Thursday, April 30, 2009

What The Voices Think

One of the most overlooked (believe me, I know) positions at the racetrack is my own, track announcer. Well, we take care of that here with the selections of some of the top track announcers in North America (and certainly some good friends of mine) for the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday:

Jason Beem (Portland Meadows)- Dunkirk
Craig Braddick (Arapahoe Park)- Dunkirk
Larry Collmus (Gulfstream, Monmouth)- Desert Party
John G. Dooley (Fair Grounds, Arlington)- Friesan Fire
Tom Harris (Retama)- Pioneerof The Nile
Dan Loiselle (Woodbine)- Desert Party
Frank Miramahdi (Turf Paradise)- Pioneerof The Nile
Vic Stauffer (Hollywood Park)- Chocolate Candy
James Witherite-Rieg (Chester Harness)- Dunkirk

So, the vocal majority goes with Dunkirk (3 votes), it's a dead heat for second between Desert Party and Pioneerof The Nile (2 votes), with Chocolate Candy and Friesan Fire getting one vote each. Thanks to each of my compatriots that responded to the big Derby question.

I will take Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, by the way. She is the best three-year-old in the country in my opinion. As far as MY Derby pick, well, you just have to check back with They Are Off again on Friday. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Derby (Win, Lose, or) Draw

Today was the draw for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. I Want Revenge has been installed as the morning line favorite at 3-1 from post 13. Dunkirk and Pioneerof The Nile drew posts 15 and 16, respectively, and are co-second choices at 4-1. Normally, we would be able to watch this on one of the ESPN family of networks. Not this year, since ESPN feels we need to have more Woody Paige and Tony Kornheiser, the draw was not televised.

Also, those of you wishing to see the best three-year-old in the country this weekend will have to go to an OTB or your local racetrack for simulcasting. That is because ESPN also pulled the normal Friday airing of the Kentucky Oaks. Hence, no Rachel Alexandra on Friday either. It truly boggles the mind how the supposed network of the sport of Thoroughbred racing can forgo covering the marquee weekend in the sport. Granted, they are showing some of the races on Saturday afternoon, but in light of what they normally do, ESPN is sadly lacking this year. Wonder if they will show the entire two days of the Breeders' Cup this fall, be it from Santa Anita or Churchill Downs?

Tune in tomorrow for some Derby picks from some of my announcing cohorts. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dust Commander

The year I was born, the winner of the Kentucky Derby was a bit of an upset. 15-1 shot Dust Commander came through on the rail under jockey Mike Manganello to win the Roses in a time of 2:03.2.
You might think that the time is a bit pedestrian and you might be right, but Dust Commander's winning margin in the Derby was five lengths. That is the largest winning margin of the 1970s. Consider that sentence for a moment. The 1970s included three Triple Crown winning horses (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed), two other horses that had legitimate chances to do it (Canonero II and Spectacular Bid), and two other horses that won the Belmont after winning the Derby (Riva Ridge and Bold Forbes).
This might just be a testament to the weakness of the 1970 field, but keep in mind that Naskra was part of that field as was Belmont winner High Echelon. It just was not a bunch of pushovers in 1970. Certainly, Dust Commander won't go down in history as a great champion, that's for sure, but on the one day he had to be, he certainly was great. If you would like to watch the 1970 Kentucky Derby in its entirety, here is the Youtube link:
Tune in tomorrow for more Derby talk from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of

Monday, April 27, 2009

Super Six Derby Pix

This will be the final set of Derby Pix before the big day on Saturday, so we better make it a good one. Quality Road, who has been a Derby favorite for months, is now out of the Derby with quarter-crack problems in his hoof and that opens up a spot on the list. Here is the last set of Super Six Derby Pix:

1) Friesan Fire- I continue to be more and more impressed with this guy as the days to the Derby grow fewer. He worked Monday morning (5 furlongs in 57.4) in spectacular fashion and I think he is the real deal, seven-week layoff or no seven-week layoff. Trainer Larry Jones deserves the Roses and I think he will get them.

2) I Want Revenge- The likely favorite on Derby Day will be running for the first time since his impressive Wood Memorial win where he overcame missing the start and traffic trouble to win going away. The unfortunate thing for him is that he won't be able to do that on Derby Day. Getting through seven other horses is a whole different thing that getting through nineteen horses. He will be way overbet as well.

