Category Archives: Graded Stakes

Sing with Bing

I’m enjoying the cool darkness of the Tucson evening from my balcony as I write this blog, though my heart is still on Jimmy Durante Boulevard, a block away from the beach.  I left Del Mar last Sunday, after a final week of Pacific Classic prep, Baffert gossip and beach parties.

The Pacific Classic preparation began with putting together media guides with the nominated horses’ information.  Then there was the post position draw party at the swanky Rancho Valencia resort in Rancho Santa Fe.  All of the connections, a few jockeys and trainers, the press and TVG turned out to watch Tom Robbins & Rick Hammerle pull pills and horse names, and chuckle when Joe Harper called it “the Bob Baffert going away party.”

I met a few of the West Point partners in Awesome Gem; listened as track trumpeter Les Kepics and a guitarist serenaded us with jazzy tunes as the sun set in gorgeous colors; got a few pics of Isle of Giant’s trainer, Ben Cecil, and one of the owners ripping the horse’s name off the sign after the party…

The Pacific Classic trophy is pretty neat – it is made of crystal and has curves along the base that look like ocean waves!  It’s not the Woodlawn Vase, but it’s totally Del Mar cool.

The day of the Classic, my main job was to get as many shots of people around the TVG signs as possible.  The network also had a giveaway of TVG flip flops and a full field of pink-silked jockey girls to distribute them.

I enjoyed a final day of paddocking, got lots of pics of the Classic contenders, then squeezed along the rail for one last big race.  I saw Richard’s Kid, still in mid-pack, kick into a higher gear as they ran past me in the stretch.  He managed to get to the front in the last few jumps and power under the wire for his second Pacific Classic victory.  The horse really likes Del Mar.

His trainer doesn’t though, and only a few days before the race had vowed to leave Del Mar if they didn’t restore the traditional dirt surface next year.  He didn’t go to the draw party (which allowed me to do some cannibalizing of the sign, too and snatch Richard’s Kid’s plaque) and wasn’t at the races that day, either.  Instead, he was at Saratoga, where he had to watch as 3 of his trainees won decisively on the Del Mar stretch he hates, including BOTH of the grade 1s!

Team Intern had one last big blast at the Horsemen’s Beach Party & Volleyball tournament.  The party was back after a few seasons’ hiatus, and it was probably the most fun thing I did all week.  The beach near the track is gorgeous, and the track set up tents and nets and called in a caterer to make the scene even better.  Those backstretch workers were some *serious* volleyballers – they had Olympic-level technique and an intense competitive streak!  I didn’t play (because balls tend to hit me more than I hit them in these games) but Team Intern still brought it hard and left it all on the court (hehe for sports cliches!).  The weather was perfect that afternoon — the sand sizzled but the ocean water cooled us all off between games.  The Brown Scorpions team won a hard-fought final match with Doc’s Bunch, the reigning champs.

Evening Jewel after winning the Del Mar Oaks

Hall of Fame jockeys Mike Smith & Don Pierce (l-r)

Da Boomer, impressive 2yo winner trained by Tom Blincoe

There is still one last weekend of fun at old Del Mar, but I must watch it on TVG.  But when I see Camacho the outrider and his horse Max on the screen, or catch a glimpse of Ken, Sue or Heather on the patrol judges’ stands, and see Connie, the winner’s circle queen award the bottle of champagne to the winning horse’s owners, I’ll feel like I’m right back there.

Del Mar will be on my annual trip list no matter where I end up after this year.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to do the only thing I missed out on this year:

Sing with Bing!!!

Where the turf meets the surf…

Down at old Del Mar….

Take a plane, take a train, take a car….

There’s a smile on every face…

And a winner in each race…

Where the Turf meets the surf….

At DEL MAR!!!

Richard's Kid exits the track after a fun & successful season at Del Mar!

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Filed under Del Mar, Graded Stakes, Infield Trips, internship, polytrack

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Like It — ZENYATTA at Del Mar, pt 3

The most asked question on all of the Del Mar social media sites since July 6 was: Is Zenyatta going to race there?

