Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Raging Fever: Meant to be a Star

There’s no doubt that when Edward P. Evans sent Pennant Fever to Overbook Farms to visit Storm Cat in 1997 that he was expecting a future star. Pennant Fever came from a long line of champions and Storm Cat – standing for $150,000 – had sired many talented horses himself, including the Preakness Stakes (GI)- and Belmont Stakes (GI)-winning Tabasco Cat. The two together had already produced Stormin Fever, who would go on to win the Sport Page Handicap (GIII) and place second in two runnings of the Vosburgh Stakes (GI).

Pennant Fever’s bloodlines hinted that she would become a sensational broodmare. She was by the great sire and 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, and out of the black-type-placed Letty’s Pennant, who also produced the grade three-winning R. Associate. Her third, fourth, and fifth dams were all Reine De Course mares. Her third dam, Nalee, was a multiple stakes-winning mare who produced a group one winner, five graded stakes-placed horses, two ungraded stakes winners, and two black-type-placed horses. Her fourth dam, Levee, was the multiple stakes-winning 1970 Broodmare of the Year and dam of four stakes winners, including the champion Shuvee. Pennant Fever’s fifth dam was Bourtai, a stakes-placed mare who produced six black-type horses and two Broodmares of the Year.

Like Pennant Fever, her 1998 foal would descend from female family number nine, which is most famous for producing the multiple group- or grade-one-winning horses Alydar, Galileo, Sea the Stars, and Shergar, the first Triple Crown winner in Sir Barton, the only horse to defeat the great Man O’ War in Upset, and some of the most influential sires of all-time in Bull Lea, Fair Play, Mahmoud, Nasrullah, and Royal Charger.

Pennant Fever’s second foal by Storm Cat was born on April 2, 1998. The nearly black filly grew into a beautifully built racehorse by the name of Raging Fever. Edward Evans sent her to trainer Mark Hennig in New York, where the filly reeled off five victories in her first five starts. Among these wins were trips to the winner’s circle in the Adirondack Stakes (GII), the Matron Stakes (GI), and the Frizette Stakes (GI). Though she was sent off as the favorite in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), she weakened to finish sixth.

Despite her disappointing run in the Breeders’ Cup, Raging Fever continued her glory. She began her sophomore campaign with a second-place finish in the Dame Mysterieuse Stakes at Gulfstream Park and a third-place finish in the Beaumont Stakes (GII) at Keeneland. She was entered in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (GI), but it was never a very serious entry and she was scratched.

Due to a fracture of the growth plate in her stifle, Raging Fever did not start again until December. She made her return in the Garland of Roses Handicap at Aqueduct, sweeping to victory for the first time since October of the previous year. She wheeled off another win in her subsequent start, the First Lady Handicap (GIII) at Gulfstream.

Following a defeat in the Shirley Jones Handicap (GII) at the same track, Raging Fever scored two more consecutive wins in a pair of graded stakes: the Distaff Breeders’ Cup Handicap (GII) and the Bed o’ Roses Breeders’ Cup Handicap (GIII). After being beaten by a longshot in the Shuvee Handicap (GII), Raging Fever crossed the wire victoriously in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (GI). She had found the winner’s circle in a grade one race for the first time since her two-year-old campaign.

It was nearly another year before Raging Fever won again. Yet, she placed in four graded stakes races between her triumph in the Ogden Phipps and in her repeat victory in the Bed o’ Roses. However, her win in the 2003 Bed o’ Roses was the final time Raging Fever entered the winner’s enclosure.

Raging Fever left the racetrack with $1,458,198 in earnings from eleven wins, seven seconds, and three thirds in twenty-six starts. She found a home at Evans’ Spring Hill Farm in Virginia and was first sent to the prosperous sire Gone West. Raging Fever has not yet produced a stakes winner, but if her pedigree is any indication, it would be no surprise if she did.

In November of 2011, the complete dispersal of the deceased Edward P. Evans’ estate continued at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. Raging Fever, her full sister in Last Fever, and her 2011 Smart Strike filly were offered at the sale. Last Fever sold for $65,000 to Elaine Lawlor, Raging Fever’s 2011 filly sold for $1,000,000 to Stonestreet Stables & George Bolton, and Raging Fever – in foal to Quality Road – sold for $725,000 to R.J. Bennett, agent.

Raging Fever may never have been presented with an Eclipse Award, but she is still a champion. As I said in my blog post To See a Champion, “a champion is any horse that has accomplished great things.” Raging Fever is not just a champion for winning three grade ones or for being royally bred, but she is a champion for enduring hardships while still maintaining an impressive race record. Perhaps she will not be the broodmare she was expected to be, or perhaps she will someday produce a champion. Nevertheless, Raging Fever was bred to be a star and she accomplished just that.

Raging Fever
Photo by Terri Cage
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Derby Top Ten #5

Less than two months from now, a three-year-old will stand before the Twin Spires with red roses draped over its withers. Its connections will joyously smile for the many cameras, spectators at the renowned Churchill Downs will cheer the horse on as it returns to the barn, and racing fans across the world will revere the horse. Why? Because the horse will have just won the most prestigious race in the world: the Kentucky Derby (GI).

Along the Derby trail, things can change drastically in the blink of an eye. There have certainly been changes since last week’s top ten, but the list topper remains the same.

This is the list of my top ten 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of February 27.

