Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hill Gail

Calumet Farm produced eight Kentucky Derby winning horses in its decades of dominance. Some of those were all-time greats (like Whirlaway and Citation) and some were not (like Ponder and Iron Liege). One of their Kentucky Derby champions that falls somewhere in the middle of the group is 1952 Derby winner, Hill Gail.

Hill Gail had the same Sire that Citation had in Bull Lea and the Dam was a horse named Jane Gail. In the 1952 Kentucky Derby, Hill Gail took control shortly after the field entered the backstretch and never relinquished it. He, at one point, was over five lengths in front of the field and ended up winning by a very comfortable margin of two lengths over a closer named Sub Fleet. This style of victory was very reminiscent of another Derby winner that came along twenty years later named Riva Ridge (who has also been profiled on this blog before). His winning time of 2:01.3 missed Whirlaway's Derby record time (at the time) by a fifth of a second. Unfortunately, Hill Gail suffered an injury during the Derby and did not contest the Preakness and Belmont Stakes that followed the heels of his Derby score. He did return from the injury eventually and won two of eight starts as a four-year-old in 1953 and managed two seconds in nine starts as a five-year-old in 1954. He won eleven of his thirty-two lifetime starts and earned $335,625 in purses.

One other note about Hill Gail's victory in 1952 was that it was the last of five Kentucky Derby victories for The Master. Jockey Eddie Arcaro (pictured) won the Kentucky Derby aboard Lawrin in 1938, Whirlaway in 1941, Hoop Jr. in 1945, and Citation in 1948 in addition to the win aboard Hill Gail. Arcaro would be voted into the Horse Racing Hall Of Fame in 1958.

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

Photo courtesy of horseracing.about.com

Monday, March 29, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

There were some mighty interesting prep races for the Kentucky Derby, which is now just slightly more than a month away, this past weekend. Mission Impazible won the Louisiana Derby, Dean's Kitten won the Lane's End, and Endorsement won the Sunland Derby. I am not sure anyone would have been able to pick all three of those winners entering the weekend. April 3 stands as the next big gauntlet for a set of Derby contenders with the Wood Memorial featuring Eskendereya, Awesome Act, and Schoolyard Dreams, the Santa Anita Derby featuring Lookin At Lucky, Sidney's Candy, and Caracortado, and finally, the Illinois Derby all being run on Saturday. So, who is in the Super Six Derby Pix with precious little time left until the First Saturday In May:

#1 Lookin At Lucky- I am a little disappointed that Bob Baffert elected to remain in Southern California and run on the dreaded synthetic for the #1 horse's final prep, but the horse has proven he can run on conventional dirt and by staying close to home, it gives Lookin At Lucky a full four weeks to get ready for Kentucky. I am a little hopeful that he will get a better trip here than he did in Arkansas, so he will be rolling into Churchill Downs as a deserving favorite or will it be...?

#2 Eskendereya- The Wood Memorial was chosen over the Florida Derby to give this horse a little less of a break than the six weeks that Ice Box will have before the Kentucky Derby. This is trainer Todd Pletcher's big shot to finally get that elusive Kentucky Derby title he lacks on his resume'. The field Eskendereya will face on Saturday will certainly be daunting, but then again, so will the field he will face in the Kentucky Derby.

#3 Noble's Promise- I know I have said at one time or another this spring that I am leaning toward Dublin or Radiohead if the Derby were run today, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I am going to say it again with this horse. I just get the feeling that he will finally stop playing Alydar to Lookin At Lucky's Affirmed at some point soon, why not on the biggest stage possible. His next effort will be as the likely favorite in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 10.

#4 Awesome Act- He will likely be the major challenger to Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial on Saturday and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that saw his eye-catching win in the Gotham, also at Aqueduct. The Sire is Awesome Again, who could clearly get the required 1 1/4 mile distance. This could be the most interesting horse to keep an eye on coming out of this weekend.

#5 Ice Box- Not a fan of the tremendous gap between races he will experience after his win in the Florida Derby, but trainer Nick Zito certainly knows a thing or two about winning the Derby. I certainly admire his running style for the big day, especially given the amount of pace that will be present in Kentucky with Rule, Discreetly Mine, and Conveyance fighting it out for the early advantage. Ice Box will be coming from the clouds on Derby Day and that has been a winning formula in the past.

#6 Odysseus- Even today, I STILL don't have any idea how he got there to win the Tampa Bay Derby over Schoolyard Dreams. The connections have apparently decided that seven weeks will be too much for him between races and will be entering him in another prep race to stay sharp, likely the Blue Grass at Keeneland or the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. I know he won that race in Tampa, but it required a miracle. Will he have another miracle in the cards come Kentucky? We'll have to see.

