Monday, November 5, 2012

Breeders' Cup Roundup

Marketing Mix by Gail Patejunas
The Railbird apologizes for not posting Saturday picks. For full dis I would not have had Trinniberg or Little Mike. This year's BC it was best not to post picks in advance unless you somehow knew there would be a fairly severe rail and speed bias. It forced trainers to change their strategies and strike the front at all costs. It looked like it was going to cost Shanghai Bobbie, but the rest of the 2YOS seemed to lag in the stretch with him, with the exception of the Redding horse with the annoying name.

Groupie Doll, Royal Delta and Wise Dan, none of whom speedsters, did well over ridiculously fast turf and dirt tracks. They are champions and proved it. Game On revealed the gaping hole in his armor. I thought he looked pretty lethargic in the post parade and laid off him. I thought Mucho Macho Man would have fared better, but take nothing from Fort Larned and his rider who celebrated his 28th birthday with a win in the Breeders Cup Classic.

So it was a good day, despite the biases. A few 2YOs bled, two of them from the Sadler barn (surprise, surprise). But no major incidents. Royal Delta showed she could run through a rough commute from Belmont and did so on the front end where we usually don't see her. The lasix debate will continue acrimoniously, but it was nice to see the champs do well.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Breeders's Cup Friday Picks

Awesome Feather
 by Robert Whitmore

 Very sad to read Worth Repeating has come up lame and will be scratched from the Marathon. I love the Marathon, but it's a very difficult race to handicap. I felt best about him, and may have to rethink the race.

Juvenile Filly Turf Sprint
Super 99 and Merit Man are hard to separate. Very little yield on either, but will try easing in to the festival with a chalky exacta and a cold beer.

Atigun will be the favorite and it's hard to take the fave in a race like this. But this guy was right there (kinda sorta) with Paynter and Union Rags in the Belmont (before the 3YO division completely melted down). I feel like McPeek will have a few nice wins to close out the year. I also like Not Abroad. Should be enough pace to keep this honest; may the best stayer win!

Filly Juvenile Turf
Sky Lantern looks so good there's a temptation to single her on your ticket, but this is not a good race to single. These baby, lawnmowing fillies can grow quickly. Whatsdachances, trained by the rising star Chad Brown looks very promising and both Flashy Ways and Sustained have outside chances that could make a huge difference on horizontal bets.

Filly Juvenile
Executive privilege and Springs in the Air are big standouts in this. 

Filly and Mare Turf
I've loved Marketing Mix for awhile. She came up short at Arlington in the Beverly D., but rebounded nicely and seems to relish the California turf. The Fugue stands in her way. This European invader didn't make the trip for the California alfalfa. Finally, the win at Keeneland may have woken up In Lingerie.

Ladies Classic
What a race. I think you have to beat the queen, Royal Delta, but both Questing and Awesome Feather are fast enough. Are they classy enough?  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Breeders' Cup

Wise Dan
It's kind of like horseplayer Christmas. A couple weeks ago, I got to see Wise Dan mow down the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. He was in the same race that I saw last year, but Gio Ponti stole the show. I hadn't realized how imposing he was, or maybe I'm just grafting that onto him. I'm more excited to see him run in the Mile and take on England's Excelebration, not to mention Animal Kingdom, than any other race this weekend. It's funny how the Mile has come to be such a big race. Is it the perfect mix of American speed and European surface. The international aspect makes it great.

It isn't a truly international championship, not yet anyway. But it's trying, and part of that effort is the ban of lasix in 2YO races. And that's caused a few trainers to boycott, though not really all that many, just the loudmouth Mike Repole who really did have much to withold, and seems to threaten boycott over anything that doesn't go his way. Still American trainers aren't all that happy with the ban that keeps America in step with Europe. Then there's European trainers who don't like California Dirt and Turf, which are speed-friendly, full of kickback (the dirt) and All-American. Next year lasix will be banned in all races and the venue remains the same. So the BC might not be making anyone happy and may simply have to be resolute in that it's doing the right thing, but do we really have a scintillating Classic this year with Game On Dude proving or not proving he can win at Santa Anita? I kinda like Mucho Macho Man, but my picks are to come later. One of the benefits of Breeders Cup is that there's no need to scrounge for value. There's money in simply finding the winner. And my wagering strategy will be simple: to have fun and watch some great racing.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Speed and Little Mike

I've always liked Little Mike. I think fans of the sod have been waiting for this overachiever to be run down. He has defied his limitations of class and distance in the past and gets the nation's top jock in the irons at Arlington -- a course that has liked front runners this meet. Is this another Dale Roman's horse that will return double digit odds? I don't think so. I think cappers should be weary of his limitations. Still, having him in this changes the dynamic of the race drastically. Unless, Romans decides a change of tack with this speedster.  He would have to steal this race. Is it possible he dawdles on the lead? Probably not. Having drawn the rail, Rahystrada is gonna have to be be sent and I think Wilcox Inn is going to challenge early as well and Cherokee Lord would be in the front vanguard as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Silver Max

Silver Max has been amazing. He would have had ample excuse for losing in Virginia over the strange, yielding turf against a runaway long shot bent on getting in his grill. But he won. There are few unknowns about what he can do on the turf, he's passed the test at every condition. And the way Arlington has been playing, well why not just hand him the cup now. Yeah, yeah, I'm way ahead of myself. The truth is the turf hasn't been as speed-friendly and I plan to play a lot of closers this weekend, but with the Secretariet Stakes I'm not looking to make bank; I'm looking to see what appears to be a future champion in Silver Max.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Artwork by Eric Ellis

As pervasive rain keeps falling over the scorched and droughted middle west, the window of opportunity for the soft-sod loving Colombian expands. There's no one better at spotting horses than his trainer John Gosden, who served under the wing of legendary Charles Whittingham and has recently been challenging the very top tier in Europe.

