Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lasix works: No cheerleading necessary

A groundbreaking study proves that furosemide (often known by the brand name Lasix) does just what its proponents always touted: It enhances the racing performance of thoroughbreds by reducing the incidence of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

That's more like what the lead paragraph should be of a story reporting that study's findings at The Blood-Horse online. Instead, the magazine/Web site adds a phrase to its lead for which there is no claim made by the study and little or no actual evidence from the study to support: "furosemide does more than enhance performance in thoroughbred racehorses; it also has beneficial effects on the health and welfare of those horses."

I will go on record as being a fence-rider at this stage on the subject of Lasix. I'm not against it outright and I'm certainly not among those who fear that Lasix is the hidden factor that is leading to fragile bones in thoroughbreds. But I do believe it would be best for horses and for the sport if there were some way to race without any race-day meds. (And they do race without meds in virtually every jurisdiction other than the U.S. and Canada.)

But The Blood-Horse's lead paragraph reads to me -- and I do this for a living -- like someone plugging for the drug's use and not the work of a publication that is simply trying to factually report the study's findings. And maybe that isn't surprising, considering The Blood-Horse is operated by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, whose board of directors has considerable membership and influence from the The Jockey Club. And, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation was among the contributors that financed the study; small degrees of separation that should be noted for readers when The Blood-Horse reports on the study's results.

The Daily Racing Form's reporting of the study -- which is more thorough and objective (The Blood-Horse calls its unbylined piece an "edited press release") -- goes into the study's specifics in greater detail. The headlines on the two are also an interesting contrast. The Form is direct and factual: "Study finds that Lasix reduces bleeding." The Blood-Horse's headline is considerably less specific, open-ended and reads more like a drug company wrote it: "Study shows furosemide has beneficial effects."

This is not to say that the research is flawed or offers fraudulent information. That appears not to be the case.

I've read the study as it will be printed in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine myself, as you can online.

For the first time, researchers set out to specifically study whether furosemide had the intended beneficial effects of controlling pulmonary bleeding (which some horses suffer under extreme exertion) on a controlled population of racehorses, when administered on race day.

And it did.

Researchers included: Kenneth Hinchcliff, professor and dean of the faculty of veterinary science at The University of Melbourne; Paul Morley of Colorado State University (who undertook earlier research of furosemide's effects by simply reviewing past-performances of horses on- and off-Lasix); and Alan Guthrie of the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

The study used 167 thoroughbreds racing in South Africa. Each horse was raced twice, in fields ranging in size from nine to 16 competitors, once using furosemide and once without. And researchers determined that "horses were substantially more likely to develop EIPH" when racing without the furosemide than they were when administered the drug.

Case closed, at least in the debate of whether administering Lasix helps EIPH-prone horses -- known as "bleeders" -- perform better when racing.

But where is the evidence -- as The Blood-Horse's story reads -- of having "beneficial effects on the health and welfare of the horse?" ... It isn't there, certainly not in so many words. And such claim was in no substantial way inferred by the authors of the study. (How their press release, received by The Blood-Horse and not by me, happened to be phrased, I don't know.)

If The Blood-Horse reports that "furosemide does more than enhance performance in Thoroughbred racehorses; it also has beneficial effects on the health and welfare of those horses," I need to see evidence in the study of precisely that.

To me, that passage reads as though there was some additional, surprising finding in the study, perhaps that furosemide unexpectedly protected horses from some airborne contagion or healed them of a seemingly unrelated malady. That isn't the case.

In fact, the term "welfare" appears nowhere in the entire study, and the word "health" only appears once, when researchers state that "EIPH is believed to adversely affect the overall health of racehorses." I suppose it is not, then, a quantum leap to say that treating a racehorse with furosemide for his propensity to suffer EIPH is better for the health of that racehorse. And from there, the next hop, skip and jump apparently lands the writers on the words "and welfare" as tagalongs for "health."

Treating a racehorse for his EIPH is good for the health and welfare of that horse.

But you know what foreign jurisdictions have found is also beneficial to the health and welfare of the racehorse who happens to be a bleeder?

They don't race bleeders.

Not racing horses who are prone to EIPH (and whose performance suffers greatly as a result) likely has the additional effect of not chemically-inflating the performance of horses who have a significant physical flaw -- the predisposition to bleed in the lungs under exertion. Thus, top runners in Europe, Japan and elsewhere are more likely to be those whose track performance wasn't restricted by their suffering from EIPH. And it isn't much of a stretch, then, to wonder whether that means the horses who are champions and destined for stallion careers overseas are thus not bleeders, and not as prone to passing along to their foals a predisposition to suffer from EIPH.

That should be the next study.

But back to the subject of neutrality in reporting this study.

While The Blood-Horse leads with a phrase implying that furosemide is good for the overall welfare of the horses who take it, the study's "Conclusions and Clinical Relevance" -- in effect, the what you should know about this study part of the document -- does not attempt to make that case.

It reads: "Results indicated that prerace administration of furosemide decreased the incidence and severity of EIPH in Thoroughbreds racing under typical conditions in South Africa."

So furosemide works as-advertised when used as a race-day medication. End of story. Anything else is educated conjecture and the study's authors state it as such, writing that EIPH "is believed" (i.e., not proven by the study) to affect the "overall health of racehorses."

This might seem like picking nits. But to me as both an experienced journalist and a fledgling horseman, it's serious business.

The results of this furosemide study -- performed by a global cast of scientists on a well-documented population of racing thoroughbreds in South Africa -- are important and valuable enough without The Blood-Horse cheerleading those results by phrasing their coverage of the study in terms that go beyond the findings of the study itself.

What did Monday's Jerry do with Saturday's Jerry?

Will the real Jerry Moss please stand up? Or at least stop singing different tunes?

Moss, founder of A&M Records and owner of the most-accomplished older mare in America, Zenyatta, on Saturday morning appeared on a satellite radio racing program, "Down The Stretch." During an interview, Moss said that since it appears stellar 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra won't be coming to the Breeders' Cup to face his mare, then his mare would just go on the road to find that filly.

"There's a good chance," Moss said Saturday, that Zenyatta would seek out Rachel, most likely at an eastern racetrack on a conventional dirt surface.

By Monday, Moss was backpedaling so quickly that the only way to make out his original statement now might be to run the tape in reverse and listen for it between the repeated phrases of "turn me on, dead man ..."

"We'd love to meet Rachel Alexandra, and I'm sorry she apparently isn't coming to the Breeders' Cup," Moss said in an interview with The Blood-Horse. "... As owners, we plan for the Breeders' Cup. That is where championships are supposed to be resolved. My brain is fighting my heart on this, because I'd like to give Zenyatta every chance to remove any doubts about her place in history, and Rachel Alexandra would be a challenge. ... We'd like to meet her, but we don't want to swerve out of our program, because we still have the Breeders' Cup foremost in our sights."

Sounds like somebody got a lecture from his trainer, John Shirreffs, after Saturday's satellite radio interview.

Shirreffs had said weeks ago that Zenyatta was going nowhere this summer, not in the sense that she wouldn't be running and winning races, only that she'd be running and winning them all on synthetic surfaces in Southern California.

Since Rachel's principal owner, Jess Jackson, has said he doesn't want his filly running "on plastic" (even though she has a synthetic surface victory to her credit), it appears the leading 3-year-old filly in the country will not be Breeders' Cup-bound. For the second straight year, the Cup will be run at Santa Anita, which has a Pro-Ride synthetic surface. Jackson, whose superstar and champion Curlin flopped in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita last year, says he isn't going back.

Moss on Monday appeared to end any notion that Zenyatta might face Rachel at Saratoga in the Go For Wand on Aug. 2, the Personal Ensign on Aug. 30 or at Belmont in the Oct. 3 Beldame. No mention was made at The Blood-Horse of the $1 million, Grade 2 Delaware Handicap coming up July 19, but since that race would be a deviation from Shirreffs' ultra-conservative plan, one has to figure it's out, too.

