Friday, September 20, 2013

Another year, another milestone -- and more

A lot happens when a guy doesn't update his blog for more than a year, especially if that blog is about horse racing.

Work and personal commitments might get in the way of a blogger, but the racing goes on. And for my 2-year-old sales class of 2010 -- now a bunch of 5-year-olds -- a few milestones were reached while I was "away."

One of the more significant markers of note happened only recently, as the class broke the 400-win barrier. The total now stands at 401 wins from 2,927 races worldwide, for a win rate of 13.7 percent.

Grabbing the milestone victories were a foreign runner and something of a surprise winner in the States.

Wild Shuffle (Hennessy-Shuffle Again, by Wild Again) has come into his own as an older horse in Trinidad & Tobago. The bay gelding, bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, has a 3-8-11 record from 41 lifetime starts, but is 2-2-4 from 10 starts in 2013. His third lifetime win was victory No. 400 for the group of 187 2-year-olds I selected from various 2010 U.S. sales.

On Wednesday this week (Sept. 18), Knows How to Rock (Rockport Harbor-Unchained Princess, by Clever Trick) garnered his second lifetime win, and at a price at Kentucky Downs. Sent off at 13-1, the gray or roan gelding sat just off the pace in the mile-seventy race on grass, overtaking the leaders down the stretch and nosing out Alexander Thegreat at the wire.

Knows How to Rock was bred in Kentucky by Keene Ridge Racing LLC and is now owned and trained by Jose G. Castanon. The victory was his second -- he broke maiden among special weights at a mile on dirt at Mountaineer -- and he's had to fight for both of them, winning by a neck in his maiden-breaker and a nose on Wednesday. He has a 2-2-6 record from 22 starts for $47,319. I tabbed him one of my "steals" of the 2010 Keeneland April sale, where the horse sold for $13,000.

The sales class also boasts a new graded stakes winner and two new stakes-placers from the past 11 or so months. One has been a consistent winner throughout his career overseas, while the other found his stride when moved from dirt to turf in the States.

Previous stakes winner DELIGHTFUL MARY (Limehouse-Deputy's Delight, by French Deputy) was the sales-topper at the OBS April sale, bringing $500,000. She earned that back by the time she turned age 5, including a dead-heat for the win in the Ocala Stakes at Gulfstream as a 4-year-old and a win at age 3 in the OBS Championship Stakes. She was second in the G3 Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies-G1 at Churchill as a 2-year-old.

Dropped back into the sprint ranks, where she performed brilliantly as a juvenile, she scorched the Woodbine Polytrack to victory in the Grade 3 Hendrie Stakes, covering 6.5 furlongs in 1:15.54. The victory bumped her earnings to $588,055.

Elsewhere, Viva Ace (Macho Uno-Dancing Lake, by Meadowlake) was just a $20,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training back in 2010, when I tabbed him among 48 prospects for a bargain-minded buyer. But he's compiled an 11-8-2 record from 27 lifetime starts over the Busan track in South Korea, earning a substantial $621,276 when converted to U.S. dollars.

On May 5, Viva Ace was one of two horses to upset an overwhelming favorite (G1-winning filly GAMDONGUIBADA, by Werblin) in the Gukje Sunmin S., aka the Gukje Newspaper S. The race was won by BEOLMAU KKUM (Put it Back), with Viva Ace a game second over the favorite.

Viva Ace was bred in Kentucky by Jim Gladwell, Martha Gladwell and Crossroads Farm LLC.

In the United States, Just Chillin Boss (Sweetsouthernsaint-Aleutian Gold, by Prospector's Gamble) came to life in 2012 when switched to the grass by new connections.

The chestnut gelding had one win and no placings from six starts on dirt in his native Florida when claimed by Bobby S. Dibona for $20,000 at Gulfstream Park March 16, 2012. But the horse never raced for Dibona, moving instead into the hands of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Investments and into the training barn of Ramon Moya.

Those connections moved Just Chillin Boss to the Northeast and entered him in a starter allowance at Meadowlands on May 5, going a mile on grass. Just Chillin Boss did all the work on the front end in that race and was game to the wire, beaten just a neck by Incisive Strike.

