Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gourmet Dinner a glutton for winning

GOURMET DINNER followed his usual recipe, stalked the lead and finished with a flourish Saturday to take the $100,000 Florida Stallion Affirmed Stakes at Calder Race Course by two and a half lengths.

The Trippi colt, whom I tipped at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training, is now 3-for-3 with a pair of stakes wins for jockey Sebastian Madrid, trainer Peter Gulyas and owners Our Sugar Bear Stable. He also ordered-up the Florida Stallion Dr. Fager Stakes on Aug. 7, and has run his earnings to $137,390.

He was bred in Florida by Ocala Stud and William J. Terrill, and was a $40,000 purchase as Hip 277 at OBSAPR.

Gourmet Dinner covered seven furlongs in 1:25.69.

I recommended the now-two-time stakes winner despite an unplaced dam because his mama, Potluck Dinner (Pentelicus-Romantic Dinner, by Who's For Dinner) had already produced six foals of racing age, all had started, and four were winners, including two stakes horses, GASTON A. and I'mroyallymecke'd. Two more half-siblings, both by Montbrook, were major non-blacktype earners; On the Rail ($219,166) and Crazybrook (15 wins, $163,931 in the U.S.).

Gourmet Dinner also breezed a very credible 21.3 in the under-tack show.

Catching up with race results from my 187-horse Class of 2010 after more a week on the road (including my first trip to Saratoga, which will be detailed soon), we see there are now 69 starters (36.9 percent) and 23 maiden-breakers (12.3 percent of all selections, 33 percent of runners). Those horses have combined to make 146 starts, winning 26 races (17.8 percent wins from starts) and to finish second 23 times and third 14 times, an in-the-money rate of 43.2 percent. They have combined earnings of $781,987, or $5,356 per start.

Three other horses besides Gourmet Dinner have become stakes-placers, including G2-placed Alienation, G3-placed Stopspendingmaria and non-blacktype stakes-placed Blue 'em Away.

Follow the performances of all 187 of my sales picks at the end of this prior post.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Two more in the win column: Nos. 22 and 23

A debuting colt and a filly who finally broke through became maiden winners Nos. 22 and 23 for my sales tip Class of 2010.

Jitalian and Grand Giana, both purchased at May's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training, cleared their maiden hurdles in Friday action. The former stalked the pace and closed to score by three parts of a length in a maiden special weight at Finger Lakes. The latter, who ran both in maiden special weights and for a tag in three prior starts without hitting the board, wired the field by six lengths for a $10,000 claiming price at Charles Town.

Ridden by Omar Camejo, Jitalian (Defrere-Sandy Lass, by Line in the Sand) was trained for his maiden win by Karl Grusmark. The horse was bred in New York by Aaron Schroeder, and is owned by David Cramer. Jitalian, who earned $10,560 in his first start, was purchased for just $7,000 as Hip 314 at EASMAY.

Jitalian covered five and a half furlongs in 1:07.58.

My assessment of the horse tabbed him as a "Priority 1" in a list of 48 horses for a buyer seeking a bargain runner among the horses catalogued at EASMAY. He only worked 11.1, "but was by far one of the taller horses on the grounds, with a lot of filling out to do." Jitalian has a winning full sibling who earned more than $80,000, but two other full siblings include a 10-race maiden and one that broke down in its fourth start.

As I'm traveling (will be at Saratoga for the Travers in a few hours) I don't have the catalog page in front of me to give details of why I liked this one enough to label him a top priority, considering the "mixed" nature of his sibling quality and the relatively slow breeze. But, it could be suggested that he justified his Priority 1 status by winning first-out.

Grand Giana (Grand Reward-Giana, by Exclusive Era) earned $9,000 for her win, and has now banked $11,000 after being a $10,000 purchase at EASMAY, where I also labeled her a Priority 1 horse. She was bought at the sale by John E. Salzman Sr., and is trained by Tim Salzman. J.D. Acosta was her rider Friday, and she covered five furlongs in 54.16.

I valued Hip 157 highly not just because her sophomore sire already had 34 winners and her stakes-placed dam had produced seven winners from 10 to race. Nor because she has a pair of stakes-placed siblings, including a Group 3 horse on turf in the U.K. Rather I think she has a lot of up-side.

"She wasn't a tall girl," I wrote in detailing how I reached my selections for the buyer, "but she was only a week past her actual second birthday, and despite only 60 days in training managed a 10.4 breeze. I think John Salzman made out like a bandit ..."

Hard to justify the "bandit" comment just now, with Grand Giana winning for $10K, the price at which she was purchased. But I think she's potentially a better horse than that. With a sire who ran successfully on grass and some turf performance on the dam's side, I think this filly should get at least a couple of shots on the lawn somewhere, and perhaps on a synthetic track.

Meanwhile, you can follow along with the successes of my 187 sales picks at the end of this prior post.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A blog too soon: Wed. adds winner, stakes-placer

In my relative haste to tout the Puerto Rican allowance win of Hold Still, the second of my 187 juvenile sales tips of 2010 to become a two-time winner, I forgot that there was still racing action on Wednesday in which other sales tips of mine were scheduled to take part.

Those races went pretty well.

In Race 5 at Charles Town, Sultry Gibson, a filly who had placed at Calder Race Course in Florida before banishment to West Virginia, wired a field of maiden special weights for her first career victory. She'd lost by a neck in her first start at CT.

Sultry Gibson becomes the 21st horse among my sales picks to break her maiden.

Travis Dunkelberger hustled Sultry Gibson out of the gate and established a five-length lead with an opening quarter of 22.22. Her margin shrank to three lengths at the top of the stretch as Dunkelberger slowed the half-mile pace to 47.34, leaving gas in the tank for Sultry Gibson to stretch out her advantage and ultimately win by four and a quarter lengths in a time of 54.13 for five furlongs.

Sultry Gibson (Gibson County-Sultry Peg Cee, by Sultry Song) was bred in Florida by North Star Equine Inc., is owned by Jocelyn Dickey McKathan, and is trained by Melissa Hunt. The filly was withdrawn from Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training, where I had labeled her a Priority 3 offering in compiling a list of likely to be affordable horses for a client in my first stint as a contracted bloodstock advisor. She was catalogued as Hip 347.

I touted her as "another of those precocious and fleet Gibson Countys" after she posted a 10.3 breeze at EASMAY, which was reasonably fast for that sale. Her dam, a modest winner, has borne six to race and five fairly modest winners. But among that group is a full sibling of Sultry Gibson who set a track record at Woodbine in her debut at 2, covering the Quarter Horse-like distance of two furlongs over an all-weather surface in 20.4 seconds.

I maintain a bit of concern over durability for any foal by the late Gibson County. That sister of this one, County Lass, only raced twice again in her life after that debut win at Woodbine. But Sultry Gibson has already made five starts, so hopefully she's showing durability that her sister lacked. Durability concerns and the generally modest nature of her winning siblings (though one had 11 wins and six-figure earnings) led me to categorize Sultry Gibson as a Priority 3 on the four-level scale I established for my client.

Sultry Gibson does have a bit more family worth mention, however. Second dam Hasty Lass (Three Martinis-Cuban Lass, by This Evening) was a six-time stakes winner, including on grass, for $233,464. She was also a half-sister to stakes winners DOTS HOT FLASH and DOTTIE T. Those three blacktype sisters raced a total of 159 times between them, so perhaps there's the durability we need to offset Gibson County, though the female line's toughness didn't extend to County Lass.

Since Sultry Gibson has slipped to Charles Town, where the purses are good but there's no turf racing, I have doubts she'll ever get a shot on grass. But she should. Her sire has winners on synthetic surfaces (including the aforementioned full sister of this one), and artificial-surface form sometimes translates quite well to grass. And Gibson County's sire, In Excess, was Irish-bred and has gotten a few top-notch grass horses such as multiple-G1 turf winner Musical Chimes. With a dam by Sultry Song (sire of Breeders' Cup Mile winner Singletary) and a dirt/turf stakes winning second dam, it couldn't hurt to see if Sultry Gibson can outrun grass-bred babies in some 2-year-old turf races this year, before the lawn turns brown. (Or when she perhaps goes back to Florida for the winter.)

