Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fab Four Horses Of 2009

So far this week, I have given you a look back at some great races of 2009 and a look ahead at some horses we are hoping from great things from in 2010. Today, I will present my list of the the top four horses of 2009, based on their performances throughout the year nearly completed. This will more of less be my answer to the pressing "Horse Of The Year" question and I hope there are some interesting categories covered in my selections:

#4 Ventura- Yes, I know she fell to Informed Decision on the Breeders' Cup stage, but she did plenty of great running in 2009 to overlook that one failure. All six of her starts during the year were with Grade 1 company and she was never worse than second. I tend to think that her loss in the Breeders' Cup was more a result of her predisposition to going a mile on the turf. After all, her last two wins, the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile and the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood, were at one mile on the turf. That Matriarch triumph was her last time on the racetrack as she has now been retired.
6 starts- 3 wins, 3 seconds, 0 thirds and $1,221,060 earned in 2009

#3 Sea The Stars- The European Horse Of The Year never ventured across the pond to test his mettle with the best of North America. It was a deep disappointment to the racing public when Sea The Stars shunned the Breeders' Cup to instead head to the breeding shed, but the fact that he did not come over here should in no way dampen his gallant performances in Europe this season. All Sea The Stars did was start in six Group 1 races in Europe and win them all. He won the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, Coral Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes, and the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. Can you even think of another horse that ever ran in all six of those races much less win them all? Also, his performance in the Arc was an instant legend as soon as he crossed the wire, and rightly so, for him to win from where he was seemed nearly impossible.
6 starts- 6 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds in 2009 and earned over 4.5 million pounds in 9-race career

#2 Zenyatta- She only ran five times and she didn't run outside the state of California. However, she won all five of those races and she became the first female horse in history to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Much like Sea The Stars' Arc win, if you look at her Classic score, there is no way you can think she could win from there. Of her five races in 2009, four were in Grade 1s and one was a Grade 2. What is more important is that each of those five races felt like an event from the moment she entered the saddling paddock. The AP voted her #2 Female Athlete Of The Year (behind Serena Williams). That is a tremendous measure of respect, when you get grizzled sportswriters that no longer think of horse racing as worth their time to stand up and recognize you, you have done something special.
5 starts- 5 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds and $3,330,000 earned in 2009

#1 Rachel Alexandra- She started the year with connections that had no intention of trying to prove how great she was. That changed right after her most dominating win when she was sold and after that, there was no stopping her. For the first set of connections (including tremendously underrated trainer Hal Wiggins), she ran roughshod over the South with two wins at Oaklawn (one a Grade 2), another Grade 2 win at Fair Grounds, and a smashing 20-length score in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. She was then sold to Jess Jackson and moved into Steve Asmussen barn and all hell broke loose. The first matter of business was to become the first filly in over 80 years to win the Grade 1 Preakness. Check! Next, came a record performance and another 20-length win in the Grade 1 Mother Goose. Check! OK, we'll follow that up with a score in the slop over the Belmont winner and all other three-year-old male pretenders in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. Check! Finally, let's take on older males in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. CHECKMATE! That was the one that makes her Horse Of The Year. Quite simply, she did things no one else had ever done before and she did it consistently throughout the year. I have said before on this blog that she is the greatest horse since Secretariat and I sincerely believe that. Unlike Big Red, she is supposed to be heading on into her four-year-old season, and if it is going to be anything like her three-year-old year, I will just go ahead and say WOW!!! right now.
8 starts- 8 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds and $2,746,914 earned in 2009

There will be no post on Thursday for New Year's Eve. I hope you have a safe and happy celebration of 2010. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Three Horses To Watch in 2010

In more recent times, patience has not been a virtue in our society. Everyone wants something and, most importantly, they want it RIGHT NOW!!!! With this list of three horses to watch in 2010, I am going to look at one horse who has been there, one who is there, and one who might get there. I certainly think it is an interesting and diverse group.

