Monday, April 30, 2012

Final 2012 Derby Top Ten (#14)

Countdown to Derby Day: Days 

The Kentucky Derby. It’s the most anticipated race of the year, the one that immortalizes whatever horse wins the race more than any other race is capable of. Thousands of fans flock to Louisville, Kentucky each year to watch twenty exclusive Thoroughbreds contest in the greatest race in the world while millions tune in on their televisions across the world to watch the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby is the race that defines the sport of horse racing, and it is less than a week away.

In the past few weeks, my Derby Top Ten has been very tightly packed as far as ranking the horses goes. The top eight – yes, eight – are all horses I believe have a very good chance to win the Derby. The final works, as expected, played a major role in the final rankings of these horses. Though this is the final Derby Top Ten of 2012, a final field analysis of the Derby will be posted later this week.

Here is my final top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders (as of April 30):

1. Union Rags:
He was impressive as soon as he arrived at Churchill Downs, displaying his beautiful bay frame that has clearly filled out and matured. In his first gallop over the track since arriving on Thursday, the son of Dixie Union effortlessly skipped over the track. While training amongst other Derby hopefuls at Churchill Downs, I saw him as a man among boys. His final work was considered by many, including me, to be the most impressive of Saturday’s works. He posted a remarkable final time of 59.80 for five furlongs and galloped out in an notable 1:13 4/5 . According to rider Julien Leparoux in his blog post on ESPN, the colt finished very strongly and could’ve galloped out in 1:12, but plans were for the bay three-year-old to take it easy. By Dixie Union and out of a Gone West mare, Union Rags does not possess bloodlines that scream stamina and distance, but they do appear as if they will allow him to go the Derby distance when combined with his obvious talent and heart. For more on why Union Rags is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

2. Bodemeister:
A colt I have followed since he broke his maiden, Bodemeister may very well be the most brilliant – or at least among the most brilliant – of this group. However, he just may be hindered by the quick pace that is sure to form, especially because of Trinniberg’s participation in the race. Yet, his connections believe that this colt is capable of rating off the pace. And he certainly has connections that can be respected and trusted, as both his trainer, Bob Baffert, and jockey, Mike Smith, are members of the Hall of Fame. Should he settle off the lead in the Derby, we could be in for a treat. A son of Empire Maker and the graded stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent, Bodemeister also has the pedigree to aid him in his Kentucky Derby expedition. He was among those that had very remarkable final works for the Kentucky Derby, galloping effortlessly over a muddy track en route to a final time of 59.60 for five furlongs. For more on why Bodemeister is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

3. Creative Cause:
He has been moved above I’ll Have Another, simply because he has already performed well over Churchill Downs' dirt surface and got a work in over the Downs’ dirt, whereas I’ll Have Another made his final work at Hollywood Park. By Giant’s Causeway and out of a grade one-winning mare whose dam is a daughter of Skywalker, Creative Cause has a pedigree that implies that he will have no problem with the Derby distance. He also has the talent to run a spectacular race in the toughest race of his life, as he has never finished out of the money. Despite having a shoe issue when he arrived at Churchill Downs two days ago, he worked a tremendous half-mile in 47.80, appearing to handle the surface very well. Creative Cause poses a huge threat in the Kentucky Derby. For more on why Creative Cause is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

4. I’ll Have Another:
News that the colt had had extracorporeal shock wave therapy on his topline due to soreness in his back planted seeds of worry into the minds of many. However, trainer Doug O’Neill voiced that nothing is wrong with the colt and that he is doing just fine. I find this extremely easy to believe, as – though I have not used shock wave therapy – my own horses sometimes have soreness in their backs that must be treated and they often perform even better after treatment. Also, he breezed a nice six furlongs in 1:13 4/5 at Hollywood Park in his final work for the Derby following the shock wave therapy. I’ll Have Another, a result of the mating between Flower Alley and an Arch mare, has the bloodlines to back him up for ten furlongs. In addition, he is on a road of improvement and is certainly a gifted colt. For more on why I’ll Have Another is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

5. Went the Day Well:
Carrying the same connections as the 2011 Kentucky Derby victor, Animal Kingdom, back to Louisville, Went the Day Well is coming off an impressive victory in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) – just like Animal Kingdom did. Also like last year’s Derby winner, Went the Day Well made his final preparation the Saturday before the Derby and impressed many while doing so. The bay colt completed five furlongs in 1:01 seconds flat, moving over the dirt surface at Churchill Downs beautifully. As a son of Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and the Tiznow mare Tiz Maie’s Day, Went the Day Well will likely relish the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby. His magnificent final work, combined with his obvious racing talent and stamina-based pedigree, is what moved him up so high on this list. For more on why Went the Day Well is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

6. Gemologist:
Undefeated with two wins at Churchill Downs to his credit, Gemologist is clearly ahead of the others in several fields. However, most of the final times in his races have not been exactly spectacular, though he completed a brisk mile in his effortless open allowance victory at Gulfstream. Not only is he unbeaten and gifted, but he has a stamina-based pedigree with Tiznow as his sire and a Mr. Prospector mare that descends from female family ten as his dam. In his final preparation for the Kentucky Derby, Gemologist stayed at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida to post a half-mile work in 50.39. Though this final time may be a bit disappointing, it must be noted that it was performed over an off track. I would have preferred for him to have his final tune-up at Churchill Downs, but it is certainly to his advantage that he has already been victorious there twice. For more on why Gemologist is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

7. Dullahan: Though he has never won on dirt, he has turned in good performances over Churchill’s main track and has gotten more training over the Louisville track than most Derby contenders. Trainer Dale Romans expressed that Dullahan likes the Churchill surface, which is the same conventional dirt oval over which the colt ran a rallying fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). However, in his final work for the Run for the Roses, the chestnut colt didn’t appear to handle the dirt track as effortlessly as I wanted to see him handle it, carrying his head a bit higher than usual and moving a bit too roughly, as if he was working too hard to get a grip on the track. This reinforces the worry that he may be a solely a turf and grass horse, but it is an advantage that he has gotten more time to adapt to and work over the track than most others. As a half-brother to Mine That Bird, it is nearly completely certain that Dullahan will be competitive at ten furlongs. For more on why Dullahan is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

8. Alpha:
People seem to view him as an unlucky horse, between his gate troubles, bleeding in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, indecisive road to the Derby, and the laceration that became infected after his runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). However, he has only run one bad race in his life and that was his disappointing but understandably poor performance in the Juvenile. Since then, he has not finished out of the money. Though I would like to see him train more over the Churchill surface, it is encouraging that the colt has trained and raced on it before, even though it was with a unsatisfactory result. Alpha is bred for Triple Crown distances, being by A.P. Indy’s impressive son Bernardini and out of the stakes-winning mare at eleven furlongs, Nijinsky II’s daughter Munnaya. His final work was a brisk 59.54 seconds for five furlongs over Belmont Park’s training track on Saturday. For more on why Alpha is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

9. Daddy Nose Best: Though he has not fared extremely well against the best of competition, this Steve Asmussen trainee has been impressive this year, winning two graded stakes on two different surfaces. Since shipping from Santa Anita to Churchill approximately a month ago, Daddy Nose Best has had more recent works over the Churchill Downs dirt surface than any other Derby contender, and he has been covering the ground extremely well. In his final work, he looked exactly spectacular while traveling a half-mile in 49.40 for trainer Steve Asmussen, who does not work his horses very quickly. This impressive training over Churchill’s dirt could certainly give him a towering advantage.