Moss suggested that perhaps his unbeaten mare -- who won her 11th in as many tries by taking the Vanity Handicap Saturday -- and the outstanding Rachel Alexandra might be able to meet post-Breeders' Cup. But he bellyached about the detention barn at Belmont ("We had a very bad experience with Giacomo going to the dention barn at Belmont ... he went nuts.") and talked like he was scared of running Zenyatta at Saratoga because the "tight turns would compromise Zenyatta given her running style of coming wide from behind."

"Every venue has its idiosyncracies that are risky," Moss said.

So there it is. What looked like a possibility Saturday -- that Moss would be sporting enough to send Zenyatta out to meet Rachel even if Jackson isn't sporting enough to have Rachel attend the Breeders' Cup -- seems an impossibility today. Unless the two meet somewhere after the Breeders' Cup, in the six or weeks or so remaining before Zenyatta is almost certain to be retired to the breeding shed. And, pardon my asking, but exactly what suitable race remains on the calendar after racing's festival of festivals, the Breeders' Cup, which is intended to all but close out the season.

Sadly, much of Moss' reversal appears to hinge on the notion that putting Zenyatta in any position other than a race hand-picked to play to her every strength is "risky" -- not to the mare's health, mind you, but simply to her chances of staying unbeaten.

Moss and Jackson have invested so much in this sport, where risk is inherent with every powerful stride. It's disappointing to see them both become so protectionist now regarding their greatest investments, Zenyatta and Rachel, both of whom were conceived, foaled and nurtured to race.

Just apparently not to race against each other.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Premature emasculation: Passing judgment too soon on the stud career of Ten Most Wanted

A friend pointed me toward an interesting 2009 analysis of stallions prepared by Jason Hall for his site The American Thoroughbred Review. Included were "best values" and "worst values" at various price points in the stallion market.

Hall and I actually have a few things in common. He's self-described as "a lifelong student of bloodstock topics," as an "active owner and breeder," and he has a degree in journalism from Boise State University. Certainly our lives have parallels.

And I agree with his assessment of several stallions on the list. Slew City Slew isn't just among the best values at $5,000 or below; I think he's one of the better values even when considering stallions two or three times his price. Macho Uno deserves all the kudos Hall gives him and more at $25,000. And I share both his fondness for Rahy at a price I'll likely never be able to pay ($50,000) and disdain for Golden Missile at $7,500. (Read my take on Golden Missile in this blog post on the sale of the stallion Badge.)

But Hall was just unfortunately, unfairly and prematurely cruel in his assessment of one horse on the list: Ten Most Wanted.

It's clear the Grade 1-winning son of Deputy Commander is rapidly falling out of favor, whether or not Hall likes him. Ten Most Wanted (pedigree) started out at Gainesway in Kentucky (2005-06), was shuffled off to Buffalo (or the same state anyway) and stood at Sequel Stallions in New York for 2007-08, and now has been cast off to the West, where he's in residence at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif., priced at $5,000 for 2009.

A stallion doesn't make the KY-NY-CA circuit so quickly if there isn't some sort of trouble with him, though there could be any number of reasons -- including but not limited to owner finances, finicky partners, crooked foals, he's a bad actor in the shed, or he's simply not appearing very "commercial," particularly by committing the cardinal sin of modern thoroughbred breeding by siring foals that aren't precocious.

I fear, and Hall's assessment suggests, that it's the latter.

I don't know when Hall wrote his piece. It must have been quite early this season; probably a preview. His numbers regarding Ten Most Wanted -- who was only working on his first crop to race in 2008 -- merit some updating.

Hall knocks Ten Most Wanted as having: "Possibly the worst start we've ever seen in a young sire. Just 2 winners from 41 starters with median earnings of $1,200. Progeny are winning at an unheard of pace: 1%. Gelding this guy would be a great start at curbing overproduction."

Since that time, much has happened for Ten Most Wanted and his get. As of this writing, there are now 25 winners by Ten Most Wanted -- still just 42 percent of his 59 raced foals, but clearly and rapidly climbing. Their wins per start are still not overwhelming, but at 8 percent, are eight times what they were when Hall tore into their sophomore sire.

Of 118 foals of racing age, just 59 have raced, for exactly 50 percent. His progeny average earnings are just $10,598 for an Average Earnings Index of 0.73 vs. a Comparable Index for his mares of 1.31. There have been two stakes-placers, but no stakes winners.

But we are talking about a sophomore sire here, and one whose own career and pedigree merits much more in-depth consideration before dangling his chestnuts in front of a veterinarian's scalpel.

Ten Most Wanted did not race at all until he was 3. He had a splendid season, winning the "summer derby," the Travers S.-G1 at Saratoga, plus the Illinois Derby-G2 and Super Derby-G2. Two of those wins, the Travers and Super Derby, were encores of races won by his sire, Deputy Commander, who likewise did not race at 2, though his own sire, Deputy Minister, won eight of nine as a juvenile to become Canada's horse of the year.

Ten Most Wanted won a Grade 3 race at 4, but he made just two starts.

On the bottom half of his pedigree, Ten Most Wanted is out of the mare Wanted Again, who was a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Cutlass Reality. Her sire was Criminal Type, who was a winner at 2 and eventually champion older horse at 5, but who had never so much as placed in a stakes race until his championship season. In fact, her outstanding half-brother Cutlass Reality also won at 2 but did not win a stakes race until he was 4, and was not a Grade 1 winner until taking both the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Californian Stakes when he was 6. Her half-brother Land At War raced and won until he was 8; half-brother Pistoleer didn't start until he was 3, then posted seasons of 24, 25, 22 and 21 starts, eventually retiring with 96 calls to post.

So Ten Most Wanted was not a "forward" colt, waiting to race until he was 3, just like his sire. He was out of a mare who was half to a late-blooming Grade 1 talent and to brothers who ran on and on; and, she was by a horse who did not earn blacktype until he was 5. Ten Most Wanted predictably then was a classic-distance horse who never placed in a stakes race shorter than a mile and a sixteenth and who was a credible second to Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes at a mile and a half.

Exactly what the hell sort of 2-year-old was Jason Hall -- or anyone else, for that matter -- expecting from the first crop of Ten Most Wanted?

Some of my agitation over this one stallion's treatment no doubt comes from the last line, in which Hall suggests gelding him to "curb overproduction." Considering it's the mare who has the uterus -- and who would almost certainly be presented to some other sire, anyway -- I'm not sure how gelding one stallion would in any way address "overproduction." The mares that a gelded Ten Most Wanted could no longer serve might produce better foals with some other sire (although a crop and a half for Ten Most Wanted is a poor time to make that case), but they aren't likely to produce any fewer foals.

But it's more than that.

I don't like to see a stallion written off so early. And I especially don't care to hastily push one into gradually "lesser" racing states -- or even out of the States and into some foreign market -- when he's a potential source of the stamina that American breeding sorely lacks, and comes from a female family with some history of very durable runners.

No, not all distance horses are also "backward" in their development, nor are they all tardy to show their worth as a stallion. Birdstone, a Grade 1 winner at 2, like Ten Most Wanted has two crops of racing age, and he already has a pair of classic winners from his first crop in Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby) and Summer Bird (Belmont Stakes).

But in the time since Jason Hall wrote that Ten Most Wanted should be gelded to spare the breed his genes, the stallion's get have managed to improve their sire's progeny earnings enough that he presently stands 21st on the list of top 150 second-crop sires according to Stallionregister.com. (Note: Those stats aren't as up-to-date as some of the individual numbers I'm citing.)

Now, 21st is hardly top-shelf, but he's ahead of more expensive sires not only in Champali (22nd, $7,500) and Strong Hope (24th, $15,000), both of whom Hall likewise pans, but also in Read the Footnotes (26th, $7,500), Spanish Steps (29th, $10,000), Roar of the Tiger (31st, $6,000), Tenpins (33rd, $6,500), Action This Day (36th, $10,000), Seattle Fitz (41st, $8,500), Perfect Soul (44th, $15,000) and Burning Roma (58th, $7,500), all of whom escape Hall's criticism entirely.

