by Danny Brewer, Sports Editor
In the business world we often spend time looking for some real Money. In the business of Thoroughbred racing, one conditioner knew he has some real Money and after the Ack-Ack Stakes, everyone else knows it too.
Mr Money is a powerfully running son of Goldencents out of the mare Plenty O’Toole. A brilliantly managed three-year old campaign saw him ascend in the division during 2019. Some slight mishaps took him off the Kentucky Derby trail early and trainer Bret Calhoun decided to take a bit of a different route. After collecting himself, Money cashed in with four straight grade 3 wins (Pat Day Mile, Matt Winn Stakes, Indiana Derby, West Virginia Derby) with two of those coming at his home track, Churchill Downs (Pat Day, Matt Win). He finished the year with a narrow loss in the Pennsylvania Derby and a hard luck seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
The calendar turned to 2020 and most looked for even more Money. With a bigger, stronger Money that had matured, expectations were high in the Calhoun barn. Then things happened and with the entire world turned upside down, Mr. Money’s handler was trying to find good places to spend. Race cancellations and meet alterations made it challenging for sure.
As the year has played out Calhoun found races because his horse needed to run, but it was just one hard-luck event after another. Four starts at four different tracks had yielded two fourth place finishes, a sixth, and a tenth. Continuing to invest in his charge, Calhoun knew we had not seen any real Money this year. He just needed the right spot and a little luck for a big return.
Along came the 28th running of the Ack-Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 26. With three wins in five previous starts out of his own stall, this looked like a great place to cash. This looked like a great time to see some real Money, but with 12 worthy opponents, there were no guaranteed returns.
When the gates opened it was time to see just how real the Money was. Record setting early race fractions (22.61 opening quarter mile, 44.85 half mile) saw Calhoun’s investment stalking under jockey Gabriel Saez. As front-running race favorite Warrior’s Charge began to fade, Mr. Money cashed in on an opening along the rail and shot to the lead at the eighth pole. Digging in with determination under Saez, he finished a length and a quarter ahead of every one else and covered the one mile distance in 1:34.85.
“We are really happy to see him get back on track and prove himself again,” says Calhoun. “It’s been a tough year for him, but we know what kind of a talent he really is.”
Mr. Money returned $14.80 to his backers on a $2 win investment in picking up his sixth win in seventeen lifetime starts. Perhaps a return to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile may be his next start, but for now, his team is just happy they saw some real Money.
by Danny Brewer
For many years now, Rutherford County has been blessed with some of the best high school football in the state of Tennessee. The battles that have taken place within their own borders have been legendary and in fact prepared them for runs through the TSSAA state playoffs. But in reality, how good is the county that has been dubbed “the SEC of Tennessee”?
That moniker was one that Rutherford County earned on the playing field. Riverdale, Oakland, and Smyrna have all won multiple state titles this century while Siegel and Blackman have enjoyed deep runs into the post season. LaVergne has produced division 1 college and pro players in recent times. The question is however, how do they stack up now?
Over the past ten years, Smyrna finished as state runner-up (2010) and Oakland has claimed one title (2018) and finished as runner-up (2016). The addition of high schools (Rockvale, Stewart’s Creek) has allowed the class 6A family to grow, but that has also divided some of the talent.
So why do we ask this question now? Of course 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone on the planet, let alone the high school football teams in Rutherford County. But a quick check of last week’s scoreboard saw both Blackman (Warren County) and Siegel (Coffee County) lost to district rivals that usually are counted as wins on the schedule. Smyrna has been inconsistent, Lavergne has also been up and down while Rockvale and Stewart’s Creek are still building their programs.
Oakland has been the recent flag bearer for the County and that appears to be no different as they are off to a 5-0 start. Riverdale has shown promise with a nice ground attack and they stand at 4-1. It remains to be seen as to how everyone will stack up as the season plays out. Currently at the halfway point, there is still time to right the ship, but the clock is ticking.
As is the case with anything in high school sports, players and coaches come and go. This of course leads to ups and downs as the cycle works. The baton as best has been passed around in Rutherford County since the 1980’s as to who was tops in the area, but the fact was, all were pretty good. The playoff setup usually saw Rutherford County teams knocking each other out of the post-season. Oakland has been at the top of the heap in recent times and head coach Kevin Creasy has done an excellent job of cultivating talent. The rest of the “big” schools have been seemingly on a downward trend.
So what’s the answer to our question?… Winning in high school is about way more than the scoreboard. Growing young people and producing productive members of society is the real goal. Of course, in doing this, usually the scoreboard takes care of itself. The people in Rutherford County are thirsty for success and football may be down a bit right now, but pride and hard work will bring it back to the accustomed level. Until that time, let’s just enjoy the pure aspect the sport of high school football brings to the table of life.
Blessed we are to have another glorious day in the sport of kings. That little country track nestled just north of the Tennessee state line played host to the second richest turf racing day in the nation on September 12. Called “Kentucky Turf Cup Day”, five graded stakes were run over the only European style track in the nation. Here is a brief summary on each.
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL LADIES TURF
Contested at one mile, this grade 3 race was run with a $500,000 purse. Turf titan trainer Chad Brown has decided to throw his hat in the ring at Kentucky Downs in 2020. Having won the Tourist Mile (Flavius) on opening day, the New York based conditioner sent the aptly named Regal Glory to post. Breaking alertly and stalking a solid early pace, jockey Jose Ortiz masterfully guided this daughter of Animal Kingdom into the stretch a head in front. A stubborn Mitchell Road battled to the wire, but in the end, North America’s leading grass trainer enjoyed a little more of the Regal Glory this unique track offers. The late money made Brown’s charge the 9 to 5 favorite as she returned $4.80 on a $2 win wager.
THE REAL SOLUTION LADIES SPRINT
Coming in, this six and a half furlong run adjacent to I-65 was going to be a question and answer race for one of the sport’s most courageous runners. Got Stormy is one of those fabulous females that runs hard EVERY time out. She may have entered the starting gates winless in 2020, but three of her five previous starts had come against the boys at longer distances. Despite some gutsy efforts, there were those that wondered if she had lost a step. Understanding his horse, trainer Mark Casse thought a trip over the fescue in Franklin, Kentucky was exactly what his female needed. About a minute and fifteen seconds after the gates opened, the veteran conditioner and everyone else had their answers. Held in mid-pack by jockey Tyler Gafflione behind some faster early fractions (22.54 opening quarter), Stormy struck the lead at the top of the stretch and never looked back. Beautifully bouncing down the lane, Casse’s queen exuded her class and was much the best. Winning by a widening 3 ¼ lengths Got Stormy proved she is still a runner to be reckoned with.
“Tyler said she wanted to go early but he held her back,” says Casse. “People thought she had lost it, but we just needed to find the right spot for her. I think next we will try the Breeders’ Cup maybe at 5 ½ furlongs at Keeneland. She’s very special to us.”
Got Stormy returned $5.80 on a $2 win investment and gave her caring conditioner exactly the answer he was looking for..
THE BAL A BALI JUVENILE TURF SPRINT
A showcase for the future stars, these six and a half furlongs offered up $500,000 in prize money. Having had a wonderful start to the Kentucky Downs meet, trainer Wesley Ward looked to pad his bankroll with two bright young stars. Outadore and Fauci both broke well while running mid-pack behind a sizzling opening quarter mile (21.79). Moving almost in tandem, Ward’s pair moved to the front with the unbeaten Outadore on the lead. Running through the rain, the Ward tandem dueled through the lane. In the end, the son of Outwork did exactly that to stable mate Fauci as he cleared by a length and a quarter at the wire. Good for the wallet, the 1-2 finish also told us Ward knows how to produce at Kentucky Downs. Outadore provided $5.60 on a $2 win bet and the Ward exacta paid $7.20 on a $1 wager.
