Friday, January 29, 2016

HRN: Racing's Future: Chris Crestik

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. . .

Racing's Future: Chris Crestik

""Racing’s Future” is a Q&A series in which I aspire to help everyone in the industry. In addition to shining a spotlight on youth who plan to have a career in horse racing, I hope that the opinions expressed in their responses will offer industry leaders insight into what a younger audience believes the sport should improve upon.

Meet Chris Crestik

From San Diego, California comes 16-year-old Chris Crestik, a lifelong racing fan. He is now a photographer for a Spanish horse racing website called . In addition to his involvement with horse racing, he is a two-sport athlete, playing varsity football and throwing shot put/discus for his school's varsity track and field team. He is also a top student pursuing a full IB diploma. Follow him on Twitter, @chriscrestik, and Instagram, @riders.up, for his pictures and handicapping selections. . ."

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Guest Blog Contest: Sixth Place | Pharoah's Phuture Phoals, by Madison Feldhahn

With a new year comes new stallions. This is no longer the year of the Pharoah –  at least for racing, that is. 2016 is the year American Pharoah walks into the breeding shed with some of the top mares from around the country and even the world (yes, I'm talking about you, Rags). If American Pharoah fails at stud, it won't be due to a shortage of quality mares. On that note, let's take a look at 'Pharoah's Phuture Phoals.'

American Pharoah/Untouched Talent

Untouched Talent, a Storm Cat mare, sold as a yearling for $310,000 in 2005 before making her way back to the auction ring as a two-year-old in the Barretts March Sale ($500,000) and the Fasig-Tipton November Sale ($850,000). She went on to win the Juan Gonzales Memorial Stakes (5 furlongs) and the Sorrento Stakes (6 1/2 furlongs). Untouched Talent also finished second in both the Del Mar Debutante (7 furlongs) and the Alcibiades Stakes (1 1/16 miles). I thought it was interesting to note the riders she had for each race: Roberto Gonzales, Victor Espinoza, David Flores and Patrick Valenzuela, respectively.

DAM: Parade Queen (A.P. Indy-Spanish Queen) won the grade three Miss Revere Stakes (1 1/16 miles T) and the grade three Joe Namath Handicap (1 1/16 miles T) before finishing her career with a fourth in the grade three Bewitch Stakes (1 1/2 miles T). Her first foal, Peace Officer (by Deputy Minister), was unraced. After being bred to Kingmambo, Parade Queen produced a 2001 colt named Obay (GB) who eventually became a group one winner. In 2006, King Gulch (Gulch), a gelding, became a  blacktype winner. Her most successful recent foal is Top Billing (by Curlin), a grade two-placed five-year old. Top Billing fractured his cannon bone in 2014 and finished fourth in the 2015 grade three Pimlico Special Stakes (1 3/16 miles). 

SIRE: Storm Cat (Storm Bird-Terlingua) won the grade one Young American Stakes (1 1/16 miles) and then finished second the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (1 mile). Some of his best mares include Life Is Sweet, winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and Untouched Talent, dam of Bodemeister.  Arguably, Giant’s Causeway is Storm Cat’s best son. In his only start on U.S. dirt, Giant’s Causeway finished second to Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Giant’s Causeway has sired Take Charge Brandi and Carpe Diem, to name a few. From 381 mares, Storm Cat has 669 runners and 313 winners (46%). Of those 313 winners, 25 won a stakes race (8%).

In 2007, Untouched Talent was sold at the Keeneland November sale for $1,200,000 in foal to Unbridled's Song. The resulting colt never started. In 2009, the Storm Cat mare gave birth to an Empire Maker colt. The colt was sent to the Keeneland September Sale and sold for $260,000.  This colt, Bodemeister, went on to win the Arkansas Derby and finish second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Untouched Talent was not bred in 2010.  In 2011, she produced Fascinating, a Smart Strike filly. The filly sold for $1,300,000 at the Keeneland September Sale and became a multiple graded stakes-placed racer. Untouched Talent foaled a Tiznow filly in 2012. That filly is currently a maiden winner, but is still on the track.

Untouched Talent made it to the sales ring once more. She was sold for $5,000,000 in foal to Unbridled's Song. The final foal from this cross is a chestnut colt who broke his maiden at Pimlico. In 2014 and 2015, Untouched Talent gave birth to Galileo fillies, both of whom are still unnamed.

As for the American Pharoah cross, the resulting foal with have inbreeding to Secretariat (4DX5D), Terlingua (5SX3D), Storm Bird (5SX3D) and Storm Cat (4SX2D).  Not to be a down and outer, but Pioneerof the Nile has not produced much other than American Pharoah. If you ignore all but the best son of the sire, he has only ever produced grade two winners. I don't believe his stud fee will stay above $100,000 for much longer. One thing to note in Pioneerof the Nile's pedigree is his sire, Empire Maker. Untouched Talent's best foal to date (Bodemeister) was based off the Empire Maker/Untouched Talent cross. Ending on that note, the American Pharoah/Untouched Talent foal could be just as good, or better than, Bodemeister. This is one to keep your eye on.