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

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Grade 2 $750,000 Louisiana Derby

There are three crucial prep races for the Kentucky Derby taking place this weekend. The Grade 2 $500,000 Lane's End at Turfway Park features synthetic specialist, Connemara. The Grade 3 $800,000 Sunland Derby will have Conveyance facing off against Tempted To Tapit on Sunday. However, the biggest and best of the preps this weekend is a Saturday race in the Crescent City. The Fair Grounds hosts the Grade 2 $750,000 Louisiana Derby and the race drew a very competitive field of thirteen for the 1 1/8 miles distance.

I know he drew outside in the field of 13, but I will put #13 Drosselmeyer on top. He was the betting favorite in the Grade 2 Risen Star over the same track and finished an uninspiring fourth. I think the pace scenario sets up better for him today. There will be more speed than was on hand in the Risen Star and he will have no choice but to close into what is expected to be a hot pace. This will be the last, best chance for the Bill Mott trainee to earn enough graded stakes money to get into the Kentucky Derby. #9 Stay Put has a Derby winner on the Sire side of the lineage in Unbridled. He won his two starts before running fifth in the Risen Star. He is another that will be closing, but I expect him to be further off the pace than Drosselmeyer will be in the early stages. The winner of the Risen Star, #7 Discreetly Mine, won that race when he was completely unchallenged on the front end and was able to hold everyone off at the end. I highly doubt that he will be able to do that again. There appears to be more speed in here to battle with him and I think that will compromise his chances. For fourth, I will go with a minor price in #3 Fly Down. He is 10-1 on the morning-line and while he has never been with better than Allowance company, he does have a previous win at this distance on February 21 at Gulfstream Park. Here is the play for the Louisiana Derby:

$5 WP #13
$1 EX BOX 3-7-9-13
$1 TRI 13 with 3-6-7-9 and $1 TRI 3-6-7-9 with 13 with 3-6-7-9
TOTAL- $46

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers made 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, March 25, 2010

Hartack Attack

It is not out of the realm of the reasonable to describe the 1960s at Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby as the "Decade Of Hartack". That would be Hall Of Fame jockey Bill Hartack, who put on a sustained period of excellence during the decade that has not been matched by any other rider, before or since. Hartack won the Kentucky Derby five times in the span of twelve years.

In fact, Hartack actually started his decade of dominance three years early. In 1957, Hartack was the beneficiary of Willie Shoemaker's mistake of misjudging the finish line aboard Gallant Man. It appeared that Gallant Man was going to go past Iron Liege, with Hartack aboard, in the stretch when Shoemaker committed his momentary bobble and, in some minds, cost his horse the race. Hartack always maintained that Iron Liege would have won anyway and since Hartack had a well-known propensity to not suffer fools lightly, you pretty much have to believe he would not stick his neck out on behalf of Shoemaker (or anyone else for that matter).

Hartack would return to the Winner's Circle on Derby Day in 1960 aboard Venetian Way, defeating the favorites Tompion and Bally Ache. Decidedly scored the roses in 1962 with Hartack up, again besting the favorite Ridan, who finished third. Perhaps, the most famous Derby winner of the decade was piloted by Hartack in 1964. The diminutive Northern Dancer from Canada won the Derby with the then-record time of 2:00 flat for the 1 1/4 mile distance (a mark that would be eclipsed by Secretariat nine years later). Hartack would wait five more years for that fifth Derby score with Majestic Prince in 1969, the only time a Derby winner was trained by a previous Derby-winning jockey, Johnny Longden. Of all those Derby winners, Hartack rode winners for five different owners and four different trainers (only Horatio Luro doubled with Hartack up as a Derby-winning trainer with Decidedly and Northern Dancer).

The remarkable thing about all of this is that Hartack was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1959, before almost all of these Derby events occurred. In fact, the 1956 Preakness and 1957 Derby were Hartack's only Triple Crown wins at the time of his induction. He was a great rider away from the great events, just as much as he was a great rider in the great events. Hartack could basically do it all. The biggest issue most people had with Hartack was his irascible personality. I mentioned earlier he didn't suffer fools lightly. Well, that went for just about everyone else too. If you take a look at the Winner's Circle photos of his five Derby winners, the only time there is even a hint of a smile on his face was with Decidedly in 1962. He just wanted to take care of business aboard a horse and anything of an ancillary nature was treated as such by Hartack, it just didn't matter to him what anyone else thought. Hartack died in 2007 in Texas and there is a foundation named in his honor that contributes to Thoroughbred Racing Industry charities. The website is http://www.billhartackfoundation.com/.

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

Photo courtesy of billhartackfoundation.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Welcome Back!

