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MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 2015

Racing Headlines

O'Neill crowned Handicapper of the Year with NHC win

John O'Neil (center) won the 16th annual NHC and $800K first prize (HorsePhotos/NTRA)

John O'Neil of Huntington Station, New York, topped a field of 606 entries to win the $800,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year at this weekend's 16th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC). The NHC offered record overall prize money of $2.363 million.

The 74-year-old O'Neil amassed a winning score of $327.20 over the three-day tournament from 47 mythical $2 win and place bets -- 15 each on Friday and Saturday, 10 in Sunday morning's Final 50 contest, and seven in the climactic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.

Ken Jordan of Farmingdale, New Jersey, finished second with $291.70.

O'Neil was the NHC two-day leader at the end of Saturday's races but lost the lead toward the end of the Final 50 contest that led to the Final Table. In the seven mandatory races that made up the Final Table, however, O'Neil cashed in four of them. Three of them were winners -- Huntstown ($6.40) in Tampa Bay Down's 10TH race, Main Man Mike ($14.40) in Gulfstream Park's 11TH, and Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40) in Santa Anita's 7TH.

"It was short-priced horses that got me there but that's what we had today," O'Neil said. "Thank God for very few bombs."

O'Neil was introduced to handicapping on visits to the old Jamaica Race Course in Queens in the 1950s.

"My brother took me one day when I was 14 or 15 and I've been doing it every day since," O'Neil said. "It's been a journey to get here, believe me. This probably makes me even after a lifetime."

The top three NHC finsihers, and four of the top five, qualified as a result of finishing among the top 150 on the NHC Tour, a distinction which earns guaranteed entry to the NHC.

O'Neill is a small-business owner on Long Island.

"We work 60, 70 hours per week pushing trucks and asphalt," he said. "This will make it a little easier."

The official Top 10, with final bankroll (and prize):

First   John O'Neil, $327.20 ($800,000 and Eclipse Award for Horseplayer of the Year)
Second   Ken Jordan, $291.70 ($250,000)
Third   Matthew Ransdell, $269 ($125,000)
Fourth   Joseph Muzio, $266.30 ($100,000)
Fifth   Myles Richards, $262.20 ($75,000)
Sixth   Joe Scanio, $260.20 ($65,000)
Seventh   Jonathon Kinchen, $256.60 ($59,000)
Eighth   Robert Pontani Jr., $247.90 ($54,000)
Ninth   Brian Troop, $245.60 ($52,000)
Tenth   Mike Ferrozzo, $234.40 ($50,000)

Kinchen completed the Final 50 stage with two entries in the top 10 but each individual is permitted only one entry at the Final Table. Kinchen's highest bankroll carried over to the Final Table while the "other" entry was automatically good for 11th-place money ($25,000).

Troop was attempting to become the first two-time NHC winner. His eighth-place finish is the highest ever by a former champion.

By virtue of his victory, O'Neil also automatically earns an exemption into next year's NHC finals.

The NHC was held for the fourth straight year in the Treasure Island Ballroom.

In the first-ever NHC Future Wager offered by Treaure Island, O'Neil paid off at 5-2 as a member of the Field, which consisted of players who qualified late in the year.

The NHC 16 finals awarded cash prizes to the top 50 finishers from a total purse of $2,215,000. An additional $65,000 went to the top 20 in Sunday's Consolation Tournament.

Including $200,000 paid out to top finishers in the year-long NHC Tour, a $100 Treasure Island casino chip for every entrant, NHC Tour travel awards, RTN subscriptions and the $10,000 charity tournament prize, plus $30,000 worth of Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge prizes in the form of entry fees, bankrolls, airfare and hotel, the aggregate value of payouts this weekend in NHC cash and prizes totaled a record $2,681,000.

To reach the Final 50, the record 606 NHC entrants were required to place 30 mythical $2 win and place wagers -- 15 on Friday and 15 on Saturday. This is the second consecutive year with a three-day format including the Final 50 and Final Table.

Final Table participants were relocated to a single table on the stage of the Treasure Island Ballroom that served as contest headquarters.

Final Table Race Results:

Track   Race   Winner ($2 Win, $2 Place)   Second ($2 Place)
Tampa Bay Downs   10TH   Huntstown ($6.40, $4)   Go Bernie Go ($6.20)
Gulfstream Park   10TH   Dancing House ($4.20, $2.80)   Resistivity ($5)
Gulfstream Park   11TH   Main Man Mike ($14.40, $8.20)   Caminito ($10.40)
Oaklawn Park   9TH   She's Live ($5, $3)   Mauk Dirty to Me ($6.60)
Santa Anita Park   7TH   Aperfectdaytofly ($7.40, $4.20)   Lolo El Canonero ($6.80)
Santa Anita Park   8TH   Pure Tactics ($14.40, $7.80)   Hay Dude ($6.20)
Santa Anita Park   9TH   Sum Midnight Star ($9.60, $5.60)   Militant ($8.40)

The full NHC and Consolation Tournament standings can be accessed at ntra.com.

The 2014 NHC Tour winner Eric Moomey, who was eligible for a $2 million bonus if he could top the NHC, had two entries -- one finished in 493rd place with a $41.40 bankroll and the second in 598th with $7. A record 4,875 NHC Tour members participated in 2014 qualifiers hoping to win a coveted spot in the NHC Finals.

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Neumeier wins NTRA NHC Charity Challenge

Bob Neumeier captured the inaugural NHC Charity Challenge (HorsePhotos/NTRA)

Bob Neumeier, the longtime NBC Sports handicapper and Boston sportscaster, won Saturday's inaugural NTRA NHC Charity Challenge with a final mythical bankroll of $65, besting runner-up Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form, who checked in second with $62.40.

Neumeier never led until the last jump, clinching the contest by correctly selecting $13.20 winner Presidentsky (Vronsky) in the 9TH race at Golden Gate, the day's final scoring opportunity.

"I've had my share of wins and losses as a handicapper but that's the name of the game," Neumeier said Sunday morning. "You've got to be lucky and I was lucky that day."

Neumeier suffered a serious stroke just prior to leaving for the Breeders' Cup in October. The damage inflicted required 5 1/2 hours of brain surgery. Since then he has improved steadily while at home in Boston with the help of his wife, Michele Ucci.

"I'm well on my way to recovery and hope to be back to Comcast New England soon and hope to be back behind the mic with NBC Sports soon," Neumeier said. "All of my motor skills and speech work are intact, thank goodness. I've had enormous support from doctors, speech therapists, friends, colleagues, my wife, and everyone."

Neumeier estimates he committed at least two hours Saturday to studying the Charity Challenge contest races, which were identical to the day's NHC mandatory races.

"I spent a good part of the morning going over them" he said. "I still go at it quite a bit. I'm up to speed on all the Boston teams and stay up to speed on racing for my NBC work."