American Pharoah/Charming

Charming, by Seeking the Gold and out of Take Charge Lady, sold for $3,200,000 at Keeneland September. However, she never did much on the track. She won her maiden special weight (6 ½ furlongs) and then finished second in an allowance (one mile), both times under John Velazquez. For her final career start, Charming did not finish in the Serena’s Song Stakes. 

DAM: Take Charge Lady (Dehere-Felicita) won the Alcibiades Stakes (1 1/16 miles), Silverbulletday Stakes (1 1/16 miles), Fair Grounds Oaks (1 1/16 miles), Ashland Stakes (1 1/16 miles), Dogwood Stakes (1 1/16 miles), Arlington Matron Handicap (1 ⅛ miles) and the Spinster Stakes (1 ⅛ miles), twice. She also finished second in the Kentucky Oaks (1 ⅛ miles). In 2009, Take Charge Lady produced an A.P. Indy colt named Take Charge Indy. Take Charge Indy went on to win the Florida Derby – defeating Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags – and the Alysheba Stakes. He now stands at WinStar Farm for $17,500. His first crop are yearlings in 2016. After being bred to Unbridled’s Song, Will Take Charge was foaled in 2010. Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones Stakes, Rebel Stakes, Travers Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby, Clark Handicap and the Oaklawn Handicap. He entered stud in 2015 and is standing for $30,000 in 2016 at Three Chimneys Farm. Take Charge Lady produced a 2012 filly named I’ll Take Charge (by Indian Charlie), a 2013 filly named Conquering (by War Front) and has a 2015 unnamed War Front Filly. 

SIRE: Seeking the Gold (Mr. Prospector-Con Game) won the Swale Stakes, Peter Pan Stakes, Dwyer Stakes and Super Derby. He finished second in the Wood Memorial, Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He currently has 29 stallions at stud. He sired Dubai Millennium winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Dubai World Cup, Jazil – winner of the Belmont Stakes, and Flanders – winner of the Spinaway and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where she defeated Serena’s Song. As a broodmare sire, Seeking the Gold has 228 winners from 490 runners (47%). Sixteen of his winners won a stakes race (7%).

Take Charge Lady was bred to Unbridled’s Song in 2009 and produced a colt, Siete C. He sold at Keeneland September for $210,000. He is still racing as a five-year-old but has yet to win anything other than an allowance optional claiming. Undoubtedly, Charming’s best foal is Take Charge Brandi. She was a product of a Giant’s Causeway cross. As a yearling, she sold for $435,000 at the Keeneland September Sale. Her biggest wins were the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (1 1/16 miles), Delta Downs Princess Stakes (1 mile), Starlet Stakes (1 1/16 miles) and the Martha Washington Stakes (1 mile). Take Charge Brand recently sold for $6,000,000 at the Keeneland November Sale. 

Charming produced a War Front filly in 2013. The filly has been named Take Charge Tressa and has yet to start. Charming also has colt by War Front that was foaled in 2014. 

Charming seems to be a short distance speed horse. American Pharoah has speed on his dam’s side and stamina on his sire’s. Combined together, the foal should do well around two turns but I’m doubtful the resulting foal will be able to reach 1 ½ miles. However, 1 ¼ and 1 ⅜ miles should be no problem.

American Pharoah/Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches, by A.P. Indy and out of Better Than Honour, is probably one of the most successful racing mares of the 21st century. As a yearling, she sold at the Keeneland September Sale for $1,900,000. She finished fourth in a maiden special weight (5 ½ furlongs) before winning her maiden going 7 furlongs. She then went on to win the Las Virgenes Stakes (1 mile), Santa Anita Oaks (1 1/16 miles), Kentucky Oaks (1 ⅛ miles) and the Belmont Stakes (1 ½ miles). She finished her career with a second in the Gazelle Stakes (1 ⅛ miles). 

DAM: Better Than Honour (Deputy Minister-Blush with Pride) finished second in the 1999 grade one Acorn Stakes (1 mile) and third in the Mother Goose Stakes (1 ⅛ miles). Her 2003 foal, Jazil (by Seeking the Gold), won the Belmont Stakes. In 2004, Rags to Riches (by A.P. Indy) was foaled.  Casino Drive (by Mineshaft) is a 2005 grade two winner. Better Than Honour has a 2013 Bernardini filly who is yet to be named. 

SIRE: A.P. Indy (Seattle Slew-Weekend Surprise) was sold at Keeneland July for $2,900,000 before he won the Hollywood Futurity (1 1/16 miles), San Rafael Stakes (1 mile), Santa Anita Derby (1 ⅛ miles) and Peter Pan Stakes (1 ⅛ miles). He also won the Belmont Stakes (1 ½ miles) and the Breeders Cup Classic (1 ¼ miles). As a sire, some of A.P. Indy’s foals include Bernardini (2006 Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male), Dreaming of Julia (The Frizette), Friesan Fire (Louisiana Derby), Mineshaft (Jockey Club Gold Cup), Pulpit (sire of Tapit), Rags to Riches (Belmont Stakes), Malibu Moon (sire of Kentucky Derby winner Orb), Majestic Warrior (sire of Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar) and Honor Code (2015 Eclipse Champion Older Dirt Male). Mares by A.P. Indy have produced 598 runners, 299 of whom are winners (50%). Of those winners, 29 are stakes winners (9%).