#1 Rachel Alexandra- Hopefully, she will be anointed Horse Of The Year by the Eclipse Award voters for her 2009 performance, when she went undefeated, beating her own age and sex, the opposite sex, and older horses. She won over fast tracks, sloppy tracks, everything but synthetic tracks. She became the first filly to win the Preakness in over 80 years and was dominating on so many occasions that it was just a pleasure to watch her run and not even think about the wagering aspect of it. I am duly intrigued by what course owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen will take with this legendary runner. She is currently wintering in New Orleans at the Fair Grounds with the Asmussen string there. I know the folks in the Crescent City would love for her to kick off what promises to be a most historic season at their racetrack.

#2 Blame- The winner of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs during the fall meeting in Kentucky has all the makings of a tremendous racehorse in 2010. His three-year-old season did not kick off until much later than most, but he made up for lost time, as the runner-up to the dominating Regal Ransom in the Grade 2 Super Derby and then his Grade 1 win in the Clark. If any horse is going to stand in Rachel Alexandra's way to another undefeated season in 2010, it just might be this guy. You know Rachel will be facing the males again and Blame should be right with her on all of the big occasions. In eight lifetime starts, Blame has never missed the money, winning five times and totaling over $600,000 in purse money. I think he will prove to be a great one in 2010.

#3 Piscitelli- I know you were expecting Lookin At Lucky to be in this third spot. I kind of agree with you, as he will be the juvenile champion in 2009 with only one loss (the Breeders' Cup Juvenile) on his resume'. There was another horse that lost that Juvenile, though, that I find somewhat more intriguing. Piscitelli set the pace in the Juvenile as a 50-1 longshot and actually acquitted himself quite nicely, holding on to finish fourth, less than two lengths off the winner. I think with some maturity and a little more seasoning, he might be able to withstand the closers as we get into 2010 and make himself into a legitimate Kentucky Derby threat. His lone career win came on the dirt at Monmouth and he also proved himself capable on the synthetics as well. Trainer Greg Sacco is looking to get Piscitelli into the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on January 23 to start his Road To The Roses. I will certainly be backing this opinion on that day for sure.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Five Races Of 2009

2009 certainly was a monumental year in the world of Thoroughbred racing. You have the scalding-hot debate over who should be Horse Of The Year (and neither of the candidates are male). You had the 2nd longest shot in the history of the country's most prestigious race win it. You had repeated instances of great races and great racing all around the country. So, what were the top five races of the year? I submit these choices for your approval:

#5 The Kentucky Oaks (Churchill Downs)- It was not the race so much with the Kentucky Oaks, but the performance of the winner that elicited the superlatives. Rachel Alexandra first stamped her case for greatness in 2009 with a 20-length victory that drew comparisons to the way that Secretariat demolished the field in the 1973 Belmont. Rachel Alexandra was sold shortly thereafter and immediately thrust into the Triple Crown with her win in the Preakness. There will be another of her performances on this list a little later, but it was with the Oaks that racing kind of realized what we were in store for with Rachel Alexandra this year.

If you would like to watch the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, here is the link:

#4 The United Nations (Monmouth Park)- This race was just unique in the way that it was won. Presious Passion built a staggering 20-length lead (by the way, not every race on this list features a 20-length margin) over the Monmouth turf on July 4 and held on to prevail by two lengths at the end, although it wasn't really that close. Presious Passion might have the most amazing running style of any excellent horse of the last decade. He HAS to build up that big lead when he races in order to have a chance of winning. It doesn't always work, as evidenced by the dismal eighth place finish in the Arlington Million in his subsequent race. When it does work, it is dazzling to watch. His race in the Breeders' Cup Turf, where he was caught by the great Conduit, was further evidence that Presious Passion is a very special horse.

