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Top 5 Examples of West Coast Equine Domination in East Coast Races

Inspired by this blog post, I thought about the times when West Coast-based horses shipped to the East and totally kicked ass. What’s really weird is that when I tried to come up with instances of East Coast Elites crushing West Coast races, I came up empty. Anyone remember the last time a NY-based horse won the Big Cap? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, here are my top five races where the East Coast Establishment experienced West Coast Domination!

5. I Want Revenge Annihilates 2009 Wood Memorial

Trainer Jeff Mullins shipped I Want Revenge east after the monster Pioneerof The Nile beat him in the Bob Lewis stakes. I Want Revenge then surprised easterners with a win in the Gotham Stakes. But I Want Revenge truly brought his A Game in the Wood Memorial, where he beat the best in the East & became a top Derby Contender. He broke dead last and had to fight his way back to the front on a messy Aqueduct stretch, but pulled away like he’d never had any trouble. While IWR was mysteriously injured the morning of the Derby and scratched, his rival Pioneerof The Nile was a well-beaten second to another Westerner, Mine That Bird.

4. Sandpit Takes 2 United Nations Handicaps

Sandpit was a champion in Brazil, then shipped to California, where he won the Oak Tree Invitational. When he shipped East he was just as good, winning back-to-back editions of the Ceasars International Handicap, which is now back to its original name, the United Nations. This was the only video of Sandpit I could find, from 1996.

3. In Excess Wins 4 In A Row

What is shameful is that I can’t find any of In Excess’s races on YouTube. In Excess was born in Ireland, won some races there, then was shipped to the US & was based in Cali. He was always hit-or-miss in California, winning the Volante Handicap, San Gabriel, San Fernando, but throwing in clunkers in the Big Cap and Strub. However, when he shipped east, he rattled off victories in the 1991 Met Mile, Suburban, Whitney and Woodward. Total. Domination.

2. John Henry In The Inaugural Arlington Million

It was the first Million-Dollar race, and John Henry was the best horse in the US, let alone the West Coast. In the 1981 Million, Euro horse The Bart stayed up on the pace set by Key To Content. John Henry was stuck in a pack of top classic turf horses from all over the US and abroad. He looked hopelessly beaten, but in the stretch, the Old Man showed just how good he was- he burst through and headed for the lead, closing the gap with every stride. He bore down on The Bart and won the race by a flare of a nostril.

1. TIZNOW CRUSHES TWO CLASSICS

Tiznow  shipped East four times and won three. He was victorious in the Super Derby, and then defeated a foreign invader in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Twice. To this day he is the only horse to win the BC Classic two times, and though the BC races are not coast-specific, Tiznow won his at the home bases of Eastern racing, Churchill and Belmont. He dominated his American rivals in the 2000 Classic, finding his toughest challenger in Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. The two battled down the Churchill stretch, and Tiznow prevailed by a head. In 2001, Tiznow had a tough year, suffering a back injury and then running 3rd in his two Classic preps. But when it counted the most, the colt was all heart. He stayed up near the pace the whole way around, and at the top of the stretch, he made a move for the lead. At the same time, Godolphin’s Sakhee took the lead. Tiznow was game, but he looked beaten. As they raced for home, he found a new gear and matched strides with Sakhee, who refused to relent. But Tiznow would not be denied –  in the shadow of the wire, it was the Cal-bred, West Coast phenom with his valiant head in front.

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The Infield Derby Top 10

The Pamplemousse is on the loose in the Sham Stakes. Photo from LATimes.

The Pamplemousse is on the loose in the Sham Stakes. Photo from LATimes.

1. Old Fashioned (1)

2. Pioneerof The Nile (2)

3. Friesan Fire (3)

4. The Pamplemousse (6)

5. Haynesfield (4)

6. Quality Road (new)

7. Chocolate Candy (7)

8. Dunkirk (new)

9. Capt. Candyman Can (5)

10. Imperial Council (10)

Off The List: Poltergeist, Hello Broadway

Not much change at the top, but two newcomers to the list in Quality Road and Dunkirk.  QR was touted early but quickly dropped off of most lists after a terrible run in a 6f allowance.  He totally made up for that effort in the Fountain of Youth last weekend.  Dunkirk could be Pletcher’s Derby winner after a startling performance in an allowance that set tongues wagging about the “’09 Big Brown”.  We’ll just have to see if the train-up to the FL Derby works and if this lightly-raced son of Unbridled’s Song can be ready in time for the Big Derby. 

