A Jim Donn-dy of a Weekend
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 7, 2016—Saturday at Gulfstream Park, a horse called Mshawish beat everything thrown his way.
• He beat the handicapper who assigned him a pound less than a stablemate who has never come close to winning a career Grade 1.
• He beat Keen Ice, the only horse to defeat the 2015 Horse of a Lifetime, the field’s only other Grade 1 titlist.
• He beat the odds of becoming one of those rare animals to earn Grade 1 status on both turf and dirt, like he's some kind of 21st Century John Henry or something.
• He beat the bettors, including this one, who disrespected him at a dismissive 9-2, as if Pletcher and Velazquez were strangers to the bright lights.
• In taking command in the shadow of the high-beam lighting at the finish line, he even beat the darkness, winning the last event on a 13-race program in what his trainer thought was the
performance of the six-year-old's lifetime.
Anyone familiar with Todd Pletcher understands that he knows his horses and the competition very well, and when talking about either he’s quite correct, politically and otherwise.
But even Pletcher somewhat lowered expectations this week on one the barn’s stable leaders, which made yesterday’s nine furlong Donn score in 1:47.89 so gratifying:
"I loved the way he finished up at a mile and an eighth," Pletcher said. "That was the one thing we were looking to prove--that he could stay a mile and an eighth on the dirt. I actually thought he ran the best race of his career, really.”
Meanwhile, at Gulfstream’s sister track out West, an undefeated champion with nothing to prove, Songbird, was devastating in her three-year-old debut, winning the one mile Las Virgenes by 6-1/2 eased lengths after first opening 10 at the top of the lane. And jockey Mike Smith never once sat down in the irons.
To answer the burning question on the mind of most fans, owner Rick Porter said: “It would be nice to win the Kentucky Derby, but I'd like to do it with a nice colt... I don't like the point system. We'd have to run in the Santa Anita Derby… I think it'd be great for your ego, but the smart move is to stay on the path we're on to the [Kentucky] Oaks."
"At least now we got a race in her and we can try to make some more plans. We want to run here at Santa Anita.” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "What we do in between now and the Santa Anita Oaks, I don't know."
Rightfully, that answer is anything that Hollendorfer wants his filly to do.
But, of course, there’s another reason why there will be no Derby run for Songbird. The elephant in Porter's shedrow is Eight Belles.
Immediately after the Las Virgenes, HRI colleague Tom Jicha put Songbird’s performance in proper perspective. “Three of the fillies behind her are now pointing for the Kentucky Derby.”
A Star Is Born
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 31, 2016—It is way, way too early to start making comparisons. After all, one was a homebred, the other a $2.2 million yearling. But at this stage, it’s nice for racing fans to dream a little.
Two “horses of a lifetime” back to back? Of course, it would be foolish to think that Mohaymen would be in the same league as American Pharoah.
Or is it?
Now we’re not comparing one to the other, not at this stage. That would be unreasonable and unfair. But there is one basis for comparison: After their season’s debuts, they remained undefeated at 3 and looked invincible.
After losing his juvenile debut sprinting, American Pharoah took his undefeated record through the Triple Crown all the way to Saratoga, where another modern Triple Crown legend, the mighty Secretariat, got beat.
“Did he take your breath away today?” Rick Nichols, Vice President and General Manager of Shadwell Farm, was asked post-race. Nicholls has been picking out racing prospects for Sheikh Hamdan for three decades.
The look on Nichols’ face was that of a man to whom that thought seemingly never occurred. The manner of victory, perhaps, but never the outcome, Nicholls later admitting to “just chills up and down the back.”
And trainer Kiaran McLaughlin? “When you’re 1-5 ($2.60), you expect to win but yes, he did take my breath away.”
McLaughlin’s and most everyone else’s.