Wednesday, September 28, 2011


To Secure Peace


Super Saturday is shaping up to be New York’s single best day of racing in the calendar year. Five Grade 1s and a Grade 2 comprising an all-graded Pick 6. This is nearly a throwback to the original Breeders’ Cup.

Belmont Park’s Oct. 1 card lacks only a turf mile and juvenile races, otherwise you’re looking at the Baby Breeders’ Cup—minus the money, of course. Which is why it would be fun for a guy like me to watch if I wasn’t already working the Retail. Thanks for replays.

The New York Racing Association puts on some fine racing days: Belmont Stakes Day and Travers Day, to name two, but this Super Saturday is really stepping up to the gate.

Now, what it could also be setting up is an assault on the Breeders’ Cup. I’m not sure where Metallica lifted the lyric (possibly from “The Art of War”) “To secure peace, is to prepare for war.” After NYRA lost its bid again for the Breeders’ Cup and with flirtations of running its own rival card against the BC, Super Saturday may be a gathering of armies.

When the Breeders’ Cup awarded Santa Anita the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, NYRA President and CEO Charlie Hayward said, “Congratulations to Santa Anita, but we are disappointed that Belmont Park was not selected to host the 2012 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The event was most recently held at Belmont in 2005, and since then, two different tracks – Churchill Downs and now Santa Anita – have hosted the Breeders’ Cup three times. We remain hopeful that Belmont will remain a serious option for the 2013 Breeders’ Cup.”

Secure peace ...

New York is the media capital of the Milky Way (unless there is a virulent Daily News somewhere beyond Polaris, of course). NYRA put together a card with so many star driven entities (just check out this link where you can click on the stars for a profile of each of the contenders) that it could be posturing like an NBC peacock.

They are the menacing cloud trespassing on the Breeders’ Cup. Sure, all the races Saturday are designated Win and You’re In, but can’t you see a distancing power move at play? Friends close, enemies closer?

If the Frizette and Champagne move to this day in 2012, then the pieces will be in place for an invasion.

Prepare for war ...

All it takes is a charismatic leader, a Stephen King-created Randall Flagg, to forge a road ahead. Mike Repole has been vocal about an elite day of racing to compete against the Breeders’ Cup.

“If I put my heart into it, I’ll turn the Breeders’ Cup into the [now defunct] ABA [American Basketball Association]. … This could be the end of the Breeders’ Cup. … I want an explanation for what they did [in choosing Santa Anita] and they’re not offering any,” said Repole, who first voiced his feelings in a Blood Horse blog post. “I guess that’s because it makes no sense. There’s no reason or justification for it. There should be an investigation over it. It’s just not right.”

This wouldn’t hurt horse racing. This might be the kind of move that could galvanize and unite it under the banner of one commissioner, one league, one set of rules. The Breeders’ Cup will be the parading Super Bowl of the sport—more so. But you can’t maintain that the Breeders’ Cup is “parading” when it ends up in two places over four years.

If the sport ever finds a certain degree of unity there should be a Breeders’ Cup track built in a temperate location. Treat the place like the Oscars. I’m talking a museum to the BC, a shrine to the BC, the world’s pinnacle sharpened on one place.

Until then, NYRA can push the limits. Belmont’s biggest strike is that running a mile and a quarter is a 1 ½ - turn race. It’s a bit cubist, a bit asymmetrical, a bit askew, but if Saint Liam can win it from the near-outside post, then it can’t be that bad.

Up on the horizon rests a face off, a stand. Now is the beginning.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Course Corrections


When Saratoga ends, it’s a bit like the morning after a good party: beer cans crushed on the floor, toppled Solo cups rest under the futon, a chicken clucks in the kitchen, and who is that vagrant on the couch? It’s like a night in Vegas. Now we try to pick up the pieces and make sense of what happened the night before.

Take three Aleve, a Glacier Freeze Gatorade, and some Sonic tator tots, we’ve got some work to do.

It’s less than two months to the greatest betting weekend in horse racing. We’ve already won, and we’re in. Except, of course, we’ll lose. Let’s not fool ourselves. You’re not as good of a handicapper as you think you are. In fact you’re worse. Trust me on this one, as the champion of bad handicapping. I feel your pain, just come on out and admit that you’re in denial. (How about that all-grade 1 Pick 4 for Jockey Club Gold Cup Day? Did I say we sucked? We’re AWESOME! Let’s roll!)

One of the more interesting horses that will undoubtedly run in the wrong race come Breeders’ Cup is the Dale Romans-trained Shackleford. He’ll run in the Classic, but he should take on Twirling Candy and Uncle Mo in the Dirt Mile.

Shackleford has just one win in his last five starts. Granted they were all Grade 1s (Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Travers Stakes), but let’s look at the facts.

The Florida Derby he came in fresh and unknown and nearly stole it from Dialed In. He then set a friendly pace in the Kentucky Derby, dug in with guts but faded to fourth. The Forestry colt then does the same in the Preakness Stakes, only this time he hangs on, head low, to beat a tired Animal Kingdom. The Belmont Stakes watched him finish fifth.

Into the summer he ran, rated kindly in the Haskell, but was collared by then-golden boy Coil at the wire. Could it be that nine furlongs felt long to Shackleford? Maybe at this time of year with all those races, nine furlongs feels more like the Dirt Marathon. Let’s run 200 yards farther ...