Many close followers of racing (and those who think they know everything) probably believe that the track was confident in her entry, knew it all along, so much so in fact, that they made souvenir pint glasses to give away on Hirsch day.

Fact is, the people in the Del Mar Executive Offices were as anxious as the fans about her entry in the Clement Hirsch.  The uncertainty hovered even up to race day.  When I arrived that morning, the buzz was that another trainer had pulled his horses from training over the polytrack and that Z’s connections were going to scratch.  Then the rumor was that they were going to wait until the 2nd race to decide whether to scratch.  Then the time pushed back to 45mins before post time.  You can imagine the hairpulling that went on behind the scenes. (Don’t quote me on this, but I am pretty sure the pint glasses were a year in the making, due to the production/shipment schedules from China and all).

So it was a huge relief when the big, near-black mare with the tornado-shaped blaze finally approached the receiving barn, entourage close behind, camera crews and photographers in pursuit, around 5:45 p.m.  I had scouted a spot just outside of the barn, at the shoe inspector’s truck, for my pre-race glimpse.  All of my backside excursions, all of the people I’d met and shadowed throughout the past 4 weeks had well prepared me for this assignment.  I knew that it would be difficult to get around the Sherriffs barn on race day (both due to the queen’s schedule as well as my internship duties).  The paddock was out of the question, too – there were over 400 paddock passes given out for the media & connections of the horses in the Hirsch.  Even if I’d gotten in, my pics would have been over heads and between arms.  But I knew every horse had to stop by the receiving barn for I.D. and shoe inspections.

She was poised and calm at that point, not yet ready to start her famous strut.  The afternoon sun shone brightly, illuminating the dapples on her gleaming coat.  She was a pro at shoe inspection time, lifting each hoof delicately before farrier Victor even reached for them.  Zenyatta stood calmly as horse I.D. expert Diane flipped the mare’s upper lip to check the tattoo.

That’s when I had to dash.

The next step in my Hirsch game plan was the most difficult.  I hurried through the mob at the paddock, squeezing between and ducking around people who craned their heads to see even an eartip of the fabulous Z.  My destination: winner’s circle.

I staked out my spot along the rail as the 8th race went off.  A few other photogs and a video guy or two also had the same idea.  I looked back at the grandstand – every level was packed.  The apron was 10-deep, even for the 8th race!  I spotted a few pink and teal signs among the mob. The crowd around me at the rail grew with each minute as well, until security had to hold back at least 200.

At around 6:15, the excitement reached crescendo as Zenyatta stepped out of the tunnel and onto the track.  She strutted, swayed, bowed and posed as she did her diva thang in the post parade.  On the big screen of the tote board, the track broadcast its music video tribute to Zenyatta.  She was cool and collected during the warm-up, went into the gate with ease, and then…

There was an enormous cheer as the gates opened and the mares leaped out.  I almost couldn’t hear announcer Trevor Denman!  As the field raced past us for the first time, Z was in her usual spot at the back.  Behind me, a gentleman was excitedly hollering, “that’s it, slooow it down Raphey, slow it down!” This was Rinterval’s trainer, Eric Reed.  He continued shouting as the horses galloped around the turn and into the backstretch.

As they cleared the final turn, the cheers grew even louder, to a deafening roar as Zenyatta began picking off rivals in the stretch.  Reed began pumping his fist (I know this bc he was so close I could feel it on my back!) when Z hooked up with Rinterval.  By then I couldn’t hear Trevor at all.  I was banging on the rail and stomping, yelling “GO GIRL! GO GIRL!”

She flashed under the wire a head in front of Rinterval.  Reed was still elated, despite having been defeated.  I heard him say before the crowd swallowed him up, “…seen nothing like it…”

I looked back at the stands again: the jubilant faces, the fists pumping, the cryers, the laughers, the little girls and the older men, all in love with a horse! 

