Friday, November 30, 2012

Juvenile Spotlight 11/30/12

Live Lively (11/23): Following a third-place finish in her debut at Belmont, this filly made her second start at Aqueduct, traveling wide while running mid-pack prior to going wide around the turn in the five and one-half-furlong race. Closing ground impressively, Live Lively ground out a ¾-length victory. Trained by Mark Hennig, this juvenile should find benefit in being a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, as the son of El Prado has been a tremendous sire of fillies. Out of a stakes-winning Smoke Glacken mare, Live Lively is bred on the same Medaglia d’Oro/Mr. Prospector sire line cross as the grade one winners Passion for Gold, Rachel Alexandra, and Warrior’s Reward.

Forty Tales (11/24):
Debuting at Aqueduct, this colt raced mid-pack as a steady pace was set throughout the six-furlong race. In a field that had only one experienced runner, Forty Tales galloped wide throughout, being forced into the sixth path as the field rounded the turn. Despite shying in, Forty Tales drew clear to a 2 ¾-length triumph. By Tale of the Cat and out of black-type-placed Forty Niner mare, Forty Tales is a half-brother to a multiple black-type winner and a black-type-placed runner.

General Election (11/24):
General Election debuted among a field of eleven juveniles that featured just three experienced runners at Churchill Downs. The colt raced the near of the pack before inching close to the lead around the turn, making in impressive move to draw away to a 3-length triumph. Sired by the thriving Harlan’s Holiday and out of a Kingmambo mare, General Election is a half-brother to the multiple grade one-placed Ready’s Echo.

Oblahlah (11/24): After finishing second at Belmont in her debut, Oblahlah extended in distance, stretching from five and one-half furlongs to seven furlongs. The filly pressed the pace, challenging the lead before striking to the front and kicking clear to a 3-length victory. Sired by the blossoming stallion Tiz Wonderful, Oblahlah is out of an
A.P. Indy mare that has also produced the graded stakes-winning Worth Repeating, thus making her a granddaughter of the group one-winning mare Macoumba.

Ore Pass (11/24):
Upon debut, this colt set a brisk pace in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Laurel Park, drawing off to an easy 10 ¾-length win. Sired by the late War Pass, Ore Pass is out of a Stephen Got Even mare from the family of the graded stakes-winning Summer Matinee. This is the same Cherokee Run/A.P. Indy sire line cross responsible for producing the multiple graded stakes-winning Zanjero.

Oxbow (11/25):
Oxbow was pulled up in his first start and vanned off, and following both a fourth- and a third-place finish, Oxbow broke through with an impressive 4 ¾-length victory at Churchill Downs, posting a relatively good time of 1:22.97 for seven furlongs. As a result of the mating between Awesome Again and a million-dollar full sister to Tiznow, Oxbow is not only a three-quarters brother to Paynter, but he is a full brother to the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Awesome Patriot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stallion Feature: Americain and Bullet Train

It is often said that American breeders should try to blend more foreign blood with our horses by introducing horses from other nations to our breeding operations. With the loss of many of our top racehorses – including but not limited to I’ll Have Another, Summer Bird, Musical Romance, and Zazu – to foreign breeding programs this year alone, the blood of our own top racehorses has been ostracized from the heritage of most future American racehorses. But in the past month, things have shifted. Headed to Kentucky for the 2013 breeding season are two stallions that could have a tremendous effect on American Thoroughbred bloodlines: Americain and the great Frankel’s sibling and rabbit, Bullet Train.


Though bred in the United States, Americain only made four of his thirty-four starts in the United States. Americain began his career in France, contesting his initial ten starts there prior to his four-race expedition to America. This fourteen-race period saw Americain win four races, including two group stakes.

Americain never finished better than third upon his journey to the United States, but after a fifth-place finish in the Prix La Moskowa at Chantilly, Americain formed a five-race winning streak, which included a victory in not only two group stakes, but in one of the most prestigious races in the world, the Melbourne Cup (GI). Contested since 1861, the Melbourne Cup covers 3,200 meters – nearly 2 miles. Throughout its enriched history, the Melbourne Cup has seen many great Thoroughbreds gallop to victory, including Makybe Diva, Peter Pan, and Phar Lap.

Americain continued racing for an additional two years, winning three more starts, including two group stakes. It was announced in late November 2012 that the horse would stand stud in Kentucky and just days after this exciting announcement came the statement that Americain would stand at one of the most revered farms on American soil – Calumet Farm.

A farm that, in its heyday, won the Kentucky Derby (GI) a record eight times and produced two of the eleven horses to win the Triple Crown, Calumet was sold for approximately $36 million earlier this year. Prior to 2012, when Cactus Ridge and Ice Box stood there, a stallion had not stood at stud at Calumet for almost a decade. Americain could be just the catalyst for a revival the esteemed farm needs.

Americain is a son of the late, grand Dynaformer, who proved to be a top international sire. Perhaps most famous for siring the ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, Dynaformer also produced such additional grade/group one winners as
Karlovy Vary, McDynamo, Perfect Drift, and Point of Entry. Dynaformer is a grandson of Hail to Reason, the sire of successful stallions like Halo, Roberto, and Stop the Music.

The dam of Americain is the Irish-bred mare America, who was a multiple group stakes winner in France. In addition to producing Americain, America has also foaled the group stakes-placed Spycrawler and the stakes-placed Amarak. America is a daughter of Arazi, the champion famous for his breathtaking Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) victory at Churchill Downs in 1991. Though relatively successful as a sire, producing the grade/group one winners Behrajan and Congaree, Arazi has found perhaps his greatest success as a broodmare sire, producing the dams of such horses as the multiple grade/group one winners Electrocutionist and Lahudood, as well as, of course, Americain.

Americain’s third dam, Round the Rosie, produced two group stakes winners and four stakes-placed runners. This makes Americain a direct descendant of the great Chelandry, the foundation mare of Family 1-n. Other direct descendants of Chelandry include not only the grade one-winning Bodemeister, but the star-crossed champion Swale.

