Monday, June 13, 2011

Triple Crown Settles Nothing

The Triple Crown Trail's favorites win percentage for this year is somewhere near 7.5%. Last year at Arlington favorites won about 37% of the time. No one was able to stand out and win consistently this year and there are many suggestions as to why. Steroids keeps coming up as the reason for slower times, and that's very possible, but doesn't exactly jibe with the number of broken bones suffered in the Derby if the second premise is that without roids you get sturdier stock. Really no scientifically sound conclusions can be drawn, but let the anecdotal flow right?

I haven't written in a while. Nothing really came into focus for me and I was pretty busy. I like Animal Kingdom a lot, even won a ticket on him at Arlington in his first race. I bet him to come in second with my nephew, and we cashed in on what would become a key maiden race involving Animal, Wilcox Inn (3rd in Breeders Cup) and a few others that have come along well. It was a grass race taken off the turf. Maybe out of rebellion to the old guard of American dirt, I've grown to like turf and all weather races. The recent test of champions, The Belmont, was won by the only horse who'd won on a sealed track prior to the Belmont. It was a strange race, always is, but when two of the classiest horses Animal Kingdom and Nehro saw their hopes compromised through a bump and bonechip in ankle respectively, the race would winnow down to tactical advantage. And this is what some dirt cappers like to see, finding an edge or a bias that the surface will produce to conquer the horse with more class and reputation (the favorite) and land you some long dough. I'm sure there are people who read the form and covered Ruler on Ice for that reason. It was tough watching Turbulent Descent lose too. I love this filly, but catching a front-runner on the slop was nearly impossible. Same went for the turf that day with merry-go-rounds undoing horses like Gio Ponti, who still showed a nice turn of foot but was not gonna catch the front-end thief.  

There's usually some fun stories with owners and trainers. I couldn't be happier for Graham Motion. I've always like his style. Unfortunately the owner (or head of a conglomerate) Barry Irwins keeps sounding off on silly things and comes out looking like a baby. But that doesn't change the fact that he chose some nice breeding tactics and made the right move placing Animal Kingdom in the Classics.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Florida Derby

To Florida we go for, what has been over the last five years, the most important prep race for the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro, Big Brown, Quality Road and Ice Box have taken the Florida Derby. This year it's between Soldat, Dialed In, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty and the aptly named sprint sensation Flashpoint. That's Uncle Mo above who will not run in Florida against his stablemate Stay Thirsty. This year's prep races started with a bang in the Fountain of Youth and have since petered out with mostly lackluster performances. Maybe I'm not being fair to horses like Watch Me Go and Pants on Fire. I'm sure their connections don't share my opinion. Still, the breakout performance I've been waiting for, I'm still waiting for. And maybe that just means I haven't been looking in the right places. Right now Uncle Mo's Breeder's Cup race seems the best. But there'll be a lot of speed in the Kentucky Derby and Mo will have to rise to the occasion and not let up.  He certainly looks and runs like a champ.

The powers that be at Gulfstream usually scrape the track for their big day of racing culminating in the Grade I Florida Derby. And maybe there's a connection between the foot issues previous winners have had and maybe not. I hope they don't scrape it. We don't need another Santa Anita. Here are my selections for the big race.

Flashpoint will undoubtedly set the pace. I can't see the connections trying anything new with this guy. Soldat should be in good shape and have good position on him. The question is where will Dialed In be? Closers have done poorly this prep season, but if Soldat and Flashpoint lock horns he could fly by. To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty are gonna have to beat me. I don't like either. One could hit the board if Flashpoint burns up. So for me it's between the two prep sensations: Soldat and Dialed In. I'll go with:

Dialed In

btw My cat Nikita is starting to get angry about the fact I keep painting horses, so I told her I would put a picture of her on my blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tampa Bay and Timely Writer

By threatening to bring Uncle Mo to the Tampa Bay Derby while cajoling Gulfstream to write an overnight to fit his star, Todd "What me Worry" Pletcher has effectively carved out two soft spots for his horses Brethren and Uncle Mo through clever bait and switch. All of this comes as he releases his statement about the Life at Ten debacle, when he and his jockey allowed an unfit horse to run in a Breeder's Cup race. Let's start with Uncle Mo.

The strategy for the 2YO champ is to hold, not improve, form. He will not stretch out, but regress in his first start against 5 other no-name horses, most supplemented, looking for black type, but not necessarily a win. Maybe this strategy will pay off. But why not use the typical prep races to get to the Derby? Horses are scared of him; he would get a soft spot no matter where he debuted. Team Pletch says it's the surface of Gulfstream being so similar to his training facility, but what sort of advantage is that if you're not going for the win just to build form? We'll have to wait and see how this goes.

