Friday, January 31, 2014

HRN: Derby Hopeful: Cairo Prince

Each time I post a new article on my Horse Racing Nation blog, I post a notice on this blogThese notices include an excerpt from the beginning of that article and a link to the piece. My latest Horse Racing Nation article is. . .

Derby Hopeful: Cairo Prince

For the first time, my Derby Hopefuls will be reaching the pages of Horse Racing Nation rather than the original Past the Grandstand. Derby Hopefuls feature the horses I view as the best contenders leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Each horse spotlighted in a Derby Hopeful will join the 2014 PTG Derby Hopeful roster, found on the right side of this blog (the original Past the Grandstand). Horses will be listed in an order that corresponds to how highly I think of them, with the horse I think most highly of ranking at the top. A horse featured in a Derby Hopeful may be taken off the roster if its performances after its article are published are not up to par or if that horse is taken off the Triple Crown trail, though those articles will remain on my blog.

"The road to the 2014 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) has begun. Each week, more and more Derby lists, displaying rankings of potential Derby horses, are shared by racing enthusiasts and turf writers. We are in all in a pursuit to find the next Derby winner, to zone in on the horse that will stand in glory at Churchill Downs with a garland of roses draped over his – or her -- shoulders. There are few declarations prouder than “I picked the Derby winner.”

Many have rested their hopes upon Cairo Prince, recent winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. The dark gray colt made quite the impression as a two-year-old, but his first performance as a three-year-old left the racing world enthusing about the colt with the vision of red roses in mind. More than three months remain until the Kentucky Derby and as we all know, many things can change before then. However, should Cairo Prince maintain the brilliance he has displayed and perhaps even improve upon it while remaining healthy and sound, he will be a fierce competitor on the first Saturday in May. . ."

Click here to read the rest of my newest Horse Racing Nation article.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mary Cage Published Again in Southern Racehorse Magazine

My second-ever magazine article, which was also my second published in Southern Racehorse Magazine, was published in the January/February edition of Southern Racehorse. A new but flourishing publication focused on the Thoroughbred industry in southern states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, Southern Racehorse has a bright future ahead. It is an honor to have another magazine article published in this magazine.

I would like to extend my thanks to Denis Blake, the Editor/Publisher of Southern Racehorse; Ken Carson, the General Manager of Valor Farm; and Christy Hamilton, the owner of Fish (the subject of this article), for this opportunity.

The article - "Fish: The Little Horse That Could" - was originally published on my Horse Racing Nation blog and was reprinted for this edition of Southern Racehorse. Check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

After the Auction: Sustainable

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. “After the Auctions” feature horses I selected in sales that have found success after the sale. These posts are generally just brief overviews of these horses’ racing records and pedigrees.

Second in her debut at Belmont Park in September, Sustainable was a disappointing fourth as the favorite in her second career start. Taking more than two months off, the dark bay filly returned on New Year’s Eve at Aqueduct, competing in a five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight, which would be the shortest distance at which she had ever raced.

Pressing the pace throughout, Sustainable seized a narrow lead turning for home, but was threatened by rivals on both sides. Digging in gamely, the filly refused to be passed, beginning to edge clear from these adversaries. However, the favorite – Sun and Moon – was quickly gaining ground on the outside as the horses neared the finish line. But she was too late. Sustainable acquired the victory by a nose.

Pedigree Analysis

Sustainable is a daughter of Forestry, a son of Storm Cat best known for producing the multiple grade one-winning Shackleford. In addition to Shackleford, Forestry has also produced the grade one winners Diplomat Lady, Discreet Cat, and Forest Danger. As aforementioned, Forestry is a son of Storm Cat, a legendary sire responsible for producing at least thirty-five grade/group one winners.

Out of the Mt Livermore mare Normandy’s Nell, Sustainable is a half-sister to the multiple black-type-winning Culotte.  Normandy’s Nell is a half-sister to the grade one-winning Famous Digger, the graded stakes-placed Hecandigit, and multiple black-type-placed Naviator. Notably, this filly’s fourth dam produced the French champion Argument.

This filly is bred on the same Storm Cat/Mt. Livermore cross as the graded stakes winner Strike the Deal, sharing the same successful broodmare sire. Mt Livermore is also the maternal grandsire of the grade one winners Flashy Bull and Sweet Reason.

Where could Sustainable's career take her? Now that she has tasted victory, many more could be in her future.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

After the Auction: Onlyforyou

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. “After the Auctions” feature horses I selected in sales that have found success after the sale. These posts are generally just brief overviews of these horses’ racing records and pedigrees.

