Now that the second Saudi Cup is in the books what are the takeouts from the world’s richest Thoroughbred race?
For beginners, I’m not sure why the horse number and the post position did not match. Charlatan was number 3 but he broke from post 9, Knicks Go was number 5 but he broke from post 8 and so on and so forth. Were they trying to confuse a hillbilly or what?
Neither of the heavy hitters from the United States won but I feel as though we learned a thing or two about both.
Knicks Go was coming into the race as perhaps the hottest horse in the world. Four consecutive wins, two record setting performances and back to back grade 1 wins gave his backers every reason to be optimistic. His front running speed has been incredible to say the very least. But like any athlete, things do not always go exactly as planned and sometimes a hitter strikes out with the bases loaded. Knicks Go accelerated into the turn and looked as if he were going to once again surge to victory, but running beside him was an equally fast runner from the West Coast. The fact Knicks Go faded and was put away as the horses turned for home told us he is a very nice horse, but Newton’s Law can strike any time.
Charlatan was that West Coast speedster that ran on the front end with the brilliantly marked Breeders’ Cup champ named Knicks Go. Powerful strides and raw ability were on display as this Bob Baffert trainee gobbled up ground with ease. Having raced only four previous times, this son of Speightstown looked every bit the real deal as thirteen others tasted the kickback from his lengthening stride. Running with courage and resolve, Charlatan proved he is something to behold, even in defeat.
What was the undoing of these two freakishly fast four-legged phenoms? Perhaps the travel may have played a factor. The winner, Mishriff deserves a lot of credit for running a near perfect race. Sitting off the dueling frontrunners, he pounced at precisely the right time and was able to overtake Charlatan in the final yards of the mile and an eighth journey. Even though this Irish-bred is relatively lightly raced (this was his ninth career start), he had been on this track a year ago and had also run in both England and on the European continent. Whether travel was a factor we will never know, but, it was familiar surroundings for Mishriff.
Could we see some sort of rematch in the future? That is likely. It may not come until the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in November, but it certainly would be nice to see an accomplished trainer like John Gosden bring his Saudi Cup champ to Southern California. As for Knicks Go, he too should be back after a little R and R as trainer Brad Cox is one of the best in the business. Baffert has said Charlatan will continue to race the rest of this year and his effort was something to be proud about.
If these three along with many of the other classic distance runners will travel to the Seaside Oval it should make for a real Classic at the Breeders’ Cup.
If you follow the Thoroughbred racing game and don’t know who Hakeem Olajuwon is you might be figuring it out pretty quick. You see, there’s this three-year old colt in the Peter Eurton barn that hopes to score like his namesake.
For those not in the basketball know, Hakeem “the Dream” is an NBA hall of famer that enjoyed a record setting career primarily with the Houston Rockets. Before joining the professional ranks, this Nigerian born behemoth was one of the centerpieces for the University of Houston and the Phi Slamma Jamma teams. Outstanding athletic ability and footwork allowed Olajuwon to move like a much smaller man. One of his signature moves was a dribble-reverse pivot play that shook off the defender and saw him scoring like a dream. So prolific was this play it was deservedly dubbed the “Dream Shake”.
Dream Shake is a son of Twirling Candy that has toed the racing track just once in his life but oh my what a slam dunk performance. In what was widely considered as the best maiden race of the year for three-year old males, Eurton was throwing his colt off into some deeper water at Santa Anita on February 7.
Leaving the gates at odds of 20 to 1 was not a major surprise as runners conditioned by Kentucky Derby icon Bob Baffert (Bezos, Tivoli) and west coast stalwart Simon Callaghan (Mr Impossible) were in the nine horse field. The talent level of this race would help provide answers to those asking questions about moving forward on the road that leads to the first Saturday in May. After a scintillating six and a half furlongs, Eurton was happy with his Dream.
Sitting in eighth after an almost pedestrian opening quarter mile (23.4), Dream Shake started to come alive. At the top of the stretch he made a four wide move that had dribble reverse pivot written all over it. Bolting to the lead with big strides there was no one between him and the basket. Opening up with authority after Shaking free from the field, the Dream did exactly as Olajuwon and rolled home with a thunderous slam. His 4 ¾ length score was noteworthy to say the very least.
“The talent level of this field made the race a decent measuring stick for him,” says the California-based Eurton. “That big move on the turn was pretty impressive, but the way he finished down the lane was what really caught my eye. Young horses can often times make a move off the turn but flatten out before the finish. He just seemed to keep gaining momentum and finished up quite nicely.”
Of course a Shake like that by a three-year old male in February starts the Derby thinking. With only one start under his saddle is it too early to Dream about a score in the world’s most famous race?
“I think the Kentucky Derby is always on your mind this time of year if you have a three-year old male,” says Eurton. “He’s a talented colt that really hasn’t done anything wrong so far. He doesn’t have a real quick first step but he has a long stride once he gets going. We are not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. His next start will be around two turns and we will find out a lot more about how good he is.”
Depending on how workouts go in the coming days, the mile and a sixteenth San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6 may be the target. If not, an allowance race at the same distance will be the next starting spot for this Exline-Border Racing LLC, SAF Racing and Richard Hausman owned colt.
Of course it is way too soon to know if Eurton and this colt can Shake into the Kentucky Derby starting gates. But after that decisive dunk it may not be a far-fetched Dream.
Siegel’s three shooting Stars are (L to R) Zion Swader, Matthew Schneider, and Jaylan Wetzel
Those that are fans of high school sports understand special athletes come along every so often. Unfortunately, the four years seem to fly by so enjoy the magnificence while you can. Local basketball fans have been able to enjoy three comets flashing across the Siegel high school sky during recent times. With the post-season as the here and now, their time in blue is short, but make no mistake, the statistical numbers will keep them as memorable Stars for years to come.
Four short seasons ago three players walked into the Siegel gym for the first time. Zion Swader, Matthew Schneider, and Jaylan Wetzel all brought their skills to the school on Thompson Lane with a love of the game. After lots of hard work and dedication to the program, each has written their name in the record books of a school that has developed a basketball rich tradition since opening in 2003. The Stars have been to the TSSAA state championship tournament seven times (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), but they may have never had three multi-talented players with the skills of these hoopsters. With each now over 1,000 points in career scoring, these Stars have brought a lot to the table as Siegel claimed the regular season district title in 2021.
The first to hit the mark was Matthew Schneider. A finalist for class AAA Mr. Basketball, the six-foot four inch swingman is a threat to score from anywhere. A smooth shooter from the perimeter and with deft moves around the hoop, Schneider has been a guy that can flat fill it up every night against any opponent.
“I don’t think of the 1,000 points as just my doing, it’s about the whole team,” says Schneider. “These guys are not just my teammates, they are my brothers and none of this happens without them.”
Point guard Zion Swader was the next to reach the 1,000 point mark in this his senior season. The son of Oakland high school legend and basketball hall of famer Allen Swader, Zion has developed his own identity on the hardwoods. An uncanny ability to get to the rack combined with a lethal outside game has allowed this young Swader to strike fear in the hearts of the opposition just as his father before him . Currently ranked in the top 10 in the state of Tennessee in free throws made, he is one Star that has always focused on making his team better.
“It really is all about the team and none of us could do it without our teammates,” says Swader. “The individual achievements are nice but being able to do it in a season where we went unbeaten in the district regular season makes it so much better.”
The final Star to hit the mark was the hot shooting Jaylan Wetzel. A kid that’s within scoring range as soon as he crosses half court, this six-foot sharp shooter eclipsed 1,000 points in the final regular season game. In tickling the twine on five consecutive three point shots in the first half against Smyrna, Wetzel joined his friends and teammates in a rather exclusive club.
“We all have put in a lot of hard work to get to this point and being able to accomplish this alongside my brothers is very special,” says Wetzel. “The undefeated run through the district is what’s most important for all of us.”
The district tournament will begin this week with the higher seed hosting. Siegel (22-3) could potentially punch a ticket to the state tournament as a host in all of the district and region tournament games. Of course these shooting Stars understand everyone’s record is now 0-0 as post-season play begins. Wetzel has yet to sign with any colleges while Swader and Schneider have both committed to Missouri Western University. But before these guys worry about the next level, these thee Stars hope to shine a while longer for Siegel.
“We are very proud of these kids for what they have accomplished,” says Siegel principal Larry Creasy. “They are great basketball players but more importantly great young men.”
The real world and the sports world have changed in recent times. For better or for worse is totally debatable. One young man, however, has used an old school approach to realize an early-life goal.
In the “old” days, a good high school athlete played more than one sport. With eyes on representing the school colors, the idea was to be all you could be. Merely a stepping stone to regular life, these times were about developing pride, work ethic, honor, respect, and all those important things that can make you a success.
Today’s high school world has become more about concentrating on one sport because that is what will get you to the next level, or so some say. The goal of any athlete is always to move up and continue to play the game. Life should not be just about a game, but rather any game can be about life. The search for the spotlight and the glitz and glamour of professional sports can often times impair the vision of youthful competitors.
Mark Cooper is a young man that walked onto the Blackman high school campus with some traditional values. Having played multiple sports as a little kid, he had eyes on much the same while wearing the Blaze Orange and Blue. Now after four years of being a two-sport star, Cooper has cultivated his efforts into a football scholarship at Emory and Henry College.
“As a kid I always loved both basketball and football and wanted to play both for Blackman”, says Cooper. “I knew it would be tough and take up virtually all my time, but I was good with that. Representing my school in both has been very rewarding for me and I think playing both sports really helped me develop a strong mentality.”
Cooper was a standout for Blackman on the gridiron in all three phases of the game. On offense, his sure hands as a wide receiver were integral to the Blaze attack (30 receptions 541 yards 5 TDs). As a defensive back, his shut-down skills helped stymie the opposing offense (30 tackles, 1 interception 1 forced fumble). On special teams, his time as a punt returner provided another weapon. These overall game skills are what attracted football offers and eventually allowed Cooper to choose the Wasps as his next mascot.
