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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Early Pletcher Double

- Interesting maiden special turf race in the first at Belmont on Thursday. Morning line favorite Brantley (3-1) was bet down to favoritism in her debut on May 7, and I posted about the race here. She had to try and circle the field coming into the stretch and was a good four wide, but continued on gamely for third behind the impressive winner Beautiful Danielle, and Judith Basin, who is also in the field. However, the latter moves from the two hole out to post nine, while Brantley starts for the second time from the eight post. Brantley is by the turf champ Theatrical, out of the graded stakes winning mare Biogio’s Rose (Polish Numbers).

Eden’s Causeway (Giant’s Causeway) has been a big money burner, going down at 4-1 and 3-2 twice. The half-brother to Paradise Creek and Wild Event will likely get bet down again, and looks like a bet-against, at least in the win pool.

And it could be a short-priced Pletcher double with Audacious Chloe, the 3-5 morning line favorite against just four other two-year olds. You may recall that she looked home free in her debut at 3-5 at Keeneland, but succumbed late to 24-1 Pro Pink. The latter subsequently ran second against the boys just eight days later in the G3 Kentucky Breeders Cup at Churchill, this time at 23-1.

Stanley Hough, 19% with first-time two-year olds over the last five years, sends out his first one of the year in Velvet Charm. She’s by Montbrook, out of an On To Glory mare; she’s a half to the Florida stakes winner Royal Lad.

Sucker Bets

- Joe Takach has been writing about “physicality handicapping,” the art of interpreting the body language of the horse, for many years. In fact, somewhere in a box in my house somewhere I have an old VCR tape of his about what to look for in the paddock and on the track before the race.

Besides my lousy money management, an inability to avoid getting distracted by simulcasts, a tendency to space out, indecisiveness, a general lack of courage of my convictions, paying too much attention to the tote board, drinking too much (at all, actually), and my penchant for leaving the track with less money than I came with, physicality handicapping is the weakest part of my game. I must admit that I sometimes fall into the category of Takach’s Sucker Bets – Part 14 - BETTING A HORSE WITHOUT WATCHING THE POST PARADE - part of a continuing series he’s doing for John Pricci’s

In order to avoid this “sucker bet” you must believe that horses are warm-blooded athletes rather than lifeless machines and you have to get your face out of the past performances long enough to view your potential wager.
He points out that simulcasts offer the “5 second glimpse,” which Takach feels is usually enough. He lists seven specific things to look out for, so check out the column in its entirety.

The work doesn’t end once the race is over either. Takach publishes the Daily Southern California Horses To Watch (SCHTW), and chief among his observations are the gallop-outs - and the return to the front of the track for unsaddling - following the race. Sucker Bets – Part 10 is betting a horse that PULLS UP POORLY IN THE POST-RACE.
A normal post-race warm-down at the conclusion of a race is a slowing from a gallop to a slow canter that continues to the backstretch with a turnaround at the 5/8 or 9/16 pole (mile track). The runner is then slowly cantered back for unsaddling. If there are no major post-race negative observations, the horse is said to come out of his race in “good order”.

Just as a horse needs a proper pre-race warm-up to maximize potential in his upcoming race, so too does he need a proper warming down in the post-race. This helps the runner to cool out properly when returned to the backside and avoid any unnecessary muscle soreness that could last into his next outing.

Anything less than this proper gallop-out would be considered a bad pull-up of some kind. Bad post-race pull-ups are very bad next out wagers regardless of whether the horse was pulled up prematurely by a lazy jockey or he’s pulled up too quickly because of injury or an aggravation of a prior injury.
Of course, there are different degrees of bad pull-ups, ranging from the worst, being eased or the “quick pull-up” - at a dead stop within 100 yards past the finish line (kinda reminds me of “Mission Accomplished”), to an OK gallop-out but a slow walk back.

All of them are bad bets according to Takach; he cites a 2003 SCHTW study which showed that only 9.1% of bad pull-ups won their next out at Del Mar, 9.8% at Santa Anita, stats which I suspect are not as astounding as they may seem. I don’t always mean to make things complicated, but statistics in sports without an appropriate reference is one of my real pet peeves. To me, it’s meaningless that, in a hypothetical example, the Buffalo Sabres won 30 out of 35 games in which they led going into the third period unless I also know what the league-wide average is. Learning the Green Bay Packers’ third down efficiency on 3th and more than 5 begs the question of how the rest of the league does in that same situation.

Similarly, what percentage of the bad pull-ups finished their race in such a manner that you wouldn’t bet him based on the past performances anyway? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess would be that that number is pretty high. A more meaningful stat to me would be the percentage of bad pull-ups who won or finished within a certain number of lengths behind the winner failed to win their next race. Sorry for making it more complicated than it should be; I just can’t help myself. In any event, Takach has some interesting things to say and the series is worth checking out; though some of his sucker bets, like “Won With a Dream Trip Last Out” are rather obvious.

Belmont Notes - May 31

- Sweetnorthernsaint is out of the Belmont, and that seems like a sensible move. He’s yet to show he can win beyond nine furlongs, and he’s had a pretty long campaign. But he better rest up while he can, because it sounds as if he won’t have too much time off.

The first major goal, Trombetta said, will be either the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, or the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. Both are on Aug. 6.

"I'd like to run him once before then in July," Trombetta said. [Daily Racing Form]
Bob and John (Seeking the Gold) is working lights out in California for the Belmont, and I’d prefer he stay there. It takes a little time for me to get over my animosity towards a horse who, after I pick him to win the Derby in print for scores of readers, runs 17th. But at the same time, there’s also kind of a bond – after all, years from now, long after I’ve forgotten the names of every other horse in the race, I’ll still be able to recall “Yes, I had Bob and John that year. He ran 17th” – and an insistent urge to bet him again. It doesn’t help when you read his jockey excuse the Derby:
"I'm definitely drawing a line through the race," Gomez said. "He's a big colt. He kept getting knocked around the whole time. He got slammed going to the wire the first time, got slammed around the first turn. I finally had him moving forward with some nice progress - I was liking my chances at the half-mile pole - and I had a horse run into my hind inside quarter. [It] completely turned him sideways and he just quit." [DRF]
Baffert said: "He's got the right style for that race.....He's big, with a high cruising speed." His latest work was a bullet (of 22) six furlongs in 1:12.20 at Santa Anita. Don’t get me started...

HC Update

- Bill Turner will eschew the sensible advice given by a recent commenter, and run Highland Cat in a maiden special. “Bill feels confident that HC can run against the big boys after seeing him race last time out on the grass, coming in second.” No word as of yet on what kind of distance he’ll be looking for.

Christening had her second workout since she ‘tied up’ last month, and, like the first one, it was pretty leisurely; a half in 51.20 (33/41) down at Delaware. Not likely she’s going to get sold off of works like that.

Notes - May 31

- Walter admonished us for not discussing the Shoemaker, and it was a Grade 1 after all, so I guess we should mention it. Once the racing starts to really pick up here in New York after a long, cold winter on the inner track, it’s easy to forget that there’s important racing going on elsewhere. Winner Aragorn was the longest shot on the board at 6.50 to 1 despite three close seconds and a win in his last four starts, and a 108 Beyer two races back that was tied for the highest in the field. He stalked Willow O’Wisp, who absolutely walked through a first half of 47.88, which enabled him to sprint home in 45 seconds; with a final quarter of 22.22 and a last eighth of 11.23! Wow! Jockey Corey Nakatani stated the obvious when he said: "I could tell that he was full of run. When I asked him the question to kick on, he did." [LA Daily News] Second place finisher Charmo obviously did quite well to rally for that placing.

Aragorn is by Giant’s Causeway, and it seems to me that he is the first U.S. Grade 1 winner on the turf for the sire. First Samurai won two Grade 1’s – the Hopeful and the Champagne – on the dirt last year. Aragorn is out of a winless Mr. Prospector mare, but his second dam is Savannah Dancer (Northern Dancer), who won graded stakes here on the grass and dirt, and the third dam is the Irish champion Valoris, winner of the Epsom Oaks and Irish 1,000 Guineas.

- Amid the latest theory as to how and why Barbaro got hurt, Edgar Prado visited the stricken Derby champ, and related to the Albany Times-Union just how deeply the injury affected him.

"I really thought about taking some time off.....But I thought it would be very hard for me to stay home and just do a lot of thinking so I went back to riding. It was tough to concentrate but I had to continue to work and move forward."
The latest theory, as posted in the comments section by reader twba, is that Barbaro, when bearing out slightly, was struck on the leg by Brother Derek, who was trying to scramble back from a slow start. I suppose that this may be a more comforting explanation to some, as it would be just a freak accident, and not something that was somehow foretold by the gate incident before the race.

Nor would it be a wider indictment of the sport as a whole for the scheduling of the Triple Crown races or the weakening of the breed. Of course, it doesn’t erase those questions raised either; but perhaps those who are calling for an immediate change in the Triple Crown scheduling will pause to formulate a less emotional response.

I happened to come upon a copy of Conquistador Cielo’s past performances yesterday. Some of us remember as if it wasn’t 24 years ago the way he won the Belmont just five days after winning the Met Mile. But do you recall that he also ran not once, but twice prior to the Met Mile in the month of May alone!? And that was after a race in mid-April. Is it really possible that the breed has become so fragile in such a relatively short period of time? Perhaps....unlike some writers who seem to know for sure despite hardly being experts in horse genetics, I’ll readily admit that I don’t know. But I think I can say that Barbaro, who is bred along more classic lines than many of his more commercially-bred peers, was likely a victim of just plain bad luck that is, as un-politically correct as it is to say these days, just part of the game.

