Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eclipse Awards Thoughts & Horse of the Year

As expected The Eclipse awards brought out the who's who of the Horse Racing industry. Its just too bad everyone couldnt bring their animals. I am sure that the likes of Curlin and Zenyatta and Big Brown would have loved to give their own acceptance speeches. Curlin earned Horse of the Year for a second consecutive year, the first horse to do so since Cigar won a second Eclipse during 1995-1996. Curlin also earned Champion Older Male, and his trainer, Steve Asmussen earned Champion trainer. Curlin has now retired to stud for a first year fee of $75,000 at Lane's End in Versailles. But with every obstacle Curlin faced, his connections reminded everyone that the goal for the son of Smart Strike was to earn a place in the annals of Thoroughbred racing. In this race just like all of the others Curlin was able to win by a comfortable margin. Curlin received 153 first-place votes to 69 for Zenyatta with dual classic winner Big Brown snagging 13 votes.
"Racing is blessed to have such a magnificent athlete among us," majority owner Jess Jackson said of Curlin prior to the Breeders' Cup in October. "He's brilliant, durable and always shows up, always gives his best. The only time he's been beaten really is when race tactics or his own physical condition prevented him from winning."
As expected, Curlin and Zenyatta were named champion older male and champion older female, respectively, with Big Brown taking champion 3-year-old male honors.
Here is the break down of the Eclipse Awards.

Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male: Curlin
HOY Vote totals: Curlin, 153; Zenyatta, 69; Big Brown, 13; Raven's Pass, 2; Einstein, 1; Goldikova (IRE), 1; Peppers Pride, 1; Voter Abstentions, 2.Older Male Vote totals: Curlin, 239; Albertus Maximus, 1; Commentator, 1; Go Between, 1.

Two-Year-Old Male: Midshipman
Vote totals: Midshipman, 195; Vineyard Haven, 32; Old Fashioned, 7; Donativum (GB), 5; Desert Party, 1; Run Away and Hide, 1; Street Hero, 1.

Two-Year-Old Filly: Stardom Bound
Vote totals: Stardom Bound, 236; Maram, 2; Springside, 2; Rachel Alexandra 1, Sky Diva, 1.

Champion Three-Year-Old Male: Big Brown
Vote totals: Big Brown, 219; Raven's Pass, 21; Conduit (IRE) 1; Tale of Ekati, 1.

Three-Year-Old Female: Proud Spell
Vote totals: Proud Spell, 90; Eight Belles, 71; Goldikova (IRE), 41; Indian Blessing, 20; Music Note, 20.

Older Female: Zenyatta
Vote totals: Zenyatta, 240; Ginger Punch, 2

Male Sprinter: Benny the Bull
Vote totals: Benny the Bull, 107; Midnight Lute, 86; Street Boss, 40; Bustin Stones, 3; Fatal Bullet, 3; Visionaire, 1; Commentator, 1; Voter Abstentions, 1.

Female Sprinter: Indian Blessing
Vote totals: Indian Blessing, 138; Ventura, 88; Intangaroo, 13; Indyanne, 1; Voter Abstentions, 2

Male Turf Horse: Conduit
Vote totals: Conduit (IRE), 175; Einstein (BRZ), 31; Grand Couturier (GB), 11; Hyperbaric, 5; Kip Deville, 5; Red Giant 4; Court Vision, 2; Henrythenavigator, 1; Champs Elysees (GB), 1; Spirit One (FR), 1; Voter Abstentions, 6.

Female Turf Horse: Forever Together
Vote totals: Forever Together, 137; Goldikova, 94; Cocoa Beach (CHI), 6; Ventura, 3; Mauralakana (FR), 2.

Owner: Stronach Stables
Vote totals: Stronach Stables, 47; IEAH Stables, 46; Stonestreet Stables LLC and Midnight Cry Stables, 29; Mr. and Mrs. Jerome S. Moss, 27; Godolphin Racing, 24; Zayat Stables 16; Augustin Stable, 13; Maggi Moss, 11; Robert Cole, Jr., 10; Darley Stable, 4; Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, 2; H. Joe Allen, 1; J. Paul Reddam, 1; Juddmonte Farms, 1; Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, 1; WinStar Farm, 1; Voter Abstentions, 8.

