Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Best ... blog ... ever

At the risk of getting all "Blood-Horsey" with my use of an Interwebs-styled headline, I find it necessary in order to sufficiently hype the following contribution to the blogosphere.

And no, the contribution is not mine.

"Malcer," a regular reader of this blog (as I'm a follower of his) is a 26-year-old student in Germany, and author of The Dresden File, a horse racing-oriented blog with a global vision.

While I was up to my eyeballs in work being a fill-in sports editor at my daily newspaper last week, Malcer was busy delivering -- as the headline here suggests -- the best ... blog ... ever. Or, at least in my opinion, the most entertaining series of blog posts since I joined (and began paying attention to) the horse racing blogosphere back in May.

Yeah, that's a small window of time. But his series is worthy of the praise.

Malcer provided us with his top-10 list of "World's Weirdest Racetracks." I won't detail them in any way; he handled that quite nicely. I'll just list them for you here, and encourage you -- if you haven't seen them already -- to click all the links and read his work. Each post really is a gem. (You might want to read his intro to the series first.)

Without further ado, The Dresden File's list of the 10 "World's Weirdest Racetracks:"

1. Newmarket Racecourse (England)
2. St. Moritz Racecourse (Switzerland)
3. Laytown Strand Races (Ireland)
4. Goodwood Racecourse (England)
5. Champ de Mars (Mauritius)
6. Happy Valley Racecourse (Hong Kong)
7. Birdsville Races (Australia)
8. Pontefract Racecourse (England)
9. Hamilton Park (Scotland)
10. Pukekohe Park (New Zealand)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

News mostly good from Colonial spill

A source at Colonial Downs confirmed this morning that -- other than the horse whose breakdown started a five-horse, five-rider spill Monday night at the track -- everyone, human and animal, seems to come out of the wreck OK.

Darrell Wood, director of marketing at the New Kent, Va., racetrack, said in a response to an e-mailed inquiry that, "the riders came out okay considering."

Christian J. Olmo was rider of Win the Appeal, a 4-year-old maiden gelding who broke down at the three-eighths pole of the sixth race, causing the pileup of horses behind. Olmo, according to Wood, was transported to Medical College of Virginia after the accident.

"He was conscious and there were no neurological issues as of last night," Wood reported this morning. "They were looking at his arm."

Wood expected another update on Olmo later today.

Horses Native's ReturnPapa ImSaratoga Gem and Junk Yard Jack all were unable to avoid the downed horse, unseating their riders in the process. Their four jockeys -- Josean G. Ramirez, Andria Terrill, Eric Vera Rodriguez and Christopher VanHassel-- "remained at the track but did not race again in the final four races last night," Wood confirmed. VanHassel, Terrill and Ramirez all took off mounts, seven total, for the remainder of the night. Rodriguez wasn't scheduled to ride again.

"The other four horses that got loose came out okay," Wood reports.

Even-money favorite Bullet Dodger, who had the lead from the gate, won the race.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Five horses, riders down at Colonial (updated)

Keeping an eye on Colonial Downs tonight via charts only from a state away, I make sad and nervous note that Race 6 at the track was marred by what must be one of the bigger spills of horses and riders you will see at a racetrack outside of one of NASCAR "Big Ones" at Talladega.

Five horses and riders -- nearly a sixth tandem -- failed to finish the race after one horse broke down at the three-eighths pole. (Equibase chart.)

According to the chart -- I've yet to see video and I'm not sure that I care to -- 4-year-old maiden gelding Win the Appeal broke down with three eighths of a mile to go in the 5 1/2-furlong turf event, taking rider Christian J. Olmo to ground with him. In the pileup, Native's Return "stumbled over a fallen horse" and unseated Josean G. RamirezPapa Im "fell over a fallen horse near the three-eighths pole" and spilled apprentice Andria Terrill; first-time-starter Saratoga Gem, who was "outrun" to this point, "unseated his rider (Eric Vera Rodriguez) when stumbling over a fallen horse midway on the turn," and Junk Yard Jack and Christopher VanHassel "trailed and fell over a fallen horse" near the three-eighths pole.

According to the chart, Tom Foley and eventually seventh-place Here Comes Stormy jumped a downed horse, nearly sending Foley out of the irons. Stevica Djuric was able to check up Wada Zany Day between horses and miss the melee, going on to finish fifth.

The race was won by Malcolm Franklin aboard the Phil Schoenthal-trained Bullet Dodger, who was the even-money favorite and -- by leading throughout -- was able to live up to his name on this night.

Unlike NASCAR, where I'm convinced a certain (sometimes significant) percentage of the fans are on-hand for the crashes as much as the racing, nobody ever likes to see this sort of tragedy among the horses.

I've yet to notice any condition reports on either horses or riders. In a spill such as this, it's probable one or more of the horses have been put down, and of course the riders who go to ground are at great risk, as well.

My prayers go out to all -- horses, riders, and other connections -- and if I get further news, I'll pass it along.

Update: Andria Terrill was due to ride Grantor in the seventh and Purely Precious in the eighth race and was off both mounts. She had just won Race 5 aboard Marciella before she fell in Race 6.

Josean Ramirez, who had won Race 2 aboard Hell of a Bell, was taken off three mounts after the spill. 

Chip VanHassel was to have ridden Fundit in Race 8 and Undeniable Sin in the 10th and did not.

It appears that Christian Olmo and Eric Rodriguez had no more mounts scheduled on the card after Race 6, in which they fell.

'Prospects' do not a racehorse or broodmare make

I have reached the conclusion that perhaps the most misused term in the thoroughbred business is the word "prospect."

Either the word is getting tossed out like candy from a parade float or it's getting dropped from conversation entirely at times when its use would actually be appropriate or necessary. Sometimes I might even be guilty myself.

The notion comes to me upon reading the Virginia Thoroughbred Association's blog this morning. The post in question tells the story of a Virginia-owned filly -- Funny Moon -- who became a Grade 1 winner over the weekend by taking the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park.

My sincere congratulations go out to the winning connections, who I hope don't take this post as a criticism of their filly; it isn't.

But the retelling of her story -- from yearling purchase to G1 winner -- also offers a forecast of her second career as breeding stock, a projection that demands the use of the aforementioned word "prospect."

VTA Blog writes: "Easter purchased two fillies for McNeely at the 2007 Saratoga yearling sale. Funny Moon, by Malibu Moon out of Fun Crowd by Easy Goer, cost $175,000, and Saturday she became a first class broodmare while repaying her purchase price with the $180,000 winner’s share of the C.C.A. Oaks’ purse."

At the risk of sounding a bit like Mr. Rogers, can you tell, kids, where the word "prospect" is missing in the preceding passage? ... I think you can.

It's possible that the VTA Blog accidentally left out the word. I do it over here sometimes, and have to go back later and correct myself. I type around 100 words a minute and sometimes my fingers still can't keep up with my thinking. Errors and omissions do occur. So I apologize if the intent of the blogger was to write something a bit less definitive about the mare's future as a producer.

