Saturday, November 27, 2010

Number of stakes horses reaches 15

As noted in a prior blog post, a Thanksgiving Day Grade 1 race in Puerto Rico provided this blog's Sales-Tip Class of 2010 with two new stakes horses as Concertos Pride and Hold Still finished second and third behind multiple graded-stakes winner La Glamorosa.

Those three formed the trifecta in the Clasica Dia de Accion de Gracias S.-G1 at Hipodromo Camarero.

I had hoped Hold Still could win the race, and she was favored on the morning line (albeit quite narrowly) over La Glamorosa, who had already won a G2 race going a shorter distance at Camarero. Hold Still's prior start was an allowance at Thursday's seven-furlong distance, a race in which she aired by six lengths (beating another stakes horse, La Kamikaze, by nearly 12 in the process), closing into a relatively brisk pace to win in a sharp time of 1:25.67.

Had Hold Still duplicated that effort on Thursday, she might have won by open lengths, as La Glamorosa scored the Grade 1 win in 1:26.71 over a fast strip. But this time, Hold Still came up a bit empty in the stretch, able to overtake the early leader, 5/1 Hjerdish, but not catch up to La Glomorosa, nor able to hold off fellow sales-tip Concertos Pride, who closed from last to grab second.

I recommended both Concertos Pride and Hold Still out of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training.

Concertos Pride (Concerto-Epistolary, by Deputy Minister) was bred in Florida by Ocala Stud, and sold for only $5,000 as Hip 1003 at OBSAPR. She is conditioned by Raul Perez for owners Establo Rio Canas, and now has two wins and four second-place finishes from eight starts, for $29,954.

I wasn't put off by the filly's 22.2 breeze, which was slower than many at the sale but could hardly be considered poor for an April 2-year-old. And I liked the fact that her dam, from the excellent broodmare-sire line as a daughter of Deputy Minister, had already produced nine winners from 13 older foals, including four stakes horses by four different sires: G3-placed TEXTURIZER (On to Glory); 11-time winner and G2-placed Deputy Lad (Mecke); eight-race winner Valid Chance (Valid Appeal); and Epistola (Buckaroo). Concertos Pride also has major-earning half-siblings of $100K by Forest Wildcat and $97K by Robyn Dancer, plus multiple-winning sibs by Pentelicus and Notebook.

As I noted about Epistolary in the past: "One sign of a good broodmare is her ability to do solid work with almost any sire."

Now Epistolary has produced her fifth stakes horse, none by the same sire. And Concertos Pride's owners have gotten good early returns on their $5,000 investment.

Hold Still (Include-Zitlaly, by Emancipator) sold for more -- $18,000 -- earlier in the sale, as Hip 696. She was bred in Kentucky by Charles H. Deters and is owned by Wanda Iris Inc. and trained by Samuel Diaz. She has now won three times with a second and a graded-stakes third from seven starts, for $32,963.

Her eighth-mile breeze of 10.3 was fair for OBSAPR, and I couldn't look past the fact that her female family simply wins. Her dam ran 46 times, winning six and placing in another 15 including some Illinois-bred stakes races, for $212,327. Hold Still's winning second dam also produced $199,981 stakes winner LA JOYERIA (42 starts). Stakes-winning third dam RAPID RAJA was a half-sister to Cowdin S.-G2 winner NATIVE RAJA and to 24-win stakes-placer Naroctive.

The stakes-placings by Concertos Pride and Hold Still runs the number of stakes horses to 15, or 8 percent of my 187 recommended horses this year, and 13.8 percent of the 109 that have started at least one race.

The class has five stakes winners: RIGOLETTA (Oak Leaf S.-G1, $180,820); GOURMET DINNER (Delta Downs Jackpot S.-G3, Florida Stallion Dr. Fager S., Florida Stallion Affirmed S., $809,660); REPRIZED HALO (Florida Stallion In Reality S., only horse to defeat Gourmet Dinner, $254,016); PULGARCITO (Governor's Cup S., $61,170); and FISCAL POLICY (Bassinet S., $59,080).

There are eight stakes-placers in addition to the new two from Puerto Rico: Delightful Mary (2nd Mazarine S.-G3A, 3rd Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies S.-G1, $310,377); Alienation (2nd Spinaway S.-G1, Adirondack S.-G2, $104,000); Rockin Heat (2nd Summer S.-G3T, Grey S.-G3A, $148,496); Stopspendingmaria (2nd Schuylerville S.-G3, $59,167); Rough Sailing (2nd Arlington-Washington Futurity-G2A, euthanized after a spill in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf S.-G1, $37,534); Spring Jump (2nd White Clay Creek S., $50,160); Goldenrod Road (3rd Clasico Fanatico Hipico-G3(PR), $14,412); and non-blacktype-placed Blue 'Em Away (2nd Osiris S.-N, $16,833).

Of the sales-tip stakes horses, only two cost more than $90,000 at the sales: Delightful Mary was the $500,000 sale-topper at OBSAPR, while Fiscal Policy brought (a surprising to me) $140,000 at the same sale.

And out of 15 stakes-winners or -placers I recommended, 10 of them -- that's fully two-thirds of the 15 -- cost $40,000 or less: Rigoletta; Gourmet Dinner; Reprized Halo; Pulgarcito; Rough Sailing; Spring Jump; Concertos Pride; Hold Still; Goldenrod Road; and Blue 'Em Away.

Those comparative bargains cost a total of $263,000 to buy -- an average of just $26,300 per horse -- and have earned a combined $1,487,522, or $148,752 apiece.

Follow all 187 sales-picks, and a few pans, at this former post.

Relax, he's in control: Catienus colt clears NW2L

Time Control sat just off the pace then pounced in the stretch to win by a widening two lengths Friday night at Penn National.

It was the second consecutive win for Time Control, who paid $8.20, $5.20 and $2.60 in the field of seven $10,000 claimers. The Catienus colt made a credible debut for a higher tag, but without hitting the board, then was dropped in for maiden-claiming $7,500 on Nov. 11 at Penn and won for fun by 14 lengths.

He is one of 187 horses I endorsed as prospects on this blog from several of this year's 2-year-olds in training sales.

Stepped up to $10K NW2L company off his maiden win, jockey Jose Flores and Time Control were only a head behind 3/1 Ishikawa through an opening quarter run in 22.69. They settled into third, a length off the pace, as Ishikawa covered a half in 46.69 with 4/1 Gibson Creek close behind. Time Control wrested the lead from those two in five furlongs run in 59.88, and finished the six-furlong test in 1:13.79, chased home by Hihopesmptypockets (9/2) and Gibson Creek. The 2.8/1 favorite, Volcanic Ocean, raced evenly and was fourth virtually throughout.

Time Control races in the colors of R J G Racing Management LLC, trained by Murray Rojas, who bought him for just $6,000 as Hip 209 at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training this May. He was bred in Pennsylvania by G & R Stables LLC and James M. Robison, MohnsHill Farm LLC and Edward A. Price.

I shortlisted Time Control for a client who hired me to identify bargain prospects at F-T Midlantic. My 48-horse list (from more than 400 catalogued and around 350 to pass through the ring) was divided into four flights, and Time Control rated a "Priority 2."

The chestnut colt would have been a Priority 1 horse on our list had his tail-female line not been fairly devoid of real talent the past couple of generations. He is the first foal out of Keep Your Day Job (Abaginone-Sultry Princess, by Sultry Song), who is arguably the best runner in recent memory from her female family. She won twice from 15 starts and was stakes-placed among NY-breds at Aqueduct for $104,316. Sultry Princess was unraced, though third dam Prospective Prince (Woodman) was three times a winner and stakes-placed in France.