The performance convinced his connections that Just Chillin Boss should stay on the lawn, and it was a fortuitous decision. Over his next six starts, all at Monmouth Park, Just Chillin Boss would grab three wins and place third in the My Frenchman Stakes (to former Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint-G1 winner CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE and multiple stakes winner JU JITSU JAX). Just Chillin Boss would  also set two track records on the Monmouth Turf Course (24 feet from the hedge), covering about 5 1/2 furlongs in a blistering 1:01.12 in an allowance win on July 8, 2012, and blazing over 5 furlongs in 54:66 for an optional-claiming win on Aug. 24.

Just Chillin Boss was claimed from that record-setting Aug. 24 race, for $22,000 by new trainer Gregory D. Sacco for owner Elliot Mavorah. He managed one second place run from four starts for those connections before being shelved after a Dec. 7 race at Tampa.

The Class of 2010 has earned its keep at the racetrack. The 187 prospects sold or were RNAs for a combined $6,446,900 and now have justified those bids by earning $11,841,814 worldwide. That's an average earnings figure of $68,449.79 for horses that on average sold for just $36,016.20 -- about $20,000 less than the average 2-year-old to sell in 2010.

The class has 23 stakes-placers from 187 members (12.3 percent) and nine stakes winners (4.8 percent).

You can review all their statistics, updated through Sept. 19, 2013, at the bottom of this prior post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stakes A'mighty: A new black-type filly and a return to glory for a sales-class millionaire

A 4-year-old filly donned black type her coming-out party in stakes company Saturday and a formerly injured millionaire may have found his old mojo on Sunday as my 2-year-old sales class of 2010 continues to earn their keep at racetracks around the globe.

Saturday afternoon at Calder Race Course, PRIZE DOLL stormed from off the pace to win the Ms. Brookski Stakes on turf at Calder over a field of 10 other competitors. On Sunday, GOURMET DINNER found the winner's circle for the first time since his 2-year-old season, taking the Majestic Light Stakes over the main track at Monmouth.

Saturday's victory -- her third in nine starts -- wasn't the first time Prize Doll faced stakes competition. Her connections of owner and co-breeder Edward A. Seltzer and trainer Curtis Garrison debuted her in restricted stakes company in March 2011 in the OBS Sprint Stakes (Filly Division), a race for horses that at some time had passed through the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. ring. She was last of six that day, yet beaten only 4 1/4 lengths. (Another sales-pick of mine, Take Me To Zuber, was second.)

The chestnut filly by Pure Prize out of the minor stakes-winning mare Doll Baby (Citidancer-Sand Pirate, by Desert Wine) broke maiden in her second lifetime start, for a $50,0000 tag on grass at Tampa. After a sixth-place efforts and a fourth, she began working her way back up through the allowance ranks, clearing her NW2L condition on Independence Day this year with an optional-claiming win at Calder in which she had to survive a pair of objections.

There was an inquiry in Saturday's race, too, but it was against second-place finisher Timezone and rider Jose Rodriguez. That pair was taken down to sixth, with 3-year-old Wicked Night moved up to second and 6-year-old stakes veteran Brinca inheriting the show finish.

While all the excitement was taking place in the middle of the track, Prize Doll swept wide under Manoel Cruz and took charge at the eighth pole. Prize Doll finished the mile on grass in 1:36.22, winning by a length and a quarter over Timezone but another 2 1/2 ahead of the pair who would be moved up when that filly was DQ'ed.

Prize Doll was bred in New York by the aforementioned Seltzer and 1970s teen idol David Cassidy, who is no longer an owner per the recent race charts. I recommended her as Hip 970 from the Ocala April sale in 2010, where she failed to meet reserve with a high bid of only $17,000. With three wins a second and a third from nine starts, she has now earned $59,645. She also extends the black-type history of her female family; her dam wasn't just a minor stakes winner in New York, but was a half-sister to three other stakes winners, including four-time stakes winner HALF HEAVEN ($435,526), two-time turf stakes winner LOVE COVE ($396,739) and Black Eyed Susan S.-G2 winner SWEET VENDETTA ($224,596), all of whom were bred or co-bred by Cassidy.

With that kind of family, decent looks at a 10.2 breeze, I questioned the sanity of buyers who allowed her to pass through the ring without selling back in April 2010. Still do.