10. Take Charge Indy:
Despite the fact that many seem to worry about his front-running style, the only start in which he actually set the pace was in the Florida Derby (GI). With horses like Hansen, Bodemeister, and Trinniberg in the mix, Take Charge Indy will need to resort to his previous style of settling off the pace. He seems to have matured with age, but, of course, will need to run the best race he’s ever run in order to capture the Kentucky Derby. One of the most beautifully bred horses in this year’s group of horses pointing towards the Derby, Take Charge Indy is sired by the great A.P. Indy and is out of the multiple grade one-winning Dehere mare Take Charge Lady. Like many other contenders, I would prefer that the colt made his final work at Churchill Downs, but rather it came at Palm Meadows when he turned in a five-furlong work in 1:00.47. He will only gallop at Churchill in preparation for the Derby. For more on why Take Charge Indy is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

Honorable Mentions:

El Padrino:
Practically forgotten about since his lackluster fourth-place performance in the Florida Derby (GI), it seems as if his impressive victories prior to that had been pushed aside. In winning the Risen Star Stakes (GII), El Padrino showed grit and determination as he defeated eventual Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up, Mark Valeski, by a nose. Prior to that, he’d easily defeated future Florida Derby (GI)-winning Take Charge Indy in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. I find it a bit discouraging that he will have little training time over Churchill, but it is, however, heartening that he should have plenty of incentive to handle the ten-furlong distance of the Derby, as his sire is A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit and his dam is by Giant’s Causeway. His final work came at Palm Meadows, in which he breezed a half-mile in 53.34 seconds. Though this time is very slow, it must be taken into consideration that he worked over a muddy track. Again, it is discouraging to me that he has not trained at Churchill Downs and will only get a small amount of galloping time over its dirt oval. For more on why El Padrino is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.

Last year’s two-year-old champion clearly has an affinity for the Churchill Downs dirt, having won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over that surface last fall. He has also been training over Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center, which he trained over last year prior to capturing the Juvenile. His final work, in which he posted a time of 1:01.20 for five furlongs, came over that surface. Though he displayed that he could settle when winning the Gotham Stakes (GIII), he showed in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) that he prefers to go to the lead and set quick fractions while being headstrong. This simply will not work for him in the Derby. You also have to do some digging to find major stamina influences in his pedigree, as he is by Tapit and out of the sprinting mare Stormy Sunday. He’s gifted, but the Kentucky Derby may not be the suitable race for him.

Mark Valeski:
A very robust horse, Mark Valeski is coming off two impressive, hard-trying runner-up finishes at the Fair Grounds. He certainly has an excuse for losing the Louisiana Derby (GII), having lost a shoe, but because of that loss and the brief soreness he had from losing the shoe, he has been fairly forgotten about. He has been lightly training over Churchill Downs, displaying his imposing build, and though he looked good in his final work of 1:00.20 for five furlongs this morning, he may not run.

Though he is unpredictable in how well he will run, his final work was relatively noteworthy. Breezing over an off track, the bay colt completed five furlongs in 1:00.40.

The Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner is entering the Derby off a disappointing finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI), but he has looked tremendous while training at Churchill Downs. He is a very muscular individual and though he may be outclassed in this field, he is still an magnificent specimen. Though a bit rank at the beginning of his 1:01.08 five-furlong work, he settled nicely and appeared very ready.

Though rather unimpressive in his 2012 starts, he did show some improvement when finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (GI). He has traveled well over the Churchill dirt and in his final work, he moved over the ground effortlessly en route to a 49.40-second half-mile breeze.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oaks Contender: Karlovy Vary

In mid-April, it was announced that the influential sire Dynaformer was pensioned after over twenty years of standing at stud, meaning only a few more crops sired by the great stallion will grace the track. Among those vanishing offspring is the flourishing three-year-old filly Karlovy Vary. Bred in Kentucky by owner Alex Campbell, this bay filly has suddenly emerged as one of the leading sophomore fillies in the nation.

Karlovy Vary made her debut at the competitive Saratoga, closing to finish third after a rough start in a mile and one-sixteenth turf maiden special weight. She was defeated by the future grade one-placed Heart of Destiny, but galloped across the finish line ahead of the eventual graded stakes-winning Lady of Shamrock, as well as the future graded stakes-placed runners Dancing Solo and Goldrush Girl. Ironically, Karlovy Vary would eventually contest against a number of these fillies at a higher level in the future.

Approximately a month later, Karlovy Vary raced in yet another mile and one-sixteenth turf maiden special weight – this time at the tough autumn meet at Keeneland. After pressing the pace, the daughter of Dynaformer galloped to a 1 ½-length victory. Among the horses that she defeated were Lady of Shamrock and the eventual black-type-placed Oaks Lily.

Karlovy Vary then made both her graded stakes and dirt debut, going a mile and one-sixteenth over Churchill Downs’ dirt surface in the Golden Rod Stakes (GII). Traveling very wide, the filly ran near the rear of the field and made a decent move, but only managed to finish seventh in the field of ten. The winner of that race was the impressive On Fire Baby, who defeated runner-up Goldrush Girl by 6 ¼ lengths.

In her final start as a juvenile, Karlovy Vary returned to the turf in the Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park – yet again at a mile and one-sixteenth. Settling far off the pace, Karlovy Vary only made a very slight move to finish seventh of twelve.

The filly’s sophomore debut was a winning one – a victory in an a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming over Gulfstream Park’s turf course. After being forwardly placed, Karlovy Vary rallied to prevail by a half-length over Heart of Destiny. She complete the eight and one-half furlongs in an impressive final time of 1:40.92 with an imposing final sixteenth in 5.82 seconds.

At the beginning of April, Karlovy Vary contested in the Bluegrass State’s most esteemed prep for the Kentucky Oaks (GI): the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI) at Keeneland Racecourse. This time, she set the pace – posting easy internal fractions of 24.34, 24.63, 24.81, and 24.50 in the mile and one-sixteenth race. Despite being chased by the stakes-winning Hard Not to Like, the grade one-winning and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) victor Stephanie’s Kitten, Heart of Destiny, the graded stakes-placed and multiple stakes-winning Dixie Strike, Goldrush Girl, and the multiple stakes-winning Lotta Lovin, Karlovy Vary held off their charges to score by ¾ of a length.

