Friday, February 26, 2010

The Grade 2 $150,000 Sham Stakes

The Grade 2 $150,000 features what appears to be a very evenly-matched field of ten horses in what is basically a lower-level Kentucky Derby prep race. I find it most unfortunate that my top pick is only 5-2 on the morning-line, but that is the price offered on #10 Nextdoorneighbor. I was really hoping he would be at least 5-1 off just a maiden-breaking win, but that win was tremendous on January 24 at 1 1/16 miles. Mike Smith will ride on Saturday and the last two workouts have been extremely speedy. For second, I will insert a price with 10-1 shot, #4 Outlaw Man. His last win was at today's distance of 1 1/8 miles, albeit on the grass at Santa Anita. The trainer, Ken McPeek, has a 25% success race going turf to synthetic and the price certainly seems to be right. I will put the Bob Baffert trainee, #1 The Program, in third. He was a winner last time out on February 3, but has lost to one he faces in here that didn't really impress me in #2 Kettle River. He has run with some distinguished possible Derby company in the past and wouldn't be a surprise. Finally, I will go with #5 Setsuko in fourth. He won on the synthetic around two turns to break the maiden on December 17 and followed it up with a closing second on the turf on January 27. Rafael Bejarano has the ride. Here is the play for the Grade 2 $150,000 Sham Stakes:

$5 WP #10 and $1 EX BOX 1-3-4-5-10
TOTAL- $30

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

By The Wayside

The Kentucky Derby trail is a long and arduous one of which it is true that "only the strong survive". Even those that do survive usually don't end up with the ultimate goal. After all, if 20 horses are entered in the Kentucky Derby, 19 of them have to lose (unless you have the unlikely event of a dead-heat, which has not happened in 135 previous runnings). Every year there are tremendous runners that suffer minor injuries, major injuries, or any number of problems that cause them to be detoured off the Road To The Roses.

Devil's Bag (pictured) was the champion two-year-old of 1983. He was supposed to win the Kentucky Derby and maybe even challenge the great Secretariat's time of 1:59.2 in doing it. He went 5 for 5 in 1983 and was perfect at the start of 1984, but he then suffered a loss in Florida and was retired after winning the Derby Trial with an injury. Devil's Bag never made it to the starting gate in the 1984 Derby, which was won impressively by Swale. He did, however, contribute wholeheartedly to his Thoroughbred legacy by siring 43 different stakes winners.

In 2002, Repent had all the makings of a Kentucky Derby winner. At the conclusion of his two-year-old season, he finished second behind Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at long odds. He had won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and ran 2nd in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby at the old Sportsman's Park in what was to be his final tune-up before the Kentucky Derby. However, Repent suffered an injury in the Illinois Derby and while he did come back to run 2nd in the Travers that summer to Medaglia D'Oro, his racing career was essentially finished. By the way, the horse that Repent ran behind in the Illinois Derby was none other than 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem. Repent is now considered a most useful sire in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

This week, two horses that some had given consideration to as potential Derby winners, Maximus Ruler and Dryfly, have been removed from the Kentucky Derby trail. Maximus Ruler ran 2nd in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in what was to be a prep for the Louisiana Derby. His trainer, Clark Hanna, has said that the colt will be given time off now to deal with a bruised hoof and won't return to the races until the summer. Dryfly ran 9th in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. He has been sidelined with a knee injury, which trainer Lynn Whiting expects to keep the gelding away from the races until the autumn.

The lesson here is that just because a three-year-old doesn't have the stamina to make it all the way to the biggest stage in Thoroughbred racing doesn't necessarily mean that the horse's usefulness is over or that the quality of the animal should be questioned in any way. Whether Maximus Ruler or Dryfly ever race again, they may still exert some influence as a part of this three-year-old crop down the road.