Educated at Cambridge in Economics but never enjoying a desk job, Gosden turned to training horses and has used his keen insight at sizing up races both in America and abroad to take down 6 Group I races this year.

When I first started researching for the Million, the turf (and polytrack) at Arlington showed an enormous speed bias. I have no idea why this was the case for the poly, but the turf clearly was hard and fast thanks to the lack of rain. Arlington also runs a lot of five furlong dashes on the sod, so it's possible the track was just hammered fast. But the lane for the Million is almost virginal.

It's still hard to put Colombian over Wigmore Hall given their recent form, especially if the turf comes up anything but yielding. At the same time, it's impossible to dismiss anything Gosden runs, and it's not hard to cheer for the owner, a princess from Jordan that showed such a heartwarming expression of emotion at the WEG games in Lexington a few years back. She clearly loves the game and the way it brings people across the globe together. What better ambassador for Arlington's International Festival?

Monday, August 6, 2012


The decision to freshen Boisterous last year after the Sword Dancer at Saratoga is part of what makes Shug McGaughey the Hall of Fame trainer he is. His patience with the colt was rewarded with Grade III and Grade II victories to close out the year with momentum and set him up for an ascending campaign this year. Another big reason for Shug's success is, of course, Ogden Phipps, the deep-pocketed owner of Boisterous.

What they really need now is rain. Boisterous ran a nice second to Rahystrada who stole the prep for the Million. Boisterous was closing fast, making a nice long run in the stretch, which is what he does best, but he ran out of room. It was a nice prep for him, doing everything but winning. The Distorted Humor colt does not like firm ground, so we'll see how much rain Chicago can get in the coming weeks. The going is so important in these long, Euro-style turf races, as is the class of the horse and the ability of the trainer to pick the right spot. Boisterous has everything but nimbus clouds working for him so far.

Artwork courtesy of Hugostyle 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Crackerjack King

Trained by Marc Botti, bred in Irleand, a champ in Italy, Crackerjack King tries to improve upon his prizes in Chicago. His last effort in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown was probably compromised by the soft going, which shouldn't be a problem in our scorched middle west. He was bested there by another Godsen runner (Nathaniel). Godsen will saddle two in the Million: Questioning and Colombia.  His winning runs usually come from midpack. In his losing run he seemed to have no kick at the end. I'd like it more if he were a front runner. This summer the turf races have been won on the front end. Rahystrada who won the prep for this race wired the field, something he'd never done before in a long career.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wigmore Hall

With grandsires Sadler's Wells (named after the famous London theatre) and Theatrical (IRE), the owners of Wigmore Hall used the cultural flourish from his lineage as an homage to the London hall for chamber orchestra and solo recitals. The horse, like its namesake, has an international flair and has performed in Dubai, Chicago and Toronto, as well as other hubs. His big win came last year in the Canadian G. I Sword Dancer. He'd used the Million as a prep for the mile and a half Sword Dancer, through which Jaimie Spencer saved all the ground and returned the favorite to the Winners Circle. He ran well in the Million despite the troubled trip, grabbing 4th behind Dean's Kitten, though he was no match for powerhouses Cape Blanco or Gio Ponti. The year before he grabbed second in the Secretariet behind Donegal's daisy-cutting roan Paddy O'Prado. So he knows the course well and has always run well.

His form has been a little off lately though he's faced some tougher fields.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Horseracing's New Face of Evil

Phyllomedusa Sauvagei

Why is this frog smiling? Because he is the candyman of South America. He secretes an opiode forty times more powerful than morphine, which was supposed to help him ward off the bad guys. But not the bad guys of horse racing. You may be wondering, as this reporter did, just how these trainers in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma were smuggling this small South American frog (the Waxy Monkey Tree Frog -- named by someone who clearly enjoys demorphin) onto racetracks and getting their horses to surreptitously lick its back shortly before a race. Maybe you, like this reporter, pictured this little frog peeking out of the top pocket of a trainer's overalls. But this is not how it happens. A synthetic version was created, one that eluded tests ... until recently when 30 positives blipped in a Denver lab. The opiode not only numbs any pain or soreness the horse may feel but also excites him, makes him ready to run.

It's no surprise to see this opiode appeared in tests coming out of the cradle of iniquity of racing (New Mexican quarter horse tracks), but it's also shown up in thoroughbred tests as well. Luckily none of the 30 positives broke down, but many took prize money. And as the shrewd and talented Chicago trainer Christine Janks pointed out on Paulick's site, this is fraud. And it should be penalized criminally. But not only is this fraud, this is animal endangerment, gross and egregious.

Few would argue anyone caught should be removed from the sport, but it looks like fines is the worst jurisdictions can or are willing to do right now.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Belmont (one week away)

I'll Have Another Noses out Bodemeister

It's hard not to think about the Belmont and the Triple Crown without seeing the Rorschach blot of  Dick Dutrow back sweat as he ingloriously exits from the cameras and ascends the ancient steps of a scorched and bathroom-deficient Belmont, leaving without the prize Big Brown was supposed to deliver. But this year's quest for immortality seems different. Big Brown didn't lose to his competition. He was eased out of the race. I'll Have Another has Dullahan and Union Rags standing like two monoliths before the gates. Dullahan just worked a half in 45.8 and Union Rags's jock, whose been on many good ones, felt on his first ride that this colt was otherworldly. If I'll Have Another can pull this off, he's earned his spot in the pantheon.  