Walker (my boss) motioned for me to slip under the rail and join the rest of the press corps on the track.  She made a valiant victory pass, Mike Smith beaming his dimpled smile.  I was in awe of being so close! She was barely breathing hard and there wasn’t a drop of sweat on her!

I managed to get between the press hounds and snap off a few wonderful shots as Zenyatta entered the winner’s circle for the 18th time in a row, and her 3rd time in the Hirsch.

It was a spectacular day and one that I will remember fondly for years to come.  If you ever get the chance to see Zenyatta in person, take it – you ain’t seen nothin’ like it!

QUICK PICKS:

  • As the crowds lined up outside the gates, I spent my time resetting my camera.  The day before, my photoshoot of the Queen during her morning routine went well, but when I uploaded the photos, most of them were blurry, unfocused messes! I was so disappointed!  I was determined to figure it out before the 9th race, and after a bit of fiddling I discovered the problem.  I also had 2 specific undercard races to practice.
  • The crowd clamoring for Zenyatta and her pint glasses was so large the track opened early to alleviate the craziness.  I got pulled from photos to help man a distribution booth in the clubhouse.  The only thing that went faster than the pint glasses were the plastic bags we handed out to help carry them!
  • I got a quick lunch break and then grabbed my camera for a trip to the paddock for the 3rd race.  Tom Blincoe’s Tall Texan was in, as well as Carla Gaines’s Doppio and Henry Moreno’s Party Mandate.  I have become great friends with Texan, who likes to eat butterscotch and root beer flavored hard candy.  Gaines is a fabulous trainer & nice, too, while Henry is probably the most flirtatious trainer there (but it’s all in good fun).
  • The Whitney at Saratoga went off while I was in the paddock for Tall Texan.  I watched the race on the big screen with Willie, the main paddock guard. We were both rooting for Blame, and gave high-5s when he won! As the horses exited the paddock for the race, a blonde lady in a blue blouse & sunglasses hurriedly asked me who won the Whitney.  I cheered, “Blame!” and then realized the woman was Bo Derek.
  • Great Bernardine raced for my RTIP classmates in the 5th race.  I was paddock-side for that one, too, and met trainer Mag Perez & his lovely wife, Candace, as well as P Val.  I got a pic with P Val, too, just before he got a leg up on Bernardine!
  • I was thisclose to Ken Rudolph during the Hirsch.

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Filed under Del Mar, Graded Stakes, internship, photos, polytrack, promoting racing, zenyatta

PHREAKNESS

The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Preakness must suffer from the “middle child syndrome” — there can be no other reason why this otherwise unremarkable race has offered fans such rich drama and curious occurances over its 134 runnings. 

It’s the only Triple Crown race to have ever been run in two divisions, resulting in 2 different winners in 1918.  The clubhouse has been struck by lightning (1909) and even burned down (1966).  The race was homeless for several years in the late 1800s, when five runnings were held at Belmont Park. 

In more recent history, the Preakness has suffered a track-wide power outage (1998); a drunken (and suicidal) infielder ran out onto the track and punched at horses racing in the 1999 sprint race on the Preakness undercard.  Afleet ALex clipped heels with Scrappy T and stumbled to his knees, but his athletic jockey stayed on and the colt galloped home by daylight in 2005.  Of course, there has been plenty said about Barbaro in 2006.

This year’s drama has so far happened off the track: Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson for the sole purpose of competing in the Preakness.  Ahmed Zayat then threatened on TVG that he’d stuff the gate with his own runners so that the filly couldn’t get in.  Marylou Whitney was even wrapped up in the controversy.  By Monday, all of the craziness was over, Zayat recanted and Rachel was in. 

It’s good that Rachel ALexandra will get to face colts.  She is a big, sturdy filly and should have no problems keeping up with the boys.  She’s already faster than most of them.  Borel is sticking with her over his Derby winner, which speaks volumes to her talent.  Borel will also do everything he can to protect her should the race prove to be too much for her.  I’m not worried about her physical condition or of her getting injured.  Rags To Riches ran in the Belmont, for goodness sakes.  So did Silverbulletday, my #1 favorite filly of all time.  Rachel will be fine.

