Saturday, September 28, 2013
The Dude Abides
SARATOGA SPRINGS, September 28, 2013
Grade 1 JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP:
All the pre-race storylines rightfully concerned themselves with whether the 2013 three year old class was the equal or better than the older handicap division. Even at that, all agreed that Bill Mott had the horse to beat.
"They're Off: You Lose, No Wait, You Win!"
And it was not enough that Ron the Greek won the storied Jockey Club Gold Cup at 21-1. He won it by a pole!
Handicappers might have surmised that when anticipated pacesetter Cross Traffic failed to break and was nowhere near the lead, something strange was about to happen. They would have been right.
The complexion changed in that instead of sitting a perfect trip behind two pacesetters, Palace Malice, who opened the betting as the 7-5 favorite, wound up chasing a sharp, loose-leading Woodward winner Alpha.
Approaching head-stretch, Alpha was beginning to tire and Mike Smith appeared to have a handful of Palace Malice when Jose Lezcano, who returned from an injury to win the Flower Bowl, pushed Ron the Greek through on the inside--the best part of the Belmont oval throughout the fall meet--and the six-year-old exploded to the lead, winning in full stride and by daylight.
Palace Malice was clearly second best, holding a daylight advantage over surface loving Flat Out, also trained by Mott but, like Palace Malice, never looked like a winner in the Elmont straight.
The running time was a very strong 1:59 3/5 for the mile and a quarter.
While the Belmont Stakes winner acquitted himself well, not so the Derby winner. Racing in excellent position behind a strong early pace, Orb offered nothing in the drive. Ron the Greek gave Mott his third JCGC victory and allowed the idle Game On Dude, the #1 ranked horse in America, tighten his hold on the divisional lead.
Is Any Horse Cooler than Little Mike?
G1 JOE HIRSCH TURF CLASSIC
The connections of the three-ply Hirsch Invitational favorite entry tried to set things up for two late runners by entering a rabbit in a mile and half turf marathon.
As it turned out, the rabbit won the pace battle but the entry lost the Grade 1 war.
Little Mike, who was expertly ridden by Mike Smith, did not allow ground loss on the first turn, a wide trip thereafter, or stretch challenges of stable-mate favorites Real Solution and Big Blue Kitten to keep him from making amends for what heretofore has been a disappointing season.
All of a sudden, if he can repeat his Hirsch performance at Santa Anita five weeks hence, his season could go from highly disappointing to possibly championship affirming. All of a sudden--at least until the California precincts check in later today--the battle for turf supremacy among America's distance-racing grass runners has become a horse race.
Little Mike certainly will go into Arcadia as somewhat of a sentimental choice. Many voters checked his name on their 2012 Eclipse ballots for his traditionally successful Grade 1 campaign only to see the trophy go to mile specialist Wise Dan. He just might have one coming.
An upset winner of three Grade 1s in 2012, including the all-important Arlington Million and Breeders' Cup Turf, just wasn't enough. And of all his unlikely career scores, his Hirsch just might have been the best. He might not win a Turf Eclipse, but if there was one for Coolest Horse...
Laughing All the Way
Grade 1 FLOWER BOWL:
It just might be that the Europeans might ship over and clean our Breeders' Cup turf clocks once again.
But no matter how the Filly & Mare Turf turns out, it might not be enough to deny Laughing--whose 2013 season to date has been perfect--divisional honors.
Leading every step of the way, per usual, the Flower Bowl was her fourth consecutive graded victory, and second Grade 1, in as many starts this year.
Jose Lezcano, 3-for-3 astride the Alan Goldberg trainee, slowed down the pace to a half-mile in :51 and change.
The pace might have been slow but it was contested, the challengers oddly enough being two fillies that both prefer making one late run.
Those fillies faded late as a fresh Laughing opened out the lead and withstood a very late, strong rally from stable-mate Tannery.
In a Zone
G1 VOSBURGH INVITATIONAL:
There's just no speed like SoCal speed and Private Zone was all that in this G1 prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The start was even for all the major contenders but within a matter of strides, Private Zone was in front and being rated by Martin Pedroza.
But in an instant, Strapping Groom surged up inside. The team raced in tandem for a while before Pedroza gave the Doug O'Neill gave the gelded 4-year-old his cue, at which point his speed was superior.
At head-stretch, Johnny Velazquez split the seam with G1 Vanderbilt winner Justin Philip and these two put quite the stretch battle in the final furlong where Private Zone lost the lead but re-surged at the finish to win it.
