Triple Crown News & Notes
Orb goes back to the track; Napravnik picks up mount on Code West
The 145th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 8 is expected to attract a large field including Preakness winner Oxbow, currently at Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas' barn at Churchill Downs.
Lukas, who has won four editions of the "Test of the Champion," also is expected to saddle Will Take Charge, seventh in the Preakness, in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
Todd Pletcher will be represented by a sizeable contingent, including Revolutionary, Overanalyze, and Palace Malice, third, 11th and 12th, respectively, in the Derby. Overanalyzed is owned by Mike Repole, who has three other Pletcher trainees under consideration for the Belmont -- the filly Unlimited Budget, third in the Kentucky Oaks; Micromanage; and Midnight Taboo.
Rounding out the list of likely starters, according to Andrew Byrnes, stakes coordinator for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), are Peter Pan winner Freedom Child; Giant Finish, 10th in the Derby; and Derby runner-up Golden Soul.
Golden Soul is scheduled to work Friday or Saturday at Churchill Downs, according to trainer Dallas Stewart.
Lukas still savoring Oxbow's victory
Oxbow gave Stevens his ninth Triple Crown win and it was the record 18th for Calumet Farm, now in the hands of Brad Kelley. Calumet's last Triple Crown win prior to Oxbow came in the 1968 Preakness with Forward Pass.
"Our goal is to put Calumet back as a farm of prominence where it once was," Lukas said.
Lukas also saddled Will Take Charge and Titletown Five for last Saturday's Preakness. Will Take Charge, who finished seventh, will join stablemate Oxbow in the Belmont starting gate on June 8. No plans have been made for Titletown Five, but Lukas said he will not run in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
Winning Cause bids to stay perfect on Polytrack in Marine
Ghost Hunter, runner-up to Winning Cause in that Keeneland allowance two back, was most recently a close third in a Churchill Downs allowance on Derby Day. The Ghostzapper colt was edged by the well-regarded Bellarmine and Code West, who has since come back to win impressively at Pimlico and is on course for the June 8 Belmont Stakes. Ghost Hunter was subsequently transferred from Kim Chapman to David Cotey, and he will make his debut for the barn here.
Five Iron has twice finished second in local stakes. Best of the rest behind eventual Canadian Horse of the Year Uncaptured in last September's Swynford, the Brian Lynch colt was a closing runner-up in the April 21 Woodstock last time out. The form was boosted when Woodstock winner Dan the Tin Man came back to score in the Tom Ridge at Presque Isle, but Five Iron has a bit to prove at this longer trip. Completing the short field are recent allowance winner Drenched and Ontario-bred maiden scorer Silent Admirer.
Stevens shifts tack to Hollywood
The last time Gary Stevens rode at Hollywood Park, he guided Alphabet Kisses to victory in the 2005 A Gleam Invitational Handicap.
"I didn't know that," Stevens said in response to the information.
Alphabet Kisses is long retired, but Stevens is in the midst of a highly successful comeback which began in January and continues over the Memorial Day weekend. The biggest of the mounts for the Hall of Famer is the Tom Proctor-trained Marketing Mix in Monday's Grade 1, $250,000 Gamely Stakes.
Stevens, 50, has won the Gamely on three occasions -- Northern Aspen (1987), Metamorphose (1992) and Donna Viola (1997) -- and is on a contender in this year's renewal. Marketing Mix won the Rodeo Drive last September 29 at Santa Anita and returned to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf a month later.
"I worked (Marketing Mix) at Keeneland about a month and a half ago and I can't wait to get on her back," Stevens said.
The six-time Hollywood Park riding champion has been deluged with reporters' questions since his surprise victory aboard Oxbow in last Saturday's Preakness Stakes.
"I've done loads of interviews since Saturday," remarked Stevens, who has spent the last couple of days recharging on the golf course.
"It's good to be back home. I'm definitely sticking around Southern California. I'll ride the rest of the (spring/summer) meet, then move on to Del Mar."
In addition to Marketing Mix, agent Craig O'Bryan has booked Stevens to ride Purim's Dancer -- also for Proctor -- in the $70,000 Great Lady M. Stakes Sunday and Tiz Tee Time for trainer Cody Autrey in the Grade 3, $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap, also on Monday's Memorial Day Card. Tiz Tee Time won an optional claimer by 2 1/2 lengths April 13 at Oaklawn Park in his most recent start.
Stevens cleaned out his locker in the Churchill Downs jockey's room last Sunday, but said that he could return to the Louisville, Kentucky, track for select stakes engagements.
Ocovango takes test spin around Epsom
"The idea today was to show him the bend and go downhill. It was not a serious workout but he was moving well and it was very useful to come here for the horse and jockey.
"It was really important to come also because it is very quiet in French racing but it will be a lot more hectic here next week.
"It is difficult to assess Ocovango's form, but he is a Derby horse. He has a very good balance and cruising speed. He'll have one day of rest after today and then just do regular canters ahead of the race.
"There is a slight doubt about him staying because there is a lot of speed on his dam's side, but his sire Monsun is a very strong staying influence so I think he should be OK. He goes on any ground. The race is all about Dawn Approach if he stays, but everyone has a chance for places.
"Although Pierre-Charles is young, he has been around all the courses in France and is very experienced."
Karl Burke, whose wife Elaine trains Dante winner Libertarian, believes the New Approach colt has a realistic chance of reaching the frame.
"He's come out of the Dante as well as could be hoped," Burke said. "He lost seven kilos at York but has put that on quickly and we're very happy with him. The Derby meeting has been lucky for us, I think we've had seven or eight winners over the years, but I don't think I've had an entry in the Derby, let alone a runner.
"It has created a buzz in the yard but we're not doing anything differently. He'll have another blow on Tuesday next week and that will be it.
"Like a lot of people, I think we'd like the race to be a bit later on as he's not the finished article yet. He's a high-class horse, he's guaranteed to stay the trip and, if handles the track, I can see him running into a place. Then if anything happens to the other horses, who knows?"
The rank outsider in this year's Investec Derby is likely to be Ocean Applause, a 500-1 chance with Coral, but both trainer John Ryan and owner Bill McLuskey are keen to take their chance.
"We like boxing out of our weights a bit. You have to have a dream and if you don't you wouldn't get up in the morning," Ryan said. "But Bill's had a listed winner here before with an outsider in Ocean's Minstrel (in the 2009 Surrey Stakes).
"Everything has gone wrong for us this year. The horses hadn't been well earlier in the season but they are coming back now. This fellow won't disgrace us but whether he is good enough I don't know.
"This was our vision when we bought this horse because he was out of a mare (2003 Princess Elizabeth Stakes winner Aldora) that had done well here."
"I agree with John," McLuskey added. "He can pick horses well and it's a day we'll probably never get again."