And that's almost all the runners worth mentioning in the past three generations. Sultry Princess produced four foals to race and only one other was victorious, winning all of $10,080 lifetime. Prospective Prince bore five to race and three were winners, with one of them, Margarite Gautier, racking up 13 victories and $152,021; she was pretty good. The remaining blacktype is all the way down under fourth dam Princess Spook (Majestic Prince), who bore Fort Erie juvenile stakes winner TAKE IT and German stakes-placed Kulshee Mashee.

But if you checked the catalog page linked to Time Control's Hip Number above, take note it's rare to see a sheet with so much white space on it. Especially for a horse I really liked.

Time Control only breezed 23.3 for a quarter, which would be a bit slothful at other sales. But for EASMAY, over a slow track, it wasn't bad.

I liked that his sire, Catienus, just flat-out upgrades his mares, getting 82 percent runners and 61 percent winners -- not to mention a whopping 20.2 average starts per runner, well above the modern average for career trips to post. He also offers versatility, siring winners on dirt, turf and synthetic, while this family has managed to get winners on both dirt and turf (in Germany, France and Italy), despite the sparse amount of overall success.

If any stallion was going to get more out of this female family than it had shown of late, Cateinus was a good bet to be the one.

Besides, as I told blog readers upon recounting my first experience as a hired bloodstock advisor, the colt had "good bone, a cool head under inspection, and a fairly racy look."

"Watch this one do at least a little something," I predicted, "probably plenty to merit the $6,000 paid."

With two wins in three starts, even though among cheaper claiming company, and $23,760 in earnings, he's done OK so far.

The win bumps the 187-member Sales-Tip Class of 2010 to 58 wins from 368 starts (15.8 percent). With 69 places and 39 shows, the group hits the board 45.1 percent of the time. Their collective earnings have reached $3,060,434, which averages to $8,316 per start.

Follow the entire group at this former post.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Foreign Report: Viva Ace is a winner again in Korea; two new stakes horses at Camarero in Puerto Rico

It's been a pretty good week overseas for members of the sales-tip Class of 2010, with a two-time winner on Korean soil and a pair of 2-year-olds finishing second and third in Puerto Rico Grade 1 company at Hipdromo Camarero.

Viva Ace (Macho Uno-Dancing Lake, by Meadowlake) left no doubt that he would graduate from Class 4 company in Korea at BusanKeyongnam racetrack on Friday.

Korean conditions don't advance a horse from the lowest ranks -- Class 4 allowance -- simply when he breaks his maiden. Horses continue to race in Class 4, with 2-year-olds often facing older, until their lifetime earnings reach a level that promotes them to Class 3. Horses foaled outside of Korea face one another in foreign-bred races, while domestic horses benefit from fields for exclusively Korean-breds.

Viva Ace finished second in his 1,000-meter Korean debut at Busan on Oct. 17. He broke maiden at 1,200 meters in a field of 10 on Nov. 7. Despite a packed field of 14 Friday that included two 3-year-old Australian-bred winners and a pair of U.S.-bred juveniles who both had second-place finishes on their young records, Viva Ace crushed them all going 1,300 meters (about 6.5 furlongs), winning by a dozen lengths.

The dark bay or brown gelding is owned by Hong Kyung Pyo and is trained by Kang Hyoung Gon. Though he was ridden by You Hyun Myung in his first two starts, Viva Ace benefited from a weight-break Friday by carrying apprentice rider Song Keong Yun to victory. He has now earned the equivalent of $33,339 from three starts.

I shortlisted Viva Ace when he went through the ring as Hip 90 at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training this May. I was was hired to find the better prospects among the sale's least-expensive horses, and Viva Ace eventually sold to Korean interests for just $20,000, well below the average price at the sale.

I liked him for his 10.3 eighth-mile breeze, which was fairly fast for EASMAY, and because his second dam, CORMORANT'S FLIGHT won five stakes from 10 total victories for $330,138, and second dam DOUBLE SUEZ was eight times from 2 to 4, including a stakes race, for $80,161. Double Suez produced three stakes horses, including Laurel, Delaware Park and Philly Park stakes winner THUNDER FLASH and G2-placed Reef Reef.

What I didn't so much like about the colt was his lengthier pasterns, which give me some concern about long-term soundness. But he's certainly been sharp in the short term.

Two other solid early performers in a foreign market are fillies Concertos Pride and Hold Still, who finished second and third Thursday in the Clasico Dia de Accion de Gracias S.-G1 at Puerto Rico's Hipodromo Camarero. They are the 14th and 15th stakes horses from the 187-member sales class, bringing the number of stakes-placed runners to 8 percent of all selections and 13.8 percent of the 109 that have raced.

Since it takes a couple of days for charts to make their way to my inbox from Puerto Rico via Equibase, I'll detail their mutual race and update their records and accurate earnings on this blog in a couple of days.

The win by Viva Ace drives the class' overall record to 57 wins from 367 recorded starts, a strike rate of 15.5 percent. As a group, the 109 starters have at least hit the board in 45 percent of their starts. Their combined earnings are now $3,046,754, which averages to $8,302 per start and $27,952 per starter.

Follow all 187 of my 2010 sales picks (and a few pans) in the list at the end of this former post.

Thanks, Holy Kuga, for winner No. 42

On America's day of gratitude (and gratuitous grub) I had something to be thankful for even before lunch was on the table.

Holy Kuga broke her maiden in Churchill Downs Race 1, sent off at 11:31 a.m.

The 2-year-old Orientate filly grabbed the lead right out of the gate, jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. got away with moderate fractions of 23.63 and 47.19 on the way to a 1:20.60 final time for six furlongs in the slop, and the duo defeated 5/2 favorite Sarah Douglas and Miguel Mena by two lengths. Holy Kuga paid $8.60 to win in the $15,000 maiden-claimer.

Chuck Peery trained the winner for owners James M. Connors, Jim Hawkins and Kevin Jacobsen. The dark bay or brown filly was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm & Oratis, and sold for $40,000 as Hip 116 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. February auction of 2-year-olds in training.

I tabbed Holy Kuga as a prospect despite her modest 10.4 eighth-mile drill in the under-tack show. I thought she moved well enough, regardless of what the stopwatch said. I also liked that her dam, Ed's Holy Cow (by Bet Big) was a 2-year-old winner, and that Holy Kuga's second dam was Sharon Brown (Al Hattab), best known as the dam of hall-of-famer and 1994 Horse of the Year HOLY BULL. Also in the filly's favor was her status as a full sister to Allude, who was a winner at 2 and twice stakes-placed at 3 for $88,219. Half-brother Cardinal Ryan (Hennessy) won 10 of 38 starts.

Holy Kuga was unplaced in her first three starts. With the victory, she has earned $10,795.

She becomes the 42nd horse to break maiden from the 187 selections I made on this blog out of several juvenile sales this spring. That's 22.5 percent winners so far from all selections, and 38.5 percent winners from the 109 who have made at least one start.

The sales class has 56 wins from 366 starts (15.3 percent), with 69 seconds and 39 thirds for an in-the-money rate of 44.8 percent. The group has earned a collective $3,032,352, which averages to $8,285 per start, and $27,820 per starter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bestcasescenario picks up second victory

The best-case scenario for a racehorse when sent off as a favorite?

