Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tons of Blame to go around

I know I am more than a a little late with, but thee combination of the previous post along with some other personal problems drained the creative energy from yours truly. But with the help of a brief freshening, I'm back with renewed fervor. Today's post will hopefully be the beginning of a steady series of posts for this blog. I will be aiming to keep a schedule of posting thrice-weekly, while maintaining, and hopefully improving, the quality of the posts. With that out of the way, onto sharing Blame!

When Blame crossed the wire first in the Stephen Foster, i sort of felt like a proud father after seeing his boy win something, as strange as that sounds. Blame broke from the outside post in the field of eleven in the race. He worked his way into a good stalking position, sat 3-4 lengths off the tepid pace pace, made his move going into he far turn and won by a measured 3/4 of a length over the lone speed of Battle Plan. (Unfortunately for Battle Plan, injury has ensnared him once again, and this time for good. He has been retired due to a tear in his suspensory. Stud plans have not been made yet.)
(chart here; video below)

With the win, Blame is now a Grade 1 winner, and officially enters the discussion for Horse of the Year. However, he is well behind the two front-runners, Quality Road and Zenyatta. Preparations have already begun for Blame's next race. He worked an easy 1/2 mile in 49 flat at Keeneland on Sunday June 27th. He is being pointed to Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on August 7th at Saratoga. Also being pointed to that race is the aforementioned Quality Road; I Want Revenge, who makes his return from a 15-month layoff in this Saturday's Suburban; Mine That Bird, who makes his seasonal debut in the Firecracker Handicap on grass at Churchill Downs this Sunday, after the allowance race he was being aimed for failed to fill; and Redding Colliery, who was a stylish winner of the Lone Star Handicap last out. That race should be a good one.

Now that Blame has gotten that Grade 1 win, this blog can only hope that it is just the first step to a sterling 2010 campaign, ending with another Grade 1 victory come the first Saturday in November right back there at Churchill downs in the Breeders Cup Classic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why none of us deserve to be fans of Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta

This past weekend, the two finalists for 2009 Horse of the Year, the two great females of the sport, the two stars of the game ran. Both won in their own signature way. Both delivered just want their fans wanted: a victory.

Rachel won with a sterling effort, sitting just outside the leader and spurting home with ease to win by ten & a half lengths under wraps at the end.

The next day, "the mare, the myth, the legend" Zenyatta continued her marvelous streak of perfection alive for another day, as she put in her typical devastating late kick to just get up over St. Trinians in the Vanity Handicap.

But this post is not to celebrate their respective victories. This post is a call to action to the fans of both sides. I do not know whether i should be the one to say this, as who am I but a simple fan. But i feel that is necessary for someone to speak up before it is too late to change the situation. Before, between and after the victories, there was a multitude of back-and-forth between the fans of the two horses. But it was not your typical tit-for-tat like you would see between fans at a bar debating who was better. This was a bare-knuckle brawl. Teeth were shown, attacks thrown, and all left with their thirst for blood unquenched.

But why? Why do the fans from each side feel the urge to attack the other horse? Why do they resort to nonsensical arguments? Why is it that one side cannot say that they believe their horse is better without the other saying that is nothing but "crap", then launching into a vicious attack about the other one's credentials. I have witnessed both sides do this time and time again. Is this the example you wish to show new fans? Is that the goal, to proselytize the new fans in this way, converting them into bitter, sniping fanboys unwilling to give any respect to a horse who is a serious threat to their favorite? What happens after their horse retires? Will they care about the sport to stay with it, or will they just move on? Will the actions of more than a few fans turn off those who might care about the game?

One of the main reasons I point out these questions is that it is not just the average fan who is doing the bashing. People who have a voice in the industry, people whose views are respected by others are doing it as well. People who should know that their voice carries weight and that they should be careful what they say. There have been numerous instances where people in the media have openly bashed one horse or the other. Whether on air, in print or across social media, these attacks are damaging to the sport. They may personally feel that Horse "A" is better than Horse "B", but to state it by negatively speaking about the other horse with such vile can do nothing but harm. By "negatively promoting" the horse, they are hurting the very game the care about.