Meanwhile, the last time race fans saw Gourmet Dinner in a winner's circle was in the moments after the 2010 Delta Downs Jackpot S.-G3, where he shocked the field (but not so much me) at 20/1 to collect his fourth win -- three of them in stakes company -- as a juvenile. The son of Trippi was rock-solid as a 2-year-old winning his first three starts, two of them Florida Stallion Series stakes races, before getting derailed in the $400,000 Florida Stallion In Reality Stakes by another of my sales selections, the $21,000-bought REPRIZED HALO, who  himself would eventually win another stakes race and has banked $354,660 from 35 starts.

It isn't that Gourmet Dinner hasn't been competitive since -- he has, when he was healthy. He finished his juvenile campaign with a ship to California, where he was beaten a head for third place by Clubhouse Ride (behind Comma to the Top and J P's Gusto) in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. As a 3-year-old, Gourmet Dinner was very much on the Kentucky Derby trail (despite a pedigree that to me suggests a miler), finishing third behind Dialed In (beaten a head by Sweet Ducky for second) in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and second by two lengths to Soldat in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

But an injury that took him off the Derby Trail derailed him for a full year. Gourmet Dinner returned at Gulfstream in February 2012 and failed to hit the board in two straight starts before finishing third on grass in the Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth on May 19. Another couple of turf tries resulted in poor finishes (ninth in the Colonial Turf Cup and seven in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont), so back to the main track -- and the winner's circle -- Gourmet Dinner went with Sunday's Majestic Light Stakes score at Monmouth.

Javier Castellano rated Gourmet Dinner in next-to-last of seven for much of the race and the horse responded in the stretch, out-gaming three-time stakes winner Ponzi Scheme to win by a neck. Small Town Talk was third, with 3/2 race favorite Brujo de Olleros(BRZ), champion miler in Uruguay, relegated to fourth.

The win in the $100,000 race was Gourmet Dinner's fifth from 14 lifetime starts, and the earnings pushed his career bankroll to $1,067,277. That's a pretty tidy sum for a horse whose connections, William J. Terrill's Our Sugar Bear Stable, effectively bought him for about $20,000 as Hip 277 at OBS April 2010, where the horse sold for $40K (roughly half of which Terrill got to keep) to dissolve the breeding partnership between Terrill and Ocala Stud.

G3 winner Gourmet Dinner was one of three close family members I recommended from that sale, and all went on to be black-type horses. His dam, Potluck Dinner, was a half-sister to Almost Aprom Queen, who was the dam of recommended Hip 726 RIGOLETTA, a daughter of Concerto who would sell for just $35,000 a few months before gutting-out a Grade 1 win over Tell a Kelly in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Hollywood Park and retiring after just six starts with $184,070 in the bank. Their dams were also half-sisters (all out of the Who's For Dinner mare Romantic Dinner) to the filly Decennial, another Trippi foal, who sold for only $26,000 as Hip 349, but has won five of 12 lifetime, placed among turf stakes company at Belmont Park, and earned $129,977.

That's three horses, 12 wins in 30 starts, G1 and G3 scores, three additional stakes wins, six additional stakes places (three graded) and nearly $1.4 million in earnings for a combined purchase price of $101,000.

It's been awhile since I've updated the sales class; life from time to time has gotten in the way. But armed with the knowledge that a horse I thought was unraced, Wild Shuffle (Hennessy-Shuffle Again, by Wild Again), has turned up a winner in Trinidad, and adding a couple of other new winners, the class now boasts 138 winners worldwide. That means out of the 187 recommended prospects, 176 have raced (94.1 percent) and 73.8 percent are winners.

The recommendations have made 2,163 worldwide starts, winning 305 races (14.1 percent), finishing second 358 times (16.6 percent) and third on 267 occasions (12.3 percent "shows," 43 percent total "in the money"). They have earned $9,666,381 for average earnings per starter of $55,875.03 and average earnings per start of $4,468.97.