As a broodmare, Rags to Riches produced a 2009 Giant’s Causeway filly. The filly was later named Opulence. In 2010, Rags to Riches foaled a colt by Henrythenavigator. He was also unraced. A 2011 colt and a 2012 gelding both by Galileo  were named Rhett Butler and Rich and Righteous, respectively, and are unraced as well. Rags to Riches gave birth to a Galileo colt named Never So Few. He is the only foal by Rags to Riches to race; he finished eighth in a maiden special weight (1 1/16 miles) on the turf in his career debut earlier this month. The broodmare also has an unnamed 2014 filly by Galileo. 

Both dam and sire won the Belmont Stakes, proving they have the stamina needed for classic distances. Both dam and sire have won at a seven furlong distance. Out of all of the mares that American Pharoah will breed to, I am most excited for this cross. The foal should be able to succeed at all distances.

American Pharoah has been given every chance to succeed as a sire. If he doesn't, we can't blame the broodmares. The pedigrees these broodmares carry are some of the best in the world and while not all of them are proven producers, perhaps they just need the right sire to come along.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

HRN: Racing's Future: Mary Eddy

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. . .

"“Racing’s Future” is a Q&A series in which I aspire to help everyone in the industry. In addition to shining a spotlight on youth who plan to have a career in horse racing, I hope that the opinions expressed in their responses will offer industry leaders insight into what a younger audience believes the sport should improve upon.

Meet Mary Eddy

17-year-old Mary Eddy has been attending the races at Saratoga Race Course since she was an infant and for the past four years, she has volunteered for Old Friends at their New York location, Cabin Creek. In doing so, she has won two volunteering awards: The Thoroughbred Charities of America Youth Essay Contest and a local news station award for 13 teenagers who perform outstanding volunteer service in their community. Her essay for the TCA was published in The Blood-Horse in October 2014 and she was featured on her local news station for their award. . ."

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Guest Blog Contest: Fifth Place | Derby Dreaming: A Tale Of Two Colts, by Jordan Sigmon

Derby Dreaming: A Tale Of Two Colts
By Jordan Sigmon

May 22, 2015: the day I fell in love with a little bay colt that many would soon know. This little bay colt is Swipe, and right from the start he had me dreaming of the First Saturday in May.

May 22 was the day that Swipe debuted. He didn’t win, but nevertheless I had a feeling this colt was special. In all honesty, when they turned for home in that race, and he was still so far back I had lost all hope. Then, he came flying down the outside, just in time to get up for second. After that race Swipe moved straight into stakes company – a bold move – but I knew he’d run his heart out no matter where he finished. He did just that, finishing a distant but gutsy third in the Tremont Stakes just a few days before the Belmont.

I had a friend that was there that day and she took some pictures of him for me. When I received those pictures one thing stood out to me – something that would make me fall even more in love with him. It was his eyes; they had a kind and gentle look to them, but they also looked very thoughtful. If I looked at the picture the right way, it almost looked like he was staring right at me straight through my phone screen.

Photo by Emily Gricco
Then along came Exaggerator. In fact, he debuted on the same day as the Tremont, only his race was at Santa Anita. He finished fifth in his debut and even though it wasn’t all that flashy, something about him just stuck out to me. I still haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it. But once again I had had my heart stolen.

About a month later, Swipe went back to California for the Summer Juvenile Championship Stakes. He wasn’t facing the toughest field, but that didn’t mean it’d be easy. I knew with his running style, the long stretch at Los Al would suit him well. The stretch run showed me just how good he was. Not far from the wire it looked like Mrazek was home free; then my boy came flying down the outside to nail him right on the wire. Watching him walk into the winner’s circle for the first time was the best feeling. Not only had he broken his maiden, but he had done it in a stakes race.

Soon after this, Exaggerator made his second start. I had a really good feeling as they loaded into the gates, and as it turns out there was a good reason for that. He displayed an explosive kick down the stretch to get up for the win by a short nose. All bias aside, it was one of the most impressive maiden performances I saw all year.

On August 8, Swipe made his graded stakes debut in the G2 Best Pal Stakes. He was facing a pretty good field, including the very highly regarded Nyquist. He wound up finishing a distant second, but no matter what, I was proud of how he’d run. About a week later, Exaggerator made his own graded stakes debut in the G2 Saratoga Special. He drew the dreaded one-hole, but that didn’t faze him one bit. He sat near the back of the pack early, although he was just a few lengths of the leaders. At the top of the stretch, Exaggerator bulled his way through horses and fought off a game Saratoga Mischief to win going away.

Following this win, Exaggerator got a little virus so he had to take some time off. In the meantime, Swipe continued to race. Next up for Swipe was the G1 Del Mar Futurity, where he would face Nyquist for the second time in a row. Once again Swipe was second, and even though Nyquist won by open lengths, Swipe got closer this time.

