As the runners line up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 7, Bob Baffert may be doing a Chuck Daly imitation. …How’s that you ask?…It looks like Big Race Bob has assembled a Dream Team for this $6 million event.
For those that don’t recall, the 1992 Summer Olympics featured a United States basketball team like no other. As NBA players were allowed to participate for the first time ever, the USA squad featured eleven players that would become members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan were perhaps the three most recognizable names on a team that brought home the gold, but the stars were plentiful up and down the bench.
The 2020 mile and a quarter Classic at Keeneland race course will see Baffert bring in a formidable line up of stars that might be reminiscent of those legendary hoopsters. His runners may not be as recognizable to the common sports fans as those players from ’92, but their talent level jumps out of the gym.
The shooting guard for the hall of fame conditioner is Maximum Security. Having crossed the finish line first in eleven of thirteen career starts, this son of New Year’s Day is a horse that can flat score. Full of heart and with plenty of speed and stamina, his recent works say he is coming in right. His last race was a second place finish in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita on September 26, but Baffert throws that one out.
“We probably shouldn’t have run him in that spot because I don’t think he was ready,” says Baffert. “He didn’t like the track at Santa Anita that day but he seems to be doing great right now.”
The power forward in the lineup is Improbable. Much like Karl “the Mailman” Malone, this athlete has really delivered. Three consecutive grade 1 wins have seen this son of City Zip mature into a real force. A versatile runner, his front-running score in the Whitney at Saratoga was followed by a worst to first romp in the Awesome Again as he blew past stable mate Maximum Security.
“We always thought he was a good horse, now he’s just getting really good,” says Baffert. “We just need him to be really good one more time this year.”
The third member of Baffert’s Classic lineup is the swingman, Authentic. An athlete that has demonstrated outstanding ability in registering five wins and two seconds in seven career starts, this son of Into Mischief is a slasher. He took the highly favored Tiz The Law to the hoop in winning the 2020 Kentucky Derby before just missing in the Preakness on October 4.
“He came out of the Preakness in good shape, he just lost focus,” says the thee-time winner of the Classic (2014, 2015, 2016). “The key for him is to get engaged early and remain focused. He’s very talented and has a lot of speed.”
Does a four-time grade 1 winner (Improbable) and the two horses that crossed the finish line first in the last two Kentucky Derbies (Maximum Security 2019, Authentic 2020) compare to the likes of coach Chuck Daly’s arsenal?… Tip time for the Classic is set as the final race of a spectacular two-day event.
When rivals meet on the gridiron it’s always exciting. When region titles are potentially on the line it means even more. The October 23 showdown at Smyrna was all about first place in more ways than one as the Wolverines and Bulldogs battled for the top spot in region 5.
The long-standing high school football series with LaVergne has presented many challenges for Smyrna over the thirty plus years it has existed. The Wolverines have had plenty of fight, but some how, some way, the Bulldogs have found a way to stand tall in every meeting except one (2000). As every one knows this year has been different in many ways, but the outcome of this backyard brawl saw more of the same for Smyrna.
In a contest that featured many highlights and offered up all the reasons why high school football is fantastic, Smyrna’s 35-28 triumph was another storied chapter in the Bulldog football lore. Big plays when it counted the most allowed the Dogs to dig their way out of a 21-14 halftime deficit. Using all facets of the game, Smyrna rolled up the fur and found a way in the final two quarters.
“I am really proud of our kids for keeping their composure and not panicking when we were down at the half,” says Smyrna head coach Matt Williams. “LaVergne has a good team and Ray Banner is a very talented player. We had a lot of kids step up and display the heart of a Bulldog.”
Ray Banner, the Wolverines outstanding senior running back, struck fear into the Smyrna hearts with a sizzling first half. Scoring two of the three LaVergne touchdowns, one was a scintillating 75-yard scamper that proved this kid can take it to the house any time he touches the ball. His presence and the confidence he brings to the entire squad meant it would take something special for Smyrna to keep their winning streak alive.
True to form, the opening offensive series for Smyrna saw one of those table turning plays. Listed at 5 foot nine and 155 pounds, senior receiver Jamir Eaton is a diminutive Dog with a huge heart. Hauling in a pass from quarterback Landon Miller, Eaton solidified his super hero status as he refused to go down. Breaking tackles like the Incredible Hulk at mid-field, he then transformed into the Flash as he bolted free and ran to paydirt. The 77 yard pass, catch, and run infused life into Smyrna as Dogged determination was in full display.
