Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Kentucky Derby picks

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of being devoted to horse racing, it’s this: anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is analyzed endless ways but when that long starting gate opens, all we can do is hold our collective breaths and watch. In the end, it's anybody's race, and that is part of the Derby's appeal.

Despite the build-up in the many months before—beginning with the fall two-year-old races—the Kentucky Derby is both a means to an end and a new beginning. It marks the conclusion of that gray area in between the juvenile races of the fall and the Triple Crown trail. Over those months, we watch to see whose form changes, who matures, and whose precocious talent can carry on. Then upon the running of the Derby, we wait for the curtains to part, revealing a new three-year-old star, a Good Horse that can carry us through the rest of the year and possibly into the next.

All this said, rather than being the thousandth person to do a race analysis, I will instead write my personal reasons for liking particular horses. For those that like statistics, I will include the horse's pedigree, race record, earnings, and last posted work.

Verrazano (More Than Ready - Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) 4 starts, 4-0-0; earner of $861,300. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 5f in :59.40, ranked 6 of 52.

Verrazano caught my eye for two reasons when he broke his maiden at first asking on New Year's Day: the ease of his 7-plus length win and his name, which was already familiar to me, for my husband and I were welcomed to New York by becoming ensnarled in traffic on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge when we visited Belmont Park and Saratoga last August. A big, rangy colt with a beautiful stride, he won his next race--an allowance--by even more daylight, then impressed me deeply with his win in the Tampa Bay Derby. I was hoping he would settle in the Wood Memorial and he did--perhaps too much, as he seemed almost bored in the homestretch.

I love the photos I see of Verrazano being bathed by the Pletcher barn at Churchill Downs. He stands tall and stately, gazing at the photographer with confident curiosity. He is one of the more striking three-year-olds I've seen in recent years, but it's going to take more than talent and good looks to win the Kentucky Derby--he needs that competitive drive, too.

Lastly, I talked a little bit about Verrazano with the husband of a friend on Facebook. He happened to be one of the colt's early exercise riders, and he told me the colt is very intelligent, with a good, quiet mind. This is vital in the hubbub of the Kentucky Derby.

Oxbow at Saratoga

Oxbow (Awesome Again - Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy) 9 starts, 2-1-1; earner of $383,500. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/29, 5f in :59.80, ranked 1 of 35.

At Saratoga Race Course, a maiden race for two-year-olds always brims with promise. When my husband and I visited Saratoga last August, I made it a requirement that we visit the paddock for the fifth race, which was one of those hopeful maiden races. I distinctively remember thinking to myself, One of these horses may end up in the Kentucky Derby next year. Of course, the odds of that happening--prestigious racetrack or not--are low.

Of all the horses in that race, a colt with an unusual bay roan coat caught my eye. Bay roan is not a color one sees very often (okay, hardly ever) in Thoroughbreds so I took a quick look at the horse's name and listed color in the program. Oxbow, bay. Interesting. I snapped photos of him and made a mental note to follow him.

As luck would have it, I followed him right to the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow traveled along the Derby trail without the pizazz of Verrazano. Nevertheless, he is very promising and, save that fateful maiden race, he gives 100% even when the going gets tough. To my pleasant surprise, I found out in recent weeks that Gary Stevens will be riding Oxbow in the Derby. This takes me right back to 1995, when Stevens rode the Lukas-trained Thunder Gulch to one of my favorite Kentucky Derby wins. In this year's Derby, nostalgia rides a bay roan colt!

Oxbow at Saratoga

Orb (Malibu Moon - Lady Liberty, by Unbridled) 7 starts, 4-0-1, earner of $921,050. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/29, 4f in :47.80, ranked 5 of 43.

Trainer Claude McGaughey doesn't point his horses towards the Kentucky Derby unless they check all the "promising Derby horse" boxes, so when the Phipps or Janney families send a set of cherry-capped or sleeved silks to the Kentucky Derby starting gate, one pays attention.