Dynaformer, the sire of Karlovy Vary
Photo: Terri Cage
Dynaformer is not only the sire of the 2006 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Barbaro, but also the sire of  the brilliant distance horse Americain (winner of the 3200-meter Melbourne Cup) and the multiple grade one-winning champion steeplechaser McDynamo. The cross of Roberto sire-line stallions such as Dynaformer and Pulpit mares such as Karlovy Vary’s dam has produced the graded stakes winner over twelve furlongs on grass, Newsdad, and the graded stakes-placed runner over ten furlongs on turf, Rocket Leg – Karlovy Vary’s full brother. This cross forms an average winning distance of over nine furlongs – covering Karlovy Vary for the mile and one-eighth distance of the Kentucky Oaks.

Karlovy Vary is sure to inherit plenty of stamina from her dam, The Right Pew, as well. She is, of course, also the dam of the aforementioned Rocket Legs, but is the daughter of the multiple stakes-winning mare at a mile or longer, Packet – who was sired by the same sire as the 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, Polish Navy. By being out of Packet, The Right Pew is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes-winning Great Intentions and the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Sea Road.

Not only should Karlovy Vary receive much stamina influence from many of the sires found in her dam side (A.P. Indy, Danzig, Tom Rolfe, Bold Ruler), but her fifth dam is the 1957 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Bayou. Not only was she a champion out of a Reine De Course mare, but she was a Reine De Course mare in her own right that was a sister to two Broodmares of the Year – including her multiple stakes-winning full sister Levee, dam of the champion Shuvee. Bayou herself was the dam of the multiple stakes-winning Batteur and the dam of multiple grade one winners Coastal and Slew o’ Gold – the latter of which is a Hall of Famer. Other direct descendants of Bayou include the multiple grade one-winning Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) runner-up Aptitude - who also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) at ten furlongs - and the grade one-winning Sleep Easy. This strong dam line hails from female family nine, which is the same female family that the great horses Alydar, Bull Lea, Fair Play, Galileo, Mahmoud, Nasrullah, Sea the Stars, Sir Barton, and Shergar descend from.

Karlovy Vary’s only start over the Churchill Downs dirt was a poor one, but this filly has certainly come into her own as a three-year-old. She is showing much improvement and with a pedigree like hers, she will likely continue to mature. Even if her performance is not quite up to par, expect for Karlovy Vary to make a scene down the road – especially in races in which stamina is a requirement. But a disappointing performance in the Kentucky Oaks would be a bit of a surprise, as this daughter of Dynaformer is a quickly improving, gifted filly.

*Later in the afternoon of the day this was posted, it was announced that Dynaformer had passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Rest in peace, big man!

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Went the Day Well

He’d only raced four times and he’d never won on dirt. His final prep for the Kentucky Derby (GI) had come in a race that wasn't exactly known for producing Kentucky Derby winners and his trainer was dubbed solely a turf trainer. Against all odds, Animal Kingdom proved doubters wrong and came home with a victory in the Run for the Roses.

A year later, a colt with the same connections and same final prep for the Derby, the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII), is looking for the roses. His name is Went the Day Well. And he just may be several steps ahead of where Animal Kingdom was going into the Kentucky Derby.

Went the Day Well began his career in England, making his first start in September at Haydock Park. Though he did not win the race, he ran such a remarkable second that Barry Irwin, CEO and founder of Team Valor International, soon purchased both the colt and his dam. Following another runner-up performance in England, this time at Leicester, Went the Day Well was shipped across the pond to Graham Motion’s stable in the United States.
Went the Day Well – a New York-bred – made both his American and sophomore debut in February at Gulfstream Park in a nine-furlong maiden special weight over dirt. Breaking sluggishly, the bay colt raced wide off the leaders before making a respectable rally to finish fourth behind the future grade one-placed Teeth of the Dog and the eventual stakes-placed Dynamical.

The Graham Motion trainee broke his maiden next out in a mile and one-sixteenth dirt maiden special weight over the same track. Rating off the pace, Went the Day Well was maneuvered to the outside around the turn before drawing off to win by 1 ¼ lengths.

With much confidence invested in the colt, Team Valor and Motion sent Went the Day Well to the Spiral at Turfway Park, which was, of course, the same race that Animal Kingdom had used as a springboard to his Derby victory. Sent off as the third choice in a field of twelve, Went the Day Well was forwardly placed before splitting horses around the far turn. He surged to the lead before jockey John Velasquez – who rode Animal Kingdom to Derby glory – made the colt change his leads prior to the pair easily drawing away from the rest of the field to win by 3 ½ lengths. With his victory, he defeated  the winners of one graded stakes and four ungraded stakes altogether, as well as runners that had placed in two graded stakes and four ungraded stakes all in all.

Irwin expressed that he was less surprised by Went the Day Well’s impressive Spiral victory than he was by Animal Kingdom’s. He has also let it be known that he is extremely confident in this colt. I believe Irwin has plenty of reason to have plenty of trust in Went the Day Well, due to the colt’s obvious racing talent and his notable pedigree.

The sire of Went the Day Well is Proud Citizen, a winner of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (GII) at a mile and one-sixteenth who also finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes (GI). Proud Citizen is by Gone West, the grandsire of 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, and out of a direct descendant of the great mare Natalma – the dam of 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Northern Dancer. Proud Citizen is the sire of the 2008 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Proud Spell, as well as two other talented three-year-olds this year, the Larry Jones trainees Believe You Can and Mark Valeski.

Tiz Maie’s Day, a daughter of the great racehorse and sire Tiznow, is out of the graded stakes-winning runner-up finisher in the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), Sweet Roberta. This makes her a half-sister to the stakes-winning Jah and the multiple stakes-placed Ontario-bred Sweet Breanna. At fifteen years old, Tiznow is fairly new to the broodmare sire standings, but his grandsire, Relaunch was a very successful broodmare sire, being the damsire of the champions Ghostzapper and Forever Together, as well as the grade one victors Ad Valorem, City Zip, House Party, Negligee, Passing Shot, Pure as Gold, Starrer, and Stellar Jayne.

Went the Day Well’s sixth through ninth dams form a string of Reine De Course mares, beginning with the 1927 Irish Oaks winner, Cinq a Sept, who was later imported to the United States, where she foaled the granddam of Went the Day Well’s sixth dam, Imperatrice. Imperatrice, a stakes winner, was purchased by Meadow Stud, where she foaled the 1973 Broodmare of the Year, Somethingroyal – dam of the great Secretariat. Went the Day Well’s fifth dam, Speedwell, is similarly bred to Secretariat, being by his sire, Bold Ruler, and out of his granddam, Imperatrice.

Went the Day Well has likely inherited much stamina from his third dam, Candy Bowl, who is a daughter of Majestic Light. A son of the Derby- and Preakness-winning Majestic Prince, Majestic Light was a multiple grade one winner capable of winning at a mile and one-half. Went the Day Well’s strong dam line stems from female family two, which, of course, yielded the great champion Secretariat. However, it has produced many more great horses than just Secretariat. Other members of this prolific female family include the greats Cigar, Go for Wand, Northern Dancer, and Phar Lap.

