Friday, May 31, 2013

2013 Epsom Derby: Dawn Approach

Racing fans’ hearts and minds remain thrilled with memories of the great Frankel, the horse who took the world by storm, sweeping to prestigious victories across England as he created a flawless career of fourteen victories in the same amount of starts. Regarded as one of the greatest racehorse of all-time (and the greatest by many racing enthusiasts and experts), his retirement was a sad note in racing, particularly European racing. But fans didn’t have to wait long for another brilliant, undefeated colt to emerge.

Like the sun illuminating the land at daybreak, Dawn Approach arrived on the scene. A powerfully built chestnut with a unique blaze, Dawn Approach marched onto the historic course of the Curragh – the place of the running horse – for the commencement of his career. On a yielding turf course going five furlongs, Dawn Approach tracked the pacesetter, appearing comfortable in second prior to taking the lead within the final quarter of a mile, easily drawing off to win by 1 ¾ lengths. With his victory, Dawn Approach became the first winner for champion New Approach.

Nearly two months elapsed before Dawn Approach went to post again. The scene of his second career start was a good to yielding turf course at Naas Racecourse in Ireland, in which the stunning chestnut would advance to the distance of six furlongs. The race became a breeze for Dawn Approach. After tracking the pace yet again, the Jim Bolger homebred and trainee kicked clear to an effortless 5 ½-length victory.

Advancing to the listed race level, Dawn Approach competed against just five rivals in the Alfred Nobel Rochestown Stakes at Naas. Once more tracking the leader, the Irish-bred colt was ridden vigorously in the final stages of the race, edging clear to score by a comfortable margin that neared 3 lengths.

Fifteen days later emerged the toughest test of Dawn Approach’s career to that point. On opening day of the renowned Royal Ascot meeting, the colt – bred, owned, and trained by Jim Bolger – faced twenty-one opponents in the Coventry Stakes (GII). Was he as talented as he had appeared in his previous starts?

Racing mid-pack in the beginnings of the six-furlong event, Dawn Approach was kept to a position behind the leaders by rider Kevin Manning – the only jockey to ever pilot the colt. Encouraged in the late phase of the race, Dawn Approach became determined to surpass those ahead of him. Relying on sheer talent and ability, the eye-catching chestnut held clear, annexing the race by ¾ of a length over Olympic Glory, who would go on to be a group one winner. Dawn Approach had extended his flawless record to four-for-four and as a result of the prospect of future triumphs and thrills he presented, Godolphin Racing purchased a majority interest in the talent colt, allowing him to remain under the care of Jim Bolger.

Given nearly three months away from the races, Dawn Approach carried the distinguished blue silks of Goldolphin into battle for the first time in the Vincent O’Brien Stakes (GI) (or the National Stakes) – also his first group one challenge. Returning to the Curragh for the event, Dawn Approach settled into third among the small, seven-horse field. As Flying the Flag led the juveniles by a wide margin, Dawn Approach tracked stablemate Leitir Mor.

The tactic of such intense early speed over yielding ground served as Flying the Flag’s hamartia and as said horse struggled home in the final stages of the seven-furlong contest, Dawn Approach unleashed his rally, displaying scintillating acceleration as he drew away to score by 4 ¾ lengths.

Dawn Approach had established himself as one of the best two-year-olds in the land and he was given the chance to confirm this title with a victory in the final start of his juvenile campaign, the Dewhurst Stakes (GI) at Newmarket. Following brief contact with rivals at the beginning of the race, Dawn Approach rated on the outside in third. Over good to soft going, the blaze-faced chestnut gradually improved his position and as each of the six horses in the field commenced their runs, Dawn Approach initially appeared flat. But once he hit his best stride, there would be no denying him. He quickened in a breathtaking manner, his powerful action carrying him to a 2 ¾-length victory.

His flawless record as a juvenile earned him the Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt Award and the title of the winter favorite for the 2,000 Guineas (GI), the first leg of the English Triple Crown. This European classic commenced the colt’s sophomore season and served as redemption for his sire, who finished second in the 2008 installment of the race, beaten a nose by Henrythenavigator.

Sent off as the 11-8 favorite in a field of thirteen, Dawn Approach galloped away from the gate with his usual slight stutter-step and was guided by Manning into mid-pack. Settling behind the leaders, the Jim Bolger trainee galloped contentedly down the straight path of the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket.

Continuing to gallop along in fourth, Dawn Approach increased his pace with a quarter-mile remaining in the mile-long contest. Gradually, he gained ground on the rivals ahead of him, drawing even with the leaders prior to hesitating to draw clear. However, once he quickened within the final furlong, Dawn Approach exhibited his trademark spectacular turn of foot, extending his advantage on the others with stunning ease as he neared the wire with authoritative strides, capturing the race by an impressive 5 lengths.

Dawn Approach has commemorated his sire in perfect fashion, bearing many similarities to him. Not only is he his first winner, but Dawn Approach is also trained by the same man who conditioned New Approach, Jim Bolger. Like his son, New Approach was honored as the Cartier European Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in 2007, also winning the National and Dewhurst Stakes. Also sent off at 11-8 odds in the 2,000 Guineas, New Approach, however, missed victory by a nose.

This loss was the first blemish on New Approach’s record, but the Jim Bolger trainee continued to shine, winning several high-caliber races, such as the Epsom Derby (GI), the Irish Champion Stakes (GI), and the Champion Stakes (GI). Aside from Dawn Approach, New Approach has sired the likes of the group stakes winners Libertarian, Montsegur, and Newfangled, as well as the stakes winners Talent and Tha’Ir, and the group stakes-placed Bunairgead from his first crop.

New Approach is a son of perhaps the most coveted Thoroughbred stallion in the world, Galileo, who has sired over twenty group one winners, such as Cape Blanco, Frankel, Galikova, Misty for Me, Nathaniel, New Approach, Red Rocks, Rip Van Winkle, Sixties Icon, Together, and Treasure Beach. The multiple group one-winning Galileo was nearly guaranteed to be a spectacular sire, being the result of a mating between two top producers.

The sire of Galileo is none other than the great Sadler's Wells, one of the greatest sires the world has ever seen. 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. Sadler's Wells has 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.