Though bred in the United States, Americain is a foreign asset to American breeding programs. Not only did he make the majority of his starts abroad, but his parentage presents a foreign flair. His dam is Irish-bred and though his sire may be American-bred, Dynaformer has truly proven to be an international force.

Bullet Train

A year younger than his famous brother, Frankel, Bullet Train was the first foal out of Kind. A Juddmonte hombebred, Bullet Train won his debut, the European Breeders’ Fund Maiden Stakes. Following a runner-up finish in a stakes at Newbury, Bullet Train captured the biggest victory of his life in the Derby Trial Stakes (GIII).

Bullet Train never won again, but was given many less chances to do so by serving as Frankel’s rabbit, or pacemaker. The horse lost his final eleven races, never defeating more than five horses and never finishing better than fourth. Though his brilliance is far from that of Frankel’s, it will be a grand opportunity for American breeders to get the bloodline of one of the greatest horses the world has ever seen flowing in the American Thoroughbred gene pool.

Unlike Frankel, Bullet Train is sired by the great Sadler’s Wells, who is Frankel’s grandsire through the legendary horse’s sire, Galileo. The multiple group one-winning son of Northern Dancer was the leading sire by earnings in the United Kingdom for ten years straight and for twelve years total. Among his best offspring are the champions Barathea, High Chaparral, Montjeu, Northern Spur, Old Vic, Perfect Soul, and Yeats. Sadler's Wells has also proven to be an incredible sire of sires, producing not only Galileo, but the outstanding Montjeu, as well as Barathea, El Prado, High Chaparral, In the Wings, and King’s Theatre.

Bullet Train also receives an outstanding influence from his dam, Kind. The bay mare was a successful racehorse herself, capturing two stakes races. In addition to producing Bullet Train and Frankel, Kind has also foaled the group stakes-winning Noble Mission.

Kind’s sire is a horse who was the leading sire in four different countries, the incredible Danehill, who has sired over three hundred stakes winners. He has been a highly successful broodmare sire, siring the dams of such horses as the group one winners Art Connoisseur, Cima de Triomphe, Danedream, Teofilo, and Vengeance of Rain.

The dam of Kind is the group stakes-winning Rainbow Lake, who also produced the multiple group one-winning Powerscourt and the group one-placed Last Train. Rainbow Lake is a daughter of Rainbow Quest, a son of Blushing Groom who has been a top broodmare sire. The champion is the damsire of such group one winners as Look Here, Samitar, and Spanish Moon.

Bullet Train is a descendant of the prolific female family one, the same female family responsible for many of the greatest racehorses to grace the racetracks of the world and many of the top sires the breed has seen. Such top stallions that descend from this female family include Bold Reasoning, Buckpasser, and Forty Niner.

American breeders would need to ship their mares overseas in order to breed them to the great Frankel, but with Bullet Train slated stand in Kentucky, breeders will have the opportunity to breed to a stallion with nearly identical parentage to the great champion. Bullet Train certainly wasn’t as talented as Frankel, but a horse’s performances on the track do not promise anything regarding a horse’s success in the breeding shed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 Horse of the Year Candidates

The debate over which elite Thoroughbred should be voted 2012 Horse of the Year is not a heated argument over two great racehorses like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, or Blame and Zenyatta. Rather, several equine athletes seem to have formed an impressive enough campaign to take home racing’s highest annual honor, leaving the decision wide open, though one horse appears to be the probable recipient of the award.

Wise Dan

The top contender for this prestigious award, Wise Dan seems to be the probable 2012 Horse of the Year. The brilliant chestnut did not begin the 2012 season until April, when he annihilated his rivals by 10 ½ lengths, setting a new track record over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Ben Ali Stakes (GIII).
Wise Dan
Photo by Terri Cage

Wise Dan’s sole defeat of the year came in his second start of the season, the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). A victim of a rather difficult trip, the Charles Lopresti trainee finished a mere head behind the talented Ron the Greek. Wise Dan returned to the turf next out, running away with the Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga. Following two brilliant grade one victories going one mile on the grass, Wise Dan faced one of the toughest Breeders’ Cup fields in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), galloping to a radiant 1 ½-length triumph, setting a new course record of 1:31.78. 

With victories on turf and synthetic, as well as a remarkable runner-up finish on the dirt, Wise Dan has displayed a great amount of versatility in 2012. Of the five victories this gelding garnered this year, three occurred in grade one company, granting him with a total of $2,622,037 in earnings for 2012. As a result of the brilliant versatility he exhibited throughout the year, combined with his three grade one victories and two track/course records, Wise Dan would be my choice for 2012 Horse of the Year and is the likely inheritor of this renowned award.

Groupie Doll

Never finishing out of the money this year, Groupie Doll began 2012 in allowance optional claiming company, finishing second at that level against males at Gulfstream Park, crossing the wire behind the grade one-winning Boys at Tosconova. Following a distant third behind Awesome Maria and Royal Delta in the Sabin Stakes (GIII) going a mile and one-sixteenth, Groupie Doll ran third to reigning Champion Female Sprinter, Musical Romance, in the Inside Information Stakes (GII).
Groupie Doll
Photo by Terri Cage

Groupie Doll achieved her first victory of the season next out in the Vinery Madison Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, romping by 3 lengths. She was even more impressive next out in the Humana Distaff Stakes (GI), which she captured by 7 ¼ lengths in track record time. She was briefly sidelined by a minor injury, but returned to her brilliance without a problem, winning a pair of grade two events by a combined 10 ¼ lengths over synthetic surfaces.

Groupie Doll’s biggest win of 2012 came in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI), in which the filly raced against a speed bias to close for a 4 ½-length triumph. Though that race was intended to be her final of the season, Groupie Doll remained keen and thus contested against males in the Cigar Mile Handicap (GI) at Aqueduct, in which the gifted filly was beat a scant nose by the grade one-winning Stay Thirsty.

