Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beating this whip issue to death

While it appears talks have stalled on whether I'll be cracked a few times with the new, "cushioned" racing whip, perhaps I should rethink my choice of jockeys at the front of the line to administer the beating. Chantal Sutherland just might show up with the stiff old whip.

Besides, I've been beaten to the lash by an Australian bloke who calls himself "The Horse Whisperer," who took 19 strokes from the new cushioned whip -- one more than new Aussie rules permit -- and he said the whip, through his jeans anyway, "does not hurt at all."

Sutherland was fined $200 and her mount, Sans Sousi, was stripped of the $40,080 winner's share on Sept. 4 at Woodbine when the jockey showed for the post parade with the wrong (old) whip. Told by another rider that she had the wrong whip, Sutherland dropped hers off and picked up another at the gate, where a few pieces of extra equipment are kept in the event of a last-minute need before the race.

Unfortunately, the track's whip was also was of the banned variety.

The incident -- which Sutherland doesn't contest and for which she shoulders full blame -- plus the stunt from Down Under give us pause to consider the new whipping rules in Canada and in Australia, where jockeys recently went on strike in protest.

Both jurisdictions not only mandated the "kinder" whip -- which replaces a hard leather crop and its stinging leather tassel on the end with a stick wrapped in foam to better avoid hurting the horse -- they also attempt to limit the number of times a rider strikes his horse in the closing stages of the race.

For starters, if jurisdictions are going to mandate the cushioned whip and fine or otherwise penalize riders who forget and use the old crop, then Woodbine should've had an appropriate whip at the gate to hand over to Sutherland on Sept. 4 when she arrived to ride "whipless," having ditched her own crop on the way to the gate. Stewards fined Sutherland for forgetting about the new rule, but the track itself didn't think to update its own equipment cache. (And Sutherland said she "was going to get days" if she rode without a whip at all, hence her decision to use the track's whip even though it was a banned variety.)

And while the only way to really enforce competition rules -- particularly those involving doping -- is to disqualify a horse that wins outside the rules and strip its connections of the purse, leaving zero reward for cheating, it's hard to believe that Sans Sousi won the race because Sutherland (who went light on the stick in the stretch) used the wrong whip. So a $40,080 penalty is no slap on the wrist, it's more like breaking an owner's arm, and arguably is more punishment than the offense really seems to merit.

Aside from these compliance and enforcement issues from a single Woodbine race, whether these changes are for the better remains open to some debate.

One viable complaint raised about the combination of new-whip/strike-frequency rules is this: If the cushioned whip is so much kinder to the horse, why must the frequency of its use be more tightly restricted than was the use of the old whip?

It's worth noting that not everyone agrees that the new whip is pain-free. As a response to my earlier posts on the matter, Glenn Petty, executive director of theVirginia Thoroughbred Association, says he has hit himself in the calf with both whips, and while both did smart, the "Pro-Cush" whip just didn't hurt as much. And retired jockey Garrett Redmond, in response to Sid Fernando's question about whether Rachel Alexandra was whipped too much by Calvin Borel in her Woodward Stakes win, has said that he believes any whip hurts the horse, and that no whip is ever necessary in a race. (Although it seems most jockeys don't agree with Mr. Redmond and do want to keep their whips.)

My take is, do we really want jockeys trying to count whip strikes while they ride, all the way down to a blanket finish? Isn't that a bit like asking a NASCAR driver to count how many times he taps the brakes (or another car's bumper) in the last few laps of a race at Bristol? 

Aussie jockeys briefly went on strike over the rules, claiming they put riders at greater risk. Because such rules give jockeys one more thing to think about at the most mentally and physically taxing point of a race -- both for rider and horse -- I would tend to agree. (And Australian rules are already being amended.)

It's one thing to tell jockeys to go lighter on the stick as a general rule and to cease whipping a horse that can't improve its position. And then to warn that stewards will be watching closely and ruling harshly against those who flog an animal excessively or without cause.

What these jurisdictions have tried to do is appease those who demand changes in the name of horse welfare (some of whom, mind you, would really prefer to see no racing at all) by writing a meticulous set of rules and then putting all the burden for their observance on the jockey.

Granted, the rider is the human most directly responsible for lessening the impact of the whip on races -- that is, on horses. But we trust stewards to use their judgment in so many other instances of rider safety and misconduct that it is unreasonable to absolve the stewards of any responsibility by making the whip rules a case of violation-by-the-number: Strike the horse 18 times and win, that's perfect; hit him 19 times and you're taken down to last place. (And such rules are more stringent in the closing yards, leaving jockeys to count poles, whip strokes, and even strides of the horse while still steering, urging and trying to win.)

If horse racing wants to crack down on the whip criticism, nothing other than throwing away the whip will do. And should that be the eventual course of action, I'm fine with it, as it still leaves all horses and riders on an equal footing.

Just expect that the animal-protectionists won't be satisfied for long, and will be back shortly with their next demand.

If the purpose of revised whipping rules is to continue giving riders whatever control they have (or believe they have) with the whip in their hands, while also protecting horses, the greatest step is the cushioned whip -- not some arbitrary number of times a horse can legally be struck with said whip.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pardon the interruption of horse racing ...

Many of my horse racing friends, business associates and contacts are Facebook users, and they've encouraged me to join the world's most popular and fast-growing social networks.

But I resisted, primarily not really needing the added distraction from cyberspace. And in part because my daughter swears I'll "love her less" if I do. (That, my dear baby girl, will never happen.)

That is, I resisted until my son left for Japan at the end of August. And (once his flaky Dell laptop started working again) he launched a blog about his experiences there. But he decided that he was going to put all the pictures from his junior year abroad only on Facebook.

So, on Monday around 11 a.m. EDT, I signed up for Facebook. In the signup process, I sent some friend requests to family members and a couple of the people who have sent me Facebook "invitations" in the past. My first Facebook friend (a guy I haven't seen in years, which has been a serious social omission on my part) confirmed seemingly within an instant, and I placed a message on his "wall."

Then my browser crashed. And when I tried to login again, immediately after restarting the computer, Facebook gave me an error message saying the site was "undergoing maintenance" and to "try again in a few hours."

More than one person told me this was no surprise, because "Facebook sucks." Hardly ringing endorsements of such a popular service. Apparently Facebook is struggling to keep up with its popularity and growth. And Facebook is doing lots of hiring; unfortunately it appears that none of those jobs are in customer service.

Anyway, "a few hours" later, I still couldn't login. This time I was told that my e-mail address and password were an "incorrect combination." I tried resetting my password, but was told that the e-mail address I'd submitted with the request was "invalid."

Over the course of the week, I submitted so many e-mails to Facebook support that I've lost count. I completed two different "trouble" forms on FB's tech support pages. I responded to an e-mail from "the Facebook team" asking for screenshots of the error messages I was receiving; I sent them three. I filled out an online survey at the request of "the Facebook team" asking for further information about my problem. And I responded to an e-mail from "the Facebook team," sent ostensibly just to make sure there was a real person attached to the e-mail address I was using for signup.

