Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wisely Done: Wise Dan Impresses Again

As the horses turned for home in Friday's Clark Handicap (GI), I stated, “Exactly how I wanted it.” I’d expected Wise Dan to put in a monster performance and for Flat Out to run well but not quite get there. In addition, I wanted to see Mission Impazible, one of my favorites, do well. All of those happened.
Wise Dan has had a very impressive year, winning graded stakes races on the turf, synthetic, and dirt. His dominant Clark victory provided him with his first grade one win, boosting his earnings to $919,601.
The beautiful chestnut son of Wiseman’s Ferry won the final grade one of the year for Churchill Downs at odds of 9-2. Coming off a four-length triumph in the Fayette Stakes (GII), Wise Dan put in a similar performance in the Clark, drawing off to win by three and three-quarters lengths. In second was the multiple graded stakes-winning Mission Impazible, who finished nearly three lengths ahead of Flat Out.

While Julien Leparoux opted to run in the Matriarch Stakes (GI) at Hollywood Park rather than ride Wise Dan in the Clark, John Velazquez got the mount on the four-year-old gelding. It was somewhat similar to Velazquez picking up the mount on Animal Kingdom prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby (GI).
On a special note, Wise Dan is a homebred for his owner, Morton Fink, whose 82nd birthday is on Thursday. With his dominant win, Wise Dan will likely garner a few votes for Older Male of the Year, but the award looks like it will go to Game On Dude. Nonetheless, the chesnut's Clark performance was brilliant. He is rounding into incredible form and come 2012, Wise Dan will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Juvenile Spotlight: Table Three Ten

One of my favorite things to do is find young horses that have the potential to be superstars. Two-year-olds I have discovered this year before they went on to bigger and better things include Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner, My Miss Aurelia, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winner, Secret Circle, two-time grade one winner, Weemissfrankie, and grade three winner, Pure Gossip. It is very entertaining and rewarding to discover two-year-olds before they go on to record prestigious victories. Juvenile Spotlights highlight some of the two-year-olds I have discovered.

Alliteration, like that in the name of this El Prado filly, could be an announcer’s worst nightmare. However, the talent of Table Three Ten is a horse owner’s dream come true.
Born on March 3, 2009 in Kentucky, the gray/roan filly is a homebred for her owners, Cobra Farm. The daughter of El Prado is likely named after a restaurant of the same name in Lexington, Kentucky, the same city Cobra Farm is located in. Located on 340 acres in the Horse Capital of the World, Cobra Farm has been in the Biszantz family since 1995. The farm is where the 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, was born, as well as many other champions and graded stakes winners. Perhaps Table Three Ten could add to the list of champions born on the farm.
Table Three Ten, who is the first foal out of the stakes-placed More than Ready mare Hopes and Dreams, debuted on the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as Black Friday. Entered in a six furlong maiden special weight for two-year-old fillies at Fair Grounds Race Course, the Michael Stidham trainee sat off the lead before looming large as the horses came around the final bend.
Table Three Ten drew away when jockey Jesse Campbell threw some crosses at her, reminding her she had to keep running to keep the other horses away. Once Campbell looked behind him and realized that the gray filly didn’t need any more reminders, he sat still aboard the filly as they galloped toward the wire. The pair crossed the wire an easy five and one-quarter lengths ahead of the others.
With her victory, Table Three Ten made many watch lists, including mine. Her sire, El Prado, was a champion racehorse and an outstanding sire that died in 2009 – the year Table Three Ten was born – from an apparent heart attack. In her impressive debut, Table Three Ten conjured up hopes of continuing El Prado’s legacy. She has a long way to go, but if her maiden is any hint of what is in store, racing fans are in for a treat.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Awe of Feather

With some paragraphs drawn from “Waiting for an Awesome Return
When Zenyatta was retired, I felt a void in my heart. I needed another “big” horse to cheer for. I had Blind Luck, but I was still searching for another horse. That’s when it occurred to me that I already had that horse. It was Awesome Feather.
I first heard of the filly in her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), the Florida Stallion My Dear Girl Stakes. She won that race by an incredible eight and one-quarter lengths, running her record to a perfect five-for-five.

Awesome Feather battling R Heat Lightning before
drawing clear to win the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
Photo: Terri Cage
In person, I witnessed Awesome Feather win the Juvenile Fillies beneath the Twin Spires. It was one of my favorite races of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup and she had me cheering her name all the way down the stretch. Little did I know, I had found my “big” horse.

After being sold for $2.3 million to Adena Springs (Frank Stronach), she was transferred to Chad Brown’s stable.  Just days before being named Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, it was announced that Awesome Feather had an issue with a tendon and was sidelined for an unknown amount of time. By February, she was walking under tack and by the end of the month, she returned to jogging. She returned to the work tab on May 24, breezing three furlongs at Belmont Park in 36.78. She breezed four more times until some minor issues appeared.
After two more months off, Awesome Feather returned to the work tab yet again. Her return came in the Le Slew Stakes at Belmont Park, in which the stunning bay filly defeated four other females by two lengths under her regular rider, Jeffrey Sanchez. The final time for seven furlongs was 1:22.76.
Despite talk that the champion filly would run in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI), her connections decided to bypass that race and point toward the Gazelle Stakes (GI) at Aqueduct the weekend after Thanksgiving instead. I applaud them for that decision, as racing fans were in for a treat.
Coming around the final turn, Awesome Feather loomed large to the outside of Love and Pride. Under brisk urging from Sanchez, Awesome Feather drew clear, crossing the wire an easy five and one-quarter lengths ahead of the others. With that win, she earned her second grade one victory and boosted her record to a flawless eight-for-eight. As they came down the stretch, my heart beat with joy, my eyes lit up, and I bounced up and down. I am in awe of Awesome Feather.

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Screaming for Hansen

The 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) was supposed to be all about Union Rags, but a certain silver “freak” changed that. In a thrilling stretch battle, Hansen defeated Union Rags by a head.
Photo by Mary Cage
Prior to the race, I felt that both colts and the eventual third place finisher, Creative Cause, all had the potential to be superstars. However, it was Union Rags that had my attention. Earlier on the card, I had met the colt’s trainer, Michael Matz, who is one of my favorite trainers in all of horse racing. I admire Michael Matz greatly, so I approached him and asked him for his autograph. Very kindly, he smiled and signed next to Union Rags’ name in my program. I wished him good luck before we parted ways.
It was Union Rags I was cheering for as the horses paraded in front of the grandstand before the Juvenile. As I stood by my seat as the horses approached the starting gate, a large group of people suddenly appeared and surrounded the area where my family and I were. They were dressed very nicely and the colors yellow and blue could be found in their outfits. I didn’t think much of it; I just figured they had come down closer to the rail to watch the race. As long as they didn’t impede my vision, I was fine with them being there.
As soon as the field broke from the gate, the group let out a deafening roar. My hands immediately went to my ears, but I dropped them a second later as I focused on the two-year-olds galloping past the grandstand for the first time. As Hansen took the lead, the group of people behind me grew loud again, their voices pounding in my ears. Throughout the entire clubhouse turn, the group screamed at the top of their lungs. They quieted down a bit when the horses reached the backstretch, though a murmur rippled over them. Hansen was still on the lead while Creative Cause sat off the frontrunners and Union Rags galloped along mid-pack.
“Is he still up front?” someone in the group asked.
“Yes,” another group member replied.

