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.”
If current events have you wondering about the Law, fear not as you are going to find out all about it come June 20.
The topsy turvy world we live in has now landed the Belmont Stakes as the opening leg of the Triple Crown. Normally this challenging series for three-year old Thoroughbreds features this race as the closing “test of a champion”. For one particular New York-bred runner, it doesn’t really matter when the race is contested, he’s going to be there with bells on.
Tiz The Law has been one of the most highly respected Kentucky Derby contenders since the calendar turned to 2020. An impressive score in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park last October put him on the map and he has done nothing to diminish that during a sparkling two race campaign as a three-year old.
The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 1 saw this son of Constitution stalk the pace and pull away to a three-length win. The Florida Derby on March 28 was more of the same as once again a stalking trip under Manny Franco saw the Law lay it all down in the stretch. A resounding 4 ¼ length triumph sent him to the head of the Kentucky Derby contender class.
If memory serves us correctly and we do some fact-checking, we have established this Sackatoga Stable owned colt is a New York-bred…does that go in the same sentence as Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown contender?
The answer here is a big old yes as these boys from upstate New York have proven you can win the world’s most famous race and contend for the Triple Crown with a pony from the Empire State. Back in 2003 these same good fellas rode their school bus to Churchill Downs and shook up the world. Funny Cide ran huge in becoming the first and only New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby and he was also the first gelding to capture the Roses since 1929 (Clyde Van Dusen). Following that up with a Gotham party at the Preakness, things got even better. Unfortunately, Funny Cide couldn’t close the deal in the Belmont and Triple Crown glory eluded them.
Back now another talented New York-bred, these same back-yard barbecue buddies are at it again. As is the case with anyone that has a talented three-year old, the Kentucky Derby is the focus as soon as the calendar turns to January. Sackatoga’s managing partner, Jack Knowlton was focused on the first Saturday in May with his talented colt, but now has shifted his focus to arguably the home state’s biggest race in this division.
“In this absolutely upside down year we are very anxious to run in the Belmont Stakes,” says Knowlton. “It’s important for us to run in this one for sure. We are proud to carry the flag for the New York-bred program. He’s showing the world we can breed some top notch horses in this state.”
Familiarity with the track is also a nice thing for the Barclay Tagg-trained colt. The Champagne score has shown he has an affinity for the surface and he gets to run out of his own stall.
“It’s his home track and we know he can win there already,” says Knowlton. “He’s coming in fresh and we think the change in distance will work out just fine.”
For the first time since 1926, the Belmont Stakes will be conducted at a distance other than a mile and a half. Since it is now the first race in the Triple Crown series, the Belmont will be conducted at a mile and an eighth. Having won at that distance in his last start (Florida Derby), Knowlton hopes things can work out equally as well.
“(Jockey) Manny Franco did an excellent job of working out the perfect stalking trip in the Florida Derby,” says Knowlton. “He broke well and was able to put himself in a great position throughout the race. We can only hope for more of the same in this one-turn race at the same distance.”
The Belmont Stakes is the immediate focus for what is currently New York’s finest in the three-year old male division. The Law wants to defend the home dirt, but Knowlton and the friends at Sackatoga are thinking Kentucky Derby as well.
“We understand how this game can change at any time so our main concern is keeping Tiz The Law healthy and sound,” says Knowlton. “We look very forward to a trip to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in September. I don’t think we know yet just how good he is because (jockey) Manny (Franco) has not had to really get after him. The Belmont will no doubt be a big test.”
Tiz The Law has won four of five career races and finished third in his only start at Churchill Downs (Jockey Club Stake November 30,2019). He is currently ranked number one in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Three-Year Old poll.
What are high school football coaches looking at right now? Hopes for returning to some form of normalcy and helping our nation heal from the mental and physical sickness that has encompassed all.
Limited forms of practice began on June 1 with restrictions in place. The importance of allowing this reopening is catamount to the success of our youth. Those not close to the sport do not always understand the importance of this game to many of these kids. Providing structure, discipline, and educating about the importance of teamwork greatly outweigh the on-field X’s and O’s.