The latest Derby betting from Coral, official betting partner of the Derby Festival: 4-5 Dawn Approach; 4-1 Battle of Marengo; 7-1 Ocovango; 8-1 Chopin, Ruler of the World; 14-1 Mars; 16-1 Libertarian, Magician; remainder 20-1 and above.
Telescope ruled out of Derby; Chopin to be supplemented
Highclere Thoroughbred Racing's Derby hope Telescope will not be ready to take part following a disappointing gallop at Lingfield on Wednesday, Sir Michael Stoute revealed during a telephone interview during Thursday's Breakfast with the Stars at Epsom.
"Telescope has eaten up and is sound, but we have detected a bit of soreness on his left fore shin," Stoute said. "I have just had a brief word with Harry (Herbert of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing) and I think this horse will not be going to Epsom for the Derby.
"He missed the Dante, had a bit of a hold-up here and there, and things are not going right. I think he is just telling us to back off for a little bit. He definitely won't run."
Coral's David Stevens commented on the withdrawal of the 10-1 chance.
"Telescope had been well backed for the Epsom classic," Stevens said, "but the vibes weren't good following a recent setback and his racecourse gallop yesterday failed to impress, before the almost inevitable news of his absence was revealed."
An international renewal of the Derby is set to feature the premier classic's first German-trained challenger in Chopin, whose trainer Andreas Wohler was at Epsom for Thursday's festivities.
The son of Santiago was bought by the al Thani family following his victory at Krefeld in April and is set to be supplemented for the Derby on Monday at a cost of £75,000.
"The horse works on Sunday and if he is fine he will be supplemented," Wohler said. "We wouldn't have done it ourselves but it was the new owner's plan when he bought the horse.
"Chopin is very relaxed and laidback and I have no worries about the trip -- he needs further than the extended mile he ran over last time. The faster they go the better for him, but I don't have a clue about the other horses in the race.
"We've been all around the world for big races but this is something different. This is the Derby of Derbys -- it's the original and this is very exciting for German racing."
"After the horse won at Krefeld," Chopin's owner Sheikh Fahad said, "all of our people were impressed. I was impressed and David (Redvers, his racing manager) was impressed.
"There are a lot of doubts about other horses staying. I think the horse has a proper chance of finishing in the first four, although it's a different thing to say that he could win.
"The Derby is the number one race in the world -- the race you want to have a runner in. A race too that you want to have a runner with a proper chance, which is why we have not been represented until now. Everybody is happy for Chopin to run in the Derby."
Jamie Spencer, al Thani's retained rider, will pick up the mount.
"Chopin has a good attitude and is relaxed, although all I did with him was to ride him over five furlongs in the wrong direction when I went over to Germany," Spencer said.
"The horse he beat by eight lengths last time (Global Bang) was just touched off in the German Guineas on Monday, and if Chopin improves for the step up in trip he has a chance.
"I'm looking forward to the race and he's bred to stay. He has won at a mile and that means he has the pace to get a good position and he should travel. Then it's just down to whether he is good enough. You ride the race to suit your horse, you can't try and be in a set position, and you just have to hope they travel down the hill."
Bolger 'very happy' with Dawn Approach; O'Brien framing plans
"I will be leaving the tactics to Kevin (Manning) but hopefully there will be plenty of pace because we need pace to get him settle early on. We would be disappointed if we didn't get pace and, after that, may the best horse win.
"I don't know by what factor you would need to multiply the decibels at Newmarket by to replicate Epsom but I am sure he will be able to cope anyway.
"I am very happy with Dawn Approach and hopefully all will go well in the meantime. Kevin and I know every blade of grass at Epsom. We have walked the track umpteen times and we are happy enough about that.
"As regards the competition, I wish them all well. I respect each and every one of them. I will not be losing any sleep over them.
"For security reasons, we are not divulging at this stage our travel plans. We do expect to be there in time! I won't need security -- I didn't need it five years ago and I don't need it now.
"Of course I am enjoying it. I have been following Epsom Derbys now since the great *Sea-Bird, who happens to be the sire of the fourth dam of Dawn Approach. I am well used to Derbys both as a racegoer and as a trainer and now as a small-bit owner."
Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien, bidding for a fourth Derby success, is still finalizing plans for this year although Battle of Marengo and Mars both look likely to travel over to Epsom.
"The trials all went well and everything is up in the air at the moment," O'Brien said in a telephone interview.
"Battle of Marengo was always going to Epsom and that's why he stayed at home in his two trials, while the other horses came to Britain. Joseph (O'Brien) has always ridden Battle of Marengo and he'd be short odds to ride him again at Epsom. The other jockeys should fall into place when we firm things up -- we have Seamus (Heffernan), Colm (O'Donoghue) and Ryan (Moore), who has also ridden for us.
"Mars is probably a definite runner. We said after the Guineas (where he finished sixth) we would come to Epsom.
"We also have Ruler of the World, who also has the options of Royal Ascot and the Irish Derby, while Magician and Flying the Flag have been declared for the Irish Two Thousand Guineas on Saturday. They all work individually and so far are in good shape.
"Obviously, Dawn Approach is a top horse and Jim has trained him brilliantly. He was a five-length winner of the Guineas and wasn't stopping."
Secret Gesture favored in Oaks; Dunaden to face St Nick in Coronation Cup
Ralph Beckett, who won the Group 1 Oaks in 2008 with Look Here, is set to be double-handed in the May 31 renewal with Secret Gesture, Coral's 5-2 favorite, and Talent.
"We properly realized what we had with Secret Gesture after she won her maiden at Newbury," Beckett said. "She's quite a narrow, light-framed filly and we hadn't done a lot with her. But she's been straightforward all of her life.
"Look Here got into a flap in the paddock before she won the Oaks, but this filly should be fine. I hope she's special, but I'm not brave enough to say that just yet.
"She hasn't done much since Lingfield (her 10-length romp in the Oaks Trial) but will work in the morning on the grass. Jim Crowley, who has ridden her in all races, will be on board.
"Richard Hughes will ride Talent at Epsom and he is coming down to us to ride her in the morning as well.
"She has done very well since (winning) the Pretty Polly Stakes, both physically and in her work, and if she was my only runner I'd be looking forward to the race," Beckett added. "She's well-balanced, will handle the track and her pedigree says she will stay."
Sir Michael Stoute has the unbeaten Liber Nauticus in the Oaks.
"She has just cantered in front of me on Warren Hill," Stoute reported. "She is stretching well and is a fine, big athlete who does very little at home. She was very green in her Goodwood race last year and she did well when winning the Musidora (at York last week).
"She wasn't spectacular or anything, but that is never going to be her style. I think the race will have mentally sharpened her up for the Oaks.