But it's worth noting that winning a Grade 1 race does not make a filly a "first-class broodmare." It makes her a "first-class broodmare prospect."

Tossing in the word "commercial" wouldn't hurt, either.

Certainly Funny Moon elevated her stock considerably with the Grade 1 win.

(And every 3-year-old filly that wins a G1 this year should thank their lucky stars Rachel Alexandra has aimed her guns at the boys a couple of times instead. ... I'm just sayin'.)

If I were the owners if this filly, I'd almost certainly plan on selling her first couple of foals. She's by a $40,000 sire with a strong reputation, and her dam, though unraced, has produced at least two other blacktype foals, including multipe-stakes winner Throng (Silver Deputy) and the Aqueduct stakes-placed filly Home Crowd (Came Home).

The prices should be high for the first two or three babies from Funny Moon (provided they aren't terribly crooked), especially if the connections have selected wisely from the available stallion offerings.

But once Funny Moon's foals start running, all bets are off.

Could be the first few foals run very well, and the racing expectations and resulting prices for Funny Moon's offspring just keep rising. Or, she could be like Winning Colors (one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby) or Hall of Famer Bayakoa or any number of other mares who never quite (or at all) produce foals that can run like their dams ran.

Then again, there are other mares that produce tremendous race winners despite modest pedigree or personal race performance. But that doesn't make every thoroughbred with ovaries a "broodmare prospect," at least, not for racing purposes.

Yet day after day, I see ads touting off-track mares -- or, worse, unraced, incorrect, or unsound mares, often from demonstrably untalented families -- as "broodmare prospects." Maybe the owner is thinking of any selling point he can in hopes of finding the mare a new home.

But many of these mares -- while they might make wonderful companion horses, trail-riders, or even mounts for more athletic pursuits like eventing -- shouldn't have the words "broodmare prospect" anywhere in the advertisement unless prefaced with the word "marginal."

Be certain of this: I'm not a pedigree snob. I'm not one to dismiss a mare merely because she lacks an obvious "page," or significant individual racing history.

My own small broodmare band is composed of two mares that earned no blacktype of their own and aren't from stellar pedigree; the family of one is downright obscure. But I pride myself (or hope to prove myself at least) on trying to find diamonds in the rough, inexpensive mares and racing prospects who are being ignored because so many buyers are swayed by fashionable names and lines, or who get starry-eyed and loose with the wallet upon seeing blacktype anywhere on a page without due consideration to what that blacktype means and how much it really should be credited or discounted in the evaluation of the particular mare or foal that's for sale.

In any event, until a given skill or career aptitude is proved, a horse is merely a "prospect." You can only hope that yearling or 2-year-old in training you bought is going to pan out as a racehorse. You might spend $3,200 on a yearling and watch him win the Breeders' Cup Mile (Singletary) or $16-odd million and see the horse do much of nothing at the racetrack (The Green Monkey).

(Ask yourself what it says about our breeding business that the former is standing for $2,500 in California while the latter stands for an advertised $5,000 in Florida, billed as a "world record setter" -- they forget "for biggest auction bust" -- and "the one they all wanted.")

Similarly, winning a Grade 1 race absolutely sets up Funny Moon as a mare whose foals will likely be big-sellers in a few years, especially since (we hope) the general economy will be back on the rise.

But we won't know whether she'll qualify as a "first-rate broodmare" until she's 10 or 12 years old; certainly not at 3, a day or two after her first blacktype win.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sutherland, plus Parabola, times two: Is that the formula for another wild win in the Breeders' Stakes?

When Parabola begins the anticipated march from his stall at Woodbine Racetrack a week from today in preparation for the Breeders' Stakes -- last leg of the Canadian Triple Crown -- his connections will be hoping for a much less eventful afternoon than his most recent race, but with equally good results.

The 3-year-old Trajectory gelding won his last out on July 8, but not until after creating a ruckus in the outdoor saddling enclosure for Woodbine's turf course. The frantic horse seemed likely to have left his race in the paddock. But owner Janet Jeanpierre credits jockey Chantal Sutherland -- who'd never ridden Parabola prior -- for keeping her cool so that the horse could regain his, and could go on to win the race.

Jeanpierre is convinced there isn't a better rider in the Woodbine colony.

"Chantal is the best jockey here at Woodbine, although second in the standings," she wrote in a response to the Fugue's inquiry about her horse and his rider. "The favorites usually go to Patrick Husbands."

Husbands has earned his reputation as Canada's premier rider, notching his record-tying sixth Sovereign Award in 2008 as the country's best jockey. His mounts have won both the Canadian Triple Crown (Wando, 2003) and Triple Tiara (Sealy Hill, 2007). And, Husbands at this writing leads Sutherland in the jockey standings at Woodbine with 85 wins from 425 mounts to her 63 wins from 408 mounts.

But Sutherland might be the personification of the vintage Avis rent-a-car campaign -- that nobody tries harder than the person in second place.

"Chantal has an incredible work ethic. ... She is always ready to breeze horses," Jeanpierre writes. "She tries every time, even with the long shots. ... I'll tell you, when a horse Chantal is riding crosses the finish line, it staggers. She gets everything out of her horse. She is a really strong rider."

That's the sort of rider Jeanpierre saw when she watched Sutherland win the recent Bison City Stakes, second leg of Canada's Triple Tiara, aboard 3-year-old filly Dance for Us, who is trained by Parabola's conditioner, Barbara Minshall. It appeared as though the race might be stolen by a 48/1 long-shot maiden, Flashy Got Even, but Sutherland's shrewd riding aboard her filly gave Dance for Us the chance to get up and win -- and she did, by a hard-fought nose.

"When the two top fillies who were 1-2 in the (Canadian) Oaks elected to run in the Queen's Plate, my trainer entered Dance For Us," in the Bison City, Jeanpierre writes. "Chantal made a key move in the middle of the race that put the filly in a position from where she could win the race (and) she did. ... My trainer credits that move Chantal made with the win.

"Dance for Us and Parabola run in very similar styles," Jeanpierre continued. "When I saw what she did with 'Dance' in the Bison City, I told my trainer that I would love to get Chantal on Parabola. Fortunately she rode for us (July 8)."

Fortunate indeed, at least according to the results. Especially when the day looked like it could be finished early for Parabola, who came into 2009 as one of the "futures" favorites for the Queen's Plate, first leg of Canada's Triple Crown.

Parabola ended his juvenile campaign with a victory in Woodbine's Kingarvie Stakes going a mile and a sixteenth on Polytrack, and for a time was in the top five horses to watch, according to Woodbine's Web site. But the gelding finished last in both of his early prep races -- the seven-furlong Queenston and the 8 1/2-furlong Marine S.-G3 -- and his connections were left scratching their plans for the 'Plate and scrambling for answers.

A thorough vetting of the horse discovered evidence of a sneaky, but serious infection, even though the chestnut gelding had shown no symptoms such as coughing or "snots," Jeanpierre said.

"At least we have a reason for him stopping so badly," Jeanpierre wrote at the time.