She will also win.  As much as I’d love for Pioneerof The Nile to turn the tables on Mine That Bird, or even for Mine That Bird to continue the impossible dream, I believe Rachel has the speed and strength to win this race.  The pace will be much faster here than the Derby, with Big Drama and Take The Points in the gate.  But she can sit just off the leaders.  She also has a better tactical turn of foot than most of the colts.  Borel can put her anywhere he wants. 

If it rains, Mine That Bird will be dangerous.

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Filed under Graded Stakes, Handicapping, mine that bird, Preakness

FRUIT vs NILE

The Pamplemousse faces Pioneerof The Nile for Santa Anita Derby Dominance on Saturday.  Go Fruit!

The Pamplemousse faces Pioneerof The Nile for Santa Anita Derby Dominance on Saturday. Go Fruit!

 

Santa Anita will host the most anticipated matchup of the spring on Saturday, when The Pamplemousse meets Pioneerof The Nile in the Santa Anita Derby.  Will the front-running Fruit be able to carry his speed all the way to the finish?  Will PNile close in time to hit the wire first?  Or will Chocolate Candy surprise them all?

The Fruit may just be the freak of this year’s 3yo crop.  Sure, Quality Road has put up some big Beyers in the FOY and FL Derby, but he just doesn’t have the style of The Pamplemousse.  Big, grey, cute face marking, high white socks, carousel-horse-high knee action, funny name, and undefeated.  He likes to be on the lead, but he has been known to rate, somewhat.  Sure, he has pedigree questions, but as of today he has already outrun his sire, Kafwain, by winning at 9f, in a stakes, no less.  But there’s just something about him- he may not win the Kentucky Derby, but he’s got the Santa Anita Derby for the taking. 

Pioneerof The Nile looks to slice the Fruit at the Santa Anita Derby.

Pioneerof The Nile looks to slice the Fruit at the Santa Anita Derby.

PNile is a very good colt right now, getting better with each start and trained by a guy who knows how to win the Derby: Bob Baffert.  The son of Empire Maker has stuck out some close finishes in his career, but he has never faced a horse like The Fruit.  It will take every bit of his class and drive to pass The Fruit in the stretch.

Chocolate Candy, and to a lesser extent, Mr. Hot Stuff (seriously, who named this horse? his brother is Colonel John; this name sounds like a Chippendales’ dancer) are the upsetters-in-waiting.  Chocolate Candy has been plugging along in stakes at Golden Gate Fields, winning the El Camino Real and California Derby.  He’s by Candy Ride out of a Slew mare, so distance is not an issue.  His times and figures, while certainly quick, haven’t been as scintillating as The Fruit’s or PNile’s.  Mr. Hot Stuff was 3rd in the Sham behind The Fruit, but fans of the colt hope he gets better as the distances stretch, like his big bro.

At Aqueduct, the action moves out the the main track for the Wood Memorial.  I Want Revenge wants to turn in another devastating victory against Imperial Council.  I think Imperial Council will get the better of Revenge this time.  Revenge’s victory last out was his first run on traditional dirt, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he bounces.

April 4 is Part 1 of the Final Derby Preps.  The major contenders must keep it together the next 2 saturdays to solidify their places in the gate May 2.  Next weekend will be the Bluegrass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby — wow, time flies!

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Filed under Aqueduct, Derby Prepes, Graded Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita

MARCH MADNESS RACES of the WEEK

Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from KentuckyDerby.com

Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from KentuckyDerby.com

This weekend the FOUR! Big Kentucky Derby Preps feature returning favorites and a few “bubble” horses who could jump onto the list in huge ways.