UPDATE 1/25/14: Congratulations to Onlyforyou on winning the Forward Gal Stakes (GII)!
UPDATE 2/22/14: Congratulations to Onlyforyou on winning the Davona Dale Stakes (GII)!

Debuting at Aqueduct on November 10, 2013, Onlyforyou prompted the pace from the outside during the early stages of the six-furlong maiden special weight on the dirt. Once the bay filly took the lead, she never looked back, kicking clear to break her maiden by 2 ¼ lengths.

A month later, after joining Todd Pletcher’s Florida string, Onlyforyou faced winners for the first time in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. Again going six furlongs, the Glencrest Farm-owned filly again pressed the brisk pace, tracking the leaders from the inside. Gaining ground on the two fillies ahead of her around the far turn, Onlyforyou became boxed in as the field approached the quarter pole.

However, an opening arose, allowing Javier Castellano to angle the Malibu Moon filly to the outside, where she grew even with the leader entering the homestretch. Kicking clear within the final furlong, Onlyforyou drew off to win by a widening 3 ½ lengths.

Pedigree Analysis

Onlyforyou is a daughter of Malibu Moon, the sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Orb, as well as the additional grade one winners Ask the Moon, Declan’s Moon, Devil May Care, Eden’s Moon, Funny Moon, Life At Ten, Malibu Mint, and Malibu Prayer. Malibu Moon is not the only son of A.P. Indy to have great success at stud; others include Bernardini, Mineshaft, Pulpit, and Stephen Got Even.

Onlyforyou’s dam, Erhu, is a daughter of a grade one-winning son of Storm Cat in Tactical Cat. This A.P. Indy/Storm Cat sire line cross has been incredibly successful, producing the grade one winners Dialed In, Eden’s Moon, Ice Box, It’s Tricky, Love and Pride, Mi Sueno, Overbrook, Princess of Sylmar, Sky Mesa, Turbulent Descent, and Wickedly Perfect.

The third dam of Onlyforyou, Great Finesse, is the dam of the stakes winners Glaring, Great Escape, Val d’Enchere, and Wavelength, as well as the stakes-placed Paragram. Through this dam line, Onlyforyou traces back to the Reine De Course mare Herodias, who can also be found in the tail female line of the Hall of Fame champion Skip Away, Epsom Derby (gr. I) and Irish Derby (gr. I) victor Commander in Chief, multiple group one winner Warning, and the legendary broodmare sire Prince John.

Onlyforyou is full of promise and looks to take the three-year-old filly division by storm. Her pedigree suggests that she can extend beyond six furlongs with success and should her connections choose to take that route, it will be exciting to see how she carries her brilliance to new levels.

Friday, January 10, 2014

After the Auction: Screen Goddess

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. “After the Auctions” feature horses I selected in sales that have found success after the sale. These posts are generally just brief overviews of these horses’ racing records and pedigrees.

A disappointing sixth in her debut at Hollywood Park, in which she finished behind my grade one-winning sale selection Streaming, Screen Goddess sought redemption one day before the doors to Hollywood Park forever closed. On the final Saturday of racing at the Track of Lakes and Flowers, Screen Goddess went to post with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens aboard as the heavy favorite in a field of eight.

In her previous start, Screen Goddess had traveled six furlongs over the all-weather track. Now, however, she had moved to the turf and stretched to the distance of one mile. Just as her pedigree would suggest, this change was perfectly suited for the daughter of Giant’s Causeway.

After exiting the gate in slightly sluggish fashion, Screen Goddess settled into position near the rear of the field. Stevens tucked the blaze-faced filly into a place along the rail as the pair trailed the field into the first turn while the bettors’ second choice, Abide in Me, led by a breathtaking margin into the backstretch. As Abide in Me lengthened her lead to twelve lengths, Screen Goddess gradually inched closer to her adversaries as the backstretch began to surrender to the far turn.

Steering his mount through traffic, Stevens split horses around the final bend before angling Screen Goddess to the outside as the field entered the homestretch. Although Abide in Me’s lead had dwindled drastically, several lengths still separated Screen Goddess from the vanguard with less than a quarter of a mile between her and the wire.

But the filly unleashed a remarkable turn of foot, surging forward to erase the distance that separated her from the leaders. Despite changing to the wrong lead in the final stages, Screen Goddess glided past her remaining rivals to draw away to win by a widening 1 ¾ lengths.

Pedigree Analysis

A daughter of three-time leading sire Giant’s Causeway, Screen Goddess shares her sire with twenty-five grade/group one winners, such as Aragorn, Eskendereya, First Samurai, Ghanaati, Giant Oak, My Typhoon, Our Giant, Shamardal, and Swift Temper. This bodes well for Screen Goddess, as eleven of Giant's Causeway's grade/group one winners are fillies or mares.