The infection seemingly cleared, Minshall pointed Parabola to the Charlie Barley Stakes, an overnight race set for a mile on turf the day prior to the Queen's Plate. But the race was taken off the grass course, run at a mile and 70 yards on the main track, and again Parabola straggled home in arrears.

Change was in order, so Minshall again tried to get the horse on the grass, and in lesser company. Because of her ride aboard Dance for Us in the Bison City, Sutherland was booked to ride Parabola in the mile and a sixteenth test on turf.

"After all the setbacks Parabola had for his first two races, and then the puzzler of the third, we dropped him way down in class into an allowance, non-winners of three lifetime and restricted to Ontario-sired horses," Parabola's owner, Jeanpierre, said. "He was the only 3-year-old in the field."

Prior to the July 8 race, Parabola was schooled in Woodbine's spacious outer paddock, which serves the turf course. He "had been great" in the schooling, Jeanpierre recalls.

"But this was his first race from the outside paddock," she said. "He went ballastic and got really angry. His groom couldn't control him and when the pony person went to grab him and walk him, he reared and broke away."

Horse Canada reports that Parabola threw Sutherland in the paddock. Jeanpierre said Parabola "ended up running around for several minutes trying to jump out into the parking lot. Thankfully, no one and no horses were hurt."

But the trouble wasn't over. During his misbehavior, Parabola had sprung two shoes and had to be reshod, holding up the race. Then he gave the starters grief at the gate.

"Bless Chantal Sutherland, who just rode him as if nothing had happened before the race," Jeanpierre said. "He was running easily in fifth down the back stretch. Chantal had him in third at the top of the stretch and he just kept on rolling by the horses, winning going away."

Parabola won by a widening length in 1:41.17 for the 8 1/2 furlongs on grass. Jeanpierre said his Beyer Speed Figure for the race was an 82, but after all the problems leading up to it -- not just the mayhem in the paddock, but the three clunkers he ran prior -- his performance had to seem scintillating.

Parabola has now won three of 10 lifetime for $140,511 (U.S.) for his breeder and owner, Jeanpierre.

Minshall and Jeanpierre planned to turn the horse out for a bit of rest, but he came out of the race quite well, and had handled the turf admirably, so they started looking for the next test.

Few races in the coming weeks at Woodbine could be more of a step up than the Breeders' Stakes: last race of the Canadian Triple Crown; a $500,000 purse; 12 furlongs on the lawn; and the top two finishers from the 10-furlong turf Queen's Plate -- Eye of the Leopard and Mr. Foricos Two U -- are among the 21 nominations, although it's anyone's guess who'll actually go to post.

Beyond the competition, the race conditions will be a tall order. Few horses are asked for a mile and a half these days, and not all of those that are asked will answer with authority. But Minshall and Jeanpierre have a degree of confidence in their horse. Although Parabola's sire, Trajectory, was essentially a miler, the gelding's dam, Flying Tabriz, was both a turf winner and a daughter of Turkoman, a classic-distance Grade 1 winner and a distinct stamina influence in pedigrees.

Regardless whether Parabola proves himself at the distance, Jeanpierre is pleased that Sutherland is scheduled to breeze her horse on Sunday, as she did the week before, and that the jockey seems committed to him for the race.

"A lot of jockeys would have refused to ride Parabola after his pre-race antics. Or, if they had ridden him, would have just wrapped up on him as soon as he left the gate. Based on his 2009 form, no one would have known," Jeanpierre says of that July 8 victory.

"Not Chantal. she rode him as if nothing had happened. She is a very courageous rider with excellent instincts."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

AP's horse racing interests: Girls, girls, girls

Working the sports desk this week as a vacation fill-in, I used the opportunity last night to get horse racing on three pages of today's daily paper. In the process, I learned what it is that gets the Associated Press interested in horse racing.


I'm at least half-serious.

Rosemary Homeister Jr. -- who reportedly tried her luck at Delaware Park earlier this year and couldn't get any mounts -- headed for Colonial Downs, instead, and has come away a big winner. Homeister has what would appear to be an almost insurmountable lead in the standings for the jockey title at the New Kent, Va., track. At this writing, she has 45 wins during the meet, with Sheldon Russell 14 in arrears at 31 and only five cards left to race. Russell would have to average three wins per day and Homeister would have to get shut out for the title to go Russell's way.

No, I'm sure not trying to jinx her.

More historically important, Homeister with a pair of wins on Monday's card passed Patricia J. Cooksey to claim second place on the all-time list of wins by a female jockey, with 2,139. Now only Julie Krone has won more races than Homeister among female jockeys, though with Krone's mark standing at 3,704, Homeister herself, now 37 years of age, said she doesn't plan to ride long enough to pursue the record.

And that caused the AP to take notice, at least after Colonial sent out a press release to that effect.

Homeister collected the Cooksey-passing win aboard Gambles List in the third race Monday (pictured). She later won aboard Out of Our Mine.

Of course, Homeister has plenty of race-riding bona fides beyond the sheer number of victories in the irons. Among them: She became the first female to win the Eclipse Award for apprentice rider (1992); She is only the fifth woman, and the most recent, to ride in the Kentucky Derby (Supah Blitz, 2003); and at least until Hialeah Park reopens (if it reopens), she remains the only female rider ever to win a jockey title there (2001).

So clearly the AP was interested a horse racing story if it focuses on the accomplishments of female jockey. It isn't exactly man-bites-dog, but it isn't your everyday racing story, either. ... Though the wire still didn't move a new photo where you could see Rosemary's face; I had to dig one up from 2003. (And, as an AP photo, I can't repeat it here, unlike the Colonial promotional handout, which was shot by Coady Photography.)

To cap the girl-power angle, Rosemary's tie-breaking ride was aboard a filly, too. And, of course, the biggest horse racing story of the year is that of a filly, Rachel Alexandra.

As for what else from the horse racing world that I squeezed in the paper, I got Del Mar's opening day news in a rundown of briefs on Page 2. Unfortunately, that included not only the Oceanside Stakes win by Afleet Eagle, but the spill that proved fatal for 8-year-old gelding Mi Rey(ARG) and left jockey Rafael Bejarano with facial fractures. (Unfortunately, you gotta take the bad with the good.) And, I shoehorned the NTRA Thoroughbred Poll in the agate.

Anyway, I guess we know what will get horse racing back on the sports pages: More emphasis on the ladies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

N.Y. stallion Badge still on the market

From the looks of things, a stud farm still has opportunity to buy the ex-New York stallion Badge, and at a price that gets better each time I check.

As I noted on June 13, the 13-year-old stallion was posted for auction at The price then was $20,000, which I speculated was too high.

Today, it appears to be down to $9,500. In this sorry economy, even that might be asking too much, but if someone were to acquire this stallion who has been standing at Foggy Bottom Farm, I really believe they'd be getting a nice horse.

Badge (Air Forbes Won-Revenge Time, by Raja's Revenge) was a winner at 2, a Grade 3 winner at 3, and finished a gutsy third in the 1999 Preakness behind Charismatic and Menifee.