Photo by Mary Cage
That’s when I figured it out. They were wearing blue and yellow (the colors of Hansen’s silks), they screamed as Hansen took the lead, and they were talking about the horse up front. They either were big fans of the colt, they had bet a lot of money on him, or they were his connections. Maybe they were all three.
When the horses turned for home, the entire crowd at Churchill Downs grew noisy, but the group near me was absolutely deafening. As Union Rags closed on the outside and Hansen fought to keep the lead, the group’s cheering was earsplitting. It was quite conflicting to be standing there. The group was obviously rooting for Hansen, as was my mother, but I cheered on Union Rags, though a piece of me was pulling for Hansen as well. After all, I’d told the pizza man just a few days earlier to pick the colt.
The cluster of people groaned as Union Rags grew closer and they raised their voices even louder as the colts neared the finish line. When Union Rags and Hansen crossed the wire in a photo finish, the group began conversing nervously.
“I think he got caught.” someone said.
“No, I think he got it.” another argued.
“Hansen held on.” I murmured to my family.
I turned around, glancing at the group behind me. Some were smiling while others’ faces were pale with anxiousness. The woman closest to me was part of the latter.
“Who won?” she asked me.
“Hansen,” I replied.
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, I sure hope so. That’s my brother’s horse.”

Hansen entering the winner's circle
Photo: Terri Cage
Moments later, it was announced that Hansen was the winner. The group celebrated – loudly, of course – as they walked to the gate to the winner’s circle just a few feet away. I watched joyously as the group smiled with wide grins alongside the silver colt. Their bliss was infectious; I found myself beaming as they rejoiced in the winner’s enclosure under the Twin Spires.

The stirring stretch duel between Hansen and Union Rags was exactly what we need in horse racing. This could be the start of a great rivalry and if you throw in the likes of Creative Cause and many of the other two-year-olds of 2011, it looks to be a very talented crop. With very gifted colts going head to head as we approach the Triple Crown, the sport of kings could garner many new fans. Lively owners like Hansen’s connections and a class-act trainer like Michael Matz definitely don’t hurt either. As for me, I’ll never forget the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. My ringing ears won’t let me.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Inspired by Lights

There are many things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving and my experiences with Remember Me Rescue and Lights on Broadway are some of those things.
Photo: Terri Cage
When you see Lights on Broadway, you see a very tall, narrow chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and a head that resembles that of an Arabian. He’s a beautiful sight without a doubt, but if it weren’t for the help of true horse lovers, Lights would not be alive.
As a four-year-old in 2001, Lights on Broadway won the Assault Stakes at Lone Star Park, the Chick Lang Jr. Memorial Handicap at Retama Park, and the Star of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. With those three stakes wins and many other impressive performances, Lights was crowned 2001 Texas Horse of the Year.
Lights continued competing in stakes and allowance races for several years, until he was entered in his first claiming race in 2004, an allowance optional claiming at Lone Star Park in which he ran for a claiming price of $40,000. Nonetheless, Lights continued to compete in stakes races as well, placing in five stakes races in 2004 and winning the Carter McGregor Jr. Memorial Stakes in 2005.
However, Lights on Broadway’s fourth place finish in the 2006 Carter McGregor Jr. Memorial Stakes was his last start in a race that was not a claimer. In his last two starts at Lone Star Park, where he ended up making over 37% of his starts, Lights ran second in an allowance optional claiming for a claiming price of $20,000 before finishing second in a claiming race for a tag of $18,000.
When Lights was claimed next out at Remington Park for $10,000, he went to the barn of Cody Autrey. Then came a string of disappointing finishes: an eighth, a fifth, a third, a sixth, and a fifth. During that losing streak, Lights was claimed again and sent to Fonner Park in Nebraska. He returned to his winning ways there, crossing the wire in front in a $2,500 claiming race.
It was the last time Lights would stand in the winner’s circle after a race. The winner of six stakes races had found himself in the lowest of lows. He came face to face with a fate he did not deserve: Lights was loaded onto a slaughter truck.
However, Lights had a guardian angel looking out for him. The chestnut caught the attention of Gregg Sanders, a Quarter Horse trainer based in Oklahoma. When Sanders saw the papers that belonged to the horse that had earned $572,445, he realized Lights did not deserve to be on a truck that was headed to a slaughterhouse.
Sanders and his young daughter gave Lights some much needed TLC and the gelding made his return to the races four months after his previous start. Lights on Broadway raced two times before he made his final start on August 3, 2008, finishing seventh in a field of nine.
Meanwhile, Alex Brown, who recently wrote Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy, followed Lights. Through donations and the spread of word, Brown, horse lovers, and the Fans of Barbaro gave Lights on Broadway the retirement he more than deserved.
In stepped two women that would change the life of Lights forever: a racing fan and Donna Keen. Donna could not stop thinking about the horse and eventually she decided she would bring him to the Keens’ farm in Burleson, Texas with a little help from the racing fan. That little help was $3,000.

Lights on Broadway and Donna Keen
Photo: Terri Cage

The Keens helped Lights recuperate, allowing him to become sociable, put on some much-needed weight, and learn how to ride bridleless. Lights had become Donna’s buddy. Lights had inspired Remember Me Rescue, a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation that helps rescue or retire, retrain, and rehome ex-racehorses. Remember Me is where I found possibly the smartest horse I have ever owned, Dexter. If it wasn’t for Lights and the people that worked to save him, many ex-racehorses that now have loving homes would not have such bright futures.
Lights was eventually adopted and sent to a new home. However, two years later, Lights returned to Remember Me Rescue. This time, he was staying with Donna for good.
I met Lights on Broadway in September of this year. I had heard so much about him from Donna and was very excited to meet him. When I first caught sight of the golden chestnut, I was blown away by his beauty. He had the dished face of an Arabian, the eyes of a puppy, and the height of a camel. His coloring was like caramel, almost as if he was a red dun.
That day, though he was a bit antsy, I came to realize just how smart Lights was. As I held his lead rope in my hands and led him around in circles, I couldn't help but think, I’m leading a Horse of the Year. Yet I knew that Lights was more than just a Horse of the Year. He was a survivor, a fighter, and a best friend.
The day before Thanksgiving, I got to visit Lights for the third time. His coat had grown darker since I had first seen him and his muscles were more defined. As Donna rode him around for a bit, I stood watching. Suddenly, she asked me a question that honestly nearly knocked the breath out of me.
“Mary, do you want to ride Lights?”
She really didn’t have to ask. I walked up to the gelding, pulling myself into the Western saddle. Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind: And I thought Dexter was tall. Lights is seventeen hands-high. From aboard him, the ground is a long way down.
I began riding Lights around over the lush, green grass. The first thing I realized, other than the fact that he was gigantic, was that he was very smart and willing. He responded to everything I asked him to do, going where I asked him to go and turning when I asked him to turn. I brought him to a stop every now and then, thinking he would want to rest for a bit, but that wasn’t the case. Lights would stop for about two seconds before letting me know he’d had enough of being still.