This filly has been among the most intense of top horses this year, displaying sheer brilliance in most of her starts. With a track record performance and wins on both dirt and synthetic, Groupie Doll has exhibited great versatility for a horse that is primarily restricted to one-turn races. However, with a loss in the Cigar Mile to culminate her 2012 campaign and the label of “female sprinter” stacked against her, Groupie Doll is not likely to be voted Horse of the Year, though she will be a runaway winner of the Champion Female Sprinter award.

Little Mike

Despite stringing together a win-lose-win pattern throughout the year, Little Mike formed one of the most impressive résumés of any horse in 2012, three of his four wins occurring in a grade one contest. Commencing the year with a win in the Sunshine Millions Turf Stakes, Little Mike then finished fourth in the Canadian Turf Stakes (GIII).

Little Mike
Photo by Terri Cage
Little Mike’s initial grade one triumph of the season came in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (GI), which the gelding won by 2 ½ lengths. He then shipped to Hollywood Park, where he finished third in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI). Little Mike maintained the pattern he had been forming by taking one of the most renowned turf races in the world next out, the Arlington Million Stakes (GI).

A yielding turf course saw Little Mike turn in his worst performance of the year in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI), in which the gelding crossed the wire in fifth, but a return to a firm turf course added to the bay’s collection of prestigious victories. On one of the biggest stages in racing, Little Mike called upon his undeniable heart to defeat a deep field in the second richest race in the North America, the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI).

Little Mike is very much worthy of an Eclipse Award, but with a horse like Wise Dan that has captured the nation with his stunning brilliance, this hard-trying gelding just may not receive any year-end championship awards. He will be a champion in the minds of many and though deserving of Horse of the Year, Little Mike will not be honored with Thoroughbred racing’s most coveted annual award.

I’ll Have Another

We’ll never know what I’ll Have Another could have accomplished after the Preakness Stakes (GI). However, his accomplishments prior to the tendon injury that concluded his career before he had the chance to make history in the Belmont Stakes (GI) will certainly grant him a fair share of Horse of the Year votes.

Commencing 2012 with an easy longshot victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII), I’ll Have Another continued his winning ways for the remainder of his brief career. His first grade one of the season occurred in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), a race in which the son of Flower Alley battled the talented Creative Cause to prevail by a narrow margin. But it was his next two races that give him hope for being named 2012 Horse of the Year.

I’ll Have Another maintained his winning streak in the
Kentucky Derby (GI), taking the esteemed race by 1 ½ lengths in the fastest final time for the mile and one-quarter event since 2008. Battling his rival, Bodemeister, yet again next out in the Preakness, I’ll Have Another showed great perseverance to prevail by a neck. Triple Crown hopes were pinned upon the horse, but a tendon issue led him to be withdrawn from the Belmont and retired.

I’ll Have Another is among the leaders in amount of 2012 grade one victories, with three to his credit, and despite only racing during the first half of the season, I’ll Have Another is the third-leading earner of 2012. Among the advantages I’ll Have Another has on his side is his lack of defeats. However, the name of this award is Horse of the Year and due to his injury, I’ll Have Another only participated the first half of the year. He will earn an Eclipse Award, but, despite how elite his brief campaign was, I would not vote for I’ll Have Another as Horse of the Year.

Point of Entry

A Phipps Stable homebred, this colt began 2012 in allowance company, earning his first graded stakes victory in the Elkhorn Stakes (GII) in April. He then reeled off three consecutive grade one victories – all over turf courses in New York. Point of Entry captured the Man o’ War Stakes (GI), Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (GI), and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI) by a combined 9 ¼ lengths.

But in the Breeders’ Cup, Point of Entry suffered his first loss since February, finishing a half-length behind Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI). In spite of developing a stellar 2012 campaign, I do not foresee Point of Entry being voted Horse of the Year.

Point of Entry
Photo by Terri Cage

Royal Delta

Crowned as Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of 2011, Royal Delta began her 2012 campaign with two disappointing results: a distant second in the Sabin Stakes (GIII) and a troubled ninth in the Dubai World Cup (GI). But upon her return to American racing after the Dubai World Cup, we saw the continuance of the brilliance Royal Delta had displayed in 2011.
Royal Delta
Photo by Terri Cage

In stunning fashion, Royal Delta took the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) by 8 lengths prior to scoring a tenacious victory in the Delaware Handicap (GII). Following a game runner-up performance in the Personal Ensign Handicap (GI), Royal Delta ran away with the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI), conquering the field by 9 ½ lengths.

In what many viewed as the toughest field of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, Royal Delta looked to defend her title in the
Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). Digging deep and prevailing with her tremendous class, the daughter of Empire Maker captured the race by 1 ½ lengths. However, despite her stellar latter part of the season and breathtaking Ladies’ Classic victory, I do not foresee Royal Delta being honored Horse of the Year with just two grade one victories to her credit this year.

Fort Larned

Fort Larned’s first half of the season isn’t exactly an orthodox array of races for a horse being considered for Horse of the Year. A month after the colt finished fourth in a handicap at Tampa Bay Downs, Fort Larned won the Challenger Stakes before he won the Skip Away Stakes (GIII) in track record-breaking style.
Fort Larned
Photo by Terri Cage

After finishing second in the Alysheba Stakes (GII), Fort Larned faded to finish last in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) after a poor trip. He redeemed himself with an easy win in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII), forming a winning streak by taking the Whitney Invitational Handicap (GI) at Saratoga by 1 ¼ lengths.

In his first ten-furlong try, Fort Larned contested in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), weakening to finish third. But, of course, Fort Larned achieved his greatest victory when displaying tremendous persistence to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Despite capturing one of the biggest races of the year and two grade ones, Fort Larned will not be voted Horse of the Year, as his 2012 campaign has been slightly erratic, began on a less elite note than other candidates, and saw him capture less grade ones than other top contenders.

Who would I vote for as Horse of the Year? Wise Dan. Who do I think will be voted Horse of the Year? Wise Dan.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

After the Auction: She Sleeps

As an avid fan of sales with possible aspirations to become an adviser/bloodstock agent, auctions are one of my favorite topics to write about on Past the Grandstand. This is the sixth edition in a blog series called "After the Auction" that will feature horses I selected in sales that have found success after the sale. *Note: If an "After the Auction" features a two-year-old, it will also be listed as a "Juvenile Spotlight."

