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.
Kentucky Downs has been a gaming destination for years now. Once upon a time this facility located in Franklin, Kentucky was just an off-track betting facility for the Thoroughbred racing game with a bingo hall. If you haven’t been lately, schedule a trip in early September and experience the all-new Kentucky Downs.
Recent improvements and the addition of historical horse racing gaming machines have only added to its viability for those enjoying the game of chance. Live entertainment and huge payouts have been the norm lately in a seriously upgraded atmosphere. Even more improvements are currently in the works and are offering greater opportunities. Expanded gaming areas and dining choices will give many a chance to “visit Vegas” with just a quick drive up I-65.
The opening of the new wing, known as The Mint Gaming Hall will coincide with the live horse-racing meet. As the only European- style turf track in the United States, Kentucky Downs offers a unique opportunity for horsemen with an all-turf racing extravaganza. The addition of the historical horse racing games has now allowed Kentucky Downs to offer the highest per race purses in the nation. The money obviously brings the best in the sport to this “country track” nestled just north of the Tennessee state line.
The “official” opening date for The Mint Gaming Hall is dependent upon construction details, but the live racing dates are slated for September 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. Saturday September 12 is the biggest day of racing as the headlining $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup is run along with the Breeders’ Cup qualifying Runhappy Turf Sprint as just part of a blockbuster card.
For a preview of The Mint Gaming Hall visit this link: https://www.themintgaming.com
In granting an exemption that now allows high school football to commence with regular activities, governor Bill Lee has restored a bit of normalcy…maybe.
Since about mid-March the world we live in has been turned upside down, Ever-changing policies regarding everyday life has left more than a few folks frustrated. The cancellation of spring sports at the high school level left the graduating class of 2020 out in the cold.
This time of year is usually about mass preparation for the all-important football season. Thus far, activities have been limited to say the least. The clearance to resume practice has allowed the TSSAA to announce the regular high school football season will start August 21 as regularly scheduled.
“We are hopeful things can get started on time,” says Smyrna high head football coach Matt Williams. “We are taking every precaution necessary and are eager to have some normalcy for our student athletes. We are very excited to have some direction and a plan.”
Every program faces the challenges of an interrupted off-season. But what about the first-year coaches that couldn’t enjoy spring practice or solid summer work?
“We are excited to get things going,” says LaVergne’s first year leader Mike Woodward. “It is important for us to get things going, but at the same time we have to be careful because these kids have not been engaged in normal drills. We need to quickly ease into getting physical.”
High school football is an important part of life here in tradition rich Rutherford County. Let’s hope things can continue on the path back to normalcy.
“This is a great place to enjoy high school football,” says Woodward. “I just hope things can happen the way we all want for the sake of these young men.”
Throughout his controversial career, people may have said some different things about Maximum Security. But if you watched the 2020 edition of the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 25, there is one word that is no doubt applicable to this amazing athlete…Heart.
Always a hard-knocker, his 11 race career has seen some courageous performances. There has only been one occasion that he didn’t cross the finish line first (2019 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth) and despite the challenges, he has always found a way to the wire.
The San Diego was his first start for trainer Bob Baffert and the screws were not completely tight just yet. Facing an accomplished field, this “tune-up” was certainly no gimme. But here he was, ready to prove there was plenty of substance behind those heroic runs of the past.
The gates opened and the field immediately took it to Maximum Security. Surging to the lead under Victor Espinoza, Midcourt made it obvious this would be no cake walk. Stalking a moderate pace, Max was three lengths behind as they turned for home.
Under the urging of first time rider Abel Cedillo, Maximum Security drew even in deep stretch. As the wire drew ever closer, Midcourt refused to succumb. As these two masses of four-legged muscle were locked in battle, neither would give. Refusing to lose, Maximum Security dug deeply and found a way to get up be a nose at the finish.
When challenged Maximum Security responded. Displaying the heart of a real champion, this four-year old son of New Year’s Day showed us what he is made of.