Win like a favorite should.

Bestcasescenario collected his second lifetime victory from six starts Wednesday night at Charles Town, being "kept to task" by jockey Joshua Navarro and scoring by three lengths at odds of 3/2 in $12,500 claiming company.

One of 187 selections I made on this blog from several spring juvenile sales, Bestcasescenario sat a length and a half off a blistering pace set by second-favored Round Em Up Will (5/2), who covered the first quarter of a 4 1/2-furlong race in 21.91. Bestcasescenario inherited the lead in the stretch when Round Em Up Will faded to fourth, readily holding off 21/1 Song for Nicole, a filly in amongst colts, and Saint Good Luck, who both did their best running too late.

Final time for 4 1/2 furlongs over the fast dirt at the Charles Town bullring was 52.92.

Bestcasescenario (Indian Ocean-Stacie's Halo, by Halo) was bred in Florida by Bridlewood Farm. He was a $47,000 RNA at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training, where he was catalogued as Hip 482. After failing to meet his reserve price at the sale, Bridlewood Farm and J. Contessa became the owners of record as the horse tried to earn his keep at the racetrack. He scored his maiden-breaking win in his third lifetime start on Aug. 20, taking a field of $20,000 maiden-claimers gate-to-wire at Monmouth.

He was claimed from those connections and trainer Gary Contessa in his next effort, a neck-loss in a Laurel Park claimer. The colt was again second when running for a tag at Laurel in his first start off the claim for new owners East Coast Thoroughbreds LLC and trainer Henry Walters. Now, those connections collect the $10,800 paycheck for the colt's victory Wednesday night at Charles Town.

I was perhaps a bit surprised he didn't sell for $47,000, being by Bridlewood's own, modestly priced and unproven sire in sophomore Indian Ocean ($4,000 live-foal). But I suspect his blistering 9 4/5 eighth-mile drill, tied with several others for second-fastest at the OBSAPR under-tack show, had the sellers hoping for an even bigger payday.

There were reasons to recommend the colt beyond his fast breeze. His dam won five races herself, and was already 7-for-7 at foaling winners in her broodmare career. Her offspring include Grade 2-winning juvenile WORSTCASESCENARIO (Forbidden Apple), who won the Adirondack Stakes on dirt at the Spa last year and has hit the board in three stakes races at 3 (two on grass, one on the Woodbine Polytrack) for $144,474 at this writing. Second dam STACIE'S TOY (Baldski-Butter Fat, by Prince Taj) won five stakes races and earned $450,753, and her full-sister, MISSY BALDSKI, and half-sister, BUTTERFLY ROSE, were both champion juveniles in Norway.

"This one has a chance," I wrote in recommending Bestcasescenario. And if he was going to be any good at all, his family suggested that he was bred to be early.

Two wins and two seconds from six starts at 2, with $35,530 banked, isn't a bad juvenile season so far. And I think the colt has a lot of winning ahead, as both his all-weather-running sire (a G3 winner and G2-placed on synthetic in California) and his three-surface stakes-performing sister suggest Bestcasescenario might be able to take his game onto any surface.

Pedigree enthusiasts would quickly note his terribly close, 3x2 inbreeding to dam-sire Halo, who also was the dam-sire of Bestcasescenario's own sire, Indian Ocean. Bestcasescenario is also inbred 5x5x5 to Northern Dancer. (And Indian Ocean is inbred 5x5 to both Northern Dancer and the superior race- and broodmare South Ocean, as Indian Ocean's great-grandsire, Storm Bird, and his third dam, Oceana, were full siblings.)

Bestcasescenario's win gives the 187-member Sales-Tip Class of 2010 a 55-for-361 mark from all races; a strike rate of 15.2 percent. The 41 maiden-breakers represent 21.9 percent of all selections and 38 percent of the 108 who have started. The class has now earned $3,020,013, for $8,366 per start and an average of $27,963 per starter.

Follow the full sales class at this former post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gourmet Dinner hits Jackpot; class tops $3 million

Finishing second for the first time must have whet the winning appetite for GOURMET DINNER, because on Saturday at Delta Downs, the 2-year-old colt hoarded the glutton's share of a $1 million buffet.

The Trippi colt, a member of my 187-horse "class" of 2010 juvenile sales tips, "made a huge move on the turn and roared through the stretch" to score at 20/1 under Sebastian Madrid in the Delta Downs Jackpot S.-G3. Gourmet Dinner becomes the second graded stakes-winner from the class, and the $600,000 first-place check he cashed both vaults him well into the earnings lead among my sales tips with $809,660 banked, but also pushes the class' earnings over $3 million for their collective juvenile season.

Gourmet Dinner, a 2-year-old bred by Ocala Stud and William J. Terrill and campaigned by Terrill's Our Sugar Bear Stable, was 3-for-3 with a pair of Florida Stallion Series stakes wins before finishing second by a length to fellow sales-tip REPRIZED HALO in the high-dollar Florida Stallion In Reality Stakes at Calder on Oct. 16.

On Saturday at Delta, he was lightly regarded in a field led by 5/2 favorite Bug Juice and featuring other top selections in Sweet Ducky (3.3/1), Rush Now (3.6/1) and Classic Legacy (4.7/1). None of those would finish better than fourth.

Gourmet Dinner broke from the rail in the mile and a sixteenth test over fast dirt, and settled into a stalking position in sixth place, only a couple of lengths off the lead set by Bug Juice in fractions of 22.66 and 46.56. Gourmet Dinner wasn't involved in the near-disaster caused when fellow 20/1 long-shot Aces N Kings bolted from his inside position, blowing the far turn and carrying 8/1 Blue Laser and uber-long-shot Dreamsrunwild (102/1) out with him, not to mention losing his rider, Calvin Borel, who broke his jaw in the fall. And as the field turned for home, Gourmet Dinner grabbed the lead by a length and a half, then drew off to win by 2 1/4, in a final time of 1:45.23.

Finishing second to Gourmet Dinner was a Calder rival who has trailed him home before, 48/1 Decisive Moment, while Clubhouse Ride came home third at nearly 14/1.

The colt was trained for the victory by Steven Standridge. It was the first training victory of 2010 for Standridge, who served as an assistant trainer to Peter Gulyas, the trainer of record for Gourmet Dinner's first three victorious starts, which came before Standridge decided to hang his own shingle.

I tabbed Gourmet Dinner when he was catalogued as Hip 277 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training. He was entered in the sale to dissolve the breeding partnership of Ocala Stud and Terrill, but Terrill's agent Bruce Brown was the high-bidder (at what now was obviously a paltry $40,000) and gained sole ownership of the horse Terrill co-bred.

After breaking maiden at first asking, Gourmet Dinner collected victories in two installments of the Florida Stallion Series -- first in the Dr. Fager Stakes, and then the Affirmed Stakes. Had Reprized Halo not spoiled the party with his 46/1 shocker in the In Reality Stakes, I believe Standridge and Terrill might have followed the lead of Calder-based filly Awesome Feather and pointed Gourmet Dinner toward the Breeders' Cup Juvenile S.-G1 at Churchill.

Awesome Feather won the B.C. Juvenile Fillies to run her freshman-season record to 6-for-6 and establish herself as the likely runaway winner of the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly. Now with his decisive win at Delta, Gourmet Dinner and Decisive Moment are further evidence that this year's Calder juveniles are perhaps a stronger group than some observers might have credited them a month or two ago.