What it worse is that the negative aspect of this rivalry between these horses is so vicious not because of the horses themselves, but more from outside factors. The horses have never faced each other, and likely will only face each other once, if ever. So the fans are left to find other ways to compare the two. This is where the "outside" hatred seeps in. It is not primarily where they reside, as many of the rivalries of this type in the past were, but what surface they run on. Rachel Alexandra resides east of the Rockies, where the surface is of the main tracks is (predominately) dirt. Zenyatta resides in southern California, where the surface of the main track is synthetic. This is a major problem, because most people are "for" or "against" synthetics. This is true no matter where the person resides.

The people who dislike synthetics need someone, something, some horse, to project their anger towards. Zenyatta, with her undefeated streak and flashy deep-closing style, proves to be the perfect target. She became the manifestation of every that was wrong with the synthetics. So all of the bad-talking about synthetics became bad-talking about Zenyatta. This further fanned the flames of hatred since the owner of Rachel Alexandra is a known opponent of synthetics. People used his stance as a reason to hate on Zenyatta. People who are a proponent of synthetics have taken up for Zenyatta, regardless of whether they truly believe the statements they are saying about the horse or not.

Both sides have their most vocal of fans dominating the conversation, making it more and more partisan with each day. This is preventing people who like both equally from even commenting on one side or the other, for fear of reprisal. Both horses have fans who take wild swings against the other, just to start the flame wars anew. "Team Rachel" is not afraid to snipe at any moment, and neither is "Team Zenyatta". Each side has gotten so touchy that even a factual statement, that is not meant as an insult in any way, has caused a fight to break out. I have witnessed forums go nuts with hatred over someone making a comment like "Rachel was the first 3 year-old filly to win the Woodward ever" or "Zenyatta did not break the North America consecutive win record", both of which are factual statements. Both sides will massively overreact to anyone questioning anything about their horse, whether the statement is truth or pure hyperbole, such as "Rachel ran the best three year-old season ever" or "Zenyatta has run the best overall campaign ever", both of which are subjective statements at best.

I admit that i am guilty of devaluing one horse over another, and even starting a flame war or two. But i do not play favorites. I may love both of these horses, but i have no problem pointing out the deficiencies in each side's resume. (The lack of travel, the quality of their competition, the avoidance of certain races) But I don't do it at the expense of the other, and i hope that other side of the conversation can admit that their horse has similar flaws. Honest discussions rarely lead to permanent hard feelings.

What i am trying to get across to everyone, and what i hope you take away from this, is that we all love horses. We all love the game. But sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us and ruin what a great time we live in, in which we have two wonderful, once in a decade - maybe once in a lifetime - horses running at the same time. There is no need to bash one to praise the other. Just cheer for both, respect both and take pride that you witnessed both of them run.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tanda Loses - Blame to Follow?

Many big races were ran and big events occurred last weekend, and the same will happen this weekend. Last weekend, the horse racing world was turned to Belmont Park as Drosselmeyer ground his way to a victory in the Belmont, Winchester shocked in the Manhattan and the chalk prevailed in the Just a Game and Woody Stephens, with Proviso and D'funnybone prevailing, respectively. This weekend, both of last year's Horse of the Year finalists run in separate races. The winner, Rachel Alexandra, tries to get back on the winning trail in the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis. Out west, the runner-up Zenyatta tries to keep her unblemished record spotless in the Vanity. But this blog has two favorites that we shall be discussing. First, we will recap the Acorn, with this blog's favorite filly Tanda. Then we shall preview the Stephen Foster Handicap, with this blog's choice to win the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic Blame in the field.

