Friday, January 29, 2010

The $25,000 Mesa Handicap

I am filling in this weekend for the usual in-house handicapper at Turf Paradise, Howard Hong, who is participating the National Handicapping Championship at Red Rocks (Howard is placed 143rd and Trey Stiles is 160th after Friday). So, since the Sunshine Millions didn't rouse my interest and nothing else really stood out, I am playing a home game and handicapping the $25,000 Mesa Handicap at Turf Paradise on Saturday afternoon.

I will say this about the Mesa Handicap, I think anyone of eight of the field of nine can win, so I will try a minor price pick with 6-1 shot, #7 Beacon Falls. She has been riding a recent wave of success with two wins and two seconds in five starts during the current meet, all with Adolfo Morales aboard. Trainer Sandi Gann has been winning at a 27% clip this season and she has a strong workout on January 13, 5F in 1:02.2. For second, I will go with the leading trainer at Turf Paradise so far in Mike Chambers, who trains #1 Puff Maddie. She will probably be the favorite and in a race as wide-open as this, I had to try and beat her. She has won three of her last four and had two bullet workouts in the span of twelve days earlier this month. #6 Littlemiss Allison comes next for me. She has been off since December 5, when she ran 4th in the $50,000 City Of Phoenix Stakes at Turf Paradise. Prior to that, she had been a stakes winner at Northlands Park in Edmonton. Stephan Heiler, a very fine rider this season at Turf, gets the riding assignment. Finally, I will round out the top four with #3 Profitability. She ran a distant second in that City Of Phoenix Stakes at 59-1. You won't see a repeat of that price today. Two of her lifetime victories have come over the dirt at Turf Paradise. Here is the play for the $25,000 Mesa Handicap:

$5 WP #7 and $1 EX BOX 1-2-3-6-7
TOTAL- $30

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. We also hope that Howard Hong and Trey Stiles make some big runs up the leader board at Red Rocks on Saturday. Good luck, guys. Tune in next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Experimental Free Handicap was released today. The Experimental Free Handicap is a winter guideline of two-year-olds (now three-year-olds) based on their two-year-old season and has been considered a gauge as to who should be the best considered entering the spring prep season for the Triple Crown races, although they are not necessarily meant to be used for that purpose. The weights given are based on handicap weights for a mythical race at a normal two-turn distance.

For the first time since 2004, there are co-high weights. 2009 Eclipse Award winning two-year-old male, Lookin At Lucky, and the only horse to beat him, 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Vale Of York, topped the list at 126 pounds. Among the other colts and geldings who might be easily recognizable entering the spring are Noble's Promise at 124 pounds, Buddy's Saint at 123 pounds, Super Saver at 122 pounds, and Piscitelli at 120 pounds. Lecomte Stakes winner, Ron The Greek, was weighted at 100 pounds. As far as the ladies, She Be Wild, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner for two-year-old fillies and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champion was also a co-high weight with Blind Luck.

By the way, in case you are curious, the last time the high-weight in the Experimental Free Handicap went on the win the Kentucky Derby was Street Sense in 2007. So, what does this mean? It does give us a bit of a yardstick as to who we should be looking for as the First Saturday In May draws nearer, but you also need to remember that Winslow Homer, winner of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Saturday over the 116-pound weighted Jackson Bend, isn't even on the list and he is on the fast track to Louisville even as I write this. It is a good barometer, but really, it is nothing more. It is fun to think about what might be in the offing, though, and this is as good a place to start as any.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Questions For A Qualifier

This weekend will be the 11th National Handicapping Championship at Red Rocks Casino in Las Vegas. A gentleman who has been a fixture at the NHC for the last eight years is Trey Stiles. This mark is tied for the most consecutive appearances and most overall as well. Trey Stiles is also a member of the NHC Players Committee. They Are Off asked five questions of Trey Stiles to try and get a look at what goes into a successful handicapping tournament player:

Question #1: How many handicapping tournaments would you estimate you play in a given year?

Trey Stiles: The number of contests I participate in depends entirely on how long it takes me to qualify for the NHC. I do not participate in many non-NHC qualifiers. The range in my eight years has been from one to eight contests I travel to. I play as many online contests as possible as well.

Question #2: Having qualified for the NHC Finals on numerous occasions, what are your thoughts entering another tournament?