My interest in Gourmet Dinner was piqued by his 21.3 quarter-mile breeze, but more important, his dam Potluck Dinner (Pentelicus-Romantic Dinner, by Who's For Dinner) overcame her own lackluster, one-start track career to be a fine producer. She has borne two other stakes horses in GASTON A. and I'mroyallyMecke'd, plus a winner of 15 races for $163K in Crazybrook and a $219K-earner in On The Rail.

And as more than just an oh-by-the-way, Gourmet Dinner is a close cousin to another sales-tip who thus far is the group's only Grade 1 winner. He and $35,000 OBSAPR purchase RIGOLETTA (Concerto-Almost Aprom Queen) share second dam Romantic Dinner. Rigoletta was the 33/1 upsetter of Tell A Kelly in the Oak Leaf S.-G1 on synthetic at Hollywood Park, punching her own ticket to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies before a minor splint injury derailed her bid.

Two graded-stakes winners with about $1 million earned in their freshman seasons, bought for a combined $75,000 at OBSAPR. Perhaps this female family shouldn't be so overlooked at sales to come.

With two new winners on the weekend, my 2010 sales-tip class has 54 maiden-breakers from 187 total selections (21.9 percent) and 107 starters (38.3 percent).

As noted, Gourmet Dinner, who was the first of the class to become a stakes winner, joins his cousin Rigoletta as the two graded-stakes winners from the group. There are five stakes winners from the class (the other two besides Reprized Halo are FISCAL POLICY, who was unplaced Saturday in the $500,000 Delta Downs Princess S.-G3, and PULGARCITO), which equals 2.7 percent of all selections and 4.7 percent of those to race. The class boasts 12 total stakes-placed horses, for 6.4 percent.

The 107 sales-tips to start have combined for 54 wins from 358 starts (15.1 percent), with another 68 "place" finishes (34.1 percent in the exacta) and 39 "show" finishes (45 percent in the money).

With the windfall from Gourmet Dinner's "Jackpot," total class earnings have reached $3,003,429. That's $8,389 per start, and an average of $28,609 per starter. Considering about $6.4 million was bid on the horses I recommended on that list of 187 (not including those withdrawn from sales), the class has earned back nearly half of what was spent on it at auction; no small thanks to Gourmet Dinner.

Follow the performance of all 187 sales-picks, and a few pans, at this former post.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two new winners for Class of 2010

If juvenile colt Rockin Heat had a theme song, his name would suggest the genre, and the tune might be Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy."

But on Saturday at Woodbine, "it" -- that being a maiden-breaking victory -- finally came, as Rockin Heat, who finished second in each of his first four lifetime starts, twice in Grade 3 stakes company, managed to score when dropped back in among maidens. Even so, the fella still had to fight for it, as the Smart Strike colt Breaking Ball was closing in the final strides and wound up only beaten a neck.

Rockin Heat's victory was one of two in the maiden ranks Saturday as Starship Success broke through later in the day in her fifth lifetime start at Calder.

Eurico Da Silva and Rockin Heat were sent off as the odds-on favorite in the 8.5-furlong all-weather test at Woodbine. After rating in fifth, they struck the lead in the stretch, but were never much clear as Breaking Ball, who had gotten away a little slow from the gate, was game to the finish.

The winner crossed the wire in 1:45.16.

Rockin Heat was trained bred in Kentucky by Y-Lo Racing Stables Inc., and is now owned by Bear Stables Ltd. He was trained for the win by Reade Baker.

I recommended Rockin Heat before he sold for $85,000 as Hip 97 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training. I'm enamored of his young sire, Rock Hard Ten, and his dam, Makin Heat (Makin-Warmedbythesun, by Lobsang(IRE)) was twice a minor stakes winner from 15 starts, for $154,682. Rockin Heat's second dam was the sturdiest of mares, winning 15 times form 93 starts from ages 2 through 8, and his third dam, Tongario (Grey Dawn II-Inge, by Post Card) among her nine winners also bore the additional victors of 17, 10, 10 and eight career races.

The colt who would later be named Rockin Heat breezed a sharp 21.3 for a quarter-mile, despite obviously being a boy with a lot of growing left to do.

And even before winning, he's proven his worth. He was twice second in maiden races before being thrown into stakes company on two occasions. There, he continued to battle his way to second place finishes, the first time by just a length in the Summer S.-G3 on turf to Pluck (who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf-G2), and then by only a half-length on Woodbine's all-weather main track in the Grey S.-G3 to Blue Laser.

With his breakthrough win, Rockin Heat is now 1-4-0 from five starts, with two G3-placings, for $148,496.

Elsewhere on Saturday, while Rockin Heat was winning in Ontario, an Ontario-bred filly from the sales-tip class was breaking her maiden much further south, at Calder Race Course in Florida.

Starship Success was unplaced in four prior starts. Dropped to maiden-claiming $12,500, she staked out a spot on the rail and pressed the pace set by heavily favored Princess Aragorn to her outside, took command entering the stretch, and won by a widening four lengths.

Starship Success covered seven furlongs on dirt in 1:29.03 for winning jockey Juan Delgado. She was trained for the win by Steve Dwoskin, and is owned by Starship Stables. The chestnut filly by Forest Camp-Our Lady's Wish, by Secret Claim, was bred in Ontario by James A. Everatt, Janeane A. Everatt and J. Arika Everatt-Meeuse.

I tipped Starship Success when she was catalogued for sale as Hip 232 (and then-named Off to Granny's) at OBSAPR. She breezed only a dull 11.2 for an eighth, and perhaps that contributed to her rock-bottom price of $6,700 to Starship Stables. But there was plenty of reason on the page to want this filly.

Though her dam only raced twice, and was unplaced, she had already produced nine winners from as many foals of racing age, and those older siblings to Starship Success had already banked about $1 million before their little sister ever sold. Five of those siblings were stakes-placed at Meadowlands or in Canada. Second dam Northern Willow was a half-sister to two-time Canadian champion VICTORIAN PRINCE, and produced Canadian Horse of the Year L'ALEZANE.

I noted that the 11.2 breeze should keep the price down, "but none of this dam's foals have failed to win yet." And that still holds true.

With the two winners, the number of maiden-breakers from the 187-member sales class (as noted above) has reached 41, or 21.9 percent of all selections. With 107 selections now to make at least one start, the number of maiden-breakers from raced foals is 38.3 percent.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting a fair shake in Philly no walk in the Parx

It isn't often I write about losing horses from my sales-tip list. But a race today at Philadelphia Park -- excuse me, Parx Racing -- has me fuming.

I have plenty of doubt that Lookin At Options, an $8,500 purchase off my EASMAY shortlist for a client seeking bargain horses, would have won the first race today in Philly. But he sure might have finished second, and I know beyond doubt that he lost all chance at the break in one of the worst cases of gate interference you could ever see go unpunished. I know the horse who slammed him and pinched him back, Novelle Prize, did manage to finish a clear-cut second. And that despite spotting the field more than a dozen lengths after being crushed between horses and forced back at the break, Lookin At Options ran on to win a photo for third.

This should be an easy decision for stewards. They don't have to take down Wayne the Train, the 3/5 favorite who won by 7 1/4. They don't even have to knock a clear-cut second-place finisher all the way to last, because the horse he victimized at the break -- a horse who had every reason to quit, but didn't -- persevered after regaining his stride and managed to finish third.

All stewards have to do is reverse the order of finish between the place and show horses. Yet they refuse.