Two weeks before Delta Downs’ biggest race day of the year – and on racing’s biggest day of the year – She Sleeps redeemed herself with an easy victory. She received no national acclaim for her win, but put a smile upon my face by finding the winner’s circle. With her maiden victory, She Sleeps had become my sixth juvenile sales selection of 2012 to garner a win (maiden claiming victories acquired by a pair of my two-year-old auction picks, Blazing Graduate and Mistakingly, were not featured).

She Sleeps
Photo by Terri Cage
A member of Private Vow’s first crop, She Sleeps’ sire is a son of Broken Vow, the sire of such horses as the grade one winners Cotton Blossom, Sassy Image, and Unbridled Belle. By a son of the influential Unbridled and out of a Deputy Minister daughter, Private Vow certainly hails from parentage that insinuates that he will become a successful stallion.

She Sleeps is out of Shy Eda, an Argentinian mare who is a full sister to the stakes-winning Edil Tom and a half-sister to the group one-winning Cruzan Gold and the group stakes-placed Forty Editado. Shy Eda herself is the dam of the multiple group stakes-winning and group one-placed Duvets, the group stakes-winning Shy Legionario, and the group stakes-placed runners Saint George and South Stream.

By Shy Tom, Shy Eda’s grandsire is Blushing Groom, one of the finest sires and broodmare sires of the breed. A winner of several championship honors as both racehorse and sire, Blushing Groom was a tremendous sire and sire of sires, producing horses like Nashwan, Rahy, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom that were successful on the track and in the breeding shed. But perhaps his greatest success came as a broodmare sire, as he is the damsire of such horses as the grade/group one winners Flute, Haafhd, Macho Uno, and Mezzo Soprano. Blushing Groom has also had success in siring productive damsires, such as Mt. Livermore, Rahy, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom.

In her debut, which came at Louisiana Downs, She Sleeps finished a lackluster sixth. But she made amends for her loss next out, adding an extra furlong to the six furlongs she debuted at. Breaking sharply from the eighth gate in the maiden special weight for Louisiana-breds, She Sleeps raced wide just behind the front-running contingent as the horses galloped before the grandstand for the initial time.

Due to being forced wide around the sharp first turn, She Sleeps lost ground, but remained in fourth as the horses entered the backstretch. With urging from jockey Chris Rosier, She Sleeps loomed large on the outside as the field turned for home, accelerating imposingly as the far turn culminated. Displaying an impressive turn of foot, She Sleeps kicked clear from her rivals, galloping to a 4 ¼-length victory.

She Sleeps is likely to not appear on a list of future grade one winners, but she is certainly a filly with potential. It will be interesting to see what the future of this 2012 Fasig-Tipton Texas Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale graduate holds. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Well Armed and Bill Casner: All Heart

Under the Texas November sun, the bay gelding that stood before me was certainly a long way from Dubai. But, gazing at his kind eye, I could see the dynamic, odds-denying champion within, the one that had galloped to an awe-inspiring win in the richest race in the world. I raised my hand to his face, gently touching the Thoroughbred I so greatly admired and adored. Looking back at me was Well Armed.

With Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage
This elite Thoroughbred is of course best known for his record-breaking victory in the 2009 Dubai World Cup (GI), a race in which Well Armed annihilated his rivals by an astounding 14 lengths. But there’s more to Well Armed’s story than his brilliant victories. This horse had overcome unbelievable adversity before he achieved his greatest victories, with the help of his loving owner, Bill Casner.

Casner had dealt with his own hardship as well, particularly when his daughter, Karri, was tragically killed in a bombing of Bali, Indonesia in 2002. Just months later, a horse was born on what would have been Karri’s 24th birthday. That horse was Well Armed.
Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage

Like Karri, Well Armed was born pigeon-toed. The Thoroughbred was sent to England, where he made his initial eight career starts for Clive Brittain prior to a three-race expedition in Dubai that was cut short by a knee chip. This injury saw Well Armed return to the United States, where the son of Tiznow had successful surgery to remove the chip. But days later, Well Armed broke his hip – an injury that caused the horse so much pain that euthanizing the horse became a serious option.

But Casner wasn’t going to give up on this horse and after recovery, Well Armed did not give up on him. Well Armed returned to racing to capture four graded stakes races, two of which were grade ones – including, of course, the Dubai World Cup. Despite the great adversity they’d faced, Well Armed and Casner had dealt with their troubles together, and together they stood on top of the world.

Bill Casner is one of the kindest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. On November 19, 2012, I made a visit to his ranch in North Texas, where I was able to meet the charming Well Armed. The goodness of Mr. Casner’s heart shone through during the time I spent there, as he showed my mother and me around the ranch, allowing us to see the horses that reside there and to watch several yearlings – including a full sibling to the grade one-winning Colonel John and a half-brother to Well Armed – swim.

But the highlight of my visit certainly was found in the time I spent with Well Armed. After I fed the deserving Thoroughbred a few peppermints (which he ate eagerly), Mr. Casner allowed me to lead the gelding out of his stall before I briefly groomed the tall Thoroughbred. As I led Well Armed outside the barn for my mother to take several photographs, Mr. Casner asked me how much riding experience I had.

“I’ve ridden all my life.” I replied.
Riding Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage

Minutes later, I sat aboard Well Armed’s back, his thick black mane flowing over his neck as my hands held the reins. Around the expansive arena we rode, Well Armed’s large frame moving beneath me as I sat in the saddle upon his back, my eyes overlooking the view I had from aboard him. His brown neck, covered by his thick black mane – streaked with a few white and gray strands – stretched before me, his ears pricked as he gazed about. 

As the earner of $5,179,803 strode along, I was brought back to a memory. Gazing at his mane, I pictured jockey Aaron Gryder stroking the gelding’s mane and neck as the two soared to victory in Dubai, a scene I watched from the comfort of my living room, beaming with sheer joy as Well Armed – this world conqueror, this underdog, this hero beneath me – galloped across my television screen to a breathtaking triumph.

