The Triple Crown Goes Back on the Shelf and A Rivalry

Bloged in Preakness Stakes by admin Saturday May 26, 2007

curlin-preakness.jpg

My toes were ‘curlin’ with excitement while I was watching
the stretch run of the Preakness last Saturday and
wondering if and when my chosen steed would ever change
his leads.

He finally did, and I suppose I can offer myself a pat on
the back for picking Curlin to win, and even more for
narrowing the competition down to him and Street Sense.
Believe me, that is not my usual standard of performance
when it comes to horse racing.

But I have been a fan of the Thoroughbreds long enough to
have heard of or witnessed some stellar rivalries, and it
appears that we are on the verge of another one, if both
Curlin and Street Sense can remain sound and their owners
are willing to continue challenging each other.

Because it is virtually guaranteed that neither of these
horses will race beyond this year, whatever legendary
contests are going to arise between them will have to
occur between now and the October 25 Breeders’ Cup Classic
at Santa Anita. At this writing, it looks as if neither
colt has connections interested in pursuing the Belmont
Stakes.

The Belmont Stakes, it seems, has become almost an
afterthought in those years when there is no horse with a
chance to win the Triple Crown. As a mile-and-a-half
race, it sticks out on the calendar of stakes races for
three-year-olds in the US like a sore thumb, and is the
only time three-year-olds are required to run that
distance. So more often than not, it is a prime spot for
stamina-loaded horses who simply cannot run fast enough to
win shorter stakes.

My personal opinion is that, if it were not for the
artificial standard of the Triple Crown, the distance of
the Belmont Stakes would have long ago been shortened.
But it needs something to make it unique, and at its
current distance can call itself ‘The Test of Champions.’
The only problem is that fewer and fewer champions are
choosing to show up.

There is simply too much money at stake for the owners of
top class three-year-old male Thoroughbreds to risk them
without very good reason. Asking Street Sense to take on
Curlin in the Belmont does not, from an economic
standpoint, make sense. Asking him to do it later in the
year at a shorter distance makes perfect sense; it will,
in fact, be required of both horses if there is to be a
year-end championship awarded to either.

So, heaven willing and these two colts stay sound, we can
look forward to the Travers Stakes, or the year-end
weight-for-age contests when they will not only face each
other but their elders. Perhaps the ghosts of Alydar and
Affirmed, or Ridan and Jaipur, or Easy Goer and Sunday
Silence will be racing at their sides.

Other than the chance of a Triple Crown winner, nothing in
US horse racing has as much appeal as two evenly matched
champions looking each other in the eye and refusing to
blink. Will it happen at Belmont Park on June 9?

Don’t hold your breath.

curlin-preakness2.jpg

Preakness Prognostications

Bloged in Preakness Stakes by admin Saturday May 19, 2007

pimlico.jpg

 

War Admiral was not the only casualty of the 1938 Pimlico
Special, which became the famous match race immortalized
in the movie ‘Seabiscuit.’ The Pimilico infield’s slight
promontory, known as Old Hilltop, on which hundreds of
thousands trainers and racing fans had stood through 67
years of racing was leveled in April of 1938, so that it
would not obstruct the film cameras which recorded that
great race.

 The Old Hilltop might be gone, but its name remains, as do
the horses, trainers, fans, and cameras. They’ll all be at
Pimlico for the Preakness and a chance to witness Street
Sense duplicating what War Admiral did seventy years ago
in following his Kentucky Derby win with a Preakness Day
victory on his way to the 1937 Triple Crown.

 Of interest is that War Admiral had to beat nineteen other
horse win the Kentucky Derby, as did Street Sense, and had
to beat seven other horses to win the Preakness, while
Street Sense will have to beat eight. In one sense, the
Preakness is a much fairer test of ablility than the
Kentucky Derby, because for all its history, it’s never
been the glamour event that the ‘Run for the Roses’ is, and
does not attract horses simply because their owners like
the idea of photo opps.

 The horse voted by The Bloodhorse as the greatest of the
20th century, in fact, Man o’ War, did not even contest
the Kentucky Derby, because his owner Samuel P. Riddle
didn’t t feel it was in the colt’s best interests to run a
mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. Man o’
War went on to win the Preakness and Belmont, sire War
Admiral, and also sire Hard Tack, who in turn sired
Seabiscuit. In the 1937 Preakness, in fact, three of the
eight horses entered were sons of Man o’ War.