Screen Goddess’ dam, Topliner, is a daughter of the graded stakes-placed To the Hunt, who has also produced the grade one winners Starrer and Stellar Jayne. Topliner has carried on the ability to produce top-class runners, having yielded the grade one-winning Star Billing.

Topliner’s sire, Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Thunder Gulch, has found success as a broodmare sire, producing the dams of the graded stakes winners Crown of Thorns, Daddy Nose Best, Five Iron, and, of course, Star Billing. Although only sixteen other horses bred on the Giant’s Causeway/Thunder Gulch cross have raced, the cross has produced five stakes winners, including the graded stakes-winning Excited.

Her ancestry makes Screen Goddess’ success on turf come as no surprise. Giant’s Causeway, winner of six group ones on the turf in Europe, has found himself within the top five on the turf sires list for five of the past eight years, topping the list in 2006. In addition, Screen Goddess’ half-sister, Star Billing, excelled on the turf, winning the Matriach Stakes (gr. I) and the Senorita Stakes (gr. III) and placing in the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I), American Oaks (gr. I), and Honeymoon Handicap (gr. II) – all of which were contested on the turf.

Perhaps Screen Goddess’ debut was not the most inspiring, but once she found her home on the turf, she displayed spectacular promise. In fact, her maiden victory was so inspiring that it earned her a spot as a TDN Rising Star. Could she join my growing list of stakes-winning sale selections?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest Blog Contest: Fifth Place | Scenes From My First Fall at Hawthorne, by Nicolle Neulist

Scenes From My First Fall at Hawthorne
By Nicolle Neulist

I have followed horse racing peripherally since I was a child and have become a more avid fan of the sport in the last year or two. I had gone to the races at Arlington a handful of times since 2007 and was starting to go more frequently as the summer meet drew to a close, but I was definitely not going to the races enough or following the horses there enough to say I followed the meet closely.

This fall's meet at Hawthorne, however, was a different story.  I took my first trip there on October 5 for the Hawthorne Derby and went out to the track most weekends through the course of the meet, which came to a close on December 29.  During the week, when I couldn't make it out there, I often watched the races on the live stream feed.  It was the first time I had kept close track of an entire meet and it only made me love the sport more and want to continue following the meets at my two local Thoroughbred tracks.

No day during the meet was a bad day; any day gets a lot brighter when I have the chance to watch horses run.  However, there were a few highlights during the meet that I will remember for years to come.

First Impressions

I had never been out to Hawthorne Racecourse until Hawthorne Derby day.  It was the first weekend of the fall meet, the only day they were doing evening racing, and only one of two graded stakes they were hosting during the course of the meet.  I figured that it was a good day to visit the track.  The weather that afternoon was horrible and I was drenched with rain when I got off the bus and walked toward the grandstand.  However, a little – or a lot of – rain was not going to stop me from enjoying the races, or from enjoying my first trip to somewhere that has quickly become my happy place.

The Hawthorne Derby was exciting, and I was a little star struck seeing Charming Kitten since I had never before seen in person a horse that had even run in the Kentucky Derby.  However, my favorite part of the night was the end of the Indian Maid Handicap, the other stakes being run that night.  I was standing by the finish line; at Hawthorne, the finish line is very close to the winner's circle.  Despite the small field (the heavy rains took the race off the turf, and scratches ensued), the race was exciting.  In the end it was Twist of Silver, the second-longest shot in the field, who prevailed by just a neck.

There was a woman standing not too far from me, closer to the winner's circle.  She was dressed up, wearing high heels, which stood out, as Hawthorne is definitely a working-class track and people there tend to dress casually.  She was extremely excited throughout the race and when it was announced that Twist of Silver had won the race, she was jumping and screaming and cheering despite the high heels she was wearing.  I then saw her proceed to the winner's circle; she was one of the horse's connections!  I have seen many connections since then, but never have I seen one so exuberant about their horse's victory. It was heartening then, and makes me smile whenever I think of it.

If I am ever lucky enough to own a racehorse, I want to be that happy every time my horse wins.

The Paddock

This fall's Hawthorne meet was the first time I ever spent time in the paddock between the races.  I didn't know what to look for at first and I am still no expert at equine behavior or conformation, but I am starting to be able to identify when a horse is looking good before a race, or possibly not so great.  The paddock is also a lot of fun just because you can get up close to the horses; I will admit, often I get distracted from my handicapping because I'm just enjoying looking at the horses.  Since I haven't spent a lot of time around horses in my life, being around them is still breathtaking, new, and exciting.  I hope that never goes away.

