Sunday, August 30, 2009
Icon Project, making just her third start on dirt, rolled to the front on the turn for home and obliterated a talented group of fillies & mares by 13 1/2 lengths with jockey Julien Leparoux standing up celebrating before the finish line.
The daughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker came to the United States in early 2009 after going 1-for-5 in Europe, all on turf. She continued her grass career in America in the first half of the year but finally made her debut on dirt on June 20.
"I had been wanting to run her on the dirt," Wolfson said. "She trained greast on dirt ever since I got her from overseas."
The New York Handicap was taken off the turf because of rain and she relished the change of surface, romping by 13 1/4-lengths. Trainer Marty Wolfson kept the filly on dirt in her next start and was runner-up to Swift Temper in the Delaware Handicap on July 19
But on a beautiful Sunday at Saratoga, Icon Project turned the tables on Swift Temper and crushed the Grade 1 field that would have made the races' namesake very proud. (Personal Ensign was one of the greatest fillies of all time and finished her career a perfect 13-for-13).
"I was a little surprised by how far she won by," Wolfson said. "(As for her next race), we'll keep our options open."
After today's performance, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra beware: there's a new Icon in town.
Summer Bird - Trainer Tim Ice said that the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 3 makes the most sense as it fits well time wise. It leaves about a month before the Breeders' Cup and he's not concerned about getting a race over the artifical dirt of Santa Anita before the BC. The only races on the radar is the Louisiana Super Derby (Sept. 19) and the Goodwood (Oct. 10). Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is expected to run in the Goodwood.
Hold Me Back - The Travers runner-up has no specific next race but trainer Bill Mott said he is definitely targeting the Breeders' Cup.
Quality Road - A rematch with Summer Bird could be in store as trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that the beaten favorite in the Travers could move on to the JC Gold Cup.
Kensei - Trainer Steve Asmussen gave no indication where the Jim Dandy winner is running next. He said they will "take a step back, regroup and go from there."
Capt. Candyman Can - The winner of the King's Bishop is not specifically targetting the Breeders' Cup Sprint but trainer Ian Wilkes has not made a decision where he goes next.
Munnings - We now know that the King's Bishop beaten favorite is not moving on the BC Sprint. Pletcher wants to avoid the artificial dirt of Santa Anita. He'll target the Vosburgh (Oct. 3) and then the Cigar Mile (Nov. 28).
Salve Germania - The impressive winner of the Ballston Spa has been moved to Pletcher's barn but no timetable has been set for her next start. The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf is a logical target.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Going into the 140th running of the Travers, there was a big question of who is the best 3-year-old male in the country. It appears now that one colt moved to the head of the class.
Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird is getting better with each start and validated his classic victory with a 3 1/2-length victory over Hold Me Back in Saturday's Travers. You would have to expect this Beyer Speed Figure to be a lifetime high. (His best previously was the 106 in the Haskell).
Summer Bird also pulled off a pair of rare doubles - he is just the 30th horse to win both Belmont and Travers. And an even rarer feat - Summer Bird and his dad, Birdstone, were the one of the first father-son combo to win sweep both
There's no question the sloppy track effected the outcome and might have compromised the chances of a few horses but the clear cut win leaves little doubt that he's the best sophomore in the country (outside of Rachel Alexandra).
To support his case, he's the only 3-year-old colt to win two Grade 1's this year (Belmont and Travers). Trainer Tim Ice has taken the talented son of Birdstone from $35k maiden company at Oaklawn to racing's greatest heights in five short months.
Meanwhile, Mine That Bird has not won since the Kentucky Derby and the other colts that showed promise (i.e. Kensei, Quality Road and Charitable Man) all fizzled out in the Travers.
“I feel like I do [have the best three-year-old colt]," said Ice. "He beat
What's next for Summer Bird is a good question. If he's able to win one more race this year, it will probably cement his case as the best. There's not many big races left for him to run but you have to assume they will fly out to Santa Anita and run in the Breeders' Cup in early November.
Mine That Bird's next start is expected to be in the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita while
Forget the fact that this is probably an average group of 3-year-olds. The point simply remains that Summer Bird is now the best of his peers.
Photo Courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
The King's Bishop, set to go off at 5:10 p.m. (ET), appears to be as deep and talented of a group of sophomores assembled since the Kentucky Derby. The caveat here is that these horses are only running seven-eighths of a mile (as opposed to the 1 1/4 mile of the Derby) but they should put on a great display.
The favorite is the Todd Pletcher trained Munnings. The $1.7 million auction purchase is coming off a third place finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell but before that reeled off two impressive victories. He has loads of talent and is finally living up to it.
Next on the list is Big Drama. The fifth place finisher in the Preakness has won six of 10 starts and narrowly lost the West Virginia Derby (but did beat Mine That Bird in that race.) The only race he lost in three tries at 7/8 mile was the Swale for which he was disqualified for bumping a horse in the stretch.
Capt. Candyman Can has done a lot in his short career. He's won five of nine and finished a good second to Travers favorite Quality Road in the Amsterdam a few weeks ago. He's also never lost in three starts at seven furlongs.
Making his return to the races in the King's Bishop is one of the stars from last year. Vineyard Haven, who became an "overnight sensation" last Fall when he won the Hopeful and Champagne, was purchased by racing powerhouse Godolphin Stable. The colt was then sent over to Dubai with hopes of making the Kentucky Derby. But after a disappointing fourth in the UAE and a minor injury, he was given a little time off and sent back to the U.S. to prepare for Saratoga. This is a tough spot to make his return but we'll know pretty quickly if he has any future.