Following a blocked punt, Smyrna took the lead for good as Miller found the end zone from one yard out. Mid-way through the decisive third quarter LaVergne was dealt a misfortunate blow as Banner left the contest with an ankle injury. Having accumulated 222 yards on 22 carries through two and a half quarters, the Wolverine star would not return.
Capitalizing on a now limited LaVergne offense, Smyrna turned loose their running game. Proving to also be a force on the ground, Sophomore Arion Carter capped a big night (147 yards 14 carries) by racking up yardage during Smyrna’s third scoring drive of the quarter. Now up 35-21, the Bulldogs used the ground game to help shorten the fourth quarter with clock consuming possessions.
“I am very proud of our offensive line and how they found a way to open holes for all of our backs,” says Williams. “Arion Carter is a kid I can’t say enough about and we had a lot of big plays from different players in critical situations.”
The 2020 edition of the rumble in North Rutherford County wound up with a familiar result, but it once again featured outstanding effort from both sides and some sparkling performances. Smyrna (6-3 , 5-0 in region play) now controls their own destiny as they can claim the region title with a win at Stewart’s Creek. For Bulldog leader Matt Williams it marked another notch in his coaching collar as he found a way get his Dogs to measure up.
“We haven’t played LaVergne this late in the year with this much on the line in a long time,” says the Dog leader, now in his 13th season. “No question this is a special win and now we just need to keep moving forward.“
Smyrna closes the regular season on October 30 at Stewart’s Creek Kickoff is slated for 7 pm.
by Danny Brewer
Many things have changed during a tumultuous year and the new normal is often the abnormal. One thing however has not changed. The Oakland Patriots are currently the class of Rutherford County high school football teams.
As the season has unfolded, the Patriots have looked every bit the part of state title contender. Standing at 9-0, Oakland has dominated a reshuffled schedule with a potent offense and stingy defense. Seven contests played on the field has seen the Patriots outscore the opposition 291-62. The other two contests were Covid 19 forfeits.
Blessed with playmakers on both sides of the football, head coach Kevin Creasy has been able to keep his kids healthy and focused. Managing the mental aspect in these trying times has been every coach’s challenge in 2020. The fundamentally based Creasy has been very pleased with his team’s response to that hurdle.
“The thing I am most proud of is the fact these kids really appreciate the opportunity to play football,” says Creasy. “They understand the challenges the world is facing and know it is a privilege to be able to step on the playing field. Being able to play this game means a lot to our group.”
Offensively, Oakland has several weapons that are threats to take it to the house any time they touch the ball. Jordan James, Victor Stephenson, Antonio Patterson, and Isaiah Horton all give the Patriot offense big paydirt threats. These type players give Creasy an expanded opportunity with play calling. Of equal importance, however are the guys surrounding these deadly weapons.
“We are blessed to have some kids that are capable of doing some special things,” says Creasy, now in his sixth season at the Oakland helm. “The special thing about this team is the commitment all of our players have to the team. We have a lot of overachievers on this roster. There are kids that have been asked to play different positions and they embrace their roles with the team always coming first.”
Oakland will host Coffee County for senior night and their final home game of the regular season on October 23. Always trying to emphasize the little things, Creasy is taking things one week at a time.
“We have been blessed with good health to this point and will take things one day at a time,” says Creasy. “These kids seem to be gelling at the right time. I think we are continuing to get better which is what you want. Now we just need to stay healthy and remain focused.”
Kickoff for the game with Coffee County is slated for 7 pm at Ray Hughes Stadium in Murfreesboro. The Patriots complete the regular season on October 30 with a trip to Warren County.
Marc Carpenter (left) and Kyle Burgess are once again champions of the Jimmy Golf League. Played at Cedar Crest Golf Course, the hotly contested season saw the big hitting Burgess consistently score well while the crafty Carpenter carved out solid rounds on a regular basis. This marks the fourth consecutive year this duo has danced past the competition. Considering the nature of this grand old game that is quite a feat. Fantastic play on and around the greens were just one of the highlights for the now four-time defending champs.
Photo credit Chelsea Durand
The relationship between player and coach is often times very special. This is absolutely the case in the game of Thoroughbred racing. Perhaps it is even more so as these four-legged athletes enjoy a special bond with their conditioner in what can be a “who trains who” situation. A classic example will be on display at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup when one trainer in particular hopes to orchestrate a fairy tale ending for his prized pupil.
Tom Amoss has had many horses in his barn since beginning life as a trainer back in 1987. With over 3200 wins in the saddle bags, the native of New Orleans has enjoyed a trip or two to the winner’s circle. There is one runner, however, that holds a very special place in the LSU graduate’s heart.