How could I have imagined that day that I would someday sit aboard that majestic champion? I couldn’t have. Maybe in my wildest dreams I could have pictured myself riding Well Armed, but never would those dreams have come true if it weren’t for the astounding goodness of Bill Casner’s heart.

And that’s exactly the quintessence of the story of Bill Casner and Well Armed: heart. As my own soaring, joyous heart rode along with Well Armed, I overhead Mr. Casner speaking to my mother, telling her Well Armed’s story. Two words that left his mouth as he described his beloved horse will never leave me: all heart. Mr. Casner was speaking of the kind, valiant Thoroughbred I rode, but if it weren’t for Mr. Casner’s heart, I never would have experienced one of the best days of my life and Well Armed never would have been able to show the world just how much heart he has. Together, these two showed me perhaps the greatest amount of true heart I have ever seen.

Mr. Casner, with heartfelt gratitude, thank you, thank you, thank you. I will never be able to thank you enough.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Miss Oops: She's No Mistake

As an auction approaches, those interested in purchasing horses create a “short list,” or a list that records the horses one is considering buying. Usually, these horses earn a position on such a list for having a combination of a notable pedigre and correct conformation. Hip 4309 of the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale did not exactly meet those credentials.

Though a granddaughter of the great A.P. Indy through her sire, hip 4309 was sired by a stallion that has had a rather unremarkable stud career in Olmodavor. Despite being sired by a young, unfashionable stallion, the yearling filly had the benefit of being out of a stakes-winning mare. However, this was eclipsed by hip 4309’s terribly crooked legs.

Hip 4309 was sold for just $3,000 to Bill Dory and the story has it that once he noted which hip number he’d purchased, he winced with realization that he’d bought “the crooked-legged filly.” And thus, the daughter of Olmodavor was named Miss Oops.

Miss Oops with Donna Keen's popular bridleless pony, Wyatt
Photo by Terri Cage
For the first twenty-seven starts of her career, Miss Oops did not contest outside of the claiming ranks, but captured eleven victories during the near-three years that spanned her initial twenty-seven races. Before her streak of claiming races culminated, Miss Oops landed in the barn of Dallas Keen, and in her first start for the trainer, the mare annihilated a six-furlong claiming race at Santa Anita. With her victory, Miss Oops had granted new owner Raymond Marchand his first win, blazing the path for more success.

The biggest race of Miss Oops’ career to date came on one of the biggest stages in racing. For the first time, the mare would be contesting at the allowance level, but not just at any track on any day: her twenty-eighth start would occur at Santa Anita Park on Breeders’ Cup Friday.

At the barn prior to the race, Miss Oops stood in her stall – denoted as a detention stall by a yellow sign hanging on the door. She had her game face on. She knew it was race day.

“She’s won more races in her career than all of the other horses in this race combined,” Dallas Keen said. “She’ll try harder than any of them.”
With Miss Oops in the paddock
Photo by Terri Cage

Thanks to Dallas and his wife, Donna Keen, I had the great privilege of walking on Miss Oops’ off side as she was led to the saddling paddock. As Breeders’ Cup horses like California Flag, Musical Romance, Nonios, and Obviously schooled among the group, I held onto the lead as I walked alongside Miss Oops into the Santa Anita paddock. The large crowd gathered for the Breeders’ Cup looked on, but my focus was on the Thoroughbred next to me. In just minutes, this grand equine athlete at the end of the lead I grasped would battle on the track on which, later that day, some of the greatest racehorses in the world would contest.

As minutes elapsed, Miss Oops grew more anxious, her eyes alert as she gazed about. The small mare – no taller than 15 hands high – danced around, eager to go to the track. Brice Blanc was soon given a leg up onto the mare and before I knew it, I was standing alongside my mother and Donna and Dallas as we stood, overlooking the track as the horses for the second race on Breeders’ Cup Friday warmed up.

My eyes focused upon the small mare as she traveled down the track, the same mare that minutes earlier, I had placed my hand on her neck soothingly as I held the lead attached to her right side. The board in the infield counted down the minutes to the biggest race of her life.

“There’s not a harder-trying horse in this race,” Donna noted as the Thoroughbreds made their way to the starting gate on the far side of the track for the six and one-half-furlong race. “She wants to win.”

Breaking from the outside post in field of ten, Miss Oops left the gate sharply, settling just off the front-running contingent as she raced widest of all. Brice Blanc urged her to keep up with her competitors and Miss Oops did as asked as the field raced down the backstretch. Less than three lengths separated her from the pacesetters as the Thoroughbreds approached the turn.

Gradually, Miss Oops began to gain ground on the leaders, advancing to third around the curve. She inched closer to the frontrunners, her crooked little legs carrying her closer to the horses ahead of her. Suddenly, I was struck with a sinking feeling when Miss Oops was forced to go wide and appeared to “hang” and make no progress at the top of the stretch.

But displaying her heart and determination, Miss Oops kicked into another gear, bearing down on the heavy favorite, Big Tiz. With each stride, she grew closer, but she simply ran out of time and ground, finishing second by ¾ of a length to Big Tiz. The disappointment of losing only lasted for a split second, only to be replaced by pride for the mare.

“It would have been nice to win, but she tried so hard,” Donna said. “I’m not disappointed. She ran great.”

I was filled with pride for the little mare I had earlier walked next to. She had exceeded the expectations anyone had had for her in her younger days. Despite taking a step up in class, Miss Oops had performed in a superb manner, showing the qualities I most admire in a racehorse: heart and determination.

Three thousand dollars. That’s all this crooked-legged Thoroughbred was once believed to be worth. But you can’t put a price tag on the heart Miss Oops has and if you did, it’d certainly be more than three thousand dollars.