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

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

He's A Rebel

The way the Daily Racing Form website is painting the picture the Grade 3 $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park will be the most major of all the major Kentucky Derby prep races. It was revealed today that three-time Derby winning trainer, Bob Baffert, is likely to ship the current Derby favorite, Lookin At Lucky, into Hot Springs for the Rebel rather that run in the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Of course, that is not definite yet but in the Super Six Derby Pix yesterday, I commented that I had believed the plan all along to be that Lookin At Lucky would get shipped out of California and that I didn't think running in the San Felipe was such a good idea. Now that Lookin At Lucky could be shipped to run on conventional dirt as opposed to the Southern California synthetics, this could put him further ahead of everyone else on the Road To The Roses. In case you were concerned about Baffert anyway, don't forget that he did saddle the winner of the Southwest Stakes on Saturday in Conveyance. Baffert is currently saying that Conveyance will skip the Rebel Stakes. All of this will be bad news for the connections of Noble's Promise. He has been unable to defeat Lookin At Lucky when they have met so far and Noble's Promise is also expected in the starting gate for the Rebel. Also, don't forget that D. Wayne Lukas still has Dublin, runner-up to Conveyance in the Southwest, likely to run in the Rebel Stakes as well.

From the local standpoint, meaning my home track of Turf Paradise, Uh Oh Bango is also expected to be heading from Phoenix to Hot Springs to run in the Rebel Stakes. Uh Oh Bango's last race was a second in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. That result has been magnified by the excellent last race of the horse that beat Uh Oh Bango, Rule. Rule won the Grade 3 Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and is almost certainly going to be in the gate for the Derby, barring any setbacks for trainer Todd Pletcher.

All this means that the Rebel might give us the clearest picture yet of what we can expect come May 1. There will be contenders and pretenders giving a Billy Idol-esque "Rebel Yell" when the gates open on March 13.

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

There was a whole lot of shuffling to the Super Six Derby Pix after the last weekend with multiple Kentucky Derby trials run from coast to coast. The top spot remained unchanged, but behind that, it was almost chaos. Here is Week 3 of the Super Six Derby Pix:

#1- Lookin At Lucky- He's got to run sometime soon, doesn't he? The DRF Derby Watch this week listed his next probable race as the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 13. I had been under the impression that Bob Baffert was going to ship him out of Southern California to get some races in on actual dirt, as opposed to synthetics, but it appears that impression was wrong.

#2- Eskendereya- He absolutely demolished the deepest field in any of those multiple preps I mentioned earlier. He won the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths over a field that included Remsen winner, Buddy's Saint, and Zito's best shooter so far, Jackson Bend. Buddy's Saint was a tremendous disappointment after a troubled trip, but jockey Jose Lezcano tried to fit him in a hole that wasn't there on the first turn, so he has no one to blame but himself.

#3 Noble's Promise- In the same DRF Derby Watch that said Lookin At Lucky will go at Santa Anita, this horse is listed as likely for the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Ken McPeek apparently decided to clear out of California and go looking for a spot where he can maybe get some victories leading up to the Derby. Probably wouldn't have happened in So. Cal, where Noble's Promise has already lost multiple times to the top pick.

#4 Dublin- Yes, I know that Conveyance won the Southwest this weekend with a front-running run, but this horse's running style seems more in tune with the Derby than Conveyance, in my opinion. Given an extra sixteenth of a mile, I think Dublin goes on by to win the Southwest on Saturday. I am really going to watch to see the improvement in this horse. D. Wayne Lukas knows how to be ready for the First Saturday In May and this horse has already overcome quite a bit, including epiglottis surgery. In fact, if the Derby were today, Dublin might be my selection.

#5 Rule- A week removed from his conclusive win in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, he remains a factor in the Pix. Normally, I would tend to discount a horse that has traveled the road he has to get to this point, but four straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. Derby Watch doesn't list him as heading to the Tampa Bay Derby, though, they have him either in the Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial. Maybe Todd Pletcher wants to really test him before they get to Kentucky.