“It’s great to finally see these kids smiling faces and be a part of their excitement,” says Matt Williams, head coach at Smyrna. “I think they have struggled with no routine and no football. Having them back and seeing the joy on their faces made everything seem better. Feeling somewhat normal has brightened everyone’s day. Our kids have done a wonderful job of following the protocol during these early workouts. We feel really good about this group and are lucky to be back together again.”
As coaches across Rutherford County continue to lead our youth in the right direction the focus will be on tackling the challenges before us all. The good news is the teams can now gather. Robbed of the learning time called Spring practice, programs will now simply do what they can as all look forward to a return to life as we all knew it.
Injury is unfortunately a part of any sport. The career ending ones are really saddening, especially when a player is just beginning to tap their potential. The game of Thoroughbred racing has seen this far too many times as things for these powerful yet fragile athletes can change in the swish of a tail. And that is exactly what happened last week to the horse we viewed as the top contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby. A hairline condylar fracture to the left front leg has robbed us of another superior athlete.
Even though he was only four races in, those with the right kind of eye knew Nadal was for real. Beginning his career in January of 2020, this son of Blame was brilliant right out of the gate. After winning that maiden special weight by 3 ¾ lengths, trainer Bob Baffert did not hesitate to throw him into stakes company. Facing some battle tested three-year olds in the seven furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 9, Nadal aced the competition. From there it was on to Arkansas where he faced some serious pressure throughout the Rebel Stakes on March 14 but still held serve.
His first three races were no doubt impressive, but what will likely be the final race of his career is where he really stood tall. Having been moved to May 2, The Arkansas Derby was so loaded they ran two divisions. Stacked in with the toughest competition, Baffert brought his horse in righter than rain. Understanding the level of competition at Oaklawn, the five-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer had the screws tightened on this stable star. The post parade saw Nadal on his toes and looking like a million bucks. Then the gates opened and he proved to be worth a lot more.
A runner that likes to be out front and determine his own fate, Nadal settled just off a talented and front-running Wells Bayou into the backstretch. Proving his promise with every powerful stride, Nadal overtook the Bayou on the far turn. Rolling into the stretch, Baffert’s charge was nothing short of sensational. As others tried to come at him, this son of Ascending Angel was more than equal to the task. As the wire drew closer the lead got bigger. Winning by a widening three lengths many now had their Kentucky Derby favorite.
Nadal is now recovering from successful surgery. It is likely he will make his next start in the breeding shed and not the race track. Instead of wondering what might have been, let’s celebrate the magnificence that was. Nadal…a real racehorse.
There are some sporting events you circle and say “yes sir that’s going to be a good one”. The May 23 Daytona Stakes was certainly one of those and it certainly lived up to the advanced billing.
A five and a half furlong dash over the Santa Anita grass, this grade 3 event had seven highly qualified speedsters lining up. Stakes winners Cistron, Texas Wedge, Stubbins, and Wildman Jack were confronted with veteran grass runners like Murad Khan, Blameitonthelaw, and Sparky Ville. A coin flip race for sure, if you figured it would be close at the end, you were right.
Breaking alertly, Cistron guided a tightly bunch group through a freakishly fast opening quarter mile (21.07). At the top of the stretch the veteran gave way and long shot Sparky Ville (70-1) stuck a head in front. Under extreme pressure, Sparky continued to fight on. On the outside Wildman Jack kicked in the turbo under jockey Mike Smith and got involved. Stubbins began rolling and Texas Wedge was right there too. As the wire drew ever closer, the race was as expected.
In the end the Wildman got up by a flaring nostril over Sparky Ville. Stubbins was right behid them followed by Texas Wedge. The difference between first and third was a half length. WOW!
The turf sprint race can absolutely be some of the most exciting in the game and yes the Daytona Stakes was certainly all that!
The highly regarded Maxfield made his long-awaited return to the starting gates on May 23 and he did not disappoint. In his first start as a three-year old, this son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense took a huge step towards a spot in the world’s most famous race. Coming from the back of the pack in the grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, this Brendan Walsh trainee made an impressive move in the home stretch and won by a widening length. The powerful score has Maxfield unbeaten in three career starts.
The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby is slated for September 5.
Following this year’s National Football League draft, the Indianapolis Colts have made a major score in the talent department. When things get back to normal, the two-time Super Bowl champs (1971, 2007) will welcome a former Smyrna Bulldog to the organization. It will not be a running back, lineman, or wide receiver, but rather a position of far more importance.