Breeder: Adena Springs
Vote totals: Adena Springs, 139; Stonerside Stable, 60; WinStar Farm, 13; Juddmonte Farms, 9; Brereton C. Jones, 4; Eugene Melnyk, 1; Edward P. Evans, 1; Fares Farm, Inc., 1; George Strawbridge, Jr., 1; Hal and Patti Earnhardt, 1; Maverick Production, 1; Monticule, 1; Voter Abstentions, 10.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Vote totals: Steve Asmussen, 187; Robert Frankel, 15; Larry Jones, 9; Bob Baffert, 7; Rick Dutrow, 5; Jerry Hollendorfer, 4; Bill Mott, 3; John Shirreffs, 2; Mike de Kock, 1; Anthony Dutrow, 1; Scott Lake, 1; Mike Maker, 1; Kiaran McLaughlin, 1; Todd Pletcher, 1; Howard Wolfendale, 1; Voter Abstentions, 3.

Jockey: Garrett Gomez
Vote totals: Garrett Gomez, 210; Rafael Bejarano, 11; Robby Albarado, 9; Russell Baze, 3; Kent Desormeaux, 3; Ramon Dominguez, 1; Alan Garcia, 1; Julien Leparoux, 1; Joe Rocco, 1; Mike Smith, 1; Voter Abstentions, 1.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