And I can't understand it. Maybe stewards figure Novelle Prize would have finished second anyway, but that's utterly indefensible judgment. The foul by Novelle Prize against Lookin At Options contributed to the latter horse trailing the gate-to-wire winner by 12 1/2 after a quarter. Lookin At Options was only beaten by the winner by 13 1/2 at the wire, so he didn't lose much more ground in the final 3 1/2 furlongs of a 5 1/2-furlong race, while Wayne the Train was creating serious distance between others in the field.

Carried a step further, Lookin At Options trailed the horse that fouled him, Novelle Prize, by 11 1/2 lengths at the first call after the infraction, and by only 6 1/4 lengths at the wire. Lookin At Options made up 5 1/4 lengths on the offender once he got a chance to start running.

Besides, refusing to punish a blatant case of interference at the gate -- even if you think (or the odds suggest) the interfering horse was the better horse -- in effect results in rewarding said interference. Do that very often and you're asking for mayhem. It's a wonder jockeys at Philly Park aren't punching each other on the backstretch or something.

I'm not the only one who has noticed that stewards at Philadelphia Park, and within Pennsylvania in general, regularly seem to be off the mark.

When I griped via Twitter about today's ruling, this was the first response from the betting/race-fan public: "There are no rules in PA. ... I was down at Parx not too long ago and the whole place needs an attitude adjustment."

That was followed by another person's comments: "Best way to sum up PHA stewards: Three Blind Mice. ... Nothing surprises me at that joint. Absolutely nothing."

Mind you, I didn't even have money on this race, in which Lookin At Options at more than 28/1 paid $5.20 to show and would have paid much more to place. And I certainly don't own the horse. (If I did, they might have to be extracting some of my teeth from somebody's ass after that despicable "no change" decision.)

Maybe racetrack politics played a role. Despite their equally diminutive statures, Kendrick Carmouche (20th nationally in earnings) aboard Novelle Prize almost certainly has more weight to throw around at Philly Park than does Gary Wales (253rd), who rode Lookin At Options. And Dixiana Stables (103 starts this year) and trainer John Servis (55 wins from 361 starters) are much bigger players than Trin-Brook Stables Inc. and Bleu Max Stable (seven starts), who own Lookin At Options, and trainer Uriah St. Lewis (just one win from 78 starts).

But the arbiters of right and wrong have to look past the names and reputations of the involved parties, not to mention the odds of the horses. They must make the fair call regardless of the players.

Bottom-line, Uriah St. Lewis bought an $8,500 horse at EASMAY, and that horse might have been good enough for second place today (and should have been placed second) among seemingly much better company, running for a $25,000 tag. The horse lost all chance at the start, and the horse that robbed him of that chance finished second and was allowed to stay up. Stewards stole $2,520 from the pockets of the owners and trainer of Lookin At Options -- the difference between the checks for second and third -- and if you think that doesn't matter, try paying the bills on even a bottom-rung claimer for a few months.

Stewards also shafted the few who might have been holding "place" tickets on a 28/1 shot.

Parx Racing is one of the tracks I've yet to visit on the East Coast.

And if the place can't manage to run a fair race, I'll just leave it off the list.

During break from blog, two winners pass the wire

While traveling last week to pursue a job prospect, I wasn't able to keep up with my sales-tip runners on a daily basis as I usually do, and thus I look back now to report that two more 2-year-olds from the 187 I recommended at this year's juvenile sales, are maidens no more.

They are the 38th and 39th winners from what I've dubbed the Sales-Tip Class of 2010.

Winner No. 38 came at Penn National in Nov. 11, when bargain-basement-bought Time Control -- after a fair, but unplaced performance at a higher claiming level -- was dropped for a $7,500 tag and won like he should have been entered for much higher. (Though he escaped unclaimed.)

Winner No. 39 came the following day, when Dangerous Ghost -- finally sent back to the dirt after three unplaced efforts on grass -- handled a field of solid maiden-claimers at Oklahoma's Remington Park.

After showing speed but fading in the stretch during an Oct. 27 debut at Penn, Time Control was dropped into a group where he was a winner gate-to-wire, with never a doubt. Sent off as an odds-on favorite, he broke on top, led by eight entering the stretch, and drew off to win "easily" by 14 lengths. Time Control covered 5 1/2 furlongs over a fast track in 1:06.60, earning $10,080.

The chestnut colt by Catienus-Keep Your Day Job, by Abaginone is owned by R J G Racing Management LLC, trained by Murray Rojas and was ridden by Jose Flores. The colt was bred in Pennsylvania by G&R Stables LLC, James M. Robinson, MohnsHill Farm LLC and Edward A. Price.

I shortlisted him as a "Priority 2" choice on a 48-horse list compiled for a client at this May's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training at Timonium, Md. Time Control was catalogued as Hip 209, and we bought a horse in the mid-150s and were out of the market by the time he sold for just $6,000 to Rojas.

In reporting my list to blog readers (after keeping it confidential for the buyer until after the sale was complete), I admitted that I wasn't sure why Time Control didn't end up a "Priority 1" horse for us. But it certainly had mostly to do with a lack of type --not just black type, for stakes horses, but literally any text -- on the colt's catalog page. He's the first foal out of Keep Your Day Job, who was stakes-placed herself and earned more than $100,000. But his second dam bore only five foals to race, most by very poor sires, and with results to match. His third dam was stakes-placed on grass in France, but also bore just five to race, with modest results.

"Still, quite simply put, Catienus upgrades mares," I reasoned. "And that's when compared to decent sires. For a female family that of late has seen nothing but the lowest grade of stallion, he might really provide a useful racehorse out of what seems like a black hole of talent."

Time Control only breezed 23.3, but the track at Timonium was slow that week. I commented that he had, "good bone, a cool head under inspection, and a fairly racy look."

"The sire gets 82 percent runners, 61 percent winners and his raced foals last an average of 20.2 starts at the track, significantly above the breed average. Watch this one do at least a little something, probably plenty to merit the $6,000 paid."

Even a maiden-claiming $7,500 win worth $10,080 is a good start toward that.

On Nov. 12 at Remington Park, filly Dangerous Ghost was returned to the surface where I think she belongs, and won just as you'd like to see.

Dangerous Ghost debuted on dirt at Canterbury Park, where she was closing hard late, but didn't quite get up at the wire and finished second by a nose to a 3/2 favorite. Then she was sent to Remington Park in Oklahoma, and run three straight times on turf. Her first out there was a disaster when she ducked in and lost the rider in mid-stretch. She ran a decent fourth her next try. But in her third turf effort, while closing late on the leaders, Dangerous Ghost took a bad step and had to be backed out of it.

Sent out in the slop this time, and offered for a $30,000 claiming price, the daughter of Ghostzapper rated in sixth, went four-wide on the turn, stuck her head in front entering the stretch, and finished a widening 3 1/2 lengths in front as the 3/1 favorite.

She was trained for the win by Michael Biehler and ridden by Dean Butler. Al and Bill Ulwelling own the filly, who was bred in Kentucky by White Fox Farm.

I selected her from the catalog at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training, where Dangerous Ghost was catalogued as Hip 1205, and sold for just $12,000. She now has a win and a place from five starts for $14,202.

I'm not sure why this filly went quite so cheap at the sale, though she did "only" breeze 10.3. (Which would be of some significant import if tracks were carding eighth-mile races with a jog-up start.)

