Friday, September 30, 2011

The Grade 1 $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup

There will be a major prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Belmont Park. The Grade 1 $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup takes place on what is promising to be a wet day in the New York area. I would expect the track to be off a bit, but hopefully it won't be too bad to affect the remainder of the races that are scheduled to take place on the turf. Here is the analysis:

#1 Flat Out- I think this one might be the one to beat in this field, but I am not really a fan of his 7-5 pricetag, especially coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes. Granted, two Horse Of The Year candidates beat him, but 7-5 is tough to accept.

#1a Birdrun- Has yet to run with his entrymate in any of his recent starts. He did convincingly win the 1 1/2 mile Grade 2 Brooklyn on June 10, defeating Drosselmeyer along the way, who will also be a part of this field.

#2 Ice Box- Is it just me or was his last good race the 2010 Kentucky Derby? He is 0 for 6 in the subsequent starts and has only hit the board in one of that sextet. Corey Nakatani will be aboard.

#3 Rodman- He could go to the front or he could sit off of the pace. There is no consistency in his running style. He returns from a layoff here after getting drilled in the Whitney at Saratoga on August 6.

#4 Stay Thirsty- The current favorite for top three-year-old honors is looking to springboard into the Breeders' Cup Classic with a win here. He dominated his two races at Saratoga, the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Curiously, he is 0 for 2 at Belmont with two seconds.

#5 Drosselmeyer- Goes turf-to-dirt after a dismal showing in the Sword Dancer on August 13. The former Belmont winner has the best wet Tomlinson number in the field. I think he might be worth a serious look at odds of 6-1 in here.

#6 A.U. Miner- Calvin Borel guided this one to a win in the Greenwood Cup at Park last time out July 16. Might have won the Breeders' Cup Marathon last fall had he not been badly hampered on the final turn. Don't think much of his chances in here.


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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breeders' Cup Hero: Tikkanen

The winner of the 1994 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs was Tikkanen (pictured), who was dead last the first time the field of fourteen passed beneath the Twin Spires and was first when it counted most under jockey Mike Smith. Tikkanen paid $35.20 to win in the 1994 Turf, mainly because third-place finisher Paradise Creek was less than even-money to win. After the favorite, the next two favorites were both 7-1, so Paradise Creek getting beat was clearly a large upset. Tikkanen at 16-1, though, was somewhat of an overlay, especially given that he had won the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational before that Breeders' Cup triumph. He managed to set a track-record for the 1 1/2 miles distance at Churchill Downs. Tikkanen was never able to recapture that form after those two Grade 1 wins. In fact, he ended with only four lifetime victories from his eighteen career starts, earning a total of $1,599,355.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tikkanen is where his name came from. He was named for famed National Hockey League enforcer, Esa Tikkanen. Tikkanen started his career in Edmonton, where he played with, among others, Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. Tikkanen also played with the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, and Washington Capitals during a career that produced five Stanley Cup victories. You might wonder about the connection between hockey and horse racing here, well, the horse's owner was George Strawbridge Jr., who was active in running the Buffalo Sabres franchise for over thirty years. Also, it is worth mentioning that the National Hockey League season kicks off on October 6 and I, for one, am deliriously happy about that.

If you would like to relive Tikkanen's 1994 Breeders' Cup Turf victory, here is the link: Tune in again tomorrow for a look at Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Future Search

Guess what, as of Saturday, we have exactly 32 weeks until the 2012 Kentucky Derby!! That's right, the next Run For The Roses is practically right around the corner and the odds are already out and they are probably going to be as good as they are going to get right now.

The Wynn/Encore Sports Book has published their odds for the 2012 Derby and they have listed three favorites at 35-1: Creative Cause, Drill, and Union Rags. Drill is scheduled to be heading to the track this weekend for his first effort around two turns in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. Creative Cause is also listed as a possibility for that race at Santa Anita. Union Rags won over a sloppy strip in the Saratoga Special and you can likely look for him to run again in the Grade 1 Champagne next weekend at Belmont Park.

Take Charge Indy is next on the Wynn odds board at 45-1 to win the Derby next year. The runner-up in the Arlington-Washington Futurity is likely to go next on October 8 also, but he will over the synthetic at Keeneland. One of the vagaries of future wagering is that the horse that beat Take Charge Indy in the Futurity, Shared Property, currently is listed at 150-1 to win the Derby. There are also two horses at 50-1 on the Wynn list, Alpha and Fire On Ice. Alpha won his maiden start at Saratoga on September 3 and might be facing Union Rags in the Champagne. Fire On Ice is another maiden winner from the recently concluded Saratoga season, his win coming on August 27. He is also scheduled to go in the Champagne. I am kind of getting the impression that the folks at the Wynn are thinking the Derby Trail is starting in New York next week, rather than in Arcadia this week.