Mine That Bird has returned to training in his home base of New Mexico. While there is no concrete date set for the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner's return, trainer Chip Woolley hinted that the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 12 might be the likely spot. Mine That Bird has been out of action since his disappointing ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last fall. It is readily apparent that while Mine That Bird did well as a two-year-old on the polytrack at Woodbine, he just never took to the pro-ride surface in Southern California. Remember, he also ran up the track in the Grade 1 Goodwood at Santa Anita as his last prep before Breeders' Cup Day.

If you get right down it, Mine That Bird has not won any race of any kind since...wait for it... The Kentucky Derby. Yes, he created all kinds of thrills with his stunning finish in the Preakness, where he just missed catching the Horse Of The Year, Rachel Alexandra, in the final strides. He also ran an exceptional third behind the Three-Year-Old Colt Champion, Summer Bird, in the Belmont Stakes. But, the fact remains that Mine That Bird has not won a race since the Run For The Roses. Do you think this diminishes what he did on May 2 last year? I certainly don't. His epic victory will rightly live on in the memories of all who witnessed it that day. Don't ever forget the picture that stands out of Calvin Borel skimming the rails all the way from last to weave through eighteen other horses to win by the daunting margin of 6 3/4 lengths. May 2, 2009 will remain one of the colossal days in the history of the Kentucky Derby and whether Mine That Bird ever wins another race or not, he is the one that made it so.

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

Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Monday, March 22, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

One of the larger preps of the Kentucky Derby prep season took place this past weekend, the Grade 1 Florida Derby won by 20-1 longshot Ice Box. Was this enough to place him in the coveted Super Six Derby Pix this week? Let's find out:

#1 Lookin At Lucky- He overcame so much last weekend to win the Rebel at Oaklawn Park and trainer Bob Baffert now says he is looking at the horse's final prep race being the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby over the synthetic surface in Southern California. I don't know how I quite feel about that, but the horse did acquit himself nicely on the Oaklawn dirt. Shifting surfaces (and then back again) before the Derby might be a mistake, but for now, he stays in the top spot.

#2 Eskendereya- One wonders how he would have done the way the Florida Derby ended up playing out this weekend. He was slated for the race until his owner decided he didn't want to have the horse's final prep be so far out from the First Saturday In May. Now, he will go in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. Would he have dusted the field the way he did in the Fountain Of Youth? We'll never know, but the way it looked to me, he would have won again.

#3 Noble's Promise- While he just cannot get past the #1 horse on this list, we must take heart with him since only one horse has been able to do it at any point and that was by a mere nose. Unlike his rival, Noble's Promise will remain in Arkansas and run in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. He will likely be the favorite in there and as previously documented, the Arkansas Derby has lately been a playground for Kentucky Derby success.

#4 Awesome Act- The winner of the Gotham with an explosive move through the stretch will try to repeat the feat in the Wood Memorial. Of course, he will be facing much tougher in that race, especially in the form of #2 on this list. Don't forget, the distance shouldn't be formidable for him since the Sire is 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Awesome Again. Julien Leparoux is a jockey who is really coming into his own.

#5 Conveyance- The winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park elected to pass by the remainder of the Arkansas route to the Derby and instead head west to New Mexico to try and replicate the Mine That Bird story of last year. The big problem this one will face in Louisville will be the pace scenario. He won the Southwest on the lead and it appears that there will be plenty of speed on hand in the Kentucky Derby (with him, Discreetly Mine, and Rule still headed that way). The race will likely set up for a closer, which he is not.

#6 Ice Box- Yes, I know, he was totally off the radar until Saturday, but that ping you heard was him rolling past the entire field at Gulfstream to put him front and center in the picture. The Florida Derby is never a prep for slouches and he is not a slouch, not even a tremendous one. His trainer, Nick Zito, has won the Derby twice previously. It appeared that he never switched leads in the stretch on Saturday, but he still managed just fine. If Zito can get him to do that and the pace play that I described in the Conveyance comment comes to pass, watch out for this one.

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Grade 1 $750,000 Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park's highlight race takes place Saturday afternoon with the 59th edition of the Grade 1 $750,000 Florida Derby. It was moved up a week this year and will now be seven weeks out from the Kentucky Derby. This actually cost the race its likely favorite in Eskendereya. The owners, Zayat Stables, did not want the horses final prep for Churchill Downs to be that far out from the First Saturday In May, so they have elected to go to the Wood Memorial on April 3 at Aqueduct. However, that's enough about who is NOT here, let's take a look at who is here.