Orb certainly fits the "promising Derby horse" bill. His performance on the track aside, you'd be hard pressed to find a horse in the field with a better pedigree than Orb. Hailing from the female family of the great Ruffian, Orb's fourth dam is Laughter, a 3/4 sister to Ruffian herself. Laughter is by Bold Ruler (sire of Reviewer, who in turn sired Ruffian) and out of Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian. Shenanigans only foaled two fillies in her lifetime, and with Ruffian gone, the torch of Shenanigan's blue hen bloodlines was passed to Laughter. She did not disappoint.

In the meantime, Orb's Kentucky Derby jockey, Joel Rosario, was on fire at the recent Keeneland spring meet, which ended last Friday. He broke Randy Romero's long-standing record for most wins in a spring meet and was quick to carry the hot streak over to the opening of Churchill Downs' meet the following day. With the very talented Orb beneath him in the Kentucky Derby, Orb and Rosario's chances at the roses are looking very good.

Revolutionary (War Pass - Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy) 6 starts, 3-1-2, earner of $788,500. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 4f in :48.20, ranked 6 of 70.

Revolutionary is another talented colt with a strong pedigree. His close female line was bred by William Farish. His second dam is Lane's End foundation mare Up The Flagpole, who in turn is a direct female descendant of La Troienne.

Mylute (Midnight Lute - Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) 9 starts, 2-3-2, earner of $417,695. Last work: Churchill Downs, 4/27, 4f in :50.60, ranked 59 of 70.

I admit I like Mylute mainly because of his Kentucky Derby jockey, Rosie Napravnik. She became the first female jockey in history to win the Kentucky Oaks (2012) and later won the 2012 Breeder's Cup Juvenile on then-Derby hopeful, Shanghai Bobby. As professional as they come, whether she becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby isn't an "if" but a "when".

Goldencents (Into Mischief - Golden Works, by Banker's Gold) 6 starts, 4-1-0, earner of $1,250,000. Last work: Santa Anita, 4/25, 6f in 1:16.20, ranked 8 of 8.

Goldencents has kind of grown on me over the past few weeks. I liked him before his loss in the San Felipe Stakes on February 9. In that race, he locked horns early with Flashback and both horses tired, finishing out of the money. Goldencents rebounded by winning the Santa Anita Derby handily. It wasn't long ago when jockey Kevin Krigger was riding the bull ring track at Charles Town. Krigger is living proof that dedication and hard work will carry you far.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Memories & Memorabilia: My First Saturday in May

We arrived outside the gates a little after 7am. By then, the line stretching along  the wall outside the track was only a few dozen paces long.  We had nearly  an hour to wait. I watched  as an endless parade of people carrying blankets, lawn chairs, and bags of food trickled past us and toward the end of the line. Everyone chatted, smiled and laughed. The sun was rising in a clear sky, and it was becoming warm. It was going to be a good day.

Abruptly, the line moved forward and after a brief security check, we were moving through the gates. We walked a ways before descending into a large tunnel. The clammy tunnel air and realization that I was walking beneath the final turn of Churchill Downs–the final turn of the Kentucky Derby!–caused goosebumps to spread over my arms.

Continue reading at DanonymousRacing.com...

It's Derby Week!

In honor of Derby week, I will have a Kentucky Derby-related post every day this week, today through Sunday. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Flooded arena

We got over 6"of rain in our area last Thursday, which caused widespread flooding. The indoor arena at our barn was not exempt! The sump failed and water flooded 1/4 of the arena. I took these pics on Saturday. Hopefully the water dries enough for the arena to be dragged soon!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photos from Lexington, Part 2

You may see part 1 here. Part 2 encompasses the photographs I took at Keeneland. I used the new zoom lens for the first time and really enjoyed it--in the past, I found it difficult to get decent paddock photos at Keeneland (and decent track photos almost anywhere). But no longer! I need to practice more, but am overall happy with these photos.

Won'tualwayswonder (a handsome Midnight Lute colt)

Seal Team Four (Flatter colt)

Steel Dust Dancer (Unbridled's Song colt)

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Bind

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Handsome Mike

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Handsome Mike

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Handsome Mike

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Gantry

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Bind

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Handsome Mike winning

The Commonwealth (Gr. III) - Handsome Mike (Mario Gutierrez's first win at KEE!)