Trey Stiles: The first time I qualified I was a bit intimidated and wondered if I really belonged or just got lucky to get there. I've learned that it is very helpful to get here early and get settled in. I started coming out on Tuesday the past few years. I am much less jittery about things each year. I try to stay focused and do a lot of homework in advance. There is too much info to process during the contest. You have to be prepared in advance.

Question #3: What is the best piece of advice you can give for someone who might be interested in trying to qualify for the 2011 NHC?

Trey Stiles: Don't be afraid to shoot for long shots. You have to do it. The result may be a poor finish if they don't come in, but play to win. My best finish was 33rd my first year, but I believe looking back that I did not give myself a chance to win. In the mandatory races, play low odds horses only if you really like them. You can make up a 2-1 that you miss, but 20-1 horses in mandatory races are difficult to overcome.

Question #4: Do you have any personal handicapping thoughts or tips that you care to share with They Are Off's readers?

Trey Stiles: I would encourage everyone to try an NHC qualifier. They are fun. I find it more fun than an equally profitable day at the races. I've met some nice people and made good friends on the NHC tour. I've never met anyone who made it to the NHC finals who didn't try even harder to get back.

Question #5: $500,000 is a big chunk of cash, but for you now, is it more about winning the money or winning the title (almost like a Green Jacket is to a golfer)?

Trey Stiles: True, I would love the money. However, I would love to stand up at the awards banquet Saturday night, receive my trophy and give an acceptance speech in front of handicappers that I greatly respect. I would also like being honored at the Eclipse Awards as Handicapper of the Year. I can't really describe how honored and happy I would be to be Handicapper of the Year.

Trey and the NHC Players Committee wants everyone to know that they can sign up for the NHC Tour through the NTRA website and here is the link to that web page to get started on your own personal journey to the 2011 NHC Championships in Las Vegas:

Many thanks to Trey Stiles for taking time out of his preparation for NHC XI and, of course, we wish Trey all the best in his effort to win the contest this year and receive that Handicapper of the Year honor he richly deserves. We also send a shout-out to They Are Off follower, Chris Meeks, for his assistance in putting this interview together.

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Stood Out

The first "official" weekend of Kentucky Derby prep races just passed us by and it is time to take a look at what we liked and didn't like from the weekend that was.

First, we accentuate the positive by discussing Winslow Homer and Jackson Bend from the Holy Bull at Gulfstream and Ron The Greek from the Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Winslow Homer and Jackson Bend already are pointing toward a rematch on February 20 in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream, which would also lead one to believe they will face off against each other (as well as some other top contenders) in the Grade 1 Florida Derby one month after that. While Winslow Homer was the winner, it should be remembered that Jackson Bend had won five in a row before entering that start on Saturday. Also, Ron The Greek came from well off the pace to register a slight upset at 7-1 in New Orleans on a weekend where the Saints win in the NFC Championship overshadowed everything else in the Big Easy. He finished quite impressively and might be a threat to contend at the longer distances he will be facing as the spring rolls toward the First Saturday In May.

Now, for the negative. Two horses that failed to show much in the Holy Bull were Aikenite and Piscitelli. Aikenite, trained by Todd Pletcher who said the horse never settled down, finished sixth. Piscitelli, who was the top pick in this blog, ran last and never appeared to be a factor in the Holy Bull. In New Orleans, the big negative was Maximus Ruler, who got caught up in what proved to be a taxing speed duel with a 40-1 longshot and still had enough to hold on for second. The only question seems to be whether he will be able to handle to longer distances moving forward, especially if he receives similar pressure to what he did on Saturday with a front-running style.

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 3 Lecomte

Derby Season gets rolling on Saturday with two prep races, one at Gulfstream and one at Fair Grounds. The Gulfstream race is the Grade 2 Holy Bull, named in honor of the 1994 Horse Of The Year, and the Fair Grounds race is the Grade 3 Lecomte, named in honor of a progeny of Boston and the Dam, Reel.

The Grade 2 Holy Bull- I have been hyping #4 Piscitelli for this race for a little while now, so I will put him on top. He has not raced since his fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but his last two workouts at Palm Meadows are bullets. The very hyped Zito trainee, #9 Jackson Bend, goes next. He has been off since October, but he also has two straight bullet works coming in. For third, I will go with #1 Thank U Philippe, who adds blinkers and might fetch a nice price at 8-1 on the morning-line. I will round out the top four with #8 Aikenite with John Velazquez aboard.