Lights and me
Photo: Terri Cage

Riding Lights was similar to when I led him around the first day I met him. I was starstruck…by a horse. It’s happened to me many times before, such as when I met the likes of Smarty Jones, Blind Luck, Zenyatta, and many others. Lights on Broadway is on the list of horses that have left me starstruck.
Yet Lights is more than just a star. He ran eighty-three times, winning over half-a-million dollars, and landed in the lowest of lows after being crowned Texas Horse of the Year. He missed death by an inch but, because of the help of racing fans and horse lovers, he was saved. He’s made it this far and has inspired many horse rescues along the way. He’s inspired me by proving to me that you can get out of the lowest of lows and find your way back on top while helping others along the way. Lights on Broadway isn’t ‘just a horse.’ Lights on Broadway is a source of inspiration.

To read more about Lights and learn how to donate to help Lights on Broadway and other Remember Me Rescue horses, visit this link:

I improved this article and it was published on the Blood-Horse on December 13, 2011. Thank you so much to Esther Marr and all those involved! It really meant a lot to get published on the incredible bloodhorse.com. The link can be found here. 

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Shackleford Experience

Photo by Mary Cage
Stout, copper, white-faced, and feisty are all words that can describe 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI) winner Shackleford. A colt that I have followed since his maiden win, Shackleford has captivated me throughout his racing career. I know I’m not the only one that has been fascinated by the beautiful chestnut, as I’ve met many people that have admitted that they love “Shack Attack.”
Perhaps fans’ love for the Dale Romans trainee stems from Shackleford’s liveliness. Often, the son of Forestry can be spotted rearing, bucking, or prancing. His antics, speed, and determination are what make him Shackleford.
After his gutsy maiden win at Churchill Downs in the November of his two-year-old year, Shackleford made his way to Gulfstream Park in Florida, where he impressively won an allowance race to kick off his three-year-old season.  With that allowance win, he began appearing on lists of Kentucky Derby (GI) hopefuls.
However, a disappointing fifth place finish in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) nearly dashed his Derby dreams. Shackleford had one more shot: the Florida Derby (GI). He was dismissed at nearly 69-1.
It was as if everyone had lost faith in him. However, I had not. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when the beautiful blaze-faced front runner finished a head behind eventual Kentucky Derby favorite, Dialed In. Watching the gallop out, I was thrilled to see that he galloped out in front of the other horses.
Photo by Mary Cage
Approaching the Derby, people were either jumping on the Shackleford bandwagon or completely dismissing him. As for me, I was thrilled that he had made it to the Derby and made him my top pick off of pedigree, looks, and performances. After all, his dam Oatsee had already produced the stakes-placed Afleeting Lady  (who is now graded stakes-placed), the multiple graded stakes-winning Baghdaria, and the grade one-winning Lady Joanne. In addition, Shackleford was the best-looking horse in the Derby field, exhibiting a long, thin neck, strong legs, balance, and incredible muscling.
Shackleford may not have won the Derby, but he put in a stellar performance, giving all he had to finish an impressive fourth. He was saving his best for the next leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. Gamely holding off the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford came home victorious in the 136th Preakness.
In the post parade for the Preakness, Shackleford showed us the best of his antics. By the time he loaded in the starting gate, he was lathered in sweat. Many, including me, worried that he had taken too much out of himself in the post parade. Of course, that wasn’t the case. He was just being Shackleford.
Though “Shack Attack” hasn’t won since, he has made good showings in many graded stakes races this year, including a close second in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI), a second in the Indiana Derby (GII), and a second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI).
Yet, Shackleford’s showings in prestigious races aren’t the only things intriguing about him. Fans are drawn to his playful behavior and how hard he tries. I must admit, I’m one of those fans.
Photo by Mary Cage
In the post parade, Shackleford may work up a sweat and nearly unseat his rider, Jesus Castanon, but he’s just being him. Even Jesus Castanon can’t help but smile when the colt lets out a buck or leaps in the air. At the Breeders’ Cup, I was riveted by the gleaming chestnut and noticed many other fans were as well. When his name was announced during the post parade, a cheer went up from the crowd. The people love this horse.
Another special characteristic of Shackleford is how hard he tries. As one focuses on that big white blaze of his, his chestnut legs work like pistons, reaching for more ground as he gallops toward the wire. His auburn ears pin back as he runs with focus, determined to hold off any horse that comes at him. He may not get it done every time, but he will give it his all. That’s the Shackleford fans have come to know and love.

This horse should be publicized to a greater scale, as he already has a large fan base there. Promoting this horse could really help the sport, as he is obviously already a fan favorite. We're not going to have another Zenyatta, but why not have a Shackleford?

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Honoring Pleasantly Perfect

“Man, oh, Mandella!”
When Pleasantly Perfect won the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), he recorded Richard Mandella’s extraordinary fourth Breeders’ Cup win of the day. Now, eight years later, his son, Rapid Redux, recorded a record 20th consecutive victory.
By Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Pleasant Colony, and out of the group one-winning Affirmed mare Regal State, Pleasantly Perfect is a half to the group three-winning Hurricane State and to Swagger Stick, who was graded stakes-placed on the flat and a very talented steeplechaser, having won a hurdle stakes and placed in two graded steeplechases, including a grade one. Clearly, Pleasantly Perfect has plenty of stamina in his pedigree.

