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

Galloping Gold: How Much Is a Triple Crown Winner Worth?

Bloged in Kentucky Derby by admin Monday April 23, 2007

With the Kentucky Derby of 2007 approaching, all race fans
are slowly turning their eyes towards Churchill Downs in
Louisville, where the hopeful Thoroughbred bluebloods and
their entourages will soon be descending. Should one of
those royally-bred horses–Circular Quay, Street Sense, or
Cowtown Cat, for instance– prove very, very good, and
very, very lucky, he will, in mid-June, have a Triple
Crown to grace his brow. He will, in the not-too distant
future, and probably before his fourth birthday, head for
the breeding shed in the company of some of the finest
females in Thoroughbred-dom.

The most expensive Thoroughbred in history is 2000
Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who never won
another race. His breathtaking good looks, and his own
sire, Mr. Prospector, were to a large degree responsible
for the fact that when he was syndicated as a stallion the
asking price was $60 million dollars.

Those syndicate members’ first duty regarding FuPeg, as he
is known, was not to improve the breed. It was to get a
return on their investments, either by breeding their own
mares to him and racing or selling the offspring, or
charging horse owners not in the syndicate $100,000 for
one of their mares to have a private audience with FuPeg.

Since FuPeg began the trend, four other non-Triple Crown
winners have followed him into retirement with $100,000
price tags attached to their company–Smarty Jones,
Ghostzapper, and Bernardini. More than a few
non-racetracking Americans fell in love with Smarty, have
never heard of Ghostzapper, and may resent Bernardini
because he is not Barbaro.

So how much, , would a Triple Crown be worth to the owners
of a colt talented enough to win it? Given that the 1977
Triple Crown winner, the immortal Settle Slew, more than
equaled his racetrack glory by his performance as a sire,
the possible figures are mind-altering.

On the other hand, winning a Triple Crown is not guarantee
of a colt becoming a sire of Seattle Slew’s caliber. The
unchallenged master and commander of all the Triple Crown
winners was Secretariat, and he did not reproduce himself.
How could he have? Neither did Calumet’s two Triplers,
Citation and Whirlaway; nor its first and its most recent
winners, Sir Barton and Affirmed.

On the other hand, the 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant
Fox sired its 1935 winner Omaha; granted, those were the
days when an entire year’s crop of Thoroughbreds numbered
less than 5,000, so the competition was not nearly as
fierce as it is today.

And 1937 Triple Crown War Admiral, a small horse–in
spite of Hollywood’s need to portray him otherwise in the
movie “Seabiscuit”–shows up in the pedigrees of some of
the greatest horses of the last fifty years, including
his grandson Buckpasser and, wouldn’t you know it, his
Triple Crown winning great-grandson Affirmed, and
great-great grandson Seattle Slew.

Count Fleet, the 1943 winner, is the
great-great-grandfather of FuPeg.

And let’s not forget Assault, the 1946 winner who proved
infertile. Buying a Triple Crown winner, it seems, is no
guarantee of anything, except that you will have to spend
a very large sum of money.

But consider that last year a Thoroughbred two-year-old,
since named The Green Monkey, sold at auction for $16
million and promptly suffered a hip muscle injury which
has kept him away from the racetrack. Given that, paying
a considerable amount of money for a horse which could be
another Seattle Slew does not seem like such a terrible
idea.

FuPeg, by the way, is now offering the ladies his company for a mere $75,000.

Pictures of the last Kentucky Derby

Picture of Barbaro the great champion

Picture of Fusaichi Pegasus (FuPeg)

Picture of Street Sense

Picture of Cowtown Cat

Picture of Circular Quay

Haflingers: The Other Austrian Breed

Bloged in Haflingers by admin Thursday April 12, 2007

Everyone who cares about horses knows about the Lipizzaner
of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. I, in
fact, made a blog post here about them not long ago.

But not very many people outside of Austria, including here
in Canada, are familiar with a breed of horses even more
indigenously Austrian than the Lipizzaner. I did a little
research and found that there are currently about a thousand
horses of this breed in Canada, which is not very many. But
the people who have, and breed, Haflingers are rabid in
their enthusiasm for their equines, whose human-loving
temperaments make them as much a part of their owners’
families as any horses are likely to become.

The Haflinger breed got its name from the Austrian village
of Hafling, where the foundation sire of the breed, Folie,
was foaled in 1874. Folie was the offspring of a
half-Arabian sire, El Bavadi, and a Tyrolean mountain mare.
Every Haflinger of today can be traced back to Folie through
one of seven distinct lines of stallions.

Folie himself must have been a remarkable animal, because
over one hundred and thirty years later his descendants are
noted for their Tyroleanesque surefootedness, their
tremendous stamina, their remarkable pulling ability–even
more remarkable when one considers that they normally stand
between thirteen and fifteen hands–their versatility, and
their golden good looks.