Those would be pretty good numbers anyway, but considering bargain-hunting is my typical style and my average sales selection sold for barely $36,000 -- a full $20K or so less than the average 2-year-old of 2010, even including minor sales like primarily state-bred sales in Indiana and Louisiana -- I think the figures look particularly good and the recommendations on the whole pretty sharp. The class drew bids (sold or RNA) of $6,446,900 at the sales and should soon top $10 million in earnings; a pretty good return on investment for a game in which it's widely accepted that only about one in four horses purchased at auction will ever pay for itself. For the record, 97 of "my" 187 have earned more at the track than they cost at the sale; that's 51.9 percent, a number that could still grow a bit.

The addition of Prize Doll to the ranks of stakes winners brings that total to nine, or 4.8 percent of all selections. That isn't a stellar figure, but it's slightly above the breed average, for a price about 36 percent below the sale average. The class has 24 horses that are stakes-placed-or-better (one non-blacktype) for 12.8 percent -- about 50 percent above the breed average. And there's still time for a handful of these who are coming into their own at age 4.

Just like Prize Doll.

Click here and scroll down to read up on all 187 of those sales selections.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paulick, PETA and racing 'Luck'

Ray Paulick has done an admirable job today of trying to separate the truth from the animal-rights movement fiction about the cancellation of HBO's horse racing-based drama "Luck."

I was greatly enjoying "Luck." It was the only series on television I faithfully watched every week. I was even further impressed by the dedication to the production and its fans displayed by cast members John Ortiz (@johnortiz718), Tom Payne (@justanactor) and hall-of-fame jockey Gary Stevens (@HRTVGary), who routinely interacted with viewers and participated in a weekly #LuckChat on Twitter.

When news broke that a third horse associated with "Luck" had died at Santa Anita, there was concern among the show's fans that it wouldn't survive the negative publicity. That proved true when public pressure -- largely fueled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- was apparently too much for HBO to bear. The series was canceled.

Ray has tackled the task of unmasking PETA as one of the least ethical major charities in America. And when it comes to PETA, I'm not certain there could be a less-reputable group in America being treated by the media as though it IS reputable. I spent 20 years as a journalist and have been appalled that the healthy skepticism typically directed toward nearly every source is so often completely absent when reporters speak with PETA. I can only think of two reasons.

1. PETA is so impassioned in its position and so polished in its theatre that journalists are too readily convinced the vehemence and varnish with which the PETA message is delivered equates to veracity. ("They seem so informed and insistent; it must be true!")

2. Journalists have an admirable, but sometimes misguided, commitment to "tell both sides" of the story. That's great when both sides are making potentially valid points. It's a disservice to readers when one side is peddling propaganda that at best is loosely based in truth, at worst is often complete fabrication. When PETA is the first, loudest and most reliable "other opinion" for an animal-related story, it's too easy for a busy (or lazy) journalist to just take PETA's quotes and run with them.

For the record, PETA sneaks around. PETA twists the truth. PETA outright lies. PETA hypocritically scolds people for mistreating animals and "kill" shelters for engaging in euthanasia, while a study of PETA records shows the organization euthanizes 95 percent of the stray dogs and cats it takes in. In 2011, PETA's Virginia headquarters killed more than 1,900 dogs and cats, finding new homes for only 24. Charity Navigator shows PETA collecting $35 million in revenues last year and spending 85 percent of that on "programs," but when PETA kills almost every animal that comes into its "care," what sort of "programs" could those be? (Answer: Huge advertising campaigns, publicity stunts, lobbying, hiring staff (including convicted eco-felon Gary Yourofsky), euthanasia, financially supporting ecoterrorists like firebomber Rodney Coronado, and staging its "covert investigations" into cruelty wherever it can be found -- or merely imagined.) PETA would rather you or your children die than that your life be saved through medical research that involved animals.

Humane treatment of animals is moral and right. Taken to PETA's extremes, the notion becomes insanity. But as Penn & Teller tell us in their own "Bullshit!" episode exposé of PETA: "In any conflict, the crazier party usually wins ... which is why PETA is doing so well." (LANGUAGE WARNING: Don't view the Penn & Teller link if you have sensitive ears.)

The horse racing industry should never do anything -- NOT ONE THING -- merely to appease PETA, and neither should Hollywood. (Fat chance of the latter.) PETA is not a reasonable and grounded critic of the industry; it is not a trustworthy partner in affecting appropriate change. Horse racing, Hollywood, the restaurant business or any animal-ag business trying to work with PETA would be like offering the scorpion a ride across the river on your own back.