Galileo’s dam is the absolutely tremendous mare Urban Sea, which makes him a half-brother to the great champion Sea the Stars, as well as the grade one-winning My Typhoon, the group stakes-winning Urban Ocean, the stakes-winning and group one-placed horses Born to Sea and Melikah, and the group stakes-placed Cherry Hinton. He is also a full brother to the multiple group one-winning Black Sam Bellamy and the group stakes-winning All Too Beautiful.

Dawn Approach’s dam, Hymn of the Dawn, never amounted to much as a racehorse, losing each of her five starts. Bred in Kentucky, the mare was purchased as a weanling at the 1999 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and was then sent to Ireland. After her unsuccessful racing career, the bay mare began to show little effectiveness as a producer, with her only true success as a broodmare emerging in the form of Dawn Approach.

However, Hymn of the Dawn stems from a superb family. A daughter of the multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Phone Trick, Hymn of the Dawn shares the same sire as the champions Favorite Trick and Phone Chatter, thus providing Dawn Approach with the same broodmare sire as the grade/group one winners El Inspirado, Exogenous, and Zensational, as well as a multitude of other stakes winners, such as the multiple graded stakes-winning Eye of the Tiger.

Hymn of the Dawn’s dam, Colonial Debut, a daughter of the Kentucky Derby (GI)- and Preakness Stakes (GI)-winning champion Pleasant Colony, also produced the grade one-placed Galantas. The colt’s fourth dam is Kittiwake, a graded stakes winner that foaled a pair of grade one winners. An impeccably bred individual, Kittiwake is a result of the mating between the all-time great Sea-Bird II and the multiple stakes-winning, track record-setting mare Ole Liz, a Reine De Course mare that also produced the multiple graded stakes-winning Oilfield.

Both of Dawn Approach’s parents descend from the Nearctic sire line, with their great-grandsires both being sons of the Canadian Hall of Famer and influential Native Dancer mares. This method of Neartic line-breeding has proved to be tremendously effective, producing the likes of the group one winners Black Caviar, Danedream, Frankel, and Rock of Gibraltar. The blending of pedigrees similar to New Approach and Hymn of the Dawn has proven to be an effectual combination, producing a large percentage of winners, including the stakes-winning Isabell’s Shoes.

And so now this beautifully bred, athletic colt has reached another significant test in his career: the Epsom Derby (GI). The second leg of England’s Triple Crown – a prestigious series that has not been swept until 1970 – is his for the taking. Can he continue to follow in the footsteps of his sire and continue to display the pure brilliance he has exhibited?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Juvenile Spotlight: Fiftyshadesofgold

Photo by Terri Cage
As a storm brewed beyond the grandstand of Lone Star Park on a humid May evening, a gray filly sauntered before onlookers as she was led toward the saddling paddock. Just two years old, she appeared very composed as she strolled along amid her competitors. In the infield, the totes board reflected her low odds, indicating that she was the heavy favorite.

Her name was Fiftyshadesofgold. She’d never raced before, but there had been much buzz about her. She’d compiled a collection of workouts and in those morning works, had made quite the impression. That night would prove if she could live up to the hype.

Alongside nine other rivals, Fiftyshadesofgold loaded into the starting gate on the far side of the track for the five-furlong Texas-bred maiden special weight. Away from the gate in a clean manner, Fiftyshadesofgold quickly found a stalking position in third with jockey Cliff Berry – the all-time leading rider at Lone Star Park – aboard. Making a sweeping move around the far turn, the dark gray filly soared to the lead before the quarter pole, seizing a clear advantage as the field turned for home.

In a mere hand ride from Berry, Fiftyshadesofgold drew away from her opponents with utter effortlessness, her strong strides carrying her toward the wire as she left the other fillies in her wake. The two-year-old filly continued to extend her lead down the lane despite Berry ceasing to ask her. She flashed under the wire ten lengths in front, posting a final time that was just 1.51 seconds off the track record despite being geared down in the late stages of the race. Her win served as trainer Bret Calhoun's 600th Lone Star Park victory.

Photo by Terri Cage
Fiftyshadesofgold is a homebred for Clarence Scharbauer, Jr., former president of the American Quarter Horse Association whose family owned the great Alysheba, Kentucky Derby (GI) winner and 1988 Horse of the Year. Born on the Scharbauers’ beautiful Valor Farm in North Texas, Fiftyshadesofgold’s pedigree is a model of the farm’s bluest blood.

Her sire is My Golden Song, one of the most elite stallions on Valor's strong stallion roster. My Golden Song, who was third behind Barbaro in the 2006 Holy Bull Stakes (GIII), has sired many Texas stakes horses, including the multiple black-type winners Cowgirl N Up and Platinum Song, as well as the additional black-type winners Smiles Golden Song and Triumph And Song. A son of Unbridled’s Song, who has appeared within the top ten sires in the nation six of the past ten years, My Golden Song shares the same sire as many blossoming stallions, including Eurosilver, Even the Score, Political Force, Rockport Harbor, and, most notably, Songandaprayer.

Although Fiftyshadesofgold’s dam, Hadif Cat, encountered little success at the track, the mare has found greater achievements as a broodmare. Since her racing career ended in 2006, Hadif Cat has produced the black-type winners Sword Trick and Tastefullyxcessive, the former of which earned more than $210,000. Hadif Cat is a daughter of the group three-winning Hadif, a former Valor Farm stallion that became one of the most influential sires in Texas. As a broodmare sire, the half-brother to the grade one-winning Secret Hello has produced the dams of many black-type winners, including Early Final, Final Trick, Hadavision, My Three Girls, Sax Appeal, Stormin Quality, and Triumph And Song.

Fiftyshadesofgold’s third dam is Alysbelle, a full sister to Alysheba and a graded stakes victress that placed in a pair of grade ones. She found similar success as a broodmare, producing the multiple group stakes-winning Matikane Kinnohosi and Golden Spur, a horse that earned over $100,000. This makes Fiftyshadesofgold a direct descendant of the Reine De Course mare Belthazar, who was the last foal sired by Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

Texas-breds like Fiftyshadesofgold rarely make a name for themselves on the national scene, but this filly’s chances of becoming a classy stakes horse in the South are high. A talented horse at any level is enjoyable to follow and I eagerly await the remainder of this gifted filly’s career.