About two-thirds of the way through the season, I was down in the paddock before a race.  A groom was walking a bay gelding through the paddock and he looked beautiful!  He was significantly more alert and ready to run than any of the other horses who were preparing for the race.  I wasn't sure if he was one of the horses I had picked or not, since he wasn't wearing a saddlecloth yet and the groom wasn't wearing a numbered vest.  I didn't care if I had picked that horse on paper or not; if I hadn't, I was revising my picks, because he looked like he had a really nice race ahead of him.

A conversation between the track handicapper and the groom who was walking him answered that question. Turns out, this horse wasn't even running in the race; he was new to the track and just schooling in the paddock. I also learned in their conversation that the horse was named Eyeseeyou, and only had one eye – his left. I didn't even notice that when he was walking around the paddock.  All I saw was a racehorse who wanted to race.

So Eyeseeyou didn't have a big race – or any race – ahead of him that day. A few weeks later, however, I was back at Hawthorne. He was running and I was happy to see him in the program. He looked alert and ready to run, just as he had when he was schooling.  He was as ready to run as his behavior in the paddock indicated, holding the lead for most of the race and just getting caught by another horse closing on him. It was still a strong second and I was glad to see that he not only looked ready in the paddock, but also had the good run I was hoping to see.

My Favorite Race

Oddly enough, my most memorable race of the Hawthorne fall meet was one for which I wasn't present.

I've been following Frostbite Falls since the summer, when I saw him race at Arlington back in August and he's one of my two favorite horses on the local circuit right now. Not only is he a gorgeous gelding, but as a lover of cold weather I love his name as well. The reasons I love a particular horse can be a little arbitrary, but whatever they may be, the fact remains that I love this horse. I like to be there in person when he runs, but if I can't, I will always watch over the live stream.

He was racing on the same day as the Hawthorne Gold Cup in the fifth race, a $14,000 claiming race.  Thanksgiving weekend plans meant I could not go to the races, but I was determined to watch him race.  I was on a bus at post time, but through the magic of Horse Races Now, I could see it. I didn't have headphones, so I couldn't hear the call, but the visuals were all I truly needed.  I was glued to my phone, silently willing him to win as post time approached and the horses entered the gate.

He broke fast, ran straight to the lead, and stayed there.  The whole time, I'm encouraging him under my breath:  "Go, go, go!"  "Wire them!  Wire them!"  "You can do it!"  I knew he couldn't hear me.  I knew I was on a northbound city bus and not at the racetrack. It didn't matter; all I wanted was for this horse I loved to stay up there and win this race.

And he stayed ahead. There was a strong challenge from the late-closing J.Z.'s Crafty Boy, but it was too little, too late. Frostbite Falls dug in enough. He held on all the way up to the wire and prevailed by half a length.

It was his second career win; his first had been a maiden win his first time out. I didn't even know who he was until his second race.  I had never seen him win until this race, and it was sweet!  I didn't care if other passengers on the bus thought I looked silly. I broke into a huge grin and mouthed my cheers and accolades for Frostbite Falls at the screen as I watched him gallop out.  He had won, I had seen it happen, and all was right with the world.

In Conclusion

January is now here, and Hawthorne Racecourse is dark until February 21.  It will be strange to spend my next few Saturdays somewhere other than the racetrack.  There will be plenty of races to watch at other tracks over the next month and a half, but I'm going to miss being able to see the horses run in person.  Still, it was exciting and rewarding to follow the fall meet, and I am looking forward to more exciting races and happy memories when the spring meet starts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HRN: Mary Cage's Eclipse Award Selections

Each time I post a new article on my Horse Racing Nation blog, I post a notice on this blogThese notices include an excerpt from the beginning of that article and a link to the piece. My latest Horse Racing Nation article is. . .

Mary Cage's Eclipse Award Selections

Held each January, the Eclipse Award ceremony honors the elite horses and humans of the industry, bestowing the best of each division their own award. Each year, some championship categories contain a clear winner, whereas others can become contentious areas of debate and suspense. The awards for 2013’s racing season, which will be held January 18 at Gulfstream Park, are no different.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but here are my choices for the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards. . ."

Click here to read the rest of my newest Horse Racing Nation article.

Guest Blog Contest: Fourth Place | Meeting Louis Quatorze, by Sherri Lytle

Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle

Meeting Louis Quatorze
By Sherri Lytle

My daughters and I went to visit a champion horse last year that I watched race when I was a young adult about eighteen years ago. I had not payed that much attention to him early on, as he certainly didn’t stand out in the first leg of the Triple Crown races, but he surely caught my attention in the second leg of the Triple Crown and made me a fan of his for life!