Class aside (though admittedly class does matter), Ten Most Wanted's 25 winners are but three fewer among sophomore sires than Smarty Jones (fee now listed as "private," but was $100,000) and the little-big-horse Birdstone ($10,000, who was missed as a "value" by Hall), they are just one fewer winner than Pleasantly Perfect ($15,000), and they amount to five more winners than the get of Johar, who stands for $10,000 and has 174 foals of racing age to Ten Most Wanted's 118.

Whatever the subject -- "used car best-bets," Top 10 quarterbacks of all time, the Top 99 women of 2009 -- rankings or lists always create controversy. Almost every nitwit (my hand is raised) can find some point with which to quarrel. By the same token, those lists often merit reconsideration in retrospect. ... Surely Hall would consider Birdstone a top value now, a few short months later, reason enough that such a list probaby shouldn't include sophomore sires.

I was just taken aback by the severity with which Hall phrased his criticisms of Ten Most Wanted, particularly considering how early in the young stallion's career that criticism was leveled.

So I figured I'd stand up for the fellow -- and his family jewels.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Terrain: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Still stinging from the startling, almost inexplicable losses of graded-stakes winner Sailor's Cap and debut stakes winner Olredlgetcha to less common maladies, the racing world has lost another notable horse.

Terrain (Sky Mesa-Minery, by Forty Niner) was steadied on the backstretch and then pulled up around the three-eighths pole of the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows Saturday night by jockey Robby Alborado. The gelding suffered a condylar fracture and a broken sesamoid in his right front. He was vanned off but the injuries were soon diagnosed as catastrophic and he was put down.

Terrain, who won three of 10 lifetime for $512,084 including the Arlington-Washington Futurity-G3, was described as "a classic over-achiever" by trainer Al Stall Jr.

The horse wasn't bred like the typical "over-achiever," from a winning sense. His sire annexed the Hopeful S.-G1 at 2 and his dam won an Ellis Park stakes race at 3. There is blacktype and brilliance in the family.

But from a budding breeder's standpoint -- and not to speak ill of the dead, his breeders or his connections -- Terrain wasn't necessarily bred for soundness, either.

His sire raced just six times; his dam only four. His second dam, Orseno, was unraced. And though she's foaled some runners of average soundness (or length of career, at least), she was strikingly inbred 1x3 to the brilliant In Reality and out of the mare Gana Facil, who was also dam of Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Unbridled -- who ran 24 times but has been singled out by his critics as a source of unsoundness -- and his full brother and Grade 1 winner Cahill Road, who raced only six times.

I'm far from the first person to join the dogpile of critics regarding the "modern breeding for the sales and speed" every time a horse breaks down. I would argue that when such case was made about Eight Belles, for example, (even by the likes of Bill Nack, who got an Eclipse honorable mention for it), many critics habitually point to "unsound" sirelines or inbreeding to certain individuals (particularly Raise a Native and his sire Native Dancer) without looking at all or even any of the immediate ancestors around her. Eight Belles' dam, Away, ran a respectable 24 times and had a full brother, stakes-placed Fiddler's Find, who answered the call to post on 51 occasions. Eight Belles' second dam was unraced, but her third dam, Belonging (also dam of Belong To Me), raced 37 times, and fourth dam, champion handicap mare Straight Deal, retired from a blacktype career that saw her run just one race short of 100.

A number of horses in Eight Belles' relatively near-female family outran the breed average (by a little or a lot) when it came to sheer number of starts: 84 races (Golden Longing); 83 races (Survivor Call); 72 starts (stakes winner Loyal Groom); 71 calls to post (Let's Behave); 52 races (Joy Be Ridge); 43 starts (G3 winner Skipaslew, who did eventually break down in a workout); 39 starts each (Timber Yield, Premier Ensign and Forgivable Bob); 36 starts (Reminiscing); 35 races (Grand Ambition). I didn't have to go far out of my way to find those horses, and a dozen or more others have raced 15 to 30 times, average, or in excess thereof, for the breed.

Eight Belles was not willfully bred to be fast at the expense of fatal fragility.

But I will say that for the good of every foal, soundness needs to be introduced in the pedigree somewhere, and somewhere close.

Sky Mesa ran only six times, as did his sire, Pulpit. I would never recommend breeding Sky Mesa to a mare who wasn't rugged herself and whose longevity was typical of her durable family.

Minery's four lifetime starts, to me, demand that she be bred to a stallion who proved his worth at the track not over five or six spectacular races, but four or five or six seasons -- a talented but sound horse who made multiple-dozens of starts; not a half-dozen.

Terrain lasted 10 starts -- the total of his sire and dam combined. In that way, sadly, perhaps he had over-achieved.

With all others fleeing Rachel, Zenyatta might fill void

Last week, it looked for all the world like a showdown between unbeaten 5-year-old mare Zenyatta and seemingly world-beating 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra might never happen.

Weeks ago, trainer John Shirreffs said Zenyatta would be staying in California all the way through the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. And this week, Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables, primary owner of Rachel Alexandra, said his filly would be skipping the Breeders' Cup rather than run on the "plastic" Pro-Ride surface in California.

Collision averted. Regrettably.

But on Saturday morning, even before Zenyatta carried 129 pounds in defending her title in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 Vanity Handicap and Rachel set stakes records for time and margin of victory in the Mother Goose S.-G1 at Belmont Park, Zenyatta's owner, Jerry Moss, said his desire for his mare to be named Horse of the Year (she lost out to Jackson's Curlin in 2008) might well send her on the road to hunt down the upstart Rachel.

"There's a good chance," that Zenyatta would leave California despite Shirreffs' earlier statements, Moss said in an interview during the program "Down the Stretch" on XM Satellite Radio, reported by The Daily Racing Form. "... If the two horses are ready and at the top of their form, I would very much like to see a race between the two of them."

Wouldn't we all?

Sending his senior Zenyatta out to meet Jackson's saucy sophomore is something Moss doesn't exactly have to do. I've written that I believe Rachel needs to beat Zenyatta -- not just rest her laurels on a gutsy Preakness win over males or even beat boys again in the Haskell or Travers -- if Jackson wants her to be Horse of the Year. It would be a weak link in Rachel's case for the title to leave a lifetime-unbeaten Zenyatta with a pair of Breeders' Cup victories on the table, unchallenged. No matter how good Rachel has looked -- and there isn't a superlative that fits her at the moment -- Zenyatta seemed to be in the position of strength so far as dictating where, when and whether a clash of the two female titans would take place.

Meanwhile Rachel's ridiculous run Saturday, while it added another Grade 1 victory and $270,000 earned to her resume, actually turned up the pressure a bit on Jackson. Only two other 3-year-old fillies showed up to race: Edward P. Evans' Malibu Prayer, who finished second beaten 19 1/4 lengths; and Godolphin's Flashing, who was third beaten roughly 32. The connections of Don't Forget Gil and Hopeful Image scratched them out Saturday morning due to "elevated temperatures."

Rachel Alexandra set records for the Mother Goose for time when run at 9 furlongs, 1:46.33 (besting Lakeway's 1:46.58 in 1994), and margin of victory (shattering the 13 1/2-length margin set in 1975 by the sublime Ruffian).

And that presents a conundrum for Jackson and Rachel's trainer, Steve Asmussen, when considering where Rachel goes next. Earlier in the week, while ruling out the Breeders' Cup this fall, Jackson listed several potential "next starts" for Rachel after the Mother Goose.

If she enters the Coaching Club American Oaks-G1 at Belmont on July 25 or the Aug. 22 Alabama S.-G1 at Saratoga -- each restricted to 3-year-old fillies -- either might become a walkover at the rate fillies are fleeing Rachel. She could face colts and geldings again in the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational H.-G1 at Monmouth or the Aug. 29 Travers S.-G1 at Saratoga. Both would be much bigger challenges.