If you would like to watch the 2009 United Nations, here is the link:

#3 The Kentucky Derby (Churchill Downs)- Where do I start here? The morning-line favorite, I Want Revenge, is scratched the morning of the race. The post-time favorite, Friesan Fire, was severely roughed up in the early stages of the race. The winner was a horse that no one thought had a chance, had to be vanned to Churchill Downs by a trainer with crutches after finishing 4th in a New Mexico prep race, and was so far behind at one point that Tom Durkin almost missed him the first time through the field. What came next was unbelievable to the point of ridiculous. Calvin Borel got Mine That Bird rolling up the rail and re-established contact with the field entering the far turn. Borel stayed glued to the rail with the exception of moving outside to pass a tiring rival and came through a sliver of daylight so thin in the stretch that he actually hit the rail on his way through it. By the way, Mine That Bird was 50-1 and won by the largest margin in the Derby since Assault 63 years ago.

If you would like to watch the 2009 Kentucky Derby, here is the link:

#2 The Woodward (Saratoga)- Rachel Alexandra makes a second victorious appearance on this brief list. This time, she faced older males for the first time and again came away the master of her competition. She was pressed on the pace by Da'Tara and Past The Point (neither of whom would stay with her) and when she put them away after a bit of a speed battle, she then held off the closers, Bullsbay and Macho Again. It was a bravura performance and one that everyone thought would have clinched her the Horse Of The Year title. However, that recognition might have gotten some extra debate with the number one race of this list.

If you would like to watch the 2009 Woodward, here is the link:

#1 The Breeders' Cup Classic (Santa Anita)- Zenyatta made history by becoming the first female horse to ever win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009. She defeated a top-notch field that included the Derby winner, the Belmont and Travers winner, the Arlington Million winner, and other standouts from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. It appeared at the top of the stretch that she had absolutely no way out from her spot on the rail, but jockey Mike Smith never worried and guided her through an opening that finally materialized at the top of the stretch. She just flew past her opponents and looked as if she could have gone around again. It was definitely, in the words of Trevor Denman, "UNBELIEVABLE!!"

If you would like to watch the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, here is the link:

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Opening Day At Santa Anita

Santa Anita's traditional opening date is the day after Christmas and, of course, that is Saturday. So here is a look at the three graded races on the program, which fall consecutively, so there will be a pick three play as well.

Race 7- The Grade 3 $100,000 Sir Beaufort- I think this is the single in the sequence of the Pick Three. I don't normally like to do that in the first leg, but I believe that #6 The Usual Q.T. will not have any trouble extending the winning streak to six, especially after winning a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 in his last two starts.

Race 8- The Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea- The filly half of the back-to-back Grade 1 seven furlongs pair of races makes a case for six of them to win. #1 Kays And Jays went nearly wire-to-wire in winning last out at Santa Anita in a filly-restricted stakes on November 9. #3 Dani Reese gets Kent Desormeaux up and has won three times in four starts, including one at this distance. #4 Amazed By Grace is currently working a The Usual Q.T.-like win streak of five in a row at Charles Town and Philadelphia. #5 Evita Argentina is actually the one I contemplated leaving out, which means she probably wins. Her last win was at this distance in the Grade 2 A Gleam at Hollywood. #8 Mother Ruth is an attractive longshot in here for Bob Baffert, sired by 2004 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, Speightstown. However, she has only one start on a synthetic track. #10 Gabby's Golden Gal won the Grade 1 Acorn two back at one mile and has a win and a place in two prior Santa Anita tries.

Race 9- The Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu- I will go four-deep in the male version of the seven-furlong Santa Anita Saturday sprint (how about some alliteration?). #1 Misremembered, oddly enough, has never been this short before. His previous shortest race was one mile on the turf in his debut. Victor Espinoza rides the Baffert trainee here. #5 Mythical Power hit the board in all three of his previous runs at Santa Anita. However, he has been off since May, so he might be iffy here. #10 New Bay is a Mandella runner that scored a win at this distance last time out on October 18 at Santa Anita. All three of his previous wins, in fact, have come at Santa Anita. Finally, there is #13 M One Rifle, who has never missed the money in seven lifetime appearances. All of those came with Mike Smith in the irons.