Fiftyshadesofgold after impressively winning her debut
Photo by Terri Cage

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Oxbow: An Old-School Preakness Victory

Orb’s old-school connections of Shug McGaughey, alongside the Phipps and Janney families, seemed to be the perfect team to end the 35-year drought that racing fans have heartbreakingly endured. Approaching the Preakness Stakes (GI), the Kentucky Derby (GI) victor created an abundance of anticipation among the racing world. Could he be the one?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. Despite his old-school connections that seemed fit for the crown, it was not meant to be for Orb. But the 2013 Triple Crown, despite Orb’s loss in the Preakness, remains old-school through some of the most renowned names in the industry: Gary Stevens, D. Wayne Lukas, and Calumet Farm.

Oxbow was dismissed at 15-1 odds as nine Thoroughbreds loaded into the gate at Pimlico. All eyes were on gate one, where Orb stood beneath Joel Rosario. In the sixth gate stood a horse most had forgotten, allowing him to be sent off as the second-longest shot in the field.

A horse that caught my eye when breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs last fall for the brilliance he displayed then, Oxbow has caught many eyes along the Triple Crown trail this year, simply for the uniqueness of his coloring. He appears to be gray or roan, but gray horses must have a gray parent and both of Oxbow’s parents are bay, or dark bay/brown. Oxbow, registered a bay, is a misfit, and not just because of his coloring.

Photo by Brittlan Wall

His career began in rather unconventional fashion, despite the fact that he debuted at Saratoga, the land of promising juveniles. In this debut, Oxbow was pulled up and vanned off. His succeeding pair of starts resulted in lackluster performances, causing the $250,000 price he’d commanded at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale to be questioned. Was he really worth a quarter of a million dollars?

When Oxbow broke through with a victory in his fourth career start, he began to pave a path to answering that question with a yes. Dominating a maiden special weight beneath the Twin Spires, Oxbow would then enter stakes company and not look back.

After shipping west for the CashCall Futurity (GI), in which he finished fourth, Oxbow proved that he was a high-caliber racehorse with an authoritative 11 ½-length triumph in the LeComte Stakes, one of the first races on the Triple Crown trail. Racing enthusiasts lined up for a seat on the Oxbow bandwagon, only to abandon it as he accumulated a collection of three losses leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

In the Derby, Oxbow was forwardly placed and appeared ready to fight for victory at the top of the stretch. But he weakened late and finished sixth as Orb stormed home to a triumph that created large waves of excitement within the racing world.

Oxbow was forgotten as Orb prepared to continue his Triple Crown bid. Few noted his final work before the Preakness, in which Stevens – who was aboard for the breeze – gathered more confidence in his mount.

So now Oxbow stood in the starting gate, forgotten by many. But he did not know this. All he knew was that this was his job, his passion.

He emerged from the gate, only to be bumped by his stablemate, the powerfully-built Will Take Charge. But this did not prevent him from immediately pursuing the lead with Stevens aboard. Racing to the front as the field thundered past the grandstand for the first time in the two-turn event, Oxbow seized a clear, comfortable lead as he commanded the pace. Recording the initial quarter-mile in a steady 23.94, Oxbow was the lone speed as the field galloped around the clubhouse turn.

Oxbow leading the field past the stands for the first time
Photo by Brittlan Wall

Oxbow had become a dangerous competitor for his opponents. He was alone in the vanguard, galloping along easily as he posted moderate fractions. With his ears perked as the nine-horse charge raced down the backstretch, Oxbow was receiving a dream trip. His nearest rival was Goldencents, who offered very little pressure, rating two lengths behind Stevens’ mount.

Meanwhile, Orb was making an early move, growing closer to the leaders. Racing several paths away from the rail – which was the deepest part of the track –, Oxbow continued to lead in an easy manner, completing the first half-mile in 48.60. He’d slowed down, but remained the clear-cut leader. It was the perfect journey for a pacesetter.

As Orb lost ground, Oxbow continued to lead, maintaining the eager, content look upon his face as he led his rivals around the far turn. Beginning to lengthen his advantage on the field, people began to take notice. Orb was not firing, but Oxbow was digging deep, finding more left in his tank after the easy trip he’d experienced.

Oxbow was clearly enjoying what he was doing. Continuing to lead, he raced into the homestretch three lengths ahead of the others. Galloping in an authoritative manner, Oxbow charged home, prepared to repel any threats. Despite rallies from Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, Stevens called on every ounce of effort Oxbow had within and Oxbow responded with a stunning display of determination, holding firm to prevail by 1 ¾ lengths.

Spectators watched as Stevens stood in the irons, thrusting his fist in the air victoriously, shouting "Are you kidding me?!" This display of triumph was far from new. In fact it was old, something that, in November of 2005 seemed to be a thing of the past.

Stevens, a Hall of Fame jockey, had announced his retirement in late 2005, hanging up his tack after a career that saw him capture a plethora of prestigious races, including eight Triple Crown races and just as many Breeders’ Cup races. He left the saddle and became a television anchor for companies like NBC, HRTV, and TVG, covering racing. He even played roles in the film Seabiscuit and the television series Luck. But in early January of this year, Stevens announced he was returning to racing. He quickly found success again, winning his first graded stakes race since announcing his comeback just over a month after returning to the races.

Meanwhile, D. Wayne Lukas – a Hall of Famer himself – was preparing a handful of newly-turned three-year-olds for the Triple Crown. Among them was Oxbow. Lukas had had grand success in Triple Crown races, but a victory in one of the three classics had eluded him since 2000. Since then, he’d brought a multitude of three-year-olds to the Triple Crown, only to be plagued by disappointment. He could only hope that 2013 would be the year in which he would stand within the winner’s circle of a Triple Crown race yet again.