Next up is likely the Pacific Classic, also run at Del Mar. Will we see more of that amazing heart…I think that’s a pretty safe bet.
Another week, some more thoughts on the sport of kings. Thoroughbred racing has obviously felt the effects of this Covid 19 thing, but much to the delight of guys like me, they are still running at different tracks across the country. With that in mind, let’s examine some news and notes from the greatest sport in the world…Giddy up
BAFFERT HAS ANOTHER HASKELL WINNER
Monmouth Park in mid to late July is a familiar destination for trainer Bob Baffert. The Haskell Invitational Stakes is normally a prep race for the Travers Stakes and the hall of fame conditioner has had a way of getting one of his runners ready for this speed favoring New Jersey dirt. First run in 1968, the mile and an eighth race around two turns has seen some of the best three- year olds in the game during that span. Coming in to the 2020 edition, Baffert had visited the winner’s circle a record eight times (2001, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015). Days before the race, Big Race Bob reveled the secret to winning…”Just bring your best horse”, he quipped.
This edition was coming up a bit different as the 2020 race is another prep for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby. With a re-shuffled line-up of three year olds because of injury, Baffert sent his most accomplished runner to post on July 18.
Authentic went to post against six others with high ideals about continuing the tradition of excellence from the Baffert barn. Coming in with three wins and a second place finish in four lifetime starts, this son of Into Mischief has looked like a prime-timer. Deeming the Haskell as a “perfect fit” for his charge, the gates opened and people found out this titan among trainers was right again.
Alertly breaking under jockey Mike Smith, Authentic went right to the lead and set a solid early pace (23.6 opening quarter, 47.52 half mile). Running as if he was much the best, Authentic opened up a two and a half length lead in deep stretch. At the sixteenth pole it looked like the race was over.
Then suddenly things changed. A rallying NY Traffic was whittling away at what seemed an insurmountable lead. As the wire drew ever closer, Smith encouraged Authentic to reignite the engine. In what turned out to be a photo finish, Authentic held on by a nose and provided his trainer with an anxious few moments.
“I am very happy with the win and pleased with his performance,” says Baffert. “He seemed to lose focus down the lane. Maybe we will add blinkers to help correct that before his next race.”
With that “next” race perhaps the Kentucky Derby on September 5, Authentic is second to Tiz The Law in qualifying points (200). In displaying the front-running speed like many of the good Baffert horses have done in the past, this Spendthrift Farms owned colt looks like a Derby horse. In fact, you might could say the Haskell win makes him…Authentic.
MAXIMUM SECURITY GETS A CLEAN SLATE
Let’s face it…sometimes stuff happens in life. Like it or not, that’s just how it is. Usually, there are two choices…get over it or get under it.
Maximum Security is one of those fantastic four-legged phenoms we call a Thoroughbred race horse. Due to no fault of his own, this four-year old son of New Year’s Day will forever carry an asterisk as the only Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified on race day. Despite crossing the finish line first as clearly the best horse in the 2019 Run for the Roses, this Kentucky-bred was taken down for interference in the far turn. As time has unfolded the asterisk became a little bigger as his then trainer, Jason Servis, faces federal doping charges. This brings into question his eight spectacular wins (nine if you count Kentucky Derby) in ten lifetime starts. Were those jaw droppers in the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Haskell, Cigar Mile, and Saudi Cup a result of the genes or the juice?
Servis is now out of the sport and perhaps headed to the hoosegow. Maximum Security has been moved to the barn of Bob Baffert by his owners, Gary and Mary West. What’s done is done and this wonderful athlete has been working and looking every bit the beast we all thought he was before the news about his former conditioner broke.
“He trains like a really top horse,” says Baffert. “I am sorry for the reason he came to my barn but am also really excited for the opportunity to be involved with such a fabulous athlete. I’m really excited to see him run but at the same time am very nervous. When you condition top horses there is a lot of pressure that comes along with it. There are certain expectations and you hope to fulfill them.”