"We have a got a good chance in the Oaks with her."
The Michael Bell-trained The Lark galloped ahead of stable companion Madame Defarge, and both are likely to run in the fillies' classic.
"The Lark has come on a lot from her run at Newbury (third in the Swettenham Stud Fillies' Trial), which we knew she would," Bell said. "She needs plenty of work and will improve significantly for that run.
"She's bred to stay and be here -- she's a three-parts sister to Sariska (the 2009 Oaks heroine).
"I've got to speak to her owner Carole Bamford but I would love to give it a go and run. I'd be keen to roll the dice."
Jamie Spencer will take over at the helm on The Lark.
"I'd had nothing to do with The Lark before today and not thought much about her," Spencer said, "but I'd be happier and look forward to next week after riding her today. She obviously has to improve on form."
Bell also thinks a lot of Madame Defarge.
"Madame Defarge is gorgeous-looking, she has bags of scope and is bred to stay. She got squeezed on the rail and was very unlucky when running over a mile and a quarter at Newmarket (when third to Talent).
"She's like (her sire) Motivator in that she doesn't need much work. Tom Queally rode her today and he won on her at Yarmouth.
"Both fillies have to step up on what they have done, but I think they are capable of that."
Trainer Hughie Morrison confirmed that he is set to supplement Cheshire Oaks heroine Banoffee for the Oaks at a cost of £30,000 on Saturday.
"If the wheels stay on between now and Saturday then she'll be supplemented," Morrison said. "She's never been over-expressive in her work or movement and, as our grass gallops have not been up to scratch this year because of the weather, we have never tested how good she is at home. She only ran two weeks ago at Chester so we haven't done too much with her since.
"I think that if you have a filly that wins one of the trials then you have to go for the Oaks. It's the most important race for fillies in this country. Kieren Fallon is available and keen to ride."
Aidan O'Brien is likely to have two runners as he bids for a fifth Oaks success.
"The plan is for Snow Queen to go to the Irish One Thousand Guineas on Sunday and for both Moth and Say to run in the Oaks."
O'Brien also had word of St Nicholas Abbey, who will bid for an unprecedented third success in the Group 1 Coronation Cup on Derby Day, June 1.
"St Nicholas Abbey is in good shape. He's had a day away and everything is good so far," O'Brien said of Coral's 4-7 favorite.
"Obviously, St Nicholas Abbey is the one to beat but, the way Dunaden won the Caulfield Cup, I think he'll give him a good race. He is not a two-miler -- he won the Melbourne Cup with his class. He is a mile and a half horse rather than a stayer.
"He's been our flagship horse for Pearl Bloodstock and he helped my brothers get involved in racing. We set up Qatar Racing after that so we owe the horse a lot for that."
Spencer has confidence in Dunaden.
"Dunaden is a lovely horse with a great record and has done things a lot of horses can't do," his rider said. "I presume it will be a small field and I respect St Nicholas Abbey hugely, but the boss likes a challenge and we'll take him on."
Epsom Downs' Director of Racing Andrew Cooper gave an update on the course condition.
"If we were racing today, I would call the ground good and I'm pleased with where we are," Cooper said.
"I'd be very pleased to start the meeting on ground like this. The intention is not to run the Derby on anything quicker than good-to-firm.
"We could have some showers today then rain tomorrow and there is a mixed forecast next week. At the moment, it is looking like it should be mainly dry with possible sunny spells and temperatures of 16 to 17 degrees (Celsius) for the Derby Festival."
O'Brien has four entered for Irish Two Thousand Guineas
Aidan O'Brien on Thursday declared four of the original eight entries for Saturday's Group 1 Irish Two Thousand Guineas, with Joseph O'Brien booked for Magician as the stable chases a ninth edition.
Impressive when winning the Group 3 Dee Stakes going 10 furlongs at Chester last out on May 10, Magician takes up the leading role from the absent Cristoforo Colombo and Mars.
The bay son of Galileo will be joined by stablemate George Vancouver, who was unplaced in the Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket on May 4, as well as Gale Force Ten and Flying the Flag, the respective fourth- and ninth-place runners in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas) at Longchamp on May 12.
Saturday's contest is as notable for its withdrawals as its final acceptors, with Jim Bolger scratching last year's Group 1 Criterium International scorer Loch Garman and set to be represented only by Thursday's Group 2 Dante Stakes runner-up Trading Leather.
Trainer Andrew Oliver has committed First Cornerstone, who has not been seen since finishing fourth in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October. The Group 2 Futurity Stakes winner will not need fast conditions, so the forecast showers are welcome news to his conditioner, who told the Irish Times, "First Cornerstone is in good form for the Two Thousand Guineas. Good ground would be fine for him and the only real concern I would have for my horses is if it firms up into real quick ground."
Woodbine releases complete 2013 stakes schedule
Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) on Thursday announced Woodbine's entire 2013 Thoroughbred stakes calendar. A total of 107 stakes races, worth more than $20.25 million, are scheduled.
The first portion of the stakes calendar, which features 37 added-money races through July 7 including the date of the 154th Queen's Plate, was announced in March.
Key features in the "second half" of the schedule include traditional late season spotlight events like the Woodbine Mile and Canadian International, both Canadian Grade 1 contests.
The C$1 million Woodbine Mile, set for September 15, is once again a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event for the Turf Mile, as is its filly and mare companion on the same date, the Grade 2, C$300,000 Canadian Stakes, for the Filly & Mare Turf. Also on that power-packed card is the Grade 1, C$300,000 Northern Dancer and the Grade 3, C$150,000 Ontario Derby.
Last year, Wise Dan captured the Woodbine Mile en route to victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile and three Eclipse Awards, including the one for Horse of the Year.
"The Ricoh Woodbine Mile is a premier event in the Thoroughbred racing world," said Steve Koch, WEG's vice-president of Thoroughbred racing, "Wise Dan obviously reinforces that distinction. We anticipate offering another brilliant field of world-class horses for the Mile, as well as the Northern Dancer, the Canadian and Ontario Derby that day."
The C$1 million Canadian International and its filly and mare complement, the Grade 1, C$500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes have found a later spot on the calendar. The pair is now set for October 27.
"The later date allows every opportunity for runners coming out of major U.S. and European races to take advantage of Woodbine's turf course," Koch explained. "Those that run well here usually move on to other races besides the Breeders' Cup later in the year, such as Hong Kong or Japan."
Three other "Win and You're In" races are set for Woodbine. The Grade 1, C$300,000 Nearctic Stakes (Turf Sprint) returns on October 13 while a pair of Grade 2 two-year-old turf events, the C$200,000 Natalma Stakes (Juvenile Fillies Turf) and C$200,000 Summer Stakes (Juvenile Turf), are scheduled for September 14.