A field of 40 celebrities, broadcasters and media types competed in the Charity Challenge. As the winner, Neumeier will have $5,000 donated in his name to Old Friends, the Thoroughbred retirement nonprofit with farms in Kentucky and upstate New York, and another $5,000 to a charity of his choosing. Neumeier said he would consult with Ucci before announcing what nonprofit will receive those funds.

The couple was thrilled that Old Friends is a beneficiary, as Neumeier has known longtime Bostonian Michael Blowen, the Old Friends founder and former Boston Globe film critic, for many years, and has toured the Georgetown, Kentucky, farm on multiple occasions.

"What he's done is just extraordinary," Neumeier said. "He's done so much for horses and the industry and everyone."

Neumeier's win was a popular one. When NHC emcee Eric Wing announced the Charity Challenge results to the Treasure Island Ballroom on Saturday evening the news was met with a resounding ovation from NHC players, who were well aware of Neumeier's recent medical struggles, as well as his deserved reputation as an eminently likable "good guy." Congratulatory messages flowed in via text message and Twitter.

Neumeier politely declined to go into detail about the severity of his stroke or the pains of his recovery, preferring instead to focus on the positive. Considering how far he has come since the last week of October, though, Neumeier summed up his gratitude simply, "I'm one of the lucky ones."

The top five in the Charity Challenge standings was rounded out by Horse Racing Radio Network's Mike Penna ($59), Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey ($57.40) and Daily Racing Form handicapper Dan Illman ($55).

In other NHC news, NHC 16 Day 2 leader John O'Neil could not have been more relaxed entering the Final 50. While most of his competition was cramming over their past performances Saturday night, the Huntington Station, New York, resident and contest regular was casually testing his luck with the roulette wheel at Treasure Island Las Vegas.

O'Neil finished Day 2 with a $253 bankroll. He had ended Day 1 in 11th place with $92.80, meaning he charged up the standings with a $160.20 run Saturday.

"I could have had a great day but I had a bad day," O'Neil said, fixated on the ones that got away. "I got lucky that nobody really jumped up. I feel fortunate that I'm where I am."

O'Neil qualified for the NHC as one of the top 150 finishers on the NHC Tour. His best previous NHC finish was 18th at NHC 11 in 2010.

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Desormeaux discusses spring schedule for Texas Red

Trainer Keith Desormeaux outlined his plans for Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Texas Red (Afleet Alex), mention the $200,000 San Vicente S. (G2) going seven furlongs at Santa Anita Park and Fair Grounds $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2) at 1 1/16 miles prior to a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) scheduled for nine furlongs on April 4.

Recently second in the voting for an Eclipse Award as the 2014 champion two-year-old male, the bay colt has been working steadily at Santa Anita Park for his conditioner, who co-owns the colt with a partnership that includes Erich Brehm, Wayne Detmar and Lee Michaels et al.

On Saturday morning, Texas Red worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5. Regular rider and three-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning jockey Kent Desormeaux posted to Twitter afterward, "Silky smooth. Great enthusiasm. Happy horse!"

"He's growing, getting stronger and smarter," Kent Desormeaux remarked Sunday. "He's maturing wisely."

"What we're leaning toward now is the San Vicente on the first (of February)," Keith Desormeaux said on TVG Network. "I'm thinking about wheeling him back pretty quickly in the Risen Star on (February 21) and then we'll have a little gap between the Risen Star and the $1 million Santa Anita Derby."

Having a seven-furlong starting point and wheeling back quickly for a three-race Kentucky Derby (G1) prep schedule is a format that has been used by Triple Crown runners effectively in the past. In 1997, Silver Charm won the San Vicente and was second in both the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby within an eight-week span before winning the Derby and Preakness S. (G1) and finishing second in the Belmont S. (G1)

In 1989, Easy Goer won the seven-furlong Swale S., the one-mile Gotham S. (G2) and 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial Invitational (G1) in a seven-week span before finishing second in both the Derby and Preakness and then winning the Belmont. More recently, Curlin won his seven-furlong debut in early February 2007 before taking both the 1 1/16-mile Rebel S. (G3) and nine-furlong Arkansas Derby (G1) within a 10-week span before finishing third in the Derby, winning the Preakness and posting a head second in the Belmont.

"It's still on schedule," Desormeaux said via telephone on Sunday afternoon. "It's always been kind of a tentative schedule, like with all things concerning racehorses. It seems like the best plan for me at this point. It's kind of quick, but I like the way it feels. If I can get him (to Fair Grounds) a week early, that would be perfect. I'll be at the mercy of whoever is going to fly us and their schedule."

In five career starts, the $17,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale bargain has earned $1,192,300 and never finished worse than fourth. After a debut loss by a neck in a five-furlong Arlington maiden in July, the Kentucky-bred was fourth in a six-furlong Del Mar maiden before graduating in his first start around two turns in a one-mile maiden back at Del Mar.

Texas Red returned to finish a flying third to eventual Eclipse champion American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) in the FrontRunner S. (G1) one race prior to romping in the Breeders' Cup by 6 1/2 lengths, both at Santa Anita. Earning a 101 BRIS Speed figure in the latter, he left Grade 1 victor Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) and Upstart (Flatter) -- who made his sophomore bow a 105 BRIS Speed-earning romp in Saturday's Holy Bull S. (G2) -- behind in second and third, respectively.

"For him to overcome the fact that he's not really built to be an early horse -- that's what makes him great and that's also what makes us so excited about this year," Desormeaux continued. "If he can do what he did as a juvenile, what can he accomplish as a three-year-old?"

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Upstart could take either New York or Florida routes to Derby

Upstart earned a gaudy 105 Brisnet Speed rating in the Holy Bull (Lauren KIng/Adam Coglianese Photography)
A day after winning the $400,000 Holy Bull (G2) in tremendous fashion, Upstart (Flatter), now a prime contender on the Triple Crown Trail, could be found contentedly grazing across from his stall at trainer Rick Violette Jr.'s barn at Palm Meadows.

"He's doing great," Violette said as the ridgling looked up from the grass, eyes bright, to inquire for a mint in his handler's coat pockets. 

His request was met, of course, and deservingly so, after he smoked a field of talented sophomores to take the Holy Bull in his three-year-old debut, running off with the race by 5 1/2 lengths under Jose Ortiz and earning a 105 Brisnet Speed rating. Violette said he expected his trainee to run a good race, but he did not necessarily expect him to draw off in that fashion.

"Dominating, no, but we were pretty confident that he was going to run well," Violette said. "You just hope that the talent he showed as a two-year-old transfers into a good three-year-old, and a lot of horses don't. They're a little more precocious, a little more mature as a two-year-old, and sometimes that's their best stuff. You hope to see the graduation, and I think we saw it."

Violette added that Upstart, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) in his final start at two, did a lot of things in the Holy Bull that impressed him, especially when breaking from the eight-post in a field of nine.

"(He had) enough speed to get good positioning from a post position that didn't make that automatic," he said. "He settled well, when he was called on, he answered, and he kind of took care of business. They need to leave horses at some point, and he kind of did that yesterday. All of that -- he traveled well down there, he was good in the paddock -- he did a lot of good things yesterday."