After that, Swipe headed back to Santa Anita for the G1 Frontrunner Stakes. Several people thought he may be able to beat Nyquist in this spot, because of the extra distance. And in fact, these people were almost right – almost. Swipe came charging up the rail and even got his head in front twice, but Nyquist bumped him several times throughout the stretch.

The following weekend, Exaggerator returned in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity. He’d been training well up to the race, and it wasn’t going to be easy going around two turns for the first time after a seven-week layoff. Exaggerator made the lead in the stretch and looked like he was going to draw off, but the time off and the stretch-out caught up to him, as Brody’s Cause flew past late to win.

Both colts had run well enough to earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which I was looking forward to watching on TV until my parents surprised me with tickets. I was ecstatic that I was going to get to see my boys run in person, and even though it would’ve been nice for one of them to win, second and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup was more than enough to make me proud.

One picture I took of Swipe in the paddock stuck out to me more than any other picture I took the whole weekend. He was looking straight at me, but the more I look at it, the more it feels like he was looking straight through me.

Swipe before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Photo by Jordan Sigmon

There was a picture of Exaggerator that stuck out to me, too. It was during the post parade, and he was bouncing up and down the whole time. My friend and I agreed that it reminded us of a little jack rabbit, so we started calling him 'Rabbit' whenever we talked about him.

Exaggerator in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile post parade
Photo by Jordan Sigmon
Swipe was done for the year after the Breeders’ Cup, but Exaggerator still had one more race in him – the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot. Not only did he handle a sloppy track in this race, but he showed versatility and fight. Straying from his usual running style, Exaggerator went straight to the front and never looked back, holding off a strong challenge from Sunny Ridge.
After that race, I talked to Kimberly McCormack about what Exaggerator was like as a foal and a yearling. 

“He was always very sure of himself [probably because] his dam always raised very confident foals,”she said. “He also always ate his midday meal laying down, and we would have to walk in and set the pan by their face.” 

One of the most interesting things I found out about him is that, “he loved his Jolly Ball and would play fetch with it.” The last thig that stuck out to me in our conversation was when she said how he always took everything they tried with him, as if they were just supposed to do it.
Towards the end of the year, it was announced that Swipe had had surgery to remove a bone chip, and that it’s possible that he won’t make it back in time for the Triple Crown races. I was devastated, of course, but unlike many who run from things like this, I choose to stay hopeful that the little bay colt that stole my heart last May will make it back in time. I hope that come May 7 this year, both of my boys will make it to the starting gate in the Run for the Roses.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Guest Blog Contest: Fourth Place | What Horse Racing Gives Us, by Christine Oser

What Horse Racing Gives Us
By Christine Oser

What is it about horse racing that attracts so many different people?

Maybe it is the chance to make money, whether you are at the betting window or in an owner’s box. Put a few dollars down on the right horse and you can come away with even more. Horse racing gives people that rooting interest that sports are all about, especially with money on the line. As the horses round the final turn of a race the crowd grows louder, the grip on programs get firmer, and the rails throughout the grandstand are hit harder, all with the hope of the bettor’s pick hitting that wire first.

While betting is the more casual way to make money, others enjoy investing in the horses. Some people just love the horses and others find syndicates a fun way to bond with friends. If you’re lucky enough, your horse can pay for itself in earnings or even make you a profit. Plus it is always a good feeling getting your picture taken in the winner’s circle.

It could possibly be the glamour of the sport that attracts people. Beautiful people mixed with beautiful horses. Men show up in collared shirts and blazers while women pull out their sundresses and hats. Come Kentucky Derby day, it is all about the hat. Big hats, small hats, simple hats, flamboyant hats – you name it. Some will choose a cute fascinator while others seem to live by “go big or go home.” Whatever your choice of style may be, it sometimes just feels nice to have an excuse to dress up and go out.

Maybe the magic of horses and kids draws families to the track. I remember watching the movie Dreamer over and over again when I was younger. In my fifth grade year, Churchill Downs hosted a Dreamer Day. Not only were there races and activities for kids, but the kids were able to meet one of the horses that played in the movie. There is still a picture of that moment in the kitchen at home. I do not remember what the horse’s name was, but I do remember being awestruck at being right next to a racehorse.

It’s heartwarming to see people share their passion of horses with the kids at the track. Whenever a track pony or a horse working out in the morning stops at the rail for kids to pet, you can see the wonder that comes into the kids’ eyes. And if we try hard enough, maybe we can keep that wonder there and capture new racing fans.

Perhaps it is the majesty of a horse that draws a crowd. An animal big and powerful, yet willing to grace us with their companionship. One that can leap through the air and assert itself as a force to be reckoned with. These horses know the crowd is there to see them, and they put on a show. Whether they are striking a pose for a camera or running near 40 miles per hour on the track, showing off is natural to these animals. It never ceases to amaze me how smart horses are. They know that they are competing with other horses, and their will to win is astounding. Some of the most exciting moments in horse racing are when two horses in a stretch run look each other in the eye and battle it out for victory.

Horse racing offers us all these things, but I believe it all comes back to the horse and his spirit. Though it has been said time and time again, there really is “something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a person,” and that is what makes horse racing attractive to so many different people.

Friday, January 15, 2016

HRN: Racing's Future: Jack Gilligan

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. . .