The third and turf jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, the C$500,000 Breeders' Stakes, is set for August 18 at Woodbine. The Prince of Wales, the middle gem, is scheduled for July 30 over Fort Erie's dirt track.
Fans to decide theme for upcoming 'Downs After Dark' program
Churchill Downs Racetrack has unveiled fashion and decor themes for two of its trio of "Downs After Dark" night racing celebrations scheduled for the final three Saturdays in June, and is turning to its fans to choose the theme for the third.
Fans will determine the theme of the second of the remaining sessions of entertainment and racing under the lights on Saturday, June 22, by choosing from a roster of three possible options listed on the track's Facebook page (Facebook.com/ChurchillDowns).
Voting on that "Downs After Dark" theme will continue through 3 p.m. (EDT) on May 31.
Themes already set for the upcoming “Downs After Dark” celebrations include:
In determining the theme for the June 22 "Downs After Dark" program, fans will chose from a list of three possible themes:
Fans can view details of each of the potential night racing themes at www.ChurchillDowns.com.
Starformer the one to catch in Sheepshead Bay
Mystical Star, controversially disqualified from third to eighth in last year's Sheepshead Bay after breaking through the gate before the start, seeks to snap a five-race losing skid. The 2012 New York heroine fell a neck short of catching Starformer in the Long Island last November, and fell victim to a slow pace in both the Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs and the Doubledogdare at Keeneland in her two outings this year.
Strathnaver has transformed from a low-level handicap performer in Britain to a graded stakes winner since her importation over the winter. Now residing in the barn of Graham Motion, the Oasis Dream filly won at first asking for her new trainer in a Gulfstream allowance, and then overcame a 13-length deficit to win the 1 1/2-mile Bewitch at Keeneland going away by a length as an 18-1 longshot.
Hessonite, the New York-bred mare who turned in an explosive sixteenth-mile burst to claim the Beaugay earlier this month, will attempt to win for the first time beyond nine furlongs. The David Donk-trained daughter of Freud has won five of nine over the Belmont lawn, though the Beaugay was her first ever success against open stakes company.
Three of the top four finishers from the May 1 Owsley, a 1 1/4-mile overnight stakes, return for the Sheepshead Bay. Julie's Love endured a pocket trip before getting out and up by a half-length to post the 6-1 upset of that race, with 29-1 longshot Minakshi second in her U.S. debut. Fourth was Group 3 winner Tannery, who has not placed in this country since a third in the Garden City for three-year-olds last September.
The field is rounded out by Anjaz, a handicap performer in England who was fourth in the Orchid at Gulfstream in her American bow.
Arlington kicks off 2013 stakes season with a Grade 3 smorgasbord
General Election will be making his turf debut for trainer Kellyn Gorder in the Arlington Classic. The Harlan's Holiday bay captured the John Battaglia Memorial on Turfway Park's Polytrack in early March and keeps the services of jockey Joe Rocco Jr., who guided General Election to a runner-up placing in the Grade 3 Lexington over Keeneland's Polytrack last out in April.
Procurement invades from Santa Anita Park for trainer Tom Proctor. The bay son of Milwaukee Brew won the La Puente over that track's turf course on April 21 beneath Garrett Gomez, who has been aboard Procurement in his last four starts and gets the return call.
Trainer Danny Peitz could have a live longshot in the Arlington Classic in Yorkshire Icon, an English-bred recent acquisition who is exiting an impressive May 4 allowance win on the Arlington turf.
"We were pleasantly surprised. He settled out the back and ran right by them like a horse who could be useful," Peitz said of the small bay son of Sixties Icon. "We don't know what's going to be in (the Arlington Classic), but we are taking a shot here."
Yorkshire Icon comes from a European female family flush with endurance influences and intense closing speed. This often also means that he may appreciate a little bit of cut in the ground -- which proved true when he won his allowance on yielding ground and his maiden in England over soft going.
"It wouldn't bother us if we get a little bit rain. He proved the other day that he likes it. And, he seems like he's come out well and is moving forward -- he seems very happy," Peitz said.
Coming from 16 lengths behind a dawdling pace of 1:15.17 for the first six furlongs, Yorkshire Icon, despite being on the petite side, made massive strides down the stretch to easily best the field by a little over a length -- making up six lengths in the last quarter and rewarding his backers at a nice 28-1.
"I'm hoping he runs well enough to keep running in the (Mid-America Triple)," Peitz added. "He will probably get better as the races get longer."
"In a perfect world, we'd like to keep him here and see if he takes to the grass," Smith stated. "The owners are local and want to see him race here in Illinois at Arlington."
E.T. Baird has the call on Nates Mineshaft, who will be making his first start on a synthetic course since his lone try in December 2011 at Turfway Park.
"Right now he's telling me that he handles this track just fine," Smith commented.
Among those lining up against Nates Mineshaft is Mister Marti Gras, who ran second in the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap last fall in his last appearance at Arlington. The Belong to Me six-year-old gelding has been competitive in several starts since, including two wins at Hawthorne last fall.
"She ran behind four Grade 1 winners. She didn't disgrace herself. I wish we would have had more pace to run at, but that's how it goes. We knew we were taking a shot and she's a good filly," Peitz explained, before adding that he believes the chestnut lass will appreciate the conditions of the race.
"She broke her maiden here and likes the Polytrack. She will really appreciate the two turns here, too. She seems to run well on everything. I'm looking to run her in the (Grade 3) Modesty (on July 13) after this, and I thought this was a good spot to hopefully get us there.
"She has gone from a two-year-old who didn't look like much to competitive in a Grade 1. I'm glad to keep her in training. She's an Invasor and I think she will get better. I don't think she's going to embarrass us. We're going to see something and find out how much she's improved. We would definitely like to get to the (Grade 1) Beverly D. (on August 17)," the horseman concluded.
Chantal Sutherland, who retired from race riding last October, told Daily Racing Form Thursday that she will mount a comeback at Del Mar this summer. "I just started dreaming about it again," Sutherland said. "All of a sudden I started waking up at 4 a.m. I missed it too much. I love all the people at the racetrack."...
Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred Teardrop (Tapit), a three-quarter sister to Grade 1 star Pyro (Pulpit), stamped herself as a juvenile to follow with a memorable debut score in Thursday's 1ST race at Churchill Downs. Dispatched as the even-money favorite with Rosie Napravnik, the Steve Asmussen pupil overcame a slow and awkward start, and a seven-wide trip, to win as much the best. Teardrop collared the pacesetter in the stretch, drew off by 3 3/4 lengths, and completed five furlongs on the fast main track in :58 2/5. The gray filly is a close relative of three graded stakes performers. Aside from Pyro, whose major scores include the 2009 Forego (G1) and 2008 Louisiana Derby (G2), she is also a three-quarter sister to multiple stakes winner and Grade 3-placed Longview Drive (Pulpit) and a full sister to Grade 3 queen War Echo (Tapit). Their dam, the winning Wild Vision (Wild Again), is herself a full sister to Grade 2 victor Wild Wonder. This is the family of Grade 1 heroes Olympio (Naskra), Cuvee (Carson City), Paddy O'Prado (El Prado) and Tapizar (Tapit), winner of last November's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1)...