Maximum Security was scheduled to make his debut for Baffert in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 18. Due to some positive Covid 19 tests, restrictions have caused the race to be pushed back to July 25. In his only work over the Del Mar dirt in preparation for his first run out of a Baffert stall, Maximum Security quickly covered five furlongs in 59.8. As the 4th fastest from 88 works at the distance, it looks as if he is responding well to his new digs.
“He’s big, strong, and beautiful,” says Baffert. “We are looking forward to seeing him run.”
Does it really matter if Maximum Security ran dirty in previous races? At this point, the most important thing is to adopt the philosophy of his hall of fame coach. “Never look back”, is the Baffert barn motto. Having excelled at getting the most from his runners on the biggest days, Baffert seems to just the right guy in this situation.
A clean slate is what this horse deserves and that’s exactly what he’s got. If Maximum Security runs to form those question marks about his past will quickly become exclamation points.
Here is the $755,000 question…Will we have high school football in 2020?…That’s what a lot of folks want to know….So what’s the answer???
Let’s face the facts, football is probably the most popular sport in the South and maybe even the entire country. With folks hunkering down because of government mandates and health concerns some seem to wonder if things will ever get back to what we consider normal. Part of normalcy in these parts is going to a high school football game on Friday night after along and arduous week of work. Maybe you have a kid on the team, your neighbor’s son suits up, niece is a cheerleader, or cousin Joe Bob’s step son plays in the band. Whatever the reason, people far and wide flock to those Friday night lights with all the right intentions.
There has been a bit of a hiccup in those plans. An extension of Governor Bill lee’s order that restricts certain activities due to the virus thing has halted all preparations for the 2020 season. Usually it begins in August and runs through the BlueCross Bowl the first week of December. Several options were on the table ranging from full season and playoffs to abbreviated season and limited playoff participation with bowl games for non-qualifying playoff teams.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen just yet,” says Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director of the TSSAA. “I think we’ve all got the same goal and we’re all hoping for the best.”
In the coming days folks are hopeful for some direction, but as of know everything is on hold for high school football…sort of like the rest of the world.
Another week in the summer of 2020 and another seven days of Thoroughbred bliss. Here are a few thoughts on some of the things happening in the sport of kings.
WAR OF WILL PROVES HIS WORTH
Like any athlete, horses go through peaks and valleys. One of the true testaments to the quality of a competitor is can they regain that winning form against top competition. We found out a little something about one particular runner in the Maker’s Mark Mile on June 10 at Keeneland.
A hard-knocking horse, War of Will is one that runs with courage and conviction. Having started his career as a two-year old on turf, this son of War Front didn’t find the success his team thought he was capable of. Trainer Mark Casse switched him to dirt as a three-year old and bam he was a Kentucky Derby contender after a three race dirt win streak early in his three-year od season.
The Triple Crown series showed everyone what kind of competitor this Kentucky-bred had become. After finishing a bothered seventh in the Run for the Roses, Casse’s charge proved where there’s a Will there’s a way as he flat put on a show in winning the Preakness Stakes. The Belmont Stakes didn’t work out quite the way he wanted as stable mate Sir Winston earned the honors while War of Will finished ninth. However, the feather here is he was the only colt to run in all three legs.
Fast-forward to 2020 and a four-year old Will was back on the grass as Casse decided it was time to give turf another try. His first start on the West coast didn’t exactly yield what the veteran trainer wanted. A sixth place finish at Santa Anita in the Shoemaker Mile the told them it was time to give it another go on grass as his pedigree says yes.
The Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland was the target this time. Facing an imposing field of 11 others, this was a huge grade 1 test. Turf titans like Raging Bull and NoParole were coming in out of the Chad Brown barn and West coast heavy hitter Next Shares and was also in the gates. The lineup was full of stars for sure, but somebody forgot to tell War of Will he couldn’t catch’em.
Breaking alertly, jockey Tyler Gafflione masterfully guided him into a great spot as he stalked a solid early pace (23.09 opening quarter, 46.91 half mile). Turning for home, it looked as if the Will was going to be on the short end again as the front-running Parlor just kept going. And then it happened and we all knew why Casse had him back on the lawn.