Racing's Future: Jack Gilligan

"“Racing’s Future” is a Q&A series in which I aspire to help everyone in the industry. In addition to shining a spotlight on youth who plan to have a career in horse racing, I hope that the opinions expressed in their responses will offer industry leaders insight into what a younger audience believes the sport should improve upon.

Meet Jack Gilligan

19-year-old Jack Gilligan was born and raised in Newmarket, England – a town known for its Thoroughbred culture. After completing all of his schooling at the age of 16, he attended the British Racing School and rode his first race just before his 17th birthday. He is now a jockey on the Kentucky circuit. . ."

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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Eclipse Awards That Don't Actually Exist

By Mary Cage and Grace Clark

The Eclipse Awards are this Saturday and by the end of the night, the champion Thoroughbreds of 2015 will be crowned. We all know how the Eclipse Award categories are divided; the most prestigious award is Horse of the Year, and the others honor the best horses in their respective divisions and genders. But most of those are predictable – and frankly – the same old, same old. So we decided to come up with a few categories of our own.
Greatest Racehorse to Ever Have a Misspelled Name: American Pharoah
Let’s face it, we racing fans now think that the technically correct spelling “pharaoh” is wrong. It just doesn’t look right now.

American Pharoah training at Churchill Downs
Photo by Mary Cage
Best Racehorse Who Only Trained All Year and Never Raced: Wise Dan
We followed the two-time Horse of the Year all year as he gradually returned to training, anticipating his return in the Woodbine Mile, only for him to have to be retired.

Wise Dan during his first gallop of 2015
Photo by Mary Cage
Three-Year-Old Filly Who Would Have Dominated without Illness: Lady Eli
Looking at the crop of fillies in 2015, one of the obvious standouts was Lady Eli. In all three of her starts this year, including a grade three and grade one, she went undefeated. After stepping on a nail and developing laminitis, she was knocked out of contention for the rest of the year. The good news is, she seems to have recovered well and is back in training.
Champion Turf Female Who Didn't Beat the Boys at the Breeders’ Cup: Stephanie's Kitten
After a dominant year racing in five graded stakes races, and winning two of them, Stephanie’s Kitten capped off her six year old campaign, and career, in the Breeder’s Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Though an impressive victress, the performance of fellow turf star Tepin will likely prevent her from receiving an Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Female.

Stephanie's Kitten
Photo by Grace Clark
Best European Who Lost at the Breeders' Cup (and only ever to fillies): Golden Horn
An Arc de Triomph winner, let alone one that has won all but two career races – all of them stakes – is rare to come by. But one who has only ever been beaten by fillies? Well, our boy Golden Horn takes that rare title. His impressive run in the Breeder’s Cup Turf was easily one of the best of the European invaders, and on top of that –  his loss being to yet another dominant European, and a filly at that – earns him this award.

Golden Horn
Photo by Grace Clark
Horse Whose Name Must Always Be in All Caps: TEPIN

TEPIN dominated the turf mile ranks this year, showcasing her brilliance against her own gender before taking down the boys in the Breeders' Cup Mile. She will likely take home the Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Female, but we felt it necessary to give her this award. She is such a fun and exciting horse that her name just does not look right if it isn't capitalized.

Photo by Mary Cage
Best Racehorse with the Shortest Name: Om
He was the winner of American Pharoah’s two-year-old debut in 2014, and went on to win three graded stakes races in 2015. But maybe his greatest achievement is having a two-letter name.
Best Horses Named for Italian Cuisine: The Pizza Man and Pepper Roani
Does this really need an explanation? The number of puns surrounding the races of The Pizza Man were innumerable, and the adorable Pepper Roani has gathered quite a fan group already.

The Pizza Man
Photo by Grace Clark
Pepper Roani
Photo by Grace Clark
Most Popular Pony: Smokey
There are many popular ponies in horse racing, but none gained as much national attention as American Pharoah’s buckskin sidekick. And he was certainly the most photographed pony. Okay, so maybe most photos of him were actually intended to be photos of American Pharoah, but don’t tell Smokey that.

Smokey and American Pharoah
Photo by Mary Cage
Horse Most Adored for Bloodlines: Rachel's Valentina
Both of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra’s only two offspring – Jess’s Dream and Rachel’s Valentina – broke their maiden at Saratoga in August. However, Jess’s Dream was sidelined with an injury, leaving the spotlight on Rachel’s Valentina. The filly did not disappoint, winning the grade one Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Rachel's Valentina
Photo by Mary Cage
Most Visited Retired Racehorse: Silver Charm
Thanks to the dedication of the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders Association, the Lewis family, and of course Michael Blowen and all of Old Friends, Silver Charm is back home in Kentucky, and now greets the tens of thousands of fans who visit the farm each year.