3) Dunkirk- I think this is another horse that will take too much of the public's fancy on Saturday. He is very lightly raced and the fact that he couldn't get past Quality Road in the Florida Derby still bothers me. His last work (5 furlongs in 1:01 flat) was strong and he is trained by Todd Pletcher, so there is a lot to like here, but I still think I will look elsewhere.

4) Musket Man- I believe this will be the lively longshot on Derby Day. I am expecting to get no less than 15-1 on the Illinois Derby winner. The favorite that day, Giant Oak, has already pulled out to try his luck on the grass in Chicago this summer. Musket Man's running style could be suited to the Derby, laying off the pace and making a move on the turn. He should most definitely be used in exotic wagers.

5) Regal Ransom- He and his Godolphin teammate, Desert Party, both bettered one minute in five furlong workouts this past weekend. The word around the backside is that both horses are taking well to the track at Churchill Downs. Godolphin wants nothing more than a Derby win and it seems that this year, they have two likely candidates.

6) Pioneerof The Nile- I have not really liked this horse all spring. He did not do much for me in Southern California, even in victory. How will running on the synthetic surface there translate to Kentucky? His Monday work (5 furlongs in 1:00.4) was excellent and Bob Baffert certainly knows how to get a horse ready for the Derby, but again, he will be bet heavily and at the price I will get, I will be looking at others.

We will, of course, keep updating throughout the week on They Are Off. Official selections for the 135th Kentucky Derby will be posted on Friday, but you might be able to tell where I am going to go already. Kentucky Oaks picks will also be made this week, so there will be quite a bit of Derby info here. Tune in all week for more on the Derby from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes

Churchill Downs opens the spring meet on Saturday with the Grade 3 Derby Trial being the highlight of the Opening Day card. Before you think that any of the participants might be a factor in a week in the Kenutcky Derby, no horse that won the Derby Trial has gone on to win the Derby since Tim Tam in 1958. Don't Get Mad in 2005 ran in the Trial and finished 4th in the Derby itself, but let's be serious.

There is a whole lot of speed in this race and that could open things up for an off-the-pace runner. If you are looking for a likable longshot, try #4 Checklist at 8-1 on the morning line. The Pletcher trainee has shown a small possibility of sitting off the pace in the past performances. However, he is stepping up in class here and I am not a fan of the fact that John Velazquez elected to ride #5 Santana Six over him today. #1 Silver City is clearly the class of the speed, but there is going to be a contested pace for him and it will be up to Juilen Leparoux to get him to relax a bit. #7 Hull scratched out of the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland last week and appears again here with Miguel Mena aboard. So, here is a fun little play for the Derby Trial.

$1 EX BOX 1-4-5-7 and $2 TRI 1-4 with 1-4 with 5-7
TOTAL- $20

Remember, They Are Off is only suggesting a play for the Derby Trial tomorrow and accepts no responsibility for any wagers made based on these recommendations. They Are Off returns on Monday for Derby Week. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


It is time for a bit of a Zen-like handicapping tip from your author. I am enjoying watching my copy of the 1973 Kentucky Derby coverage and it is rather amazing to me that some of the "experts" on the telecast were discussing doubt regarding Secretariat. We sit here today thirty-six years on wondering how anyone could have possibly doubted Secretariat now.

Remember, though, that this was between two very different performances by Big Red. He lost the Wood Memorial to Angle Light and Sham just before the Kentucky Derby that year, we know now that he was suffering a painful abscess in his mouth that caused him problems at Aqueduct. This was not known at the time in 1973. Five weeks after the Derby, Secretariat forever cemented his place in racing lore with his 31-length score in the Belmont Stakes, which won him the Triple Crown.

The lesson here, though, is that doubt is prevalent in anything you do horse racing-wise. Your handicapping is included in that sentiment. You will inevitably have doubt as to whether you have selected the right horse, made the right wager, or considered the right angle. You cannot be victim to these doubts you will have, you cannot bet every horse in any race because you just cannot afford it. Whenever you make a wager, whether you are slumping or winning everything in sight, be confident in it. Negative thoughts (or doubt) will cause negative things to happen. When you are putting your money where your mouth is, positive thoughts must prevail.