1. Union Rags: He solidified his position as the top horse on this list in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) yesterday, only giving me more reason to keep him at the pinnacle. He settled off the pace beautifully before effortlessly drawing away to win by four lengths in a final time of 1:42.68 for a mile and one-sixteenth, finishing the final sixteenth in 6.40 despite being geared down. He displayed his breathtaking, ground-covering stride as new rider Julien Leparoux held him in hand in the final yards. This colt is absolutely brilliant, classy, and has the potential to be great. He is more deserving than any other horse to be number one here. His final prep for the Kentucky Derby will likely be made in the Florida Derby (GI) on March 31. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

2. El Padrino: Just as I expected he would, El Padrino proved those who believed he could only win over an off track wrong. In his Risen Star Stakes (GII) victory over a fast track, the beautifully-bred colt displayed his grit, determination, and heart by putting on a true horse race. He did not dominantly win his race like Union Rags, but he showed the very important characteristic of heart when dueling with Mark Valeski to win by a nose. He actually finished more quickly than Union Rags, completing the final sixteenth in 6.08 seconds. However, he exerted more energy and was asked for much more than Union Rags. Nonetheless, this is a very talented, hard-trying colt with a pedigree that strongly supports him to go the Derby distance. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

3. Creative Cause: He came home very quickly in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) and was just getting started at the end of the seven-furlong race. His pedigree and past performances show that he will enjoy a lengthening of distance, which is one of the most important characteristics in a Derby contender. He could start next in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita or in the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park on March 17. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

4. I’ll Have Another: He definitely has plenty of doubters out there, which only goes to show how much he needs to prove himself. His win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) on February 4 was impressive, but he will need to verify that it was not a fluke. His pedigree (by Flower Alley and out of an Arch mare) suggests that distance will not be a problem and other than his race in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (GI) – which can likely be thrown out – I’ll Have Another has very good form. We’ll learn more about him in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

5. Fed Biz: He has nearly everything that a top Derby contender needs: a distance-oriented pedigree, a beneficial stalking running style, and of course, undeniable ability. However, the main thing he lacks is graded stakes earnings. He will need to acquire those soon in order to secure both his validity as a talented racehorse and a position in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. He will have his first chance to do so in the San Felipe on March 10.

6. Out of Bounds: He has learning to do, but he has a great foundation to build on. Out of a female family number twelve mare that won the renowned Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), Out of Bounds certainly has a royal family. He is also very talented, but will need to keep up his good form in the San Felipe.

7. American Act: He’s only won once, but the grit and determination he displayed in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) was very impressive. Though he finished second in that race, he was passed before coming back in late stretch, only to just miss. Also to his advantage is that he is Derby-bred through and through.

8. Mark Valeski: He showed much perseverance when battling El Padrino in the stretch of the Risen Star, only to lose by a nose. Before his impressive graded stakes debut, he had won two straight races: a maiden special weight at Delaware Park in a romp and an allowance optional claiming with determination. He has shown plenty of fight, which is certainly very important.

9. Bodemeister: Straight from the blazing Bob Baffert barn, Bodemeister is brilliant and beautifully bred. Though he has only started twice – in maiden special weight races – and only has one win to his credit, he has already proven himself. The colt that defeated him in his debut was none other than American Act and in his second start, he flew to a 9 ¼-length victory. He needs to acquire graded stakes earnings, but in the words of Bob Baffert, “We have plans.”

10. Algorithms: He takes a significant drop from third to tenth, but I am very wary of his splint injuries. It is true that popped splints typically do not take very long to heal and are usually just an interruption in training, but on the Derby trail, interruptions in training can be detrimental. This is especially true for this colt, who will need plenty of racing experience before the Derby. Though bred for distance, he has never been around two turns and he will need to get that experience before the Run for the Roses. In addition, the Kentucky Derby has proven to be very taxing on a horse and will take an extremely tough horse to win. An injury – even one as minor as a popped splint – is not a good sign.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha: He has been visually impressive at Aqueduct this year, but his times have not been spectacular and neither have most of the horses he has defeated. He has certainly improved since being medicated with Lasix and his pedigree definitely suggests that he can get the Derby distance. He will need to train very well and run a great race in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) on April 7.

Castaway: He has great bloodlines for the Derby and is coming off an excellent win in the first division of the Southwest Stakes (GIII). He did break his maiden until his sixth start, but since then has been on a roll. He is yet another horse out of the en fuego Bob Baffert barn.

Gemologist: He is by all means full of talent, but he will need to improve his times. He is also a bit behind the others, having only worked four times this year. He could be seen next in the Rebel Stakes (GII) or Tampa Bay Derby (GII).

Hansen: We all know he is talented and has heart, but he will have to prove that he can be just as brilliant as a three-year-old as he was as a two-year-old. He will also need to show that he can stretch out in distance. He is expected to race next in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct on March 3.

Paynter: Though other Bob Baffert trainees are ranked more highly than him, I am more impressed by him than any of the others. The only thing that keeps him from being in the top ten is the fact that he did not debut until February 18. Though he may have discouraged some or thrown people off by shaking his head in the stretch, he only did so as a result of his forelock becoming unbraided and flying into his ear. Actually, Paynter performed extremely professionally and despite being indisputably bred for distance, he dominantly won a five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight. Hopefully, he will obtain enough graded earnings to be able to enter the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Whether he makes it to the Derby or not, I believe he is a future star.

Secret Circle: Though he is bred for distance, he has not shown much liking for stretching out. His win in the second division of the one-mile Southwest Stakes (GIII) was a step in the right direction, though he was drifting out in late stretch like he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, in which Secret Circle helped set blazing fractions over a tiring track. He may not get the Derby distance, but he is certainly a brilliant colt with a bright future ahead of him.

Street Life: His maiden win was impressive, but he has not worked since. In order to make the Derby, he will need to rapidly garner graded stakes earnings. His pedigree suggests that distance and class will not be an issue.