At any rate, in earning $15,600 for the win, Sultry Gibson bumps her earnings to $23,190 from five starts.

Also Wednesday, another horse that I'd like to see tried on grass and synthetic followed up his maiden win on dirt with a minor stakes-placing in Canada.

Blue 'em Away (Bluegrass Cat-Alcina, by Kingmambo) persevered to finish a clear second behind heavy favorite Little Widow Maker in the Osiris Stakes at Assiniboia Downs. The race, carrying a purse of only $30,000 Canadian, does not qualify for catalog blacktype. It doesn't exactly qualify as "fast," either, as Little Widow Maker closed from last of six to win in 1:13.60 for six furlongs. Blue 'em Away was second by 2 1/2, and finished another length and a half ahead of third-place Kommando Kate.

I'd still like to see this colt tried on grass and synthetic, and don't fully understand his banishment to dirt-track-only Assiniboia after two disappointing efforts on dirt in Kentucky. He's from the Storm Cat sireline, which has plenty of turf horses to boast, his dam was by a noted grass sire in Kingmambo, and his second dam was by a grass-getting sire in Roberto. Blue 'em Away has breezed his best on synthetic at Keeneland and posted a credible 10.2 breeze on fake dirt at the Ocala April sale. I remain confident he would be at least as good a horse, probably better, on synthetic or turf.

Though not blacktype-qualifying, the effort is the fourth stakes-placing for the Class of 2010. GOURMET DINNER broke maiden at first asking, was a restricted stakes-winner in his second start at Calder, and is one of six entered for the Florida Stallion Affirmed Stakes on Calder's "juvenile showcase" day Saturday. Sales-tipped fillies Alienation (Adirondack S.-G2) and Stopspendingmaria (Schuylerville S.-G3) are both graded-placed at Saratoga.

Blue 'em Away earned $5,772 from the start, bringing his lifetime total to $14,574 in A-meri-can dollars.

I'm not keeping the stats fully updated while on the road this week (ending in Saratoga Saturday and Sunday), but will catch them all up when I get home to the master database on my desktop Mac. But, you can follow along with the performance of my 187 sales tips at the bottom of this former post.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sales class has second multiple winner

I'm not updating records and earnings while on a road trip this week that will end with the Travers and Personal Ensign on consecutive days at Saratoga. But I do take note today that my sales-tip Class of 2010 picked up its second multiple winner when Hold Still collected her second victory at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico.

Hold Still (Include-Zitlaly, by Emancipator) collected an allowance win Wednesday after breaking maiden in her last start, which was her second at the track. Charts are slow in arriving from Camarero via Equibase, so I'm not certain yet what she earned, nor even how fast she covered the six furlongs. I do know that she paid $12.50 to win.

The bay filly was an $18,000 purchase as Hip 696 at OBSAPR. She only breezed 10.3, which was just average for that sale, but I recommended her based on a dam who raced 46 times, from a very professional family with occasional blacktype performers.

Follow the progress of all 187 of my sales picks at this former post; records and earnings will be updated next week, when I get off the road.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sorry, Suffolk, maybe Wednesday

I blogged earlier about plans to be at Suffolk Downs today (Tuesday, Aug. 24), but a great man and an angry woman stood in the way.

Actually, my son, Kevin, and I spent more time on the Samuel Adams brewery tour in Boston this morning than we had planned, and it's raining all day in the area, so the track didn't seem like such a great chaser. (Get it? The man and woman mentioned in the lede are Sam Adams and Mother Nature.)

I will say this: If you're in Boston and even sort of like beer, take the Sam Adams tour. It's free ($2 suggested donation goes to several local charities, including upkeep of the cemetery where Samuel Adams and other patriots are buried), you get a complimentary 7-ounce beer-sampling glass at the end, and that glass is filled three times during a very informational session on what goes into each variety. Today's selections were the Boston Lager (still 60 percent of Sam's sales), Summer Ale (obviously a seasonal, to be replaced in just one week for autumn's Octoberfest variety), and the absolutely stellar Boston Brick Red, available only on tap and only in Boston.

If you take your tour ticket with you (that is, an unused Sam Adams label, ours were from Blackberry Witbier), you can ride a free trolley for a half-mile to eat lunch at Doyle's Cafe, an Irish pub and a Jamaica Plain institution for more than 100 years. And if you show your tour ticket and order any Sam Adams variety on tap, you get a free, full-sized, specially designed Samuel Adams beer glass to take home. (Take the tour to find out how special.)

The tasting glasses are $2 in the gift shop (if you want more of them), and the specialty glasses are $8. So for the price of a $5 bill in the donation box, a small tip to the tour guide on the trolley, and the cost of a reasonable sit-down lunch, we came away with $20 in glassware and a couple of free beers. Not to mention a fun, father-son experience.

I can't imagine a better way to spend a rainy day, without horses.

Notes from the road: Suffolk to Spa

A very brief blog post in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning, mostly just to check in from the road.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be making my inaugural visit to Suffolk Downs on Tuesday afternoon, with my son in tow -- the first-ever family member to join me at a racetrack. Yeah, it's kind of sad that's true.

On Saturday, I have tickets to the Travers, and I'm already antsy to be there.

So, if you're going to be at Suffolk on Tuesday or the Spa on Saturday, keep an eye out for the big, odd-looking fellow who bears a strange resemblance to me. Because it will be.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No. 19, gate to wire, No. 20 in a dead-heat

Winners No. 19 and 20 emerged on Friday from my list of 2010 juvenile sales tips, breaking maiden at the same track, but on very different fashion.

Racing at Monmouth Park, Bestcasescenario led from gate to wire, annexing Race 3, an open maiden-claiming event with a $20,000 tag. Two races later, Bessie M. stalked the pace alongside a filly named Feelin Abit Frisky, and the duo closed together from fourth and fifth places to finish in a dead-heat for first by a length, at a $40,000 tag.

Bestcasescenario and jockey Francisco Maysonett bolted to a two-length lead, running a quarter in 22.34 and a half in 46.19. The colt's final time for five and a half furlongs on dirt was 1:05.98, he won by four and three-quarters lengths, and he paid $7.20 to win. Race 3 wasn't immune from the dead-heat bug at Monmouth Friday, either, as Sinatra's Dancer (15/1) and Allens Prize (76/1) couldn't be separated for fourth place, resulting in $1 superfecta payouts of $2,694 and $4,815, depending on which horse was on your ticket.

Gary Contessa trains the son of Indian Ocean for owners J. Contessa and Bridlewood Farm. He was a $47,000 RNA as Hip 482 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training. He's now earned $16,750 from three starts, the first two unplaced.

I tabbed him among my top choices from this year's juvenile sales not only on the strength of his 9 4/5-second eighth in the under-tack show, but also because of his family. Though Indian Ocean is an unproven sophomore sire, Bestcasescenario's dam, Stacie's Halo (Halo-Stacie's Toy, by Baldski), won five races herself, and is now 8-for-8 on winning foals of racing age. Her offspring include G2-winning juvenile WORSTCASESCENARIO. Second dam Stacie's Toy had a full sister, MISSY BALDSKI, and half-sister, BUTTERFLY ROSE, who were both juvenile champions in Norway. So the tail-female line has a history of precocious winners.

In recommending Bestcasescenario, I wrote: "I'd usually like a more proven sire, or a better racehorse as sire (Indian Ocean just a G3 winner), but this one has a chance."