Tune in to They Are Off tomorrow for a look at the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We all know that the Voice of Santa Anita nowadays is the phenomenal Trevor Denman, who has been redefining the art of track announcing since the mid 80s. However, well before Trevor, the Voice of Santa Anita was the legendary Joe Hernandez. I would like to recommend Rudy Alvarado's book, which is available through the website in the title. The book was the winner of the prestigious Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award and is an excellent read. So, They Are Off offers congratulations to Rudy Alvarado on his work and all the accolades he has received for it.

We also wish to take a quick moment to thank for linking to They Are Off through that website. We link to the Paulick Report here and it is a valuable tool for anyone looking for more information on horse racing. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spirit Of '76

One of my all-time favorite Kentucky Derby winners is Bold Forbes. The 1976 winner defeated less than even-money favorite, Honest Pleasure, with a front-running score at odds of 3-1.

This has got to go down as one of the greatest training jobs in Derby history by Laz Barrera. Barrera knew that his horse was a sprinting specialist that had dominated racing in Puerto Rico, having won seven of eight races as a two-year-old. Barrera worked his horse until he learned how not to go all-out from the get-go and how to conserve some energy for the distance he would face in the Derby. After a half-mile at Churchill, Bold Forbes had a five-length lead. Once the field hit the stretch, Honest Pleasure had cut the lead to less than a length and most observers felt that the favorite was going to blow on by. It was at this point that the training that Barrera had done came into effect and Bold Forbes had enough left to protect his lead and win the Roses by a length.

The ride given Bold Forbes by Angel Cordero was also a thing of beauty. He rode the horse to that large lead and six furlongs in a time of 1:10.2. He and Barrera had a gameplan and he stuck to it all the way around the track and earned the second of his three Derby triumphs (the others coming on Cannonade in 1974 and Spend A Buck in 1985, another front-running win).

Barrera and Cordero made quite a team with Bold Forbes in the spring of 1976. Although Bold Forbes ran 3rd in the Preakness, three weeks later, Barrera and Cordero did it again and stole the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes on the front end to win by a neck. Barrera was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1979 and Cordero followed him in 1988. Their work with Bold Forbes certainly didn't solely get them honored, but the work they did also certainly didn't hurt their cases.

Bold Forbes isn't in the Hall Of Fame yet, but he was the Champion Three-Year-Old in 1976. Bold Forbes hit the board in all eighteen of his lifetime starts with thirteen wins, one second, and four thirds. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of

Monday, April 20, 2009

Super Six Derby Pix

The last of the Derby prep races was taken this Saturday at Keeneland by Advice, winner of the Coolmore Lexington. The story coming out of the race, however, was Square Eddie. Square Eddie already had enough graded earnings to get into the Derby field and looked OK in his first start in thirteen weeks. Was that enough to get him into the Super Six Derby Pix? Well, let's find out:

1) Friesan Fire- Worked this weekend and will have a drill next Monday over the track at Churchill Downs for trainer Larry Jones, who is following the same tack he took with his two Derby runner-ups in the last two years, Hard Spun and Eight Belles. Something just keeps gnawing at me that this year is Jones' turn to win it all.

2) Quality Road- Best of the Florida contingent with wins in the Fountain Of Youth and Florida Derby. The only other horse to really emerge from Florida this year appears to be Dunkirk. It calls into question how good he is if he still hasn't really faced anything else, but then you might be able to say the same for Friesan Fire and his Louisiana route to the Derby.

3) I Want Revenge- In my opinion, this will be your betting favorite come Derby Day, maybe at a lukewarm 5-1 or 6-1 on the tote board. His Wood Memorial was terrific after the start, but if he misses the break at Churchill, he has to go through nineteen horses instead of seven as he did at Aqueduct.

4) Dunkirk- Edgar Prado has been named the rider for the Derby. His move on the final turn of the Florida Derby was visually impressive, but he still couldn't get by Quality Road. He will likely be the hot horse going into the Derby, but so were Noble Causeway and Stephen Got Even. He is still very lightly raced for a Derby horse.

5) Musket Man- The Illinois Derby winner showed a running style suited to success on the first Saturday in May at Hawthorne. Again, he might suffer from not beating anyone he will face in Louisville in that Chicago race. The favorite from that day, Giant Oak, is already out of the Derby and looking elsewhere.