Big Brown's jock Kent Desormeaux was interviewed recently about I'll Have Another's chances and he wasn't optimistic. To add to the surreality, this interview came days after his blood alcohol tested high, and he was knocked off his mount on Dullahan (some wine with dinner, he said). But even more surreal was his comment about how horses have it wired into their head that they have to accelerate at the start of the final turn, which you can't do on Belmont's mile and a half track. He said you have to "mediate" that. Maybe true, but at some point you want to shake KD into some self-awareness. He had to know this interview was gonna get tagged with more about his blood-alcohol levels, and for Big Brown fans it's hard to not accept possible "over-mediation" on his part in Big Brown's Belmont, especially in the initial stages of that race. But I like Desormeaux. He belongs in the Hall of Fame and is probably the best turf jockey in the country right now. I also know he really cares about the horses and has made many visits to Old Friends, an equine retirement center, where he's as playful and kindhearted as can be. 

Mario Gutierrez is still trying to get mounts at Belmont, which seems strange. But not really. This is New York. The outsider doesn't get the magnanimous free ride because he's been on TV. This sort of thing will never change. And O'Neil who was dealt a possible suspension in California seems to be weathering the cirucs as well as he can. He took in the first Mets No-Hitter the other night. I wonder if he saw the chalk dust rise on that hit by Beltran that was ruled foul. Those flying granules of chalk that could have made the difference between a half decade of history and NoHan. Some times you need a little luck.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lichtenstein Comes to Chicago

Red Horsemen

So what do you do when you're not running Belmont Stakes scenarios through your head in that span of time between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes? If you're in Chicago, I recommend a stroll through Millennium Park then the Lichtenstein show. As most head to the greener tableaus of Wisconsin or Michigan, I stayed in the hundred-degree city with the piercing sun rifling  indiscriminately off the ugly Gehry bandshell (not sure why people like this guy). But there's also the Cultural Center which rises out of the pavement with elegance and stateliness -- an homage to the powers of civic duty. It used to be our public library, apparently the Queen of England when hearing about the Chicago fire felt deeply grieved by our loss of a library and donated money for new books, and the city obliged with a beautiful building. Little did the Queen know that Chicago didn't have a library before the fire.

The glare from the 11am sun was blinding even with sunglasses. My wife and I ducked into the Art Institute for a reprieve and AC. The Lichtenstein show was going on so it was packed, luckily we're members.

The first thing that hits you is the dots and how they play with your vision, skewing depth and context. It reminded me of summers when I was young and would walk into our dark kitchen for something cold to drink. I would drink slowly as my eyes adjusted and stare into the tesseract pattern in the carpet which took away all my depth perception. My mind would float with my vision and with the summer exhaustion you could sit and imagine things.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So now the nation should gather behind this smart, ambitious and super talented Flower Alley colt as he reaches the most difficult part of the journey. The Belmont Stakes. It's an idiosyncratic track that has undone many horses and jockeys. Gutierrez comes from a bullring in Vancouver, so that mile oval might not be burned into his cranial map like other jockeys, so maybe the mile and a half of Big Sandy won't be all that difficult of an adjustment, and let's face it one of the things he does best is cede to the being he's astride.

The Preakness was one of the best races I've ever seen. It's so rare things play to script like this. You have to take it all in and enjoy it.

More paintings and updates to come. Hope everyone screamed their lungs out as I did (at Arlington) last Saturday. I did well in the Hanshin too. I was surprised to see Havelock getting overlooked and knew that on class alone this guy would make a run. It was a thrilling finish, and a nice ride by Florent Geroux. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Went The Day Well 

Have we ever had a Triple Crown that's never been the favorite in any of his races? I'll Have Another would likely be the first. IHA does not dominate his competition, he outmaneuvers them and exposes their flaws (handicappers too). This is how my brother used to beat me at tennis; he'd volley and let me make a mistake. How I hate him. Where was I? Versatility. Adaptability. The most misunderstood concept Darwin introduced is The Survival of the Fittest. Many people mistake Natural Selection as preferring strength or dominance; but it's adaptability that is selected. Once again IHA will have to adapt -- he'll need to chase Bodemeister and the closers aren't going to have 18 horses backing up into them at Old Hilltop.

So far IHA has made all the right moves -- going to the lead when he needs to, stalking and pouncing when that's what's called for. But there is one minor flaw people have noticed in IHA and that's his wide cornering, which doesn't dovetail all that splendidly with Pimlico's tight turns.

Back to Bodemeister. What can we expect of this colt who has already done an awful lot. All reports point to him not moping in his stall. He's galloped nicely. Is he ready to turn the tables on the chestnut with a frizzy mane that seems an homage to the heady hair-producty 1980s? Does he know he won't need to go that fast? I'm not sure he does. And I wouldn't be surprised to see a little regression.

Went the Day Well had trouble in the Derby and nearly got there. He's gonna be a contender in the Preakness. Hopefully they get him acclimated to the track. Animal Kingdom might have won last year if it weren't for the sandy dirt hitting him -- the connections must have figured Churchill Downs was a good enough introduction to dirt. It wasn't.

Creative Cause is another who might get a better trip. I think he'll be more of a factor. And I believe the blinks are coming off. Hallelujah!    

This race can play it in so many ways. Lone speed can steal; speed dual can meltdown. Pimlico plays to speed, but the lone speed is late in his form cycle and to repeat his performaces would be amazing. I'm staying with I'll Have Another because he's the most versatile horse in this field and the most talented. I'm keeping Bodemeister close in the frame and to fill it out I'll be using Creative Cause and Went the Day Well. For an upset there's Zetterhorn, but I have no original thinking on the new shooters. They don't seem to be in the same league as the Power 4. This is going to be a fun race.

