Thursday, August 29, 2013

Game On Dude: A California Hero

The hallowed assembly of good racehorses in history has had no shortage of members from our young 21st century. Of these new inductees, two geldings are standouts. One is the powerful turf specialist of the east, the Morton Fink-owned Wise Dan. Wise Dan’s perceived path to stardom was quick, and the chestnut is flooded with deserving praise for each win.

But for the other gelding, outside of the west coast the accolades have been only trickling in. Is it the mountain ranges and great expanse of desert dividing California racing from the tracks of the east? Is it the out-of-the-money losses suffered by this gelding in the Dubai World Cup and Breeder’s Cup Classic last year? Dubai can be forgiven--as has been done for other good horses, including Royal Delta--and our hero has bounced back strongly from the Breeder’s Cup. So strongly, in fact, that he has remained undefeated in six graded stakes since, including the best that California has to offer older horses: the Santa Anita Handicap (Gr. I), the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (Gr. I), and the Pacific Classic Stakes (Gr. I). He granted 10 pounds to the second place finisher in the Santa Anita Handicap while winning by 7-3/4 lengths, and granted 11 pounds to the second place finisher in the Hollywood Gold Cup while winning under a strong hand ride.

As for the Pacific Classic? Our hero--Game On Dude--conquered that race on his third try by winning in a record 8-½ lengths over a track he has historically disliked. I visited Del Mar over the weekend and not only witnessed and experienced the emotions of Game On Dude’s runaway victory in the Pacific Classic, but was also able to meet the gelding himself. I’ve been a big fan of ‘Dude’ since his win in the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, and as of today I am still on cloud nine; after all, it’s not every day that you are blessed with the chance to meet a hero. Here’s to you, Game On Dude, and may the praise now flow freely.

Saturday began with watching morning works at Del Mar.

My midwestern eyes never got over seeing palm trees in the Del Mar infield!

Our next stop was the barn. We visited some exceptional horses, including Black-Eyed Susan (Gr. II) winner, Fiftyshadesofhay...

...and Socialbug, a sweet half-sister to Midnight Lute (by Curlin).

We also visited Paynter, who demanded endless peppermints. Paynter races in the Woodword Stakes (Gr. I) at Saratoga this weekend.

But we were there for one horse, the star of the barn...

...the winner of the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, and so much more...

...Game On Dude!

We spent some time with Game On Dude, and it quickly became clear that he was a kind horse. He was appreciative of peppermints, but also enjoyed attention and pets. He perked up and posed when he heard my Nikon and was engaging.

When we were on our way out, we had to stop at the Dude's stall one more time; I wished him good luck in the Pacific Classic the next day.

On Pacific Classic day, Fed Biz set the tone for the day by winning the Pat O'Brien Stakes (Gr. II).

A little over an hour later, Game On Dude entered the paddock for the Pacific Classic.

The friendly, engaging horse of the day before now had his game face on--it was showtime.

His competition included Kettle Corn, winner of the San Diego Handicap (Gr. II) over Paynter... well as the 2012 Pacific Classic winner, Dullahan.

Game On Dude, Martin Garcia up.

Game On Dude was very mellow in the post parade.

But he quickly seized the lead out of the gate.

What followed was the most intense experience I've had at a race. Heart pounding, I watched as Game On Dude led the field around Del Mar Racetrack. I noted his easy strides and the fact he kept a length between himself and the horse in second place. He had the lead, and he wasn't going to give it up! When he hit the top of the homestretch and began widening his lead, the lump in my throat swelled to tears. I had to choose between cheering and clapping or taking photos, and for once I skipped the photos. You can watch the race here.

Game On Dude and Martin Garcia returning to the winner's circle.

The winner's circle.

Returning to the barn. Thank you for a wonderful weekend, Dude.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Arlington Million Day in Photos

Saturday was a banner day for emerging top turf sire Kitten’s Joy (El Prado - Kitten's First, by Lear Fan). First, son Big Blue Kitten (out of Spent Gold, by Unaccounted For) won the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (Gr. I) at Saratoga Racecourse, then 850 miles and 20 minutes later, sons Admiral Kitten (out of Reachinforthestars, by Grand Slam) and Real Solution (out of Reachfortheheavens, by Pulpit) headed the Kitten conquest of Chicago by winning the Secretariat Stakes (Gr. I) and Arlington Million Stakes (Gr. I), respectively.

As an interesting pedigree side note, the winners of the other two major stakes on Million Day at Arlington Park, the American St. Leger Stakes and Beverly D. Stakes (Gr. I), were both by Dansili, who--like Kitten's Joy--is a paternal great-grandson of Northern Dancer.

The weather on Million Day can sometimes be a toss-up (as is typical for the Chicago area) but on Saturday, one couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day.

Wifeonthewarpath in the paddock before the Hatoof Stakes (Division 1).
The very handsome Dandino (GB) in the paddock prior to the American St. Leger.

Also handsome was Wigmore Hall (IRE), one of the truly international racehorses on the Million card.