I will go with chalk in the top spot here and take #7 Rule. He has won his last four starts, including two Grade 3s at Delta Downs and Tampa Bay Downs. This will be his first real shot at the big time, but of course, it is not the first shot at the big time for trainer Todd Pletcher, who had to be relieved that the Zayats elected to go to New York and ease the pressure on him a little Saturday. If there is a concern with Rule, it would be if someone goes with him on the front end. Do consider that he has yet to go this far in his six-race career. For second, I elected to try a price pick with #8 Ice Box. He didn't strut his best stuff in the Fountain Of Youth at this distance and racetrack on February 20, but he did win the two races directly before that disappointing effort. His morning-line of 15-1 is certainly appealing and there is class aplenty in the lineage with both A.P. Indy and Tabasco Cat present. I will put #11 Radiohead third. He actually is my new Derby Darling after the failure of Dublin in the Rebel Stakes last weekend (especially after Dublin was bet down to favoritism status). He dominated an Allowance field in his first start of 2010 at Gulfstream and Edgar Prado has been through the Derby drama before with the gutsy gelding, Funny Cide. His worst race was also his worst experience, trip-wise, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November. Finally, I will put #2 Lentenor in the fourth spot, despite the fact that this will be his first start ever on dirt. His brother is the fabled Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. He also was the winner of the 2006 Florida Derby for good measure. Lentenor's last workout on March 15 was a bullet for five furlongs, going the distance in one minute exactly. Here is the play for the Grade 1 $750,000 Florida Derby:

$1 EX BOX 2-7-8-11 and $1 TRI 7 with 1-2-4-6-8-11
TOTAL- $42

As always, 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, March 18, 2010

The Clubfoot Comet

They say that everything is bigger in Texas. I just finished residing there for 12 years and I can tell you that is a true statement. Of course, that goes for both the good and the bad, since everything is a wide encompassing word. One of the biggest things ever to come out of Texas, at least as far as horseflesh is concerned is Assault. Assault (pictured) was bred at the famed King Ranch in the Lone Star State and he is one of only eleven horses in the long and proud history of The Sport Of Kings to win the Triple Crown, turning the trick in the first post-World War II year of 1946.

Assault was not sent off as the favorite in the 1946 Kentucky Derby, far from it. He wound up being a generous 8-1 at post time. That becomes somewhat ironic since he would win the Derby by eight lengths, one of the largest margins in history. Of recent vintage, only Mine That Bird's monumental upset last year comes close as far as margin of victory and he won by 6 3/4 lengths. Assault certainly had the pedigree for success in Louisville since his Sire was Bold Venture, winner of the 1936 Run For The Roses. However, his prior racing record had not much value to show that he could end up doing what he did. At age two, he won only two of nine starts and $17,250 in purse money. That Triple Crown winning season of 1946 was another matter, though, Assault started fifteen times, winning eight and placing in five others for a haul in excess of $400,000. His four-year-old campaign was nothing to sneeze at either. He went to gate seven times in 1947, winning five and hitting the board in the other two for a purses totalling nearly $200,000. Assault was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1964.

As far as that "Clubfoot Comet" nickname, he got that from an injury incurred when he was quite young. It is believed he stepped on something which affected his foot whenever he took a step. He might have walked funny, but he certainly could run for all he was worth.

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

I recapped (to the best of my ability) the happenings from the past weekend in Thoroughbred racing yesterday. Today, it is time for another edition of the Super Six Derby Pix. Here are my top six contenders for the Run For The Roses:

#1 Lookin At Lucky- Maintains the top spot after that impressive victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He encountered all sorts of difficulty during the race and still had the wherewithal to run down his rival, Noble's Promise, and win in the shadow of the wire. He also proved that he is more than capable on a normal dirt surface. Trainer Bob Baffert's next step is just to have the 2009 Juvenile Champion ready to go on Derby Day. He will probably sneak one more prep in before May 1, though.

#2 Eskendereya- His next prep effort will come in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. His owner feels that the Wood being closer to the Derby than the Florida Derby, where most of us expected him to go will benefit him more on the First Saturday in May. He will likely be meeting up with Awesome Act, winner of the Gotham, in the Wood and we get to him a little bit later in the Super Six Derby Pix.

#3 Radiohead- This IEAH runner that won an Allowance race the week following the Fountain Of Youth and now will likely be the solid favorite in the Florida Derby with the defection of the #2 pick on this list. The connections obviously know how to win a Derby, having had Big Brown two years ago. The Sire is 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Johannesburg.

#4 Rule- He has so many possible options of where his final tune-up will come before the Derby. It has been rumored he could go at Gulfstream this weekend, or wait for the Wood Memorial in New York, or even go the Mine That Bird route and try the Sunland Derby in New Mexico (graded for the first time this year). Whatever decision trainer Todd Pletcher makes, this stands to be one of the most potent bullets he will have to fire from the gun on Derby Day.

