Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rainy Hawthorne

The Golden Rail. Old-time cappers sniff like pigs before truffles for it, bemoan synthetics for not availing it -- though not totally true. Yesterday, at Hawthorne, you needed to be on the inside. The 1 or 2 horse figured in just about every exacta and only one horse hit the wire outside of the rail slot.

The safety rail hangs a nice shadow over the inside lane of the track, making it dry more slowly and play much quicker. Wednesday railbirds need to be aware of this, if there's been rain beware the glistening rail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

James Graham

It was my third trip to Arlington Park. I'd decided to bring my wife; the last two visits I'd walked home with $300 and a new pair of jeans (long story). We hopped on the Metra, leaving the city for the cultural morass of the suburbs. We did this on the promise (my promise) of a bucolic oval that handed out money. Eight races and eighty dollars later I felt the panic (as you continue going to the oval, the panic matures into a dread). I had one race left to make this right. James Graham had already notched a riding triple and later I would learn he was streaky like this. He was an aggressive rider, though not a reckless one, that seized on his opportunities and squeezed them for as long as he could. He had a mount in the last race, a long shot. I went $5 cold on an exacta of his longshot over a horse Robby Albarado was riding. It was a photo, but he got there ahead of Albarado. He saved my day. We went down to the winner's circle and thanked the horse and Graham then got the hell out of there.

This past year in the absence of Rene Douglas it seemed time for Graham to emerge as the colony leader. But Junior Alvarado wouldn't have this. Day after day Graham had the livest mounts and the most mounts. But it wasn't enough. The jockey's title came down to the last day, but Alvarado had won two early sealing the honor. The last race of the 09 meet was on the turf -- a surface James has owned. Even though Graham no longer had a shot at eclipsing the rising Alvarado, he rode a heavily favored Christine Janks horse and was gunning everyone down in the stretch ready to go out with a bang, when from out of the clouds comes Alvarado on a longshot tearing down the lane. Graham's horse was swallowed in the final furlong. It was brutal. It was powerful. On his surface and not even for the title, just for consolation. While I was elated for Alvarado, I knew this was a twist of the knife and it was hard not to feel a little something for the Irishman.

Graham went to jockey school in Ireland and upon graduation had the honor of mucking stalls for Tim Oxx, whose worldwide celebrity has ascended cosmically thanks to his amazing colt Sea the Stars. Graham saw little opportunity in the Emerald Isle and landed in Michigan, at Canterbury. He won his first race and started cultivating the connections a jockeys needs to make if he doesn't want to muck the stalls of the greats. He met and later married the assistant trainer of Jeff Thornbury, a very successful trainer. He and his wife now own a small barn in Lexington. He moved his tack from Michigan to Chicago and also took aim at Keeneland. Up until last week, he'd won only one Graded Stake there and that was the Sycamore in 08(this year's iteration is tomorrow). During the winter he rides at Fair Grounds and has quietly learned a lot riding with Robby Albarado on that long stretch there. In what seemed a pivotal moment he earned the mount on a Triple Crown threat from Chicago named Giant Oak after Edgar Prado decided not to travel for the race. He was quoted as saying this was his big shot and he didn't want to blow it. I was cheering madly for him, but the sogged track and a dominating performance from Friesan Fire showed it wasn't meant to be. No Derby mount for Graham.

At FallStars weekend there were a few Arlington jocks heading to Lexington. It was smart, the polytrack experience has proved an edge and the AP form has translated nicely there. Alvarado and Graham both had riding doubles, only Graham did it on 20-1and 40-1 steeds and with only a handful of mounts. So after an underperformance at Arlington where it seemed the riding title was served to him on a silver platter, Graham showed his grit and turned many heads at Keeneland. Two of the most recent heads were those of Edgar Prado and Kent Desormeaux, the two jocks he passed at the top of the stretch in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. One of the most propitious holes I'd ever seen had opened before him at the turn and he gunned it, but this hole had opened early and he was all in. I stood up and begged his mount Hot Cha Cha to hold the other fillies off, and she did, winning by two and earning Graham and the filly's connections their maiden GI. My wife and I cheered from our living room.

So the railbird congratulates him on his tenacity and grit; his ability to save the day on a longshot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Keeneland Fall

A big shoutout to Wallace Station who supplied a succulent ham sandwich that soaked up the bourbon left in my belly from a rainy Friday opener. Fatal Bullet denied upstart sprinter Capt. Candyman at the wire, and She Be Wild got fronted by another polyqueen named Negligee. I don't know why some horses can only run on synthetics or dirt, but Fatal Bullet only fires on the synths. My guess is that the dirt is too tiring, and he needs the springy polymers to get him through six panels. But what makes a dirt horse do so poorly on synths? Does it stick to them, as the Catman suggests of Dixie Band? I remember not being able to buy a can of Pam anywhere near Turfway Park a few years back, but why does it stick to some and not others? If anyone can help the Railbird plumb this, please send in your insights.

Informed Decision started things out right with a late yet dazzling dash to the wire ahead of Carlsbad. Leparoux said he wasn't getting over the surface very well, which is surprising since he's also all about the synthetics. Tizaqueena gave her typical rank run in the final furlong, cutting off Diamondrella and Forever Together, but Drella still got by. Forever Together had to settle for third, another disappointment for the dappled gray. Court Vision showed veratility winning at the mile, overcoming a pedestrian pace to outwit favorite Mr. Sidney.