The Big Fruit got the Big Win in the Sham on Saturday.  He set the pace and drew off by daylight once again.  I can’t wait ’till he and PNiles meet up; a classy frontrunner vs a tough closer equals awesomeness.

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INFIELD DERBY LIST 2.0!

1. Old Fashioned (1)

2. Pioneerof The Nile (8)

3. Friesan Fire (new!)

4. Haynesfield (new!)

5. Capt. Candyman Can (new!)

6. The Pamplemousse (new!)

7. Chocolate Candy (new!)

8. Poltergeist (new!)

9. Hello Broadway (new!)

10. Imperial Council (7)

Off The List: Square Eddie (injury), Midshipman & Vineyard Haven (Dubai, could resurface), Beethoven, Breakwater Edison, Well Positioned, Charitable Man (injury)

Lots of changes since the first list Jan. 1.  Old Fashioned remains at the top until he runs next Monday.  Pioneerof The Nile moves up a bunch off of his impressive Bob Lewis effort, and would be #1 if he was a known dirt commodity.  The rest of the list is made up of newcomers.  Friesan Fire has been the strongest 3yo in the South so far, taking the 2 stakes at Fairgrounds and learning how to settle.  Haynesfield is tearing it up at Aqueduct, but distance questions surround him with that sprinter sire.  Capt. Candyman Can looked great winning the Hutcheson.  The Pamplemousse is probably #2 in California, with Chocolate Candy close behind.  Poltergeist is an intriguing allowance winner at Oaklawn looking to prove himself in stakes company.  Hello Broadway is always in the race.  Imperial COuncil is working well and needs to make a start pretty soon; his potential is what is keeping him on the list.

All of the unfortunate list-droppers could make it back in the top 10 with a good effort.  Vineyard Haven makes his 3yo debut in Dubai on Thursday, and if he is still as dominant as he was last year then he’ll be back on the list next week.  Square Eddie is out with sore shins but can rejoin the list if he recovers quickly.  At least four 3yo stakes this weekend means there could be more movementon the list.  Also, ROAD TO THE ROSES is OPEN for ENTRIES!!!

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2009 PREDICTIONS

At midnight I drank a New Year’s toast to the brand new 3yos of 2009, and the promise of glory and heartbreak on the Derby trail.  Here is the OFFICIAL Infield Derby Top 10 List, Week 1!

10) MIDSHIPMAN :  BC Juvy winner by Unbridled’s Song would have been in the top 5 were it not for the bad luck of being part of the Stonerside dispersal.  Instead of staying in CA with Baffert, the talented colt is spending his winter in Dubai.  I admire the Sheikh’s love and dedication to the sport and his magnificent training center, but his Derby tactics just haven’t been all that successful.  Midshipman could be the one to prove me wrong, but I think the #2 colt has an even better chance –

9) SQUARE EDDIE :  Raced exclusively on turf and synthetic, this son of Smart Strike began his career in Europe before joining Paul Reddam’s racing stable.  His impressive 5-length victory in the Lane’s End Futurity set him up for a tough run in the BC Juveile, where he tracked Midshipman the whole way around.  He has never raced on dirt, but his sire has gotten nice runners on all surfaces (Curlin & English Channel).  Promises to be a major player in the Cali preps, beginning with the San Rafael on Jan 17.

8) PIONEEROF THE NILE : Baffert’s replacement for Midshipman, this colt won a hard-fought running of the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 20.  The Zayat Stables runner by Empire Maker has always been charging at the final furlong, and seems to be on the improve.  Surface questions also surround him: though he broke his maiden on Saratoga’s dirt, he has only run in synthetic stakes.  Trivia: His damsire is Lord At War, the same as Baffert’s ’02 Derby winner War Emblem.  And just as an aside, I hate the preposition dangling off of “Pioneer”  in his name…

7) IMPERIAL COUNCIL : Impressive maiden winner also sired by Empire Maker.  Out of a Thunder Gulch mare, he promises to only get better as distances stretch out.  He is owned by newish partnership Sequoia Racing Stable, headed by longtime racing pro Reynolds Bell Jr.  In Shug McGaughey’s barn, Imperial Council has a expert conditioner plotting his runup to the roses. 

6) BEETHOVEN :  John Ward got Monarchos to the ’01 Derby and is using that  experience to train this son of Sky Mesa.  The colt has a win over the Churchill Downs surface, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 1 1/6 miles on Nov. 29.  He toughed out the win in a three-way duel down the stretch, showing a lot of guts for a 2yo.  There are a few questions however– dam Moonlight Sonata is by sprint sire Carson City, and both parents had short, injury-plagued careers.  Ward is a careful, old-school trainer, though, and the colt has had no problems so far.