“Emory and Henry always showed a lot of interest and they have coaches on both sides of the ball wanting me”, says Cooper. “I think I can go there and have a chance to play right away and maybe even see some time on offense and defense. I like being versatile and that is one of the things they really seem to like about me.”
A shining example of class on the football field, Cooper’s stats do not tell his entire story. His ability to handle adversity and represent himself in all the right ways are also key elements that make him a desirable college athlete. Interestingly enough, it may have been the influences of his time representing the Blackman basketball program that played a major role in him heading to college as a football player.
“Coach (Barry) Wortman has always impressed upon me to do the right things in both the playing arena and the class room”, says Cooper. “He always tells us to put in the work and your game will do all the talking for you. I have tried to follow that philosophy throughout my time here at Blackman.”
With still some basketball to play, Cooper looks forward to finishing his time at Blackman with a flourish. Making memories while laying the foundation for the future, this young man’s old school thinking has allowed him to realize one of his life goals.
“To be able to say I am playing college football is a big deal for me”, says Cooper. “All the hard work and time invested has paid off. I have a lot of people to thank for this opportunity. Remaining focused and continuing to do the things that got me to this point are very important.”
by Danny Brewer
So here’s a question for you…does Bob Baffert know how to dance?…I think that is open for debate depending on your perspective. If you are talking about the disco lights and techno funk the jury is still out. If you mean tripping the light fantastic towards the Kentucky Derby he’s your Fred Astaire.
One of the greatest things about Thoroughbred racing is the road to the Kentucky Derby and the excitement it brings. The early days of the chase brings barns across the country an all -new excitement as many believe they have the next winner of the world’s most famous race. The early prep races are now in full swing and some will be exposed as a wanna-be rug cutter while others begin to Dab their way to the Derby.
No stranger to this music, Bob Baffert has been better at dancing with the stars than any conditioner in the game. Sending out his first winner in 1997 (Silver Charm), Baffert has since put on his boogie shoes five other times (1998, 2002, 2015, 2018, 20200 and just missed with three other runners (1996, 2009, 2012).
So here we are in 2021 and the music is beginning to bump in the background. Fresh three year-olds are doing the running man as the scramble for Derby qualifying points is on. Normally blessed with talent, Big Race Bob is currently cultivating with hopes he can find some Hammer time (that’s M.C. for those old enough to remember that dancing machine). The most recent race on the Derby dash at Santa Anita has given him another promising pupil.
The Robert Lewis Stakes holds special meaning for the California based conditioner as his first Kentucky Derby winner belonged to Mr. Lewis. Having won the race on eight previous occasions and in each of the past two years, this is a common stepping stone for the Baffert barn. Entering Medina Spirit with hopes of finding out just how good his modestly priced ($35,000 purchase) Florida-bred is, he got an answer.
Breaking alertly from the inside post in a talented six horse field, this son of Protonico went right to the lead. Challenged virtually every step of the way, this gutsy Zedan Racing Stable owned colt simply refused to lose. With the strobe lights in full force in deep stretch, the Spirit of a winner was evident. Even though a tough running Hot Rod Charlie and rolling Roman Centurian came at him, in the end it was the Funky Cold Medina by a neck.
Now with two wins and a second in three lifetime starts, Medina Spirit has stamped himself as one of the early dancers in the Derby lineup. His only loss came to another Baffert barn dancer (Life Is Good) in the Sham Stakes. The first Saturday in May is still a long way off, but the jams are starting to pump up.
The investment game can be tricky. Everyone wants a nice return on their money. Much like the Thoroughbred racing game, Stocks are judged by their past performances. That is exactly why the folks at Middle Tennessee State University have decided to double down in their football Stock market.
Recently it was announced that former Blue Raider standout Brent Stockstill will join father Rick Stockstill’s staff as the wide receivers coach. Having spent the past two seasons on the staffs of Florida Atlantic and South Florida, the younger Stock has gotten his coaching feet wet. Assuming the role of wide receivers coach at his alma mater, Brent will once again toe the Floyd Stadium turf.
Father and son combinations are nothing new to the college football world. Bobby Bowden, whom the elder Stock played quarterback for, enjoyed having three of his sons on staff and of course Lane Kiffen had father Monte as part of his coaching crew. Make no mistake however, blood was not the deciding factor in this hire, it was all about qualifications.
“We went through the interview process with several candidates trying to fill this slot,” says Rick Stockstill. “This was not a slam dunk by any means because we want to do what’s best for the program. Doctor (Sydney) McPhee (university president) and Chris Massaro (athletic director) were both involved in the decision making process. After analyzing it all, Brent was the most qualified.”
Knowledge of the game, a competitive desire, and of course Middle Tennessee roots will help the younger Stockstill. As the all-time leader for the Blue Raiders in passing yards (12,495), touchdown passes (106), 300-yard passing games (19), 400-yard passing games (3), average passing yards per game (277.7), completions (1,055) and attempts (1,610) his playing credentials cannot be questioned. Of course, great players do not always make great coaches, but in leading the Blue Raiders to four straight bowl game appearances as their signal caller, it is obvious he has a winning mentality.
“I think Brent’s leadership qualities are a major plus for our program,” says Stockstill of the kid that quarterbacked from 2013-2018. “He is an important piece to our puzzle and I think he can be a major recruiting asset. Most every high school coach in Tennessee will recognize his name and a lot of the players will remember him because it was not that long ago he was making it happen on the field.”
The younger Stockstill’s glowing qualifications made him a logical choice, but the older Stockstill’s past performances also perhaps played a factor in the University’s decision making process. For sixteen seasons, the former Florida State honorable mention All-American has guided the Blue Raiders through the sometimes turbulent waters of mid-major division 1 college football. Forced to play the pay-day games against heavyweights while knocking heads in competitive leagues, the Raiders have rocked their way into eight bowl games and seen their leader be named coach of the year six different times.
As the years have rolled by since he first strode onto campus back in 2006, Rick Stockstill has learned to adapt to the ever changing climate of college athletics. Rule changes and a landscape that features far more bowl subdivision teams means things are not getting any easier.
“I think the one-time transfer rule has really changed how you manage your roster”, says the MTSU head coach. “Players can go to a different school and play without having to sit out so that means you always have to be aware there may be players looking for greener grass. That means you can add experienced players or you may lose them. I think it really affects high school players because now as a coach instead of recruiting a kid out of high school, teams are looking at the transfer portal to fill needs.”
A college head football coach has to wear many hats as these impressionable young men are forging their way into adulthood. One of the things that has helped the head Stock rise in the local market is a commitment to academics. With a full realization that “college” comes in front of the word football, Stockstill has engineered a meteoric rise in graduation rates and grade point average since assuming control of the Blue Raider program.
“One of the first things we tell our players is you must learn to win off the field before you can learn to win on the field”, says Stockstill. “I have always placed a lot of emphasis on academics because you will live longer than you play football. The day will come when football is over and having an education is what will carry you through the rest of your life. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish academically with our football program.”
Teaching his team to win off the field was perhaps never more important than during a Covid filled 2020 season. Forced to alter many of their normal methods, the university and Stockstill instituted many innovations in finding a way to play a nine game season. Although the Blue Raiders finished 3-6 overall, three losses were by three points or less. Most importantly however, the Blue Raider roster had zero hospitalizations due to the virus and of course no fatalities. A huge life lesson in dealing with adversity, the head coach was a shining example in leadership.
“I am disappointed in our record because at the end of the day that is how you are judged,” says Stockstill. “We did finish by winning three of our last five games and if we had played just a little better the record would have been flipped. Not having spring practice or summer workouts really hurt us as we just had no continuity early. I am very proud of our players for how they handled all the changes and challenges of 2020.”
Recognizing the need for improvement now that the calendar has turned to 2021, the hiring of the younger Stockstill is viewed as a major step for the program. Once hired, a new offensive coordinator is expected to breathe life into a what had become a somewhat predictable offense. Recruiting is in full force and behind the hard-working positive force that is now Stockstill squared, the Blue Raider program has a brighter horizon.
“I am the forever optimist”, says the veteran football coach. “We were pretty close to having a good record in 2020 and now it is time to turn our focus on moving forward. We will have some new blood on the coaching staff and I am excited about what the future holds for us here at Middle Tennessee State.”
In this uncertain world we are living in, local high school basketball is trying to tip towards normalcy. And with a little luck, we will be able to enjoy a real postseason that has helped define the greatness that we call high school hoops.
As the calendar creeps towards February, basketball fever is beginning to spike a bit. Locals are limited on attendance, but there is some excitement brewing as our Rutherford County district has diligently worked to get games in. The bad news is the gyms have not been rocking with overzealous crowds as neighborhood brawls take place twice a week. The good news is the players are getting to play a game that often times provides valuable life lessons.
“Normally we are a very routine based program that has a timeline for certain things,” says Smyrna head coach Mike Wright. “Perhaps a silver lining to this year has been our kids have to be able to adapt and change quickly. You can’t try to be normal this season so our players have learned about the different bounces life can throw your way and you have to be able adapt and move forward.”
With the second half of the boys schedule beginning to take place this week, the normal focus this time of year is district tournament. Likely to have a different look as one school will not host all the games for social distancing reasons, teams will jockey for position and hope for home court as higher seeds will host.
“With all that has been going on it is hard to believe we are about to start the second half of the district season,” says Blackman head coach Barry Wortman. “It’s time to really start fine tuning your team and try and get ready for the tournament season. All of our schools have done an excellent job of working together and trying to make the season happen.”
A perennial state title contender, Blackman is again near the top. Trailing only Siegel in the standings, Wortman hopes to get his team ready for another run. Unlike years past however, there are more hurdles for all.