Displaying an amazing turn of foot, War of Will had a huge late burst and got past Parlor in the final jump at the wire. Good grass runners can possess big late kicks which makes for exciting finishes. That is exactly what we had in this one.
The Maker’s Mark was a real feel good race for the War of Will team. Not only did it show his desire to win, but also gives him grade one wins on dirt and turf. People that know that game understand winning on multiple surfaces at the sport’s highest level is NEVER easy.
Once again we know, where there’s a Will there’s a way.
RUSHING FALL IS A REAL RACEHORSE
As a sport with many great qualities, Thoroughbred racing has one thing fans would like to see change. They want runners to stay in training longer. Sometimes it seems the business side of the sport pulls horses off the track sooner than some would like, but as we all should know, money makes the world go round.
Rushing Fall has been one of the exceptions. Highly regarded at the ages of two, three, and four, she is now in a five-year old season. That means fans have become familiar with her brilliance. A grade 1 winner in each of her previous seasons, this daughter of More Than Ready was preparing to make it four years in a row in the Jennie Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on July 11.
Having won this race in 2019, this 2020 edition was going to be no gift as a sparkling lineup of seven challengers wen to post in denial. Magnificently making her way to the gate, Rushing Fall looked every bit the beauty queen. Then the gates opened and she became even prettier.
Assuming a stalking spot behind West Coast speedster Jolie Olimpica, this Chad Brown trainee was going to have her work cut out. If she was going to get that grade 1 here, it would require a top performance..
A solid opening quarter mile (23.42) was followed by a quicker one (22.92) to the half mile. The leader was looking strong and others in the top flight (Toinette, Julet Foxtrot) looked poised to dethrone the defending champ. Then it happened.
As the stretch unfolded, Rushing Fall put her class fully on display. Swinging past the front runner under jockey Javier Castellano, her powerful late stride was unleashed. A gallant Jolie Olimpica could simply not deny this queen her crown at Keeneland. Winning by a widening ¾ of a length, Rushing Fall had another grade 1 win.
This edition of the Jenny Wiley marked her tenth win in thirteen lifetime starts and brought her career earnings to $2,278,000.. But here is the real defining moment about this race. Rushing Fall earned this win by turning in a track record (1:39.02) for the mile and a sixteenth.
“She’s a real racehorse for sure,” says Bob Edwards, spokesperson for owners e Five Racing Thoroughbreds. ”She just keeps getting better and better. I think she looks the best she has ever looked. I think she checks all the boxes.”
After that Jenny Wiley win the answer is …”No doubt on the box checking.”
Photo Credit: Susie Raisher
A quick check of the calendar says it is July and the year is half over…Wow time flies faster than a Thoroughbred fresh out the gate. With that in mind, let’s take a quick gander at a few recent happenings that could make the rest of the year very interesting.
BAFFERT MIGHT BE CALLING ON HIS UNCLE
The delayed Kentucky Derby might have robbed trainer Bob Baffert of a chance to tie Ben Jones for all-time wins (6) in the world’s most famous race…or did it?
Big Race Bob was primed earlier in the year with the extremely talented Nadal and the ever-improving Charlatan. Unfortunate injuries have removed both from Kentucky Derby contention and caused the California-based conditioner to re shuffle the deck. But don’t count the hall of famer out of the Derby just yet.
