Tag Archives: zenyatta

ZENYATTA at Del Mar

She sort of surprised us, as nobody was expecting her to even arrive until later, but then there she was, galloping in all of her glory!

Zenyatta takes her first trip around Del Mar's oval this morning, August 4, 2010

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Three Years Later

Image from Kentucky Derby facebook page

Fans of Barbaro leave roses at his grave, the magnificent statue at the gates of Churchill Downs.

I was working on proofing transcripts from the Symposium this afternoon when I got a tweet that made me stop and get misty for a minute:

January 29, 2006 Rachel Alexandra born. January 29, 2007 Barbaro dies.

One date, two vastly different stories.

When I think about Barbaro, I feel like a mountain climber who is inches from reaching the summit when a rockslide suddenly causes me to loose my footing and tumble back to the bottom.  Barbaro was a very special horse, perfect in build and temperament and blessed with the speed of the wind.  After his fantastic 6-length score in the Derby, I was shivering with anticipation for the first Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.  I never felt more certain about a horse.  And I wasn’t the only one.  We all know what happened next, so I will spare the gloom.  But out of the fog of tragedy and despair shone a glimmer of hope.  All of those like-minded Fans of Barbaro banded together, determined to make the sport a better place.

Three years later, I am still in awe of the power of Barbaro.  Instead of sliding into the abyss of cultural forgetfulness, Barbaro has remained stuck firm in the minds of the racing world as well as the public at large.  His name is a rallying point for grassroots efforts to save retired racehorses, raise funds for laminitis research and even tighten track safety standards.  When I meet people and tell them why I’m in Arizona, they inevitably mention Barbaro, and I tell them I am glad they remember him.

But the world is cyclical.

Though we remember fondly the formidable Derby winner, we must not ignore those who have risen in his shadow.

Rachel Alexandra had just turned a year old that day in 2007.  She was living on a farm with many other fillies and colts, learning the basics of being a horse.  Still lanky and immature, she’d been pulled from the Keeneland November sale as a weanling by owner/breeder Dolphus Morrison so that she could grow into her frame a little better.  It would be many months before the daughter of Medaglia D’Oro even saw a race track for the first time.  Once she did, it was obvious she had incredible talent and speed to spare.

In the three years since, Rachel Alexandra grew from that lanky yearling to promising juvenile to legendary Classic winner.  Her 20-length score in the Kentucky Oaks was magical, a coronation in pink.  She thumped the best three-year-old males in the Preakness, ran away from them all again in the Haskell, and ended her season with a gritty win against older males at Saratoga.  She even accomplished what Barbaro couldn’t: Champion 3-Year-Old in her division and Horse of the Year.  Now she gallops in Louisiana, and I wait for her return to competition and a meeting with her biggest rival, the undefeated supermare and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Zenyatta.

I am again climbing the mountain, inches from the summit, and this time, my eyes have caught a glimpse of the other side.

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VERDICT: JOCKEYS is a WINNER

Joe Talamo(left) poses with Michael Baze at Del Mar, before reality show stardom.

Joe Talamo(left) poses with Michael Baze at Del Mar, before reality show stardom.

I tell you, it’s like they read my mind.  From the opening theme to the cliffhangers between the commercials, Animal Planet totally nailed the modern docu-drama asthetic with Jockeys.  The soundtrack is hip, the visuals are colorful and capture the activity on the track.  The frenetic, MTV editing keeps viewers glued to the action and the individual jockeys’ storylines. 

They’ve got all of the character archtypes:  arrogant youngster in Joe Talamo, the aging Hall of Famer in Mike Smith and the struggling newcomer in Kayla Stra, plus the supportive yet competitive love interest in Chantal Sutherland.  Aaron Gryder plays the Family Man.  Supporting characters in the first 2 eps included Jon Court in the “best Friend” role and Cory Nakatani as the “wounded warrior”.  Garret Gomez made a cameo as well, as the hot shot top winning jock everybody is chasing.

Unlike other reality show subjects, the jockeys face death daily:  in the opening credits alone, there are at least 2 spills.  In the first ep, Cory Nakatani goes down in a turf stake and is out for the meet (the horse was fine).  In a touching scene early on, the jocks share a prayer with the race track chaplain before heading out to the track.  Underscoring the danger is the thrill of victory, as when Talamo pulls off an upset with a horse named Booyah, or when Smith shows off on the champion mare Zenyatta.

