Saturday, February 09, 2013
“The Derby Winner Runs Today”
HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 9, 2013—Even if you had entered Gulfstream Park two hours before first post, you would have sensed this day was a little different.
The energy was palpable, parking spaces close to the building non-existent and the prepping Animal Kingdom was waiting in the wings.
And the crowd waited until about 3:46 p.m., 15 minutes prior to the Grade 1 Kittens Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap until the first horse Film Making walked into the ring.
Next up was 2012’s Almost Horse of the Year, the unlucky Point of Entry, whose string of Grade 1s was snapped when he ran out of racetrack, a half-length behind Little Mike, at the end of the mile and a half Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Finally, Animal Kingdom entered the ring and fans actually moved into position along the walking ring fence, four to five deep, obstructing the view of the seated, but not caring in the least.
The Derby winner runs today.
Management knew what it had. The Donn, one of the more important handicaps run in this country, is known and anticipated by savvy horseplayers but means little to the crowd Gulfstream is trying to attract.
So the day was packaged on TV and in other media as “Super Saturday featuring Animal Kingdom” and it worked--it worked big time.
All-sources handle was $17.5 million, compared to the 2012 Donn program’s $15 million.
On-track fans, estimated at just under 10,000 but appearing larger than opening day, wagered over $2 million, compared to $1.5 million last year.
A significant part of the wagering was the seven million dimes that was bet into the Rainbow Six pool chasing a carryover of $1.8 million.
Photo by Toni Pricci
For Team Valor's Barry Irwin the Next Stop is Meydan Racecourse on March 30
There was more than one winner of Rainbow Six and Sunday’s carryover is a shade over $2 million. Saturday’s total pool, including carryover, was $2.45 million. There hasn’t been a single winner of Rainbow Six since Dec. 29.
The horses made three turns of the ring--two is a little unusual; I can say I’ve never seen three—and each time the crowd greeted the Derby champion with applause.
Meanwhile, Point of Entry, which if he could talk would have wanted to send a message, was all business, full of controlled energy, with John Velazquez already in game-face mode.
Track announcer Larry Collmus introduced the field and the buzz from the walking ring had moved to the apron, the largest cheers reserved for the last horse in the parade.
The star was still making his entrance and, at once, an exit. Animal Kingdom has run his last race in America.
The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap was, after all, “only” a prep for the $10-milllion Dubai World Cup run on the synthetic Tapeta surface, ground over which he’s trained all his life at his Fair Hill base.
If he runs well there, it’s on to Ascot in June and then on to the Southern Hemisphere for the breeding season in September.
If there was any message yesterday it’s that a Derby winner, especially one with a cool name, is magic. All the Derby winner needs to do is to keep racing.
And Animal Kingdom has done that despite two interruptions because of injury.
But Point of Entry ruined his day the way Little Mike ruined Point of Entry’s more than three months ago. But all Animal Kingdom lost was a horse race.
Replays will show that yesterday’s run was a perfect mid-moving speed prep for Dubai.
Having one horse beaten after an opening half-mile in a pokey :50.52, Joel Rosario shot up the fence with Animal Kingdom to join the pacesetter with Point of Entry sitting right off the pair three wide.
Velazquez had his mount keep pace while losing ground on the turn but asked Point of Entry for run at headstretch and the 5-year-old Dynaformer obliged in a big way, taking the lead in mid-stretch and drawing out to a 1-1/4 length win.
Both these top class runners put on quite a show in the stretch. Turf fractions, always suspect when the temporary rail is out—set at 108 feet—the final three furlongs were run in an astounding :33.76. However, seeing was believing.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
...Meanwhile, Shug McGaughey Made His Point in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap
Point of Entry stopped the timer at 1:47 for the 1-1/8 miles. “It was quite a race,” said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. We had our tactics. We thought Todd’s horse [Salto] would be in front and we hoped to lay second.
“It was kind of fun to watch. The race was getting publicity and [although] we had to push a little on the far turn.”
Did I make up a little for last fall’s Breeders’ Cup disappointment? “I’ve had of few [disappointing results], like Easy Goer at this track in the Breeders’ Cup.
“But I’m very pleased with the horse, winning a grade one at a mile and an eighth is good for his career. I’m very glad to be here today.”
Most people were.
Coming Sunday the Donn wrap: A Star Is Born
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, February 02, 2013
Derby Quarter-Finals in Full Stride
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., February 2, 2013—Well, the calendar has reached the second month of the new season and the Triple Crown trail now resembles an on ramp to the Glory Highway that begins three months hence in Louisville.