#6 Conveyance- Won the Southwest with a gate-to-wire score, but Discreetly Mine did the same thing in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Will there be a lot of speed in the Derby this year? Will it be a very contested pace? Will any of those front-runners last a mile and a quarter? If I were to answer these questions, I would go with yes, yes, and no. Conveyance gets this spot because no one else really stepped up to claim it this week.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Grade 2 $250,000 Fountain Of Youth

There are three important Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled for Saturday. The Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Southwest at Oaklawn Park each have there big names with Drosselmeyer and Ron The Greek in New Orleans and Conveyance and Dryfly in Hot Springs. However, I elected to handicap the other race of the three for Saturday, the Grade 2 $250,000 Fountain Of Youth at Gulfstream Park with a field of ten going 1 1/8 miles.

For some reason, I just think that Saturday is going to be #8 Eskendereya's day. While he failed miserably in his only previously graded race, a 9th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he did have an equally miserable trip and had his chances compromised early on at Santa Anita. He came back to win at one mile on January 7 at Gulfstream, giving him a previous win over the course. His Valentine's Day work of 5F in 1:00.3 was strong and, by the way, you get John Velazquez in the saddle. I will put #2 Buddy's Saint in the second spot for his 2010 debut. He will likely go off the favorite in this race, but it might be a bit much to ask him to go nine furlongs in his fourth lifetime start after a layoff of two and a half months. However, his win in the Grade 2 Remsen last time out at Aqueduct was at this distance and his lineage suggests he will like to go long, I just think that maybe he will be ready to do more come the Florida Derby. The runner-up in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, #5 Jackson Bend, is my third selection. I am troubled that he failed to get past Winslow Homer in the Holy Bull and he honestly has not won a race yet against the quality of opponent he will face today. There is a sterling bullet workout on February 13 of a half-mile in 47 seconds flat, but he has to win to convince me he is capable of better. Finally, I will use #10 Ice Box as a likely longshot in the Fountain Of Youth. His last two starts around two turns resulted in victories and he has already defeated several of his foes in this spot. Jersey Joe Bravo gets the call for trainer Nick Zito, who is well-represented in here since he also trains the third selection. Oh, Ice Box's last win at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on January 18. Sound familiar? Here is the play for the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth:

$5 WP #8
$5 EX BOX #2+ #8
$1 TRI 2/8 with 2/8 with 5/9/10
TOTAL- $26

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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Think She's Ready

2009 Horse Of The Year Rachel Alexandra has been taking nice and slow so far in 2010, as per owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen's wishes. Certainly can't argue with that course of action or with the two men who came up with it. They have proven that they know what they are doing. However, this morning Rachel seemed to say, "Enough is enough!", and plowed her way through a workout of five furlongs in 1:00.20 at the Fair Grounds. We are in the middle of Mardi Gras and I guess Rachel felt the time was right to announce her presence at the party.

By the way, she also galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.40. So, it would seem to me and, hopefully, most other observers, that Rachel is now ready to resume her racing schedule at Fair Grounds on March 13 in the New Orleans Ladies. Of course, after that is the looming spectacle that will be the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 9 and her long-awaited run into history with 2009 Horse Of The Year runner-up, Zenyatta. According to, Rachel will have three more workouts prior to her first start in less than a month.

If the horse is this ready already, can you imagine the kind of shape she will be in come March 13? Asmussen is likely the best trainer in the land currently and it should come as no surprise to anyone that he has the horse rarin' to go, especially after what has been a six-month layoff. It is a rare year when something comes along early in that year to overshadow the Triple Crown and the trail that goes to it. Rachel Alexandra is on the verge of making 2010, like she did 2009, one of those years.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

The second edition of the 2010 Super Six Derby Pix has a little variety off the first version, however, the three-year-old action has been a little slow over the last week, especially with the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park getting postponed. So, we take a look at the hot half-dozen we think might be Rose-worthy on May 1.

#1- Lookin At Lucky- The Baffert trainee remains in the top spot entering what promises to be a busy three-year-old weekend coming up at various racetracks. He has only finished behind one horse and that came by just a nose after a wide trip. Of course, it did come in his biggest race thus far. However, I think Baffert has proven he knows how to succeed come Derby time.