“A more simplistic approach has been our philosophy,” says Wortman. “Try and control the controllable and just deal with all the other things. Our kids have done an excellent job of exercising great commitment.”
Of course the challenges are different for different teams, but all are facing obstacles like no season before.
“We have had to deal with a young team that had no summer of preparation and no pre-season scrimmages,” says Wright, who has no seniors on his Bulldog squad. “Coaching during game timeouts has become even more important for us because we have not been able to go over certain situations due to limited time together. I really like our team, we just are still trying to figure ourselves out.”
If things can continue moving in a forwardly direction, a completion of the basketball season is likely. The cancellation of last year’s TSSAA tournaments hopefully will be a distant memory as things are in the works for a different site should MTSU not allow the tournament to be held at Murphy Center.
“I really hope we can continue to progress and make the post-season happen”, says Wortman. “I am confident the TSSAA will handle things in a first class manner and make every effort to have the tournament if at all possible.”
by Danny Brewer
Now that the calendar has turned, let’s take a minute or two to recognize some of the best in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Each year we like to shine the flashlight on some of the best performers and performances during the past 12 months. Without further ado, let’s unveil a little hillbilly perspective on the sport of kings in 2020.
THE SHINE RUNNIN’ CHEVELLE
Once upon a time there was this old beat up ’69 Chevelle that sat outside cousin Jimmy Ray’s house. We rabbit hunted behind his place and the beagle hounds usually targeted the tires when turned loose. He’d holler at’em and we often wondered who cared and why in the world was that old heap still hanging around. So one day we found out. Old Jimmy Ray busted out the jumper cables and fired that bad boy up. Roaring with over 500 horses under the hood, we heard the stories about how this hot rod burned up the roads and outran those revenuers toting a full load of moonshine. He white-smoked the tires in front of us and laid rubber for over 100 feet with jaws agape. The 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint was a 14 horse field on a speed favoring track. Keeneland had already seen track records fall and some wondered why the seven-year old Whitmore was toeing the track. Having run in this race the previous three years, perhaps it was time for this old fart to break wind somewhere else. Going off at odds of 18 to 1, he settled in 10th place behind a blazing pace up front (21.64 opening quarter). As the six furlongs began to unfold, Whitmore started moving up the rail. When the stretch straightened, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr floored it and that old horsepower roared to the lead. In that final furlong we found out why trainer Ron Moquett sent his old Chevelle to the starting gates. Winning by a widening 3 ½ lengths, Whitmore was much the best and proved it is what’s under the hood that counts the most.
SOME COKE BOTTLE BOTTOM GLASSES
Remember those days when a Coca Cola came in returnable glass bottles. The bottom was extra thick to avoid breakage and we would get them out of the Coke machine at the Tri-Way Market. They were always a treat after playing some pick-up basketball games on the dirt court by Cousin Joe Bob’s house. One old boy was always the last one picked when we chose teams cause the guy couldn’t shoot for squat. One day he showed up with some new glasses that had some super thick lenses. Being the kind hearted kids we were, he was immediately labeled for having some Coke bottle bottomed glasses. Shrugging off the insults, he proceeded to shoot our eyes out and we deduced this poor joker’s vision had been way off. Now that he could actually see the goal, we figured out he had plenty of talent, he just needed to be able to focus. Arklow made his way to the starting gates on September 12 for the $1 million Calumet Farms Kentucky Turf Cup. Having won this race back in 2018, this was a logical spot for one of Donegal Racing’s favorite sons. Riding a five race losing streak, this six-year old had been less than stellar in his previous outings and some wondered why he was here. Trainer Brad Cox decided to make an equipment change and added blinkers to this once powerful striding son of Arch. Hoping to help his horse focus, the Louisville-based conditioner had high hopes Arklow would run better if he kept his eyes on the prize. Breaking alertly, Arklow got into the race early as he stalked the pace while running towards the front of the pack in this mile and a half journey over the Kentucky Downs grass. As the green and gold silks surged to the lead at the top of the stretch things really came into focus. Rolling toward the wire with grass-gobbling strides, Arklow could see the finish line and was not going to be denied. Winning by a length and a quarter, Arklow and his optometrist saw their way to the winner’s circle once again. Like we found out before, good vision can work wonders.
A GLASS OF WELL WATER
One of the great things about some country living on a hot day was the satisfaction a glass of well water would bring. As a small kid I remember going to my great Uncle Ellis’s house. Aunt Ruth would make us go outside and play no matter what the temperature. We’d come back hotter than a hound on a rabbit trail ready for a thirst quenching beverage. She would draw us some water from the faucet in a jelly jar glass that came straight from the well. Clear and crisp, it was way better than some “city” water and man was it thirst quenching. Bob Baffert came into the delayed Kentucky Derby as somewhat of an underdog. Wait a minute…hold the nannie goat… Big Race Bob a training underdog?…In the Kentucky Derby? Baffert had only won the world’s most famous race five times and conditioned two Triple Crown winners since 2015. Nevertheless, his entry, Authentic, went to the starting gates at 8 to 1 while the heavily favored Tiz The Law was at 3 to 5. This son of Into Mischief had been considered Baffert’s third stringer as the powerful Nadal and meteoric Charlatan had both been sidelined with injury. Even though he had four wins and a second in five career starts, most thought nobody was going to break the Law. Carefully preparing his colt off a seven week layoff, the hall of famer has been the best at training for big runs in big races. His five previous Derby wins had come with horses that were running in a near favorites role. Breaking alertly and completely according to plan, Authentic made the lead and guided the pack of 18 around the Churchill Downs dirt throwing down solid fractions. When Tiz The Law came at him in the stretch, the fantastically fit Authentic refused to lose. With pulsating power, he turned away Tiz and gave his coach a record-tying sixth blanket of roses. Leaving no doubt as to who was the best runner in the race, Baffert had beaten the perceived unbeatable. Proving both he and his horse are as Authentic as they come, this Derby win had to be oh so satisfying…kind of like a drink of that well water on a hot day.
THE BEAR BRYANT
It is hard for a Tennessee hillbilly to say this, but Bear Bryant is probably the greatest college football coach ever. Some of the things that made the man that led Alabama to six national championships so great was his courage, dedication, and ability to make decisions. Never afraid to make a call, Bryant always coached with supreme confidence. His courage had been on display for quite some time as he played for the Tide in the 1935 game against Tennessee with a broken bone in his leg. Brad Cox came into this year as one of the best in the Thoroughbred training game. We don’t think he had a broken leg, but he dog gone sure made some courageous calls that yielded lots of paydirt for his vast array of runners. The first flea flicker Cox called was with Shedaresthedevil. A gutsy filly that stung her highly regarded opponents in the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in March, this daughter of Daredevil took an unconventional route to the delayed Kentucky Oaks. Coming to Churchill Downs off an eight week layoff, this fleet-footed filly powered past the highly regarded Swiss Skydiver and freakish Gamine in the stretch to win by a length and a half. Establishing a new Stakes record for the mile and an eighth (1:48.28) Shedaresthedevil executed her coach’s game plan and proudly wore that blanket of lilies. Knicks Go was a perceived one-hit wonder that had shocked the world in the Claiborne Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland as a two-year old and then was winless in his next eleven starts. In February of 2020, this son of Paynter made his first start for Brad Cox and immediately rewarded with a score at Oaklawn Park. The statue of liberty play, however, came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile when the rejuvenated Knicks Go returned to Keeneland and won in track record time. That same day, Monomoy Girl scampered home in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff off a double reverse. After winning this race in 2018, she sat out the entire 2019 season due to injury. The patience of her coach paid huge dividends as Cox nursed her back to health and then began a run towards the 2020 Cup in May. Three wins and a play call later, she was back in the Distaff winner’s circle. Cultivating talent is the key to coaching success, but having the courage of Bear can make for greatness and keep the Tide rolling.
SOME BISCUITS AND GRAVY
When you wake up hungry, a good breakfast can be a thing of beauty. Country ham, bacon, and sausage would light up the kitchen with some wonderful smells, but nothing was quite as tasty and fulfilling as a plate full of those biscuits and gravy. It was normally prepared late as the sausage grease was key and you want to get it on those fluffy cathead biscuits when it was good and hot. You had to be patient, but my oh my what a reward it was. Got Stormy has been one of the stars in the Mark Casse barn for some time now. Always running with courage, she has enjoyed grade 1 wins against both boys and girls during her 26 race career. In September, Casse decided to run his flashy female in shorter races on the grass and he was immediately rewarded with an impressive win at Kentucky Downs in the Ladies Sprint Stakes. A month later, Casse wanted to see what he could get cooking at Keeneland in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes. Run at 5 ½ furlongs, this dash over the Kentucky bluegrass would provide a good test for this brilliant runner. Breaking from one of the outside posts in a ten horse field, the normally pace stalking female was shuffled back as the frontrunners threw down fast early fractions. At the top of the stretch it looked as if Casse might go hungry this time as the biscuits were done and Stormy was sitting in sixth. But then it happened. The patient ride of jockey Tyler Gafflione yielded dividends as he swung her to the outside and gave her the go sign. Pouring the milk in the hot cast iron skillet and whisking them with the sausage remnants, Stormy unleashed her powerful stride. Gobbling up ground with massive strides, the five-year old phenom coated the catheads at the wire. Delivering a delectable win when it looked as if she was cooked, Got Stormy proved once again she is a beautiful thing…kinda like an early morning plate of biscuits and gravy.
Questions, questions, and more questions…that’s what travels down the early road to the Kentucky Derby. After the Sham Stakes on January 2, some may be wondering if Bob Baffert is now in the fast lane to the Derby 147 starting gates.
The answer to that is an unequivocal “yes”. Big Race Bob earned his record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby win in 2020 with Authentic. The hall of fame conditioner knows a thing or two about getting a horse to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May and the Sham told us he has another real contender. What we must wonder now is will he follow an “Authentic” plan?
