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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

LONG AND WINDING ROAD ENDS WITH JUVENILE CHAMPION LOOMING AS DERBY FAVORITE

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 11, 2021 —  If the performance by Concert Tour was not an aberration, then the formerly undefeated impressive speedster may have exposed his limitations in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.

Already qualified with a sufficient number of Derby points,  there was no need for Bob Baffert to tighten the screws to the max, especially given the relatively short 21-days turnaround.

But, like Caddo River, he might need the lead to be at his best. Indeed, both runners also might have shown distance limitations as well. That will be up to their own connections to decide.

While the running time of 1:50.92 didn’t threaten the sound barrier, even with solid and contested fractions, the perfect-trip-sitting winner was closer to the pace than anticipated, which might explain a final three-eighths in a pokey 39.67. Still, it was a very good effort.

Super Stock will be interesting in three weeks. While his Arkansas Derby score likely will not vault him into anyone’s Top 5 Derby favorites, they will know he’s there as the latest of the now horses. The third race off the layup often leads to peak performance.

Trainer Steve Asmussen hurried him into the Rebel in preparation for Saturday’s nine furlongs. He promised a national cable audience that the colt would run a much improved race and he did that, in spades.

The quick turnaround figures to help Super Stock. Woefully short of condition but a game Rebel finisher, he moved forward with the added distance and a race under his belt as promised. Theoretically he should be a better horse three weeks hence.

As for Concert Tour, who knows? And the same goes for Caddo River. Undefeated Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World is a high quality speedster with enough scope and stride to get the full distance. But there are several in the Top 20 with tactical speed if called upon.

If all of them show up, a strong pace is extremely likely. Absent that, Essential Quality has more than enough brilliance and finishing power to keep any horse honest and stare him down. He had his mettle tested in the Blue Grass, passing the eyeball gut-check with class and courage.

As for the sloppy-track Lexington, which earned a much-the-best, long-striding King Fury 20 points, currently ranking him at 28th on the list, he will need an inordinate number of defections to sneak in. If relegated to the sidelines, the Derby winner can count on seeing him in Baltimore.

The biggest Kentucky Derby news this week may have been made at Payson Park earlier when Greatest Honour developed an issue. The Holy Bull/Fountain of Youth hero is back home in Ocala for a 60-day sabbatical. Figure that he’ll try catching up with the Triple Crown horses in Saratoga.

There are high profile Kentucky Derby defections every year, many involving a prominent horse. But life has not been good in 2021 for either his namesake or for Greatest Honour. So the next time a horseman says what a privilege it is to make it into the Derby starting gate, believe him.

Milestones and History Makers

If you cannot appreciate Paco Lopez’s 3,000th career victory coming at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, you need to have your sense of irony checked. Likely the most penalized rider in South Florida history, he reached a personal milestone when his number was put up, not taken down.

There was some carping on Twitter from those who thought the contact was incidental. Back to stewards’ school you go. DQ’d runner came out in deep stretch under lefthanded whipping and bumped Paco’s mount, Heart of God, twice, in the shadow of the wire. Paco lost the photo but won the war…

Trainer Michelle Lovell won her 500th race at Keeneland and her first stakes when Change of Control won the rescheduled Giants Causeway. The stakes win was also a first for jockey Colby Hernandez at Keeneland…

When Minella Times finished first in the Grand National, Rachael Blackmore became the first woman in history to win the iconic event, clearing all 30 tall steeplechase fences over the storied 4-mile journey.

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15 Responses

  1. Arkansas Derby result only enhanced my Derby pick. Concert Tour will not get 10 furlongs. He had no excuse in the lane, got run down by a lightly raced Super Stock, same for Caddo River. Who I agree with JP will only improve in Derby with added distance.

    With the injuries to Life is Good and Greatest Honour, my Derby 2021 pick is Known Agenda.

  2. That’s my lean at this point, as you know, but I won’t decide definitively until after two+ weeks of workouts, indicating track preferences and the like and, of course, the post draw in a 20-horse field.

  3. Great call in your Ark Derby preview re: what was going to happen with Caddo River and how Concert Tour was going to be made to fight on top of a hot pace.

    With regard to the Lexington, King Fury is an interesting horse. The breeding is classic, and I love how he is so willing to run inside other horses. He feels like a great Belmont horse.

    Speaking of Belmont Park, I just got my Johnson & Johnson vaccination shot today. Is there any definitive word on allowing a limited number of fans in during the meet that have their CDC vaccination card? It’s been way too long since I’ve sat in those seats. I’d gladly take a day off work to do a weekday card if limited availability is an issue. With the great purse boosts coming to that meet, even the regular weekday cards are going to be very solid.

    1. You may not recognize the place if you haven’t passed by recently. Belmont began social distancing long before Covid. The talk I am hearing around town (unofficial) is only a possibility at this point.

      1. Mark, funny but sadly true line about pre-Covid Social Distancing at Belmont. I’m hearing what you’re hearing.

    2. Doc,

      If I remember correctly, you said once you did a three-day Memorial day weekend at Belmont, with the Met Mile being a perfect ending.

      Still don’t know about fans and Belmont though sources tell me there will be a restricted number allowed into Saratoga. We’ll see what happens. I don’t think the situation with the Governor helps any of this. He has bigger fish to fry, that is if he is still in office.