*Discreet Dancer, who was ranked second, will likely no longer appear on this list. I am still very high on him and believe he is an extremely talented colt, but I believe his biggest success will come in one-turn races or two-turn miles. In my opinion, his connections should not point him toward the Triple Crown, but rather set their sights on one-turn races.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Diary of Dexter: One Year Together

For years, I have wanted a Thoroughbred – an ex-racehorse. As a result of my fascination with the sport of horse racing, I wanted to have my own Thoroughbred that had graced the historical, enchanting place we call the racetrack. It didn’t have to be a horse that had been exceptionally prosperous at the races, or even a horse that had superb bloodlines. I just wanted a retired racehorse to call my own.

My involvement with Remember Me Rescue had brought me very close to that dream. Several horses had passed through the rescue that I wanted to adopt, but they’d slipped out of my reach. My family already owned several horses – active or retired 4-H show horses, none of which were Thoroughbreds – and it didn’t seem as if we had the room for another horse.

It was that way for a while. Then, in February of 2011, my mother and I made yet another trip to Remember Me. Two new horses had just arrived and I was eager to see them, as well as a few of the other horses currently at the farm. In fact, I had my mind set on a certain horse available for adoption. Little did I know, I’d leave the farm with my heart set on another.

Fate stepped in when I reached the farm. Something did not click with the filly I’d come there with my mind set on and though I fell in love with a gelding on the farm, he was unsound and would not be a suitable riding horse for quite some time. Destiny was nudging me in a different direction.

Wet Paint being ridden at Remember Me Rescue in February of 2011
Photo: Terri Cage
I found out what direction that was as I watched one of the new arrivals, Wet Paint, being ridden in one of the pastures. My eyes were riveted by the chestnut Thoroughbred as he glided over the dull-colored grass. His stride was long and fluid and his eager expression was drawing me in. I’d fallen in love with a Thoroughbred.

Not only was he impressive under saddle, but even while many activities were going on on the farm, Wet Paint stood serenely. As I listened to his story from Dallas and Donna Keen, the tall chestnut gelding remained motionless, his handsome face fixed on us.

After Paint’s racing career had ended, he had found a home with an outrider at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. That outrider claimed the grandson of Storm Cat to be uncontrollable and headed to Florida without Paint, who the Keens then acquired. Once the chestnut’s teeth had been floated, the Keens realized the retired racehorse was not irrepressible in the least. He caught onto lessons very quickly and was soon up for adoption.

Upon returning home from my visit to Remember Me that February day, I told my father about the gelding I had met. Unexpectedly, my dad agreed to adopting Wet Paint. I was beyond thrilled. I would soon own my very own Thoroughbred!

We began preparing for his arrival, purchasing many supplies, including a new halter. In addition, though I loved his name, I didn’t want to simply call him “Paint.” After all, we own three Paint Horses. It just didn’t seem quite right if I called him Paint, despite his unique white markings.

I knew exactly where to find a name for him. My family has a tradition of naming our Dachshunds after towns in Wyoming and so I decided to name my new Thoroughbred after a town in a state I dearly love, Kentucky. I didn’t choose a name of a town I’d been to, let alone a town I’d heard of, but rather a town with a name that I liked. And so the name Dexter was chosen.

Just days later, on February 23, 2011, there was an ex-racehorse on my property – my ex-racehorse. I finally owned my own Thoroughbred that had galloped before the grandstand en route to victory.

Dexter, though a different breed than any horse I owned, adapted quickly. My beloved Quarter Horse mare, Pebbles, who normally does not get along very well with other horses, formed a friendship with Dexter that still continues on to this day. In fact, every horse I own has become friends with Dexter.
Dexter galloping in the back pasture
Photo by Mary Cage

Over the past year, I have ridden my grandson of Storm Cat Western, English, and even bareback. Each time we reach a new goal, I can’t help but be filled with bliss. From the first time I loped him to the first time we had a flawless ride, Dexter has given me an unbelievable amount of delight.

Not only has Dexter given me some very euphoric moments, but he has showed me just how intelligent Thoroughbreds are. He has caught on to every lesson very quickly and even when he has not been ridden in quite some time, he still responds to cues he has not been asked in a while. Honestly, I believe he is the smartest horse I’ve ever owned.

I know Dexter and I have many more adventures ahead of us and I cannot wait to experience them. Owning him has not just been owning my first Thoroughbred. It hasn’t even been owning a horse that descends from some of the greatest racehorses of all-time, such as Affirmed and Secretariat. Yes, it’s been those amazing things, but most of all, it’s been owning a horse that captures my breath every time I see him. Owning Dexter has been having a horse in my backyard that brings I smile to my face each time I’m around him because he loves me just as much as I love him.

"How can a horse take your breath, steal your heart, and make you weak
at the knees in a simple glance? If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand."
Photo, design, and words by Terri Cage

More on Dexter:

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Derby Top Ten #4

The most anticipated race of the year is the Kentucky Derby (GI). As soon as the race is over, many already begin thinking about the next year’s running. There is no doubt about it; the Kentucky Derby is the greatest two minutes in sports.

There are several horses on the honorable mentions list (more than I would like to have), but that only shows that this crop has depth. Several horses labeled as an honorable mention could very well be on the top ten, but I had to make the tough decision to leave them in just the top seventeen. Besides, this is the Derby trail; a horse on the honorable mentions list may be number one someday.

This is the list of my top ten 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of February 20.