Pleasantly Perfect
Photo: Terri Cage

This was displayed throughout his racing career. Pleasantly Perfect began racing as a three-year-old and earned his first win in his fourth start, winning a one mile maiden special weight on the dirt at Santa Anita with Mike Smith aboard as a four-year-old. After finishing second to eventual graded stakes-placed and stakes-winning Hot Market in an allowance optional claiming, Pleasantly Perfect reeled off two impressive allowance victories.
It was time for Pleasantly Perfect to enter the big leagues. His first stakes race was a tall task: the Pacific Classic Stakes (GI). Under Alex Solis, the striking bay was beaten just two and three-quarters lengths, finishing fourth behind three horses that had a combined twelve American graded stakes wins.
Then came Pleasantly Perfect’s first shining moment: a victory in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (GII). In an impressive final time of 1:46.80 for nine furlongs, the Richard Mandella trainee defeated horses that had won or would go on to win a total of twelve American graded stakes races, as well as several international group wins.
The four-year-old was poised to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Arlington Park, but did not run due to the fact that he was not labeled as a bleeder, according to the Illinois racing board’s medication rules. After a four-month layoff, the now five-year-old returned in the San Antionio Handicap (GII) at Santa Anita, finishing third behind multiple grade one winners Congaree and Milwaukee Brew.
In his second start after his layoff, Pleasantly Perfect ran a fairly disappointing fourth behind Milwaukee Brew, Congaree, and eventual grade one winner, Kudos. He did not race again for seven months and returned in the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap to defend his title.
Becoming just the second horse to do so, Pleasantly Perfect repeated in the Goodwood. Coming home in a final eighth of a mile of 12.27 seconds, Pleasantly Perfect gamely conquered eventual Japan Cup Dirt (GI) winner, Fleetstreet Dancer.
Three weeks later, it was “Man, oh, Mandella!” time. Striking like a cobra with a sixteenth of a mile left, the son of Pleasant Colony swept by Medaglia d’Oro and Congaree. From there on, Alex Solis didn’t hit him with the whip and crossed the wire triumphantly, a length and one-half ahead of the others. The win boosted the bay’s career earnings to nearly $3 million.

Extending his winning streak, Pleasantly Perfect returned in January as a six-year-old in the San Antonio Handicap to prep for the Dubai World Cup (GI), the richest race in the world. By four lengths, the radiant bay defeated the likes of three horses he had faced before: Star Cross, Fleetstreet Dancer, and Congaree. Altogether, those three horses had $5,301,995 in earnings by the time their careers ended.
Two months later, Pleasantly Perfect raced outside of California for the first time ever. In fact, he raced outside of the United States for the first time ever. It was time for the Dubai World Cup, which had a $6,000,000 purse at the time. Down the stretch, Pleasantly Perfect battled against the horse that had become his rival in the biggest races, Medaglia d’Oro, before edging clear in the final yards to take the world’s richest horse race.
Pleasantly Perfect did not appear in a race again until August, when he was just caught by Choctaw Nation in the San Diego Handicap (GII). Choctaw Nation would go on to win the race again the next year.
Pleasantly Perfect returned to his winning ways in the $1,000,000 Pacific Classic three weeks later. By crossing the wire victoriously, he defeated the winners of twenty group or graded stakes. The final time was a good 2:01.17 for a mile and one-quarter. It was the third group or grade one stakes race Pleasantly Perfect had won at the distance.
The six-year-old traveled to Lone Star Park in Texas to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, he had to deal with the likes of the eventual Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper, and the horse that would go on to win the 2005 Dubai World Cup, Roses in May. It didn’t help that he broke slowly, had to travel wide, and had a bit of a traffic problem. He still got up to finish third, leaving behind him the winners of nineteen American grade ones.
Pleasantly Perfect’s career was ended due to an ankle injury that was believed to be caused by the horse kicking a starting gate. He entered his stud career at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, having won 50% of his starts and finishing in the money in nearly 78% of them. His career earnings were $7,789,880, which makes him the seventh richest racehorse of all time.
So far, he has sired Shared Account, who won the 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI); Cozi Rosie, who is a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf; Setsuko, who has placed in many graded stakes races; and of course Rapid Redux, who now holds the modern North American record of 20 consecutive wins.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pleasantly Perfect in person twice. He surely inherited his sturdy build from both his sire and dam. He has short, sturdy cannon bones that form straight lines and support his 17 hands-high build. Due to his long, sloping shoulder, he is extremely evenly balanced, which results in a short topline in comparison to a longer underline. His muscle tone is very impressive, giving him a rounded hip and shoulder. Tying in well to his sloping shoulder is his long neck. For more on correct conformation, read "That's a Good-Looking Horse."
Pleasantly Perfect is a very underestimated sire. Despite the fact that he never did much on the turf himself, he has produced many talented turf horses. He is also capable of producing both stamina and speed. Shared Account won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at a mile and three-eighths whereas his son, Silverside, won the Bestwetten.de Goldene Peitsche (GER-II) at six furlongs. Rapid Redux is the perfect example of Pleasantly Perfect’s versatility, having won from a range of five furlongs to a mile and one-eighth during his winning streak.
Pleasantly Perfect is one of the best horses of the past decade and definitely has the potential to keep climbing the stallion rankings. It’s not easy to win races at many different distances, let alone twenty times in a row like Rapid Redux did. It’s not easy to win a Breeders’ Cup race at a long distance on the turf like Shared Account did. And it’s definitely not easy to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, and the Pacific Classic. Yet Pleasantly Perfect did.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Diary of Dexter: Wet Paint

Diary of Dexter is a series within Past the Grandstand about my retired racehorse, Wet Paint (AKA Dexter). Periodically, the blog will feature updates on the grandson of Storm Cat. You will really grow to love this wonderful horse.
Photo by Mary Cage
Nearly every time I tell someone Dexter’s registered name, they chuckle. And almost every time someone sees him for the first time, they say something like: “Look at all that white!” or “Oh, that’s why he’s called Wet Paint.” I even get the question: “Is he a Paint?”
No, he’s not an American Paint Horse like three of my other horses are. He’s a Thoroughbred grandson of Storm Cat, who at one time stood for $500,000. With Chelsey Cat as his sire, a Lost Code mare named Little Betty Blue as his dam, and no horse in his pedigree that would hint at a name like Wet Paint, there is only one explanation for how Dexter got his registered name: his markings.
Photo by Mary Cage
His face is characterized by a wide white blaze and a splotch of roany hairs above one of his eyes. On each of his front legs are two white stockings that reach his knees, making jagged white edges where they stop. His right hind leg is marked with a low sock and on his left hind leg is one of his most identifiable markings: a big white diamond on the front of his hock.
Dexter would probably want me to point out that his name is nowhere near as funny as his neighbor’s name, Tommie Sue. My beloved twenty-seven-year-old Quarter Horse mare is registered under the name Sheza Ripe Tomato. While Tommie Sue does not resemble a tomato at all, Dexter looks like he’s been splattered with white paint, hence the name Wet Paint.