At stud, Badge has thrown some nice winners -- most notably stakes-placers Heathersdaddysbaby (13 wins, $327,059) and Pretty Partisan (11 wins, $255,730). Statistically, he upgrades his mares, with his foals performing a little above the breed average in earnings despite a broodmare band that otherwise has been a group of relatively poor producers.

And, he has a pedigree that I like: A Bold Ruler-line sire out of a Bold Ruler-line mare (4x4) and neither of those lines via Secretariat or Seattle Slew, making him an excellent linebreeding opportunity for mares carrying those popular stallions. He's an outcross for Mr. Prospector, and only carries one line to Northern Dancer, who appears in Badge's fourth generation as the sire of Look North, dam of Raja's Revenge.

Obviously it's proving tough for Badge to find a new home. But I would think that a sire of some rugged runners, as Badge has been, would acquit himself pretty well in a smaller U.S. market (New Mexico, perhaps) or in the Caribbean or South America.

If you buy him and he doesn't pan out, well, you can always blame me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday musings: How 'bout that Va. Derby? And the sad state of horse racing publicity?

I'm tied up beyond belief for about eight days playing sports editor in addition to my normal job, which is boss of everybody in our dwindling newsroom at my local paper.

But at least that gave me an excuse to squeeze horse racing into Sunday's paper.

It also gives me cause to pause and gripe about the sorry state of general-audience racing journalism in the U.S.

On Saturday, two horses battled tooth and hoof for the second straight meeting, with Battle of Hastings again emerging the victor by a narrow margin over Straight Story in the Virginia Derby-G2. The pair had previously thrown down the gauntlet for the final furlongs of the Colonial Turf Cup-G2 in June, with similar results.

Now Battle of Hastings is poised to perhaps become the first horse to win the Grand Slam of Grass -- a four-race series that includes his recent two victories at Colonial Downs, plus upcoming dates in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and, if he's deemed fit and ready, the Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita. If Battle of Hastings could win both the Secretariat and, against elders, the B.C. Turf, he would win a pot of purse money and incentives worth $5 million.

The Associated Press sent me 7 inches of copy on the race, with no quotes. (I know the horses don't talk, but the trainers and jockeys do.) And, the AP moved no photos. ... Nada. Zero. Zilch.

Searching the AP sports wire for items related to anything named "derby" in the last month or so, I received a story of similar length (also no photo) on the Rainbow Derby from Ruidoso Downs, where Inseperable won that Grade 1 race.

Also under recent "derby" coverage at AP: A nearly 20-inch story on Prince Fielder winning the Major League Baseball All-Star Home Run Derby, complete with 70 related photos -- seven ... zero ... seventy -- three of them art of not-even-the-latest American Idol winner, David Cook, singing prior to a virtually meaningless skills exhibition on the evening before a virtually meaningless baseball exhibition game.

(I used to be one of the biggest baseball fans you'd ever meet, by the way. A dozen reasons in including labor strikes, umpires who can't call strikes, and generally Bud Selig -- particularly his handling of the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in a tie, showing just how meaningless MLB had decided that game really was -- have sealed the "great American pastime's" fate on my sports radar.)

Among the remaining odd conglomeration of items filed under "derby" were: four photos from a children's fishing derby in Little Rock, Ark.; two pictures of the late Lawyer Ron (who didn't win the Kentucky Derby, but the fact he ran in the race the was apparently AP's reason to mention his death); two pictures from the Worland (Wyo.) Demolition Derby; a story just as long as the Virginia Derby piece about a company promoting lawn mower demolition derbies in Kentucky; and a couple of pics of Mine That Bird, one a "mugshot" to go with a brief about a promotional visit he's making to New Mexico, and one a pre-Preakness workout file phoot to illustrate the story of Magna Entertainment's bankruptcy.

Oh, and seven pictures from the Kingfisher Derby -- one of the most prestigious races in India, Bangalore, to be exact, with its purse of 12,500,000 rupees ($256,305, which actually is a pretty good chunk of change). ... I'm not sure whether a story moved to go with those photos, and the winner, Aboline, was unmentioned and not pictured. Maybe it was supposed to be a feature package just for color.

Point is ... what the bloody hell?

I know horse racing has fallen on hard times in gaining the public's eye. But have our top races not on the Triple Crown trail really slipped to equal in the ranks with AP's "BC-ODD" news like lawn mower derbies? Fewer photos sent than those from an Arkansas fishing derby where nobody outside of Little Rock -- and probably few of the 185,000 people in Little Rock -- even know any of the kids in the pictures?

I know the D.C. papers have probably dropped virtually all racing coverage. (I met laid-off Washington Post turf writer John Scheinman at a past Virginia Derby; a heckuva a nice guy and a very good handicapper.)

But the Richmond Times-Dispatch was on hand, and a butchered version of its story was probably what made the wire. (Though it could've been the butchered version of something from the Daily Racing Form.) ... And the Times-Dispatch had photos; why would that paper not move pictures for other AP members? And why -- when they failed to do so -- wouldn't the AP national sports desk rattle the Times-Dispatch's cage to obtain a photo?

Because just about nobody cares anymore, that's why.

I'm convinced it isn't just or even primarily because of doping and horse welfare issues, and it isn't only the fact that not everybody gambles (and many of those who do prefer casino games). It isn't largely the introduction and rise of other sports (soccer, NASCAR) to steal the limelight.

It's all those things, yes. But more.

I think horse racing's decline is just as much because those whose job it was and is to market racing dropped the ball along the way. And kicked that ball backwards about half a century. And sent nobody back to get the ball and run his ass off to catch up.

More on that rant later. Back to laying out a sports section in which nostalgia and tradition -- Tom Watson nearly winning the British Open at Turnberry -- is what still has the sports world buzzing from an otherwise fairly quiet weekend.

Quiet, and yet a pretty nice gelding wins a knockdown, drag-out race over a horse who is becoming his arch-rival, to put himself halfway to earning $5 million, and it was almost as if a tree had fallen in the forest with nobody there to hear it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jokes by the humorless: The 'OMG' saga

With 24 hours or so to reflect on the oh-so-slight Internet phenomenon (within the horse racing world only) that one post of mine has become, I'm compelled to try and wrap it all up in a tidy package with ribbon and a bow and set it aside. But I'll admit, bows are for decoration only, and a little tugging at the ends later could result in reopening the box.

I'm more than willing to believe that Ron Mitchell, who writes the "Tracking Barbaro's Brothers" blog at, was making a joke when he relaxed his journalistic formality for a moment (as we all do occasionally) and clacked-out the headline "OMG! Nicanor Scratched Due to Leg Injury when reporting the scratch of Barbaro's baby brother, Nicanor, from today's Virginia Derby.

Whether I wasn't amused is a result of my just being dumb that way, or the joke's being a clunker, or a measure of both, I'll leave for you to judge for yourselves.

And I know quite well that jokes by journalists -- even jokes by comedians -- sometimes land with a thud.

