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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Monday, August 27, 2007

From the Nafzger Barn on Sunday Morning

Up early after a Saturday evening celebration that put him in bed by 10:30 PM, trainer Carl Nafzger was walking Street Sense out for a mile jog on the Saratoga racetrack by 7:00 AM on Sunday. By 8:00 AM, he was back at his barn at Clare Court shedding wisdom.

He got really stressy in the winners circle, Nafzger reminded the same bunch of writers who crowded the Travers winner and shoved cameras and microphones into the faces of all those connected to Street Sense the day before. But, He played a little bit in his mile, the two-time Travers-winning trainer said in the what a difference a day makes vein.

You know the questions, so give us the answers, said reporter Jenny Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal, acting as emcee of the large ensembles interview. There must have been 30 writers and photographers at the otherwise tranquil pale green barn.

One of five races, Nafzger replied, including in his reply such predictable next stops as the Louisiana Super Derby, the Massachusetts Handicap, the Kentucky Cup Classic and the Jockey Club Gold Cup as well as a less obvious race the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

For a million reasons, it seemed Cajun country was next in line for Street Sense, although owner Jim Tafel, a Chicagoan, might cast his vote for the less likely Hawthorne Cup. The horse will tell us, Nafzger said. Despite the colts obvious talent, in whichever race he runs, his task wont be easy.

Nafzger believes the current class of 3-year-olds is one of the best in recent memory and, in Street Sense, that hes got the cream of the crop. The whole bunch could be the best crop since Bold Ruler, Gallant Man and Round Table, he said, and then added, Ive been around 35 years and Ive never had anything like this.

Street Sense is the only horse to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. Moreover, he is the first Derby winner since Thunder Gulch in 1995 to win the Travers. Even in this age of weak competition in $1 million races, thats a Hall of Fame achievement.

Regardless, where all this places the son of Street Cry in the Pantheon of great runners depends on ones perspective. Theres no denying that Street Senses record is deeper than Barbaros and makes the accomplishments of recent stars such as Smarty Jones skimpy. But the standards of greatness have changed, now havent they?

How much has changed in recent years, as a matter of fact, was evident in other questions that the reporters asked Nafzger. Most were in awe of Street Senses apparent durability. Although the writers were old enough to remember when horses ran more than two dozen times before retiring and carried weight, they nevertheless thought the bay colt to be a model of modern-day productivity. Nafzger merely shrugged when he heard them ooh-and-ah over how Street Sense keeps on going.

After its over, I like to appreciate it, Nafzger said, realizing that the Travers, the Derby and the Breeders Cup Juvenile come around only once in a horses lifetime. He seemed little bothered that Street Sense ran slowly the last quarter mile or that Grasshopper revealed himself as an up-and-coming threat. Moreover, he mused that the small number of 3-year-olds now willing to face Street Sense is not entirely owed to timing.

Perhaps Street Sense, like Bernardini last years Travers winner, will fall to an older horse eventually. Hes got a disturbing knack for losing interest in the homestretch and an affinity for that part of the racetrack thats most compromising the rail.

Nevertheless, for the time being, the true proof of his class is that hes one thoroughbred in 40,000 that people actually care about. Indeed, and in deed, hes a Travers winner, and that, in itself, is an earful even though everything Nafzger said fell on loving ears.

Written by Vic Zast

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Journeymen Earn Respect - Migliore and Borel Weekend Winners

Journeyman jockeys rode the winners of the weekends biggest prizes. The reference is not to having kicked around a lot, but to being comfortable in one place for a long time and then moving to another.

This was the case for New Yorker Richie Migliore, who piloted Student Council, a Midwestern carpetbagger, to victory in Del Mars Pacific Classic, and for Calvin Borel, the Louisiana Cajun who rode Lady Joanne to Alabama Stakes success at Saratoga.

Neither Migliore nor Borel are likely to get a wall plaque on Union Avenue. But, as a result of the weekend, both made the solid case that it shouldnt be out of the question.

Migliores and Borels rides were as professional as it gets for people who make their living in the saddle and certainly not surprising to fans in New York and Kentucky who have witnessed their work for the last several decades.

The win means so many things to me on so many levels, Migliore, 43, said after swinging Student Council four-wide on the final turn to break into a clear lead that a fast-finishing Awesome Gem couldnt close on. You dont know how hard it has been for me to come out here and ride and leave my family behind. But they are with me today and this is sweet, he said.

For the last several summers, Saratoga has been home for an unusually large number of talented jockeys. But The Mig as in jet fighter, was always a popular fixture. In fact, although he has not taken down the Spa riding title ever, Migliore, like Borel, has won over 4000 races most which occurred in New York.