1. Union Rags: The Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) in a week will tell us a lot more about him and several others on this list. Depending on how the race turns out, it could greatly alter this list. Union Rags has proved very classy and talented and is, as of now, considered by many to be the most talented colt in the crop. As aforementioned, we will find out much more about Union Rags and many other Kentucky Derby contenders on February 26. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

2. Discreet Dancer: Perhaps he has distance limitations, or perhaps not. The way he has pulled away effortlessly in his last two races before galloping out impressively suggests that he will be able to plus out. Plus, it is very encouraging that his fourth dam is the dam of Weekend Surprise, who produced the Preakness Stakes (GI, 9.5F)-winning Summer Squall and the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning A.P. Indy. After missing a work due to a spiked temperature, Discreet Dancer returned to the work tab beautifully and is on track for the Fountain of Youth. That race is extremely significant for him: if he does well, he will only reinforce the fact that he is a top Derby contender; if he does not do well, his shot at Derby glory will dwindle. Nonetheless, he is incredibly talented. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

3. Algorithms: He is definitely talented and though he has not yet been around two turns, his pedigree suggests that that will be no problem at all. In fact, he just might have the best distance pedigree of the top three colts. His performance in the Fountain of Youth should give us a better idea of how much talent and capability he truly has. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

4. Creative Cause: His race in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) was not spectacular, but he did not run a terrible race. He switched leads a few times throughout the stretch, but it seemed to be as a result of being struck by the whip. He did close well in the final yards and it was only a seven-furlong race. Creative Cause is bred for more ground than that and galloped out far in front of the others. He will likely regain his top form and is certainly one of the top colts of this crop. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

5. El Padrino: He has shown much aptitude on the track and he is certainly bred for the Derby. Many doubt his ability to win on a fast track, but he has performed well on a track labeled as such, as shown in his debut and third-place finish in the Remsen Stakes (GII). He, unlike his two stablemates above (Discreet Dancer and Algorithms), will run in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at the Fair Grounds on February 25. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

6. I’ll Have Another: Though he was a good two-year-old, it seems as if he will be much better as a three-year-old. His victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) on February 4 was nothing short of dazzling, but the Santa Anita Park dirt surface can be quite deceiving. Nonetheless, this colt has talent. He will have a chance to solidify his position on this list on April 7 in the Santa Anita Derby (GI).

7. Fed Biz: He is by all means talented and has one of the most impressive pedigrees of all Derby contenders. He will need to quickly garner graded stakes earnings, but as talented as he has appeared in his first two races, that should not be much of a problem. He will have his first chance to obtain graded stakes earnings on March 10 in the San Felipe Stakes (GII).

8. Out of Bounds: He is very green, but he is surely becoming increasingly mature. By Discreet Cat and out of a Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) winner, Out of Bounds is certainly royally bred. However, like Discreet Dancer, the fact that he is by Discreet Cat gives room for doubt on whether or not he can get the Derby distance. Yet he is still very talented and it is quite encouraging that the horse he defeated in the Sham Stakes (GIII), Secret Circle, came back to win the second division of the Southwest Stakes (GIII). Out of Bounds will get another prep in the San Felipe Stakes (GII) on March 10.

9. American Act: Though he defeated Bodemeister when he broke his maiden, he took a much longer time than Bodemeister to do so. However, his race in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) on Saturday was extremely impressive and presented him with some graded stakes earnings. It appeared as if Drill would fly right past him, but American Act dug back in and galloped out ahead of Drill. He certainly has heart, which is a necessity in a successful racehorse. Awesome Act is very similarly bred by to the near-Triple Crown-winning Real Quiet, as he is by Quiet American out of female family four mare like the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. This female family has produced the most Kentucky Derby winners.

10. Bodemeister: Bob Baffert is very high on this colt, who is named after his son, Bode. He was extremely impressive in his maiden breaker and the fact that the colt who beat him in his debut, American Act, came back to run a huge race in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) is extremely encouraging. Though his connections will likely strive to garner enough graded stakes earnings for the Kentucky Derby, if the colt is unable to acquire a sufficient amount of graded earnings in time, his pedigree suggests that he would be a contender for the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (GI). Yet, as brilliant as he was in his first start, I would love to see him in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha: He has not beaten much in his two starts this year and though he ran well without Lasix against Union Rags in the Champagne Stakes (GI) last year, he ran very poorly after acting up in the gate in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). He was given Lasix for the first time in the Count Fleet Stakes, which he won by two and one-half lengths, and also ran on the drug in the Withers Stakes (GIII). His times have been slow, but that is to be expected on Aqueduct’s inner oval. He will need to be extremely impressive in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) on April 7.

Castaway: He could rightfully find a position on the top ten list, as could any horse named on this list of honorable mentions. His win today in Division One of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) was very impressive, as was his maiden victory in January. However, he did not break his maiden until his sixth try. He is certainly getting better and his pedigree undeniably suggests that the Derby distance will not be a problem (he is by the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense, and out of a female family one mare).

Gemologist: With three wins from three starts to his credit, Gemologist has clearly already proven his talent. However, his times have not been incredibly impressive. He has a beautiful pedigree, though, and is taking a similar path as Super Saver to the Derby. He could be seen next in the Rebel Stakes (GII) or the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in March.

Hansen: It cannot be denied that Hansen is gifted, but he will need to prove that he can get the distance and be as impressive of a sophomore as he was a juvenile. He won’t be sporting the colors of his silks in his mane and tail in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) on March 3, but he will need to attest that he can continue his brilliance.