This morning, the colt worked 1:01 flat for five furlongs in what trainer Graham Motion expressed was one of the best works Went the Day Well has ever turned in. Who also turned in a spectacular workout a week before the Derby? Animal Kingdom did.

This Team Valor candidate may be overshadowed by bigger names, but it would be no surprise to see Went the Day Well carry the red and green silks of Team Valor International across the Churchill Downs finish line en route to a Kentucky Derby victory for the second consecutive year. A lightly raced competitor, Went the Day Well possesses the pedigree of a horse meant for success. He is a horse well worth paying attention to.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Take Charge Indy

With wins in the Alcibiades Stakes (GII), the Silverbulletday Stakes (GIII), the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), and the Ashland Stakes (GI) under her belt, the bay daughter of Dehere loaded into the starting gate for the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (GI) as the favorite. But it was a 20-1 shot that upset the field, leaving the favorite 1 ¼ lengths behind.

Nonetheless, the Oaks favorite continued to be successful in graded stakes races, triumphing in the Dogwood Stakes (GIII), the Spinster Stakes (GI) twice, and the Arlington Matron Handicap (GIII). With $2,480,377 in earnings, Take Charge Lady retired.

Over four years after her final race, the mare was bred to the great sire A.P. Indy. The result of this mating was Take Charge Indy, who made his racing debut as a juvenile at the end of July of 2011 at Arlington Park, going six furlongs over the synthetic surface at the Illinois track. After rating off the pace, Take Charge Indy took command late in the race to draw away to a 6 ½-length win.

He started next in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII), falling a length short to Shared Property after coming from off the pace. Behind Take Charge Indy were the future winners of one grade three and two ungraded stakes races.

Take Charge Indy then took on a tough field at Keeneland in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI), settling off the leaders before gamely trying to catch them in the homestretch. However, he did not have the needed acceleration in the stretch and finished fourth behind the future Blue Grass Stakes (GI)-winning half-brother to Mine That Bird in Dullahan, the graded stakes-winning Majestic City, and the multiple graded stakes-placed Optimizer. He defeated a deep cast, however, finishing ahead of two graded stakes winners.

His performances as a two-year-old were enough to convince trainer Patrick Byrne and owners Chuck and Maribeth Sandford to send the colt to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Running mid-pack, Take Charge Indy settled along the rail with dead aim on Hansen. Despite willingly trying to chase the leaders around the far turn and into the homestretch, Take Charge Indy yet again lacked the needed kick and was nailed by Dullahan at the wire, finishing fifth behind Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, and Dullahan. Despite being beaten by over 5 lengths, Take Charge Indy defeated runners that had altogether won or would go on to win six graded stakes and seven ungraded stakes, as well as horses that had placed or would go on to place in nine graded stakes and one ungraded stakes in total.

Take Charge Indy’s sophomore debut came in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming over a sealed track at Gulfstream Park. That day, however, he contested against the graded stakes-placed and future graded stakes-winning El Padrino. The son of Take Charge Lady pressed the pace before El Padrino swept past him, leaving him 2 lengths behind. It was clear that Take Charge Indy was much better than the rest of the group, however, as he finished 13 ¾ lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Take Charge Indy
Photo: Terri Cage
Take Charge Indy did not race for two months, but when he returned, it came in Florida’s premier Run for the Roses prep, the Florida Derby (GI). For the first time, Take Charge Indy set the pace, posting steady fractions. Despite the fact that he had the brilliant grade one-winning Union Rags and El Padrino after him, Take Charge Indy dug in beneath three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel to score by a length.

Many worry about Take Charge Indy’s running style, afraid that his early speed will take too much of a toll on him, especially with horses like Bodemeister, Hansen, and Trinniberg slated to run. However, Take Charge Indy has made most of his starts with a stalking style and when he did set the pace, the fractions were certainly not overwhelming fast. The colt could definitely settle off the pace in the Kentucky Derby.

Just by glancing at his parents, you know Take Charge Indy is beautifully bred. If you dig a little deeper, you will be even more impressed by his bloodlines. Not only is his sire, A.P. Indy, a stamina-influencing champion sire and his dam a multiple grade one winner, but Take Charge Indy’s damsire is Dehere, who is also the broodmare sire of the champion sprinter Midnight Lute, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII)-winning More Than Real, the graded stakes-winning First Passage, and the multiple graded stakes-winning Friesan Fire – who is bred on the same A.P. Indy/Dehere cross as Take Charge Indy. When crossed with sires of Secretariat descent, Dehere mares have produced a total of fourteen stakes winners.

Take Charge Indy is inbred 3 X 4 to the great Secretariat, tracing back to him through A.P. Indy’s dam – the great Weekend Surprise – and through Dehere’s dam. Inbreeding to Secretariat appears in the pedigrees of several grade one winners, including Bluegrass Cat, D’Wildcat, Sky Mesa, and Speightstown. Prominent sires such as Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, and Turn-To, as well as the great mare Somethingroyal, appear frequently in Take Charge Indy’s bloodlines.

The 2012 Florida Derby winner descends from female family twenty-two, which not only yielded the great champions Blushing Groom and Goldikova, but also the Derby victors Count Turf and Street Sense.

Take Charge Indy will need to run the best race he’s ever run in his life in the Kentucky Derby, but should he live up to his pedigree, Take Charge Indy would give A.P. Indy his first Kentucky Derby winner near the end of the line of the great sire’s progeny’s racing days. This colt is clearly gifted, but the field he is slated to face is not an easy one to compete against. He’ll need to settle off the leaders and provide great acceleration in the stretch, but if any jockey can ride a Derby winner, it’s Calvin Borel.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Oaks Contender: Summer Applause

Bret Calhoun has emerged from solely being a successful trainer in the South and has formed a presence on the national scene. For instance, in 2010, he saddled two Breeders’ Cup winners: Chamberlain Bridge and Dubai Majesty. Now, in 2012, he has a chance to saddle the victor of the renowned Kentucky Oaks (GI) thanks to a talented filly named Summer Applause.

The bay filly debuted in Canada as a juvenile, finishing a flat sixth in a five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight over Woodbine’s all-weather track. She redeemed herself next out, however, stretching out to seven furlongs. After settling off the leaders, Summer Applause struck to the lead in the stretch prior to drawing clear to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

Her final start as a two-year-old came at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana, in which she contested in a mile and seventy yards allowance optional claiming over the track’s dirt surface. She showed a new dimension, setting the lead from start to finish as she effortlessly triumphed by 7 lengths.