Other to watch in this race include: Everyday Heroes (2nd to Munnings in June), Flat Bold (4th to Kensei in the Jim Dandy) and Not for Silver (2nd to Everyday Heroes in May).
The race will be run very quickly and we will likely see a few of them go on to the Breeders' Cup. I'm not even sure who I will bet in the race but the bottom line is, it's a very deep field will loads of talent.
If you watch the race on TV, remember some of these names. You'll hear from them again soon.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
One of those traditional "bar raising" events every year is the Arlington Million and the race and it's two Grade 1 undercard races typically attract the best turf horses not only in America but in the world.
Since the Europeans race primarily on grass, they are perceived to have a big advantage when coming to the States but this year, the American turf horses may actually be the best.
The American horses "swept the board" by capturing all three of the major races on Saturday's Million card.
In the Arlington Million, Gio Ponti rattled off his fourth straight win with a 1 1/4-length win over fellow American Just as Well. That win stamped him as one of the the best turf horse in the world. There are still plenty of Europeans who have not made the track to the U.S. but Gio Ponti dispatched three Euros on Saturday.
Stotsfold (3rd), Cima de Triomphe (4th) and Gloria de Campaeo (7th) all had chance to win but were not up to the task.
Does this mean Gio Ponti in unbeatable? Hardly. There are still major races yet to run in Europe and the U.S. but the bay colt has certainly will be the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
In the other two big races on Saturday at Arlington, the Beverly D. and the Secretariat, the American also came out on top. Dynaforce posted a 1 1/4-length win in the Beverly D. The Europeans ran 2nd (Alnadana), 6th (Denomination), and 7th (Mad About You).
In a stirring stretch duel American Take the Points prevailed over Euro Black Bear Island in the Secretariat.
When the world does converge on Santa Anita in early November for the Breeders' Cup, there is no question that the Europeans will be a major factor. They were last year with the signature win coming in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
But, early on, Round 1 goes to the U.S.A. Stay tuned. It's going to be fun over the next few weeks.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
What more can you say? Rachel Alexandra continues to amaze the world with her brilliance and put on a display with her 6-length win in the Haskell. And her Beyer Speed Figure was 116, a career high.
The two questions everyone is now asking are 1) Does she belong with the all-time greats? 2) Where is she running next?
The debate over the first question will rage on for quite a while. The 3-year-olds (boys & girls) are not a strong group this year.
The top 3-year-old colts are Mine That Bird and Summer Bird. Kensei is improving but still needs to show he's in the top group (and he'll get his shot in the Travers.)
The girls, on the other hand, have fallen apart as the year has progressed. Stardom Bound, the 2-year-old filly champion, got hurt and a group of other nice fillies just never panned out.
Bottom line Rachel is the best 3-year-old in the country. But to compare her to Secretariat is premature and not warranted yet.
She is moving up the list of the best females of all-time but let's see her beat older fillies first before we put her near the top of that list.
As for the second question, Team Rachel will have a lot to think about. The Personal Ensign against older fillies and mares is a logical next race. But facing the boys in her next start again is also a possibility. The Travers, nicknamed the Mid-Summer Derby, will be her last chance to face only 3-year-old colts while the Woodward Stakes, against older males, could be an intriguing option.
She has already beaten likely Travers runners Mine That Bird and Summer Bird.
The challenge will be does her connections want to run 1 1/4 miles against boys or girls. Both the Personal Ensign and Travers are at that classic distance. But, the Woodward is run at 1 1/8 miles.
The Woodward could be appealing as the field would not expected to be strong as the top East Coast handicap horses typically run in the Whitney or wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.
If she pulls off another victory next time out, she will continue to increase her star status.
But a Travers win would put her in a class by herself. No filly (to my knowledge) has swept both summertime 3-year-old colt races.
Looking further down the road, racing would be shortchanged if we don't see a Rachel versus Zenyatta matchup.
Rachel's owner, Jess Jackson, reiterated after the Haskell that the matchup would have to be on a neutral site which means no Breeders' Cup.
Let's hope he changes his mind and maybe a win in the Travers or Woodward would.
It would certainly settle a couple of potential debates including Horse of the Year.
Late summer will be fun because that's when she will run next and the debate will rage on.
Photo Courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Saturday, August 1, 2009
For the second time this year, I begin to wonder if Calvin Borel's absence on Mine That Bird cost the gelding a victory.
In the Preakness, Smith was unable to keep Mine That Bird out of trouble and then was forced to go seven wide on the final turn. He lost to Rachel Alexandra by just a length.
Fast forward to Saturday and Smith watched Big Drama jump out to a huge early lead and the Hall of Fame jockey grew impatient and began to ask the Derby winner for run on the backstretch to close the gap between himself and Big Drama. The move backfired as Mine That Bird was out of gas in the stretch and could not pass Big Drama and eventual winner Soul Warrior.
"It was just total rider error," Smith said. "I don't like the way I rode him at all....He needs that one short run and I used too much of him on the backstretch."
Kudos for Smith to owning up to his mistake. It's a breath of fresh air.
But now what next for "Team Bird?" Do they stick with Smith, who they have a two-race commitment from? Or do they search for another rider? (Garrett Gomez is available with the injury to Pioneerof the Nile.)
Apparently, Mine That Bird has to be ridden in a very specific way. Keep him along the inside with another horse to his outside in the back half of the field. Then, when the time is right, cut him loose for his one big run. Borel executed the plan perfectly in the Derby but no one has since.
The Travers is the next race on Bird's docket but it appears that only a near perfect ride will lead him back to the winner's circle.