Sometimes readers just don't get it. Writing for a general audience as I do daily, attempts at humor can't be too obscure or you're leaving the bulk of your readers on the outside of an inside joke. That's frustrating at least for the reader; it can even become offensive.

A well-written, prudently timed and carefully calculated joke agitates primarily those who were its butt, and they're usually madder the more they had it coming.

The very worst of a writer's jokes are those that offend most everyone. Or those that end up turning the joke on the writer.

Clearly I lobbed the joke back toward that venerated publication, and in a way that seems to have been more amusing to readers than was the original joke, posed as a headline.

Comments on my earlier post, and some readers in private e-mail to me, have suggested that the Blood-Horse knows good and well the type who usually frequent the "Barbaro's Brothers" blog. Its audience is composed of Barbaro fanatics (duh, I guess), some or even many of whom are youthful, female and perhaps don't care much, if at all, about horse racing otherwise.

Having read some of the comments over there -- and there are usually lots of comments on that blog, though often from the same users -- I think there could be some truth to that theory.

And certainly some Blood-Horse patrons have no use for the "Barbaro's Brothers" bit.

Wrote "TomasinNM" responding to my prior post: "The Bloodhorse recently sent out a survey to ascertain I assume, where they could improve. ... One of my comments dealt with the blog issue -- it seems that they're pandering to 13 yr. old horse-crazy girls. Good grief."

Other, anonymous posters here suggested the blog moderator screens out any comments from those who might poop on the "12-year-old" Friends of Barbaro party. (Though some posts he or she mentions being ignored or deleted, such as one comparing Barbaro's and Nicanor's injuries now seem to be present ... a change of heart from reading comments over here? Still, other critical posts that were mentioned, are not.)

"If you like the Nicanor saga (zzzz), this was actually a two-sided blog before a new moderator took it over," that person wrote on my blog. "... Now it's but hearts and flowers with NO racing interest, or knowledge. ... It's a joke, and real race fans know it."

Well, not everyone agrees. At least one person thought I was unfair -- among other things -- in making fun of the Blood-Horse's treatment in blog form of the Nicanor scratch.

The commenter who took me to task for my comic criticism of the Blood-Horse fired off a few personal shots about my writing here lacking creativity and substance. That's fine; I think he's wrong, but I was taught not to dish it out if I can't take it, and I'm a big boy (a very big boy) who has learned to withstand criticism. Turnabout is fair play.

But how about the Blood-Horse? According to that critic, the "OMG" headline was posted as an attempt at sarcastic humor, so when I in turn crack wise about the headline, where's their own sense of levity? ... Even Nixon could play a credible straight man on "Laugh In."

Former Daily Racing Form bloodstock editor Sid Fernando, now president of, speculates that my critic was Blood-Horse President and CEO Stacy Bearse. (Note for the sake of full disclosure that Fernando has his own issues with Bearse, and is very open with his disdain.)

The critic being Bearse makes sense, because the poster also took an unwarranted and somewhat non-germane swipe at Ray Paulick and his independent racing news and content aggregation site, Much as newspapers are at odds with Google over aggregation, and considering Paulick's site is garnering thousands of user visits daily and cashing a few precious racing industry ad dollars in a weak economy (a huge concern of Bearse's), in part by linking to Blood-Horse content, the frustration of Paulick's ex-boss is practically palpable. And Bearse when prodded is known to be a loose cannon at the keyboard.

(A brief aside here: An e-mail like that one apparently from Bearse to Paulick -- if sent by me to anyone, particularly to a former employee whose personnel records and privacy I'm obliged to safeguard and respect -- would have gotten me fired on the spot.)

But it isn't Stacy Bearse -- if he does happen to have been the harsh critic -- that has intrigued me the most since comments on my post started coming in yesterday. It was the very first response in the thread; the one whose contributor I can no longer track because my Sitemeter counter was (emphasis on "was") the free variety, and only maintained information on the last 100 visits.

Others have hinted that this author's comments also originated in-house at the Blood-Horse. I can't research or prove it, but I do wonder.

That writer chided me a bit for not being in on the "OMG" joke. But it's impossible to miss the animus toward the blogosphere itself -- I'm guessing specifically the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance posts that now are, by some sort of agreement, also imbedded at to help drive traffic and justify advertising rates.

The post reads: "I don't know if you caught the irony that the Blood-Horse is well aware of what a joke these nutty people are to the industry -- certainly not to themselves, as they are too obsessed to realize they are embarrassing. They do bring hits to the site, however, so Blood-Horse is very happy to feed the fire, all the while joining in the snickering at these fools."

Whether that author is in-house at or not, the implication is that the Blood-Horse doesn't take blogging (or specifically TBA bloggers?) seriously, and by extension, could also not really respect the users who visit specifically to read those blogs. They're probably all "nutty ... fools" whose embarrassment must be suffered in order for to pay the bills. But it's OK, because the Blood-Horse is laughing at them, too.

I'd love to know, though likely never will, whether that was written by a BH staffer. And exactly toward whom the writer's disdain is directed (all bloggers, some bloggers, only the people who read the "Barbaro's Brothers" blog?). But the negative sentiment is unmistakable.

On the topic of new media, blogging (to which I'm a newcomer), and the need to attract more and younger fans to horse racing, I happen to agree with one of my more recent commenters, who identified himself (or herself) as a journalist, though not of the turf variety.

"I must say ... that racing needs all kinds. Even annoying kinds," the individual wrote. "We have to take them wherever we can get them and if that means we get the Barbaro-obsessed types, then fine.

"I'm of the opinion that (part) of our job in the press ... is to find out what people are interested in, what they want to read, and (within reason) give it to them. ... If they want to read a gushy blog, then give them their gushy blog."

From a business sense, I largely concur. But then don't make fun of the reader for liking what you gave them.

The Critic-Who-Could-Be-Bearse wrote: "The Nicanor blog that had 'OMG' in the headline was an attempt at sarcasm. The people who follow that blog are pretty obsessed with anything Barbaro related, so it was an attempt at humor."

And that's where my bigger problem lies now with the joke in the blog headline. It wasn't just a clunker of a joke that I for whatever reason didn't appreciate. It was a joke seemingly aimed at -- rather than for -- the readers of the blog itself.

There's a not-so-fine line between laughing with your readers and laughing at them.

One is great for business. The other -- unless you're Triumph the Insult Comic Dog -- probably not so much.

Friday, July 17, 2009

OMG, Blood-Horse, are you effing kidding?

Nicanor is out of the Virginia Derby with a leg injury. And that's a big deal. But should that prompt racing journalists to behave like 16-year-old girls updating their Facebook status?

The headline on the brief blog posting at announcing Nicanor's scratch from the race was -- I kid you not -- "OMG! Nicanor Scratched Due to Leg Injury."

OMG? ...OMG!?!

You're The Blood-Horse, for heaven's sake. Not LOLcats.