THE CALUMET FARM KENTUCKY TURF CUP
The centerpiece of the day, this $1 million race was supposed to bring some things into focus in the turf division…and in fact it did. Zulu Alpha entered the gates as the deserving 4 to 5 favorite. As the race’s defending champ, you knew he could win here and three fantabulous victories in 2020 told us he was perhaps better than ever. This was his chance to move up the divisional ladder. Arklow had won the Turf Cup in 2018 but had been less than stellar this year as he could only manage a runner-up finish in four starts. Adding blinkers, trainer Brad Cox was hoping to jump start his six year old with an equipment change. As ten talented runners went on this mile and a half journey things became much more clear. It was obvious early that Arklow was a different horse with blinkers on. Involved in the race early, Donegal Racing’s prize looked dandy as he ran just off a sensible pace (24.6 quarter, 50.27 half mile). Hitting the gas at the top of the stretch under jockey Florent Geroux, Arklow struck the lead. Moving toward the wire with ground gobbling strides this son of Arch displayed the conviction of the grade 1 winner that he is.
“The blinkers made a huge difference,” said a jubilant Brad Cox after the race. “We wanted to get him involved early and we are very proud of how he responded.”
Winning by a length and a quarter over a game Red Knight, Arklow picked up his seventh career win and increased his earnings to $2,466.116. So here is what came into focus, there are no givens in this game (Zulu Alpha closed to finish third) and sometimes to gain different results you have to try a new strategy. Blinkers helped Arklow find that zone as the runner he had been before. The victor returned $13.60 to his backers on a $2 investment.
THE RUNHAPPY TURF SPRINT
Now in its 22nd year, this race has morphed into one of the most important dates on the calendar for Kentucky Downs. Although the purse is plenty healthy ($700,000) that is not what has raised the value. For the second consecutive year this race provides an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. That combined with the money makes for a crowded and talented starting gate. The win and you’re in status has put the track a little more in the spotlight for sure. The turf sprint races are always uber exciting and this one was no different. Eleven runners broke with post time favorite Imprimis getting up by a neck at the end. Biding his time under a masterful ride from Irad Ortiz Jr., this six year old son of Broken Vow timed things perfectly. A quick post-race conversation with one of the winningest jocks on the planet provided some perspective on what makes the sport and Kentucky Downs wonderful. When asked about Kentucky Downs and the big purses, the New York-based rider was quick to come back. “I really like riding here because it’s a little different and provides a new challenge,” says Ortiz. “I am very fortunate that I get to ride a lot of good horses. The money is nice, but I came here because I like the competition and I just love to ride horses.”
Well said Irad. Imprimis returned $8 on a $2 win bet.
The two most popular sports in Kentucky are basketball and of course horse racing. One of California’s top Thoroughbred training minds hopes to incorporate a little of both with one of his rising stable stars at Kentucky Downs on September 12.
The old alley oop play is one of the most exciting in basketball. A strategic positioning of teammates is usually followed by a well-timed pass and a thunderous slam dunk. The lob and perhaps the back pick are key elements as they put the dunker in great position to succeed. Once things are set in motion, a simple execution allows for the slammer to sop up that gravy and put the biscuit through the basket.
Now that we have went through some basketball 101, how does this pertain to Thoroughbred racing at Kentucky Downs?
Like most top trainers in the game, Doug O’Neill calculates the moves of his stable and puts his runners in positions to succeed. Never afraid to ship outside his Southern California base, the two-time Kentucky Derby winning conditioner sees the Runhappy Turf Sprint as an excellent spot for one of his players.
Stubbins is the high flyer that O’Neill is sending to the rim with hopes for a little slamalamdingdong all the way to the winner’s circle. There are several reasons this four-year old son of Morning Line gets his number called by his coach.
A “win and you’re in” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, this event offers an opportunity for Stubbins to win his way into a race he finished fourth in a year ago at Santa Anita. And of course the $700,000 in purse money is a nice factor as well.
“Our year end goal has always been the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and we feel like this race is a great spot for him,” says O’Neill. “The spacing is good because we think he runs better fresh. He last ran in late June at Belmont Park (Jaipur Stakes 4th place finish) and he would have a nice break until the Breeders’ Cup in early November. And that $700,000 is a pretty motivating factor as well.”
As the only European style turf track in the United States, Kentucky Downs is unique. As is the case with most tracks, some horses like it some do not. Stubbins ran a strong second in the Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs last September and gives his team plenty of reason for optimism as they ready for this six furlong dash over the Kentucky Downs grass.
“We were very encouraged by his performance here last year,” says O’Neill. “It told us he is a horse for this course and the ownership group (McShane Racing LLC) circled this race on the calendar and said this is where we want to be next year. Now next year is here and we are super excited about the opportunity.”
After a fast closing finish behind stable mate Legends of War at these Downs last September, Stubbins exuded brilliance as he pulled off a Darrell Griffith type dunk at Keeneland in his next start. Navigating a very tough field in the grade 2 Woodford Turf Sprint, Stubbins delivered on some of the promise he had shown in practice.
“He’s always showed us signs he has a chance to be something special,” says the Michigan native. “The run at Keeneland was one of those wow races that told us he has a chance to be in the conversation as one of the best turf sprinters in the country.”
While coloring on his clipboard with X’s and O’s, O’Neill aligned another key element in what he hopes will be a crowd-pleasing play. Jockey Joel Rosario will be back in the irons for the Runhappy Turf Sprint. Rosario was the man who rode Stubbins last year at Kentucky Downs and then booted him home at Keeneland in the biggest win of his 13 race career (4-2-3).
Stubbins is coming in fresh to a track he likes with a familiar pilot, but the race outcome is not a forgone conclusion. Eleven other talented runners have their eyes on the prize as well. Defending champ Totally Boss is the morning line favorite at 9-2, but is followed closely by Bound For Nowhere, Kanthaka, and Front Run The Fed all at 5-1. Stubbins is sitting at 6-1 as he hopes to tickle some twine with a well-timed pass from his team.
“There is no doubt this is a very high quality field,” says O’Neill. “Stubbins is a very sure-footed and nimble horse which is important for this track. He has been working like a freight train and we are excited to get him in the gates.”
The Runhappy Turf Sprint is scheduled as race 11 on the biggest day of the Kentucky Downs meet. The last of five Stakes races on the day, expected post time for this grade 3 event is 5:36pm.
Tiz-the-Law, photo Ryan-Thompson
So here we are looking at the first Saturday in September and our topic of discussion is the Kentucky Derby. Of course we are all well aware the best time to think about the Run for the Roses is…anytime!
The altered state we are living in has done one thing for sure by delaying the world’s most famous Thoroughbred race. Moving the Kentucky Derby has elongated that oh so famous affliction we call Derby Fever. More prep races and extended qualifying has had some stricken for 8 months instead of the normal 16 week cycle. Here’s a rundown and thought on this year’s entrants. When you got lemons, make lemonade.
Tiz the Law- Has looked unbeatable in cruising to wins in he Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers Stakes. A win here might make him best New York bred ever. A real race horse for sure!
Authentic- Haskell winner likes to get out of the gate and go. Trainer Bob Baffert has been patient with him and has seen improvement. Four wins and a second in five career starts.
Art Collector-Four wins in four starts this year means he is the real deal. An underdog story for sure, he paints a pretty picture as the “feel good” story of Derby 146.
Honor A.P.-Big striding late runner from the West coast that could spell disaster for the favorites. Has the jock in Mike Smith and has worked well coming into the race. Two wins and three seconds in five career starts. Our pick to win.
Ny Traffic- A real battler that has slugged it out with the tops in the division. Ran a strong second at Churchill in Matt Winn Stakes in May and has finished in top three in 4 graded stakes races this year…One win in five starts with three seconds and a third this year.
King Guillermo-Upset the Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 49-1 and came back with a second place in Arkansas Derby. Has the heart to finish in the money. Has not ran since May 2 so he comes in fresh.
Thousand Words-Bob Baffert trained so that means he has a chance for sure. Is certainly a horse on the rise and his gate to wire win in Shared Belief Stakes tells us he has some front end speed.
Max Player-Finished in the money in all five career starts and has been transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen for a run at Derby glory. Last win was in Withers back in February. Unsuccessfully chased Tiz The Law in last two starts.
Enforceable-Trainer Mark Casse won Preakness and Belmont last year and early in 2020 it looked like he had another prime timer with this son of Tapit. Has not won since January but all four starts this year have been graded stakes. Has talent and has been training well enough to be there at the end.
Rushie-An under the radar horse that has finished in the top three in all five starts this year. Last out was a distant third in Bluegrass Stakes, but that was behind Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver. Would be a big reach but this is the Derby after all.