On the plus side, her dam, Katy Kat (Forest Wildcat) was a stakes winner and G3-placed for $210K, and a full sister to juvenile stakes winner YADDO CAT. Katy Kat has borne three prior fillies who have (at this writing) combined for 10 wins from 31 starts and earned nearly $250,000 combined. Second dam Kombat Kate (Fit to Fight) was stakes-placed herself, and produced five winners from seven foals to race, including G3-placed Kombat Kat ($234K). Third dam Caitland (Key to the Kingdom) was only placed at the racetrack, never a winner, but was a half-sister to G1 multi-millionaire and sire WILD AGAIN, and she produced LANCE (10 wins in 44 starts, Omaha Gold Cup-G3, Board of Governors' H.-G3), Borderland Derby winner MR. DECATUR, and BUILDING CODE (four stakes wins in Canada), not to mention an Australian stakes-placer in Oakmont.

That's pretty good family performance for a fairly modest, $12,000 auction gamble.

I believe the statistics are now fully caught up after my brief hiatus. They show 106 starters from my 187 sales selections; that's 56.7 percent to race so far. The 39 winners represents 20.9 percent of all sales recommendations, and 36.8 percent of those to race.

The class has won 51 of 340 combined starts (15 percent), placed 67 times (34.7 percent in the exacta) and finished third on another 34 occasions (44.7 percent in the money). The group includes 11 stakes horses, five of them stakes winners, headlined by Grade 1 winner RIGOLETTA (Oak Leaf S.-G1). They have earned $2,334,119, which averages to $22,020 per starter and $6,865 per start.

Follow the progress of the sales class in its entirety in the list at the bottom of this prior post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Goldenrod Road becomes first foreign stakes horse

Since I'm double-delayed at the Tulsa airport, there's time to start catching up on some sales-class happenings that have been set aside on this blog for the past week.

Chronologically, the first matter of tabled business that should be addressed is the foreign stakes-placing by 2010 winner Goldenrod Road.

Running last in the early going of the Clasico Fanatico Hipico-G3 at Hipodromo Camarero on Nov. 7, Goldenrod Road passed three of the early pace-contenders in the late-going to finish third, beaten 6 3/4 lengths by 2/5 favorite Vuelve Ruben M. The winner covered seven furlongs over a sloppy track in 1:25.01. First Call, sent off at about 5/1, was second, and Goldenrod Road was the longest price on the board at nearly 39/1.

The long odds were probably the product of his running a bum race one prior, when Goldenrod Road struggled home well in arrears among allowance company. But his maiden efforts resulted in a place and a win, and now he figures among stakes company, so the colt might be a little better than bettors gave him credit for on Nov. 7.

I recommended the Montbrook colt when he was catalogued as Hip 473 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. April auction of 2-year-olds in training. I was surprised that he brought only $23,000 from now-owner Carlos Oyola.

I don't know how the colt vetted, and his action on video from Hipodromo Camarero seems as though it leaves something to be desired. But Goldenrod Road breezed a sharp 21 4/5 at OBSAPR and is by a sire who gets 20 percent juvenile winners. His dam, the Notebook mare Special Report, was a winner at 2 and a stakes winner at three. Plus, she has three stakes-placed half-siblings who are all by Montbrook (as is her son Goldenrod Road) and who've combined to earn more than $300,000.

The female family is strong beyond its Montbrook ties, as well. Dam Special Report has a full sister who earned $166,000 without placing in a stakes race. Second dam Argo's Appeal (World Appeal) was a stakes winner of $113,099. His third dam is a multiple blacktype-producer, and his fourth dam a stakes winner and granddam of $8.4 million-earning, two-time Japanese Horse of the Year SYMBOLI KRIS S.

"A swell prospect," I called this colt. And so far, out of four races, he's only failed to show up once, with a win, a place and a stakes-race show for $14,412.

Follow all 187 members of my sales-tip Class of 2010 here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Viva Ace trumps field at Busan

Maiden-breaker No. 37 for my sales-tip Class of 2010 also earns the distinction of being the first winner from a contingent of a dozen that were sent to Korea.

Viva Ace (Macho Uno-Dancing Lake, by Meadowlake) bested a field of nine rivals at BusanKyeongnam race course on Sunday, winning his first lifetime race in his second career start. He had placed second in his debut.

The gelding was ridden to victory by You Hyun Myung, and trained by Kang Hyoung Gon for owner Hong Kyung Pyo. He covered 1,200 meters in 1:13.9, and has earned $23,937 from his two starts. (Provided this currency converter is correct.)

The race is not officially a "maiden's only" race, as those don't exist in Korea, where horses can continue to race among "Class 4" competition (the lowest available), even after they've won, until they earn enough money to advance to Class 3. But there were no winners in against Viva Ace on this day, and six of his nine opponents in the race for imported horses were also 2-year-olds. (Second went to an Australian-bred 4-year-old named Seonggong Bulpae, and third to a U.S.-bred Trippi colt named Suhosin).

Tasked by a client to find the best values among the bargain-priced offerings at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-old in Training this May, I shortlisted Viva Ace as a "Priority 2" animal. He sold for $20,000 as Hip 90, but I had decided to pass on him when we reached his number in the sale order due to lengthy pasterns that I thought might make him tougher to keep sound. (Photo above from the Korean Stud Book Web site.) I felt there were still a number of horses on our list later in the sale, at least one of which we would end up getting, and about which I wouldn't have that particular concern.

Consigned by Harris Training Center, the youngster posted a 10.3 breeze -- quick for this sale -- and I still did believe that he has some up-side, including blacktype second and third dams.

He's obviously looked pretty good in his first two starts.

With all available statistics tabulated through Tuesday's results (minus a Puerto Rican stakes race I'll report soon), the 187-member sales class has sent 105 horses to post (56.2 percent), with 37 winners (19.8 percent of all selections, 35.2 percent of those to race).

The class has made 326 starts, winning 49 (15 percent), placing in 65 (35 percent in the exacta) and finishing third in another 30 (44.2 percent in the money). Class earnings now total $2,285,851, which is $7,012 per start and $21,770 average per runner.

Follow the class in its entirety in the list at this former post.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bittersweet Breeders' Cup; emphasis on 'bitter'

It's taken me a couple of days to comment on the Breeders' Cup -- that is, on the two sales-tips of mine who made that championship weekend of racing -- because from the relative high of Friday, my heart was broken on Saturday with the death of a horse I'd quickly grown to admire.

In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies-G1 on Friday, sales-tip Delightful Mary held off a late challenge or two and salvaged third, but couldn't get to the shoo-in champion 2-year-old filly, unbeaten Awesome Feather, and runner-up R Heat Lightning.

On Saturday, I was hopeful that long-shot Rough Sailing might likewise figure in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. But as he entered the first turn a little bit wide, the Mizzen Mast colt's feet just shot out from under him (on a grass course that had been described as slick by some) and he went crashing to the ground with jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Thankfully, Rosie escaped without any serious injuries. Rough Sailing wasn't so lucky. He got to his feet and ran down the backstretch before being caught, but after being vanned away from the course, the colt was found to have suffered a broken shoulder and was euthanized.

I was heartbroken, and I know that my disappointment is a shadow of what his connections, Jack H. Smith III thoroughbreds and trainer Mike Stidham, must have felt.

Working for the first time as a paid bloodstock advisor, I shortlisted Rough Sailing as a "Priority 1" horse for a client when he sold for $40,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in Training this May. Catalogued as Hip 250, I liked the colt on paper -- his dam is a half-sister to WILD ZONE, STRIKE ZONE and Snow Eagle -- and was impressed by his 23.2/35.2 breeze over a slow dirt track that proved not to be his preferred surface. Though he was just a $12,000 yearling, I didn't figure we could afford him based on my inspection, and we couldn't, though his price was still almost 20 percent below the sale average.