Here is the play for the Pick Three:
SANTA ANITA Race 7- $1 PK3 6 with 1-3-4-5-8-10 with 1-5-10-13
TOTAL- $24

Remember, They Are Off takes no responsibility for any wagers made in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. There will be no blog post on Friday and They Are Off will return on Monday, so I would like to wish everyone out there who checks this blog from time to time and even those that don't, A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What A Card!

Boy, oh boy, Santa Anita is pulling out all the stops with their traditional Opening Day program on December 26. There are three graded races on the card, including the Grade 3 $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes, the Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea Stakes, and the Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes.

The Sir Beaufort will be run at one mile on the turf and features the latest rage in Southern California turf racing, The Usual Q.T., who is a prohibitive 4-5 favorite. The Usual Q.T. has won five straight races, included two Graded efforts in his last two, the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Also present in the field is Massone, who ran 2nd in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington two back and 3rd in the Grade 2 Super Derby three starts back.

The La Brea is a wonderfully-balanced twelve horse field with a morning line favorite of 4-1. That favorite is Gabby's Golden Gal, winner of the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park back in June. She has only run once since that victory, although her chances were compromised in the Prioress, also at Belmont, after she stumbled at the start. The second choice is Evita Argentina at 9-2, who has never run on anything other than a synthetic surface in her twelve-race career. Her last win was the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park in July.

The Malibu includes some of the better three-year-olds from early and late in the year, like the Bob Baffert trainee, Misremembered, who drew the rail. Misremembered won the Grade 2 Indiana Derby and followed that up with a near-miss 2nd in the Clark Handicap to Blame, who promises to be one of the top older horses during his four-year-old campaign next year. M One Rifle, who has never missed the money in seven lifetime starts will face his first field of Graded competition in the Malibu. Also in this field are Kentucky Derby participants Papa Clem and Join In The Dance.

They Are Off will have thoughts on all of these races on Thursday and there will be no post on Friday, Christmas Day.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Milestone Win

Today at my home track of Turf Paradise, jockey Glenn Corbett won his 3,000th race as a rider aboard Souvenir Winner in the fourth race of the day. It was his 2nd win of the afternoon to reach the milestone.

So, They Are Off wishes to congratulate Glenn Corbett on his big win and what has truly been a fantastic career thus far. I hope I get to call many more of Glenn Corbett's wins in the future.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just Our Luck

Lookin At Lucky was the headliner on this blog entering the past weekend and he certainly did not disappoint, winning the Grade 1 $750,000 CashCall Futurity in impressive fashion. He again topped Noble's Promise, who ran 3rd behind him also when Lookin At Lucky was the runner-up to Vale Of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. There is no question about it, Lookin At Lucky has firmly established himself as the one to beat going forward to the First Saturday In May.

However, he wasn't the most eye-catching big winner of closing weekend at Hollywood Park. No, that honor goes to the winner of Sunday's Grade 1 $405,250 Hollywood Starlet, Blind Luck. While she couldn't follow up her win in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup day (she ran third in the Juvenile Fillies), she more than captured the promise of that earlier win on Sunday. Her run through the stretch was absolutely brilliant, turning what had been a closely contested race into a dominating, seven-length victory. You can watch Blind Luck's win in the Hollywood Starlet (and be duly impressed in the process) through the following link:

So, Bob Baffert has the established winter book favorite for the Derby with Lookin At Lucky and now, Jerry Hollendorfer has the same on the Distaff side for the Oaks. It will be fascinating to watch these two runners mature through the spring.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Grade 1 $750,000 CashCall Futurity

I honestly believe that this eight-horse field will provide us with what amounts to a two-horse race on Saturday. There might be one of the others that might be close to Lookin At Lucky and Noble's Promise near the end, but nothing really stands out other than that pair. So, without any further ado:

I will have to go with #1 Lookin At Lucky as the top pick in the CashCall. His four wins came with impressive credentials and the lone second on his five-race resume' was just by a head to Vale Of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. How much did that race take out of him? We'll see on Saturday, but I don' think it was enough to affect his chances here. For second, I like #6 Noble's Promise, who ran third in that Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He had won his previous three, two over synthetic and one on turf. His last work is good, but I do question whether he has the stamina to stay with the top pick all the way to the wire. I will put another Baffert trainee in third with #4 Marcello. He ran 3rd in the Grade 1 Generous earlier this meet at Hollywood Park and his lineage is tremendous with 2001 BC Juvenile winner, Johannesburg, the Sire and 1978 Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, on the Dam side. He also sports a fine last workout. Finally, I will round out the top four with #2 Brady Blue Eyes. He scored a maiden-breaking win at this distance last time out on November 22. He has one win and two seconds in three tries with Joe Talamo in the saddle. He is the longest shot on the board at 30-1 on the morning-line, so you have to throw him in. Here is the play for the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity:

$20 EX BOX #1+ #6
TOTAL- $40

I really think this might be the only way to turn even a slight profit. You might consider a Trifecta Key with the top two over ALL also, but even that might be a non-profitable move.

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lookin At Lucky

The Bob Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky finished just a head short in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile this year at Santa Anita, missing out on the win when foreign invader Vale Of York came up his inside and nipped him at the wire. (If I remember correctly, somebody picked that 30-1 shot on top in the Juvy too!!) Now, Lookin At Lucky will get a probable second chance to clinch that Juvenile championship everyone thought would be his a month or so ago with the Grade 1 $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Entering the Juvenile, Lookin At Lucky had won four consecutive races and seemed to be nearly a sure thing, but any horse player or horseman will tell you, there is no such thing as a sure thing. Lookin At Lucky did have the misfortune of drawing post thirteen for the Juvenile and there are those that think that hindered his chances. However, he was still in position to win the race at the end and just came up short. I don't think the post position had anything to do with the loss. I think he was just second-best on that day and certainly, that is nothing to be ashamed of at all. Many great horses have been second in Breeders' Cup races (Serena's Song, Storm Cat, and Bertrando are among the names that spring to mind in this category).

Lookin At Lucky will face a field of seven other horses in the CashCall Futurity on Saturday and he drew the rail this time, so thankfully we won't hear about post position being a factor there. They Are Off will offer selections on the Grade 1 $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Friday.

Tune in tomorrow for those selections from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Keep It Moving

I read that one of the things that the Breeders' Cup is considering moving forward is housing the event in one place permanently. Can I just say what a HORRENDOUS idea this is? I understand the thinking behind the suggestion, that if you centralize the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky then it plays fair for horses from both coasts and middle America. I also get that Churchill Downs is uniquely equipped to handle large crowds and that they have the annual experience of dealing with the madhouse that is the Derby every year. I get all that.

What I don't get is why the folks that run the Breeders' Cup continue to try to tweak the best event in the sport every year when they don't have to? First, it was let's make Ladies' Day on Friday. We'll add all these divisions of races that completely take away from the large fields we normally get when the BC was one day and have nine and ten horse fields instead of twelve and fourteen horse fields that offer ample betting opportunities. Then, they had to move the Marathon to Friday to create back-to-back Pick Sixes since just one wasn't enough. I won't even crucify the Cup people for having it at Santa Anita back-to-back years, because they were kind of shoehorned into that happening.

What happened to having a "rota" of tracks that the Breeders' Cup could go to with the big three of Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita joined by smaller tracks that could host the event like Monmouth, Arlington, Keeneland, and Woodbine? Wasn't that idea floating around not too long ago? Were the Cup overlords frightened away from this by the prospect of running too many Cups on synthetic surfaces? Well, it wasn't too long ago that synthetic surfaces were the wave of the future. Synthetic surfaces are just another thing that must be factored in when handicapping a race, like track bias, weather, and how the race will set up, just to name a couple.