He isn’t based in Kentucky anymore or at one of those prestigious farms located in horse country. Instead, he is tucked away on a picturesque 133-acre farm located in the quiet countryside of Darlington, Maryland. No, he doesn’t have people lined up to see him, nor does this farm, Murmur Farm, get the attention and the visitors that those famous farms do. However, he is still famous and is still a champ in my book and to the fine folks associated with Murmur Farm. (Sadly, this past Summer, the owner of Murmur Farm, Mr. E. Allen Murray Jr. passed away, but his wife and family still continue to run the family farm that he was so passionate about and worked so hard for all these years to build.)

This horse was trained by Nick Zito, ridden by jockey Pat Day, and sired by Sovereign Dancer, who was a son of the 1964 Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer. As a two-year-old, he broke his maiden in his second start and placed in two other races that year. As a three-year-old, he finished fourth in the Florida Derby, but came in second in the Blue Grass Stakes and that punched his ticket to the 1996 Kentucky Derby! The Derby turned out to not be his day; a bad start and a terrible trip sent him across the finish line sixteenth out of nineteen horses.

But Zito didn’t give up on him and sent him to the Preakness hoping for better results there with a little bit of luck. Of course, he was not sent off as the favorite for the Preakness, but everything went as planned for him that day and he broke well, got the lead, and went on to win the Preakness in wire-to-wire fashion. That he was able to accomplish this was impressive enough, but that day he also set such fast fractions all the way through the race that he ended up equaling the race record set by Tank’s Prospect back in 1985!

Later that year, he won the Jim Dandy Stakes, came in second in the Travers Stakes, and ran third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That November, he placed second to Alphabet Soup by a nose in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, defeating Cigar, who came in third. It should be noted, however, that it took a track record for Alphabet Soup to hold off Louis Quatorze that day. He ended his career with two wins, one in the Crème Fraiche and the last in the Ben Ali Stakes in 1997.

Now to me, that is a pretty good race record overall! He is still standing stud these days at twenty-one years of age. He is a sweet, gentle old boy, and still loves attention showered upon him. He is a beautiful bay with a white blaze and funny enough, he wasn’t even wearing his correct halter that Sunday when we went to visit him! But it was a Sunday and things don’t always go as planned on Sundays I was told. But he does live on a beautiful farm with very nice people who love him and take very good care of him. He has produced some stakes winners over the years and also is in the pedigree of Dance to Bristol, who made it all the way to the Breeder’s Cup this past fall before being retired. His name is Louis Quatorze and I will never, ever forget his shining Preakness moment, one of my favorites of all-time and forever a treasured memory of mine. Also, to get to meet Louis Quatorze all these years later was a dream come true for me. I am glad his life has turned out so well for him and that he seems happy and healthy.

Here are some of the pictures from that day:

Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle
Sherri's daughter, Anissa, outside Louis Quatorze's stall
Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle
The nameplate on Louis Quatorze's stall
Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle
Louis Quatorze
Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle

Louis Quatorze
Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle
Louis Quatorze
Photo courtesy of Sherri Lytle

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Guest Blog Contest: Third Place | Racing for Education, by Ciara Bowen

Morrisville State College Thoroughbred racing students
Photo courtesy of Ciara Bowen

Racing for Education
By Ciara Bowen

Along a seemingly endless thruway in central New York, there’s a small town that most people don’t even realize exists. Some would call it a sleepy place, one that’s slightly homey. The students that go to college there call it boring. There are no movie theaters, no mall, not even a Wal-Mart or a bowling alley. There are a few restaurants, a couple gas stations, a bank, and an abundance of cars marked with the words University Police. A small library is nestled between a couple other buildings, making it slightly hidden and rarely used.  To find any excitement here, you have to delve deeper into Morrisville. Find the equine students – the equine racing students, to be exact.

There aren’t many of us, which is both nice but unfortunate. In a sport that’s struggling, we need all the newcomers that we can get. Morrisville needs more exposure, as it is one of the only colleges throughout the country that offers a degree in Thoroughbred racing management. It is the only one, to its knowledge, that trains its own horses and then takes them and students to racetracks to run. Students are responsible for the daily care of at least one horse, and work at least four weekends per semester. When horses are taken to the track to either breeze or race, students accompany them. They tack them, cool them out, school them, and take them to the paddock, among other tasks.

Morrisville is as close to the real life racing world as a school can get, and nearly all of us there enjoy it. There are days when we wonder why we chose this industry, and then there are other days where we don’t have to question it at all. I can’t speak for my fellow students, but I can honestly say that I’m thankful for what Morrisville has offered me.

This hardly even scratches the surface of what it’s like there. . . I guess anyone who wants to see more about it needs to come check it out themselves!