Summer Applause’s stakes debut came in the Silverbulletday Stakes, in which the Calhoun trainee pressed the pace set by Believe You Can before the aforementioned filly went on to defeat her by 2 ½ lengths. Summer Applause clearly learned much from the race, however, as next out in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII), she continued her blossoming rivalry with Believe You Can. Returning to her style of rating off the pace, Summer Applause made a late move to take the mile and one-sixteenth race by a length, leaving Believe You Can in fourth.

The rivalry was revived yet again in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), in which Summer Applause rated off the pace before making an outside move on the far turn. It appeared as if Believe You Can was drawing away from the field, leaving Summer Applause behind, but the Calhoun trainee dug in under Robby Albarado. As she reached the sixteenth pole, she suddenly hit another gear and accelerated to close in on Believe You Can, only to miss by a head. The blaze-faced bay galloped out ahead of the victor.

Calhoun, who typically keeps a stable at Churchill Downs during the Louisville track’s meet, already has Summer Applause stabled beneath the Twin Spires, giving her plenty of time to get adapted to the track. She will get more training over the track compared to several other Kentucky Oaks hopefuls, which will certainly be to her benefit.

Summer Applause’s bloodlines are full of the names of elite horses, giving implications that Summer Applause has only just begun her journey to success. Her sire is Harlan’s Holiday, who has quickly become one of the most productive sires in the industry. A multiple grade one-winning grandson of Storm Cat, Harlan’s Holiday has produced the grade one-winning horses Into Mischief and Majesticperfection, the multiple group stakes-winning horses Mendip and Willcox Inn, and the grade three-winning runners Dynamic Holiday, Riley Tucker, Saratoga Sinner, Silver Reunion, and Tasha’s Miracle.

The dam of Summer Applause is Summer Exhibition, a result of the mating between the champion Royal Academy and the stakes-winning dam of the multiple graded stakes-winning Recoup the Cash. In addition to producing Summer Applause, Summer Exhibition is the dam of the multiple stakes-placed runner Big Easy.

Summer Applause features two crosses of the Reine De Course mare Crimson Saint, who was a graded stakes winner who produced the grade one-winning champion and sire Royal Academy, the grade one-winning and track record-equaling Pancho Villa, the multiple graded stakes-winning dam of Storm Cat in Terlingua, the stakes-winning Alydariel, and the stakes-placed horses Border Run and Encino (the latter of which is graded stakes-placed). 

She is also inbred 5 X 4 to Northern Dancer, who has appeared in both the bloodlines of the sire and dam in the pedigrees of such Kentucky Oaks winners as Rachel Alexandra and Keeper Hill, as well as recent Derby victors Mine That Bird and Big Brown.

Summer Applause descends from a line of royally-bred mares from E.P. Taylor’s powerhouse breeding program. Her fifth dam, the Reine De Course mare Victoriana, who herself is a daughter of a Reine De Course mare in Iribelle, is the dam of the 1952 Canadian Horse of the Year Canadiana. Victoriana was an even more successful broodmare than her dam, producing the champions Northern Queen (Summer Applause’s fourth dam) and Victoria Park, the multiple stakes-winning Bull Vic, and the dam of a champion. Other direct descendants of Victoriana include the Canadian Hall of Famer Vice Regent, the Canadian champion Northern Blossom, and the multiple group stakes-winning High Accolade. This productive dam line hails from female family ten, which has yielded the champions Beldame, Deputy Minister, and La Roche, as well as the 2005 Kentucky Oaks victor Summerly.

Summer Applause poses one of the biggest threats in the Kentucky Oaks as a result of her clear racing talent and determination, in addition to her royal pedigree. Though she has finished behind Believe You Can more than she has defeated her, I believe she is the better filly, especially the longer the distance. Summer Applause is absolutely one of the leading contenders for this year’s edition of the Run for the Lilies.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Alpha

It was a bumpy ride that led to many forks in the road, but the end of the trip is near. The destination looms in the form of a dirt oval below the Twin Spires in Louisville, Kentucky. The rough trip is the road Alpha took to the Kentucky Derby (GI), a journey that was full of confusion and many decisions. But finally, the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is less than two weeks from contesting in the Run for the Roses.

Alpha was among the most impressive juvenile maiden special weight winners at the prestigious Saratoga meet, settling off the leaders before going to the lead in the stretch and drawing away to a remarkable 6-length victory. With his imposing win, he defeated the future graded stakes-placed Timely Tally and the Sham Stakes (GIII) second-favorite Hierro.

His breathtaking debut convinced McLaughlin to send the Darley homebred to the esteemed Champagne Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park, in which the colt was sent off as the second choice behind the talented graded stakes-winning Union Rags. Settling near the back of the pack, the colt made an impressive move around the far turn before swinging wide in the homestretch to close in on the leaders. However, he could not keep up with the spectacular Union Rags, finishing 5 ¼ lengths behind the then-undefeated colt. In defeat, Alpha beat the stakes-winning horses Laurie’s Rocket and No Spin, as well as the multiple graded stakes-placed Power World.

Alpha continued along the trail many top juveniles take, finding himself at Churchill Downs in November for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). As the final horse, Optimizer, loaded into the starting gate, Alpha reared and caused much ruckus in the gate. Once jockey Garrett Gomez climbed back aboard, the thirteen-horse field broke from the gate. Despite finding a good stalking position, the colt faltered to finish eleventh, beating just two horses in the very contentious race. However, it was discovered that the colt had bled. In spite of his terrible luck, Alpha still managed to defeat the future grade two winners Daddy Long Legs and Prospective.

Alpha before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Photo by Mary Cage
Alpha had a turn of luck when he began his sophomore career, making his first start of 2012 over the inner oval at Aqueduct in the ungraded Count Fleet Stakes. Going a mile and seventy yards, Alpha had a bit of a rough break from the gate, but recovered to garner a position in third before making a move on the outside to waltz to a 2 ½-length victory. Finishing behind him was a half-brother to a classic winner, the winners of one graded stakes race and two ungraded stakes, and runners that would go on to place in three graded stakes and one ungraded stakes altogether.

The Darley homebred continued his winning ways at Aqueduct next out, effortlessly winning the mile and one-sixteenth Withers Stakes (GIII) over many of the same horses he had defeated in the Count Fleet. Yet again, the bay colt performed with a stalking position.

Then came the chaos. It was decided that the colt would not make his next start until either the end of March or early April, but that put many possible races into the picture, including the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream Park, the Louisiana Derby (GII) at the Fair Grounds, and the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) at Aqueduct. Since he was training in Florida, it appeared as if Alpha’s final prep for the Kentucky Derby would come in the Florida Derby, but then it was announced that he would likely go to the Louisiana Derby. His connections changed their minds again and finally it was decided that his final start before the Kentucky Derby would come in the Wood Memorial.

