Sunday, January 17, 2016

La Verdad Earns Prima Status

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 17, 2016—Before La Verdad, Sheila Rosenblum thought she had done it all; studying ballet under Ballanchine, performing in “Swan Lake,” had won her share of Dressage ribbons 47 miles from Gulfstream in toney Wellington, some modeling and even a little acting.

But until La Verdad, she had never seen a Breeders’ Cup race live, never dreamed that in five years in the horse business she’d not only see her first Eclipse ceremony up close and personal but that her mare would become a champion.

Sitting alongside family, syndicate members and trainer Linda Rice, La Verdad beat her Filly and Mare Sprint conqueror Wavell Avenue when it mattered most by the slimmest margin in 2015’s balloting process--98 points to 90.

And so the Eclipse Award for champion female in the sprint category went to La Verdad.

“It was euphoric,” Lady Sheila Rosenblum said of the moment by phone later. “The euphoria was like the birth of my children, like performing in Swan Lake. I feel like I just won an Academy Award.”

The mare that received 90 votes and considered a slight favorite to win the championship was Breeders’ Cup titlist Wavell Avenue. However, the voters decided that the overall body of work was the most compelling factor.

“Congratulations,” Wavell Avenue’s owner Michael Dubb said to Rosenblum after the Lady Sheila Stable picked up its trophy. “Your filly deserved the award,” Dubb told her.

And so it was the brilliant New York-bred filly that started her 2016 campaign the same way she began her championship run, with a victory. The score in Aqueduct’s Interborough Stakes was her 16th victory in 25 career starts.

Rosenblum was born in Switzerland but before she could celebrate her fifth birthday the family had moved to Miami, where they lived five years in advance of relocating to New York City where the arts beconed a precocious young lady.

By age 10 Sheila answered ballet’s siren call, a 5-to-7-days-a-week discipline that would last a decade. Her goal was the stuff of dreams; to become a prima ballerina.

Hard work and perseverance are paramount but no guarantor of goals realized, even for a 12-year-old who was offered three dance scholarships including the Joffrey Ballet before opting for the School of American Ballet of Ballanchine instead.

At 15, it was off to England for two years of study at the Royal Ballet School of London but, due to citizenship restrictions, she was forced to shift her tack and ballet slippers back to Gotham’s New York City School of Ballet.

While not realizing her goal to become a prima, Rosenblum did get to perform in Romeo and Juliet in addition to Swan Lake. The discipline she learned from ballet is what helped to become a successful horse owner.

At 20, when the rigors of dance had become overwhelming, Rosenblum gave fashion modeling a go and became a member of the Ford Agency. But as is heard so often in the theatre district, “sorry, wrong type,” Rosenblum packed her tack again, joining the Wilhemina agency.

During all this there was a marriage to a soap opera star and a brief acting career. Because her passion for horses never wavered, she began riding them in her early 30s. Highly competitive, she got into Dressage—“ballet on horses” she says—enjoying success but she “never reached those wonderful levels.”

Sheila Rosenblum
From ballet to backstretch

Sheila Rosenblum views all horses through the prism of ballet: “They’re beautiful, graceful, powerful, yet delicate. My husband wanted to buy me a jumper, a Grand Prix School Master. I thought about it, then I said ”rather than ride and compete, I’d like to own a race horse.”

“I got two horses at first and a number of yearlings. I wanted to learn, wanted to ask a lot of questions, be hands-on. And I did everything horrendously wrong at the outset.

“If I didn’t have the fortitude that ballet gave me, I would have gotten out [of racing] a million times.”

Her fortunes changed dramatically three years ago when she brought several horses over to Rice’s barn, horses she believed had a future. Rice suggested that she leave the horses for a few days and she would evaluate them.

What followed after was a sobering conversation, Rosenblum learning that her horses were “adequate,” but not a prima among them. “Linda placed them where they belonged and they all won. I had the excitement of winning. I was proud. It gave me a deeper love for the game.

“I’m not a feminist and I hired Linda despite the fact she’s a woman, not because of it.” However, her syndicate partners are all women, motivated to become horse owners themselves because of Rosenblum’s energy and enthusiasm.

“It started as a hobby until one day I saw the cover of ‘New York Breeders’ magazine and thought ‘that looks like my filly’.”

That filly, La Verdad, will go home after her career finale in Laurel’s Barbara Fritchie next month and be bred to Medaglia d’Oro. La Verdad will board at Vivien Malloy’s Edition Farm in New York.

“She’s a New York story…a New York love story. I want to be a New York breeder and, like everyone in this business, I want to win the Kentucky Derby.”

Trying to accomplish that goal, Rosenblum and her syndicate spent $840,000 for a Pioneerofthenile two-year-old--to the consternation of the colt’s under-bidder, Bob Baffert.

