Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The Pacific Classic on Sunday was a tremendous horse race featuring a stirring stretch duel between Acclamation, the winner, and Twirling Candy, the runner-up. Acclamation gutted out the stretch under constant pressure from Twirling Candy and won by a head. The ride was an outstanding performance by horse and rider, Pat Valenzuela, who allowed Acclamation to set a somewhat tedious pace that allowed him to have enough in reserve when confronted by the late challenger.

As a result of this, Acclamation earned a "Win And You're In" berth into the Breeders' Cup Classic to be held at Churchill Downs on November 5. However, I wouldn't think you are going to see Acclamation run in the Breeders' Cup Classic after all. First of all, he is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup to begin with, which means he has to be supplemented into the race, which brings the ridiculous notion of the "Win And You're In" meaning "Win And You're Eligible To Be In If You Pay Up". I am sorry, but "Win And You're In" should mean just that. If you win one of these races where an automatic spot is awarded to the winner, and you are not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, you should still get in, period. Whether or not the horse is nominated to the Cup shouldn't matter if it is "Win And You're In". There shouldn't be any caveats to this concept, it should be cut and dry, black and white, no questions asked. If you Win, you should get In!!

Secondly, the connections of Acclamation, usually a turf horse, seem to want to go in one of the grass races at Churchill Downs as opposed to the Classic, which will be run over the main dirt surface. Keep in mind that the main track at Del Mar is Polytrack, which could potentially figure well for a horse that likes a turf surface, as we saw with Acclamation. He went to the lead, was expertly guided along by Valenzuela, and won the big prize. He also did it in a Polytrack track record time for 1 1/4 miles at Del Mar of 2:00.61. Here is where you have to side with the Breeders' Cup for a moment, because the race was a "Win And You're In" for the Classic, not the Turf, so if they want to run in the Turf, then they should have to pay the supplemental fee to get into that race, since they are not an automatic qualifier into it... yet.

So, in the final analysis, I would find it highly doubtful that you will see Acclamation run in the Breeders' Cup come November 5, even though he apparently earned his spot to race. You can't really blame anyone for this circumstance since it appears that no one wants him there that matters. I just would love to see "Win And You're In" actually mean something, since right now, in some cases, it doesn't.

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Travers Stakes

The 142nd running of the Travers Stakes, the "Summertime Derby", takes place on Saturday and drew a field of ten that includes two of the three Triple Crown race winners from the spring, as well as the Haskell winner from earlier this summer and the Jim Dandy winner from the beginning of the Saratoga season. It is a very high-quality field that promises to give us a Travers Stakes to remember. Here is the analysis:

#10 Shackleford will be my top pick, as I anticipate him going to the front directly out of the gate and staying there until the end. There doesn't appear to be much speed that will go with him, which should allow Jesus Castanon to dictate the pace as he likes and conserve some of Shackleford's energy for the late stages when the closers make their moves. Shackleford displayed plenty of heart throughout the early part of the year when he made it nearly impossible to get past him if he was right. The horse that vanquished the Preakness winner in the Haskell Invitational, #7 Coil, is my second choice in the Travers. Check out that workout on August 23, a half-mile in 46 seconds flat. That is some moving, if you ask me. Martin Garcia and Coil have been a match made in Heaven for trainer Bob Baffert. The results speak for themselves, two graded stakes win and a graded stakes place since Garcia took over the ride. The Sire is the great Point Given, who should've won the Triple Crown ten years ago. The longshot to like in the Travers is #5 Malibu Glow. He is 20-1 on the morning line and seems live on Saturday after the Allowance win over the Saratoga surface on July 30. He is one of just two horses in this race with a win over the track (Stay Thirsty being the other). His recent speed figures are comparable with most of the contenders in here, so the value at 20-1 is hard to ignore. #9 Stay Thirsty will round out my top four in this race, although I am hard-pressed to understand why he is the 5-2 favorite over some of this stout competition. He has not been worse than second in three tries at the track and gets Javier Castellano aboard. Castellano just might be the best rider in the business right now. If he does come through and win this, it might just complete a Repole-Pletcher double, as stablemate Uncle Mo will be going postward in the King's Bishop in the preceding race. Here is the play for the 142nd Travers Stakes:

$20 WIN #10
$5 EX BOX #7+ #10
$1 TRI 7-10 with 7-10 with ALL
TOTAL- $46

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, August 25, 2011

No Summer Doldrums

It is usually this time of the year when things start to grind to halt as far as the progression of that particular year goes. August doesn't have any holidays to look forward to, the oppressive heat of the summer reaches its zenith, school has started in many parts of the country and there just seems to be a general malaise when it we reach the end of August on the calendar. This is not the case when it comes to major Thoroughbred racing events, however. The last weekend in August 2011 will be a humdinger with the King's Bishop and Travers at Saratoga and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

The King's Bishop is noteworthy this year for one big reason. It marks the return to racing of 2010 Juvenile Champion, Uncle Mo. Mo has been away from the races since suffering the first defeat of his career in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. It was hoped that would be the final prep for his Triple Crown campaign, but Mo was scratched after drawing post position #18 for the Kentucky Derby and has been away from the races since with a liver problem. Uncle Mo is in post position #7 for this return to the races and will have to overcome the speedy Flashpoint, who will be breaking from the rail, which could be a big advantage given his natural speed and ability to run at this distance, especially once he gets to the front. It promises to be an interesting prelude to the big show, as Ed Sullivan used to say.