Dandino (GB) proved that pretty horses can run by winning the American St. Leger over Suntracer (5).

Admiral Kitten, Rosie Napravnik up, in the paddock prior to winning the Secretariat Stakes.

Heavy favorite Marketing Mix in the paddock prior to the Beverly D. Stakes. She was very poised... was Dank (GB)...

...but Gifted Girl (IRE) kept her handlers on their toes!

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens (on Marketing Mix) is right at home on a horse. Gary came out of retirement in January and has been having a successful year to date..

Dank (GB) ran away with the Beverly D., leaving Marketing Mix in her wake.

The paddock came alive prior to the Arlington Million. Familiar faces were here, including that of 9-year-old Rahystrada, a local favorite. He won the Arlington Handicap (Gr. III) last time out.

There were newcomers too, including the beautiful Side Glance (GB).

Mull of Kullough (IRE) takes in the paddock crowd.

Little Mike, Joel Rosario up, won the 2012 Arlington Million (under now-retired jockey, Ramon Dominguez). He was attempting to become the only back-to-back winner of the Million.

In a thrilling finish, The Apache (SAF) headed Real Solution at the wire but was disqualified to 2nd for interference. Side Glance (GB) was 3rd.

The Apache (SAF) getting hosed down after the Million.

Real Solution, Alan Garcia up, in the Arlington Million winner's circle.

Owner and breeder Ken Ramsey takes his turn wearing the garland. Ramsey also bred Kitten's Joy and stands the stallion at Ramsey Farm in Kentucky.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Remembering Winter Memories

Her race is a song of suspense—and with a final dramatic chord, victory! Then comes the lilting chorus of her gallop out, her head and ears high in triumph, her body long with reaching strides, her silver-tipped tail streaming like a banner. Spellbound, you can only marvel at the explosive display of power and grace that just played out on the stage of turf before you.

Winter Memories. Rarely has a horse so captivated me, so inspired me. Even her name alone reached into my soul and breathed fresh life into my muses. Each of her race entries was an invitation to a brilliant one-song performance, a gripping tale of drama and suspense. Despite her turf-churning turn of foot, winning did not always come easily to the Gray Lady. But no matter—there was another performance waiting in the wings, another chance to gallop out in glorious victory. Until one day.

Last Friday, August 9, marked one year since Winter Memories retired. To say the announcement of her retirement was a disappointing surprise is an understatement. On July 28, 2012 she had handily won the Diana Stakes (Gr. I) at Saratoga and with the Breeder’s Cup Filly & Mare Turf in her sights, she seemed destined to conquer the female turf stage. But it was not to be. With a heavy heart, I grudgingly accepted her retirement as reality—after all, it’s a part of racing. A few days after her retirement was announced, Winter Memories went home to Darby Dan Farm to take her place alongside her dam, Memories of Silver, in the farm's prestigious broodmare band.

The curtains had closed and the lights were dimmed but to my delight, I was granted an encore. On a lovely mid-October morning my husband and I visited Winter Memories at Darby Dan.

Not yet integrated with the broodmare band, Winter Memories was stabled in a small barn not far from the main stallion barn. We awaited her presence outside the barn in the morning sun and crisp fall air, and I held my breath as the groom walked into her stall. And then there she was—the songstress of the turf, she with the most explosive turn of foot I’ve ever seen, the Gray Lady herself.

The groom led her out and circled her into position. Head high, she sized up my husband and I before stepping to and fro, antsy, the racehorse in her peeking through. Patiently, the groom positioned her again and she settled into a high-headed gaze, surveying the horizon before her. The sky was a beautiful blue, the leaves of the trees were on the brink of bursting into color, and the rising sun touched Winter Memories with golden light.

Thank you for the memories, Winter.

DRF announcement of Winter Memories' retirement

Complete video compilation of Winter Memories' races (the 2011 Garden City is my favorite):

Sept. 3, 2010: Saratoga, Maiden Special Weight, Finish: 1
Oct. 3, 2010: Belmont Park, Miss Grillo Stakes (Gr. III), Finish: 1
Nov. 5, 2010: Churchill Downs, Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (Gr. II), Finish: 2
Apr. 21, 2011: Keeneland, Appalachian Stakes (Gr. III), Finish: 1
May 30, 2011: Belmont Park, Sands Point Stakes (Gr. II), Finish: 1
July 27, 2011: Saratoga, Lake George Stakes (Gr. II), Finish: 1
Aug. 21, 2011: Saratoga, Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes (Gr. II), Finish: 4
Sept. 17, 2011: Belmont Park, Garden City Stakes (Gr. I), Finish: 1
Oct. 15, 2011: Keeneland, Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup Stakes (Gr. I), Finish: 4
May 5, 2012: Belmont Park, Beaugay Stakes (Gr. III), Finish: 1
June 9, 2012: Belmont Park, Longines Just A Game Stakes (Gr. I), Finish: 2
July 28, 2012: Saratoga, Diana Stakes (Gr. I), Finish: 1