Of course, no reality program is complete without relationship drama.  Unfortunately, this is so far the weakest part of the show.  Mike Smith is dating Chantal Sutherland, don’t you know?  But she lives and rides in Canada, and must make the difficult choice between her career and her love life.  Santa Anita is a much tougher circuit than Woodbine.  She, of course, moves in with Mike & rearranges his closet.  Maybe I’m just too cynical, but that part seemed so forced.  I *did* like when they showed her rooting for Mike on Zenyatta during the second half of the show.  The lovebirds could grow on me, though.  It’s early yet.

Kayla Stra broke my heart in this episode, going barn door to door, begging for mounts in the wee hours of the morning.  Breaking into the biz is a bitch.  When she finally gets a horse to ride, the cantankerous critter nearly flips in the gate and sends Stra bailing out the back.  Back in the saddle after a reset, she rides up the track, earning only her $75 mount fee.  To add injury to insult, her foot is bruised in the starting gate action and so she has to sit and soak it after the losing ride. 

In all, Jockeys has a lot going for it and I look forward to next week’s installment.  From the promos, the show is going to look into flipping and other tortures jockeys put themselves through to make weight.  I’ve already got it Tivo’d.

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JOCKEYS Premieres in 3 Days!!

I like this promo for the show.  It captures the bad-ass side of racing pretty well, and features Kanye on the soundtrack.   If the show is as awesome as the ads, it’s gonna rock.

I just checked the Animal Planet site, and it’s all Jockeys

Mike SMith is one of seven featured riders, and in all of the photos, he is in the teal and pink silks of Jerry Moss.  Zenyatta makes a cameo in the above trailer, too. 

Who wants to bet that Joe Talamo and Kayla Stra become the next Heidi and Spencer? 

Jon Court has been at Oaklawn – I’ll have to get his autograph next time I go to Hot Springs.

One thing I know for sure is that there won’t be any stupid CSI-esque, brain-cell-killing cliches on this show. 

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CURLIN REPEATS as Horse of the Year!

Congrats to Curlin, the Eclipse award Horse of the Year for 2008. 

curlinbobble

Eclipse voters cast 153 ballots in favor of The Golden Warrior, with Zenyatta getting 69 votes and Big Brown only 13.  While I would have loved to see Zenyatta get the Big Prize, the fact is Curlin ran a typical HOTY campaign.  Despite a growing embrace of changes for the better, the sport is still devoted to its traditions.  Curlin would have been HOTY in the olden days before the Breeders’ Cup, because he won the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both Grade 1.  His JCGC was a repeat win, and he broke an earnings record with that race, both major pluses for traditional Eclipse voters.  He also won the Steven Foster Handicap at Churchill, and he ran a credible second in the Man O’War on turf.  He tried the Breeders’ Cup Classic and was beaten by better synthetic runners.  His races were all Grade 1 stakes against open company, and those are his US stats, the only record that is supposed to matter in Eclipse balloting.  Of course, that is not Curlin’s complete 2008 record.  The reigning HOTY travelled to Dubai and won two major races, the Jaguar Trophy and the Dubai World Cup, against the best dirt horses in Asia and the Middle East.  He won the Jaguar under 132 pounds, an unheard-of impost for stakes in the US.  The Dubai World Cup win was visually impressive as Curlin coasted home by over 7 lengths.

  Along the way, Curlin became the yardstick by which the ’08 three year old crop was measured.  His owner, Jess Jackson, appealed to racing fans by shipping the Golden Warrior to tracks across the nation and giving races on all surfaces a try.  With over $10 million in earnings, Curlin now sits atop the list of All-Time Leading Money Winners, breaking a record held for 13 years by the legendary Cigar.  When paraded on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs, the tipsy revelers cheered more loudly for him in the paddock than even the Derby victor in the winner’s circle.  I know, I was there for that one. 

Curlin may not be as fast as previous champions, nor did he win a Triple Crown or 16 (or 19) races in a row.  But he was the only member of the magical class of 2007 to continue as an older horse.  That was a great year, a return to thrilling, (relatively) safe racing, with tough, game rivals like Street Sense and Hard Spun and Curlin to help us get over the tragedy of Barbaro.  Yes, I said Barbaro – even if you’re sick of hearing his name, you must admit he had the potential to be a great one.  His loss was such a tremendous letdown, and his long struggle such a heartbreaker, that the 2007 racing season was like a salve on racing’s wounds.  When Curlin came back this year, it was with the hope that the goodwill would continue.  I should have known one horse was not enough.  Perhaps this award will encourage other owners to bring back their champions for continued campaigns.  It seems to already be working: IEAH is bringing BENNY THE BULL back for more sprints in fall!