In Race 5, Bessie M and Jose Valdivia Jr. came from about five lengths off the pace to grab the lead at the sixteenth-pole and persevered to the finish, unable to hold off Feelin Abit Frisky and Pablo Fragoso, but able to salvage the dead-heat. Double Delicious (who faded to eighth of nine) set brisk fractions of 22.25 and 46.58 for the five-furlong race, in which the co-winners mutually stopped the clock in 1:07.38.

Bessie M (Medallist-Catalita, by Mountain Cat) was bred in Maryland by Mr. & Mrs. Charles McGinnes. She is trained by A.F. Allen III for owner William H. Harris.

I met Harris in a McDonald's adjacent to the Maryland state fairgrounds in Timonium, the day he bought this filly and another horse at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training. Bessie M sold early in the day, as Hip 59 (then named Carolita), and Harris was excited about his $35,000 purchase.

I had tabbed the filly a "Priority 2" selection on a 48-horse list prepared for a client seeking an inexpensive runner. While $35,000 isn't expensive for an all-but-ready-to-race 2-year-old, it was more than we were there to pay, and probably more than I'd have paid for this filly even if we had the money. But Harris' faith has (so far) been rewarded.

I wasn't fond of Bessie M's young sire, Medallist, who at that point had gotten just 10 winners from a freshman crop of 59 foals. But Bessie M made a good impression both on the hoof and on the track, where she breezed 22 2/5 for a half at a sale where such a time was fleet. There isn't much blacktype on the page in the first two generations, but Bessie M's dam earned $111,000 or so at the track, and her second dam was a half-sister to Grade 1 winner CRUSADER SWORD, among others.

With her dead-heat win, Bessie M has earned $14,640.

Maiden-breakers 19 and 20 give me 10.7 percent winners at this writing out of 187 horses selected from various sales this season. The Class of 2010 has accounted for 21 victories (one stakes) from 117 starts, for a strike rate of essentially 18 percent. Another 28 place- and show-finishes put the in-the-money rate for the class at 41.9 percent. The group has earned $620,607, for $5,304 per start.

Track the performance of all 187 sales tips at the bottom of this prior post.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Winner No. 18 gets the 'Jump' on 'em

Spring Jump burst first from the gate and was never headed Thursday night, winning a maiden special weight at Penn National to become the 18th of my 187 juvenile sales tips this year to break maiden.

Luis Belmonte got the second-out filly to break sharply from the 4-hole and she set fractions of 22.31 and 45.99, pressed all the way by the trio of Ellis Island (who faded to last), Her Smile (who stayed with Spring Jump to the end, losing by just a neck) and odds-on favorite Caribbean Lady, who weakened to finish fourth by a neck to Las Mercedes. Final time for five furlongs on a fast dirt track was 58.44. (Video available from The Blood-Horse.)

Spring Jump was the second-longest shot in the six-horse field and paid $18.80 to win. She debuted with a fourth place finish of five fillies (after three scratches) at Penn National on July 29, but her chances were compromised that night by being fractious at the gate and getting swept five-wide on the turn. Las Mercedes was third in that race, as well. Better-behaved and setting the pace Thursday night, Spring Jump dictated a different outcome this time.

Spring Jump (Jump Start-Meg's Answer, by West Acre) was bred in Florida by Jeanne H. Cutrona & Jerry M. Cutrona Sr. She is owned by Dorado Circle Stables LLC, which bought her for just $19,000 as Hip 234 from Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training in Timonium, Md. Flint Stites is her trainer.

The filly garnered $18,600 for her victory, bumping her earnings total from two races to $20,460, already more than her purchase price.

At EASMAY, I ranked her as a "Priority 2" on a list of 48 horses as I worked the sale for a client in search of a bargain runner. In detailing my work from that sale on this blog, I didn't like the fact that she's the first foal from an unraced dam, who was by a fairly modest sire. But second dam Spring Hill Answer was a durable race mare who won 11 times in modest company and later produced three stakes horses, including MAGNUS ONE and SNAPPY ANSWER.

I summarized: "This filly was among the tallest I screened, had a nice head and eye, a good shoulder, breezed 11-flat (which for that sale was decent), and already has her gate card."

She looked the part of a winner to me in May, and by August, she is one.

My 187 spring sales selections now have a record of 19-16-12 from 112 starts (17 percent wins, 42 percent in the money) and have earned $591,917, for $5,285 per start.

Track the performance of those selections, and a handful of horses whose purchases I panned (usually more on price than the horse itself), at this prior post.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sales-pick exacta provides winner No. 17

I was looking forward to Wednesday evening's fourth race at Hoosier Park, because I was convinced one of my 2010 juvenile sales picks was gonna run away and hide with that one. And I was right.

But I had the wrong horse.

Pulgarcito, a first-timer from the barn of Steve Asmussen, broke from the 1-hole, bolted to the lead under Victor Lebron, and sailed around the rail to victory by five and a quarter lengths. He set blazing fractions, especially for a first-time starter, of 21.80 for a quarter and 45-flat for the half, posting a final time of 1:04 flat for five and a half furlongs.

Trailing from gate to wire was the horse I thought was going to win, another sales pick of mine, Category Killer. Trained by Tom Amoss, Category Killer had been working more briskly than Pulgarcito leading up to their mutual debut race. Consequently, he was sent off as the favorite at about 3/2, while Pulgarcito posted odds of better than 5/1 and paid $12.80 to win. (A rare, generous payout, I should think, for an Asmussen horse making his debut at a track like Hoosier.)

Finishing third, another two lengths behind Category Killer, was Finding Paradise, the second choice in the odds at a little less than 2/1 after he debuted with a second-place finish at Churchill on July 2.

Had you boxed my "sales-pick exacta," you'd have collected $37.20 for each $4 wagered.

Pulgarcito (Greatness-Cat Attack, by Storm Cat) was bred in Florida by Edward Seltzer and Murray Durst. He is owned by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable. The colt was a $37,000 RNA as Hip 849 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training.

I'd normally ignore the get of unraced stallions, or those -- like Greatness -- who only won a couple of races and were never stakes performers. But Greatness is a son of one of the 20th century's true prepotent sires, Mr. Prospector, and his dam Harbour Club was a track record-setting stakes winner. While those genes didn't amount to a splendid racehorse in Greatness, for whatever reason, he's passed a few good qualities along to his get. Through three crops of racing age last year, Greatness has sired 75 percent runners and 53 percent winners from all foals, although just one stakes winner. He's upgraded his mares, with a 1.26 Average Earnings Index vs. a 1.07 Comparable Index.

So when this fellow -- whose dam was a G3 winner at 2 and a proven stakes producer -- blistered 10-flat through an eighth, I took notice. Pulgarcito also already had a juvenile-winning full sibling in Great Attack, who won two of three starts last year at age 2. So the stage was set with this one for an early win, and he got it (earning $21,000) in his first out.

"Another likely FL-bred winner by this over-achieving sire," I predicted.

But I didn't predict that he'd win Wednesday.

While Pulgarcito had drilled no quicker than 38.60, 50-flat and 102.20 for Asmussen, Category Killer had worked sub-24 for two furlongs in May, quick as 46.60 for four furlongs in July, and most recently ran 1:00.40 just 10 days prior to this start. I thought the son of Officer-Dial a Trick, by Phone Trick, was the sharper of the two.

I thought wrong.

Category Killer did earn $7,000 for his owners, Klaravich Stables Inc. and W.H. Lawrence. A half-brother to G2 winner EYE OF THE TIGER, G2-placed WILDWOOD FLOWER and stakes-placed stakes-producer Expanse, the colt was a $70,000 purchase as Hip 957 from the same OBSAPR sale that produced Pulgarcito. He drilled 9.4 in the under-tack show, and I suggested his price, despite being roughly double the sales average, could prove to be a bargain.

And it still might, because the colt got taken down Wednesday by an obviously super-sharp horse from one of the nation's most successful strings. I have to think Category Killer's chances are even better his next time out.