Around 10 a.m. Friday, some 95 hours after I first experienced problems, I finally got a definitive -- and definitely frustrating -- response from "the Facebook team."

"We currently do not have a registration under this email address. Unfortunately, you will need to go through the sign up process again."

No registration under my e-mail address? This prompted me to ask:

-- Why then do I have 14 friend confirmations or friend requests from Facebook users, with all of the notifications sent to me by Facebook at this same e-mail address?

-- How is it that four different people have sent me messages through my Facebook page or written on my wall?

-- Why can I search Facebook externally and find only five users named "Glenn Craven" apparently in the entire Facebook universe, including one who bears a striking resemblance to the strikingly ... striking ... dude whose picture is also on this page? (And how hard would it be for a "Facebook team" member with full access to the network to figure out which one of those five is supposed to be me?)

-- Why, at 11:14 a.m. Monday, did Facebook send me an account confirmation e-mail which included not just a link to confirm my signup (which I did click and confirm), but also my 10-digit account confirmation code? (A code that I forwarded back to the Facebook team on Friday.)

-- And, even if I do start over (something that Facebook help pages repeatedly and specifically told me not to do), what does Facebook intend to do about my supposedly non-existent account ... the account to which my own mother today sent a friend request? Will that page of the me-who-doesn't-exist at least be deleted to avoid further confusion?

Of course, another 54 hours later, I have no response from Facebook to any of those questions. And I'm disinclined to follow their instructions and create a second account at least until Facebook drives a stake through the heart of my undead first self.

So for those of you who are friends, family and equine-biz acquaintances of mine, I apologize. I'll be joining you on Facebook when Facebook helps me get this silliness straightened out.

Because I really want to see my boy's pictures from Japan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another fallen champion: Kona Gold dead at 15

I can only shake my head and ask, "When will it stop?"

Horse racing followers already are reeling a bit from the losses in just the past few days of prominent racehorses and sires Gone West, El lPrado, Summer Squall and Cryptoclearance.

Now comes word that Kona Gold -- the Eclipse champion sprinter of the year 2000, and runner-up for Horse of the Year -- has been euthanized at the young age of 15. Kona Gold was retired in 2003 and at the time of his death was a resident of the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions.

Apparently, while exercising in his paddock, Kona Gold took a bad step and suffered a spiral fracture of his radius.

Kona Gold was always an interesting horse to me, because his racing performance seemed to defy his pedigree, not in quality of ancestors -- as he was very well-bred -- but in his preference for short races.

His sire, Java Gold, won the 9-furlong Remsen Stakes (then a Grade 1 race) as a 2-year-old, and took Grade 1 races in the Whitney (9f), Travers (10f), and Marlboro Cup Invitational (10f) at age 3. (Java Gold, by the way, still is in stallion service at Gestüt Ammerland in Germany, which also stands his German son Boreal, winner of the Deutsches Derby-G1 and Britain's Coronation Cup-G1, both run at two miles.)

Kona Gold's dam, Double Sunrise, was by Slew O' Gold, who won seven Grade 1 stakes, none of them at less than a mile and an eighth, including two runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup when that race was still a mile and a half. And her dam, How High The Moon, was by Majestic Light, who won seven graded stakes going a distance, including the Man O'War at 12 furlongs.

The resulting pedigree is one of those that throws Steve Roman's Dosage system for a loop. Kona Gold's Dosage Index of 1.31 and Center of Distribution of 0.37 would suggest that he would want to run all day. Yet Kona Gold set new track and stakes records in the shortest race on the Breeders' Cup card in the year 2000, the 6-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint, which he won in an exhilarating 1:07.77, narrowly holding off the fast-closing filly, Honest Lady.

Kona Gold worked as a stable pony for his former trainer, Bruce Headley, after retirement. The horse had only arrived at Kentucky Horse Park in 2008, moving into the stall vacated by Cigar when that champion moved up into the penthouse once owned by John Henry.

I suppose we never get used to losing these great champions even though we know that in this world, everything that lives, eventually dies.

But when another of your favorites goes, he takes a little piece of you with him.

Gone West, El Prado, Summer Squall ... now Cryptoclearance


It's been a tough few weeks for 20-something stallions and pensioners.

Cryptoclearance, who won or placed in 21 graded-stakes and has been a noteworthy member of the American sire community since 1990, is dead at age 25.

The son of Fappiano-Naval Orange, by Hoist the Flag, died Thursday at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington, Ky. He most recently stood for $5,000 at Margaux Farm in Midway, Ky.

Cryptoclearance raced 44 times and won 12 of them for owner Phil Teinowitz, including four Grade 1s in the Florida Derby, Pegasus Handicap, Widener Handicap (1:59 2/5), and 1989 Donn Handicap (mislabeled 1992), earning $3,376,327. He was a durable horse and a tough competitor, and when not winning was often finishing as the runner-up to other spectacular horses of the day in the sport's biggest races.

He was second to Easy Goer in the 1989 Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1, when that race was still run at a mile and a half. Distance was not a problem for Cryptoclearance, as he was second also to Bet Twice in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. He was runner-up twice to Jade Hunter in Grade 1s, the 1988 Gulfstream Park and Donn handicaps. Java Gold relegated him to second in the 1987 Travers.

The horse seemed to pass a measure of that competitiveness -- and quite a bit of durability -- along to his foals.

His best son so far has been Victory Gallop, winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1998 and champion older male a year later. But he also sired Breeders' Cup Classic long-shot champion Volponi, Blue Grass S.-G1 winner Millennium Wind, Spinaway S.-G1 winner Strategic Maneuver, Futurity S.-G1 winner Traitor (who died in a Florida barn fire at stud), and Canadian champion Cryptocloser (whose record there sadly is both blank and locked).

His daughters have had some success as producers, as well. Cryptoclearance is the broodmare sire of two-times G1-winning millionaire Elloluv, Hutcheson S.-G2 winner and sire Keyed Entry (who has two minor stakes-winning siblings), Irish G3 winner and sire Ishiguru (who was euthanized Sept. 18 after complications from a knee injury), Ishigru's half-sister and Santa Anita G2-winner Cat Fighter, and a least 26 other stakes winners in the U.S. and abroad.

According to Equineline.com, Cryptoclearance's 1,163 racing-age foals to date have included 966 starters (83 percent, a splendid figure), 681 winners (59 percent, a solid number), and 42 stakes winners (a modest 4 percent). Those 966 runners have made 21,401 starts, an average of 22.15 per runner, this at a time when, according to The Blood-Horse, the average number of starts per raced-foal was declining from 29.03 (1970-79)  to 16.72 (2000-2003 crops).

The fact that Cryptoclearance's stud fee continued to fall through the years (from $15,000 to $5,000) and that his two richest sons, Volponi and Victory Gallop, have already been flushed from the U.S. stallion ranks to other countries (Korea in the former case, Turkey in the latter) is but one piece of evidence that perhaps American breeders have lost their way in the ever-intensifying search for precocity and brute speed. As a breeding nation, we've largely lost our appreciation for a rugged horse who can get a distance of ground.

