Saturday, April 27, 2013
ELMONT, NY, April 27, 2013—Now what’s all this furor over, and clamoring for, having a filly in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. There is
a filly in the Derby. The thing is this one has two legs, not four.
So, when 20 male runners enter the Louisville starting gate, it’s likely the casual sports fan will have heard of Rosie Napravnik, and for all they know Verrazano is still only the bridge in New York that connects Brooklyn to Staten Island.
And perhaps the only reason the fan has heard of Napravnik is because they will have seen her on “60 Minutes” this Sunday night. Check your local listings.
A check of the NTRA listings and profiles shows that Napravnik, having reached the 1,500-win plateau earlier this year, also owns a Breeders’ Cup victory, historic wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Louisiana Derby, and the single-season earnings mark by a female rider of over $12 million.
The earnings record, erasing the standard set by the great Julie Krone 20 years ago, came as the result of 193 victories in 2012, many of those enabling her to win a third consecutive riding title at the Fair Grounds.
Rosie currently ranks fifth nationally in money won, her mounts having earned $4.3 million, and if Joel Rosario hadn’t gone absolutely wild at the recently concluded Keeneland race meet, her 113 victories this year would lead the nation.
When a rider dominates any one meeting, the way Napravnik has at the Fair Grounds since 2011, they usually in get the best mounts but still, her win percentage of 26 trails only Rafael Bejarano, who at 28 percent had 100 fewi rides.
Twenty six percent is better than Rosario’s strike rate, or that of Johnny Velazquez or Javier Castellano, the remaining members of the top five. Her win rate was even better than the dominant, albeit currently sidelined, Ramon Dominguez.
Through Friday, Rosie’s had 434 rides and three of every five have hit the board. She’s having the kind of year that makes you almost forget the unforgettable Ms. Krone.
At the moment, Rosie counting the days to Derby 139. Here's Napravnik on the classic: “Win it? It would mean the same thing to me as it would everyone else in this game. It’s the ultimate goal that really doesn’t seem realistic until you’re there and in it.”
Those iterations came with respect to her Derby ride aboard 2012 juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby, now currently sidelined. Instead, Napravnik will partner Mylute for trainer Tom Amoss, an outfit that has done very well together in the winters down on the Bayou.
Mylute will be one of the longer shots in the field but still has a little better than a puncher’s chance. In his last start, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, he was beaten in a photo by Revolutionary, a colt many have picked to win the roses on Saturday.
Last month, through the auspices of Thoroughbred publicist Equisponse, Napravnik entered a strategic partnership with Octagon, a leading global sports and entertainment marketer. The company represents Michael Phelps, Apolo Anton Ohno and Kelly Clark, among others.
“Every now and then, an athlete emerges in a sport and exhibits the potential to do things that have never been done before,” said Peter Carlisle, Octagon’s managing director of Olympics and Action Sports.
“This amounts to a great opportunity not only for Rosie but potentially for the sport of horse racing as well.”
“You can almost classify her as just ‘jockey’ now,” said trainer Larry Jones after saddling Joyful Victory to win Santa Anita’s Santa Margarita Stakes. “You don’t have to put ‘woman’ on there anymore.
“She’s talented and horses love to run for her. I’ve had some horses that are somewhat lazy. I didn’t think Rosie would fit them but I put her on and the horses weren’t lazy anymore. She just can communicate with them.”
And then Jones offered this: “Rosie is one of those special riders. I tell you it’s a gift from God what she’s got. She doesn’t realize it yet but she’s been anointed with this talent. She is one of the brightest young stars in this game, I can assure you.”
So there indeed is a filly in this Derby. How about “roses for rosie?” The headline just writes itself.
He Can Still Flat Out Run
As it turns out, concerns that the 7-year-old Flat Out might be passed his prime were ill founded. It must be something about the water in Elmont, the elixir apparently helping the old pro to extend his unbeaten streak at Belmont Park to four.
To do so, he had to run down a very fast and formidable Gulfstream Park shipper, Cross Traffic, and that's exactly what he did by a head in the shadow of the wire, getting a mile in a very snappy 1:32.99--even if the track played on the fast side all day.
It played on the speed-favoring side, too, and it was that much cooler seeing the old boy dig down deep, making his terrible effort in the New Orleans Handicap a bad butdistant memory.
"Junior Alvarado did a great job," said Bill Mott assistant Leana Williford of the winning rider. "He was aware the other horse was the lone speed, and didn't let him get too far away."
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, April 20, 2013
T.J. Kelly 1919-2013: A Hall of Fame Life
SOUTH OZONE PARK, April 20, 2013—I suppose it was appropriate that when Tom Durkin reached my cell Friday morning “with some sad news,” I was on the Cross Island Parkway heading towards Belmont Park.
I remember where, but can’t remember exactly when it was that I first met one of the heroes of my horseplaying youth, Thomas J. Kelly, who died Friday morning in Hialeah at St. Catherine’s Hospital at the age of 93.