I'll Have Another
Creative Cause/Went The Day Well

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'll Have Another

I wish I wouldn't have been scared off by the post. In the end he had enough tactical speed to save ground around every turn. What an amazing ride by Mario Guitierrez who last year was riding at Hastings Racetrack in Vancouver. A track most have never heard of. When he first jogged I'll Have Another last year his agent told him not to get attached, that he'd never get to ride a horse like that. The owner, Paul Reddam, saw the connection the horse and jock made and gave him a shot. Reddam has charted an unlikely course but carried his conviction through and ended up accepting the trophy from a somewhat stupefied Bob Costas. When I'll Have Another hurt his shins in the Hopeful even the trainer didn't think it was wise to get him on the Derby trail, then there was the two month layoff, and finally the decision to stick with an inexperienced 25 year old jock. I usually don't give owners much credit for much of anything, but this guy is very deserving.

Bodemeister did what he does, though he did it in sparkling fashion coming up a furlong short of smashing the recordbooks. I don't think anyone will be able to beat him going 9. I'm not sure if he's going to the Preakness, but if he does he will be the number one threat to a Triple Crown. Until the Belmont then it gets much harder for IHA. But let's just enjoy the moment.

The usually classy Michael Matz excoriated Leparoux for the ride he gave Rags. It's hard to tell if Julien deserves all the ire, but it's a part of his game that has always been somewhat lacking -- and it's the part of the game I like least. Gate riding a horse means you risk not allowing the horse to get comfortable and lengthen his stride in exchange for the tactical advantage of getting the best chance at first run. It's an ugly way to ride, but it's effective. Leparoux is a finesse rider with great hands; he is the very best finesse rider in this country. But trouble came early as Dullahan swept Union Rags back, dashing the colt's hopes very early on. Union Rags, however, was moving the fastest in the last furlong of the race.

Finally Dullahan and Went the Day Well also finished with a flourish. I think Went the Day Well is a big threat on ole Hilltop.

Through the We're getting a hot tub and professioral referencing of Wittgenstien. The acceptance speeches were fun this year; the connections beamed under the Kentucky sun that threatened but in the end shone gold waves over the dais, the 25 year old jock and the dirty colt.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Derby 138 Has Arrived

Creative Cause

So how was your trip in? The unavoidable question and the thing you're trying best to not think about. Creative Cause tossed a shoe and might have suffered a minor foot injury during his peregrination from sunny California to the electric spring of Kentucky, if you go by some of the reports. He acted up twice while schooling in the paddock and he didn't exactly blow the lid off anything in his work, but is this just overanalysis? I place a lot of credence into gauging how a Derby horse is doing the week of the big run; some grow up right then and there. Empire Maker and Giant's Causeway colts, both excellent pedigrees, sometimes take a little longer. Creative Cause is by the Giant. On the track Creative Cause has always been a part of the race, no matter the class of the field. His talent is unquestionable. Will he take the next step? I hope he does, but right now I am waffling. 

My Selections
I think we're going to have a lot of pace in this Derby thanks to the somewhat surprising addition of the sprinter Triniberg. And I think it keeps this race honest. Hansen, Take Charge Indy and Bodemeister might not be able to resist the early fight, but if they can they could be in the catbird seat. But I'm gonna look off the pace and I'm settling on a horse I've loved for a while, Union Rags. Yes, I love the storyline but more important I think Rags is smart, classy and ready to take command in chaotic situations. Tactical speed is important and he has enough. All out speed like you see in Hansen and Bodemeister simply will not get it done. I'll Have Another gets a terrible post but this horse also rises above the field with an unshakable presence, but needs a dry track. Finally, I think the undefeated Gemologist will round out the frame. In some ways this Derby is a treatise on training styles. How hard do you push your young colt? This year, if you figure this out, you'll likely get your picture taken in the Winners Circle, unless of course Bodemeister blows the doors of everyone, then it's just good to be a Baffert.  

Good luck everyone and enjoy Derby Day!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Bodemeister wanted nothing to do with the rest of the field of the Arkansas Derby. He broke widest from the eleven hole, hit the gas and never heard the hoofbeats of those trailing. It wasn't much of a field, and after it was revealed that Secret Circle raced through a seisamoidic injury, it turned out to be a field with very little merit. It was a great spot for young Bodemeister to flash speed and gain confidence after a tough beat against Creative Cause. Baffert, long known from his quarterhorse background for manufacturing speed, seems to have successfully put his stamp on this colt that Zayat named in honor of Bob's son.

There are no pedigree concerns with this guy and with three consecutive triple-digit Beyers he seems to be in his own stratosphere of speed. But watching him run, his hard action, you wonder if he can do what no other horse since Apollo in 1882, the year Thomas Edison flicked the switch to the first electrical power plant ushering in the electronic age, and that is win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a two year old.

He'll likely have to wire the field to make this happen. I don't think he can do it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Perfect Trip

Grace Hall

It's that time of year when Chicago moves its collective tack out of Stickney and into Arlington Heights. Much has been made around the contrast between the billowing smokestacks and napalmy breeze of Stickney vs. the weeping willows and sparkling white, angular grandstand of Arlington, but not enough is made about the cultural differences of these tracks. Yesterday, on Illinois Champions Day, I had the good fortune of touring the Crow's Nest, where from the apron I could only glimpse the two sets of binoculars poking through the winter and spring breezes onto the oval and wonder what sort of machinations went on behind the curtain. The binoculars belong to caller Peter Galassi and charter David Miller, two consumate professionals who alchemize the chaos on the track into decipherable, succinct language. You'd think they'd want nothing to do with a couple of curious railbirds on Champions Day of all days, but they were gracious hosts. Affable, funny and yet focused on the tough jobs they do. There's no technology outside a brick toteboard to rest on here, no Jumbotron, no Trakus. Even the timer at one race showed :51 for five-eighths, which simply isn't possible. We were left to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of these men to fully experience the race. And yet they didn't let us get in the way and had no problem with us hanging out.