In moving his tack from Kentucky to New York, Borel, 41, was hoping to add a lot of winners to his total and stay close to Street Sense, his meal ticket to stardom.

Ill be riding for my boys from Kentucky, Borel assured racing fans at the Saratoga Preview panel at the Racing Museum two evenings before the meet started. And I hope to catch on with a few more trainers, too, he added. Nevertheless, he has managed only slightly more than a handful of victories, certainly far less than hes been accustomed to.

On the other hand, despite limited day to day success, the likable rider has managed to dominate the action in Saratogas fanciest races. So far, hes won aboard Street Sense in the Jim Dandy Stakes, with longshot Grand Couturier in the Sword Dancer Invitational and, because threes obviously the charm, with Lady Joanne. Undoubtedly, Borels chances with Street Sense in the Travers Stakes this upcoming Saturday will be better than even money.

As for Lady Joannes Alabama, there was some controversy regarding Borels tactics. Either the mile and a quarter was too much for his Orientate filly or Bo-rail was so accustomed to being near the fence that he allowed his mount to drift there in the final strides. J.R. Velasquez, Jr. aboard Octave, thought that the winner impeded Octaves progress unfairly.

Some locals, feeling that the outsider Borel was stealing the race from the locally-owned Octave, gave out with their boos. Octave is co-owned by Donnie Lucarelli, from nearby Duanseburg, NY. Around these parts, you dont earn your props until youve paid your dues.

Regardless, all Migliore and Borel ask is that theyre given the chance. But giving two old pros like these an opportunity can make a mockery of home track advantage.

Written by Vic Zast

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Purses Not Cutting It at Anachronistic Park

Anachronistic Parker, make that Arlington Parkheld its International Festival of Racing this past weekend. Only eight foreign-based horses ran in three graded stakes on the turf. All were second-level horses in Europe but they acquitted themselves well in Chicago, providing further proof that the worlds best thoroughbreds arent to be found in the United States anymore.

There are several reasons why the Europeans dont send their best horses to race in the Arlington Million. For one thing, a $1 million purse is small potatoes in an age when more than 100 races with seven-figure prizes exist. Also, why waste the heavy ammunition when the small stuff will do?

A Canadian-based horse named Jambalaya beat The Tin Man in the Million. Racing fans at Saratoga and Gulfstream have seen Jambalaya run before, and Woodbine regulars consider the son of Langfuhr second best to Sky Conqueror on grass in Toronto.

The third-place finisher in the Million was Dr. Dino. Three months ago, Dr. Dino ran third in the Singapore Airlines International Cup and before that, his best was a victory in the Group III Prix Andre Borboin at Le Bouscat. Ever hear of that?

In the $750,000 Grade I Beverly D., a German mare named Royal Highness with four USA starts prevailed over a South African mare named Irridescence owned by Team Valor. Fresh from spending $2.2 million on a son of Mr. Greeley at the Saratoga yearling sales, Team Valors Barry Irwin must be glad that he got some of the money that he spent covered so quickly.

Shamdinan, a French-bred winner of one of five lifetime starts in France and Ireland, won the $400,000 Grade I Secretariat. The chestnut colt by Dr. Fong (this is no joke, folks) finished ninth, 35 and lengths back, in the Irish Derby before coming to Chicago.

A few years back, Arlington Park officials tried to boost the purse of the Arlington Million to $2 million, but local horsemen objected to the increase and the purse slid back to the original level. US Marine Colonel Roy A. Arnold, president of Arlington, said on Saturday that he knows a million dollars isnt enough of an incentive in todays world of international competition. We have big plans for the future, Arnold said, indicating, at least, that he didnt like being put on the spot over an embarrassing issue.

Nevertheless, with so much money being thrown around for top level thoroughbreds, its not certain that taking the Arlington Million to $3 million or $5 million will make a difference. The three graded stakes offered at the International Festival of Racing were worth over $2 million and only 23 horses entered.

For $500,000, the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga lured eight runners, which is a shade below the average number of Saratogas fields this summer, but not bad for a big stakes event. How many horses do you think will face Street Sense in the $1 million Travers?

Trainer Todd Pletcher has already declared Any Given Saturday, the Haskell winner, out of the Travers. Hes also indicated that his Belmont Stakes-winning filly Rags to Riches will bypass the $600,000 Alabama.

Luckily for racing fans, Pletcher wont be a total trainer in absentia for the rest of the Spa meet. On Sunday morning, the Green Monkey, Coolmores $16 million yearling purchase, breezed 1:00.60 at Belmont which indicates that the three-year-old son of Forestry could make his long-awaited first start at Saratoga.

To ease Pletchers decision, perhaps NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo can write a race for the horse. Something like a Maidens $10 million claiming price route for a purse of $5 million on the grass might bring him out.

Written by Vic Zast

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