I know it was his Belmont Park barn but can’t recall the horse or the race. I first heard his name in 1961 when he trained Globemaster to win the Wood, seeing the black and white stretch run on Movietone News.
My best guess is that it was the misspelled Plugged Nickle who won the 1979 Remsen Stakes and took the following year’s Wood Memorial at the Big A but his speed was no match for the pretty tomboy Genuine Risk in Louisville two weeks later.
But his record was plenty good enough to be named Sprint Champion of 1980. The Wood was one of seven stakes won by Plugged Nickle that year including the Vosburgh and Tom Fool over older that fall.
I was a Newsday columnist for less than two years but Kelly treated me as if I were some Italian Red Smith; patiently and deferentially. I was impressed by that, but more so when I heard he treated everyone that way.
The hero worship probably dated back to Droll Role, who would have been a turf champion in any generation. He won the 1972 Canadian International and the Washington D. C. International, back then about the biggest grass race in the country.
Noble Dancer II was another talented runner and Topsider was a cool, classy and brilliant grass sprinter.
And thanks to a current Saratoga Grade 1 for three-year-olds, everyone’s heard of King’s Bishop. Kelly took his time and developed them all.
Contemporary fans probably know him best as a breeder-owner, in partnership with long-time friends Joe and Mary Grant on the very popular New York handicap horse, Evening Attire, who raced eight years and was trained by Kelly’s son, Pat.
Anyone around the game long enough will tell you that T J Kelly was a consummate horsemen who did things the right way, with hay, oats, water and carrots. I can never forget the carrots.
Every August since his retirement in 1998, T.J. and his wife Frances came to Saratoga to visit their racetracker family; Pat and Timmy and Karen and Tara and a gaggle of grandchildren. But he had other reasons, too.
He loved wearing his Hall of Fame jacket to the annual induction ceremony and showed up at daybreak each morning at Pat’s to shave the carrots clean. He wouldn’t leave the tack room until the job was done.
Reporter turned publicist Jenny Kellner recalled this morning, just as retired Newsday handicapper Mark Berner did via e-mail on Friday, that she met T J for the first time at the Wishing Well in Saratoga.
“I was meeting a friend but walked in alone,” Kellner said. When T. J. first saw me he said ‘well you can’t eat alone so please join us for dinner’.” Berner’s recollection was similar, but different:
“He was just leaving the bar and had a scotch in each hand as did I. I introduced myself; we started talking and became fast friends.”
The social side of Kelly never was more evident than at the New York Turf Writers’ dinner dance in Saratoga. Kelly would buy a table every year for the family, was the first man on the dance floor and the last to leave.
But the most cherished memory is the role he played when Toni and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Since we were married on the afternoon of Super Bowl III, we used that date to celebrate each year.
Super Bowl XXIII was in Miami that year, NBC had the game and Durkin was able to secure four good seats. T J, meanwhile, arranged a great getaway for all of us in Islamorada.
Ocean Reef is a gated community so exclusive that you never needed something as crass as cash. Lucien Laurin and Maje Odom were next door neighbors. You signed as you went but be prepared for the mega-bill to come at the end of the month.
We spent over $200 for a takeout brunch one afternoon. We grazed on stone crabs and washed them down with Pina Coladas.
Not only did T. J. insist that we use the house as a vacation getaway but he arranged a dinner party on Super Bowl eve, drove 90 minutes south from Miami Springs, prepared some of his legendary Maryland crab cakes. After serving the fare, the Pikesville, Marylander got back in his car and drove home.
Twenty-four years later, the memory is indelible, overwhelmingly humbling. A member of the greatest generation, T.J. was a great story teller but I never heard about the two Purple Hearts he earned in WW II until I read it in a NYRA press release.
T.J. is survived by Fran, brother John, sons Pat, Timmy, Danny and Larry, who “Pop” liked to call Laz, and daughters Patricia and Jean Marie-- Jeannie.
I will always picture him standing and smiling during the annual Hall of Fame roll call. Then I’ll remember that he was a Hall of Fame person long before he became a legendary horseman.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, April 06, 2013
A Mild Shocker at Santa Anita
SOUTH OZONE PARK--April 6, 2013--They hardly had time to take the winning Wood Memorial photograph at Aqueduct when here comes Super Ninety Nine, Goldencents and Flashback into the homestretch of the Santa Anita Derby.
It was apparent that Super Ninety Nine would be hard pressed to hold the lead and surely Flashback, sitting a perfect pocket trip beneath Garrett Gomez, would swept up three wide and make amends under the patient handling he didn't receive in the San Felipe.
But Goldencents and Kevin Krigger, just like last year when Mario Gutierrez was guiding I'll Have Another to a minor upset for trainer Doug O'Neilll. would repeat that performance in Louisville four weeks later.
Last year, O'Neill rewarded Gutierrez' loyalty with a winning Derby mount. This year he'll try to do the same with Goldencents, who ran 9 furlongs in 1:47.52 off a strong early pace. By comparison, it took Verrazano 1:50.27 to get the same trip--but that happened as the result of a half-mile of :49.62 and six furlongs in 1:13.74.