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella decided not to ship Jimmy Creed (Distorted Humor) to Belmont Park for Monday's Metropolitan H. (G1). As a result, jockey Garrett Gomez is staying at Hollywood and has picked up the mount on Halo Dolly (Popular) in Monday's Gamely S. (G1)...
Bob Baffert gave an update on plans for multiple Grade 1 winner Game on Dude (Awesome Again), who went a leisurely half-mile in :50 3/5 Monday at Santa Anita. "He just started breezing," Baffert said of the $4.7-million earner, most recently successful in the Charles Town Classic (G2). "He won't run in the Californian ([G2] on June 1), but I think he'll be ready for the Gold Cup ([G1] on July 6)." Game on Dude, the reigning Hollywood Gold Cup hero, will bring four-race win streak into his title defense. Baffert will be represented in the Californian by Liaison (Indian Charlie). Coming off a score in the Mervyn LeRoy H. (G2), Liaison worked six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:13 4/5 Tuesday...
Jockey Frankie Dettori has made himself available to France Galop for further drugs tests in a bid to return from a six-month worldwide ban in time for the June 1 Epsom Derby (Eng-G1). Dettori's intended comeback on Monday was called off after the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) refused to grant the rider a license in the absence of clearance from France Galop. It has since emerged that one of three tests Dettori underwent last month produced an irregular result. "The decision of the (France Galop Medical) Commissioners last year was that Frankie would have to pass three straight tests in the same week and that all should be negative," Dettori's agent in France, Herve Naggar, told Racing Post. "We knew last Friday the first of those three posed a problem. Frankie decided not only to collaborate with the French authorities, but, in order to sort things out as quickly as possible, he arrived in France Wednesday morning and decided himself to undertake the same testing procedure again as last month. He asked France Galop to re-test him Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because he's sure of himself."...
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has ordered the drafting of a decree rendering the import, sale, purchase and use of anabolic steroids in all horse-related sports in the United Arab Emirates a criminal offence. The decree is to have immediate effect. In a statement issued by godolphin.com, Sheikh Mohammed said, "I have always believed in the integrity of horse racing and all other horse sports. I have, in light of the unfortunate recent event, directed that a decree be issued making, with immediate effect, the import, sale, purchase or use of anabolic steroids in horse sports a criminal offence under the UAE penal laws. Regrettably, one of my stables in Europe has recently fallen below the standards that I expect and will tolerate. As soon as the internal investigations are complete and the requisite preemptory rules are put in place, Godolphin will go from strength to strength and lead, once again, adherence to the highest standards in that gracious sport."...
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has nothing but fond memories of Richard Lies, who passed away Monday at the age of 71 following a lengthy illness. Lies, who retired from training in the mid 2000s, had several ventures, but especially loved his job at Del Mar, where he worked as an usher for many years. "I got to know him real well down there," Baffert said. "He worked in the area (around our box). He always rooted for me and was always upbeat. He just enjoyed life." It wasn't a secret that Lies had a favorite horse. "He absolutely loved Richard's Kid (Lemon Drop Kid)," Baffert recalled. "When I wasn't training him anymore, I gave Richard his halter." John Lies, one of Richard's four children and the track announcer at Lone Star Park, looked forward every summer to Del Mar, where he could spend some time with his father. Baffert's final conversation with Richard Lies concerned his son. "When I found out he was sick, I called him," Baffert revealed. "One of the last things he said to me was 'be good to my kid.'".
More than 50 sophomores were nominated to the inaugural running of the $500,000 Penn Mile on the turf, including the winners of seven of the eight graded races run on the turf for two-year-olds last year and three-year-olds this year. Entries for the Penn Mile, the richest race in the history of Penn National, will be taken May 29 with the race set to be run June 1 on a 10-race card kicking off at 6 p.m. (EDT) and featuring six stakes races worth more than $1 million in purses, including the $250,000 Mountainview Handicap and $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup. Among the most accomplished turf colts nominated for the Penn Mile are trainer Chad Brown's Grade 2-winning duo of Noble Tune (Unbridled's Song) and Balance the Books (Lemon Drop Kid), who ran second and third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, respectively, along with Grade 3 grass victors Den's Legacy (Medaglia d'Oro) for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Jack Milton (War Front) for five-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Todd Pletcher and Rydilluc (Medaglia d'Oro) for four-time leading NYRA trainer Gary Contessa. Two horses who most recently contested the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby 4 were nominated to the Penn Mile -- Grade 2 scorer Vyjack (Into Mischief) for trainer Rudy Rodriguez and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Charming Kitten (Kitten's Joy) for Pletcher. Grade 1 heroes Java's War (War Pass) and Power Broker (Pulpit), trained by Kenny McPeek and Baffert, respectively, are also among those nominated to the Penn Mile, with the former's top win coming on a synthetic surface and the latter's on dirt. Of the remaining Penn Mile nominees, 20 are either stakes winners or have finished top three in a graded race. In addition to the Penn Mile, Mountainview and Pennsylvania Governor's Cup, the June 1 card will also feature the $50,000 Penn Dash for three-year-olds and up going five furlongs, and a pair of $60,000 six furlong dirt sprints, the E Dubai HBPA and Silver Train HBPA, for Pennsylvania-bred or Pennsylvania-sired horses. It will be the richest day of racing in the 40-year history of Penn National...
Team Block's Ioya Bigtime (Dynaformer), winner of the 2012 Kentucky Cup Turf (G3), finished a disappointing ninth in the recent Elkhorn (G2) as the favorite but will look to get back on track in Saturday's Louisville Handicap (G3). "We haven't really been able to come up with (an excuse)," trainer Chris Block said. "It was nothing physical. Maybe we tried to slow things down too much. They were awfully slow fractions and we might have throttled him down too much. I don't know for sure, though. I'm kind of just putting a line through the race and we're back at it on Saturday." Ioya Bigtime set the pace in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn, running the opening half-mile in :52 1/5 over Keeneland's firm turf course. "He's doing really well since and if he wasn't then we wouldn't be running him Saturday," Block said. "We'll just forget about the last one and go into Saturday with some confidence the horse will go out and throw a good race." Block added that Ioya Bigtime will be close to the pace, but doesn't need the lead. "I'll leave it up to the horse and (jockey) Jeffrey (Sanchez)," Block said. "He always breaks pretty sharp. If he happens to be on the lead without too much encouragement, then that's fine. If someone else wants it, then that's fine and we'll lay off them."...