Major Fed-One win and two seconds in five starts this year. Was second last out in Indiana Derby but has an opportunity to get in the Kentucky Derby starting gates so trainer Greg Foley says why not.
Storm the Court-An upset in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2019 was last time he visited the winner’s circle. Has ran in some top races in 2020 with one second and two thirds. Another why not for trainer Peter Eurton and he has proven he can pull the upset.
Attachment Rate- Churchill based trainer Dale Romans has never been afraid to take a shot if his horse is right. A good second in Ellis Park Derby to Art Collector in his last start showed promise. Has only one career win in eight starts but there’s only one way to win and that’s put’em in the gate.
Sole Volante-Sam Davis Stakes winner has been in the money four of five starts this year. Last trip was a sixth place finish in Belmont Stakes in June. Trainer Patrick Bianconne hopes he returns to his form from early in the year.
Finnick the Fierce-Has a second and a third in three lifetime starts at Churchill Downs. Finished third in Arkansas Derby and seventh last out in Bluegrass Stakes.
Winning Impression-This son of Paynter has one lifetime win to his credit but did cross finish line first at Oaklawn Park back in April before being disqualified. Trainer Dallas Stewart has pulled some shockers in the past but this is a big reach.
Necker Island-Does no wins this year and a third place finish in the Indiana and Ellis Park Derby qualify you for the Run for the Roses?…In 2020 it does!
Money Moves-Another Todd Pletcher trainee that has displayed talent while winning two of three lifetime starts. His pappy Candy Ride was a running son of a gun but this will be asking a lot.
Whoa…Time flies when you are having fun…that is fo sho !!!
A quick glance at the calendar tells us this is one of the most glorious weeks of the year. Pacific Classic week has become one of my favorite parts of our revolution around the sun. Hard to believe, but it has been eight years since me and my filly first went West and discovered one of the most fabulous places on earth.
The brainstorm of Bing Crosby, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is way more than where the turf meets the surf. It’s a place where memories are made and dreams are fulfilled. I am kind of mushy about it as for obvious reasons my streak is about to be broken. But alas, hopes are next year is a new beginning.
Here is a quick hitter on each of the past eight Classics. As the biggest race of the summer meet at old Del Mar, we’ll also provide a thought on 2020.
THE ROMANS THUNDER-It was 2012 and the synthetic surface saw three year old Dulahan use a powerful late kick to run down Game On Dude. Rolling like an untracked train, this strapping Dale Romans trainee shipped in and stormed his way into the record books at the Seaside Oval.
THE DUDE HAS HIS DAY-One of the best handicap horses in the Golden State, Game On Dude had been denied his spot on the Clubhouse wall the year before. Not this time. Breaking like a shot and leading at every call, it was Game On for this Dude as he bolted to an 8 ½ length win.
SOME REAL BELIEF-The 2014 edition was supposed to be a coming out party for a spectacular three year old but the break said different. Slow out of the gate, Shared Belief looked to be doomed…until the stretch that is. Unleashing the stride that had made him the heavy favorite, his will never waivered. As his backers had thought, Shared Belief was best.
BEHOLD HER-In a race that really was a thing of beauty, Beholder looked like Ava Gardner in becoming the only female winner of the Pacific Classic. Taking the boys to the woodshed under jockey Gary Stevens, she put’em away with a jaw dropping move on the far turn. Covering the mile and a quarter in pin-up poster time (1:59.77), Beholder’s 8 ½ length win was gorgeous.
BRIGHT AND SHINY- The 2016 Classic saw one of the most dominant performances ever…in any race anywhere. A super talented field and a rail draw were standing between California Chrome and the winner’s circle. Fearlessly piloting him to the lead right out of the gate, jockey Victor Espinoza rode like he had the best horse because…he did. Chrome shined brightly that day as he scored by six lengths.
CALM, COOL, AND COLLECTED-Bob Baffert was supposed to win the race…and he did. Super freak Arrogate was looking to get back to his accustomed ways, but somebody forgot to tell that other Baffert trainee, Collected. An old-time rider for the Baffert barn, jockey Martin Garcia stuck with what has made him and this horse dangerous. Hustling his mount out of the gate, they held off a closing stable mate.
NAMESAKE NO DOUBT-In 2018, Accelerate went to post as the biggest favorite in Classic history. Then he ran like it. Displaying the dynamics that made him the best in the game that year, this John Sadler trainee was much the best. Winning by a record 12 ½ lengths, Accelerate hit the gas pedal a quarter mile from home and never looked back.
MUCH NEEDED BY ALL-A life without faith is an empty life, that’s one of my live by axioms. A believer in the omens of horse racing, we all need a little something to believe in, especially today. Higher Power broke well exuded his authority throughout. Running brilliantly under Flavian Prat, this John Sadler trained son of Medaglia d”Oro surged to the lead and held steadfast in heavenly fashion. Higher Power superbly represented the sport in name and performance.
WHAT ABOUT 2020?- We will find out on August 22 if Maximum Security is all that and a bag of chips too…my bet… pass the Pringles please.
AND THEN THE BIG DOG ATE
A little more than two minutes after the gates opened in the 10th race at Del Mar on August 22 the questions were answered. This edition of the Pacific Classic was supposed to tell us about Maximum Security and in fact it did.
Coming into this mile and a quarter test, some wondered about this so-called super horse. With his previous conditioner, Jason Servis, embroiled in an illegal doping scandal there is an understandable stigma surrounding Maximum Security. If he ran dirty while under Servis’ care, which he likely did, were the 9 times he had crossed the finish line first in 10 tries real?
Doping is never cool, but it can’t turn Mr. Ed into Secretariat. There has to be talent to win. The drugs will enhance but cannot create those abilities. Question is, was this son of New Year’s Day a souped up beagle hound or a much larger breed that just happened to be the biggest victim in the scandal?
With one start under current conditioner Bob Baffert under his belt, we knew the determination of a real racehorse was there. Winning by a nose in the San Diego Handicap back on July 25 over a determined Midcourt, the only time he led was at the wire. But that showed his “refuse to lose” mentality.
A master at conditioning and bringing out the best in his runners on the biggest days, Baffert tightened the screws and sent Max to Post. Breaking like a champ, Maximum Security exuded confidence and ran like the best horse in the race…because he was. Leading gate to wire under jockey Abel Cedillo, Max was hounded by Sharp Samurai through the opening mile. Turning for home with authority, he put away the competition with a strong stretch run. Winning by a widening three lengths, the Gary and Mary West owned runner proved without a doubt he is real.
“It’s not his fault what he went through,” said Baffert. after the powerful run. “Today he proved he is a great horse.”
Maximum Security returned $2.80 on a win bet, Sharp Samurai held on for second, Midcourt finished third and defending Classic champ Higher Power was fourth.
So in the end in the 30th running of the Pacific Classic, the Great Dane cleaned his bowl.
Due to Covid-19 social distancing regulations, tickets sold for home football games are limited. Football tickets will need to be purchased prior to game day. No tickets will be sold at the ticket booth on game night until further notice. Since we have a limited number of tickets to sale, please see the details below to ensure that you have an opportunity to purchase your tickets and be included on Friday nights.
*SHS personnel will be monitoring spectator temperatures using a scan digital thermometer, and any fan that has a temperature reading of 100.4 degrees or higher will be refused admission the game and must leave the premises immediately and the tickets will not be refunded.
Pre-Sale details for each home game until further notice:
Smyrna High Fans can go to GoFan.co – High School tickets and get the App to purchase tickets in advance. You must choose Smyrna High School, TN then choose the current game. This will be available starting Tuesday of each week. We will send out a link when available.
A limited number of Student tickets (1 per student) will be sold for $5.00 at school during RTI Wednesday and Thursday and it will be cash only.
SHS Distance Learning Students can purchase student tickets (1 per student) for $5.00 while tickets remain on Wednesday at the SHS Football Ticket booth from 5:00 – 7:00 PM (cash only).
Wednesday – Tickets will be available for anyone to purchase for $7.00 (cash only) until the venue is sold out at the SHS Football ticket booth 12:00 -1:00 PM and 5:00 – 7:00 PM.