And to think that there are some pretty good horses lined up to run in next weekend's Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby, the 2013 renewal of America's Race just might be one for the ages. The cream of this division just keeps coming to the top.*
Of Bridges and Musical Jockeys
Very seldom has a horse race lived up to its billing. The Wood Memorial did and then some.
For openers, Verrazano went from a maiden first-time starter on New Year's Day to the winner of four straight, including a million dollar Grade 1.
And once again, he passed a two-turn test and his first serious gut check. Whether he idles when in front or not, he had a right to be beaten but Verrazano refused to be denied.
With Johnny Velazquez looking over his left shoulder more than the front end as he approached the far turn, he withstood the challenge of the formerly undefeated Vyjack and strong finishing Normandy Invasion.
The latter needed at least a second place finish to qualify for the Derby on points and he earned 50 points, winning the biggest place photo of his young life. More importantly, he was going in the right direction at the finish.
Now that the Wood is in the books, let the jockeying for position begin.
Velazquez made his plea on national television, saying he'd like to wait about a week, see how Orb and Verrazano are training and then make a decision. He is in demand. Then so is Orb and Verrazano.
It's likely that if Verrazano comes back none the worse for the wear, he will stick with Todd Pletcher's undefeated colt. Besides, if he gives him up, it opens the door to the Pletcher barn even wider for Castellano and his super-agent Matt Muzikar.
Castellano, who finished like a wild man to get Normady Invasion up, saving the place and Chad Brown's Derby dreams, but is committed to the Pletcher trained, Winstar-owned Revolutionary, who obviously has a very big chance on May's first Saturday.
Joel Rosario, the rider of Vyjack who did not commit to that colt beyond the Wood, could ride him back, is in the conversation to ride Normandy Invasion, and has ridden Orb to victory.
The strong finishing Rosie Napravnik could get a leg up, but the weight of media attention and high expectations might be too much to bear for the colt's active owner, Rick Porter. And it was Normandy Invasion who was gobbling up ground during a final three furlongs that went in a very lively :36.53
Or will Jose Lezcano, a victim of circumstances in the Risen Star, get a leg back up?
This much is clear: Verrazano, Normandy Invasion and Vyjack, a little skittish in the paddock pre-race, put on a terrific show in Queens, especially the winner.
In the elevator back to the press box, I asked a colleague what he thought might happen based on what he saw from the Wood horses in the paddock.
"If Verrazano runs to his looks," he said, "they're going to name a bridge after him."
Arrogance Finishes Second in Bay Shore
Overreacting to the the speedy surface, Javier Castellano had the Swale winner--yes, the one that made a 4-path sweep to win the Swale--yes, that 7 furlong Grade 3 at Gulfstream Park--right on top of the hottest pace of the day (:22.03, :44.70), put away two speed rivals who were racing on the turn then had to ward off mid-moving The Truth and K G into the stretch.
Well, he put him away, too, but could not hold off Declan's Warrior under a strong finishing well judged ride from Jose Lezcano.
Declan's Warrior clearly raised his game, coming off a preliminary allowances at 7-1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream in which he defeated Narvaez, who came back as an extreme longshot to finish a surprisingly good fourth in the Florida Derby. A neck defeat to Park City in his season's debut is the only blemish after four career starts.
Close Hatches Remains Perfect
Gamblers have an expression that it's often better to be lucky than good. I was lucky. Close Hatches was good.
You will read in the next few days how the undefeated Bill Mott trainee took advantage of a live and speedy inside to get the job done. Well, the southwest wind might have had something to do with that speedy bias. But those guts don't help in two turn races.
As race caller Tom Durkin intoned, "Walkwithapurpose is in perfect position," sitting a pocket-rocket trip as Close Hatches was behind hounded on the lead by Let Me Entertain U.
Well, at the finish, it was daylight back to Walkwithapurpose in third and Close Hatches dispatched the perfect tripping Princess of Sylmar and won the class battle down to the wire.
This is a good filly. And the suspicion is Close Hatches will be better with a target. Imagine that, trying to improve on perfection.
When Hear the Ghost came up lame 72 hours prior to the Santa Anita Derby, the air went out of the race for me. Who's Flashback going to lose?
Then the Equiform data arrived and wasn't I surprised to see that the game San Felipe runnerup was not a layover, that as many as three different horses had a better than puncher's chance to pull off the upset.
Now what, back to Handicapping 101 and plot how the race would shape out and who would be in the best spot? Would speed have the edge now? After all, Flashback wasn't going to the lead.
That's what got Julien Leparoux fired. But with rail position, clearly GG would have to establish position or get shuffled off to Van Nuys.
Well, we'll find all this out later.
Right now, Todd Pletcher, with seven minutes to post is 6-5 to win the Gazelle. We think the crowd has it wrong; Close Hatches is the best of this group.
Let's see if we're walking around lucky?
*computer repair edits made on 04/07/13, 10:34am
Written by John Pricci