But management of one Mid-Atlantic track has to be drooling over the prospects that perhaps both top females will decide to muss-up their hair and lipstick in a donnybrook at their own Delaware Park on July 19. The Delaware Handicap is but a Grade 2 race, yet the purse this year has been set at $1 million. That's considerably more cash than either of the Grade 1 opportunities at Saratoga for a Zenyatta vs. Rachel Showdown, the $300,000 Go For Wand on Aug. 2 or the $400,000 Personal Ensign on Aug. 29.

Both girls have earned plenty of G1 blacktype. Beating the other one -- whether in a Grade 1 race or a 400-yard dash at Los Alamitos -- is just about all that matters now.

I think the Personal Ensign is least likely. For Zenyatta particularly, who could win and then go home (or lose and do the same to recuperate in time for the Breeders' Cup) I think the earlier a collision with Rachel, the better. Shirreffs has hinted he doesn't necessarily want Zenyatta going 10 furlongs, so asking her to cover an untried distance, on conventional dirt (over which she's only raced once), while also making the sporting gesture of shipping cross-country to where Rachel is training at The Spa, is one concession too many for the California connections.

With the Go For Wand being the least lucrative matchup (not that either camp is hurting for cash), the Delaware Handicap begins to look even more attractive. It's mile-and-a-sixteenth course is Zenyatta's most-frequently raced distance (six of her nine graded wins), and the slightly shorter distance and huge purse (meaning a hundred-grand for third) might help attract a few more mares to the party than the 9 furlongs of the Go For Wand, which went off with only six entries last year when champion Ginger Punch cast a long shadow over the entry box.

While I'm wanting to see Zenyatta vs. Rachel, I'm not asking for a one-on-one race. And a deep-closer like Zenyatta is going to want some pace to run at, which I think she'll more likely get with a few more mares in the mix and a shorter distance to travel. Plus, from Zenyatta's perspective, at least the Delaware Handicap would require Rachel to be vanned away from Saratoga, where she'll be training the next few months.

It makes me wonder, though, whether Saratoga might try to up the ante. "Back in the day," namely when tracks were trying to land the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match, bids came in from across the country. Might the New York Racing Association and Saratoga be able to scrounge up a title sponsor to contribute a huge chunk of change and bump the Go For Wand's purse to match Delaware's bankroll?

After all, a title sponsor for this race is going to get plenty of attention. If Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are nominated to the same race, all eyes will be on that venue from the moment the showdown is announced until at least a day or two after the dust has settled.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foursome to face Rachel in Mother Goose

At least a fifth showed up.

Four other horses will face juggernaut Rachel Alexandra Saturday in the Mother Goose S.-G1 at Belmont Park. Initially it had appeared that perhaps only three other fillies would be entered, leaving a traditional paycheck-spot, fifth place, unfilled.

Getting the most attention is Edward P. Evans' Virginia-bred Malibu Prayer, although she's making the ultimate step-up in class. The filly took three tries to break maiden, but did so impressively, drawing off by 13 in a mile race at Aqueduct on April 17. She followed that with a seven and a quarter-length victory in a race at Philadelphia Park. But this will be her first try in stakes company -- and it's at the Grade 1 level.

Others who appear to be shooting for second place today (granted, a win is never impossible) include Godolphin Stable's Flashing, a Grade 3 winner at Aqueduct who is 4-for-5 lifetime for $202,560; Don't Forget Gil, winner of the Florida Oaks-G3; and Hopeful Image, who is 3-for-13 lifetime for over $100,000 and was third in a Grade 2 stakes race, but is yet to win from seven stakes tries.

The connections of half those four contenders will be celebrating their filly's first Grade 1 blacktype on Saturday evening. It's difficult to imagine any of them beating Rachel -- although in the racing world, stranger things have happened -- but at least now there should be trifecta wagering available -- although no bets will be taken to show.

Here's wishing a safe trip to all.

Meanwhile, if you've missed it, Rachel Alexandra now has her own sandbox ... whatever that means. The New York Racing Association has set up her own site for news and information, videos, "fun stuff" and a blog.

Triumph to tragedy: Limehouse colt Olredlgetcha dead after historic win

Olredlgetcha, who became the first blacktype winner for freshman stallion Limehouse when he took Canada's Victoria Stakes at Woodbine in his debut on June 14, died just nine days later, The Blood-Horse reports.

The Florida-bred 2-year-old out of the blacktype Cobra King mare Mystical Beauty apparently suffered a "slight puncture wound" in the race, and a staph infection set in. Symptoms arose on June 16 and the colt was shipped to Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. The Blood-Horse reports that the infection was "treated aggressively" but that it "rapidly spread to the joint capsule causing ... great suffering and a total deterioration of the hock."

Though the mode of death is completely different, the tragic story is reminiscent of the recent demise of Sailor's Cap, who was dead within days of his noteworthy victory over Kip Deville and others in the Poker S.-G3 at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old Distant View colt died of Colitis-X, a digestive tract disorder that is fatal nearly 100 percent of the time and can kill within three hours of the onset of symptoms.

We know these horses receive the best possible veterinary care, especially once they've achieved the status of Olredlgetcha and Sailor's Cap -- a first-out stakes winner and a multiple-graded stakes winner. The advances in medical and veterinary science tend to leave us thinking that virtually anything is treatable and that most ailments are survivable, and yet stories like these shake us with the harsh reality that sometimes we and our horses are all but helpless against the very worst nature throws at them.

This has to be a particularly tough loss for Sal and Colleen Simeone. Olredlgetcha was bred at their Sienna Farms and made his only race in the colors of their R Own Stables.

He was trained by Greg de Gannes and ridden to his victory by Emille Ramsammy.

My condolences to all concerned.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yates has slate of questions for NTRA's Waldrop

Blogger and racehorse-owner Bill Yates recently cornered NTRA President Alex Waldrop -- or at least got the man to sit down at his e-mail -- to ask him a series of questions about the state of horse racing today.

Bill is to be commended for making his blog Odds On Favorite site for more than just his own musings about our favorite pastime. And it says a lot about the progress , and readership, of the blogosphere that a man of Waldrop's stature would take time to answer e-mailed questions from Bill. If only public officials in North Carolina were as responsive to and responsible with e-mail.

Waldrop has his own blog over at NTRA.com. Today's topic: "Progress With Pitfalls," a blog on where is, where it's been and where it might be headed, particularly regarding alternate gaming.

I'm shocked that Waldrop's blog has received zero comments all day, especially considering he asked for opinions on some specific questions at the end.

I'm gonna go back over there and throw in my 2 cents.

Rock Hard Ten gets first winner in a big way

Freshman U.S. sire Rock Hard Ten scored his first winner Friday, and in a foreign stakes race, at that.

Filly Long Lashes, out of the unraced Boundary mare Border Dispute, stalked the pace and took control to win impressively in the Ballygallon Stud Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland. Time for the 6-furlong turf test was 1:15.24.

Fans of Rock Hard Ten -- namely this one -- will recall that the son of Kris S. was a big ol' boy (17 hands) who didn't race at 2, was pretty good at 3, but really came into his own at age 4. That he sends out a freshman "firster" to win, among stakes company, and on grass abroad (though certainly Kris S./Roberto is also a noted turf line), is a noteworthy accomplishment.

Long Lashes was bred by Robert V. LaPenta and Nick Zito, but owned by McElroy Syndicate, which paid $95,000 for her as a Keeneland September yearling, and trained by Jessica Harrington. She is a half-sister to the Group 2-placed filly Mythical Border (Johannesburg), who also won on her debut at 2 in Europe. Long Lashes' next effort, according to Harrington, who calls her "smart" in the U.K. "sharp, precocious and fast" sort of way, might come in the Moyglare Stud S.-G1 at The Curragh on Aug. 30, though she would have to be supplemented to the nominations in order to run.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wesley Ward at Ascot: A postscript, and perspective

It's hard to believe I'm so unfashionably late to Wesley Ward's Royal Ascot party, but perhaps a bit more than a week of reflection can put the California-based trainer's accomplishments in Great Britain fully into perspective.