Serengeti Empress is without question one of the most courageous runners in the game today. Under the expert care of her loving conditioner, the Empress has reigned supreme seven times in eighteen career starts. With more speed than Shirley Muldowney, this four year old daughter of Alternation always provides thrills no matter where she finishes.
“You can’t measure her heart and that is probably her greatest feature,” says Amoss. “Anyone that watches her race and sees what she puts into it can’t help but become a fan. She leaves it all on the track every time.”
The most notable win of her career came in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks. Coming into the race under the radar, the Empress took’em gate to wire in a real showcase of her racehorse qualities. Front end speed and the ability to carry it through the finish put the spotlight on the superior preparation instilled by Amoss. Even though his barn did things basically the same way they had always done, the Oaks triumph cast their racing team in a different light.
“I owe a lot to the Empress because when she won the Kentucky Oaks I suddenly became a better trainer in the eyes of a lot of people,” says Amoss. “We really didn’t change our approach, she’s just a very special athlete that changed our public perception. Her performance that day allowed me entrance into “the club” and believe me being in the club has it’s advantages.”
One of the things that made the Oaks win so special was the uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the world’s most famous race for three-year old fillies. A bleeding issue in the Fairgrounds Oaks on March 23 had cast doubt about her ability to be ready. As Amoss carefully nurtured his prized filly back to health a very special bond was formed. Always putting the health of his horse first, the decision to run in the May 3 showcase was not made until the week before when he knew his Empress was sound physically. She in turn rewarded her coach with a huge effort.
Serengeti Empress has continued to shine the spotlight on her dedicated conditioner in this, her four-year old season. That same heart and effort have produced courageous performances in all but one of her six starts this year. Her win in the mile and a sixteenth Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March was another gate to wire romp. After being unable to score in the Apple Blossom due to an outside post draw and fading in the mile and an eighth Fleur di Lis, Amoss changed the game plan for his star.
Because she has normally been fantastic in the early stages of every race in her career, the cagy conditioner decided it was time to play to her strengths and run shorter distances. The grade 1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga on August 8 was the site for Serengeti and her test at seven furlongs in 2020. Amoss looked like Einstein as the Empress displayed one of the most dynamic runs ever over this New York dirt. Simply sizzling opening fractions (21.73 quarter mile, 43.74 half) would have cooked most, but this beautiful girl thrives when the grill gets hot. Her six challengers could not hold up and Amoss’s Empress was crowned.
The next try at this same seven furlong distance was not a win, but her loss by a flaring nostril in the Derby City Distaff on September 5 featured a legendary stretch run. Once again this granddaughter of Bernardini set a blistering pace (21.93 quarter, 43.77 half mile). Refusing to give in when confronted by Bell’s The One, the Empress battled all the way to the wire as she just refused to give in.
Those two fantastic efforts by his fabulously fast female gives Amoss confidence as she prepares for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Contested at seven furlongs, this year’s Cup will be run at Keeneland. A likely lineup that will feature the also freakishly fast Gamine should not alter the game plan for the Empress.
“It’s a little late to change things up,” observes Amoss. “This is going to be the final start of her career and now is not the time to try and change. She wants to be out front and that’s what we want too.”
Preparations for their last dance together have gone well to this point. A recent half mile breeze told Amoss his beauty is ready to run. Now he hopes to fine tune her and provide the sendoff he knows she deserves.
“Winning this race is very important for us,” says Amoss. “Our number one goal is to see her walk off the track healthy. But I also want to reward her by sending her out with a win. I think I owe that to her. As the years go by and we reflect on things Serengeti Empress will always be the first one we talk about. She has been so big for our stable and closing out her days on the track with a Breeders’ Cup victory is what we are hoping for.”
No matter what happens as these two trip the light fantastic one final time, Amoss and his Empress will be winners because they have each other.
The $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint is scheduled for November 7.
As the sands move through the hourglass we can all be privy to certain things that have a “Wow” factor. The piece of heaven on earth we call Keeneland Race Course has seen many of those moments over the years. Thanks to one fantastic athlete, another was created on October 9.
Got Stormy is one of those Thoroughbreds that can be referred to as a “real racehorse”. Full of courage and possessing a tremendous turn of foot, this five-year old female has not been perfect in her twenty five-race career, but she has given race fans many memorable moments. Her most recent came in the grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes.
Making her mark in the history books on the turf, this daughter of Get Stormy has turned in some huge efforts. A girl that likes to travel, this Mark Casse trained runner has graced twelve different tracks with her presence. One of the things that makes her “real” in the race horse category is the fact she has displayed her beauty in eight different winner’s circles. That means she is a horse for any course.