Paynter: If he had not made his debut so late, there is a very good chance that he would be ranked on my top ten list and quite highly. He debuted on Saturday at Santa Anita, closing from the back of the pack to sweep by the leaders. As he drew away to win by 4 ¼ lengths, he shook his head as if something was bothering his ear, but continued to professionally gallop away to an easy victory. Bob Baffert told HRTV that his foretop came unbraided and flew into his ear, which bothered the colt. By the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)-winning Awesome Again and out of a full sister to the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning Tiznow, Paytner should have no problem with a stretch out in distance. However, he will have to quickly earn a plentiful amount of graded stakes earnings to make it to the Kentucky Derby. I really hope he does, as this colt has definitely impressed me.

Secret Circle: When he broke his maiden as a two-year-old, I declared him my Derby horse. He proved extremely speedy and even went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. It was disappointing to see him finish second in the one-mile Sham Stakes (GIII) in January and I knew that the colt needed to prove that he could settle and stretch out. In Division Two of the Southwest Stakes (GIII) today, he settled beautifully before proving tough in the stretch to draw away to a victory. He still has an issue with drifting out in the stretch, which may hint that he is getting tired down the straightaway. Still, he proved that he is improving today as far as settling and routing goes. It also must be noted that Secret Circle ran the second division of the Southwest a full second faster than his stablemate, Castaway.

Street Life: With a pedigree that screams Kentucky Derby and an impressive maiden victory, Street Life has unquestionably earned a label as a Kentucky Derby contender. Like several other talented horses, he will need to rush to acquire graded stakes earnings. 

Louisville, the city of the Kentucky Derby.
Photo: Terri Cage
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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Animal Kingdom Returns

On May 7, 2011, Animal Kingdom galloped his way into the history books as he captured the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby (GI). Following a game second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (GI), the son of Leroidesanimaux looked poised to run huge in the final leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (GI).

However, the Derby winner was hindered following the break from the gate, causing jockey John Velazquez to nearly lose his seat. Despite making a courageous rally, Animal Kingdom finished sixth. He emerged from the race with a slab fracture in his left hind leg and after surgery, the colt missed the rest of the year. Yet he was still voted 2011 Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

Though Animal Kingdom was slated to run in the Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII) on the turf on February 25, he was entered in a mile and one-sixteenth turf allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park on February 18. He went to post looking fit, collected, and ready to run.

Breaking from the outside post in a six-horse field, Animal Kingdom came out of the starting gate a bit slow and looked very eager as the horses galloped past the stands for the first time. Under Johnny Velazquez, the keen chestnut trailed the field on the outside as the horses swung into the clubhouse turn.

Near the end of the backstretch, the Team Valor-owned Derby winner suddenly strode past three horses, finding his position in third before the field entered the far turn. Around the final curve, Animal Kingdom effortlessly struck to the lead, striding to the front. Despite a rally from Monument Hill, Animal Kingdom’s long, beautiful stride allowed him to draw away to a two-length victory. The final time was 1:41.72 for a mile and one-sixteenth. The Derby victor completed the final sixteenth of a mile in a breathtaking 5.65 seconds.

In a Tweet by Graham Motion, the trainer of the Derby winner said, “Thanks everyone, humbled by an awesome animal. Exhale….. #AK.”

Animal Kingdom is truly an awesome animal, which is why his connections have set illustrious goals for him. He is expected to run next in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) on March 31, 2012 at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, in which he could face the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner Royal Delta, the two-time grade one-winning Game On Dude, and the multiple group one-winning So You Think.

At Gulfstream Park two races after Animal Kingdom’s return, the horse that defeated Animal Kingdom at Gulfstream last year, Powhatan County, also won. It was as if February 18, 2012 was meant to be Animal Kingdom Day. Perhaps 2012 is meant to be the year of Animal Kingdom.

For more on Animal Kingdom, please read my article from November 16, 2011, The Return of the Kingdom.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Derby Hopeful: El Padrino

Several “wise guy” horses emerge along the Kentucky Derby trail each year. One of the first ones to arise on the 2012 trail to the Run for the Roses is El Padrino. He has certainly appeared to be a top Derby contender and currently ranks sixth on my top ten list.

El Padrino debuted on August 20, 2011 at Saratoga over a fast track in a seven-furlong maiden special weight, in which the chestnut colt closed gamely to finish second by three-quarters of a length. He found the winner’s circle about two months later at Belmont Park after remarkably winning a one-mile maiden special weight over a sloppy track. In that race, he settled off the pace before striking to the lead and galloping to a 12 ¾-length victory.

Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Let’s Go Stable then ran the colt in the Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct, in which the colt found a position off the frontrunners before being asked for run by John Velazquez around the far turn. Down the stretch, it didn’t appear as if El Padrino would gain any ground on the leaders, but once he was angled out in deep stretch, he seemed to find a gear and rallied to finish third before galloping out ahead of the others.

He made his sophomore debut on January 29, 2012, coming from off the pace to score by 2 lengths over a sealed track labeled ‘good.’ Impressively, he strode past the talented, graded stakes-placed Take Charge Indy to finish the mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming in a final time of 1:42.68. The mile split (1:36.28) was just .11 seconds slower than stablemate Algorithms’ final time in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes (GIII).

El Padrino is expected to make his next start in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds Race Course on February 25, in which he could face Mr. Bowling, winner of the Lecomte Stakes (GIII).

El Padrino’s pedigree hints that he will certainly be able to handle the ten-furlong Derby distance, as he is by A.P. Indy’s outstanding son, Pulpit, and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. Both his sire and dam side should allow El Padrino to attain the distances of the Triple Crown races.

A.P. Indy, of course, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F) and was by the Triple Crown-winning Seattle Slew. Pulpit, El Padrino’s sire, produced Essence of Dubai, who won the U.A.E Derby (GII) when it was competed at the distance of 2,000 meters (about ten furlongs) and the Super Derby (GII, 9F). Pulpit is also the sire of Rutherienne, winner of the Del Mar Oaks (GI, 9F), and Ice Box, winner of the Florida Derby (GI, 9F) and runner-up in the Kentucky Derby.