In January, as Stevens’ comeback commenced, D. Wayne Lukas – a trainer for which Stevens had garnered three of his Triple Crown race wins – contacted the soon-to-be 50-year-old jockey. He informed him of the three-year-olds he was preparing for the Triple Crown, including a colt named Oxbow.
Oxbow and Gary Stevens, in Calumet Farm's silks
Photo by Brittlan Wall
The colt was owned by Calumet Farm, one of the most illustrious names in the racing industry. Any racing fan that has ever visited the heart of the Thoroughbred world – Lexington, Kentucky – is sure to have seen the picturesque white fences, the elegant white, red, and green barns, and the gentle, rolling hills of the historic farm. Once a powerhouse, Calumet had won seventeen Triple Crown races prior to 2013, including Triple Crown sweeps with Whirlaway and Citation. But a win in one of the spring classics had evaded the farm since 1968.

Calumet fell on hard times and, in 1992, was purchased by Henryk de Kwiatkowski for more than $17 million. Last May, the farm was again sold, this time for $36 million to Brad Kelley. The famous red and blue silks were replaced by Kelley’s black and gold colors, but the farm had been revitalized. It was ready to return to the battlefield of the Triple Crown and with Oxbow in its possession, it had the chance to again rejoice within the thrill of a Triple Crown race victory.

On May 18, 2013, each of these storied histories came together in the Preakness Stakes all thanks to Oxbow, the misfit. Dreams of a Triple Crown reached a crashing halt, but the pain of Orb’s loss was alleviated by the scene of these old-school connections rejoicing in the winner’s circle, ending their own Triple Crown droughts.

Stevens’ and Lukas’ first words to each other after the victory? “I love you.”

Gary Stevens celebrating his Preakness victory aboard Oxbow
Photo by Brittlan Wall

Preakness Stakes 2013: If the Track Is Muddy

Two weeks ago, a sloppy track for the Kentucky Derby (GI) was inevitable. The rain gushed from the sky all day long, transforming the fast dirt track at Churchill Downs into an oval of mud. This off-going was not an issue for Orb, who would win the Run for the Roses in a seemingly effortless manner, but did play a role in the poor performances of other quality athletes. Among these athletes were Goldencents and Itsmyluckyday, who pursued the Preakness Stakes (GI) two weeks later with hopes of encountering a fairer racing surface.

But dark clouds hang over Old Hilltop today, haunting the also-rans of the Kentucky Derby. Although currently reports that there is no chance of rain at post time (6:20 P.M. EDT), a small amount of rain has fallen upon Pimlico throughout the day and it could rain more prior to post.

Should it rain more, causing an off-track, how will each of the Preakness contenders fare? Listed below are all of the horses entered to run in today’s Preakness, along with descriptions of the mud influences in their pedigrees and their previous runs in the mud, if they exist. The runners are listed in post position order. For my main analysis of the Preakness field, please click here.

1. Orb: The Kentucky Derby winner is clearly proven over off-going, having won the Run for the Roses by 2 ½ lengths over a sloppy track. His grandsire, A.P. Indy, is hidden mud influence and his sire’s broodmare sire is top mud influence in Mr. Prospector, a horse Orb is inbred to 3 X 4. The sire of Orb’s dam sire is Fappiano and the colt also traces back to Damascus, both of which are major off-track influences. His fifth generation is also home to the influential mud horses Buckpasser and In Reality. Orb’s dam, Lady Liberty, was third – beaten less than 2 lengths – in one of her two starts over a sloppy track and won an allowance over a good track. In her other try over an off-track, she finished last of five, but her loss was more of a matter of being outclassed than not handling the track.

Should the track become muddy or sloppy, Orb should have an even greater advantage.

Photo by Brittlan Wall

2. Goldencents: This colt’s grandsire, Harlan’s Holiday, won a grade three over a “wet fast” track and his dam’s grandsire, Forty Niner, has proven to be rather impactful in the pedigrees of mud horses, being a son of Mr. Prospector. In his fifth generation, you can find His Majesty, a strong mud influence.

Goldencents’ pedigree does not scream mud and neither does his performance in the Kentucky Derby. On the first Saturday of May, Goldencents did not take to the track and was eased as he finished seventeenth.

3. Titletown Five: This longshot is a grandson of Cee’s Tizzy through his sire, Tiznow. Cee’s Tizzy is a hidden mud influence, being a grandson of In Reality – a major force in the pedigree of mudders. This colt’s dam won a pair of group ones in the mud.

Titletown Five contested over a sloppy track in his second start, in which he finished a weak fourth.

4. Departing: This colt’s sire, War Front, was a romping winner in the slop when breaking his maiden. Major mud influence Fappiano is the sire of War Front’s broodmare sire. Mr. Prospector, one of the most renowned mud influences in the breed, appears three times in the first five generations of Departing’s pedigree, including through Forty Niner.

Departing has a strong mud pedigree but has only competed over a fast track.

Photo by Brittlan Wall

5. Mylute: This colt is bred very well for the mud, as his sire Midnight Lute was not only a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) in the slop, but Mylute is a descendant of the Fappiano sire line. The presence of Deputy Minister on the top side of his pedigree is beneficial, as is his 5 X 4 inbreeding to top mud influence In Reality.

Mylute’s only start over an off-track was in the Kentucky Derby, in which he closed to finish a strong fifth.

6. Oxbow: This colt’s sire, Awesome Again, was a winner in the slop and is a son of mud influence Deputy Minister. His broodmare sire, Cee’s Tizzy, is a hidden mud influence, being a grandson of In Reality – a major force in the pedigree of mudders. Also, like In Reality, Mr. Prospector – known for having a large impact on horses in the slop – resides in Oxbow’s third generation.

Oxbow finished a good sixth in the Derby, but may have struggled a bit with the sloppy surface.

7. Will Take Charge: Although Will Take Charge is from the Fappiano sire line and is inbred to that mud influence 3 X 4 and is a great-grandson of Deputy Minister, he was a poor sixth over a sloppy track in the Southwest Stakes (GIII). However, a he performed well in the Derby despite having to forcefully check at the top of the stretch and rallied well over the mud to finish eighth.

8. Govenor Charlie: Like Mylute, Govenor Charlie is a son of Midnight Lute – winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) in the slop and a descendant of the Fappiano sire line. He is inbred 4 X 4 to mud influence Deputy Minister and 5 X 5 to Mr. Prospector.