6) Square Eddie- He had enough money to get in going into the Lexington and I think he provided his connections with exactly what they were looking for that day. He led into the stretch and then showed the effects of his 13-week layoff by slowing a bit and ending up third. He got the tightener necessary to be ready for the Derby and he might be a factor, even after the injury and layoff. Would be a fabulous story if he won it.

Regal Ransom fell off the list this week, but he and Desert Party have been impressing in Kentucky already. It will be interesting to see how they lead into the race in twelve days. They Are Off also wishes to congratulate all of the Hall Of Fame inductees announced today: Bob Baffert, Eddie Maple, Tiznow, Silverbulletday, Janet Elliot, and Ben Nevis II. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. Right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Lexington Stakes

Saturday is the last chance for any contenders for the Kentucky Derby that are not in to get in to the top twenty on the graded stakes earnings list. The Grade 2 $300,000 Lexington Stakes was won in 1999 by Charismatic, who went on to win both the Derby and the Preakness, so it is certainly possible to win this close to the First Saturday in May and still be a factor come that day. I think there will be speed duel in this race between #3 Pitched Perfectly and #12 Hull. That scenario could set things up for a horse to come from slightly off the pace, which suits the longshot I really like in the race, #10 Parade Clown, who is 15-1 on the morning line. Julien Leparoux will be aboard, blinkers will be coming off, and he ran 4th in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park on March 21. #6 Masala is my second choice in here. As opposed to the top pick, he adds blinkers here. He also ran 4th in his last graded effort, the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct. The Sire is 2004 Derby runner-up, Lion Heart, who was a front-runner, but this horse has not shown any craving for the front so far. Finally, I will include the morning line favorite, #8 Square Eddie, who is returning from an injury and a layoff caused by that injury. He already has enough graded earnings to make the Derby. I think this race is just a tightener for two weeks from now and the 9-5 price is just too short for my liking. If he wins, he'll do it without my money.

Tune in again on Monday for the updated Super Six Derby Pix. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I highly encourage (hence the title of this post) everyone to click on the Martha Claussen's Column link on the left of the page to check out her story about They Are Off favorite, ESPN's Jeannine Edwards. I had the opportunity to work with Jeannine several years ago during Houston's Texas Champions Day broadcast and she was fabulous in every way. Read the story and find out a bit more about one of racing's finest people.

Tune in again tomorrow for a look at Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everything But The Roses

It is a fact in Thoroughbred racing that the favorite doesn't always win. A longshot can win any race at any time. That fact also applies to the Kentucky Derby. Let's face facts, if the favorite won every Derby, it certainly wouldn't be considered "the most exciting two minutes in sports". So since the favorite gets beat from time to time, who are the best horses that never did win the Kentucky Derby? Well, here are six that spring to mind:

1) Native Dancer- Went 21 for 22 in his career. The only loss he suffered came to Dark Star in the 1953 Derby. "The Grey Ghost" might be considered the greatest horse of all time had he won the Derby. The loss was widely blamed on jockey Eric Guerin and some traffic trouble the Dancer suffered on the first turn. The Vanderbilt runner went on to win the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers that year. He was voted Champion Three-Year-Old in 1953 and Horse Of The Year in 1954. His progeny also carried on his greatness with names like Northern Dancer, Dancer's Image, Kauai King, and Raise A Native among the horses with Native Dancer in the lineage.

2) Nashua- Won 22 out of 30 lifetime starts, but came home behind Swaps in the 1955 Derby. Bill Shoemaker gave the West Coast runner an expert ride to cop the Roses, stealing the race on the front end. Nashua rebounded to win the Preakness and Belmont also, just like Native Dancer. He also made up for his loss to Swaps with a match race victory over his rival in Chicago. Nashua was named Champion Two-Year-Old in 1954 and Champion Three-Year-Old and Horse Of The Year in 1955.

3) Alydar- He had the great misfortune to come along the same year as Affirmed in 1978. Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in history, while Alydar goes down in history as the only horse ever to finish second in all three races. He got progressively closer and closer to Affirmed in each race and ended up losing the three-race series by less than three lengths. Alydar even stuck a nose in front of Affirmed in the stretch of the Belmont, as noted by race caller Chic Anderson. One place where Alydar exceeded Affirmed was in the breeding shed, producing horses like Alysheba, Easy Goer, and Strike The Gold.

