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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Old school met new school met an aspirational three-year-old, producing one of the brightest moments of 2020 Gulfstream Park Championship Meet which ended Sunday.

This was a session that FDR might have termed a race meet that will live in infamy, one over which no mortal had any control. The Coronavirus didn’t start in Hallandale so much as landed upon it, just like it did the rest of the world.

If ever there was a time for thoughts and prayers, it is now. If only for a few hours of playful distraction on a Saturday afternoon, thank every one in horse racing for putting on a great show.

In what principal owner Jack Knowlton termed the longest eight-week wait he’s ever had to endure in racing, the result of that idle time was an uber sharp Tiz the Law winning the Holy Bull in dramatic fashion, clocking the fastest time for a graded three-year-old stakes in 2020.

But with a race under his girth he was a lot more tractable for the Florida Derby, handled perfectly this time by young, rising talent Manny Franco, and the colt’s extraordinary gifts once again were on display, as were Barclay Tagg’s.

Tagg is an old master, something that a degree in Animal Husbandry from Penn State and an early racing career as a steeplechase rider will do for you if you’re devoted. Tagg is nothing if not devoted to a craft that has given him a life, something all horse lovers share.

Undeterred by a three-week break when a foot issue surfaced after the Holy Bull, the interruption turned out to be one of those unintended blessings for Tagg and long time assistant Robin Smullen. The colt’s performance said it all.

And, speaking of superb horsemanship, a deserving nod to Ralph Nicks, who clearly benefited from time spent as a top assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Nicks got Shivaree to do on the racetrack something that appeared near impossible on paper, which is why races are run in the first place.

Nicks tried two turns with Shivaree as a juvenile in Florida-Stallion Series but the experiment proved to be too much, too soon–interesting to note here that he was a longer price in the In Reality than he was against the best field of open three-year-olds assembled in the East this year.

The blinkers, which he had worn in eight of nine career starts, came off Saturday and despite exiting five consecutive sprints, he was his usual pace presence, but he hung on much longer than most expected. Nicks’ confidence and acumen might have been the training feat of the 69th Run for the Orchids.

Shivaree outran Fountain of Youth hero Ete Indien, a willing coming-again third, and Gouverneur Morris was a steadily improving fourth in what should prove a beneficial run. Independence Hall had a good trip and dead aim, but failed to handle the assignment, appearing distance challenged.

Clement Adds to Hall of Fame Portfolio

Last Friday, Christophe Clement, a 202 Hall of Fame nominee, gained a milestone 2,000th career victory. On Saturday, his roll continued, one coming in Northern Florida. If you did not witness the winning career debut of in the 4th at Tampa Bay Downs, make amends and plan to watch the video.

Malibeauty, a Malibu Moon miss, broke a tad awkwardly from her pole position, moved up sharply in hand, rated between horses three wide at the turn then, from the three-sixteenths pole home, Samy Camacho was standing up, utterly motionless–damndest thing you ever saw.

She shaded the final quarter mile in under 25 seconds…

Clement took the Gulfstream opener with Traipsing from last beneath Joel Rosario. It was the four-year-old filly’s first start since breaking maiden on the Presque Isle Tapeta in September of 2018. Prepared at Payson Park, eight workouts since JAN 30 and, voila…

Similarly, the accomplished two-year-old turf specialist Decorated Invader, not seen since his tough-trip fourth in the Juvenile Turf, benefited from a good setup and confident Rosario handling, swooping the group at the turn and lengthening his reach with every late stride.

The West Point folks have a turf monster on their hands and have the July 11 Belmont Derby Invitational July 11 as a mid-summer goal but given the circumstances dates are subject to change. What to do the interim is a question that all horsemen face.

Hitting a Homer with Vekoma?

Speaking of comebacks, we haven’t seen 2019 Blue Grass winner Vekoma since Derby weekend, but he returned with a vengeance for George Weaver.

With nine works dating back to Jan 20 over the deeper Palm Beach surface, he roared home in the final furlong to remain undefeated in three lifetime starts around one turn. The effort could serve as a very useful prep for the when-and-if Met Mile, on the when-and-if Belmont undercard.

Or this might be a good year to return the traditional Memorial Day fixture to its rightful place on the calendar. I love Event Day programs but since the Metropolitan Handicap is one of America’s most prestigious races, it rates to serve once again as a holiday headliner.