That was Cryptoclearance. Rugged. Fierce in the heat of the fight. At his best from 9 furlongs to a mile and a half.

Old-school in the era of New Kids on the Block.

"He was a breed-shaping horse," said Steve Johnson, managing partner of Margaux Farm.

And he was. Probably in more ways than most observers would ever know, or ever appreciate.

(Photo: Bill Strauss)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lava Man: Doing what's right by the horse


When I decided to get into the racehorse business, even on a limited scale, I was immediately faced with a values-judgment.

If presented a tough decision -- one where my personal goal of breeding and owning winners or selfish interest of saving or making money was potentially at odds with what was best for the horse -- would I do right by me, or right by the horse?

I chose the latter. And regardless what decisions I might make for my breeding stock, foals or racehorses in the future, and whether those moves work out brilliantly or tragically, I vow that a bad ending will never have been the result of my putting the horse's best interests second.

A lot has been said and written -- by people with a clue and probably a few people without -- in the wake of confirmation this week that the greatest ex-claimer of all-time, Lava Man, is back in the Hollywood Park barn of trainer Doug O'Neill, and working toward a potential comeback at the races.

These comments on a TVG Network message board are typical of those flying around the Internet:

"One would think that earning over $5 million would guarantee a happy retirement. I guess I'm wrong. It smells of greed to me."

"If Lava Man came back on the cheap, it would be the worst racing story I've heard in a long time. Can you imagine the uproar over a horse that earned millions of dollars for his owners coming back so he can be 'rescued' by a group of really well-intended individuals so the current owners can cut their losses on this hard-knocking gelding?"

Or over at Pedigreequery.com:

"I guess $5 million isn't enough."

"What a shame. What about the horse's welfare?"

"Highlighting the industry's greed and an owner's seeming lack of concern for a horse that brought him millions of dollars -- fan favorite at that."

O.K., not everybody's against the comeback. Some people are at least hopeful that the horse can compete and will stay safe.

And one person cracked a good joke: "I heard they tried to change his name to Favre."

But what about those critics? The ones who allege greed and hard-heartedness without knowing much or anything about either the horse or the men around him?

If I were Doug O'Neill or among the ownership group of STD Racing and Jason Wood, it would take every ounce of restraint I could muster not to inform them all of the departure time for the next bus to hell.

O'Neill has been far more diplomatic.

He has tried to address the allegations of greed by saying that, if and when Lava Man runs, all the trainer's earnings will be donated to the California Retirement Management Account, which helps rehabilitate, retrain and "rehome" ex-racers.

But aside from that pledge, ask yourself what O'Neill stands to gain by racing Lava Man against what he stands to lose -- which is every ounce of goodwill among the racing fan base that his long and successful career, particularly his handling of such a popular horse, has ever earned him.

What cash value would you place on being known as a heartless bastard for the rest of your life?

So maybe Lava Man's comeback doesn't have jack squat to do with whatever money the horse can earn by racing.

Maybe it has everything to do with what's right by the horse.

Many human athletes have a terrible time letting go at the end of their careers; hence the "Favre" reference. Some of them are washed up, but still won't "hang 'em up," and the only thing that spares them further embarrassment is the fact that nobody will sign them to a contract anymore. And some of them are 39 years old and 2-0 anyway after a pair of season-opening road wins, with three TD passes and no interceptions.

Anyone who has been around racehorses, or who knows anyone who's really been around racehorses, knows that some of these old campaigners are the same way. Ever since they were sent off to be broken, breezed and gate-trained, their life revolved around the daily routine of racing. Take that away from an 8-year-old gelding who has known no other life since he was a long yearling and, for some of them, it's like you've robbed them of the very air they breathe.

Lava Man was initially retired not because he became disinterested in trying, but because his ankles were showing signs of trouble.

"I'm happy that he didn't get hurt, just aches and pains of old age," said one of his owners, Steve Kenly, at the time. "I think we did the right thing of looking at all the options and making sure this was the right thing to do."

So do you really think that these men just up and changed their minds? Or is it more likely that Lava Man changed their minds?

Since finishing sixth in July 2008 in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, Lava Man underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his ankles at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif. He has been stabled at nearby Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, to facilitate his rehabilitation. And veterinarians say Lava Man has benefited from pioneering stem cell treatments that drew thriving cells from the horse's own sternum and injected them into his ankles.

O'Neill says Lava Man seems to have "the ankles of a 3-year-old" again.

"The doctor said that he is and will be the strongest horse in my barn," O'Neill said. "I couldn't put into words how good he looks and how happy he seems to be back in training."

Why can't we be satisfied with those nine words as an explanation for Lava Man's comeback? "How happy he seems to be back in training."

Though Lava Man fired a 36-second bullet drill, best of 24 at the 3-furlong distance, in his return to O'Neill's work tab, he truly might never race. O'Neill has said he's "a little nervous" because he is "very conscious of my responsibility ... as (Lava Man's) caretaker." And the trainer said he only intends to run Lava Man against Grade 1 competition, if and when the horse proves himself ready.

"I'm going to make sure we do right by the horse, first and foremost," O'Neill said.

That's a very high standard to set. And who knows, maybe Lava Man would just as soon race-on even if it isn't under the brightest spotlight. Perhaps he'd be content to follow in the hoofprints of a horse like Proven Cure, who was still winning and placing in modest overnight stakes races at tracks like Lone Star, Sam Houston and Remington Park when he was 11 and 12 years old. A horse doesn't continue to try like that unless he just flat-out loves the game.

I'm confident, especially after reading his comments, that O'Neill is looking for any little sign that Lava Man can't do the job, and will stop him short rather than push him too far. And if Lava Man decides he doesn't want to race anymore, he'll tell O'Neill, in no uncertain terms.

But if the horse wants to race, let him race.

Yes, bad things happen in this game even to very good horses in very good condition. And, yes, it will be a crying shame if Lava Man, un-retired, suffers a catastrophic breakdown, be it in a work or in a race.

But if he had lived every day of his life back at the track just as happy as a pig in slop, would Doug O'Neill, STD Racing and Jason Wood really have done wrong by the horse?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's official: Lava Man on comeback trail

When I received an e-mail this morning alerting me to news on another blog that the greatest ex-claimer in history, Lava Man, was at the track and working toward a comeback under trainer Doug O'Neill, I waited to blog about it until such news was confirmed.

Now it is official, in the most obvious manner possible. The 8-year-old Lava Man worked 3 furlongs in a sharp 36-flat Wednesday for O'Neill at Hollywood Park.

A horse of Lava Man's caliber and competitive nature truly might be at his happiest at the racetrack, and racing, regardless at what level he can still effectively compete. But should catastrophe strike, few in racing history will have opened themselves up to more criticism than the connections of Lava Man, the horse who earned more than $5 million in his career after once running for a tag as cheap as $12,500. And who had been widely reported as destined for a well-earned life of relaxation and celebrity at Old Friends in Kentucky.