Violette also credited Ortiz for a skillful ride.

"Jose ran a terrific race, because the pace was not fast," he said. "If we had been farther back, we still could have maybe gotten the job done, but it would've been more difficult. The one horse (Bluegrass Singer [Bluegrass Cat]) would have been loose on the lead at that point going a half in almost :49, and he could have been very tough if he'd been left alone."

Now that Upstart has 16 points toward a potential berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Violette is left with many options for the colt's next start. His road to the Run for the Roses will run either through South Florida or New York.

"We'll play it by ear," Violette said. "We could do the Fountain of Youth ([G2] at Gulfstream on February 21). If we need a couple more weeks, we could wait for the Gotham ([G3] at Aqueduct on March 7). We have a two-week cushion and at some point we'll get to use it.

"Whether we go the whole route here (at Gulfstream) and go Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby ([G1] on March 28) to give us a little extra time to get to the Kentucky Derby or if we need it before then and he stubs his toe or doesn't eat, we can back off and do either the Gotham or the Wood Memorial ([G1] at Aqueduct on April 4). We have some flexibility, which is really nice."

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Khozan likely to stretch out in allowance

Khozan recorded a 103 Brisnet Speed rating for his smashing debut (Coglianese Photography via Gulfstream Facebook)
Al Shaqab Racing's Khozan (Distorted Humor) set the tone for Saturday's sensational stakes action with a dazzling maiden score that lived up to a "big-time pedigree."

A half-brother to three-time Eclipse champion and two-time Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (Distaff) (G1) winner Royal Delta, the three-year-old registered an eye-catching 3 3/4-length victory that was awarded a 103 BRIS Speed rating in Saturday's 6TH race.

Khozan was purchased with a $1 million winning bid at the Fasig-Tipton Florida two-year-olds in training sale last March.

"We expected a good performance," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He'd been training well. A horse like that with a big-time pedigree you have high hopes for. We felt positive coming into this race off his last few works, but you're always looking forward to getting them started and seeing how they can do."

Khozan had to break from the far-outside post against 13 rivals, including highly regarded Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Wisecracker (Distorted Humor), but was able to attain solid stalking position along the backstretch before making a sweeping move toward the leader under jockey Javier Castellano on the turn. Wisecracker, a first-time starter ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., got the jump on Khozan, but the Pletcher-trained 9-5 favorite made a powerful run in the stretch to draw off to a most promising maiden victory. Khozan ran seven furlongs in 1:23 3/5.

"I think the logical move is to come back in an allowance race going longer and go from there," Pletcher said. 

The 11-time defending Champions Meet training titlist said patience paid off with Khozan's thoroughly professional victory.

"He had some baby stuff at two, and he has a pedigree that suggests he was going to get better as he got older. We just kind of took our time," Pletcher said. "Al Shaqab is very patient. They bought a nice horse and they were in no rush with him, so we just kind of waited until he told us he was ready. He showed us it was the right time after his last couple works. He showed up and ran up to expectations."

Does Pletcher think Khozan can play catch-up in time to make it to Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May?

"It's January 24 and he just made his first start -- that would be against him a little bit," Pletcher said. "We'll let him guide us in the right direction."

On the other hand, Saturday's 4TH race romper Gorgeous Bird (Unbridled's Song) may have landed himself on the Derby trail.

Watching the steady progression of late-developing colt has trainer Ian Wilkes eagerly anticipating the next step for Marylou Whitney's talented homebred. Facing winners for the first time, the sophomore romped by seven lengths in a one-mile optional claiming allowance on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, his three-year-old debut.

Under jockey Joel Rosario, Gorgeous Bird hit the wire in 1:39 over a fast main track, topping a nine-horse field that included a pair of impressive maiden winners from the Pletcher barn, Blame Game (Blame) and favored Overcontrol (Tapit), and stakes-placed Glenville Gardens (Street Cry) and Morgans Harbour (Graeme Hall).

"It actually went slower than I thought early in the race, but Joel got him settled and just worked his way through there and galloped along good," Wilkes said. "I liked the way he came home. He came home strong. He's a tremendous horse."

Gorgeous Bird didn't make his debut until last summer, finishing sixth in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint. He made one subsequent start, splitting horses for a 1 1/4-length victory going seven furlongs on November 22 at Churchill Downs.

"He had a race at Saratoga and came out of the race with some shins, so we backed off and took care of the horse," Wilkes said. "If you take care of the horse, the horse will take care of you."

Gorgeous Bird's sire captured the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at two and the Florida Derby (G1) and Wood Memorial (then-G2) and was fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at three. He may be the most promising prospect for Whitney since her homebred Birdstone won the 2003 Champagne (G1) and 2004 Belmont (G1) and Travers (G1). Gorgeous Bird comes from Birdstone's immediate family.

"I'm glad Mrs. Whitney was here to see the race," Wilkes said. "His work level from two to three had stepped up, and that's the first step. You never know until you put them in a race from two to three and see what they can do. I like the way every step has been perfect so far. He worked good as a two-year-old, he stepped it up when I brought him down here at three, and the race (Saturday) was very impressive."

All options remain open for Gorgeous Bird, including Gulfstream Park's prominent upcoming three-year-old stakes, the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) on February 21 and $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on March 28, both around two turns.

"I'll talk to Marylou, but we'll just enjoy this one first," Wilkes said. "I believe he'll go long. I'm actually quite excited to stretch him out further. He's been a nice progression so far and I'm looking forward to it."

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Chrome breezes mile for San Antonio; Bayern unlikely to make showdown

California Chrome was 'under a nice hold' at the end (Courtesy of Los Alamitos via Twitter)
Horse of the Year California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) worked a mile in 1:41 2/5, breezing, at his Los Alamitos headquarters Sunday morning as he moves ever closer to his four-year-old debut in the $500,000 San Antonio S. (G2) on February 7.

Regular rider Victor Espinoza was aboard the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winner, who was wearing blinkers as he took to the cleared racetrack. Los Alamitos head clocker Russ Hudak caught "Chrome" in fractions of :25 3/5, :51, 1:03 2/5, 1:15 3/5 and 1:29 for seven furlongs.

"He looked good," Hudak said. "He came to the wire under a nice hold."

Added Alan Sherman, son of and assistant to his father, trainer Art Sherman: "It was a very good work. I'm really, really happy with him."

Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Bayern (Offlee Wild), meanwhile, has been virtually ruled out of the San Antonio.

"I had to get a work into him last week (but didn't)," Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. "Right now it's pretty doubtful he's going to make the race. I don't want to rush him into it.

"He looks good now, but you can't run against those horses unless you're at least 90 percent."

Bayern is recovering from an abscess on his hind foot.

Shared Belief, male two-year-old champion of 2013 and winner of seven of eight starts, is scheduled to breeze at his Golden Gate base on Tuesday for the San Antonio, which will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1.

In other Southern California works, two prominent speedsters geared up at Santa Anita for Saturday's Palos Verdes (G2).