The Acorn was a strangely run race, as the expected speed duel did not materialize. Instead, Champagne D'oro was able to cross and clear from the outside. She set a good, but not taxing, pace and was able to go gate to wire. Amen Hallelujah sat behind horses swung out turning for home but could not get by the winner and finished second. Our girl Tanda finished a gutsy third, considering all she had go against her. First, before the race even started, jockey Alex Solis was forced to the hospital due to high blood pressure. He turned out to be fine, and he rode the following day, guiding his mount Mandurah to a new world record for a mile on the grass at Monmouth Park. Mike Smith took over on Tanda, which this blog took as a harbinger of things to come.

The race itself was an ordeal as well. When the gate opened, Tanda broke a touch slow, though she had the chance to stay on the rail and move up to about 4th, the trip that #3 Dances with Ashley got. Instead, Mike decides to drop her back to last. This ends up costing her valuable ground the rest of the way, as she end up going 8-wide by the top of the lane. She valiantly tries to get be the leaders, but just cannot overcome her trip. Now, is Smith at fault? At first i thought so, but i will not hold a snap-decision over him when he had at most an hour to get to know Tanda. This blog just chalks it up to bad racing luck and will move on. We will celebrate that Tanda is now Grade 1 placed, which is a plus to her connections when it comes time to breed her.

Now we leave the past and look to the future, this Saturday's Grade 1 Stephen Foster. This well-matched field of 11 will be going a mile and eighth on the main track. Battle Plan was installed as the 5/2 morning line favorite. This royally bred son of Belmont winner Empire Maker out of the great mare Flanders. A lightly raced 5-year-old, he has quickly risen through the ranks, topping out a successful winter by winning the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap. He comes in off a brief freshening and will be winging on the front end. He looks to be the main threat to Blame.

But of course, this blog's pick is Blame. This son of Arch facilely disposed of his competition in his last start 4 weeks ago, the Donald Schaefer. He has had 2 good works in the interim, with a bullet 5 furlong drill on Sunday. Garrett Gomez stays on him, forgoing mounts at the rich Monmouth meet for this race. Blame did get a little bit of a bad break by drawing the outside post #11 for the race. But this blog feels that will not be much of a hindrance. While he was installed as the 3-1 2nd choice on the morning line, many believe he will go off favored. With his partiality toward the Churchill Downs main track, his nice works since the win and the fear of a "bounce" lessened by the lack of effort it took him to win last time out, the blog backs with him confidence.

Others who could contend in this race are (in no particular order) Duke of Mischief, who won the Oaklawn Handicap last out but has been known to throw in a clunker now and then. General Quarters, who won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve last time out and is looking to join Lava Man as the only horse to win a Grade 1 on all three surfaces (dirt, turf, synthetic). Arson Squad won the Alysheba on the Kentucky Oaks undercard here and looks for his third straight victory. Macho Again will all but forgotten in this race tomorrow, but he is the defending champion and will valiantly try to defend the title.

With all the great racing across the country, and with most of the sport's stars running this weekend, you have zero excuse not to watch, wager and (hopefully) win!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Belmont Stakes Undercard Selections - It's Tanda Time!

Saturday brings a collection of graded stakes to fill out the undercard of the Belmont Stakes. This stakes run the gamut from 6 furlongs on the dirt to a mile and 1/4 on the turf. With this card, the end of the Triple Crown trail come about. It has a trail full of joy, pain and frustration. Let us go out with a victory!

Last blog, I wrote out my Belmont thoughts and selections here. Now, here are the other five stakes on the card, plus some thoughts on how to attack the $1,000,000 guaranteed pools. Let's start with the smallest field of the pick 6 and the 1st stake on the card.

Race 6 - Grade 2 Woody Stephens S. - 7 furlongs

This is a compact field of 5 that goes today. #1 Eightyfiveinafifty looks to be the quickest of the quick in here, but can he handle the pace pressure. #3 Discreetly Mine has a fair amount of speed, but might attempt to track just off of 85ina50. #5 D'funnybone is the selection because he will be just off the pace, harassing the leaders and then drawing clear late. The only horse i could see shocking the field is #4 Thank U Philippe. He will attempt to close into the expected fast pace, but he must answer the class question once again under new jock Garrett Gomez.