Surely nobody knows the potential pitfalls more clearly than Doug O'Neill, so I'm certain that he's fully thought it through.

For now I'm left with only two thoughts.

1. Go, Lava Man! I'll root for you with all my heart, as I always have.

2. Dear Lord in Heaven, please keep him safe.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Advent of autumn marks last day of Summer Squall


When it rains, it pours.

On the first day of autumn, and just one day after Adena Springs Farm reported that top sire El Prado was dead of a heart attack at age 20, Lane's End follows up with the news that 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall has been euthanized at age 22 due to "the infirmities of old age."

Summer Squall was 5-for-5 as a juvenile, including four stakes, two graded -- the Hopeful S.-G1 and the Saratoga Special-G2. But the 2-year-old championship went to Rhythm, whose only stakes win at 2 was the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-G1, a race Summer Squall had missed.

He won four of seven starts at age 3, all of them Grade 2 races or better: the Preakness; the Pennsylvania Derby-G2; the Jim Beam S.-G2; and the Blue Grass S.-G2, now a Grade 1 race. But the champion 3-year-old colt was Unbridled, who clearly earned the honors by winning the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Breeders' Cup Classic.

Summer Squall also was a graded-stakes winner at 4, in the Fayette H.-G2 at Keeneland.

In all, he won 13 of 20 starts, nine of those wins in stakes races, for $1,844,282.

Summer Squall had already left the stallion ranks, being pensioned in 2004 due to declining fertility. But while he was on the job, Summer Squall gave us several fine racehorses.

Most notable among his winners, of course, was near-Triple-Crown champion Charismatic. Foaled from the Drone mare Bali Babe, Charismatic won the 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before finishing a hard-fought third in the Belmont Stakes while suffering a broken bone in his leg. Many race fans have vivid memories of jockey Chris Antley pulling up the horse and leaping off to support his mount's leg and calm the animal, perhaps saving the horse's life.

Summer Squall also sired millionaire females in Summer Colony (Personal Ensign H.-G1, etc.) and Storm Song, who was the 1997 Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly. Daughter Summerly won the 2005 Kentucky Oaks-G1.

Summer Squall was another product of the highly successful breeding operations of W.S. Farish III and W.S. Kilroy; a son of top sire Storm Bird out of the legendary Secretariat broodmare Weekend Surprise. This, of course, made him a half-brother in one of the more noteworthy bands of siblings in American racing and breeding of the latter 20th century.

His most prominent half-brother was Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old, now leading sire, A.P. Indy. Also among the family are stakes winning sire Eavesdropper; blackytpe-placed late-sire Honor Grades; and Hong Kong G2 winner Rainbow and Gold (registered in the U.S. as Garcia Marquez).

The sisters also could run -- and produce.

Summer Squall's G1-placed sister Weekend in Seattle is the dam of stakes winner and Travers-placed Mambo in Seattle. Half-sister Welcome Surprise was a G3 winner. Unraced sister Weekend Storm was the dam of Hollywood Derby-G1 winner Court Vision, multiple stakes winners Lord Snowden and Smart Surprise, stakes-placed City Weekend, and $121K-earner Kipling (sire of Breeders' Cup Mile-G1 winner Kip Deville) among her 10 winners. And modest winner Lassie's Legacy produced stakes-placer Aspiring.

The family is just one branch of the female-family legacy left by the great Buckpasser mare, Lassie Dear, who is in the tail-female line of many dozens of blacktype horses, including Lemon Drop Kid, who defeated the aforementioned Charismatic in that fateful '99 Belmont.

So, another sad farewell, the second in as many days. Rest in peace, Summer Squall.

Perhaps tomorrow will bring fairer skies for us all.

Monday, September 21, 2009

El Prado dead at 20: World loses splendid sire


In the wake of the loss of the great Gone West, it was particularly a shock for me to learn this evening of the death of El Prado at the "middle" age of 20.

El Prado reportedly died Monday in his paddock of an apparent heart attack.

A son of the stellar sire Sadler's Wells, out of Irish Thousand Guineas-winning mare Lady Capulet (Sir Ivor-Cap and Bells, by Tom Fool), El Prado had everything it took to be successful not only in the track, but in the breeding shed. And he did not fail to disappoint in either case.

The dashing gray won four of just nine races lifetime, but three of them were group-stakes (including the Irish National S.-G2) and was named Irish champion 2-year-old. Half-brother Entitled (Mill Reef) was Irish champion at age 3.

Their family included El Prado's fellow National Stakes winner Sir Wimborne (his dam's full brother), and their three-quarters brother Drone, who won 4-for-4 lifetime and went on to earn the note as the broodmare-sire of two Kentucky Derby winners, Charismatic and Grindstone. El Prado's second dam, stakes-placed Cap and Bells, was a winning full sister of Arlington Classic and American Derby-winner Dunce, and to stakes winners Ghan Fleet and Ace Destroyer. The female family also boasts numerous other blacktype winners, including: Almushtarak (Sandown Mile-G2); Kentucky Jockey Club S.-G2 winner Notebook; Turkish Treasure (Park S.-G3); Magic Mirror (the U.K.'s Norfolk S.-G3); and Dashing Colours (highweight older mare in Ireland from 7 to 9 1/2 furlongs).

Standing at Adena Springs in Kentucky, most recently for $75,000, El Prado unequivocally proved his worth at stud, and sired a versatile array of sons and daughters. His best include U.S. turf champion Kitten's Joy, classic-distance Grade 1 winner Medaglia D'Oro, Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller, two-time G1 winner Borrego, French-raced G1 winner Spanish Moon, and Spinster S.-G1 winning filly Asi Siempre.

Led by Medaglia D'Oro (sire of the breathtaking Rachel Alexandra and others) and Kitten's Joy (whose first crop includes 2009 juvenile stakes winner William's Kitten) some of El Prado's sons are showing some of their sire's ability to pass along talent to their foals.

I certainly had expected to see another crop or two -- or five, or six -- from this excellent stallion, whose sons and daughters must carry on in his absence.

I believe they will acquit their sire well.

Photo: Louise Reinagel

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CDI's YouTube videos like 'living' catalog page update





Like many breeders -- both new to the game and experienced -- I keep a close eye on the family of my mares. If an earlier foal of theirs, or a cousin or nephew, happens to be running, I want to know about it.

The same is true as a stallion owner. When one of Silver Music's relatively few (at present) offspring are racing, I want to know the outcome.

I use the Virtual Stable tool at Equibase.com as one means of facilitating this knowledge. It provides a no-cost way to track workouts, entries and results for a certain number of horses. (For a very small cost, since I have very few horses, I also use the Equineline.com Portfolio to track the actual offspring of my mare who has foals at the track, though it isn't as helpful with following more distant relatives.)

But today I was just thinking how much I appreciate the fact that Churchill Downs Inc. tracks (and perhaps some others I haven't needed to see) are posting all their race videos to YouTube, at least within 24 hours or so of the race being run. Now I can not only read the charts after a race, but within hours I can see how the horse really looked on the track. ... In a slightly small, or bigger and grainy sort of way, at least.