Peter would break away from conversation, look out over the oval and start calling the race he saw in his head, how he thought it would play out. "Who's the speed in this one? Let's see ... E.T. Baird is the rider. Gee, I wonder what he's gonna do?" We laughed in a nerdy track way at the predictability of Baird's gate-riding (How many people could I laugh at this with? I was in heaven). Peter works out the race in his head and he knew the deciding factor in this contest would be trip. Speed would likely fade and whoever got to sit just off would have the best shot at nailing the wire. "They're off" he called, and we watched with him as seven Illinois breds sprung from the gate brushing each other as they made their way vying for position on the first turn; it was a mile and a sixteenth, if you were gonna save ground you had to get the rail. Meanwhile in the other room the chart writing tanderm were furiously transcribing the action. I don't know how they're able to do this but Dave Miller demures, there's only a set amount of things that can actually happen in a race. Maybe he's right but I still think these men should be allowed to wear capes in honor of their superhuman powers. "Catalina Way feels the crack of the whip as they turn for home." Baird's horse faded pretty badly about halfway through the race, maybe preferring Keeneland's turf to the dirt of Stickney. Last year's winner of the race (Catalina Way) was now carrying the load, looking to repeat, jockey Tim Thornton had switched Seans Silverdancer outside of Catalina's flank, figuring the target for this race was now revealed. The closer America's Blossom ran patiently on the rail. Peter had all the action called in perfect cadence. The race just seemed to flow through him, as if he were conjuring these galloping specs hundreds of feet below. He didn't jump on the race like some callers who crassly inflate the action. America's Blossom, a late runner who had the rail was now moving the quickest but her lane was occluded by a tirng horse and her jock had to make the costly manuever of switching out. It was the gray, Sean's Silverdancer who would enjoy the bounty of a perfect trip. She hit the wire at 7-1. My fellow railbird who had her in his early pick 4 pumped his fist as the clock on the tote froze. Shortly after we knew it was time to leave these men to their work. Peter told my fellow railbird  to come see him if he needed a signer for his pick 4. We laughed and departed down the hall past the charters, past the VIP room filled with septegenarians hovering around a plate of brownies. We walked down the stairs back to our mortal world. Would we ever be granted this type of access at Arlington, would they be able to see our curiosity as the lifeblood of the sport or would we just be an impediment to them doing their jobs? The pick 4 was alive, the day was young and still held promise as we made our way out of the clouds and back onto the apron.   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'll Have Another

I'll Have Another had a good second to Creative Cause in the Best Pal then ended his first year with a miserable run in the Hopeful over a sloppy Saratoga track and was pretty much forgotten about. At over 40-1 he won an ugly iteration of the Robbie Lewis at Santa Anita. A jockey got tossed, there was a DQ and no one in that field has come back to do much of anything. Rousing Sermon got the show money in the Louisiana Derby, but that's about it for what was a touted field. After the Lewis I'll Have Another's owner (Paul Redddam) decides he wants an unusual two-month layoff for his horse and they work him stoutly into the Santa Anita Derby where he wins again, this time he beats the mighty Creative Cause whose trainer offers no excuse, just that his horse was outrun.

Trained by Doug O'Neil, I'll Have Another has proven himself over and over, and yet he will be somewhat of a longshot. He'll go off longer than Creative Cause and much longer than Bodemeister (who lost  to Creative Cause). More important, IHA's running style gives hin catbird positioning in the Derby, just a spot off the pace, which should be lively given Bodemeister and Hansen's likely dual. So keep an eye on this sprightly Canadian chestnut. He can get it done.

Recap of the Blue Grass and Arkan Sas
I forgot to post my picks but I would have had the chalky exactas. They paid fairly well though given their predictability, especially the Arkansas which hugged the script perfectly with maybe Bode more overwhelming than expected. Dullahan had absolutely explosive turn of foot in the stretch at Keeneland. It wasn't like Hansen folded, Dullahan grew afterburners. The somewhat strange and abrupt pullup at the end by KDesormeaux caught my attention. But apparently he was just worried after that huge run and the vet says everything is A OK. I'll talk more about Dullahan and Dale Romans who is twisting his moustache with his fingers thinking about the Roses.

Next  up is the Lexington. The make-up exam for those that didnt get their homework in on time. Entry to the Kentucky Derby may hinge on it. I think El Padrino is the big one trying to get in. Is Baffert gonna send four? that's one more than stents put into his heart. Gonna be tough to unpuzzle this polytrack affair.    