Velazquez claimed foul alleging stretch interference and indeed Private Zone came out to bump the runner-up right on the line.
But it was Justin Philip who was leaning on his rival inside the final eighth mile before the inside runner showed some heart and battled back, literally and figuratively.
The stewards correctly allowed the result to stand.
The running time for 6 furlongs was 1:08 off a half-mile in 44 and change. The race should set the winner up perfectly for The Sprint at Santa Anita, where Private Zone has three exacta finishes in as many starts.
G2 KELSO HANDICAP
: Showing no signs of rust and benefitting from heads-up energetic handling from Edgar Prado to take command in soft fractions, Graydar led throughout to win his first start since winning the New Orleans Handicap on March 30.
The victory improved his career record to five wins in six starts, avenging his only loss, one that came at Belmont Park last fall. Given the style of the win, the big gray seemed to have something in reserve at the wire, the effort setting up a possible run on Breeders’ Cup weekend.
Brujo de Olleros made a menacing move four wide into the stretch and rallied very effectively throughout the stretch run to secure the place over hard-hitting veteran Hymn Book, who raced a bit closer to the early pace in his new blinkers.
Graydar has versatility to go with his brilliance, proving on two occasions her doesn’t need the lead to show his best. The win gave Todd Pletcher his third on the card.
Long Live the Princess
: Alas, the Queen didn’t bring her ‘A’ game to the fray. And neither did Mike Smith—and that seems to be a recurring theme with the aging Hall of Famer. He’s just help helping horses that need just that little extra to get the job done.
But Princess of Sylmar has brought nothing but her ‘A’ game in four important Grade 1 dances this year.
The 3-year-old filly, deftly ridden by Javier Castellano for his third win on the card to this point, kept Royal Delta in her sights, moved to challenge leaving headstretch and beat the champion on the square with very little drama involved.
Her fourth win of the season securely nailed down the divisional championship and there’s nothing left to prove in her division, the sky appearing limitless at this point. It was Todd Pletcher’s fifth Beldame title.
Written by John Pricci
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Breeders’ Cup Playoffs This Weekend; Looking Ahead
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 24, 2013—This weekend, “Super Saturday” is not some form of hyperbolic Breeders’ Cup jingoism.
Between New York and Southern California, there will be 10 Grade 1 events and four of the Grade 2 variety—plus defending Classic champion Fort Larned in Kentucky.
One way or another, Saturday’s results will determine what could possibly transpire on the weekend of November 2.
Early this afternoon, the NTRA hosted a national Breeders’ Cup conference call.
Here are some quotables from one of three guests, Todd Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse and seven-time Breeders’ Cup winner, who will be a major player on Saturday and the weekend of November 2:
On Three-Year-Olds vs. Older Horses: “Three year olds have to be very good [to beat older horses], especially this year. It’s a particularly strong Jockey Club Gold Cup.”
On the Physical Attributes of Classic Winner Palace Malice: “[He’s] remarkable. He started in January and has run all year, through the Triple Crown preps, and has physically flourished with that activity. He’s bigger, stronger, and has put on weight since the Travers. He takes everything in stride.”
On Palace Malice’s Travers Finish: “I was shocked he got as close as he did. He was standing pretty well [but] the ground just left him, took him out of his game plan--stalking position. Throw in a 48 4/5 half mile and a wide trip on the second turn and…
“[After that], you can chase or you can wait. Mike [Smith] chose to wait. It probably was the right move; he just didn’t get the pace up front.”
On Why Cross Traffic Passed the Woodward: “We just wanted to get to the Breeders’ Cup Classic the best way we could. It was a tough decision because he was doing so well, but we thought the Jockey Club put us in the best position.”
On Why Cross Traffic Got a Late Career Start: “[He’s a] big son of Unbridled Song. The Unbridled Song’s have tremendous talent but you have to be patient. We had him ready to run at 3…and it was frustrating because he came up with shin issue…
“It’s remarkable how much he accomplished in the first starts of his career.” To get beat a head in his third start by a horse like Flat Out, run a mile in 1:32 and change, put three or four horses away; it was as nasty a beat as any horse can take. It was great to see him come back [to win] in the Whitney.