#5 Noble's Promise- He didn't do anything wrong in the Rebel, except get caught at the wire and lose again to Lookin At Lucky. He is almost turning into the Alydar to Lookin At Lucky's Affirmed, if you wanted to compare rivalries. While Alydar never did get past Affirmed in the Triple Crown, don't put it past this horse to be wearing the Roses come Derby Day. After all, he only has to win once to be remembered forever.

#6 Awesome Act- This has turned into an early version of what we see every year at Churchill Downs before the Derby, the "wiseguy" horse. He really didn't beat all that much in the Gotham at Aqueduct, but he still registered an eye-catching win just in the style he accomplished it in. His next test will be in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. Julien Leparoux made his case for greatness at the Breeders' Cup last fall and it stands to reason he could continue to advance that case with a Derby win this year.

I do want to post a link here for a story done by frequent They Are Off contributor, Martha Claussen. She now has the Claussen Corner on the Paulick Report (which is linked to on the side of this page). Her story was on the man she and I used to work for in Texas, Bob Bork, who has been an omnipresent name in racetrack management for over 40 years. The link is: http://www.paulickreport.com/blog/the-claussen-corner-catching-up-with-bork/.

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

Monday, March 15, 2010

Having A Wild Weekend

How do you even begin to recap what we witnessed this past weekend in the world of horse racing? The Horse Of The Year was a loser, the runner-up was a winner, the Derby preps were all kinds of ridiculous, so as The Great One (Jackie Gleason) used to say, "And Away We Go!"

First, Rachel Alexandra was defeated at Fair Grounds by Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies. She still posted a 100 Beyer figure, but she still didn't win her first race in seven months. She certainly looked like a short horse in a short field and as a result of that result, her owner, Jess Jackson, has already announced that she will not be going to the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn to face Zenyatta.

Speaking of Zenyatta, how awesome was her performance this weekend in the Santa Margarita? She appeared hopelessly beaten at the top of the stretch (shades of the Breeders' Cup Classic) until Mike Smith jerked her to the only opening she had available to her at the rail and she demonstrated what a professional race horse should do. She won nicely and extended her undefeated streak to fifteen, but you have to wonder how many times will Smith get her into such predicaments before she gets into a situation she cannot get out of?

One final point on the two leading ladies is that the horse that beat Rachel Alexandra in New Orleans was trained by John Shirreffs, who also trains Zenyatta. After Jackson decided to duck Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom, which I think is a horrific decision for his camp and for racing in general, I would have loved for Shirreffs to say something like "Imagine what would have happened if we would have sent the first team over there?" A twist of the knife like that is what classic rivalries are all about. It would be great for Shirreffs to stir the pot.

On to the Derby Trail, I still have no idea how Odysseus got his nose to the wire ahead of Schoolyard Dreams in the Tampa Bay Derby. No doubt, it was an impressive performance by Odysseus to win after appearing beaten and tired at the top of the stretch, but do not discount that mammoth move made by Schoolyard Dreams on the turn to get into contention. Remember, the connections are the same as Musket Man, who They Are Off kind of liked heading to Louisville last year.

Lookin At Lucky showed exactly why he is the Juvenile Champion for 2009. His victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn was all kinds of magnificent. He had an issue in the backstretch where he was either impeded or jumped a shadow, but it was a clear distraction to the horse and could have cost him some position. He rallied in the stretch to overcome a relatively poor trip and just nose out the unfortunate Noble's Promise, who looked like the winner until the final five yards. I am sure the connections are wondering just what they have to do to beat Lookin At Lucky. Dublin was a disappointment in the Rebel to me and finished a well-beaten third.

Sidney's Candy all but stamped his ticket to Kentucky with a win in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on Saturday. He beat a very talented and deep field that included Interactif, Caracortado, American Lion, and Dave In Dixie. I would be led to believe that many of these will return for the Santa Anita Derby. Keep in mind, that this was Sidney's Candy's first win going around two turns. One would be led to believe that he will only improve from here.

I wonder what next weekend will have for us by way of an encore.

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

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Grade 2 $300,000 Rebel Stakes

The best prep of the Kentucky Derby season so far will take place on Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. There are three total big preps on Saturday, counting the San Felipe at Santa Anita and the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. The one They Are Off will focus on, though, is the Grade 2 $300,000 Rebel Stakes. This will be the final "official" prep race for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby coming up on April 10, which is also closing day for the Oaklawn meeting. It will feature a field of seven going 1 1/16 miles.