Silver Charm at Old Friends
Photo by Grace Clark
Breakout Sire: Curlin
No sire was going to out-do Tapit this year, but Curlin – a two-time Horse of the Year and 2014’s Leading Third-Crop Sire – certainly made a name for himself. His son, Keen Ice, was the only horse to defeat American Pharoah in 2015 and two of his fillies, Stellar Wind and Curalina, were among the best in the three-year-old filly division.
Best Two-Year-Old Colt Who Won't Win a Real Eclipse: Airoforce
Maybe we’re a little biased, but the handsome grey son of Colonel John broke his maiden in beautiful form at Kentucky Downs, and then captured the grade three Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland in an even more stellar performance. After losing the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf by a head, he debuted on the dirt (well, slop) of Churchill Downs, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club. Though he will not receive the Eclipse Award for Two-Year-Old Male, he’ll always be the winner in our hearts.
Airoforce breaking his maiden
Photo by Grace Clark
Most Stunning Freshman Sire: Will Take Charge
Chrome. Chestnut. 17.2 hands. We’re both suckers for chestnuts with chrome, and Will Take Charge is a perfect example of that as he takes the cake as the most handsome freshman sire on the market.

Will Take Charge
Photo by Grace Clark

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Guest Blog Contest: Third Place | Derby Season Starts at Oaklawn, by Ciara Bowen

Derby Season Starts at Oaklawn

By Ciara Bowen

The 2016 live racing season at Oaklawn Park begins in less than a week and it’s hard to miss the excitement of people around Arkansas. Despite the fact that the early part of the meet occurs in the coldest part of the year, the track never fails to draw a crowd. Between their opening weekend traditions and the high quality racing, it’s easy to see why.

As an Arkansas native, I may be partial to the Natural State’s only racetrack, but that in no way discredits my love for it. I’ve been going to the races there since I was in fourth grade – I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon – and I find something else that I love about the track every year. There is typically a standout horse that I look forward to throughout the meet. Last year it  was Far Right, and then American Pharoah. This year? It’s harder to tell.

The January 18 Smarty Jones Stakes will bring Arkansas the year’s first taste of the crop of three-year-old colts, including Synchrony, a promising son of Tapit. Trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, the chestnut colt recorded his fourth work on the oval since December 17 on Friday, going five furlongs in 1:00.40. The Smarty Jones, at just a mile, is the shortest of Oaklawn’s series of Kentucky Derby preps. It will be Synchrony’s first start going two turns, and his stakes debut. He has won two of his three races to date. His dam, Brownie Points, was also trained by Von Hemel and won 9 of 27 career starts. Brownie Points won the 2006 running of the Martha Washington Stakes and two years later ran second to Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom Handicap (Gr.1). If her son shares her taste for the track, he will definitely be one to watch on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Also under consideration for the Smarty Jones is the Ron Moquett-trained gelding Whitmore, whose sire, Pleasantly Perfect, won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. The gelding worked a half-mile Friday in :48.40, but the prospect of a large field has Moquett on the fence about whether to run in the stakes or in an entry-level allowance sprint on Saturday.

Whitmore broke his maiden first time out at Churchill Downs on November 6, taking the field by a solid 7 ¼ lengths. He followed that performance with a fifth place finish in the Delta Jackpot Stakes (Gr.3) a few weeks later at Delta Downs. It was both his first time around two turns and his first time running in stakes company. Should Whitmore run, he should not be overlooked. Moquett knows how to place his horses well, and he did win last year’s running of the Smarty Jones with Far Right. Regardless of which race he chooses, Whitmore looks to join the field for the Southwest Stakes (Gr.3) on February 15.

Toews On Ice, named for the hockey player, is also nominated for the race.

Rain or shine, opening weekend will play host to some talented horses and enthusiastic people at Arkansas’s favorite place to be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Eclipse Award Selections

It is no secret that American Pharoah will be the king of this year’s Eclipse Awards, but – as always – there exist a handful of categories that have stirred up some debate. While some awards have obvious winners, there are a few that are rather wide open. We will find out each official award winner on Saturday, January 16, but below are the horses and people I would choose for each Eclipse Award:

Horse of the Year: American Pharoah

He became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and the first horse to ever win what has been nicknamed the “Grand Slam” – or a sweep of all three Triple Crown races, along with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Without a doubt, American Pharoah is Horse of the Year.

American Pharoah

Two-Year-Old Male: Nyquist

In another “no question” category, Nyquist is the clear winner of this award. Undefeated in five starts, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), he has earned this title.

Two-Year-Old Filly: Songbird

The award for Two-Year-Old Filly is also a lock. Songbird dominated her division in every sense of the word, winning each of her four starts by a combined 22 lengths. Three of those races were grade ones, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Three-Year-Old Male: 
American Pharoah

He accomplished what no three-year-old has before. This award is his.

Three-Year-Old Filly: 
Stellar Wind

With no true standout, and contenders that took turns beating each other, this award is a bit up in the air. But when the finalists – Found, I'm a Chatterbox and Stellar Wind – were announced, leaving behind Curalina and Lady Eli, the decision became a little clearer. However, even before the finalists were revealed, by choice has been Stellar Wind.

I’m a Chatterbox started off the year with three consecutive stakes wins, including a pair of graded stakes at the Fair Grounds. After that, she finished a length ahead of Stellar Wind when third in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). In her next start, as aforementioned, she won the Coaching Club American Oaks by a narrow margin over Curalina but was disqualified. Although second next out in the Alabama, she finished in front of Curalina before winning the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) against no Eclipse Award contenders. A good effort in the Distaff could have wrapped up this award for her, but instead, I’m a Chatterbox finished eighth while rivals Stellar Wind and Curalina finished in the money.