The Grade 3 Lecomte- I will put the price on top in here with 8-1 shot #5 Citrus Kid as my top selection. He ran third in the Grade 2 Remsen behind the highly-touted Buddy's Saint on November 28 at Aqueduct. His last two works have been bullets. #2 Turf Melody is the weak 7-2 morning-line favorite here. He ran 7th in his only try with graded company, but did win his last two efforts. #6 Callide Valley will be adding blinkers for this go and has the very capable Corey Lanerie in the irons. I will put the offspring of 2000 Preakness winner, Red Bullet, next. That would be #9 Cool Bullet, who won the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds on December 19.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three-Year-Old Thrills

In the words of Debbe Dunning during her days on Home Improvement's Tool Time, "Does everybody know what time it is?" Yes, we do. It is time for the three-year-old season to begin in earnest with two stakes races this weekend at two different racetracks to ignite many people's Kenutcky Derby hopes.

The Fair Grounds will run their Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at 1 mile and 40 yards and there is a field of eleven entered. The Graham Motion-trained Turf Melody has been installed as the lukewarm 7-2 morning-line favorite with Jose Valdivia Jr. getting the ride. The second choice is right to the inside breaking from the rail, Clark Hanna's Maximus Ruler. The Lecomte is one of six stakes races on the 13-race Saturday card in New Orleans.

Gulfstream Park has the more prestigious contenders running in their Saturday early Derby prep race, the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at one mile. The highly-touted Nick Zito trainee, Jackson Bend, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of nine. Todd Pletcher's Aikenite is second choice at 4-1 and also will be breaking right to the inside of the favorite. Of course, the horse that I am on record as being truly interested in is Piscitelli, who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Kent Desormeaux will have the riding assignment on the horse I listed as one of "Three Horses To Watch In 2010". Will he live up to that billing? Well, I guess we just have to wait until Saturday to find out.

They Are Off will take a closer look at these races in the Friday post. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Total Eclipse

Rachel Alexandra was named 2009 Horse Of The Year over the only other candidate, Zenyatta, on Monday night. The final tally of votes was 130-99 in favor of the three-year-old.

Honestly, though, there were no losers in this voting. Both horses are magnificent and did everything that was asked of them in 2009. Rachel won all eight of her starts and Zenyatta won all five of hers. They faced the toughest competition possible at certain times of the year and now the question becomes, "Will they face each other?" Well, it has become much more of a possibility now that Zenyatta will be returned to the races and Rachel Alexandra is having her four-year-old season plotted out.

The major problem becomes, "Who will race with them?" I certainly cannot see John Shireffs sacrificing Life Is Sweet to be a stalking horse in the coming battle, so her stablemate Zenyatta can have a bigger field with which to tame Rachel. After all, Life Is Sweet is a Breeders' Cup champion too. Will Careless Jewel or Justwhistledixie try to finish third and pick up a check? This is honestly a situation where there is absolutely no benefit to the other horses that would have to be part of a fillies and mares only race. So, I say they are going to have face the boys again to have the racing epic we all expect. Blame will be a likely candidate to be in the mix off his last win in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs this fall. If Summer Bird ever recovers from the injury he suffered in Japan, he will probably be involved. Mine That Bird will certainly want to pursue a part of the spoils. Macho Again came the closest to anyone of beating Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Bullsbay acquitted himself quite nicely in the Woodward also. I leave out Gio Ponti, because I doubt he will run in a race against this caliber on a dirt (rather than synthetic) surface, but there is no shortage of acceptable candidates on hand.

I truly feel we will get the "Race Of The Century" at some point this 2010 season. I just hope that somebody else will bother to show up. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Grade 2 $150,000 San Fernando

Let's take a look at what promises to be an interesting test on the Santa Anita pro-ride with a strong field of eight, the Grade 2 $150,000 San Fernando. I am going to put #6 Mythical Power in the top spot. His last race in the Grade 1 Malibu was an unmitigated disaster, but I am willing to overlook it as a comeback race off a long layoff and rather focus on the two bullet workouts he has fired in the time since. I also like the stretch back to the distance that he obliterated the field in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in his last start before the time off. Once again, Joel Rosario has the ride. For second, I will go with #4 Papa Clem. He has had his moments in the past, winning the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby last spring and then a solid fourth on the First Saturday In May. However, since then he has not done much. It is true that he finished ahead of the top pick in that Malibu on December 26 and he has three bullets workouts in the time since. I still think that Mythical Power will win. I like getting 6-1 on my third selection, #2 Viscount. He, like the top pick, is a Bob Baffert trainee. This will be his first graded stakes effort, but he has never missed the money in any effort at today's distance. Garrett Gomez will be at the controls. Finally, I will round out the top four with #1 Smart Bid, who won the Damascus at Santa Anita on November 7 that also featured Viscount. He just has not shown tremendous ability at this kind of distance in the past, at least not with the company he is facing today. So, here is the play for the Grade 2 San Fernando:

$5 WP #6 and $5 EX BOX #4+ #6
TOTAL- $20

Keep in mind that They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections, they are merely suggestions. Tune in again for more from They Are Off next week. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Deserved Winner

Zenyatta WILL definitely be Older Mare of 2009 when the Eclipse Awards winners are announced on Monday night. She MIGHT win Horse Of The Year over Rachel Alexandra (although I doubt it) on the same evening. However, Zenyatta is already listed as a 2009 Award Winner by the NTRA. Her win in the Breeders' Cup Classic was selected as the Moment Of The Year for 2009.

Ya think!!!!! That might be one of the landmark races in Breeders' Cup history. It certainly did acheive legendary status almost as soon as she hit the wire at Santa Anita. Santa Anita heinously dropped the name of the Grade 1 Lady's Secret (who was a Horse Of The Year, by the way) and made it now the Grade 1 Zenyatta. That TOTALLY disrespected the legacy of Lady's Secret, but unfortunately as is proven everyday, this is a what have you done for me NOW society. It is also the second straight year that Zenyatta has provided the Moment Of The Year according to the NTRA. Rachel's win in the Woodward was second and Mine That Bird's Derby win finished third. That is just for those of you who were interested in the Trifecta wagering.

I have said on this blog numerous times before that I think Rachel is the Horse Of The Year and I think she will be voted Horse Of The Year on Monday. You can't deny Zenyatta's greatness, though. All of these moments and all of these horses are why people fall in love with racing for two minutes at a time before they fall away and just wait for the next moment to come rolling along and dazzle us again.

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Nakatani

It is generally agreed upon by most horse racing experts that one of the most prolific turf riders of the last quarter-century has been Corey Nakatani. That would make it seem kind of odd, then, that Nakatani has elected to shift his tack from his usual Southern California base and now set up shop at Oaklawn Park, which we all know, doesn't have a turf course.

Ah, but those that think that are missing out of the greater goal that Nakatani has set for himself. He would like to win a Kentucky Derby and according to him, going through Arkansas might be the best way to set himself up to do that. His point is well taken, given that so many high quality three-year-olds of the last several years (Smarty Jones, Curlin, Afleet Alex, even going back to Victory Gallop) certainly acquitted themselves quite well not only in Kentucky, but all the way through the Triple Crown trail. Even last year's upset winner, Papa Clem, finished a strong fourth in the Derby, losing out on a photo with Pioneerof The Nile and Musket Man for second behind Mine That Bird.

I really like what Nakatani is doing with himself in his quest to get the Roses on the First Saturday In May. He could have tried to remain in Southern California and get himself to Kentucky that way, but he is thinking outside the box here and going somewhere that he is familiar with (having ridden and won some major races at Oaklawn in the past) and gives him easier access to maybe chase his Derby dream at other east and midwest tracks like Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Hawthorne, Keeneland, and Aqueduct. Instead of the horses coming to him, he is going to the horses.

I would like to see Nakatani on a live mount come May 1. This way, he will have at least partially achieved his objective, which is to keep his dream alive of winning the Kentucky Derby. We all know that in the real world, not every dream can come true, but it is nice to see people still pursuing those dreams with everything that they have. The least we can do is root for them.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore", so said the late Peter Finch in his Academy Award-winning performance in Network. Apparently, this was the same sentiment that Churchill Downs had when it came to the prep races for the Kentucky Derby not being available to the general public on network TV. Churchill Downs, Inc. has entered into an agreement with NBC to show six major prep races for the Run For The Roses on three different weekends in the coming months.

On March 27, the Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds and the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway will be on USA Network (which is a subsidiary of NBC). The following week, April 3, it will be the Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita and the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct on NBC itself. Finally, April 10 will feature the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn on NBC also.

Basically, what has happened here is that Churchill Downs seized control of these prep races from the NTRA and their broadcast partner, ESPN. The NTRA had no concrete plans to air the prep races on television and ESPN (which continues to fall further and further out of the horse racing game) didn't want to touch them either. So, Churchill stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done to sure that their premier event will have the proper amount of buildup and hype generated on television through the spring. Don't forget that NBC broadcasts the Derby and Preakness every year, so it is also in the network's best interests to have as many of these races air as possible. After all, the more they can publicize racing's three-year-old stars going forward (like Lookin At Lucky, Noble's Promise, Buddy's Saint, etc.), the higher the ratings stand to be for the Derby itself.