A calculating conditioner, Casse made the call to shorten up his star. Normally running in one mile races, Stormy was going to try and strike in the Turf Sprint division. Deciding to experiment at Kentucky Downs in the 6 ½ furlong Ladies Turf Sprint on September 12, Got Stormy made her trainer look like a genius. Powerfully scoring by a widening 3 ½ lengths, this Kentucky-bred added to an already impressive resume’.
Choosing to stay on the Bluegrass, Stormy landed at Keeneland for the Buffalo Trace. Run at the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint distance of 5 ½ furlongs, this shorter race would be another challenge for the late-running granddaughter of Malabar Gold. With toes on this historic turf, it was time for the latest test.
A torrid early pace (21.84 opening quarter, 44.94 half mile) saw Got Stormy near the back of a ten-horse field. Sitting sixth at the top of the stretch, it looked as if this heroine would still be in search of a win at Keeneland. Urged by jockey Tyler Gafflione, it was show time for Stormy.
With the wire in sight and front-runners Into Mystic and Jakarta going strong, Casse’s charge was running out of time. Like lightning from the clouds, Got Stormy struck. Closing with ground gobbling strides under Gafflione, she simply refused to lose. The final yards of the race saw this amazing surge from an athlete who only envisioned the thrill of victory. Getting up by a nose, Got Stormy etched her name in the Keeneland history books with a heart-filled effort that epitomizes the finer points of this great game.
The post race analysis from her star-struck trainer was summarized in one word. “Special” says Casse.
Anyone that watches the race will likely concur. Keeneland will play host to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup and will likely see Got Stormy make another run at even more greatness.
Any win is a good win, but let’s be honest, some are just bigger than others. For the Smyrna high football team, the “W” they earned on October 2 was a big notch on the Bulldog collar.
Since the region re-alignment six seasons ago when Smyrna was grouped in with some Davidson County schools, the game with Cane Ridge has been circled. The current class of the Metro Public Schools, the road to the region title has usually run through this South Nashville area school’s vicinity. In 2017, the Ravens finished as class 6A state runner-up and in 2018 enjoyed an unbeaten regular season. Having defeated the Dogs in each of the five previous meetings, Smyrna has been fully aware of the quality of Cane Ridge.
The 2020 season has been a different one for sure as schedules have been juggled time and again. On again, off again, and then back on has created chaos in all programs. But here we were on October 2 with all that forgotten as two prideful programs squared off.
Smyrna came in with their fur rolled up. A 5-2 record had featured a pair of forfeits and less than stellar performances against Pope John Paul and county rival Riverdale. The Bulldogs needed to win the “big” game to answer some of the questions about just how good this group is.
Understanding the importance of getting off to a good start, Smyrna took the opening kickoff and pawed their way to paydirt. Mixing the run and the pass, as they would do all night, the Bulldogs wanted to send a message early that this was a team with conviction. As Cane Ridge answered with a score on their opening drive as well, the Dogs knew they were in for a fight, but most worthwhile things do not come easy.
A first half slugfest saw Smyrna on top 13-12 and most in attendance knew this one was likely going to be a wire job. Big games normally come down to big plays and who can rise to the occasion. Loaded with game-breaking talent, Cane Ridge was their usual formidable self. Question was could the Bulldogs bury the pain of the past and continue to compete at a high level.
The second half was all about an inspired Smyrna squad. Taking a physical approach instilled by head coach Matt Williams, the Dogs dug in with the determination past Smyrna squads have been known for. Posting the only score of the third quarter and opening the fourth with another touchdown, Smyrna built a 27-12 lead. A Cane Ridge comeback was thwarted as Smyrna senior Jamir Eaton intercepted a pass in the end zone on the game’s final play.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of our kids,” says Williams, the dean of Rutherford County high school football coaches. “We stepped up when we had to and had a lot of different kids make some huge plays. That’s a good football team we just played and I couldn’t be happier with how our team stepped up.”
A quick look at some of the numbers also helps define this win as a “big” one for Smyrna. Cane Ridge (538) amassed just over 200 more total yards of offense than Smyrna (336) yet the Dogs prevailed 27-24. The Bulldogs, led by sophomore Arion Carter’s 119 yards, got physical up front and outrushed the Ravens 259 to 210. One of the biggest numbers on the night was a 3. Smyrna’s defense forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and a fumble recovery) while the Dog offense possessed the pigskin. Smyrna kicker Kevin Avallos converted 3 PAT’s while the Ravens made nary.