Found may have accomplished something great when defeating Golden Horn in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I), but she only raced in the United States. Meanwhile, her competitors for this award were outstanding in America all year long.

Stellar Wind began her three-year-old season with back-to-back graded stakes wins at Santa Anita, including the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I). After running fourth of fourteen in the Kentucky Oaks, she returned to Southern California to win the Summertime Oaks (gr. II) and Torrey Pines Stakes (gr. III). Stellar Wind finished the year with a game runner-up effort in the Distaff behind older female Stopchargingmaria, finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of Curalina and more than 6 lengths in front of I’m a Chatterbox.

Although no filly proved to be an obvious leader of this division, I must choose Stellar Wind due to the consistency of her campaign and her top effort in the Breeders’ Cup, in which she easily defeated her fellow three-year-olds, as well as older females.

Older Dirt Male: 
Honor Code

The ill-fated Shared Belief was arguably the best older male to set foot on a track in 2015, but that alone will not earn him this award with only three starts from his brief season. This award is another one that is not clear cut. The finalists came down to Honor Code, Liam's Map and Tonalist.

Tonalist was a model of consistency in 2015 – but only in New York. He won three of his seven starts during his four-year-old season but was defeated by each of the other contenders for this award on at least one occasion. Although he finished the year strong with a win in the grade one Cigar Mile, his fifth place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and his losses against these rivals will prevent him from getting this award.

Although Liam’s Map was absolutely brilliant and won a pair of grade ones – including a record-setting victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile – his lone loss of the season will likely keep him from being granted this honor. That loss came in his only start against Honor Code, in which that rival defeated him by a neck in the grade one Whitney Stakes. Despite only four starts on the year, Liam’s Map had one of the most impressive seasons of any older dirt mile but in his only meeting with Honor Code, he was beaten by that competitor.

Honor Code’s season was far from perfect, but when he was at his best, he was the best. From six starts, he won three – including wins in the Met Mile and Whitney. Although he tailed off at the end of the season, finishing third in the Kelso Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Classic, he defeated both Tonalist and Liam’s Map at least once this year.

Older Dirt Female: 

Unlike its male counterpart, this category is an easy decision. Beholder was untouchable in five starts, including a dominant victory against males in the Pacific Classic. Like she was in each of her races in 2015, she is the runaway winner here.

Male Sprinter: 

This is another straightforward category. Runhappy won six consecutive races from July to December, including four graded stakes. Among those wins were victories in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and Malibu Stakes (gr. I).

Female Sprinter: La Verdad

This division is not as clear-cut as its male counterpart, but is hard to ignore La Verdad’s season. She won five races this year – all of which were stakes, and three of which were graded. Although she finished off the board in the Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) and Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III), she was a valiant second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). She was defeated by Wavell Avenue in the Breeders’ Cup, but that was that rival’s only stakes win and La Verdad defeated her in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II).

Turf Male: 
The Pizza Man

This award comes down to a battle between The Pizza Man and Big Blue Kitten. The former has four wins on the year, whereas the latter has three – both of them out of six total starts. They faced each other twice and although Big Blue Kitten crossed the wire ahead of The Pizza Man in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) – finishing third while the Illinois-bred finished fifth – The Pizza Man won the Arlington Million (gr. I) over Big Blue Kitten. The Pizza Man had one less grade one win in 2015 than his rival, but made one final push when shipping to Southern California to take the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. II).

The Pizza Man

Turf Female: 

While Stephanie’s Kitten would certainly be a deserving winner of this award, I must choose Tepin. The Bernstein filly won five of her seven starts this, including three grade ones – among them a win against males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I).


Dawalan is likely to earn this award, though Bob Le Beau is his top competitor. Bob Le Beau won four of his six starts in 2015 – three of which were grade ones. However, in his two losses, he finished off the board – including a lackluster fifth in the final grade one of the steeplechase season.

Although Dawalan raced only three times this year, he made the most of it. His first start of the year came in September’s Lonesome Glory Hurdle Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont, in which he finished third – beaten 1 ½ lengths – behind Bob Le Beau. He then won both the Grand National Hurdle Stakes (gr. I) and the Colonial Cup Stakes (gr. I) – the latter in which he won by 5 ¼ lengths, defeating Bob Le Beau, who finished fifth.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey

Zayat Stables and the Ramseys both raced horses that earned a total of more than $9 million in 2015 – and although Zayat Stables had more than 400 fewer starters than the Ramseys – $8,288,800 of Zayat Stables’ earnings were courtesy of American Pharoah. Ramsey-owned horses won several graded stakes races with a variety of horses this year, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. I) with Stephanie’s Kitten.

