Friday, August 02, 2013
The Whitney Stands Alone
Because a year in horse racing is longer than the unemployment line, it’s hard, at least for me, to take it seriously for 12 months a year. It’s the only sport in the land with no let up. I’d say from March to June is one period worth the energy. Then August through October. It feels relevant for seven months of the year. It is what it is.
The older division of horses, without a name like Zenyatta or [Fill In Derby Winner Who Actually Stayed In Trainer Past His Three-Year-Old Year], doesn’t have much electricity—until now.
The wildly popular Grade 1 $750,000 Whitney Invitational has arrived and I’d argue it’s the biggest race of the meet, bigger than the Travers. Saratoga loves the Whitney, Marylou Whitney loves the Whitney. Shoot, I love the Whitney. I bet the Queen of England loves the Whitney.
In many ways, the older division of horses doesn’t become fully engaged until the Whitney, until the First Saturday in August. Prior to the Whitney, what are the big races for older horses? The Donn (February), the Big Cap (March), the Stephen Foster (June), the Dubai World Cup (March), and the Met Mile (May).
There are plenty of others, but they don’t move the meter. Even those five above do nothing to move the meter. With the exception of the Dubai World Cup, they tend to be lousy betting races. There’s always plenty of empty posts in the gate. These races for older horses tend to be icing on poorly baked cake. But when the Whitney arrives, it’s like playoff time. Up until August it feels like the NHL and NBA regular seasons. Long, too long, with bouts of fire works. It’s at this point that owners, jockeys, and trainers can sniff the Breeders’ Cup.
Going back over the past 10 Whitneys, here’s the winners:
2003: Medaglia d’Oro
2004: Roses in May
2007: Lawyer Ron
2012: Fort Larned
At first my approach to this column was to say how insignificant the Whitney is in the greater picture given how wildly popular it is. Then I started watching replays and saw that 33 percent of this list went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Invasor, Blame, Fort Larned). But only one was named Horse of the Year, that being Invasor.
So, perhaps it is true that, in the greater picture, it isn’t terribly significant, but like the Travers, it stands alone. When you win the Whitney, you’ve won the Whitney. Just like when you win the Travers, you’ve won the Travers. Look back at the history of that
race and tell me its significance. Alpha and Golden Ticket won a year ago. And where are they?
Well, Alpha (Post 6, 10-1), for one, runs in this year’s renewal of the Whitney, which is truly a stunning and charismatic field of older males.
“He loves it here [at Saratoga ]. He’s training great, but we found a tough field to run against. We hope the track is in our favor. He really looks great. He didn’t run great [in Dubai ], but he didn’t run great in his last two for us. They did a good job, he looks fabulous, he couldn’t be doing any better – it’s just a tough race.”
There’s two parts to this race worth paying attention to: the start and the finish. Posts 2, 3, and 4 harbor the speed horses in the race. Post 2 is Mucho Macho Man, Post 3 is defending champion Fort Larned, and Post 4 goes to Met Mile runner up Cross Traffic. How that part of the race shakes out will determine how the finish will set up.
Ron the Greek, who is my winner of this race (which means you should bet against him. My endorsement of a horse is the Kiss of [Gambling] Death. It’s really quite amazing.), will be doing his running late, along with Fast Falcon.
Though the speed up front is classy speed, it’s still three-pronged. And though, when it’s all said and done after the Breeders’ Cup, Fort Larned will likely be the Horse of the Year and the one holding all the purple flowers, this spot and this post draw may be the prime spot to bet against him.
“It’s just important to get out of the gates and have a good, clean break,” said Ian Wilkes, Fort Larned’s trainer. “That’s probably the key to it all.”
The winner of the Whitney is the winner of the Whitney, not to be diminished, not to be lauded, just a great movie with no pretense of sequel.
Finishing Order brought to you by the Carryover
1. Ron the Greek
2. Mucho Macho Man
3. Fort Larned
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Davis versus Goliath
It’s increasingly fascinating how many trainers start a horse at Saratoga, how many iconic trainers start horses, and how few of them actually win a race.
Through our latest Dark Day, 195 trainers have saddled horses at the Spa. One hundred thirty-six haven’t won a single race, a 136-way tie for 59th on the list. It sounds worse than it is. Saratoga, after all, is a bear. To win a single race is never taken for granted.
Of those trainers that haven’t recorded a win yet, you’ll see The Coach, D. Wayne Lukas, Zenyatta’s conditioner John Shirreffs, 2009 Saratoga training title winner Linda Rice, H. Allen Jerkings, Barclay Tagg, H. James Bond and many, many others.
Of the whole kitty, 58 trainers have won a race, which makes the efforts of the Pletcher Industrial Complex all the more impressive with his 12 wins, clear by seven over Saratoga’s favorite birthday boy, Bill Mott.