In years past, Baffert has had plenty of top horse and won two Triple Crowns (American Pharoah 2015, Justify 2018). What might be overlooked by the everyday sports fan, however, is the fact he has also been fantastic at developing three-year olds later in the season who were not ready to run their best in the spring. In 2016, Arrogate did not make his first graded stakes start until the Travers in late August and then went on perhaps the most powerful four race swing in the history of the sport. West Coast also blossomed later in 2017 as he also took four consecutive Stakes including the grade 1 Travers and grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
With the Kentucky Derby slated for September 5, it is time for Baffert to pull out his ace in the hole. There are a couple of prospects with one of those being Uncle Chuck. Owned by long-time clients Paul Weitman, Mike Pegram, and Karl Watson, this lightly raced son of Uncle Mo might be the one. In just his second lifetime start, Chuck got a graded stakes win when he whipped a small field in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. “He’s very green and has to improve mentally,” says Baffert. “His talent is over the top. We’ll know after his next race whether he is ready for the Kentucky Derby.” So could a horse that didn’t run his first race until mid-June be ready to win the world’s most famous race in September? He’s trained by Bob Baffert…that’s all we will say about that.
WITH TOTAL REGARD TO WINNING
Any race can produce a thrilling finish, but sometimes the trip on the turf is more likely for a white knuckler at the wire. A grass horse sometimes seems to possess that big burst to the finish. There is just that extra gear they seem to find as the desire to win allows for a flight to the finish. If you are not sure about what we speak of, watch the Manhattan Stakes that was run at Belmont Park on July 4.
A star-studded lineup assembled for this grade 1 mile and a quarter journey over the New York grass. Turf training titan Chad Brown had his usual contingency of top flight runners, with one of them being Instilled Regard. An interesting runner that had finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, under Brown’s care he had been finding his best stride of late on the turf. As the race unfolded, it looked as if the five-year old son of Arch would not be getting his second consecutive win on grass.
Trapped behind a wall of horses, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was looking for running room as he sat sixth at the top of the stretch. With just an eighth of a mile to run, he still was behind a group of runners. The eighth became a sixteenth and suddenly it happened. With a complete Regard for winning Instilled in his blood, the grandson of Forestry found a way between horses and strode for glory. With an amazing turn of foot, Instilled Regard was urged by Ortiz and guided just past stable mate Rockemporer at the wire. Prevailing by a widening neck, Instilled Regard absolutely proved it ain’t over til it’s over, especially if you are a good turf horse.
VEKOMA…LIKE A BOSS
The Met Mile at Belmont Park is traditionally one of the toughest races of the year because it is appealing to many top runners. The distance is perfect as sprinters can stretch out and distance horses can cut back. The vastness of Big Sandy means it is a one turn race and all kinds of players want to take a swing.
The 2020 edition ran on July 4 was exactly that, a loaded mix with lots of talent. So how do you win a race like this with the different styles mixed in? I think Vekoma laid down the perfect blueprint.
There are times in this sport when if a horse thinks he the best he simply needs to run like the best. Be the boss is a great strategy if you can back it up. This four year old son of Candy Ride did exactly that when the gates opened.
Breaking like a shot, Vekoma jetted to the lead and never relinquished. Leading at every call, the George Weaver trained colt fended off several challenges along the way and seemed to get stronger in the stretch. Covering the one mile distance in 1:32.88, the 2019 Bluegrass Stakes winner was just .64 off the track record.
The Met Mile marked the third win in as many starts this year and sixth victory overall from eight lifetime races. Putting his talent on display, Vekoma ran like a boss. If things continue, he’s likely to be supervising right into year end award contention.
One of the great things about covering the sport of kings is the fact we still have some real things to write about. Like actual events in the field of competition and not just speculation on play or political stances regarding the topsy-turvy world of today. With that in mind, let’s give a few thoughts on some current happenings in the greatest sport on earth.
MIDNIGHT STRIKES IN THE FLEUR DE LIS
Since late March, Midnight Bisou has been the top ranked older horse in the country according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. A five-year old daughter of Midnight Lute, she had been a horse that danced every dance as a four-year old (7 wins and a second in 8 starts) and always shows up ready to run. She began her 2020 campaign with a gallant runner-up finish against the boys in the Saudi Cup on February 29. So here she was on June 27 ready to tackle a talented field in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. Would she live up to her lofty ranking in the polls? In about 1:48.99 after the gates opened we got our answer.