That unnamed juvenile is now called Champion of the Nile, a name suggested by Victor Espinoza when the two met at a party during Belmont Stakes week. “He did incredibly well the first time then was second in the New York Breeders Futurity.

“We have another colt, Matt King Cole, who ran the fastest Beyer by any two-year-old last year. After he won I decided to bring the partners in. We had tough luck with two other horses; I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Matt King Cole has had three starts, a third, second and a win, respectively, and was being pointed for the Jerome but spiked a fever and was declared from New York’s first Kentucky Derby prep of 2016.

“We’ve been taking it really slowly with these two, but ‘Matty’ will come back soon in something important. He’s on the Triple Crown trail.”

The Eclipse ceremonies ran longer than expected but was entertaining and very well produced. Rosenblum clearly was excited when she heard the news but was composed and elegant enough to invite Rice to share the moment with her on stage.

Rice, also making an Eclipse debut, gracefully acknowledged the other finalists and Cavorting, too, who’s connections risked their divisional lead in the Grade 1 La Brea and finished third, ironically losing the place to Hot City Girl, La Verdad’s kid sister.

For her part, Rosenblum thanked about everyone in the room, including her “great trainer” and said at the start and at the end of her remarks that “I want to bring more women into racing.”

Ahmed Zayat, who picked up most of the hardware all evening including the big one by becoming the sport’s ground-breaking winner of the “Grand Slam” with American Pharoah, thanked Rosenblum for her contributions to the game as did Dubb, NYRA Board member and owner of La Verdad’s principal Eclipse rival.

As she left the stage, Rosenblum was approached by one of the youngest members of the audience. “I’d love to go into business with you,” Anna Zayat said to the Lady Sheila Stable founder.

It appears Sheila Rosenbum is poised to start out on another journey.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Eclipse Process Playing to Mixed Backside Reviews

BOYNTON BEACH, FL., January 10, 2016—One of the prime reason’s Gulfstream Park has become the premier extended race meet in the country is its state-of-the-art training facility 38 miles north of the Hallandale track.

Most of the East Coast horses on the “good horse circuit” are stabled here and on Sunday morning we had a chance to visit the stable areas of both facilities and we were surprised by what we discovered.

This week, most of the racing industry will descend on South Florida for the 45th annual Eclipse Award ceremonies at Gulfstream Park Saturday night.

From what we know, the only luminary not certain to show is Ricky Gervais and that’s too bad. Surely there will be enough practitioners to skewer next weekend as not all humility-challenged individuals are limited to a town where tinsels grow on trees.

What surprised then is that not all the horsemen we visited, including many who will be in attendance Saturday, are enamored of the Eclipse Award procedure, objecting to the methodology of the voting process itself.

The Eclipses are racing’s version of the primaries. There are three voting blocs; the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, Thoroughbred Racing Association officials, and Daily Racing Form staffers.

The major complaint is that too many of the results often are capricious and arbitrary. As we state every year when making our choices public, the DRF’s late, great Joe Hirsch once counselled a young turf writer back in the day.

On the matter of Horse of the Year, Hirsch, a founding member of the National Turf Writers organization—no broadcasters were permitted to vote in those days—“the Horse of the Year can be anything."

Actually, that is the case in every category. Politics and provincialism, mostly the former, are at work and there are no objective standards. That’s what a majority of horsemen we spoke with Sunday had objections to.

Trainers are pleased that owners, most of whom are well heeled and whose support feeds the breeding industry, often in sizable amounts, are recognized. Accordingly, they should be acknowledged and allowed to bask in the reflected glory of the animals they support throughout the racing year.

Some of the trainers we spoke with admitted they are attending because their owners expect them to. The lament most often heard is there are too many voters who never see in the flesh the horses they vote as champions.

There is no true objectivity and what are the deciding factors: body of work, horse-by-horse matchups, number of Grade 1 wins, where the victories were compiled?

Speaking personally, it is all of the above. I was only of 265 voters, including one abstention, who determined that California Chrome was deserving of Horse of the Year honors.

But, controversy involving a compromised rival notwithstanding, California Chrome was defeated by Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, defined as America’s championship crowning event.

So does that make it the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in name only? The majority of trainers we spoke with believe that to be the case, just as, to keep it real, not all Grade 1s, or G2s or G3s, are created equal.

How, for instance, could an undefeated runner who many believe to be the best of her generation, Lady Eli, fail to be one of three finalists in the three-year-old filly category despite her limited yet undefeated season?

And for journalists, for instance, how could one classification be a so-called Features/Commentary category. Does the winner of this Eclipse finish first by collecting 100 apples compared to the runnerup amassing 50 oranges?