A familiar name around these parts is Robbie Davis, a famous jockey, now famous sire of jockies, and horse trainer as he sends out his buck Sandyinthesun. Watch him dance
. Sandyinthesun is a six-year-old New York-bred by Say Florida Sandy. This horse, in December of 2011, gave Davis his first win as a trainer, made all the more special because his daughter, Jackie, was up.
Since that win, Sandyinthesun has won one more time, an allowance at Belmont back in October. He got a long break and came back to the track in May and has had four starts this year: seventh, fifth, fifth, and fourth.
Wednesday marks his first start Saratoga since September 3 of last year and it will be in the John’s Call Stakes for $100,000, run at 1 5/8th miles on the grass. He’s 30-1 on the morning line and Robbie Davis finds himself up against Pletcher, Chad Brown, Bill Mott, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Christophe Clement, among a few others, so really isn’t all bad.
Davis has 25 starts this year, no wins, and one second for earnings of $34,457. In his young career as a trainer he’s got 44 starts, two wins, one second, and one third for $111,385.
He was an amazing riding talent and, for that matter, likely still is. He’s ridden five times this year for $5,019. That’s a $1,004 per start. His son, Dylan, is tearing up with 55 winners from 360 starts and $1,153,043 in earnings for $3,203 per start. Jackie clocks in with $2,000 a start with 23 wins and $441,973 in earnings this year. And you thought Curlin was this years hot sire.
Davis enters a stakes race against the most accomplished trainers in the country. The above mentioned have 113 starts at Saratoga this year with 25 wins. Their earnings nearly top $2.5 million.
For those big dogs, saddling their horses will just be another in a long line of races. For Davis, you know his heart will be in his throat, you know his teeth will be shining as he pulls the girth tight. I’d say for most of us underdogs in our daily gallops, for 1 5/8th miles, we’ll be rooting for Robbie G. Davis. I know I will. Race 6, 3:41 PM, Post 7. Davis against the world; Davis versus Goliath.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Monday, July 29, 2013
He’s Got the Moves Like Jagger
For those who know me, they are aware of my near fanatical infatuation for The Dark Knight Trilogy
. A friend of mine loaned me the original Batman
starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson because, in his irreverent distaste for anything popular, he said it was superior.
I watched it since I had never seen it. I was, more often than not, confused. Confused by the spaghetti Western gun play and sound; confused by Keaton’s Bruce Wayne; confused by Keaton’s Batman. Though Tim Burton appeared to do more with less, Christopher Nolan’s reboot did more with more. And that’s where we find ourselves after Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes and Sunday’s Haskell Invy.
At some point or another, you just have to sit back and marvel at the Fortune 500 company that is the Todd Pletcher barn. Palace Malice, the once-maligned son of Curlin, who won the Belmont Stakes and struck yet again with a stellar Jim Dandy win, is inching up the Champion Three Year Old stepladder.
Palace Malice’s win looked about as easy they come. Perfect break. Perfect ride by Mike Smith. Great patience and great acceleration. You could see he had more in the tank. This is a horse who could love 10 furlongs, having already proven he can out-stagger other three-year-olds going 12.
Then there was Verrazano’s visually stunning run at Monmouth.
Through Sunday’s races, Pletcher has 12 wins, two second and five thirds from 31 starts at the Spa. He’s in the money 61 percent of the time and has $1,273,507 in earnings. Chad Brown is the only one close with $520,719. Truly spectacular.
Guillermo del Toro did something spectacular as well with Pacific Rim
, a movie’s whose attention to detail may only be rivaled by the shedrows occupied by Pletcher and Lukas. While I watched Pacific Rim
, I half expected by left eye’s blood vessels to rupture and my nose to start bleeding (When I go see this in 3D, if I don’t get a nosebleed I will feel sorely disappointed and will ask for my money back. Or at least a bag of M&Ms.)
The sheer scope of the movie’s kaiju (the monsters) and the Jaeger’s (the machines men built to fight these monsters) drops the jaw. Layer that with a musical score that plays up the action like a Sports Center high light and, like my movie-going colleague, we were mopping up drool from the Regal floor. Del Toro delivered.
Pletcher is doing something similar. He’s taking horses with royal bloodlines that are supposed to run well and actually coaxing that ability out of them. It’s easy to win when you’re not supposed to. The difficulty becomes once the expectations are high. It’s lonely at the top, but it helps to have more ammo than the guys and gals looking to pull you off the summit.
And even Verrazano win gave us a spectacle we haven’t seen since Rachel Alexandra in 2009. What we’re witnessing is nothing short of genius.
Michael Bay, a director who does less with more, might take note from del Toro and Nolan, and, for that matter, the biggest horse trainer in the world, a man whose game is every bit 1999-2000 Tiger Woods and present-day LeBron James.
What we’re seeing is a big budget director taking the vast resources and confidence of a big studio. He’s delivering on story, quality, and, in the end, we’re left looking up.
Written by Brendan O'Meara