Also Wednesday, I had a firster from my sales picks making a start among NY-bred maiden special weights at Saratoga. There Goes Molly (Chief Seattle-Hey Darla, by Evansville Slew) was a $6,000 RNA at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training this past May. I thought she might outrun her odds -- which were 12/1 on the morning line and nearly 18/1 at post -- but she pretty much lost all chance when she broke through the gate before the start and had to be reloaded. That's never a good omen.

Through Wednesday's racing, my 187 juvenile sales tips have made 110 starts, producing 17 winners (9 percent), 18 victories including stakes winner GOURMET DINNER (16.4 percent wins from starts), and 28 other placings (41.8 percent in the money). The Class of 2010 has earned $572,928, for $5,208 per start.

Track the progress of all 187 sales picks, plus a few "pans," at this former post.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Korea provides blog's 'quarter-century' visit

Just a short note to acknowledge that, at 12:08 p.m. EDT today, my SiteMeter counter recorded the 25,000th visit to this blog.

The nearly 10-minute visit came from Anmin, South Korea, which is appropriate, perhaps, as I'm working on a blog post about horses I've recommended that have been sent to Korea after purchase. The reader was referred to my page from the Horse Racing in Korea blog, the proprietor of which is aiding me in tracking those present and future Korean runners from my sales tips. So, if that stopover was by my collaborator on that research, thanks anyway for the click.

And thank you to every one who has read "Fugue for Tinhorns," even if only once. It's nice to know that there's still enough interest in horse racing that people will scour the Web for information on a sport that some experts, even within the industry, fear is slowly dying.

Trust me, horse racing will be here long after any of us, and this blog, are gone. With some positive changes -- in everything from breeding, to race safety, to media and promotions, to customer and horseplayer relations -- I believe that negative trends can be reversed, and the sport's fan base can grow.

And I'm looking forward to the ride.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What a difference 100 years makes

A lot changes in 100 years. (I know, "duh.")

Still, it's worth noting that since 1910, science and technology have brought us spectacular modes of travel (luxury automobiles, jet airplanes), engrossing forms of entertainment (HDTV, gaming consoles, computers with high-speed Internet) and amazing advancements in medicine (life expectancy for the average American male has rocketed from just 46.3 years in 1900, to 73.8 by 1998).

So what the hell is wrong with our horse racing?

That question is prompted by a pair of stories I read today that starkly contrast the differences between racing 100 years ago, and racing in the 21st century.

Teresa Genaro (of the Brooklyn Backstretch blog), writing for The Saratogian, tells the story of the colt Novelty, who a century ago this year staked his claim to the title of best 2-year-old in the country by winning five of his six starts during (what was then) a three-week Saratoga meeting. Meanwhile, at Bloodhorse.com, we're told that trainer John Sadler says blazing 3-year-old Sidney's Candy, who just set a course record in the La Jolla H.-G2, in his first-ever try on turf at Del Mar, will likely not compete in the Del Mar Derby-G2 three weeks from now; that's just too soon after such a big effort.

Something's wrong with this picture.

Granted, many factors could play into this dramatic change in the expectations for our horses.

Some critics of recent breeding practices -- especially the American desire for precocity and speed that has caused a dramatic shortening in the distances of our races -- has also led to more fragile horses. It's possible that our handling of young horses, bulking-up and pushing them for the sales while hot-housing them to safeguard them from every scratch rather than letting them "just be horses," short-circuits a more natural maturation process.

Others would suggest that our horses today are too dependent upon medications. And financial considerations play a role; some horses can earn so much more money as breeding stock after their careers than they can on the track that racing them to earn income isn't worth the risk of losing that windfall in the shed to a catastrophic incident.

I happen to think it's very likely that horses 100 years ago were asked to "run through" medical maladies that no trainer would push a (valuable) horse to withstand today. And many minor illnesses and ailments might have gone completely unnoticed, whereas current veterinary medicine more readily uncovers niggling health problems -- and there's probably an injection prescribed, complete with necessary withdrawal times before the horse can run again.

Whatever the combination of culprits, I don't think it's a good thing that our expectations are now so far removed from an era when a sharp horse runs a big race -- such as Novelty's Saratoga Special win over Iron Mask and Naushon, who had beaten him in the trio's last race -- and the trainer (in Novelty's case, owner Samuel Clay Hildreth) would wheel him right back and run him again. After his upset of his two rivals in the Saratoga Special, Novelty won a match race vs. Textile (Novelty's third race in eight days), came back to win the Hopeful on Aug. 21 against all three aforementioned rivals while carrying 130 pounds, then on Aug. 27 was assigned a whopping 135 pounds for the Rensselaer and won it anyway.

Today, we have a fit 3-year-old colt setting a course record on grass -- coming out of the race "in great shape" and looking "wonderful," according to Sadler -- and a three-week break between races is just too short.

Admittedly, Secretariat was a freak. But he set course records in the Derby and Belmont and, if not for faulty timing, would have done so in the Preakness, as well, all races a total of five weeks apart. So, it's possible that much has happened just since 1973. And actually, the top three finishers behind Sidney's Candy expect to run three weeks later in the Del Mar Derby. Said Jim Cassidy of his runner-up, Kid Edward, "He ran a big race. He closed a lot of ground. ... Definitely, we're going to the Derby."

So apparently, it's OK to run a big race and then wheel back in three weeks. Just not "too big" of a race.

If Sidney's Candy had come out of the La Jolla showing signs that the effort had been more taxing than it appears, I'd more likely understand dismissing him from Del Mar Derby contention so soon. But he crushed in the La Jolla and seems to have come out none the worse for wear.

Back in the day, that was the sign your horse was razor-sharp. Thus you didn't rest him, you ran him.

So when it comes to the perpetual decline in number of starts by thoroughbreds, in a season or in a career, I'm more and more thinking it isn't the horse's fault. Whether training methods, reliance on medications or simply expectations, it's ours.

'Seconditis' weekend extends to graded stakes, but two more sales tips are maidens no longer

After starting an active three-day stretch with a couple of near-misses -- horses getting beaten a neck and a nose in maiden special weight races -- my juvenile sales-tip Class of 2010 had a strong Sunday to cap the weekend.

The Sabbath saw a pair of fillies I selected from this year's sales clearing their maiden hurdles in their second and fourth starts, respectively, and a third filly moving forward from a first-out maiden score to place in a Grade 2 stakes race in her second lifetime effort.

Let's tout the blacktype first.

Alienation, a filly owned by Jill Baffert and trained by her hall-of-fame husband, Bob, broke her maiden in fleet fashion at first asking over the Hollywood Park grass on July 5. Baffert scratched his wife's filly from the recent Sorrento S.-G3 at Del Mar, which would have been run on synthetic, and shipped her east, where she posted a bullet work in the mud -- five furlongs in essentially a minute flat -- leading up to the Adirondack S.-G2 at Saratoga.

On Sunday at the Spa, Alienation was pressed on the pace by Miss Sarah Brown (who would finish last of 10) through fractions of 21.72 and 45.07 and disposed of everyone else in the field by at least five lengths; everyone but Position Limit, that is. The Bellamy Road filly overtook the tiring leader and drew off to win the $150,000 race by five lengths, the same margin Alienation finished ahead of third-place Coax Liberty.

Earning $30,000 for her efforts, Alienation (Rock Hard Ten-Alienated, by Gone West) has now banked $54,000. She was a $60,000 purchase, so has nearly earned that back in just two starts, but has likely elevated her potential commercial value above that purchase price with G2 blacktype on her own page, and certainly has every hope for an even more promising future.

In tipping her as Hip 719 at OBSAPR, I noted that in addition to her brisk, 21-flat quarter in the under-tack show, her dam was a minor stakes winner with multiple blacktype siblings, whose second dam was a half-sister to G1 winners JUDGE ANGELUCCI, WAR and PEACE.

"If this filly earns any blacktype of her own ... this price looks very reasonable down the road," I wrote. "In fact, it already does."