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Travers Stakes will feature a field of ten three-year-olds in the "Summertime Derby". That group will include two Triple Crown race winners this year, Preakness champ Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler On Ice. Not that we want to leave out this year's Haskell winner, Bob Baffert's Coil, or the winner of the Jim Dandy, Saratoga's Travers prep race, Stay Thirsty. In fact, Stay Thirsty has been installed as the 5-2 favorite for the Travers over the luminaries he will be facing on Saturday. Coil is second choice at 3-1, Shackleford is at a quite generous 9-2, and Ruler On Ice is 6-1 on the morning line.

Meanwhile, the best of the best in the West will be going to the gate at Del Mar on Sunday in the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Pacific Classic. Twirling Candy, who won the Californian, but might be at his distance limit here at 1 1/4 miles is the slight 5-2 favorite in the morning line over the 3-1 Game On Dude, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year. Perennial West Coast big names like Tres Borrachos, Setsuko, Acclamation, and Jeranimo also dot the field of eleven in the Del Mar meeting's signature event.

They Are Off will be taking a better look at the Grade 1 Travers Stakes tomorrow. Tune in again then for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Arlington Million

Saturday is the 29th renewal of the Arlington Million. There are two hot favorites going to the post in the field of ten. The 2010 runner-up Gio Ponti is 2-1, but the favorite is 9-5 Cape Blanco, who turned away Gio Ponti and four others in the Grade 1 Man O'War at Belmont Park on July 9. If the weather forecast for Friday night into Saturday holds, however, the turf course could be soggy. That does not benefit Cape Blanco in the least, as his last two Group 1 races with soft going were out-of-the-money results. Here is the analysis:

I am going to make #9 Wigmore Hall the top choice in the Million on Saturday. He ran second over the Arlington strip last year to Paddy O'Prado in the Grade 1 Secretariat. He should like damp footing slightly better than Cape Blanco, which could work to his benefit. There are two Breeders' Cup Turf winners in the immediate lineage, as the Sire is High Chaparral and Theatrical is the Sire of the Dam (Love And Laughter). This gelding is 8-1 on the morning line. I will put #5 Gio Ponti second. While I think his best days are clearly behind him, the potential for off-going could help him out here. The troubling thing about Gio Ponti is that lately he has found a way to not get the job done. His two latest wins were in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile last October at Keeneland and the 2010 Man O'War were he barely beat the 2011 winner, Mission Approved. Christophe Clement is a genius when it comes to turf racing, though. If he gets an easy lead in here, which is entirely possible, #8 Mission Approved could go all the way in front, as he did on Belmont day on a wet turf track in the Grade 1 Manhattan. He tried to go all the way up top to repeat in the Man O'War this year, but fell short of pulling that off. His performance, I feel, will depend entirely upon whether or not he has anyone battling him for the early lead. #1 Rahystrada is very experienced over the Arlington turf with two wins in three tries on the Chicago grass. He scored a nifty win in the ungraded Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs on June 18, but has not been back to the track since that effort. The local longshot in this field is Rahystrada at 12-1. Here is the play for the Grade 1 Arlington Million:

$5 WP #9
$1 EX 5-9 with ALL
TOTAL- $28

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. They Are Off will be offline until August 24. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Miracle Million

Teleprompter won the 1985 Arlington Million in front-running fashion in a time of 2:03 2/5 under the ride of Tony Ives. This seems like such a simple sentence on the face of it. OK, great, horse goes out and gets the lead, turns back the challengers, and wins a million-dollar horse race. Of course, there is so much more to the story than just the winner of the 1985 Arlington Million.

The 1985 Arlington Million was run less than a month after the grandstand at Arlington Park just about burned to the ground as the result of a devastating fire that thankfully didn't cause any injuries or fatalities. How could the racetrack possibly run the race after such a disaster? They had fortitude and determination on their side and the belief that they could get the job done to put on the race and the NBC television broadcast that went along with it.