Be sure to check out Ciara's own blog, Into the Stretch! She has a Facebook page dedicated to her endeavors in writing about racing and photography, which you can "like" here, and can also be found on Instagram @intothestretch.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Guest Blog Contest: Second Place | How the Sport of Kings Enriched My Life, by Sarah Tegtmeier

How the Sport of Kings Enriched My Life
By Sarah Tegtmeier

The day that changed my life was February 14, 2004. My family and I were on a weekend vacation in Salt Fork State Park in Ohio. On that day, it just so happened that we ended up watching a horse race on TV – the first one I had ever seen – simply because my dad knew of my love for horses and thought I would enjoy it. The race being televised was the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in sunny Florida. As I watched the intense stretch duel between three year-olds Read the Footnotes and Second of June, I felt something I had never felt before. From that day on, I was absolutely hooked on Thoroughbred racing. That day is easily the most memorable day from my early childhood, because my passion for the sport that ensued afterwards still encompasses me and influences my future.

After that fateful day, I began reading all I could about horse racing and my newest celebrity, Read the Footnotes. I was extremely disappointed when he came in a lackluster fourth in the Florida Derby, but my faith in him continued to grow. I was positive his luck would change in the Kentucky Derby. To make a long story short, Read the Footnotes came in seventh and was retired shortly thereafter without another start. In the midst of my disappointment, Smarty Jones rose as a new hero in my young eyes, and I quickly learned firsthand the life-altering effects of Triple Crown fever. This condition continues to captivate me every year come the first Saturday in May.

As my love for Thoroughbreds flourished, I found myself wanting a Thoroughbred of my very own increasingly every day. After taking lessons and showing my Tennessee Walker mare, Dreamer, in 4-H for a few years, my parents finally gave in. Needless to say, I fell in love with the first Thoroughbred I met. He was tall, handsome, and friendly – everything a girl could want in her equine counterpart. He had come from a troubled past, having been neglected after he failed to impress on the track. His past was so troubled that we didn't even know his registered name. The only background we had on him was his age and that he was unraced. Despite the uncertainty, I fell in love with the big chestnut horse named Chester and we took him home.

Shortly thereafter, I attended my first Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs in 2010 and my love for racing was strengthened yet again. I am proud to say I placed my very first bet – and a winning one at that – on Uncle Mo, the eventual winner of the Juvenile that year. I watched Zenyatta in person for the first time in her only defeat of her career and I was as heartbroken as the rest of those in attendance that day. I will never forget the crowd that gathered in the saddling paddock to catch a mere glimpse of the reigning champion nor the groan of defeat when she was announced to have been one stride too late at passing Blame at the wire. I left Churchill Downs that chilly November with even higher expectations of what my own Thoroughbred could do for me.
Uncle Mo on his way to victory in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Photo by Sarah Tegtmeier
I showed Chester through the rest of my 4-H days, dabbling in dressage and hunters, among other things. We certainly had our fair share of learning experiences, as I've never fallen off a single horse so many times! In the end, my perseverance prevailed and Chester was quite the show horse after a few years. Along the way, I continued to attempt to unearth any information I could find on my previously forgotten horse. A breakthrough occurred when a veterinary technician at my equine veterinarian's office recognized him from her past. Through her, I was able to find out my gelding's registered name and the information I so desired. His name was Sure Grand, out of a granddaughter of Secretariat – something I was always so sure of because of his likeness to the famed racehorse. Previously known as Splat, Chester had a history of traumatic experiences that only helped me to understand his eccentricities better. Finding out about Chester's past ranks right up there with watching my first horse race!
Sarah and Chester lining up for a showmanship class at a 4-H show
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Around the same time I found out more about Chester, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. My friend's uncle breeds and trains his own Thoroughbreds to race here in Ohio, and he was looking for an exercise rider on his farm. My name was mentioned and before I knew it, I was learning everything I needed to know about working racehorses. It was a dream come true! Over the past couple years, I have experienced some of my most exhilarating – as well as scariest moments – on the track. I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world, though. There is absolutely nothing more thrilling than riding astride a fine-tuned racehorse as it thunders over the track, picking up the tempo with every stride. I also got the chance to help re-home many of the retired racehorses on the farm as well and I picked out my second Thoroughbred to take home. Herecometaxman, or more simply known as T-man, came home with me just this past summer and is deep within the re-training process. Neither one of us knows what his future career will be, but I know whatever we end up doing together he will excel at it.