My top pick in the Rebel will be #6 Noble's Promise, who suffered through a few times in 2009 losing to one of his foes in here, but this will be the first time on dirt for both of the top two selections in here and Noble's Promise actually has a non-synthetic race in his history, a try on turf at Ellis Park last September. It might not make a difference, but it might at that. Robby Albarado gets the call here. #2 Lookin At Lucky will be racing in blinkers for the first time ever today. He has only finished behind one horse in his six-race career, a second to Vale Of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. This is the winter favorite for the Derby and there will be a lot of interest in his performance today. Keep in mind, though, that his spot in the gate on May 1 is already secure. I will put #7 Dublin in the third spot. I have said before that if the Kentucky Derby were to take place today, he would be my top pick. He was the runner-up in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on February 20. His Sire, Afleet Alex, had a legitimate case to be a Triple Crown winner in 2005. He made up a ton of ground in the stretch of the Southwest and this race gives him an extra sixteenth. #4 Uh Oh Bango is an Arizona-bred that will be electrifying the grandstand at Turf Paradise on Saturday to be sure. He has never been worse than second in five lifetime performances. He was very close to Rule in the Delta Jackpot and Rule is another one that will be in the gate at Churchill Downs, barring any problems. Here is the play for the Rebel Stakes:

$10 WP #6
TOTAL- $20

Sorry, I just don't see much value in betting any exotics in here and you have to try and beat the likely favorite. Remember, 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, March 11, 2010

The Caracas Cannonball

At about this time in 1971, no one in North America had really ever heard of a horse named Canonero II. He was still in South America and only his owner and trainer had a glimpse of what was to come. The owner, Pedro Baptista, had nominated the horse to run in the Triple Crown races and he eventually would ship the horse to North America to run.

However, the trip was anything but simple. The horse was stuck in quarantine for an inordinate amount of time before being allowed to be vanned up to Kentucky for the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. Canonero II was placed in the mutuel field for wagering on Derby Day. Had that not happened, it is likely he would have been sent off at odds exceeding Donerail's 91-1 of 1913. As it was, Canonero II had put in only one sluggish workout the week of the Derby for trainer Juan Arias. Apparently, Arias knew exactly what he was doing with the horse (although it came out later that he sent Canonero II to the track on Derby morning and the horse turned in a blistering three furlongs). Canonero II overcame all the adversity that had been heaped upon him since leaving South America and even in the race itself, coming from 18th place in a field of twenty to win the Run For The Roses by nearly four lengths.

Just in case you think the Cinderella story was over, think again. Canonero II went to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes and not only won the race, but set the stakes record in doing so. Everything was now set up for Canonero II to become a Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately, the many indignities and obstacles that faced Canonero II and his team caught up with them at the Belmont Stakes. The horse was nowhere near fit enough to win the Test Of Champions, and while he led for a good chunk of the race, he ended up finishing fourth in front of his growing legion of fans, who set a track record for attendance at Belmont Park that day.

Canonero II would only show one more tremendous flash of his greatness after the 1971 Triple Crown trail. He would triumph over 1972 Derby and Belmont winner, Riva Ridge, in the 1972 Stymie Handicap, setting a track record once again. Canonero II was named the Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1971. If you would like to watch his epic victory in the 1971 Kentucky Derby, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLv8Rvno_L4.

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

Photo courtesy of ramonbrito.wordpress.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Saturday Is Bliss

It will certainly seem that way this Saturday if you are a horse racing fan at all. There will be three major Kentucky Derby prep races, one of them featuring the 2009 Juvenile Champion as well as many of those considered to be among his top rivals for the prize on May 1. Also, the two finalists for the 2009 Horse Of The Year Award will both be running as well, although their expected meeting with each other is still a month away.

Trainer Bob Baffert hotfooted it out of Southern California with Lookin At Lucky following his last workout at Santa Anita on Monday and is going postward with the likely Derby favorite in the Grade 2 $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He is expected to be facing Noble's Promise, Dublin, Uh Oh Bango, and others in what could be the best prep race of the season thus far. The Grade 2 $150,000 San Felipe Stakes will take place on Saturday at Santa Anita. While it only drew a field of seven, five of those have already made some waves on the way to Louisville. Interactif, American Lion, Sidney's Candy, Dave In Dixie, and Caracortado are already on the watch list for the Derby and given the shortish nature of the field in the San Felipe, this certainly appears to be the most competitive of the three preps this weekend. The other prep this weekend is the Grade 3 $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. Only two from this field get any major recognition heading in, Uptowncharlybrown flamed out badly in the Sam Davis, also at Tampa Bay, finishing well behind the big winner, Rule. Super Saver will be making his 2010 debut for trainer Todd Pletcher, who is loaded with Derby contenders this season. Ramon Dominguez gets the ride here because regular rider Calvin Borel will be elsewhere.

