ELMONT, NY, May 23, 2011--Just arrived back on Long Island and was prepared to wax somewhat poetically about the big race at Pimlico over the weekend.
Instead, I just now read the news about Paddy Prado’s retirement with a fractured right sesamoid bone at the top of his right ankle. Talk about a buzz kill.
The good news is that he will make a full recovery and breeders have been ringing up Jerry Crawford, managing partner of the Donegal Racing syndicate, to talk about stallion arrangements.
Given his versatility and class, he figures to be a bit of a hot item, too. But it doesn’t make the news any easier to take, especially afteran impressive turf score in the Dixie Handicap, his season’s debut.
The sky, which was the limit, has been obscured from view now. Need to feel Dale Romans’ pain here. Two big wins in an hour and a half’s time, one of them a classic, a dream sequence for a hardscrabble racetracker from Louisville.
Instead, the game says congratulations by ripping your heart out.
As for Maryland’s signature event, I‘m thinking the next time critics want to take the time to swipe at the Triple Crown’s middle jewel, publicists should retort with a simple tagline:
“The Preakness, Always a Damn Good Horse Race.”
If all the handicappers, writers and fans that underestimated the talent of Shackleford were to line up, the queue would be longer than those in the Pimlico infield in search of a bottomless brew.
“Excuse me,” I might say to fellow underestimating Preakness analysts . “Don’t mean to cut the line, but I think I was here first.”
However, the people who bred, own, train and ride him sure knew what was happening. They knew if they didn’t choke the free runner down, just allow him to run at his own fast pace, within himself, that he’d be OK. He was more than OK, especially for a hyper-tense animal.
I watched from the porch outside the press box as handlers stood at his head, stroking his face, petting on him, trying to settle him down as he stood on the turf course pre-race. But, if "that's him," then for him it works.
It takes a very talented horse to open a mile and three-sixteenths route with a :22.69 gambit, slow the middle fractions down to a conservative :49.32, then kick home, pushbutton style, with a final three-sixteenths in a solid :19.25, holding off a horse who still has a leg up on being named the king of the 3-year-old animals at year's end.
But not if Shackleford has anything to say about it, Shackleford, or any member of a good group of horses laying in ambush on both these colts. At the moment, the Belmont Stakes has the potential to be a really good horse race. Not all dirt marathons are, after all.
Polls are becoming incresingly difficult to construct with each passing event, but here’s a look at the HRI Triple Crown Power 10, Week 14 edition, an amalgam of accomplishment and promise, per usual:
1. Animal Kingdom - That would be #1 with a bullet if not for Shackleford’s very elongated neck at the finish of the Preakness. The kickback excuse--if Johnny Velazquez’s post-race network interview in which he kept flicking off pieces of Pimlico from his face is a measure--is valid. A very classy and talented animal.
2. Shackleford - Glad to hear at this early juncture that the Preakness winner is better than 50-50 to return for the Belmont and perhaps the beginning of a rivalry. The giveaway was Romans paraphrasing Woody Stephens’ words about speed horses and the Belmont being a good thing. Here’s hoping he and Animal Kingdom have a good three weeks.
3. Nehro - Probably a consensus third choice in online pools everywhere off what he’s showed in the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbies but I admittedly have a hard time with this one: He remains eligible for preliminary allowance conditions. But he’s never taken a backward step since becoming a long distance racer and is on more than capable hands.
4. Dialed In - Realize many people are down on him but lest we forget he won the Holy Bull and Florida Derby and that still counts for a lot. His lack of early speed and performance figures indicating development have been working against him. The race comes up too close, of course, but would have loved to see him in the Met Mile.
5. Mucho Macho Man - An observer at the stakes barn Saturday night informed me that the Macho Man threw another shoe, against the right one, only this time reportedly it was a glue-on, not a conventional shoe. What’s next, Air Jordans? Not sure Rajiv Maragh is the answer here; would prefer to see a world class rider for the Belmont.
6. Toby’s Corner - He’s back galloping again and let’s not forget he was higher on the depth chart than Animal Kingdom earlier this year and it’s hard to get the image of his powerful Wood Memorial finish out of my head. This is another good colt that might turn out to be an exciting second-season sophomore.
7. Astrology - This lightly raced colt is improving with every start, from his head-banging game finish in the Jerome to his brief but noteworthy surge at headstretch at Pimlico. Finishing third in the Preakness is an accomplishment and he’s finally catching up with the group in experience and conditioning. Connections are thinking Haskell. Given his style and where’s he’s at in his form cycle, they should be thinking Belmont.
8. Uncle Mo - Whatever happened to….? He is still the 2010 juvenile champion and still ran “faster” on the Equiform performance-figure scale in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile than any 3-year-old has this year; won the Timely Writer (I know, I know) and did finish third in the Wood. Belongs here until he runs again or is retired; whichever comes first.
9. Alternation - After his Arkansas Derby too late rally from impossibly far back, he lowered his body and came with a vengeance after the talented and at this point underrated Adios Charlie and nailed him in a very solid 1:49 3/5 in Belmont Park’s Peter Pan. If he enters the Belmont as expected, he will make his presence felt.
10. Master of Hounds - Can’t remember the last time a fifth-place finish got everyone so excited but when it’s the Derby, after shipping over late from Europe with precious little time to acclimate, you must take notice. Now there are bad seconds, or bad thirds, but his was a good fifth, remembering the slow pace and his solid late run. It impressed Garrett Gomez, not an especially impressionable type.