Any successful football team has people behind the scenes that really and truly make it all possible. Most do not realize the things that happen between the lines are a result of tireless hours of work by the administrative staff. This is where the brilliance of Hannah Potter comes in to play.
A “four year starter” on the Smyrna High football managerial staff, the 2016 graduate made life much easier for the Bulldogs during her tenure. Always prepared or preparing, Potter was an integral part of a highly successful program.
“We have had a lot of wonderful student assistants at Smyrna over the years,” says Bulldog head coach Matt Williams. “Hannah ranks right there at the top. She always had everything, and I mean everything, organized and ready to go. She genuinely loves the game of football and is an invaluable asset to whatever program she is a part of. She’s a great young lady and the Indianapolis Colts are getting a quality individual. We are very proud of her.”
After her days of helping guide the Dogs down the right path, Hannah went slightly north and became a part of the Western Kentucky program. Lending her expertise to the Hilltoppers, Hannah helped them reach all new heights. Since she walked on campus in Bowling Green, Western has won two bowl games and one conference championship.
The experience that began for a high school freshman has now morphed into an eight year success story. Learning along the way, Potter has picked up some valuable life experience while making sure her football teams are winning on and off the field.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I walked into Coach Williams office back in 2012,” says Potter. “Everything has worked out great. Over the years I have learned a lot about many different things. Equipment, field maintenance, and problem solving have all been a part of it. Some of it was taught, some of it I just had to figure out on my own.”
So now it is time for Potter to take her game to the next level. Having walked off the Western Kentucky campus with a degree in Sports Management and a minor in business administration, Hannah is looking to help the Colts find success. Having accepted a position as Team Operations Intern, Potter is anxious to see what life is like at the next level.
“It’s very exciting to think about this next step in life,” says Potter. “We don’t know exactly what is going to happen just yet because of the current state of the world. Once the NFL makes a decision about training camp and the season we will know more about my role with the team and such.”
Hopes are widespread for a return to some sort of the normalcy we have all become accustomed to. Football has given this ambitious young lady an avenue to direct her talent. To this point, the teams Hannah has been a part of have enjoyed much success between the lines. Thanks to people like her it has been possible. For her this endeavor has been about way more than a blitz package, lining the field, or fixing football helmets. It has been about winning the game of life and that is something she looks to continue for the Colts.
“Perhaps the best thing about my football experience is the people I have connected with,” says Potter. “I grew my family at Smyrna and expanded it even more at Western. I kind of became like a mom to some of these guys. I love my players and treasure all the great relationships we have formed. Hopefully that can continue.”
As long as the Colts give her a chance…it will.
The road that leads to the Kentucky Derby can be a treacherous one. This year’s winding path has been especially challenging. For one impressive colt, the merge into the fast lane towards immortality is now right in front of him.
Maxfield is a very impressive three-year old that is yet to toe the track in 2020. This strapping son of Street Sense has only two career starts, yet he is one of the highly regarded contenders for Kentucky Derby 146. Ranked in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association three-year old poll, his two trips to the winner’s circle as a two year old were jaw droppers. The romp in the Claiborne Futurity at Keeneland last October immediately spiked some Derby fever amongst his backers.
Running well off the early pace, Maxfield made a sweeping move at the top of the stretch and powered past the front runners. Much like his pappy before him, who had a penchant for late power, this Brendan Walsh trained behemoth flew through the final furlong. Coming home clear a good 5 ½ lengths, many of the onlookers immediately thought blanket of roses.
“The way he did it in the Claiborne was no doubt exceptional,” says Walsh. “With just one previous start, to be able to take dirt to the face like he did and come home like that says a lot about his talent level. We thought he was ready to run but didn’t really expect it to be that good. He exceeded our expectations, but at the same time gave us a glimpse of how good he can be.”
A physical hiccup kept him from running in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup and he has not made it to the starting gates since. The delayed running of the Kentucky Derby has given his calculating conditioner the opportunity to add things up without any real rush.
“When they announced the new date we decided to take our foot off the gas and give him plenty of time to get right physically,” says Walsh. “I think we could have been ready for early May if we needed to be, but we didn’t have to.”