- Bill Finley, on, reveals the cold, hard reality of Sheikh Mohammed’s decision to keep Bernardini out of the Belmont.
Because he is a Grade I winner by a top sire (A.P. Indy), he could be retired tomorrow and still be worth $20 million. Why worry about a $600,000 payday that will do little, if anything, for the horse's stud value? []
By that logic, why risk racing him again at all? So he could be worth $30 million instead? (And this is not an issue of how little time there is between the Preakness and Belmont, unless the latter is run at Saratoga in August.) Though his plans call for a fall campaign, Finley is no doubt correct when he says that Bernardini will likely make two or three more starts and then be retired to stud after the Breeders' Cup.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Belmont In The Bag?

- NYRA should probably update their website, doncha think? I mean, this still appears on the home page!

- Sweetnorthernsaint is still a possibility for the Belmont despite suffering a minor foot injury (grabbed quarter) in the Preakness. "He was a little tender for a day or two but it turned out to be no big deal," Trombetta said. "We need to work him by Saturday. If he doesn't work by Saturday, he won't run in the Belmont." [Albany Times-Union]

Cause To Believe, who seemed to have more backers for the Derby than any 50-1 morning line horse in history (it really was just a bad line by Mike Battaglia, and he went off a far more appropriate 25-1) is back in the picture and is a possibility for Jerry Hollendorfer after a mile work in 1:39 4/5.

It’s funny how some horses will grow in its perceived stature approaching a big race even though he/she hasn’t really done anything of late to warrant it. Often, it’s due to the fact that the horse’s prior effort seems, with time, to grow on people. Sunriver was that horse going into the Derby (which he didn’t get into), and Deputy Glitters seems to be gaining respect going into the Belmont. Now, he’s picked up Edgar Prado as well. On Monday, he worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5. The work included an unplanned and unidentified workmate from the Bill Mott barn.

Much of the optimism centers on a second and third look at his Derby, in which he finished a respectable 8th despite being wide throughout. Assistant trainer Andy Rehm, sitting in for the suspended Tom Albertrani, said of the effort:

"I think he got a 4 on The Sheets, which was one of the lowest numbers in the race. If we got the same kind of trip Bluegrass Cat got, I think we could have been second. Bluegrass Cat is kind of the same horse as Deputy Glitters, he beat us a length and we beat him a length." [NYRA]
And it was Deputy Glitters who had turned the table on Bluegrass Cat after losing to him. Then came the two efforts that you can excuse – the sloppy Wood, and the Derby.

However, I guess it should be pointed out that not all that much positive has yet to come out of that Wood. Plus, there’s nothing too special about his pedigree – he’s by Deputy Commander, a sire who has fizzled since his much hyped first crop featuring Ten Most Wanted, out of Glitterman, a sprinter whose progeny has an average winning distance of just over six furlongs. Nevertheless, he’ll probably take some money, especially with Prado aboard – a lot of sentimental money there, perhaps - as will plodding types such as Jazil and Steppenwolfer, thus perhaps creating a bit of value on Sunriver, who, in my humble opinion 11 days before the Belmont, appears to have this race absolutely in the bag. No?

- Perhaps one way to tell if the casual racing fans and bettors were turned off by the Preakness is to watch the board for the Belmont. If, for example, Platinum Couple is anything close to the absurd 33-1 he went off in the Preakness, then they're proabably still out there watching and throwing their money away on hopeless longshots.

- Richard Dutrow is in the news today for his Met Mile win with Silver Train, but check out what he’s been doing a bit south of Belmont Park: Dutrow has six wins in seven starts this meet at Monmouth Park, where he has 35 horses stabled. [Asbury Park Press]

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday Night Notes - May 29

- A quiet Memorial Day weekend for Barbaro, who continues to do extremely well. He’s not out of the woods yet of course, and the doctors maintain that it could be months before they know whether Barbaro will survive. [Bloodhorse]

Meanwhile, the flood of news stories continues. Yet another major piece in the NY Times today, this one requiring merely the free registration. Maybe there is something to this “no such thing as bad publicity” thing. The article today ranks as the second most emailed sports story, behind only the Bobby Bonds news. This piece is by Bill Finley, and it’s a comprehensive look at the relationship, if any, between Barbaro’s false start and the injury. Much of it is a rehash of debates we’ve been hearing for a week. But it includes this fascinating theory by a Dr. Sid Gustafson, a Montana-based veterinarian.

"In regard to the Preakness, as unfortunate as it was, and albeit in retrospect, the examining veterinarian should have scratched Barbaro after he broke out of the gate before the starter began the race......The horse tweaked something somewhere as a result of the tremendous force required to break open the gate, and as a result, he was most likely getting off his front end as Edgar tried to jockey him forward early in the race, a slight asynchrony that ultimately put undue forces on the right hind ankle resulting in the horse's breakdown."

He continued: "The breakout cannot be eliminated as a causal effect in my opinion, and although it may have been coincidental, that is unlikely. But you can imagine the politics of such a veterinary scratch with the Triple Crown at stake, taking the favorite out of the race. The veterinarian's hands were tied, and he/she was by and large prevented from taking the horse out."
Well, it’s not that unusual to see horses break through the gate and then reload and race. So he’s really saying that any horse that breaks through the gate should be scratched due to a risk of overcompensating for some likely tweak caused by the act of exerting enough force to open the gate. Seems like a reasonable idea (though I’d be interested to see some statistics supporting his idea – exactly how many horses that break through the gate end up breaking down during the race?), and something concrete that the industry can point to and show that it has learned something from the Preakness. It would likely come to be known as the Barbaro rule.

- Trainer David Donk took the 4th at Belmont on the grass with Tiverton in the gelding’s first race since November. Last week, he sent out Fishy Advice to win on turf off of a similar layoff, and did the same with Peg’s Prayer earlier this month.

The Freakiest Thing Ever

- In the Met Mile, I came up a bit short of what would have been a really nice triple, considering that it paid $190 with Silver Train, the 2-1 favorite, holding off Sun King, who opened at 7-2, but drifted up to 6.90 to 1. I ended up using Silver Train instead of Greeley’s Legacy, who I picked for some minor awards here. For someone who makes most of his decisions within five minutes of post time, I’ve been really good about betting what I pick on this blog, but in this case, I changed my mind. Greeley’s Legacy seemed a bit dead on the board, and I just wasn’t getting positive vibes about him. Bandini looked magnificent in the paddock, but I don’t think this distance and one-turn route is his best game.

It was a frustrating beat for me, and Zito sounded rather flustered as well, referring to some of his recent close calls in a rambling statement.

"It's a little frustrating. In the Donn, we finished second. In the Pimlico Special, we finished second. In the Met Mile we finished second – and we beat (trainer Todd) Pletcher all three times....It's like the freakiest thing ever. The horse ran great. He ran his guts out. This was a tough beat. We lost to the horse that won the Breeders' Cup Sprint over this track. We're there all year in these Grade 1s, we need to win one. I'm grateful to these horses for trying so hard. This race just adds to Sun King's legacy.” [Bloodhorse]
Sun King is growing on me as a racehorse; I was amongst his detractors prior to the Kentucky Derby and I remained skeptical during his brief revival last year. But his last two have been dynamic, and I'm always a sucker for a good closer. However, I wouldn't exactly agree that he has a legacy at this point. For Silver Train, it’s his second major stakes win over a Belmont track over which he’s now four-for-six. Richard Dutrow acknowledged that “If this race were run at Aqueduct or anywhere else in the world, I'm sure he would have gotten beat.” He said that he may point Silver Train to the mile and a quarter Suburban on July 1.

- In the fifth race, a maiden special for three and up, Habsburg (Old Trieste), 5-1 for his debut at Gulfstream for Darley, was 10-1 today, no doubt due to a really nasty past performance line in his only race. He did break poorly that day in April, but showed nothing, fading to 24 lengths behind the winner. This time he broke well, got the lead, and then dug in to repel the Nick Zito-trained Orlov by a neck – another freaky second for Nick! This horse is out of a Nureyev half-sister to Barbican, the Darley colt who was briefly on the Derby Trail before being sidelined with a fractured sesamoid; and also the champion filly Tempera.

All Signs Positive

- Great news from the Billy Turner barn, where Highland Cat is reported to be up and eating well, after being spotted asleep on the floor of his stall on Saturday morning. That initial report gave me a scare, but the latest report is “all signs positive,” and that’s great news. It makes perfect sense that the horse would be tired after really exerting himself for the first time ever; he was really driving at the end to defend his second place finish.

One decision that lies ahead is to whether to move him up in class to maiden specials, or at least a higher claiming price. The thought of him being claimed for $45,000 seemed absurd before Friday’s effort; now, that amount seems way too cheap for a horse with a new lease on life. Highland Cat is eligible to improve after his first attempt on the grass, and, as suggested by a reader here the other day, perhaps a stretch out to one of those 1 3/8 mile maiden special marathons could be to his liking.

Saratoga Preview

- And here they come, down the stretch at Saratoga!

Well, not what one would usually expect. But it is just May, after all. These adorable miniature horses were part of the all-breed show at the Saratoga Bridges Festival and Dressage activities going on there over this Memorial Day weekend. Besides all the cool horses, it was a rare chance to have a look at the track before the crowds descend upon it this August. And I’m very happy to report that absolutely nothing has changed.

