Thursday, April 21, 2011

Statement on the passing of Jess Jackson

Reading the words "Jess Jackson dead at 81" stopped me in my tracks this morning. As a huge fan of his race horses, his attitude towards the game and the ambitiousness he showed in campaigning his horses to be the best horses on the planet, it hurt to consider the fact that he is no longer with us.  My thoughts, very selfish indeed, at first then were diverted to his family, Barbara Banke, his children, friends and acquaintances who knew this man all are in pain due to his passing. Jess Jackson campaigned 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and the 2009, 3-year old filly champion and Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.  Many questioned his decisions, but Jackson always put the welfare of his horses and the fans first. Allowing fans at numerous venues to see his horses up front, taking on challenges that included running his horses on turf, and synthetics that they were not accustomed to and even taking Curlin to Dubai, this showed him to be a true sportsman.  Taking chances, and enjoying watching his horses develop into champions.  This attitude towards competition will be missed.

Rest In Peace Mr. Jess Jackson:
                My sincerest condolences go out to Barbara Banke, the rest of the Jackson StoneStreet family, friends and employees of this great man.  From the very beginning Mr. Jackson was a throwback to the old school owners that said: “My horse is faster than yours”.  The confidence he showed in campaigning his charges to be a champion race horse no matter the gender is something that will never be forgotten and will go down in Horse Racing lore.  Imagine a filly taking on males 3 times during the sophomore season. Imagine an owner allowing the fans to vote on the next start for his horse, imagine the owner of a Horse Of the Year bringing the horse back for another year.  These things are unfounded, but the norm for such an ambitious, courageous man, who by means of his stature brought fans back to the game like we’ve never seen before.  As a horse racing fan, and as a human being, I am very saddened to hear of Mr. Jackson’s passing.  And more importantly as a family man, prayers go out to his family due to grieving his passing.  You’re sportsmanship and ambitiousness will be sorely missed Mr. Jackson. Rest  In Peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Triple Crown Trail/Train Wreck

Normally the trail to the Triple Crown gives us exciting finishes in the top prep races run throughout the early portion of the winter/spring. This years renewal of the preps for the Triple Crown has done just the opposite.  Some say that this is the worst crop of 3 year olds since 2008 when Big Brown won the Derby from the 20 post, I would tend to agree that these colts are at least that mediocre, and one of the worst groups of 3 yr olds we’ve seen in quite some time. Some say run a filly in the Derby, their times are very similar, as a matter of fact R Heat Lightening ran her Oaks Prep a full second faster than Dialed In in the Florida Derby 24 hours later.  The banter for a filly to run in the Derby is legitimate, and two that I think would stand a fantastic chance of doing well are Zazu and Joyful Victory. Both are horses that relax and rate and would not find much trouble running past this group of Grade III 3 year olds.

Here are a few topics that really matter this time of year when it comes to dealing with those who should be considered as Contenders compared to Pretenders.

“Consider the times” – some people want to throw out times, especially when their favorite horse wins a race in a mediocre time or is just simply a slow horse, Dialed In falls into this category, the fact that Nick Zito is able to sell a dime store horse for a million dollar price to some on these blogs and horse racing fans in general gives indication that more and more are thinking with their hearts and not their heads. Closing the final 1/8th of a mile in almost 14 seconds took me off this horses band wagon, and well actually it should have knocked the wheels off the band wagon. Going forward some thought that Zito would crank the horse to get him ready for the Derby, if the 4f breeze in and uninspiring :49 gives you indication of being cranked, please feel free to lower his odds to 2-1 come post time. The objective handicapper would not take that chance.

“Consider the Conditioning”- humans make mistakes, but underestimating the movement forward of 3 year olds this time of year by Todd Pletcher (oh yeah an eclipse award winning trainer) and running his horse short in the Wood Memorial off a series of slow works that gave no indication of building a foundation, and then the quirky prep schedule that put Uncle MO on target to contest another 8.5f race impressively, well words can’t describe the disappointment of watching this horse struggle home the final ¼ mile in the Wood. The horse was short, that is all there was to it, when breaking the gates did he break like a horse with a GI issue, excuses of that nature don’t fly with me when dealing with horses that are raked with a fine tooth comb almost every day of their lives, can he bounce back, maybe, is that likely, absolutely not, his best bet is to look for 9f races down the line to try to garner 3 year old honors. Right now ArchArchArch leads in that category with at least 2 Graded stakes win.

“Consider the pedigree” The factor ran to his pedigree on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, breaking sharp but being out footed to the lead by a couple of horses that were better out of the gate, he was in trouble early, and he didn’t like taking dirt and he didn’t like have to rate with a hold on him, these things show up when a sprinter with the need to lead type running style has to take back for the first time, he resented other horses being beside and in front of him, when they hit the stretch he ranged up and then he spit the bit, not sure if that signals good things to come for this horse at a route of ground but I would tend to say no. What does he have, he does possess amazing speed that he can carry about a mile or so, and so leave him at that, let him take on Goldikova in the BC Mile, or maybe look at the Met Mile and other prestigious races. Be smart and take care of your horse, take a page from the connections of Turbulent Descent, they recognized that 9f was asking too much of their filly and took her back to sprints, there is nothing at all wrong with that. Some just have the Derby Fever and can’t leave well enough alone.