Janis Whitham's homebred Lent (Pulpit), a half-brother to 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned (E Dubai), will make his career debut in Friday's 7TH race at Churchill Downs. "We'll get him started and let him improve," trainer Ian Wilkes said. "He's a different horse than his brother -- different conformation and different type of horse. I hope he can run as fast." Wilkes, who has saddled two winners at the 2013 spring meet, has won with six of 250 first-time starters in his career. But Wilkes is more concerned with races down the line than with getting a horse to win at first asking. "It's all about developing the horse to me and not putting everything into the horse's first race," Wilkes said. "I like to build some asset value in the horse and let him develop and let him be as good as he can be when he matures." A three-year-old bay, Lent also is a half-brother to Izarra (Distorted Humor), who finished second in the Oak Leaf (G1) and third in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) in 2007. "He was very close to starting late in his two-year-old year," Wilkes said. "He had a little issue in an ankle, so we stopped on him and gave him some time. Now he's ready to go." Lent's older brother Fort Larned, who is being pointed toward the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) on June 15, is scheduled to breeze five furlongs Friday morning prior to the renovation break....
Trainer Ron Moquett reports that Gentlemen's Bet (Half Ours) is possible for the $100,000 Aristides (G3) at six furlongs on June 1. Third when making his stakes debut in the April 13 Count Fleet (G3) at Oaklawn, the four-year-old colt exits a sharp score over optional claiming rivals at Churchill Downs last Friday, netting a 106 BRIS Speed rating for the 5 3/4-length decision...
Australian Bloodstock Stable, who plucked last year's Doomben Cup (Aus-G1) winner Mawingo (Tertullian) and Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1) third Lucas Cranach (Mamool) from Germany, has returned to that racing circuit to acquire another pair of high-class individuals. Andreas Wohler trainee Waldpark (Dubawi), winner of the 2011 Deutsches Derby (Ger-G1) and a last-out second in the May 12 Grosser Preis der Badischen Unternehmer (Ger-G2), is bound for Anthony Freedman's yard and has the Cox Plate (Aus-G1) as his main target. Salon Soldier (Soldier Hollow), who has hit the board twice at the Group 3 level and ran sixth behind Waldpark last out, will leave Peter Schiergen to be trained by Kris Lees, and has the Caulfield Cup (Aus-G1) as his main objective...
Khalid Abdullah's Romantica (Galileo) has already done much to uphold her esteemed family tradition, but the daughter of Banks Hill (Danehill) and granddaughter of Hasili (Kahyasi) seems in no mood to stop at present and takes to Saint-Cloud for more honors in Friday's Prix Corrida (Fr-G2). Andre Fabre has won this event a record five times and already guided the homebred to success in the Prix de la Nonette (Fr-G2) at Deauville in August and Prix Allez France (Fr-G3) over 10 furlongs at Chantilly last out on April 29. Fabre also saddles Guy Reed's Prix de Pomone (Fr-G2) scorer La Pomme d'Amour (Peintre Celebre), who has been off the board in her last three starts, while another trainer who is double-handed is Alain de Royer-Dupre. Haras de Saint Pair's Fairly Fair (Sinndar) was only sixth in the Allez France, while Fair Salinia Ltd.'s Fate (Teofilo) is totally unexposed after her breakthrough win in a conditions event over this 1 5/16-mile trip at Longchamp on May 2...
The march toward the June 29 Shoemaker Mile (G1) continues Saturday with the $150,000 American Handicap (G2), a course-and-distance prep for the Shoemaker over Hollywood Park's turf course. The likely favorite is the front-running Obviously (Choisir), who racked up wins last fall in the Del Mar Mile (G2) and Arroyo Seco Mile (G2) before a third in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). In his lone outing this year, the five-year-old gelding was nabbed late going downhill at Santa Anita in the San Simeon (G3). The American will mark the U.S. debut for Lucayan (Turtle Bowl), who went unplaced in his final three starts in Europe following a 27-1 upset of the French Two Thousand Guineas (Fr-G1) at Longchamp last May. Now conditioned by Neil Drysdale, Lucayan will be ridden for the first time by a fellow French import, Julien Leparoux. Also in the six-horse lineup are Chosen Miracle (Ghostzapper), who's placed in the San Gabriel (G2) and San Simeon this season, and Drill (Lawyer Ron), a rallying fourth in the San Simeon which marked the colt's turf debut...
Dark Cove (Medaglia d'Oro) will face eight rivals on Saturday as he seeks to add a second straight graded win to his resume in Churchill Downs' $100,000 Louisville Handicap (G3). The Mike Maker trainee was a 4 1/4-length victor of the Elkhorn (G2) over Keeneland's turf on April 26 and will stay at that race's 1 1/2-mile distance for Saturday's grass affair under the Twin Spires. Dark Cove owns two prior tries over the Churchill green, finishing a well-beaten 10th in the Commonwealth Turf (G3) in 2010 and most recently posting a runner-up effort in a 2011 optional claimer. Rosie Napravnik has the call aboard the bay six-year-old, who will be facing Heathcote (Niigon), a 12 1/4-length romper last out when taking the Valedictory (Can-G3) in mid-December; Harrods Creek (Langfuhr), winner of the John's Call at Saratoga in his final appearance of 2012 on August 3; and last year's Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Marathon third-placer, Atigun (Istan), who just scored in his second turf appearance in a May 4 Churchill optional claimer...
Dual Canadian champion Irish Mission (Giant's Causeway) returns to Woodbine on Saturday as part of a seven-distaffer field in the C$200,000 Nassau (Can-G2) going a mile on the turf. The Mark Frostad pupil captured last year's Woodbine Oaks over the Polytrack prior to a runner-up effort in the Queen's Plate against the boys. She would go on to finish sixth on the Fort Erie dirt in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales, before taking the 1 1/2-mile third jewel, the Breeders', on Woodbine's turf in her penultimate start of 2012. Irish Mission made her return to competition on February 28 at Gulfstream Park, running second in an optional claimer before filling the third spot in the Orchid (G3) in her last start on March 30. Earlier on Woodbine's Saturday program, a field of seven sophomore fillies will line up in the C$125,000 Lady Angela, and Rootham Triple E's (Weather Warning) will try to return to the winner's circle after a sixth-place effort in the Fury on May 4. The bay miss captured the Star Shoot to open her 2013 campaign...