Well, actually one thing looked a little different. Lush green grass in the backyard area. This won't last much past the second weekend or the first big storm, whichever comes first.

Bizarre Reporting by Rhoden

- I received some thoughtful comments on my post on the NY Times column by William C. Rhoden last week about the “unknown” filly who died of a heart attack at Belmont on Wednesday. Particularly interesting was the commenter who relates that he/she had been interviewed by Rhoden that day, but that those responses didn’t make it into the piece.

He baited me with the comment that everyone seemed to care about Barbaro, but no one seemed to care about this "anonymous" filly. I told him, "No one cares? I can assure you, sir, that this filly's connections were grief-stricken." He asked who those connections might be. I told him "the assistant trainer and groom ran out there immediately, to be by her side. To the people who spend every day of the week with her, she was as special to them as Barbaro is to the Jacksons".
These remarks obviously didn’t fit into Rhoden’s agenda, and thus ended up on the cutting floor. I had complimented the columnist on at least his reporting skills that were on display, but this revelation shows that he was equally adept at skewing the results of his endeavors towards his point of view (and reader Steve D makes a fair point to the effect that he feels that this is common practice for a newspaper that he, and others, consider to be at the forefront of what they consider to be the liberal media).

On Saturday, Rhoden wrote another column that bashes the industry (again, subscription only, sorry), claiming that in the wake of the Barbaro injury:
..questions have begun to percolate about a bizarre thoroughbred industry, from its training methods to the medication to the routine treatment of horses who aren't superstars.
‘Bizarre?’ That’s a pretty bizarre way in itself to describe a sport that has been part of the mainstream in this country far longer than his beloved basketball has. Rhoden then segues into a discussion of horse slaughter in this country, and here, as opposed to what I considered to be skillful reporting in the prior column, the journalism is shockingly shoddy.

For one thing, he fails to mention that industry groups such as the NTRA and the NYRA have universally supported legislation to ban horse slaughter. Nor does he discuss the numerous private efforts, such as those by organizations such as Old Friends, to find homes for horses after their racing careers. No surprise there.

But worse yet, he writes that: The legislation has been doggedly and successfully fought by cattle associations and veterinarian groups. He never mentions the fact that legislation intended to ban the slaughterhouses was indeed passed by Congress last September. That law attempted to do so by prohibiting federal funding for required inspections of the plants. But the three slaughterhouses circumvented the law by appealing to the Agriculture Department, which subsequently allowed the plants to pay for the inspections themselves. This is one of the examples of the executive branch of the Bush Administration running roughshod over the legislative branch, and perhaps one of the incidents that has contributed to what we can definitely refer to as the "bizarre" sight of Republicans objecting to the recent FBI raid on Democratic Senator William Jefferson’s office. Frankly, I find it rather amazing that a columnist for the so-called Paper of Record would be so negligent with his research.

But despite the shoddy reporting, the column is not completely without its merits. Perhaps you will be as surprised as I am to learn that Dr. Larry Bramlage, the vet who told the Preakness audience on NBC to “say a prayer” for Barbaro, is opposed to current legislative efforts to permanently ban the slaughterhouses.
"We have to have to face the fact that there are unwanted horses, uncared-for horses and neglected horses.....It's a better scenario for the quality of the horse's life to assure that they'll be taken care of and assured that somebody takes the responsibility not to let them suffer. We don't promote the fact that people have to send their horses to slaughter. If there's any other option, we'd prefer they do that."
Bramlage described the process by which the horses are slaughtered as instant, humane death. "People think of half-dressed, unshaven people wielding knives," he said. Instead, the slaughterhouses use a bolt gun and a bullet that is on a spring and placed between the horse's eyes and ears. "It shoots out the end and springs back," he said.

This euthanasia system renders the horse instantly unconscious. "You watch the horse, their eyes don't change, they don't even blink and the ears don't even move," Bramlage said. "They drop straight down instantly."
Hopefully, Dr. Bramlage said a prayer for these horses too. His views reflect those of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, of which he is a member. Tom Lenz, a former president of the organization told Rhoden of horses who meet this fate: "They got there because they didn't meet somebody's needs."
Lenz said that those who own horses, those who buy horses and those who breed horses need to do some soul-searching and decide what their motives are for owning a horse and their capabilities of taking care of a horse.

"Outlawing processing is not going to solve the problem," he said.

Maybe not, but it's a start. Eliminate the slaughterhouse.

Let the horse die a natural death.
Now, there’s one thing that we and the columnist for the Times can agree on.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Met Mile

- Mass Media (Touch Gold) is the classic “in-and-outer.” He can throw in a good race at any time, and often leaves bettors confounded. He’s been beaten the last four times he’s gone to the post favored, and his last three wins have come at odds of 15-1, 8-1, and 12-1. They’ve also come at distances less than a mile. He ran a good second to Purge in the Cigar Mile, but seems just a bit overmatched here. Which probably means he’ll run big.

Sun King (Charismatic) rebounded from two lackluster efforts at Gulfstream with a last-to-first win in the seven furlong G2 Commonwealth BC at Keeneland on Blue Grass day that some people were using to argue that there was no track bias that day. I thought it just was what happens when horses go 44 1/5 to the half and come home in 39 seconds. Still, it was an impressive effort, as he went 22.40 in the second quarter just to keep up, and then 37 1/5 to get home. Nick Zito has been bubbling under of late; there was Noble Causeway’s second to Mayan King today; Hemingway’s Key’s third in the Preakness, Andromeda’s Hero’s 2nd in the Schaefer, plus Wanderin Boy’s 2nd in the Special (though he was favored in that race), and In The Gold’s 3rd in the BC Distaff. Zito is knocking at the door and perhaps he can break through here. (Though I'd certainly demand his 6-1 morning line at the least.)

Bandini (Fusaichi Pegasus) is two-for-two as a four-year old, and Pletcher has had this race picked out for a long time. But his wins this year may look better than they are. He got the better of Wanderin Boy at Gulfstream, but it was that one’s first race in ten months, one that he clearly needed. He beat two subsequent winners in the Skip Away, but both won allowance races and ran far slower figs than the winner will here. Hard to argue with Pletcher in a stakes race, but he’ll have to run a lifetime best Beyer at a one-turn route that may not be his best, and could be vulnerable and overbet.

Silver Train (Old Trieste) prefaced his win in the BC Sprint with a romp in the one mile Jerome Handicap on this same track, in which he earned a 110 Beyer. A return to that race would make him the most probable winner. But is he in the same kind of form? He’s o-for-two this year, including his second to Spooky Mulder at 1-2 in a three horse race that Dutrow made clear was a prep for this one. In fact, Dutrow is quoted in the Form as saying last November that "If he wins one race next year and it's the Met Mile, that would make everybody happy." He figures to have a good spot towards the front, perhaps stalking Bandini. But as good as his Jerome was, he’ll be facing better than High Fly and Naughty New Yorker here (not to mention Spooky Mulder), and he needs to step up his game significantly.

As much as I liked the effort of Wilko (Awesome Again) in the Dubai World Cup, the fact is that he still hasn’t won since the 2004 Juvenile; that’s ten starts now. He did have the lead at the mile marker in the World Cup, and Eloctrocutionist, even on the dirt is probably better than he’ll see here. (The same may go for runner-up Brass Hat.). Still, he needs to prove that he can win, and I’ll use him underneath only.

What is New York Hero (Partner’s Hero) doing in this race? Oh, he’s a Paraneck horse, never mind..

Sir Greeley (Mr. Greeley) comes off a Belmont win at this distance in his last, the G3 Westchester, and has two wins and two just-missed seconds in his last four starts. That includes the Grade 1 Carter. He’s four-for-five at this distance and is an obvious contender here.

- Picks: Sun King, Wilko, Sir Greeley

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Saturday Morning Notes - May 27

- Still up in Saratoga, and continuing our weekend journey, so the posting will be light for the next couple of days. We will be back in town for the Met Mile on Monday though. And so will Wilko. He's back from England and is set to go in the big holiday feature. He’s still winless since his Juvenile win back in 2004, but gained new respect with his lights-out run for third in the Dubai World Cup. His trainer Jeremy Noseda has more realistic prospects in mind, at least distance-wise.

"The fact is in our mind we don't feel that he maybe truly gets a mile and a quarter.....Most probably the Stephen Foster at a mile and an eighth is a spot-on trip, yet the Met Mile to me - looking from England - is one of the standout races on the American calendar." [Daily Racing Form]
With Pletcher’s imposing Bandini in the field, as well as Sun King and Sprint winner Silver Train, Noseda feels that his horse should be “6-1 or 7-1,” but adds: “There's no horse in there that I can sit here and say that will definitely beat me.”

- Discreet Cat started his training for the July 4 Dwyer with a three furlong work in 39.69 seconds.

- Matt Hegarty reports that Empire Racing Associates, the horsemen-backed group that hopes to compete for the NY racing franchise, has raised $1.5 million, half of what they hope to raise in order to be an effective lobbying voice in Albany, where they hope to effect a change in the state’s antiquated racing laws. Filling the void left by the departure of Friends of New York Racing, who wrapped up their operations earlier this year, the group promises to be a crucial presence on behalf of racing interests. Of course, raising the vast sums of money necessary to actually bid for the franchise is a different story, and one that will require business partners who hopefully have the sport, and not slot machines, as the main priority.
[CEO Jeff] Perlee said that a number of companies and individuals have contacted Empire about striking a partnership with the group to make the bid. He declined to identify any of the interested parties. [Daily Racing Form]
- Save the date, August 12. That’s the date of the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga. An interested party informs the Highland Cat partners: “Highland cat's [fatigue] curve from this race says he can go 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27 1/5th.” Better Talk Now run the race in 2:28 2/5 last year. “I can dream, can't I ----“

Yes, you can. Hope does spring eternal after all. But perhaps we should get him a win first...