I applaud what Churchill and NBC have decided to do. Anytime racing can get more of its action on network TV, that is a good thing. By making the public aware of the coming stars this spring, the track and the network are finally being pro-active in getting the good word out there about the Derby. Pro-active is a word rarely used with the upper levels of management in the sport of horse racing. With ESPN's extremely limited coverage during the spring, the three-year-old celebrities of racing have been relatively obscure in recent times. I just look forward to the day that the Breeders' Cup also gets on the stick and gets its marquee racing event back on a network that might actually consider it more than just a buffer between college football games.

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

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Grade 3 $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap

We make our first foray into Florida for the new year with a look at the Grade 3 $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap to be run at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. The big morning-line favorite in the race is Munnings, whose last win was in the Grade 2 Tom Fool at Belmont Park in early July 2009. Needless to say, with that kind of victory drought, I am going to try and look elsewhere for a winner. That elsewhere would be 8-1 shot #8 Starforaday. His last three victories all came with Rajiv Maragh in the irons and he gets the call here. His last three workouts have all been bullets, although he has not had one listed since December 5 over the inner track at Aqueduct. I will put #4 Munnings next with Johnny Velazquez aboard. He has been off since October 3. His last three results were all thirds with Grade 1 company. His most recent workout on January 3 was a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.3 at Palm Meadows. The Sire is 2004 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, Speightstown. I will put another horse with a recent bullet workout in the third spot with #2 Custom For Carlos. He ran 3rd and 4th in his only two previous tries with graded runners. I think he is very much underlaid at 3-1 on the morning-line here, even with Julien Leparoux up. He has hit the board in all three previous Gulfstream Park starts with one win, one second, and one third. #3 Prince Joshua takes the fourth spot for me. He ran 3rd in the Grade 3 Kenny Noe last time out at Calder on the day after Christmas. He is 5 for 7 lifetime in-the-money at this distance of six furlongs. Here is the play for the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector:

$5 WP #8, $1 EX BOX 2-4-8 and $1 TRI BOX 2-4-8
TOTAL- $32

Keep in mind that as always these are merely suggestions and They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers made in conjunction with these thoughts.

By the way, for those of you that thought I was off my rocker when I touted Piscitelli as a Derby possibility in my horses to watch in 2010, he posted a bullet five furlong workout in one minute flat at Palm Meadows on Wednesday. He will run in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on the 23rd.

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

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wayne Sanders And Larry Hirsch

SureBet Racing News' writer (and frequent They Are Off contributor) Martha Claussen has written a story for the January edition of SureBet Racing news on Thoroughbred owners Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch. Here is the link to that issue with Martha's story on Page 37 (just click on the January 2010 issue icon on the left):

Thanks to Martha for another great article. Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


All of the finalists for the Eclipse Awards (winners to be announced on January 18th) were announced today. There were only two finalists for Horse Of The Year: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. I think that is a great thing since it doesn't give anyone else false hope. Either one of those two lovely ladies will win the honor, why mess around with having anyone not worthy of their company there. Here are my selections for the winners in each of the categories:

Apprentice Jockey: Luis Saez. I think he is going to be a great one to watch further develop over the next several seasons.

Jockey: Garrett Gomez. It took him until his last mount of the year, but he did win more money than anyone else in the saddle in 2009.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen. He keeps setting the most wins in a year record so often, it might be out of even his reach before too long.

Breeder: Juddmonte Farms. I hope that Bill Mott is able to keep them going the way the late, great Bobby Frankel did. I think he will do just fine.

Owner: Godolphin Racing. They won so many big races throughout the year, all over the world. Now, the question for them will be "Can they win the Derby finally with BC Juvenile winner Vale Of York?"

Steeplechase Horse: Mixed Up. He appears to be the only logical choice according to the voters I have seen make their ballots public.

Female Turf Horse: Goldikova. She amazed us all by winning the Breeders' Cup Mile again and overcoming so much to do it that day.

Male Turf Horse: Conduit. This might be the most competitive of all the undercard categories, but he became only the second horse to win the Breeders' Cup Turf back-to-back.