So if change needed to take place on the "Luck" set, or if cancellation was the only option, it should have been for valid reasons far beyond the simple fact that PETA was predictably flipping its collective wig.

Anyone who questions the ability of PETA itself or animal rights activists in general to take extreme positions unfounded in fact -- even sanity -- should read the comments under a story at the Today Show Web site this afternoon. It is being described as "abuse" and the dog "living in hell" for a 4-year-old goldendoodle to be employed as a service animal for a 3-year-old girl who must be tethered to oxygen. (The dog carries two bottles in a specially designed vest when the pair go out to play.)

Needless to say we can't be blind to the racing industry's troubles nor deaf to all criticism. The industry has serious horse-welfare issues that must be addressed.

But offhand I'd suggest there are four general "camps" when it comes to undertaking, observing and judging this effort. Two of them are serious problems; a third is our primary audience and challenge.

First, there are racing industry professionals who believe nothing is wrong with the sport. Whether through selfishness or merely wishful thinking, they believe no ban of race-day meds is necessary, no extra effort or thought given to the pursuit of safer racing for the horses. These people are the industry's biggest impediment to necessary progress. Their culture and obstructionism have clearly proven difficult, sometimes impossible, to overcome in the past.

Second, there are the industry professionals and fans who ardently believe in and support horse racing, but who equally believe that the humans involved must make every reasonable effort to protect the equine athletes. If we love and value these animals, we should always treat them accordingly. Good ideas for improving horse welfare will come from this sector; so must the energy and the sheer force of will to achieve them in the face of opposition within the industry itself.

Third, there are PETA and vocal animal rights activists. Frankly, there's nothing racing can do to appease these people. Ever. Regardless what we say or do, they are the antithesis of "preaching to the choir." Our goals as racing's advocates are to give them as little ammunition as possible for their attacks, and to provide accurate information that hopefully keeps this can of mixed nuts from poisoning the fourth group.

And that fourth group is by far the largest -- those ranging from casual fans to non-fans who are completely disinterested in the sport, but who don't want to see animals abused or needlessly suffer. These people do NOT believe (as PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk once said) that "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Most of them will eat the surf and turf. They own cats and dogs and hamsters and parakeets. They have their human-animal priorities pretty well in order. And they comprise, I'm guessing, at least 80 percent of everybody.

Billy Martin once noted that on any baseball team there will be a couple of players who hate you, a couple who would do anything for you, and the rest are undecided.

"The secret of managing," Martin said, "is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

And in a very real way, that's the secret of managing horse racing's image and trying to reverse the downward trend in its fan-base in the 21st century. Those of us who would do anything for the good of horse racing need to be the agents of progress in the sport and the buffer of truth that separates the vast majority of moderately interested and disinterested observers from the agenda-driven animal rights zealots who won't stop until there's not a single horse left being raced, nor dog carrying oxygen bottles, nor beef placed on a bun.

PETA alone will never have the power to shut down horse racing. But a willfully and woefully misinformed general public who are eventually provoked into crying out to everyone from the networks and advertisers that carry and sponsor racing to state legislatures and Congress that can crush us under the weight of government, just might.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Graded Earnings: Unfair hype over perceived Derby slight

I congratulate a writer and race fan I know only as Indulto for inspiring me to post on this blog for the first time since October.

I don't happen to agree with the lengthy first installment of his piece at HorseRaceInsider, touting a point system rather than graded earnings to determine Kentucky Derby entry. But his position is well-considered and passionate enough that it stirred me to think and to write, and that in itself makes it of considerable merit.

I just had to say after reading the first installment (Part 2 is coming today), I'm not thrilled with the notion of a points system.

Almost everyone who follows horse racing would agree there are concerns with using graded earnings to determine Derby entry, so I can't discredit someone for putting serious thought into how those concerns should be addressed. Let's say that right off the top.