- Horsemen and management have settled their differences at Yonkers Raceway, and the track will reopen for racing in September; which is when management was planning to anyway when the horsemen sued. The settlement ensures 77 of 154 missed dates would be made up in the first year of the five-year agreement. [Journal News]

Friday, May 26, 2006

Highland Cat a Rat No More

- Thanks to all who wrote in about Highland Cat’s second place finish today. It had gotten to the point where I doubted that I’d ever hear Tom Durkin use the words “charging through” to describe in Highland Cat in the final furlong of a race.

I shuddered when I walked into Saratoga Harness with around 15 minutes and saw rain coming down at Belmont, but “Fast” and “Firm” was all I needed to know. Jan Rushton said that he had the best turf breeding in the field, but his odds went steadily up from there, from 8-1 to his 16-1 post time price.

As they loaded into the gate, I was hoping for small things. Like ‘don’t be last.’ That seemed like a good place to start. And indeed, he broke alertly, and for the first time, assumed a contending position instead of dropping steadily backwards. Good job by Pablo Fragoso getting him over to the rail for the first turn. He stayed there, in 5th behind the second flight, as they went into the turn, and here is where I almost lost hope.

He appeared, for a moment, to start to make his familiar retreat; Lunenburg passed him by, and the Head Chef and I both sighed “oh no” out loud. But suddenly, he started to move, split horses into the stretch, then appeared to hang again a bit, but then found his best stride. I was particularly impressed by the way he responded to the challenge of Broadway Bud, who seemed threatening for a moment. A guy behind me was cheering for Broadway Bud loudly. But there was no way he was getting past Highland Cat, not even if they went the proverbial one more time around. And they came home the last furlong in a more-than-respectable 12.33 seconds.

I’m interested in hearing what Fragoso had to say, wondering if perhaps they had some traffic problems behind the two horses in front of him around the turn. Once the hole opened up, he moved through pretty handily. He still seems a little green, but showed a lot of competitiveness, and the Castle Village message board is lit up with partners who are very relieved, having recently received the cash call. Hope springs eternal for sure when a horse wakes up on the turf in May. There’s a full summer of grass racing ahead, including Saratoga, so, with luck, lots and lots of luck, he’ll provide some exciting summer days ahead.

I’m particularly glad to read that some readers made a little money on the race, way to go! As for me, I’m just not a place and show guy; I would have had a nice score had he won. But the Head Chef got back $20.70 for the two bucks across the board.

Finally, The Moment of Truth

- Well, here it is; finally, after being rained out twice, the long awaited turf debut of Highland Cat. And I won’t be on hand; instead, I’ll be watching the simulcast at Saratoga Harness, as the Head Chef and I are going up in the morning to scout it out for the upcoming meeting. We’ve had this planned, and the horse hasn’t exactly shown much indication that he’s worth radically changing plans for. Nonetheless, it’s a WHOLE NEW BALLGAME, BABY, and maybe it will bring good luck, and I’ll drive up there every time he runs.

To me, there are only three horses in the field that have turf form worth worrying about. One of those, Oracle of Omaha (Louis Quatorze) has been out for almost 14 months, and returns for a tag for the first time. On the outside, are three horses similarly dropping into claimers. Really Reilly (Pine Bluff) goes for the hot Hushion barn, and is 4-1 in the morning line, but I Really Reilly don’t like him. King Hoss (El Prado) hasn’t been out since September; John Kimmel has not been winning off layoffs of late (though he has three recent seconds).

Morning line favorite Lunenburg is the one that scares me the most. He came off a seven month layoff; at 7-1, he was live on the board considering his long odds and dismal efforts in his two prior races, and closed six wide to close for 4th, missing the win by just a half length. This five year old gelding has some nice turf influences; by Lear Fan, out of a Seattle Slew mare, and this is the female family of Twilight Agenda and Go and Go, both of whom won grass stakes in Europe before winning major stakes here, as well as the multiple Grade 1 Irish-bred Refuse to Bend.

But it’s a fresh start for Highland Cat; it’s his maiden start for all intents and purposes. Hope spring eternal, indeed. Tactical Cat sires 11% first-out grass winners, according to the Form; and his broodmare sire, Highland Blade (Damascus), loved grass, dirt, and distance. We know that Highland Cat doesn’t like at least one of those; hopefully he’ll like the other two here.

[UPDATE: Oh man, there's a chance of "strong storms" in the forecast...]

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Times Column a Cheap Shot

- A horse died of a heart attack at Belmont on Wednesday, and New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden happened to be there. The result is a column (subscription site) entitled An Unknown Filly Dies, and the Crowd Just Shrugs.

There was no array of photographers at Belmont Park yesterday, no sobbing in the crowd as a badly injured superstar horse tried to stay erect on three legs. There was no national spotlight.

Instead, there was death. In the seventh race at Belmont, a 4-year-old filly named Lauren's Charm headed into the homestretch. As she began to fade in the mile-and-an-eighth race on the grass, her jockey, Fernando Jara, felt her struggling, pulled up and jumped off.

As the race concluded, Lauren's Charm collapsed. No one, except those associated with the horse and two track veterinarians, seemed to notice.

The scene was in stark contrast to what unfolded at Pimlico last Saturday when the Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, severely fractured his ankle in the opening burst of the Preakness. A national audience gasped; an armada of rescuers rushed to the scene. In the days that followed, as the struggle to keep Barbaro alive took full shape, there was an outpouring of emotion across the country and heartfelt essays about why we care so much about these animals.

But I'm not so sure we do, and I'm not so sure the general public fully understands this sport. When people attempt to rationalize the uneasy elements of racing, they often say: "That's part of the business. That's the game."

But there was nothing beautiful or gracious or redeeming about the seventh race at Belmont. This was the underside of the business. The nuts-and-bolts part, where animals are expendable parts of a billion-dollar industry.
The column appeared prominently at the top right of the front page of the sports section, countering at least some of the positive karma that may have come out of the outpouring of sympathy, and the Herculean medical efforts on account of Barbaro. Great.

It’s a astounding piece of journalism to be sure. Unless he’s a track degenerate, Rhoden was at Belmont, I imagine, to do some more follow up on the Preakness. But once the filly went down, Rhoden went to work, interviewing the attending vet and jockey Fernando Jara (who was aboard that 41-1 shot that won the subsequent race); plus, he tracked down the horse’s owner on his cellphone at a track in Massachusetts, where he watched the race. He also got behind the scenes and offered a grim and disturbing portrayal of the filly’s disposal.

But I do think it’s a bit of a cheap shot. For one thing, the depiction of An earthmover [pushing] the horse against a concrete wall, is unnecessarily lurid and doesn’t really add anything to the debate. In addition, for Rhoden to write that people didn’t seem to notice...Or care isn’t fair. People watching on TV, probably more than half the crowd, didn’t know about it any more than the owner did; while the TV shot showed the filly pulling up on the turn after leading to that point, there was no indication from Tom Durkin that she was in distress. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen these incidents, and people do care. Not everyone, but neither does everyone when someone falls and hurts them self on the street. I don’t really know what the writer would expect everyone to do. It’s like anything else; you pass the car crash, gasp at the gruesome wreckage; and though some may have a heavier heart than others, all but a scant few continue on to our destination.

It’s acknowledged in the piece that such an occurrence happens in just around 1 in 20,000 horses. The writer happened to be there to witness it, and the events apparently lent themselves to his making a point. Since when does the Times have a writer at the track on a weekday? If they did on most any other day, the chances are that, with similar journalistic fortitude and without the same agenda, he or she would be far more likely to produce a piece about some unknown horse that may not be particularly fast, but is nonetheless healthy and happy and enjoying the gift of life that it has solely due to the existence of this sport.

- On a brighter note is this cool cartoon on Opening Day at Suffolk via Railbird. It’s a look at some of the things that we love about the sport, particularly the last frame – ....and hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rank Outsider

- Talk about a rank outsider, check out the chart for the 8th at Belmont today (pdf file). Six horse field, five of them ranging from 2-1 to 6-1, and then Heavenly Psalm at 41-1. And guess who won? It’s certainly not unprecedented for the longest shot on the board to win a race, but it’s pretty rare that this distinct of a longest shot on the board pulls the upset. Heavenly Psalm had actually graduated at 6f on the inner track just three races back. But she was beaten soundly in her first two allowance tries, and faded to 15 lengths behind in her last, at today’s mile distance.

But today, she set the pace while “in hand,” going 45.81 to the half (with a 22.66 second half); put away the hot tote horse Generosity at the top of the stretch, and then staggered home in a full 27.05 seconds! Talk about ‘bottoming out the field.’

I mentioned Generosity this morning; she was 6-1 morning line, opened around 9-2, drifted slowly down to 7-2 with around three minutes to go. From there she got pounded to 5-2 at post time. That late tote action is something we don’t get in the past performances or race charts. When Sports Eye carried thoroughbred pp’s back in the.....a long time ago, they did have the odds with three minutes to go, so you got a sense of the late action.

Speaking of the tote board, we never discussed the odds for the Preakness because it seemed trite at the time, but with Barbaro having a Wednesday termed to be "excellent," let’s take a look back. There were some pretty unexpected things going on.