Now that the Eclipses have been awarded and ’08 remembered one last time in all of its horrible, beautiful glory, let’s put it away and focus on 2009.  The Kentucky Derby is only 92 days away!

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The Aftermath–What About Raven’s Pass?!

The Synthetic Track proved to be a great equalizer for the European contingent, but the American runners were not shamed by any means at Breeders’ Cup 25. 

Raven’s Pass ran a brilliant final furlong under Frankie Dettori, passing defending champ Curlin, rallying Henrythenavigator, and synthetic specialist Go Between.  The 3yo miler by Elusive Quality had spent the year battling New Approach in Europe, and carried his form well over to the opposite side of the world(and 2 extra furlongs).

As for Curlin, the Golden Warrior looked like a winner going into the final turn, but he just couldn’t sustain his drive.  Whether it was the surface or simply not his day, only the horse knows.  Tiago closed ferociously for 3rd, which would suggest Curlin didn’t like the track so much (the closest Tiago got to Curlin before Saturday was a 3rd in the ’07 Belmont).

The Classic results also give us a better idea of how good the ’08 3yo crop actually is.  It’s not flattering, at least for the US-based horses.  Colonel John was our best 3yo finisher, coming in 6th and Smooth Air followed in 7th.  Casino Drive set the early pace but faded badly to last.  These are horses who have been running lights out against their own generation, but were unable to threaten in open company.  It is a shame that Big Brown was injured, because he would have totally changed the dynamic of the race and also had the opportunity to convince his remaining critics.  Brown will most likely get the Eclipse for champion 3yo, but not without a few votes for Raven’s Pass.

And what about Raven’s Pass?  I hope that Princess Haya keeps him in training.  He has proven he can run 10 furlongs, which just happens to be the same distance as a little race in Dubai.  He would make the ’09 handicap season more interesting here in the states as well – a triple threat on turf, poly and perhaps dirt?  His sire also gave us Smarty Jones, so it’s not out of the question.

ZENYATTA kept her perfect record at 9 wins, and did it with ease.  It is so much fun watching her run.  She does that funny “spanish walk” when she goes to the post.  She always breaks slowly, and the makes a huuge run at the end, passing everybody else like they were hitchhikers on I-40.  SHe has beaten everybody, former BC distaff champ, quality speed horses, talented 3yo divas, on poly and dirt (at my home track of Oaklawn, no less).  It would have been awesome if Zenyatta had the chance to face Zarkava, the filly Arc winner.  If I had a vote for Eclipses, Zenyatta would be my HOTY.  Hey Jerry Moss & John SHeriffs, BRING ZENYATTA BACK TO OAKLAWN!!!

Others:

Muhannak won the Marathon…I should have bet that race; I would have been set for the rest of the day…

Euros run 1-2 in the Juvy turf, with Donativum getting the better of Westphalia…should see those 2 duking it out in the Darby next year…

GOLDIKOVA, the “dainty filly” slices through a microscopic hole and accelerates like a fine motor car o win the Mile.  Kip Deville, last year’s mile winner, runs 2nd.  The Dutrow trainee now knows what it is like to get “beat by a girl”.

MIDNIGHT LUTE made BC history by winning the SPrint for the 2nd time in a row.  Lute battled back from a nasty quarter crack and a horrible finish in his prep race to win the Sprint by a length, in a final time of 1:07.08.  Lute is the only 2-time winner of the Sprint.  Trainer Bob Baffert says Midnight Lute is the best he has ever trained, and that’s a strong comment from the man who trained 3 Derby winners, including Real Quiet, the horse who has come closest to winning the TC in 30 years.  Real Quiet is the sire of Midnight Lute.

Conduit won the Turf…Albertus MAximus won the dirt mile…Midshipman won the Juvy…Indian Blessing got beat by a scintillating Ventura in the F/M Sprint…

BC handle was up 5% from last year…people will bet regardless of the surface of the ridiculous name of the “ladies’ classic”…NO HORSES SUFFERED LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES!!

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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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