturday, I saw Noonmark triumph at Gulfstream in his first start at three for Steve Asmussen. Out since October, when he got on some Derby lists with a ten length, 97 Beyer win at Belmont, he returned with a nice six furlong win in 1:09.40. But what was a surprise was that he returned a generous $8.60 as the third choice. He was listed as the 2-1 second choice behind Bernie White Shoes, but it was the 4-1 morning line Prayers for Cash (Songandaprayer), who was bet steadily from the opening of the pools. I’d mentioned this horse here that morning; his only race was an easy maiden win at Monmouth over a horse who subsequently stakes placed, but with a Beyer of 81 which was a full 15-16 points slower than the abovementioned pair. Yet he opened at 4-5, and drifted up ever so slowly, eventually to 9-5, and was getting bet squarely on the nose in the win pool.

I’m a total sucker for horses that get bet like that; with all my talk of insisting on value, that all goes out the door when I get enraptured by the tote board. Not that I would bet him to win at that price, but I was positive that he was going to win, tabbed him as a single, and turned my attention to the next two races for the pick threes. As post time approached, he got slammed back down to 3-2, which made him seem like even more of a lock. In the meantime those who took advantage of the overlay on Noonmark got a great price. Prayers for Cash got caught three wide and ran a fine race, but no one was catching the winner, who now seems poised to move on. Noonmark is by Unbridled’s Song, out of a Storm Cat mare who’s a half-sister to Formal Gold, winner of the Brooklyn, Woodward, Donn and Iselin, all in one year.

- Bob and John worked three furlongs in :36.40 (5/13). Baffert said he’ll go in the March 18 San Felipe instead of the Santa Catalina, in which Point Determined will race on March 4. Point of Impact tries to graduate again in the first on Thursday. Maybe he’ll be one of those who breaks his maiden in a stakes race. Music School worked a half in 49 flat (4/11)on Monday. And Private Vow, being handled with some intrigue by Steve Asmussen, had his third recorded workout, a five furlong move in 1:01 1/5.

Getting Queasy at the Big A

- I was at Aqueduct for a while on Saturday. I’m starting to feel a little self-conscious now about admitting to that in public. The week before, I was at an OTB-restaurant in Queens watching some of the Donn card with some really smart guys. One of them, a friend who is aware of my sordid habits (or some of them anyway), at one point told the other ones, “Y’know, Alan goes to…..AQUEDUCT!” You should have seen the way these guys looked at me – they might as well have been told “Y’know, Alan likes to walk the streets of Beirut singing the Danish national anthem.” “REALLY??” One of them claimed that he had never been there in his life, which to me, would be like an opera lover telling me he had never been to the Met.

So I was looking around on Saturday more than I usually do, wondering what exactly I was doing there. I mean, maybe I’m just used to it, the way that NYC apartment residents eventually get accustomed to cockroaches. And yeah, a hard look showed that maybe it’s not so nice, though there are still a couple of spots in which to hide away. It’s definitely….grittier (that’s a diplomatic way of putting it, yes?) now that the grandstand population is mixed in with the clubhouse. And the extra dollar admission to the Equestris area isn’t really sufficient to keep the cruder element away.

But the main thing that I noticed was this: man, these people are old! The notion that racetrackers are an aging bunch is belied somewhat by visits to Saratoga, and even to the backyard of Belmont. But yeah, this is hardcore. I can actually see my own self aging there in the faces of others that I’ve been watching grow older year by year for the last 30 years. I pass by guys that I used to get wasted with in smoke-filled stairwells; and acknowledge them wordlessly, knowing that they’re thinking about how old I've gotten just as I am about them. The little fat kid who used to race his friends around the apron is now a big fat guy. The track stooper is still at it, and I guess he MUST have come across a winning ticket or two on the ground (or in the garbage cans) in the last three decades, otherwise he wouldn’t still be doing it, right?

Well, yes, it may not be so great there. Don't get me wrong, I’m still going to go as much as ever. I need to be at the track to be at the track; the last 2-3 weeks alone, I must have sat and stared at Formulator and Super Tote for some 50 races while sitting at home, and ended up doing nothing; whereas I have no trouble getting killed at the Big A. But it’s obvious that the attendance there is just going to continue its steady decline until all of us 3,727 regulars move on to the grand racetrack in the sky, one in which we’ll all hit the late Pick Four every single day, and leave the Big A to the seagulls and slot machines.