Thursday – Anyone may purchase any remaining tickets for $7.00 (cash only) until the venue is sold out at the SHS Football ticket booth 12:00 -1:00 PM.
No matter what the respective score was, football fans everywhere were winners now that the first week of the high school season is in the books. Of course every team wants to be on the long end of the score, but the ability to compete on the actual playing field is hopefully a huge step towards a restoration of normalcy.
Normally a football powerhouse, Rutherford County schools did not fare quite as well as hoped on the gridiron in week one. Oakland continued to maintain their spot on top with a trouncing of Hendersonville and LaVergne got their new coach (Mike Woodward) off to a great start with a win at Rockvale. The rest of the bunch…not what they wanted. Smyrna was paddled by Pope John Paul, Blackman fell hard at Alcoa, Siegel succumbed to Franklin, Riverdale was romped by CPA, and Stewarts Creek drowned at Mount Juliet. On a smaller note, both Middle Tennessee Christian and Eagleville were defeated as well.
With everyone in the same boat as far as preparation time and conditioning, the good news is we will have a week two on Friday, August 28. If things can continue as planned, the regular season and playoff schedule should be normal…did we just say…normal?
Here is hope that word can be used more and more as we move forward. Ticket purchase may vary from school to school as limited numbers are allowed in the gates. Fans are encouraged to check with the host school in advance for details.
But for now, it is on to week two!!!
Keeping pace with the crazy times we live in where difficult decisions are made almost daily, Kentucky Downs has announced fans will not be allowed at the 2020 live racing meet.
The turf racing extravaganza that has enjoyed record-setting days in the past few years is set to begin September 7. The only European style track in the United States will also run September 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. As the destination spot for more and more race fans, the continued growth of the Franklin, Kentucky facility will not be showcased as was originally planned.
“We apologize for the inconvenience to all the people planning to attend”, says Kentucky Downs Senior Vice-President and General Manager Ted Nicholson. “We waited as long as we could before making a final decision. This is the responsible call to make at this time with the virus spiking and how we can best continue horse racing amid the pandemic.”
The racing is scheduled to continue as planned. Question is how will jockey travel restrictions and other pandemic characteristics affect participation from the horsemen?
With the highest per race payout in the United States, it is likely the big purses will persuade full fields once again. And for those that enjoy the speculation aspect of the sport that equals large payouts. West Coast stalwart Doug O’Neill is planning on sending horses including rising turf sprint star Stubbins. The potpourri of runners from all over is one of the things in recent times that has added even more intrigue when stepping to the mutual clerk window.
Bottom line is you can still enjoy some racing at these Downs, it will just be from your friendly confines instead of theirs.
Normally, this is one of the most glorious weeks on the local sports calendar. The beginning of the high school football regular season is a very celebrated time of year. An institution in these parts, these head knockers are a highlight for many. Things here in Rutherford County are supposed to get started on Friday August 21, unless something changes, and in today’s world, that is highly conceivable.
The on again, off again, back on again society we are engulfed in has taken a toll on everyone. The high school football world has been no different and coaches are currently scrambling to make it happen after being given the go ahead. Conditioning and play familiarity are concerns for all, but the good news is everyone is in the same boat.
Kickoff will take place across the County at 7pm under the Friday night lights, which is a great thing. Fans, however, should be aware of ticket protocol. Limited numbers will be allowed in the gate and tickets must be purchased in advance of game day.
For those wondering what kind of polished product we will see after kickoff… my question is …does it really matter? High school kids will get to participate in one of the great training grounds for real life. Let’s just hope it can go without interruption.
Attached is the press release from Smyrna High School regarding ticket protocol..
Tis The Law
If we are going to be real about things, you are never too old to learn. The great John Wooden once said “It’s the things you learn after you know it all that count”. With that in mind let’s take a glance at a few things you could have been taught by a glorious Travers Day at Saratoga on August 8.
THE EMPRESS REIGNS SUPREME
Like most men, I appreciate pretty girls. Beauty is measured in many ways in my book. When you do the one digit math after the grade 1 Ballerina Stakes, there is no doubt Serengeti Empress qualifies in many aspects.
Run at seven furlongs for older females, this race has featured some gorgeous girls in the past. The Empress fit right in as some scintillating speed and beautiful determination qualifies her as a double-taker. Having dropped jaws with wins in longer races like the Kentucky Oaks and the Azeri Stakes, this seemed to be a made to order situation. Her last start in the Fleur de Lis saw her lead the race through the opening three quarters of a mile before fading to fourth. Perhaps the cutback in distance would have the guys looking over their mirrored sunglasses.
Coming into the race here was the concern. Serengeti Empress drew the rail and as her trainer Tom Amoss has pointed out in the past, she wants to be on the lead because that is where she runs the best. Like many foxy females, she is just a bit head strong, so would she use up too much gas early and empty the tank before the wire?
When the gates opened we got all the answers. Bolting for the front, the Empress, assumed her customary position and threw down some sizzling numbers. The opening quarter mile in 21.75 and the half mile in a blistering 43.74 would have been cause for concern for most. Leading by a length and a half at the top of the stretch, question was, could she get to the finish first.
This is where her inside beauty took over. Kicking for home with the heart of a champion, Serengeti Empress fended off the late challenge of Bellafina and finished a length in front. Covering the distance in 1:21.63, this four-year old daughter of Alternation did her people proud and earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland in November.
So here is our first lesson. Serengeti Empress is good enough to win at any distance, but perhaps it is the sprint races where she will draw more looks than the Swedish Bikini Team.
GAMINE PASSES THE TEST
photo credit Stacey Hetherington
While on the subject of freakishly fast females, let’s talk about a mercurial daughter of Into Mischief. Trained by Bob Baffert, Gamine has been a show-stopper in her brief four race career. Her performance in the grade 1 Test emboldened her name on the racing marquee.
Unraced at two, her three year old season has shown three of the qualities normally associated with a Baffert trainee. Speed, Speed, and more speed are features the hall of fame conditioner incorporates in many of his runners. She is no different. For those that had doubts about her she aced the Test.
Opening her career with a 6 ¼ length romp at Santa Anita on March 7 in a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race, the promise was present. Taking her show on the road, Gamine crossed the finish line first at Oaklawn Park on May 2, but was later disqualified because of a failed drug test.
Of course this raised questions about her quality in the eyes of some, but history tells us Bob Baffert does not have to cheat to win. Some of us simply chalked it up to unfortunate happenstance. And on June 20 she went to Belmont Park and should have cleared any doubts with a performance for the ages. Her 18 ¾ length win in the grade 1 Acorn Stakes was just .31off the Big Sandy record for the 1 mile distance…and she had no one pushing her!
Sometimes doubting is what people do because they are…doubters. If ANYONE wondered about her after that Acorn, the Test proved they are nuts. Taking command immediately out of the gates in the seven furlong race, Gamine showed the way once again. This time she ONLY won by seven lengths and her clock stopping (1:20.83) was .43 off the track record time. I think Gamine provided all the right answers.
TIZ THE LAW IS A FOR REAL RACEHORSE
Sports, much like life, are full of ups and downs. The 2020 Kentucky Derby trail has been extended because of the happenings in today’s world. That has caused some to come and some to go in the chase for the immortality a win will bring. There is one runner, however that has been there throughout.
Tiz The Law is one of the best things about this tumultuous year, period. While folks far and wide in all walks have rode the rollercoaster, this New York-bred has been solid as a rock.
Beginning in February with a determined score in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, this Sackatoga Stables owned colt has exuded brilliance. Following that with an impressive win in the Florida Derby (March 28), he once again laid down the Law with a dominating win in a shortened Belmont Stakes (June 20).
Next up was the Travers at the graveyard for favorites. Even the mighty American Pharoah had been felled here and just a week previously some heavy favorites (Midnight Bisou, Tom’s d”Etat) had suffered defeat. What did all that mean for this son of Constitution?
The 151st running of the Mid-Summer Derby solidified a certainty in what has been a very uncertain world. Tiz the Law’s powerful win proved he is a for real racehorse. Stalking the pace as has been customary during his seven race career, this Barclay Tagg trainee swung three wide at the top of the stretch and drew away easily. Finishing 5 ½ lengths in front under a hand ride from jockey Manny Franco, Tiz The Law was much the best…as he has been all year.
