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.