The patience in his handling has allowed this imposing two-year old to become even more of a physical presence at three. Owned by Godolphin, Maxfield is absolutely an eye-catcher.
“He’s always been a very impressive colt physically,” says Walsh. “Believe it or not, he is even better looking now. When you see him you will realize he was just a frame of a horse at two. Now that he has turned three, he is very imposing.”
Maxfield is slated to make his long-awaited 2020 debut in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23. Now a points qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, this mile and a sixteenth circle beneath the twin spires is where Walsh is looking to start their run at some roses.
Recent works say that Maxfield is certainly on his game right now. Working from the gate at Keeneland on May 10, Walsh saw his charge cover five furlongs in 59.2, which was the fastest of 34 workouts at the distance.
“The work from the gate was very nice,” says Walsh. “(Jockey) Jose Ortiz worked him and was very happy with how he covered ground. As nice as he looks right now, this horse still has a lot to prove. The Matt Winn is a great place to get started because we don’t have to ship anywhere to run. We would like to run him a couple of times before the Derby.”
A veteran of the game, Walsh is cautiously optimistic with his prized colt. With better than three and a half months to go it is understood anything can happen.
“We are just trying to do what the whole world is trying to do and that is stay healthy,” says Walsh. “Probably the best thing is we think he still has plenty of room for improvement. I hope our plan works out and we can make it to the starting gates for the Kentucky Derby. We are certainly giving it our best guess.”
The Matt Winn is part of a stakes blockbuster day at Churchill that will also feature the Blame (1 mile for older horses), Shawnee (fillies and mares at 1 1/16 mile), War Chant (3 year-olds 1 mile on the turf), and Tepin (3 year-old fillies 1 mile on turf).
Of course we love the sport of Thoroughbred racing for many reasons. Here is a short narrative documenting some of those reasons.
The speculation on the sport is very intriguing. Some may be overwhelmed by the many different wagers on the menu, but the bottom line is back a horse and get paid. The pick six is the Dahlia Llama of wagers as you try and forecast the first place finishers in the final six races on the card. You can play multiple horses in each race, but that can lead to a very pricey gamble. Sometimes it can be hard to hit back to back races, so six in a row????
The attractiveness to a wager like this is two-fold. First of all, the payout can be quite handsome. Secondly, being right about something is always nice, so strutting your stuff six consecutive times…yeah baby.
I am fortunate to have a betting buddy. Guy is pretty quick on his mental feet, being an investment councilor is his day job. Hmmmm, imagine that. I have long told him putting his clients in the handicapping market can yield big returns on an investment…or not. And these days the ponies may yield a little more…at times.
Got a text from him Friday morning that said Thursday’s pick six ticket at Gulfstream Park yielded a $14,000 payout. We needed to get in on that action so he suggested a low budget play. Here is where it gets good.
First two race winners were favorites and I had them both. These multi-race wagers are difficult to hit when you go low risk with your ticket and hopes are you are at least alive long enough to let the excitement build.
I’m a believer in the omens of horse racing as it relates to life, always have been. The third leg had me taking a middle of the road shot. Favorites do not always win and playing the chalk all the time can lead to a torn up ticket. So when my selection, Arithmetic, came home first at 8 to 1 I immediately thought heck yeah… things are adding up!
So now that we are half way home with a live ticket, I’m feeling good. If nothing else, at least we were half right. Then came race 9. Jockey Luis Saez put his horse in the race early and rode him to a convincing win. The runner was named Jesus’ Team…Holy mother it’s divine intervention!
So here we are staring at the fifth leg of the pick six still with a shot at glory. My councilor’s selection shot up the rail and was first to the wire in 5 fast furlongs over the Gulfstream grass. Name of the horse…R Happy Ending…WOW!!!
Five winners in a row and the last three had come out of the Tarot card deck. What the???…The next twenty minutes were filled with anxious moments and dreams of glory. We were three deep in the last race and as I watched the tote board on my computer screen I saw we had the two favorites and still another as well. It was as much about being right as it was the potential payout…or not…but still the old blood was pumping for sure.