Working in blinkers under Martin Garcia, 2013 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner Secret Circle (Eddington) went four furlongs in company Sunday morning with Pimpernel (Elusive Quality). Each was clocked in a bullet :46 1/5.

"He worked very well," Baffert said of Secret Circle, who will race in blinkers for only the second time in 15 career starts in the Palos Verdes.

Big Macher (Beau Genius) worked five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 under Tyler Baze, who regains the mount in the Palos Verdes. Bejarano rode Big Macher to a neck victory in the Cary Grant at Del Mar on November 23, but is committed to Wild Dude (Wildcat Heir) in the Palos Verdes.

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O'Neil on top heading into final day of NHC

John O'Neil led heading into the final day of the NHC (HorsePhotos/NTRA)

John O'Neil of Huntington Station, New York, was on top with a $253 bankroll after Day 2 of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) on Saturday.

The highest score on Day 2 went to Lawrence Kahlden, who started the day with zero but rallied to sixth overall just on his Saturday total of $193.60 to earn a $5,000 bonus, as well as paid Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge entry fees, live bankrolls, airfare and hotel worth in excess of $10,000.

Jonathon Kinchen, a 31-year-old realtor from Austin, Texas, landed in the top 10 with both of his entries. He entered Sunday in third with $217.40 and eighth with $189. One of his entries was a late replacement for the late Ron Rippey, the 2006 NHC winner and inaugural inductee to the NHC Hall of Fame.

Other Top 10 finishers were Ken Jordan ($249), Myles Richards ($208.40), Robert Pontani Jr. ($205.50), Lawrence Kahlden ($193.60), Joseph Muzio ($193.40), Dan Weisenburger ($178.60) and Joe Scanio ($176).

Jonathon Kinchen entered Day 3 with two entries in the top 10 (HorsePhotos/NTRA)

The top 50 players carried their bankrolls over to the Final 50 tournament Sunday morning and the resulting top 10 will play at the Final Table Sunday afternoon to determine the ultimate placings, including the $800,000 grand prize and Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year.

Among the Final 50 are three former NHC winners: Brian Troop ($162), Michael Beychok ($158.80) and John Conte ($156.60). Nobody has ever won the NHC twice.

The Top 50 finishers are guaranteed a $10,000 prize at the end of Sunday. The $2,215,000 prize pool for the Final 50 starts with $10,000 for 50th place and increases to the $800,000 grand prize for first place. The top four finishers will take home six figures, with $250,000 to second, $125,000 to third and $100,000 to fourth.

Players outside the Final 50 will compete in a separate $65,000 Consolation Tournament on Sunday with reset mythical bankrolls.

The Final 50 Contest will be comprised of 10 optional races. The 10 that make it to the Final Table will all play the same seven mandatory races.

To get to this point, the 606 NHC entrants (521 individual players) were required to place 30 mythical $2 Win and Place wagers -- 15 on Friday and 15 on Saturday.

The full standings are available on NTRA.com.

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Able Friend hailed as next Silent Witness after Stewards' Cup stroll

Able Friend could set out to conquer the world, with options in Dubai, Japan and England (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
After Hong Kong's star miler Able Friend (Shamardal) jogged home in Sunday's Stewards' Cup (HK-G1) without breaking a sweat, or taking a deep breath, his trainer John Moore paid him the ultimate compliment -- comparing him to Hong Kong's legendary win machine Silent Witness.

"I do think we've seen today that we have another Silent Witness here in Hong Kong," Moore said. "Silent Witness went to Japan and proved himself, but for what Able Friend's done so far, I think the world will stand up and take note of this horse and look forward to seeing him in an overseas campaign. We're lucky to have him here."

Regular rider Joao Moreira was likewise unstinting in his praise of Hong Kong's latest phenom.

"He was even better today," Moreira said, comparing Sunday's performance to Able Friend's obliteration of the December 14 Hong Kong Mile (HK-G1) last time out. "The pace didn't suit him, they went slow up front, but he showed that he has a better turn of foot than any horse in the race.

"I'm just a lucky boy to be the one sitting on top of him today because he would have won with any other jock on top.

"The way he won the international last month was also very impressive, so it's hard to say whether that race or this was the easiest win but today was very impressive, and an easy win, too.

"This type of horse, you don't have to hit them, they know how to run themselves, so it's hard to say how much more he has inside because I never hit him, I don't have to. He'll keep on winning, the way he's going."

Confidently handled by Moreira, Able Friend loped along toward the rear as Beauty Flame (Footstepsinthesand) did his level best to steal the race. But Able Friend was simply too good, and brushed them all aside under a hand ride to finish the metric mile in 1:33 2/5 on the good to firm turf.

Beauty Flame held second from Rewarding Hero (Exceed and Excel), with defending champion Blazing Speed (Dylan Thomas) fourth. Ambitious Dragon (Pins), Gold-Fun (Le Vie dei Colori) and Glorious Days (Hussonet) were notable also-rans.

Moore hailed Able Friend as superior to his former standout Viva Pataca.

"I'd have to rate him number one, in front of Viva Pataca," the horseman said of Able Friend, who now sports a career mark of 15-9-4-1. "The way he won today showed everyone around the world and in Hong Kong that he's the best miler, but he's got to go overseas to prove himself. On the local scene, people will always have their doubts."

Both Moore and Moreira would like to see Dubai as an upcoming port of call.

"My personal opinion would be to go to Dubai," Moore said. "It's a 10-day turnaround and it's just easy there and easy back. I will be recommending that to (owner) Dr (Cornel) Li. We'll have lunch in the next 10 days and we'll sit down and toss up the pros and cons of US$6 million."

Li, however, has previously identified the June 7 Yasuda Kinen (Jpn-G1) or Royal Ascot as his preferred international goals.

"Dubai would be the best place to go, in my opinion, but that's the owners' call," Moreira said. "Wherever they go with the horse, I will be very pleased to stay sitting on top of him."

Peniaphobia (left) is eyeing the Dubai Golden Shaheen (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Moreira nearly nicked the previous race on the card, the Centenary Sprint Cup (HK-G1) on Bundle of Joy (Magic Albert), only to have Peniaphobia (Dandy Man) nab him in the shadow of the post.

Most recently a gallant second in the December 14 Hong Kong Sprint (HK-G1) versus his elders, the newly turned four-year-old was cutting back to a trip shorter than ideal. It was no surprise that he was caught for speed as defending champion Amber Sky (Exceed and Excel) led the way from the pressing Bundle of Joy. Amber Sky's lack of fitness haunted him in the closing stages, and he dropped back to last. He was subsequently found to have bled and exited the race lame in his left hind.

Bundle of Joy inherited command and tried to hold on, but Peniaphobia began to gain traction for Douglas Whyte. The further they went, the stronger Peniaphobia got, and he forced his head in front on the line. The Tony Cruz pupil sped about five furlongs in :55 2/5.

