Friday, January 17, 2014
Macho Man Keeps His Eyes On the Prize
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 17, 2014—When the connections of 2013 Horse of the Year finalist Mucho Macho Man decided to begin their youthful six-year-old’s 2014 campaign in Saturday’s Florida Millions Sunshine Classic, it was done with the immediate future in mind. After all, that other Classic is still 10 months and more than three thousand miles away.
Eventually, a Breeders’ Cup Classic defense will take care of itself, but first things will be first. Five brave equine souls will take on the Classic champion--if the nine furlong event stays intact, that is.
And while the competition is badly overmatched on paper, there is always the pressure of getting around there safely and, hopefully, in front at the wire.
That pressure will mount as the racing world watches the Macho Man race as one of the shortest-priced favorites in Gulfstream Park stakes history as it awaits the Eclipse Award ceremonies scheduled to take place at the same venue in a matter of hours after the Sunshine Millions program is completed.
Mucho Macho Man, 2-for-2 beneath Gary Stevens, is the 2-5 early line favorite.
While the connections have not officially eliminated the possibility of a run in the Grade 1 Donn next month, we’re betting against that proposition. Unlike Saturday’s race, the timing just doesn’t fit. It is more likely that, if all goes well, the late June 2008 foal will await the month of March to make a second start.
From the beginning, owners Dean and Patti Reeves, with stable advisor Finn Green, have always acted in the colt’s best interests. That would eliminate the Donn from serious consideration and should put the kibosh on a trip to the United Arab Emirates.
The Santa Anita Handicap, given the Macho Man’s affinity for Santa Anita and the timing, makes a lot more sense, especially since he always has appreciated ample recovery time between starts.
Besides, he’s never run on a synthetic surface and there’s a half-world of difference between training on one and racing over it. Keep America’s most popular horse--as chosen by Thoroughbred racing fans—at home. There will be no shortage of prestigious or lucrative opportunities within these borders.
Three Year Old Preps on Both Coasts; Fillies, Too
The Grade 3 Lecomte that jump-starts Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Derby might come down to a battle between Steve Asmussen and Larry Jones runners. Respectively, they will saddle early line favorites Gold Hawk (3-1) and Albano (7-2).
Gold Hawk has yet to run in a stakes but has won both career starts, including his two-turn and Fair Grounds debut at a mile and 70 yards in late December. He won the race going away in solid time after surviving a bumping match and wide rally entering the stretch. A son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Derby pedigree should not be at issue.
Albano, meanwhile, is 2-for-3 and ended his juvenile season with a win the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes in comparatively fast time. He is a half-brother to Mark Valeski which finished second two years ago in both the subsequently more meaningful Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.
The Lecomte is no two-horse affair, however. Smarty’s Echo (8-1), nowhere to be found in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile following a runner-up finish in Keeneland’s G1 Breeders’ Futurity, has been training up a storm for his return and clearly is much better than his Juvenile indicates.
The ubiquitous Ken and Sarah Ramsey will be represented by an interesting runner in the Michael Maker-trained Vicar’s in Trouble (9-2). He’s never been around two turns and broke his maiden in restricted Louisiana-bred company. But he won by 13 over Saturday’s surface and gets Rosie Napravnik, seeking her fourth consecutive Fair Grounds riding title.
Two fillies, Divine Beauty (8-5) and Unbridled Forever (9-5), deservingly will get the most support in the Silverbulletday Stakes, a race that successfully has helped launch three year old distaffers toward the Kentucky Oaks and beyond.
Divine Beauty, 2-for-2 lifetime, won the $60,000 Letellier Memorial Dec. 21 in fast time for the team of Larry Jones and Rose Napravnik. Jones is hoping that Divine Beauty will be in a position to give him a third Kentucky Oaks victory, following in the hoof prints of Proud Spell and Believe You Can.
The filly she must beat is the faster Unbridled Forever, most impressive breaking er maiden at seven furlongs by 5-1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs last fall after getting Lasix for the first time. Dallas Stewart taps main man Robby Albarado for the assignment. Lemons Forever, the dam of Unbridled Forever, won the Kentucky Oaks for Stewart as a 47-1 upsetter in 2006.
Hollandorfer and Baze in the California Derby Spotlight:
Exit Stage Left, undefeated in two career starts including the Gold Rush Stakes over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface, will be a tough out in the Northern California fixture but is no layover.