Monday, April 9, 2012

Illinois Derby Sets Stakes Record -- Slowest Ever

By more than a second and a half. From the apron, the tote lit up opening fractions of :22:1, but this wasn't right. In fact, it's hard to tell what the actual fractions were. It was still an amazing sight watching them rush by under brilliant silks, and maybe I'm different from other railbirds in that I think speed is the most overvalued aspect of racing. Consistency and stamina are way cooler. If I could turn back the quarterhorse influence of trainers like D Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, I would. The good news is the European tradition seems to be wending its way back in with top trainers, like Mott and Motion, not relegating their talents strictly to turf. Motion took dirt's grand prize last year with Animal Kingdom (who ran a nice second to Wilcox Inn in an impressive maiden race at Arlington in the fall).  The horse seemed to make a trenchant statement about domestic breeding and the creep of drugs hiding our ability to evaluate bloodlines. If it weren't for the lead-tongued Barry Irwin telling people he couldn't trust any American trainers on the biggest day for the sport then saying America can't pay me enough to have me run my champ in the states ... Don't get me wrong, he makes great points both about our trainers telling owners only want they want to hear and purse structure for 4YOs, not to mention breeding and drugs. Unfortunately thanks to bad luck Animal Kingdom appears to have nagging injuries, which just plain sucks because it undercuts the new dawn this horse might have revealed.

OK, let's talk Illinois Derby and Wood and Santa Anita. Done Talking Now will not run anyone off their feet, but he'll likely pass tired rivals. And who knows what this injection of confidence will do for him and his all-Maryland connections. Best of luck to him.

The Wood: No real surprises here. Both Alpha and Gemologist ran good races, though this also was a plodder's fest. But I'll take a nice dual like this with Gemologist making the last push to put his foe away. Santa Anita is a different story. There's a lot of speed out there. I'm not a fan of the surface and the disarray with synthetics. One way to fight this overvalue of speed is to tame tracks that have ridiculous speed biases. Santa Anita is getting better, but would have liked to see the synthetics given a better chance to influence racing and breeding, as well as handicapping. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Blame the Frenchman? and the Urban Trifecta

Florida Derby Recap
Was that Borel pumping his fist and screaming "the precious" past the finish line at Gulfstream last weekend? It had to be an extra emotional win for him, returning to the oval he left mid-meet with head low. And it was a great win. Take nothing from him; he had the golden rail, he took it and had just enough to get Take Charge Indy home. Union Rags. Was the frenchnan too polite and restrained? Too refined? He broke well then tightened the reins in a vice. Then comes Castellano lasering a target on the mustard silks of Union Rags. Race riding and blowing his chances to even hit the board. Borel was not in his grill shouting motherfucker at him after this race, that's for sure.

So what does this do to the Union Rags bandwagon? Nothing really. He's still the favorite for the big dance. What does this do to the Railbird's winning streak? Smoked!

Illinois Derby
Would have liked to see Paynter and Arms Race in this. I wish there were better ways to limit the oversubscribed field. It might have been one of the only races to see Bob and Todd in the same sandbox before the big day, and Harty actually showed up two years ago when American Lion cleared the field.

Let's get to cappin. Z Rockstar out of the Hemel barn just ran a very fast race, but class dogs him. Hard not to cheer for this barn that sent out one of the only consistent top-tier runners last year in Caleb's Possee. Hakama has a nice post and early speed, and speed has won over 40% of the time in all routes at Hawthorne this meet, which is a pretty startling figure for a track with the second longest stretch. But back to Hakama, I'm not sure what happened in the Withers, was it the light bump or is he more of an allowance horse? Hard to tell, though I like his name, which is a samurai garment -- a nod to his sire First Samurai (Giant's Causeway). Our Entourage gets a pretty crummy post, which shouldn't matter so much given his style. He seems like more of a grass horse and I'm surprised he's not in the Bluegrass next week. I expect him to hit the board, maybe because he is the only one without any distance questions. Finally, I'll try to beat favorite Currency Swap who won the G. I Hopeful at Saratoga last summer but didn't beat much and ran a final furlong in just under 15 seconds. And that was at 7 furlongs. He was second to Gemologist in his sophomore debut, but it was seven lengths back, so he doesn't get to ride those coattails. And that was out of the chute at Gulfstream, so the second turn has been elusive. I may change my mind, but here's what I got so far.

Z Rockstar
Our Entourage

Santa Anita Derby
Creative Cause sheds his blinkers and hopefully his jock gets smarter with his crop. He looked fantastic, though green, in the San Felipe and draws the rail here. He'll meet up with surprise R Lewis runaway winner I'll Have Another who could get the jump on him. The diminutive Midnight Transfer gets Mike Smith in the irons and Baffert saddles both Liaison and the speedy Paynter If you're looking for a price then don't listen to me. Paynter could step up big, but I'm not banking on it. Look for Creative Cause to continue his streak, dueling with either I'll Have Another or Paynter. I should toss Liaison after consistent subpar performances, but maybe Bejarano makes a difference and he hits the board.

Creative Cause
I'll Have Another

Wood Memorial
Yes all three previous winners did not make the gate for the Derby. Jinx? Bad luck? Troubled surface? Who knows. Alpha comes in needing a win as does Gemologist (I think). And those two seem to be a level above the rest of the field. Pletcher has said Gem is the best 3YO in his barn. Alpha seems to have an excuse built in to this, but he's gotta hit the board here and I think he will. Finally my man Junior Alvarado who's been winning at the Big A at a 20% clip gets the smartly bred Street Fight who had the Youtube highlight in his first win when he streaked from very far back to shred a field that seemed to be standing still. And to be fair, they were almost standing still. These were not fast horses, but he took the next step and had a nice stakes win, though not as visually stunning. I look for him to complete the frame. Yeah, my capping and two bucks gets you on any subway. Call me Chalky McChalkerson. Lord knows I've been called worse.

Street Fighter

Friday, March 30, 2012

Florida Derby

The Florida Derby is the prep race. It gave us Big Brown and Barbaro recently. What will it give us this year? Readers of the Bird will know where I sit. I think Union Rags looks otherworldly. Someone pointed out that his eyes are unique, that they show a lot of white, and I guess this is common in Northern Dancers. It's dramatic, points to some sort of inner fire or conflict and yet there's nothing about him or the way he races that suggests anything but a laid back horse, happy to just stand and be saddled.