Ward made history June 16 when Strike the Tiger, whom he co-bred and co-owns, became the first American-trained horse to win a race at Royal Ascot, England's premier meeting, with a nearly 300-year history. The 2-year-old gelding dashed to victory in the 5-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes on June 16.

Only a day later, Ward upped the accomplishment when his juvenile filly, Jealous Again, ran off and hid with the Queen Mary S.-G2 by five lengths.

To use a word that has come into (and perhaps already gone out of) fashion among the younger set, I'm not much of a "fanboy" of any particular thoroughbred trainer. I know a few race fans who are as much a follower of a specific conditioner as they are of some of the horses; that trainer's methods and successes have earned their support. But the only trainer whose career I follow quite so closely is Maryland-based Phil Schoenthal, not just because I respect his methods, but he's also a standup guy who actually answers my e-mails.

Yet Ward has caused me to take notice of him more than once in the past.

The Eclipse champion apprentice jockey when he was just 16 (and I was only about 18), Washington-born Ward gave up riding early to due struggles with maintaining weight. After he took up training, I saw clips of him at the auction in a two-part TVG documentary about 2-year-old in training sales. In those snippets something about Ward just struck me; he seemed approachable, personable, honest. (Although I've never met the man and will concede that I cannot match the human-character-judging skills of, say, a top-notch golden retriever.)

So I was happy for Ward -- and relatively glad it was him and not any of a number of other unnamed American trainers -- who ventured to England and left his mark on Royal Ascot.

But then I thought to myself, how could it have been many of those "other" trainers? ... Because at Ascot, you're gonna have to run 'em on hay, oats and water. And a lot of our conditioners have no idea anymore how to do that.

American racing has gotten a bad rap at home and abroad for its reliance on drugs -- and I don't just mean the cheaters, who are a small but regrettable segment of the training colony. Even a number of the "clean" trainers (prior to increasing regulations to the contrary) were quick to use permissible steroids like Winstrol, while substances like Lasix, "Bute" and Banamine are or have been allowable "race-day meds" in many jurisdictions.

But they'll be having none of that across the pond, thank you.

Ward made a bold, but calculated risk in shipping the horses he chose to the Ascot meet. Of the six to travel, five were juveniles. He was playing the angle that American breeding is far more focused than is the typical European pedigree on speed and precocity, and that Ward himself is known even in the States as a trainer who can really get a 2-year-old ready to race. (Ward's detractors would say he's too hard on them.) There was a fair chance that Ward's 2-year-olds would be more "forward" in their training than the Euros, and victory was possible if his charges could attain the full measure of their early potential without the typical U.S. medications.

Ward, and his horses, proved that they could.

To be sure, there were setbacks. Three of Ward's 2-year-olds were also-rans in their stakes races. And his 4-year-old gelding, Cannonball, finished 5 1/2 lengths back of the winner in his first outing, the King's Stand S.-G1. Yet in Cannonball's case, Ward performed a second distinctly "un-American" training trick. He wheeled the gelded son of Catienus back just four days later -- not two months -- and collected second place in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes.

"This just proves if you get a horse right on the (right) day it doesn't matter if they're racing in Australia or China," Ward told The Racing Post.

And yet these Royal Ascot wins were something no other American trainer before Ward had accomplished. Only two other American-trained horses had ever won any flat race in Europe -- Reigh Count, 1928 Kentucky Derby winner, took the Epsom Coronation Cup for Bert Mitchell in 1929, and in 1991, Leo O'Brien prepped Fourstars Allstar to win the Irish 2000 Guineas under Mike Smith at The Curragh.

If anyone is likely to match Ward's "Great-British" feat, I suspect they'll go about it in similar fashion -- bringing speed-laden American-bred juveniles to out-drag-race their European cousins down the undulating Ascot straight. And I'm a little surprised it took someone this long to figure it out.

More power to Wesley Ward for so doing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Despite 'plastic' hype, Rachel should stay ready to run

Jess Jackson is practically giving away Rachel Alexandra's place in the Breeders' Cup, but I'm not buying. Not yet, anyway.

The principal owner of the best filly in the land says his girl who beat the boys in the Preakness might race colts and geldings again in the near future, but she isn't going to California to face reigning queen Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup. Jackson, whose racing concern is dubbed Stonestreet Stables, says he doesn't want Rachel Alexandra running on "plastic," his term for the synthetic surfaces that have been mandated by California for all major racetracks.

Santa Anita, which will host the Breeders' Cup for the second straight year, has a Pro-Ride brand surface for the main track. Jackson says it plays in favor of a grass horse, and he has evidence to prove it. His horse Curlin was bested last year by a European invader, Raven's Pass, in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

"I have a very strong dislike for plastic surfaces," Jackson said. "I've seen dirt horses run on plastic -- they struggle over it. Curlin did last year. I think plastic favors turf horses."

Jackson seemed dead serious about skipping the Breeders' Cup with Rachel. "I'm absolutely certain," he said. But he really needs to rethink his position.

By crushing her peers in the Kentucky Oaks and then gutting out an historic victory in the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra has positioned herself for a run not at champion 3-year-old filly, which is all but in the bag, but the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. I could see her winning that prize without beating Zenyatta in the Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita. I cannot see the award being conferred on her if she doesn't even try.

Jackson of all people should realize that throwing a stinker on synthetics doesn't ruin a horse's resume for the award, nor his reputation, considering Curlin's honors last year that were bestowed despite his forgettable final race. The big chestnut gave his best at Santa Anita, over a surface he didn't like, at the end of a lengthy, global 4-year-old campaign, and he was respected for it. The same respect would be afforded Rachel if she sweeps undefeated for 2009 into Southern California, but can't beat Zenyatta in her own back yard, which the older mare apparently has no intention of leaving between now and then.

And that brings me around to the Breeders' Cup officials and their lame idea of running consecutive Cups at the same track for the first time in the event's quarter-century history, a move that's looking worse all the time.

I already laid as much blame on the Breeders' Cup's doorstep as I did at the houses of Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, and trainer, John Shirreffs, for their decision not to challenge Zenyatta on the road this summer. With big purses and Grade 1 races to run at on the SoCal circuit of Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita, and considering her seeming invincibility over the synthetic surfaces, why go anywhere else?

Now that decision by the Breeders' Cup could -- if Jackson is true to his word -- prompt Zenyatta's greatest (only real?) competition to skip "the biggest race of the year."

It's purely speculation, but reasonable to believe that had Jackson not watched Curlin struggle over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride last year, i.e., had that race been run elsewhere, he'd not fear running Rachel there this year. And if the Breeders' Cup were being run at any track with a traditional surface this year, Rachel would be there, presumably so would a potentially unbeaten (lifetime) Zenyatta, and Zenyatta might have been tested on the road at some time this year, to boot.

Since that horse-hockey decision is already out of the barn, it's worth returning our attention to the horse we can still catch -- Rachel, if she's in her stall, so she can be put on a plane to Santa Anita this fall.

If Jackson limits her to abusing short fields of 3-year-old fillies -- as she's likely to do this weekend in the Mother Goose S.-G1 -- then the glory of her Oaks-Preakness double fades a bit with time. Even if he and trainer Steve Asmussen send her out in the Haskell or Travers against 3-year-old males and she wins, Zenyatta remains potentially unbeaten for her whole career, with back-to-back victories in the Breeders' Cup (the latter earned while Rachel sat on the sidelines) to leave the season's last big impression on Eclipse voters. And if Rachel should lose to a colt or gelding in the Haskell or Travers, her Horse of the Year chances take what I believe would be an insurmountable setback without redemption in the Breeders' Cup.

Jackson and Asmussen can sandbag all they want right now. But their filly should remain on a course for racing at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup day.

Rachel Alexandra has a 2-year-old win over synthetics at Keeneland, a race in which her Beyer speed figure was consistent with her dirt efforts at the same stage of her career. Maybe it isn't her favorite surface, and maybe she would go to Santa Anita, not give her best, and lose to a champion. (Or a long-shot that, almost inconceivably, beat them both.)