"It always was going to be awkward from gate 1, but this horse is good enough to always help you out with problems," Whyte said. "He came out of the gate and within 150m I was tracking Amber Sky, and I couldn't believe it myself. But Joao was really cantering outside Amber Sky and I had to get off Amber Sky's back pretty quickly after the junction, he wasn't helping me anymore.

"I had to get hold of my guy a lot earlier than Joao did, but my horse has shown tenacity and fight and the pure 1200m runner was coming out in the end. He was gaining, whereas Bundle Of Joy was folding up."

Peniaphobia could switch to dirt for a tilt at the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1).

"I've entered him in the Dubai Golden Shaheen," Cruz said. "It's a 1200m race and he's more of a 1200m horse than a 1000m horse. The race is the opposite direction (left-handed), that's the only worry. I'm not afraid of the dirt track there. I prefer to go for that than the 1000m (Al Quoz Sprint [UAE-G1] on turf)."

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Firespike, R Sassy Lass entered on OBS Day of Champions

A strong lineup of stakes winners and well known trainers and riders is on tap as the Ocala Breeders' Sales (OBS) Company holds its 26th annual Day of Champions race card on Tuesday, January 27.

Held in conjunction with the OBS Winter Mixed Sale for the second straight year, the five-race card again offers pari-mutuel wagering on the first two races. The day gets underway with a 440-yard allowance dash for Quarter Horses worth $10,000 followed by the $50,000 OBS Sprint S. at six furlongs for three-year-old fillies who have gone through the ring at an OBS Sale.

The entire card will be streamed live via the OBS website at www.obssales.com. Post time for the first race is 1 p.m. (EST).

Firespike (Flower Alley) headlines a field of seven in the $100,000 OBS Championship S. for colts and geldings going 1 1/16 miles. The Mike Maker pupil captured the Juvenile Turf S. at Gulfstream Park West in November and will be ridden by Joel Rosario. He'll be tested by Royal Squeeze (Wildcat Heir), a nose second in the In Reality division of the Florida Sire S. for conditioner Chad Brown, and Toasting Master (Congrats), who scored in two straight races at Churchill Downs for trainer Dale Romans.

A field of 11 will go in the $100,000 OBS Championship S. for fillies after Grade 3-placed stakes winner Quality Rocks (Rock Hard Ten) was scratched in favor of running second in Saturday's Sweetest Chant S. (G3). That leaves Save Rock and Roll (Super Saver) to top the 1 1/16-mile contest based on her third-place finish in Aqueduct's Tempted S. (G3) in November. Fourth in the Matron S. (G2) at Belmont in October, she'll be ridden by Joe Bravo for trainer Joe Orseno.

Two fillies have been supplemented to the race. Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Back Flip (Super Saver) and Gary Contessa has entered More Than Rainbows (More Than Ready), both turf maiden winners.

It's Not Me (D'wildcat) and Charlie's Brother (With Distinction) will face off against eight other rivals in the $50,000 OBS Sprint S. sending colts and geldings six furlongs.

Supplemented to the race by trainer Jorge Navarro, It's Not Me was claimed by his current connections in October and two starts later took the Buffalo Man S. at Gulfstream Park West. He was third last out in the Spectacular Bid S. at Gulfstream and gets Edgard Zayas in the irons Tuesday.

Charlie's Brother was third behind fellow OBS graduate Catalina Red (Munnings) in his track record performance in Tampa Bay Downs' Pasco S. after chasing him home in the Inaugural S. over that Oldsmar, Florida, oval one race earlier. The Lynn Scace pupil will have regular rider Harry Vega aboard.

R Sassy Lass (Exclusive Quality) is the morning-line favorite in a field of seven for the OBS Sprint for fillies. The original field of nine was reduced with the scratches of Vandelita (Street Sense) and Perpetual Novena (Majestic Warrior). A half-length second to fellow OBS graduate Ekati's Phaeton (Tale of Ekati) in Gulfstream's Old Hat S. (G3) in her last start, R Sassy Lass took Tampa Bay Downs' Sandpiper S. in December. Trained by Kirk Ziadie, the dark bay lass will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.

Lady Shipman (Midshipman), an impressive winner of her last two outings for conditioner Kathleen O'Connell, is the second choice in the filly's Sprint while the Armando De La Cerda-conditioned Happy to Go (Saint Anddan) is returning from a layoff after her victory in the Mrs. Henry D. Paxson Memorial S. at Presque Isle in September.

For more information regarding the OBS Championship Stakes, please call 352-237-2154 or visit www.obssales.com.

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Cassatt holds on in Houston Ladies Classic

Cassatt bounded home in the Houston Ladies Classic (Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

Trainer Larry Jones continued his tradition of sending talented mares to Sam Houston on Saturday evening when Fox Hill Farms' Cassatt (Tapit) captured the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic by a neck. Two years ago, Jones and Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farms captured the inaugural running of the race with Joyful Victory.

Under a confident ride by regular rider Kerwin Clark, Cassatt broke sharply from the far outside post and immediately went to the lead, recording fractions of :24 1/5; 47 4/5 and 1:11 4/5. The gray filly held off a huge late run from Angelica Zapata (Sharp Humor) to score by a neck on the wire in a final time of 1:44 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast dirt. She paid $3.40 as the 3-5 favorite.

"The wire came just in time," Clark admitted.

"I was glad to see the wire hurry up and get there because they went pretty quick," Jones added. "They made a race out of it. She's a classy filly and just now starting to get the hang of it."

This was the third stakes in a row for Cassatt following romping wins in the Zia Park Oaks and Tiffany Lass S. to close out her sophomore campaign. She also triumphed in the Monmouth Oaks (G3) last season and now boasts a 9-6-1-0, $603,033, career record.

Jones has been patient with Cassatt, acknowledging that she is a late-developing filly very similar to Joyful Victory

"We had a weird start to her career; had to do a lot of jumping around," he explained. "But now we're getting in a good rhythm. She got a little nervous tonight; she's getting better, but still had those cotton picking nerves!"

Jones will take the same route with Cassatt as he did in 2013 with Joyful Victory, pointing to the $350,000 Santa Margarita S. (G1) on March 14 at Santa Anita Park.

"If we get another Grade 1 winner out of this race it will make Sam Houston look good!" Jones grinned.

The Houston Ladies Classic was the first stakes of the 2015 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge. The national program will incorporate more than 20 stakes races worth over $5.5 million. The stakes will take place at Charles Town, Penn National, Sam Houston and Zia Park. The Challenge includes tie-ins between groups of races in the series, as well as bonuses and prizes that include free nominations, refund of entry and starter fees, and trips to the PNGI-owned M Resort in Las Vegas.

Exodus had no trouble taking his stakes debut in the Allen's Landing (Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

There were three additional stakes at Sam Houston on Saturday evening, and Jones, Clark and Fox Hill Farm all took home a second win when Exodus (Medaglia d'Oro) triumphed by 2 1/4 lengths in the $50,000 Allen's Landing S.