You want to know what the Breeders' Cup needs to do. Go back to running the Cup in one day (Saturday). Make the program nine races (the original eight and add a turf sprint). Ensure that the Cup will be held at the big three tracks with a smaller venue sprinkled in every so often, so the event truly remains a national thing. After all, the NFL isn't dumb enough to play the Super Bowl in the same city every year, are they? Get the day of racing back on a major network (be it NBC, ABC, FOX, or CBS). Finally, keep the order of the races the same from year-to-year: Sprint, Turf Sprint, Juvenile Fillies, Mile, Juvenile, Filly+ Mare Turf, Distaff (not the Ladies' Classic), Turf, Classic (or something along these lines). This way bettors know what races are where and what wagers (like the Pick Six) would be used for each race. JUST STOP MESSING WITH IT!!! You have the greatest single day in racing at your fingertips every single year, why do you continue to close your hands?

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oklahoma is OK!

SureBet Racing News' Martha Claussen has a new look at the revitalized situation with racing in the state of Oklahoma. Here is the link to see her story on Page 16 of the new edition:

Enjoy the read.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Grade 3 $100,000 Queens County Handicap

The later we get in the year, the slimmer the pickings get as far as graded races on the calendar. This weekend was a perfect example of that as the Grade 3 Native Diver at Hollywood and this race at Aqueduct were the two that stood out. I selected this one since the field was a little bigger and there was more of a chance to find a diamond in the rough.

My top choice in here is the defending champion in the Queens County, #2 Researcher. He certainly appears to be quite the versatile horse with races on the lead and coming from behind on the docket. He laid just off the pace in this race last year and got up to win by a half-length. His path to this race is nearly identical to last year, although he ran 2nd in the Mountaineer Mile this year after winning the HBPA Governor's Cup at Charles Town. Last year, he won both of those races and then the Queens County. My second choice will be #7 Lord Kipling, who enters this race off an Allowance/Optional Claiming score at Laurel on December 3. He seems to be the horse in this race with the most experience going extended distances, including a win at two miles at Saratoga in mid-August. Overall, he is 4 of 5 in-the-money over the winter track at Aqueduct. Next comes the regally-bred #6 Rodman, who has 1978 Triple Crown winner, Affirmed and 1992 Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, A.P. Indy, one generation back in the lineage. He just destroyed at field over the main track at Aqueduct, winning by over seven lengths with a Beyer of 102 on November 11. The main concern here is how well he handles the distance of 1 3/16 miles in the Queens County since he has never been that far before. Finally, I will round out the top four with #5 More Than A Reason. He has just one recent win on his resume' and that was on October 12 at Belmont. However, he is 6 for 9 in-the-money over the track and posted a bullet workout over it as well on December 2, covering a half-mile in 47.1. Here is the play for the Grade 3 Queens County:

$1 EX BOX 2-5-6-7 plus $1 TRI 2 with 5-6-7 and 5-6-7 with 2 with 5-6-7
TOTAL- $24

As always, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in on Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

George Woolf Award

The finalists have been named to for the 61st Annual George Woolf Memorial Award with the winner to be announced at Santa Anita in January. Here is the list of finalists:

Calvin Borel- Two-time Kentucky Derby winner (including this year), also jockey of probable Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, in all of her big wins this year, including the Kentucky Oaks and the Preakness Stakes.

Garrett Gomez-Has been the leading money winner for jockeys each of the last three years 2006-2008.

Randy Meier- The all-time leading rider at both Hawthorne and Sportsman's in the Chicago area. Has won more than 4,000 races in his long career.

Gallyn Mitchell- The all-time leading rider at Emerald Downs near Seattle and has amassed more than $10,000,000 in career earnings at Emerald.

DeShawn Parker- First-time Woolf finalist that has won the riding title on numerous occasions at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.

Who should be the winner? Well, if I had a vote (which I don't), I would cast it for Calvin Borel. This is clearly going to be the landmark year of his storied career. He was aboard the best horse in the land for the whole season and scored the second-biggest upset in the history of the Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird. Best of all, he did it his way in the Derby, coming up the rail on a horse nobody gave any chance to. They don't call him Bo-rail for nothing.