***100 Days left until Kentucky Derby 135***

With 100 days left before the gates open to start Kentucky Derby 135, there are so many issues that need to be discussed. The first time out do you start your charge in a prep race for sprinters, or do you send your horse to run in a two-turn route race. The second time out do you look for a 1 mile race or longer, and then there is the question of whether or not to prep in a third race. But the most discussed aspect is does the distance of the race matter. Most horseman and analysts would say yes, the distance of the prep race does matter, why though does it matter. Well let’s break it down and look at the way that each track sets up their prep races with regard to distance. We will take a look at: ,
Gulfstream Park – Hutchenson (7f) or Holy Bull (1 1/8 m), Fountain of Youth (1 1/16 m), Florida Derby (1 1/8 mile)
Aqueduct – Whirlaway Stakes (1 1/16 mile), Gotham Stakes (1 1/16 mile), Wood Memorial (1 1/8 mile)
Fairgrounds - Lecomte Stakes (1 mile), Risen Star (1 1/16 mile), Louisiana Derby (1 1/16 mile)
Santa Anita – Robert B. Lewis (1 1/16 mile), San Felipe Stakes (1 1/16 mile), Santa Anita Derby (1 1/8 mile)
Oaklawn Park – Southwest Stakes (1 mile), Rebel Stakes (1 1/16 mile), Arkansas Derby (1 1/8 mile)
The fact is there are so many preps that if you are thinking about prepping your horse at a certain track you have to take into consideration spacing the races out. Usually the best prep program would have each race spaced out 1 month apart so that the horse would be able to recover from each race. Looking at the way that the majority of the tracks set up the final prep theses races are all at (1 1/8 mile) or 9 furlongs. The length of the final prep prepares the horse to run in the Derby a stepping stone per say to the longest race that most 3 year olds will run in up to this point.
With the exception of the Louisiana Derby which is run at (1 1/16 mile) most connections want to see their horse run in a race that is at (1 1/8 mile). The Louisiana Derby though is a race that is ran in March, therefore many connections like to use the L.D. as a stepping stone to a race in April. It is important to again realize that the turnaround for a horse coming off of this race would have to be thought out very carefully. The race is ran in Mid March so races early in April would most likely not match up with the recovery time that most connections want for their colts. A race during the second week of April would most be more conducive to a colt coming out of the Louisiana Derby.
The stepping stone to a (1 1/8 mile) race is just as important as the final prep itself. Many connections focus on the historically significant tracks and races in preparing for the Kentucky Derby. Some don’t really worry about the location as they will ship their horses. Horses like Street Sense and Hard Spun were legitimate travelers, Street Sense prepping in Florida and Kentucky and Hard Spun prepping in Arkansas and Kentucky. These horses didn’t follow a traditional schedule, both connections had to call audibles after circumstances dictated this to occur. Hard Spun’s schedule change due to his not taking a liking to the track at Oaklawn Park, and Street Sense’s change due to the fact that his connections decided to get him a synthetic prep, therefore allowing for a workmanlike effort but at the same time not taking too much out of him and allowing the horse to not have to deal with the rigors of another Dirt prep before the derby. T his worked out quite well for SS’s connections, not so for the connections of Pyro and Visionaire, both of these horses prepped on a synthetic surface and fared horribly. Some say this caused the horse to regress after the polytrack effort and they both ran dismal Derby races.
The gradual progression in the length of the prep race is quite a factor in the development of a 3 year old colt. Running a horse at the same distance twice in preparation for the Kentucky Derby is detrimental in some people’s opinion. Others state that the length of a prep does not matter at all and that it is truly the best horse on the day that wins the race. But when looking at the results of the major contenders that move forward towards the Derby after their prep races, it would seem that the stepping stones provided by the Oaklawn Park Series. The SouthWest Stakes at 1 Mile, the Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 mile, and the Arkansas Derby run at 1 1/16 mile, has been the springboard for a number of Eclipse award winning race horses in the last 5 years. This series has established itself as a major series of preps leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Horses like Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Curlin have all come out of the Arkansas series, and have a major effect on the Triple Crown. Remember also that Lawyer Ron ran in the Oaklawn prep series in 2006, he went on to be the Eclipse award winning Older Horse that year. Bob Holthus Todd Pletcher both agree that the foundation that Lawyer Ron developed during his time of racing at Oaklawn Park. D. Wayne Lukas has said many times that there is no program like the program at Oaklawn due to the fact that the races are spaced perfectly and the movement in distance a 1/16th of a mile longer for each race gives the horse the ability to learn how to deal with longer distances and stretching out.
Another aspect of how to deal with prep races is the travel that is involved, as I stated earlier many times a trainer will want to use different venues to prep, to get his horse used to different circumstances. Barclay Tagg for one likes to prep his horses at Gulfstream and then move them along to the Louisiana derby and then up to Aqueduct to run in the Wood Memorial. He considered his route to be one that helps his horse deal with a good racing schedule and at the same time face stiff competition so he will know what he would need to do to prepare his horse for the Kentucky Derby. Todd Pletcher also is a huge shipper also, due to the fact that he has a number of horses in his stable, he moves some back and forth across the country. Steve Asmussen is totally different, although he has a large number of horses he likes to put his horses in a situation where they become acclimated to the location and comfortable with their surrounds. He wants the horse to be used to the track and the area so that he can give his best effort. The fact is each connection has to do what they feel is right for the horse and sadly some feel its all about winning, and although there is a realization that winning is the first and foremost thing, the horses well-being is important also. Appreciate has to be shown to those connection who realize that putting the horse first is always the best policy.
So does distance matter, many say yes, others say not at all, while others feel its just a matter of how a horse trains leading up to the Derby. Whatever your feeling realize that precedent says that a fresh horse with correctly spaced races can lead to a Derby winner. The main idea though is to do what’s best for your horse and make sure to get the horse safely to the starting gate to start in the Derby.. In our next article, we will look at the theory of the “Pletcher Syndrome”. Every connection wants to win, but a horse can’t put forth his best efforts every time out, do you focus on the win or do you focus on the prep aspect of the race, you prep for the Derby you don’t run in the Derby a month before that race.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