#2 Buddy's Saint- He will get his first start of 2010 this weekend at Gulfstream Park in the Fountain Of Youth. While he has been the "mystery horse" of the proceedings so far, he will no longer be shrouded in a veil after Saturday. The Fountain Of Youth might come up tough and then again, it might not. I am keenly interested to see who he will be facing on Saturday.

#3 Noble's Promise- Has the singular problem of being unable to beat the top choice on this list. He also is getting a longer layoff from the races than most of the competition. His next expected start was listed in the Daily Racing Form Derby Watch as the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on March 13. He will have to beat the horses that impress in the Southwest on Saturday after the delay.

#4 Ron The Greek- A lot will be answered by this guy this weekend in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. He won the first of the Louisiana trilogy of preps in the Lecomte and my main question is what kind of pace will there be for him to close into? In the Lecomte, Maximus Ruler was prodded all the way by a longshot and he still ran a gallant second after getting passed by the closing Ron The Greek. The Risen Star might be the most fascinating race of the weekend.

#5 Rule- The winner of the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs this past weekend was most impressive in victory, but the lingering question here is what did he beat? Uptowncharlybrown appears to be little more than a pretender at this point and while Rule exuded class, it appeared easy to do this when you are the lone class of the field. He is already guaranteed a spot on the First Saturday In May with his graded earnings.

#6 Jackson Bend- Another horse gearing up for a try in the Fountain Of Youth. He couldn't get past Winslow Homer in the Holy Bull and Winslow Homer has been declared off the Derby Trail with an injury. Trainer Nick Zito has won the Derby before, but he has also had five contenders in the gate at one time and failed to hit the board (in 2005).

You will notice that Vale Of York, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, has dropped off the list for the time being. Rumors abound that he might be headed to Europe and since he went back to Dubai, he will be running over the synthetic surface at Meydan. Not a combination I am in love with.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

Super Saturday

That is what Saturday is being called at my home track of Turf Paradise and there will be three stakes races run consecutively, which sets up a Pick Three possibility. Here are selections for each of the three stakes races, followed by a $1 Pick Three play:

Race 6- The $25,000 Sun City Handicap- This race will be 1 mile on the turf and I will put #2 Table Mesa on top for familiar Turf Paradise connections. Scott Stevens was aboard this mare for her last two, both seconds against stakes company. For second, I will use #8 Rare Sunset, who gets the riding services of Anne Von Rosen, who has had a nice meet for herself in Phoenix this winter. She was aboard for this mare's last win, two starts ago at one mile on the turf in an Allowance spot. I will wrap the top three with #10 Blumin Beauty off of her victory in the Mesa Handicap last time out over the main track on January 30. Leading rider Ry Eikleberry gets the call.

Race 7- The $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup- It is very tough to try and pick against the world-record holder at the distance and I will not here. #3 Twin Sparks followed up that world-record race with another stakes win at Turf Paradise on January 2 in the $50,000 Swift Stakes. Seven of his nine lifetime wins have come over the Phoenix oval. #6 Ez Dreamer is the second pick in the Gold Cup off of a dominating win in the Cactus Wren Handicap on December 19. His last work was a fast five furlongs on February 2, covering the length in 59 3/5 seconds. If you are looking for an upsetter, it might be #4 Highland Games. He is about due to get a win after three straight second-place results and his last work was a bullet on February 8.

Race 8- The $25,000 Turf Paradise Handicap- #4 One Call is my top selection in this spot with Miguel Hernandez riding. He won an Allowance turf race last time out on January 3. In fact, all three of his career wins have come over the greenery at Turf Paradise. I will put a recent stakes winner in second with #10 On My Dime. He won the prestigious Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile in Phoenix on January 16. Ry Eikleberry rode that day and is aboard again Saturday. Finally, I will wrap the top three with #8 Buff Daddy, who gets the riding services of Freddy Fong. His most recent try was a victory on January 12 in an Allowance start at one mile on the turf and he might fetch a nice price in here.