That elsewhere would happen to be the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where Borel's biggest ace in the hole will be making her 2010 debut as well. Horse Of The Year Rachel Alexandra comes back to the races for owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. She will only be facing four other competitors in this ungraded race, but this is expected to be merely a stopover on the way to the ultimate showdown with Zenyatta, expected to come in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 9. Speaking of Zenyatta, she is also expected to be back on the racetrack this Saturday. Zenyatta should be entered in the Grade 1 $250,000 Santa Margarita as her final prep before heading to Arkansas for the matchup with Rachel Alexandra that everyone has been salivating over for nearly a year now.

There will be a lot to be paying attention to on Saturday. I certainly will be enjoying it all and I hope you will too. It should be the kind of a day that reminds all of us why we love and care about horse racing the way we do.

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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Super Six Derby Pix

This coming weekend will certainly be a huge one as far as settling where many contenders think they are on the Road To The Derby. There will be three major Kentucky Derby prep races on Saturday (The Rebel at Oaklawn, The San Felipe at Santa Anita, and The Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs). It will also be the 2010 debut of the top pick so far in each of the edition of the Super Six Derby Pix. So, without further ado:

#1 Lookin At Lucky- Has finished behind only one horse ever in his career and that one (Vale Of York) is looking more and more like he is off the Derby Trail for Godolphin. He is ready to be shipped into Arkansas tomorrow for Saturday's running of the Grade 2 Rebel after a final workout at Santa Anita this morning, 5F in 1:01.1. Baffert says he learned about staying on synthetics last year with Pioneerof The Nile in the Derby. He ran second, but you don't get any Roses for second, do you?

#2 Eskendereya- Has the most eye-popping performance of any of the top 2010 Derby contenders with that crushing victory over what is believed to be the deepest prep field thus far in the Fountain Of Youth. His next action is also expected to be at Gulfstream. It will come next Saturday, March 20, in the Florida Derby, maybe? He also is being considered for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. Will Gulfstream's decision to move their Derby up a week end up costing them the likely favorite? We'll see.

#3 Dublin- This is D. Wayne Lukas' best potential Derby horse in a decade. Lukas has not won the big one on the First Saturday In May since Charismatic in 1999. Dublin did finished behind Conveyance in the Southwest, but remember it was his 2010 debut and it was also his first race following epiglottis surgery. With more experience and more time away from the procedure, I expect this guy to keep getting better and better. Don't forget, this horse was hyped a lot during the summer and autumn of 2009 for this very scenario.

#4 Rule- He has not really beaten anything impressive thus far on the Road To The Derby, but you know what, all he does is keep winning. I remember a few years ago that everyone said that Hard Spun didn't beat anything, but while he didn't win the Derby, he was the only thing in the picture behind Street Sense. His connections have elected to eschew the Tampa Bay Derby this weekend and look at the Florida Derby the following weekend. If Eskendereya ends up in the same race, trainer Todd Pletcher will likely have the two favorites.

#5 Noble's Promise- Makes his 2010 debut race in the same spot where his old foe, Lookin At Lucky, will be. That is the Rebel at Oaklawn this weekend, which will surely supplant the Fountain Of Youth as the deepest and best prep of the season thus far. He has not managed to finish ahead of Lookin At Lucky yet, but he doesn't have to until they get to Churchill Downs, where it counts the most.

#6 Radiohead- A new addition to the Super Six Derby Pix. I was very high on this horse entering the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November. He ended up suffering a miserable trip and still only finished four lengths behind the winner in the clustered finish of that race. He looked impressive in his return race, an Allowance win at Gulfstream on February 27. His next start will be the Florida Derby. By the way, his connections are the same owner and trainer that won the Derby with Big Brown two years ago.

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

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Grade 1 $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap

Last week, we handicapped the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita only to have the racing day washed away with rain in Southern California. Well, we are nothing if not persistent, so we return to The Great Race Place for the Big 'Cap, the Grade 1 $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap with a field of fourteen going 1 1/4 miles.