The video above is of a Sept. 12 race at Arlington. The 12-horse is Radical Fringe, the nephew of my mare Bushes Victory. Radical Fringe (by Van Nistelrooy) is the first foal of Tory's turf-sprint stakes-winning full sister, Broad Victory. He didn't win on this day, but it was his first race since last November when he closed out his 3-year-old campaign with three wins at Arlington and Hawthorne and a close second at Keeneland from five starts. And bear in mind that this race was won (impressively) by, Stradivinsky, a former Woodbine stakes winner of $325,259.

Final time was 56.27 seconds for 5 furlongs on turf; the track record at Arlington is 55.90. Not a bad comeback for Radical Fringe. And I like to watch him run, because Tory's little girl, Oracle at Delphi, is the spittin' image of her cousin, if only in color and socks.

Radical Fringe's half-brother has been running at a CDI track, too. Big Zeet is a gray or roan 2-year-old by Limehouse, and so far has been unplaced twice on dirt, devoid of speed early but plugging along at the end.

I'd like to see Big Zeet get a chance on the grass, considering his dam was a turf stakes winner and his grandsire, Grand Slam (sire of Limehouse) has thrown turf and Polytrack-types. Recall that Breeders' Cup Sprint champ Cajun Beat also won the Kentucky Cup Sprint-G3T, Grand Slam daughter Lady Digby won the All Along S.-G3 on turf, daughter Just Little is a G3 winner on turf in France, and son Ball Four won both the Kentucky Cup Classic-G2 and Fayette S.-G3 over all-weather surfaces.

I dunno if Big Zeet would like the grass, more distance, or what. But he's definitely not first out of the gate in the videos below, nor dominant traveling over Calder's dirt, though he was much a much-closer sixth the second than he was in sixth the first.




Saturday, September 19, 2009

What mission next for Midshipman?

Midshipman, the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse 2-year-old champion, made a successful return to the races Friday after a lengthy layoff.

The 3-year-old by Unbridled's Song was an impressive winner in allowance/optional claiming company at Belmont Park, his first try on a conventional dirt surface and first race since that B.C. Juvenile win.

I have to admit I'm not sure what to think of this horse. Clearly he's talented, as are so many of the Unbridled's Song line. But it's disquieting that so many of them, including Midshipman, struggle with their soundness. Is he back for a good while, or will he unravel again sooner rather than later or never?

Midshipman was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail at the end of February after suffering a reportedly minor soft tissue injury while training at Godolphin's Al Quoz Stables in Dubai. Having missed the Derby -- which is tough enough to win by going wide to circle the field on the far turn and which Godolphin keeps trying to win by circling the globe -- the connections were obviously in no real hurry to push the horse on his return to the races. And that was no doubt in Midshipman's best interests.

So, what next for Midshipman?

It isn't impossible for the horse to be ready for the Breeders' Cup again in November. With a win on Sept. 18, he could race again in mid-October, and have three to four more weeks between that start and the big weekend. The Breeders' Cup would be his third race off the layoff, often viewed by handicappers as a horse finally primed to make his best effort.

If he emerges from this comeback win in stellar shape, I wouldn't rule out an appearance out west at Santa Anita in the Oct. 10 Goodwood Stakes, a Grade 1 race also targeted by this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird. It's a huge step up from A/OC company to G1, but certainly Midshipman -- when "right" -- is a Grade 1 horse. His Del Mar Futurity win and the B.C. Juvenile last year proved that. If he were entered and ran well in the Goodwood, there should be little fear of trying to run back in four weeks over the same course in the Breeders' Cup Classic among an older handicap division that has been debated as suspect.

Another possibility, should Midshipman stay in the east and on conventional dirt, might be the G2 Meadowlands Cup in New Jersey, won last year by Arson Squad. That 9-furlong race in what could or should be lesser company might be an easier second-race-back for Midshipman.

If I were among the connections, either course would likely be fine with me; again, provided the horse is "right" and stays that way.

Any thoughts from my fellow members of the peanut gallery?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Printed Daily Racing Form wins by a length

It's findings are the result of a poll in which the response is the very definition of a "small sample." And it's impossible to say that the survey was exhaustive or that the statement respondents made with their answers was beyond any doubt.

But I think the results of my recent poll probably are a fair picture of the horse racing fan and handicapping market: Roughly half of those who watch and bet the sport still place value on the print edition of The Daily Racing Form. And probably on the print editions of other industry publications, as well, such as Thoroughbred Times or The Blood-Horse.

My poll was posted in response to a lengthy and detailed survey I completed upon being queried for my opinions during a visit to drf.com. Obviously their survey's findings are going to carry significant weight in the direction of DRF products from 2009 forward, and from the structure of the questions, I got the impression that proprietors of the Form were trying to weigh whether they should -- or, perhaps, how abruptly they could -- begin abandoning the print product.

I'd say "now" is far too soon, that "soon" is far-fetched, and that I think my little poll supports the notion.

I understand my survey's limitations. It was only answered by voluntary response of this blog's readers. Not a lot of them, in fact -- 29. And just one question was asked: "Do you still appreciate and buy the print edition of The Daily Racing Form."

But I think that's the question that needed to be asked. As it does for me, does the print edition of The Daily Racing Form still hold value to you as a fan and handicapper, and do you purchase still it?

Essentially 50 percent of people -- that is, Internet-using horse-racing-fan people -- said that they do value and buy the print edition of The Daily Racing Form. A total of 14 respondents (48 percent) buy the printed form; 10 respondents (34 percent) answered "No, print is dead;" and five respondents (17 percent) said they didn't use any DRF products at all.

Despite the tiny size of the sample, the fact that 82.7 percent of its respondents do buy DRF products hints at that company's strength in the past-performances and handicapping market. And the fact that 14 of the 24 -- 58.3 percent -- still want the option of buying the DRF every day on paper should at least prompt some pondering about whether print really is all that "dead."

After all, it isn't. And despite all the naysayers and the relentless carving away at its market by alternative media (beginning with that fantastical device known as "radio" in the 1920s), printed newspapers remain among the most widely accepted and purchased sources of news and information in the world.

Scarborough Research reports that this nation's roughly 1,400 daily newspapers and 8,000 non-dailies boast some 100 million adult readers. According to comScore, only this January, for the first time, did Google-owned sites (which include YouTube and comprise nearly two-thirds of the entire online video market) reach 100 million total viewers for an entire month. (And, seriously, how many of those were children?)

Newspaper readers spend time with the product; an average of 20 minutes per weekday and more on Sundays. ComScore reports that in January the average Internet user watched six hours of video online (11.6 minutes a day). Sure, the Internet users aren't only watching videos online. They're accessing other content, too. (And discount time spent on porn.)

O.K., so oldsters are keeping newspapers afloat, you say. Of course it's younger folks who are abandoning print. That's why it's doomed, eventually.

But wait. No, they're not.