I'll tell you what can be quite a bit of fun. Let's pick a horse that is triple digits on the Wynn Futures List and track his progress and see if he can make it to the Big Dance on May 5 next year. Shun is a Lemon Drop Kid offspring owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm currently listed at 200-1 on the Future Book. He won at Turfway Park in his first career start. He won a two-turn mile in his first career start. Let's see where he goes and see if we might not be able to follow him all the way to the gate in the 139th Kentucky Derby.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Grade 2 $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby

The 32nd running of the Pennsylvania Derby is the marquee event of the weekend, featuring the winner of the Belmont Stakes, the winner of two-thirds of the Canadian Triple Crown, and the runners-up in the Wood Memorial and the Travers. It is a strong field of nine that will most likely have to deal with a soggy racetrack at Parx since the Philadelphia area is currently suffering through a wet weekend with flood warnings, according to We are going to try a bit of a different tack in our handicapping feature this week and look at each horse individually and offer a top four at the end. Here is the analysis:

#1 Ruler On Ice- The Belmont winner will certainly love the wet surface that replicates the slop he won the Test Of Champions in. He merits a look the more of a bog the racetrack will be.

#2 Arthur's Tale- Runner-up in the Wood has not been back to the races since that big effort at 21-1. His morning line here is 12-1 and he is another that could benefit from heavy rainfall.

#3 Pender Harbour- Versatile Canadian-bred won the Prince Of Wales and the Breeders' Stakes, the latter coming on the grass. He could have won all three up north with some breaks in the Queen's Plate. I think his 12-1 morning line is a great value here.

#4 Norman Asbjornson- Scored a win at Parx on September 3 in what appeared to be a prep for this spot. However, I just don't think he has the speed or the capacity to keep up with these.

#5 Rush Now- Also entered in the Grade 3 Kent at Delaware on Saturday. I think he might be a factor should he choose to go here off of a solid second to Prayer For Relief in the West Virginia Derby.

#6 Isn't He Perfect- Has not won since a Starter Allowance score at Aqueduct on the inner track in March. Another one that is not good enough to be a contender.

#7 To Honor And Serve- Trying to return to the spotlight after missing four months between the Florida Derby and the Amsterdam. Rebounded off the long layoff to win second time back at The Spa on August 26 and posted a bullet workout on September 17 over Oklahoma track.

#8 JW Blue- Rolled late to collect third money behind Stay Thirsty in the Travers on August 27. He is also double-entered in the Kent at Delaware. While he has been finishing well of late, he has not won since January, when he was at Oaklawn.

#9 Rattlesnake Bridge- Second-best in the Travers and his Tomlinson wet number indicates he should love the sloppy surface. John Velazquez rides for Kiaran McLaughlin. The Sire is Tapit, who has been producing winners all over the place.


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, September 22, 2011

Breeders' Cup Hero: Awesome Again

As is the custom on They Are Off when the time comes to herald in the Breeders' Cup in the autumn, I like to take a look back at some great Breeders' Cup moments and horses since the event's inception in 1984. On Thursdays for the next few weeks until this year's running of the Cup at Churchill Downs on November 4 and 5, I will continue that tradition with a look at some Breeders' Cup Heroes.

This week's Breeders' Cup Hero is admittedly a personal favorite. The winner of the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic was Awesome Again (pictured). He defeated a star-studded field of entrants in that Classic including the 1997 Derby and Preakness winner, Silver Charm, the 1997 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Skip Away, and the 1998 Belmont Stakes winner, Victory Gallop. I almost forgot to mention the winner of the 1998 Haskell and Travers, Coronado's Quest, the winner of Europe's Top Older Horse in 1998, Swain. It was as Tom Durkin described in his call of the Classic, "an All-Star field". The win in the Breeders' Cup would conclude an undefeated season in 1998 for Awesome Again, an outstanding year that came on the heels of his winning the most prestigious race in Canada, The Queen's Plate, in 1997. So, you might ask why is Awesome Again a personal favorite of mine? I had selected Awesome Again to win that Breeders' Cup Classic to the derision of my fellow handicappers in Houston who thought he was in over his head and I was elated to see him overtake all those magnificent challengers and win the Classic, giving me sweet revenge when it counted the most.

Awesome Again has proven to be one of the most prolific Sires of the last twenty years also. Just check out the list of phenomenal runners that he has produced: Ghostzapper, Ginger Punch, Awesome Gem, Game On Dude, Wilko, and Round Pond. I think that list qualifies as a near Who's Who of racing since Awesome Again's retirement. In recent days, Awesome Again underwent colic surgery and has returned to Adena Springs following the procedure to recuperate. It is believed that he will be able to continue as a stallion for the 2012 season.