Last year, the California-based Baffert won the Sham with a front-running Into Mischief colt in his second lifetime start. This year, Baffert won the Sham with a front-running Into Mischief colt in his second lifetime start. Last year it was Authentic, this time it is an appropriately named Life Is Good.
The comparisons will come naturally because of some of the similarities like same pappy, same trainer, and like running style. Both won the one mile Sham with a geared down effort in the stretch. A stable-mate ran second as well in compact fields. The good news for Baffert is Life Is Good covered the distance quicker (1:36.63 compared to 1:37.57) and the second place finisher, Medina Spirit, was much closer (3/4 length versus 7 ¾ for Azul Coast).
If Baffert follows the same path with this vastly talented colt, the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6 will be next. A stepping-stone to the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe is a mile and a sixteenth race that would be a logical choice for Life.
As we know, the 2020 road to the Kentucky Derby incurred many detours. Baffert did run Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby, but then was forced to develop an alternate plan. A ship and win effort in the Haskell at Monmouth Park happened before enjoying a third blanket of roses in the past five years.
Of course hopes are there will be no detours and the Kentucky Derby will be again run on that first Saturday in May. In the game of Thoroughbred racing those five months can seem like an eternity. Never looking to far into the future, Baffert likely has not mapped out the path for Life Is Good or Medina Spirit for that matter. Race spacing and the ability to have a horse peak at the right time has been a real strength for the one-time quarter horse conditioner. Rest assured the wheels are turning in the Baffert barn. Whether his latest charge runs in the same races as last year’s champ remains to be seen. The end goal, however, will be the same, run fast and bring home the hardware.
by Danny Brewer
For those that wondered just how good the lightly raced Charlatan is, they got their answer in the grade 1 Malibu Stakes on December 26.
A seven furlong dash over the Santa Anita dirt, the Malibu has long been a year end target for top three-year olds. This year has been a bit different in many ways, but a race that was first run in 1952 was still in the cross hairs for some top sophomores.
Unraced at two, Charlatan was a serious Kentucky Derby contender earlier in the year until injury put him on the shelf. Brilliantly fast and under the care of hall of fame conditioner Bob Baffert, this son of Speightstown was coming in off basically an eight month layoff. After crossing the wire first in one of the divisions of the Arkansas Derby on May 2 in his third career start, this grandson of Quiet American suffered an injury in training. Later he was stripped of that win due to a medication violation.
The layoff, the injury, and the violation caused question marks to fly around the Baffert barn as this head-strong colt prepared for another run at grade 1 glory. Stepping into the starting gates as well would be another speed merchant in the unbeaten Nashville. Fresh off a track record run at Keeneland on the Breeders Cup undercard, this Steve Asmussen trainee was lightning quick out of the gate. Also a son of Speightstown, Nashville had dropped more jaws than a mini skirt contest on Music Row.
The other four entrants in the gates were also far from chopped liver. Independence Hall had also been on the Kentucky Derby trail, Thousand Words had won the Shared Belief Stakes, Collusion Illusion was a Breeders Cup Sprint runner, and Express Train had been knocking heads in Stakes company all year.
Of course Nashville was considered the most dangerous runner, but was he ready to withstand the challenges of shipping West and facing grade 1 company for the first time?
“Charlatan has never faced a horse like Nashville,” said Bob Baffert in the days leading up to the Malibu. “But Nashville has never faced a horse like Charlatan either. It should be interesting.”
The gates opened and it was certainly interesting. As expected, a charged up Nashville bolted to the lead. With Charlatan just a length back, the opening fractions were Cheech and Chong like numbers. The opening quarter mile was a smoking 21.81 and the half-mile was a blazing 43.96. These fractions were slightly slower than Nashville’s last race, so as the two heavy hitters turned for home question was could he maintain the pace under the pressure from a horse like Charlatan?
Under the brilliant booting of veteran jockey Mike Smith, Charlatan rolled right past Nashville as they straightened at the top of the lane. Leaving the front runner in some second hand smoke, the powerful stride of Charlatan allowed him to buzz right on by. In a matter of a few jumps the cream of this crop rose to the top. Leaving no question as to who was the best on this day, it was not if but by how much.
As Nashville dropped like a bottle of Jack Daniels in Hank Jr’s dressing room, the class of Charlatan was on full display.
“At the top of the stretch I knew I had plenty of horse under me,” says Smith of this his first ride aboard Charlatan. “The way he kicked by Nashville so quick was really amazing. That turn of foot was just incredible and proves he is an exceptional talent. I knew he was a good horse but I sure do think a lot more of him know.”
Smith is not alone in thinking highly of Charlatan after that magnificent Malibu. After clearing the frontrunner with ease and opening up by about 7 lengths, Smith geared this pulsating power down a bit as they rolled home. Winning by 4 ½ lengths, Baffert’s boy covered the 7 furlongs in 1:21.50.
As a lightly raced bolt of lightning, the natural question now is where does he strike next? Having already proven he can go two turns, the mile and an eighth Pegasus or mile and a quarter Saudi Cup might be next for this talented colt.
“He pulled up after the Malibu and was not even out of breath,” says Smith. “He showed me he wants to go longer. Winning a race like the Malibu aboard a horse like him was fantastic and I am very thankful for the opportunity. I hope I get to stay on him.”
This time of year means lots of things to lots of people. The celebration of Christmas is always a real biggy. The ringing in of a new year is also high on the charts. But this year especially, opening day at Santa Anita should be up there in the rankings as well.
Obviously, the opening paragraph deserves a bit of an explanation. For years, this hillbilly turf writer has said the omens of Thoroughbred racing ring true in everyday life. With that in mind, we will quickly explain how all of us could use the Great Race Place as a shining example in the Derby we call life.
It wasn’t that long ago the rock throwers were slinging boulders at this historic track because of some unfortunate tragedies. Athletic injuries occurred at an alarming rate during both training and racing. Far too many Thoroughbreds lost their lives and we still have more questions than answers. The bottom line, however, was something that nobody wanted.
Armchair quarterbacks and second guessers are always front and center in these situations, but seldom does their criticism contain corrective action. Refusing to hide from the challenges presented, the horse racing community knew this thing wouldn’t just go away if they tried to crawl under a rock or point fingers at others. Instead, proactive measures were taken and the choice to wrestle the situation like a wild animal was made.
After changes on many fronts, Santa Anita enjoyed the safest racing season of any track in the United States during their 2020 run. Through diligence and dedication to the thousands of people involved in this wonderful sport, a thriving year produced many highlights.
“My hat is off to Belinda Stronarch and the management team at Santa Anita,” says Doug O’Neill, a four-time leading trainer at Santa Anita. “They have all worked very hard to make things safe not only for the horses but the people too. During a very trying year they really stepped up to the plate and the results are proof their plan was executed with great integrity.”
O’Neill himself was very active in voicing concerns about the well-being of a sport that has been a staple in Southern California since the 1930’s. Seeking to protect all those involved, the two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer made like Andre the Giant in body-slamming falsehoods about the viability of the sport of kings in today’s world.
“I am proud to have maybe played a small part in preserving the sport as we have known it,” says a humble O’Neill. “So many families depend on this sport for their livelihood . Their way of life was at stake. Many people choose to make this their living because they love these animals and enjoy being a part of something big. Once again I think the track and many others have done a brilliant job of handling a tough situation and really turning things around.”
As is the case with most sports, our what have you done for me lately world means this latest opening day starts everything over. With six stakes races scheduled for December 26 including three grade 1’s, the pressure to produce is once again the here and now. When Dr. Charles Strub opened this piece of heaven beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on December 25, 1934, he absolutely knew what he was doing. After a lot of hard work and dedication, it is apparent the people in charge now have an idea about handling big challenges too.
“Opening day at Santa Anita is always a special time,” says O’Neill. “It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it marks the start of a new racing season here in California.”
First post at the Great Race Place on Saturday, December 26 is slated for 11 am Pacific.
If we turned back the clock to early August there were serious questions about any type of high school football season. And a playoff was even more in doubt. But thanks to the concentrated efforts of many, we were able to witness a remarkable run by the Oakland Patriots (15-0) all the way to the class 6A state title.
When dissecting the 2020 campaign, “run” is the operative word for a school that claimed it’s second state title under current coach Kevin Creasy (2018) and fifth (1984, 1998, 2008, 2018, 2020) in school history. A believer in the basics, the sixth year Patriot leader adopts to the “pass to score, run to win” philosophy. After running roughshod over the opposition through a regular season where the smallest margin of victory was 16 (Warren County), Creasy and his crew continued to sport their New Balances. Making like Usain Bolt, the Patriots pounded Rossview, Mount Juliet, Riverdale, and Maryville in the first four rounds of the playoffs by a combined score of 186-38.
Their outstanding “run” was completed on December 5 in the TSSAA class 6A BlueCross Bowl in a 56-33 beat down of the Brentwood Bruins. In fitting fashion, Oakland amassed an incredible 468 yards rushing in the contest and averaged 10.8 yards per carry…that’s right we said “averaged”.
Make no mistake, Brentwood coach Ron Crawford brought his bunch in ready to play. The Patriots, however, were just too powerful. Four carries in particular encapsulate Oakland’s fleet-footed foray to another gold trophy.
On the opening drive of the contest for Oakland quarterback Ian Schlacter surprisingly dropped back to pass on third down. It looked as if the Bruins had him trapped, but a pump fake and 33 yards later it was first and goal Patriots and the stage was set.
Junior running back Jordan James flat toted the mail in amassing 230 yards with six scampers to paydirt. His second trip to the end zone was an 81-yard juke and jive jaunt that answered a Brentwood touchdown and made everyone aware of the lethal Patriot playmakers.