In the Wood, Alpha faced the toughest field he’d faced yet in 2012. After breaking from the rail, the colt was forced to steady slightly around the far turn when squeezed, but then comfortably settled off the leaders. Meanwhile, the undefeated graded stakes winner Gemologist rated in third for the majority of the race. Around the far turn, both colts made their move, but it was Gemologist that hit the front first. Alpha was then taken off the rail and swung wide by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez and as Gemologist appeared to draw away from the field, Alpha dug in on the outside and drew even with the undefeated colt and just when it seemed as if he would accelerate past him, Gemologist found more and denied him. Nonetheless, Alpha displayed an incredible amount of heart, determination, and acceleration.

The colt suffered a minor setback due a laceration he received in the Wood, but he soon returned to training and will mostly train up to the Kentucky Derby at Belmont Park before shipping to Churchill Downs. Though it was originally planned that Alpha would have two works over the Churchill surface prior to the Derby, he will perform his penultimate breeze at Belmont before shipping to Churchill on April 30 to have his final work there.

Beyond just his obvious racing talent, Alpha is certainly bred for Triple Crown distances as well. By the winner of three grade ones at a mile and three-sixteenths or longer in the classic-winning son of A.P. Indy, Bernardini, Alpha has the same sire as the Travers Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Stay Thirsty and the grade one-winning Pennsylvania Derby (GII, 9F) victor To Honor and Serve.

The dam of Alpha is the eleven-furlong Oaks Trial Stakes-winning Munnaya. The chestnut mare is by the 1970 English Triple Crown winner, Nijinksy II, who is also the damsire of the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)- and Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI, 10F)-winning Colonial Affair, the Epsom Oaks (GI, 12F)-winning Jet Ski Lady, and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (GI, 10F)-winning Archipenko. Munnaya, out of the group stakes-winning Hiaam, is also the dam of the multiple graded stakes-winning Lavender Sky, the stakes-winning and multiple group stakes-placed Mystic Melody, and the listed stakes-placed Numaany.

Featuring two crosses of Northern Dancer, Alpha possesses the same inbreeding that occurs in the pedigrees of the Derby victors Mine That Bird and Big Brown, as well as 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and the recent Belmont winners Ruler on Ice, Drosselmeyer, and Summer Bird.

The fifth dam of Alpha is the Reine De Course mare Nangela, a stakes-winning daughter of Nearctic. She is the dam of the champion Square Angel and the second dam of the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Dancing on a Cloud, the grade one-winning Love Smitten, and the graded stakes-winning Minutes Away. Other direct descendants of Nangela include the multiple group one-winning champion Swain, as well as the grade one-winning horses Cuddles, Gorgeous, and Swift Temper. This strong dam line stems from female family fourteen, which has yielded such horses as the champions Artax, Invasor, Foolish Pleasure, and Skip Away.

This year’s running of the Kentucky Derby features one of the toughest fields we’ve seen in years, but Alpha is certainly part of the elite group pointing towards the Run for the Roses. Not only is he clearly a colt with immense racing talent and the important qualities of determination and the ability to settle off the pace, but his pedigree is full of stamina. He appears to be a colt that will be successful throughout the entire Triple Crown should all go well. Alpha has proved himself to be one of the very top contenders for the one hundred thirty-eighth running of the Kentucky Derby.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oaks Contender: On Fire Baby

An ordinary-looking bay filly named High Heels went to post in the most prestigious race for three-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks (GI) with one graded stakes victory and several stakes-placed finishes to her credit. That early May day, Anita Ebert-Cauley’s homebred crossed the wire in third behind the great Rags to Riches and the victor’s talented stablemate Octave, stamping her dam, Ornate, as a broodmare anyone would like to have.

Five years later, another daughter of Ornate, On Fire Baby, will load into the starting gate for the Run for the Lilies. This filly, however, will be more strongly backed. Not only is High Heels’ younger half-sister far flashier than she was as far as looks are concerned, but she also has a race record that draws more attention. A stunning cadet gray rather than a relatively forgettable bay, On Fire Baby has been victorious in many races in which High Heels could not quite get her nose in front.

On Fire Baby debuted at the belittled Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, setting the pace alongside another filly before easily drawing off to a 4-length victory in the five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight. Her dominant debut was enough to convince her owner and breeder Anita Ebert-Cauley and trainer Gary Hartlage to put the filly on a much tougher path.

She took a huge step-up in class next out, contesting in the prestigious Darley Alcibiades Stakes (GI) at the competitive Keeneland fall meet. Sent off as the longest shot in a field of thirteen, On Fire Baby narrowly set the pace before faltering to finish fifth. In her first try against stakes company, the gray filly put in a valiant effort while finishing behind a future Breeders’ Cup victor, a stakes-winning filly, and a stakes-placed filly. She also finished ahead of many talented runners, including a Canadian champion, a graded stakes winner, two graded stakes-placed fillies, a stakes-placed filly, and the full sister to the graded stakes-winning Wilburn.

On Fire Baby’s respectable effort against a tough field in the Alcibiades must have given her a huge confidence boost, as next out in the Pocahontas Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs, the gray filly proved many doubters wrong. Sent off at 9-1, On Fire Baby found the perfect position off the leaders and though it appeared as if she was going in the wrong direction around the far turn, jockey Joe Johnson guided the filly through traffic in the homestretch before the pair crossed the wire victoriously by ¾ of a length. Her final time for one mile over the Churchill dirt was almost identical to the male equivalent of the Pocahontas, the Iroquois Stakes (GIII). Whereas the winner of the Iroquois, Motor City, completed the eight furlongs in 1:37.18, On Fire Baby stopped the clock at 1:37.17.

Then came her best race yet. A month after scoring in the Pocahontas, On Fire Baby contested in the Golden Rod Stakes (GII), a race that High Heels had only managed to finish third in. In the Golden Rod, On Fire Baby set the pace at Churchill Downs before showing great acceleration as she drew off to a 6 ¼-length victory. Immediately, On Fire Baby was dubbed one of the top juvenile fillies in the nation.

Her brilliance as a two-year-old was enough to convince her connections to run her against the males in her sophomore debut, which came in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park in January. Settling off the pace, On Fire Baby raced wide for a large portion of the race and despite putting up a gallant fight against the males, she finished third, beaten just over a length. Despite losing, she did defeat the winners of four past or future stakes, horses who had placed or would go on to place in four graded stakes races, and runners who had placed or would eventually place in four ungraded stakes.

On Fire Baby returned to running solely against her own gender in her following start, the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park – yet another race that High Heels ran well in but could not win. After rating just off the lead, On Fire Baby loomed on the outside around the far turn, sticking her nose in front near the quarter pole and battling with Amie’s Dini prior to drawing clear to win by 2 lengths.

Though the plan had been for On Fire Baby to make her final start before the Oaks in the Fantasy Stakes (GII) or Arkansas Derby (GI), her connections came to the decision to train her up to the Run for the Lilies, as her owner prefers to have a fresh filly going into the renowned race. She is already at Churchill Downs, having turned in a remarkable seven-furlong work over the Louisville track on Friday. I find it very encouraging that the filly breezed a much longer distance than most horses, as it prepares her for the nine-furlong expanse of the Oaks and also keeps her from working too quickly.