Here is the $1 Pick Three play for Super Saturday:

2-8-10 with 3-6 with 1-4-5-8-10
TOTAL- $30

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

War Of The Worlds

I am not Orson Welles (or else I would have been married to Rita Hayworth), but I can sense a War Of The Worlds when I see one. The Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park has been moved back to Friday, April 9, one day before the closing day of the Oaklawn meet and now part of their Fesitval Of The South.

This news means that it is now likely that both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will be able to participate, the purse will be $5,000,000, and the racing (and sports) world will get the long-awaited matchup between the two best horses in training right now. Rachel Alexandra's owner, Jess Jackson, had said on Wednesday that there was no way that Rachel would be ready for the original date of the Apple Blossom, Saturday, April 3. Apparently, the extra six days were necessary to have the Horse Of The Year ready to go at full strength.

Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella maintains that all of the parties necessary (Jackson and Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss) have agreed to the new date and all of the conditions of the race he had put forth earlier. So, this all means that we are just short of two months away from finally seeing the race we all had hoped to see in 2009, when both horses were finalists for Horse Of The Year. Both horses have been working out and I am sure that the intensity of those works will start to accelerate as the date draws near. What will the end result be? Only time will tell, but I have the feeling that whatever it is, it will be good for the game at a time when it needs it most.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sic Transit Gloria!

Summer Bird was the Champion Three-Year-Old Male according to the Eclipse Award voters in 2009. He captured the extremely rare triple of winning the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup all in one season (the last to do that was Easy Goer in 1989). He went to Japan to run in the Japan Cup Dirt in the Far East and suffered an injury there which required surgery to insert a screw to help repair the fracture and is now convalescing at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

The horse's trainer throughout all of this, good and bad, was newcomer Tim Ice. Ice did all of this with Summer Bird in his first full-time season as a trainer. Now, Ice is the former trainer of Summer Bird. The horses' owners, K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman, made Summer Bird one of 25 horses they removed from Ice's care and moved to other trainers based at Oaklawn. Summer Bird in now in the barn of trainer Tim Ritchey. Ice was quoted on that he is "just another trainer in a long line he's hired and fired." K.K. Jayaraman is a former trainer himself and it would appear that this is not the first time he has made this type of move with his horses. To be fair to the owners, it should be noted that Ice has gotten off to a horrendous start this season at Oaklawn, winning just 2 out of 15 races.

Personally, I am reminded of another relative youngster in the racing game who came along when I was just a kid myself (literally). This young rider took the racing world by storm, accomplished something few had performed before have and none have since, went through a horrific slump of his own, and eventually came out of it to return to his former glory. The rider I am talking of is Steve Cauthen, who is the last jockey to win the Triple Crown (aboard Affirmed in 1978). He had been named Sports Illustrated Sportsman Of The Year, but not too far removed from the Triple Crown, he couldn't buy a win of any kind for the longest time. While he did shake out of that winless period, Cauthen eventually went over to Europe and was only the Champion British Jockey three times, while also winning two Epsom Derbies, three St. Leger Stakes, and two Ascot Gold Cups, among his many honors and triumphs on The Continent.

I am not suggesting that Tim Ice is now going to win the Epsom Derby, Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, and the Gran Premio. However, I would caution Summer Bird's owners and other owners who might shy away from Ice with him battling a bad spell: You don't forget how to win, no matter what it is you might do. Winning is a part of you once you achieve it. You might go through a period where winning gets lost, but it is never forgotten. Ice will win again and I firmly believe he will win big. You can be certain that I will not be betting against him to do so.

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

Monday, February 08, 2010

Ry-ding To A Title

Frequent They Are Off contributor Martha Claussen has a story on the current leading rider at Turf Paradise, Ry Eikleberry, in this month's edition of the SureBet Racing News. Here is the link: Just click the February 2010 Issue link in the upper left hand corner. Martha's story begins on page 26 and there are other stories concerning Arizona racing just before it in this issue.