5) BREAK WATER EDISON : Such a cumbersome name for a very talented colt.  This son of Lemon Drop Kid has taken his time finding the winner’s circle in stakes, finally getting some Gr3 money in the one mile Nashua on Nov. 2.  The trainee of John Kimmel stayed close to a hot pace in that race, yet found enough in the tank to draw away impressively and finish in 1:35.8.  Break Water Edison should stretch out nicely as the races do on the Derby trail.  I only wish he had a more palatable name…

4) WELL POSITIONED : Another promising maiden winner, this one owned by Paul Pompa, Jr. of Big Brown fame.  The son of Awesome Again broke his maiden by a devastating 14 lengths, which lit up Pompa’s phone with offers from many looking for Derby prospects.  The aptly-named colt is trained by Pat Reynolds.  The colt’s final time in the mile maiden race was 1:38 3/5, while older horses running in the Discovery Handicap later that day ran 2 seconds slower in covering the same distance.  Pompa appeared well-positioned once again for classic success, though there hasn’t been any major announcement about ownership changes or future plans for the colt since the big win, which leads me to believe there might be an issue somewhere. 

3) CHARITABLE MAN : A favorite of mine from the summer, this son of Lemon Drop Kid pulled away strongly to win the 7f Belmont Futurity. Like father, like son.   Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, this gorgeous dark bay out of a Saint Ballado mare figures to relish the added distances on the spring classics.  An injury knocked him out of the fall juvenile races, but I’ve heard he seems to be doing well and will be dangerous in the Derby preps.

2) VINEYARD HAVEN : He was Bobby Frankel’s best 2yo since Empire Maker, winner of the Gr1 Champagne Stakes and Gr1 Hopeful and early favorite for the BC Juvy.  The supplemental entry fee of $180,000 kept him out of the big race, but not out of the sight of Sheikh Mohammed.  This son of blog favorite Lido Palace was snatched up for an undisclosed (read:ungodly) sum just after the juvenile.  He, too will be in Dubai for the runup to the Derby, but of all the horses sent there for training over the past several years, Vineyard Haven seems to be the one who could pull off the impossible.  He’s fast, he’s bred to go long, and he can win on dirt.

1) OLD FASHIONED :  He is a grey colt by Unbridled’s Song, trained by Larry Jones and owned by Fox Hill Farm.  How poetic would it be for a half-bro* to Eight Belles to win the Kentucky Derby?  In all seriousness, the Fox Hill Farm crew have come dangerously close to winning the roses the past several years, with the unlucky Rockport Harbor, whose injured foot kept him off the Derby trail in ’05;  the tough, speedy Hard Spun, who set the pace in the ’07 Derby and hung on for 2nd; and of course, Eight Belles, the only horse who came close to Big Brown in the ’08 Derby.   Old Fashioned ran a lights out Remsen at 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.33, by a stunning 7 lengths.  Of course, the soundness issue will be talked to death, as will the strength of the bottom side of his pedigree.  But Old Fashioned looks like a Derby winner to me, and he has the connections to make it all the way. 

 *Eight Belles and Old Fashioned share a sire, and for my purposes on today’s blog, I used the human definition of “half brother”.  However, the two horses are not technically considered half-siblings because they are not out of the same mare.

Happy New Year!  

Happy Birthday Thoroughbreds!!!

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SEE YOU NEXT YEAR

With such a high turnover of stars this winter, who is left for fans to root for next year?  Curlin’s retirement leaves a huge hole in the handicap division that won’t be filled by even such middling talents as STudent Council or Zanjero, who are also going off to stud.  The sprint division has lost a great group, lead by Midnight Lute, Street Boss, Bustin’ Stones, Benny The Bull… heck, all of the top sprinters will be in the shed next year. 

So, who will get sucked into the vacuum?  Here are 10 horses I think will be able to step out the shadows and shine on the Grade 1 stage.  Most of them are 3yos who, finally out from under the gorilla Big Brown, will be able to repair the bad rap stuck on their crop.  A few are already established stars who will gallop even higher into the stratosphere.

1) Zenyatta:  Undefeated in 9 starts; can she make it 10 more?

2)Harlem Rocker:  DQ’ed in Cigar Mile victory but will make us all forget that effort next year.