Govenor Charlie has only raced on a fast track.

Govenor Charlie
Photo by Brittlan Wall

9. Itsmyluckyday: His sire, Lawyer Ron, broke his maiden on a sloppy track and his dam, a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, was a dominant winner over the slop in the biggest win of her career. Itsmyluckyday’s granddam is a daughter of Crafty Prospector, a mud influence sired by Mr. Prospector.

But despite being a son of two horses that won in the mud, as well as a horse that garnered his first stakes win over a sloppy track in a race that was taken off the turf, Itsmyluckyday performed poorly over the off-going in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifteenth after taking no liking to the sloppy surface.

My top three picks of Orb, Departing, and Mylute will remain the same if the surface becomes muddy or sloppy. However, I will more greatly doubt Goldencents if that is the situation. Orb continues to be the horse to beat.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Easy Goer Revisited

An athletic chestnut boasting a white star on his forehead, Easy Goer was nearly a second coming of his sire, the great Alydar. Not only did he bear a physical resemblance to his sire, but his career would encounter many of the same heartaches. Alydar is known for his rivalry with 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, a champion to which he finished second in all three of the legs of that year’s epic Triple Crown. Easy Goer’s name also carries the legacy of a rivalry: his with Sunday Silence, winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI).

Just as Alydar was a homebred for the legendary Calumet Farm, Easy Goer was a homebred for the well-known Ogden Phipps, a stockbroker and tennis player who owned a plethora of superb Thoroughbred racehorses. Placed in the barn of Shug McGaughey, Easy Goer followed in the steps of his sire as a two-year-old, winning the Champagne Stakes (GI). But unlike Alydar, Easy Goer’s campaign earned him the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Male.

Easy Goer was made the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but was second in the Run for the Roses over a muddy track behind the West Coast-based Sunday Silence. For Phipps and McGaughey, all their dreams of winning the Derby with the colt – hopes that had accumulated for months – came to an abrupt halt.

Nonetheless, they continued to pursue the rest of the Triple Crown races with Easy Goer. Two weeks later, Easy Goer met up with Sunday Silence yet again, this time in the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. Perhaps the race that defined their rivalry, the 1989 Preakness has been heralded as one of the greatest races of all-time.

Seizing an early lead near the end of the backstretch, Easy Goer was two lengths ahead of Sunday Silence as the field entered the far turn. But around the bend, the Derby winner drew even with Easy Goer to the champion juvenile’s outside, edging away from him near the culmination of the curve. But Easy Goer found more at the quarter pole and, rallying along the rail, refused to concede to Sunday Silence. Down the lane, the rivals dueled and although Easy Goer gained a minor lead mid-stretch, Sunday Silence was able to surpass his opponent within the final strides, capturing the race by a narrow margin.

With his victory, Sunday Silence had allowed the dream of a Triple Crown triumph to survive. It had been 11 years since a horse had won the Triple Crown. That horse was none other than Affirmed, Alydar’s arch nemesis that finished just ahead of Easy Goer’s sire in each of the Triple Crown races, leaving Alydar to be the 1978 Triple Crown “runner-up.”

But Easy Goer had not yet attained revenge. The Shug McGaughey trainee proceeded on to the Belmont Stakes (GI), the final and most grueling test of the Triple Crown series. On race day, nearly 65,000 filed into the gates of the expansive New York track with hopes of witnessing Sunday Silence capture the Triple Crown.

Phipps, McGaughey, and Easy Goer saw this as the perfect stage to finally avenge their losses to Sunday Silence. Easy Goer did not get revenge lightly, either. Before the crowd that watched anxiously, hoping for a Triple Crown triumph, Easy Goer transformed the Belmont into a tour de force. Swallowing up Sunday Silence with imposing strides around the far turn, Easy Goer drew off effortlessly, leaving his rival and the remainder of the field 8 lengths behind in the second fastest Belmont ever contested, a time second only to the legendary Secretariat.

Before the Belmont, the 1989 Triple Crown had been laced with disappointment for Phipps and McGaughey. Entering the prestigious three-race series with confidence surrounding their champion colt, losses in the Derby and Preakness were heartbreaking, terminating their anticipation of Easy Goer’s success each time Sunday Silence’s black nose finished ahead of their son of Alydar. But the Belmont provided a day of redemption, a day on which their talented colt could finally display his true brilliance, upsetting Sunday Silence when all eyes were fixed upon the two rivals.

The disappointment of the 1989 Triple Crown has likely since haunted Phipps and McGaughey. Wins in the Derby and Preakness eluded them and until this year’s Run for the Roses, they could only dream of standing in the winner’s enclosure on the first Saturday of May. But now Orb has entered the picture.

Photo by Brittlan Wall
Owned by Phipps Stable (headed by the son of the late Ogden Phipps, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps) and Phipps’ cousin, Stuart Janney III, Orb presented these owners – as well as McGaughey – with their first Kentucky Derby victory. With his triumph, Orb has allowed the racing world to step back into the “golden age” of the Phipps and Janney families. Along with these names comes the remembrance of horses like the all-time greats Ruffian, Personal Ensign, and, of course, Easy Goer. Orb’s team, in just two words, is old school.

So now Orb approaches the Preakness and the remainder of the Triple Crown with these classic connections along for the ride. But in comparison to Easy Goer, the roles have been reversed. The opponents aligned to challenge Orb will attempt to spoil his Triple Crown bid and he, the Derby winner rather than the defeated Derby favorite, will strive to repel these competitors in an effort to end the Triple Crown drought – a drought that dates back to 35 years ago when Affirmed conquered Alydar – Easy Goer’s sire. This makes it seem as though the course of the Triple Crowns contested since 1978 have come full circle. Is this finally the year that racing will rejoice in the presence of the first Triple Crown victor in decades? It only seems fitting that these connections would be the ones to end the drought.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013 Preakness Stakes Field Analysis

All eyes will be on Orb this Saturday at Old Hilltop, where he will attempt to win the Preakness Stakes (GI) in order to continue his bid for the Triple Crown. The excitement of the Kentucky Derby (GI) has been transformed into the anticipation of Orb’s Triple Crown run. # rivals have aligned to face the Derby victor with the goal of dethroning him before he even reaches Belmont, including a horse he grew up with in Departing. Will it be Orb, or will he be taken down by one of his competitors? Tune in to NBC at 4:30 Eastern Time to find out!