For one thing, Sweetnorthernsaint was stone cold dead on the board at 8.40 to 1, after getting hammered to favoritism in the Derby and the Illinois Derby. Unbelievable. I don’t think he deviated from 8-1 the entire time. Of course, he ran far better than he did in the Derby, and is considered a possibility for the Preakness Belmont.

But the most amazing thing about the betting was the fact that Platinum Couple wasn’t the longest shot on the board, and was only 33-1! How could he have been lower than Greeley’s Legacy, the longest shot at 34-1? Diabolical was only 26-1. I think we’ve been seeing this type of board in the Triple Crown races ever since Giacomo, as people are drawn to the highest prices.

I think we this saw this effect in the betting for the Derby as well. If Giacomo was 50-1, horses like Seaside Retreat and Storm Treasure should have been 5,000 to 1! Yet only one horse in the field, Deputy Glitters, was as high as 60-1. We also saw this in last year’s Belmont, in which no horse, even one that was a maiden, was higher than 20-1. (The maiden finished third, thereby costing me the triple.)

Ward Trio Works

- Minister’s Bid (Deputy Minister), who was fairly monstrous winning his debut for John Ward at Keeneland, has been working out on the Saratoga training track. He’s had at least three workouts that I recall getting alerts on, most recently five furlongs in 1:02.01 (2/12) this morning. The fastest at the distance was another Ward horse, Extreme Supreme (Deputy Minister) (1:01.81). He was up the track at 29-1 in January at Gulfstream, his only race. He’s by Deputy Minister out of stakes winner Low Tolerance (Proud Truth), and his third dam is the CCA Oaks winner Bramlea, which makes his second dam a half-sister to Roberto, dig it! You think he might try him on the turf?

And the third fastest work (1:02.15) was by none other than Dr. Pleasure (Thunder Gulch), who debuted with flair for Ward at Saratoga last year, and then ran second in the Cowdin. Then, he ran in the Juvenile in his third carrer start, and was up the track at 40-1. When I wrote earlier in the spring that I was surprised that the normally patient Ward was trying to rush Strong Contender to the Derby, I guess I’d forgotten about Dr. Pleasure. You may recall that he ran a distant third last month at April in his three-year old debut.

Wednesday Morning Notes - May 24

- Here’s yet another track reporting an increase in business. Is there some kind of underground movement going on? Turf Paradise saw its average total handle increase 7.6 percent from the 2004-2005 meet. [DRF] Among the reasons cited by the track’s GM Eugene Joyce is one that's familiar, and one not so.

• More than twice as many (46) races on the turf, which he estimated boosted handle on those races by 20 to 30 percent.
• An aggressive marketing campaign, combined with the impact of the anniversary activities. [Arizona Republic]
Aggressive Marketing? There’s a novel one for you. Speaking of which, can they bring back “Go Baby Go” now?

- Penn National has come to agreement with the city of Bangor, Maine to build a permanent racino at, or actually, near the Bangor Park harness track.
"We got 'er done," Council Chairman John Cashwell said after the votes took place. "I'm not Larry the Cable Guy, but it works anyway." [Bangor Daily News]
I have absolutely no idea what that means, really. In fact, just to show you how attuned I am to what passes as popular culture these days, I had to look up on Google to see who Larry the Cable Guy is. Have I missed anything? Bangor is already hooked beyond hope on slots revenue, a year or more before construction on the new building even starts.
The city already has earned more than $500,000 from Hollywood Slots in Bangor, the temporary slots facility in the former Miller's Restaurant on Main Street, which has been operating for six months.
- New Bolton Center has a web page for updates on Barbaro. And a page on which you can send an email message to the horse (I’m not kidding).

- Viewers in the UK did not get to see NBC’s graphic shots of Barbaro in distress after breaking down in the Preakness; it seems the broadcast networks there have different standards as to what is acceptable for their viewers.
[Racing UK] foreshortened its relay of the US feed because of NBC’s differing editorial policy on equine injuries. The US audience saw replays and close-ups of the incident, of Prado calming his mount, of Barbaro pathetically pawing the ground with a front leg while holding a shattered rear in the air, of the ambulance arriving and of vets working to save his life. The British audience saw relatively little.
In US chatrooms, NBC was berated for dwelling too long on Barbaro’s predicament before the talk turned to whether the rigorous Triple Crown schedule could be blamed for his injury. [Times Online UK]
Personally, I haven’t seen much debate as to NBC’s coverage; I thought they did what they had to do. It was part of the news story they were covering, and I can’t really imagine that they would turn their cameras away from what was transpiring nor shun the replays, unless it was so overwhelmingly gory as to make it obscene. As difficult as it was to watch, the time that I found myself turning away was when they showed the replay of the Matz’s real-time reaction to the horse pulling up.

The British paper is also put off, as am I, by’s insistence on referring to the Kentucky Derby sponsorship even in their reports on the Barbaro injury and its aftermath.
I HAVE seen the future of race sponsorship and it is ridiculous. The following absurdity can be found on which includes an educative pictorial update of Barbaro’s progress. The written update begins: “Barbaro, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, was ‘bright and appropriately frisky’ Monday after surgery to repair his broken hind leg.” This moment of bathos was brought to you courtesy of Churchill Downs racecourse and the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Bloodhorse is even inserting the Yum! Brands mention into the Associated Press stories that it picks up, even though the original articles don’t include it.

- Nice little six horse feature at Belmont today, and I’m taking a look at Generosity (Unbridled’s Song) (6-1). It’s her first start since winning on the Polytrack at Turfway last December, but Bruce Levine is sharp with returnees, and hits at 30% for first time out of his barn. Besides, the two morning line choices seem vulnerable here.

Trainer Stanley Hough is off to a decent start at Belmont, with two winners, a second and a third with seven starters. One of those thirds was with Pretty Proud (Mr. Greeley). That race is a good illustration of the way many thoroughbred races are run in this country. After running her second quarter in a quick 22 4/5, she slowed down to 24 4/5, and 26 flat for the second half of the mile race; yet she went from being in 5th by six lengths to within a length of the winner. Amazing. 5-2 morning line; I gotta try and beat her. Ditto the 2-1 favorite Pleasant Lyrics (Pleasant Tap), who hasn’t been out since last June for a barn sporting a poor record with returnees.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Time For A Change?

- Dick Jerardi has had enough.

Smarty Jones never raced past the Belmont Stakes. Nor did Afleet Alex. Poor Barbaro is just trying to survive after the Preakness. This can't be a coincidence.
So Jerardi proposes a radical change to the Triple Crown:
The Derby stays right where it is - first Saturday in May. The Preakness goes to the first Saturday in June. The Belmont is run the first Saturday in July. With that, there would be at least 4 weeks between each race. Some years, depending on the calendar, there might be 5 weeks if a Saturday came in the first few days of a month.

While we are changing things, get rid of the mile-and-a-half Belmont. Like the 2 weeks, 3 weeks, that is another thing that is never done anymore - except in one race. It's just stupid. The sport has changed. Make the Belmont a mile and a quarter. [Philly Daily News]
Not so fast, buster. I’m not going along with this; I’m FAR too much of a traditionalist. Watching the Preakness on a June 5th would remind me of June 12, 1997, that eerie night when the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants in the first interleague game. I’d hoped right up until the very end that somebody, somewhere would step in and stop this madness before it was too late. Because once that line was crossed, there was no going back.

The Triple Crown series hasn’t always been quite the same – Sir Barton, the first Triple Crown winner, won the Preakness four days after the Derby, and the Belmont four weeks after that. Oh, yeah, he won the Withers in between. But that’s still three wins in five weeks (in this case, a bit less), and most of us have known it all our lives the way it is now. And there would be no going back if it’s ever changed.

Jerardi is one of many who are telling us that the breed has changed because of too much emphasis on speed. But not everyone believes that. Self-proclaimed Pedigree Goddess Anne Peters contends that "What has changed in recent years is everything but the horse."
She believes trainers from the 1970s -- the last golden era of thoroughbreds, which saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed win Triple Crowns in 1973, 1977 and 1978, respectively -- learned under the "old-timey trainers" who worked in the industry during the '30s, '40s and '50s.

"I don't think we have trainers learning the same techniques," Peters said. "If you weren't raised and schooled by an old-time horseman, you don't know those tricks." [AP]
Regardless of whether the breeders or trainers or anyone else is at fault, there appears to be a problem. That problem is not, however, the fact that nobody has won it since 1978. What would be a problem is if it was won with regularity; then it wouldn’t be special anymore. It’s supposed to be hard, and if it is, so be it. I don’t think that 120,000 people would pack Belmont if it was won every other year.

The perceived problem is that too many horses that compete in the series break down or retire. Jerardi picks out three in Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro. But before we destroy an established tradition, has anyone compared the number of breakdowns and injuries sustained by Triple Crown horses as compared to the rest of the horse population? Is it possible that it’s just been magnified because of all the attention? I’m just asking.

Looking back at horses that ran in both the Derby and Preakness last year, two prominent names, Afleet Alex and Closing Argument, never raced after the Triple Crown; High Fly is retired now. But other horses are still in action. Giacomo is one of them, though he hasn’t been very good. Buzzards Bay turned in one of the more impressive performances of the year in the Oaklawn Handicap. [EDIT - Sorry, he did not run in the Preakness; my error.] Sun King won that graded sprint stakes on Blue Grass day. High Limit won two Grade 2’s early in the year. Wilko was huge in the Dubai World Cup. Noble Causeway has recovered from his Saratoga fiasco and put in some nice efforts. Greeley’s Galaxy and Galloping Grocer are still racing. I don’t really know if Going Wild is still in training; but I still can’t believe that Lukas ran him back in the Preakness.