But perhaps Aqueduct is a good place for Gulfstream. That’s right, just pick the place up from Hallandale (leaving Stronach behind), and transport it on a giant tractor-trailer right on up to Ozone Park. A vacation destination in South Florida is no place for a track with limited outdoor viewing areas and virtually nothing in the way of green space shaded by palm trees anyway. But a spanking new building with lavish restaurants, live entertainment, simulcast facilities described by John Pricci in his open letter to Frank Stronach as “world-class,” and, yes, slots, could be perfect in Queens. It could very well attract a much younger crowd of potential new fans, and throw in a rebate program and maybe you’ll even get horseplayers who can’t presently even imagine going there for anything other than the Wood Memorial, if that. And maybe I could go there without getting funny looks.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Saturday Stakes

- It was a rousing return to the races for Rockport Harbor; he showed the speed and the grittiness that had so many pulling for him to come back from his injury last year. The well-bet Cougar Cat, stretching out on the dirt for the first time, poked a nose in front in the stretch according to the race chart, but Rocky repulsed the challenge and pulled away in the stretch for a 2 ¼ length win.

“He’s not dead fit, but he was fit enough that I thought he would run very well,” [John] Servis said. “But the big thing with him is mentally. This race is going to move this horse way up.”
“I mean, we’ve still got more work to do with him. Although this track today, as deep and tiring as it was, I’m sure this race will do a ton for him.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
The one question I have is this: How is it that his time of 1:47.68 was a quarter of a second slower than the three-year old who graduated on his fifth try in a maiden race run just before? I’m not raising that point to try and diminish Rocky’s performance in any way....just seems kinda strange, doesn’t it?

Jonesboro was completely empty in the drive and came in last; that’s the last time I listen to the “local wiseguys” at Oaklawn; perhaps they should stick to Instant Racing instead.

- Nice trip for Balance (Thunder Gulch) in her Grade 1 win in the Las Virgenes; the race set up perfectly with Diplomat Lady and a dull-on-the-board Meetmeinthewoods dueling for the lead through a brisk half mile of :45.72. That allowed Balance to sit behind and, according to Victor Espinoza, the filly was more willing to do so than she was in the Hollywood Startlet. "I think the last time I took too much hold and, when I tried to go, she resented it. But today she was perfect." [Bloodhorse] Itty Bitty Pretty was right beside her but as Walter correctly predicted, out blogging me on my own blog, it was Balance who was the strong horse in the stretch. Favored Wild Fit was along for second in a creditable comeback in a race that Patrick Biancone said she would need; guess the bettors don’t read the editorial section of the Form. Itty Bitty Pretty was third, so if I was selling a tout sheet, I could say that I had the triple.

And did you see Martin Pedroza trying to pull up Star Parade (Parade Marshall) after her Grade 1 win in the Santa Maria? Man, he had a handful, and as he finally got her to come back, she passed Proposed, who she had repelled in the stretch, and she seemed to shake her head and scoff at the notion that it was Proposed who was sent off as the 8-5 favorite. It’s been an up and down career for this seven year old mare – she won this race in 2004, but finished dead last in last year’s running – but she seems to be at her peak now. Or at least at Santa Anita, where she has three wins and two seconds in six lifetime tries.

- Achilles of Troy (Notebook) will step up into the thick of the Derby prep pictures when he ships to Gulfstream for the Fountain of Youth on March 4, his tentative next start. Ramon Dominguez showed the patience that owner Ernie Paragello cited as the reason for replacing Alan Garcia, as he sat behind pace-setting One Way Flight. The fans at the Big A were getting a little nervous, and apparently, so was Dominguez. "He's just very deceiving. He covers a lot of ground with ease....I got to the three-eighths pole and even got a little concerned because he was so relaxed. I wasn't sure if he was going to fire." [NY Daily News] Well, he fired alright; enough so that Dominguez was able to ease up on him in the final sixteenth.

It’s a little scary to think that both Paragello and his trainer Jennifer Pederson, who apparently don’t agree on much, think that their Scanlon’s Song (Partner’s Hero), being pointed for the Wood, is actually a better colt.

Mullins Easy as 1-2-3?

- Jeff Mullins is amongst the training leaders at Santa Anita with 18 winners from 66 starters, good for win percentage of 27%. He’s been particularly sharp with horses first time off claims; he’s at 32% for the last five years, and an incredible 39% over the last 12 months. With seven such starters at the Santa Anita meeting, he has four wins and two seconds; with the last three in a row. In the sixth on Sunday, he sends out morning line favorite Run to the Border, who he claimed last time out for $25K, and runs back here for $40K. Mullins will be doing well to get this one to the winner’s circle – he hasn’t been there since Dec, 2004. Epic Power drops to a level at which he’s been competitive and may get a bit overlooked.

Mullins also has a high percentage of winners second time off the claim. He’s 29% over the last five years; and 27% over the past 12 months. But he’s also excelling in this category at Santa Anita – three winners and a second in six starters. In the second, Sprigzee, makes his second start for the barn; he won off the claim for 20K last November, and makes his first start since then, for 32K. Not much speed here; if the outside horse Pointe Birds can make the lead, he could be tough to catch at this level.