Sarah's second Thoroughbred, Herecometaxman
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Sarah returning from a breeze at the farm aboard
Boxscar, T-man's younger sister
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Horse racing has done more for me than just supply a hobby; it has provided me with ambition beyond belief. After contemplating entering the racehorse industry as a trainer for many years, I discovered my true calling and enrolled in a pre-veterinary medicine major at the University of Findlay. I am proud to say I will be graduating next spring and I will hopefully be on my way to obtaining my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine the following fall. I hope to become an equine veterinarian in the rapidly approaching future, with specific aims at furthering equine medicine in Thoroughbred racing. None of this would have ever been conceivable had I not watched my first horse race that day in February. While I’m sure I would have eventually grown to love the sport, I don’t believe it would have gripped me from the start as it did when I was just ten years old. Horse racing has set me on a path that I couldn’t be happier with and I aspire to make it a part of my life for as long as I live.
"In memory of Sure Grand, March 21, 1996 - July 28, 2013. Chester was diagnosed with EPM in early summer and was laid to rest just two months later due to the disease's rapid progression. He taught me more in five years than most horsemen learn in a lifetime. Rest in peace, my big red horse." - Sarah Tegtmeier

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Guest Blog Contest Winner: The Comeback Kid, by Emily White

Photo by Terri Cage

The Comeback Kid
By Emily White

For most aging athletes, a successful comeback from retirement is merely a pipe dream. That pipe dream became reality for Gary Stevens.

After his retirement in late 2005, it seemed that the veteran jockey had nothing left to prove. Only one race was missing from his impressive resume of wins - the prestigious Breeders' Cup Classic - but even that proved no blemish against his record as a whole. After nearly three decades of riding Thoroughbreds, Stevens had won a solid handful of three-year-old classics and Breeders' Cup races and earned his way into racing's Hall of Fame. What more could he do?

There must have been some itch that Stevens still yearned to scratch.

He became an actor and a news personality, starring in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit as champion jockey George Woolf and providing insight for NBC and HRTV as an analyst. Horses were what Stevens knew best. His eyes and smile lit up as he discussed race tactics and past performances with his fellow broadcasters. The former rider was approaching fifty – middle-aged by most human standards, but nearly twice the age of the majority of the jockey colony. Stevens was once the best in the business. . . Could he be considered so again?

On HRTV, Stevens announced his comeback. It was January 3, 2013, and the racing world was set ablaze by this news. Three days later, he was back in the saddle again, and nearly a week after that, he won his first horse race in years. His mount was a filly named Branding; Stevens had guided her home to win her first race. Now, the racing world smiled. The veteran rider's first step was nothing short of confident.

Week after week, he picked up winning mounts like clockwork. With Stevens firmly in the irons, Slim Shadey came home to win his second San Marcos Stakes, giving his rider the first graded stakes win of his comeback. The jockey's shrewd mind was a lethal weapon against his competitors, some of whom were half his age. Wisdom gained from his long stint at the top level soon paid off for Stevens.

In mid-spring, he was paired with a rambunctious colt named Oxbow. Trained by fellow veteran D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow had run away from the field in the LeComte Stakes and finished a narrow second to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel, and carried Stevens to his first Kentucky Derby start in many years. The duo finished a commendable fifth behind fresh-faced Joel Rosario and Orb. Caked in mud, they returned to the homestretch with heads held high, Stevens' blue eyes bright with euphoria.

The Derby would not be their final word.

Many favored Orb to win the Preakness Stakes and carry the hopes of a Triple Crown to the Belmont Stakes. Instead, Baltimore played host to a glorious day for the comeback kid. Just before the Preakness, he guided Oxbow's stablemate Skyring to a victory in the Dixie Stakes. Still buzzing from that victory, he broke well with Oxbow and set a measured pace. Slow and steady wins the race. . . And with enough energy to hold off the closers, Stevens geared his colt down as they crossed the line first in the Preakness Stakes.

It had been 45 years since Calumet Farm had won a classic race. Oxbow not only ended that historic drought; he ushered in a new era for Calumet, which had been purchased some years previously by businessman Brad Kelley. The 2013 Preakness was both Lukas and Stevens' first victory in a Triple Crown event in more than a decade.

That leggy bay colt sparked what some have called the greatest comeback in sports history. As spring faded into summer, and summer into fall, Stevens kept winning. Horses like Byrama, Marketing Mix, and She's a Tiger added grade one victories to his already sterling record. He entered the Breeders' Cup World Championships in the saddles of strong horses, some of them favorites. With the whole world watching, Stevens was well-prepared to make headlines.

On Breeders' Cup Friday, he and Beholder turned back the challenge of Royal Delta and others to run away with the Breeders' Cup Distaff. It was his first Distaff win in 15 years and put Beholder firmly in contention with her Eastern rival, Princess of Sylmar, for an Eclipse Award. 
After being disqualified aboard the stretch-weaving She's a Tiger in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Breeders' Cup Saturday, he climbed aboard several horses, including the long-striding Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.

