Saturday, March 09, 2013
Oops, There It Is
HALLANDALE, FL., March 9, 2012--Brian J Hernandez Jr. was hoping to catch a flyer out of the gate aboard the 2012 Handicap Eclipse champion Fort Larned in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, hIs season's debut. He prematurely caught up with with his right fore quarter instead.
And so the five year old horse went one way, Hernandez the other, Discreet Dancer went on to give Gulfstream's leading rider Javier Castellano his fifth victory of the afternoon by winning the flat mile impressively by open lengths, and the latest Breeders' Cup champion got his new season off to the fastest flying stop in history.
God must not be a Breeders' Cup fan.
As good as Discreet Dancer ran, it would have been a great contest to see; one of last year's Triple Crown aspirants before injury derailed that bid, vs. a defending champion at a flat mile on a fast racetrack. So fans never really got to find out where these two brilliant horses currently stood in relation to one another.
What's the fun in that?
As for the glamour division, we learned that Verrazano, highly likely to be voted #1 with a bullet in this week's NTRA Three Year Old Poll, had the capability to live up to the hype in Northern Florida but that Flashback, while a gallant second in his hot-paced San Felipe placing, might not be, for all his promise, the best horse in his own Southern California shedrow.
When a runoff sprinter shot to the lead from the outside in the Grade 2 mile and a sixteenth, momentarily blowing past Goldencents who spurted clear quickly but reasonably, until Kevin Krigger on Goldencents was panicked into getting off the fence when Julien Leparoux on Flashback allowed his mount to rush up three wide thus placing a rank Goldencents in a box.
Krigger then forced his way out and he an the favorite raced up outside of the sprinting leader to alternately force the issue while trying--not very well--to hold something in reserve.
By the time they reached the stretch turn, they already had run too fast early and had little choice to go on with it. They did, appeared to be the matched runners all came to Santa Anita to see until the inevitable set in, otherwise known as fatigue.
But that characterization would be unfair on its face, necessitating that Hear The Ghost be recognized as a colt of high ability, class and likely some more potential under that hood. It was a great pace setup, sure, but you still have to do the running and catching. He did, and he did.
Flashback clearly proved the better of the two favorites, barely holding placed while Goldencents faded to fourth. Flashback still has a modicum of promise as he gains more experience.
At Tampa Bay Downs, meanwhile, J.R. Velazquez showed why he is his generation's J.D. Bailey, winnng more races with his brain than his athletic ability, which is great.
Sensing the field might be out to get him, Velazquez efforted to get Verrazano off the wood as they cleared the first bend into the backstretch, as Falling Sky had crosssed all the way over to the fence from his extreme outside post, the fresh Purple Egg was on the chase from the inside, and Dynamic Sky, believed by most to be the most likely upsetter, all put on the pressure to surround Verrazano.
But that's where Velazquez held his ground, kept Verrazano on the lead from the middle of the track, dictating to the opposition what it must do to beat him, and not the other way around.
It helps, by the way, if you're riding the best horse in the race, and a very good one in the overall. This might be the most dangerous animal on earth; a brilliant runner with gears which obviously has a high cruising speed and just loves doing what he does for a living.
This gives his connections, most notably trainer Todd Pletcher, lots of favorable options; a story for another day.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Derby-Oaks: Good News and Bad
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., February 24, 2013--If you don't think this game is bittersweet...
Last night, the connections of Violence and Unlimited Budget had a right to enjoy their dinners.
Unlimited Budget showed she had the right style and explosive turn of foot that might day win a Kentucky Oaks. And Violence's defeat, where he moved prematurely into a hot pace--although I can't blame Javier Castellano for thinking "let's win this thing right now because Orb will be coming and the shorter finish line favors the horse on the lead at a mile and a sixteenth."
Well, Unlimited Budget is #1 in the point standings on the "Road to the Kentucky Oaks." But Violence emerged from the Fountain of Youth with a fractured right sesamoid and is off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Of course, both horses are members of Todd Pletcher's power-laden string.
Unlimited Budget now has 60 Oaks points. In second is Davona Dale winner, Live Lively, with 50 points. Davona Dale runnerup Dreaming of Julia is third with 32. Kauai Kate (21) and Promise Me More (20) round out the top five.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Orb Coming Full Circle into Derby Picture
Photo by Toni Pricci
This man has some planning to do
HALLANDALE, Fla., February 23, 2013—And so it has begun, the “Road to Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” the points back-loaded portion of the run-up to America’s Race.