So, at least six out of the ten who ran in the races two weeks apart are still racing, some of them extremely well. I know this is just a one year sample, and I’m not being paid enough to go back through more years at this time. But my point is that in order to determine if there’s a problem, you have to examine the matter statistically and rationally before jumping to conclusions that are based on the emotion of the time. I don’t know that that’s being done in all the post-Preakness hand wringing.

But maybe Jerardi turns out to be right, and the series is just too grueling for the modern day horse? And that we’re going to have too many more Barbaros if the series isn’t spaced and the Belmont not shortened? Well, then, do it. Just don’t call it the Triple Crown anymore. While it would still be challenging, you just wouldn’t be able to give a horse who won it the same title of Triple Crown Champion as the ones who had the class and endurance to win it as it was meant to be.

- Ms. Peters chalks the injury up not to flaws in Barbaro's breeding, but to plain “bad luck.”
"Dynaformer," Peters said of Barbaro's sire, "has tremendous bone like you rarely see on a thoroughbred. He gets horses that can run across parking lots." [Albany Times-Union]

Boobirds in Minority

- There was a report in the NY Post yesterday that Edgar Prado drew some “loud boos” amidst the cheers when he entered the paddock for the 3rd race at Belmont on Sunday. I was there, and I’m happy to report that the jeers were confined to the usual peanut gallery that gathers on the grandstand side of the path leading from the paddock to the track to harrass the jockeys every day. I’d also say that it was only a couple of idiots, but just a few people booing loudly can counter a far larger number of people clapping or cheering and create a false impression. That’s pretty common at sporting events, and the booers usually get more of the press attention. The sad truth is that there really weren’t enough people at the cavernous track on Sunday to create any real crowd reaction at all. But I did hear a couple of people yell that the rider was a hero; unfortunately, that wasn’t reported by the Post.

Reports from New Bolton today lend further encouragement to a recovery for Barbaro.

"He's actually better today than he was even yesterday and he was pretty good yesterday," Dr. Dean Richardson said. "He's walking very well on the limb, absolutely normal vital signs. He's doing very well."

Barbaro was on his feet in his stall, even scratching his left ear with his left hind leg just two days after Richardson and a team of assistants spent more than five hours pinning together the leg bones he shattered in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. [AP]
The fact that he was using his left leg to scratch his ear sounds like good news to this layman, as it seems to indicate that he’s comfortable putting weight on the injured leg. That would help to preclude the possibility of him developing potentially fatal laminitis in his good limb.

- Indian Vale was last at 4-5 in the five-horse, Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont on Sunday. Her pp lines now show five dominating wins, and two fifths in her seven starts. The other fifth was the day that Angel Cordero rode her at Philly Park. She stumbled a bit at the start, but stalked the leader while “in hand,” and had no visible excuse. Pletcher said: “The track was in good shape. We'll check her out." [Bloodhorse] It was another disappointing performance by last year’s CCA Oaks winner Smuggler, who faded to third, beaten 11 lengths as the 2-1 second choice.

For winner Take D’Tour (Tour D’Or), it was her third straight dominating win and her third stakes triumph. The Grade 1 Ogden Phipps was termed a “good possibility" for her next start, and I doubt you’ll see 6-1 on her anytime again soon.

Prado: No Conspiracy

- The New York Times reports Edgar Prado's response to the "conspiracy theories" inspired by the shot of him appearing to look back at Barbaro's hind legs shortly before the race.

"I do it with all my horses," Prado said. "I check that the girth is on right and then to see if their shoes are on firmly. I felt him move, and I looked back and there were flies on him. It happens a lot, especially when the infield is crowded and there's beer and food all around."

Prado also reiterated that Barbaro barely touched the gate when it popped open and he broke through it before the race. He said Barbaro barely broke out of a casual gait.

"He's a professional, and when he saw nobody else was running he just went back to the gate," Prado said.

"He warmed up nice and loose. Everything was perfect. If there was something wrong with that horse, I'd have been the first to put a finger on it."
Dr. Richardson added that he "could see no damage of any preexisting injury." [NY Daily News]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Suddenly, rambled

- There was a horse in the 5th at Belmont on Saturday named Prime Diamond. This NY-bred had won his last race, his turf debut, at 35-1 (are you listening, Highland Cat?). The comment line in the Form past performances for that race reads “Suddenly, rambled.” That’s a new one for me. So new, in fact, that I had to go to the race replay center to see exactly what it means. And apparently, it means being second to last and going nowhere at the top of the stretch and then - suddenly - loping by the field. It could have said “Abruptly, sauntered.” Or, “Startingly, strolled.”

In any event, the fans were not impressed, and sent him off at 6-1. Perhaps when they were trying to figure out what the comment line meant, they overlooked the simple fact that he had the best last-out Beyer in the field. The bettors instead opted for Meet My Buddy; 6-1 morning line off of a couple of mediocre efforts for trainer Mike Miceli, but 7-2 at post time. He proved to be best of everyone except for Prime Diamond, who this time came from dead last of 12, commencing his rally while five wide on the turn, and overpowering the field in the stretch to win by 3 ½. The High-Beyer overlay. This time I think that a simple “Circled 5w” will do.

I’d mentioned in a past post that I know Miceli; he trained a filly I used to be a partner in. I saw him after the race, and he told me that he'd thought that they would win on this day. I already knew that from watching the board. “But there was one that was faster,” he said, with a shrug. Now that’s something about which we can really shrug and say “that’s horse racing.”

- Highland Cat worked a pretty snappy five furlongs in 1:01.09 (3/6). He’ll be entered for a race on Friday – a 45-50K maiden claimer on the turf. This is it, man, do or die. It’s the desperate “try him on grass” race for horses with dismal form on the dirt. It seems especially crucial now that I’ve officially received my first cash call for this partnership. Not to mention the fact that Christening was reported to have “tied up” after her last workout, so there's no progress right now on either selling or racing her.

The thing that is really galling to me about the cash call, other than the cash called, is the fact that the statement from Castle Village lists all of their partnerships, along with the cash balance for each. I’m thrilled to report that my partnership is by far and away the worst one on the list. Five out of the eleven partnerships that had a balance had distributions, three of them fairly substantial; I think that’s a really good percentage. And remember, these are relatively cheap horses that were picked out at sale; as well as mid-level claimers. The other losing partnerships showed, at most, half as much of a deficit as mine. I’m in the right outfit, but definitely the wrong partnership. So far. But perhaps the comment line on Highland Cat's race on Friday will read "Suddenly, rambled." (I think I'd settle for "just missed.")

Bad Publicity is Bad Publicity

- We’ve seen some amazing photos of post-surgery Barbaro, and has a slide show of the whole sad saga, though it culminates with what we hope is the beginning of a happy ending. (It starts with a couple of photos of the horse on the track that you may want to skip.)

The Derby champ had a good night and what sounds like an even better day. You may have sees the photo of him eating right after returning to the stall (it’s the last photo in the slide show). As far as today:

Barbaro was trying to bite in his stall and even showing interest in a group of mares who stopped by to visit.

"There's some mares there, and he's extremely interested in the mares," Richardson told ABC's Good Morning America. []
Inevitably, we're starting to hear the calls for Polytrack, as Nick mentioned the other day. Pat Forde, writing for, prefaces his call for the synthetic surface by complaining about the way racing people are shrugging off tragedy with the "It's part of the game" line.
If there is one thing horse racing has proved completely inept at, it's fixing its own problems. This is the ultimate can't-do sport: bereft of a national governing body and generally lacking in leadership, cohesiveness, vision, adaptability, or a sound plan for connecting to the masses.

While racing execs are shrugging off Barbaro's breakdown, horrified casual fans are tuning out. Those who follow the sport three Saturdays a year are quite likely to follow it zero Saturdays from now on after watching Barbaro's grisly injury. If it's simply part of the game, hey, the viewing public can simply find another game to watch — one in which potential death and dismemberment are not common side effects. []
There’s a saying that goes “no publicity is bad publicity,” but I don’t believe that applies to stories like this, nor from all this mainstream coverage that the sport can’t seem to get when good things happen. Just the fact that I linked above to a story from NPR should tell you something; and can an interview with the head of PETA be far behind? The story has been on the front page of the NY Times for the last two days, and I saw a live interview with Dr. Richardson on CNN today. Yesterday, I had the most visitors to this site that I’ve ever had, and by a significant margin too. If you type in ‘Barbaro’ into Google News today, you come up with over 2800 stories. Fortunately, the latest of them inform us of relatively good news, but even if he does go on to a successful stallion career, that won’t erase the nasty images seen by millions of viewers.

Matt Hegarty writes in the Form this evening of the negative business implications of the breakdown, and how the industry is worrying about the numbers for the Belmont. But he quotes Chip Tuttle, a publicity consultant for NTRA, who says that things have improved since the screen was brought out on the track for Go For Wand.
"..The turning point really was 1990. That's when people in the industry realized that the key is to emphasize the extraordinary veterinary care these animals get on a regular basis, so that people know that this type of thing is tragic to everyone involved, and that this is not a regular phenomenon."
In that sense, I think that the industry has done a good job, though they certainly owe a lot of thanks to Barbaro, as well as to the skilled doctors at New Bolton, and all of those who have sent their well-wishes to the horse. (Imagine, sending well-wishes to a horse? Complete with "We Love You Barbaro" signs!) Frank Stronach's insensitive display of nonchalance aside, I think that the humane efforts on the horse's behalf have been the main focus of the stories. So maybe it isn't all bad.