Va. Derby loses Nicanor to leg injury

Scheduled to cover for an employee Saturday in North Carolina, I was seriously considering scenarios in which I could do some work ahead of time, skip out for half a day (and by that I mean 12 hours) and travel to New Kent, Va., to cover the Virginia Derby-G2 at Colonial Downs.

Nicanor, the baby full brother of ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was scheduled to make his stakes debut Saturday at Colonial. But trainer Michael Matz said the Dynaformer colt injured himself in a workout this week and will be scratched.


That doesn't mean the Virginia Derby won't be a decent race. Colonial Turf Cup champ Battle of Hastings returns, as do rivals from that race, Lime Rickey, Take the Points and Straight Story. The latter is in at an attractive 10/1 morning line considering he nearly beat Battle of Hastings in the Turf Cup.

Also in are Kentucky Derby starter Hold Me Back (5/1), Affirmatif, Churchill Downs G2 winner and Japanese-bred Florentino, El Crespo and Safety Valve.

So I still would love to see the race in person. I think it will be a good one.

But Nicanor was the only name that would make me pursue the nonsensical -- scramble to get last-minute credentials; sneak out of town when I should be at work; drive almost three hours there (and then back) to stand by the inside rail near the finish line.

I hope he's well, I hope all have a safe trip Saturday (including those fans who are driving to New Kent for the race), and that the finish to the Derby as as rousing as that in the Turf Cup.

I'll be watching on CBS.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When less isn't more ... which is most of the time

Steve Zorn -- a casual but respected online acquaintance of mine, blogger on the subject of the horse racing business, and managing partner of New York-based Castle Village Farm -- wondered in his latest posting whether it's time for the racing industry to engage in some "serious downsizing."

These thoughts have been raised by more than just Zorn. Short field sizes at Churchill Downs and the California tracks this year have led to questions about whether there's simply too much racing. So have declining on-track attendance numbers. And now, declining handle.

Trouble is, as the economy makes its way through the roughest stretch since World War II, if not the Great Depression, it's difficult to really get a grasp on what is a nightmarish downward trend for horse racing that will continue regardless of economic recovery and must be stemmed, and what is just a remarkably predictable decline in an entertainment industry (particularly as measured by handle), fully explainable by the staggering economy.

The U.S. economy shrank 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 and another 5.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009 -- is it a surprise that a recreational expense like gambling on horse races would decline for the year thus far by around 10 percent amid such contraction and job loss? Particularly when one response to the down economy in some jurisdictions has been to cancel race dates?

Handle on dark days at any given track is a highly predictable $0.

Decisions made out of fear at the height of a recession are decisions prone to be deeply regretted later. The vast majority of the sharp decline in handle is almost certainly a product of recession, not of racing's problems, though racing indeed has myriad issues that demand addressing.

My current profession, the newspaper industry, is busy laying off journalists left and right, eviscerating its product. When the economy improves, and it will, "readers" will have become "former readers," many of them never to return. It's because we will have shown that when times get tough -- and there's no less news to report, indeed, perhaps more -- we'll just shrink staff and the news product and leave our subscribers paying more for less.

How often has that been a successful business model?

I hear and read much about how over-saturated the racing industry has become. Fingers often get pointed at the lesser tracks, and at conflicting schedules diluting fields throughout a given region.

Indeed field size is important, particularly to horseplayers. But from what I see (check the entries at the everyday tracks where there's racing year-round, i.e., Charles Town, Mountaineer, etc., are the ones that aren't short on horses. So from a horseplayer's perspective, those should be good races to bet, whether the ponies are stakes horses or $4,000, NW2L claimers.

Zorn notes that though the economy is suffering and the costs of buying a horse have declined (desperately bad news for breeders who sell to make a living), the cost of maintaining the horse in training are not declining. Certainly true.

But is it going to be more economical to prep and maintain a horse in race training when there are fewer opportunities for him to earn his keep?

Zorn attempted to draw a parallel between professional baseball and racing. He notes that in the 1948, there were hundreds of minor league baseball teams with attendance of 39 million. By 2007, there were only 160 minor league teams remaining, with attendance of 42 million.

I don't believe the major-minor league baseball analogy is much of a success story for racing to emulate. Among other things, the population of the United States essentially doubled between Zorn's stated dates of 1948 and 2007. (Census 1950 showed 151 million Americans; 2000 showed 281 million and rapidly growing; over 306 million as of 2009.)

That minor league baseball attendance "grew" from 39 million fans in 1948 to 42 million fans in 2007 is actually not "growth" at all -- it's a stifling contraction. Drawing 42 million in attendance in a nation of 300 million suggests considerably less popularity (almost a 50 percent reduction) for minor league baseball compared to attendance of 39 million in a nation of 151 million.

And lost in that contraction of minor leagues were the very roots of the game of baseball, and, I believe, no small amount of its populist appeal.

I grew up in an area where Class D teams were prevalent back in the 1940s and 1950s. Mickey Mantle played his first professional baseball games for the New York Yankees' Class D affiliate in Independence, Kan., in the county of my youth (albeit long before I was born). He was later promoted to the Joplin (Mo.) Miners. At both assignments, it was a short drive for thousands of southeast Kansans, northeastern Oklahomans and southeast Missourians and a few Arkansas natives to see future greatness. And in those days, fans of what was then America's inarguable pastime, took advantage.

Players who would one day be World Series heroes (and thousands who'd never throw a pitch or catch a popup in a league higher than Class D or Class C) rented rooms in the community. They were fixtures at soda shops -- or bars -- and became local celebrities. Major League teams had fans across the country not because of ESPN and DirecTV, but because their players had shopped at a Chanute, Kan., five-and-dime or walked the streets of Bartlesville, Okla., then in the evenings performed live before appreciative audiences in the coziest of venues, in the smallest of communities. Like those 1949 Class D Independence Yankees (four future big-leaguers!) of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League, in Riverside Stadium, where 33 years later I would play football as a member of the opposition from Coffeyville, and later still would report on many a sporting event for The Coffeyville Journal.

While it was really the Korean War (and resulting player shortage) and the advent of televised Major League baseball that would drive the Class D and Class C leagues out of existence, for the first half of the 20th century, minor league baseball was woven into the fabric of American small towns. The papers covered the games and the players like they were favored local sons. The stories old-timers tell of bigtime ballplayers getting their start in tiny burgs across the country are true Americana; and are (or were, for those no longer with us) told in no less reverent tones than the stories of those who "once saw Seabiscuit race at Narragansett Park."

Where's Narragansett Park now? ... Mostly under concrete. ... And another Seabiscuit haunt, Bay Meadows? A recently removed pile of rubble, destined to become an office complex and business center, you know, when they get around to it. ... And yet another, Hollywood Park, seemingly doomed to a similar fate, and it is not because there's too much racing, but because the general public cares about racing too little.

And that's a very different problem.

So horse racing today is wondering whether less is more. Usually, it isn't.

With simulcasting and the ability to wager from home (for many horseplayers, though not for me in North Carolina) there's less reason to attend the races in person, except for special events. ... Of course, it used to be that racing was special. Back when many of the best horses ran on for season after season, building a fan following. And you didn't have to wait eight or 12 or 15 weeks for the next time your favorite horse would race.

