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
Sunday, February 17, 2013
The Lady Is a Champ
Photo by Toni Pricci
Dual Eclipse Champion, Royal Delta, is ready to roll
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., January 17, 2013—All had fair warning: “She’s stronger, getting older, and carrying more flesh,” trainer Bill Mott told the world in a pre-race paddock interview at Gulfstream Park on chilly afternoon in South Florida hours before the champion arrived.
“Hopefully, she’s ready to have a big year.”
So it wasn't surprising to notice Royal Delta when she and her four rivals entered the ring before the the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes. She was the one that towered over the others, literally and figuratively, and not only because she was 1-9 on the tote at that time.
She was taller, yes, but really fit and ready to go for a horse that was "only" prepping, showing the creases of condition, sharpness, controlled energy and a coat that refelcted off the late afternoon sun.
By the time she reached the starting gate, the filly was a little warm, surprising considering the brisk atmosphere, but not so much when you consider that she’s an Empire Maker. “It’s a little unusual when she’s not, that’s her,” said the trainer.
At the start, Royal Delta did not break sharply, actually hopping up a bit at the start, but gathered herself quickly--seemingly more athletic than we remember--and she got right into the race from between horses going into the first turn.
“Mike [Smith] said she was a little uneasy in the gate. We didn’t do any gate work with her but we’ve got some work to do now.”
“She wasn’t the best coming out of the gate,” agreed Smith, “but it was her first start in a while.”
The slow opening quarter mile of :24.06 helped her get into the race and Smith allowed her to go up and challenge for the lead, eventually opening her advantage on the far turn with Smith employing only a hand ride at that point.
She entered the Hallandale straight with authority but Smith and his mare approached the short mile and a sixteenth finish line, he began gearing the dual champion down even as All for Thee was resurgent under a highly energetic Jose Lezcano.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Bill Mott and Benjamin Leon celebrate the champ's return
Was the manner of her on-the-pace five-length victory in a solid 1:43.31 surprising? “Well she showed that she could do that in her last race [Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic]. We thought we’d just let her roll out of there.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Mott said of the mare’s season’s debut. “I can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve got a little more work to do.” And plenty of gas in the tank to work with.
Mott will be working to get her ready for the World Cup on March 30. The first contingent of U.S. horses shipping over for event night will be leaving on March 17. She’ll get there about nine of 10 days before the race, the same time table as last year.”
So, why should this Dubai World Cup be different from last year’s when she finished unplaced in what past performances indicate was the worst race of her life?
Did the filly learn anything, about the Tapeta surface, the lights, the 7,800-mile trip from South Florida to Dubai to take on the world’s best males?
And how about her trainer, what did he take from his experience? Was there anything unusual about night racing there, as opposed to the states? Was the filly herself that night?
“It was the trip,” Mott said. Everything was perfect. She shipped well, ate well, thought she handled the surface beautifully, she broke well, and then the trip…”
And this year?
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Next stop Dubai
“With a good trip we think she can make a good show,” said Mott who won a Gulfstream allowance race with a late developing and talented four-year-old, Cigar Street, who returned earlier this meet after recovering from a hairline fracture.
Mott also won two races at Aqueduct, all this after winning three at Gulfstream on Saturday, including two graded stakes.
“This is no easy task’” he said. “She’ll be running against the best horses in the world. Horses have been over there training [for the race] since November.
“Hopefully everything will go as well as last year. She was doing well, shipped over well, ate well, and acclimated well. She’ll be on the same timetable as she was last year.”
Now if Royal Delta can only avoid the turbulence that sometimes occurs when the world’s best horses get together at 10 furlongs under the lights and stars on an electricity-charged night in the desert.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, February 16, 2013
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., February 16, 2013---If you check the trainer statistics at the current Gulfstream Park and note that Bill Mott is batting 35 percent from 61 starters through Thursday, if you didn’t know better you’d think the calendar was wrong; it must be October, not February.