Not the least of these problems is "recency;" a horse can be in the Kentucky Derby field largely or almost solely on what he did as a 2-year-old, regardless of his current 3-year-old form. Other complaints center on money earned from turf or synthetic races (which might not be indicative of dirt potential, ANIMAL KINGDOM and BARBARO notwithstanding), and graded earnings collected from sprint races that could permit entry into the Derby by a horse who has shown no ability whatsoever to win beyond, say, 7f or a mile. Then there are, as the writer puts it, these "virtual win-and-you're-in" races such as the Delta Jackpot; so much money riding on one race that if you win it, your horse is a Derby-lock (provided he's healthy) from one victory.

Points, one proponent of such a system cited by Indulto says, are more "equitable," and they "reward consistency and activity." I'm not sure I can argue. I'm also not sure that I need to.

Whether we're talking earnings or "points," the only way to address most of these concerns is through a weighting system that only gives full credit toward Derby entry for dirt races run, say, at least a mile or a mile and a sixteenth. (Because how many opportunities do early 3-year-olds in the U.S. have to go even 9 furlongs?) ... Oh, and only full credit for races run at 3. Maybe extra-credit for races run in the last month or six weeks before Derby Day. ... And discounted credit on turf and synthetic.

As HorseRaceInsider John Pricci commented after the post itself, that runs the risk of quickly becoming unwieldy. And, if you're going to do that with points, it could be done with earnings anyway -- say, only half-credit for 2-year-old earnings, etc. -- leaving just one remaining problem: "Virtual win-and-you're-in" races with huge purses; the money itself.

Pricci (who wrote the introduction to Indulto's piece) also suggests in the commentary below that "throwing money at at race might be best for the track," but might not be the best assessment of talent. ... I'm not certain that I agree. Absolutely you'll get some horses running for that dough who don't really belong -- but they won't win it, will they? Not usually.

Money has always been the incentives tracks use to get good horses in their good races, building their brand and turning a listed stake into a graded stake. It's really the only incentive they have. If a horse gets equal points for winning any Grade 3, regardless where he wins it, certainly that would create the sort of playing field that permanently favors the NYRA circuit, Churchill and Keeneland, Gulfstream and the Big 3 in California. Money will always have an appeal, but money with the attached value of Derby passage is what is increasingly bringing VERY good horses to Delta Downs for the Jackpot and Princess (the filly version), and might someday bring better and better horses -- and a Grade 3 designation? -- to Oklahoma's nifty Remington Park for a 2-year-old race like the $300,000 Springboard Mile.

The complaint, for those inclined to complain, is that it just doesn't seem fair that while a pair of races might each be a Grade 3, in earnings they are very different. The Delta Jackpot carries a $1 million purse; win it and you're Derby-qualified. ... WAYI, as Indulto abbreviates it -- "Win and You're In." ... Just stay healthy and fit and you'll run for the roses.

But ultimately THAT'S the single largest factor determining the Derby field: Which horses are healthy and fit on the first Saturday in May.

Are there horses whose connections want them in that get squeezed out? Yes, probably every year.

Are those horses key contenders if ONLY we'd let them in the starting gate? ... I'd venture to say not very often.

I discount completely Indulto's suggestion that DROSSELMEYER was somehow shortchanged on his chance to be a Triple Crown winner. That's laughable. Drosselmeyer won the Belmont that year, but we've seen several Belmont Stakes winners who were (as Indulto likes to put it) the ULTIMATE "one-hit wonders." JAZIL and DA' TARA leap to mind.

"But wait," the argument would go, "Drosselmeyer backed up his Belmont by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Um, yeah, as a 4-year-old, nearly 18 months later, not to culminate a 3-year-old campaign that might have made him a 3-year-old champion -- a champion who was screwed out of a chance to run in the Derby by that silly graded-earnings rule.

Drosselmeyer missed the 2010 Derby on graded earnings, so what was the next move by his connections? The Preakness? ... No, they ran in the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont (scheduled between the Derby and Preakness). And lost to FLY DOWN by six lengths.

That's our poster-boy for a new point system? Our possible missed Triple Crown winner had he only run for the Roses? A horse who couldn't make the Derby on graded earnings; who didn't run in the Preakness, choosing the Dwyer instead; who got BEAT in a seven-horse Dwyer; won the Belmont, but then didn't win again until May of his 4-year-old season in an ungraded stake? ... THAT'S the horse?

It's pretty clear I'm not buying.