As the final race went to post I was cautiously optimistic. This may have been a maiden claiming race to some, but to me it was the biggest one of the day. The horses broke clean and the opening furlong of the 1 mile turf race saw our runners all in the top three. Covering ground with ease, they maintained position with the others a few lengths back. As they turned for home we still had the top three spots. Front-running Florado gave way and was passed by Quiet American. This was good as the Joel Rosario ridden runner was our 12-1 shot!
With my heart racing as if I were the one running, our American was still in the lead in the final sixteenth. Wait a minute… an outsider was coming with huge strides!!! I pleaded “Hold on baby hold on!”
In the final two jumps Noble Alma got up to win by a prevailing head…She was not on our ticket. This Helen of Troy had wrecked our empire. Befallen by a female (of course it was a race for fillies ), we were designated to the close but no cigar category.
With the adrenaline still pumping I realized what I already knew. It was one heck of a ride and just playing the game really is part of the fun. Me and a good friend got to enjoy some camaraderie and we shared some smiles afterwards even if we weren’t splitting the $2622.22 payout. Ahh yes, the sport of kings can crown you…if you let it.
So, you read the headline and wonder “what’s the definition of good by a hillbilly turf writer’s standards”? For that matter, does a hillbilly turf writer even have standards?
The answer to those questions are yes, the bar may be low but he does have standards and yes, this Bret Calhoun trained runner is answering the “good” questions without any help from a hillbilly.
By My Standards has turned in a couple of big performances in 2020 and ran himself right into the mix of the best older horses in the country. Currently ranked third in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll for older horses, this four-year old son of Goldencents has been nothing short of outstanding this year. Three wins in three starts has run his racing record to five wins, two seconds, and a third place finish in nine career starts.
The latest trip to the winner’s circle came on May 2 in the Oaklawn Handicap. Facing a stellar field, By My Standards ran just off a solid early pace and powered home to a 1 ¾ length victory. Running with confidence, Calhoun’s charge turned in the biggest performance of his career when all eyes were on him.
“That was obviously his best performance to date,” observes his conditioner. “He shipped in to a track he’s never ran on and beat the deepest field he’s ever faced. Runing closer to the pace than normal, he showed us another dimension. We expected a top effort because he had been working so well and to Standards credit he delivered in a big way.”
By My Standards display of immense talent actually began over a year ago. Since winning a maiden race at The Fairgrounds on February 16, 2019, the only break from the gate that did not land him in the winner’s circle was the Kentucky Derby (11th place finish). Before that first win, however, his handlers were doing a little head-scratching. What was thought to be a talented son of a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner always seemed to be coming up as the brides maid with two seconds and a third in his first three starts.
“I will admit I was a little discouraged before he broke his maiden,” says Calhoun. “We thought he was a really nice horse, but he was not getting it done on race day. After that third start when he didn’t win I think he knew he was under achieving. We could see a big change in his mental approach. Suddenly the switch flipped and he learned how to win. Figuring out how to put horses away and run to his potential has lead him to the winner’s circle in five of his last six races.”
Owned by Allied Racing Stables, By My Standards was a $150,000 purchase as a two year-old. In the higher levels of the sport that can be somewhat of a modest price. Now having banked over $1.2 million in on-track earnings, by anyone’s standards he has been a great investment.
“(Bloodstock Agent) Josh Stevens did an excellent job of picking him out,” says Calhoun. “I am especially proud of him for what he has achieved thus far as what some consider a modest purchase price. I will say at one time, having a horse in my barn that costs that much would have been super high for me. Fortunately we have done some things right over the years and have been able to raise our level of play. Competing against the best competition with a horse that is perceived to be of lesser value is always very rewarding for me.”
With a hot horse on his hands, Bret Calhoun is now faced with the coaching decisions every trainer wants. How to keep your contender on the right path as he runs toward the riches of Thoroughbred racing is the quandary. Right now there is a short term plan and long term goals.
“We are targeting the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 27”, observes the Texas native. “It really makes the most sense for us because it is a top flight race that offers a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He gets to run out of his own stall at a place he calls home much of the year. We don’t have to ship and the Classic is our year end goal. What happens in between is yet to be determined. Right now we just want to let him freshen a bit and figure out how to get him to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in November.”
Any questions about this race horse By My Standards will continue to be answered in the coming months.