Of course, The godfather,  El Padrino, or Elvis as he's known around the barn probably won't let Union Rags walk all over the field as he did in the Fountain of Youth. El Padrino is an excellent horse and it's great to see him in this race. He's beautifully bred and has dispatched some tough competition, including Take Charge Indy who also lines up in this affair.

I wish I had some incisive logic to bring to this race, but I don't. My heart and head are aligned and they have no unique vision to light up the tote with. I come as a fan and can't wait to see this race.

Union Rags
El Padrino
Take Charge Indy

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Early Spring

Well I'd planned an upbeat post about Zenyatta's foal and the good racing this crop of 3YOs has shown, but the Sunday front-page article Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys has cast a dark shadow over that. It is an excellent and important article. I sometimes struggle with Joe Drape's writing, which hems a borderline mawkish tone when it comes to inserting a human element, but I need to give him a break here. Life isn't just stats; color is necessary. And Drape provides chilling, comprehensive stats regarding racing "incidents" that I've never seen attempted before. It's very difficult to get incontrovertible stats regarding equine breakdowns because governing bodies have never mandated this transparency. In fact, in the ban of steroids these governing bodies had no jurisdiction and could only recommend that all circuits comply with an anti-steroids policy.

One possible outcome of this article is a renewed clamor for a centralized body that can improve the safety of the sport and certainly a more transparent reporting of injuries, so they don't get stung with a gory 14.1 per 1,000 runners stat that Ruidisio Downs registered in 2011. Compare this with a little over 1 per 1,000 runners almost every other country that races averages. And this stat is flawed in part and could be lower if racing stopped ignoring the need to make these stats transparent. 

The other big issue that comes up is drugs. What does performance-enhancing mean? If a horse runs faster than he should because he can't feel a problem that a drug is masking is that drug a performance-enhancer? Therapeutic drugs are by definition used for healing and curing not masking pain. These are complicated issues, but one thing could make them easier: a complete ban on the use of these drugs the day a horse is racing. This would be a start. Mandated x-rays would also help curb fatalities in that many occur from pre-existing conditions.

The people involved in this sport, for the most part, love horses and are not grinding them up for profit. But it's not an easy sport and people seem to have less of an appetite or more choice for entertainment and gambling that doesn't come with the possibility of seeing a horse and jockey lying in the dirt. This danger can never fully go away, but what direction are we moving in? And how can we get there more quickly? 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rebel Rebel

Not an exciting race on paper. Seems like a lot of fill around secret circle and sabercat. Adirondack king and scatman will need every advantage but pose threats. I'm on vacation so will make this quick. Secret Circle is likely a sprinter but should win this. Sabercat and Adirondack King will fight for scraps.

Secret Circle
Adirondack king

Monday, March 12, 2012


Well I'm 5 for 5 on the Derby trail. Can almost retire and live off my corpulance. It was a good week for race fans starting with Zenyatta and her foal. Mares can react in so many different ways to their foals, some are terrified, some have a natural elegance. Zenyatta is the latter.

Creative Cause was the sensation on the track. He gave an explosive performance and still looked a bit green heading into the stretch. He's gonna be lethal. In Tampa we had an OK race with Prospective a little keener thanks to the blinks. The Rebel is this weekend and Secret Circle will likely be the favorite. Until then eat lots of kale and shower regularly.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tampa Bay and San Felipe

Santa Anita and Tampa Bay: two strange tracks will have some prime 3YOs coursing through them. Well not  Tampa Bay. It's been a horrible year for this track that has in the past so smartly picked up on the mistakes Gulfstream has made. But you can't expect Gulfstream to screw up all the time and sometimes you just can't escape the pitfalls of being a claiming oval.

So let's start in Florida. Take Charge Indy who looked great coming in second to El Padrino at Gulfstream decided to stay home after pulling the ten hole. This is a headscratcher to say the least. Byrne assures everyone the colt is in great shape, just thought he'd try the incredibly tough Floriday Derby instead (and I'm betting Illinois Derby is where he ends up). Not sure what to make of this, but really wanted to see this guy do well. That leaves a speedy number from Pletcher, the Mark Casse colt Prospective grabs the rail and Kenealy's Battle Hardened gets lucky 7. I'm gonna use those three, giving Prospective a slight edge. 

Battle Hardened
Sprig Hill Farm

On to the other coast, the one that isn't the suture to Africa. Santa Anita. It's really a battle between the unseasoned phenom Bodemeister and the very seasoned Creative Cause. There are so many other nice horses in here as well. Liaison tries get his groove back. Empire Way will try to keep improving and seems to be on the right trajectory. Rousing Sermon has to show more but very well may. And there's American Act too. I'm gonna go with the seasoned runner in Creative Cause, even though he doesn't seem to win all that much. 

Creative Cause
American Act
Empire Way

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The State of this Union is Sound

The pedigree questions will dog Union Rags from now until the first Saturday in May, and there's another bruiser in Louisiana with pin-fired calves named El Padrino who's just getting warmed up. Out west Baffert holds most of the cards. His speedsters have been progressing in the morning. It looks to be a good year. This weekend we have the San Felipe which lost a little luster with the injury to Out of Bounds, but is still star-studded and the Tampa Bay Derby, which is the race that announces that it's time to get a little serious. 