  Does any of this history tell us a thing about which horse
is likely to his owner’s colors painted on the Pimlico
weather vane as late Saturday afternoon? Not really.
Street Sense loves the Churchill Downs track and no one
knows if he will like Pimlico. He also loves the rail;
there are likely to be seven riders seeing that he does
not get it. He will be starting from the outside post, so
they may not have to work too hard to see that he stays
outside.

 On the other hand, Hard Spun, who set all the fractions
except the most important one in the Kentucky derby, is
likely to have company on the lead from King of the Roxy,
who did not race at Churchill Downs but has a sprinter’s
pedigree and could not hold off Tiago in the stretch of
the Santa Anita Derby.

 D. Wayne Lukas, who has trained five Preakness winners,
four more than the other seven trainers combined, has
Flying First Class in after he won the Derby Trial Stakes
three weeks ago. But Curlin, who finished third in the
Derby, had earlier trounced Flying First Class both in the
Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

 And Curlin, who had a less than lucky trip in the Kentucky
Derby, was one of the few horses accelerating at the end.
He is still the greenest horse in the Preakness field, but
will not have nearly the traffic to contend with and in
the first three races of his life, which all had fields of
ten or less, simply annihilated his competition.

 I did some pedigree checking, and Street Sense traces back
to Man o’ War through his dam Bedazzle, while Curlin
traces back to War Admiral and Man o’ War through his dam
Sheriff’s Deputy.

 For no other reasons than that Curlin has a physique
resembling Man o’ War’s, and I think he learned a few
things in the Derby, I am picking him for the Preakness.
I would be very happy, however, to see Street Sense win,
and as always, just hope the contestants make it safely
around the track and back to their barns.

preakness-stakes.jpg

The Street Fighter Triumphs

Bloged in Kentucky Derby by admin Saturday May 12, 2007

Well, I didn’t do too badly with my Kentucky Derby
predictions; I just had the wrong horse finishing first.
Street Sense and Calvin Borel took their time, picked
their spots, and in general put in one of the finest
horse/jockey team efforts, in making hash out of a
twenty-horse field, that I have ever witnessed.

Riding with their 2006 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile victory
weighing them down, Borel and Street Sense to their time
settling in on the rail, where they like to be, and
keeping well away from the 46-second opening half-mile.
I confess I was concerned when the track announcer pointed
out that Street Sense was next-to-last at one point, and
had eighteen horses to navigate over, under, around, and
through.

But Borel’s timing was absolutely inspired. Just as he
asked Street Sense to get started, the horses on the front
end of the pack, with the exception of Hard Spun, informed
their riders that it was time to stop.

One by one they began to drift out and away from the deep
going on the rail, and Street Sense wove in and out of
their vacated lanes until he finally swung to the outside
in the stretch and was home free. There would be no
repeat of the ducking in that he did at the very crowded
finish line of the Blue Grass Stakes, and the three horses
who were in the photo finish with him at Keeneland where
nowhere to be seen on Saturday.

Hard Spun hung on for second, in what was probably the
bravest performance of the day, and Curlin, the horse whom
I was hoping would duplicate the brilliant victories of
his three previous starts, finished eight lengths in back
of Street Sense in third. Curlin was also far back in the
early part of the race and making up ground at the end. I
still expect very big things from him in the future.

So we can now bid farewell to the myth that a Breeder’s
Cup Juvenile winner probably peaks as a two-year-old, and
if we are lucky, Street Sense will go on to win a Triple
Crown. He certainly looks the part, and with Mr.
Prospector on his sire Street Cry’s side, and Northern
Dancer on his dam Bedazzle’s side, he should run all day.

Of interest to those who are thinking of investing money
in a race horse, superstar trainer Todd Pletcher, to whom
the torch which once burned so brightly for D.Wayne Lukas
and Bob Baffert has supposedly been passed, started five
horses in the Kentucky Derby, and had five also-rans.