      Finally, a NYT report this morning that J&J has suspended production of their one-dose vaccine when six women developed blood clots, one died, another critical condition. Check it out with you cardio and/or vascular guy, please…

  4. Yeah I saw that report on the J&J – I will be alert to how I’m feeling and all, but still glad I got the shot (odds wise with it being 6 out of 7 million dosages at the moment). Your memory is great – I used to love doing the 3 day memorial day weekend at Belmont with the Met Mile capping it off. I felt pure happiness being in the building for it.

    Mark – I hear what you’re saying. I just love sitting in the seats in the clubhouse upstairs and breathing in that fresh air, and enjoying the view of the Belmont courses which cannot be topped by any track anywhere in my opinion. But from an old school perspective, I miss when they had the barbershops where the old timers would be getting their haircuts before the races, the huge inside tote board near the entrance, and the infield tote board when it wasn’t all video monitor driven. And in terms of a nice day out, if you want to get fancy, few options top a day in the Garden Terrace. I just can’t wait to walk in again and sit in those stands. Deadass, I won’t be surprised if I shed a tear of joy, that’s how much I associate positive feelings and moods in my life to being inside the Belmont complex. I love Saratoga, and I have a lot of the same positive vibes for Aqueduct due to years of great memories going there, but Belmont Park holds a place in my heart that is off limits to everything else.

  5. Doc, in my years at Newsday, I probable covered every inch of Belmont Park. And when NYRA Vice-President, the late Pat Lynch, my first speed-figures mentor, retired, I took his seat in the press box, a glass- surrounded corner office.

    I don’t know what possessed me to do that, but it wasn’t long before I figured I absolutely had the best seat in the house. My colleagues followed my lead and it became the very unofficial Newsday office at Belmont.

    The seat allowed me to view the far turn without turning my head, just swivel the chair. Sadly, however, my first thought when I picture myself in that seat was Go for Wand leading into the stretch.

    As you might expect, grown men cried that day. I went around the corner into the press lounge, just a room with coffee, sandwiches, and the like, and Willie Shofner, who fed us all, poured shots of Four Roses rye.

    I never drank during the workday but I think I had three or four pops to settle me down so that I could return to that office and write a column. The great Paul Moran wrote his Breeders’ Cup race story right next to me which ultimately won him the first of two Eclipse Awards.

    And that’s horseracing, isn’t it? The highest highs, the lowest lows. Last year was, I believe, the third Belmont Stakes I missed live since my first, Quadrangle in ’64. This year will be my fourth, though I’m hoping to get to Saratoga. That’s probably six to five against…

    1. Perfectly put.

      Speaking of far turn, one year I watched the Met Mile from all the way near the far turn because I had somewhere I had to be and needed to beat the crowd out to Jamaica Ave. after the race. It was the year Ghostzapper pulled his jaw dropping performance and it was pure joy to see him chugging around that turn like he was a different species than the mere mortals chasing him. I’ll remember that forever – that’s horseracing.

      1. “I remember that, that’s horseracing” is also perfectly put. Sometimes I would go sit at the end of the grandstand at any track to see the horses coming off the turn, where the race really begins…

  6. Aah, nostalgia. A hundred or so years ago when I would jam a tee with ball into the ground, stare into the rising sun, note the dew rising from the grass, and watch my drive go straight down the fairway.

    Nostalgia and Thoroughbred racing? Duh? Where’s the nostalgia when you leave a racetrack with less money than when you arrived, unless you (a) don’t gamble, or (b) love to lose money? Think Thoroughbred breeders, owners, trainers, and the geeks with the computer algorithms are in this ‘game’ for the ‘pure joy’ of watching a blue blood run less than a half-second faster than the rest of the field?

    ——–

    Anyone got the early double at Philly figured out? Fifth race has a mid-priced lock. Aah, cashing tickets; now I have a bit of nostalgia floating in my mind. BTW, checkout the pedigree of the plodders in the 5th.

    1. So, who’s the mid-card lock, your followers want to know?

      Nostalgia? After a losing day at the Big A, I enjoyed many uproarious, vodka-enhanced nights at the Happy Times bar on Union Ave. in the Hillcrest portion of Queens. Later worked there as waiter or bartender, two or three miles west of SJU.

      Ah, to again be young, gifted and middle class…

      1. That’s awesome – I used to retrofit my schedule at Queens College to maximize my on track time at AQU and BEL.

        And I could have used that sure thing at Parx earlier after spewing off a bit over $300 on Indiana Grand’s opening day card yesterday. It would have been more, but I was at work at the time and didn’t really have time to handicap much. Not sure I ever played a dime super in my life, but they sound fun – maybe I’ll try one out and report back.

  7. Doubt any of the current commentators would be interested in my lock at Philly, as they do not appear to be gamblers; they seem to be interested in exotic 50 cent wagers, dime supers, and reminiscing on prior stake races.

    It’s six minutes to post and hoping that Juliet’s Music can get me rolling with ‘house’ money.

    1. People will bet how much, and in whichever pool, they wish. It’s a democracy.

      As to the lock, sounds a lot like the old dog at my homework defense…

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