3) Colonel John:  He’s everybody’s favorite grinder, which should make for some thrilling finishes in the big races of ’09.

4)Fatal Bullet:  He ran 1:09 in the BC Sprint but got beat.  The horse who beat him retired.  He’s Canada’s champion 3yo and HoTY.  Plus, he’s a son of my fave Preakness winner, Red Bullet.

5)Proud Spell:  She duked it out with Pure Clan and Music Note and just missed a meeting with Big Z.  She’s on a break now, but watch out when she comes back!

6) Cowboy Cal:  Consistently in the money on turf, dangerous on poly, and just the type who may spring a big shocker on dirt, he’s gonna be a Darley horse, with all the benefits, next season.

7) Court Vision:  IEAH’s successor to Big Brown & Kip Deville, a son of Gulch who can get 1 1/4 miles on turf.

8)Go Between:  The always competitive son of Point Given who is best on polytrack.  Can’t wait to see him in the Big Cap.

9)Cocoa Beach:  Second to Big Z in the Distaff, winner of the Matriarch last month, she’s just now coming into her best stride.

10) The Entire 2009 3yo Crop:  The 2 top prospects are heading for Dubai to train, a slew of promising stakes winners are shipping to winter training grounds, and several talented maiden winners are stepping onto the scene…the 135th Kentucky Derby is only 6 months away!

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Plenty to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

With all of the craziness in racing, from ADW controversies to breakdowns to auction slumps, it’s good to think about the good things on a day like today.  Also, a list is an easy way to blog on a holiday… now before I get angry e-mails from family & friends, this is just a list of thoroughbred-related things I am thankful for.  I won’t be listing “breakdown-free Breeders’ Cup” at the family dinner tonight!

1) CURLIN!  Though he did not start out as my favorite horse, he has raced and won his way into my heart.  Thanks to sportsman Jess Jackson (and a little help from the jailed part-owners) Curlin got to prove himself over and over again as an older horse.  He broke a legendary earnings record, raced on all surfaces and met all comers.  His retirement ceremony at Churchill on Saturday will mark the end of an extraordinary career.  Thanks for the ride, Curlin!

2) SAUHBR!  Thanks to The Borderland Totalisator (whose blog has mysteriously vanished, humm…) for an awesome summer of handicapping.  The first of many victories in the game, I hope.  I also hope BT gets back online, because he was a great competitor and gracious in defeat.  Thanks!

3) Larry Jones!  Trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles handled the ultimate tragedy with grace and compassion.  When nutty PETA accused him of all sorts of horrific abuses, his level-headed replies revealed the activists for the slime they really were.  Amid the turmoil, he sent the filly Proud Spell out for an amazing season, as well as the sprinter Kodiak Kowboy. 

4) Breakdown-Free Breeders’ Cup!  Despite all of the questions surrounding the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita this year, the track was successful in its ultimate mission: an injury-free Championship.  Every horse, every race, on poly or turf, came home sound.  This is the first time in several years that no horse was severely injured.  The track also levelled the playing field for the Euro contingent, which is always nice in a so-called “world championship” series.

5) JIM GAFFNEY!  Exercise rider for the Superhorse Secretariat and a close personal friend of this blogger, Mr. Gaffney has been a joy and privelege to know.  I have attended 2 KY Derbies with the man and his lovely wife, Mary, and have gained so much more knowledge of the racing business from him.  Thanks Jim!

6) TVG!  Not a day goes by that I don’t flip channels to TVG.  I love love love watching live racing with the hosts Todd Schrupp and Matt Carothers.  They are an irreverent bunch and their picks are pretty good, too.  I have learned a lot about handicapping watching TVG and am eternally thankful for the first all-racing channel.  Plus, I won an Eclipse Awards official program from them back in January.  Schwag always keeps my attention!

7) At The Races with Steve Byk on SIRIUS!  Every day I listen as Steve chats with the top names in racing, does a little handicapping, and has a good-old time talking to regular Joe horseplayers.  His show is a blessing for a sport that gets so little coverage by the MSM, and when it does, it’s usually dumbed-down *cough*ESPN*cough*  From ATTR, I have learned how top trainers condition their horses (pre-Derby shows) and have gotten a greater appreciation for the Pick 4 ticket and Super High 5 ticket.  Bob Baffert before the Breeders’ Cup was a big treat, too!  Thanks Steve!

8) MY LITTLE CONNOR!  This horse is the best little allowance horse in the world.  I hope he comes back to Oaklawn next year. 

Next up, Santa better be reading my Christmas list!

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