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Valor Farm: A Piece of Kentucky in Texas

The landscape of Valor Farm differs greatly from the Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, and Appaloosa ranches that surround it. Near Pilot Point, Texas, where Valor Farm sits on nearly 400 acres, many of the top Quarters, Paints, and Appaloosas reside. From one of the greatest American Paint Horses of all time in Zippos Sensation, to 2010 USEF Horse of the Year and World Equestrian Games Team and Individual Gold Medalist in reining in Gunners Special Nite, and to a multiple World and National Champion Appaloosa in Diversified, the Pilot Point area is definitely horse country. It’s just a different kind of horse country than the Lexington, Kentucky area is.
Photo by Mary Cage
However, Valor Farm brings a piece of the Bluegrass to the Lone Star State. Unlike the pipe fences that line the stock horse ranches nearby, Valor is lined with black wooden fences like many of the Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky. That’s because it is a Thoroughbred farm.
Valor Farm is owned by royalty of the horse industry: the Scharbauers. The land was purchased by Clarence and Dorothy Scharbauer in 1991, four years after Dorothy and her daughter Pam won the Kentucky Derby (GI) with America’s Horse and the all-time great, Alysheba.
Clarence Sharbauer, who was once the president of the American Quarter Horse Association, is a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. His late wife, Dorothy, wasn’t just involved with a Kentucky Derby winner once. In 1959, her father, Fred Turner Jr. won the Run for the Roses with Tomy Lee.
Now, 20 years after the Sharbauers purchased the land that Valor Farm sits upon, the farm is home to some of the top horses in the South, including the second leading sire in Texas, Early Flyer. A muscular chestnut, Early Flyer was a very talented sprinter, having won the San Vicente Stakes (GII) and the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (GIII). His dam, Bistra, produced two graded stakes winners including him and two stakes-placed horses. Early Flyer’s half-sister, Fun House, is the dam of the grade one-winning Paddy O’Prado. As a stallion, Early Flyer has produced many talented horses, including multiple stakes winner and 2008 Texas Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Formal Flyer and multiple stakes winner Early Final.
Photo by Mary Cage
Also on their stallion roster is Indygo Mountain, whose stakes-winning dam is a half-sister to grade one-winning Siphonic. One of Valor’s most intriguing stallions is Jet Phone, the teaser-turned-sire, who sired multiple stakes-winning Aces N Kings, the only horse he has sired that has ever raced. My Golden Song, a beautiful gray that once finished third to Barbaro, also stands at Valor and is the 18th leading sire in Texas. Silver City, a stakes winner and a grade two-placed horse, is a new addition to Valor's roster. Wimbledon, the 5th leading sire in Texas, has quickly become a very successful sire for Valor. The winner of the 2004 Louisiana Derby (GII) was the leading Southwest Freshman Sire of 2009, the 2nd leading Texas Sire in 2010, and the leading Texas Second-Crop sire of 2010.
Valor Farm is not just home to those six stallions. Also on the farm are plenty of broodmares, weanlings, yearlings, and racehorses. I have visited the farm three times and recently visited while with my mom for her photography clinic.

Flying Native on the right
Photo by Mary Cage

It is always exciting for me to stroll around a Thoroughbred farm. Usually when one visits a Thoroughbred farm, he or she is limited to just seeing the stallions. However, each time I have visited Valor, I have been able to stroll around the entire farm and see the many horses.
On my most recent trip to Valor Farm, I eagerly headed up to one of the broodmare paddocks. The last time I had visited the farm, I had met a beautiful broodmare named Flying Native. The bay mare had been especially kind and was an impressive sight.

I spotted her immediately. The mahogany bay stood alongside a gray mare, the white stripe on her face contrasting against the brown hairs that covered most of her body. Heavy in foal, she ambled around the paddock and walked up to the fence, gazing at the many cameras facing her.

Two weanlings under a beautiful sky
Photo by Mary Cage

I then headed to a large weanling paddock, where two weanlings munched on hay. All of a sudden, the two took off, galloping under the beautiful sky that had turned many colors. Across the lane, an older horse jogged around its paddock, showing off. The weanlings then stepped it up a notch, lengthening their strides and galloping around the entire paddock. It was clear the horses were competing for attention.
Strolling a bit farther along the lane, I came across two paddocks, both filled with what seemed to be yearlings. In one paddock, three yearlings mimicked each other and stared eagerly at the people looking at them while in the other paddock, three yearlings pranced around.

Jet Phone
Photo by Mary Cage

It was then time to go see the stallions. The first stallion I came across was the beautiful bay, Jet Phone. While a herd of weanlings galloped in the large pasture across the lane, Jet Phone ambled up to the fence, hanging his handsome head over the top board. I’d seen Aces N Kings race before and was riveted by his story, but it was my first time to ever see his sire, Jet Phone, in person. The stallion was very eye-catching.
The next stallion I came across was the successful Early Flyer. His huge jaw fit his attractive face and his stout body was covered in a blue sheet to keep him warm in the cool wind. His copper mane fluttered in the wind as he gazed around him, looking upon the large paddocks that graced Valor. It was clear that he knew he was the king of the farm.
Across the path from Early Flyer’s paddock was My Golden Song. The gray also hung his head over the top board, his black and gray mane ruffled by the breeze. The clouds behind him were colored in brilliant pastels, casting a glow over the land.
Just yards away was the 5th leading sire in Texas, Wimbledon. The light gray stood serenely along the fence line, resting his head on the highest board. He too was clothed in a sheet of Valor's main color: royal blue.

Indygo Mountain
Photo by Mary Cage

The final stallion I took photographs of was Indygo Mountain, an absolutely gorgeous chestnut. His distinctive blaze ran down his face, splotched with random spots that matched the color of the rest of his coat. His ears remained pricked the entire time. It was as if he was smiling for the camera.
The final part of my time spent at Valor was admiring the interior of the stallion barn. When I stepped inside, I spotted Silver City in the wash rack, receiving a bath. His charcoal gray coat was splattered with soap and he stood calmly for the man bathing him.
My time at Valor had ended. It had been a wonderful hour spent at the farm, which exhibits some of the classiest Thoroughbreds in Texas. Though the Thoroughbred industry in Texas isn’t exactly flourishing, Valor displays brilliant Thoroughbreds on a farm that was inspired by two Kentucky Derby winners in the family. Kentucky may be the heart and soul of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, but who says every state can’t have its own little piece of Kentucky?

Click here to see more photos I took.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Drosselmeyer: From Racehorse to Stud

I can list them easily: Animal Kingdom, Awesome Feather, Blind Luck, Drosselmeyer, Euroears, My Miss Aurelia, Shackleford, Uncle Mo, Weemissfrankie, and Winter Memories. These are the horses of 2011 that captured my heart and had me screaming at the top of my lungs throughout the year. Some of them never got to show just how good they were, some of them couldn’t quite live up to expectations, and some of them flaunted their brilliance when it counted most. Drosselmeyer could be categorized in the latter group.
Photo by Mary Cage
It took Drosselmeyer a while to get going, but he finished up the year better than one could imagine by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). As a two-year-old, Drosselmeyer broke his maiden in his fourth start, winning by six lengths at Churchill Downs. He then won an allowance by nearly two lengths at Gulfstream Park, defeating future grade one winners Prince Will I Am and Stately Victor, multiple graded stakes-placed Guys Reward, and stakes-placed No Shenanigans.
Kentucky Derby dreams had formed and the colt made his way to Louisiana for the Risen Star Stakes (GII). I’d heard of the colt and was eager to see how he would do. He made a rally on the inside to finish fourth behind Discreetly Mine. I wasn’t discouraged at all, as it didn’t seem like he’d enjoyed his trip along the rail.

