HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 24, 2022 — To paraphrase Billy Joel, horsemen may be right, or I may be crazy, but the eight-figure races of winter or early spring in the Middle East are just gutting horse racing in America.
When trying to catch the bad guys, you follow the money. But if you want to do the right thing by the sport from which you earn a handsome living at the highest levels of the game, you follow heart and soul.
There were two million-dollar races at Oaklawn Park Saturday. The storied Grade 1 Apple Blossom drew a field of five fillies and mares, including one that was seriously overmatched. The Oaklawn Handicap, once a coveted prize in this country, drew a field of eight.
There are six older handicap males ranked among the Top 10 in the most recent NTRA poll. How many of them ran in the $1 million Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap? Zero.
The three highest ranked older males; Country Grammer, Life Is Good, and Hot Rod Charlie all ran in Dubai. They were among the missing in Hot Springs yesterday.
So did the ill-fated Midnight Bourbon, who ran in Saudi Arabia before his sojourn into UAE.
Unfortunately, of course, Midnight Bourbon died in his stall this week from an “acute gastrointestinal” issue the morning after a workout.
There has been no word regarding any forthcoming necropsies that might pinpoint the exact cause. In this game, transparency is thrown around like manhole covers.
Unless the race has a Breeders’ Cup designation in front of it, why would any Grade 2 be worthy of a million dollar purse?
Well, fans and bettors got exactly what was advertised, a Grade 2-caliber field while the three highest ranked males in America remained in their stalls.
This is not a disparagement of the eight horses who showed up in Hot Springs yesterday. I would be proud and blessed to have owned one of them.
The past performances indicated that two of the eight entrants last won a recent Grade 3. A third, Idol, won the 10-furlong G1 Santa Anita Handicap. As for the other five, there was not a single recent graded winner among them.
It does a racing heart good to see Dallas Stewart win a big pot with a signature longshot. But this race was so hungry that Last Samurai, a quintessential rally type, led this mundane group into the backstretch before relinquishing the lead then re-surging in the lane to win going away by nearly five.
Favorites Fearless and Plainsman completed the trifecta, but never got within hailing distance of the winner in the straight.
As for the Apple Blossom, champion Letruska flaunted her controlling speed and led throughout beneath Jose Ortiz, becoming only the fourth female to win multiple runnings, joining the likes of Hall of Famers Azeri, Paseana, and Zenyatta.
Threatened briefly by sprint champion Ce Ce before discouraging her brief bid, she later withstood the surge of developing four-year-old Clairiere, who briefly loomed a serious threat before being turned away by the defending champion. At six, Fausto Gutierrez had her as good as ever.
Letruska’s team is hoping to reverse their only poor effort of 2021, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She will be campaigned accordingly, which will prove far easier said than done. If she does make amends, she deservedly will rank among the immortal Apple Blossom repeaters of the past.
BETS ‘N PIECES
The HRI Ride of the Day at Keeneland has to go to local rider Chris Landeros aboard Market Rumor in a highly competitive turf allowances for fillies and mares. Breaking from slip 8, ground loss was virtually assured in a large field. Indeed, she did lose ground throughout but Landeros managed to position himself perfectly in the 3-path.
He moved into contention on the turn at the right time. It was time to go but he needed to save something. The filly kept on grinding, taking the lead at the exact right moment, separating Market Tumor from fast finishing Gam’s Mission just enough to win a near dead-heat finish…
Does Shug McGaughey ever get beaten in stakes anymore? First it was Kathleen O remaining undefeated with a career effort to win the Florida Oaks, but was odds-on to do so.
Scalding was 3-for-3 at a three-year-old going into the G3 Ben Ali but Proxy, Warrant and Dynamic One were all rated higher pre-race with Proxy getting away from Olympiad, Warrant turning back favorably and dropping from a Grade 1, and Dynamic One, third to Scalding in his first start in 11 months and expected to narrow the gap in his second start.
But Scalding Looped the field at the turn liking breaking so many sticks and quickly separated himself in dominating fashion going nine furlongs for the first time. Nyquist four year old is ready for bigger game with Javier Castellano riding him as if he owns him.
The HRI Trainer of the Day has to be Bill Mott for his preparation with classy eight-year-old pro Channel Maker, returning from a 168-day layup and signed on to travel 12 furlongs in the G2 Elkhorn..
Obviously, the foundation was there with a dozen works dating back to JAN 30 at condition-building Payson Park. Luis Saez poisiti0oned him perfectly, close up stalking the speed until Saez turned him loose. Flavien Prat did excellent work aboard Another Mystery to make it a photo with his well timed late run.