Miss Oops with Donna and Dallas Keen
Photo by Terri Cage

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Eblouissante: Zenyatta's Dazzling Half-Sister

With some paragraphs drawn from "Recent Remarkable Broodmares"

Photo by Terri Cage
The dark, large horse loped along the backside of Hollywood Park on Thanksgiving Day, several lengths separating the debuting three-year-old filly from the pacesetter. It was just another maiden race, featuring a field of Thoroughbreds that, as three-year-olds or older, weren’t nearly as exciting as a group of maiden juveniles. But that dark, large horse swept past her rivals in the stretch with a stunning turn of foot that left witnesses in awe of her triumph. Little did the world know, this filly would become America’s sweetheart, garnering over $7 million in earnings, winning thirteen grade one events, and capturing the hearts of racing fans across the world. The filly was none other than Zenyatta.

Almost exactly five years later, Zenyatta’s half-sister, Eblouissante, debuted at Hollywood Park, becoming one of the most hyped maidens of all-time. Prior to her initial race, the huge, dark-colored three-year-old filly had recorded forty-five works under trainer John Shirreffs, acquiring a large fan club before she even went to post for the first time. As the considerably sized filly sauntered before fans in the post parade for her first start, the racing world was abuzz regarding whether or not Eblouissante could live up to the hype.

She did. Breaking from the third gate among a field of eight as the only first-time starter in the group, Eblouissante emerged from the starting gate cleanly, settling amid the closers with Corey Nakatani aboard. With just one horse behind her, Eblouissante galloped easily into the backstretch, racing along the rail. Her long, dark tail flowed behind her, her powerful stride covering ground as she ran near the rear of the field. It was impossible not to see shades of Zenyatta as one gazed upon the debuting filly.

Eblouissante appeared comfortable down the backside and began to inch forward as the far turn approached. With minimal urging from Nakatani, Eblouissante gradually commenced her rally as the track began to curve, passing the forerunning group with easy strides in just a short amount of time. By the time the field reached the quarter pole, Eblouissante was just a length behind the leader, looming large on the outside as the fillies prepared to enter the homestretch.

Despite not being the carrier of the Moss’ silks, it was like watching Zenyatta as the Thoroughbreds came into the final stretch. To Nakatani’s asking, Eblouissante accelerated, overtaking the leader mid-stretch while displaying an impressive turn of foot, galloping effortlessly to a 4 ¼-length victory with an authoritative stride that resembled that of her older sister.

It’s no secret that this maiden winner has a royal pedigree. Just her title of “Zenyatta’s half-sister” is intimidating enough. However, there is more to her ancestry than that.
Interestingly, Eblouissante is sired by Bernardini, who is also the sire of Zenyatta’s first foal. Bernardini, victor of three grade ones, has proven to be a quality sire in his young stud career, producing five grade one winners. The choice for many top-class racemares, Bernardini is a son of the great A.P. Indy, who has produced nearly thirty grade one winners, including Bernardini, Flashing, Mineshaft, Little Belle, Music Note, and Rags to Riches. The A.P. Indy sire line from which Eblouissante descends has been highly successful, as A.P. Indy is also the sire of such productive studs as Congrats, Malibu Moon, Mineshaft, Pulpit, and Stephen Got Even.

The dam of Eblouissante is of course the incredibly successful Vertigineux, who quickly became a useful broodmare when her first foal, Where’s Bailey, became a black-type winner in the South. But she really made impressions when her second foal, Balance, had a terrific two-year-old campaign in southern California, winning a stakes race while placing in not only a non-graded stakes, but also the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (GI). Balance furthered Vertigineux’s value when she later triumphed in the Las Virgenes Stakes (GI), the Santa Anita Oaks (GI), the La Canada Stakes (GII), and the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (GI). Shortly after Balance’s career ended came the debut of not only Vertigineux’s best offspring, but one of the best racehorses the world has ever seen: Zenyatta. The great mare went nineteen-for-twenty, winning thirteen grade ones, including the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), the latter in which she became the only female racehorse to ever win the race. Zenyatta captured four Eclipse Award titles throughout her career– including Horse of the Year. Vertigineux has also produced Souper Spectacular, an earner of over $100,000 who has twice finished fourth in grade three events.

Vertigineux had the support of Kris S as her sire when she entered her career as a broodmare, as the son of the influential Roberto has recently proven to be among the best broodmare sires. Vertigineux herself is out of a successful broodmare, being a daughter of the dam of the multiple stakes-winning and group stakes-placed Restrained and the group stakes-placed On the Staff. Her damsire, the Argentinian Horse of the Year Forli, was also the broodmare sire of such horses as the champions Nureyev, Precisionist, and Swale. As a member of female family four, Vertigineux is among an elite group that descends from the Layton Barb mare. Other descendants of this female family include the dams of the Triple Crown winners Assault and Gallant Fox, as well as the champions Afleet Alex, Bowl of Flowers, Hail to Reason, Real Quiet, and Sunny’s Halo. 
Vertigineux was recently named not only 2008 Broodmare of the Year, but also a Reine De Course mare, and rightfully so.

One cannot expect for Eblouissante to become another Zenyatta, as the racing world will never see another Zenyatta. However, we do seem to have another superstar on our hands. Regal bloodlines and famous sister aside, Eblouissante’s debut truly lived up to her name, which means “dazzling” in French. A Thoroughbred simply cannot have much more remarkable parentage than this filly and it is impossible to deny that Eblouissante’s maiden victory was brilliant.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Super Ninety Nine: Something to Look Forward To

He tossed his head, flashing his radiant white blaze as his red mane flowed, his neck arched as his rich chestnut coat gleamed in the morning sun. My eyes focused upon the Bob Baffert trainee's Breeders' Cup saddle towel, reading his name: Super Ninety Nine. Prior to seeing him in person, I had not been incredibly impressed by the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint contender. However, as soon as the colt graced my vision, he became my top selection.

Super Ninety Nine
Photo by Terri Cage
Super Ninety Nine displayed great muscularity for his age, possessing the powerful build of a Quarter Horse. It was impossible to deny that the colt reminded me of a former grade one-winning Baffert trainee, Euroears. Sharing the same chestnut coloring and similar markings, Super Ninety Nine was also powerfully built just as Euroears had been and also galloped in the same robust manner.