Thanks to for some information used in this posting.

Tune in on Friday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

You Can't Fool Mother Nature

It might be a cliche', but it is absolutely the truth: the one thing you can never control is the weather. There was a massive winter storm that pounded the Southwest on Monday into Tuesday and it wreaked havoc with the racing schedule (including one near and dear to my heart).

Both Zia Park and my new home track, Turf Paradise, had to cancel their Tuesday programs for the poor weather in the area. Zia Park, in fact, cancelled the last two days of their 2009 season, including a shutdown on Monday. That is just unfortunate for Zia Park because you never want to see anyone anywhere have to close their season with back-to-back cancellations. Many racetracks plan nice ceremonies to honor horses, owners, trainers, and jockeys that have won season-ending awards on the last day of their season and it is a shame that Zia didn't get the proper chance to recognize their honorees with Winner's Circle presentations or whatever they might have had planned for them.

Turf Paradise ran yesterday over a sloppy track after the first wave of the storm passed through the Phoenix area on Monday. The second wave on Monday night and Tuesday morning caused the cancellation of the Tuesday program. Racing will resume on Friday afternoon at Turf Paradise and I certainly look forward to returning after an unscheduled day off.

One track, Hawthorne in Chicago, is bracing for the oncoming storm by cancelling both Wednesday and Thursday racing. The storm is expected to be a doozy by the time it hits the Big Shoulders, with heavy snowfall and 50-mph wind gusts. The track will be open for simulcasting both days, but they (like Zia and Turf) did the right thing by not racing since horrific weather conditions make for horrific track conditions (not to mention tremendous safety concerns for both riders and horses).

Tune in for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, December 07, 2009

TBA Photo Contest

The Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (of which I am a proud member) is holding a photo contest and here are the rules for this year: You can submit up to 3 photos taken this year with the subject matter being horse racing. Submissions are due by 12/13/09 (so get it in gear, folks) and you can e-mail your photos to Voting will be from 12/14 to 12/20 and the top ten photos will be chosen to enter the final round. The voting for the final round will be from 12/21 to 12/27, when the winner will be announced. The winner will have their picture posted on the photo page of the TBA homepage.

Good luck to you photographers out there.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Grade 2 $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap

Bayakoa is one of only a few horses to win the same Breeders' Cup race in back-to-back years, a club that Goldikova and Conduit both joined this year. She was named Outstanding Older Female Horse in both 1989 and 1990 after those wins. However, Bayakoa is not as fondly remembered by some as she should be. The reason for that is the tragic circumstances surrounding her second win in the Distaff in 1990. That was the race where the unfortunate Go For Wand broke down while battling Bayakoa through the stretch. In some respects, Bayakoa was the Foolish Pleasure of her day. Foolish Pleasure is not recalled these days for his Kentucky Derby win, he is recalled as the horse that was racing against Ruffian when she similarly broke down. Hollywood Park runs the Grade 2 $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap on Saturday afternoon and here is a look at the top picks:

The top pick is #8 Smooth Performer, who ran 2nd in California state-bred restricted stakes races in her last two tries with Garrett Gomez aboard. Martin Pedroza takes over the ride on Saturday. She has plenty of experience on the synthetic surfaces with seven top three results from ten tries over them. She is incredibly well-bred with both Alydar and Bertrando present in the lineage. Also, if you look back far enough, she finished just a head behind Lethal Heat in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks in June 2008. For second, I will put a 20-1 shot that finished just 1 3/4 lengths behind the top choice the last time they met at Fairplex. #9 Made For Magic finished just seven lengths behind the almighty Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret (which has since been ridiculously renamed in honor of Zenyatta) on October 10. She ran 2nd over the turf in an Allowance spot on November 13 and I am always a fan of the turf-to-dirt switch. She also has a scorching workout on November 28, going 3F at Santa Anita in 34.1 seconds. That might even be too fast. In the third spot, I will use another longshot at 12-1 with the Pletcher-trained #6 Floating Heart. She has not raced since a mile and a half win at Keeneland in a turf Allowance race on October 18. She gets Joe Talamo aboard here and she won her only artificial surface race ever by over five lengths at Turfway Park on September 20. I will wrap the top four with #5 Eissoai. She adds blinkers for this go on Saturday and these Bobby Frankel trainees now under the tutelage of Humberto Ascanio have been running like gangbusters in Southern California since Frankel's untimely passing. She has been away from the races since September, but her works have been solid and she might sneak in there and get a piece of this. Here is the play for the Bayakoa Handicap:

$5 WP #8; $1 EX BOX 2-5-6-8-9
TOTAL- $30

Before I finish, I would like to clarify one thing. I didn't intend to for anyone to think that Zenyatta should not be honored with a stakes race named in her honor, far from it. She absolutely deserves to have a race named after her. What I take issue with is the removal of a great horse like Lady's Secret from a Grade 1 at Santa Anita, when she was pretty awesome in her own right. After all, she was the UNQUESTIONED Horse Of The Year in 1986.

Tune in Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's About Time

The American Graded Stakes Committee finally made the move that much of the racing public has been clamoring for the last few years. The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, which has produced so many fine horses over the last several years, has been elevated from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1. Among the horses that have traveled through Oaklawn on the way to the Triple Crown races are 2004 Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones, and 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner, Afleet Alex. Many times in recent memory the main contenders in the three races have stopped off at Oaklawn on their way to glory.

My main question about this one is, "What the devil took so long?" Any racing fan worth their salt knows that the Arkansas Derby has been on an even plane with the other prep races for the Kentucky Derby that are Grade 1s, like the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood Memorial, and the Santa Anita Derby. I understand that the way the field of twenty for the Kentucky Derby is determined by overall graded stakes earnings, so it really is inconsequential. However, it does make a difference when it comes to things like the breeding shed, where sires are significantly upgraded when they win a Grade 1 as opposed to a Grade 2. I, for one, am glad that the Committee has woken up and given the Arkansas Derby the recognition it has long deserved.

There were two other races that the Committee upgraded to Grade 1 status, the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Also, the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park, where Mine That Bird ran fourth en route to his historic win in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, went from ungraded to Grade 3.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Long Road Back

We all know that the Kentucky Derby was a mixture of highs and lows for yours truly, don't we? I certainly remember cashing the biggest ticket of my horse-racing life with the $2 Exacta of 8-16 on Mine That Bird and Pioneerof The Nile, neither of whom I particularly fancied, but since I was born on August 16 (hence, 8-16), I was lucky enough to walk out with a $2,075 winning ticket. No skill, just pure dumb luck.

The lows, however, revolve around my actual handicapping of the race. It was on this blog that I sided with Friesan Fire, winner of the Louisiana Derby, as my choice for the 2009 Kentucky Derby. We all know how that turned out. Friesan Fire ran 18th on the first Saturday in May, next-to-last, after a brutal trip from which the horse exited with cuts and scrapes from being stepped on in the crush of traffic. Friesan Fire then ran 10th in the Preakness two weeks later and was removed from training with two serious injuries, fractures in both forelegs.

Well, Friesan Fire will return to the races at the site of his greatest triumph, Fair Grounds in New Orleans, the home of the Louisiana Derby. He is entered in a six-horse field on Thursday as the 7-5 morning-line favorite. Since the Triple Crown debacles, Friesan Fire has a new handler in Steve Asmussen, who certainly knows a thing or two around horses, and a new goal. Friesan Fire is being readied for a return to the big stage in the 2010 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

So, in fond remembrance of passions past, They Are Off wishes Friesan Fire all the best in his return to the races on Thursday. Here's hoping you find your comfort spot in that Fair Grounds Winner's Circle.

Tune in on Thursday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!