James struck again in the second quarter. After closing the gap to 28-12, Brentwood held hopes a stop would have them right back in the game. Up jumped James with a 59 yard flash to the promised land. Breaking tackles and then leaving defenders in his wake, even MC Hammer would have been dazzled by this dance.
As the third quarter ticked away, Brentwood again found the end zone and held on to some hope. Having held Oakland scoreless in the second half and seemingly able to stop the ground game, there was a flicker of hope. Back to back penalties appeared to stall the Patriots, that is until Schlacter likened himself to Carl Lewis. Scrambling out of the pocket, the senior signal caller weaved his way through traffic. Some 33 yards later he landed at the Bruin 5 yard line setting up the final score for his running buddy Jordan James.
“Jordan James is one really special player and all I can say about his performance is WOW,” says Creasy. “Those runs by Ian Schlacter were huge momentum changers for us at critical times when Brentwood had a full head of steam. He’s a great story because for the last three seasons he was the long snapper for us. He hung in there and waited for his chance to play quarterback and then made the most of his opportunity.”
For those scoring at home, junior running back Antonio Patterson ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the BlueCross Bowl as well. On the season Oakland rushed for over 3500 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. All that sounds like it was a pretty good run for Oakland in 2020.
“This one is really special when you consider everything,” says Creasy. “We weren’t even sure if there would be a season but to the credit of the TSSAA and a lot of others it happened. We have a really good coaching staff at Oakland and our kids were able to do the right things throughout the entire season. The staff kept them focused and I am very proud for our school and all those involved.”
by Danny Brewer
The world of high school football always contains peaks and valleys. Climbing the mountain of success can be very difficult, especially in an ultra-competitive Rutherford County. Staying atop Kilimanjaro is even tougher, but that’s what Oakland hopes to do as the Patriots play for the class 6A state title on December 5.
In what has been a season of shifting sand schedule wise, Oakland has toed the turf twelve times this season without being defeated (also three Covid forfeits are listed officially). Despite a little bit smaller team physically, the Patriots have been as big as ever in dominating the opposition. The closest regular season contest in which they were involved was a 36-20 road win at Warren County.
The post-season always brings new challenges, but Oakland has more than flexed their muscle. Four decisive wins left little doubt as to who was the best team on the field. Opening with a 49-0 win over Rossview was a great start to the second season. However the man-handling of Mount Juliet (49-17) and wrestling of rival Riverdale (39-14) were more impressive. But the real measuring stick of this team might have been the 49-7 mangling of playoff nemesis Maryville in the TSSAA semifinals.
“Obviously we felt confident going into the Maryville game, but I didn’t think we could beat them like that,“ says Oakland head coach Kevin Creasy. “I am really proud for how this team put it all together and rallied after losing one of our best players, Victor Stephenson, to injury.“
Coming off such an emotional win can be good news-bad news as the four-time state champion head coach (three at Trousdale County one at Oakland) is well aware. Maryville ended the Patriots season last year in the semifinal round, so a woodshed whipping was especially sweet. But now it is on to another challenge and the BlueCross Bowl.
“Our challenge is can we get up one more week,” says Creasy. “The playoffs are a different animal and you have to be ready or your season ends with a loss. This group has done an excellent job of preparing the last four weeks. Now we just need to turn it up one more time.”
Confronting the Patriots in the class 6A state title game will be Brentwood (10-3). These two schools met during the regular season in a late-scheduled contest due to Covid. After both the regularly scheduled opponents fell out the two agreed to meet. Oakland went to Williamson County and beat the Bruins 37-0.
A couple of quick facts the calculating Creasy is adding up are Brentwood avenged one of their other regular season losses with a post-season win over Independence and that Brentwood won the 2002 state title with a huge upset of heavily favored Riverdale. The Bruin leader that orchestrated the 10-7 win over the Warriors for all the marbles is current coach Ron Crawford.
“We understand the regular season game means nothing here,” says Creasy, now in his sixth season at Oakland. “We have a lot of respect for Brentwood and their coaching staff. Our players have to be ready to accept the huge challenge a game like this presents.”
Kickoff for the 2020 class 6A BlueCross Bowl is scheduled for 7 pm in Cookeville at Tucker Stadium on the Tennessee Tech campus.
by Danny Brewer
The Clark is no doubt one of the top races in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. A grade 1 event worth $500,000, this mile and an eighth run over the main track has been the centerpiece of the Churchill Downs Fall meet for 146 years. Featuring some of the best classic distance runners, this has long been a showcase for the sport of kings. In recent years it has been a great spot after the Breeders’ Cup for top talent. This year is no different. In fact, a field of fourteen means the starting gates will be as loaded as that plate you made at Aunt Wilma Jean’s house on Turkey day. Let’s take a look at the prospective field and decide who is the ham and turkey and who might be the show-stopping green bean casserole. Get an extra-big plate and don’t forget the buttermilk pie!
1 Craft Daddy-Trained by Kenny McPeek, this son of Scat Daddy has Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. Having run mostly on the grass, his last start was a win over the Downs dirt. We say he’s like some sweet potato pie- attractive to some but not on our plate.
2 Title Ready- Son of More Than Ready has run a lot in Stakes company but hasn’t gotten there. Was 7th last out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a way of making stuff happen. Like the cornbread dressing, you need a little for your exotic wagers because he could kick’em up.
3 Code of Honor- This Shug McGauhey trainee is supposed to be the honey baked ham. His last 11 starts have been in graded stakes company and his Travers triumph a year ago was delectable. Got to have him on the plate in all your exotics.
4 Multiplier- Trainer Peter Miller says there are 500,000 reasons to start his veteran here. No wins this year and only 3 in 31 lifetime starts may cause you to ask why, but a fourth place finish in the Stephen Foster back in June says he could make the superfecta pay big. Like some honey roasted carrots, you may want a little on your plate.
5 Aurelius Maximus- Two wins and a second in three starts this year coupled with all-time Churchill leading trainer Steve Asmussen means this son of Pioneerof the Nile might be like the fudge pie. Something you need to leave room for because with the other dishes, may be forgotten by some but tasty as can be.
6 Plus Que Parfait-Winless in six starts this year, this well-traveled son of Point of Entry may be the Jello dish with the marsh mellows in it. Not many people trying and most of it left on the table.
7 Mr Freeze-Here is the white bread stuffing your granny makes. An absolute must because it is sooo tasty. Winner of the Fayette two starts back and an Ack-Ack triumph in 2019 sandwiched around some other prime time efforts means this Dale Romans trained son of To Honor and Serve will be all over our plate.
8 Bodeexpress-Always thought to be talented, this son of Bodemeister has only found the winner’s circle 3 times in 16 starts. Like the corn soufflé, you want some on your plate because he has been in the top three 10 times, just don’t take up too much room as there are other potentially more tasty treats.
9 Owendale-Having finished second in this race in 2019, this son of Into Mischief is conditioned by one of the hottest chefs in the kitchen. Brad Cox has been cooking up some fabulous things of late and he might just get a grade 1 here with some green bean casserole.
10 Bourbon Calling- Let’s get real for a second. There is usually something that’s not on the table, but most of the men are searching for so they can hang with the relatives. Ian Wilkes trained and in the money in half his starts this year, he might be the brown bag for a celebratory superfecta.
11 Coastal Defense- With all eight of his career starts coming this year, this four-year old son of Curlin has only raced in stakes company once. Can trainer Dale Romans make an unlikely starter into some broccoli cheesey rice casserole that everybody wants some of?…Dale has won a whole bunch at Churchill and set off bombs before.
12 By My Standards- The star of the show at our feast has long been the Fried Turkey and that’s where this son of Goldencents comes in. Trainer Bret Calhoun has guided this fabulous four-year old to 4 wins and 2 seconds in 7 starts this year. A nice win in the Alysheba at Churchill on September 4 means he smells like that wonderful deep fried goodness.
13 Phantom Currency-A winner of a turf switched to dirt race in his last start means trainer Brian Lynch wants to roll the dice. Also a son of Goldencents, this four-year old has 3 wins in 11 career tries but is the cranberry sauce. A dish that’s there but nobody really wants.
14 Silver Prospector-The lone three year old in the race, this Steve Asmussen trained son of Declaration of War might be our buttermilk pie. Early in the year he looked like a player on the Triple Crown trail but a 7th place finish in the Arkansas Derby squelched that. Two wins and a third in three lifetime starts at Churchill means you better make space on your platter.
The Clark is the 10th race on an 11 race card that is to be run beneath the twin spires on November 27. Prospective post time is 5:27 eastern.
by Danny Brewer
A quick glance at the final score of the Oakland-Riverdale third round playoff game kinda says “blowout”. But those in attendance understand the game was still highly in question over halfway into the fourth quarter, That was until Patriot coach Kevin Creasy put on his chef’s hat.
Rolling into the third quarter of a post-season edition of the battle for the Boro, it appeared as though the Patriots were in complete control. Using all facets of their game, Oakland was leading their crosstown rival 26-0. Refusing to go down without a fight, Riverdale put up two scores and trailed 26-14. With a little more than five minutes left in the contest and all their timeouts remaining, the Warriors were far from scalped.
Normally in a situation like this, a coach will implore a game plan to “not lose” the game. Run the ball, try and eat some clock, and depend on the defense. A turn of events, however, caused the highly successful Patriot leader to make a trip to the kitchen and deliver the dessert.
With 4:59 remaining and the clock stopped the call was made. Backed up on their own 10 yard line after a penalty, Oakland faced a “second down and Shelbyville” situation. Those that have seen the crafty Creasy in action would normally think a run was in order to keep the clock rolling. The Patriots had made their cake with a nice balanced offense predicated on running the football. A staple of his winning ways, the sixth year Oakland leader believes in the basics.