Again according to Scarborough Research, more than two-thirds of people ages 18 to 34 read a newspaper during the average week. That's the print edition; not any of the newspaper's digitized versions. And a 2006 study by Y2M: Youth Media and Marketing Networks revealed the conventional-wisdom-flipping news that while 77 percent of college undergrads were reading their printed campus paper during a given month, just 57 percent of those students were reading the campus paper's Web site. Even more surprising, 57 percent of those allegedly wired-in, print-disconnected college kids were reading the local town's daily paper at least once a month, too, while only 45 percent chose to view news on that paper's Web site.

But that can't be, you say.

Regardless whether it can't be, it just so happens to be.

And a crucial statistic, particularly for publishers who rely on advertising revenue and not just on selling past-performances: Printed newspaper readership increases with education and income. Again, Scarborough: More than two out of three college grads and over half of those who hold only a high school diploma are regular newspaper readers.

In other words, the market segments advertisers ardently hope to reach -- those with the most money to spend -- are more likely than anyone else to be print-edition readers of a given news source.

This also seemingly flies in the face of everything that's up to date in Kansas City. After all, wouldn't the well-educated and wealthy also be tech-savvy and able to afford the best computers and portable electronic gizmos to access content on the Web? (Sure they would.) So why would they buy the stupid dead-tree edition of any newspaper, including The Daily Racing Form? ... Because it's familiar, chock full of information, well-formatted, trusted, (insert your reason here).

It's easy to see why DRF or any other company that disseminates news for profit would love to find cause to just ax the whole print operation. Why some of them, maybe even the DRF, are looking for ways to drive more readers to the Web site first or instead (even willfully driving them away from print). ... Imagine all the pressmen who could be handed pink slips, and a few of the journalists, too. Not to mention unloading the burdensome ballast of enormous bills for paper, ink and various modes of delivery.

There's just one problem for the print media as some of us actually try to hasten our own demise: People still want to buy our inky little papers and magazines.

Darn the luck.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Lord, I feel like I'm dyin'

Note: Sound file since removed as this is no longer the top blog post.

Turn down the sound if you don't want to hear this blog's one-time-only backing track. And, O.K., it isn't quite as serious as all that angst from this Allman Brothers Band classic.

But, late on a Sunday night, I volunteered for an experiment that could help advance the cause of horse racing and animal welfare. Or at least the perception thereof.

Sid Fernando, former Daily Racing Form columnist and president of eMatings.com, in the wake of Rachel Alexandra's Woodward Stakes win, asked whether the fabulous filly was whipped too much in the stretch by jockey Calvin Borel. Sid's opinion clearly is "yes." A lively exchange of comments included both Fernando detractors and supporters, with one of the most ardent anti-whip pleas being lodged by former rider Garrett Redmond.

Redmond contends that a whip is "never necessary" in a race. He believes -- and as an observer I tend to agree with him -- that flogging a horse who is already giving her best actually is counter-productive. Redmond says it's time to give up the notion even of a kinder, "padded whip" that has supplanted the traditional riding crop in some jurisdictions, such as Australia.

"Padded whips?" Redmond wrote in commentary at Fernando's blog. "Anyone out there willing to offer themselves for a taste test?"

Yeah, sure. I'll be your Johnny Knoxville, though I'm a better stunt double for Butterbean.

Now first let me make something clear -- I'm not one of those who is opposed to an outright ban of the whip, so I'm not trying to prove that particular point. A ban certainly would eliminate the animal-welfare argument against any kind of whipping and would leave all riders and horses on equal terms.

I'm also not certain that whip-prohibition is necessary, but then I'm neither a jockey nor a horse. And since I'm more likely to be mistaken for the latter than the former, if I'm to gain any education on the matter, somebody might just have to beat it into me.

Look, journalists do this sort of thing sometimes. Several years ago, two women who covered law enforcement agencies for my small-town newspaper volunteered to be pepper-sprayed, just so they could know and relate to readers what it's like. (Here's a hint: It sucks.)

My brother-in-law is a police officer. He, like most other cops, had to be shot with a Taser to give him an appreciation for the weapon's effects before he was allowed to carry one on patrol.

I honestly believe I'd rather take a series of sharp whacks with a "padded whip" than be spritzed in the mug with a chili mist or get the shock of my life from a Taser.

But to make the experiment both safe and worthwhile, a few ground rules must be set. Here's where the negotiations begin.

1. The whipper or whippers must be from the race-riding community. It is they who are whacking America's racehorses in deep stretch; one or a couple of their number should be the ones who do the flogging of yours truly. No waiting for Brian Urlacher to come off injured reserve to give me a beatdown before a capacity crowd next spring at Arlington Park.

2. I would suggest -- if Fernando serves as organizer of this stunt, as Redmond has suggested -- that he invite Borel to be the first whipper, since it was his ride aboard Rachel that prompted this discussion. If there's only one rider willing to participate in this event, I don't particularly care who you can find. But if we decide to experiment with more than one jockey brandishing the crop, then for each one "you" arrange, I want to invite one. And shut up; of course that list starts with Chantal Sutherland.

3. The whacks should be as reminiscent as possible of the blows jockeys rain onto the horses' flanks during a race. That is, backhanded. I suppose I'm not afraid of taking a few overhand swats for accuracy's sake and to appreciate the maximum force of the whip, but ideally we can arrange a positioning so that the jockey is swinging behind him- or herself to best recreate the angle and force of each strike a horse would feel during the race.

4. The backhanded strike will cause accuracy to suffer somewhat. And unlike a horse, whose head is in front of the rider, mine will be in harm's way. Some provision will have to be made for eye protection -- but I have a feeling I'd look silly in goggles and everyone will want to see my face clearly to gauge how I respond. I think perhaps leaning against the rail, hands behind my head (so my arms and the rail create a barrier) with my face toward the ground (and a camera shooting upward to catch the reaction) might be the ticket. But I'm open to suggestions.

5. Horsehide is anywhere from two to five times thicker than human skin. At least sometimes the whip-shots are cushioned by the saddle towel. And nobody wants to see me without a shirt anyway. So I'll take the whacks through a t-shirt. If the marks left behind are garish enough, we can provide photographic evidence later.

6. No running. I realize as Redmond notes that the supposed point of whipping a racehorse is to make it run faster. I'm not a thoroughbred. I'm an Irish draught. ... But I'm open to terms on pulling a wagon.

So, whether I take a few sharp shots from a padded riding crop is still an open question. But if I do, the spectacle will look something like that detailed above.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My own budding barn of runners

It isn't often enough that I find my way up U.S. Highway 15 to Gordonsville, Va., where my horses reside. But Saturday provided the opportunity, so I made the trip and I have photos to prove it.

For those who don't know -- which is probably most folks who blunder by -- the budding Golden Gale Stables breeding and racing string consists of a pair of 2009 foals, their dams, and a bun in the oven by a stallion I relocated from New York for this season. The quintet reside at Hilltop Farm VA, just north of Gordonsville, in the able care of Sarah Warmack.