Heroes for Smyrna were numerous in this memorable encounter. The tackles of Jeremiah Bailey, field generalship of Landon Miller, 74 yard touchdown scamper from Joshua Jones, tough running of Arion Carter, and big plays on both sides from Jamir Eaton will all go down in Bulldog lore. Standing behind these courageous young men were the other heroes, head coach Matt Williams and his dedicated staff.
“These are the games that make you get up every morning and work hard,” says Matt Williams. “I am happy for these kids and happy for our program. Now we need to build off this and keep growing.”
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.
What’s the best teacher in life’s lesson plan? Well of course it is experience. This year’s Kentucky Oaks champion trainer is a shining example of how the past can help the future.
Shedarethedevil came into the 2020 Kentucky Oaks as an under the radar horse. She left with a few jaws agape after establishing a new stakes record (1:48.28) while recording a length and a half win. Breaking from the gates at odds of 15-1, this Brad Cox trained filly displayed some dogged determination in what turned out to be a perfect trip under jockey Florent Geroux.
“Florent was aggressive with her right out of the gate and put a lot of pressure on Gamine up front,” says Cox. “It was a brilliant ride because he saved enough to hold off a very talented Swiss Skydiver after we made the lead. I can’t say enough about the job Florent did in guiding her to this win.”
Geroux’s ride was indeed spectacular, but the game planning by Cox ahead of the race was equally good. Choosing to skip a lot of the traditional three-year old filly races, the Louisville native used some of his past experience in devising his horse’s path to Kentucky Oaks glory.
“I learned last year with Covfefe that we can prep our horses for big races in different spots,” says Cox. “We did not want to ship before the Breeders’ Cup so we stayed home at Churchill and ran her in the Dogwood in September. She went out to Santa Anita and ran huge in the Filly and Mare Sprint. That taught me we have the ability to win on the big stages without doing some of the traditional things people think you should do.”
Shedaresthedevil recorded an Allowance win at Churchill in early June and then went just north to Indiana and won the Indiana Oaks. Choosing to bypass Belmont Park and Saratoga, the winner of nearly 1400 races kept his eyes on the prize. Having won the Lillies for these three year old Fillies in 2018 with Monomoy Girl, Cox had a vision for success with this daughter of Daredevil.
“During a normal year we might have done things differently,” says Cox.” We decided after the announcement the Oaks would be in September we wanted to try something a little different with her. The owners were on board with the plan and she responded beautifully to the program.
This marks another huge win for a bright, young man in the training ranks. Earlier on Oaks day he took the La Troienne with Monomoy Girl and on Derby day Beau Recall won the Distaff Turf Mile with a sizzling late run. Any win for the Cox barn is a good win, but his second career triumph in the Kentucky Oaks is especially sweet because his plan came to fruition.
“We are really savoring this one because of how we did it,” says Cox. “Winning with favorites is good, but when you can do it with an unexpected horse it is maybe a little more rewarding.”
Shedaresthedevil will get a breather now after a sparkling run in the Kentucky Oaks. Her next move is yet to be determined, but rest assured, Brad Cox will have a plan.
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 of the great things about sports is the sparking of positive debate. Who is the best in Thoroughbred racing is often a beauty contest, that is until the runners square off.
The grade 1 Whitney Stakes has long been one of the most prestigious dirt races in the older horse division. Inaugurated in 1928, past winners include names like War Admiral, Kelso, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Lemon Drop Kid, and Gun Runner to name just a few.
When the runners lined up on August 1 for this 2020 edition, it was a short but very talented field. Highly regarded Tom’s d’Etat and Honor Code headlined the five horse field, but Mr.Buff , By My Standards and Improbable were in the lineup too.
The name in this group tweaking interest was that of Improbable. A veteran of heavy hitting horse races, this son of City Zip had one huge thing going for him…Bob Baffert trained.
Big Race Bob is California-based but has long been excellent at shipping and winning on the biggest stage. Last year he won this very same race with McKinzie. Improbable had been close in many races, but had only 1 grade 1 victory until capturing the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 6 in a blowout. With that in mind, to think the hall of famer was going to send his ever-improving talent East without a real shot to win was….Improbable.
Breaking alertly and stalking a slow early pace (25.12 opening quarter, 49.74 half mile), Baffert’s charge took command at the top of the stretch and ran like school was out. Winning by an impressive 2 lengths under jockey Jose Ortiz, he answered the call as best on this day.
Although he left the starting gate as not the favorite or the second choice, the winner in the Whitney was no doubt Improbable.
For those scoring at home, Baffert also launched a dinger in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar (Thousand Words) and touched’em all again to close the weekend in the grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes (Fighting Mad) run at Del Mar.
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.”