4) Point Given- He really should have been the most recent Triple Crown winner in 2001 because he was that good. He drew the outside post position in the Derby and finished fifth, behind Monarchos, who ran 1:59.4 on a rock-hard racetrack. Even trainer Bob Baffert admitted afterward he had the horse too much on tilt that day. Point Given went on to match Native Dancer's accomplishment by winning the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers. He was voted Champion Three-Year-Old and Horse Of The Year in 2001.

5) Damascus- Won 21 of 32 lifetime starts and only missed the money once in that time. The 1967 Derby was supposed to be his, but John Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm produced the winner with 30-1 Proud Clarion, ridden to victory by Bobby Ussery in 2:00.3, the third-fastest Derby up to that time. Damascus came back to win the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers like the others on this list and was voted Champion Three-Year-Old, Champion Handicap Horse, and Horse Of The Year in 1967. He also won what many consider the greatest race of the 1960s, the 1967 Woodward, beating both Buckpasser and Dr. Fager in the process.

6) Easy Goer- Suffered the same issue that Alydar did, he came along the same year another great one did. Sunday Silence won the Derby, Preakness, and Breeders Cup Classic in 1989, beating Easy Goer each time. Easy Goer won the Belmont on his home track by nearly ten lengths, denying Sunday Silence the Triple Crown. Easy Goer's biggest problem might have been the surface at Churchill Downs. Keep in mind that he also lost the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the Louisville strip and even with this, he was still named Champion Two-Year-Old in 1988. Easy Goer never missed the money in twenty starts, winning fourteen of them.

I know there is one glaring omission from this list, Man O'War. He did not win the Derby in 1920 because he did not run in it. Therefore, he doesn't qualify for this list since he did not get the opportunity to run from his owner, Samuel Riddle. His son, War Admiral, was sent to Louisville by Riddle and he won the Triple Crown his Sire wasn't given the chance to win in 1937. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...Goodbye!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Luckiest Of The Bs

In the 20s and 30s, Colonel E.R. Bradley was basically Calumet Farm before Calumet Farm. His Idle Hour Farm dominated the Kentucky Derby during that era and he had a strong contender almost every year. He also had the habit of naming all of his horses with words that started with the letter B. Bradley's first Derby win came with Behave Yourself in 1921, while his entrymate, Black Servant, finished 2nd. Five years later, in 1926, Bradley ran 1-2 again with Bubbling Over and Bagenbaggage. Bradley took the Roses a third time in 1932 with Burgoo King, whose entrymate Brother Joe finished 19th.

The last of Bradley's Derby scores came with the most remarkable of the group. In 1933, Brokers Tip won what has become known as "The Fighting Derby". Brokers Tip won one race in his fourteen-race career, the Kentucky Derby. His jockey, Don Meade, battled all the way down the stretch of the race with Herb Fisher, the rider on Head Play. The two jockeys whacked each other with their whips and were swinging all the way home before Brokers Tip managed to prevail. Head Play came back to win the Preakness (with Charley Kurtsinger aboard), while Brokers Tip was unplaced. It is interesting to note that Kurtsinger went on the ride maybe the best horse of the 30s in War Admiral.

As for Bradley, he never won another Derby. His best horse of all might have been 1940 runner-up, Bimelech, who lost to Gallahadion at odds of less than even money. Speaking of Bimelech, he serves as the perfect lead-in for tomorrow's topic, the best horses NOT to win the Run For The Roses. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Super Six Derby Pix

The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn this past weekend produced some interesting storylines. General Quarters was a 15-1 upset winner in Kentucky and punched the ticket to the Derby for his 75-year-old owner-trainer, Tom McCarthy. Papa Clem took down the Arkansas Derby, although Old Fashioned was gallant in defeat and subsequently retired after suffering an injury.

All this leaves only one more chance for those horses on the outside looking in for the First Saturday In May, the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland this coming weekend. This race was most famously won by Charismatic, won went on to win the 1999 Kentucky Derby two weeks later. So, with only one hurdle left to clear, here are the Super Six Derby Pix:

1) Friesan Fire- Still idle after the win in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, but trainer Larry Jones now has to consider this his last best hope for this year with Old Fashioned now on the sidelines. Will be most interested to see his workouts leading into May 2.