Well, there you go.

Also on Sunday, maiden-breakers No. 15 and No. 16 from my 187-horse list of sales tips collected their first lifetime victories in widely disparate environments; one at Hoosier Park and the other at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico.

Fiscal Policy scored first in Indiana, building upon a third-place debut to take the field practically gate to wire in a five-furlong maiden special weight. She drew off to win by four and a quarter lengths for jockey Leandro Goncalves, covering the distance in 58.40.

The filly by Wildcat Heir-Betty's Courage, by Montbrook was foaled in Florida, bred by Robert L. Dodd. She is owned by Klaravich Stables Inc. and W.H. Lawrence, and trained by Tom Amoss. Her $21,000 share of the purse bumps Fiscal Policy's earnings to $24,080.

Fiscal Policy sold for a whopping $140,000 as Hip 801 at OBSAPR. I noted that her unraced dam had produced a solid, non-blacktype winner from two foals, and this filly's 10-flat eighth was promising. Her second dam was the stakes-placed Copelan mare Grand Betty, who produced G3 winner POSITIVE ENERGY, and this is the female family of G1 winner FAMILY ENTERPRIZE, among other stakes horses. Fiscal Policy's fifth dam is reine de course Bramalea, dam of breed-shaping sire Roberto.

"I thought she might bring less than the average Wildcat Heir (around $74,000 at the time), but she brought much more," I wrote after the then-unnamed filly sold. She was nearly the session-topper on the third day of the sale.

Later in the afternoon, Concertos Pride broke through in her fourth start in Puerto Rico. The filly had placed second among winners at first asking, losing to a horse who has now won at least thrice already. Then, Concertos Pride disappointed in two straight races against maidens (won by another of my sales picks, Hold Still).

The race was a six-furlong maiden special weight, but since it takes a few days for full charts from Hipodromo Camarero to filter their way to Equibase -- and then to me -- I'm not sure yet of the margin, or what Concertos Pride has earned from the win.

Concertos Pride sold as Hip 1003 at OBSAPR, and brought only $5,000. Though her dam was only placed, never a winner, I like that she is a daughter of a top broodmare sire in Deputy Minister, and had already produced nine winners from 13 foals, four of them stakes horses. That's the resume of a filly who should win somewhere, and pretty soon, she did. I'll need to see the time for six furlongs to see whether it's a race that would have been competitive somewhere in the States, even if at a lower-tier track.

The weekend, which included a first-time starter in Korea (to be reported later), boasted 15 races for my sales tips, with three wins, three seconds and a third, plus the third horse to achieve at least a blacktype-placing.

From 107 races, my sales picks have logged 17 wins (15.9 percent) and, with 15 places and a dozen shows, an in-the-money rate of 41.1 percent. Total earnings now have reached $539,028, not including the win by Concertos Pride or the race in Korea, dollar-figures from which aren't yet accessible for me.

Follow the race results of all 187 of my sales tips (and a few horses I didn't like) here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bout of near-misses ends with a winner: Blue 'em Away becomes 14th sales tip to break maiden

Headed into the weekend, more than a dozen horses from my 2010 juvenile sales tips had chances to reach the winner's circle at tracks across North America, and even (on Sunday) in Korea.

It was a disappointing string of days and races until Saturday night, when a horse broke through that, to me, seemed one of the least likely going into the weekend.

Blue 'em Away, a colt by Bluegrass Cat-Alcina, by Kingmambo, managed to win in his fourth start, and his second since being banished to Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg after starting out his career in Kentucky. Jockey Vicky Baze "forced the pace" from the outside, according to the Equibase chart, and defeated short-price favorite Three Mile Tough by two on the wire.

The colt, bred in Ireland by Runnymede Farm, earned $6,913 for the victory, bringing his lifetime earnings to $8,702. He is now trained by Chad Torevell.

Despite his win on dirt, covering four and a half furlongs in a fairly pedestrian 54.80, I still think his connections, Arnason Farms, are missing the boat with this horse. He breezed a credible 10.2 over the Polytrack at Keeneland before selling for $20,000 at the April sale, prompting me to label him among the "steals" of the auction. (I also named a list of "potential second-chance deals" from the sale, that is, RNAs one might be able to buy privately later, and "surreal" prices, figures that I deemed too much to pay for a given horse.)

I noted that I might rather have seen a turf-raced sire bred to the Kingmambo mare, but there is dirt performance in the family. Alcina is a half-sister to four-time stakes winner CAMELLA (Housebuster) and 11-race stakes winner STONE CANYON (Mt. Livermore) -- both of whom were G3-placed -- and of Mamalik (Diesis), who was G1-placed on grass in France. But the second dam was a stakes-placer by noted turf sire Roberto.

The colt breezed a credible 10.2 over the Polytrack at Keeneland before the sale. I was further encouraged when the colt rocketed to 48.80 and 47.80 works from the gate at Keeneland. Later works of 49.40 and 1:03 flat were acceptable, albeit not outright fast.

The connections shipped the horse to a pair of races at Churchill, where he twice disappointed on dirt. Then, off he went to Winnipeg, where he posted his slowest-ever breeze (51.60) before failing as the favorite in another dirt race -- dirt being the only surface at ASD. (He's breezed more briskly once since, 37.60.)

So, honestly, I had low hopes for Blue 'em Away going into Saturday's card. Frankly, I don't think he's a dirt horse. He's breezed anywhere from "all right" to extremely well over Polytrack at Keeneland. After running dull on dirt at Churchill, I can't fathom why he got punted all the way to Manitoba rather than just up the road to Arlington Park in Chicago, where he could try a synthetic track (or shelved until the Keeneland and Turfway meets).

With as much grass as there is in the female family, and a Storm Cat-line stallion on top (certainly a sireline capable of getting a turf runner), the colt also merited at least one chance on the lawn, perhaps at Ellis Park, before being banished to confines where the only grass around is for eating.

The connections' apparent early dismissal of the colt as a Kentucky-class racehorse aside, he's now a winner, regardless what I think, and the 14th of my sales-tip class of 2010. ... But please, bring him back in the winter and let him run on Polytrack at Turfway. I really think he'll improve on something other than traditional dirt.

Our winner now duly credited, the near-misses began with a third place finish on Thursday by Admitit, a bargain-priced filly ($20,000 at OBSAPR) who finished third, again, at Woodbine, this time on the grass. She's raced three times, has a third and another second on her record (both over the all-weather track) and has earned $18,760 toward repaying her purchase price, all without winning. And Woodbine, with its lofty purse structure, has become one of the more competitive tracks in North America.

On Friday night, two selections from Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic sale in May appeared in the same maiden special weight race at Charles Town. A $10,000 EASMAY purchase, Grand Giana, showed speed, but faded to fifth, while sales-mate Sultry Gibson led until the last instant, losing by a neck to Cuttin Edge Kitten. It was the second time Sultry Gibson had placed from four starts, her first three races being at Calder in Florida. She's earned $7,590. Grand Giana has earned $2,100 from three unplaced starts.

On Saturday, the missing got even nearer in one race, as first-timer Dangerous Ghost closed fast at the end but failed to get up in time and lost by a nose to 3/2 favorite Class E Holiday in a maiden special weight at Canterbury Park. I tipped the Ghostzapper filly from OBSAPR.

Two other maiden starters this weekend ran further in arrears in races on Saturday at Presque Isle Downs; Tale of the Tiger in her second start (an MSW) and R Canadian Academy (maiden-claimer) in her debut. Another scheduled starter, Soldier's Tune, was a trainer scratch at Calder from a $32,000 maiden-claimer in which he was the morning-line second choice at 3/1.

Through Saturday's racing, 56 of my 187 sales tips have gone to post at least once (30 percent), and the class has crested the century mark in combined starts. The class has won 15 of 102 starts (14.7 percent), placing or showing another 26 times (40.2 percent in the money). GOURMET DINNER ($75,390) is the only two-time winner, and is also the group's first stakes winner. Stopspendingmaria ($57,500) is Grade 3-placed at Saratoga. Combined earnings are now $487,644, or $4,781 per start.