Morally Bankrupt, compromised by a tough trip when prepped in Santa Anita’s Eddie Logan, was 2-for-2 on an All-Weather surface in Great Britain. Royal Banker, second in that event, also has synthetic experience. These two, as well as good-finish Gold Rush runner-up Argyle Cut, makes the event even trickier than it appears at first glance.
Pletcher Takes Out Derby Insurance with Hartford:
Last week, is was Constitution which made a favorable impression as a seven furlong maiden breaker at Gulfstream Park. On Thursday, Hartford, made his debut at the same distance and was more impressive in our view.
Comfortably stalking the leader on the outside under Javier Castellano, the $700,000 Tapit colt assumed the lead willingly on his own and widened without urging to win by 5-3/4 lengths in 1:24.47 with a final furlong in 12.12 seconds in a highly professional performance.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Saez Gets 1,000 by Giving Lea First Graded Win
HRI Staff Report
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 11, 2014 – For the team surrounding Hal's Hope winner Lea, there was a lot a karma involved going into Saturday's graded stakes at Gulfstream Park..
Although the Claiborne runner was regarded more highly as a turf horse, his new mentor Bill Mott thought that a dirt experiment was worthwhile, he had liked his prior main track runs that much. Further, he reasoned, let's see if we can get things going with a talented young rider that shifted his tack to New York last year and broke through on a horse called Will Take Charge.
Luis Saez won a lot of big races in the past year for several trainers while emerging as a rising riding star, but Bill Mott wasn’t one of them…until Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
"I think he’s a good rider, a good young rider. I think he’s going to be in the top echelon of the jocks,” Mott said. “I actually hadn’t had much luck with him up until today – maybe I just didn’t put him on the right kind of horses – but I’m glad we’ve finally broke through in a graded stakes.”
Saez just missed pulling off a front-running upset aboard the Mott-trained Tetradrachm in the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) won by heavily favored Summer Front one race earlier.
But he came through for the Hall of Fame trainer in a big way in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3). The 21-year-old jockey not only posted a 3 ¼-length victory aboard Lea, a $6.40-1 longshot, he registered a personal milestone by visiting the winner’s circle for the 1000th time during his relatively brief career.
“It’s amazing! I thank God,” said Saez, whose most high-profile triumphs of 2013 came aboard Travers and Clark Handicap winner Will Take Charge. “I need to thank the trainers, the owners and my agent (Richard Depass) too.”
Making his first start for Mott and only his third career start on dirt, Lea pressed the pace set by Csaba along the backstretch and around the final turn before taking over at the top of the stretch and continuing on to a convincing victory.
“It went really well. My horse broke so good. We followed Csaba because I knew he was the horse to beat,” said Saez, who rode Csaba to a victory in the 2013 Hal’s Hope. “At the three-eighths (pole), I had a lot of horse and when I asked him, he ran. He handled the dirt really well.”
Jackson Bend, ridden by Javier Castellano, closed to finish a non-threatening second, a half-length ahead of Neck ‘n Neck and jockey Julien Leparoux. Csaba, the 3-1 favorite and defending champion ridden by Paco Lopez, faded to sixth.
Lea, who had previously raced on turf and synthetic surfaces for trainer Al Stall Jr., ran the mile in 1:35.30 after pressing fractions of :24.15, :47.03 and 1:10.87 for the first six furlongs. Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Lea earned $60,000 for his fifth victory in 11 starts.
“We’ve had him about 60 days and initially we were pointing him to either the El Prado Stakes or the Fort Lauderdale (on turf), and then we started looking at it and examining his dirt form, which was pretty good. He’s got two races that are actually quite good,” Mott said. “Discussing it with Walker Hancock (of Claiborne Farm), we both decided to give him a shot early in the year on the dirt just to see what direction we want to go the rest of the year.”
The 5-year-old son of First Samurai had won an off-the-turf allowance over a Churchill Downs sloppy track last June and finished a respectable fourth in the Forego (G1) over a sloppy Saratoga track in August.
“I think the way he gave us good reason for trying that (running on dirt again). I suppose now we have to decide how far we want to run him. But he looks like he’s one of those unusual horses that handles turf and dirt,” Mott said. “
Obviously, there are some big races on the dirt. His dam (Greenery) ran a mile and three furlongs, a mile and a half, so he’s got a pedigree to run further. First Samurai is doing well and starting to kick in as a stallion, so maybe he’s got the pedigree to carry him nine furlongs anyway.”