More than one horsemen mentioned that some objective standard(s) should be put in place so that votes are counted on a one-person-one vote basis.

As one suggested, designing a protocol that assigns two members from the three sponsoring groups compile a list of three--even five finalists--before allowing voters to cast ballots for one horse and one individual per category.

Voting for first, second and third in all categories when only first place votes designate the Eclipse champions is a creation that makes the announcement of three finalists possible. To what end, except to boost dinner ticket sales.

In a game correctly built on opinion, establishing qualifying standards and guidelines before voting would be fair to all and provides the best chance to acknowledge the most deserving recipient.

WEEKEND WRAPUP: Bob Baffert-trained runners Corrected and Let’s Meet in Rio finished one-two in Santa Anita’s G3 Sham Stakes and there likely is a Derby victory in their future, just probably not on May’s first Saturday…

Doubtlessly, Corrected showed class by overcoming a wide-throughout trip. Locked and loaded beneath Martin Garcia, he always looked the part of a winner. Stablemate runnerup came up with a very strong late run and rates to improve with seasoning and distance…

Indeed, Let’s Meet in Rio may prove the better of the two as the prep campaign lengthens, but the best performance by a three-year-old this weekend may have come 3,000 miles to the East…

Cherry Wine went from last to first, taking a Gulfstream Park two-turn allowances by six lengths for the team of Dale Romans and Corey Lanerie. Not many races are won at Gulfstream with that running style, especially lately.

Rallying strongly on the turn, Lanerie tipped the Paddy O’Prado-Unbridled’s Song colt wide at headstretch and inhaled the leaders, drawing off “handily.” Trailing a moderate pace, the time of 1:44.37 was solid enough.

Todd Pletcher
has plenty of good options with Hal’s Hope winner Mshawish. Not only did G1 Cigar Mile fourth prove his Donn worthiness, he could still opt for a G1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap repeat…

Pletcher still would have three Dubai opportunities; a choice of two turf races, one at a mile, or go turf-to-dirt in the $10-million World Cup. Nice dilemma to have...

The remarkable La Verdad improved her career slate to (25) 16-3-0 taking Aqueduct's Interborough Stakes. The New York-bred six-year-old mare finished first in four graded stakes in 2015 and was second in the BC F & M Sprint, pushing her earnings toward $1.6M.

A worthy Eclipse finalist, La Verdad is scheduled to make her career finale in Laurel’s Barbara Fritchie before being bred to Medaglia d’Oro. She will reside at New York’s Edition Farm thereafter.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Record 2015 Handle Validates Gulfstream’s Elite Status

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 3, 2016—When the “Gulfstream Championship” meet began December 5 with the very successful Claiming Crown program, the winter meet officially began.

But often the calendar is everything. Saturday’s 11-race card featuring five stakes, of which three were graded and three for newly turned 3-year-olds, was the first post-holidays weekend program.

The atmospherics Saturday were different; more people in the building, more energy, more familiar faces. There were pretty women in hats and men in white shorts wearing pink Ralph Lauren shirts.

The Gulfstream “winter meet” is finally officially.

If there was any doubt by the looks of things, it was all too clear when, as the horses returned to be unsaddled following the fourth race, this was heard from the terrace outside Suite 22, a.k.a. the press box:

“Hey jock, you suck.” Yes, apparently some of the Aqueduct crowd were now in the house, too. It made me feel a bit wistful, now that I’m officially a Florida resident.

Parenthetically, whenever anyone asks, my response is always the same: “I’m a New Yorker who happens to live in Florida at the moment.” But enough digression already.

Now, as far as metrics are concerned, betting handle may be old school but will have to do until something better comes along. Gulfstream Park released its handle figures for 2015 on Friday and total live handle was a rounded $1.338 billion, a 14% increase year over year.

Since the sport’s final handle figures for last year are still forthcoming, for comparison’s sake we deducted .084 percent from monies wagered through November, 2015, which included Gulfstream’s live races, and an interesting contrast emerged.

Handle on Gulfstream’s live product represents more than 13% of total U.S. handle from all sources, which includes racing at Gulfstream Park West.

But Gulfstream’s percentage of U.S. handle would be even higher if the money coming through the Hallandale windows from simulcasting venues were included. In all, Gulfstream processed wagers worth $1.625 billion.

The larger point is that now, not just during the winter months, Gulfstream Park has reached the very top echelon of racing venues, the equal of great places like Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Churchill Downs.

And when names like Saratoga or Del Mar or Keeneland are dropped, Gulfstream belongs in that conversation, too.

Everyone knows how this industry is slow adapting to change--and that’s being charitable. Gulfstream still has its detractors mostly because it’s not their father’s Gulfstream.