Photo: Terri Cage
Yet that’s exactly what he had to deal with next out in the Louisiana Derby (GII). He rallied along the inside yet again and finished third. I still could tell he was still very talented and I hoped that he would have enough earnings to enter the Kentucky Derby. However, he fell short on the earnings list and was excluded from the Run for the Roses.

Prepping for the Belmont Stakes (GI), Drosselmeyer finished second behind Fly Down in the Dwyer Stakes (GII). Drosselmeyer may have been defeated by six lengths, but he also broke slowly and had traffic problems.
Four weeks later, the Belmont was a different story. Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for the first time, Drosselmeyer emerged late on the outside to score a win in the Test of the Champion. Finally, the colt had been able to show the world just how talented he was.
After his Belmont win, Drosselmeyer injured his ankle and was out indefinitely. It broke my heart that the colt would be out, but I hoped that he would come back strong as a four-year-old.
While visiting Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup last year, we stopped by WinStar Farm for a stallion tour. We were informed that Drosselmeyer was across the street at WinStar’s training facility. I ached to go over there to see the colt, but I knew I couldn’t and instead I just remained glad that he was doing well.

Photo: Terri Cage

After exactly nine months off, the striking chestnut son of Distorted Humor returned in the Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing fourth. After a disappointing fifth in the Skip Away Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park, Drosselmeyer returned to his winning ways in the One Count Stakes at Belmont Park. Though it was just a $60,000 stakes race, he defeated eventual grade two winner Birdrun, grade three victor Inherit the Gold, multiple stakes winner Alma d’Oro, eventual Breeders’ Cup Marathon (GII) winner Afleet Again, and stakes-winning Edgewater.

Birdrun got revenge on him next out in the Brooklyn Handicap (GII), defeating him by nearly four lengths. Drosselmeyer then returned to the surface he’d run his first two career starts over: turf. In the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (GI), Drosselmeyer didn’t show much affinity for the grass and finished seventh.
Drosselmeyer returned to the dirt in his next race, the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI). Having run mostly against marathon horses – which nowadays are not considered to be of the same class as horses that run a maximum of ten furlongs – prior to the prestigious race, not much attention was on Drosselmeyer. However, Drosselmeyer closed impressively on the outside to finish second, relishing being on the dirt again.
Photo by Mary Cage
As the 2011 Breeders’ Cup approached, I was mostly drawn to the star power. Attending morning workouts, I kept my eyes peeled for horses like Flat Out, Havre de Grace, and Uncle Mo. But when a gleaming golden chestnut stepped into my view and I read the name Drosselmeyer on the yellow saddle towel, my love for Drosselmeyer was renewed.
I was riveted by him once again. It was my first time to ever see him in person, so my eyes locked on him as he jogged alongside a pony horse. My heart thudded in my chest, my head turned as I followed him, and my camera clicked as I took pictures of him and videoed him. He looked spectacular. He carried himself with tremendous class, his coat shining liking a brand new penny and his legs moving so smoothly he could pass as a show horse. Sure, I was picking Flat Out on paper, but from appearances on the track in the morning, Drosselmeyer was my Classic horse.
So, as I stood along the rail near the winner’s circle and finish line during the Classic, my heart soared as Drosselmeyer flew along the outside, eclipsing the talented Classic field. I punched my fist into the air, letting out a shout of joy as Drosselmeyer, reunited with Mike Smith, galloped into the history books. I turned around to face my family, cheering one word with bliss: “Drosselmeyer!”
The colt soon jogged up with my favorite jockey, Mike Smith, aboard and I felt a grin stretch across my face as I recorded the horse entering the winner’s circle on my phone. Just feet from me, the stunning horse entered the winner’s circle under the Twin Spires. Not only was the Classic a story of redemption for Mike Smith (Drosselmeyer Dances Home in the Classic), but it was a story of redemption for Drosselmeyer.

Photo: Terri Cage
Just days prior to Drosselmeyer’s victory, I had visited WinStar Farm for the third time. We were told that the colt would go to New York for his stud career. My heart sank, knowing I’d better relish seeing him at the Breeders’ Cup, as I likely wouldn’t get to see him if he stood in New York.

But after his spectacular Classic win, WinStar faced a decision: should Drosselmeyer go to New York as planned or should he stay in Kentucky now that he’d won the Classic? A win in America’s richest horse race added another question: should he retire or should he continue racing?
I knew that if he was retired, he would go to stud in Kentucky. After all, he was a Belmont Stakes winner that had just won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, I didn’t want him to retire just yet. My love for Drosselmeyer had just escalated even more and I wanted to see him run another year.
But that wasn’t the case. On Friday, it was announced that Drosselmeyer was retired to stud at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. Understanding that right after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic was a good time for him to enter stud, I was disappointed to know racing fans wouldn't get to enjoy him for another year. Yet, I look forward to visiting him at WinStar someday so I can reminisce on watching him race and can see that beautiful gleaming chestnut coat again.

Now Drosselmeyer will begin his new career alongside his sire, Distorted Humor, who is the leading sire in America. Distorted Humor has sired 42 stakes horses, including 17 stakes winners and 9 graded stakes winners. Ever since his first crop, he has sired at least 10 stakes winners a year and has produced an incredible 9 millionaires and 12 grade one winners. Big names he has sired include Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, two-time Whitney Handicap (GI) winner Commentator, and Travers Stakes (GI) winner Flower Alley. Clearly, Distorted Humor is an incredible racing sire, but he is one of the best commercial sires at stud as well. In fact, he holds the highest three-year yearling average in the nation. Standing for $100,000, Distorted Humor is most definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Drosselmeyer’s dam side is definitely not lacking talent. His dam, Golden Ballet, is a multiple grade one winner and earner of $732,145. She obviously is a good producer, having produced Drosselmeyer, but he is not her only talented offspring. She has also produced Stage Luck, who won the Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct prior to finishing third in the Rare Treat Handicap, fourth in the Next Move Handicap (GIII), and third in the Ruffian Handicap (GI).
A photo I absolutely love by Terri Cage
Tracing back to influential sires such as Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, and Mr. Prospector, Drosselmeyer looks to be a successful stallion. His stud fee is set for $17,500. Before we know it, we’ll see little Drosselmeyers collecting prestigious victories.
And for now, as we wait for the breeding season to begin, we can muse over Drosselmeyer’s Classic victory. It was a race that will always be dear to my heart, a race that showed me redemption is possible, a race that evoked feelings of joy for me, and a race that I can always watch and say, “I was there. I was right there.”
Drosselmeyer on the track the Thursday before his Classic win
Video by Mary Cage
Drosselmeyer after winning the Classic
Video by Mary Cage