Four graded stakes for three-year-olds, From Queens to Arcadia and from Tampa to this address, there are four graded stakes for the sophomore class and this doesn’t reflect a copy of non-graded trials at Fair Grounds and Laurel Park.
A few notes before looking at the results. This week, the Jockey Club released its weights for the Experimental Free Handicap which every February ranks the accomplishments of the previous year’s juvenile class.
Always fun to look at, this exercise had its 15 minutes as Kentucky Derby predictor that is, of course, if you ranked within 10 pounds of the highweight, in this case Shanghai Bobby at 126 pounds. (Filly champion Beholder was the high-weighted filly at 123).
If you did, or were a champion from another land, and if you qualified on Dosage, a measure that calculates distance-running aptitude--that quota being below 4.0—that horse became known as a Dual Qualifier. That notion, like the Experimental Free Handicap itself, has come to be regarded as anachronistic.
And maybe that’s true, inasmuch as it was true when it was taken very seriously a few decades ago. But the system always is fun to peruse; good for the soul of a Thoroughbred racing fan, a different kind of X’s and O’s.
One more note. We’re on record as being pro-Kentucky Derby points system for eligibility; indeed lobbied for it here a few years back. A work in progress, as the Churchill Downs folks said it would be from the outset, here are some early impressions:
It’s working because media and fans are talking about it; it’s working because now you hear quotes you never heard before, such as “it’s not the end of the world if we don’t make the race; there’s always the Preakness.”
The points tally is getting more coverage at this early stage than the former graded earnings standard. Also reiterating, either the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and/or two-year-old champion, deserves to be seeded into the event.
Finally, the guesstimate as to the number of points required to gain entrance into the Louisville starting gate keeps growing, now thought to be around 50. Now, no one knew that last week’s Holy Bull would come up as strong as it did, but no matter.
Off the top, two turn races in the “Derby Prep” rounds should have their point values bumped up to 25 for the winner of a graded two-turner. This gives more relevance to Tier 1 races and gives horsemen more valuable prep options. Besides, if you, say, sweep Gulfstream’s Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, you still can still be out-pointed by the Florida Derby winner. This seems reasonable, yes?
As does putting the Illinois Derby back into the prep mix. The game has enough issues without having (capital-p) politics interfere with how the game traditionally has been played. And the city of Chicago should be somewhere on the road to Louisville.
Parenthetically, moving the Hawthorne event back two weeks makes all the sense in the world.
Before looking at those with names attached, the winning allowance performance of Verrazano was first rate and then some. As track announcer Larry Collmus intoned of the lengthy winner; “he won from Staten Island to Brooklyn”
The crowd actually took a late rip against the favorite, betting Gunderson down to 5-2 into the 2-5 favorite before blowing out to 7-2 ante post, and the Mark Casse trainee took it to Verrazano from the get-go.
There was, of course, no panic from John Velazquez, content to stalk in hand until getting the More Than Ready colt midway of the far turn.
The colt labored some to push passed the challenger but, that done, was mildly encouraged to draw off by 16-1/4 lengths at the end of a mile in 1:34.80. By way of comparison, three-year-old maiden allowance winner Doherty raced the distance in 1.37.24.
By way of a top class measure, Itsmyluckyday, one of the fastest of his generation, won the Gulfstream Park Derby in 1:34.40; not too shabby. The question now becomes where does he get those Derby qualifying points next time? Right now, he has none.
“We’re just going to have to figure it out,” Todd Pletcher said of the scenario. “This was about as impressive as you’ll see one run. We were encouraged going into [the race] and even more so coming out.”
Pletcher’s stock knows no bounds. At Aqueduct, Revolutionary took the Grade 3 Withers but unlike Verrazano, the War Pass colt at no time looked like he would justify his odds.
Credit the Winstar colt, and Gulfstream’s leading rider, Javier Castellano, who made the trip north worthwhile by winning his third stakes of the afternoon and second for Pletcher- the other being the Busher with impressive Princess of Sylmar.
But it was Castellano’s confidence and patience that was absolutely the difference at the finish, waiting for room in deep stretch, getting a seam, bursting into breach to come away with a narrow victory over the game runnerup, Escapefromreality.
Revolutionary flashed laudable acceleration but needs to improve his gate manners. However, his gallop out around the clubhouse turn was eye-catching. He has class or he would not have won the Withers. Of course, the waters will get much deeper from here.