But Rachel wasn't unbeaten when Jackson bought her. The filly's win-streak might not extend through next year anyway if Jackson races her at 4 as he suggested Wednesday. And there's more to be lost for Rachel's reputation and public goodwill by "chickening-out" of a scrape with Zenyatta -- "plastic" home-track advantage or not -- than there is by racing and losing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Colonial question answered, indirectly

I'm not sure whether the questions I posed in my last blog post of May were the spur for a new post over at the Virginia Thoroughbred Association blog: Coulda, Woulda Shoulda, The Outside Turf Course. But it seems to answer my questions, to some degree at least, about why the turf course is beautiful, wide, but various-distance-limited at Colonial Downs.

It seems that when the track was being constructed, there were proponents of an outer turf course, with the dirt track on the inside. For various reasons -- "nobody here does it that way" being the underlying sentiment -- the idea was spiked.

"GP," I presume VTA Executive Director Glenn Petty, who posted the blog entry, apparently was discussing the matter with Gil Short (Colonial GM upon its opening) and trainer Ferris Allen on Saturday. They considered how the idea was floated of a course that would host a full card of grass races, which was "eyebrow raising" at the time (around 20 years ago, I guess), and yet the card taking place as the trio watched last weekend was just that -- 12 races, all on the lawn.

The outside track idea was panned in part by Allen, who told Maryland Jockey Club Vice President of Racing Lenny Hale to consider how many turf races Colonial really expected to run in a day: "Three, maybe four?" (Remember, the Maryland Jockey Club was deeply involved in helping launch and manage Colonial for many years.)

Short and Arnold Stansley were harness-trackers and they didn't want the trotters and pacers who run at Colonial in the fall to be 180 feet from the track apron and its spectators. ... I can't really argue with them on it, other than that I don't watch the harness races much, myself. ... But eventually that argument wasn't the killer.

Ultimately, planners couldn't find a suitable way to get the dirt-track horses across the turf course from the saddling enclosure. Seriously.

A tunnel was one idea, but Stansley apparently had "two million reasons" why he didn't want to do that. Each, I presume, was green and had George Washington's picture on it.

The alternate idea was simply to have a dirt crossover. After all, the famed "downhill" course at Santa Anita crosses the dirt track. And numerous racecourses in Britain and elsewhere in Europe have such crossovers.

"Some Virginia and Maryland horsemen" were not interested in a dirt crossover, the post states, despite the fact that they're common in other parts of the world.

And so Colonial ended up with a more traditional (for the U.S.) inner turf course, wide and wonderful in its beauty and resilience, and sadly quite limited in the variety of race-distances it can offer up for the horses.

There's a lot more to read on the subject over at the VTA Blog; I only summarized the post to sort of conclude the topic I started in May. The story over there includes more specifics and concludes with the retelling of a visit to Ireland and a unique course configuration there that certainly didn't scare off the wealthy connections.

Made for very entertaining and informative reading on a Tuesday night. Thanks, Mr. Petty, I presume.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Who's afraid of big, bad Rachel? All but three.

The Daily Racing Form reports that the connections of only three fillies appear to have the fortitude to face juggernaut Rachel Alexandra Saturday in the Mother Goose S.-G1 at Belmont Park.

Justwhistledixie, scratched-out due to a bruised foot from the Kentucky Oaks that Rachel dominated on May 1 at Churchill Downs, won't be one of them. Her trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said Monday that Saturday was too soon to bring his filly back after she was beaten by Gabby's Golden Gal as the 4/5 favorite in her return to the races June 7 in the Acorn S.-G1. Justwhistledixie will be pointed to the 7-furlong Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8, instead.

But Acorn winner Gabby's Golden Gal won't be racing Rachel Saturday, either. Her trainer, Bob Baffert, said the filly bounced back well from her Acorn win (after which she suffered heat exhaustion), but would make her next start in the Prioress S.-G1 on July 4 instead.

"She's on the Indian Blessing route," said Baffert, invoking the name of his charge who won both the Prioress and Test last year.

So who does that leave?

Flashing, winner of the Nassau County S.-G3; Don't Forget Gil, winner of the Florida Oaks-G3; and Edward P. Evans' VA-bred Malibu Prayer, who has won her last two starts by a combined 20 1/4 lengths, but hardly against such competition.

I understand Rachel seems invincible among fillies. But last time I checked, second place in a $300,000 race would still pay in the vicinity of $75,000, third place around $30,000, fourth- and fifth-places are still paydays and you'd think the connections of at least four other fillies would be willing to race for the Grade 1 blacktype that is bestowed on both second and third.

Apparently not.

Certainly it looks like Rachel will crush these three. But the connections of two out of the three will be celebrating a healthy (and all-too-easy) addition of a Grade 1 placing to their fillies' page, provided everyone comes home safe and sound.

Senate panel says 'no way' to Ky. gaming

A Kentucky Senate committee today overwhelmingly turned down a bill that would legalize video lottery terminals at racetracks to augment purses

After more than two hours of discussion, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted 10-5 against even forwarding the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The Blood-Horse did not initially report which senator abstained from the vote, or whose votes were cast for or against the bill.

Kentucky legislators are pushing their luck the longer they fail to produce new revenues that support the state's thoroughbred breeding and racing industries. States all around Kentucky, including Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have in recent years approved some sort alternative gaming revenues to augment purses, owner and breeder awards. Not all have caught up to Kentucky in the process, but each chips away at the Bluegrass State's status as No. 1.

The rebuff wasn't unexpected by racing industry officials.

But Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has called for balancing his state's budget by installing VLTs at racetracks. Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park in nearby northern Kentucky has warned that his racetrack would close by the end of next year if River Downs across the border in Ohio were to add alternative gaming.

Kentucky Republican Senate President David Williams has advanced an idea to tax lottery tickets, borrow money from a state pension fund and tax out-of-state wagering rather than adding video lottery at the tracks. It's a plan that's more convoluted and less manageable than VLTs.

I've mentioned this before, but it never ceases to amaze me when politicians whose states already have parimutuel wagering and lotteries get their boxers in a bunch about adding a video lottery terminal or slot machine at a racetrack. Particularly a politician who has been known to entertain himself with gambling out of state.

Advocates of VLTs want an up-or-down vote in the full Senate, and the state of Kentucky deserves it. Trapping legislation in committee is a cowardly act, especially if it's orchestrated by someone who thinks gambling is good, clean fun -- in somebody else's jurisdiction.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Musical saddles: Leparoux's winning day in VA

It ended up being a winning day in Virginia for jockey Julien Leparoux Saturday, but not on the horses he'd expected.

I'd commented late in the week about Julien Leparoux's schedule of five rides on Colonial Turf Cup Day at Colonial Downs. It was of interest to me that Leparoux had secured five mounts in a day at the New Kent track, while Calvin Borel, rider of Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird, spent a week in New York trying to get mounts and familiarize himself with Big Sandy before the June 6 Belmont Stakes, and couldn't get on a single horse.

Now it merits reviewing Leparoux's day in Virginia, which included two stakes wins, one graded, and a third-place finish in a Grade 2 race -- only one of them on a horse for which he was named the rider when entries were drawn.

The French-born rider's first mount was to have been in the card's first race, a $7,500 claimer for fillies and mares going short on the grass. But he took off of the 2/1 favorite, Perfect Pet, and she came home third under Jorge Vargas, who took the pickup mount for trainer Tim Salzman.

Leparoux stayed aboard White Pearl for trainer Leigh Delacour in Race 4, a first-level allowance, and he took the 2/1 favorite to the front out of the gate. But she came home seventh, earning $288.

The jockey's first score came in Race 9, but not on the horse to which he was booked. A slew of scratches slashed the 14-horse field for the $50,000 Buckland Stakes down to just four fillies and mares. Leparoux had been scheduled to ride Kosmo's Buddy for Salzman in the race, but she was one of the 10 to be scratched. He ended up absconding with James Lopez's seat aboard Twiceasbeautiful -- who had been 30/1 on the morning line for trainer Michelle Sharp and breeder/owner Linda S. Rosenblatt -- and he won the race with her, a race in which none of the horses remaining to run had been at odds lower than 10/1 when the field was drawn.