I certainly agree that the Polytrack experiment should be expanded. I understand the unease of traditionalists, who worry about how we'll be able to put Polytrack racing into historical perspective with the years of traditional dirt. But I think those concerns have to take a back seat to the promise of a game with less breakdowns, possibly markedly so, and, equally if not more important from a marketing standpoint, more longevity for our stars. Or maybe I should just say 'more stars,' since most of the few we've had of late are of the shooting variety (and as far as older horses, rarely those that succeeded in Triple Crown races).

But I do think it would be a mistake to rush to a wholesale change. As impressive as the breakdown statistics were from Turfway, that’s just one meeting at one track. We don’t know if horses will perhaps be susceptible to some other kind of injuries over the long term. And what the hell is in that cloud of dust anyway?

- And here’s some more wonderful news. (Though fortunately, most casual fans will never hear about it.) Winning Preakness trainer Tom Albertrani began serving a 15-day suspension on Monday after one of his horses tested positive for the banned tranquilizer acepromazine. [DRF] He’ll be back on June 6, four days before the Belmont; maybe ABC will give us a break and not mention it to the intimate viewing audience they can expect, especially if Bernardini doesn’t run. We’re awaiting Sheikh Mohammed’s decision; if Walter can find a proposition on that one, I’ll bet that he doesn’t run, and prepares for a campaign leading up to the Breeders Cup instead.

"Coin Toss"

- Dr. Dean Richardson and Michael Matz were smiling and joking at last evening’s press conference, but Dr. Richardson warned that Barbaro’s survival was still a “coin toss, even after everything went well." [Daily Racing Form]

David Zipf, Maryland’s chief vet, confirmed that he inspected Barbaro after he broke through the starting gate, and that the colt seemed fine both then and during the warmups.

"If there are any problems during warm-ups, I'll ask the jockey to bring the horse to me and will tell him exactly what to do with him, depending on the problem I may see....In the case of the Preakness, being at the gate I saw each horse warm up, and there were no problems. Barbaro looked fine. He was very aggressive, lunging against the pony, and striding out well." [Bloodhorse]

- NYRA’s Bill Nader says that he’s still hoping for a crowd around 60,000 for the Belmont. Considering that 62,274 showed up last year to see Afleet Alex in perfect weather, that may be wishful thinking. Perhaps NYRA may want to reconsider that ban on bringing beer into the park.

- The UK’s Independent Online reports (in its very British way) that Discreet Cat will be resuming in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on 4 July.

- Maybe in a way it’s good news that the preliminary ratings for the Preakness show a 3.4% decline from last year. That way, perhaps less of the new fans that the sport is always hoping to attract saw what happened to Barbaro. Nonetheless, it can't be good that ratings have declined for the last five Triple Crown races, and it's almost a lock that the Belmont will make it six.

Monday Morning Notes - May 22

- Todd Pletcher ran four horses at Pimlico on Preakness Day. He ran 1-2 in the Sir Barton with High Cotton (Dixie Union) and Ultimate Goal; and won graded stakes with Friendly Island (Crafty Friend) and Master Command (AP Indy).

But Pletcher was instead at Belmont saddling Sunriver on Saturday, who will no doubt go on to the Belmont after his very impressive win in the Peter Pan. He got up for the win despite the final furlong being run in 12.11 seconds. I’m not quite sure where that effort from Lewis Michael came from, but he was sure tough on this day in his second straight try on dirt, besting Strong Contender for the place by more than three. The latter's trainer, John Ward, said: "The winner deserves a lot of credit....He should have been in the Kentucky Derby. My horse is still a baby." [] Perhaps the trainer should treat him like one and find a softer spot. Pletcher said that the Belmont is a “possibility,” (as is High Cotton) but I’d say it’s a pretty darn big one.

So that was four stakes winners within two hours for Pletcher - all in a day’s work. Garrett Gomez rode all three of them at Pimlico. When Master Command took the G3 William Donald Schaefer, it started an AP Indy double that was completed by Bernardini. Master Command is out of Lady Lochinvar, a mare by Lord At War, and she’s a half to stakes winners Al Mamoon, La Gueriere (the dam of Lasting Approval), and Lost Soldier. Master Command is inbred 3x3 to Secretariat. He couldn’t handle Buzzards Bay at Oaklawn, but proved best here after getting pounded to 6-5 from his 5-1 morning line (before Reckless Ways scratched).

- Keep an eye on Nick Zito; some of his biggest disappointments this year have quietly put in some decent efforts in the last few days. Even Hemingway’s Key managed to get up for third in the Preakness. Little Cliff got third behind the two Pletcher horses in the Sir Barton. In The Gold got the show spot in the Allair du Pont on Friday. In the Peter Pan, Hesanoldsalt showed some speed and hung on for 4th.

- The biggest cheers I heard at Belmont this weekend was during the Yanks’ four-run rally to tie the Mets in the 9th on Saturday. People are funny, that’s all I can say. You can stick them into a racetrack, with ample money at stake and everyone rooting for a different result, yet I rarely ever see people get into fights over a race. And that’s even on an oppressive summer day at a crowded Saratoga or Monmouth, and no matter how excruciating it can be for someone to get nailed at the wire by a horse some guy is screaming ‘GO, GO, GO’ for into his or her ear. Yet put some Mets and Yankee fans together in front of a TV for the 42nd game of a 162 game season, and all hell breaks lose.

Tensions were high as the teams moved into extra innings; this was serious stuff, and it had nothing to do with bets on the game. I heard the ‘ef-you’s’ flying. Even though the commentators scoff when the players say “it’s just another game," insisting that “it’s not just another game,” the fact is that these are just another games in the scheme of things. With the teams in different leagues, these showdowns have no implications beyond the W or L that result from them. Even the home field advantage in a real Subway Series is determined by the All-Star Game. And hell, they play each other six times every year now, so the novelty has totally worn off at this point. But one of NYRA’s Peace Officers came over to the TV, and it was certainly to keep the Peace rather than to watch the game.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


- Thanks to Alex at Tim Woolley Racing for keeping us posted. He actually has the big trade sites scooped with this report:

Barbaro is now in the recovery pool (7:40 pm). He has a bone plate fusing his ankle and pastern and a caste has been placed over this. Dr. Richardson described the surgery as one of the toughest he has performed. He is awakening from anesthesea in the pool, and once he completely comes around, he will be transported via sling back to his stall later this evening (it usually takes an hour from when they are placed in the pool to when they are able to return to their stall.)
[UPDATE: Dr Richardson is conducting a press conference now on ESPN, and the news sounds as good as it could be at this time. "At this very moment, he's extremely comfortable in the leg. He practically jogged back to his stall....Right now, he's very happy. He's eating. Things right now are good, but I've been doing this too long to know that day 1 is the end of things." He also said that the horse had good blood supply throughout; that was one of the first concerns that was expressed.

Dr. Richardson spoke of the hurdles that lie ahead, explaining that Barbaro is "very, very susceptible to many other problems, including infection at the site because of the severity of the injury and the amount of metal that's put in the leg to fix it." He also discussed the possibility of laminits in his good foot, which can develop if he's not comfortable in the injured limb. He said that the pastern bone was shattered into around 20 pieces.]

Still Waiting

- The latest report, as of 6 PM Sunday, is that the surgery on Barbaro is nearly complete.

Following surgery, surgeons planned to place the leg in a sling and place Barbaro on a raft on a pool before the horse emerges from anesthesia. The post-operative process is known as pool recovery and is used to prevent a horse from injuring itself when awakening from surgery. [Daily Racing Form]
That was what doomed Ruffian, as she awoke from surgery and thrashed her injured leg about. No doubt that Barbaro wouldn’t be alive if this took place in Ruffian’s day. Nor would he if he was a $15,000 claimer instead of a Kentucky Derby winner. [New Bolton chief surgeon] Dr. [Dean] Richardson said he rarely works on such severe injuries because the horse invariably would be euthanized at the track.

I was at Belmont for awhile today; Javier Castellano and Edgar Prado were greeted with some applause from a sparse paddock crown when they appeared there for the third race. But I have to also report that there was some murmuring there about the way Prado appeared to look down behind at Barbaro’s hind legs at one point during the warm-up. It occurs on the tape of the NBC telecast around three minutes until post time.

However, shortly thereafter, there’s as extended shot of Barbaro with no similar backwards glances. Similarly, after he broke through the gate, Prado did not seem the least bit concerned about any problem. After being reloaded, he broke maybe a tad slow, but seemed poised to gain position around 4th, possibly even saving some ground. After that, I turn the recording off. I don’t really want to ever see the race again, but I’m just trying to gain an understanding of exactly what happened.

- Can’t Bloodhorse drop the 'winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands' thing when reporting on this?

Morning After

- It’s often true in our game that the dawn of a new day tends to eradicate the disappointments of the prior one. Whether it’s on the backstretch in the early morning or the hours preceding the first race at any track, thoughts are generally focused on the limitless possibilities that a day of racing presents for horsemen and bettors alike.