Head of the household, so to speak, is Silver Music (Silver Ghost-Music Bell, by Stop the Music), an 18-year-old who was foaled not all that far away from his current home, as one of the many great racehorses to emerge from Edward P. Evans' Spring Hill Farm near Casanova, Va.

Like most Evans-breds, Silver Music (pictured clowning for the camera this weekend) is the product of splendid pedigree, by a reputable sire and out of a dam whose own mother, Belladora (Stage Door Johnny-Prayer Bell, by Better Self) was not only a Grade 3 winner in her own right, but also a three-quarters sister to 1969 champion juvenile Silent Screen (Prince John). His fourth dam was Spinaway Stakes-winner Sunday Evening (Eight Thirty-Drowsy, by Royal Minstrel).

After starting his career in Kentucky and Florida, Silver Music went west for owner Lauren Cohen and won a pair of turf stakes under trainer Wally Dollase -- one sprinting in the Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita and one at a mile and a sixteenth in the Bold Reason Handicap at Hollywood Park -- and narrowly missed a pair of Grade 3 wins on both surfaces in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields and the Will Rogers Stakes at Hollywood. Then he scored the win of his life in the Swaps S.-G2, covering 10 furlongs on the main track at Hollywood Park in 2:00.76 to defeat Dramatic Gold and Valiant Nature.

A fifth-place finish in the 1994 Pacific Classic-G1 (won by the spectacular Tinners Way) led to a layoff, and Silver Music was raced just once at age 4 before retirement. He finished his career with five wins (three stakes) from 19 starts and $351,905.

Mr. Evans had a good deal of success with this cross of Silver Ghost with Music Bell (who herself is alive and well in retirement at Spring Hill). Silver Music has a full brother who was a Grade 2 winner on turf, Musical Ghost ($252,024), who won the Red Smith Handicap going 11 panels at Aqueduct in 1998. Full brother Ghost Soldier earned $784,916 racing in Japan. And, their unraced full sister, Ghost Bell, is the dam of Philly Park stakes winner Monsoor (Mt. Livermore).

A half-sister of that quartet, Prospector's Song (Prospector's Music), won five stakes on her way to eight wins from 17 starts, earning $264,256, and is a minor blacktype-producer.

At stud in New York for his entire career, Silver Music is yet to sire a stakes winner. He does have three stakes-placers (reflecting his own versatility, one of them short on the dirt at 2 and two of them around two turns on grass at 3), and he's sired some competitive New York-breds from very slight opportunities, such as Time to Rap (7-for-17, $169,894), Stevie Stressor ($163,273, former record-holder at Belmont), Archers Gal ($111,930), Givensilver ($103,958) and Rock Queen ($92,970 in 13 starts, dam of two winners).

I'd hoped that he would attract a few outside mares in his first season in Virginia, but the economy, resulting discounts to pricier studs out of state, and some bad luck conspired to leave only me trying to breed mares to him this year. And since only one of mine foaled early enough to be bred back, that's how many 2010 foals Silver is expecting -- one.

That one, barring a lost pregnancy, will be a son or daughter born to Bushes Victory (Spartan Victory-Below Broad Street, by Kokand), who had her first foal this season. A modest winner at Finger Lakes, "Tory" is, however, the daughter of a stakes winner of $103,043 and a full sister to Broad Victory, Colonial turf-sprint stakes winner of $158,156 and dam of Radical Fringe (Van Nistelrooy), who won three of five as a 3-year-old and returned Saturday at Arlington after an 11-month layoff to finish second for a $35,000 tag to former stakes winner Stradivinsky -- three lengths clear of third place in a 5-furlong turf race run in a pretty brisk 56.27.

Tory's 2009 filly is Oracle at Delphi, mentioned and pictured on this blog prior. The chestnut filly (with three stockings to match her great-great-grandsire Secretariat) is by Mighty Forum (Presidium-Mighty Flash, by Rolfe), a multiple-G3-winner on turf whose sire was a blacktype half-brother to Group 1 winners Kris and Diesis, G2-winner Rudimentary and stakes winner Keen. Certainly the names in "Delphy's" pedigree won't inspire many American racing fans, but there are runners in the family, she seems to have been blessed with good balance and a "big engine," and if she can muster some of that turf ability displayed by her sire, her aunt and her cousin, she could be competitive at Colonial Downs. (Pictured: She also seems to have inherited or developed her dam's disdain for dogs.)

Delphy is co-bred and co-owned along with Sarah and Hilltop Farm.

And, pictured with her 2009 colt is Lady's Wager (Valid Wager-Lear's Lady, by Lear Fan), herself a winner of 10 races from 36 start (at eight different tracks all along the Eastern Seaboard) for $71,519.

Her dam was an allowance winner on turf and one of 10 winners out of Idiomatic (Verbatim-Swiss Forest, by Dotted Swiss), who also produced Acqueduct stakes-winner Bold Mate (Nasty and Bold) and 11-race winner Naskramatic (Naskra). Idiomatic was a half-sister to G2-winner Replant (No Robbery). Through fourth dam Forest Song (Mr. Music-Sylvanaise, by Meridien) this is one of the most productive tail-female lines of Bruce Lowe's Family 19, boasting several dozen stakes winners including: Grade 1 winners Slewpy (Young America S., Meadowlands Cup), Croeso (Florida Derby), 15-win filly Top Corsage (Spinster S.) and Appealing Zophie (also a Spinster winner); Grade 2 winners Replant, Super May (Mervyn Leroy H., $826,500) and Diamond on the Run (Davona Dale S.); and four-times G3 winner and sire Ide, among other graded and listed stakes winners.

Lady so far has produced a modest winner at Charles Town in her eldest foal, 4-year-old West Appeal (Way West), who runs for her former owners Dale and Patricia Shockey. Lady's second foal, a 2-year-old filly, Lady's Bopette (Bop), is close to her gate card for the Shockeys, as well. With turf runners for their sires and a second dam who was a turf winner, by a Grade 1 turf horse, I'd like to see both of those runners get a chance on the grass either at Mountaineer or perhaps shipping into Virginia next summer to run at Colonial.

Lady's Wager's 2009 colt is by Laurel Park stakes winner Inner Harbour (Capote-Blue Sky Princess, by Conquistador Cielo), and like his dam is chestnut in color, hence his name, "All In On Red." Apparently a barn favorite, he alternates between sleeping like a log and bouncing around the farm like Tigger. A smart and inquisitive foal, one of the teenage girls who frequents Sarah's place said she caught "Red" trying to sneak into the tack room the other day, and if she hadn't called him back, they'd probably have "found him in there later, napping on the couch."

Yes, I'm excited to be starting out in the race game, even if very much on the ground floor. So if this information wasn't enough for you, e-mail me and I'll ramble on all day about my horses ... or your horses, or anybody's horses.

Good night, good luck and good health to all with equine interests -- particularly my own.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mixed-up Colonial card sounds like fun to me

Colonial Downs on Sunday will host a unique race card: Eight harness races over the main track, followed by a pair of steeplechase races with a turf allowance on the flat in-between.