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Eclipse Awards: The Horses

2011 has been an incredible year of racing, but it was a jumbled mess. Usually by now, each division is wrapped up. However, that is not the case. For final decisions, attention will be on the upcoming Clark Handicap (GI) and other races as well. After a Breeders’ Cup nearly full of longshot winners, the Eclipse Awards have become very confusing. Here we go again.
Horse of the Year
Two-Year-Old Male (in alphabetical order)
Horse of the Year may not be a battle between two closely matched horses this year, but Two-Year-Old Male is. The finish of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) was quite similar to last year’s Classic between Blame and Zenyatta. The voting just might be the same as well.
Photo by Mary Cage
Hansen: The striking silver colt held off Union Rags by a head to prevail in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, the son of Tapit dominantly won a maiden special weight and the Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes at Turfway Park in monster performances. Yes, he won the championship race, but it was a very narrow margin that was diminishing. Also, his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was his only graded stakes win. Hansen is definitely an extremely talented horse and his championship win may win him the award, but the colt he narrowly defeated may get revenge and win the award instead.
Union Rags: Union Rags looked like one of the most likely winners over Breeders’ Cup weekend. However, it was not to be. After drifting out in the stretch, the Michael Matz trainee missed by a head. He clearly was not handling the track, which cost him the race. Yet he still galloped out plenty ahead of Hansen and was finishing more strongly. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Union Rags was undefeated. Two of his three wins prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were graded: the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special Stakes (GII) and the Champagne Stakes (GI). It is a tough choice and both colts are very deserving of the title. It will be a very close call in this division.
Two-Year-Old Filly
This one is simple:
My Miss Aurelia: She’s undefeated, a two-time grade one winner, and the dominant winner of the championship race for this division. My Miss Aurelia, a filly I've followed since before her maiden, is the 2011 champion Two-Year-Old Filly.
Three-Year-Old Filly
This division is simple also:
Royal Delta: Royal Delta dominantly defeated other top three-year-old fillies in two of the most important races of the year, the TVG Alabama Stakes (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). With her effortless win in the Ladies’ Classic, Royal Delta clinched 2011 champion Three-Year-Old Filly.
Three-Year-Old Male (in alphabetical order)
This has become one of the toughest decisions in all divisions of the Eclipse Awards. Though only three are mentioned here, there were plenty of other talented three-year-old males, including Shackleford and Stay Thirsty. It will be a tough decision for voters.
Animal Kingdom: He is the victor in the most prestigious race of the year: the Kentucky Derby (GI). That speaks for itself, but the colt was not just successful in the Derby. He won the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) by two and three-quarters lengths prior to winning the Derby. After the Derby, Animal Kingdom finished a persevering second in the Preakness Stakes (GI). In the Belmont Stakes (GI), his chances of winning the race were shattered when he nearly lost the rider at the start. He came out of that race with an injury, so he has not raced since. However, Animal Kingdom was clearly the best three-year-old of the year. Therefore, he deserves this award. Read more about him in The Return of the Kingdom.

Caleb's Posse
Photo by Mary Cage

Caleb’s Posse: After his dominant win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), Caleb’s Posse has surely garnered plenty of votes. He picked up two grade one wins this year: the Dirt Mile and the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (GI). He also won the Smarty Jones Stakes, the Ohio Derby (GIII), and the Amsterdam Stakes (GII). He may have won five times this year (three more than Animal Kingdom), but he also raced twice as many times as Animal Kingdom was able to. The key in choosing between them is prestige and consistency. Animal Kingdom was more successful in prestigious races than Caleb’s Posse and only finished out of the money once, which was understandable, as it was when he was impeded in the Belmont. Caleb’s Posse, on the other hand, finished out of the money three times. He’s talented, but he’s no Animal Kingdom. I think it will be a close call between Animal Kingdom and Caleb’s Posse that will go to Caleb’s Posse. I believe that Animal Kingdom is the better horse, but since he was only able to race for the first half of the year, Caleb’s Posse took the lead.
Ruler on Ice: The only way Ruler on Ice is capable of being crowned as the champion three-year-old is if he wins the upcoming Clark Handicap (GI). Even then, it will be tough for him to be voted the champion. His only stakes win this year came in the Belmont when he won at nearly 25-1. However, he has been very consistent this year. He has only finished out of the top three once and that was a fourth place finish in the Travers Stakes (GI). He will need a dominant Clark victory to be voted the champion in this division.
Turf Female (in alphabetical order)
Here’s yet another fairly wide open division. Like many of the other divisions, the horse that seemed to be the standout failed to live up to expectations.
Dubawi Heights: Two grade one wins, a second place finish in another grade one, a grade three win, and a sixth place finish in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (GI) might garner this filly the award for champion female turf horse. However, her loss in the Beverly D. Stakes (GI) to Stacelita may keep her from that title. From my standpoint, however, she performed much better than Stacelita did when it counted most. In the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Dubawi heights finished sixth, beaten less than three lengths while Stacelita finished tenth of eleven, beaten nearly six and one-half lengths. The winner of that race was Perfect Shirl, who at nearly 28-1 will not get the award. Of the top contenders for Turf Female in the race, Dubawi Heights ran the best. I’d vote for her.
Never Retreat: She won five graded stakes this year, including the First Lady Stakes (GI) at Keeneland last out. She won half of her races and was out of the money just twice. After defeating a talented field in the First Lady, her earnings for the year totaled $872,288. The main flaws on her 2011 résumé are her disappointing finishes in the Churchill Distaff Mile Stakes (GI), won by Aviate, and in the Beverly D. Stakes (GI), won by Stacelita. She's a talented mare, but her poor finishes in those races may keep her from winning this title.