Trips Made the Difference in Pan American

Given race dynamics and an outside draw in a three-turn marathon, Tyler Gaffalione had little choice but to roll the dice with a five-path backstretch sweep aboard Zulu Alpha, a tack that would have worked had Florent Geroux not remained on his current stakes roll, but with a little good fortune he did.

Sitting the pocket astride Bemma’s Boy, the seas parted soon after the Pan American leaders entered the straight, he slipped outside without breaking stride and had a clear run to the finish without a huge loss of ground, forward momentum winning the day, and the Grade 2, in the last jump.

Will the Top Three-Year-Old Filly in the East Step Forward?

Maybe by the time the Kentucky Oaks is run in September, one will clearly emerge but until then the culling process will continue. Tonalist’s Shape had a chance to be that filly but her two-turn debut left plenty to be desired, Yes, she was hindered by a wide draw and trip but never picked up her cadence.

Spice Is Nice, who went favored because she was better posted, the dynamics appeared more in her favor than they were for the one-turn Davona Dale was driving in the far turn and remained one-paced the rest of the way.

Or maybe the wise guys simply overlooked Swiss Skydiver, a willing third to then-streaking Finite in the Rachel Alexandra, and the riders overlooked Paco Lopez, who stole the march with splits of 24.33, 49.12 and 1:13.30, before throwing an 06.43 final sixteenth which stopped rally types in their tracks.

British Idiom, a horse-playing nation casts its lonely eyes towards you.

Stable Mail, Please…

In addition to maiden-breaker Malibeauty, a few more names for the next-time list… Allurstra was a classic Z-pattern with a tad of trouble, finishing up well in Race 2, an optional-allowances… In Race 6, Bourbon Resolution finished like a rocket but only after Vekoma was on his way to the spit barn… Current ran too good to lose the Pan Am at 37-1; believe Mr. Pletcher will have a good year with the late-developing four-year-old… Lake Avenue had no chance to win GP Oaks after those fractions and did well to finish a snoot behind the good-tripping Lucrezia.

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4 Responses

  1. That might be the best race card we will see until…

    I still felt a little uneasy when so many of our friends, neighbors and former co-workers are suffering and wondering.

    BTW, I hope I missed it but I didn’t hear of any owners kicking back some of the $2 million that was dispersed Saturday to the employees at Gulfstream, who have been pushed out of their jobs.

  2. Sad but true, and a good point re backstretch employees as any donation would have been welcome. Got to love Drew Brees, meanwhile, donating $5 million to fight the virus in New Orleans and environs; God bless him.

  3. That was a very well written and thoughtfully done article John. I couldn’t agree with you more that during this time of national crisis we need something to unite us, and how fortunate we are to at least have horse racing to fill the terrible void in our daily lives as a result of this worldwide event.

    I’m not sure though exactly what you meant by “an aspirational three-year-old” unless you were referring to the horse. Maybe I missed something, but it doesn’t really matter, because it brought to mind something that should always be foremost in our hearts and minds: our children. I can’t think of anything that would unite the country more than a threat to our children.

    Thank God, it doesn’t appear that the coronavirus is all that threatening to the youngsters, but there are certainly enough really bad people around these days to cause concern. Long gone are the good old days when our parents let us walk to school, or practically anywhere else for that matter, and never had the slightest fear that we might be grabbed by some pervert. Isn’t it sad how the world has come to this? Some day these bad people may have to face the ultimate judgement and the rest of us will collectively cry out, “Good riddance!”

    I missed on Shiveree like most everyone else, and he destroyed all my tickets with the exception of my $200 win bet, but I still got hosed pretty badly overall. After the race, I reviewed to see what I had missed or overlooked, and as often is the case with hindsight, I came up with plenty of reasons why he could be a well positioned contender. If I would have had your analysis of the connections in advance I might have been laughing all the way to the bank instead of bitching about having the winner but still losing money!

    Regards, John Miles

  4. John, I found reasons after the race as well; the old horseplayer’s lament. What did cross my mind is that clunker of a two-turn debut, then five straight sprints, then that chapter from the “Old Man” in Beyer’s first book, wondering “What’s this horse doing in this race?”

    Now there were other two-turn spots, but to bring him back against what he had to know was going to be a deep and talented field, what extreme confidence Nicks must have had in his horse when he dropped his name into the box.

    Put it together with Jaramillo, speed, an inside draw and GP’s natural bias, there were reasons to include below.

    Then wasn’t Ete Indien supposed to run him into the ground??

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