REBEL:

OLD FASHIONED looks to add another easy victory in Hot Springs.  Silver City comes back to challenge, but I think he’d be better sticking to sprints.  Poltergeist is also back after a lackluster performance in the Southwest, and though I hope he runs better this time, I don’t see him winning.  D.Wayne Lukas has Hamazing Destiny, a maiden winner, entered, and savvy players know you shouldn’t ignore a Lukas horse.  Old Fashioned’s owner, Rick Porter, chose to be at Oaklawn on Saturday instead of New Orleans, where he has Fresian Fire running in the Louisiana Derby.  I think he should make plans to dress for a winners’ circle photo.

LOUISIANA DERBY:

This is the best betting race of the entire weekend:  a nice field of dangerously good colts.  FRESIAN FIRE has dominated the Fair Grounds and is the morning-line favorite.  IEAH’s Patena ran a great 2nd in the Risen Star and is the wiseguys’ pick.  Giant Oak has run well all winter and could be sitting on a huge race.  Then there is Terrain, making his first start of the year.  The Cali-shipper Papa Clem hopes to replicate I Want Revenge’s poly-to-dirt powerhousing, and I think he just might be able to do it.  He ran 2nd to Pioneerof The Nile in the Bob Lewis Stakes in only his 2nd start; he is by Smart Strike, a triple-threat sire whose get include turf champ English CHannel and repeat HOTY Curlin!  My tickets will have Freisan Fire and Papa Clem at the top.

TAMPA BAY DERBY

Street Sense started his 2007 Derby-winning campaign in this race, where he nearly dead-heated with Any Given Saturday.  I don’t see anything like that happening this year, but still, this makes for an interesting Florida prep.  Hello Broadway is out from under Capt. Candyman Can and Quality Road and up against Sam F. Davis winner General QUarters.  Also stopping by is Zito-trained Nowhere To Hide, a son of Vindication who was 4th in the Risen Star.  I like Nowhere To Hide and General Quarters for this one.

SAN FELIPE

Many of the horses PNILES has defeated have shipped out for dirt tracks, like I Want Revenge and Papa Clem.  Facing the Baffert trainee at Santa Anita are six colts praying for PNiles to have a bad day.  Jeranimo looks promising, and I would not ignore this maiden winner sired by Congaree.  Also New Bay and Feisty Suances…but really, PNiles is the big horse, hooves and shoulders above this group.  I kinda wish Bob had shipped him out to a dirt oval, just for some better competition.

And that’s The Infield March Madness !!

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Filed under Derby Prepes, Fairgrounds Race Course, Graded Stakes, Gulfstream Park, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita

WEEKEND DERBY PREPS: Better than a Groundhog

Pioneerof The Nile relives his narrow Cashcall Futurity to return victorious in the Bob Lewis.

Pioneerof The Nile relives his narrow Cashcall Futurity to return victorious in the Bob Lewis.

Today the weather was actually not hellatious.  It was right near enjoyable.  Perfect for a trio of Derby Preps!

Close to home at the Fairgrounds, Friesan Fire lit up the Risen Star stakes with a strong performance that shoots him into the Derby picture.  Despite being rank early, the Larry Jones trainee raced close up to an honest pace set by It Happened Again.  Jockey Gabriel Saez sent Friesan Fire to the lead at the top of the lane and the colt drew off by 3.  It was a sweet effort that proves this colt is a real contender.  And he’s the second fiddle three year old in Jones’s barn!  I have high expectations for Old Fashioned Feb 16.  

Up in NY, Haynesfield won the Whirlaway at Aqueduct in an awesome wire-to-wire parade route.  The son of Speightstown was unchallenged the whole way around and finished up about 7 in front.  I have doubts about his distance capabilites, though the Whirlaway is 1 1/6th miles, far from a sprint.  He has the class to go forward and we’ll just see how that turns out in the Gotham next month.  The biggest delight was the sunny skies and fast track up at Aqueduct, which is normally a drab scene in February.  Forget the groundhog, Haynesfield says we’re having an early spring.