2) Quality Road- Drops a spot from last week after it was discovered he has a slight quarter-crack in a hoof. The connections don't think it will be a big deal for the Derby, but any slight nick at this time of year is usually a cause for panic.

3) I Want Revenge- Is he Fusaichi Pegasus or Bellamy Road? Both were winners of the Wood Memorial and both went into the Derby as favorites, as I Want Revenge is likely to do. FuPeg won the Derby in 2000, while Bellamy Road did not in 2005.

4) Dunkirk- With several horses dropping out, it is now inevitable that he will get into the Derby, which was not certain last week. His race in the Florida Derby was strong, although even with his big move on the turn, he was still turned back by Quality Road.

5) Regal Ransom- He and Desert Party have made the trip over to Kentucky from Dubai and now will (supposedly) have plenty of time to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings to get ready for the race Godolphin wants more than any other. We'll see.

6) Musket Man- Makes another appearance in the Pix here following his win in the Illinois Derby. His running style might be ideal for Derby Day and I would be very surprised to see him at anything less than 20-1 in the Run For The Roses.

Tune in again tomorrow for a look at the last maiden to win the Derby. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby

The next-to-last big weekend of Derby preps occurs over Easter weekend with The Grade 1 $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade 2 $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Let's take a good look at these two races and who might be thinking Roses coming out of them.

The Blue Grass Stakes
I tend to lean toward #10 Hold Me Back here, who finished fast to win the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park on March 21. He is now 2 for 2 over Polytrack surface, including a win at Keeneland during last fall's meeting. #3 Theregoesjojo was clearly the third-best horse in Florida at Gulfstream Park behind Quality Road and Dunkirk. His Beyers in the two races in Florida would clearly be better than anyone's here and if he runs those races again, he could be the winner. If there is a longshot to like in here, it just might be #8 General Quarters, who is 15-1 on the morning line. He won the Grade 3 Sam Davis at Tampa and posted a blistering 5F workout at Churchill earlier this week.

The Arkansas Derby
#8 Old Fashioned needs to prove that his loss in the Grade 2 Rebel was a fluke and I think he is capable of doing that today. Terry Thompson reclaims his seat in the saddle from Ramon Dominguez after the loss and he is 2 for 2 aboard this runner. Trainer Larry Jones is one of the best in the business and he should have this colt ready to go here. I think that #9 Win Willy is just a horse for the course. However, this is the course he is the horse for. Win Willy is 2 for 2 at Oaklawn, including his upset win in the Grade 2 Rebel on March 14. His Sire is 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos. A longshot to consider in this spot is #4 Poltergeist, who is 20-1 for this go. He was 3rd in the Grade 2 Rebel and has a win and a third in three lifetime Oaklawn starts.

Tune in again on Monday for the updated Super Six Derby Pix and have a very Happy Easter. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Forgotten Champion

It is not easy to win The Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes for any horse. Thunder Gulch accomplished this in 1995, but even he is better remembered currently than another horse that did it and was a champion also. Riva Ridge turned the trick in 1972, which unfortunately for him was the year before his stablemate, Secretariat, turned the horse racing world on its ear. It was also the year after the unlikely Canonero II, the "Caracas Cannonball", came out of nowhere to win the Derby and Preakness and enthral the entire country with his and his connection's escapades.

Riva Ridge had the identical connections to Secretariat. He was owned the Chenery's Meadow Stable, trained by Lucien Laurin, and ridden by Ron Turcotte. Of course, he wore the same blue and white block silks of Secretariat for this reason. His only apparent flaw was that he did not like the slop. This cost him the Triple Crown in 1972 because it rained on Preakness Day. He never got a hold of the racetrack and finished a dull fourth behind longshot winner, Bee Bee Bee. Riva Ridge goes down as one of the great "What Ifs?" in sports. What if it hadn't rained? What if he had a chance to run his best race?