One thing we all need to be aware is the fact there is more than one way to skin a possum. Just because Uncle Cletus decides to do it from tooter to rooter and cousin Joe Bob goes from rooter to tooter it does not mean either are wrong…they just take a different approach. And that is exactly what a rising star in the Thoroughbred training game has done with his Kentucky Oaks contender.
The rescheduling of the Kentucky Oaks to September 4 altered the way a lot of things have been done as far as preparation is concerned. Races were re scheduled, new qualifying points opportunities came up, and of course the challenge of keeping healthy was there. Louisville native Brad Cox recognized in March he had a determined filly with a real chance. So, then he came up with an under the radar plan.
Shedaresthedevil was very impressive in winning the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 7. Fourth at the top of the stretch and looking for running room, this daughter of Daredevil patiently waited as the wire drew ever closer. Suddenly a hole opened up in deep stretch and she split foes like a lumberjack. Furiously running to the finish, her turn of foot labeled her as areal Oaks contender.
Having won the Kentucky Oaks in 2018 with super filly Monomoy Girl, Cox understands the complexities with preparing runners for the big time races. With that in mind, he began drawing out his X’s and O’s with the Kentucky Oaks as the ultimate goal.
“We knew after the Honeybee she had a chance,” says Cox. “We felt like what matters the most is getting her to the race and being her best on Oaks day. We didn’t want to squeeze the lemon too much along the way.”
In May, Shedaresthedevil ran third in the Fantasy Stakes behind winner and likely Oaks favorite Swiss Skydiver. That was followed by a very impressive 6 length win on June 5 at Churchill Downs in an allowance race. Next her calculating conditioner chose the Indiana Derby on July 8 and Shedaresthedevil did not disappoint with an authoritative five length score.
Although he may have bypassed some of the summer’s more traditional races for three-year old females, Cox comes home to Churchill with a runner that has won three of her last four starts. Fresh and lively, Shedaresthedevil is giving off many positive signs.
“She is doing great right now and we like where she’s at,” says Cox. “We may have taken a different route than some, but we wanted to do what we felt was best for her. She has matured and is very professional in how she goes about her business.”
Shedaresthedevil will likely draw some folks to the betting window as Cox is a local that has made a name for himself in recent years. Wins in graded stakes all over the country now decorate his resume. Big winners in the more traditional races, Swiss Skydiver and Gamine are likely to vie for favoritism in the Kentucky Oaks. None of that factors in for Cox as he prepares his prize.
“I like having favorites,” jokes Cox. “Yes there is more pressure on you when you saddle a favorite but that is pressure I welcome. In the end, we prepare the same way whether we are 4 to 5 or 45 to 1. It’s all about giving your horse the best chance to be successful and that is what we have tried to do here.”
The 146th Kentucky Oaks will be run at Churchill Downs on Friday September 4.
Ask any veteran of the Thoroughbred racing game and they will tell you it’s a an important ingredient to winning. And any person who has started multiple times in the Kentucky Derby knows you have to have it to win the Roses. That something is simply racing luck.
The modern day Kentucky Derby features large fields. When eighteen to twenty three year old Thoroughbreds line up all kinds of things can happen. The 146th running will be no different and Mark Casse is one of the trainers that is well aware of the need for a rabbit’s foot in the saddle cloth.
As one of the best conditioners in the game, Casse has been around the block a time or two and won many, many big races including the 2019 Preakness (War of Will) and Belmont Stakes (Sir Winston). A trip to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle has eluded him to this point. Some of that may have been due to some bad racing luck.
In 2017 Casse brought the highly regarded Juvenile champion Classic Empire to Churchill Downs fresh off a big win in the Arkansas Derby. Coming out of the gate, his charge was bounced around and shuffled way back in the field. Running at the end, Classic Empire finished fourth, but his chances were severely compromised right out of the gate.
Last year, War of Will came into the Derby primed and ready for a big run. Right in the mix as the horses entered the far turn, Casse’s determined colt was in the middle of the Maximum Security drift out and had to alter his stride. Even though he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, War of Will came back two weeks later and proved he was ready to run with a powerful Preakness score.
This is now 2020 and here is Casse again with another Derby entrant. He brings Enforceable in with much less fanfare as he has not won since an impressive score in the LeComte Stakes at the Fairgrounds in Louisiana on January 18. Always able to cultivate talent Casse has taken some time and nurtured this son Tapit of back into a real contender.
“We had to take some time and get him back to being a happy horse,” says Casse. Taking a bit of a break has been really good for him. Right now, I think he is probably better than I’ve ever seen him.”
Enforceable’s last start was a fourth place finish in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11. Knowing his horse was not 100 % ready, Casse was very pleased with the effort and feels it was a big step in the right direction to get that race in him.
“We knew going into the Bluegrass he was at about 85 % but he really needed to run,” says Casse. “He came out of the race in great shape and has looked fantastic since.”
Coming into the Kentucky Derby right is always a trainer’s goal. That is something Casse feels he has in his favor right now. One of the other things he would like is a little something synonymous with a four leaf clover.
“I don’t think I could ask for our horse to be doing any better than he is right now,” says Casse. “We know there are some really talented runners in the field so the question is where do we fit into that group? Obviously we think he belongs and with a little racing luck we can prove that. Goodness knows we are due for some Derby racing luck. He’s going to running at the end so hopefully things can set up for him in all the right ways.”
The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is slated for Saturday, September 5 at Churchill downs.
Kentucky Downs has been a gaming destination for years now. Once upon a time this facility located in Franklin, Kentucky was just an off-track betting facility for the Thoroughbred racing game with a bingo hall. If you haven’t been lately, schedule a trip in early September and experience the all-new Kentucky Downs.
Recent improvements and the addition of historical horse racing gaming machines have only added to its viability for those enjoying the game of chance. Live entertainment and huge payouts have been the norm lately in a seriously upgraded atmosphere. Even more improvements are currently in the works and are offering greater opportunities. Expanded gaming areas and dining choices will give many a chance to “visit Vegas” with just a quick drive up I-65.
The opening of the new wing, known as The Mint Gaming Hall will coincide with the live horse-racing meet. As the only European- style turf track in the United States, Kentucky Downs offers a unique opportunity for horsemen with an all-turf racing extravaganza. The addition of the historical horse racing games has now allowed Kentucky Downs to offer the highest per race purses in the nation. The money obviously brings the best in the sport to this “country track” nestled just north of the Tennessee state line.
The “official” opening date for The Mint Gaming Hall is dependent upon construction details, but the live racing dates are slated for September 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. Saturday September 12 is the biggest day of racing as the headlining $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup is run along with the Breeders’ Cup qualifying Runhappy Turf Sprint as just part of a blockbuster card.
For a preview of The Mint Gaming Hall visit this link: https://www.themintgaming.com
In granting an exemption that now allows high school football to commence with regular activities, governor Bill Lee has restored a bit of normalcy…maybe.
Since about mid-March the world we live in has been turned upside down, Ever-changing policies regarding everyday life has left more than a few folks frustrated. The cancellation of spring sports at the high school level left the graduating class of 2020 out in the cold.
This time of year is usually about mass preparation for the all-important football season. Thus far, activities have been limited to say the least. The clearance to resume practice has allowed the TSSAA to announce the regular high school football season will start August 21 as regularly scheduled.
“We are hopeful things can get started on time,” says Smyrna high head football coach Matt Williams. “We are taking every precaution necessary and are eager to have some normalcy for our student athletes. We are very excited to have some direction and a plan.”
Every program faces the challenges of an interrupted off-season. But what about the first-year coaches that couldn’t enjoy spring practice or solid summer work?
“We are excited to get things going,” says LaVergne’s first year leader Mike Woodward. “It is important for us to get things going, but at the same time we have to be careful because these kids have not been engaged in normal drills. We need to quickly ease into getting physical.”
High school football is an important part of life here in tradition rich Rutherford County. Let’s hope things can continue on the path back to normalcy.
“This is a great place to enjoy high school football,” says Woodward. “I just hope things can happen the way we all want for the sake of these young men.”