But that was back in the day when Hialeah Park was still a cathedral and Gulfstream was a post-primetime afterthought, the bridge between South Florida and points north on the good-horse circuit.

It now seems assured there will come a day when the Pletchers, Browns, Motts and Clements will leave 30 head here for the summer as Gulfstream continues to grow in scope and prestige.

If 2015 figures are indicative of anything, it’s that Gulfstream Park is well on its way.

THREE-YEAR-OLD BIAS: Even if there’s not one top-flight newly turned three-year-old in my life, I confess this is my favorite time of year; watching the young ones grow and develop right before my eyes.

Every three-year-old race here Saturday--and we’re throwing in Aqueduct’s Jerome for good measure--was entertaining and informative in different ways as we slouch toward Louisville.

Grade 3 Jerome winner Flexibility looks like a potential classics aspirant, as did Awesome Speed, winner of the listed Mucho Macho Man locally, albeit with more to prove.

But it was G3 Hutcheson winner Awesome Banner who was Saturday’s sophomore star. He was dominating coming off an April layup following the removal of a small knee chip.

Shaking off race-long pressure, Awesome Banner separated himself from the group soon after entering the straight and won by a geared down 4-3/4 lengths in 1:09.57, rocking a final quarter-mile of 24.70.

All three of yesterday’s dirt races for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream were bias aided, and the inside was the place to be.

It’s not so much the bias suited the winner’s speedy style, which it did, but the surface also carried the chasers going all day long; no runner made significant ground late down the center.

Trainer Stanley Gold believes he’ll go on: “Because of his demeanor I don’t think distance will be a problem. He’s sprinting because we’re training him to sprint…certainly we’re going to try to stretch him out.”

The 7-furlong Swale seems like the logical next stop.

Lucy N Ethel was a little less impressive visually but what she accomplished is notable. In stretching her undefeated career to three, she was coming off an unbelievably fast race (“1” on the Thoro-Graph scale), shipped into a warm climate, and coming in off relatively short rest—tough on a filly.

But maybe not, too. “In her second race, she exploded,” explained trainer Ramon Preciado. “This race she was better, and the next time she’s going to be better.”

She’ll get a chance to live up to her trainer’s confidence in the G2 7-furlong Forward Gal, Jan. 30, the same day as the Swale on the Holy Bull undercard.

And that’s where we’re likely to see Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man winner, Awesome Speed. Expected to set the pace, he was bumped from two sides at the break and was forced to take a stalking position.

Approaching the quarter-pole he dispatched the leader, opened ground, then held El Charro--which made a game wide-turn rally--safe in 1:35.97 for a flat mile. The final furlong was 12.85.

“He’ll stretch out to a mile and a sixteenth but I don’t know if he’ll stretch out with good horses,” admitted trainer Alan Goldberg via cell phone. “Before the race I was thinking we would pass the Holy Bull and just try for the Fountain of Youth, but we’ll see.”

The difference maker may be that Mohaymen is pointing toward the Holy Bull but unlikely would run back in the Fountain of Youth prior to the Florida Derby or Wood Memorial.

Speaking of Mohaymen, Flexibility, twice runnerup to the Tapit gray, got a perfect trip behind a three-ply speed battle, inhaled them when ready, and drew off professionally in good time. The connections are deciding whether the G3 Jerome winner will remain in New York or ship south.

: As promised, Gulfstream CEO P.J. Campo met with the stewards concerning the late, untimely jockey switch to Javier Castellano on Marcus Vitali’s Valid who went on to win the Harlan’s Holiday.

The stewards were satisfied with Vitali’s explanation that named rider Matthew Rispoli might have been some feeling ill effects from a recent spill. Rispoli, who rides for Vitali, rode an unplaced Vitali-trained longshot earlier on the card.

Vitali was within his rights, of course, but said that he spoke with the rider well before the races began, possibly a day earlier. Campo explained to Vitali that changes should be made at scratch time.

But that doesn’t account for the fact that the stewards did not have the players back. The players are the ones who put $1.3 billion through the windows in 2015.

Joel Rosario was at his ground-saving, strong-finishing best with five visits to the circle Saturday. He celebrated on Sunday by riding Gustnado to a place finish in the second race then took the rest of the day off…

After he didn’t finish as well as Bob Baffert wanted him Sunday morning, Dortmund will opt for the San Antonio instead of the San Pascual and his anticipated matchup with California Chrome. ‘Chrome’ is headed to the Dubai World Cup following his highly anticipated 5-year-old debut.

Maybe horse and trainer were exhausted watching ‘Chrome’ work six furlongs in 1:10.03 before Saturday’s SA races. Dortmund also had Dubai on his dance card but might just remain in SoCal for the Big ‘Cap. ‘Dubai Bob’ might need a change of nickname; stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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