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

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Grade 1 $500,000 Donn Handicap

One of the highlight events on the Gulfstream Park calendar takes place on Saturday and one of the highlight horses from recent Gulfstream vintage, Quality Road, is the 7-5 morning line favorite in the Grade 1 $500,000 Donn Handicap. If you know anything about the handicapping aspect of this blog, you know that I am going to try and beat him in the Donn, so here we go:

I will go with #10 Delightful Kiss in the Donn Handicap as my top choice. He has shown quite the affinity for the Gulfstream track, with two wins and two thirds in four career starts there. His only bad race in his most recent races was in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf on the grass at Gulfstream on February 28, 2009. He then took a ton of time off before coming back to run 3rd on January 22 at seven furlongs in a race that appeared to be just a tightener for this one. I will put the favorite, #4 Quality Road, second. He is three of four lifetime at the Hallandale plant and came back from a brief layoff of his own (not to mention the Breeders' Cup meltdown) to win the Grade 3 Hal's Hope on January 3. John Velazquez has the riding assignment for the Donn. #5 Dry Martini will be my third choice at 12-1 on the morning line. If there is to be any pace in this race, this grey gelding could be chugging past everyone in the stretch to an unexpected victory. He ran 3rd behind several of his foes in here last time out in the Grade 3 Ft. Lauderdale on January 10. He also has a strong bullet workout on January 30 at Gulfstream, 5F in 58 3/5 seconds. For fourth, I will go with #9 Dubai Gold. He has won two of three since being claimed out of a win at Monmouth in September by the current connections. He is relatively well-bred also and at 30-1 on the morning line, he is worth a look. Here is the play for the Donn Handicap:

$5 WP #10 and $1 EX BOX 4-5-9-10
TOTAL- $22

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

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The $5,000,000 Question

Oaklawn Park in Arkansas has announced that they are intent on getting the much-desired matchup between last year's Horse Of The Year finalists, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. The already prestigious Grade 1 $500,000 Apple Blossom would get a boost in purse to $5,000,000 if the two super horses would agree to come to Hot Springs and fight it out once and for all. The race would become a mile and an eighth, up from its current distance of a mile and a sixteenth. This is certainly a very concrete and spectacular offer to get the leading ladies of racing together.

However, the questions must be asked. Would this become little more than a match race? Who would line up to face these two great runners in Arkansas? Would John Shirreffs also send Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner, Life Is Sweet, to Arkansas to help fill the field? I know I argued this question once before on this blog, but now, I think these are questions that must be considered. I couldn't ever comprehend the connections of Zenyatta wanting to match race with Rachel Alexandra simply because of her running style. Zenyatta usually comes from well off the pace to surge to victory in the stretch. This would be increasingly harder to accomplish against Rachel Alexandra if there were no other horses in the race to soften her up for such a stretch challenge with fast early fractions. Any historian with an eye on match races can tell you that speed usually wins. The most famous match race in history between Seabiscuit and War Admiral hinged on the fact that Seabiscuit went out and took the early lead, which was a testament to a great job of training by the legendary Tom Smith.

I am not trying to be a killjoy. In fact, far from it. But, these are questions I am sure that will be realistically pondered in the days leading up to the race should the Big Two agree to come. I am also reasonably sure that the ones doing the pondering will be the same ones at Oaklawn Park that have created such a fabulous situation.

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Now This Was Classic

I was flipping channels this morning and came across something on ESPN Classic that actually caused me to stop and watch. Normally, ESPN Classic is what I like to call a "classic mess". They hardly show anything that is worthy of the classic label, that is unless you like bowling, rodeo, or old episodes of "Stump The Schwab". However, today I stumbled across a re-broadcast of ABC's coverage of the 1986 Kentucky Derby. You will remember this Derby as the one that Ferdinand (pictured) won from the rail (the last horse to do so) with Willie Shoemaker aboard and Charlie Whittingham as the trainer whose famous line was, "I am not coming back to the Derby unless I can win the Derby." Well, he did and the result went down in horse racing history as Shoemaker's fourth and final Derby triumph.