Listed below are all of the horses entered to run in the 2013 Preakness Stakes, along with descriptions of their recent racing and training endeavors, as well as the chances I believe they each have. The entrants are listed in post position order.

1. ORB: The Derby winner has been unbeatable this season, winning all four of his starts this year. His Derby win came in a rather easy manner, having come off the pace prior to going wide to score by a going-away 2 ½ lengths. He can close into a slow, moderate, or fast pace and also does not have to close from far off the pace. This versatility will be a major advantage for him.

Orb’s final work for the Preakness, like his final work for the Derby, was a scintillating move that left his trainer, Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey, awestruck. This bodes very well for the Derby winner, although the work came at Belmont and not Pimlico.

The last horse to win the Preakness from the rail was Tabasco Cat in 1994, who was number two in the program but broke from the rail due to a coupled entry. Although the rail post is not perfectly ideal, this is not the Derby – breaking from the rail at Pimlico is a less uncomfortable position than at Churchill and there will be less horse and jockey combinations jostling for position. In addition, Orb won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) from the rail this February. A horse that has been on an extraordinary road of improvement, Orb is my top selection in the Preakness. Read about Orb in greater detail here.

Photo by Brittlan Wall

2. GOLDENCENTS: Goldencents’ seventeenth-place finish in the Derby, in which he was eased, was incredibly disappointing off his Santa Anita Derby (GI) triumph. Whether it was the sloppy track or the distance that resulted in such a poor effort from the colt is a mystery, but should the track conditions be fairer at Pimlico on Saturday, Goldencents will have a better chance. A colt who is solely galloping up to the Preakness, Goldencents is a classy individual, but it would require the race of a lifetime for him to win the Preakness. Read about Goldencents in greater detail here.

Photo by Brittlan Wall
3. TITLETOWN FIVE: This colt took four attempts to break his maiden, even defeating Orb in the Derby winner’s debut. But Titletown Five’s maiden victory is his only win to date. Following a runner-up effort in the Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Titletown Five was a poor ninth in the Louisiana Derby (GII) prior to finishing fourth in the Derby Trial Stakes (GIII). He appears outclassed here.

4. DEPARTING: Following an easy win in his debut, Departing won an allowance optional claiming event in an even more effortless manner at the Fair Grounds. Making his stakes debut in the Texas Heritage Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park, Departing stalked the pace prior to drawing off to a 2 ¾-length triumph. His first graded stakes attempt resulted in a third-place effort behind eventual third-place Derby finisher, Revolutionary, and fifth-place Derby finisher, Mylute, in the Louisiana Derby (GII). A 3 ¼-length win in the Illinois Derby (GIII) served as his biggest victory to date.

Departing’s final work for the Preakness was an easy half-mile breeze at Churchill Downs. He will be a tough rival for Orb, but he has already been defeated by horses that Orb has conquered. Departing will need to continue his improvement in order to win this race and his improvement will need to outshine Orb’s, which would be a very difficult feat.

MYLUTE: Following a strong runner-up effort in the Louisiana Derby (GII), Mylute closed to finish a strong fifth in the Kentucky Derby. His final work for the Preakness was a good half-mile move at Churchill Downs. He was outfinished by Orb last out and though I do not foresee him beating Orb, a good performance from Mylute is expected.  Read about Mylute in greater detail here.

Photo by Brittlan Wall
6. OXBOW: Rather forwardly placed in the Derby, Oxbow had every chance to take the lead but could not sustain his rally and finished sixth. Nonetheless, he ran a good race and has trained well since. He should not be ignored in the Preakness. Read about Oxbow in greater detail here.

WILL TAKE CHARGE: This D. Wayne Lukas trainee trained up to the Derby following his game Rebel Stakes (GII) win. He was given no chance in the Derby after being forced to check at the top of the stretch, but ran on well to finish eighth. His final preparation for the Preakness was an easy half-mile breeze at Churchill Downs. Should he receive a cleaner trip on Saturday, Will Take Charge may surprise people with a good rally, though I do not expect him to win. Read about Will Take Charge in greater detail here.

Will Take Charge
Photo by Brittlan Wall
8. GOVENOR CHARLIE: Second in his debut behind future stakes winner Let Em Shine, Govenor Charlie was a game winner in his second start. He then was a dominant winner of the Sunland Derby (GIII), in which he broke the track record over a very speedy track. A foot bruise kept him out of the Derby and although his final work for the Derby was a brisk six-furlong work at Churchill Downs, the fact that he had this physical issue could be to his disadvantage. Although talented and capable of running a good race, Govenor Charlie may be outclassed and somewhat unprepared here.

9. ITSMYLUCKYDAY: A disappointing fifteenth in the Kentucky Derby, a crucial question looms for Itsmyluckyday. Was it the sloppy track or the distance that resulted in such a poor performance? His final work for the Preakness was postponed, resulting in him going four furlongs in between races at Monmouth Park on Sunday. He will have to show major improvement to find success on Saturday. Read about Itsmyluckyday in greater detail here.

The racing world has pinned their dreams upon Orb, hoping that he will be the one to finally end the Triple Crown drought. The prestigious series may be only five weeks long, but Orb has a long road ahead. However, he is clearly my top selection in the Preakness. I also expected good performances from Departing and Mylute, as well as Goldencents should he rebound, which is possible considering how strong he has appeared in his gallops at Pimlico. I will also not throw out Will Take Charge, but Orb is the horse to beat.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Miss Fifty: Update Three

This is the third update on Miss Fifty since the publication of her story on I will continue to post updates about her on this blog, though they will likely only be occasional. If you have not yet read Miss Fifty’s story, please do so here. Read the most recent update prior to this one here.

In the last update for Miss Fifty, I informed readers that we were given the go-ahead by our veterinarian to begin hand-walking her and turning her out in a small pen. Since we did not have a small pen to put her in at the time, we were left to begin hand-walking her only.