I liked that the colt was described to me as "very aggressive," I took note that his front end was very impressive (though his hind a little less so), and it was impossible to miss his large hoof. I underlined the words "big feet" on his catalog page, realizing that a large hoof is considered by some to be one sign of a turf horse. Since the colt hailed from the Cozzene/Caro sireline, which most frequently produces grass horses, and was out of a Woodman mare, his turf aptitude was no surprise to me, and Rough Sailing came through with a first-out maiden-breaking win around two turns on turf at Arlington that left me quite hopeful.

His next race was the Arlington-Washington Futurity-G3 at the same racetrack, but on the Polytrack main course. I can't fault the connections for trying the race; it is a graded-stakes at the track where their colt was already in training, he was obviously sharp, and sometimes turf form translates well to synthetic. And Rough Sailing made a good bid, finishing second to Major Gain.

But after jockey Michael Baze said the colt had a better finishing kick on the grass, it surprised me that the connections elected to run him on Polytrack again in Keeneland's Dixiana Breeders' Futurity-G1. In a troubled trip, Rough Sailing came home a steady, but unsuccessful sixth.

I was excited to see him headed back to the grass. And I'm nothing short of crushed that he's gone after just four races, with one win, one Grade 3 placing, and $37,534 in earnings.

Delightful Mary, conversely, seems to still have a bright future ahead. The $500,000 sales-topper from Ocala's April sale, the Limehouse filly out of the French Deputy mare Deputy's Delight won her first two starts on synthetic at Woodbine -- one sprinting, one routing -- then was second to Wyomia in the Mazarine S.-G3. With her show finish in the Juvenile Fillies, she has earned back $310,377 of that purcahse price.

I wish good luck to her owner, John C. Oxley, and trainer, Mark Casse, as she moves forward from here.

Track the entire sales-tip class -- 187 horses -- at this former post.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Life At Ten fiasco: Blame for all, save the rider

Bettors and horse-welfare advocates alike are in a furor, and have a right to be, over the fact that Life At Ten broke from the gate -- if you can call it that -- in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, despite showing obvious signs to both her trainer and rider that she just wasn't right.

It was downright wrong that the unwell horse was loaded into the gate and asked to, in any way, "run" with the field. It's also wrong that the stewards didn't immediately refund all wagers placed on Life At Ten -- the second choice in the wagering at 7/2 -- when it was clear from the moment the gate opened (actually, well before it closed behind her) that the horse never stood a chance and almost certainly shouldn't run.

So call down wrath from the sky upon the stewards. Vent your fury on the track veterinarians, who observed Life At Ten after both trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez suggested she wasn't well, but authorized her to run anyway. Be angry that Pletcher didn't make the disappointing decision to scratch his own horse when she didn't seem right, though it could be argued he chose to trust the judgment of the vets.

But whether you're livid that the horse's safety was risked, furious that you lost money wrongfully on betting a horse that never even tried to race, or both, I say spare John Velazquez. He did all he could do in untenable circumstances.

According to Blood-Horse reports, Pletcher said Life At Ten seemed well when she walked over to the paddock. But he noticed problems during the saddling, describing the mare as acting as though she'd been sedated. Pletcher said he told Velazquez to be sure he warmed-up the mare well. But when she didn't respond to the rider's efforts, Pletcher said Velazquez asked that vets check Life At Ten before loading the horse into the gate for the start.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine practitioners, said in a statement that a team of three vets at the starting gate "did not observe any physical problems." In fact, Bramlage said the vets didn't find anything out of the ordinary upon examining Life At Ten after the race, either.

(Note: The Daily Racing Form reports that Velazquez said nothing to the vets pre-race, according to a quote by Bramlage. Somebody should get to the bottom of that. Complaining to the vets; did Johnny V, or didn't he?)

At any rate, something wasn't right. John Velazquez knew it; even said so before a television audience. And when the veterinarians didn't scratch the horse (and Pletcher didn't either), in my mind Velazquez was left to make one of three terrible choices.

1. Get off the horse. Refuse to ride her. Risk them calling in a replacement jockey who will ride Life At Ten as though nothing is amiss, until such time as she goes completely wrong, perhaps fatally.

2. Ride the mare himself as though nothing is amiss, even though he knows that there is. Be the jockey that maybe kills her. And maybe gets himself killed in the process.

3. Stay on the horse that has become one of his most prized regular mounts, so that nobody else has control of his stricken charge's fate. When the gate opens, keep Life At Ten under wraps for her own good.

In an impossible situation, where he (and possibly the horse) will be damned regardless of his choice, John Velazquez did the closest thing there was to "the right thing."

Yes, it screwed bettors. But were they (or "you" where applicable) any more screwed by Velazquez's not persevering at all with Life At Ten than if she had broken down on the clubhouse turn? Or had a heart attack on the backstretch?

It's the vets' error for not listening to a trainer and a rider who both (at least according to some reports) were openly concerned that the horse they know, train and ride wasn't herself today. Pletcher could be blamed for sending her out to the post-parade at all considering how she was behaving in the paddock. And it's the house's inexcusable decision to keep your money when the horse you bet was as close a thing as you'll find in this game to a non-starter without actually "not starting."

The Life At Ten incident of BC2010 was embarrassing. Terrible.

But John Velazquez quite possibly saved us from far worse.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My only tip for the Breeders' Cup, but it's a doozy

With the Breeders' Cup finally upon us, I'm going to leave the heavy-duty handicapping other pros and bloggers.

I'm gonna make just one highly controversial recommendation.

Toss Quality Road in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

I don't write that lightly, and certainly not with any joy. Quality Road's owner and breeder, Edward P. Evans, is one of the true gentlemen of the sport, and a Virginia icon, the state where some of the fondest of my early horse-racing connections (and my only two foals) happen to be. I briefly owned a stallion he bred, the late Silver Music (winner of the G2 Swaps Stakes). Folks associated with his operation have been kind enough to not only offer uncompensated advice on getting into (and getting through) this business, but to take in another older stallion I was placing, giving him a great home and third career as a teaser.

And I'm not rooting against Quality Road on Saturday. I don't do that, even when I have money on a race. I cheer for the horse(s) on my ticket, but never wish ill -- not a bad trip, not even a dull effort -- on the others in the race. They're magnificent animals who lay their lives on the line every time they race and while it's fun to bet 'em (and beat 'em), and intriguing to discuss their place in history (such as the frequent furor around Zenyatta), they all deserve our respect.

If I lose -- and oh, do I lose -- my first thought will usually be "how did I miss that?" Or at the very least: "Today was their day. Not mine."

(Sidebar: If you happen to have a calendar with the date marked on it for when my next "My Day" happens to be, please drop me a line. I've been waiting on that like a kid pining for Christmas.)

No, in this case, I think one of the more wildly talented horses we've seen in the past few years, is just not well-spotted to win this race. And I'm not sure there's anything his connections could do about it.

Some took a dimmer view of Quality Road's chances after he was assigned the 1-hole in the post-position draw. The rail at Churchill can be a tough place to start a race; ask Lookin At Lucky, who was beaten around and against the fence enough on the first trip by the stands in this year's Kentucky Derby to rob him of all chance.