Lining up in a box stacking formation, Riverdale looked to stuff their rivals, get the ball back and make a real game of it. But wait a minute, the Patriots emptied the backfield in a field spreading formation. Surely the conservative thinking Creasy would not pass in this situation. When you throw it three things can happen and two of them are bad. A pass would go against the “not lose a fourth quarter lead” theory.
This is where Duncan Hines jumped to the forefront. Creasy made a daring call as he was looking to “win” the game. From the spread formation, star running back Jordan James slipped into a wide-open section in the middle of the field and hauled in a perfect strike from quarterback Ian Schlacter. After juking a would-be tackler, James jolted 90 yards to paydirt. Now up three scores with under five minutes to play, the Fat Lady began warming up the pipes.
“The penalty put us in a bad predicament with still a lot of time left,” says Creasy. “People don’t realize Jordan James has some really good hands and our quarterback made a perfect throw in that situation. Of course some bad things could have happened, but we were very fortunate it worked out and Jordan was able to catch it and outrun everybody to the end zone.”
The cake-icing call by Creasy was one of those plays that can make you look like a five star chef. Of course it also can allow all the arm chair cooks to nay say if it does not work. Having the confidence in your team in critical times makes for a champion’s mentality. Having won three state titles at Trousdale County and garnering a fourth at Oakland, the man obviously knows the ingredients to a winning cake. And as Riverdale found out…he knows how to ice it as well.
Oakland will host Maryville in the TSSAA class 6A state semifinals on November 27. Kickoff at Ray Hughes Stadium is slated for 7pm.
When you really think about it, riding in a Thoroughbred race is kind of a leap of faith. Climbing aboard a spirited athlete with twice as many legs and aver 10 times your size certainly takes courage. Not to mention traveling in a pack of other thundering tonnage running thirty five or so miles per hour. There is one jockey in particular that will be a testament of faith when the horses are saddled in the grade 1 Clark at Churchill Downs on November 27.
Jumping Joe Talamo has spent the better part of his riding career in Southern California. Born in Louisiana in 1990, the ambitious Cajun crafted himself as a skilled rider at a very young age. After spending the last thirteen years on the Southern California circuit, the winner of some of the Golden State’s biggest stakes races decided to come back East.
The decision to move his young family closer to his birth place was not easy. Having basically grown up at places like Santa Anita and Del Mar, Talamo courageously decided it was time for a change.
“I did a lot of thinking about it and it came down to more opportunity and better purse structure at the tracks east of the Mississippi,” says the 2007 Eclipse award winning apprentice rider. “Some of the races run at Oaklawn Park and Churchill have twice the prize money as the same type of races run out West. My kids are still very young so I didn’t have to uproot them from school and my wife was behind it so here we are.”
Talamo has seemed to find his way just fine during a challenging year. Riding at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he sat atop the jockey standings for much of the meet before finishing second in wins (53) as he acquired a season leading 320 mounts. Among those rides, Talamo finished in the top three 42% of the time. At the Churchill Downs spring meet a ninth place finish in the final rider standings was followed by a tenth place at the short September meet at Churchill. At the current meet beneath the Twin Spires he is fifth in purse earnings and has finished in the money 36% of the time.
Talamo has enjoyed the year thus far in some new surroundings. But the former champion rider at the Fair Grounds (2006) in his home state points to a couple of simple reasons for his success.
“You always have to work as hard as you can in this game to be a winner,” says Talamo. “I have always tried to follow that simple rule. The other thing that has been a big help is being able to get on some really live horses. My agent, Jake Romans, has done an excellent job of putting me on some great horses. He has put me in a position to be successful and that has been huge.”
The leap of faith has paid off thus far for Talamo, but like any top rider, he’s hungry for that next big win. The tradition-rich Clark is currently in the cross-hairs. Run every year since 1875, this mile and an eighth journey over the Churchill Downs dirt will see Talamo getting a leg up on Coastal Defense. Trained by Dale Romans, one of the all-time training icons at the Louisville Oval, the Louisiana native guided this son of Curlin to victory in September at Churchill.
Talamo understands the opportunity now before him as the Clark attracts top talent. One of the “big” year-end races.it is worth $500,000. This give Joe another chance to jump up against the game’s big hitters.
“I think Coastal Defense is a horse on the rise and he seems to be getting better and better,” says Talamo. “He’s versatile and that gives you a better opportunity because you don’t have to be pace dependent to win. Dale is a great guy to ride for and he always does a great job of having his horses ready. I am very excited to have the chance to ride in a prestigious race like the Clark. “
Those opportunities can come along with a leap of faith. The Clark will headline the black Friday card at Churchill Downs on November 27. Some of the horses lining up against Coastal Defense are stable mate Mr Freeze, grade 1 winner Honor Code and graded stakes winner Owendale just to name a few.
Blackman high school baseball phenom Drew Beam signed with the University of Tennessee last week. Featuring a fastball that’s fast and a curveball that curves, Beam has baffled hitters galore during his time on the hill at Blackman. Eager to continue playing the game for the Big Orange, this hard throwing righthanded senior made his commitment to the Volunteers official. Family and friends were present as he inked with Tennessee. Those joining Beam at the signing table were (back row l to r ) coach Greg Jones, father Jason Beam, head coach Barry Vetter, (front row l to r) sister Carlee Beam, Drew Beam, mother Kelli Beam.
by Danny Brewer, Sports Editor
The TSSAA postseason has begun and locals are seeing something very familiar. The Oakland Patriots are once again flexing their muscle in Middle Tennessee.
High school football in this area is certainly a source of pride in the sports community. Having won four state titles (1984,1998, 2008, 2018) and with three runner up finishes (1988, 1989, 2016), Oakland has enjoyed their time at the top over the past four decades. Under the guidance of current coach Kevin Creasy, the Patriots are once again demonstrating the recent dominance of a football rich region.
If any folks wondered where Oakland currently is in the pecking order, the second round contest with Mt. Juliet provided an emphatic answer. A blocked punt early in the first quarter staked the Bears to a 3-0 lead, but that was the last time the rival from Wilson County had any hopes of victory. Over the next two quarters, Oakland went on a 49-0 run and cruised to a 49-17 win.
“I am very proud of our team for answering the way they did,” says Creasy. “I think that’s just the second blocked punt my teams have given up in my coaching career. Mt. Juliet had some early momentum but this bunch responded in a big way and really took control. That was big time”
The first quarter ended with Oakland on top 7-3, but from there it was all about skinning the Bears. Four Patriot trips to paydirt in the second quarter essentially put the game out of reach. Junior running back Jordan James jaunted into the end zone twice during the second quarter as he continued to be one of the main weapons in Oakland’s offensive arsenal.
“Jordan is one of those naturals that really does a lot for our offense,” says Creasy, now in his sixth season at Oakland. “I don’t do much coaching with him.”
Next up the Patriots (13-0) will attempt to make like Arnold Schwarznegger again as they take on rival Riverdale (10-2) in the third round of the TSSAA playoffs. Having whipped the Warriors 30-7 in the regular season means little to Creasy and his crew as they prepare to host their crosstown rival with much more at stake.
“I think all of our kids understand it is a win or go home situation now,” says Creasy. “All these kids have worked hard to get to this point and now we just need to stay focused and play the game.”
Kickoff for the Oakland-Riverdale game is slated for 7 pm on November20 at Ray Hughes Stadium.
by Danny Brewer, Sports Editor
Some of my loyal and not so loyal followers recognize one of the familiar utterances associated with me and Horseracingscoop.com . Both of them have heard me say “back a horse and get paid” on social media and in our produced videos. A trip to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland shined a spotlight on that very slogan time and again.
Thoroughbred horse racing is one of the greatest things on earth. The “sport of kings” has so many positive attributes and the Breeders’ Cup is an event that magnifies such. The 2020 edition run at Keeneland on November 6 and 7 was all encompassing when it came to getting paid.
First and foremost we must clarify our payment process. Better than Venmo or PayPal, Thoroughbred racing provides a feeling of euphoric satisfaction. Always a happy place, Keeneland was full of smiles as 22 stakes races were run with 14 being Breeders’ Cup championship events. The competition was immense, so as a participant, being in was a big win in its own right. For those that had no real connection to an entrant, simply seeing this type of competitive display in an athletic arena was most certainly a mark in the left hand column.
Granted, a trip to the winner’s circle with a photo op is the ultimate goal, but as is the case always, time will lend perspective to the importance of just being in the starting gates at an event like this. Case in point for me was Serengeti Empress. Having displayed more heart than a Valentine’s Candy Store since first toeing the track, this fabulously fast female was making her final start of a glorious career. Trainer Tom Amoss wanted to send his Kentucky Oaks champion out a winner as re-payment for the many thrills she had provided his Louisiana-based stable. Fortunate enough to be a part of his posse (or Tomtourage), the pins and needles we were all on leading up to the event was warm and fuzzy…or maybe that was the champagne… Regardless, this was not just me being a casual press observer, it was more than that. A part of an inner circle, this Cup provided a new perspective.
As we expressed earlier, being able to compete at this level is a huge feather in any participant’s cap. Having played, coached, and covered many different sports since the 1970’s (whoa…that makes me sound like an old timer) I have run across those that could handle the pressure and respond with poise and class, and those who couldn’t. A few hours enjoying the company of team Amoss told me exactly why Serengeti Empress was running in the Breeders’ Cup. The Empress and her court represented the passion and dedication that defines success. After she ran a determined second to a track record setting Gamine in the Filly and Mare Sprint, the disappointment was understandable. As the final race of her career, there would be no “we’ll get’em next time”. Like a real winner, Amoss took it all in stride as he is bright enough to know he backed his horse and got paid with lasting memories, but nevertheless he is a competitor, and like lots of others he came to the Cup to win. In the future he and his team will understand they did.