Finally, Pioneerof The Nile emerged as the top Derby contender in the West with his win in the Bob Lewis Stakes.  (I’m going to start calling this colt PNiles, after Tiger bigman Pierre Henderson-Niles)  PNiles overcame horrendous traffic and closed like a jailhouse door to take the Lewis by a neck.  It was an exciting, gutsy performance by the Baffert trainee.  Though my sources say PNiles will stay out west until Derby day, it would sure be nice to see how he’ll handle the real dirt before May.  Also, if we have a TC on the line again this year, let me make my prediction now: Pioneerof The Nile will be the spoiler, just like his Dad, EMpire Maker.

I am formulating my Derby List and should have it ready to post next week sometime.  The Sam F. Davis and El Camino Real are the Valentine’s Day preps next saturday, and I will have some sweet picks for them Friday.  Also, I may be shooting up the highway to Hot Springs sooner rather than never — stay tuned!

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Filed under Aqueduct, Derby Prepes, Fairgrounds Race Course, Graded Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita

BIG BROWN VICTORIOUS! + MUSIC NOTE & PROUD SPELL!!

By now most Infield readers know that Big Brown won on Saturday, holding off Proudinsky in a thriller stretch drive (I think that must be my favorite phrase, seriously).  The Derby Winner has passed the “beat older” test with winning colors…now on to synthetic and CURLIN! 

There is no way now for Curlin to repeat as HOTY without running in the Classic. Brown has done everything except win the Belmont (and how many others have that blemish on their resume).  Brown draws record crowds to see him run in non-graded stakes.  Brown has a major corporate sponsor (almost like NASCAR).  Curlin has the hardware (’07 HOTY), the earnings (over $9mil) and the key to Saratoga.  But unless his owner (who has been a tremendous sportsman so far just by running the Golden Warrior at 4) gives in and enters the defending BCC winner on SA’s poly, his chances for a repeat HOTY are slim and none.  If he enters and Brown beats him, he’s out, but the questions will be answered.  If he runs and wins, he’ll go down as one of our greatest champions.  There have only been a handful of 2-time HOTY champs in history, an enormous achievement.  The last back-to-back HOTY was Cigar in ’95/’96.  Even he couldn’t capture 2 Classics. 

If neither Brown or Curlin win the Classic, then things get more tricky.  It’s safe to say Go Between, love him as I do, will not be HOTY if he springs the big-ass upset.  I say Curlin would still be HOTY if both colts run up the track.  Curlin deserves the honor, after racing around the world in Dubai, and in all Gr1 events here in the states.  He has beaten a host of Gr1 winners and millionaires.  He’s also run faster than Brown (112 BSF in the Woodward).  It could also be a wake-up call to owners who retire their 3yos.  Curlin has run an (sort-of) old-fashioned campaign this year, hitting all the top Gr1s and taking on all comers.  I like Curlin better than Brown because of this-he is the last big name from the legendary 2007 Triple Crown Class.  All of those colts (and filly) were amazing athletes, game, fast and turned up every time.  To get to see even one of them for another year is a privlege that we won’t have next year.  Big Brown will be at Three Chimneys swapping TC war stories with Point Given (though PG will always win with his *I* won the Belmont by 11…). 

OTHER Stuff:  MUSIC NOTE waltzed away with the Gazelle after Country Star flipped in the gate and had to scratch.  The daughter of AP Indy is a tremendous runner in a year of Top Class Fillies.  Aside from Brown, 2008 has been the YEAR OF THE FILLY — The Distaff is the headliner race for the BC this year with Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, Hystericaladay, Music Note, Tough Tiz’s Sis, and now Proud SPell is back on the BC list.  Then Indian Blessing, Intangaroo, and Dearest Trickski have the F/M Sprint locked down.  Too bad Rags got hurt. 

Thursday I leave for an InfieldTrip to the heart of horse country.  Complete blogging and photos and such will be forthcoming…

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Filed under Big Brown, Breeders' Cup, curlin, Graded Stakes, results, Santa Anita