He gets swallowed up bad in the Travers, practically backed up and had Romans scratching his noodle. Shackleford looked worse than Matthew Fox.

There are three three-year-olds who will finish ahead of him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic right now. Why take that chance? As it stands, now there is doubt about his ability to get the distance. If you retire him from races over a mile, you have the benefit of the doubt that he could always get it. After all, he won the Preakness and beat the Derby winner. The problem is that he followed up those efforts with a fifth, second, and eighth place effort in races of 12, nine, and 10 furlongs. His resume is looking worse than A.J. Burnett’s.

If his connections dialed him back to a mile they could use that high cruising speed to outlast his competition. He’d be running against Uncle Mo, who ran hard in the King’s Bishop, but will likely be making his third start of a long layoff, assuming he comes out of the Kelso in good order.

Options for Shackleford to prep for the Breeders’ Cup are not in his favor unless his connections choose to turn him back. His options going long are the Goodwood out in California (why ship?). Or to Belmont for the Jockey Club Gold Cup where he will only dig himself into a deeper hole against Stay Thirsty and company at ten furlongs, which, we can all agree, is at least a furlong too long, maybe longer.

The Kelso against Uncle Mo would be a smashing return for this classy animal and maybe a stepping stone to things longer, or, as is the case here, possibly right on the nose.

There is time to make corrections and follow in the line of the great Preakness winners of the past eight years (Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Bernardini, Curlin, Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, and Lookin At Lucky). That’s good company. His correction will put him right in line.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year". It is available wherever books are sold or by its gracious publisher, SUNY Press.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011


No mo, Mo?


The much-anticipated return of Uncle Mo from a five-month layoff to come within a betting ticket’s length of winning the Grade 1 King’s Bishop validated trainer Todd Pletcher’s ability as a horseman (as if there were any doubt) and Uncle Mo as a champion colt (as if there were any doubt).

The only other athlete to put his liver through such distress and live to talk about it was Mickey Mantle.

The race set up wonderfully for Uncle Mo. Three horses blitzed through a half-mile in—gulp—44 4/5 seconds. Uncle Mo took command and bore in at a 45-degree angle that undoubtedly cost him the nose it would’ve taken to fend off Caleb’s Posse.

And what an effort. Let’s think about what happened here. Let’s go to the timeline:
November 6, 2010

Uncle Mo rates with Classic-style poise and draws clear of Boys of Tosconova to win by daylight. Mike Repole, at once, tells us that he’s going to get so drunk on vodka and Vitamin Water and, honestly, we all did. Okay, my friends and I did ... Okay, I did.

Uncle Mo’s already arrived. Now it was Repole’s turn to show us his personality, his kissing of Pletcher on the cheek, his knocking-down-the-doors-of-convention-and-refusing-to-wipe-his-boots-on-the-doormat attitude.

“Hi, everybody!”

“Hi, Mike!”

March 12, 2011

Gulfstream Park carded a race that, upon retrospect, produced at least one nice horse not named Uncle Mo. Rattlesnake Bridge finished second to Mo that day and would later finish second to another Repole-owned horse in Stay Thirsty in the Travers Stakes.

Uncle Mo looked ready to hold up his end of the deal and follow in the mighty path of Street Sense as the only other horse to pull the Juvenile-Derby Double.

Then came April Showers.

April 9, 2011

Mo sprinted to the front and set the pace in the Wood Memorial. Tom Durkin trumpeted that, pun intended, “The MO-ment of truth,” at the top of the stretch. Mo dug in on the fence. Arthur’s Tale and Toby’s Corner overtook Mo by a length at the wire. It wasn’t like Mo spit the freakin’ bit, but it caused momentary panic. Little did we know the havoc wreaked deep within his abdomen.

He wouldn’t race again until ...

August 27, 2011

Uncle Mo’s defeat wasn’t a loss. Think about what this horse overcame. This colt’s liver disorder could’ve killed him but he pulled a Lance Armstrong and hit the ground running. Most horses “need a race” after a layoff and if the race Uncle Mo “needed” was the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, then Churchill Downs better make a blanket of yellow and purple flowers for this son of Indian Charlie in the Dirt Mile or BC Sprint.

The disturbing moment came not from elation, but from a particularly weak moment from Repole. That nose at the wire made him tell Tom Pedulla of USA Today, “We're going to take our time. We're going to regroup," he said. "I wouldn't be shocked if this was his last race.”

Makes you wonder if he planned on pulling a John Elway or a Michel Jordan (the second time) if Uncle Mo returned to Grade 1 form off this layoff. Repole referred to this race as a “lower low” but something tells me that he’d like to have those words back. He finished second to a great horse in a Saratoga Grade 1 off a near five-month layoff.

The devastating low is far lower than placing in that spot. Just ask Larry Jones.

I’d hate to see Uncle Mo’s story end now. He’s got a chance to keep writing his history. Return him to the site of his Juvenile triumph. He deserves one more shot.

Though, if he's done, Mo will say so. Some horses don’t have to go out a winner to be victorious.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year." You can buy it here. "LIKE" the book here.


Written by Brendan O'Meara

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