The Kentucky Derby offers entry to 20 horses. That's a LOT -- too many, some would argue. (And they might contend that's as big a deterrent to a Triple Crown winner as anything; the Derby is overstuffed and to win it takes as much luck as talent.)

To have any faith in an argument that richly deserving horses are being left out of that 20-stall Derby gate, I'd have to see who, say, the last three in and the last three out were from the past decade or two, and assess what they did thereafter -- particularly in the Preakness and Belmont. At this stage I simply doubt that a serious Derby (let alone Triple Crown) contender has been excluded from the field based on graded earnings over the past quarter-century. Maybe ever.

Meanwhile, with much gnashing of teeth over big-purse "WAYI" races, what has the effect of those races been on the Derby field ... REALLY?

For starters, let's agree that much of nobody is going to want the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner (often 2-year-old champion) excluded from the Derby field if he's sound and fit to run, even if he hasn't amassed a lot of earnings or "points" since. (Regardless that only one prior winner has gone on to actually WIN the Kentucky Derby, STREET SENSE.) ... So it doesn't really matter what the B.C. Juvenile pays; win that and you punch a Derby ticket IF you can stay healthy. Fair enough.

I think the real gripe for someone touting the points system can be narrowly focused on the Delta Jackpot. There simply have to be people all over America -- particularly those who frequent NYRA tracks, California tracks, etc. -- who resent that little backwater bullring offering a ton of money to "buy" a graded stakes race; people who think it's muddying the waters of the Derby field by throwing a life raft of cash to a host of otherwise drowning and undeserving Derby hopefuls.

Let's see about that, because -- for the fear to be realized -- there'd need to be Delta Jackpot-winners and -placers and their dirty money in the Derby field almost every year, robbing a horse like the vaunted Drosselmeyer (who hadn't won above the NW2L condition at the time, mind you) his much-deserved place in the Derby.

Since the Delta Jackpot became a Grade 3 race, here are your in-the-money horses (and big paydays):

2011: 1. SABERCAT; 2. Basmati; 3. LONGVIEW DRIVE.
2009: 1. RULE; 2. UH OH BANGO; 3. OAK MOTTE.

Don't see much "Derby" there. Not of the "Kentucky" variety, anyway.

Obviously the "Jackpot Class of 2011" hasn't played out on the Derby Trail yet. But Sabercat hasn't run since winning the Jackpot (though he IS working) and thus I doubt he'll make the starting gate. Basmati hasn't run since finishing 11th in the Cash Call Futurity and just came back on the work tab; no threat. Longview Drive was third in the G3 Sham, but stubbed his toe in the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn last out, finishing in the triple-dead-heat for sixth (as the favorite in that flight). ... Could still get in, but if he does, he has some work to do, presently standing 30th in graded earnings. So if he hits the board or wins a close-to-the-Derby prep, hasn't Longview Drive earned his ticket?

How about prior years?

The 2010 Jackpot tote produced 14th-place Derby finisher Decisive Moment, but he also finished second in the G3 Spiral as a final Derby prep (beaten only by eventual Derby winner Animal Kingdom) so I'm hard-pressed to consider him undeserving. The other two on the board -- Gourmet Dinner (third in the Holy Bull S.-G3 and second to Soldat in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 at age 3), and Clubhouse Ride (3rd by a head over Gourmet Dinner in the Cashcall Futurity-G1 and second in the G3 Sham at age 3) were both hurt and taken off the Derby trail. But had they made the field, I'd have to think they deserved it.

(Gourmet Dinner, the faithful of this blog should note, was one of my 2010 juvenile sales selections.)

Rule, the 2009 Jackpot winner, was at the top of many Derby contender lists until injury took him off the Trail. Uh Oh Bango was fourth in both the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby and was declared out with injury for the Kentucky Derby, despite being 21st on the earnings list with a chance to draw in. He's come back as an older horse to win the San Pasqual S.-G2 at Santa Anita and place in three other graded stakes at 4 and 5, suggesting he'd have been perfectly acceptable as a Kentucky Derby starter (and really damned good for an Arizona-bred). ... Third-place Oak Motte didn't run again until July of his 3-year-old season and hasn't won a race since taking a Texas stallion stakes as a 2-year-old, but he didn't steal anybody's Derby bid, either.