But Fifty’s walks have been limited, in part due to her rambunctious behavior. Still, we wanted her to spend as much time as possible outside and we began to think of ways that would allow Fifty to be able to enjoy time outside. Eventually, we put up a fence panel that separated one of our pens in half. This allowed us to form the perfect-sized turn-out area for Fifty.

A month after her second vet appointment, we turned Fifty out for the first time. Despite a few brief moments in which she became very energetic, she seemed very relaxed, focused instead on how happy she was to be outside. For hours, she stood in the sunshine, eagerly watching the sights around her as she relished spending time outside for the first time in months.

I’d never seen Fifty as happy as she was during her first afternoon outside. It is a thrill to see her so content, finally enjoying what she has been limited from seeing due to her injury. The best part? Walking out my back door to the whinny of the filly I always dreamed of owning.

Miss Fifty spending her first afternoon outside
Photo by Mary Cage (iPhone photo)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Orb: Continuing Ruffian's Legacy

Some paragraphs drawn from "Orb: A Classic Kentucky Derby Victory"

“…Ruffian was more than just another transient champion passing through. She was of a certain singularity that hinted of origins almost divine…Ruffian was a portrait of grace illumined by an inner fire…” – William Nack, Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance

Ruffian’s story is a tragedy, a romance, and a drama combined to create one of the most compelling stories that ever graced the American turf. Ruffian defined the Thoroughbred racehorse. Tall and slender, Ruffian stood nearly 17 hands high at the withers and exuded class with every graceful movement she made. Precocious and speedy, Ruffian vanquished her rivals with the stealth of a cat. Alluring and electrifying, Ruffian garnered an army of fans in her short time in this world, thrilling them with her victories. Tragic and heartbreaking, Ruffian abandoned this planet in a shocking moment, leaving behind a world that grieved for her, relying solely on the memories they had of her brilliance to cherish her.

The champion seemed to exist for just a fleeting moment. The stunning speed she exhibited nearly made it seem as if her life was that much shorter. But her brilliance was so intense that her impact can still be felt in the Thoroughbred community. Stories of the strikingly beautiful, near-black filly that captured America’s heart have been passed down throughout the years since her departure, leaving those that missed their opportunity to experience Ruffian’s reign to daydream of the Queen of the Fillies, reflecting on what could have been.

But before the question of “What could have been?” ever entered the picture for Ruffian, racing enthusiasts instead were enthralled by her breathtaking talent.

A Stuart S. Janney, Jr. and Barbara Phipps Janney homebred, Ruffian was born on the hallowed grounds of Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky in April of 1972. A daughter of Bold Ruler’s brilliant but fragile Reviewer, Ruffian was born to Shenanigans, a stakes-placed mare that shared the same gray coloring as her great sire, the legendary Native Dancer. Ruffian was tall even when she was a youngster and she quickly caught the eye of her trainer, Hall of Fame conditioner Frank Whiteley, Jr.

Ruffian would prove to be the special filly she appeared to be. After winning her debut by a dazzling 15 lengths in her debut at Belmont Park, in which she tied the track mark, Ruffian immediately reaped the attention of racing analysts and enthusiasts. She lived up to the hype in her stakes debut, defeating the highly touted Copernica in the Fashion Stakes (GIII). Ruffian continued to shine, gathering victories in the Astoria Stakes (GIII), the Sorority Stakes (GI), and the Spinaway Stakes (GI). With each start, Ruffian displayed scintillating speed as she drew away from her rivals as if she had wings.

The filly, who had popped a splint after the Sorority, was found to have a hairline fracture in her right leg after the Spinaway Stakes. Her career was not over, but the racing world would see no longer enjoy the brilliance of her juvenile campaign, as she was put on the shelf until the next season.

Ruffian was awarded the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 1974, but as 1975 approached, the worry that she may not return to her brilliant form as a three-year-old was prominent.

But somehow, she had become better. Ruffian had grown into herself and now toyed with her competition, aware that she was unbeatable. Yet again, the black phenomenon carrying the Janneys’ white and red silks soared down the stretches of New York tracks en route to prestigious triumphs, becoming the fourth victress of the Filly Triple Crown, or the Triple Tiara.

Ruffian was seemingly unconquerable. In ten starts, she had never been defeated and if she’d ever appeared as though she was being tested, she was just playing with her competition. But Ruffian had only competed against fillies. Following her tenth victory, a match race to set her against that year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) winner, Foolish Pleasure, was arranged and vigorously promoted by the New York Racing Association.

The day was July 6, 1975. More than 50,000 filed into Belmont Park to see the race of a lifetime. Nearly 20 million more were at home, their eyes glued to the television for the match race. People adorned “Ruffian” and “Foolish Pleasure” pins and t-shirts, supporting their favorite horse. At the New York track, the beloved Ruffian and the Derby victor loaded into the starting gate for the mile and one-quarter battle.

As Ruffian emerged from the gate, she hit its right side, causing her to veer outward as Foolish Pleasure achieved a small, early advantage. But the filly – full of heart and determination – chased after her rival, leaning into him as she drew even with him. She began to get ahead of him, displaying her signature speed as she edged ahead.

Suddenly, Ruffian’s life changed, much to the distress of the world that adulated her. Attempts were made to save her from her injuries, but when she thrashed coming out of anesthesia, she injured herself again and could not be saved. The beautiful, brilliant filly that had captured the hearts of America was laid to rest in the Belmont infield, her head pointed in the direction of the finish line: the place she owned, the place she loved to cross ahead of her rivals, the place where she had made memories for all of her adoring fans.

With the loss of Ruffian came the loss of any opportunity to see her offspring display the same intensity she had become known for. But through her dam, the American Thoroughbred has continued Ruffian’s legacy. And never has there been a better horse to do so until now.

Nearly forty years after Ruffian was born there, a bay son of Malibu Moon and the Unbridled mare Lady Liberty was born at Claiborne Farm. The colt would grow into a colt named Orb, who is owned by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable and carries the same white and red silks that became Ruffian’s cape in the era of her superhero days.