Female Sprinter: Informed Decision. She won the big one on Breeders' Cup day, beating fellow nominee Ventura in the process.

Male Sprinter: Kodiak Kowboy. He won at all kinds of distances, even prevailing at a mile in 2009 as well. A champion in every sense of the word.


Older Male: Gio Ponti. His only truly bad loss of the year was to Interpatation at 1 1/2 miles over a bog of a turf course in New York. Ran well on turf and synthetics, very versatile.

Three-Year-Old Filly: Rachel Alexandra. See the Zenyatta comment above.

Three-Year-Old Male: Summer Bird. Mine That Bird won "the big one", but Summer Bird won the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, something not done since Easy Goer twenty years ago.

Two-Year-Old Filly: Blind Luck. She Be Wild beat her on Breeders' Cup day, but like Summer Bird, Blind Luck won all the other important races she had to win.

Two-Year-Old Male: Lookin At Lucky. Only blip on the radar was an upset loss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile from post #13 (which I didn't think was that big a factor in the loss), but he is the deserved favorite for the Kentucky Derby going forward.

Horse Of The Year: Rachel Alexandra. I have said on this blog that Rachel Alexandra is the greatest horse since Secretariat. I don't think the same thing of Zenyatta.

So, there you have it, even though I don't have a vote, I am on the record for all of the categories. I cannot wait for the 18th to see who wins the honors, ALL OF THEM!!!

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

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lava Man

The ill-fated and ill-conceived comeback of Lava Man came to an end today when the gelding was retired by his connections following his last place finish in the Grade 2 San Gabriel at Santa Anita. Lava Man returned to the races following stem-cell therapy to repair his ankle. The move to return him to racing was considered controversial from the get-go because of his age, physical condition, and the amount of time he had been away from the races. Lava Man had been retired since the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar in summer 2008.

While everyone may have had the best of intentions with Lava Man to try and bring him back, it is unfortunate that our last image of him on the track will be a last-place finish in a race poorly suited to his talents. The story of him rising from the claiming ranks in California to a multiple Grade 1 winner will forever live in the hearts of racing fans not only in the Golden State, but to any true fan of the sport. It is not often that a horse can go from one extreme of the game to the other like that and his win in the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup will forever be punctuated by the great call of Vic Stauffer, when he called him "the original Rags To Riches" in the wake of the so-named filly's win in the Belmont Stakes. If you would like to watch the this epic performance, here is the link:

According to the numbers, Lava Man won 17 of 47 races and earned $5,268,706 in purse money.

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

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Grade 2 $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap

First of all, I do hope that everyone had a very happy and safe New Year's celebration this week. The Grade 2 $150,000 San Gorgonio will feature a very interesting field of nine going a mile and an eighth over the turf at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon and here are the selections for that race:

I pegged #4 Life Is Sweet as the winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on Friday, November 6 and cashed very handsomely afterward, thank you very much. I am sticking with the hot hand of John Shirreffs here. She has an impressive turf Tomlinson number and has been in the top two in four of five lifetime starts. She gets the 2009 leading purse winner for jockeys, Garrett Gomez, at the controls. Finally, she has been facing the tough competition (namely Zenyatta) for the better part of 2009. I am concerned that she has never been over the Santa Anita turf before, but not enough to dissuade me from selecting her. For second, I will go with the Drysdale trainee, #9 Cat By The Tale, who never finished out of the money in any of her six tries in 2009. That includes two Grade 2 efforts, in which she finished third both times. She has a win and a second at this distance over the turf at Hollywood last spring. By the way, two of her four lifetime triumphs have come over this very grass course. William Mott has taken over the Juddmonte string for the late Bobby Frankel, and he trains #3 Treat Gently for the Juddmonte folks here. She won her North American debut at Belmont in July, before trying to go to far (1 1/4 miles) in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine, finishing behind monumental longshot, Lahaleeb. Her last five furlong workout at Hollywood on December 27 covered the distance in 1:00.3. I will round out the top four with #5 Diamondrella. I am very interested to see how she handles the extra distance here. Her last experience over the Santa Anita turf was a disastrous 11th place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. She has been used to going no further than a mile for the two seasons. This just might be a little more than she is capable of at 1 1/8 miles. Here is the play for the Grade 2 San Gorgonio:

$2 EX BOX 3-4-9 and $1 TRI 4 with 3-5-8-9
TOTAL- $24

Please keep in mind that these are merely suggestions and They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these thoughts. Tune in again on Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!