The 2008 Jackpot winner, Big Drama, is unquestionably a great horse. He proved not to be a Classic-type (run off his feet by RACHEL ALEXANDRA in the 2009 Preakness), but he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint and was champion sprinter as a 4-year-old. He was NOT a Derby starter. ... West Side Bernie was ninth in the 2009 Derby, but had just finished second to a short-priced I WANT REVENGE in the Wood Memorial S.-G1 and deserved his chance. Stimulus Plan didn't return to the racetrack after the Jackpot until the midpoint of his 3-year-old campaign and was not on the Derby trail; he has come on as an older horse to be placed in several stakes races, including a pair of G3s at Calder.

For 2007, dead-heat winner Z Humor finished 14th in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, but while his "Trail" to get there was undistinguished, he did finish fourth in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 and third in the Illinois Derby-G2 in his final two preps, so his entry at Churchill wasn't unfair. The other horse in the dead-heat for first, Turf War, flopped in his Derby preps, ran in the Derby Trial instead of the Derby itself, and never won another race. Golden Yank also sputtered on the Derby Trail and didn't run for the roses, but he has eventually won three stakes races after the Jackpot (including the Oklahoma Derby) and has been graded-placed several times, earning $840K.

The 2006 Jackpot produced a trio of which none made the Derby field, though Xchanger would run eighth in the Preakness. No harm, no foul.

So I ask, where's the injustice? I can't make a case against any Delta Jackpot podium-finisher who eventually ran in the Derby (at least, not a case that he shouldn't have been one of the TWENTY), and many of those injured and taken off the trail would have been clearly deserving had they been in the Derby, particularly horses like Gourmet Dinner and Rule.

Seriously, if the $1 million Delta Jackpot isn't a consistent source of undeserving Derby starters -- and demonstrably it hasn't been -- what high-purse race COULD be?

I'm left to ask, then, whether we're not all bent out of shape about the unfairness of graded earnings, and 2-year-old races, and fat purses, and dirt vs. turf and synth, for little or no considerable reason.

More than 30,000 thoroughbreds are foaled every spring in the United States. Three years later, the Kentucky Derby tends to be run by the 20 most remotely qualified 3-year-olds who are sound and fit as of the first Saturday in May.

The brilliant but fragile, precocious, speed-favoring 2-year-olds have fallen by the wayside. So have a litany of seeming favorites from the traditional prep races: ESKENDEREYA, the aforementioned I Want Revenge, former 2-year-old champ UNCLE MO and his Wood Memorial vanquisher TOBY'S CORNER ... just to name a recent few.

Hey, differences of opinion are what MAKES a horse race. Controversy drives many good column-inches of journalism and a few positive changes to any sport.

But I really feel like we're not arguing here about whether a playoff would give us a more accomplished, recognized champion of college football than the BCS provides; we're splitting hairs over whom should be the 68th team in the March Madness field.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Spring Jump collects second stakes placing

Spring Jump and Fredy Peltroche chased short-price favorite and eventual winner Moonlit Malibu and Travis Dunkelberger all the way around the track but could never quite catch her Friday night as the pair comprised the exacta in the $50,000 HBPA Municipalities Handicap at Charles Town.

Moonlit Malibu won the two-turn, seven furlong test by a length and a half in 1:25.62, her first stakes victory despite hitting the board four times in stakes company at Aqueduct, Belmont, Monmouth and Charles Town. The place-finish was the second among stakes company for Spring Jump, who was second to Red's Round Table in Delaware Park's White Clay Creek Stakes at 2.

I shortlisted Spring Jump, a dark bay filly by Jump Start-Meg's Answer, by West Acre, on a 48-horse list of prospects for a bargain-minded client at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training. She sold there for just $19,000 as Hip 234 and now has three wins and four other on-the-board finishes from a dozen starts for $90,843.

Spring Jump was bred in Florida by Jeanne H. and Jerry M. Cutrona Sr., is owned by Dorado Circle Stables LLC, and is trained by Flint Stites.

You can follow those 48 (28 of whom now are winners, including four stakes-placers), plus the remainder of my 187-horse list of 2-year-old prospects of 2010, by clicking here.