The Madison (Gr. I) - Fantasy of Flight

The Madison (Gr. I) - Fantasy of Flight

The Madison (Gr. I) - Byrama

The Madison (Gr. I) - Dr. Diamonds Prize

The Madison (Gr. I) - Dr. Diamonds Prize

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Hard Not to Like

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Centre Court

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Samitar

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Abaco

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Daisy Devine

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - The start

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Daisy Devine takes the lead

The Jenny Wiley (Gr. I) - Nearing the finish; Centre Court over Daisy Devine

Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr. I) - Start

Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr. I) - Start

Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Gr. I) - By the photographer's stand

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The retirement of Black Caviar: farewell to a legend

The parade of international stars began a few short years ago. Deep Impact. Vodka. Zarkava. Sea the Stars. Canford Cliffs. Goldikova. Frankel. As the procession passed by, each star shone a little brighter until we reached Black Caviar. From her modest beginnings in spring 2009, Black Caviar had improved with every race run and every year gone by until at last, her star shone so brightly that it was seen around the world.

Until suddenly, the light of her star is but a memory. As of today, Black Caviar is retired.

It was January of 2010. I do not remember why or how, but my husband and I found ourselves staying up late one night to watch a dark beauty from Australia. As a turf sprinter, she was something of an oddity for us cut-and-dried American race fans. But there was nothing strange about her once she sprung from the gates and flowed into motion, for the beauty of her style transcended boundaries. From that moment on, it was clear to me that Black Caviar was something very special.

Due to international time zone constraints, it was not possible for us to watch every single race of hers live. We tried hard, however, and I cannot count the number of times we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, awaiting her presence on our television screen. Once, in the middle of a late night/early morning drive to Louisville, we pulled into a restaurant parking lot to watch Black Caviar race on my husband’s smartphone. The date was November 6, 2010, and we were en-route to watching another dark bay mare run her final race at Churchill Downs. That day, Black Caviar remained undefeated while Zenyatta did not, but it was a date to remember.

How can a single horse so captivate people around the world? Was it her color—that near-black, glossy dark bay, with the distinctive pink and black polka dot silks? Was it her enthusiasm before each race, which was so clear in the way she tossed her proud head? Was it her great gliding stride, which carried her over the turf with devastating ease? Was it the aura of unearthly perfection that she possessed, which traveled through time and boundaries and into living rooms around the world?

We are always in search of perfection, yet it is seldom found. In Black Caviar, we got a very rare long look at perfection in its most brilliant form. Only one horse has been undefeated in more than 25 starts: the great 19th-century Hungarian mare, Kincsem, who was unbeaten in 54 races. In addition, of Black Caviar's 25 races,  24 were graded/grouped stakes and 23 were against males, which makes her accomplishments all the more remarkable.

Thanks for the memories, "Nelly", it was a privledge and a great honor to watch you run.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Photos from Lexington, Part 1

I have a lot of track photos this time around thanks to the new zoom lens we have, so I decided to split the photos into two blog posts. Part 1 encompasses the farm and shedrow, while part 2 (which will come tomorrow or Thursday) will be for track photos.


Winning Colors, Twenty Grand & St. Germans

Cherry Pie, La Troienne & Bonus

Shut Out


The Axe II & Tom Fool

Afleet Alex at Gainesway

Afleet Alex at Gainesway

Tapit at Gainesway

Tapit at Gainesway

Top turf mare, Daisy Devine, at Keeneland

Bullet Train at Wintergreen Stallion Station

Ogygian sleeping at Old Friends

Ogygian at Old Friends

Ogygian at Old Friends

Ogygian at Old Friends

Tinner's Way at Old Friends

Discreet Hero, Max A Million & Kano Doble at Old Friends

Grave of Noor at Old Friends

Skip Away

Smart Strike x Fashion Star yearling colt

Malibu Moon x People's Princess yearling colt

Princess Arabella and her two-day-old Tapit colt

Quiet American at Darley