Breeder: Ken and Sarah Ramsey

While the Zayats may end up with this award for breeding American Pharoah, other breeders had a greater season overall with multiple successful horses. Although the breeders’ standings are a close call between Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Darley, the Ramseys bred one more 2015 grade one winner than Darley – including a Breeders’ Cup winner – and ended the year with a slightly larger amount of earnings.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

While Bob Baffet certainly deserves recognition for his conditioning of American Pharoah and his winners of 22 total graded stakes, Todd Pletcher leads trainers by earnings, having trained horses that earned more than a total of $26 million in 2015. He is also the leading trainer by graded stakes wins, having trained horses that won a total of 47 graded stakes.

Javier Castellano

While consideration can certainly be given to Victor Espinoza for his historic accomplishments aboard American Pharoah, the sheer numbers of Javier Castellano’s year blow the other riders out of the water. He won 344 races, 48 of which were in graded stakes, and accumulated earnings of more than $28 million – more than any other American jockey in 2015.

Apprentice Jockey:
Tyler Gaffalione

While Eric Cancel managed to win more than 100 races with total earnings of more than $5 million while riding on the tough New York circuit, Tyler Gaffalione made a name for himself in Florida. He had nearly double the amount of starters Cancel did, therefore winning 246 races and earning more than $6 million. Angel Cruz, however, earned more than $7 million with ten less wins than Gaffalione. But Gaffalione – unlike Cancel and Cruz – garnered a graded stakes win in 2015 while piloting Cali Star in the Rampart Stakes (gr. III).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Guest Blog Contest Runner-Up: An Ode to Eight Gauge, by Nicolle Neulist

An Ode to Eight Gauge 

By Nicolle Neulist

Eight Gauge
Photo by Nicolle Neulist
On November 11, 2012, Eight Gauge beat Work All Week in an Illinois-bred maiden special weight at Hawthorne.

Neither won that day; those honours went to Big Man in Black. Eight Gauge finished third, Work All Week sixth.  Work All Week, 
debuting that day, tried two turns on the grass. That experiment failed. Work All Week came back the following spring, trying a dirt sprint for the first time.  He found such races a bit more to his liking.  By the time he retired in October of 2015, he had run 18 more times.  All of those starts came at sprint distances.  He never missed the board at one turn.

Work All Week ended up proving consistent on the racetrack, the 
sort of consistent that won him accolades, fans and an Eclipse Award.

Eight Gauge was consistent, too... but, in the way of a Zippy Chippy 
or Vote for Lust.

That race was the Chicago Six gelding’s 28th.  He had finished in the money six other times before that start – all in maiden 
special weight company, despite the fact that he made his first eight
starts for a claiming tag.  He was fast enough to finish in the money here and there, and once even finished second behind Work All Week’s eventual Grade I-winning stablemate, The Pizza Man.  Still, after almost 30 starts, Eight Gauge was the sort of horse you could leave out of the top spot without losing a wink of sleep the night before the race.

As Work All Week progressed up the class ladder, and traveled to run on those dirt tracks he loved so much, Eight Gauge kept trying on 
the Chicago circuit.  For years, Eight Gauge was so dependable.  He kept running in maiden special weight company, almost always state-bred.  He occasionally hit the board, but never got all the way there against that sort of company.  Though his later starts lacked Grade I luminaries, the closest he came through 2013 and 2014 was a second-place finish, beaten a length and a half, behind eventual Illinois-bred stakes winner Bold Rally.

Eight Gauge tried turf, dirt and poly.  He went long, short and even that ultimate middle distance of a one-turn mile.  He showed 
up… to an extent.  He got a piece often enough to provide some hope to
anyone who did not automatically toss career maidens.

He fell short consistently enough to endear him to anyone who cheers for the lovable loser.

This spring, he finally faced the easiest state-bred maiden claiming company Chicago had to offer.  He was seven, and had not faced 
that company since he was three.  His first try last year at that level,
he once again showed what made Eight Gauge... well, Eight Gauge.  He finished fifth in a six and a half-furlong sprint, suggesting the class drop may not have done much.

Next out, against similar, he did something a bit different.  On April 17, 2015, in a six-furlong dirt sprint, he ran down longtime 
leader Wolf Creek – and kept right on going.  No one caught him.  Isn’t
that the old adage: 55th time’s a charm?

The pale grey Orphanellie, a 48-time starter, has overtaken the role of Chicago’s premier professional maiden.  Even so, 
Eight Gauge remains a favourite.  He tried for so long, and finally got there.  On one hand, he never quite reached Zippy Chippy status, a hundred defeats, a winless career.  Still – why should he?  So many of his starts came against tough horses.  So many of his starts came against better and faster horses.  He had shown enough flashes of talent, enough good races, to finish in the frame against classier horses.

Though Eight Gauge lost his lovable loser label, he still has his story, and no horse in Chicago deserves to pass his non-winners of two 
condition soon more than he does.  Eight Gauge always had some talent lurking; he had to.  He kept trying to break his maiden against those tougher horses.  He finally found the wire, after all, even though it took him 55 times to do it.  Look at it this way – it was only his second try against that class level at age seven, and he had not faced that level since he was still three, still maturing.  Perhaps he took a while to mature, and he fit there all along.  He never lost his heart.

And, in a sport so laden with trivia... the fact that Chicago’s career maiden crossed the wire ahead of an eventual champion will always 
rate as one of the best little tidbits.