Leparoux switched horses and won again in the following race, the All Along S.-G3 for fillies and mares going 9 furlongs on the lawn. He was booked to ride the Florida-based Empire Maker filly Icon Project, but she had been cross-entered by trainer Marty Wolfson into Belmont's New York S.-G2 on Saturday, where she traveled to win the sloppy race once it was taken off the turf; Jose Valdivia Jr. picked up that mount at Belmont.

In Icon Project's absence, Leparoux jumped back aboard Winter View for trainer Jonathan Sheppard and George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable, the breeders and owners. Leparoux piloted the mare to her first stakes win in the Bewitch S.-G3 at Keeneland on April 23. Edgar Prado had been listed as her rider when entries were drawn for the All Along (and she was 6/1), but he ended up aboard 20/1 Julia Tuttle and came home fifth. Winter View was sent off at around 4/1 odds and Leparoux took her from ninth (last), to first by a head on the wire over Tejida and Corey Nakatani for $86,400-worth of the race's 150,000 marbles.

Leparoux's final stakes ride wasn't as successful, but he still came home third beaten less than two lengths in the Colonial Turf Cup-G3 aboard Frank Alexander-trainee Lime Rickey, the only stakes horse to which Leparoux was booked, that he eventually rode on Saturday.

And, when the music stopped, Leparoux was on his way back to Kentucky, where he's scheduled to take nine mounts on a 10-race card at Churchill today.

Battle of Hastings -- barely -- in Turf Cup

Favorite Battle of Hastings took the Colonial Turf Cup-G2 Saturday, but he had to fight for it.

The Royal Applause gelding rated patiently off the pace and burst ahead to take a clear lead in mid-stretch, but was bravely challenged at the wire by Straight Story, a Giant's Causeway colt making only his fifth start. Straight Story had led early, then was forced all the way out to the eight-path by Al Khali on the turn for home and had to straighten out again before closing gamely on the eventual winner.

Battle of Hastings and Tyler Baze gritted out the victory, but only by a head, taking home the winner's share of $288,000 for owner Mike House and trainer Jeff Mullins. Straight Story collected $96,000 -- nearly double the total amount of money he'd earned in his life entering the race -- for owner Richard Santulli and trainer Alan Goldberg.

Time for the 9 1/2 furlongs was 1:57.79.

Lime Rickey, building a reputation as a bridesmaid with his fourth on-the-board finish in stakes company without yet getting a blacktype win, came home third, a length and a quarter in arrears of the throwdown at the front and just a head in front of Take The Points.

Despite taking the Turf Cup in its first year as a Grade 2 event, I'm not sure Battle of Hastings particularly advances his reputation off the race. He was already a Grade 3 winner sprinting on grass and a listed winner around two turns. And this group didn't strike me as all that strong, as it was an assortment of just-missers (Lime Rickey), colts trying the dirt to turf angle (Take The Points, Al Khali) and horses that had done little or nothing in stakes company prior. I'm surprised Battle of Hastings paid $7.40 to win, as I think his price could've been shorter.

But the race should send notice that Straight Story might have more dramatic chapters ahead in his racing saga. Coming into the race 2-for-4 lifetime with around $57,000 earned, he did much of the work on the front end, and off the rail, not the shortest way around the circuit. Then he got swept out into the center of the course by Al Khali on the turn and still overcame everyone but Battle of Hastings at the wire, and might've caught him with another jump or two.

Health willing, I'd expect them to knock heads again in the $750,000 Virginia Derby-G2 over the same Colonial Downs turf course. Battle of Hastings has positioned himself as the only horse in America this year with the chance to win the Grand Slam of Grass -- Colonial Turf Cup, VA Derby, Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park, Breeders' Cup Turf -- and the $5 million it promises in total prize money and bonuses. And Straight Story showed he liked the course and was coming on strong at nine and a half panels; shouldn't have trouble with 10.

I'm not sure who else will show up for the Derby; Lime Rickey might as well give it another try. But if only the first two from the Turf Cup are repeaters in July -- and if they repeat these performances -- the Virginia Derby will be a race quite worth watching.

Sailor's Cap killer: Colitis-X

A necropsy of Sailor's Cap -- recent winner of the Poker Stakes-G3 at Belmont Park who spiked a temperature, collapsed and died in his stall just days later -- has blamed the death on Colitis-X.

I won't share all the messy symptoms, you can read the Blood-Horse story for that, but Colitis-X is a mysterious ailment, causes not completely known, that strikes quickly and obviously is deadly. According to thehorse.com, the Merck Veterinary Manual says the illness is characterized by its "acute onset" of symptoms and that many of the affected horses have "a history of stress." A few other prior ailments are listed as possible precursors to Colitis-X, but apparently at this time veterinary science just isn't sure of the exact cause.

The necropsy was performed at the New Bolton Research Center in Kennett Square, Pa., part of the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school.

Sailor's Cap defeated four other rivals including Kip Deville in the Poker on June 14. On Tuesday the 16th, according to his trainer, Jimmy Toner, the colt's temperature rose unexpectedly. By Wednesday he was dead.

The 4-year-old son of Distant View out of the Caveat mare Wave On won four of 10 starts for $616,970 in his abbreviated career. At 3, he was victor of the drenched Colonial Turf Cup-G3 at 9.5 furlongs (pictured), and came home third behind Gio Ponti and Court Vision in his next start, the Grade 2 Virginia Derby at 10 furlongs over the same Colonial Downs course. His other stakes placing at 3 was finishing second behind Tizdejavu in the Crown Royal American Turf S.-G3 at Churchill Downs.

Sailor's Cap was bred in Kentucky by Wave On LLC, a partnership of Team Valor International, who campaigned the colt.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slew of scratches spoils undercard stakes at Colonial

 A late look at Equibase.com reveals a remarkable number of scratches in the three stakes races that help form the undercard of Colonial Turf Cup-G2 day at Colonial Downs. But a call to the track's racing office confirms that all of the stakes as-scheduled are expected to stay on the grass.

Chief among the undercard races is the All Along Breeders' Cup S.-G3, which has become an intriguing early summer turf route for the ladies. Unfortunately, last year's Virginia Oaks winner, I Lost My Choo, and G2-placed Icon Project, to have been ridden by Julien Leparoux, are both scratched, leaving 7/2 Indescribable, a multiple G3 winner, as the favorite along with 4/1 French-born Astrologie, ridden by Garrett Gomez for conditioner Christophe Clement. First Ascent also is out.

Barring further scratches, there are still nine fillies and mares left to run in the All Along.

That's hardly the case in the $50,000 Buckland Stakes, a turf sprint for females, where 10 of the 14 entries have bailed. A source in the Colonial racing office said early this afternoon that he didn't know why the connections of so many entrants had begged-off the Buckland, but scratches left only four to run -- and all of them were at double-digit odds when the field was drawn.

The "favorite" now, I suppose, would be Charlie Papa, an 8-year-old with two wins in Calder's Cool Air Stakes (at 6 and 7) and a turf-sprinting record at Tampa to her credit. But she was 10/1 on the ticker before all the scratching commenced. Left to face her are: Cal-bred Excessive Heat, a 4-year-old stakes winner of $236,260 with 10 wins in 15 starts, but who was running for a tag at Gulfstream in January; Battingstar, a 5-year-old Grand Slam mare who hasn't earned blacktype nor cracked $100,000 in earnings from 20 starts; and Twiceasbeautiful, a 5-year-old by Texas Glitter who is stakes-placed at Tampa but likewise is yet to reach six figures in earnings.

Scratched were: Citi Charisse (who won last year's Sissy Woolums S.-N at Colonial); Anofficerandalady; Ahvee's Destiny; Fancy Diamond; Golden Spirits; Rinterval (second in a million-dollar Irish race last year); Kosmo's Buddy; Humorlee; Hadavision; and Smart And Fancy.