But with fewer horses in the gate (12 vs. 20), the gate's positioning won't be quite so far to the inside and the rail won't "come up" on Quality Road as it does on a Derby starter as they break for a 10-furlong race from Churchill's chute. There also won't be quite the crush of horses trying to get down to the rail. And after all, if there's a horse in this Breeders' Cup Classic who is the speed of the speed if he wants to be, it's Quality Road. So I think he can actually play the 1-hole to his advantage, take the early lead, save ground all the way around while in front (others saving ground will have to shuffle back to do so) and hopefully control the pace to have gas left in the tank for the stretch.

But therein lies the trouble, in my opinion, for Quality Road. I'm not sure whether he's a gas-guzzler, like most muscle cars, or the tank just isn't quite big enough. But when it comes to getting 10 furlongs, I don't think he's the right horse.

From the perspective of just this race, Quality Road isn't likely to get an uncontested lead with a soft pace. The other two logical speed horses are drawn just to his outside -- No. 3 Haynesfield (12/1) and No. 4 First Dude (15/1) -- and have little to lose by just "going for it" from the gate. The 7, Musket Man, another horse I love but think doesn't fit at this distance, isn't the type to let the leaders back up into him too much without pushing them to go on with it. So the 5/1 Quality Road is likely to be hounded by 12/1, 15/1 and 20/1 long-shots who might be even higher in the odds by post-time.

That sets up the race for a stalker or a deep-closer, and apart from Quality Road, that's where the biggest talents of this Breeders' Cup field lie in wait. If she's on her game, expect the undefeated queen, Zenyatta (8/5), to be coming hard in the final two furlongs. I think Lookin At Lucky (6/1) might be the sharpest horse in the field right now and unlike his battering rail-trip in the Derby, can more casually find a spot from which to stalk or close from his position on the far outside. Churchill-loving Blame (9/2) and up-and-comer (but not quite gettin' there-er, sometimes by a whisker) Fly Down (15/1) can settle into good positions from their posts, 5 and 6. If he takes to the track when it's (likely) fast -- something I consider iffy -- turf standout Paddy O'Prado (15/1) could also be closing late as he did to pick up third in a sloppy Derby back in May.

So I'm confident that somebody's gonna pass Quality Road before the wire, as did Blame when they met in the nine-furlong Whitney a couple of months back. (And Blame did it even though Quality Road benefited from fractions of 24.41 and 48.06 that were far from suicidal.) In fact, I wouldn't be flabbergasted if Quality Road were passed in the stretch on Saturday by two horses. Or three. Or more.

Sealing the deal in my opinion is the fact that the undeniably gifted, brilliant, very fast racehorse that is Quality Road, is only a 50/50 proposition when asked to race beyond a mile. He has six lifetime starts at nine or 10 furlongs. He has won three of them, all at the shorter of the two distances, two in record time at Gulfstream (the 2010 Donn H.-G1 and 2009 Florida Derby-G1). But he's 0-for-2 at 10 panels.

Now look inside that raw, coin-toss-equivalent percentage and see the horses he defeated, and which horses managed to beat him in the losses.

The 9f wins, in reverse chronological order:

-- Sept. 4 this year, the Woodward S.-G1, over Mythical Power, Tranquil Manner, Convocation, Indian Dance, Arcodoro and a by-now-flightless Mine That Bird. Apart from Mine That Bird's walking on water in the 2009 Derby, there isn't even a Grade 2 win in that field. Mythical Power has won two G3s; Indian Dance an overnight stake at Laurel. The other three have never won a stakes race of any kind, anywhere. The Woodward, in fact, is Tranquil Manner's only lifetime placing in a stakes race.

-- This year's Donn Handicap in February, the second time Quality Road has set the Gulfstream Park track record for a mile and an eighth, this time at 1:47.49. (He also holds the Saratoga record for 6.5f, a blistering 1:13.45.) Second place was Dry Martini, a rugged war-horse, four-time G2 or G3 winner (including at 10f) and millionaire who has been among the closest to chase home Quality Road more than once. Third was Delightful Kiss, G2 winner of the Ohio Derby. A respectable trifecta. The rest of the field: Mambo Meister; Helsinki; Past the Point; Kiss the Kid; Duke of Mischief; Dubai Gold.

-- The 2009 Florida Derby, a 1:47.72 track record win over Dunkirk (two G1 placings, no stakes wins before he became another Unbridled-line to break and be retired after five races), Theregoesjojo (only horse ever to beat Quality Road at less than 9f, in a 7f Gulfstream allowance, but whose only stakes performance besides two losses to QR is a third at Prairie Meadows), Stately Character (listed winner at Calder, but with three wins from 27 starts), Sincero (listed win at Calder, 5-for-24 lifetime), Casey's On Call (lone stakes win, the Western Canada Handicap at Northlands Park), and Toby the Coal Man (2-for-19 lifetime, no blacktype).

The losses, in reverse chronological order:

-- Quality Road lost the mile and an eighth Whitney to Blame, with Musket Man in third (again, in defiance of his own distance limitations, but still not good enough to win). Haynesfield, who was more than a handful during the gate-loading, was fourth. The only other two horses in the sparse field were a hopeless (yet still just 12/1) Mine That Bird and terribly overmatched Jardim (30/1).

-- Last fall as a 3-year-old, Quality Road was second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 at a mile and a quarter to eventual 3-year-old champion Summer Bird. Hardly an embarrassing "beat." But the horses who finished behind? By finish order: 3. Tizway (now a G2 winner, then a non-winner of any stake); 4. Macho Again (gutted by his narrow loss to Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward, later skipped the Breeders' Cup, on the downward spiral toward retirement); 5. Dry Martini; 6. Sette E Mezzo (only career stakes-placing, third in a G2); 7. Asiatic Boy (in the last race of what had been a competitive, albeit not-often-winning, graded-stakes career).

-- In August 2009 at Saratoga, Summer Bird handed Quality Road the first of his two "beats" in head-to-head match-ups, winning the Travers in 2:02.83 for 10 furlongs. Second that day was Hold Me Back at 10/1. Quality Road settled for third as the beaten favorite. The also-rans: Charitable Man; Warrior's Reward; Kensei; Our Edge.

I'm not wishing to disparage the horses who finished behind Quality Road in these races, or to offend their connections. Almost to a horse, they're stakes-performers (at some level, if not graded) and six- or (rarely) even seven-figure earners. They're far better than the average racehorse in this age.

But if you look at all those names and let the caliber of their stakes careers tumble around in your mind just a bit, it isn't a stretch to say that anytime there was a horse in a 9f/10f race who seemed to be anywhere in Quality Road's ballpark on talent and form, that horse managed to beat him. Nor is it off-base to add that of the names of those who finished behind him, you wouldn't put many, if any, on the marquee.

Frankly, Quality Road arguably hasn't faced as many top-shelf-talented horses in his first 12 starts combined as he'll face in one race on Saturday.

I think Quality Road is a monster. All the way out to nine furlongs. He might win the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in a laugher, if he ran it. But I know that isn't the race his connections want ... nay, need ... to win.

Quality Road might make me look the fool and win the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday under John Velazquez, for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner/breeder Ned Evans, some of the most respected -- and respectable, and respectful -- people in this business. After all, I was dead-wrong last year when I suggested it might be best to root for Zenyatta in the Classic, but to bet against her.

But I've been taking a stand against him in personal discussions for awhile, based on the 10 furlongs. (That is, the last one furlong more than the first nine.) And I feel strongly enough about it to go public.

Good luck to all. And safe trip.