Before the race, Pletcher was concerned about the race shape. “The key will be for him to break cleanly and put himself in a good stalking position. The main thing is we want him to get away cleanly and get into a nice rhythm.” That didn’t happen; only the result turned out to be predictable.
A HITCH IN THE HUTCH:
The new Derby points system might have claimed its first victim in the Hutcheson. The Grade 2 sprint was worth $90,000 of graded money to the winning Honorable Dillon, but nary a point, since the race was less than a mile.
“We’ll talk to the owner and come up with a plan,” said winning trainer Eddie Kenneally. “It’s a shame that these Grade 2 stakes aren’t worth any points for the Kentucky Derby. I think it’s wrong.”
Kenneally, of course is entitled, but every trainer with a live three-year-old knows what the rules are going in.
“Can he [go farther than a mile]? He’s bred to go farther than seven-eighths of a mile. We’ll find out when we try.”
The colt certainly won like a horse that won’t mind a little more distance, which also might be the case for runnerup Forty Tales, which any decent race observer will tell you that, as the race was run, he was “probably best.”
Shuffled back from the rail slip going 7 furlongs—never a bargain but especially so at Gulfstream—he was hard to conceive he would get anything approaching headstretch.
But, as one of the few horses that closed strongly in the middle of the track all day, he came within a half-length of giving Pletcher his third viable Derby winner of the day.
Pletcher also had the winner of the G3 Endeavour with Brazilian import Old Tune, an impressive winner of her U.S. debut.
And, so, what might be next for Honorable Dillon? “The Swale is a definite possibility.”
That would be the seven furlong Grade 3 on March 2nd, yes?
BAFFERT GOES 1-2 IN THE LEWIS:
But buzz horse Flashback, an impressive maiden-debut winner at Betfair Hollywood in December, moved up in class and distance--albeit against three rivals, one of which was stablemate and eventual runnerup, Den’s Legacy—won the Grade 2 race that catapulted I’ll Have Another to prominence last year in a dominating performance.
But it’s hard to know what to make of the effort. What is one supposed to make of a front-running score at the Great Race Place after waltzing through an opening gambit of :24.17?
In fact, Daily Racing Form reported that the half mile of 48.69 seconds was the slowest half-mile fraction of the meet at the distance. But he drew off in push-button style by 6-1/4 lengths in a very solid 1:42.95 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.
“He’s still a little green but it was an easy race,” said jockey Julien Leparoux. “He’s going to improve off this race.”
“We were hoping he’d do something like that,” said Baffert, and agreed that “he’ll get something out of the race.”
All will know more when and if he gets to the Santa Anita Derby April 6. “The last prep is so important,” Baffert added. “It’s still pre-season right now. As he goes on, he’s going to have to run against better horses.”
THE SKY IS FALLING…THE SKY IS FALLING
…That was almost the refrain as G3 Sam F Davis Memorial winner Falling Sky got a bigger scare from the stewards than he did from most of his rivals.
Those eight rivals included favorite My Name Is Michael who checked in a fairly well beaten third, the loss preventing Joel Rosario from sweeping the three graded stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs program.
Making his first start for trainer John Terranova, he was hustled to the lead by Luis Saez, who also made the drive north on Route 75 to ride the third horse that was exiting a preliminary allowances at Gulfstream on December 15.
The anxious moment came approaching headstretch when Speak Logistics got through on the rail but was forced to steady when caught in close quarters on the rail. The stewards took a look and apparently determined that Saez and Falling Sky held their position and did not veer into Speak Logistics, which faded to fourth in the drive.
Falling Sky, Revolutionary and Flashback all earned 10 graded Derby eligibility points for their efforts, placing all three in a 10-way tie for fourth on the list. Shanghai Bobby and Goldencents are tied for the lead at 24. Oxbow is alone in third with 11.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, January 26, 2013
The Racing Gods Owe Plesa One
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., January 26, 2013—In the rush to become the first kid on your block to predict the winner of the Kentucky Derby, it seems to me that the 2012 juvenile champion, Shanghai Bobby, is getting disrespected some. It’s all predicated on his relatively short pedigree.
Whether or not he ultimately gets all 10 furlongs is a question for another day--just like the record turnout for Hillary vs. Chris Christie in 2016. Lost in the shuffle is an important note; this undefeated colt is a very good horse. He’s got gears.