Also suffering a couple of scratches is the Old Nelson Stakes, a $30,000 event for claimers who've run for a $25K tag or less in 2008-09. Out are Ez Mac and Classic Bridges, but 6/5 favorite Drivingmaxandmitzi and 5/2 second choice Terrific Storm remain in the mix for the mile and three-sixteenths on the outer turf.

Colonial Turf Cup: Battle of Hastings and an absent long-shot

An intriguing field of 10 horses will go to post today in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup-G2, first leg of the Grand Slam of Grass -- a challenge I wish some top horse's connections will legitimately try to attain someday.

Battle of Hastings(GB), pictured stepping onto Colonial's main track upon shipping in, is a gelded son of Royal Applause out of the blacktype Night Shift mare Subya, and leads the field in the morning line at 2/1. The Jeff Mullins trainee comes in off a near-miss in the American Turf S.-G3 at Churchill on Derby weekend, plus a series of sharp drills. Tyler Baze gets the call in his only scheduled ride at Colonial Downs this weekend, and though the New Kent, Va., turf course isn't the trickiest oval in America, I'd rather see Baze ride something early on the card to sharpen his skills over the course.

Also given a big chance by track oddsmakers are Take The Points (3/1 for trainer Todd Pletcher and jock Garrett Gomez) and Lime Rickey (7/2 for Frank Alexander and Julien Leparoux).

Only one other horse -- trainer Shug McGaughey's Rescue Squad, with Edgar Prado named -- is at single-digit odds, 6/1. And that makes this both an interesting betting race and a strange contest for a Grade 2, $500,000 event.

Where are the proven turf horses?

Giant Oak is sticking to Arlington Park and the $500,000-bonus "Mid-America Triple" of the Arlington Classic, American Derby and Secretariat Stakes. I don't know the health of all the non-winners of the ungraded May 23 Arlington Classic (who now stand no chance of the bonus), but the Turf Cup didn't draw even an Orothodox and Jon Court, surprise 45/1 winners of the American Turf who stumbled in the Classic, nor Arlington Classic placers and showers No Inflation (who went for Churchill's G2 Jefferson Cup last weekend at less than half the purse, finishing third) and El Crespo (Palm Beach S.-G3 winner), nor Classic-favored Golden Mexico(IRE), all of whom are out of the running for the Arlington bonus but could position themselves to run for the Grand Slam with a win in the Colonial Turf Cup, a much-higher-graded and richer race than they just ran with no greater competition.

The G3 Hill Prince at Belmont June 5 was taken off the turf and ended up a five-horse race. But of the four scratches whose connections wanted grass, only Lime Rickey ships south for a chance a G2 turf race and essentially five times the money.

Aside from the 2/1 ML favorite, Battle of Hastings, who is a Grade 3 winner in California sprinting on grass in the Baldwin Stakes and a listed winner at a mile in the La Puente, there's a wealth of unfulfilled potential from this group, no other stakes wins, and very little blacktype for a Grade 2 field.

Second in the morning line at 3/1 is a horse in Take The Points that likewise has no blacktype win, and in his case is also making the transition from the main track (where he placed in the G2 Sham on synthetic in California) to the lawn. After a trio of second-places, Lime Rickey is hoping to break through to the winner's circle in a stakes race, and Rescue Squad is 2-for-5 lifetime with no blacktype at all, and just 6/1.

Let's check the other six in the field for a potential bomb at the window.

At 10/1 are Straight Story (Giant's Causeway), two wins from four non-blacktype starts and $57,350 for trainer Alan Goldberg and rider C.C. Lopez, and Mark S The Cooler (a Johar gelding with earnings grossly wrong at that link), a Doug O'Neill trainee with Corey Nakatani aboard who has won two of nine for about $90K. Both come in off allowance wins on grass and Brisnet speed figures of 93 and 92, respectively.

Clocking in at 12/1 on the morning line is Final Count (Smart Strike), making just his fourth lifetime start (two wins) for trainer P.J. Oliver, with Corey Lanerie up. His maiden-breaking Brisnet speed figure of 93 on Polytrack at Keeneland is consistent with the prior two and he followed that with a turf win at Churchill in his last out.

At 20/1 is a second Pletcher trainee, Al Khali (Medaglia D'Oro), with a curious past. Sent to Peru as a yearling, he placed, then broke maiden, then collected an allowance win at Hipodromo de Monterrico as a 2-year-old. Returned to the States, he won in allowance company at Gulfstream, but was well-beaten in both the Illinois Derby-G2 and Peter Pan-G2. Now he tries grass under Kent Desormeaux.

Co-30/1 shots are Winning Vow (Broken Vow), stakes-placed on grass at Turf Paradise but neither as fast as this field nor consistent, and Dover Street Art(IRE), by Alhaarth, who has the least earnings ($13,687) of a graded-stakes entry that I can remember seeing in a very long time. And I'm was going to pick him. Not so much to beat Battle of Hastings -- for now I think we can see why he's 2/1 and I'm not sure why that isn't even money -- but to potentially, maybe, be that "bomb."

Trouble is, I just noticed at Equibase.com that he's a morning scratch. But you still get to read my reasoning.

Dover Street Art's earnings are held down a bit because he started his career in Britain, where fans of U.S. racing might be shocked to know that the purses for maidens and others in the lower conditions can be paltry. But Dover Street Art was second in his debut at Lingfield at 2, then won at Great Leighs next out over Tartan Gunna, a horse who has since won three times outside of stakes company. Speed figures are available from Brisnet for neither, but Racingpost.com says his Timeform mark for the 2-year-old win was an 83.

Shipped not only to the States, but way out West, he resurfaced in the La Puente, where he was rank early, got a wide trip, surely needed the race from a four-month layoff, and lost to Battle of Hastings by 7 1/2. But his next two efforts, both on synthetic, were a 90 speed figure placing fourth in an optional $80K claimer and an 84 digging in on the rail for third in an allowance.

I liked that he, like Mark S The Cooler, is trained by Doug O'Neill, who I doubt would've considered hauling him cross-country if he didn't think the colt could figure. He wasn't getting a marquee jock, and SoCal staple Agapito Delgadillo would've had a lot of work to do aboard a colt who has been described as "pulling" at the jockey in more than one race. But I think the horse will appreciate his eventual return to turf, and is perhaps bred for more distance than he's been getting; dam Santa Sophia (Linamix) made only seven starts, but one a stakes win in the Lingfield Oaks Trial at 11 1/2 furlongs.

And in this group that has done little to prove themselves in stakes company, Dover Street Art just might have been near the front at the end, and at considerable odds.

Now, back to my question about when someone will truly pursue the Grand Slam of Grass: What's it gonna take?

Colonial this season would seem to be the place to start for a 3-year-old turf router. The Turf Cup is now a Grade 2 with a $500,000 purse. The Virginia Derby in July is likewise a G2 that I think is destined for Grade 1 status, and you can't quarrel with a $750,000 pot for 3-year-old restricted competition. Then, take a shot at Arlington's Secretariat (still amid 3-year-olds only) and three of the four legs could be yours.

Clearly Arlington has struck back with its $500,000 bonus to any horse that can win its Mid-America Triple, but the purses of those first to races are smaller (the third is the Secretariat Stakes that is also part of the "Slam") and the graded-blacktype is lighter.

And obviously the final race of the Grand Slam is the toughest: The Breeders' Cup Turf at 12 furlongs among older horses. But it's been won by a 3-year-old before (three of the last seven, in fact, with Conduit last year, Red Rocks in 2006 and High Chaparral's first of two in 2002). The task isn't impossible.

Of course, all of those 3-year-old winners were Euros. And they have plenty of their own races to run at all summer.

But I'm still waiting for the year when American connections take a colt -- maybe European-bred -- and sweep the trio of 3-year-old legs of the Slam (by then probably a G2 Turf Cup, G1 Va. Derby and G1 Secretariat), at least giving their charge a chance at the Slam and its $5 million in combined purses and bonuses.