So it isn't that there needs to be less racing; there needs to be better racing, and more racing by top horses, and better-marketed racing. Some say fewer races will make it easier to make those reduced dates seem special. Maybe, but I doubt it.

However, Churchill scored an undeniable hit with lights and Friday racing at night. Welcome to the 21st century.

To paraphrase another great Yankee, Yogi Berra, if the fans don't want to come out to the racetrack, you can't stop 'em.

Rather, somebody needs to convince 'em to get started coming out again.

And "Welcome to the new American horse racing -- now with fewer opportunities to watch!" just doesn't strike me like all that great a sales pitch to potential fans who already find our sport all too easily ignored.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jackson says Rachel headed to Haskell

Owner Jess Jackson said Tuesday afternoon that his fabulous 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra -- unbeaten in 2009 and winner of both the Kentucky Oaks in dominating fashion over her own gender and gamely in the Preakness Stakes against the boys -- will face colts again in her next start, the Haskell Invitational H.-G1 at Monmouth Park.

"Rachel Alexandra is progressing well after her stakes record victory in the Mother Goose," said Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Stables, in a statement to the media. "We are all looking forward to seeing this great athlete perform again against both colts and fillies."

In the Haskell, Rachel will get a slightly shorter trip than she weathered against colts and geldings in the Preakness. The Aug. 2 Haskell is 9 furlongs, while the Preakness distance is 9.5f. And, having done all the work on the front end, had the Preakness been about five jumps longer (or had Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird gotten a slightly better trip under replacement jockey Mike Smith), Rachel might well have been caught.

She won't face Mine That Bird in the Haskell, but she is likely to face a horse that has beaten him -- Summer Bird, another son of Birdstone and winner of the Belmont Stakes, in which the Derby winner came home third.

The Haskell sets up as a good race for Rachel, however. She gets to run for $1 million, in G1 company against males, but on a weekend when two other races have drawn away some of the competition.

The Jim Dandy S.-G2 at Saratoga (where she's training) is a summer classic at America's mecca for horse racing, and though its purse is half that of the Haskell's and its grade is lower, it always attracts nice horses. Among them could be Charitable Man, who last ran in the Belmont, and Warrior's Reward, who stumbled badly at the start as the 4-5 favorite in the Dwyer S.-G2 (under Rachel's regular rider, Calvin Borel) and might be in the Jim Dandy seeking redemption.

Meanwhile, Mine That Bird is committed to the $750,000, Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. And other top 3-year-olds have fallen by the wayside, with Quality Road seemingly not yet ready to return in time for the Jim Dandy, and Musket Man, who was third in both the Derby and Preakness, hurt and taken out of training.

That doesn't mean the Haskell won't be a challenge. Whomever else is entered, Rachel will likely be on the front end with the determined closer Summer Bird coming to catch her late. He'll stand a very good chance if there's any speed in the race to press Rachel on the pace.

Whether every race is stacked, they'll all be interesting as we watch to see which horses move on toward the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga at the end of August. We know that's where Mine That Bird is pointed if he comes out of West Virginia well. Likely Charitable Man and Summer Bird, as well, and who knows which other colts and geldings.

And, depending on how she fares in the Haskell, maybe which filly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Messers. Zito and LaPenta: Set Da' Tara free to do what he does best

Da' Tara's still at it -- knocking on the door of clearing the non-winners of three lifetime condition, that is.

I'd wager a number of readers haven't heard, nor much cared, about the 2008 Belmont Stakes champion since that day, when he paid $79 on that June afternoon as the shocking long-shot who collected the big check as Big Brown traded in his Triple Crown for one of the Burger King variety. But the colt is back and trying to fight his way back to the top, or at least out of the middle. Yet with three seconds in three races at age 4 -- including one going a mile Sunday when beaten 7 1/2 at Belmont -- he just can't quite get there.

It's a wonder Da' Tara wasn't a bigger price on Belmont Day 2008. He'd only won a single race in his life, albeit at first asking in maiden special company on Jan. 5, 2008, at Gulfstream Park. He was third in a Gulfstream allowance and then owner Robert V. LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito tossed him in over his head to watch him come home ninth in the Florida Derby-G1 behind what was then a seemingly unbeatable Big Brown.

Sticking with stakes company, Da' Tara was fifth in the Derby Trial at Churchill (won by eventual G1 winner Macho Again) a week prior to the 2008 Kentucky Derby, which also turned into a Big Brown romp. He followed Big Brown to Pimlico two weeks later and notched a game second-place finish in the Barbaro Stakes (formerly the Sir Barton) on the undercard of Big Brown's Preakness freakshow.

So, really, who'd fully have expected Da' Tara to spring the Belmont upset? Certainly he's well-bred, by twice-champion Tiznow out of Torchera, one of four stakes-caliber Pirate's Bounty foals out of multiple stakes winner Kaylem Ho (Salem-Kay Ho, by Quid Pro Quo) -- a blacktype quartet that included Grade 1 winner Private Persuasion (1995 Vanity H.).

But as Ann Ferland reminds me, no tail-male descendant of the great Man O' War had won an American classic since his own son War Admiral took the Triple Crown in 1934. And coming into the Belmont, Da' Tara wasn't even the most accomplished direct descendant of the mare Kaylem Ho in the race -- that was Denis of Cork, the Harlan's Holiday colt who had won the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and finished third in the Derby behind Big Brown and the ill-fated filly Eight Belles. Kaylem Ho, second dam to Da' Tara, is third dam to Denis of Cork.

Still, when Big Brown cashed it in early under Kent Desormeaux and the scramble was on to see who picked up the loose change, the Belmont Stakes honors went to Alan Garcia and his long-shot charge, Da' Tara.

So where has Da' Tara gone from there? Lots of places and nowhere, really.

Da' Tara resurfaced later in 2008 at Saratoga for the Jim Dandy S.-G2, finishing seventh behind an old nemesis, Macho Again. About a month later, he ran fifth in a Travers S.-G1 known for its incredible photo finish -- won by fellow Tiznow colt Colonel John by the hairs of his muzzle over Mambo in Seattle.

A sixth-place finish in a sloppy Jerome H.-G2 at Belmont's fall meet prompted a drop in class for Da' Tara (and a jockey change to John Velazquez somewhere along the line) but he was not quite up to the task back at Churchill, finishing third in an optional-claimer.

A couple of months off resulted in an anticipated return to the track in February back where Da' Tara broke maiden, at Gulfstream Park, on the Fountain of Youth Undercard. But to pilfer a NASCAR term, Da' Tara has been the first loser in every race he's run this year, including his closing, but distant, runner-up performance back under Garcia at Belmont on Sunday.

So what next?

Since I'm apparently in the unsolicited advice-dispensing business these days, I have a suggestion for Messers. LaPenta and Zito: Send Da' Tara back to stakes company.