The bay sophomore took command soon after the start and never looked back en route to finishing seven furlongs on the fast dirt in 1:10 2/5. Exodus was the 2-5 favorite and gave back $2.80 to his supporters.

"We think he's pretty special," Jones admitted. "He's a half to (Grade 1 hero) Cross Traffic and his mother (Stop Traffic [Cure the Blues]) is a Grade 1 winner. He went pretty quickly, but we knew (trainer) Al (Stall's) horse (Waging War [War Front]) was pretty fast. We figured with the outside post, we'd be OK. He was rolling"

Exodus finished third in his initial two starts at Keeneland and Fair Grounds before breaking through last out with an 8 1/4-length wire job at the New Orleans venue on January 4. The Allens' Landing score boosted his earnings to $63,290 and he shows a 4-2-0-2 career mark.

Heitai outclassed his rivals in the Turf Sprint (Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

Rowell Enterprises' homebred Heitai (Fusaichi Pegasus) showed his class with a one-length victory in the $75,000 Turf Sprint to kick off the stakes action. Tom Amoss won last year's edition of the race with Sum of the Parts and sent out another capable contender in Heitai.

The five-year-old gelding made the early lead and was never challenged, taking the five-furlong sprint in :56 3/5 on the firm turf under jockey James Graham.

"He won pretty convincingly," Graham said. "He's pretty fast by himself; even faster with me on him!"

Amoss recently assumed training duties of Heitai and has only had the Louisiana-bred sprinter in his barn for three weeks, but clearly liked what he saw.

"He's brilliantly fast," the horseman noted. "Maybe one nervous moment when he left the gate as he had to work a little to make the lead. But he ran really well."

Heitai is now 27-12-8-3 -- including eight stakes victories, nine stakes placings and two track records at Delta Downs -- and has banked $823,543 lifetime.

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In brief

Officials at Parx Racing canceled live racing for Sunday...

Jockey Tyler Baze was handed a three-day suspension (next Saturday, Sunday and February 5) for altering course without sufficient clearance aboard Alert Bay (City Zip), who won Saturday's California Cup Turf Classic by a neck. After a lengthy inquiry and a claim of foul by Rafael Bejarano, who finished eighth on G. G. Ryder (Chhaya Dance), the stewards, in a split decision, did not alter the order of finish...

Pure Tactics enjoyed reverting to the downhill (Benoit Photos)
Nita Winner's Pure Tactics (Pure Prize) exploded from well off the pace to cut down 5-2 favorite Sweet Swap (Candy Ride) in Sunday's $79,800 Clocker's Corner S. on Santa Anita's downhill turf. Under Hall of Famer Mike Smith, the 6-1 chance got up in the final strides, then held the fast-finishing Hay Dude (Dubawi) by a half-length. Sweet Swap, who hopped at the start before advancing to chase early, was another neck away in third. Pure Tactics zipped about 6 1/2 furlongs on the firm course in 1:12 1/5 to notch his fourth career stakes victory. A course record-setting winner of the 2013 Barksdale S. at Louisiana Downs for Morris Nicks, he later joined Doug O'Neill. Pure Tactics won the June 1 Siren Lure at this course and distance and annexed the October 26 Lure on the stretch-out to a mile, romping by 6 1/2 lengths on the front end. He was sixth in the November 28 Seabiscuit (G2) over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar last out, and enjoyed the cutback to improve his mark to 21-9-2-2, $360,826...

Shadwell Stable's Ayaady (Tapit), a full sister to Grade 1 heroine Tell a Kelly, came with a determined run down the stretch to capture her career debut by a head in Sunday's 6TH race at Gulfstream Park. Favored at 6-5 in a field of 12 maiden sophomore fillies, the gray miss ran 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:30 1/5 to edge Itsonlyactingdad (Giant's Causeway) on the firm turf. "What can I say? This filly is a beautifully bred horse and she's been training better every week," trainer Chad Brown said. "We put her in the race not expecting a win, but put her in thinking she would give a good account of herself. For her to win her debut when feeling we didn't have hear all the way cranked looks good for the future." Ayaady was purchased for $1 million as a Keeneland September yearling in 2013, and had been working steadily since November at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. "She was always a good-looking horse and always trained well, but she's really taken steps forward," Brown said. "She'll definitely stretch out. We'll talk with the team and see what they want to do, but we'll stretch her out. She's got a long career ahead of her, a long season ahead of her, so we'll take it step by step." Ayaady is out of the winning Evrobi (Tabasco Cat) and her third dam is Jellatina (Fortino), who produced French champion miler and sire Northjet (Northfields)...

Multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Marsh Side (Gone West) was represented by his first winner as a sire on Sunday when his three-year-old son Junkanoo Night captured the 3RD race at Turfway Park. Trained by Mike Maker for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the Kentucky homebred was a length clear on the wire of the one-mile maiden claimer as the 7-5 favorite. Jockey John McKee guided the chestnut colt to finish in 1:43 3/5 over the synthetic Polytrack in his second career try after running third on December 5 at the same track. Marsh Side hit the mark first out but didn't rise to prominence until taking the 2008 Canadian International (Can-G1) at Woodbine. He followed up the next year with a win in the Northern Dancer Turf S. (Can-G1) back at that Toronto venue and a runner-up effort in the Manhattan H. (G1) at Belmont Park. The dark bay 12-year-old retired with a mark of 31-7-3-1 having banked $2,360,854 during his career on track. Marsh Side is out of Grade 2 heroine Colonial Play (Pleasant Colony), who is full sister to champion Pleasant Stage, multiple Grade 3 victor Stage Colony and Meteor Colony, who is herself the dam of Canadian Grade 1 scorer Changeintheweather (Gone West). His third dam is Northern Meteor (Northern Dancer), who foaled of Grade 1 winners A Phenomenon (Tentam) and Seattle Meteor (Seattle Slew). Marsh Side stands for a 2015 fee of $2,500, stands and nurses, at Dutchess Views Farm near Pine Plains, New York...

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. said Mischief Clem (Papa Clem) came out of his head victory in Saturday's California Cup Derby in good order. "Touch wood, he's been the healthiest good one I've trained in decades," Hess said. "We'll look for a race somewhat tougher, but not too much tougher. "Medical Miracle" Tough Sunday (Grazen) ran seventh and last as the 7-2 second choice in the Cal Cup Derby, but apparently will live to race another day. "He had a rough trip," trainer Steve Miyadi said Sunday morning, "but he's walking all right. We're just going to regroup."...

Chad Brown said that three-year-old filly Consumer Credit (More Than Ready) exited her victory in Saturday's Sweetest Chant S. (G3) in good order. It was the fourth straight victory in the race for Brown, following Ready to Act (More Than Ready) (2014), Premier Steps (Footstepsinthesand) (2013) and Dayatthespa (2012), recently named 2014 champion turf female. "All the fillies that have won that race all turned out to be really nice, and she'd fit in with all of them," Brown said. "These are still young fillies at this stage when you're talking about January of their three-year-old year, so there's still a lot of development to go, but as far as where all of those fillies were at this stage, they're very close. She ranks right up there with them."...