Some of the greatest horses seem to get better with age. That can certainly be said for Midnight Bisou. Owned by one of the real winners in the game, Jeff Bloom has continued to campaign this uber talented runner. Running off a sizzling pace, Midnight bided her time under regular rider Mike Smith and struck at the most opportune time. Turning for home with authority, the champion older dirt female of 2019 proved she is every bit the race horse in 2020. Cruising to an 8 ¼ length victory, Midnight Bisou was much the best…as her ranking says.
TOM’S D’ETAT LAYS IT DOWN
Another runner that has been like fine wine has been Tom’s d’Etat. This now seven-year old son of Smart Strike has blossomed of late. Health issues limited him early on, but now with his feet firmly underneath, he has ascended to one of the most respected runners in the older dirt division.
The Stephen Foster has long been one of the big early summer races for older dirt horses. Run at the iconic Churchill Downs, this mile and an eighth jaunt is on the path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic for many. Coming into the June 27 race, the horse named for the late New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson was riding a three race winning streak. Now highly regarded within the division, this Al Stall Jr. trained runner would have to prove himself against a group of hard knockers. A look at the final race chart tells you all you need to know.
The early pace was moderate so the stalking Tom ran just off of the leading Pirate’s Punch. Understanding when it was go-time, jockey Miguel Mena surged to the lead and easily repelled all challengers in the stretch. Winning by 4 ¼ lengths, the most impressive thing about this was how easily Tom’s d’Etat did it. In dispatching a salty field, the final time (1:47.30) was just .20 off the track record…and he wasn’t pushed!
NO PAROLE IS BREAKING OUT
Sometimes, it’s not where you start, but where you finish. No Parole may have been in the hoosegow in the eyes of some simply because he is a Louisiana-bred. But recently, this Tom Amoss trained runner enjoyed a real jail-breaking win.
Brilliantly fast, this three-year old son of Violence began his career with three blistering wins in his home state against horses born on the Bayou. He jumped off into deeper water in the Rebel Stakes to find out if he could swim longer distances against top competition. Amoss got is answer as Parole finished a distant eighth and the decision was made to keep him sprinting.
After rebounding with a win in a sprint allowance race at Oaklawn Park against open company, it was time to test the big boys again. The grade 1 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day was the scene of the crime and those fleet feet stole the show. Out-breaking the competition, No Parole led every step of the way in the seven-furlong dash around Big Sandy. Finishing a widening 3 ¾ lengths in front, this grandson of Bluegrass Cat let everybody know he’s a grade 1 winner from Cajun country.
“I don’t think the general public really knows how good he is yet,” says Amoss. “He’s a graceful runner with great athletic talent and that’s a fantastic combination.”
Yes Mr. Amoss, it is.
DEAN MARTINI TAKES A DRINK
One of the really cool things about the sport of kings are the names of these fabulous athletes. Striking in many ways, the common man will usually make his selection based on moniker. Not a foolproof way of handicapping, but if you play enough, you come to realize there is no absolutely right way to pick a winner.
The Ohio Derby on June 27 at Thistledown saw 13 runners squaring off for their share of a $500,000 purse. A quick perusal of the entries saw 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court running, but another horse drew my attention. Dean Martini was breaking from the one hole and listed at 11 to 1 on the morning line. Holding that old crooner in high admiration, a look at the past performances told me he was the one. Yes, this was his first try in graded stakes company, but he is Tom Amoss trained and has been in the money every time out this year. Plus with that kind of name I was going to follow my own advice… back a horse and get paid.
Breaking alertly, this three-year old son of Cairo Prince ran strong early stalking the pace in this mile and an eighth race. Three quarters of a mile in, Deano threw a couple of olives and some vermouth in the jigger. Taking command at the top of the stretch he shook loose to a three length lead. Continuing to run strong through the wire, Amoss’ pupil held off a furious charge from South Bend and earned a graded stakes win.
Going off a 14 to 1, Dean Martini returned an intoxicating $49.80 on my $2 across the board wager. In the Ohio Derby Dean Martini took a big drink…and then so did I.