Stacelita: This French-bred has run her last four starts in the United States. In her first start in America, Stacelita ran third against males in the United Nations Stakes (GI). She then dominantly defeated talented turf females in two grade ones: the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes. However, she turned in an extremely lackluster performance in the race that would have clinched this award for her, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. That dull performance in the championship race tells me someone else should be the champion.
Winter Memories: This striking gray showed the most brilliance this year. However, she only won one grade one, the Garden City Stakes. Yet she won three straight graded stakes: the Appalachian Stakes (GIII), the Sands Point Stakes (GIII), and the Lake George Stakes (GII). She only lost two starts this year: the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes (GII) and the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (GI). She finished fourth in both. She and Dubawi Heights have the least amount of losses of these four fillies. However, as talented as Winter Memories is, Dubawi Heights has more prestige on her résumé.
Dubawi Heights has as many grade one wins as Stacelita and finished much better than Stacelita did in the Breeders’ Cup. I believe she deserves this award, but Stacelita’s dominance prior to the Breeders’ Cup may wrap up this award for her.
Turf Male (in alphabetical order)
We’ve seen two very talented turf males reel off win after win in 2011, but on separate coasts. However, a bias will keep one horse from getting it over the other.
Acclamation: It’s unfortunate that a horse can win five straight graded stakes, three of which are grade ones, and not win an Eclipse Award. However, that’s what happens when there’s another horse that has won three straight grade ones and came from Europe. Let’s focus on the winner of five straight first. Acclamation had a disappointing start to the year, but after a tenth place finish in the Charles Town Classic in the slop, the five-year-old returned to the turf. He won the Jim Murray Handicap (GII) at Hollywood Park for the second year in a row, dominating the field by seven lengths. He then reeled off wins in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (GI), the Eddie Read Stakes (GI), the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (GI), and the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship Stakes (GII). An injury knocked him out of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI), which if he’d have won, he’d have sealed this award. Acclamation has two major knocks against him:  voters tend to go for East Coast horses over West Coast horses (Acclamation made all but one of his starts in California this year) and only two of his grade one wins were on turf, the other having come on the synthetic. He won’t get this award, but he definitely does deserve some award after his tremendous year in 2011.
Cape Blanco: Cape Blanco’s final three starts came in the United States. All three of them were grade one turf victories. After coming from Europe, where he was a group one winner twice in 2010, Cape Blanco dominated turf males in three of our most prestigious grade ones. In his first start stateside, he defeated two-time champion turf male, Gio Ponti, by a decisive two and one-quarter lengths in the Man o’ War Stakes (GI). Next out, Cape Blanco did the same by an extra quarter of a length in one of the most prestigious turf races in the United States, the Arlington Million Stakes (GI). Over very boggy turf going in his final race, Cape Blanco battled with Dean’s Kitten to prevail in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI). He came out of that race with a career-ending injury, which, like Acclamation, kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup. Though he did not win as many in a row as Acclamation, he won more grade ones on turf and voters are more likely to give the edge to a European that won three grade ones in America. This award is Cape Blanco’s for the taking.
Older Female
A simple vote:
Havre de Grace: This is simple. Havre de Grace will be named Older Female of 2011. However, it must be pointed out that Blind Luck is the better horse. In their six meetings, Blind Luck defeated Havre de Grace four times. Yet, Havre de Grace has much more on her résumé this year and will come away an easy winner of this division and likely Horse of the Year as well.
Older Male (in alphabetical order)
The older male division was one of the most jumbled of 2011. Each one of these horses is likely to garner votes and it will be a tough call for voters.
Acclamation: As mentioned, this horse deserves some award, but he’s unlikely to get this one, despite the fact that he has more grade one wins than the dirt horses in this division. Here’s to hoping he comes back just as good next year to win an Eclipse Award!
Cape Blanco: With talented dirt males in this division, Cape Blanco likely won’t get this award, even though he has more grade one wins this year. He is very talented, but he’s likely to only take home the Turf Male award.
Flat Out: As the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Flat Out did not live up to expectations, finishing fifth. However, he has a good body of work over the year to assist him in winning this award. Kicking off the year with a fast-closing second in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII), Flat Out finished a disappointing sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs. Afterwards came his breakthrough performance: a dominating win in the Suburban Hanidcap (GII). After that spectacular win, the son of Flatter turned in two second place finishes in grade ones, finishing second behind Tizway in the Whitney Invitational Handicap and placing second behind Havre de Grace in the Woodward Stakes. Flat Out’s first grade one win came in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (GI), which was his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup. He is expected to run in the Clark Handicap (GI) on Friday. If he wins that race, choosing the winner of this division becomes even harder.

Game on Dude (in the blue) and Flat Out (in the red)
Photo by Mary Cage

Game on Dude: Drosselmeyer will likely garner some votes in this division, but not enough to win. So, discounting Drosselmeyer, Game on Dude had the best Breeders’ Cup finish of all horses in this division. He was just caught in the final strides of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which if he’d have won, he would have clinched this award and Horse of the Year. On his 2011 résumé are two grade one wins: a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap and a triumph in the Goodwood Stakes. Just a scant nose kept him from a third grade one win in the Hollywood Gold Cup. The only race in which Game on Dude failed to finish in the top three was the Pacific Classic Stakes (GI), in which the Bob Baffert trainee finished fourth over a track surface he didn’t handle well. He also finished second in the Charles Town Classic Stakes (GIII) and third in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII), the latter of which he finished behind Awesome Gem and Flat Out. Though Flat Out defeated him there, Game on Dude defeated him by nearly two lengths when it counted most: the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Game on Dude is the deserving winner of Older Male and if Flat Out does not win the Clark, this award will likely go to Game on Dude.
Tizway: Like Game on Dude, Tizway has two grade one wins in 2011. However, a fever kept him out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and an injury kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup. He only ran four times this year, finishing third in both the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII) and the Charles Town Classic Stakes (GIII), the latter of which he finished behind Duke of Mischief and Game on Dude. Tizway then went on to record victories in the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and the Whitney Invitational Handicap (GI). He defeated Flat Out in the Whitney. Though he is a very talented horse, I don’t think he has enough credentials to win this award.
Male Sprinter (in alphabetical order)
There were many talented sprinters this year, but by the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup, the top two emerged. It is clear which one will win this award, due to prestige and amount of grade one wins.

Photo by Mary Cage

Amazombie: Though there were plenty of other good sprinters in 2011, Amazombie will be the champion sprinter. With two grade one wins – including a championship win – and a grade two win, Amazombie will come away the Male Sprinter of 2011.
Regally Ready: He’s a very worthy candidate, but with one less grade one win than Amazombie and a less prestigious Breeders’ Cup win, Regally Ready will be outvoted by Amazombie.
Female Sprinter (in alphabetical order)
This award was supposed to be Turbulent Descent’s for the taking, but when an underdog by the name of Musical Romance stepped in and won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she made quite the case for herself.
Musical Romance: This filly ran a remarkable fourteen times this year, eleven of those starts coming in Florida. After a string of five fourth and fifth place finishes that lasted from January to April, Musical Romance has not finished out of the money since. She won three stakes in Florida this year and finished second or third in three others, including a second place finish in the Princess Rooney Handicap (GI) at Calder. Her starts outside of Florida were very successful. In her first start outside of Florida this year, she won the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (GII). Racing against very talented fillies and mares in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (GII), she missed first by just a head, finishing second to Holiday for Kitten. Then came her shining moment: an impressive victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI). She may be disrespected for being a Calder-based horse, but I don’t see any point in that. She ran fourteen times this year and had a tremendous year that was capped off with a championship victory. She deserves to be Female Sprinter of 2011.
Turbulent Descent: She won two grade ones this year, but only one came at a sprinting distance. After finishing second in the Las Virgenes Stakes (GI), she won the Santa Anita Oaks (GI). Neither were sprint races. She then began her sprinting path. She won the seven furlong Beaumont Stakes (GII) prior to finishing second in the TVG Acorn Stakes (GI). After a very impressive victory in the Test Stakes (GI), Turbulent Descent became the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (GI). However, she ran poorly when it mattered most and finished fifth. Her brilliance prior to the Breeders’ Cup may allow her to win this award, but I think Musical Romance is the deserving winner here.

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