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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL — Perhaps not ‘championships’ in the strictest definition of the term but certainly emblematic of that kind of recognition. Can we at least get a wow for Hot Rod Charlie, Jackie’s Warrior, Life Is Good and Clairiere?

And at least an approving nod for King Fury?

For Hot Rod Charlie and Clairere, it was more a relief. Finally, after showing up in most of the biggest spots in their divisions, my gut reaction was, and probably those of the connections, it was an “about damn time” arrival into a Grade 1 winners’ circle.

Hot Rod Charlie became a man in the Pennsylvania Derby, both physically and athletically, even if we’re not sure what those headstretch machinations were about in the Parx’s premier mile and an eighth.

For now, we’re content to buy into the theory that he’s only playing around, swapping leads several times in the stretch. But his failure to switch over to the correct right lead at headstretch could not stop him from bearing out at the point when the turn meets the straight, carrying Midnight Bourbon with him.

I’m not sure Steve Asmussen, trainer of runnerup Midnight Bourbon, was buying into the rider’s excuse for the incident: “Flavien Prat nearly drops Midnight Bourbon for the second time. My horse ran well. He survived.”

Well that’s something, anyway.

But when you show up every time, have a high cruising speed, can kick home with authority, are gamer than Dick Tracy you are the package. Doesn’t get any better than going to the front shadowed by your main rival and improving your position in deep stretch. Hot Rod Charlie is the package.

Whether he can match up with an older bullet such as Knicks Go is a different discussion. In the meantime, the win confirmed his honesty and talent, and that he ranks among the elite members of the sophomore division.

Whether Hot Rod Charlie can now handle Essential Quality remains to be seen but at least now it’s a discussion. In defeat, both the runnerup, Midnight Bourbon, and the show finisher, Americanrevolution, ran very well.

Clairiere has knocked on doors all season long. At times she has gotten there, other times she hasn’t, but after lollygagging early, Ricardo Santana Jr. got her engaged and she swooped the group when the serious running started.

Our feeling going into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is that if Jackie’s Warrior is beaten but runs gallantly in defeat, his three-year-old body of work probably would be enough to earn my Eclipse nod.

Turning back in distance on latter-day “short rest” after such a monstrous effort to defeat a supremely talented rival in the G1 Jerkens then winning a Grade 2 with such authority next time out should be sufficient when added to earlier season accomplishments. Now the world will find out just how good on November 6 where the turf meets surf.

Given the unusual circumstances;–which kept Life Is Good out of the Classics, subsequently followed by a barn change and a climate shift–it makes the most sense that if Life Is Good is going to race on NOV 6, it should be the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Then, next stop, the Grade 1 Pegasus Invitational at 4 in late January at Gulfstream Park.

But if the ill-fated presumed Kentucky Derby favorite were to enter and win the Dirt Mile, there would be no post-season glory. If, however, he went to the Classic and won that, he very likely would be the divisional champion and possibly Horse of the Year.

If Saturday proved anything it’s that there’s a lot of racing to be done between now and the Santa Anita winter opener.

Is Life Is Good the best horse of any age in America based on natural talent right now? Will his talent be enough to overcome what is shaping up as the race of this, or many other years? The surmise is maybe, to all of it. But Life Is Good is very very good. Racetrackers call his kind a freak, horse talk high praise.

Whatever the ultimate talent level, this getting-out thing of his is worrisome. Knowing that horses run away from possible issues, it’s something to consider. Once straightened away on Saturday he was fine. Maybe it’s a “Life Is Good thing.” I believe Todd Pletcher when he says the colt’s never shown that behavior in morning trials, so we’ll see.

But what an exciting talent he is and we can’t wait to see his next start around two turns. Parenthetically, I’m a flat-mile, one-turn kind of guy. But Del Mar is a two turns. If his people decline both, there’s always the G1 Cigar Mile–better spacing into the Pegasus.