The dam of El Padrino, Enchanted Rock, is by the 2000 European Horse of the Year in Giant’s Causeway, who won at the distance of ten furlongs several times and has produced horses capable of winning distance races. For example, he has produced Giant Oak: winner of the Clark Handicap (GI, 9F) and Donn Handicap (GI, 9F), runner-up in the Washington Park Handicap (GIII, 9.5F) and Hawthorne Gold Cup (GII, 10F), and third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Marathon (GII, 14F). Other horses Giant’s Causeway has sired include Delaware Handicap (GII, 10F) winner, Swift Temper, and winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 10F), Heatseeker.

El Padrino’s fourth dam, Remedia, is a Reine De Course mare who produced the grade one-winning dam of Chic Shirine – winner of the Ashland Stakes (GI, 8.5F) – and the three-time grade one-winning 1991 Champion Older Female, Queena. Queena in turn produced Brahms – victor of the River City Handicap (GIII, 9F) and the Early Times Hollywood Derby (GI, 9F), La Reina – winner of the Tempted Stakes (GIII, 8F), and Olympic, winner of the ten-furlong Mataji Stakes. Chic Shirine was the dam of Tara Roma, winner of the Ladies Handicap (GII, 10F).

El Padrino hails from female family thirteen, the same family from which Sinndar – winner of the Epsom Derby (GI, 2423 meters), the Irish Derby Stakes (GI, 2414 meters), and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI, 2400 meters) – descends from. Another remarkable descendant of this family is the 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew.

El Padrino also possesses the conformation of a top racehorse, having a long and slender neck that ties in extremely well to his shoulder, which is quite powerful. Though his shoulder could have a more sloping angle to it, it is still angled well enough to allow him to be very evenly balanced. He is very strong through the loin, having a short, sturdy topline. His croup is rounded and long, tying smoothly into his defined gaskins. This allows him to move with drive and impulsion, therefore having a long stride. He is also quite structurally correct, possessing short, strong cannon bones and angular pasterns.

This colt has every aspect of a top Derby contender with his impressive conformation and pedigree, and his performances on the track enforce this. Should he continue his classy performances, El Padrino could very well be on the way to stardom.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Stallion Feature: Unbridled's Heart

Unbridled’s Heart: New for 2012 at Keen Farms in Texas

John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum’s bloodstock manager, is possibly the most famous bloodstock agent in the industry. You can find his name next to many of the highest-priced racing prospects sold at the most prestigious sales in the world, such as the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. After all, he is employed by one of the most well-known owners in all of horse racing.

At the 2006 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, you could find Ferguson’s name next to ten of the twenty-three highest-priced colts in the sale. Six colts sold for exactly one million dollars and of those colts, Ferguson was listed as the buyer for four of them. Among those colts was a son of Unbridled’s Song consigned by Taylor Made.

It was obvious why the colt had sold for seven figures. His sire had landed sixteenth on the leading sires list in 2005, which had been his fifth appearance in the top one hundred sires since 2001. The winner of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and the 1996 Florida Derby (GI) had sired the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) winner in Unbridled Elaine, the 2001 Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) victor in Buddha, and the 2001 Fountain of Youth Stakes (GI) champion in Songandaprayer. Furthermore, the gray colt’s dam, Wild Heart Dancing, was a four-time graded stakes winner who was a half-sister to the grade one-winning Man from Wicklow.

Unbridled's Heart
Photo: Terri Cage
The colt, who was eventually named Unbridled’s Heart, made his debut on May 10, 2008 at Belmont Park. Sent off at odds of nearly 14-1, the colt led from start to finish under Darley’s silks to take the mile and one-sixteenth maiden special weight by ten lengths in a final time of 1:42.12 over a track labeled ‘good.’ With that victory, the gray colt earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

Next out, he finished third after an awkward start in the Postponed Stakes at Belmont. Crossing the wire ahead of him was Mint Lane, eventual winner of the Dwyer Stakes (GII), and finishing behind him was the graded stakes-placed Trust N Dustan and the future multiple graded stakes-placed Spurrier.

Unbridled’s Heart made six more starts at four of the nation’s most prestigious tracks on the east coast – Belmont, Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Aqueduct – before making his first start for trainer Dallas Keen and owners Brent Gasaway and Ian Yarnot at the premier racing venue in the south, Fair Grounds Race Course.

He raced at the New Orleans track four times and at Keeneland once before running in the Dallas Turf Cup Stakes at Lone Star Park, in which he ran third behind the graded stakes-winning and multiple grade one-placed horses Dean’s Kitten and Expansion. Finding the finish line after Unbridled’s Heart was the stakes-placed Alwayswithapproval, the graded stakes-winning Schramsberg, the eventual stakes-winning McKenna’s Justice, and the stakes-winning J J’s Indy.

Unbridled’s Heart’s final career victory came in a mile and one-sixteenth turf allowance optional claiming at Lone Star Park, in which he finished ahead of six others in 1:40.98 – just . 93 seconds off the course record. Together, the six horses that finished behind him earned $628,000. One of the horses that Unbridled’s Heart defeated in that race was Backstabber, a half-brother to the 2011 Florida Derby (GI) winner Dialed In.

Unbridled’s Heart was a very versatile racehorse, winning on a good dirt track at Belmont and a firm turf course at Lone Star Park. He won at a range from seven and one-half furlongs to a mile and one-sixteenth and was stakes-placed on both dirt and turf. He exited his racing career with $151,893 in earnings from three wins, five seconds, and four thirds in twenty starts.