Brethren gets the benefit of Mophobia in Tampa. This was a great race last year with Rule, Schoolyard Dreams and Odysseus duking it out. This year's iteration doesn't hold the same competitive field. If you bet exactas like me, the only viable strategy is keying the Winstar colt and going for the tri. Bill Mott, who still seems awkward on the trail has a young colt on the rail and Chad Brown also has a contender. I'll be looking at those as well as Beamer. Meanwhile in the shadow of Florida, debuts Jaycito at Santa Anita. He's long been heralded by the blue-eyed devil Bob Baffert. It'll be interesting to see what he can do over that ludicrously fast strip. Has to prove he's not a mental case. I'm not convinced, but I wanna see some contenders so let's go Jaycito!  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Gotham and Thawing Hawthorne

The Gotham has come up sort of weak this year. Todd Pletcher debuts Stay Thirsty, a Bernardini colt that hasn't shown he can stay, but seems to have the foundation and certainly the genes to begin a very powerful 3YO campaign. I think he might be a little short in here and I like Graham Motion's colt Toby's Corner, though he may be a little green. When he finally switched leads in the Whirlaway, he rebroke and pulled away. I'm hoping he can do that again. Meanwhile Uncle Mo is training forwardly for his first start next week in the underwhelming Timely Writer, written as a gift for the champion 2YO. Dialed In will run in an allowance at GP this Sunday, going 9 furlongs. And Soldat gets a rest after a nice run in the Fountain of Youth. Those are the three top contenders right now, but Oaklawn and Santa Anita may sprout some notables. I'm keeping a close watch on Jaycito and Elite Alex.

Hawthorne had to cancel racing next Tuesday due to lack of entrants. I really don't know what this means for the family-owned oval. Will they be able to keep the lights on with a smaller meet? It seems like both supply and demand are now waning in Stickney. It was probably unavoidable. I went a couple weeks ago to see a slate of claimers and it was the limpest racing I'd seen in a while, not only were they plodding, but there was no fighting for the wire. I don't know who still has a string on the south side, but clearly Janks has pulled out. Chris Block rarely has anything. Catalano must have a few stalls. Ness seems to have moved to Tampa. The game is changing in Stick, thanks to the diminishing carrot -- the 10k purse.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Howdy everyone. Sorry I've been remiss. I'm still pinching myself over Giant Oak's massive run in the Donn. He got by that wall of horses and there was no horse in front to sidle up to, so he hit the wire. And he looked majestic doing so. Unfortunately, my watercolor is apropos of nothing other than my fascination lately with watching Goldikova races. The Queen Anne is really something. How did Paco Boy not win that race? He had all the momentum; you see it over and over in races that last part of the stretch run where the race seems inevitable. Somehow the mare found a way to pause the time-space continuum for everyone but her. Her head so low. After the race the groom is waiting for her with pinched lips ready to kiss and she throws her head wanting nothing to do with his mortal adulation.

Anyway, Triple Crown season is heating up. We've already lost two promising colts -- Tapizar and Boys of Toscanova. So, do you still wanna buy that Uncle Mo future at 3-1? Dear God I hope not. Dialed In has given us the most exciting performance, falling out of the Holy Bull then slingshotting back in. The frenchman in the Irons is finally showing some aplomb with a congratulary tap along the flank. If you ever have trouble spotting a changed lead, watch the Holy Bull for what was one of the starkest changes I've seen.

This weekend is the Rising Star. Machen, Rogue Romance and Santiva all meet for this. Machen seems to be a lot like Dialed In. Green but ridiculously game. It should be fun to watch. One of the biggest debuts I'm looking forward to is To Honor and Serve. I don't know if my dubiousness is warranted. He's had everything his way so far. He's in most people's top 3, and I predict a precipitous drop.

Hawthorne is back up. They race Friday and Saturday only, which is ok by me. Do we really need four or five days of racing in February? I wouldn't mind it in April, and speaking of the cruelest month. The Illinois Derby has slashed its purse in half. This is gonna be a silly race most likely, but you never know. It's not like many were using it when it was half a mil. Wish I knew why. The continual purse reductions are pervasive in Illinois, bringing the slots argument to the fore. I hate slots, and I'd love it if they could get past it. Even if it meant less racing. But the economic realities are stark and we need to keep people breeding in Illinois. There's no easy answer. I'll keep an open mind. Wish we could snag that money in escrow that the boats promised IL racing, but lets face it the type of operations that run slots cannot be trusted in any way. They're scum.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lord Of Misrule

Jaimy Gordon's head swirled with the disparate voices that coalesced on the manure-soaked backstretch of a small West Virginia bullring of a racetrack. After many years, she decided to let them out. In the 70s she worked on the backstretch of a dead-end track with a criminal boyfriend who trained low-end claimers, immersing herself in the dregs of the racing world before moving on to Yale to study writing. Usually that trajectory works the other way, but somehow she escaped the doom that surrounds the characters in her amazing new work Lord of Misrule that has gone on to win the National Book Award.

Gordon hadn't even dressed for or prepared any remarks for the improbable win she scored at the ceremony. The publisher never dreamed this book would return much in the way of profit, but it has. And the fact that it did offers hope for all writers who follow their passions and their richest insights without gearing the work to any target audience. That if your work is great, it's greatness will come through just like the roan on the cover of the book.