I will go with #14 Jeranimo to follow up his score in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes with another win here. I know he is coming out of the far outside post position, but that should not dissuade you from liking him here with his running style. Seven of his eight lifetime top three finishes (in eleven starts) have come at Santa Anita. I also like his morning line price of 8-1. Rafael Bejarano will ride. For second, I will look right to the top pick's inside with #13 Misremembered. His last three results have been seconds, so let's see if he can make it a grand slam. The Baffert trainee posted a bullet workout on March 1, going 6F in 1:12.1. His Beyers in those seconds were 102, 97, and 102. A repeat of the 102s could definitely have him in contention. #2 St. Trinians is a mare taking on the boys in a big spot here, but she is working a four-race win streak and must be considered. All of those wins came of the Southern California synthetics. Her last win was over 2009 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner, Life Is Sweet. She ran 3rd in her last try at this exhausting distance in August of 2008 in Great Britain. I will round out the top four with #4 Neko Bay, who was a winner last time out at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 San Pasqual. His last three workouts have been excellent to prep for this go. The connections here are the same at Giacomo and Zenyatta, the Mosses own, John Shirreffs trains, and Mike Smith rides. Here is the play for the Big 'Cap:

$10 WP #14 and $2 EX BOX 2-13-14
TOTAL- $32

Remember, They Are Off does not accept any 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, March 04, 2010

The Bird Is The Word

Summer Bird suffered an injury during his sojourn to the Far East, where he was going to race in the Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin Race Course. The injury was to his right foreleg and a screw was inserted into the affected area to help with the healing process. Apparently, everything is on schedule for the Champion Three-Year-Old to return to the races at some point in the near future because he has been spotted on the track at Oaklawn Park, working and jogging to get ready for that comeback.

Of course, during the time he convalesced Summer Bird was transferred out of the barn of trainer Tim Ice, who guided him to wins in the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, by his owners. At the time, I felt this was a horrible decision by the owners to take the horse away from the man who crafted his successful, award-winning campaign. Hopefully, we will soon see whether the owners knew what they were doing by moving the horse into the barn of Tim Ritchey, who had his own successful three-year-old a few years ago in Afleet Alex.

Regardless of the actions of the connections that surround the horse, Summer Bird is a horse that we all ought to be pulling for to make a resounding return to the races. He accomplished something last year that hadn't been done in 21 years and if he can return to the races better than ever, it can only be a boon for the world of racing.

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

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Vale Of York

The winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Vale Of York, has been away from the races since his longshot win at Santa Anita over likely Kentucky Derby favorite, Lookin At Lucky. Godolphin returned the Juvenile winner to Dubai following his triumph to allegedly prep him for the Kentucky Derby that they are so desperate to win. In recent weeks, there have been rumors that Vale Of York would not be returning to the United States after all and would rather be running in some of the European classics.

Whatever his destiny, Vale Of York's 2010 campaign will commence this weekend during the Dubai World Cup preview card at the new Meydan Race Course. He is scheduled to start in the $250,000 Al Bastikiya as a prep for the UAE Derby, which is part of the traditional Dubai World Cup program. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford has said that Vale Of York will either be sent to Kentucky or to Europe based on his results in those two races. Ahmed Ajtebi, who timed the ride in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to perfection, will stay aboard Vale Of York in the Al Bastikiya.

I have, of course, mentioned before on this blog (numerous times) that I selected Vale Of York on top in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so obviously I have a soft spot in my heart for the horse and would love to see him return to the U.S. for the Derby in just less than three months. Whether or not I get to see that will depend a lot on this weekend. You can sure I will be watching with a very keen eye.

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

Photo courtesy of racingpost.com

Monday, March 01, 2010

Second Verse, Same As The First

Magna chairman Frank Stronach has declared that pro-ride will remain at Santa Anita for the time being. One part of his argument makes complete sense to anyone with an economic background. Replacing the surface would cost him an additional $8 to $10 million dollars and with the current state of Magna, which is in bankruptcy, it makes sense not to put that kind of money into what is clearly a troubled project. If my company was in bankruptcy, I certainly would not be putting out an extra $8 to $10 million dollars to replace something that currently works (granted it is not perfect, but it is also not the unmitigated disaster that some people are making it out to be) and adheres to the current regulations of the California Horse Racing Board.

Therein lies the rub with what Stronach has announced, since he went on to say that racing dates should not be awarded by the CHRB, but should be part of an "open market" policy, where the racetracks just set their own dates and fight about it afterward. Stronach has a correct beef with the CHRB. They overreacted far too much with their mandate several years ago that tracks had to install synthetic surfaces. The pluses and minuses of synthetic surfaces had not properly been taken into consideration when they handed down their directive and now they are showing the common sense they should have demonstrated in the first place by intimating that they would be willing to relax that directive in the future.

Stronach went on to say, according to the article on www.drf.com, that "there is no new thing here until we get a strong indication that the government is committed to free enterprise, and that the horsemen are committed to free enterprise." So, essentially Stronach is saying that once everyone agrees that he is right, he will put in an improved surface. The question then becomes what is more important here being right or doing what is right for the sport? Given the statements made by Frank Stronach today, it would seem his answer is the former. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the correct answer is actually the latter.

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