Some things just seem to be made for each other. Peanut butter and jelly, bologna and cheese, sweet tea and lemonade… ahhh yes. I think now we can add another… Kentucky Downs and the Music City!
Entering 2020, Nashville, Tennessee has been one of the hottest cities in these United States. The home of country music has morphed into a must visit for many. Lined with honkytonks and many other attractions, the Music City has been striking a sweet note of late.
Kentucky Downs is a totally turf track nestled just inside Bluegrass country with the state line within rock-throwing distance. Featuring the biggest race purses in the nation and second highest in the world, the only European style track in the country has become the place to be in early September. Horsemen from all over the country descend on Franklin, Kentucky in a dash for those dollars.
The one digit math here is something even a hillbilly can cipher. You have a hot bowl of beans and some fresh made cornbread, so you put them together. The folks at Kentucky Downs have figured this out and their recently released racing schedule is proof positive.
Six glorious racing dates will feature sixteen Stakes races with a total purse payout of about $12 million. Of course the million dollar centerpiece Kentucky Turf Cup will be run along with the Runhappy Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint win and you’re in race, but there has been a big addition to the schedule.
The Music City Stakes is slated for Sunday, September 13. Run at 6 ½ furlongs and restricted to three-year old fillies, this $400,000 race should be hotter than a bunch of babes on lower Broad. These sprint races are always exciting and the money will no doubt attract top talent.
Kentucky Downs came out with the new Stakes race to provide another turf sprint race in the female division and also honor it’s neighbor just down I-65.
Live racing will take place on September 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16. Kentucky Turf Cup Day is scheduled for Saturday, September 12 with four graded Stakes races on the card.
“We’re very pleased with what we’re able to offer in these challenging times,” says Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager. “We are already a one of a kind meet and starting up two days after the rescheduled Kentucky Derby can add to the excitement. This should provide a real opportunity for horsemen who haven’t had the chance before to come join us and see why we call it America’s most unique race meet.”
If you happened to miss the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes on June 20, we can summarize it rather succinctly. Tiz The Law tiz the best!
Owned by New York based Sackatoga Stable, this fleeted footed three-year old colt put on a show in the shortened Belmont Stakes. In becoming the first New York-bred to win this Triple Crown race since 1882 (Forrester), this son of Constitution left no doubt who was the best.
As expected, Tiz The Law stalked a solid early pace under regular rider Manny Franco. When the ten horse field turned for home it was show time. As he has done in the past, the Law found an extra gear and left little doubt as to who was the best. Covering the mile and an eighth in 1:46.53. the 3 ¾ length margin of victory does not display the real dominance here.
The Belmont Stakes victory runs the Law’s career record to five wins in six starts with career earnings of over $1.5 million.
With the first leg of the Triple Crown now under his saddle, the Traver’s Stakes at Saratoga on August 8 is now in the crosshairs. Of course the Kentucky Derby on September 5 is the ultimate goal, but for now, this New York team is enjoying a superb New York moment.
Being that Father’s Day is June 21, who better to talk about than Tiger Dad?
In fitting fashion, this four-year old son of Smiling Tiger was ferocious on June 13 in winning the Thor’s Echo Stakes at Santa Anita. Always a hard-knocker, the California-bred Tiger Dad earned his first Stakes score in the Echo and did it impressively.
A horse that likes to get out and go, Tiger Dad faced pressure throughout the six-furlong race but in the end repelled an accomplished field under regular rider Victor Espinoza. Clawing his way to the wire in 1:09.56, this Carla Gaines trained gelding finished ¾ of length ahead of a highly touted Pricepe Carlo as he refused to lose.
The triumph in the Thor’s Echo marks his fourth win in fifteen lifetime starts with five second place finishes and three thirds. Same as many fathers out there, Tiger Dad showed a lot of courage and plenty of heart.
“He ran really tough,” says a vibrant Carla Gaines. “We are very proud.”
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.
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.