Riva Ridge's reputation also suffers from the fact that he lost to both of the champion Thoroughbreds I mentioned in the first paragraph. In his three-year-old season, he went down to Canonero II in what was the Venezuelan's last great performance in the Stymie Handicap. In his four-year-old season, Secretariat handled his stablemate in the Marlboro Cup, a race specfically set up to test the two against each other. Riva Ridge won seventeen of thirty lifetime races and hit the board in four others. He totalled over $1 million dollars in lifetime earnings. He should not be forgotten by any stretch of the imagination. He was a great horse that just had the misfortune of coming along in a decade that produced many great horses and many great stories.

Tune in again tomorrow for thoughts on the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby races this weekend. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Where Have All The Rivals Gone?

Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral, Nashua vs. Swaps, Affirmed vs. Alydar. Now those were some rivalries. The battles between those horses captivated the nation as they were going on and they now live in equine history. The great rivalry is something that is missing from Thoroughbred racing currently and it might be something you never see again. As a matter of fact, it has been twenty years since the last really great rivalry we had between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Those titans met four times (in the four most important races I might add) with Sunday Silence winning three and Easy Goer winning one.

Sunday Silence raced fourteen times in his career and was never worse than second in any of those races. He was trained by Charlie Whittingham and owned by Arthur Hancock III, both names of prominece in racing. In his matchups with Easy Goer, he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Breeders' Cup Classic. His only defeat came in the Belmont Stakes, which was run on Easy Goer's home track. The 1989 Preakness still ranks in my book as the greatest horse race I have ever seen, and I am old enough to have seen the 1978 Belmont Stakes. Sunday Silence and Easy Goer battling all the way through the stretch until Sunday Silence just managed to prevail at the wire by a scant nose.

Easy Goer was also of regal stock, ironically Sired by Alydar, owned by Ogden Phipps and trained by Shug McGaughey. Certainly, no slouches on that list either. His lone win in the four-race series was actually the most impressive of the lot, an eight-length tour de force in the 1989 Belmont Stakes. His record is also staggering, starting twenty times and never finishing worse than third in any of them. Had he come along in any other year (much like Alydar), it is likely he could have been a Triple Crown winner.

So, where have all the rivals gone? Why has it been twenty years since the last great battle? It might be partly our fault. Horse racing had only started to take a backseat in the national conscience at that time and nothing has been able to stop the slide. Yes, I know the movie Seabiscuit and Smarty Jones stopped the bleeding momentarily, but the sporting public still doesn't stop the way it used to for a big race. President Franklin Roosevelt stopped a cabinet meeting to listen to the Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race, for heaven's sake.

I also think the racing connections of these horses nowadays are to blame. Lately, the only horse guaranteed to go on to the Preakness is the Derby winner. Even then, he will have to face several "new shooters" there. A horse can have five weeks rest between the Derby and Belmont if he does not go on to Pimlico, much like Birdstone did in 2004 when he ran down Smarty Jones. I don't know if there is a great rivalry brewing this year, but wouldn't it be tremendous to see I Want Revenge and Friesan Fire (as an example) go at it three times this spring, maybe again in the summer at the Travers in Saratoga and Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, and culminate it with an epic Breeders' Cup Classic in the fall? It is nice to think about.
For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of

Monday, April 06, 2009

Super Six Derby Pix

The first of two strong weekends of Kentucky Derby prep races is now in the books and quite a bit occurred. First, the bad news about The Pamplemousse. He is going to miss six months with an tendon injury. It's a shame we didn't get to see him go against Pioneerof The Nile in the Santa Anita Derby, it could have been a redux of Silver Charm and Free House from a dozen years ago. Of course, Pioneerof The Nile is part of the good news from the weekend with his win in the Derby to make him one of the favorites for four weeks from now.

How about the race that I Want Revenge turned in The Wood Memorial? He completely missed the break, got caught in heavy traffic, had to shift outside in the stretch and STILL won by open daylight. He didn't even need to win the race, really, to get in, but sometimes you just cannot deny the heart of a champion. Also, Musket Man's win in the Illinois Derby over the more highly regarded Giant Oak was worthy of note as well. So, without further ado, here are this week's Super Six Derby Pix:

#1 Quality Road- His wins in the Fountain Of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream this season have been impressive. The Fountain Of Youth was a front-running score and the Florida Derby showed his guts by turning away the solid Dunkirk after he made a massive move on the turn. In years past, the Florida Derby winner has always been a strong play in the Kentucky Derby (ex. Monarchos, Barbaro).