In just his first six generations, Unbridled’s Heart traces back to five Kentucky Derby (GI) winners: Unbridled, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Swaps, and Native Dancer. He hails from female family number five, the same family from which some of the greatest sires to ever live descended from: Hoist the Flag, Native Dancer, Nureyev, Pleasant Colony (who also won the Kentucky Derby), and Sadler’s Wells. Other descendants from female family five include the 1938 Horse of the Year Seabiscuit, the 2004 Epsom Derby (GI) victor North Light, and the 2008 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Big Brown.

Not only does Unbridled’s Heart possess a magnificent pedigree and a racing career marked by versatility, but he also has very correct conformation. It is difficult to take your eyes off his handsome face and dark, thick forelock, but once you do, you will see that he has a beautifully built seventeen-hand frame. He has a slender neck that ties in well to his sloping shoulder. The angle of his shoulder allows him to be very evenly balanced, having a short topline in comparison to a long underline. As a result of this proportionality, the gray stallion can easily be divided into thirds. He is also very structurally correct, possessing short, sturdy cannon bones and angular pasterns. His hip is long and rounded, allowing him to drive more from the hindquarters and propel himself forward. Unbridled’s Heart is also very adequately muscled, displaying delineation in his forearms and gaskins. His conformation only adds to his validity.

Unbridled’s Heart has all the makings of a sire: value, pedigree, racing talent, and correct conformation. He will stand at Keen Farms in Burleson, Texas for an introductory stud fee of $1,500. The Keens are offering an incentive of a $10,000 bonus to the breeder of the first foal to win an allowance race. With all the qualities that Unbridled’s Heart brings to the table, I would not be astounded in the least if he became one of the leading sires in Texas.

Unbridled's Heart
Photo: Donna Keen
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Derby Top Ten #3

The most anticipated race of the year is the Kentucky Derby (GI). As soon as the race is over, many already begin thinking about the next year’s running. There is no doubt about it; the Kentucky Derby is the greatest two minutes in sports.

This is the list of my top ten 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of February 12.

1. Union Rags: He has without a doubt earned his position as the top horse on this list. He is extremely talented and classy, but just needs to mature a little. I believe he has done so over the winter and will come back strong in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) on February 26. By Dixie Union and out of a Gone West mare, he is bred for distance and has already shown in his races that he seems to be capable of stretching out. We will know more after the Fountain of Youth. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

2. Discreet Dancer: I will not knock him greatly for a fever, though he must maintain good health from now on in order to be ranked so highly. In addition, he needs to show that he can stretch out and compete against graded stakes company. However, the fact that his fourth dam, Lassie Dear, is the dam of Weekend Surprise and that his grandsire is Gone West is encouraging. This colt is absolutely brilliant and is still on track for the Fountain of Youth. I am very excited about him. For more on why Discreet Dancer is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

3. Algorithms: He could very well be ranked first or second, but I will keep him in third for now. The top four horses on this list are very closely ranked and each could rightfully take their position at the pinnacle, but I am eagerly waiting to see more from them. Algorithms is an incredibly talented colt with a brilliant pedigree and remarkable conformation to go along with his racing aptitude. He will also likely make his next start in the Fountain of Youth. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

4. Creative Cause: He has already proven himself on the track and his pedigree suggests that distance will not be an issue. He could not quite keep up with Hansen and Union Rags at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), but he still ran tenaciously and his maturity level has likely risen since then. All we can do now is await his sophomore debut in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on February 19. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him here.

5. I’ll Have Another: His race in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga last year can be thrown out, as it was over a sloppy track and he came out of it with an injury that kept him sidelined for five months. Other than the Hopeful, I’ll Have Another has great form. His race in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII), in which he crossed the wire victoriously by nearly three lengths, was very impressive. Furthermore, his pedigree is quite promising as far as distance is concerned. He has doubters to prove wrong, but he has a chance to do so in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 7.

6. El Padrino: He is capable of sitting off the pace and has a beautiful pedigree, both of which are important advantages. However, he has only won in the mud and both of those races were very impressive. Yet, he has had good showings on a fast track: a game second-place finish in his debut at Saratoga and a good third-place effort in the Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct. He’ll need to prove that he can win on a fast track against graded stakes company, but he has impressed me greatly and I am eager to see how he will do. He could make his next start in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at the Fair Grounds on February 25.

7. Fed Biz: After a fourth-place finish in his debut at Hollywood Park, Fed Biz remarkably broke his maiden at Santa Anita Park at the end of December. I kept him in consideration for this list, but I wanted to see more from him. After his impressive allowance victory on February 9, I couldn’t help myself and allowed him to not only jump onto the list, but to land in seventh. In that allowance optional claiming triumph, he broke from the outside and found his position off the frontrunner, rating beautifully under Rafael Bejarano. He made a notable move around the far turn, galloping down the stretch on the wrong lead before finally changing leads and crossing the wire 5 ¾ lengths in front. A $950,000 yearling, Fed Biz is by the 2000 Horse of the Year and two-time leading sire, Giant’s Causeway, and out of the stakes-winning mare Spunoutacontrol, who is a half-sister to the graded stakes-winning and successful sire, Tale of the Cat. Fed Biz’s third dam, Narrate, is a Reine De Course mare who produced the grade one-winning dam of Pulpit. He is definitely a legitimate Derby contender.

8. Alpha: Trainer Kieran McLaughlin has opted to skip the Gotham Stakes (GIII) on March 3 and instead point to the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) on April 7. He has been quite impressive in his two most recent starts and many have decided to throw out his dull effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), in which it has been said that he bled. He’ll have to run extremely well in the Wood, which will likely attract other classy horses, as he has not beaten much in his Aqueduct victories and has been finishing in unpretentious times.