Sunday's American Jockey Club Cup (Jpn-G2) was intended to serve as a springboard to the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) for Gold Ship (Stay Gold), but the five-time Grade 1 winner could manage only a flat seventh, leaving the spoils to the pace-setting Courir Kaiser (King Halo), who was earning his first stakes victory after placing at the group level on three occasions. Gold Ship's rider Yasunari Iwata told Racing Post, "I thought he was nearly at his best in terms of condition today but it felt like he didn't like running on the outside of the pack. He didn't pick up when he needed to." Also in Japan, Copano Rickey (Gold Allure) dominated the Tokai TV Hai Tokai (Jpn-G2) by four lengths on the Chukyo dirt. The five-year-old is now in line for a title defense in the February S. (Jpn-G1) at Tokyo February 22...

Tests revealed no significant injuries to Grade 2 victor Wildcat Red (D'wildcat) following his fifth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Classic on January 17 at Gulfstream Park. The four-year-old bay colt is back with trainer Jose Garoffalo at Gulfstream after having been sent to the Palm Beach Equine Clinic last week, where exams showed a pulled muscle in his back. "The bone scan came out clean. It's a muscle problem, so he'll be OK sooner than later," Garoffalo said. "We checked all the bones and there is no issue, which is a good sign. All he needs is time." Garoffalo said no timetable has been set on a return for Wildcat Red, a winner of five of 14 starts and $936,875 in purses, including the Hutcheson S. (G3) and Fountain of Youth S. (G2) last winter at Gulfstream. "He'll be out at least for 30 days," Garoffalo said. "After the first 30 days we will reevaluate the horse and then we'll see. We'll just go day by day. The good thing is there are no fractures and nothing to worry about."...

Showcasing finished 2014 as the third-leading first-season sire in Europe by prize money and the leader by winners with 29, and the son of Oasis Dream has made a similarly strong start with his first Southern Hemisphere crop, as advertised by Hardline in Sunday's NZ$1 million Karaka Million for New Zealand Bloodstock sales graduates. An NZ$130,000 purchase at Karaka's select yearling sale last year by trainer Liam Birchley, Hardline was making his racing debut when he graduated at Doomben December 5, but was a dull seventh when next seen in a Rosehill plate race January 3. Birchley added blinkers for this assignment hoping to sharpen his charge's finishing kick, and that's exactly what happened. Traveling near the rear of the pack with just two of his 12 rivals beaten through the early stages, jockey Damien Browne stayed cool in the two path while the favored The Justice League (I Am Invincible) was hung widest off all coming off the turn. Gradually working his way past rivals down the lane, the blaze-faced chestnut still had a few lengths to make up as the field passed the 100 meter mark, but he dug deep to prevail in ultimately cozy fashion...

Grade 2-placed stakes winner Irish You Well (Broken Vow) continued working impressively over Fair Grounds' fast dirt on Sunday morning with a five-furlong move in 1:00 2/5, good for second-best of 47 moves at the distance. Trained by Wayne Catalano, the smart work follows an easy one at the same distance in 1:02 1/5 one week ago and a bullet half-mile move in :48 2/5 on January 6.  "He worked very good today," Catalano said. "We'll probably shoot for the ($125,000 Mineshaft) H. (G3) here (on February 21). He fits there and is a good horse." Irish You Well started his career under the tutelage of Dale Romans, dropping his initial two starts, before taking a spot in Catalano's shedrow. He was unable to score in his next four, but Catalano sent out for his stakes bow in the Illinois Derby (G3), where the chestnut finished third. Irish You Well filled that same spot next out in the Peter Pan S. (G2), then finally broke through with a first victory when taking a Monmouth Park maiden by 7 1/2 lengths. He followed up with a half-length score in the Long Branch S. and closed out his sophomore campaign on July 27 when running fourth behind subsequent Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Bayern (Offlee Wild) in the Haskell Invitational (G1)...

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company begins its 2015 sales calendar with the annual Winter Mixed Sale. The catalog may be viewed on the OBS website at www.obssales.com. A total of 392 horses are cataloged for the Mixed sessions of the sale, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 28, with Hip Nos. 1-194 selling in the Consignor Preferred session. Hips 195-392 in the Open Session will be offered on Thursday, January 29, followed immediately by the Horses of Racing Age section. The optional under tack show is scheduled for Monday, January 26, and will begin at 10 a.m. (EST). The Wednesday and Thursday sessions will begin at 10:30 a.m. As always, the sale and under tack show will be streamed live via the OBS website. There are 246 yearlings in the sale by a large and diverse group of sires. Distorted Humor heads a roster of established stallions, a group that also includes Broken Vow, Exchange Rate, Into Mischief, Majestic Warrior, Pioneerof the Nile, Tale of the Cat, Warrior's Reward plus Florida-based Kantharos and Wildcat Heir. Promising second crop yearling sires represented include Drosselmeyer, Haynesfield, Sidney's Candy, Tizway, Twirling Candy as well as Florida-based Big Drama, First Dude and Gone Astray. Frankel's three-quarter brother Bullet Train heads the sale's list of graded-stakes winning first-crop yearling sires, as well as Algorithms, Brilliant Speed, Dialed In, Gemologist, Hansen and The Factor. Broodmare buyers will find mares in foal to a strong group of proven stallions including Bellamy Road, Candy Ride, Congrats, Eskendereya, Into Mischief and Lookin at Lucky. The sale also features mares in foal to a sharp group of first and second year sires including Data Link, Jimmy Creed, New Year's Day, Overanalyze and Trappe Shot, along with Florida-based Brethren, Factum, Prospective, Rattlesnake Bridge, Soldat and Treasure Beach. For more information regarding the Winter Mixed Sale, please visit the OBS website or call 352-237-2154...

The catalog for the 26th annual Barretts Sale of Selected Two-Year-Olds in Training is now online and will be mailed soon. This auction of 116 two-year-olds will be held on Monday, February 23, in the Hinds Pavilion located on the grounds of Fairplex Park in Pomona, California, beginning at 2 p.m. (EST). The official training preview is scheduled to be held on Friday, February 20, on the Fairplex Park racetrack adjacent to Barretts, beginning at 10 a.m. The preview will be streamed live at on www.barretts.com and video clips for each preview may be viewed at the same site by the afternoon following the preview. Among the many top stallions represented in the sales catalog are Afleet Alex, Awesome Again, Big Drama, Broken Vow, Congrats, Curlin, Distorted Humor, Dunkirk, Eskendreya, Flatter, Ghostzapper, Gio Ponti, Hard Spun, Haynesfield, Into Mischief, Lemon Drop Kid, Line of David, Lookin at Lucky, Lucky Pulpit, Macho Uno, Malibu Moon, More Than Ready, Munnings, Pioneerof the Nile, Rip Van Winkle, Scat Daddy, Sidney's Candy, Sky Mesa, Smart Strike, Speightstown, Street Boss, Street Sense, Super Saver, Tale of the Cat, Temple City, Tiznow, Trappe Shot, Twirling Candy, Unbrdled's Song, Uncle Mo and Yes It's True...