Csaba (Kitten's Joy) tops a field of 10 entered in Saturday's $75,000 Memorial Handicap at Calder. The four-year-old colt reeled off consecutive wins this winter in the Tropical Park Derby, Fred Hooper (G3), Harlan's Holiday and Hal's Hope (G3) before finishing fifth in the Donn Handicap (G1) and has been freshened 105 days in advance of this assignment by trainer Phil Gleaves. Manoel Cruz picks up the mount. Rule Number Six (Repent) and Megamove (High Cotton), the two respective finishers from the May 5 Sumter at Calder, will both return in this spot and Grade 2 winner Eldaafer (A.P. Indy) figures to appreciate the class relief following a fifth in the Grade 3 Skip Away last out. Other contestants include Isutalkintome (Flashy Bull), Ducduc (Langfuhr) and Flatter This (Flatter)...
Winning Image (Southern Image), last seen posting a comfortable score in the Willa on the Move at Laurel Park in mid-December, will make a title defense in Saturday's $75,000 My Juliet at Parx Racing. A four-time stakes heroine, the Michael Aro-trained mare will make her 2013 debut against five rivals and has been listed as the 8-5 favorite on the morning line for the six-furlong test. Regular rider Jose Caraballo will be up. Ruffian (G2) winner Withgreatpleasure (Hold That Tiger) is scheduled to wheel back a week later after finishing third in the Vagrancy (G2) and Villette (Petionville) will step up to face graded rivals following an easy triumph in the April 13 Foxy JG at Parx over state-bred foes. Stakes winners Appealing Stella (Closing Argument) and Ms. Cruisen' (Candy Ride) are also entered...
Victor Espinoza was three shy of 3,000 career wins going into Friday's card at Hollywood Park. The Mexico City native earned win number 2,997 aboard Heat Trap (Unusual Heat) in Sunday's 9TH race. Espinoza, who turned 41 Thursday, had two scheduled rides on his birthday. He finished second aboard Foxy Boss (Street Boss) in the 5TH before an unplaced try on Warren's Joe T. (Affirmative) in the 8TH. On Friday, he is named to ride Nevada City (Cee's Tizzy) for Mike Harrington in the opener and Iconic Spirit (Bernstein) for John Sadler in the 4TH...
Apprentice Gonzalo Nicolas, who won with three of his first 12 mounts at Los Alamitos, makes his Hollywood Park debut Friday when he rides Sofos Quick Logic (Sofocles [Brz]) in the 3RD race...
Jockey Joe Steiner, who has been representing himself, will be handled by veteran agent Ivan Puhich beginning June 1...
Trainer Ron Ellis is five victories away from his 1,000th career victory...
Churchill Downs will stage a special 11-race Memorial Day program on Monday. The first of 11 races on the holiday program is 12:45 p.m. (EDT), and the featured event is the $100,000 Winning Colors (G3), a six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares. All active and retired members of the United States armed forces will be admitted free of charge with proof of identification. Churchill Downs popular track bugler Steve Buttleman is sure to decorate the Kentucky Derby winner's circle with an abundance of U.S. flags and will perform patriotic melodies following the "Call to the Post" for each race...
Doug O'Neill celebrates his 45th birthday Friday. The trainer's only starter is Conkate (Exchange Rate) in the 7TH race...
Entering Thursday, 23 people remained alive in Hollywood's $2,500 winner-take-all Show Me the Money Contest.
On the California worktab
Grade 1 winner Marketing Mix (Medaglia d'Oro), runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, recorded four furlongs in :50 4/5 over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park on Thursday. She will make her 2013 bow in Monday's Gamely (G1).
Grade 1 winner Rail Trip (Jump Start), unraced since a second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, completed six furlongs in 1:14.
Grade 3 queen Via Villaggio (Bernardini), who hasn't started since an unplaced finish in the Raven Run (G2) last October, worked in 1:12 1/5 from the gate.
Grade 1 winner Book Review (Giant's Causeway), a close second in the February 16 Santa Maria (G2) most recently, logged a half-mile in :50 on the fast track at Santa Anita.
Stakes victor Gervinho (Unusual Heat), unraced since a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, traveled five furlongs in 1:01 3/5.
On the New York worktab
Grade 2 victor Justin Phillip (First Samurai), hero of the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) most recently, clocked a bullet five-eighths in 1:01 over Belmont Park's fast dirt training track on Thursday. The Steve Asmussen pupil is readying for the True North H. (G2) on the June 8 Belmont Stakes undercard.
Grade 1-placed multiple stakes queen Beautiful But Blue (El Corredor), unraced since a second-placing in last November's Chase the Dream, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5.
Saturday's Charm (Any Given Saturday), a nose second in the Tom Fool H. (G3) in early March, traveled five panels in 1:01 2/5.
On the New Jersey worktab
Grade 1 winner Currency Swap (High Cotton), unraced since a seventh as the favorite in the Gallant Bob last September, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 over the fast track at Delaware Park on Thursday.
On the Kentucky worktab
Grade 3 winner Wine Princess (Ghostzapper), a seven-length romper when making her 2013 bow in an April 27 optional claiming event, breezed six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 over the fast track at Churchill Downs on Thursday.
Grade 2 runner-up Treasury Bill (Lemon Drop Kid), third in the May 11 Came Home at Hollywood, completed five furlongs in 1:02 4/5.
Multiple stakes vixen Cor Cor (Smoke Glacken), third as the odds-on favorite in the May 12 Inaugural at Presque Isle, logged four furlongs in :51 on Keeneland's Polytrack.
On the Florida worktab
Multiple stakes winner Trickmeister (Proud Citizen), unraced since a third in the Kelso (G2), breezed five furlongs in a bullet 1:01 over the fast track at Calder on Thursday.
For Friday or Next Raceday
MAY 24, 2013
by Dick Powell
The good thing about last Saturday's Preakness Stakes is when the action leaves Maryland for its summer home at Colonial Downs, they can plant corn on the main track. Because after watching the races from Pimlico last Friday and Saturday, that's what I thought they should do with it.
I don't want to see return to the days of Tank's Prospect and Farma Way, who not only set a stakes record in the Pimlico Special for 1 3/16 miles but equaled the American record for the distance -- 1:52.40.
But when the nine furlongs of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes took 1:52.73, which was the second slowest since the race was switched back to its current nine-furlong distance, and the 1 3/16 miles of the Pimlico Special took 1:58.50, which was the slowest since 1958, clearly something is wrong.
For Preakness Day, there was a forecast of possible showers and it did not look like the main track was watered enough. Watch the Preakness and focus on the cloud of dust that was being kicked up by the horses and how deep the track was. It was no surprise that it took 1:57.54, the slowest since Carry Back in 1961, for this year's renewal.