Picks to come at the end of the week. Hope those in Chicago are enjoying the warm weather.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hansen Wins! Out of Bounds off the trail

The fun of watching the trail is watching these young horses learn how to race. Some are beasts before they even know what they're doing. I'm talking about horses like Big Brown who couldn't really run straight and looked awkward annihilating fields in his early races. Hansen had to prove mental prowess this past week and it would have been nice to see him rate, but his tactical speed would have been unmatched on this speed-favoring Aqueduct. He actually did both. He relaxed, rated, and always seem to be within himself while separating himself from this field. It wasn't much of a field, but it doesn't matter. This race moves him up and validates the BC race.

The downside to the trail is injury. We want to see barns not named Pletcher or Baffert get nice runners and while Harty is no stranger to the Triple Crown with horses like Colonel John, he's still a refreshing trainer to read about. His lambaste of Mr Hot Stuff was pretty funny a few years back. He's every bit as honest and self-deprecating as you'd expect from an Irishman. So I was sad to read that his current big name 3YO, Out of Bounds, suffered a condyular fracture that takes him off the trail. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gotham gets fattened purse

Those that couldn't wait for racing to bite back into the casino pie have their day. In New York. Not so in Kentucky where purses have moved downward just like the spring tornadoes which didn't wait till spring this year. Maybe it's time to talk racing. The big white Hansen makes his second effort tomorrow in the Gotham after a somewhat inauspicious opener to his sophomore season. I was ready to oppose, but have come around. He'll have little challenge on the front. And that's the place to be at Aquadirt. He drew poorly but it shouldn't matter. So my wagering scenarios key him over a few horses that look interesting. Horses like Maan who stretches out for the first time. And there's the dick dutrow king and Crusader. Finally there's Pretension. I haven't been good at picking second place so I may spread thinner come post time. Probably heavy on exactas. Good luck.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Union Rags

The narratives are starting to form. It's too soon for them to be sensible, but there's no fun in being sensible. So now we have a glimmer of hope that our Triple Crown drought may soon be nourished by a horse named Union Rags. He's a big strapping fellow owned by the granddaughter of Andrew Wyeth who painted the above "Christina's World" (sans Union Rags). There's also the Barbaro v. Bernadini track, borne out tangentially in another Matz-trained horse battling a son of Bernardini (El Padrino). And speaking of El Padrino, it's time to recap this weekend's action.

The apex of the excitement over Union Rags' authoritative run is matched by the nadir of Algortithms scratch. It seems like he'll be off the trail, but maybe not. Let's hope for the best. The scratch diminished the field and Discreet Dancer simply couldn't stretch his legs over two turns so Union Rags didn't beat much, but he did look great in doing so; showing some tactical speed and just an overpowering stretch move without much urging after a long layoff. And he's grown. He's a big, powerful looking boy. Not green at all in the stretch, he looked ready to avenge his only loss.

My picks turned out to be pretty good. Not all that useful maybe. Next week I may demonstrate how I would wager.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Derby Trail 2012

It's been a while. Much has happened. Where do I start? I'll start with our most colorful hero this year -- Hansen. I thought he had a chance of beating Union Rags in the BC, but figured that would be his lone sparkle on the crown. Not winning first out this year may have proved me correct, but maybe not. Lots of excuses for that effort. And now that his owners have requested permission to dye his tail and mane blue for the Gotham Stakes I'm beginning to rue the idea of losing this roan's prominence on the trail. Apparently Hawthorne has written the owners a letter saying that they'll even provide the dye if they bring their speedy colt to Stickney. Fat chance, but they can't be blamed for trying.

This weekend we've got the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star Stakes. The FOY has a small field thanks to the Pletcher duo scaring everyone away, but the Risen Star gets 11, though I think there's a coupled entry, so I'll need to look beyond the chalk to make anything out of it.

Risen Star
The initial excitement over seeing 11 entries is quickly quenched by the fact there are two coupled entries, and one pair is from the Jones barn. So you have a somewhat prohibitive fave in El Padrino (though there will be people 2nd guessing his dry track form) and to beat him you have some nice horses from the Jones barn -- that are paired!! Curses. I've decided I'm not gonna try to beat Elvis (his name around the barn) but will give Shared Property a strong look for second. Shared Property comes from one of my favorite barns: Amoss. He does well in Louisiana, and I expect this horse to close very well. Traffic could be an issue, as it was in his last when Mr Bowling and Z Dager got him by a combined half length. He was very wide that race, drawing the 13. He doesn't draw all that well here either, but if Goncalves can navigate a better trip (and he's skilled in this sort of thing) he could be bearing down on Elvis as the wire approaches. One of the Jones' horses will be there to complete the frame.

El Padrino
Shared Property
Mr. Bowling/Mark Valeski

Fountain of Youth
They break on the turn for this strange 8.5f race. Another bet-averse affair in Hallandale Flahrida. But a fun race nonetheless. One to take a stand. As a gambler you have to fight those sentimental ties, you have to plumb those gut feelings -- to make sure they're not just indigestion. I have staked my claim on Union Rags for some reason. Maybe it's because the owner is the granddaughter of American artist Andrew Wyeth. Maybe it was that gut loss to Hansen in the Juvenile that could have planted something in this horse that prevents him from ever missing the wire again. In any event, I like this guy a lot. But he'll have to do the most work on Sunday because not only could he need a race but he goes against a speedster from the Pletcher barn in Discrete Dancer. And, according to Beyer, the fastest 3YO so far: Algorithms who comes off a nice win in the Holy Bull (over none other than Hansen). But I'm taking a stand against that figure and that race. I think it's overvalued. But Algorithms is still a horse to respect. So, here's how I'd like em to finish, though it could go many ways and might not change my opinion on the horse's viability for the roses.

Union Rags
Discrete Dancer

Good Luck Everyone!

Mr. Hot Stuff