A reminder that a Celebration of Life for renowned equine veterinarian Dr. Jack Robbins, who died at 93 in November, will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday at Del Mar's Turf Club...

Condolences to family and friends of horse owner Gary Dimkich, who died unexpectedly last night at his Arcadia, California, home at the age of 68. He is survived by his wife, Leah, two daughters and two granddaughters. Services are pending. A regular at Clockers' Corner, Dimkich attended the races Saturday and was always ready with a friendly greeting. Clockers' Corner loses a touch of warmth with his passing.

Graded Recaps

Coalport gives Maker third Connally Turf Cup win

Coalport was on fire in the Connally Turf Cup (Sam Houston/Coady Photography)

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Coalport (Kitten's Joy) gave trainer Mike Maker a third win in the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) on Saturday evening at Sam Houston Park. Maker sent out the 2012 scorer, Papaw Bodie, as well as last year's hero, Admiral Kitten (Kitten's Joy), and on Saturday saw Coalport post a front-running 3 1/4-length triumph.

Under rider Miguel Mena, who subbed for Javier Castellano, Coalport took the lead and had command throughout while setting splits of :25, :49, 1:13 and 1:37 before finishing nine furlongs over the firm turf in 1:49. The six-year-old chestnut was sent off the 4-5 favorite and paid $3.80 for the score.

Maker, who is based at Gulfstream Park and watched the race from Florida, was very pleased with Coalport's third win in a row.

"I thought he would be forwardly placed," the horseman said. "With Javier staying here (in Florida), I knew I had a top rider in Miguel."

Maker had no immediate comment on the next start for Coalport, simply stating that "everything is on the table."

Trace Creek (Harperstown) followed the winner in second while holding Daddy's Kid (Scat Daddy) to third by 3 1/4.

"He gave me everything he had, 110 percent," said Chris Landeros, who was aboard the runner-up. "I thought Coalport opened up too much. I knew he was a classy horse and could kick away. But I didn't want to do too much; I wish I had a little more pace up front. He ran big."

Coalport earned his fourth stakes win in the Connally Turf Cup, having previously captured the Franklin-Simpson Mile and Black Tie Affair H. in 2013 as well as last season's Buck's Boy H. This was his first graded victory, though the Illinois-bred also shows four placings including the 2011 Bourbon S. (G3), and improved his lifetime record to 23-9-4-0 having banked $540,383.

Coalport is out of the unraced Ballade's Girl (Saint Ballado), making him a full brother to French listed-winning sophomore Jolly Good Kitten. This female family also includes Grade 1 scorers Favorite Funtime (Seeking the Gold) and Beau's Eagle (*Golden Eagle II); Grade 2 victor Man From Eldorado (Mr. Prospector); and classic-placed Play On (Stop the Music).

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Features

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

JANUARY 26, 2015

Interview with British Champions Series Chief Executive Rod Street

by Alix Choppin for TDN

On January 15, the European Pattern Committee announced a number of changes for 2015, several pertaining to the autumn two-year-old racing program in Europe. One of them was to move the Middle Park S. (Eng-G1) to an earlier date, a fortnight before the Dewhurst S. (Eng-G1), and also to revert the running of the Dewhurst to its initial date, a week prior to British Champions Day. The moves will revive the option for juveniles to run in both Group 1 contests, and have been welcomed by the BHA and Newmarket Racecourses.

Since the inception of the British Champions Series, the Middle Park S. and Dewhurst S. had been run on the same day, the so-called "Dubai Future Champions Day." In 2014, this card was held on the eve of British Champions Day, thus giving birth to Britain's "Champions Weekend." This flagship event, which echoed such popular schemes as Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend in France and the new Irish Champions Weekend, will effectively cease to exist after only one year. Choppin spoke with Street about his view of these changes.

TDN: What is your opinion on the changes announced by the Pattern Committee with regards to the Middle Park S. and Dewhurst S.?

Rod Street: It's a positive move. There was originally a one-week gap between Future Champions Day and British Champions Day and they were only brought together because we had to meet fixture list commitments given to the European Pattern Committee. We created British Champions Weekend to take advantage of that change, but both parties were happy with the original timing.

TDN: If this is a positive move from a race planning point of view, aren't you worried about a potential negative impact, in terms of marketing and media exposure, caused by the loss of a championship weekend for all age categories?

RS: We are not worried in the slightest. British Champions Day was created as a stand-alone event, promoting the premier races for three-year-olds and up. We now return to a clean build-up to both events.

TDN: Will "Future Champions Day" still deserve its billing with the loss of the Middle Park, and what are the options currently being discussed with the British Horseracing Authority and Newmarket Racecourses to maintain this fixture to a very high standard?

RS: This is a matter for Newmarket Racecourses, but I understand their ultimate aim is to put together the best possible two-year-old autumn fixture list for the racecourse, which means moving races. I would imagine that their Future Champions Day will remain relevant and be of appropriate quality. In any case, Newmarket has the best two-year-old program in the world. It's the home of future champions.

TDN: Are there other changes in the pipeline as far as the British Champions Series are concerned?

RS: We have already come a long way in four years, doubling the prize money on offer and receiving three race promotions from the European Pattern Committee -- now giving us four Group 1 races and one Group 2. Our objective is to have all five races as Group 1s as soon as possible. This will underpin the day's status as one of the best race days in the world and the finale to the British Flat racing season.

TDN: What is your overall assessment of the British Champions Series, four years down the line?

RS: The British Champions Series has inspired similar initiatives in Ireland and Australia. This reflects that, in an increasingly competitive international racing world, promoting the best races and events is the right strategy. We are pleased with progress so far, particularly with how British Champions Day has become so quickly established and attracted a long-term, valuable sponsorship with QIPCO.

Spot Plays/Highlights/Weather

SPOT PLAYS

For Monday

TRACK   (RACE) HORSE, MORNING LINE
Fair Grounds   (3rd) Lady Tamer, 7-2
    (4th) Hero of Humor, 9-2
Mahoning Valley   (5th) Sky Music, 10-1
    (8th) Forest Signet, 10-1
Parx Racing   (1st) Faryn, 8-1
    (9th) Zuma Moon, 3-1
Sam Houston   (1st) Sand on Fire, 3-1
    (9th) Saucy Shadow, 7-2
Sunland Park   (6th) Lets Get Frisky, 10-1
    (10th) There's a Dream, 8-1
Turf Paradise   (2nd) Denim and Diamonds, 4-1
    (8th) Shiny Sky, 3-1

HANDICAPPER'S EDGE is compiled by Bloodstock Research Information Services. This newsletter may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Copyright 2011, Bloodstock Research Information Services. Information as to the races, race results and earnings was obtained from Equibase Company LLC and is utilized herein with the permission of the copyright owner, Equibase Company LLC.

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