That probably sounds looney, but you haven't read the half of it yet. I want to see him on the grass next month at Saratoga. I believe the John's Call Stakes beckons on a Friday, Aug. 7.

The sixth running of the John's Call, per the condition book a $70,000-added race, is slated for a mile and five-eighths over the Saratoga lawn. It has the added benefit of being restricted to horses that haven't won a graded-stakes race in 2009, so there shouldn't be any real turf monsters in the field. Though NYRA reserves the right to move the race to the main track (apparently regardless whether weather's the issue), Da' Tara shouldn't bat an eyelash at that possibility, and if it stays on the grass, the condition book suggests he stands to benefit from some serious breaks in the weights due to having no prior earnings on turf.

Last year, only eight horses went to post, so Da' Tara likely wouldn't have to fear being closed out because of that lack of turf earnings (which are the tie-breaker in case of over-subscription). In the 2008 renewal, Just As Well, who was third in an optional-claimer in his "prep" for the race, was sent off as the 2-1 favorite in his stakes debut. Though he's gone on to be turf-G1-placed at age 6 in 2009, he didn't win on this day; he didn't even hit the board. Victory went to Summer Patriot, his first and only stakes triumph (though he is also G1-placed on grass). Second went to Venezuelan import Taconeo and third to Codeword, who is G3-placed at a mile but has never won a stakes.

Time for the race -- as it has been for all four prior runnings to take place at 13f on grass (Auguri won the John's Call at 9.5f on dirt in 2004) -- was a fairly pedestrian 2:42.50. Da' Tara's 2:29.65 Belmont victory was far from fleet, but the list of horses that have won the Test of the Champion in 2:29 or slower is lengthy and star-studded (including Seattle Slew's 2:29 3/5) and 2:29 and change is roughly par for finishing 13 furlongs in around 2:42, which as noted could win the John's Call.

I don't know whether Zito has ever tried to work Da' Tara over a turf course, but I know the horse hasn't raced over one. And the one thing we know about the colt is that distance, at least by American standards, is not a limitation. Tiznow is throwing plenty of classic-distance horses, not to mention at least three graded-stakes winners on grass -- Tizaqueena, Tizfiz and Tizdejavu. And considering Da' Tara's dam line produced a 1-2 finish in the Belmont last year at a mile and a half, I'm going to assume the extra 660 feet of the John's Call won't be Da' Tara's undoing.

I think your horse fits in the race, Nick and Bob, and to prove it, I'm willing to pay the early nomination fee on your behalf, provided you'll pay the $1,000 to pass the gate. ... O.K., I know there's no fee for nominations (if they're on time, it's $200 supplemental). But you also get a $750 rebate on the one-grand starter's fee provided the horse does actually run in the race. And isn't $250 an insignificant amount to risk? ... I mean, by your bankroll's standards?

If Da' Tara doesn't like the turf, so be it; he hasn't won his last seven races anyway. If he can merely maintain his runner-up streak for 2009, it's still a good payday and an extra spot of black type on his (potentially foreign-market) stallion resume that sure could use it. ... The Belmont alone isn't much of a selling point for a stud career these days.

But if he does take to the grass -- and I truly believe that isn't out of the question -- Da' Tara just might win that race. And then we have even bigger plans.

Winning the John's Call would set the stage for a potential entry in the Breeders' Cup ... the Marathon, that is. The race has been extended this year to 14 furlongs (provided they don't start canceling races now) which, Messers. Zito and LaPenta, could help play into your boy's hands. And unlike so many eastern-third-based American horses, Da' Tara shouldn't run and hide from the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, either. Aside from Da' Tara himself and champion juvenile filly Folklore, each of Tiznow's other Grade 1 winners in his still-young stud career have won at least one of their G1s on SoCal synthetics: Well Armed (Goodwood S.); the aforementioned Colonel John (Santa Anita Derby); and Tough Tiz's Sis (Lady's Secret S.).

Millionairess Bear Now has two G3 wins over different synthetic tracks. Slew's Tizzy won the Coolmore Lexington S.-G2 on Keeneland's Polytrack and set a 9-furlong course record over the all-weather surface at Hollywood Park. Ex-claimer Informed added a G2 win over synthetics for Tiznow recently by taking the Californian at Hollywood.

Since extremely talented horses and their connections are donning garlic necklaces and holding out crosses at arm's length at the notion of racing over Pro-Ride during the Breeders' Cup -- complaining that the "plastic" surface favors European invaders and turf horses -- why not find out right now whether Da' Tara is one of those who can handle the grass? ... Even if he can't, or doesn't like it quite as well as the main track, I wouldn't write off the Marathon completely because of the fine synthetic form so many Tiznows have displayed.

The Breeders' Cup Marathon, though over the main track, indeed was a haven for Euros and turf horses at Santa Anita last year. Irish-shipper Muhannak (with no career graded blacktype) won it, second went to ex-claimer and Cal-based G3 turf winner Church Service, and finishing third was Big Booster, previously winner of the San Juan Capistrano-G2 at 14f on turf.

So how about it, Bob and Nick?

You have a Grade 1-winning distance horse on your hands. And he suffers from seconditis at shorter circuits (five of his other 14 starts lifetime, plus the MSW win and two thirds). But if Da' Tara can win the John's Call and be pointed to the Breeders' Cup, there are a half-dozen potential preps to test him again and keep him sharp between the two -- including the all-weather-track Turfway Park Fall Championship, which is a win-and-you're-in for the Marathon.

Allow the guy do what thus far he's done best -- turn Da' Tara out and let him run all day.

You might even decide that this distance racing thing is pretty cool, something I have a hunch your horse already has figured out for himself.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Waxes of Evil: A polished filly dusts off quartet of colts in Hollywood Juvenile Championship

Joel Rosario was just along for the ride Sunday as Necessary Evil ran off and hid from four colts in the five-horse Hollywood Juvenile Championship-G3 at Hollywood Park.

"Boy is she fast," said Rosario, the meet's leading rider, who held on and enjoyed the trip as Necessary Evil blazed to fractions of 22.36 and 45.73 in building an easy lead over her four male competitors. "At the top of the stretch she changed leads perfectly. In fact, she does everything perfect."

Necessary Evil, who is now 2-for-2 under the handling of trainer Doug O'Neill, was sent off as the 6-5 favorite despite being in against males. She completed the six furlongs in a solid 1:09.98 to win by an easy three lengths.

The winner is the daughter of Harlan's Holiday out of the unplaced Unbridled's Song mare Song and Danz. Her dam is a half-sister to Calder stakes-winning Forestry gelding Forest Danz.

Her victory probably reinforces two points made recently by a regular reader of mine from Germany, who noted in the comments section of a recent post of mine that perhaps fillies should run against colts more frequently (as they do in Europe) and some of these U.S. graded stakes races are getting a little embarrassing due to short fields.

That isn't to say that Necessary Evil isn't a sharp 2-year-old who earned her win Saturday, only that it would be much better if she did it against six or eight colts and geldings, not just four.

And, yes, sometimes I do write blog posts in no small part because I came up with a headline that amuses me.