*111 Days until the 2009 Kentucky Derby*

111 Days until the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

This is part 1 in a 5 part series!
With just 111 days left until we experience “The most exciting two minutes in sports”, there are a few questions that need to be asked. What is interesting is that the answers will not come from humans, (well there will be some that come from humans) but most of the legitimate answers will come from the actions of the upcoming equine superstars of tomorrow. The new generation of thoroughbreds will have some large shoes to fill, but after watching the 2 year old races at the end of 2008 and seeing the few races that have kicked off during the beginning of 2009 there may be some that stand up and give indication that they are ready to fill those shoes.
We will start with a question that a human can actually answer. The question is “Where will you Prep”? There are a number of options, and there are no rules that state that if you start with a prep race at one track that you have to stay at that track. For example, many may remember the trouble that Hard Spun had at Oaklawn, he labored through a 4 panel workout, many may remember that Larry Jones stated that Hard Spun came back breathing pretty hard after that workout. There is more to read into this statement and the subsequent 4th place finish in the Southwest Stakes. Some may remember the ice storm that hit the Hot Springs, Arkansas area where Oaklawn Park is located. This caused a number of issues with track maintenance which caused the track to play deep for the early part of the season. After the running of the Southwest in which he was a beaten favorite Hard Spun was sent to Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky. There on March 24th, Hard Spun scored his fifth win in six starts with an impressive 3¼-length victory in the Lane's End Stakes in a strong time of 1:49 2/5 for the 1⅛-mile event. At that point it was thought that Hard Spun would run in the Blue Grass Stakes which would give him 3 preps but Larry Jones decided to skip that race and go directly to the Derby where Hard Spun finished 2nd to Street Sense.
When thinking about the different routes that are available to a Trainer when prepping for the Kentucky Derby there are a number of routes available. The most prominent are:
California, Santa Anita – San Rafael, Sham, Santa Anita Derby
Kentucky, Turfway & Lexington– John Battaglia,Lane’s End, Bluegrass Stakes
New York, Aqueduct – Count Fleet, Gotham, Wood Memorial
Arkansas, Oaklawn – Southwest, Rebel, Arkansas Derby
Florida, Gulfstream – Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby
Louisiana, Fair Grounds – Lecomte, Risen Star, Louisiana Derby
So what exactly would you do, when you think back to the last few winners of the Kentucky Derby, Big Brown prepped in Florida, Street Sense prepped in Florida and then in Kentucky, Barbaro prepped in Florida, 2005 Giacomo prepped in California and 2004 Smarty Jones prepped in Arkansas. The thing to remember is that the best horse doesn’t always win the Kentucky Derby. When you go forward and consider that some trainers do very well getting their horse ready for 1 race especially, that gives indication that it may have been the horse that was best managed coming up to the Derby. So the location where a horse preps maybe more important that anyone would even think. If a horse is going to prep in Florida or New York, you can imagine that the top ranked three year olds will be there and your horse will have to be ready to give his best in these races. This is important because a horse has to have enough graded earnings to get a spot in the Derby starting gate. You do not want to have the best horse sitting in his stall at post time on the first Saturday in May.
The connections of the top Derby candidates: Vineyard Haven, Midshipman, Old Fashioned, Square Eddie, Pioneer of the Nile, all have decisions to make, the connections of Old Fashioned have made the decision to send him to Arkansas’s Oaklawn park at the end of January to start his trek to the Derby in the Southwest Stakes. This race which is run this year on February 16th at 1 mile. If things work out he’ll move forward to the Rebel Stakes and then the Arkansas Derby. The other connections have intriguing decisions to make. Vineyard’s Haven and Midshipman will prep in Dubai, which most feel will put them at a considerable disadvantage. Square Eddie and Pioneer of the Nile’s connections also have very intriguing decisions to make also, that decision is to prep on the synthetics or to travel to find some Dirt. The Kentucky Derby is a race that is still held on conventional Dirt, and most trainers realize that they need to get their horse a prep race on dirt. The example of Colonel John gives an indication that a horse was put at a substantial disadvantage because his connections did not give him the Derby “Dirt” prep before walking him over to the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Eoin Harty decided that he would send his horse to Kentucky a few weeks before the Derby the horse had a difficult time during the first part of the race and then came on to finish a credible 6th. In most opinion had the horse had a conventional Dirt prep, he possibly would have fared better. This can be validated by his hard fought win in the Travers Stakes later in the year. It is quite possible that this year could see a different attitude in the way that horses will prep going forward coming out of California. The synthetics put the horse in a position where he may or may not be comfortable in his first start on dirt being the most difficult race in the world to win. Sometimes the questions that are asked should truthfully be asked of the horse and not the trainer. Sadly the horse can’t tell you what he needs; he has to show by the way that he trains over the surface how he will respond during a race. Sometimes the way that the horse trains still doesn’t give you enough feedback on how he will do during the race. For the benefit of the horse it would seem that it would be best to bring the horse east to let him get a taste of Dirt racing, but some feel there is no need for that. It can at times have an effect on how the horse performs, so the question is: With 111 days left to Kentucky Derby 135, which route will you take, and will it be the synthetics or Dirt.
There are more questions that need to be asked in the 2nd installment of this topic we will discuss whether the distance of the prep races has any affect on how a horse moves forward.