Unfortunately, after being cast in his stall, Super Ninety Nine was withdrawn from the Juvenile Sprint and thus was unable to reveal what he was capable of on Breeders' Cup weekend. But Super Ninety Nine had impressed me enough in the mornings to land a position on my radar.

The colt's debut was clearly exciting enough for his connections to enter him in the Breeders' Cup. His first start came in a seven-furlong maiden special weight over Santa Anita's main track, in which the chestnut was sent off as the third choice in a field of twelve. Super Ninety Nine did not briskly leave the starting gate, but with slight urging from jockey Martin Garcia, the chestnut colt rocketed to the lead as the field commenced its run down the backstretch.

However, the Tanma Corporation-owned colt was soon overtaken by the favorite, Quietasacat, off of whom Super Ninety Nine raced just to the outside. Just a half-length separated the two as an initial quarter-mile split of 23.05 was set, but Super Ninety Nine gradually began to decrease Quietasacat's lead as the pair led the field into the turn.

Super Ninety Nine matched strides with his nemesis midway through the curve, gaining a slight advantage as they reached the quarter pole. With asking from Garcia, Super Ninety Nine began to kick clear, lengthening his lead at the top of the stretch, holding off the charges of his rivals. In the final yards, the colt seemed to find his best stride despite changing leads, crossing the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front.

Super Ninety Nine
Photo by Terri Cage
Bred by Northwest Farms LLC, this rising star brings to life bloodlines that are like a web of speed and stamina. Bred on a cross of two of the most powerful sire lines of the breed, Super Ninety Nine possesses a pedigree that is not lacking in strength on either side.

Sired by Pulpit, Super Ninety Nine shares the same sire as such grade one winners as Corinthian, Ice Box, Purge, Pyro, Rutherienne, Sky Mesa, Stroll, and Tapit. Pulpit is of course a son of the great A.P. Indy, the sire of nearly thirty grade one winners, including Bernardini, Flashing, Mineshaft, Little Belle, Music Note, and Rags to Riches. The A.P. Indy sire line from which Super Ninety Nine descends has been highly successful, as A.P. Indy is also the sire of such productive studs as Bernardini, Congrats, Malibu Moon, Mineshaft, and Stephen Got Even. 

Super Ninety Nine's dam, Exogenetic, is a three-quarters sister to Exogenous, an ill-fated multiple grade one winner, and is also the dam of the multiple black-type-winning Elusive Horizon. A daughter of Unbridled's Song, Exogenetic provides Super Ninety Nine with the same broodmare sire as the group one winner Better Than Ever, as well as the graded stakes winners Etched, Hold Me Back, and Out of Bounds.

War Exchange, Super Ninety Nine's fourth dam, was a stakes-winning mare who produced two graded stakes winners, one of which was Barbarika, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin's granddam, thus making War Exchange the multiple classic winner's third dam. War Exchange is also the third dam of the grade one-winning champion Countess Diana.

Misfortune kept Super Ninety Nine out of the Breeders' Cup, but I will not soon forget this striking colt, who I will be keeping a close eye on. Bringing to the table eye-catching conformation and movement, as well as a beautiful pedigree, Super Ninety appears to have bright future ahead of him. Perhaps many are thinking of what could have been had he been able to compete in the Breeders' Cup. However, I am simply looking forward to what this colt's future holds.

Super Ninety Nine
Photo by Terri Cage

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Groupie Doll: All She Does is Win

March 17, 2012 marks the last time Groupie Doll did not visit the winner's circle. Since then, the filly has been unbeatable, forming a winning streak that has prevented her from losing for the rest of 2012.

Groupie Doll
Photo by Terri Cage
Despite being sidlelined for a minor injury, Groupie Doll dominated the female sprint division this year, capturing four graded stakes races - including two grade ones - prior to the Breeders' Cup by a total of 20 1/2 lengths. As the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI) approached, Groupie Doll appeared to be as close to a lock as any horse competing in a 2012 Breeders' Cup event.

Breaking from the ninth post in a field of ten, Groupie Doll was asked for speed in the early stages, racing on the far outside alongside the front-running contingent, though she was galloping along in sixth. As Teddy's Promise lengthened her lead, setting brisk fractions, Groupie Doll remained widest of all as the field began to gallop into the turn. 

In spite of her wide trip, Groupie Doll gained ground on the leaders as the Thoroughbreds rounded the curve, looming large on the outside as the field turned for home. In impressive fashion, the chestnut filly kicked clear, passing Dust and Diamonds as soon as the fillies and mares reached the top of the stretch. With absolute ease, the brilliant filly coasted to a 4 1/2-length triumph (the greatest winning margin of this year's Breeders' Cup), posting a final time for seven furlongs that was just one second more than the track record.

Bred, co-owned, and trained by Buff Bradley, Groupie Doll may not have the most breathtaking of bloodlines at first glance, but after a more efficient study, there is a piece of the cause for her success found in her ancestry.

Groupie Doll is sired by Bowman's Band, a grade one-winning son of Dixieland Band responsible for producing such stakes winners as Baltimore Belle, Roadhog, Ruby's Big Band, Seychelles, and Son of a Bear. Though Bowman's Band's stud career has been rather undistinguished, the success he has found is likely due in large part to his sire, Dixieland Band.  A son of the influential Northern Dancer, Dixieland Band sired more than 100 stakes winners.

Groupie Doll's dam, Deputy Doll, didn't have much success outside of Groupie Doll, but her own dam, Slick Turn, produced two black-type horses, including the black-type-winning Russellthemussell. Interestingly, Groupie Doll's fifth dam is the Reine de Course mare Flower Bed, the dam of multiple stakes-winning Flower Bowl who went on to become a powerful Reine de Course mare. 

Groupie Doll's broodmare sire is Silver Deputy, who won a graded stakes race in his brief, undefeated career before siring several millionaires, including the grade one winners Pool Play, Silverbulletday, and Spring At Last. As a broodmare sire, Silver Deputy has produced the dams of the likes of the multiple graded stakes winners Miraculous Miss, Preachinatthebar, Quiet Temper, and Roman Ruler. Silver Deputy is a son of champion Deputy Minister, a highly successful broodmare sire who sired the dams of such champions as Curlin, Halfbridled, and Rags to Riches.