#5 D'Funnybone
#4 Thank U Philippe
#1 Eightyfiveinafifty

Race 7 - Grade 1 Just A Game Stakes - 1 mile (turf)

This field of 6, with 5 betting interests, has a strong favorite in #5 Proviso. Last out she beat males in the grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. But this blog likes the chances of two horses, both who are the part of the same entry, to pull the upset. #1 Cherokee Queen & #1a Speak East Gal ship up from South Florida for trainer Marty Wolfson. CQ will be sitting 3-4 lengths behind her stablemate, hoping to improve 2nd off the brief freshening after her win last time out. SEG appears to have a chance to steal this race gate to wire and at worse gives her stablemate a target to run at.

#1 Cherokee Queen / #1a Speak Easy Gal
#5 Proviso

Race 8 - Grade 2 True North Handicap - 6 furlongs
This blog was thrown for a loop this morning as the top selection, Custom for Carlos, was scratched moments before this blog went to post. This race has become an admitted scramble to us, and will probably force the hand in the multi-race exotics to be rather aggressive in the later races. #10 Gato Go Win tries dirt once again after two failed attempts. But this blog is willing to give him another chance due to the fact that the circumstances surrounding his two dirt starts probably hurt his chances. First, he was forced to audible into the Derby Trial after being scratched the morning of the Bay Shore due to his previous trainer's actions in the detention barn. Then, while being off for two months, he underwent a trainer change and then ran, in which something happened because he was off for 7 months after that. Now at 4, he has ran twice, has found a new rating gear and just missed out in the Grade 2 Portero Grande Hcp. last time out. Freshened, has been working well and drags Mike Smith across the country to ride him are all the reason this blog needs to see. #7 Elusive Warning ran well last time out at Delaware, gets his preferred distance of 6 furlongs and looks to try graded stakes company again. He brings a bullet drill in tow from the last work and looks to strike from just off the pace. Others with a shot are #3 Bribon, cutting back from his usual distance of a mile, #5 Snapshot, looking to improve 2nd off the layoff and #8 Checklist, who looks to wire this field.

#10 Gato Go Win
#7 Elusive Warning

Race 9 - Grade 1 Acorn S. - One Mile

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that I have been waiting, wanting, begging and pleading for #2 Tanda to run in this spot. Well, the adage be careful what you wish for rings true, as this is a tough field of 12 she has to contend with. Since Tanda's last win in the Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park, she has worked well with the same 3 work pattern before her last start. She should have no problem with distance or the surface, but she does face some problems breaking from down on the inside. If she can overcome that and this cast, like I thing she will, she will get her picture taken. Three horses are the main danger. #8 Much Rejoicing is a lightly raced filly, with only two starts to he credit. Both were winning efforts, the works are steady and she retains jockey Alan Garcia. #6 Amen Hallelujah is cutting back in distance from her two failed attempts to go 1m & 1/8th. She get back to a better distance, looks to have bounced back okay with those works and picks up top jockey Ramon Dominguez, with Julien Leparoux on the sidelines with an injury. #5 Streaker is another who is lightly raced. She has a win over the track, is well-bred (a half to Pine Island) and appears to have a load of ability. It is rare for a Phipps Stable/McGaughey horse to win 1st time out, so the fact that she did proves she could be a star in the making. A horse she defeated two-back, Acting Happy, came back to win the Grade 1 Black-Eyed Susan.