The $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8 will be run at 1 1/8-miles or nine furlongs. Why not try? Going in, the horse and the connections will be playing with house money. If that doesn't work, there's always turf racing.
“I was just kind of considering that,” Mott said through a broad smile. “We’ll have to talk to the owners about that."
Written by John Pricci
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Caught In a Polar Vortex
SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, January 8, 2014---At about 10 minutes after midnight on New Year’s Rockin Eve with the ABC camera spanning the humanity to the strains of Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
It was at this moment, as Ole Blue Eyes was about to begin this refrain, Toni Pricci jumped in with her own unique interpretation of the lyrics:
“I Want to Wake Up In a City That Never Sleets…”
“I know, I know," I said. Six more days and we’ll be having drinks with tiny little umbrellas in them.”
Then, from the Arctic it came; not a bird, not a plane, but a polar vortex.
Alas, it was no joke. Historically low temperatures, at least 15 deaths and counting, stranded travelers (hello?) wholesale school and business closings, power grids straining, etc., etc.
The amount of fallout from this calamitous climate change (is this still deniable, Mr. Trump?) is understandable, the very least of which was our arrival in South Florida, namely Gulfstream Park.
Departure was scheduled for early afternoon Tuesday then came an announcement from my carrier, Jet Blue Airlines, that flights from all three major metropolitan area airplanes and Logan in Boston had been cancelled.
Jet Blue, already playing catchup from last week’s storms, absolutely made the correct call here. I applaud new airline regulations requiring pilots to get sufficient sleep before punching their personal time clocks.
I called an audible, not wishing to be stranded without a car at JFK International or go for $200 for a bust-out room at some hotel near the airport. The airline was not penalizing its passengers for a decision it made and waived all rescheduling fees, so I jumped at the opportunity.
The first two calls were unilaterally aborted by 1.800.Jet-Blue due to extremely high call volume so I decided to wait until after midnight. This time the prompt said “the wait will be more than 30 minutes.” I thought it best to roll the dice.
My call was answered in about an hour, reasonable under the circumstances, even at 1:40 a.m.
I was able to appropriate two of the last three seats on a jet plane that, God willing, lands safely at the cocktail hour Friday evening. How civilized. As of late Tuesday night, the first availabilities were next Monday and Tuesday.
Had I not gotten through when I did, I would have missed Saturday’s G2 Ft Lauderdale Handicap and the G3 Hal’s Hope, featuring a couple of interesting Donn Handicap prospects, otherwise known as half the Late Pick 4.
Most New Yorkers took the event in stride, which is to say somewhat impatiently, and only one issue ruffled my feathers.
On Tuesday, the day we were originally scheduled to fly, the local TV networks I said that the airports were averaging delays of 29 minutes. Maybe we could have gotten out of Dodge almost as scheduled. I chose instead to disbelieve what I was hearing.
Our host came home that night and couldn’t wait to get completely inside before blurting out. “You guys made the right call. CBS Radio is reported that thousands of people are still stranded, no room at the airports, can’t get a hotel room. Many people have been there for days…”
Blogger to talking heads: In an emergency, pick up the phone and fact check you lazy sons of bitches. No one, especially seniors, should be made to curl up inside an airline terminal, even one as nice as Terminal 5.
2013 ECLIPSE FINALISTS ANNOUNCED: FORM HOLDS
In every equine division and almost every human division, Eclipse Award voters--nearly 92 percent of those permitted to cast ballots did--voters didn’t miss a trick. The three top vote getters in each of 17 categories resembled cold trifecta boxes.
The press release that made the announcement identified three potential Horse of the Year Champions; Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Wise Dan, the latter, the defending titlist, considered an odds-on favorite to repeat.
There was one category, that for Outstanding Trainer National, that raised some eyebrows. On the same day the National Baseball Writers announced their class of 2013-14 of which Bobby Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to qualify, for obvious reasons, so, too, was it surprising that, given 2013 events, Bob Baffert would be a finalist.
Baffert had his usual highly productive year, led by his excellent work with Secret Circle, New Year’s Day and Game On Dude. But the Hall of Famer has set the bar so high that it could be argued 2013 was somewhat un-Baffert-like. And, like Bonds and Clemens, there was the heavy baggage. It wasn’t as if the accomplishments of another Hall of Famer, Shug McGaughey, weren’t enough to hit the board.
Written by John Pricci