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
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Dirt Mile Could Prove Last Chance for Wise Dan to Trump #1 Game On Dude
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Sept 17, 2013—There’s no question that Wise Dan is a great turf miler, which does not in any way disparage his laudable versatility.
And it doesn’t matter that the Woodbine turf course was unusually glib on Sunday but the 2012 Horse of the Year can really, really run.
The Woodbine Mile was timed in one minute, thirty-one, and seventy-five one hundredths. Yikes! All that while Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez sat still, more passenger than pilot.
Behind him were a couple of nice turf horses, Za Approval and Trade Storm. And while track announcers can deliver eye-rolling calls by ratcheting up excitement in the wake of a great performance, albeit lacking competitive drama, it was a neck-hair raising effort to be sure.
Once again, however, his connections, led by an 83-year-old owner who’s been racing Thoroughbreds for over four decades, refused to take the champion out of his niche, but were rewarded when $579,540 was deposited into Morton Fink’s purse account.
At what point does business become sport and sport become business?
Two years ago I had a cup of coffee as a horse owner. My little claiming filly was a break-even experience during the short time she raced.
As might be surmised, my financial circumstances were much different than Fink’s. But the point here is that there is nothing more exciting in racing than watching your horse race—and win!
And that comes from an owner who, on occasion, had the opportunity to earn more money winning a bet than Dubai’s Connection ever could have earned by winning a race at her level of competition.
There is talk that the gelded Wise Dan could race again in 2014 as a seven-year-old which is a lovely sporting gesture.
But there is a test that doesn’t take Wise Dan out of his comfort zone that’s a little more challenging.
Now no one will ever confuse the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with many of the original events on the Breeders’ Cup program including the Mile on turf.
But at least it’s on dirt, and with the three-year-old Verrazano pointing toward that end-of-year event, this would be a worthy and most interesting test.
Most observers agree that Verrazano would make a top class miler. Wise Dan, proven on all surfaces, is a proven great miler. Verrazano has a speed edge; Wise Dan a battle-tested experience edge. Santa Anita dirt is neutral territory; the weights are at scale. There’s no Game On Dude and no top class European turf miler to contend with.
Verrazano’s trainer Todd Pletcher, while choosing spots wisely, doesn’t back down from a challenge. Pletcher would see the upside immediately.
This would also be a way for Morton Fink to not tackle Game On Dude on his home field, create the kind of buzz that might even upstage the Classic; in short, giving something back to the game.
Is Cigar Mile Incentive Bonus Really Necessary?
Last week, the New York Racing Association announced two purse incentives that, if criteria are met, could double the value of the Grade 1 $500,000 Cigar Mile Handicap.
Under the revised conditions, any previous Grade 1 winner who competes in the Cigar would race for a gross purse of $750,000. Should a winner of any Breeders' Cup race, from any year, compete, that horse would run for a purse of $1 million.
Is it good horsemen’s relations to give the rich incentive to get richer? Can’t a half-million dollar Grade 1 in New York stand on its own?
The purse for the 2012 was $350,000, so it’s already worth $150,000 more.
Last year's Cigar Mile attracted the 2012 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll which, with a victory, might have earned the filly Horse of the Year honors. Credit the Bradleys et al for not only extending their filly's distance capacity in a Grade versus males.
The victory by Stay Thirsty, the second Grade 1 of his career, certainly could not have hurt his stud value. Having been increased significantly, the race already has intrinsic value.
Last year’s renewal attracted a certain sprint champion because their sporting connections wanted a chance to have it all. It turned out to be a stomach-punching nose defeat.
If the association is willing to spend an additional half-million dollars, why not use it to create five restricted stakes at a $100,000 apiece to go along with the four graded events on the program. It would be a card to rival Wood or Belmont or Travers day.
The NYRA then could promote their big 2013 championship-sealing events beginning Breeders’ Cup weekend, early enough before promising good horses begin shipping to warmer climes.
Written by John Pricci