You can track the performance of all 187 of my 2010 sales tips here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mizzen Mast at stud: Underachiever? Let's run some stats up the flagpole and see

A discussion about the stallion Mizzen Mast -- prompted by the debut victory of his son Rough Sailing (a 2010 sales tip of mine) in a mile-turf maiden special weight at Arlington Park -- has spurred me to transfer those thoughts from Facebook to this blog.

And what I'm thinking -- same as I've been thinking for many years -- is that we in the U.S. horse racing industry have developed practically a two-faced way of evaluating stallions.

Mizzen Mast was described a stallion who "hasn't gotten it done" at stud, in part as indicated by his $15,000 fee, which is on the lower side for Kentucky. This caused me to take up for the fellow, because, frankly, while he's not the superstar of the stallion biz, Mizzen Mast is a solid sire and, at that $15,000, a pretty good value.

At first blush, Mizzen Mast might seem to be underachieving in the stallion ranks. His name falls (just) outside the top-100 on both the General Sires list and the Juvenile Sires list, and he's nowhere to be found on the Broodmare Sires list (though his daughters are still rather young).

But look deeper, because these lists are not a direct indicator of genetic strength passed on to a stallion's foals; rather, they're heavily influenced by sheer weight of numbers.

At this writing, No. 2 on the General Sires list is
Giant's Causeway with 303 current runners; Mizzen Mast is 105th, but only has 115 sons and daughters racing. Though there are stallions ahead of Mizzen Mast on the list who have even fewer foals than he, the majority have more foals on the ground. Thus, the general sires list and really all the gross-earnings based lists always has been as much or more a product of quantity than of quality. It's a measure of the stallion's economic success -- the number of mare-owners willing to pay for a season to that stud -- far more than an endorsement or indictment of his talent, though marketing types will likely insist it takes quality (of racing career, pedigree and proven success at stud) to get mare numbers. (It doesn't; not always.)

By a similar token, stud fee to me means little or nothing regarding the actual track-worth of a sire. If effectiveness as a stallion of racehorses mattered,
Slew City Slew -- who at present gets 79 percent runners, 58 percent winners, 6 percent stakes winners and statistically upgrades his mares -- might be $35,000 instead of $3,500 and getting mares 50 percent better than the ones he's seen.

Unfortunately, beyond "the big horse" (which the highest-priced stallions do periodically get), it's fashionability of pedigree and suitability for cashing in at a yearling or 2-year-old sale that creates the bulk of the difference in stud fees, more so than quality of runners.

A fine example of the misleading nature of fees: Mizzen Mast ($15K) presently has a higher percentage of runners from all foals (68-64) and winners from all foals (48-43), an equal percentage of stakes winners (5), and higher median earnings (about $23,550 vs. $22,501) when compared to
Elusive Quality, who stands in Kentucky for $75,000. This despite a broodmare band comprised of females who are statistically about 30 percent worse than the mares Elusive Quality sees (1.49 Comparable Index vs. Elusive Quality's 2.25).

Mizzen Mast also has an average 2-year-old sale price of around $103K and a median of $52K off that $15,000 fee. Elusive Quality, who stood for a six-digit fee until recent years, has an average 2-year-old sale of around $150K but a median of $85K on his $75,000 fee; the latter is clearly a loss for any breeder taking a baby from foal to juvenile sale.

Granted, I'm picking on Elusive Quality because I've long thought he was likely the most overpriced stallion in America, if not the world. So let's look at another on the list (and contender for overpriced), the aforementioned Giant's Causeway, he of the 303 runners.

Statistic Giant's Causeway Mizzen Mast
Percent starters: 70 68
Percent winners: 44 48
Pct. stakes winners: 7 5
Pct. stakes placers:
5 4
Starts per runner: 11.26 13.07
Pct. wins/starts: 14 15
Pct. place/starts:
24 26
Average earnings: $75,136 $58,176
Median earnings: $16,378 $23,550
Earnings/start: $6,673 $4,450
Avg. Earnings Index: 1.99 1.49
Comparable Index: 3.24 1.59
AEI vs. CI: -38.6% -6.3%

Definitely Giant's Causeway leads in several key stats. He also trails in others -- particularly, and considerably, in median earnings. From that figure alone, it can be suggested (which I am) that despite his number of brilliant horses (the Shamardals, Eskendereyas, etc.), Giant's Causeway is getting
useful horses at a lower percentage of his total get than is Mizzen Mast. This despite a stud fee of $100,000 vs. Mizzen Mast's $15,000, and a broodmare band (as measured via CI) of more than double the quality of that presented to Mizzen Mast. ... For that kind of price and opportunity difference, I would expect Giant's Causeway to crush a $15,000 stallion by every statistical measure. But in this case, he doesn't.

If we choose to compare Mizzen Mast to top Kentucky stallions by purely economic measures -- stud fee particularly, number of mares booked to the stud, and even the sire lists -- then yeah, I guess Mizzen Mast doesn't measure up.

If we're trying to figure out which stallions pass muster for getting racehorses, his numbers are competitive even with stallions priced at five to seven times his fee (but not as good as the even-cheaper Slew City Slew), despite getting broodmares that are consistently and considerably lesser producers than these two mentioned star-quality stallions.

It can be argued that some sort of "mishandling" by
Juddmonte Farms, which stands Mizzen Mast, has resulted in these discrepancies in numbers and quality of mares. (It was suggested that Juddmonte erred in trying to get dirt horses from the Caro/Cozzene-line stallion, which is far better known for turf performance. I counter that Mizzen Mast ran his best races on dirt, as did another Cozzene son at stud, Alphabet Soup, and Alphabet Soup has gotten plenty of dirt runners at stud. Also, Mizzen Mast's female family includes Kentucky Oaks and Massachusetts Handicap winners on dirt among his nearest relatives, so dirt performance of his get was not an unreasonable expectation, though Mizzen Mast's best runners so far have been on grass and synthetic, most notably Hollywood Gold Cup-G1 winner Mast Track.)

I would counter that his deficits in number and quality of mares are likely heavily influenced by lacking a commercial pedigree -- Elusive Quality is by a top Mr. Prospector son in Gone West, Giant's Causeway by retired $500,000 breeding-shed megastar Storm Cat, while Mizzen Mast is by Cozzene.

Nothing Juddmonte can do could ever change the horse's family.

If one chooses to argue that Juddmonte perhaps could've done a more effective job of marketing Mizzen Mast to get more and better mares, that's a tough point to debate. It can only be quantified by the raw numbers of foals born and mares' CI -- the statistical fact that Mizzen Mast
didn't get more and better mares. (And maybe more dirt-oriented mares. That's an analysis I've yet to undertake; the pedigrees of each mare Mizzen Mast has seen.)

But saying that Mizzen Mast is "not getting results on the track" (as was suggested) sort of misses the fact that -- by almost any measure other than sheer weight of numbers -- Mizzen Mast actually
is getting some pretty good results on the track, even when measured against far more expensive stallions.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Long-distance Pick 3: Class of 2010 gets maiden-breakers from Woodbine, to Arlington, to Del Mar

Capping what was already a good weekend for my 2010 juvenile sales picks, on Sunday three horses from my list of 187 recommendations broke their maidens, two in their first starts and in impressive fashion.

The horses, two fillies and a colt, became the 11th, 12th and 13th to clear their maiden hurdle from my list of sales picks.

Sunday began with a smashing debut victory in Race 6 at Woodbine as the most expensive horse I tipped all winter and spring -- OBS April sales-topping Delightful Mary -- gunned from the far-outside post, forced the pace in a 10-horse race, and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. The $500,000 daughter of Limehouse-Deputy's Delight, by French Deputy, was sent off as the favorite at slightly less than 2/1 odds. She delivered for her backers in real "racehorse time," covering six furlongs over Woodbine's synthetic surface in a rousing 1:09.57 under Corey Fraser.