I don’t know what Mullins’ stats are third time off the claim; but in the 5th, Distorted Rumor stretches out to two turns (he’s one-for-one) after two improved sprint tries, the last with a career high 100 Beyer, off a Mullins claim and a 13 month layoff. Ender’s Shadow, a close second in a Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy last spring, returns after a seven month layoff and runs for the optional tag of $62,500, the first time he’s been offered for sale.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Saturday Morning Notes - Feb 11

Some quick notes and observations on today's races at Santa Anita and Gulfstream:

Santa Anita

3rd – Baffert unveils Evaluate, a TC-nominated Fusaichi Pegasus colt, with the typical Baffert workout tab; most recently a bullet :58.1 (1/50). He’s out of a French stakes winning Affirmed mare, and his third dam is stakes winner Viva La Vivi. This is the distaff family of Vicar and Viva Sec.

4th – Frankel sends his three-year old Racketeer (Awesome Again), a maiden winner of his last. This Stronach-bred seems short on pedigree but was a hot number at 9-5 in his winning dirt debut.

5th – Cold exacta alert: Giant Shift has burned some money and moves to the rail. With the stretch long run to the first turn at the nine furlong distance, I’m not so sure if that’s really an advantage. K C Nite Mayr is an always-trier, and could get the decision over the morning line favorite today. Fire Wood looks just a tad slower than these.

7th (Grade 1 Santa Maria) – Proposed is another offspring of Benchmark making headlines this year, but Star Parade looks real tough on the switch back to dirt.


4th – Steve Asmussen gives it another shot with his Triple Crown hopeful Noonmark (Unbridled’s Song), scratched from the sloppy going last weekend; but Bernie White Shoes is the morning line favorite. Praying for Cash (Songandaprayer) makes his first start since winning his debut at Monmouth in June, when he beat Confront, subsequently stakes placed. He’s bred a bit similarly to High Limit in that his dam is inbred to the influential broodmare Tamerett.

7th//11th – Todd Pletcher now has 22 wins with 80 starters at the meet after his Manchu Prince took the finale on the grass on Friday with a bold late close into quick closing fractions. He’s by Gone West out of a stakes placed Cox’s Ridge mare, and his third dam is the prodigious producer Toll Booth, dam of Christiecat, Toll Fee, Toll Key, and a personal favorite, Plugged Nickle.

In the 7th, he sends out second time starter Coach Kent, and he pops at a 33% rate with these. By Forestry, he’s a half brother to graded turf winner Changing World. In the 11th, he has second time starter Minidrop (Lemon Drop Kid).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rocky's Return

- Strike up the Rocky theme, he’s back. Rockport Harbor (Unbridled’s Song) makes his first start since his disastrous outing (at 3-5!) in the Lexington Stakes, a desperate attempt to make it to the Derby last April 23, in the G3 Essex at Oaklawn on Saturday. His owner Rick Porter says he’s a different animal now. "I think Rocky is much tougher now and has gained about 300 pounds since last year."

"His gallops have been different because he's gotten much tougher this year," said [trainer John] Servis. "Before, he would go out there and just lope around and I'd actually put some two-minute licks in him. I can't do that this year because he's just too tough. You two-minute lick him and he's going to be gone.

"For the last two and a half, three weeks, every day has been a struggle with him to just keep him from wanting to roll." [Daily Racing Form]
He shows four workouts in the Form going back to Dec 29, but remember that he was working out at Oaklawn as early as late November, before there were any clockers there.

He’s a charismatic horse who showed tons of heart winning the Remsen despite suffering the gash that caused all of his problems, and then running that gritty second to Greater Good, also in the Essex field (though with dismal recent form). So I gotta root for Rocky here….but that doesn’t mean I can't take a shot against at a price. It's kinda like a hedge.

Steve Asmussen sends out Real Dandy (Yankee Victor) for his four year-old debut, but he’s a plodder who is sure to be overbet, as he usually is. Instead, check out Jonesboro (Sefapiano) (who?) for a possible flyer. It took him six tries to get his first win, but significantly, that came on his first try at Oaklawn, at a mile last January. Four months later in his next start, he won a stakes at this mile and a sixteenth route, also at Oaklawn, improving to a lifetime best 94 Beyer. He suffered an injury afterwards, but came back last month with a rousing sprint victory, closing stoutly at six furlongs at Louisiana Downs. Now he returns to a track and distance that he obviously loves; and the ‘Closer Look’ column in the Form says that “Local wiseguys say this is the horse the way he has been training..” He looks worth a shot at his morning line of 6-1 or higher. But more importantly, let’s hope that Rockport Harbor runs well; he’s a great story and the kind of horse who could create some real excitement in the handicap division this year.