With the talented graded stakes-winning and Kentucky Oaks-placed High Heels as her half-sister, On Fire Baby is clearly bred for the Derby’s sister race. Yet that is not the only indication that her pedigree will support her in the Oaks. Her dam, Ornate, is a stakes-winning daughter of the juvenile champion Gilded Time who not only has produced On Fire Baby and High Heels, but is also the dam of the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed French Kiss.

Though her sire, Smoke Glacken, was a champion sprinter, he has produced such horses as the Sabin Stakes (GIII, 8F)-winning Lady Marlboro; the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Persistently, who defeated 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra with that win; the Fountain of Youth (GII, 8.5F)-winning Read the Footnotes; and Smok’n Frolic, who won multiple graded stakes races over one mile.

On Fire Baby is also bred on the same Smoke Glacken/Gilded Time cross as the grade one-winning Irish Smoke and is inbred 5 X 5 to both Bold Ruler and Native Dancer. 5 X 5 inbreeding to Native Dancer has appeared in the pedigrees of many talented racehorses, including the grade one winners Big Brown, El Corredor, Strategic Maneuver, and Whywhywhy. Bold Ruler inbreeding has been immensely successful, being in the pedigrees of such grade one winners as A.P. Indy, Bernardini, and Sky Mesa.

The fourth dam of On Fire Baby is Light Verse, the dam of the graded stakes-placed Al Stanza and the dam of the grade one-winning Olympio. Not only was she successful with her own offspring, but she was an influential presence in the female family of the grade one winners Cuvee, Pyro, and Paddy O’Prado. This dam line stems from female family eight, which yielded the recent Kentucky Oaks winners Plum Pretty, Rags to Riches, Bird Town, and Secret Status.  

There is no doubt that On Fire Baby should be taken seriously in the Kentucky Oaks. Her race record is flawless at Churchill Downs, which seems to be the surface over which she performs best. In addition to being a brilliant runner, On Fire Baby is bred through-and-through for success at the pinnacle of racing. She will face many tough fillies, but if On Fire Baby is on the top of her game, she will be very difficult to defeat.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Diary of Dexter: Happy Birthday!

It must have been a pleasant surprise to see a charming chestnut colt with unusual white markings – a wide blaze, two high front stockings, two low hind socks, and a diamond on the left hind leg – be born to Little Betty Blue on that spring day in North Carolina. All but one of her previous colts had been the same gray color as her, but this colt had been born a chestnut. He was her second foal sired by Chelsey Cat, a grandson of the great sire Storm Cat, and though he would not go on to accomplish much of anything on the racetrack, he would go on to play a huge role in my life.

The breeder of the colt – who was later gelded – was Nancy Shuford, the same woman who would breed the graded stakes-winning Dancinginherdreams. Chelsey Cat was one of her breeding stallions at her Rock House Farm, located in Hickory, North Carolina. The dark bay/brown son of the legendary Storm Cat was out of the Affirmed mare Chelsey Dancer, who was also the dam of the grade one-winning Chelsey Flower. Chelsey Cat was never raced and went on to become both a racing and hunter/jumper stallion.

In 2004, Little Betty Blue – a daughter of the multiple grade one-winning sire Lost Code and the half-sister to the stakes-winning and multiple graded stakes-placed horses Banbury Fair and Man It’s Cold – was bred to Chelsey Cat. By the time she visited Chelsey Cat that year, she had already produced eight foals – one of which was sired by the same son of Storm Cat.

On April 23, 2005, the handsome chestnut was born in North Carolina. Due to his unique white markings that appeared as if white paint had been splattered on him, the young Thoroughbred was registered under the name “Wet Paint.”

Wet Paint (Dexter)
Photo: Terri Cage
Wet Paint made his first start in August of 2007 as a two-year-old, finishing last in a maiden special weight at Philadelphia Park. Following a third-place finish, Wet Paint broke his maiden at Penn National, leading from start to finish to take a five-and-one-half-furlong maiden special weight by 2 ½ lengths.

The strangely-marked Thoroughbred would not win for another nine months and when he did, he had dropped to the $4,000 claiming level. He continued racing in the northeastern part of the United States until the penultimate race of his career, which came in January of 2009 at Delta Downs. He finished a respectable third, but next out, he was eased in the homestretch.

Wet Paint found himself with an outrider at Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans, Louisiana. He performed his job of patrolling the track and catching loose horses, but the outrider left for Florida and left Wet Paint behind, claiming the chestnut gelding to be uncontrollable.

Fortunately, trainers Dallas and Donna Keen were stabled at the Fair Grounds at the time. Not only does the husband and wife team train a string of racehorses, but they run a non-profit organization located in Burleson, Texas called Remember Me Rescue that specializes in the rescuing or retrieving, retraining, and rehoming of ex-racehorses or horses that had been trained to race. Wet Paint was put under their care and once he arrived, the Keens realized the “uncontrollable” gelding needed his teeth floated.

Once the sharp points of his teeth had been filed down, it was discovered that Wet Paint wasn’t uncontrollable at all. Rather, he was very willing and a quick learner. Wet Paint was then placed in Remember Me’s adoption program.

Shortly thereafter, the grandson of Storm Cat arrived at the Texas rescue. Fate intervened and my mother and I went to the farm for one of our many visits. Though there were several horses on the farm that interested me, it was Wet Paint that caught my attention and drew me in.

Days later, my very first off-the-track-Thoroughbred was in my barn. I’d named the chestnut Thoroughbred Dexter and immediately fell in love with him. I have been able to call him mine for exactly fourteen months now.

Dexter and I have had many ups and downs between his kindness and sometimes obstinacy, but fortunately, the "downs" are usually replaced by "ups." He may be a descendant of the most prolific female family, a grandson of Storm Cat, a gorgeous horse with names such as Secretariat and Affirmed in his pedigree, and a Thoroughbred that had his picture taken in the winner’s circle, but he’s so much more than that. It’s awe-inspiring to have a horse with such a heritage, but most of all, Dexter has been a horse to love.

Today I celebrate the birth of my beloved puppy-dog of a horse who will follow me without a halter, whinny and jog up to the fence to great me, and nuzzle at me with affability. Today I celebrate the birth of horse that may not have made much of a name for himself on the track, but has left me with joy. Today I celebrate the birth of Dexter, one of the kindest horses I have ever known.

Dexter loves to follow me like a puppy!
Photo: Terri Cage
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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Derby Top Ten #13

Countdown to Derby Day: 13 Days

The Kentucky Derby (GI) closes in on us quickly and before we know it, we are keeping our eyes focused on the starting gate nestled at the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs, waiting for a large field of high quality three-year-old Thoroughbreds to burst out of the gate to launch the greatest two minutes in sports. Though any of the horses can win, there is typically only a select few that spectators and experts believe have a legitimate chance to win. However, in 2012, a large amount of the horses pointing towards the Derby seem to have a realistic chance to triumph in the Run for the Roses. Though this makes it very difficult to rank them, it suggests that this year’s rendition of the Kentucky Derby will be one for the ages.