The Arlington Million had been run just four times before 1985 and had already taken its place on the racing calendar as an important event for turf runners from around the world. Teleprompter, the 1985 winner, was from Great Britain. John Henry won an epic Inaugural Arlington Million by overcoming the gritty and gutty performance of The Bart, a performance that is immortalized with a statue at the current Arlington Park. After that first Million, the race sustained the momentum with a win by Perrault in 1982 for trainer Charlie Whittingham with a time (1:58 4/5) that survived as track record until Awad broke it in 1995. Three-year-old Tolomeo won the third Arlington Million in 1983 and he remains the only three-year-old ever to win the race. John Henry claimed a second Million the following year at nine years old. He was acclaimed as a "living legend" at the end of that win by Arlington track announcer Phil Georgeff and is still the only horse to have won the Arlington Million twice.

So, as you can see, the Arlington Million was a race that was going to be run if at all possible. There was essentially 24 hours a day of reconstruction at the track in the small slice of time they had to put together a modest grandstand of tents and towers. There is an excellent documentary that has aired on "Inside Information" to show just how impossible it was to do this, but get done it did. What also must be remembered is that not only was there reconstruction of the new, temporary facility, but also the removal of the massive debris of the old, burnt-out grandstand. It was a tremendous undertaking, but it was accomplished by those fine folks at Arlington Park, and in the end, they had a tremendous day of racing that culminated with Teleprompter's victory under Tony Ives. The race has been run continuously at Arlington Park since, with the sole exception of moving the race to Woodbine in 1988 during construction of the current, resplendent Arlington Park facility, which re-opened in 1989.

Tune in tomorrow for a preview of the 29th Arlington Million from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Those Were The Days

I am talking about those good old days like 2005 when the Breeders' Cup could go to a track like Belmont Park and produce a banner day of Thoroughbred racing. Not since 2005 has the Cup made its way to New York (no, Monmouth in 2007 does not count, that is New Jersey, not New York). That means that the Cup has never been able to do their two-day festival of racing at the largest racetrack in the country. Maybe I should rephrase that, they have been able to do it, they just have elected not to.

It is expected next week that Santa Anita will be announced as the host site of the year-end Championship event for the third time in the last five years. I understand that Santa Anita is a beautiful venue and now that they have reinstalled a dirt racing surface, as opposed to the synthetic they had there the last two times the Cup was in California, it does make sense for the Cup to make its return to Santa Anita. However, why couldn't it be done in 2013? Is it right that the Breeders' Cup be run three times at Santa Anita (and twice at Churchill Downs, for that matter) since the last time Belmont hosted the event? Of course it isn't right. Isn't New York the media mecca of this country? Isn't New York the city that most of the world thinks of when they think of the U.S.A? Is New York now inconsequential when it comes to Thoroughbred racing?

The shame of this apparent dismissal of Belmont Park when it comes to a Breeders' Cup rotation is that when you think about it, maybe the most inspirational moment in Breeders' Cup history occurred at Belmont Park. The Breeders' Cup was the first major event held in New York City in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The 2001 Breeders' Cup provided many incredible moments with Bobby Frankel's first Breeders' Cup win in the Sprint with Squirtle Squirt, the European dominance on the day with Fantastic Light winning the Turf, Johannesburg winning the Juvenile, Tempera in the Juvenile Fillies, and Banks Hill in the Filly & Mare Turf. Finally, the European contingent was held at bay in an unforgettable Classic with Tiznow digging in and holding on to win over Sakhee with Tom Durkin's electric call of, "Tiznow wins it for America!". If that doesn't give you goosebumps, I don't know what will.

I know that Belmont Park will get its turn again to host the preeminent event in Thoroughbred racing on this continent. It has to host a Breeders' Cup again. Maybe it will be 2013 and then again, maybe it won't. Whenever it does occur, the longer the wait for the Breeders' Cup to return to New York, the sadder it is for the state of the sport.

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

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Grade 1 $750,000 Whitney Handicap

There is top-notch Grade 1 action on both sides of the nation this Saturday. On the left coast, Del Mar features the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch for the distaff side. Meanwhile, on the Atlantic side of things, Saratoga will be presenting the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap featuring a tough field of eleven older males going 1 1/8 miles. Here is the analysis of the Whitney:

#2 Friend Or Foe will be the top pick with morning line odds of 8-1. Jose Lezcano gets the riding assignment for trainer John Kimmel. It will be Lezcano's first time aboard this colt. Friend Or Foe is an all or nothing type of horse. In eight lifetime starts, he has five wins and no other top three results. He won the Easy Goer last time out at Belmont on June 5, but needs to improve his previous efforts at The Spa. Last summer, he finished 4th in the Jim Dandy and 6th in the Travers. I will use his neighbor to the inside, #1 Flat Out, for the second spot. Flat Out won the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park last time out at odds of 14-1. Prior to that, he had missed the money in two other graded efforts, the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap and the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. Alex Solis is the rider here. This runner's works at Monmouth have been somewhat inspiring of using him here. The winner of the Met Mile on May 30 at Belmont was #5 Tizway. He posted a jaw-dropping Beyer figure of 113 in that victory, but will need to get an extra furlong here. That was his last racing effort, so he comes in off a layoff. The last workout on July 29 at the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga was a bullet, five furlongs in 1:00.1. Rajiv Maragh gets the call for trainer James Bond. The longshot to like in here is #9 Rodman, who is a generous 20-1 on the morning line. He has run four times in 2011, hitting the board in all four and winning the Irish Tower at Aqueduct. He was second to Tizway at 36-1 in the Met Mile and led a good chunk of the Suburban before running third behind Flat Out. Therefore, you can tell he has some experience with this caliber of runner. Here is the play for the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap:

$5 WP #2
$1 EX BOX 1-2-5-7-9
$1 TRI 1-2 with 1-2 with 3-5-7-9-10
TOTAL- $40

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, August 04, 2011

Canford Cliffs

A spot of bad news from overseas as Canford Cliffs has been retired from racing due to an injury sustained during his recent defeat to the outstanding Juddmonte horse, Frankel, in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Canford Cliffs finished five lengths behind the winner on July 27 and really was no match for the three-year-old winner of the 2,000 Guineas in the race. The injury has been reported to be to the pastern of the left foreleg.

Canford Cliffs, of course, is the horse that bested Goldikova in her 2011 debut in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. So, this is a major loss for European racing this summer. Canford Cliffs was one of the older horses there that might have been on a par with that great mare Goldikova, who has won three consecutive runnings of the Breeders' Cup Mile on these shores, and Frankel, who is a perfect 8 for 8 in his brilliant career.

Thankfully, the injury is not considered life-threatening and he will be able to retire to stud duty at Coolmore Farm in Ireland. However, wouldn't it have been nice if this European version of "The Big Three" might have all made their way to the U.S. for the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs in November. Of course, it remains to be seen if Frankel will be heading this way, and of course, Goldikova appeared to be brought back this year specifically to try for four-in-a-row in the Breeders' Cup Mile by her connections.

As I said at the start, a spot of bad news from overseas, but hopefully those big ones still in the running over there will continue on to put on a few more fantastic racing shows before they are done. Here is the link to watch Canford Cliffs defeat Goldikova in the 2011 Queen Anne Stakes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVd3qQvghlI.

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

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Saratoga Special

I return to the blog this week fresh off of my first ever visit to Saratoga. All I can say is what an extraordinary place it is for any fan of racing. From the Oklahoma Training Track (pictured) to the gorgeous paddock (pictured) to the Horse Racing Hall Of Fame and the enthusiastic crowds that show up everyday, it is as I remarked to Tom Durkin, "what every day at the races should be."

I was at Saratoga on Wednesday and Thursday last week for live racing and the first thing that strikes you about the place is the people that are there. They come in for free early for training and breakfast, stake out their spot, and after leaving and coming back in to pay their admission, stay there the rest of the day. The clubhouse is open-air, so whatever the elements are, they are. Luckily, the two days I was at Saratoga were mild and not too uncomfortable, so I was able to walk around and scout out just about every place to watch the races either live or on television that are available.

The backside is flat out amazing. The Morning Line serves breakfast, there are plenty of places to sit and watch the horses working out. As you make your way through the barn area, the expanse is just as beautiful as the front side. The barns meander through the trees and there are jogging tracks that do the same. The Oklahoma Training Track is a full one-mile oval with a wide 7/8 mile turf track inside of it. The approaching road to the Oklahoma has small signs that mention the names of each of the eleven Triple Crown winners. There are more barns near the training track and the entire atmosphere around the place is just electric for any true horse racing fan.

Of course, I had to check out the announcer's booth and visit with Tom Durkin while I was there. I was surprised that the booth was not more substantial, but as Tom pointed out, Saratoga existed for over 70 years without one, so it was really more of an afterthought. The announcer's booth is blocked at various points either by the support posts in the clubhouse, the trees in the infield, or the grandstand itself. It is not an ideal spot to call a horse race from, but for an afterthought, it gets the job done.

Finally, the racing is second to none. The highlight of the entire experience was watching Winter Memories win the Grade 2 Lake George from an impossible position at the top of the stretch. She was checked in behind horses and appeared to lose all of her momentum at that point. Jose Lezcano then guided her outside and she started to inhale the turf course and just blazed past everyone to win by a substantial margin. It was truly a championship performance and one that will be pointed to should she win any year-end awards. I was also able to witness a five-furlong track record set by JC's Pride, who was also ridden by Jose Lezcano. JC's Pride ran the distance in 56.54 seconds.

All in all, I can say that my first experience at The Spa was a memorable one. I can also say that I certainly hope that it won't be my last time there. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!