Another that backed his horses and got paid was Brad Cox. In an ever-challenging world, this Louisville native has ducked into a phone booth on Central Avenue and has emerged as one of the super trainers in the game. Those closer to the sport have recognized his rise through the training ranks, but the 2020 Breeders’ Cup told the world he is faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. After pulling the late double on Friday (Aunt Pearl in Fillies Juvenile Turf, Essential Quality in Juvenile), the man of steel flexed a different kind of training muscle on Saturday. In winning the Dirt Mile and the Distaff, Cox used a pair of resuscitated runners. Knicks Go was almost on the scrap heap before coming into the Brad Cox barn After 10 consecutive races without a win, the man who has won two of the past three Kentucky Oaks found the light switch. Beginning with two wins in two starts for Cox, this son of Paynter lead every step of the way in establishing a new track record (1:33.85) in the Dirt Mile. Kentucky Oaks heroine Monomoy Girl then rewarded her caring conditioner with a winning performance in the Distaff. Having missed all of 2019, this five-year old daughter of Tapizar completed a perfect four for four campaign with her second win in the Distaff. Others may have given up on these two, but Cox backed a pair and got paid.
The proverbial payouts were huge at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, but so were the monetary ones. In the 22 races run on November 6 and 7 at Keeneland, over $160 million was wagered. The average payout on the 10 cent superfecta (a $2.40 wager picking the top 4 finishers) was a whopping $3107.87. Long shot winners like Fire at Will (30-1 Juvenile Turf), Order of Australia (73-1 Mile), Glass Slippers (10-1 Turf Sprint), and Whitmore (18-1 Sprint) were just some of the reasons for fat cash. Near misses by bombers like Hot Rod Charlie (94-1 Juvenile), Jesus’ Team (64-1 Dirt Mile) and Valiance (18-1 Distaff) were just some of the others that kicked the tickets up another notch. It is understood that any horse entering the starting gates can win on any day, but that is especially true at an event like this.
So to summarize, if you were lucky enough to be at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, or any of the past Cups for that matter, you got paid in one form or another.
SPORTS BY DANNY BREWER
The Breeders’ Cup is the greatest two days in Thoroughbred racing…period. As far as competition is concerned, it is like a heavyweight title tournament. Dempsey, Marciano, Louis, Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holmes, Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield, and then some. The best of the best from all over the world come together to decide who is tops in their respective division. With $31 million in total purse money the top-flight athletes are plentiful and often times the payouts are as well. Keeneland Race Course in the heart of horse country will host this 37th running. Considering that, let’s provide a brief examination of each race and throw out a bomb or two.
JUVENILE TURF SPRINT… With a 14 horse field of geeked up two year olds, this could be a quick one over that Kentucky Bluegrass. Perennial turf titan Wesley Ward has the morning line favorite in Golden Pal (8-5), but the far outside post might present a challenge. Our horse that might muddy the water here is the Mark Casse trained Dirty Dangle at a tidy 20-1
JUVENILE TURF… Run at one mile, this may be as wide open as any race in the entire event. The morning line favorite is Mutasaabeq at 5-1 and this 14 horse field is very balanced. That means the exotics in this one could pay HUGE! A couple to watch could be Ebeko (20-1) and Abarta (12-1)…Cha-Ching!!!
JUVENILE FILLIES… Considered a setup for the road that leads to the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, this field is small comparatively speaking (7 entrants) but is uber talented. Bob Baffert trained Princess Noor (9-5 morning line) is the early favorite but this is certainly not a gimme. The Dale Romans trained Girl Daddy is one fast filly that might just upset the apple cart at 6-1.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF… Another 14 horse field means another potential huge payout. Brad Cox saddles the morning line favorite in Aunt Pearl (3-1) but how about a Chad Brown trained filly, Editor At Large that’s 12-1 on the morning line? Irish import Mother Earth is 20-1 for trainer Aidan O’Brien….hmmmmm.
JUVENILE… Only twice has the winner of this race went on to win the Kentucky Derby (Street Sense 2006, Nyquist 2015) but we stil look at it as an important piece to the Derby puzzle. With 14 freshman lining up it will be a chance to see who is measuring up early. Jackie’s Warrior is a strong 7-5 morning line favorite, but last year Storm the Court shook up the world at odds of 45-1. Some potential earth movers here are King Fury (15-1) and Classier (15-1)
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT… In what could be a real speed duel the youth of Gamine (7-5) is matched against the courage of Serengeti Empress (3-1). Either could lead every step of the 7 furlongs. If the pace is too hot, Sally’s Curlin could come from the clouds at early odds of 20-1.
DIRT MILE… A super loaded 12 horse field sees Complexity as the 2-1 morning line favorite, but Art Collector (6-1), Mr. Freeze (6-1) and Knicks Go (7-2) all have nice wins over this track. Mr. Money (20-1) and Rushie (20-1) are bombers that could easily drop one here. Might be a close your eyes and point race.
MILE… A turf race extraordinaire, this one usually attracts some of the best from across the pond. Ivar is coming in off a win over this turf course and is 4-1 on the morning line but Chad Brown trained female Uni should deservedly vie for favoritism. Irish import Circus Maximus may be worth a look at 12-1.
FILLY AND MARE TURF… With 14 females lining up, this could be a real cat fight. Rushing Fall has been magnificent at Keeneland and is 5-2 on the morning line. Trainer Chad Brown has her along with prime timers Sistercharlie and Nay Lady Nay. Harvey’s Little Goil (20-1) and Lady Prancelot (30-1) are some long shots that could certainly provide a day-making ticket.
TURF… A race that has featured some of the best European horses, this one is no different. Six of the ten entrants are from the old world with Magical as the 5-2 morning line favorite. Any one of the American entrants, Arklow (5-1), United (8-1), Red King (20-1), or Channel Maker (5-1) could slip in and steal the cheese.
TURF SPRINT… These 5 ½ furlong races are some of the most exciting in the sport. This mad dash over the Keeneland grass is packed with 14 speedsters. Fantastic female Got Stormy (7-2) is the morning line favorite, but this one could set up for a shocker. Three time defending champ trainer Peter Miller has Texas Wedge at 30-1 and California based Wildman Jack is 15-1.
SPRINT… This race could feature another photo finish with fourteen runners and plenty of talent. Vekoma is the morning line favorite at 3-1 but CZ Rocket is at 7-2 and coming in with a five race win streak. Old man Whitmore (15-1) might be worth a play and Collusion Illusion (20-1) is another that could be there.
DISTAFF… A race that usually features the top dirt females, Swiss Skydiver (2-1) and Monomoy Girl (8-5) have both earned some major accolades in their careers. This could be a match race but horses like Ollie’s Candy (10-1) and Ce Ce (12-1) may have something to say about that.
CLASSIC… A mile and a quarter over the main track with $6 million on the line.. Bob Baffert has his three amigos poised to strike as Improbable (5-2), Maximum Security (7-2) and Authentic (6-1) are imposing. But don’t forget about Tiz The Law, By My Standards (10-1) and Tom’s d’Etat (6-1). This is a VERY competitive nine horse field.
As the runners line up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 7, Bob Baffert may be doing a Chuck Daly imitation. …How’s that you ask?…It looks like Big Race Bob has assembled a Dream Team for this $6 million event.
For those that don’t recall, the 1992 Summer Olympics featured a United States basketball team like no other. As NBA players were allowed to participate for the first time ever, the USA squad featured eleven players that would become members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan were perhaps the three most recognizable names on a team that brought home the gold, but the stars were plentiful up and down the bench.
The 2020 mile and a quarter Classic at Keeneland race course will see Baffert bring in a formidable line up of stars that might be reminiscent of those legendary hoopsters. His runners may not be as recognizable to the common sports fans as those players from ’92, but their talent level jumps out of the gym.
The shooting guard for the hall of fame conditioner is Maximum Security. Having crossed the finish line first in eleven of thirteen career starts, this son of New Year’s Day is a horse that can flat score. Full of heart and with plenty of speed and stamina, his recent works say he is coming in right. His last race was a second place finish in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita on September 26, but Baffert throws that one out.
“We probably shouldn’t have run him in that spot because I don’t think he was ready,” says Baffert. “He didn’t like the track at Santa Anita that day but he seems to be doing great right now.”
The power forward in the lineup is Improbable. Much like Karl “the Mailman” Malone, this athlete has really delivered. Three consecutive grade 1 wins have seen this son of City Zip mature into a real force. A versatile runner, his front-running score in the Whitney at Saratoga was followed by a worst to first romp in the Awesome Again as he blew past stable mate Maximum Security.
“We always thought he was a good horse, now he’s just getting really good,” says Baffert. “We just need him to be really good one more time this year.”
The third member of Baffert’s Classic lineup is the swingman, Authentic. An athlete that has demonstrated outstanding ability in registering five wins and two seconds in seven career starts, this son of Into Mischief is a slasher. He took the highly favored Tiz The Law to the hoop in winning the 2020 Kentucky Derby before just missing in the Preakness on October 4.
“He came out of the Preakness in good shape, he just lost focus,” says the thee-time winner of the Classic (2014, 2015, 2016). “The key for him is to get engaged early and remain focused. He’s very talented and has a lot of speed.”
Does a four-time grade 1 winner (Improbable) and the two horses that crossed the finish line first in the last two Kentucky Derbies (Maximum Security 2019, Authentic 2020) compare to the likes of coach Chuck Daly’s arsenal?… Tip time for the Classic is set as the final race of a spectacular two-day event.
When rivals meet on the gridiron it’s always exciting. When region titles are potentially on the line it means even more. The October 23 showdown at Smyrna was all about first place in more ways than one as the Wolverines and Bulldogs battled for the top spot in region 5.
The long-standing high school football series with LaVergne has presented many challenges for Smyrna over the thirty plus years it has existed. The Wolverines have had plenty of fight, but some how, some way, the Bulldogs have found a way to stand tall in every meeting except one (2000). As every one knows this year has been different in many ways, but the outcome of this backyard brawl saw more of the same for Smyrna.