I feel as if any of my top seven could be ranked first and that each horse on this list has a valid chance at winning. The addition of Trinniberg, a sprinter, to the mix should benefit many of the horses who come from off the pace, but may harm the horses who prefer to be on the lead. This certainly played a role in the changes on this week’s list. The final works will also play a huge role, but when it comes down to it, we will not know until about two minutes after these Thoroughbreds break from the gate at Churchill Downs.

Here is my top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of April 22:

1. Union Rags: He is full of sheer brilliance and when he’s on the top of his game, he is awfully difficult to defeat. Of course, he will need to run the best race he’s ever run in the Derby, but he clearly has the talent to run a tremendous race. This Michael Matz trainee, like Barbaro, made his penultimate work for the Kentucky Derby at Keeneland. In this work, the colt breezed a half-mile in an impressive time of 47.20 seconds. The work (which can be viewed here) is made even more remarkable by how effortlessly he moved. In fact, the work looked much slower than it actually was. He will soon ship to Churchill Downs for his final preparations, including his last breeze before the Derby, which will be a more serious work than Friday’s. He does have an advantage over many contenders regarding Churchill – he has already performed well over its dirt surface. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

2. I’ll Have Another: On this list, he is just an extremely scant nose behind Union Rags. Already a very talented horse, he seems to just be getting better and better. His six-furlong work on Thursday at Hollywood Park went very well, in which trainer Doug O’Neill remarked that the colt grew stronger as he went along. He is expected to ship to Churchill Downs a week before the Derby, which is a shorter amount of time than I would like to see, but still gives the colt a decent amount of time to adapt to the Churchill surface. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

3. Creative Cause: Bodemeister may have ran the most impressive race on the Derby trail this year, but Creative Cause defeated him prior to that race. Creative Cause is a horse who tries hard every time and as a result of his determination, he has not finished out of the money. He also comes with the package of a top Derby prospect: talent, a noteworthy performance over the Churchill dirt surface, the ability to settle off the pace, good acceleration, and a pedigree full of stamina. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

4. Dullahan: Derby pedigree: check. Racing talent: check. Ability to come off the pace: check. Decent performances over Churchill dirt: check. Extra training time at Churchill: check. Improvement: check. Capable connections: check. Dullahan has everything you could want in a Kentucky Derby winner and certainly has a very reasonable chance to win, though he may be better on turf and synthetic. Like the other horses in the top four, Dullahan should benefit from the addition of Trinniberg. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

5. Gemologist: Normally, an undefeated colt with two wins at Churchill Downs would be ranked first on this list. Gemologist is a member of my “Super Six,” or my top six horses on this list that could all be ranked first, but since this Kentucky Derby is shaping up to be immensely competitive, he is ranked fifth. Not only is he capable of dominant victories, but he has also proven that he can dig in and prevail because of his heart as well. Though not all of his times are spectacular, he has made it clear that he can post quick times. With a pedigree that will also back him up, Gemologist possesses many important qualities for a Derby prospect. Though he may be slightly affected by the addition of Trinniberg, he is capable of rating off the pace, so Trinninberg should have much less of an influence on him than horses such as Bodemeister or Hansen. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

6. Bodemeister: It cannot be denied that his Arkansas Derby (GI) victory was absolutely brilliant and breathtaking. Though his wins have come in races in which he set the pace, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has expressed that he believes his mount is capable of rating. He will need to do so, especially with the addition of Trinniberg – a horse who sets quick fractions. If Bodemeister cannot learn to settle, his chances could certainly be harmed by the presence of Trinniberg. By Empire Maker and out of a Storm Cat mare, Bodemeister should have no problem with the Derby distance. Bodemeister could very well be ranked first, especially considering he will train over the Churchill surface longer than most Derby contenders, but instead, I rank him in a sixth that would earn him a position at the top if the group of Derby hopefuls this year wasn’t as deep as it is and if Trinniberg had not joined the mix. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

7. Alpha: A very talented colt in his own right, Alpha is certainly a legitimate Derby competitor. Though his only start at Churchill Downs was a very poor finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvneile (GI), in which he finished behind many top Derby candidates, it is believed that he bled in that race. He has turned in nothing but good performances this season and is coming off an impressive second-place finish behind Gemologist in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). I do find it a bit discouraging, however, that he will make most of his Derby preparations at Belmont Park and will not ship to Churchill until April 30 and that he missed a bit of training time due to a laceration. I would prefer for him to have a longer amount of time to adapt to the Churchill dirt. Nonetheless, this colt is bred through and through for the Derby and just may be very underestimated. He will also benefit from the addition of Trinniberg. Do not forget about Alpha on Derby Day; he is an extremely talented horse.

8. Take Charge Indy: Both of his parents are grade one winners capable of winning at a mile and one-eighth or longer. His sire, the great A.P. Indy, was not only capable of winning the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F), but he was also capable of producing horses who could win at the same distances as well. Many believe, however, that Take Charge Indy may have distance limitations, partially because of his front-running style. But he does have an advantage that the others don’t: three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel.

9. Went the Day Well: Taking the same route as his stablemate, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, to the Run for the Roses, Went the Day Well does have something Animal Kingdom didn’t: a victory over dirt. The way he strode home in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) – the same race Animal Kingdom won before triumphing in the Derby – was very impressive. He also worked well at Keeneland on Saturday, completing six furlongs in 1:14.40 despite dreary conditions. He will ship to Churchill soon.

10. Daddy Nose Best: He has definitely blossomed and is coming off of two impressive performances. However, he has not exactly fared well against the toughest competitors. But he does have experience over the Churchill dirt and is a great stretch runner.

Honorable Mentions:

El Padrino: He’s gritty and talented, but his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby (GI) was rather flat. Though it was not a spectacular performance, El Padrino has already proven that he is a gifted colt.  Yet he seems to be more deserving than some of the horses that may keep him from getting into the Derby due to graded stakes earnings.

Hansen: He is a brilliant colt, but he has the terrible problem of too frequently going to the lead and setting blazing fractions without rating. This is something that will likely harm him in the Derby if he does so. Though many other horses have pedigrees that suggest more capability of getting the Derby distance than his does, Hansen may have enough stamina in his bloodlines to allow him to be victorious at ten furlongs. But most importantly, he will have to find the ability to settle in order to be triumphant at a mile and one-quarter.

Mark Valeski: He is clearly a hard-trying colt, but there is the worry that he’s a colt that tries hard each time but never prevails. Nonetheless, he could certainly be a profitable horse for handicappers on Derby Day.

Sabercat: His dull performance in the Rebel Stakes (GIII) may very well be a throw-out race, but even his third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby implies that he will have to run the best race he’s ever run to pull off a victory in the Kentucky Derby.

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