On Surprise JCGC Entrant Vitoria Olimpica: “Since he arrived from Brazil he’s trained like very good horse. It was a tough decision; to run on turf or dirt. We decided on turf. Then he came back and beat some quality horses in the Alydar Stakes. [Owner Goncalo Torreabla] said he would love to take a chance if [Vitoria Olimpica] is doing well…”
On Jockey Club Gold Cup; Winning or Prep?: “It can be both; you’re trying to win and then maintain form. The greatest thing is the five weeks between the races: the spacing is very good.”
On Whether It’s Tougher for an East Coast Trainer to Win Out West: “I’m an advocate of moving the Breeders’ Cup around, which was the intent originally. Ideally, a rotation every four years: California, New York, Kentucky, and a wildcard…
“Santa Anita is a great place to race. The weather’s good, I’m happy that there’s a dirt track now. It’s an advantage when you don’t have to ship so the California horses probably have a slight edge, but [the location] should be fair to everyone.”
On Saturday’s Beldame Performance of Princess of Sylmar: “She has nothing to prove, she’s had an unbelievable year, to win the Oaks, Coaching Club and Alabama is pretty hard for any three-year-old…
“I have tremendous respect for Royal Delta. She’s a phenomenal mare with a tremendously high cruising speed over any distance, but the Beldame is the best race for [Princess of Sylmar] in our program, so it’s a good time to try [Royal Delta].”
On Possibly Skipping the Breeders’ Cup with Princess of Sylmar: “If she continues to go well, to do so well, we’d consider it. We’ll address the Breeders’ Cup after the Beldame.”
On Whether a Loss Hurt Her Eclipse Chances? “Her body of work is pretty overwhelming, [a defeat] won’t be a consideration in whether or not she runs again.”
On Sensational Juvenile Maiden Breaker Havana and What’s Next: “He’s been training extremely well. Yesterday he worked a minute and change at Belmont. I believe it was a black-letter work. [He’s being pointed] to the Champagne [Oct. 5].”
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Fall Championships and Life Beyond the Spring Classics
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Sept 22, 2013—A funny thing happened at Parx Racing this weekend on the way to the three year old championship: A Horse of the Year battle broke out.
And if you don’t believe that Will Take Charge could not only seal the three-year-old championship with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but also thrust himself into the Horse of the Year conversation, too, you’re being unfair.
Of course, much would have to happen for that to happen: Game On Dude would have to disappoint on Breeders’ Cup day again. And, for the sake of this argument, we’re conceding a Breeders’ Cup Mile repeat to Wise Dan.
But what if Orb and Palace Malice fail to beat older handicappers in Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup and the improved Will Take Charge wins again at Santa Anita on November 2?
As for the Travers/Pennsylvania Derby repeater, only a Rebel would have recognized him before Wayne Lukas took the blinkers off for the Jim Dandy, giving him a chance a to reach his potential and become a serious second-season sophomore.
Of Will Take Charge, Lukas wasn’t kidding when he referred to his colt’s size and immaturity, the reason why his early season record was very much in and out.
But as the man said after The Pennsylvania Derby, “he’s learning where to put his feet,” which might be the reason why he was so much handier on Saturday than he was at any time this year.
So Will Take Charge is becoming a man at the right time of year and can prove there’s life after the Triple Crown.
As far as the ultimate prize is concerned, the Horse of the Year vote will be close if Wise Dan runs the turf table and Will Take Charge wins his final appearance this year.
Ultimately, it will depend on how voters view an exclusive turf campaign vs. two of this country’s most important dirt races.
And a Game of "What If" in the Three Year Old Filly Division?
No one will argue that Princess Of Sylmar is the queen of her division. And if she beats older mares on Saturday in the Beldame, the divisional title surely will be is hers.
But what if she doesn’t win the Beldame and Close Hatches, who did lose their only head-to-head meeting in the Kentucky Oaks, turns back in distance and beats her elders in the Filly and Mare Sprint?
Of course, a three year old should not be punished in its division if it loses to older horses. But if Princess Of Sylmar doesn’t win the Beldame and Close Hatches wins the F & M Sprint, what then?
The Princess is a deserving favorite and would be a deserving champion. But there are permutations that could shake things up, give voters pause.
Close Hatches is trained by Bill Mott as is champion Royal Delta, who will try to win her third consecutive Distaff and Mott his record sixth.
Mott’s first Distaff was won by a three-year-old, Escena, in 1997. He won it by getting Escena to peak in the fall and hold that form into the Breeders’ Cup. That pattern is eerily similar to Close Hatches’ season.
Championship positioning in the fall; game on.
Written by John Pricci