Without a doubt, Groupie Doll was one of the true superstars of 2012 and certainly offered one of the best performances of this year's rendition of the Breeders' Cup. Her victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint will likely be looked upon fondly for years to come, as in her win, this filly - from the same family as Flower Bowl - showed her true class, putting on a show for racing fans as the blood of a regal Thoroughbred, descended from a line of quality horses of the breed, ran through her veins.

Groupie Doll winning the Filly & Mare Sprint
Photo by Terri Cage

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Animal Kingdom: The Comeback Kid

Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage
Hopes soared, dreams grew, expectations ascended, and nerves climbed. Animal Kingdom was loading into the starting gate for the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI). Just two weeks prior, the majestic chestnut had captured the Kentucky Derby (GI) at 20-1. But despite his long odds in the Run for the Roses, the easy manner with which he had conquered eighteen rivals gave racing enthusiasts hope that he could be the one: the horse that could put an end to the Triple Crown drought.

But when the audacious Shackleford held off Animal Kingdom in a stirring stretch run in the second leg of the prestigious series, those dreams came to a crashing halt. Despite his loss, Animal Kingdom continued on to the Belmont Stakes (GI), the twelve-furlong test that serves as the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Little did everyone know, this race would change Animal Kingdom’s racing career.

Animal Kingdom was sent off as the favorite in the field of twelve that would contest over the sloppy track. Just strides out of the gate, Animal Kingdom was squeezed by horses, nearly tumbling to the ground while almost catapulting jockey John Velazquez out of the saddle. In spite of the near-disaster, the Derby victor went on to finish a valiant sixth and was soon discovered to have an injury that required two screws in his left hind leg. This injury prevented Animal Kingdom from competing again in 2011.

The colt returned in February 2012, winning an
allowance race at Gulfstream Park in preparation for the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup (GI). However, Animal Kingdom was yet again sidelined with a left hind leg injury, inhibiting him from being seen at the races until the end of the season.

Most would have expected for Animal Kingdom to return in an easy spot, but rather, the colt was prepared for the
Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), which shaped up to be one of the most competitive races of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup. Among the talented horses entered in the Mile was the brilliant multiple grade one winner Wise Dan, the multiple group one-winning horses Excelebration – who had been running in the great Frankel’s shadow – and Moonlight Cloud, and the blossoming graded stakes winner Obviously.

With Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time, Animal Kingdom burst from the starting gate on Breeders' Cup Saturday, settling near the rear of the field as the star-studded group of Thoroughbreds thundered past the stands for the initial time. The large chestnut appeared comfortable along the rail as the horses raced around the first turn, rating about six lengths off the pacesetter.

Down the backstretch, Bejarano angled Animal Kingdom outwards slightly as the distance to the finish line grew shorter. While Obviously set brisk fractions on the front end, Animal Kingdom inched closer to the front-running contingent, Bejarano searching for room aboard him. However, a wall of horses obstructed the Derby winner as the field rounded the far turn.

Animal Kingdom remained stuck behind the trap formed by horses as Wise Dan began to close on Obviously, continuing to pursue a clean space to run down the straightaway. Finally, midstretch, a hole opened and Animal Kingdom galloped through, setting his sights on Wise Dan as he kicked into gear. The Graham Motion trainee dug deep, accelerating in imposing fashion in the final strides, only to run out of ground as he finished second in an amazing effort.

Having only raced twice since injury first plagued him, Animal Kingdom has proven to be a highly courageous, talented Thoroughbred. Should he remain sound, great things should be expected of him, as not only has he proven so on the track, but it is implied in his pedigree as well. 

Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage
Though Kentucky-bred, Animal Kingdom has a tremendously international pedigree. In fact, of the sixty-two horses in the first five generations of his pedigree, only fourteen were bred in the United States. Animal Kingdom's bloodlines are greatly influenced by British, German, and French Thoroughbreds, though prominent traces of Irish and Italian ancestry are also found within his parentage.

Animal Kingdom is sired by the Brazilian-bred Leroidesanimaux, a multiple grade one-winning son of Candy Stripes who excelled on grass, earning the 2005 Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Male. Interestingly, Leroidesanimaux also finished second in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Having earned more than $2.7 million, Animal Kingdom owns the title of Leroidesanimaux's leading money earner. Other notable horses sired by Leroidesanimaux include the graded stakes winners Always a Princess, Leroy's Dynameaux, and Sarah's Secret. Leroidesanimaux is a son of Candy Stripes, a two-time leading sire in Argentina responsible for such champions as Invasor and Different.

Candy Stripes is a son of Blushing Groom, recipient of multiple champion honors as both racehorse and sire. A stallion who has had great success as a broodmare sire, Blushing Groom was also a tremendous sire and sire of sires, producing horses like Nashwan, Rahy, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom that were successful on the track and in the breeding shed.

Strength cannot only be found in the top side of Animal Kingdom's pedigree; his dam side is quite strong as well. His dam, the German-bred Dalicia, was a group stakes-winning mare. Out of Dynamis, Dalicia's second dam is Diasprina, a German champion responsible for producing the group stakes-winning horses Desidera and Diacada, as well as the multiple stakes-winning runners Dania and Diable.

Dalicia is sired by Acatenango, one of the most well-known German racehorses of all-time. A multiple group one winner, Acatenango was not only a three-time Horse of the Year, but a multiple-year leading sire. Among his best offspring were the champions Borgia and Lando. He is also the sire of the dams of such group one winners as Querari and Waldpark.

No matter which surface Animal Kingdom focuses upon - he is a winner on dirt, turf, and synthetic - he will find success. The international flair of his bloodlines is reflected in his appearance and running style, as well as the versatility he has displayed. Animal Kingdom is a true superstar and the racing world could be in for a treat should he remain sound and continue his excellence.

Animal Kingdom
Photo by Terri Cage