Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Last Words and Actions

(CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY) If you’re interest in knowing what takes place in the one and a half hours between the Woodford reserve and the Kentucky Derby, here’s the schedule that Churchill Downs socializes.

At 5:05 pm, there will be a special presentation of colors followed by the fourth National Anthem of the day. At 5:30 pm, Chief Steward John Veitch will meet with the jockeys in the Jockey’s Room. At 5:35 pm, the jockeys will pose for their group photo.

Ten minutes later, the owners, trainers and grooms will begin to walk their horses over to the saddling enclosure from the backside. In recent years, this parade has begun to look like a May Day workers’ march in China. But it’s exciting to see the contestants in the last minutes they still have hope.

Riders up happens at 6:15 pm. At 6:15.30, you’ll hear the strains of My Old Kentucky Home – tears flow. At 6:28 pm, the horses load into the starting gate. By 6:32.30, you’ll know who the winner is. Tears flow again.

The winner is most likely to come from a group that includes Dialed In, Nehro, Archarcharch, Soldat and Shackleford. But don’t count out Animal Kingdom, Midnight Interlude or Master of Hounds. Some help, huh?

Written by Vic Zast

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Wearing on Everyone

(CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY) Churchill Downs is beginning to string the races out. There will be 45 minutes for bettors to regroup and try again before the horses enter the gate for the next race. Veteran turf writer Dan Farley told me trainer Tom Proctor is a genius with fillies on the turf so that’s why I’m backing Wild Mia. Mamma Mia! – She’s 12-1.

The crowd went inside for awhile because a dusting of rain began. It arrived right on schedule and I believe that it’s over now. The sun isn’t out but the daylight has a sheerness that suggests that Louisville’s on the dry side of the front now.

Twice the Appeal is still the biggest overlay in the advance line – 10 to 1. He’s shorter-priced than Nehro, Soldat and Midnight Interlude. Dialed In remains the favorite at 5-1. Pants of Fire is second choice at 7-1.

The day’s slowing down now.

Written by Vic Zast

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(CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY – May 7, 2011) Wordly, one of several four-year-olds running against former Kentucky Derby hopefuls, took the Funny Cide Purse, the second race on the long Derby day card. The son of A.P. Indy, owned by Jay Em Ess Stable, was once thought of as Derby material, but then flopped in the LeComte and the Risen Star after running second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Cup.

Remember that when you back horses that prepped in New Orleans. Trainers, almost always, send their second string stock to the Fair Grounds or, at least, horses they don’t want to compete with tougher foes in Florida.

Thomas Allen Pauly, the gifted equine artist, visited the press box. He’s encamped on the Fifth Floor with an exhibit of his artwork – sales are slow. Nevertheless, representatives of Winstar Farm have dropped by to inspect a beauty Tom painted of Super Saver.

Speaking of beauties, Kentucky women consider the Kentucky Derby their fashion show. Even members of the press pay their respect to the institution. Visit here on any other day and the guys are dressed in tee-shirts. Ties and suit coats make them look like professionals.

For what it’s worth, a first time starter trained by the master of first time starters – Bob Baffert – won the third race. C J Russell, owned by Mike Pegram, became the third number four to win today. Number four in the fourth race is Persuading.

Written by Vic Zast

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An Odds Morning

(CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY) If Twice the Appeal was Thrice the Appeal in the early wagering, he’d still be under-priced. Official odds-maker Mike Battaglia predicted the upset Sunland Derby winner would be over bet because of the presence of Calvin Borel on his back. But 7-1 is ridiculous.

Horseplayers will have a field day on this day with this field. Although Dialed In opened this dawn at odds shorter than Lookin At Lucky, last year’s favorite at 6.30-1, if you like chalk, you can eat this piece for 4-1. Dialed In’s trainer Nick Zito appears confident, so why not?

People mistakenly believe the advance odds will change drastically throughout the day, although that’s not the history. Oh, sure, they move a point or two here and there, but not significantly. The value propositions remain constant. The threat of rain, on the other hand, could cause some money to shift late if the track comes up sloppy. In that case, Soldat, Pants on Fire and Animal Kingdom bear watching.

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks just ran through a rehearsal. She’s scheduled to sing the National Anthem. Turf writers in the media center didn’t know whether or not to stand as she sang. Like a Derby prep race in comparison to the Derby, it was just merely practice.

Return periodically throughout the day to keep pace with what's going on at Churchill Downs.

Written by Vic Zast

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Plum Pretty on Pink Day

(CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY – May 6, 2011) Not a drop of rain fell on a head at Churchill Downs and there were 110,122 that one could have fallen on. The third largest crowd in Kentucky Oaks history was pretty in pink for Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure’s celebration of Kentucky Derby Eve. But Plum Pretty, a bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro owned by the Peachtree Stables of John Fort, won the 137th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

Fort took more time to explain his emotions after the victory than it took his filly to run her race. He almost didn’t get his chance to speak from the post-race media room, as Rosie Napravnik aboard Dede McGehee’s St. John’s River made a futile charge at Plum Pretty in the last hundred yards. The two leaders and, more importantly, the horses behind them looked a little bandy-legged at the finish. But, it’s not how you look winning but whether you win or not that counts.

Bob Baffert, no stranger to the winner circle beneath the twin spires, is Plum Pretty’s trainer. His main man, Martin Garcia, was in the irons. Their work had the crowd wondering if Midnight Interlude would bring Baffert an Oaks/Derby double. That won’t happen for Garcia because Victor Espinoza will be riding in his place.

Oaks Day was exciting from the sixth race on, although there were several confusing moments. The Gr. 2 La Troienne Stakes was renamed the Eight Belles and the Gr. 3 Louisville Handicap the La Troienne. The whole grandstand expected Regal Ransom’s number eleven to go up in the Gr. 3 Alysheba. But it was First Dude’s seven that went up instead. The Baffert/Garcia partnership was involved in First Dude’s defeat of Regal Ransom and in Plum Pretty’s defeat of St. John’s River.

Blind Luck, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, won the La Troienne. She went down to her knees at the start but gathered herself, settled in the back of the pack and began her trademark stretch as if nothing adverse ever happened. Rival Unbridaled Belle, two for two on the strip, finished second. The result was received very favorably – in fact, ectastically.

Victoria’s Wildcat, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, took the Gr. 3 Eight Belles. Ironically, Eight Belles’ trainer Larry Jones had the favorite Joyful Victory in the Oaks. Jones was just a bit less interested in giving a trophy away than in receiving one.

Vic Zast will be posting updates from Churchill Downs throughout the day tomorrow in Fast Words.

Written by Vic Zast

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BallHype: hype it up!

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