But the champ’s good fortune ran out, and so did his undefeated slate, when Itsmyluckyday came alongside at headstretch. Instead of finding another gear, Bobby had no answer for the Gulfstream Derby winner who thrust himself into the Kentucky Derby picture with gusto; track record gusto.
“The winner was very good today,” said Pletcher, we were second best. We got a good trip and didn’t expect to break the track record by 3/5s of a second in order to win. I was happy with him.” An hour earlier, Pletcher saddled the dominating winner of the 7-furlong, G2 Forward Gal, the very fast Kauai Katie.
“We went into this race hoping that the best horse would win,” said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. “I believed that’s what happened today. He couldn’t have been training any better, doing any better.”
Plesa comes from a South Florida racing family and has had only one horse good enough to compete at the highest levels, the filly Three Ring, owned by former NYRA President Barry Schwartz.
In fact, so talented was the filly that the connections ran her in the 1999 Kentucky Derby after winning three of five starts at 2 and taking the Davona Dale and Bonnie Miss Stakes impressively that winter.
Three Ring ran uncharacteristically poorly in Charismatic’s Derby but came back to win the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park. But while being equipped with a set of blinkers for the Mother Goose Stakes, she reared up, fell over backward and hit her head twice, fracturing her skull.
She was euthanized right on the spot where Plesa, cradling the filly head as he tried to comfort her before NYRA’s attending veterinarian could put her out of her misery. The image of Plesa holding her, his clothes soaked in blood, was horrifying.
That was one of the worst paddock scenes in the history of Thoroughbred racing, but not so yesterday where Plesa stood for picture taking ceremonies with his wife Laurie, a part owner of the colt, as well as other partners, David and Olga Melin and Marion Montanari.
“We’ll see about [the Kentucky Derby]. Everybody’s excited and the race is on their bucket list,” Plesa said of clients that have been with him for 20 years. “With the points system we’ll sit down, talk it over and see what happens.”
The points Plesa was referring to is the new tiered system based on graded stakes wins for Derby eligibility. Itsmyluckyday earned only 10 points for winning the Holy Bull and the consensus of opinion, one that changes every day, is that it likely will take a minimum of 50 points to qualify.
Which means Itsmyluckyday must win either a second stage race such as Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth Stakes, worth 50 points, or the Florida Derby with 100 going to the winner. Plesa is leaving his options open at the moment is leaning toward the Florida Derby, March 30.
What appears certain is that the next start will be at Gulfstream Park where the Lawyer Ron colt, from the Doneraille Court mare, Viva La Slew, is now 2-for-2, taking the ungraded Gulfstream Derby at a flat mile by nearly 7 lengths, and yesterday’s 2 length score in 1:41.81 for 1-1/16 miles.
THAT’S THE TICKET:
The 2012 Travers winner Golden Ticket got start his 4-year-old season started in today’s fourth race and began it in a big way.
Aided by sharp, contested fractions, he showed his freshness nicely tucked behind the speed inside for the backstretch run.
As the pace began to take its toll approaching headstretch, David Cohen sent him into the breach and Speightstown colt did the rest, winning by open lengths in a glib 1:42.62 while in full stride at the wire.
Come-backing O’Prado Again, who missed most of his 3-year-old year with an injury, hasn’t won since taking Aqueduct’s ;Remsen Stakes in the fall of his juvenile season. He rallied strongly and, while never a threat to Golden Ticket, it was a great race to build on.
KAUAI KATE BACK ON VACATION:
Well, that was easy, but it won’t matter. Kauai Katie, who added the 2 Forward Gal to her G3 score in the shorter Old Hat—no less impressively—but will not be seen again in Hallandale Beach this winter, even after her 5-1/2 romp in 1:22.13.
With “nothing really” for her at Churchill Downs this spring, said Pletcher, it will be the Prioress and Test as her next major goals. Both are Grade 1 and both in New York, the latter in Saratoga. Sounds like a plan, a good one.
BETS N’ PIECES:
Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps
is part of the Team Valor International that owns Cerro
, winner of the third race for 3-year-old allowance runners…Bill Mott
, not known for having success with debut types, unveiled his second uber impressive sophomore filly at the meet, Juddmonte’s Close Hatches
, who joined Calistoga
as females of the future. Meanwhile his Bold Dance
in the next race, 3-5 off her impressive come-from-behind maiden score, found herself on the pace, put away three challengers, but could not hold off Holiday Star, Graham Motion’s
second win of the day. Stable mail, please.
Written by John Pricci