The card begins at 1 p.m., with the harness races including a pair of first-leg divisions of the Emergency Squads of Virginia late-closer trotting series. The series continues every Sunday in September, leading up to a mile-and-a-quarter final on Oct. 4.

After the harness races conclude, a maiden-claiming race for steeplechasers will take place over the turf course. Augustin Stable's Beech Cay has been installed as the 6/5 morning-line favorite in an eight-horse field, with a $10,000 total purse on the line.

Next, a thoroughbred allowance for 3-year-olds and up will be held at 12 furlongs on the flat. A dozen are entered to run, perhaps with a walk-up start. Colonial reports the allowance flat race will start "in the same manner jumpers do." The early favorite at 3/1 is Jack Fisher's Seer, who is 2-for-2 lifetime at Colonial and a stakes-winner at Monmouth over jumps. 

Last on the card is another steeplechase race, a claimer with a $15,000 purse for a field of six. Arch Kinglsey's 7-year-old Sunshine Numbers is the 8/5 favorite on the morning line.

A betting oddity on the card will be the "Mixed Breed Pick-3," with bettors trying to hit the winner in Race 8 among harness horses, Race 9 over jumps and Race 10 on the flat.

This sounds like a fun day at the races. I've never attended harness racing, but would like to shake loose and get up to Colonial this fall and get my first up-close gander at the standardbreds. This would be a great opportunity -- although knee-deep grass in my back yard also beckons.

Making things more affordable, Colonial is offering a downloadable PDF coupon good for a quartet of admission tickets, four programs, four tip-sheets, four hot dogs, four soft drinks and two Mr. Potato Head racing figurines for a paltry $16. After opening weekend (when the deal is good on Saturday, that is, tomorrow, too) the package will apparently be available every Sunday through Nov. 1 -- so iff'n three "anybodies" want to join up with me some Sunday and cash in on the value, drop me a line.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gone West heads off into the sunset


This afternoon comes the sad news that Gone West, a tremendous racehorse and an even better sire, has been euthanized due to complications from colic surgery.

The 25-year-old son of Mr. Prospector out of Grade 3 winning mare Secrettame (Secretariat-Tamerett, by Tim Tam) won six of 17 lifetime starts including the Dwyer H.-G1 for $682,251. Mill Ridge Farm, where he stood his entire career, most recently for a fee of $65,000, had already announced in May that Gone West would be pensioned at the end of this breeding season due to "drastically" declining fertility.

It's a shame he won't be able to live out a long retirement.

Gone West was the product of splendid breeding. Not only was his sire one of the nation's most potent stallions of the 1970s and 1980s and his dam a graded stakes winner, but talent was widespread throughout his female family.

Gone West's full brother, Lion Cavern, was a multiple graded stakes winner of $447,214 who ran on both dirt and turf, in both the U.S. and Europe. His dam Secrettame was a half-sister to English champion 3-year-old Known Fact, multiple G1-winner Tentam, Grade 2 winner Terete and Tremont Stakes winner Tamtent. Her half-sister Taminette was dam of multiple G1-winning filly Tappiano, stakes-winning millionaire and sire A. P Jet, and minor stakes winner My Earl. Half-sister Kind Hope was dam of Explosive Count, who earned $507,542 the hard way with only one minor stakes win but 24 victories from 88 lifetime starts.

True to his family's brilliant and diverse racing history, Gone West could get you almost any kind of horse -- plenty of them winners. He sired sprint champion Speightstown, but also Zafonic, who collected a fistful championships in Europe running on grass. Son Commendable won the Belmont Stakes at 12 furlongs on dirt and son Da Hoss twice won the Breeders' Cup Mile-G1 on the lawn.

RIP, Gone West, a special horse who has given us so many more special horses, including 98 stakes winners. Certainly, after your passing, the sons and daughters you've left behind will carry that number to 100 and beyond.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The gift that keeps on giving


Being a horse racing fan paid dividends for me this Labor Day afternoon in the form of a free chicken sandwich, earned by wearing a free hat.

Patrons of Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country might have been aware that, today, the eatery that "didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich," were giving those sandwiches away to anyone who came in wearing their favorite sports team's logo.

I decided to see if I could procure a free sandwich by touting my horse racing fandom, and was pleasantly surprised not once, but twice.

I told the assistant manager behind the register that I realized horse racing didn't have teams, but noted that the TVG hat I was wearing also bore the NTRA logo -- which could be considered the "team" that promotes horse racing to the masses. And, being more a fan of horse racing than of any other sport, I'd prefer to cash in on Chick-fil-A's free sandwich deal thanks to my favorite pastime.

Not only did the man make good on the sandwich deal -- and, really, what was he gonna do? -- he also asked me a question: "Ever been up to Alberta?"

Now, 99 out of 100 patrons at the Henderson, N.C., Chick-fil-A would've figured the fellow was talking about Canada. ... O.K., 70 out of 100, with another 29 never having heard of Alberta nor remotely being able to name all the provinces of Canada.

I knew he meant Alberta, Va., population 306, some 50 miles up Interstate 85 from Henderson and bucolic home to the nearest off-track-betting parlor for us racing-starved North Carolinians.

"Not nearly as often as I'd like," I responded.

I tend to work a six-day week and even getting 50 miles away from town for long enough to actually spend a day enjoying myself is a real challenge. I've only visited that OTB a time or two when I could stay awhile. I also occasionally run up on the first Friday in May, for instance, and make a bet on the following day's Kentucky Derby. Those haven't always worked so well, but it's a little more fun to bet the race and lose than to watch it on Saturday without having any wager at stake.

At any rate, needing to get on to work -- and with Chick-fil-A swarming with customers wearing sports logos, wanting free sandwiches -- today was not the time to spend a few minutes getting to know the guy behind the counter. But clearly I've at least found another fella in the area who knows what an OTB even is, and maybe that's the sign of a real race fan.

I'll have to stop in some other time and see about that. Since Brendan O'Meara left my newspaper, I have to admit that I know exactly zero people in my own county (of more than 40,000 people) who are real horse racing fans.

Oh, and about that free hat, the cap was earned a couple of years ago when I answered a trivia during an afternoon of watching racing on TVG. (I was the first to correctly answer that trainer Doug O'Neill's two international Grade 1 wins were with Fleetstreet Dancer in the 2003 Japan Cup Dirt and Spring at Last in the 2007 Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night.)

That correct trivia question answer happened to coincide with my birthday, and when I e-mailed my shipping address to TVG and mentioned that fortunate coincidence, the prize package from TVG headquarters arrived bearing not one, but two caps, and a handwritten note saying, "Happy Birthday!!"

Nice people.

So, one of the free hats from a couple of years ago has earned me free food today, and perhaps helped introduce me to somebody else who gives a flip about horse racing.

Truly a gift that keeps giving.

(Notes: Not my desk in the photo. There is not enough of a clearing on my desk for both a sandwich and a hat. Also, added perk of trip to Chick-fil-A, a visit with the friendly cow.)