I recommended the filly off her scalding 20 2/5 quarter at the OBS April under-tack show, and because of her status as a half-sister to Ohio Derby-G2 winner DELIGHTFUL KISS, who has surpassed $1 million in earnings, was G1-placed behind Quality Road in the Donn Handicap this year, and has also set a track record of 1:49 2/5 for a mile and an eighth in the All-American S.-G3 at Golden Gate Fields. Their dam didn't win until age 4, but at the time of the sale had produced four winners from five prior foals. Delightful Mary's second dam was G1-placed, and is also the granddam of G2 winner SHADOW CASTER.

Selling as Hip 949 at OBSAPR, Delightful Mary was part of the dispersal of Florida's historic Hobeau Farm. And while I didn't set out to tip sales-toppers, just racehorses, this one certainly looked the part of both.

She was "selling without reserve," I noted, "but you'll still have to break your piggy bank. And your spouse's. And your neighbor's."

Ultimately, it was trainer Mark Casse as agent for John Oxley who signed the half-million-dollar ticket. Casse was in position to see even more in Delightful Mary than did I.

"I watched (the breeze show) from over on the backside and I was there when she pulled up," Casse told Thoroughbred Times after the purchase. "As she was walking back, I walked beside her and she didn't take a deep breath. She was just remarkable how at ease she was with everything. That impressed me a lot."

While Delightful Mary has a long way to go in paying back a $500,000 purchase price, she got a $33,277 jump-start toward the black on Sunday. And her time for six furlongs as a firster suggests she could have more winning days ahead.

A short while later, roughly 500 miles southwest of Woodbine at Chicago's Arlington Park, a second debut horse from my 2010 sales tips likewise broke maiden impressively.

Rough Sailing, a colt by Mizzen Mast-Moussica, by Woodman, rated patiently in ninth place out of 10 going a mile on grass. Blocked in near the rail at the 3/16ths pole, jockey Michael Baze angled the chestnut colt six-wide in mid-stretch and thundered home. The 4/1 co-second-choice collared leader and 3/1 favorite Tiger Mike, then barreled past to win by a widening two lengths in 1:42.32 over soft turf.

Sold in May as Hip 250 at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training at Timonium, Md., the colt wasn't on my original short list of possibilities for a buyer who hired my services as a bloodstock advisor. I liked the horse in the breeze show -- his 35 2/5 for three furlongs, one of few to run the distance, certainly helped -- but I wasn't that wild about him on the page, mostly due to his dam's slow start as a producer. (On the plus side, she's a half-sister to WILD ZONE, STRIKE ZONE and Snow Eagle.)

Urged to give him a look while visiting the barn of consignor True South, I was sold on him as a prospect upon up-close examination. But I didn't expect him to stay in my buyer's price range, and he didn't, selling for $40,000 to Jack Smith Thoroughbreds, though that price was still below the sale average.

The colt, bred in Kentucky by Palides Investments N.V. Inc., was perhaps ideally suited to win under Sunday's conditions. Mizzen Mast can get an early winner (31 percent of his raced 2-year-olds), while the late Woodman, the dam-sire of Rough Sailing, was one of few U.S.-based sires whose get (and whose daughters' foals) established an average winning distance of more than a mile.

Rough Sailing collected $16,800 for the victory. He is trained by Michael Stidham.

Later, almost 2,100 miles away from Chicago (and 2,600 from Woodbine), at the West Coast's marquee summer meeting, my Class of 2010 collected one maiden win and came close to another at Del Mar.

In the first race on the card, Lake Believe (Ford Every Stream-Learn to Hope, by Moment of Hope) finished second behind Cactus Jane in a $40,000 maiden-claimer. It was the second placing in as many starts for the Louisiana-bred filly, who debuted with a show finish at Hollywood Park in June. She was a $37,000 purchase at OBS April, and has earned $9,720.

Five races later, the Class of 2010's third winner of the day emerged from the pack in the late-going, as Rigoletta and David Flores scored at 12/1 among the maiden special weight ranks for Thor-Bred Stable LLC and trainer Dan Hendricks. Rigoletta showed some early speed in the five and a half-furlong test, but was hung out five- and then four-wide on the turn. She finished strong in this, her second start, winning by a length and a quarter in 1:05.06.

Collecting $30,000 for the win, Rigoletta runs her lifetime earnings to $30,820.

The bay filly by Concerto sold as Hip 726 at OBS April, bringing $35,000 for consignor and breeder Ocala Stud. I recommended her in no small part because her full brother, gelding Evening Concerto, is a stakes-placed winner (now with more than $59,500 earned), and her dam was half to a 10-win, G3-placed SEA OF GREEN ($651K) and LADY GIN ($227K).

"Pretty much a racehorse family," I wrote, "and this FL-bred breezed in racehorse time, 21-flat for a quarter."

The weekend got off to an early start on Thursday evening at Del Mar, when Gibson Home Run became the 10th of my 187 sales picks to break maiden, scoring in his first out. It improved on Saturday when my Class of 2010 notched its first stakes winner in GOURMET DINNER.

After the successful four days, my sales selections have won 14 of their 91 races (15.4 percent), with 12 places and 11 shows (40.7 percent OTB), for $463,288 in earnings, or $5,091 per start. One other horse has stamped her page with black type; Stopspendingmaria in July finished second in the Schuylerville S.-G3 at Saratoga.

Track the performance of my 187 selections here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back for seconds: First-out winner takes Florida-bred stakes at Calder in second trip to the table

Gourmet Dinner rallied in the stretch Saturday and just got up at the wire to take the $75,000 Florida Stallion Dr. Fager Stakes at Calder by a half-length over determined long-shot Grande Shores.

The victory, his second in as many starts, was reminiscent of Gourmet Dinner's maiden score on July 17 at Calder, when he stalked the leaders, came on in the late-going, and prevailed by a length. On Saturday, in the showers and slop, Gourmet Dinner and Sebastian Madrid, his pilot in both victories, rated in sixth place of seven through a half, swung out in the stretch, and charged home to just nip the 15-1 runner-up at the wire.

The time under poor racing conditions was 1:12.97 for six furlongs.

Heavy favorite Little Drama -- half-brother of millionaire sprinter and track record-holder Big Drama, and winner of Calder's earlier Frank Gomez Memorial S. -- was sent off at odds of 1/2, but faltered in the stretch and finished sixth, beaten 16.

Vee's Accolade (nearly 17/1) was disqualified from third to fifth, elevating 19/1 Decisive Moment into a trifecta that paid $505 despite Gourmet Dinner being the winner and second-favored at about 5/2.

With the win, Gourmet Dinner becomes the first of my 2010 juvenile sales picks to become a black-type winner. He earned $45,570, elevating his earnings to $75,390 from two starts.

The Trippi colt brought $40,000 as Hip 277 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s April sale of 2-year-olds in training. He was the fifth of my 187 sales picks to break his maiden, and beyond being the first stakes winner, also is the first of 10 sales-tip winners to collect a second lifetime victory.

Gourmet Dinner was bred by Ocala Stud and William J. Terrill. He runs in the colors of owners Our Sugar Bear Stable and was trained for the win by Peter Gulyas.

Though I typically don't select foals out of mares who were poor racehorses themselves, I made an exception for this one. Not only had he blistered a quarter in 21.3 at the sale, his dam, the Pentelicus mare Potluck Dinner, overcame her lackluster track performance to become a proven producer. Older siblings to Gourmet Dinner include: On the Rail (Montbrook), 9-for-38, $219,166; I'mroyallymecke'd (Mecke), 7-for-55, 2nd, Oliver S.(Crc), $178,325; Crazybrook (Montbrook), 15-for-67, $163,931 (the catalog page lists 16 wins and $167K); and GASTON A. (Concorde's Tune), 1st Gene's Big Sky S. (5fT,Crc), $60,065.