Racing will go on today, as it did yesterday, when the 13th race at Pimlico attracted over $1 million in exacta and triple wagers alone. But only the coldest amongst us won’t be thinking of the events at New Bolton Center, where Barbaro is scheduled for surgery today. has the medical diagrams, and even blog-like links to relevant reference sites. Barbaro arrived there last evening in a procession televised by helicopter on a local Baltimore station.

"He came off the van with the splint that was applied on the racetrack," said Dr. Nick Meittinis, a private veterinarian who attended to Barbaro. "He was sedated and backed off the van without putting any weight on the leg. After we X-rayed the leg and found what it consisted of, we put a very large padded bandage on him and the entire time the bandage went on he never moved a muscle. That's going to be critical in his recuperation. His temperament is going to help him in his recuperative state."
"We've got him in a very narrow trailer so that he has something to lean on and he doesn't put weight on it. We've got a padded bandage on him. That's about the best we can do here." [Bloodhorse]
The whole leadup to the race is shrouded now with a spooky sense that there were telltale signs that foretold, and perhaps even warned of the tragic outcome. There was the way Barbaro was bucking during the warm-ups; and even a moment where you see Prado appearing to look back at each of the colt’s back legs after he gave a little kick. And then, his breaking through the starting gate. Reader Mike E asked “Do you think it possible that Barbaro knew he was hurt, and busted out of the gate to spare himself from running the race?” That is an eerie thought, and one that I’d rather not even contemplate.

I’ll stick with the opinions of the experts for now. Donna Barton-Brothers, who is as sharp as anyone you’ll hear on racing telecasts, said just prior to the race that Barbaro looked fantastic on the track (as did, according to her, Bernardini; though not so for Brother Derek or Sweetnorthernsaint.) Gary Stevens, who was at first alarmed at him breaking through the gate, finally concluded “no harm, no foul” as he was being reloaded. Dr. Bramlage, the “noted” attending veterinarian, concluded that the initial fracture – presumably above the ankle - happened after only an eighth-mile. [Louisville Courier-Journal] So it appears to me as if all the preludes were just a coincidence, and that it was just a bad step; one of those times that the racing gods dictate that misfortune shall occur. After all, it was a miracle that tragedy didn’t triumph over Afleet Alex in the race last year, so perhaps the fates were just getting even. Hopefully, they can show a little mercy for Barbaro now.

- As time goes by, we’ll more appreciate the effort by Bernardini, an amazing story in its own right. Perhaps when his speed rating is released; Andy Beyer writes:
Speed handicappers are apt to rate Bernardini's winning time in the Preakness as superior to Barbaro's time at Churchill Downs. [Washington Post]
He ran 2/5ths faster than Afleet Alex did, but, of course, Alex had a little detour along the way. Bernardini came home the final 3/16ths just a tick quicker than last year's 3-year old champ. His final time and come-home fraction were better than those of Smarty Jones and Funny Cide as well. They’ll be debate as to what would have happened if Barbaro hadn’t got hurt, but Tom Albertrani indicated that to him, the order of finish is not what’s in doubt. "He just really seemed to extend at the end. Without Barbaro in there, I don't know how much of a margin he might have won by if (Barbaro) hadn't been injured." [NY Daily News]

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Everything Falls Apart

- With one bad step, it all came crashing down. First and foremost is the concern for Barbaro, whose career-ending injury was described as “very life-threatening.”

"There are some major hurdles here," said Dr. Larry Bramlage, a renowned equine surgeon who was the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "This is a significant injury. His career is over. This is it for him as a racehorse. We're trying to save him as a stallion."[NY Times]
And with that most unfortunate step, you could feel the entire sport deflate, as reflected in the faces of the connections of the race winner Bernardini. All the anticipation of the last two weeks, the questions and debates that make the game so vibrant became all for naught. Instead of the most publicized portion of the racing year culminating in a historic sweep or, at worst, a compelling rematch between the Derby and Preakness winners, the Triple Crown Trail will sputter to its end in a Belmont Stakes with no compelling plot line, and the likelihood of the smallest crowd and ratings in some time.

It’s another body blow to the sport, but, as Frank Stronach told the national TV audience with somewhat of a shrug, “That’s horse racing.” It’s not just that horses break down, but that sometimes it happens when a whole lot of people are watching. And besides being heartbreaking, thanks especially to TV replays showing Michael Matz and his wife D.D. at the moment it happened, it’s just damn ugly, gruesomely and hauntingly so. Not long before, the record crowd (or at least the ones who were still conscious) and other fans around the country saw as exciting a finish you’ll ever see when Better Talk Now split horses to take a three-horse photo in the Dixie Stakes. Yet what many of us will remember instead is the horrific sight of Barbaro’s flailing rear leg and the tearful embrace between Edgar Prado and Peter Brette. Life, and horse racing, will go on, but it will take a little while to recover from this one. Certainly more than three weeks.

- Bernardini is the first Triple Crown race winner for his sire AP Indy.

- Sweetnorthernsaint was as dead on the board for this one as he was live in his last two. Perhaps his backers were tapped out. Though Michael Trombetta was pleased with his colt’s second place finish, he was very emotional about Barbaro.
"Give me a while before I say anything--I just can't talk right now...Our performance was great, and obviously he got a great trip. It looked like he stumbled a bit coming out (of the gate). He might have grabbed a quarter. I think it is incidental, but I don't think it's an excuse...This is terrible (what happened to Barbaro)." [Bloodhorse]

Friday, May 19, 2006

Invasor Looks Special

- Wanderin Boy, the 4-5 favorite in the Pimlico Special, didn’t look like he would get beat as he turned for home, least of all by Invasor (Candy Stripes), who looked like he was done when he was passed by West Virginia, and perhaps even by Harlington, on the final turn. “Invasor coming back for more!” announcer Dave Rodman noted with surprise as the four-year old (by North American standards) rallied up the inside (after brushing West Virginia on the way). The winner paid $14.40 for a happy trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who will saddle Like Now in the Preakness.

Invasor ran 4th, beaten by seven lengths by Discreet Cat [EDIT - in the UAE Derby], and Walter is amongst those of us wondering what is going on with him. The last news of him on the Godolphin website was the April 18th report that he would skip the Derby, and will instead be shipped to the US and stabled at Belmont Park where he will be prepared for some of the major races in the second half of the season. But there have been no timed workouts, and who knows if he’s even here yet? Nonetheless, his stock is certainly up now after this race. And Testimony, who actually beat Invasor in Dubai, goes in the Peter Pan at Belmont on Saturday.

A claim of foul on Dominguez by West Virginia’s rider Noberto Arroyo was disallowed. But the same two riders were involved in the prior race, the Black Eyed Susan, when Arroyo was taken down on Smart’N’Pretty for drifting out into Dominguez on the declared winner Regal Engagement (Cat Thief). Watching the head-on, you see the two fillies leaning on each other, and suddenly Arroyo bears out, forcing Dominguez to steady. Arroyo, however, explained "She bumped my hind end and turned me sideways." Losing trainer Dale Romans said that "could have gone either way." [Daily Racing Form]

For Regal Engagement’s struggling sire, Cat Thief, it’s a stakes win but not a new stakes winner, as the filly was already one of his two stakes winners.

Pool Land was pretty damn impressive winning the Allaire du Pont Breeders' Cup Distaff, and the Pletcher trainee is a two-turn monster, with a perfect four-for-four.

- Great stuff by Jerry Bailey on the ESPN telecast of the Special. He spoke about how the seas more or less parted for Barbaro after the start of the Derby. As he stumbled coming out of the gate, you see the horses to each side breaking away from him, which gave him a clear lane through which to recover. Bailey explained that there is no penalty for a horse brushing another in that first step coming out of the gate, and he said that he would sometimes try to intentionally have his horse come out and into a particular rival, if the situation called for it! He implicitly encouraged Alex Solis and/or Kent Desormeaux to do the same to Barbaro if they wanted to have a chance to beat him. They also showed Bailey's winning ride on Red Bullet in the 2000 Preakness. During the replay, he explained how he rushed the horse up towards the front quicker than he normally would have, so that he could gain position on Fusaichi Pegasus coming into the stretch, and force him to go around him. And again, he suggested that Alex Solis have similar positions established on Barbaro as they turn for home.

- On a subsequent half hour ESPN Preakness special, Jay Privman of the Form tried to make his case for Sweetnorthernsaint by showing a tape of the 1985 Kentucky Derby, in which Tank’s Prospect made a big move up the inside similar to what SNS did this year. Tank’s Prospect went on to win the Preakness. But one of the other guys on the show pointedly noted that that year's Derby winner, Spend A Buck, didn’t run in the Preakness.

In fact, Spend A Buck skipped the Preakness, and a chance at the Triple Crown, to run in the Jersey Derby instead, and thus go for a $2 million bonus that was offered by Garden State Park owner Robert Brennan, Jr, for any horse that could win two Derby preps there, plus the Kentucky and Jersey Derbys. Pimlico president Chick Lang called Brennan a "a snake-oil salesman,” an observation that later proved to be true when a federal judge labeled his penny stock business a "massive and continuing fraud" for which he was fined $75 million.[NJ Star Ledger) He’s currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud. The $5 million Triple Crown bonus was instituted in 1987 to prevent future defections.

The really interesting thing about Spend A Buck is that the two preps that he won were the Cherry Hill Mile, on April 6, and the Garden State Stakes, on April 20. So Spend A Buck went into the Derby after running twice in the preceding month! These days, that would be far more radical than even the one prep in 13 week strategy employed by Michael Matz. Yet it was just 21 years ago. Well, I guess that’s a long time. It just doesn’t seem that way.