To watch the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic win of Awesome Again, here is the link: Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good News, Bad News

The word from the Keeneland September Sale has been uniquely positive as far as the amount of money to be used to purchase the horses available at the sale. In 2010, the sale lasted fourteen days and the gross total of income from the sale was $198,254,900. The on-going 2011 sale is through eight days as of this writing and already the gross has exceeded last year's number with income at $198,638,200, according to Clearly, the Keeneland September Sale is going to shatter last year's number of gross income by a nice margin with just five days left to go. It can be said that this is certainly a rare positive sign as far as the economics of the Thoroughbred business goes. Usually, all you hear is doom and gloom as the handle, attendance, and sales figures plummet from one year to the next. This increase at Keeneland certainly shouldn't be interpreted as everything is rosy and sunshiny, but it certainly should be read as a rare shaft of light in what is otherwise a very dark time for the industry.

Meanwhile, in his column on ESPN. com, Bill Finley notes that The Jockey Club reports that the 2010 foal crop is down 13.5%, the total being approximately 27,000. Finley goes on to note that will only continue the problem of small field size that has been a near-epidemic in the sport in recent years. Unfortunately, that is true. It is simple mathematics that you cannot continue to have large fields with excellent betting opportunities if the horses just aren't there to participate. Without excellent betting opportunities, fewer and fewer bettors will be trying to hit that big score and the handle across the country should continue to reflect that with lessening numbers. As I said in the earlier paragraph, we are in the midst of a very dark time for the industry, you can take the attitude that things are darkest before the dawn, but these foal numbers indicate that dawn might still be quite a long way away.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Woodbine Mile

Before beginning this week's handicapping edition, I must pass along my sincere thanks to Travis Stone of Louisiana Downs and Nick Tammaro for the great work we were all a part of for the 32nd Super Derby. Travis's call was outstanding and Nick and I did manage to produce a some strong picks, so all in all, the trip was a rousing success and indeed a pleasure.

The race of the week this week is the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Woodbine Mile to be held on Sunday at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada. It is considered a key prep race each year for the Breeders' Cup Mile and there are certainly some horses in the field of twelve that will be a part of the field for the Mile in November. Here is the analysis:

My top pick for the Woodbine Mile is #4 Courageous Cat, who is working a two race win streak entering this event. He has not raced, however, since July 2, when he won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park at even money. The Bill Mott trainee has posted Beyer figures of 103 in each of those two wins. You have to be impressed that the horse went coast-to-coast in the space of a month for those scores, as the other of the two wins came in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont Park. I will use #9 Side Glance in the second spot. He won the Group 3 Sovereign Stakes at Sailsbury in Great Britain last time out on August 11. He also ran 3rd in the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot on July 9. His Racing Post ratings in the last four starts have all been at 113 or better, so he certainly should be a factor in this spot. How about a nice juicy 30-1 shot to like in here with #3 Woodbourne? Woodbourne ran 3rd behind Court Vision (who is back to defend his title) in last year's Woodbine Mile at odds of 52-1. His first win since that shocking show finish was last time out on August 20 in an Optional Claiming race at this distance. This gelding is most definitely a horse for the course with seven wins in twenty starts over the Woodbine greenery. Finally, I will put #5 Right One in the fourth spot off the win in the Grade 3 Jaipur at Belmont on July 16. Trainer Christophe Clement has a well-deserved reputation as a turf ace and he has had this gelding on a roll since coming to North America. He has three wins and a third in four starts since arriving here in April. Here is the play for the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile:

$10 WIN #4
$1 TRI 4-9 with 3-4-5-9 with 3-4-5-6-8-9-12
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, September 08, 2011

The Grade 2 $500,000 Super Derby

I will be in attendance for the third straight year at the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs this Saturday, which is why the blogposts have been sparse this week (and will be next week by the way). I will be enjoying time with some friends in my old haunts in Houston upon my return from Shreveport, so this will (hopefully) be the last prolonged absence from blogging for They Are Off. Back to business, though, and the business at hand is the Grade 2 $500,000 Super Derby. Here is the analysis:

#1 Meistersinger will be my top pick in the Super Derby for trainer Graham Motion and owner Team Valor. If you recognize those connections, you should, they DID win another Derby earlier this year with a different horse. Joze Lezcano will be coming in for the ride here and the colt did post a strong workout at Fair Hill on September 3. The last two Beyers certainly should be able to prevail in this spot Saturday. #5 Prayer For Relief is a Bob Baffert trainee that has won two consecutive Derbies entering this try (West Virginia and Iowa). Rafael Bejarano was up for both Derby wins and gets the call again here. Those two wins are also the only two conventional dirt starts for this runner. #6 Alternation might have the most class of anyone in the Super Derby field if you strictly consider the PPs. He ran fourth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy behind Horse Of The Year candidate, Stay Thirsty. He also won the Grade 2 Peter Pan this spring at Belmont Park. Alternation's main issue here might be the absence of a tremendous pace up front, since he likes to come from way behind. The price pick in the Super Derby might just be #7 Trubs, who won the Prelude at Louisiana Downs on August 6. Al Stall has done well in the Super Derby recently with Blame and Apart making their mark the last two years. Shane Sellers was up for the Prelude win and will ride again Saturday. Here is the play for the Grade 2 $500,000 Super Derby:

$20 WPS #1
TOTAL- $60

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 at some point next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Grade 1 $250,000 Forego

Forego was one of the great handicap horses of the 1970s. He won the race that is the Saturday feature at Saratoga (The Woodward) four consecutive years (1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977). It seemed that he could carry any weight at all and run a winning race on a consistent basis. Many people, however, forget that Forego was part of the field in the 1973 Kentucky Derby that was won by Secretariat in the record time of 1:59.2 and also featured Sham's two-minute breaking performance. Forego ran fourth that day at Churchill Downs. So, in honor of the great Forego, we take a crack at handicapping the race named in his honor Saturday at Saratoga. Here is the analysis:

#7 Aikenite is the top pick in here. He was a winner at the distance of seven furlongs in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on Derby Day in May. He is making the second start off the most recent layoff and picks up the red-hot Javier Castellano in the saddle for trainer Todd Pletcher. Aikenite also has the all-important victory over the Saratoga surface and is 3 for 5 at this elongated sprinting distance. #1 Jackson Bend is the second choice in the Forego. You might remember Jackson Bend as one of the many horses that have been cursed over the years as my top pick in a Kentucky Derby. He scored an impressive win on Opening Weekend at The Spa in the James Marvin at seven furlongs and posted an eye-popping Beyer of 108 in the victory. Corey Nakatani rode that day and gets the call again. The longshot I fancy in here is #3 Golddigger's Boy, who has rolled off a nice winning streak of five in a row in Pennsylvania. Stewart Elliott has been the jockey for all five of those aforementioned wins. This colt has been off, however, since June 25. His recent workouts have been brilliant with three straight bullets in the month of August. #5 Hamazing Destiny will round out the top four here, although he is winless in four lifetime tries at Saratoga. His most recent race at seven furlongs came two back on July 22 at Saratoga in that James Marvin won by Jackson Bend, where he finished second. Robby Albarado is in the irons for this effort. Here is the play for the Grade 1 Forego:

$5 WP #7
$1 EX BOX 1-3-5-7
$1 TRI 1-3-7 with 1-3-7 with 1-2-3-5-7-8-9
TOTAL- $52

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, September 01, 2011

A Month To Go

I don't know about you, but as far as I am concerned, September had better go quickly now that it has arrived. I say this only because it just means we are exactly one month to the day from the start of my third season as the announcer at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. I have made a couple of trips out to the track to get primed for the start of the season and see what is in store for us during the 157-day season that will run from October 1 to May 6, the traditional Day After Derby finishing date.

I can tell you that Turf is planning to introduce a PK5 Play Of The Day this season where I try (normally in vain) to hit the 50-cent minimum wager. Of course, the idea behind this is to be somewhat economical in trying to hit the play, so you won't be seeing any $500 plays even on days where the track has a good-sized carryover. Usually, I will try to limit the play to something that won't be bankrupting anyone who dares follow my lead. Also, for those of you who remember the nightly PK4 Play Of The Day from my days in Houston, I can promise you there will not be any ridiculous celebratory images popping up on the video screens on those occasions I do hit the Play Of The Day.

Anyway, the big news of the off-season this year at Turf Paradise is the introduction of purse increases for the 38 Stakes races the track will be running during the 2011-2012 meeting. The marquee event of the season the Phoenix Gold Cup is going to be worth $75,000 this season, as is the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile and the Turf Paradise Derby. The reason for these increases to the purses is the fact that Yavapai Downs didn't race this summer, so Turf Paradise was able to receive added revenue from OTB wagering in the state since Turf Paradise is currently operating that system.

It promises to be an exciting 56th season of racing at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. Hopefully, if you are in the neighborhood this winter, you can come by and visit the track and I look forward to seeing you out there. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!