#2 Tanda
#8 Much Rejoicing
#6 Amen Hallelujah
#5 Streaker

Race 10 - Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap - 1m & 1/4 (turf)

Last year's winner #1 Gio Ponti has returned from a good effort in Dubai to defend his crown. He has only worked twice since and this blog think he is a use on the tickets, but just barely. The top choice is #3 Pinckney Hill. This son of A.P Indy should sit just off the pace on the stretchout. He lost to horse-for-course Mambo Meister last time out in the Grade 3 Miami Mile, but that may have been at a less than optimum distance. PH has worked will in the interim ans is trained by the always dangerous Angel Penna. #2 Strike A Deal and #9 Just As Well are tow horses that this blog has a tendency to mix up. Both this veteran turf horses are coming into this race off finishing 1st & 2nd, respectively, in the Grade 2 Dixie last time out. SaD looks to move up off a top effort. He can stalk or be on the lead, but one wonders how much last time out took out of him. JaW comes into the race third off the layoff and looks primed for a good effort. He picks up jockey Kent Desormeaux with regular rider Leparoux on the sidelines. Other to consider are #8 Grand Couturier, #11 Expansion and the aforementioned #1 Gio Ponti, if only on back class alone.

#3 Pinckney Hill
#9 Just As Well
#2 Strike A Deal

To see the Belmont thoughts, click here.

This blog has been thrown for a loop with the scratch of Custom for Carlos, so the only suggestion i can make (besides singling Tanda) in the multi-race exotics is to take a stand on the horse you like the most and the horse you think will offer the most value. For this blog, that would be singling Pinckney Hill along with Tanda in the Pick 4. However, don't force the single. While i like the entry to pull the upset in the Just A Game, i wouldn't force the single there just so I can get beat by a favorite that i respect immensely.

So with that, i wish you all good luck, good betting and hopefully there will be a glory walk to the IRS window in your future.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Belmont Stakes - A 2nd Box, a 3rd Game and An All to Top?

The field is set for the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes, the 3rd and final jewel of the Triple Crown. 12 runners have entered the "Test of Champions", and with neither the Derby nor Preakness winner running, it is a wide open affair. The lukewarm 3-1 morning line favorite is #6 Ice Box, who finished an onrushing second in the Kentucky Derby. The 7-2 second choice is #11 First Dude, who finished a game second in the Preakness Stakes. Here is a brief run-through of the field through this blog's eyes.

#1 is the California invader Dave in Dixie. He last ran 9 weeks ago in the Illinois Derby, finishing a distant 5th behind Derby also-rans American Lion and Backtalk. He picks up jockey Calvin Borel for the race. He took a more than a month to work after his last race, but put together 4 good works, each increasing in distance building up to a one mile workout in a steady minute & 39 seconds. He has to answer not only the distance question, but the dirt question as well, as his first attempt on it was rather dismal.

#2 is the son of Distorted Humor Spangled Star. Last out 6 weeks ago, he finished 3rd in the one-turn Withers behind the 1-3 finishers of the Decathlon Stakes @ Monmouth, Ibboyee and Afleet Again. He looks to stretch out 4 furlongs to victory. He has been steadily working across town at Aqueduct. The owner said that he was just taking a shot in here, and this blog wonders why, as he never run anything close to fast enough to win this race. Will he pull off the massive upset? At least he gets top jockey Garett Gomez aboard to try.

#3 is the Fantasy Lane Stable Uptowncharlybrown. This son of Limehouse is now in the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after the tragic passing Alan Seewald days before the Lexington Stakes. UTCB has not run since that race 7 weeks ago. He will take the blinkers off for the race. He has been steadily working over the Belmont main track and will try to stretch out another 3 & 1/2 furlongs. With new jockey Rajiv Maragh, will he complete the dream for the Fantasy Lane stable?

#4 is Alexis Barba's Make Music For Me. This son of Bernstein snuck into the Derby field on entry day and came from dead last to run 4th. He has 4 steady works and will give Rosario his first ever mount in the Belmont. While the pedigree doesn't scream a mile and a half, he does have a sustained kick. Will it be as powerful with the added distance?

#5 is the first Zito entrant Fly Down. This son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft won the local prep for the Belmont in the Dwyer from dead last in a field of seven. He stretches out back to two turns in this race after getting distanced in the Louisiana Derby two starts back. He has had two nice works since the win, including a bullet 4f in 47 & 2 over the Saratoga training track on May 30th. His regular jockey stays with other barn entrant, so a more than capable Jorge Velazquez takes the mount.