Thank goodness we’ve finally reached the part of the schedule that really matters, when the scores begin to change in earnest. Mercifully, no more premature ejaculating of Top 10, 12, 15 or 20 leading Kentucky Derby Contender lists.
In the end, what will the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star results mean in the big picture? Fountain of Youth participants are 0-for-22 over the last 10 years. Risen Star horses have matched that futility, going 0-for-18 over the same period.
It hasn’t all been a pointless exercise, however. Last year’s Fountain of Youth winner Union Raga, did win the Belmont, and the 2011 Risen Star winner, Mucho Macho Man, was a good third in Louisville two years ago.
At this juncture, only today’s 50-point winners seem assured a spot in the Derby. Last year at this point, 18 three-year-olds had enough graded stakes earnings to make the Louisville slugfest; $200,000-plus.
And when it comes to Derby eligibility, less is definitely more--what with 135 graded stakes in which to earn dollars, as opposed to 36 races this year in which points can be won.
When Orb dug down deep to overtake odds-on Violence in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, he likely punched his ticket to Louisville.
“I’m not worried about the Kentucky Derby,” said Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey of the eligibility consequences of Orb’s victory, before quickly reversing his field.
“Of course I’m worried about the Kentucky Derby. I’ve been worried about it since I started rubbing horses in 1972,” joked the Lexington, Kentucky native.
But now Derby fans will begin taking Orb seriously. “I’ll talk to the Phipps’ and Stuart Janney and so what they want to do and go from there.”
Obviously, yesterday was a big step for the leggy son Malibu Moon from the Unbridled mare, Lady Liberty, and for his trainer.
“I was concerned about the one post and the mile and a sixteenth. I would have liked it to be a mile and an eighth, it wasn’t…but it worked out. The strides he's made this winter are just absolutely incredible.”
Not so much for the highly touted Violence, the 3-5 public choice, who finished a half- length behind. Tracking a hot pace of :23.11 and :45.45--“if they slow down he’s going to catch them,” McGaughey thought when he saw the early fractions.
“We ended up being close to a hot pace,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of the runner-up. “When he made the lead he kind of idles a little bit.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Orb's future gets brighter by the day
“He did the same kind of thing in his last race where he waited on horses. I think Violence was able to dig in pretty well actually…we just came out on the short end.”
The final time of 1:42.24 was very solid, the final sixteenth a quite respectable :06.87.
Fair Grounds, meanwhile, has always had this aura of upset about it and Saturday was no exception. I’ve Struck a Nerve rallied relentlessly from the middle of the nation’s longest stretch to narrowly defeat Code West by a nose at the wire, returning a cool $272.40.
It was another nose back to the Pletcher-trained Palace Malice in third and another half-length back to LeComte winner Oxbow, the leader into the stretch.
Favorite at 8-5, Normandy Invasion was the victim of horrible circumstances: Just read the official footnote:
“Normandy Invasion broke a bit slow then bobbled, lugged out while rank into the first turn, drifted five wide midway through that bend, was reserved while well back on the outside, went three then four wide into the far turn, moved to six wide outside the quarter pole, came seven wide into the stretch, gained ground on the outside and finished well but was too late.”
For his first race of the season, like Violence’s, it was a good race to build on, but in Normandy Invasion’s case, he gets no points for finishing a length behind the winner, beaten two noses and two half-lengths.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Joel Rosario steps lively on Mark Hennig's filly
If Normandy Invasion doesn’t win the Wood Memorial, likely his next start, or whatever 100-point nine furlong prep he runs in next time, he’ll be outside the Derby starting gate looking in.
While many did not even know his name until yesterday, I’ve Struck a Nerve is the Derby Points leader with 51 followed by Orb with 50. Violence picked up 20 and is now third on the list with 30 and the dead-heat leaders going into the weekend, juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby and Goldencents, are next with 24 each.
War Emblem was the last Risen Star participant to earn Derby glory in 2002 but needed to stop off at Hawthorne Race Course to make the cut. Thunder Gulch, in 1995, was the last Fountain of Youth winner to repeat on May’s first Saturday.
But the points are that there’s still a long way to go.
Bets n' Pieces
: Shug McGaughey
also won the G3 Canadian Turf on Saturday’s card with heavily favored Data Link, giving Javier Castellano
his third win on the day…Trainer Mark Hennig
put himself on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks with Davona Dale winner Live Lively. The Gulfstream Park Oaks is likely next up…Todd Pletcher
was not shut out yesterday, sending out Unlimited Budget to a comprehensive victory in Fair Grounds’ G3 Rachel Alexandra, extending the three-year-old filly’s record to 3-for-3.
Written by John Pricci