The colt has certainly paid off for his buyers, having now earned nearly double what he cost.

Track the progress of all my 2010 sales picks and pans in the list at the end of this former post.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Once again in SoCal, Gibson delivers off bench

On Oct. 15, 1988, a hobbled Kirk Gibson limped to home plate in Dodger Stadium and hit one of the most historic long balls in Major League history, driving a 3-2 pitch from Oakland Athletics closer and future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley into the stands in right to win Game 1 of the World Series, 5-4.

Gibson, who spent most of the game out of uniform receiving treatment on a pulled left hamstring and bruised right knee, limped his way around the basepaths, pumping his fist. It would be his only at-bat of the series, which the Dodgers took four games to one over the no doubt dispirited A's.

Thursday at Del Mar wasn't nearly as memorable a moment in Southern California sports history. But a 2-year-old colt whose name almost has to be a nod to that classic, highlight-reel moment, made good in his first at-bat.

Gibson Home Run wired a field of $32K-$28K maiden-claimers at Del Mar, covering five and a half furlongs on the synthetic main track in 1:04.71, and becoming the 10th of my 187 sales picks from this year's juvenile auctions to break his maiden.

The bay colt by Gibson County-Tanja, by Allen's Prospect, was bred by McKathan Bros. and foaled in Florida. He sold for $30,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training, and runs under the joint ownership of Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara. Working briskly up to the race and being sent off as the second-favorite at odds of slightly less than 3/1, Gibson Home Run was ridden by Patrick Valenzuela for conditioner Peter Miller.

In tipping the colt, I noted that his multiple stakes-winning dam "is yet to reproduce herself, but does have six winners out of eight prior foals of racing age." While none of them were stakes-placed and only three earned more than $50,000, and despite Gibson County's status as a less-heralded sire, I liked the colt's speedy 9 4/5 drill for an eighth, "during which he really looked the part of a racehorse."

The second dam of Gibson Home Run is the Magesterial-sired stakes-winner Fleet Road, who produced five other stakes horses (three black-type winners) besides Tanjia: MIDWAY ROAD, TUZIA, SHANGHIED, Briarwood Circle and Cargi. This is also the close female family of multiple G2 winner BUDDY'S SAINT.

I postulated that the "fleet Florida-bred has a chance to outrun his eight older siblings' earnings marks without breaking the bank at time of purchase."

Bought for $30K and raced for a $32K tag, it would be hard to argue that Gibson Home Run has so far exceeded expectations. But he banked $13,200 from his debut-nod victory. And is it ever a bad thing to say your horse won a race at Del Mar?

To keep watch on all my 187 sales picks, and a few pans, scroll down to the list at the bottom of this former post.

When the dream is worth more than the dollars

Within the hour, a filly with an emotional back-story will be front and center at Saratoga, in the toughest test of her young racing life.

Few horses who've stacked up a three-race win-streak at Finger Lakes to start their careers would get so much attention. But few horses have a story like Lisa's Booby Trap, not to mention an owner/trainer in Tim Snyder whose handling of the horse has spurred debate, at least in the Twitterverse.

Snyder's been a race-tracker since his birth in the first aid room at Scarborough Downs, where his mother went into labor after his jockey dad won a race. He met the love of his life -- late wife Lisa -- on the back side at Finger Lakes in 1993, after a runaway horse Snyder was riding ran her over. Snyder got the horse under control, then hurried back to see if the girl was OK.

Lisa died of cancer on Christmas Eve a few years ago, and a devastated Snyder took three years away from racing, the only world he's ever known. Snyder finally went back to work for a longtime friend, trainer John Tebbutt. The barn was wintering in Florida when a guy who owed Snyder a favor offered him a horse for $4,500 -- $2,000 down and the rest "on the cuff."

Snyder named his new charge in honor of his late wife, who'd "sworn up and down" she would someday come back as a horse.

But the filly hardly appeared to be a bargain. She's blind in her left eye. She has a flat right front foot and and a left front that's a bit of a "club." And she initially refused to change leads at a gallop.

"I had my doubts," Snyder admitted. "I thought I got took."

"She was a bit gawky, but a good-looking filly," Tebbutt said. "But when we took her to the training track, it wasn't encouraging. She couldn't outrun a fat man ..."

Snyder decided the filly wasn't changing leads because she'd hit her own ankle when she tried. He "made some adjustments," including switching a back shoe to the front, and the difference in her action and attitude were astounding.

Tebbutt said that in her first timed work after the changes, "she was a different horse."

"When I saw my stopwatch," he recalled, "I thought she missed a pole. ... And she did it so effortlessly."

The first three races for Lisa's Booby Trap were much the same -- virtually effortless victories among clearly overmatched company. She didn't just win by daylight, with a 17 3/4-length maiden score, it was like she finished by lunchtime, while the also-rans were straggling home in time for supper.

Offers of up to $500,000 rolled in for the fleet filly. But Snyder wasn't selling. After all, it's only money.

"Whaddya gonna do?" he asks on camera, to nobody and to everybody. "I love the business. I love the horse."

So Snyder decided to step her up in class -- way up, with an entry in the recent Coaching Club American Oaks-G1 at Saratoga -- and that's where the Twitter debate began. While I'd keep the horse, just has Snyder has, pals of mine online were flabbergasted that he wouldn't take the money and run.

"It's like winning the lottery and not cashing the ticket," said one.

Or like getting the first three questions right on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and believing you can go all the way and cash the million, I replied.

I was surprised at the ... well, I can't call it "hostility," but ardent opinion ... that Tim Snyder was out of his mind not to accept a six-figure offer for a horse who (as this game sometimes goes) might never win again, nor even race another step. And they thought he was a fool for throwing her to the Grade 1 wolves, like Devil May Care.

But I shouldn't be shocked. That's the nature of this game.

Horse racing attracts equal parts dreamers and cynics, sometimes in the same person. And probably nobody on the outside understands us at all.

The gambler inside us is always looking for ways to beat the favorite, even sentimental ones. And I get that it's hard to understand how a guy who has been living in the dorms at the track would refuse a half-million bucks for a $4,500 horse.

But many of us have walked into the grandstand on a race-day thinking, "If I can just hit this trifecta in Race 1, I'll be able to fund that Pick-6 ticket the way I really wanna play it, not on the cheap."

If you hit that early "tri," the smartest play might be to shove the payout in your wallet and leave the track before Race 2. But who does that?

You let it ride.

Tim Snyder decided to let it ride. With over $33,000 banked already, the filly named for his beloved, late wife has more than paid him back. In his heart and mind, she owes him nothing. And if he can keep her running like she has been, she might earn him more than $500,000 anyway. Hey, it could happen.

Snyder ultimately scratched Lisa's Booby Trap from the CCA Oaks, citing track conditions, but I wonder whether he didn't just heed the critics and decide to give her a lesser "next" challenge. She's entered in today's Loudonville Stakes, still a big step up in class -- she's 12/1 on the morning line and by far the longest odds -- but a more reasonable task.

Whether horseman or horseplayer, we're all in this game for the same reason. As Jackson Knowlton said after he and his "little guy" partners in Sackatoga Stables won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, it's all about "a dollar and a dream." None of us would be here -- toiling on the backstretch or gambling on the front side, up on a horse's back, or up in an owner's box -- if we weren't occasionally a dreamer. The risks of horse racing, financially and emotionally, are too great unless you're striving for far greater rewards, however improbable.

For some of us, the dollars are the dream.

But Tim Snyder has his dream horse. And you can keep your money.

(Watch TVG's feature on the pairing.)

Update: Big congrats to Tim Snyder and Lisa's Booby Trap, off-the-pace, six-length winner of the Loudonville in 1:09 3/5, in what was mostly a hand-ride. (Video via Thoroughbred Times.)