The thing I loved about the re-broadcast was that it did what ESPN Classic is supposed to do. It triggered fond memories about past events and made me think about how fortunate we all were to have great broadcasters like Jim McKay, Jack Whitaker, Al Michaels, and even Bill Hartack on hand to document racing's greatest event. That is not to say that Tom Hammond, Tom Durkin, Gary Stevens, and the NBC crew don't do a great job now, but it just felt more important back then with those names on hand. There was a great pre-race interview with Whitaker and Shoemaker where Shoe said, "If he runs as great as I feel, it might be a special day." Whitaker then mentioned to Shoemaker that his first Derby was in 1965 when Shoemaker won with Lucky Debonair. The whole thing gave me chills up and down the spine. That is what is supposed to happen when you look back on a special day like that and remember what it was like in days gone by. I can only hope that ESPN Classic continues to put re-broadcasts like that on the air.

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

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

Yes, it is time for the return of the award-winning, gold medal selections that will lead us up to the First Saturday In May each week from here on in, the Super Six Derby Pix. Remember, last year we had highs and lows in the Pix. We did identify Musket Man as one to watch after his fine run in the Illinois Derby and we were rewarded with a third-place finish at Churchill Downs. We also selected Friesan Fire as our top choice for the Derby through the Pix and we all know how that turned out.

There has already been a development with one of the Derby contenders for 2010 and it isn't good. Holy Bull winner, Winslow Homer, has been removed from the Derby trail already after an injury was discovered and he is now out for a while. So, where will we turn for the first edition of the Super Six Derby Pix. Here you go:

#1 Lookin At Lucky- He has been nothing short of brilliant thus far in his career. He has finished behind just one horse in his career (of course, that did come in his most important race thus far, but I digress). Trainer Bob Baffert knows how to win the Kentucky Derby. After all, he would have done it last year with Pioneerof The Mile, but for the miracle that was Mine That Bird. There is a lot to like about this big guy going forward.

#2 Vale Of York- For those of that poo-poo the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, I wouldn't. He is the one that finished ahead of the top pick after all, and Godolphin is going to win the Derby one of these years. The main criticism with him has to be that Godolphin returned him to Dubai so that they can win the Derby "their way". True, they probably should have left him stateside to follow a more traditional path to Louisville, but it's their horse and until he (and they) fail, you cannot leave him out.

#3 Buddy's Saint- While he is yet to start in 2010, the winner of the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct has all the folks in South Florida waiting with baited breath for him to return to the races and show what he can do. The offspring of 2005 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Saint Liam, can clearly get the Derby distance. Plus, he still has the air of mystery about him since he has not made his long-awaited 2010 debut. Trainer Bruce Levine says "I wouldn't trade places with anyone in America". I guess we'll have to see about that.

#4 Noble's Promise- He seems to be saddled with "Life Is Sweet" disease. Life Is Sweet spent all of 2009 chasing the great Zenyatta in Southern California. When she finally got the chance to show her stuff without Zenyatta in the field, she won the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. Noble's Promise's foe is the top pick on this list, Lookin At Lucky. Noble's Promise won two stakes races over synthetic surfaces, but when he went to So. Cal., he ran straight into Lookin At Lucky and finished behind him in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the CashCall Futurity. He must improve to climb over the top selection.

#5 Ron The Greek- I will admit that the Lecomte at Fair Grounds didn't shatter the Earth with the quality of the field, but Ron The Greek finished quite well to win that race and he passed an excellent horse in Maximus Ruler to do it. Maximus Ruler appeared to have plenty in the tank at the top of the stretch after setting the pace. However, it was Ron The Greek who appeared to have plenty in the tank when he crossed the finish line. It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve in future Louisiana tries.

#6 Jackson Bend- I didn't think that the Holy Bull was all that great after it was over. The fractions were tepid, as was the final time. He couldn't get past Winslow Homer, who as I mentioned earlier is now out with a stress fracture. However, he seems to be the most highly-touted runner in the Nick Zito string and like Baffert, Zito knows how to win the Derby. He has won the race twice with Strike The Gold in 1991 and Go For Gin in 1994.

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