9. Out of Bounds: As a very tall, long-legged colt, Out of Bounds is still growing into himself. He was a bit green while winning the Sham Stakes (GIII) and will need to learn to commit to passing other horses in the stretch, but he is by all means talented and has a royal pedigree. He will likely race next in San Felipe Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita.

10. Bodemeister: He’s bred to run all day with the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Empire Maker as his sire and the graded stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent as his dam. After his impressive 9 ¼-length victory on Saturday, Bodemeister burst onto the Derby scene. Named after Bob Baffert’s son, Bode, Bodemeister was absolutely brilliant in his maiden win, leading from start to finish in an outstanding final time of 1:34.45 for a mile. He finished the final sixteenth of a mile in a very impressive 11.35 seconds despite being held in hand by Rafael Bejarano late. He’ll need to hurry to obtain graded stakes earnings, but he is nothing short of brilliant.

Honorable Mentions:

Gemologist: Undefeated in three career starts, this colt clearly has racing aptitude. His times are not spectacular, but his pedigree suggests that he will run all day. He is taking a Super Saver-esque path to the Derby, as his final start as a juvenile was the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) and he is pointing towards either the Rebel Stakes (GII) or the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) in March.

Hansen: He has undeniable talent and heart. Though his race in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) was disappointing, we cannot forget his incredible juvenile career. Nonetheless, his sire, Tapit, is mostly successful with two-year-olds and though he has produced talented two-turn horses, he is not labeled a classic distance sire. Therefore, he will need to prove himself in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) on March 3 in order to stay in contention for the Kentucky Derby.

Secret Circle: Plain and simple, this horse loves to run. Despite his pedigree, he may have distance limitations, but I think that’s a result of some growing up he needs to do. He is definitely talented, but he needs to show that he can handle two turns. Secret Circle could be seen next in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on February 19.

Street Life: By the Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense and out of a mare that is by the Kentucky Derby-winning Grindstone, this colt is without a doubt bred for the Kentucky Derby. He dropped many jaws on Saturday when he broke his maiden at Aqueduct, making a breathtaking move from the back of the pack to take the race by 2 ½ lengths. He showed much agility in the stretch, dodging horses before drawing off without urging from Junior Alvarado.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Be Bop Baby: A Gentle Soul

When Be Bop Baby flashed across the finish line at Philadelphia Park a neck in front on July 3, 2000, no one could have predicted her future. No one would have wished that future upon her, either. It was a future no horse deserves, but unfortunately for Be Bop Baby, she faced that future anyway.

The aforementioned victory was the only time Be Bop Baby ever won in nineteen starts. She ran at six different tracks, all in the northeastern region of the United States. Yet somehow, she found herself in Louisiana over ten years later on a farm owned by Charles Ford.

Among her were over sixty other Thoroughbreds, most of them broodmares. By early January of 2012, over twenty-five horses had died on the farm as a result of neglect. Of the surviving mares, Be Bop was in the worst shape.

While waiting for the results of a horse judging contest with my mother and teammates on January 7, I saw the pictures Remember Me Rescue had posted on Facebook from the Many, Louisiana horse seizure. My friend, Donna Keen, was at the farm in Many, serving as part of the massive rescue effort. The pictures were heartbreaking, but the picture that threatened tears the most for my teammates and me was the picture of Be Bop Baby.

Be Bop Baby
Photo: Donna Keen
She was incredibly thin and I immediately thought that she would not survive. She was one of the most terribly malnourished horses I’d ever seen before. In simple terms, she was skin and bones. Yet the trainer at the farm - Bill Young - had labeled her condition as "not that bad." In reality, she was emaciated and had patches of rain rot on her body. She was the opposite of "not that bad."

Miraculously, Be Bop survived. Although Donna Keen wanted to bring her to Remember Me along with the first set of horses that would arrive at the Burleson, Texas rescue, the fifteen-year-old mare was in too bad of shape to travel five hours. Reluctantly, Donna left her behind with hopes of soon retrieving her.

Be Bop Baby was able to arrive at Remember Me Rescue on January 23. She was still in terrible shape, but Remember Me was determined to bring her back to health as soon as possible. After getting her teeth floated and obtaining good food in her system, Be Bop continued her journey to better health.

I had the opportunity to meet Be Bop on February 5. Even beneath the blanket she was wearing, tears filled my eyes at the sight of her. She was like a walking skeleton.

When farm manager Lilly Armstrong pulled the blanket off of Be Bop, I could feel my jaw begin to drop. It dropped even more when my mom commented to Lilly that the mare looked better than she had about a week earlier. I could tell that Be Bop had improved since the first picture I had seen of her about a month prior, but the condition she was in was still heartbreaking.

Other than noticing her terrible condition, my first impression of Be Bop was that she was an incredibly sweet mare. She seems to know what she has gone through and also appears to be grateful to all who have helped her. Upon meeting her, I stroked her nearly-white face, overwhelmed with sympathy for her. She just gazed back at me with kind eyes, standing serenely as she allowed me to stroke her.

She is without a doubt a fighter and I know that those at Remember Me will strive to make her healthy. She is already improving drastically and is clearly much happier.

Be Bop Baby was not a superstar on the racetrack, but she is as much of a superstar as any horse I’ve ever met. I greatly admire this mare for her will to survive and the fact that she still trusts people despite what she has gone through. It is a miracle that Be Bop survived and I am so very glad that she did. There would truly be a void on this earth if she had not.

Be Bop Baby at Remember Me Rescue
Photo: Terri Cage

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