Mucho Macho Man was a five year-old and had taken some time to grow into himself. He had finished second to the front-running Fort Larned in 2012's Classic and was back for revenge. As Stevens and his bay stallion sat off a contentious pace, the racing world followed along with bated breath. He pushed his mount to the lead at the turn, but in deep stretch faced strong threats from the tenacious Declaration of War and the fast-closing Will Take Charge. People trembled at the exciting finish; eyes were glued to the toteboard or a television as the photo finish sign flashed on. Who had won the Classic? 

The sign flashed up. The number 6 glowed brightly atop the others. The hole in Gary Stevens' resume had finally been filled. A Breeders' Cup Classic was his at last.

The win was extremely popular to all who watched. Winning trainer Kathy Ritvo, face full of emotion, ran towards her horse and exchanged heartfelt words with Stevens, whose joy was plastered on his face for all to see. The winner's circle was teeming with lively people; it seemed to represent all that was wonderful about horse racing. Cheers for Mucho Macho Man and his connections rang through the early evening air. Aboard his Classic champion, Stevens sat as proud as a king.

There were surely some voices in January that scoffed at the idea of a middle-aged rider climbing back into the saddle again, no matter how many great races he had once ridden in. Velazquez, Rosario and Castellano, among others, were comfortable in their positions atop the jockey ranks, and new faces inhabited the winner's circle as well. But it was as if Stevens had never stopped riding racehorses; he dismounted at Belmont in 2005 and remounted in 2013 as if only days and not years had passed.

With good horses, perseverance, and certainly plenty of guts, Gary Stevens achieved what some had thought to be impossible.

Be sure to check out Emily's own blog, Horse Sense! She has a Facebook page dedicated to her endeavors in writing about racing, Emily White, and can also be found on Twitter @racehorsewriter.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

After the Auction: Fierce Boots

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. “After the Auctions” feature horses I selected in sales that have found success after the sale. These posts are generally just brief overviews of these horses’ racing records and pedigrees.

As one of my selections from book one of the 2012 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Fierce Boots was sold to famed chef Bobby Flay for $200,000. Sent to the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Fierce Boots was prepared for a racing debut at the iconic Saratoga Race Course.

However, things did not go as planned when the bay filly made her debut in early August 2013. Lunging and bobbling at the break of the mile and one-sixteenth turf maiden special weight, Fierce Boots never gained the momentum she needed and crossed the wire fifth of sixth.

Although she remained at the maiden special weight level, Fierce Boots took what is viewed as a drop in class when she made her next start at Parx. Making her dirt debut, the filly settled off the pace before closing well to score by a half-length.

A return to New York saw her take on stakes company on the turf at Belmont, but the filly did not fare well, finishing eleventh of twelve. Returning to the dirt and exiting stakes company to run at the allowance level at Aqueduct, Fierce Boots gained late to be fourth, beaten just over three lengths.

Fierce Boots looked to redeem herself at the stakes level on January 4 in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct, which was her first stakes attempt on the dirt. Relishing the dirt surface, the bay filly led from start to finish as she coasted to a two-length victory.

Pedigree Analysis

Fierce Boots is a daughter of Tiznow, the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner who has ranked among the top thirty sires in North America for the past six years, ranking among the top five sires in 2008 and 2009. Among his offspring are the grade one winners Bullsbay, Colonel John, Da’ Tara, Folklore, Gemologist, Morning Line, Tiz Miz Sue, Tizway, Tough Tiz’s Sis, and Well Armed, as well as the grade one-winning steeplechaser Mr. Hot Stuff. Tiznow is also the sire of one of my grade one-winning sale selections, Strong Mandate.

The dam of Fierce Boots, Shop Again, was a stakes winner who has gone on to produce Power Broker – a grade one winner at two and a graded stakes-winning, grade one-placed runner at three. Fierce Boots is a half-sister to this earner of $865,612 and with inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Wild Again as her maternal grandsire, the filly shares her broodmare sire with the likes of the grade one winners Cheiron, Emma’s Encore, Macho Again, Mea Domina, Pyro, and Wild Spirit.

Shop Again is a half-sister to the grade one-winning Miss Shop, the graded stakes-winning Trappe Shot, the stakes-winning Bought in Dixie, and the graded stakes-placed Bulling. Through this female line, Fierce Boots is a direct descendant of the Reine De Course mare Lady Be Good, a multiple stakes winner who begat the stakes winners Discipline, Disciplinarian, and Full of Hope.