#2 Friesan Fire-The Louisiana Derby winner might have a style more suited to winning the Kentucky Derby, laying just of the pace, instead of contesting the pace and getting caught up in a speed war. The only qualm I have is the seven-week layoff between the Fair Grounds win and the Derby at Churchill Downs. Needles in 1956 went six weeks between his last race and his Derby win and trainer Larry Jones has had the runners-up in the last two Kentucky Derbies, so he obviously knows what he is doing.

#3 I Want Revenge- How much did that supreme effort in the Wood Memorial take out of him? It would be a shame if he spent his reserve winning what shapes up to be a unnecessary race for his Churchill chances. Keep in mind that Bellamy Road established himself as the Derby favorite with a devastating 19-length win in the Wood only to flop on the first Saturday in May, which, of course, resulted in the 2nd greatest longshot ever winning the race (Giacomo at 50-1).

#4 Regal Ransom- You know, one of these years, Godolphin is going to get it right and claim the prize they covet the most in the Kentucky Derby. This year, they have two bona fide contenders with this one and Desert Party. Regal Ransom held off his stablemate to win the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup day at Nad Al Sheba. I honestly think one of the two will be there at the end and since Regal Ransom has topped Desert Party twice, he gets the nod.

#5 Musket Man- OK, he might be the livest longshot on the board in four weeks, but he still deserves a mention now. He has two wins around two turns in his last two starts (Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby). The Sire, Yonaguska, is probably the biggest argument against since he was a seven-furlong specialist, but if all the horse does is win, he makes it tough to count him out. Don't forget War Emblem won the Illinois Derby in 2002 and took the Roses later on.

#6 Old Fashioned- Lost of a lot of the luster on his star with the mystifying loss in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park to Win Willy. They will match up again this Saturday in the Arkansas Derby, which will also feature Louisiana Derby runner-up, Papa Clem. He was the most highly regarded entering the season, but needs to put up or shut up now.

Elsewhere, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this past weekend was opening weekend at Canada's jewel, Woodbine. That means the return to the microphone of Dan Loiselle, one of the best race callers in North America and one certainly great guy. Good luck to Dan and everyone in the Great White North this season. Tune in again tomorrow for a look at a fading element from the racing scene these days. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Friday, April 03, 2009

$400,000 Aqueduct Pick Four

Saturday is a big day for preps for the Kentucky Derby with The Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, The Santa Anita Derby at (guess where?) Santa Anita, and The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. NYRA has put together an all-graded stakes Pick Four with a $400,000 guarantee in conjunction with the Wood and what follows are selections for the races and a Pick Four Play for the wager based on a $1 bet. Good luck to you all.

The Grade 3 BayShore- I like #6 Not For Silver over #10 Taqarub in this spot. They have returned to the main track at Aqueduct after the winter break and it has favored the speed thus far. However, there is a lot of speed in here and #6 might sit well just off the hot pace.

The Grade 3 Excelsior- #1 Barrier Reef went three for three over the inner track at Aqueduct with Ramon Dominguez up and I see no reason his strong performances should stop now. Cozzene is on the Sire side and he was a personal favorite.

The Grade 1 Wood Memorial- This could be a two-horse epic between #2 I Want Revenge and #5 Imperial Council. I Want Revenge took the Gotham after pacesetter Mr. Fantasy faded from view. Imperial Council, in the same race, was way off the pace and rallied to get 2nd late. Just a hunchy-hunch, but I think Imperial Council will prevail here.

The Grade 1 Carter- #3 True Quality is going to the lead here and might not give it up. The only horse that might get by him is #4 Fabulous Strike, who split the last two graded duels with #3. A longshot to possibly get behind is #6 Understatement at 15-1.

PICK FOUR PLAY- 4-6-7-10 WITH 1 WITH 2-5 WITH 1-3-4-6
TOTAL- $32

Remember, this blog is only offering suggestions and in no way assumes responsibility for any wagers made in conjunction with these selections. I am only here to try to help and make the "Sport Of Kings" more fun for everyone. Tune in again on Monday when "They Are Off" offers the Super Six Derby Contenders after the big prep weekend. For right now, I am Gone.... Goodbye!