Lastly “Consider the Excuse or Excuses” There are plenty of them out there, what will you do when your horse loses. Find a vet that will validate (1) a small health concern, don’t step up to the plate and say in all honesty “I had him short today”, (2) he’s not cranked, that was the excuse for Dialed In running so slow in the Fl Derby, (3) Equipment Change, anyone ever heard of “If it aint broke don’t fix it” adding blinkers, removing blinkers, figure Eight, I mean what else would we need to do to see if we can’t get the horse to run faster. Resorting to these measures says that something isn’t right, but then when the horse resents it and throws in a clunker you want to go back to square 1, for what reason, I guess because you want a result like the one you received in the Gotham when a horse like Stay Thirsty wins by 4 lengths. “Displaced Palate” – probably legitimate, but you never know, saving face with that one in terms of The Factor is certainly not needed, he’s respected and always will be so hopefully they will get that fixed and Garcia will not be “Grabbing a hold of the horse” in the future so he can run his race. (4) Injuries have taken their toll on the Graded Earnings list. Tapizar, Clubhouse Ride, Permier Pegasus, Author’s Tale, boys of Tosconova , there are others I may be missing but these things happen, for some reason over half mentioned on this list come from California, why is that, why can’t they get their track right to stop the injuries. Hopefully there will be a fix soon, but the Derby Trail is affected by defections like this and its sad to see for these connections.

The Derby being wide open is an understatement, never before have we seen it like this, with such a group of inconsistent, sometimes slow horses, hopefully someone will emerge, and I see that horse being Nehro. Sleep on him if you want. He wants 10f and will get it on May 7. You heard it here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

2011 Apple Blossom Champion - Havre De Grace

Turning for home, things hadnt panned out as the connections of Fox Hill Farm had quite expected. Pacesetter Absinthe Minded doddled through timid fractions of 23.90 seconds for the opening quarter, 47.92 for the half-mile, and 1:11.99 for six furlongs. Havre de Grace began to advance approaching the final turn, moved to third in the upper stretch, then put in a determined bid to catch Switch, who had taken the lead an eighth of a mile from home. The fillies finished fast, with Havre de Grace, who was ridden by Ramon Dominguez, covering the mile and a sixteenth in a strong 1:42.19. The fury of her finishing kick can be summed up in one word, "Amazing" closing her final 1/16th of a mile in under 6 seconds as stated by Larry Jones during the winners circle presentation, even Jones himself was surprised and amazing by his fillies' ability to run down dual Grade 1 winner Switch, Havre de Grace closed with a fury—sprinting the last 1/16 in 5.94 seconds. "The first part was a little slower that I thought maybe it would be," said Larry Jones, who trains Havre de Grace for Fox Hill Farm. "The only concern I had was maybe they weren't going fast enough with the lengths she had to make up. "She had to make up four on Switch and that's something you don't like to give away. She's not an easy horse to run down. I watched Zenyatta almost not run her down last year. But she responded and went well and Ramon said she galloped out real well." The win was a significant one for Havre de Grace, who had placed in a handful of Grade 1 races last year. The year-end goal for her is a return trip to the Breeders' Cup, said Jones. Last year, she ran third in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. In her first start since that race, Havre de Grace won last month's Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn with a Beyer Figure of 105. Jones said one other probable objective for Havre de Grace is the Delaware Handicap, but that the filly would dictate if they were to target that race after such an impressive performance at the Hot Springs, Ar oval today.. She has now won 5 of 10 starts and $1,263,175. Prior ito the Apple Blossom, her biggest win had come in the Grade 2 Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Parx Racing, when she edged eventual champion Blind Luck. Havre de Grace staked her place atop the older female division a division stocked full of highly regarded fillies and mares, including Blind Luck, Switch, Unrivaled Belle and Life at Ten. The matchups that are likely for the duration of the year should make for some interesting showdowns. Oaklawn's Racing Festival of the South The racing festival of the south ends tomorrow at Oaklawn Park with the running of the 75th Arkansas Derby the marquee race of the Oaklawn meet. The Factor is expected to be a major factor on the final day of Oaklawn Park’s 49-day live season. The Factor was installed as the 7-5 program favorite Wednesday morning for Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Probable post time for the 75th Arkansas Derby, the 11th of 12 live races, is 5:58 p.m. Racing will begin at noon Saturday, with the infield scheduled to be open. The Factor, a gray speedster based in Southern California with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, is scheduled to break from post 3 under Martin Garcia and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds underallowance conditions of the Arkansas Derby. All nonstakes winners will carry 118 pounds. As expected, 13 horses were entered Wednesday. The Factor, who arrived Tuesday morning on a flight originating from southern California, will try to become the eighth program favorite since 2000 to win the Arkansas Derby. The race should set up to be quite speedy on the front end with the Todd Pletcher Rabbit, Dance City breaking from the 9 post, Said Todd Pletcher: “He’s kind of a free-running horse with natural speed and we’ll let him place himself forwardly,” said the horse’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. “We don’t plan to let The Factor walk the dog.” In other words for those that dont get what Pletcher is saying, Dance City will be the rabbit that goes with the Factor to keep him honest on the front end to set things up for Brethren and the other closers that will be coming. This will be a stern test for the Factor to see if he can carry that speed under pressure 9 furlongs against legitimate competition. With the loss of Uncle Mo in the Wood a win by the Factor would assure Baffert of Morning Line favortism going forward to the Kentucky Derby.