Throughout his controversial career, people may have said some different things about Maximum Security. But if you watched the 2020 edition of the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 25, there is one word that is no doubt applicable to this amazing athlete…Heart.
Always a hard-knocker, his 11 race career has seen some courageous performances. There has only been one occasion that he didn’t cross the finish line first (2019 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth) and despite the challenges, he has always found a way to the wire.
The San Diego was his first start for trainer Bob Baffert and the screws were not completely tight just yet. Facing an accomplished field, this “tune-up” was certainly no gimme. But here he was, ready to prove there was plenty of substance behind those heroic runs of the past.
The gates opened and the field immediately took it to Maximum Security. Surging to the lead under Victor Espinoza, Midcourt made it obvious this would be no cake walk. Stalking a moderate pace, Max was three lengths behind as they turned for home.
Under the urging of first time rider Abel Cedillo, Maximum Security drew even in deep stretch. As the wire drew ever closer, Midcourt refused to succumb. As these two masses of four-legged muscle were locked in battle, neither would give. Refusing to lose, Maximum Security dug deeply and found a way to get up be a nose at the finish.
When challenged Maximum Security responded. Displaying the heart of a real champion, this four-year old son of New Year’s Day showed us what he is made of.
Next up is likely the Pacific Classic, also run at Del Mar. Will we see more of that amazing heart…I think that’s a pretty safe bet.
Another week, some more thoughts on the sport of kings. Thoroughbred racing has obviously felt the effects of this Covid 19 thing, but much to the delight of guys like me, they are still running at different tracks across the country. With that in mind, let’s examine some news and notes from the greatest sport in the world…Giddy up
BAFFERT HAS ANOTHER HASKELL WINNER
Monmouth Park in mid to late July is a familiar destination for trainer Bob Baffert. The Haskell Invitational Stakes is normally a prep race for the Travers Stakes and the hall of fame conditioner has had a way of getting one of his runners ready for this speed favoring New Jersey dirt. First run in 1968, the mile and an eighth race around two turns has seen some of the best three- year olds in the game during that span. Coming in to the 2020 edition, Baffert had visited the winner’s circle a record eight times (2001, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015). Days before the race, Big Race Bob reveled the secret to winning…”Just bring your best horse”, he quipped.
This edition was coming up a bit different as the 2020 race is another prep for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. With a re-shuffled line-up of three year olds because of injury, Baffert sent his most accomplished runner to post on July 18.
Authentic went to post against six others with high ideals about continuing the tradition of excellence from the Baffert barn. Coming in with three wins and a second place finish in four lifetime starts, this son of Into Mischief has looked like a prime-timer. Deeming the Haskell as a “perfect fit” for his charge, the gates opened and people found out this titan among trainers was right again.
Alertly breaking under jockey Mike Smith, Authentic went right to the lead and set a solid early pace (23.6 opening quarter, 47.52 half mile). Running as if he was much the best, Authentic opened up a two and a half length lead in deep stretch. At the sixteenth pole it looked like the race was over.
Then suddenly things changed. A rallying NY Traffic was whittling away at what seemed an insurmountable lead. As the wire drew ever closer, Smith encouraged Authentic to reignite the engine. In what turned out to be a photo finish, Authentic held on by a nose and provided his trainer with an anxious few moments.
“I am very happy with the win and pleased with his performance,” says Baffert. “He seemed to lose focus down the lane. Maybe we will add blinkers to help correct that before his next race.”
With that “next” race perhaps the Kentucky Derby on September 5, Authentic is second to Tiz The Law in qualifying points (200). In displaying the front-running speed like many of the good Baffert horses have done in the past, this Spendthrift Farms owned colt looks like a Derby horse. In fact, you might could say the Haskell win makes him…Authentic.
MAXIMUM SECURITY GETS A CLEAN SLATE
Let’s face it…sometimes stuff happens in life. Like it or not, that’s just how it is. Usually, there are two choices…get over it or get under it.
Maximum Security is one of those fantastic four-legged phenoms we call a Thoroughbred race horse. Due to no fault of his own, this four-year old son of New Year’s Day will forever carry an asterisk as the only Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified on race day. Despite crossing the finish line first as clearly the best horse in the 2019 Run for the Roses, this Kentucky-bred was taken down for interference in the far turn. As time has unfolded the asterisk became a little bigger as his then trainer, Jason Servis, faces federal doping charges. This brings into question his eight spectacular wins (nine if you count Kentucky Derby) in ten lifetime starts. Were those jaw droppers in the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Haskell, Cigar Mile, and Saudi Cup a result of the genes or the juice?
Servis is now out of the sport and perhaps headed to the hoosegow. Maximum Security has been moved to the barn of Bob Baffert by his owners, Gary and Mary West. What’s done is done and this wonderful athlete has been working and looking every bit the beast we all thought he was before the news about his former conditioner broke.
“He trains like a really top horse,” says Baffert. “I am sorry for the reason he came to my barn but am also really excited for the opportunity to be involved with such a fabulous athlete. I’m really excited to see him run but at the same time am very nervous. When you condition top horses there is a lot of pressure that comes along with it. There are certain expectations and you hope to fulfill them.”
Maximum Security was scheduled to make his debut for Baffert in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 18. Due to some positive Covid 19 tests, restrictions have caused the race to be pushed back to July 25. In his only work over the Del Mar dirt in preparation for his first run out of a Baffert stall, Maximum Security quickly covered five furlongs in 59.8. As the 4th fastest from 88 works at the distance, it looks as if he is responding well to his new digs.
“He’s big, strong, and beautiful,” says Baffert. “We are looking forward to seeing him run.”
Does it really matter if Maximum Security ran dirty in previous races? At this point, the most important thing is to adopt the philosophy of his hall of fame coach. “Never look back”, is the Baffert barn motto. Having excelled at getting the most from his runners on the biggest days, Baffert seems to just the right guy in this situation.
A clean slate is what this horse deserves and that’s exactly what he’s got. If Maximum Security runs to form those question marks about his past will quickly become exclamation points.
Here is the $755,000 question…Will we have high school football in 2020?…That’s what a lot of folks want to know….So what’s the answer???
Let’s face the facts, football is probably the most popular sport in the South and maybe even the entire country. With folks hunkering down because of government mandates and health concerns some seem to wonder if things will ever get back to what we consider normal. Part of normalcy in these parts is going to a high school football game on Friday night after along and arduous week of work. Maybe you have a kid on the team, your neighbor’s son suits up, niece is a cheerleader, or cousin Joe Bob’s step son plays in the band. Whatever the reason, people far and wide flock to those Friday night lights with all the right intentions.
There has been a bit of a hiccup in those plans. An extension of Governor Bill lee’s order that restricts certain activities due to the virus thing has halted all preparations for the 2020 season. Usually it begins in August and runs through the BlueCross Bowl the first week of December. Several options were on the table ranging from full season and playoffs to abbreviated season and limited playoff participation with bowl games for non-qualifying playoff teams.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen just yet,” says Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director of the TSSAA. “I think we’ve all got the same goal and we’re all hoping for the best.”
In the coming days folks are hopeful for some direction, but as of know everything is on hold for high school football…sort of like the rest of the world.
Another week in the summer of 2020 and another seven days of Thoroughbred bliss. Here are a few thoughts on some of the things happening in the sport of kings.
WAR OF WILL PROVES HIS WORTH
Like any athlete, horses go through peaks and valleys. One of the true testaments to the quality of a competitor is can they regain that winning form against top competition. We found out a little something about one particular runner in the Maker’s Mark Mile on June 10 at Keeneland.
A hard-knocking horse, War of Will is one that runs with courage and conviction. Having started his career as a two-year old on turf, this son of War Front didn’t find the success his team thought he was capable of. Trainer Mark Casse switched him to dirt as a three-year old and bam he was a Kentucky Derby contender after a three race dirt win streak early in his three-year od season.
The Triple Crown series showed everyone what kind of competitor this Kentucky-bred had become. After finishing a bothered seventh in the Run for the Roses, Casse’s charge proved where there’s a Will there’s a way as he flat put on a show in winning the Preakness Stakes. The Belmont Stakes didn’t work out quite the way he wanted as stable mate Sir Winston earned the honors while War of Will finished ninth. However, the feather here is he was the only colt to run in all three legs.