In a contest that featured many highlights and offered up all the reasons why high school football is fantastic, Smyrna’s 35-28 triumph was another storied chapter in the Bulldog football lore. Big plays when it counted the most allowed the Dogs to dig their way out of a 21-14 halftime deficit. Using all facets of the game, Smyrna rolled up the fur and found a way in the final two quarters.
“I am really proud of our kids for keeping their composure and not panicking when we were down at the half,” says Smyrna head coach Matt Williams. “LaVergne has a good team and Ray Banner is a very talented player. We had a lot of kids step up and display the heart of a Bulldog.”
Ray Banner, the Wolverines outstanding senior running back, struck fear into the Smyrna hearts with a sizzling first half. Scoring two of the three LaVergne touchdowns, one was a scintillating 75-yard scamper that proved this kid can take it to the house any time he touches the ball. His presence and the confidence he brings to the entire squad meant it would take something special for Smyrna to keep their winning streak alive.
True to form, the opening offensive series for Smyrna saw one of those table turning plays. Listed at 5 foot nine and 155 pounds, senior receiver Jamir Eaton is a diminutive Dog with a huge heart. Hauling in a pass from quarterback Landon Miller, Eaton solidified his super hero status as he refused to go down. Breaking tackles like the Incredible Hulk at mid-field, he then transformed into the Flash as he bolted free and ran to paydirt. The 77 yard pass, catch, and run infused life into Smyrna as Dogged determination was in full display.
Following a blocked punt, Smyrna took the lead for good as Miller found the end zone from one yard out. Mid-way through the decisive third quarter LaVergne was dealt a misfortunate blow as Banner left the contest with an ankle injury. Having accumulated 222 yards on 22 carries through two and a half quarters, the Wolverine star would not return.
Capitalizing on a now limited LaVergne offense, Smyrna turned loose their running game. Proving to also be a force on the ground, Sophomore Arion Carter capped a big night (147 yards 14 carries) by racking up yardage during Smyrna’s third scoring drive of the quarter. Now up 35-21, the Bulldogs used the ground game to help shorten the fourth quarter with clock consuming possessions.
“I am very proud of our offensive line and how they found a way to open holes for all of our backs,” says Williams. “Arion Carter is a kid I can’t say enough about and we had a lot of big plays from different players in critical situations.”
The 2020 edition of the rumble in North Rutherford County wound up with a familiar result, but it once again featured outstanding effort from both sides and some sparkling performances. Smyrna (6-3 , 5-0 in region play) now controls their own destiny as they can claim the region title with a win at Stewart’s Creek. For Bulldog leader Matt Williams it marked another notch in his coaching collar as he found a way get his Dogs to measure up.
“We haven’t played LaVergne this late in the year with this much on the line in a long time,” says the Dog leader, now in his 13th season. “No question this is a special win and now we just need to keep moving forward.“
Smyrna closes the regular season on October 30 at Stewart’s Creek Kickoff is slated for 7 pm.
by Danny Brewer
Many things have changed during a tumultuous year and the new normal is often the abnormal. One thing however has not changed. The Oakland Patriots are currently the class of Rutherford County high school football teams.
As the season has unfolded, the Patriots have looked every bit the part of state title contender. Standing at 9-0, Oakland has dominated a reshuffled schedule with a potent offense and stingy defense. Seven contests played on the field has seen the Patriots outscore the opposition 291-62. The other two contests were Covid 19 forfeits.
Blessed with playmakers on both sides of the football, head coach Kevin Creasy has been able to keep his kids healthy and focused. Managing the mental aspect in these trying times has been every coach’s challenge in 2020. The fundamentally based Creasy has been very pleased with his team’s response to that hurdle.
“The thing I am most proud of is the fact these kids really appreciate the opportunity to play football,” says Creasy. “They understand the challenges the world is facing and know it is a privilege to be able to step on the playing field. Being able to play this game means a lot to our group.”
Offensively, Oakland has several weapons that are threats to take it to the house any time they touch the ball. Jordan James, Victor Stephenson, Antonio Patterson, and Isaiah Horton all give the Patriot offense big paydirt threats. These type players give Creasy an expanded opportunity with play calling. Of equal importance, however are the guys surrounding these deadly weapons.
“We are blessed to have some kids that are capable of doing some special things,” says Creasy, now in his sixth season at the Oakland helm. “The special thing about this team is the commitment all of our players have to the team. We have a lot of overachievers on this roster. There are kids that have been asked to play different positions and they embrace their roles with the team always coming first.”
Oakland will host Coffee County for senior night and their final home game of the regular season on October 23. Always trying to emphasize the little things, Creasy is taking things one week at a time.
“We have been blessed with good health to this point and will take things one day at a time,” says Creasy. “These kids seem to be gelling at the right time. I think we are continuing to get better which is what you want. Now we just need to stay healthy and remain focused.”
Kickoff for the game with Coffee County is slated for 7 pm at Ray Hughes Stadium in Murfreesboro. The Patriots complete the regular season on October 30 with a trip to Warren County.
Marc Carpenter (left) and Kyle Burgess are once again champions of the Jimmy Golf League. Played at Cedar Crest Golf Course, the hotly contested season saw the big hitting Burgess consistently score well while the crafty Carpenter carved out solid rounds on a regular basis. This marks the fourth consecutive year this duo has danced past the competition. Considering the nature of this grand old game that is quite a feat. Fantastic play on and around the greens were just one of the highlights for the now four-time defending champs.
Photo credit Chelsea Durand
The relationship between player and coach is often times very special. This is absolutely the case in the game of Thoroughbred racing. Perhaps it is even more so as these four-legged athletes enjoy a special bond with their conditioner in what can be a “who trains who” situation. A classic example will be on display at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup when one trainer in particular hopes to orchestrate a fairy tale ending for his prized pupil.
Tom Amoss has had many horses in his barn since beginning life as a trainer back in 1987. With over 3200 wins in the saddle bags, the native of New Orleans has enjoyed a trip or two to the winner’s circle. There is one runner, however, that holds a very special place in the LSU graduate’s heart.
Serengeti Empress is without question one of the most courageous runners in the game today. Under the expert care of her loving conditioner, the Empress has reigned supreme seven times in eighteen career starts. With more speed than Shirley Muldowney, this four year old daughter of Alternation always provides thrills no matter where she finishes.
“You can’t measure her heart and that is probably her greatest feature,” says Amoss. “Anyone that watches her race and sees what she puts into it can’t help but become a fan. She leaves it all on the track every time.”
The most notable win of her career came in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks. Coming into the race under the radar, the Empress took’em gate to wire in a real showcase of her racehorse qualities. Front end speed and the ability to carry it through the finish put the spotlight on the superior preparation instilled by Amoss. Even though his barn did things basically the same way they had always done, the Oaks triumph cast their racing team in a different light.
“I owe a lot to the Empress because when she won the Kentucky Oaks I suddenly became a better trainer in the eyes of a lot of people,” says Amoss. “We really didn’t change our approach, she’s just a very special athlete that changed our public perception. Her performance that day allowed me entrance into “the club” and believe me being in the club has it’s advantages.”
One of the things that made the Oaks win so special was the uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the world’s most famous race for three-year old fillies. A bleeding issue in the Fairgrounds Oaks on March 23 had cast doubt about her ability to be ready. As Amoss carefully nurtured his prized filly back to health a very special bond was formed. Always putting the health of his horse first, the decision to run in the May 3 showcase was not made until the week before when he knew his Empress was sound physically. She in turn rewarded her coach with a huge effort.
Serengeti Empress has continued to shine the spotlight on her dedicated conditioner in this, her four-year old season. That same heart and effort have produced courageous performances in all but one of her six starts this year. Her win in the mile and a sixteenth Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March was another gate to wire romp. After being unable to score in the Apple Blossom due to an outside post draw and fading in the mile and an eighth Fleur di Lis, Amoss changed the game plan for his star.
Because she has normally been fantastic in the early stages of every race in her career, the cagy conditioner decided it was time to play to her strengths and run shorter distances. The grade 1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga on August 8 was the site for Serengeti and her test at seven furlongs in 2020. Amoss looked like Einstein as the Empress displayed one of the most dynamic runs ever over this New York dirt. Simply sizzling opening fractions (21.73 quarter mile, 43.74 half) would have cooked most, but this beautiful girl thrives when the grill gets hot. Her six challengers could not hold up and Amoss’s Empress was crowned.
The next try at this same seven furlong distance was not a win, but her loss by a flaring nostril in the Derby City Distaff on September 5 featured a legendary stretch run. Once again this granddaughter of Bernardini set a blistering pace (21.93 quarter, 43.77 half mile). Refusing to give in when confronted by Bell’s The One, the Empress battled all the way to the wire as she just refused to give in.
Those two fantastic efforts by his fabulously fast female gives Amoss confidence as she prepares for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Contested at seven furlongs, this year’s Cup will be run at Keeneland. A likely lineup that will feature the also freakishly fast Gamine should not alter the game plan for the Empress.
“It’s a little late to change things up,” observes Amoss. “This is going to be the final start of her career and now is not the time to try and change. She wants to be out front and that’s what we want too.”
Preparations for their last dance together have gone well to this point. A recent half mile breeze told Amoss his beauty is ready to run. Now he hopes to fine tune her and provide the sendoff he knows she deserves.
“Winning this race is very important for us,” says Amoss. “Our number one goal is to see her walk off the track healthy. But I also want to reward her by sending her out with a win. I think I owe that to her. As the years go by and we reflect on things Serengeti Empress will always be the first one we talk about. She has been so big for our stable and closing out her days on the track with a Breeders’ Cup victory is what we are hoping for.”
No matter what happens as these two trip the light fantastic one final time, Amoss and his Empress will be winners because they have each other.
The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint is scheduled for November 7.