Photo by Brittlan Wall

Carrying the appearance of an old-school Thoroughbred, Orb descends from the most royal of bloodlines. His fifth dam is none other than the dam of Ruffian, Shenanigans. Orb is not the only brilliant Janney horse to trace back to this mare; Coronado’s Quest, a flaming red Janney homebred, was a great-grandson of Shenanigans and went on to win a pair of grade ones.

Running through Orb's blood are the generations of classy Janney and Phipps mares, those that carry the same heritage as the nimble Ruffian. But this is not the only parallel he draws within his pedigree to Ruffian. His sire, a son of the great A.P. Indy, Malibu Moon, is from the same Bold Ruler sire line as the legend.

Orb did not display the same early precociousness as Ruffian. He was never even supposed to make it to the Derby. Among the 2010 crop of Phipps and Janney homebreds, Orb was clearly a talented individual, but he appeared to be a slow developer, a horse that wouldn’t find his best form until at least the summer of his three-year-old year.

Orb was third in his debut at Saratoga, rearing at the start but closing impressively to finish third behind eventual grade one winner Violence. He acted up in the gate yet again in his next start, finishing fourth. Fourth again in his following start behind future graded stakes winner Vyjack and black-type winner Clawback, Orb finally solved the puzzle in his final start as a two-year-old. Closing impressively from off the pace, Orb maintained his momentum despite going wide, scoring by two lengths while defeating eventual graded stakes winner and Derby third-place finisher Revolutionary in the process.

Once he’d won, Orb accelerated quickly, surprising his connections with the rate at which he was maturing. He commenced his sophomore campaign with a victory in a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park, convincing his owners and trainer to enter him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII). For the first time in Orb’s career, the son of Malibu Moon would not be ridden by Joel Rosario.

But this did not prevent Orb from encountering success. Settling comfortably off the pace, Orb made an imposing rally to capture the race by a half-length under John Velazquez. His win was further evidence of how drastically the colt had improved, allowing his connections to realize Orb’s Derby potential.

The Florida Derby (GI) allowed Orb to confirm his connections’ belief in him. With Velazquez aboard for the second time, the colt again soared past his rivals in the stretch, conquering Florida’s premier Kentucky Derby prep by 2 ¾ lengths. 
Despite Orb’s victory, Velazquez opted to remain on the undefeated Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) winner Verrazano, leading Rosario to return to Orb.

Nonetheless, it was on to Louisville for the colt that was never expected to make it there. Suddenly, Orb gave his connections a valid shot at garnering their first Derby victory. His chances only seemed to excel once he reached Churchill Downs. The colt’s bay coat glimmered in the morning sun as he exercised beneath the hallowed twin spires as a wave of gossip washed over the backside, commending Orb’s work over the track. Orb carried the look of a throwback, the sleekness of the filly that had become a racing legend in the mid-70s. As a result of his improvement and eye-catching final preparations, Orb was made the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Orb preparing for the Kentucky Derby
Photo by Brittlan Wall

On race day, Orb broke well but in slightly uncomfortable fashion from the sixteenth gate – the second slot in the auxiliary gate. Rosario guided him a few paths over, allowing the colt to race among the horses near the rear of the field as nineteen Thoroughbreds thundered before the grandstand. Unexpectedly, Palace Malice seized an aggressive lead, setting the first quarter in a blistering 22.57 seconds. Orb, comfortable in sixteenth, raced approximately ten lengths off the lead at the end of these initial two furlongs, galloping wide around the clubhouse turn.

With just three horses beaten as the Derby field entered the backstretch, Orb remained steady beneath Rosario. Palace Malice maintained the brisk pace, blazing the first half-mile in 45.33 as Orb raced nearly eighteen lengths back. Down the backstretch, Orb galloped alongside second-choice Revolutionary, taking the seventeenth spot as the horses galloped midway down the far side.

As the three-year-olds neared the far turn, Orb was maneuvered to a wider position as Rosario began to encourage the colt to pick up the pace. Traveling to the far outside, Orb did just that. With powerful strides, the favorite overtook a cluster of rivals, moving determinedly on the outside, victory his main goal.

The years of carefully planned matings of Phipps and Janney horses – the heritage that had produced the great Ruffian – ran through Orb’s veins as he focused on wearing down his competitors. The heart that had been bred into him shone through as, despite the mud being catapulted onto him and the obstruction of other horses forcing him to take the long way home, Orb was solely centering his attention upon what his mind, his heart, and his soul were telling him to do: win. Just like Ruffian, he displayed a remarkable will to win.

At the top of the stretch, Orb had the view of being on top of the world. He wasn’t in front – yet – but he had a clear stretch ahead of him and only a handful of opponents to surpass. Rosario, vigorously throwing the reins at the colt, asked Orb for the mightiest of rallies and despite running greenly, Orb responded, taking the lead at the sixteenth pole.

With sheer ease, Orb drew away from his opponents, posting a 2 ½-length victory. The colt, in a moment of pure joy for running, perked his ears as he crossed the wire. Moments later, he stood within the winner’s circle with the exact garland of red roses that had eluded the Janneys and Phippses draped over his shoulders.

Orb and trainer Shug McGaughey after winning the Kentucky Derby
Photo by Brittlan Wall
Nearly forty years have passed since the adored and admired Ruffian escaped our grasp, abandoning this world in an unexpected, sudden moment. As decades have passed since that fateful summer day in 1975, racing enthusiasts have mourned her death, looking at photographs and paintings of the majestic filly and watching vague videos of her brilliance. With tear filled eyes, these fans have wished for a different end for Ruffian, their hearts heavy as they imagine what she was prevented from gifting the world.

It has seemed as if, with her death, all that was left of Ruffian was her memory. But now we have Orb. No, he does not possess her blazing speed or her jet black coat. But he does carry her class and her legacy. The attention of the racing world rests upon Orb as he approaches the remainder of the Triple Crown. Should he capture the Preakness Stakes (GI) next Saturday (May 18), thus approaching the Belmont Stakes (GI) with the chance of becoming the first horse to conquer the Triple Crown, nerves will run rampant at the New York track. But one thing is certain should that opportunity emerge: racing with him will be the angel of Belmont, the royalty that runs through his veins, the Queen of Fillies, the legendary Ruffian.