Based at Payson Park, most years Mott treats Gulfstream almost as a second thought, preferring instead to freshen much of his stock, relying on his trademark patience and Hall of Fame horsemanship to prepare for the big races later in the year, especially during the fall championship season.
But something’s gotten into Mott at this meet, like a bunch of terrific new stock, some of which have been provided by the Juddmonte folks, the outfit that seemingly is always among Eclipse finalists in the Breeder of the Year category.
What he’s also not known for is his debut types yet, at this stand, he brought two three-year-old fillies out for their debuts, and all Calistoga and Close Hatches did was to run holes in the wind. Just like contemporary Flashy Lady did in a preliminary allowances here last weekend.
Calistoga did the job while demonstrating brilliant zip; Close Hatches just the opposite, launching the kind of wide, sweeping turn move—what the New York wise guys call the Belmont Balcony move-- that almost never wins a one-turn race at less than a mile in Hallandale.
On the turf side meanwhile, a surface upon which Mott’s horses always seem to be at home, there’s Tapicat, who shipped north to Oldsmar and took the Grade 3 Florida Oaks impressively for her third straight victory.
And, as everyone knows, good things come in threes, like it did today when Emollient—yet another three-year-old filly, won a conditioned race but that was only a prelude.
Mott scored the hat trick yesterday, ending the day with a graded stakes double header as Starformer making a successful season’s debut in the G3 The Very One and Amira’s Prince the G2 Mac Diarmida in high style.
Has Mott had rolls like this before? “We’ve been doing this for 40 years so of course we’ve had runs like this. But there’ve been some long dry spells in between. It’s the horses. It’s like [Wayne] Lukas says: ‘You’ve got to have the right set’.”
And a hands-on horseman calling the shots.
In Starformer, Mott has a highly consistent graded performer who hadn’t run since winning the G3 Long Island Handicap over soft ground at 1-1/2 miles last November at the Big A.
So the 11 furlong trip, the fact that Mott is 22% efficient with 90-days + trainees, there was cut in the ground given nearly two inches of rainfall Thursday and Friday and the presence of Edgar Prado, having a resurgent meet and on the Juddmonte filly for each of her last four victories.
“With it raining hard for the last few days they kept the track in good shape. We ran on fresh ground,” said Prado. “I sat right behind the lead and waited. She gave me a nice, beautiful move as we tried to find the best part of the track.”
“She fell into a good position third,” Mott said. We stretched her out to 11 furlongs or more and she seems to like that a lot better [than shorter trips]. The Orchid is here [Grade 3, March 30] and I guess that will be her next start.”
Amira’s Prince has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. “We had no idea [how good he would be]. My owner Edam Wachtel is very proactive buying horses. He was the one who bought Ron the Greek and Al Khali.
“They sent him over for the Jamaica last fall but he looked like he needed more time. So we brought him down here and freshened him up. This is the result.”
The upshot was his third straight victory over this course, today’s a comprehensive 3-3/4 length score at the same 11-furlong trip as The Very One, the colt’s 2:17.14 falling right in line with the mare’s 2:18.03.
Mott earlier scratched Newsdad when the course, rated good, came up decidedly less than firm.
[Amira’s Prince] hasn’t put a foot wrong, he’s 3-for-3 for us [at Gulfstream]. It seems like he keeps improving. The plan originally was not to run him in this race. But he was doing so well I said to the owners ‘it would be a shame to keep this horse in the barn as well as he’s doing.
“They run the Pan American here [March 23]. Whether it would be too much to run him one more time here I don’t know. I guess you’ve got to be careful this early in the year.”
Good thing for Mott he doesn’t heed his own advice. His champion Royal Delta runs in the Sabin Sunday, her prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup March 30. Will she make it three graded stakes wins on the weekend?
“I’m not going to say that.” So far, his horses have done all the talking.
Written by John Pricci