Knowing how the track was on Friday, it still was surprising to me that the track was so slow on Saturday. If the showers had been more severe, it probably would have been a very different track. But what little rain that came was not enough to have an effect on the track and it was a situation that reminded me of Animal Kingdom's Kentucky Derby, when expected showers just missed the track and it wound up being deep and cuppy which favored horses running on the outside.
Oxbow was a possible contender for Saturday's Preakness based on the fact that he was the only horse in the Derby that raced up near the pace and held on some in the stretch run. But when you watched the preceding races, how was he going to handle conditions that seemed to be against his running style?
But a funny thing happened on the way to the winner's circle, the starting gate opened and Kevin Krigger decided to take back aboard Goldencents and let Gary Stevens clear the field aboard Oxbow. Expected pace pressure from Govenor Charlie never came and Julien Leparoux had Titletown Five farther back than expected.
So even on a deep, tiring track, here was Stevens loose on an uncontested lead, crawling through the first half in :48.60 and six furlongs in 1:13.26. He kept Oxbow well off the rail, and going up the backstretch Joel Rosario found himself racing in midpack aboard Derby winner and heavy favorite Orb. When he tried to surge forward, he wanted to go to the inside but Leparoux was making a middle move down there on Titletown Five and Orb had to back off.
At one point, Orb was shuffled back to seventh and at no point did it look like he was going to win. The inside/outside trip we all anticipated where Rosario would let the speed clear out, save ground on the first turn, then rally wide from way behind never happened because the speed did not clear out. He wound up racing down near the inside, which was the worst part of the track, and it wasn't just the rail but three or four of the inside paths.
I liked Departing and at one point around the far turn, he was about to go into second place with only Oxbow in front of him. Unfortunately, he was on the inside part of the track and you could see from his stride that he was having trouble grabbing the track and was not going to be a serious threat.
Oxbow turned for home with a clear advantage and opened the lead to three lengths with a furlong to go. Johnny Velazquez, who luckily had Itsmyluckyday on the outside from post 9, was making up some ground and Rosie Napravnik had My Lute in a drive from far back. Neither threatened Oxbow but they did have a wide margin over Orb, who re-rallied to get up for fourth.
Stevens almost leapt out of the saddle when Oxbow hit the finish line and screamed, "Are you kidding me?"
My sentiments exactly.
You can handicap track biases until the cows come home but there is nothing like lone speed. And uncontested lone speed is even more dangerous, no matter how slow the track might be.
At the age of 77, Wayne Lukas won his 14th Triple Crown race and has now passed the immortal Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for most wins in America's classic races. Combined with his 19 Breeders' Cup victories, most earned when the Breeders' Cup was a one-day event with only seven races, Wayne is the Jack Nicklaus of our sport.
By the way, in case anyone forgot, he is a member of the Quarter Horse Hall of Fame as well, with 23 champions including the legendary Dash for Cash. At one point, he trained the winners of 18 straight $100K stakes races in southern California over a three-year period in the 1970s.
At the age of 77, Lukas has had a resurgence in his career, employing the same methods that he always used. But he now has some serious money behind him with Brad Kelley's revived Calumet Farm. With the yearling sales coming up, I'm sure the guy in the cowboy hat will be busy bidding against everyone.
MAY 23, 2013
by James Scully
Oxbow pulled a classic theft in Saturday's Preakness. Credit Gary Stevens for seizing the initiative.
The 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey took expectations of a contested pace scenario and turned them upside down, guiding Oxbow to a clear lead passing the stands for the first time. The dark bay colt traveled comfortably into the first turn on about a two-length advantage and never felt the brunt of pressure.
I had Oxbow pegged as the Kentucky Derby pacesetter and expected him to be on or close to the lead in the Preakness. But I couldn't envision how easily it came, not with Goldencents, Govenor Charlie, Titletown Five and Itsmyluckyday all bringing potential speed to the equation. What looked like a contested pace scenario on paper quickly dissipated as the riders of the other speed horses allowed Stevens to outsmart them.
Oxbow strolled through reasonable fractions of :23.94, :48.60 and 1:13.26 before offering his patented move into the stretch, drawing away with authority. He accelerated off the far turn in every previous start this year except the Arkansas Derby, when the rider mistakenly took a hold of him early.
Oxbow turned a short advantage into a landslide victory in January's Lecomte Stakes and offered the same move in upper stretch of the Risen Star and Rebel. He couldn't sustain a clear lead in the latter two, which called his overall quality into question, but I was impressed by his sixth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby.
After chasing a wicked pace on Derby Day, Oxbow found his best stride leaving the far turn, drawing even with Normandy Invasion with approximately a quarter-mile remaining.
"Coming into the stretch, I had a big smile on my face. I'm going to win my fourth (Derby)," Stevens said of Oxbow's move in the Kentucky Derby. "But five strides later, I was attacked from the outside for a couple strides, and they went on."
Oxbow saved plenty for the finish after an ideal trip in the Preakness and will look to do the same in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes three weeks later. Of course, this time the competition will be well aware of the consequences of allowing him an easy lead. And the presence of speedball Freedom Child, a runaway winner of the May 11 Peter Pan, should guarantee him company on the front end.
At least that's the way it looks on paper.
It would have been one thing if Orb had offered a run that came up short, but his no-show Preakness performance proved difficult to watch. He essentially threw in the towel when shuffled back to eighth entering the far turn and clunked up late for fourth after Departing and Goldencents slowed to a crawl in deep stretch.
The negative backlash came as no surprise -- Orb was being hailed as Triple Crown worthy by a large segment of the audience and couldn't hit the board at Pimlico. But I'm willing to cut him a little slack considering that he won five straight beforehand, including three graded stakes. I don't expect any other three-year-olds from this crop to match that accomplishment.
Itsmyluckyday, who got first run in the Florida Derby before being overhauled by Orb in a convincing victory, also flattered his counterpart by finishing second in the Preakness.
The fact remains that it's difficult to get an accurate gauge on Orb at this point in his career. My take is simple: Orb was overrated following the Derby win and is being underrated following the Preakness setback. Let's see what he can do in the future.
The Belmont will offer the opportunity for a measure of redemption and Saturday's defeat might be the best thing for fans hoping to see Orb next year. That's something Shug McGaughey spoke repeatedly of earlier this season when stating that they would allow Orb to take them to the Derby not the other way around. He believed Orb would be better at age four and that prospect is an exciting one.
Alysheba, the champion three-year-old of 1987, shows the difference an added year of maturity can make. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner posted three consecutive first-place finishes in 1987 before dropping four of his final five starts that season. Alysheba didn't run poorly in all those losses, but there's no debating that he developed into a much more formidable horse at age four, winning seven of nine attempts and Horse of the Year honors.
A Belmont victory would go a long way toward Orb securing champion three-year-old honors and he would have the same potential for improvement as an older horse.
I'll take a closer look at the Belmont field next week.
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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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