A very good day of racing in Kentucky capped by a monster run from Zenyatta and a surprising win for Gitano Hernando. Everyone will be going Euro for the Breeders Cup Classic now. The Railbird plans on setting up shop opposing this, but has yet to pick a yank who can do the trick.

The superfectas were getting big enough to buy an old Kentucky home. One came up north of 70k. It wasn't on the Railbird's slip, but I was happy to see some Chicagoans tearing it up, starting with the gelding Helicopter who Brandon Meier guided to the wire. I've liked this gelding for a while now, he can run all day. And in the last a filly named Pari took control giving Junior Alvarado a win for the weekend. The stakes again pivoted on surface angle, sort of. Swift Temper let her disposition get the best of her, failing to show her hooves to even one other horse at the finish. Mushka who was fouled by Euro Proviso got the stewards decision. And watch out for Interactif, a Pletcher charge who made a wonderful, sweeping run to gobble the field in the Borboun. Fantastic!

Monday, October 5, 2009


Four days before opening day of the fall meeting, one of the busiest trainers in the Keeneland barn area is Wayne Catalano, whose 30 horses include the undefeated 2-year-old stakes winners She Be Wild and Dixie Band. She Be Wild, a daughter of Offlee Wild, is scheduled to make her next start in Friday's $500,000 Darley Alcibiades (G1). On Sunday, the filly worked at Keeneland, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.40.

“We're happy with the performances by both horses at the moment,” said Catalano, the
leading trainer this year at Arlington Park, where She Be Wild and Dixie Band won the track's signature 2-year-old stakes. “She Be Wild will run (in the Darley Alcibiades); the other one we're going to look at the race (Grade 1 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity on Saturday) and see what we're going to do with Dixie Band. He's run pretty good for us, and we'll just see.”

She Be Wild, a homebred racing for Nancy Mazzoni, dominated her competition at Arlington, where she won a maiden-claiming event in her debut by 7 ¼ lengths. She returned to win the Top Flight by 5 ¼ lengths and capture the Arlington-Washington Lassie (G3) by 5 ¾ lengths.

“She's a small filly, but she's feisty,” said Catalano., who also trains the 2-year-old filly She Be Classy for Mazzoni. “She looks like she'll do anything. She went to the lead (in her debut), and she laid right off it and she rated (in her two most recent races). She looks like she's a handy little horse.”

Catalano is accustomed to having an undefeated 2-year-old filly. In 2006, he trained Dreaming of Anna to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) to conclude her juvenile season and earn an Eclipse Award as division champion. Does he think She Be Wild might be able to repeat Dreaming of Anna's success?

“I would love to,” Catalano said. “Dreaming of Anna was a great horse. We had a lot of fun. She brought a lot of joy to the stable. We're looking forward to doing it again.”

Entries for the Darley Alcibiades will be drawn on Tuesday. Catalano said Garrett Gomez will be aboard She Be Wild for the first time.

Dixie Band, a gelding by Dixie Union, is coming off a 1 3/4-length victory in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3). The Dixie Union gelding, who also won the Spectacular Bid Stakes, races for Darrell and Evelyn Yates.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Hawthorne Gold Cup

Hope you all enjoy my homage to PPatty

As fall lays across the city, it's time to move down to Stickney. Hawthorne is a necklace of jaudniced chandeleirs, hotlamped prime rib and satin jackets. I love the smell of chlorine in the cellar paddock. They put fake trees in there last year. Even the horses seem to kink their heads askance at the fake trees.

To kick things off I've asked a track indigent to send me an alaysis for the race. He wants to go by the name Shady Nickelplay. I'm honored to bring you his sagacious analysis:

By the end of yesterday afternoon’s card at Hawthorne, the track was sloppy and sealed. Overnight rain in the forecast and a fifty percent chance of showers on Saturday: it’s a good bet the oval for Saturday’s grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup will come up less than fast. The question is “How much?” This eleven-horse field is a bit of a smorgasbord of early speed, stalkers, and closers. And more than half the entrants have proven themselves capable of finishing in the money on an off track.

No superstars will be in the gate, but battle-tested Jonesboro and late-closing Awesome Gem are classy favorites—although modestly so at 5/2 and 7/2 respectively in the morning line. Local speedball Shadowbdancing (who has never finished out of the money at Hawthorne in seven starts) breaks from the seven slot just outside the fleet-footed Nite Light: thus the pace should be honest, at the very least. Being partial to trifectas, I might gravitate toward a couple of part-wheels keyed by Awesome Gem, then Jonesboro—feeling good about leaving Brothers Nicholas, Stonehouse, and Going Ballistic out of the mix entirely.

But this is the Railbird, and we like our exotics stone-cold! So I see the deep-closing Awesome Gem nosing out classic-distance-lover Alcomo, with Eldaafer or Nite Light coming late to keep Jonesboro out of the money. Let’s give third place to the revenge-seeking Nite Light, to whom Eldaafer denied the Brooklyn Handicap last June by a nose in the slop. So, for the record:

Awesome Gem
Nite Light