Fast-forward to 2020 and a four-year old Will was back on the grass as Casse decided it was time to give turf another try. His first start on the West coast didn’t exactly yield what the veteran trainer wanted. A sixth place finish at Santa Anita in the Shoemaker Mile the told them it was time to give it another go on grass as his pedigree says yes.
The Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland was the target this time. Facing an imposing field of 11 others, this was a huge grade 1 test. Turf titans like Raging Bull and NoParole were coming in out of the Chad Brown barn and West coast heavy hitter Next Shares and was also in the gates. The lineup was full of stars for sure, but somebody forgot to tell War of Will he couldn’t catch’em.
Breaking alertly, jockey Tyler Gafflione masterfully guided him into a great spot as he stalked a solid early pace (23.09 opening quarter, 46.91 half mile). Turning for home, it looked as if the Will was going to be on the short end again as the front-running Parlor just kept going. And then it happened and we all knew why Casse had him back on the lawn.
Displaying an amazing turn of foot, War of Will had a huge late burst and got past Parlor in the final jump at the wire. Good grass runners can possess big late kicks which makes for exciting finishes. That is exactly what we had in this one.
The Maker’s Mark was a real feel good race for the War of Will team. Not only did it show his desire to win, but also gives him grade one wins on dirt and turf. People that know that game understand winning on multiple surfaces at the sport’s highest level is NEVER easy.
Once again we know, where there’s a Will there’s a way.
RUSHING FALL IS A REAL RACEHORSE
As a sport with many great qualities, Thoroughbred racing has one thing fans would like to see change. They want runners to stay in training longer. Sometimes it seems the business side of the sport pulls horses off the track sooner than some would like, but as we all should know, money makes the world go round.
Rushing Fall has been one of the exceptions. Highly regarded at the ages of two, three, and four, she is now in a five-year old season. That means fans have become familiar with her brilliance. A grade 1 winner in each of her previous seasons, this daughter of More Than Ready was preparing to make it four years in a row in the Jennie Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on July 11.
Having won this race in 2019, this 2020 edition was going to be no gift as a sparkling lineup of seven challengers wen to post in denial. Magnificently making her way to the gate, Rushing Fall looked every bit the beauty queen. Then the gates opened and she became even prettier.
Assuming a stalking spot behind West Coast speedster Jolie Olimpica, this Chad Brown trainee was going to have her work cut out. If she was going to get that grade 1 here, it would require a top performance..
A solid opening quarter mile (23.42) was followed by a quicker one (22.92) to the half mile. The leader was looking strong and others in the top flight (Toinette, Julet Foxtrot) looked poised to dethrone the defending champ. Then it happened.
As the stretch unfolded, Rushing Fall put her class fully on display. Swinging past the front runner under jockey Javier Castellano, her powerful late stride was unleashed. A gallant Jolie Olimpica could simply not deny this queen her crown at Keeneland. Winning by a widening ¾ of a length, Rushing Fall had another grade 1 win.
This edition of the Jenny Wiley marked her tenth win in thirteen lifetime starts and brought her career earnings to $2,278,000.. But here is the real defining moment about this race. Rushing Fall earned this win by turning in a track record (1:39.02) for the mile and a sixteenth.
“She’s a real racehorse for sure,” says Bob Edwards, spokesperson for owners e Five Racing Thoroughbreds. ”She just keeps getting better and better. I think she looks the best she has ever looked. I think she checks all the boxes.”
After that Jenny Wiley win the answer is …”No doubt on the box checking.”
Photo Credit: Susie Raisher
A quick check of the calendar says it is July and the year is half over…Wow time flies faster than a Thoroughbred fresh out the gate. With that in mind, let’s take a quick gander at a few recent happenings that could make the rest of the year very interesting.
BAFFERT MIGHT BE CALLING ON HIS UNCLE
The delayed Kentucky Derby might have robbed trainer Bob Baffert of a chance to tie Ben Jones for all-time wins (6) in the world’s most famous race…or did it?
Big Race Bob was primed earlier in the year with the extremely talented Nadal and the ever-improving Charlatan. Unfortunate injuries have removed both from Kentucky Derby contention and caused the California-based conditioner to re shuffle the deck. But don’t count the hall of famer out of the Derby just yet.
In years past, Baffert has had plenty of top horse and won two Triple Crowns (American Pharoah 2015, Justify 2018). What might be overlooked by the everyday sports fan, however, is the fact he has also been fantastic at developing three-year olds later in the season who were not ready to run their best in the spring. In 2016, Arrogate did not make his first graded stakes start until the Travers in late August and then went on perhaps the most powerful four race swing in the history of the sport. West Coast also blossomed later in 2017 as he also took four consecutive Stakes including the grade 1 Travers and grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
With the Kentucky Derby slated for September 5, it is time for Baffert to pull out his ace in the hole. There are a couple of prospects with one of those being Uncle Chuck. Owned by long-time clients Paul Weitman, Mike Pegram, and Karl Watson, this lightly raced son of Uncle Mo might be the one. In just his second lifetime start, Chuck got a graded stakes win when he whipped a small field in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. “He’s very green and has to improve mentally,” says Baffert. “His talent is over the top. We’ll know after his next race whether he is ready for the Kentucky Derby.” So could a horse that didn’t run his first race until mid-June be ready to win the world’s most famous race in September? He’s trained by Bob Baffert…that’s all we will say about that.
WITH TOTAL REGARD TO WINNING
Any race can produce a thrilling finish, but sometimes the trip on the turf is more likely for a white knuckler at the wire. A grass horse sometimes seems to possess that big burst to the finish. There is just that extra gear they seem to find as the desire to win allows for a flight to the finish. If you are not sure about what we speak of, watch the Manhattan Stakes that was run at Belmont Park on July 4.
A star-studded lineup assembled for this grade 1 mile and a quarter journey over the New York grass. Turf training titan Chad Brown had his usual contingency of top flight runners, with one of them being Instilled Regard. An interesting runner that had finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, under Brown’s care he had been finding his best stride of late on the turf. As the race unfolded, it looked as if the five-year old son of Arch would not be getting his second consecutive win on grass.
Trapped behind a wall of horses, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was looking for running room as he sat sixth at the top of the stretch. With just an eighth of a mile to run, he still was behind a group of runners. The eighth became a sixteenth and suddenly it happened. With a complete Regard for winning Instilled in his blood, the grandson of Forestry found a way between horses and strode for glory. With an amazing turn of foot, Instilled Regard was urged by Ortiz and guided just past stable mate Rockemporer at the wire. Prevailing by a widening neck, Instilled Regard absolutely proved it ain’t over til it’s over, especially if you are a good turf horse.
VEKOMA…LIKE A BOSS
The Met Mile at Belmont Park is traditionally one of the toughest races of the year because it is appealing to many top runners. The distance is perfect as sprinters can stretch out and distance horses can cut back. The vastness of Big Sandy means it is a one turn race and all kinds of players want to take a swing.
The 2020 edition ran on July 4 was exactly that, a loaded mix with lots of talent. So how do you win a race like this with the different styles mixed in? I think Vekoma laid down the perfect blueprint.
There are times in this sport when if a horse thinks he the best he simply needs to run like the best. Be the boss is a great strategy if you can back it up. This four year old son of Candy Ride did exactly that when the gates opened.
Breaking like a shot, Vekoma jetted to the lead and never relinquished. Leading at every call, the George Weaver trained colt fended off several challenges along the way and seemed to get stronger in the stretch. Covering the one mile distance in 1:32.88, the 2019 Bluegrass Stakes winner was just .64 off the track record.
The Met Mile marked the third win in as many starts this year and sixth victory overall from eight lifetime races. Putting his talent on display, Vekoma ran like a boss. If things continue, he’s likely to be supervising right into year end award contention.
One of the great things about covering the sport of kings is the fact we still have some real things to write about. Like actual events in the field of competition and not just speculation on play or political stances regarding the topsy-turvy world of today. With that in mind, let’s give a few thoughts on some current happenings in the greatest sport on earth.