A mile in 1:34.37 is not an easy thing to do for frontrunners able to get away with 23.53 and 46.58. Easier to win a race, sure; to run faster, not so much. We’re sure to hear more about a freaky colt in the coming days and weeks. Life Is Good, indeed.


King Fury had a bit of a coming out party yesterday, thrashing dubious competition in a listed Churchill stakes for 3-year-year-olds for a lot of money. He’s ready for bigger game, not necessarily a ‘W’ against the proven, elite colts, but if Saturday’s Bourbon Trail is a measure, a class rise is justified…

Not much to anticipate coming out of Saturday’s In Reality headed for Oceanside but the Bill Mott-trained Florida-bred Outfoxed proved she was ready for the big dance with a thoroughly comprehensive score in the My Dear Girl, a margin winner while under restraint inside the final sixteenth.

She was under restraint in the early going, too, rank entering the backstretch for about a half mile in all but took dirt, was inside of horses, pulled a mini-Arazi midway of the turn, rider looking back as he entered headstretch. Good career so far:

Outfoxed was a very good third (HTW) behind Echo Zulu in debut, broke maiden in the 7-furlong Susan’s Girl then won her two-turn debut by 9-1/4. She’s definitely OK! Now it’s time to raise the stakes…

Todd Pletcher unleashed Overstep at Belmont Park Saturday, bred in New York by Chet and Mary Broman and, wouldn’t you know it, he can run. He comfortably stalked a half in 45.99 en route to six furlongs in 1:10.15 by 6-3/4 lengths, galloping in with about a sixteenth left to go.

Breeding wise guys might be tempted to call him a “fake New York-bred” as he is by Into Mischief from Uncle Mo mare, Modest Maven. Saratoga notwithstanding, you can’t be any more New York than hitting the ground in Chestertown.

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4 Responses

  1. John,
    There is something going unnoticed here,or at least not being discussed. Hot Rod Charlie was a decision away from being disqualified for the second time, both races Grade 1’s. The problem is not the horse, it is clearly the jockey. Prat for whatever reason can not ride Charlie. In addition, the Belmont Stakes showed that he is oblivious to how fast his horse is running. I have argued that his trainer should have removed him after the Haskell, and rightfully so.
    There is no way this Jock should ride Charlie in the BC. As far as Charlie being able to handle EQ, they are very close in talent.

    1. Mark, In reverse order:
      Agree that EQ and HRC are very close in talent but what I’ve seen from EQ, he has the most want-to in the waning moments of a stretch battle.
      I hear you on Prat and neither agree or disagree. The two decisions of which you speak were the same, only different. He lugged in in NJ, lugged out at Parx.
      This might be more in line with the stewards’ adjudications which, at almost all venues, have adopted a play-on stance in the face of increased race riding made popular by America’s most successful jockeys.
      I’m not a foul is-a-foul guy, there should be some latitude and judgment in the decision process. But race riding has gotten out of hand and is needlessly dangerous.
      If “intimidation” is no longer considered a violation, that section of the racing rule needs to either be re-defined or eliminated entirely. Someone’s going to get hurt out there given all the roughhousing going on.

      1. racing is imitating Nascar? Intimidation riding make me think of Angel Cordero scaring the Maple brothers, and others, at the stretch. Criticized the same jock last week when he was waiting for room inside while he had a long route closer which would not mind running a few more feet without having to slow down. Generally speaking, nice racing cards from several tracks with winners paying from $ 2.10 to Over $200 But is racing suffering when there are several competitive Football games, both collegiate and pros ? I know that there different kinds of fans but can we expect many to find times, pace, money between the King of Sports and the Sport of Kings? Because of some intriguing games, this weekend horse racing was an afterthought esp. with out of town races. PS: Please don’t tell me that PARX track has Turf ! Too dry, too dusty; that ain’t no turf, as they would say in some New York ‘hoods! If the track is mostly made of dirt, why is it called Turf?

        1. Competition from King Football is not a new issue for racing–or any other major sport for that matter. And neither is late summer patchy grass courses. I’m sure there is a point of view in here somewhere…

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