Prior to the Derby Pletcher’s five starters, Any Given
Saturday, Sam P., Circular Quay, Scat Daddy, and Cowtown
Cat had been very impressive in their prep races. Scat
Daddy’s rider said that his horse simply hated the
Churchill Downs track, and Cowtown cat was noticeably
upset in the post parade. But my personal opinion is that
the five horse together could have hemmed Street Sense in
all the way around the track and he would still have found
an opening and won his race.

So we head for Baltimore and do it all again!

Kentucky Derby 2007

Bloged in Kentucky Derby by admin Tuesday May 1, 2007

Beyer speed figures. Dosage indexes. Post positions.
Track conditions. Past performances.

Put them all in a jockey’s cap, toss them up in the air,
watch where they fall, and then try reading some sense
into them. You’ll have as much chance as anyone of
picking out the name of the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner.

As with every Kentucky Derby, the one set to take place
this Saturday will have its share of proven starters who
should be there, starters just now reaching their
potential who should be there, and starters whose owners
have more money than horse sense, or just like a reason to
buy a big hat. The unfortunate thing about the starters
in Category #3 is that, because two or three of them
managed to scrape together enough earnings to make the Top
Twenty among horses eligible to run, two or three others
who might actually have a chance will not get in.

One case in point is Chelokee, a big, gorgeous, and very
professional son of Cherokee Run, who in his last start
finished third in the Florida Derby after an absolutely
horrendous trip. Chelokee is of interest because he is
trained by Michal Matz of Barbaro fame, and because at the
end of his most recent workout at Keeneland last Friday,
the right rein on his bridle broke. Although he had
already completed his scheduled run, Chelokee’s rider was
unable to pull him up, and Chelokee did another circuit of
the track on his own.

It seems fairly obvious that Chelokee is willing to run as
far as horses have to, and that the mile-and-a-quarter
distance of the Kentucky Derby would not have fazed him.
But with earnings of only $161,000, he was #22 on the
earnings qualification list. And Michael Matz, rater than
shipping him to Churchill Downs without knowing for
certain that he would make the final Derby cut, decided to
pass, saying there are other Derbies. Chelokee will have
the afternoon off on Saturday, and focus on the Preakness.

It would have been great for racing if Michael Matz had
been able to repeat his 2006 Derby win, and I beg to
differ with him on one point. There may be other Derbies
for Chelokee to contest, but there is only one Kentucky
Derby. Just as there was only one Barbaro.

I hate Kentucky Derbies with twenty-horse fields because
the horses who shouldn’t be there take up a lot of the
running room from those who should. But among those who
should be there is a ‘street fighter’, last year’s
two-year-old champion Street Sense. Trained by Carl
Nafzger, who is undoubtedly one of the best Thoroughbred
trainers you never heard of, Street Sense has raced only
twice this year, setting a track record in the Tropical
Park Derby and losing the Blue Grass Stakes by a nose
after ducking in right before the finish line. It was a
very crowded finish line, with four horses separated by a
half-length.

It would not bode well for his chances next Saturday if
Street Sense ducked in because of the close quarters at
the Blue Grass finish line. With nineteen other horses
taking up track space, he is not likely to have much spare
room as he thunders down the home stretch.

So I am picking as the winner Curlin, the horse who has
won each of his three races by an average of nine lengths.
I know he’s not experienced, but I like that he did not
have to undergo the stress of racing as a two-year-old.
And his breeding is simply flawless, with his sire, Smart
Strike, being another of those perfectly balanced sons of
Mr. Prospector, and his dam, Sheriff’s Deputy, being a
daughter of Canadian champion Deputy Minister.

But what I really hope to see from this Kentucky Derby is
all twenty of its starters, no matter their order of finish,
returning to their barns safe and sound. Racing doesn’t
need another catastrophe.

Pictures of the Kentucky Derby 2007 Contenders :

1. Picture of Street Sense

2. Picture of Nobiz Like Shobiz

3. Picture of Scat Daddy

4. Picture of Curlin

5. Picture of Circular Quay

6. Picture of Any Given Saturday

7. Picture of Great Hunter

8. Picture of Great Hunter

9. Picture of Tiago

10. Picture of Dominican

11. Picture of Cowtown Cat

12. Picture of Stormello

13. Picture of Zanjero

14. Picture of Liquidity

15. Picture of Sam P

16. Picture of Chelokee

17. Picture of Cobalt Blue

18. Picture of Sedgefield

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