MIDNIGHT STRIKES IN THE FLEUR DE LIS
Since late March, Midnight Bisou has been the top ranked older horse in the country according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. A five-year old daughter of Midnight Lute, she had been a horse that danced every dance as a four-year old (7 wins and a second in 8 starts) and always shows up ready to run. She began her 2020 campaign with a gallant runner-up finish against the boys in the Saudi Cup on February 29. So here she was on June 27 ready to tackle a talented field in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. Would she live up to her lofty ranking in the polls? In about 1:48.99 after the gates opened we got our answer.
Some of the greatest horses seem to get better with age. That can certainly be said for Midnight Bisou. Owned by one of the real winners in the game, Jeff Bloom has continued to campaign this uber talented runner. Running off a sizzling pace, Midnight bided her time under regular rider Mike Smith and struck at the most opportune time. Turning for home with authority, the champion older dirt female of 2019 proved she is every bit the race horse in 2020. Cruising to an 8 ¼ length victory, Midnight Bisou was much the best…as her ranking says.
TOM’S D’ETAT LAYS IT DOWN
Another runner that has been like fine wine has been Tom’s d’Etat. This now seven-year old son of Smart Strike has blossomed of late. Health issues limited him early on, but now with his feet firmly underneath, he has ascended to one of the most respected runners in the older dirt division.
The Stephen Foster has long been one of the big early summer races for older dirt horses. Run at the iconic Churchill Downs, this mile and an eighth jaunt is on the path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic for many. Coming into the June 27 race, the horse named for the late New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson was riding a three race winning streak. Now highly regarded within the division, this Al Stall Jr. trained runner would have to prove himself against a group of hard knockers. A look at the final race chart tells you all you need to know.
The early pace was moderate so the stalking Tom ran just off of the leading Pirate’s Punch. Understanding when it was go-time, jockey Miguel Mena surged to the lead and easily repelled all challengers in the stretch. Winning by 4 ¼ lengths, the most impressive thing about this was how easily Tom’s d’Etat did it. In dispatching a salty field, the final time (1:47.30) was just .20 off the track record…and he wasn’t pushed!
NO PAROLE IS BREAKING OUT
Sometimes, it’s not where you start, but where you finish. No Parole may have been in the hoosegow in the eyes of some simply because he is a Louisiana-bred. But recently, this Tom Amoss trained runner enjoyed a real jail-breaking win.
Brilliantly fast, this three-year old son of Violence began his career with three blistering wins in his home state against horses born on the Bayou. He jumped off into deeper water in the Rebel Stakes to find out if he could swim longer distances against top competition. Amoss got is answer as Parole finished a distant eighth and the decision was made to keep him sprinting.
After rebounding with a win in a sprint allowance race at Oaklawn Park against open company, it was time to test the big boys again. The grade 1 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day was the scene of the crime and those fleet feet stole the show. Out-breaking the competition, No Parole led every step of the way in the seven-furlong dash around Big Sandy. Finishing a widening 3 ¾ lengths in front, this grandson of Bluegrass Cat let everybody know he’s a grade 1 winner from Cajun country.
“I don’t think the general public really knows how good he is yet,” says Amoss. “He’s a graceful runner with great athletic talent and that’s a fantastic combination.”
Yes Mr. Amoss, it is.
DEAN MARTINI TAKES A DRINK
One of the really cool things about the sport of kings are the names of these fabulous athletes. Striking in many ways, the common man will usually make his selection based on moniker. Not a foolproof way of handicapping, but if you play enough, you come to realize there is no absolutely right way to pick a winner.
The Ohio Derby on June 27 at Thistledown saw 13 runners squaring off for their share of a $500,000 purse. A quick perusal of the entries saw 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court running, but another horse drew my attention. Dean Martini was breaking from the one hole and listed at 11 to 1 on the morning line. Holding that old crooner in high admiration, a look at the past performances told me he was the one. Yes, this was his first try in graded stakes company, but he is Tom Amoss trained and has been in the money every time out this year. Plus with that kind of name I was going to follow my own advice… back a horse and get paid.
Breaking alertly, this three-year old son of Cairo Prince ran strong early stalking the pace in this mile and an eighth race. Three quarters of a mile in, Deano threw a couple of olives and some vermouth in the jigger. Taking command at the top of the stretch he shook loose to a three length lead. Continuing to run strong through the wire, Amoss’ pupil held off a furious charge from South Bend and earned a graded stakes win.
Going off a 14 to 1, Dean Martini returned an intoxicating $49.80 on my $2 across the board wager. In the Ohio Derby Dean Martini took a big drink…and then so did I.
Some things just seem to be made for each other. Peanut butter and jelly, bologna and cheese, sweet tea and lemonade… ahhh yes. I think now we can add another… Kentucky Downs and the Music City!
Entering 2020, Nashville, Tennessee has been one of the hottest cities in these United States. The home of country music has morphed into a must visit for many. Lined with honkytonks and many other attractions, the Music City has been striking a sweet note of late.
Kentucky Downs is a totally turf track nestled just inside Bluegrass country with the state line within rock-throwing distance. Featuring the biggest race purses in the nation and second highest in the world, the only European style track in the country has become the place to be in early September. Horsemen from all over the country descend on Franklin, Kentucky in a dash for those dollars.
The one digit math here is something even a hillbilly can cipher. You have a hot bowl of beans and some fresh made cornbread, so you put them together. The folks at Kentucky Downs have figured this out and their recently released racing schedule is proof positive.
Six glorious racing dates will feature sixteen Stakes races with a total purse payout of about $12 million. Of course the million dollar centerpiece Kentucky Turf Cup will be run along with the Runhappy Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint win and you’re in race, but there has been a big addition to the schedule.
The Music City Stakes is slated for Sunday, September 13. Run at 6 ½ furlongs and restricted to three-year old fillies, this $400,000 race should be hotter than a bunch of babes on lower Broad. These sprint races are always exciting and the money will no doubt attract top talent.
Kentucky Downs came out with the new Stakes race to provide another turf sprint race in the female division and also honor it’s neighbor just down I-65.
Live racing will take place on September 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. Kentucky Turf Cup Day is scheduled for Saturday, September 12 with four graded Stakes races on the card.
“We’re very pleased with what we’re able to offer in these challenging times,” says Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “We are already a one of a kind meet and starting up two days after the rescheduled Kentucky Derby can add to the excitement. This should provide a real opportunity for horsemen who haven’t had the chance before to come join us and see why we call it America’s most unique race meet.”
If you happened to miss the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes on June 20, we can summarize it rather succinctly. Tiz The Law tiz the best!
Owned by New York based Sackatoga Stable, this fleeted footed three-year old colt put on a show in the shortened Belmont Stakes. In becoming the first New York-bred to win this Triple Crown race since 1882 (Forrester), this son of Constitution left no doubt who was the best.
As expected, Tiz The Law stalked a solid early pace under regular rider Manny Franco. When the ten horse field turned for home it was show time. As he has done in the past, the Law found an extra gear and left little doubt as to who was the best. Covering the mile and an eighth in 1:46.53. the 3 ¾ length margin of victory does not display the real dominance here.
The Belmont Stakes victory runs the Law’s career record to five wins in six starts with career earnings of over $1.5 million.
With the first leg of the Triple Crown now under his saddle, the Traver’s Stakes at Saratoga on August 8 is now in the crosshairs. Of course the Kentucky Derby on September 5 is the ultimate goal, but for now, this New York team is enjoying a superb New York moment.
Being that Father’s Day is June 21, who better to talk about than Tiger Dad?
In fitting fashion, this four-year old son of Smiling Tiger was ferocious on June 13 in winning the Thor’s Echo Stakes at Santa Anita. Always a hard-knocker, the California-bred Tiger Dad earned his first Stakes score in the Echo and did it impressively.
A horse that likes to get out and go, Tiger Dad faced pressure throughout the six-furlong race but in the end repelled an accomplished field under regular rider Victor Espinoza. Clawing his way to the wire in 1:09.56, this Carla Gaines trained gelding finished ¾ of length ahead of a highly touted Pricepe Carlo as he refused to lose.
The triumph in the Thor’s Echo marks his fourth win in fifteen lifetime starts with five second place finishes and three thirds. Same as many fathers out there, Tiger Dad showed a lot of courage and plenty of heart.
“He ran really tough,” says a vibrant Carla Gaines. “We are very proud.”