Haflingers are always some shade of chestnut, from palomino
blond to liver, and they all have thick wavy manes and tails
of white to flaxen, so resplendent that Trigger himself
would have been envious. They do every thing that is asked
of them, from heavy harness work to dressage and jumping,
and do it with intelligence and good spirits.

In spite of their relatively small stature, they are well up
to the task of carrying adults over long distances, yet
gentle enough to be ideal children’s mounts. They are so
people-friendly, in fact, that they are highly desired as
mounts for disabled children in therapeutic riding programs.

The first Haflingers came to North America almost fifty
years ago in 1958, when Tempel Farm in Wadsworth, Illinois,
imported some of them to begin a breeding program as a
companion to their Lipizzaner breeding effort. From there
the breed spread to Canada, and the first Canadian Haflinger
was registered in 1977.

In The US, the Haflinger breed had grown enough by 1998 to
merit its own registry, a joining of two earlier Haflinger
owners’ groups, the Haflinger Registry of North America and
the Haflinger Association of America. The resulting
organization, The American Haflinger Registry, has over ten
thousand of the breed, with over eleven hundred different
owners, on its books.

The Canadian Haflinger Association was created in 1980, and
currently has registered some one thousand horses belonging
to approximately two hundred and fifty owners.

But most Haflingers are still bred in Austria and exported
to other countries from there. The Austrian Haflinger
breeding program is run by government studs, which are at
pains to protect the breed standards.

Until I researched the Lipizzaners, I had never heard of the
Haflingers. But I have to admit that, after seeing pictures
of them performing at all sorts of tasks yet looking like
equine movie stars with those absurdly gorgeous manes and
tails, I definitely see the Haflinger appeal!

Picture of a Haflinger running

Picture of a Haflinger in the Bavarian Alps

More Pictures of Haflingers



Icelandic Ponies: Pasos of the North

Bloged in Icelandic Ponies by admin Tuesday April 3, 2007

When doing the research for my blog entry on Pasos, I
wanted to know if there were any the horses which could
perform the Paso Llano so closely associated with the
Peruvians.

The answer, which surprised me, is “Yes.” But what
surprised me even more is which other breed has this
delightfully smooth action in its collection of gaits.

To find them, head due north from the sun-baked pampas of
South America. When you’re about a hundred miles south of
the Arctic Circle, head due east. Don’t stop when you get
to the Atlantic; in fact, don’t stop until you get to
Iceland.

When you get there, you’ll be in a country where there is
one Icelandic pony for every five Icelanders. The figures
are about 50,000 ponies to 250,000 humans. Why?

Because without the Icelandic ponies, there would probably
be no Icelanders. Iceland is the sort of place which
takes no prisoners. Its cold, harsh, and barren
interior is largely composed of lava fields which support
no vegetation. That which does not support vegetation does
not support the cattle which graze on vegetation. So the
meat in the Icelanders’ diets–what there is of it– comes
from sheep and Icelandic ponies.

That may seem cruel, but we’re not talking about healthy
unwanted horses being shipped to Canadaian slaughterhouses,
now that the U.S. slaughterhouses have been shut down.
The Icelandic ponies are not killed to satisfy the palates
of Europeans who could just as easily eat beef, or pork,
or chicken, or seafood. Icelandic ponies are an
essential food source for Icelanders.

But because they are also an essential work and riding
horse, only the ponies which are unable to work are used
for food.

And work they do. Icelandic ponies are highly intelligent
equines which have adapted to survive in a place where
winter comes when the grass they forage on is still green.
They have evolved to take very shallow breaths, so that
their lungs are not damaged from the cold.

They are stout ponies with plenty of bone and the shaggy
coat necessary for their surroundings. They can go two or
three days between meals and are as surefooted as goats,
thanks to having learned to navigate those volcanoes and
lava fields.

They do not sound like they would have a way of going
similar to that of the Peruvian Paso. But they do.

Like all equines, each Icelandic pony comes equipped with
a walk, trot, and canter. Most of them, oddly, will also
pace when they are trying to recuperate from a long
gallop. But then there’s the “tolt.”

The tolt is the same four-beat gait that is known as the
“Paso LLano” seen so far to the south in the Peruvian
Paso. It’s a left rear, left fore, right rear, right fore
pattern in which the pony always has one foot on the
ground so that the bounciness of the trot is eliminated.
And the Icelandic ponies can do it double-time.

Icelandic ponies, unlike other breeds, take between seven
and eight years to reach their full growth, and are not
ready to be ridden until they are at least four. But
they more than make up for their long childhood at the
other end of their life spans. One Icelandic pony is
said to have worked until the age of fifty, and was still
going strong eight years later when its owner died!

Pictures of Icelandic horses grazing

Pictures of Icelandic ponies in the winter snow

Pictures of Icelandic ponies in their natural habitat

Cute closeup of Icelandic ponies

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