#6 is the other Zito entrant Ice Box. The morning line favorite retains the services of jockey Jose Lezcano. Owner Robert Lapenta is trying to have one of his runners finish in the money in all three Triple Crown races (Ice Box in the Derby [2nd] & Jackson Bend in the Preakness [3rd] ). Several have said that with a cleaner trip, he might have won the Derby. He has worked twice since the Derby, including a bullet drill in his last work. He ran well off a 6 week layoff in has last start, so the 5 weeks should not be a problem. But will he find trouble once again?

#7 is Winstar Farm's Drosselmeyer. This son of Distorted Humor ran a distant 2nd to Fly Down in the Dwyer, but was reported to have a fever during the week leading up to the race, so he may have not been a 100% for the race. He has worked three times since then, including a bullet best of twelve 5f over this main track on Monday. He will have another new pilot in jockey Mike Smith. Can he finally put it together in a stakes race with the added distance thrown into the mix?

#8 is the Bob Baffert trainee Game On Dude. The winner of the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in his last start, he has trained steadily over the Santa Anita Pro-ride. He worked a bullet 6 furlongs from the gate 1:12 &2/5 last time out. This son of Awesome Again will give Preakness winning jockey Martin Garcia his first Belmont mount. Can Baffert win 2/3rds of Triple Crown with two different horses ? The bigger question is how will G.O.D. handle the stretchout in distance.

#9 is Michael Maker's Stately Victor. He finished a well-beaten 8th in the Derby. This was after his shocking come-from-behind win in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, This son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper has never run well on dirt in the past, and runs on dirt today. While he should have zero problem with the added distance, can he handle the surface? He has worked decently in the interim over the surface.

#10 is Stay Put, the first of two for the sire Distorted Humor. He will be ridden by his regular jockey Jamie Theriot. Stay Put won a race on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, but it was not the big one on the card. Instead it was an allowance race to open the card. His deep closing style may be a hindrance in this race, as there is not an abundance of speed. In both his stakes attempts, he has finished a closing fifth. Will the extra distance help him get up in deep stretch?

#11 is the Preakness runner-up First Dude. This son of Belmont winner Stephen Got Even had a good work in the interim and his trainer Dale Romans said that the horse could not be doing better. But Romans said that going into the Preakness with Derby 3rd place finisher and barnmate Paddy O'Prado, and he bounced. Could the same fate befall the "Dude"? With regular jockey Ramon Dominguez in the irons, he hopes to go all the way to the wire.

#12 is the Todd Pletcher charge Interactif. The other son of Broken Vow in the field, he has not run since a okay 4th place finish in the Blue Grass S. He has worked several times since, including his last four over the Belmont main. With new jockey Javier Castellano in the irons, he figures to make his run from a stalking position. Who knows how he will react to the increase in distance combined with the time off.

Now this blog will reveal whom this blog likes, starting with horse whom we believe will finish 3rd:
#8 Game On Dude
This blog thinks he will follow in the steps of another former Lone Star Derby winner Dynever and make a middle move and flattened out to finish third.

#6 Ice Box
The more the blog looks over his past performances, the more the name "Denis of Cork" comes to mind. DoC finished 3rd in the 2008 Derby, then came back to run 2nd in the Belmont. Ice Box will make one late run, but will fall short in the stretch,

Yes, ALL. Now some of you are saying "cop-out" or "BS! Take a stand!", but this blog's past experience says that taking "ALL" is the correct selection. In the total 7 Belmonts that I have wagered on, i am 0-for-7 with my selection for the win spot. However, I am 6-for-7 with my selection for the place spot, and 4-for-7 with my selection for the show spot. So the keys for the blog will be underneath, and the hope is that a longshot pulls the upset with the two keys running 2nd and 3rd. This strategy is one that requires just as much luck as any other bet, but is a bit outside the box. Hopefully this blog has led you on the trail to a winning wager, and after the results are official, there will be a "glory walk" to the window in your future. Good luck everybody!