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A Lot Happened

It’s been a busy few days in the racing world.

Rachel Alexandra’s triumphant Haskell performance was quickly followed Monday by Quality Road returning to the track in record-breaking form – perhaps she does have some 3-year-old competition after all. We’ll focus on those a bit more in a moment, but first, let’s do a quick round-up of Everything Else That Happened.

Mine That Bird was troubled by what can only be described as an unfortunate ride in the West Virginia Derby – and jockey Mike Smith accepted full responsibility for his third-place finish behind exhausted speed horse Big Drama and the Steve Asmussen-trained (and otherwise-unheralded) Iowa Derby runner-up, Soul Warrior whose win paid his few backers handsomely. Smith summed his ride up as ‘total rider error‘ and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. It does seem that he’ll keep the mount for the Travers – at least that’s the word so far.

Steve Asmussen added to his weekend haul with Dwyer winner Kensei winning the Jim Dandy; you may recall the horse also finished second in the Derby Trial and he seems to be coming along at just the right time for the Travers (which, given that he is also owned by Jess Jackson, is presumably one reason Rachel Alexandra may point elsewhere – but more on that below).
Mine That Bird’s third-place finish in West Virginia certainly wasn’t the worst performance from a top-level horse – that unwanted distinction went to Well Armed, who was making his first start Stateside after his Dubai World Cup win – and finished last in the San Diego Handicap (which he won easily last year, after finishing third in Dubai). Jockey Aaron Gryder dismissed talk of the feared ‘Dubai bounce‘ – but exactly why he was missing his usual spark is still unknown.

Well Armed’s trainer, Eoin Harty, at least had Colonel John’s win from Friday to look back on; the horse took the Wickerr Stakes in his first start on turf – continuing to prove that Tiznow’s offspring can run on whatever surface they please. It’s also nice to see the Travers winner still racing a year later (and proving his versatility) – it’s something of a rarity these days.

The older fillies and mares did not disappoint in the Diana – Forever Together won the race for the second time, but it was a quality trifecta all around, with Carribean Sunset hanging on for second and Rutherienne getting up for third (although she had traffic trouble and the wet conditions didn’t help).

The same high expectations were not met on Sunday at Saratoga with the two-year-old fillies; the 2008 yearling sales-topper, Chimayo, was taking to the track for the first time in a maiden special weight. The $3.1 million dollar filly finished eighth for Darley Stables. Watching the race on the monitor from Monmouth Park, our group was hoping the filly who had only cost four figures at auction would win, to no avail; at least the winner only cost six figures, rather than seven – obviously, it was a win for the little guy.

Later on the Saratoga card, a lot of the usual turf suspects were in action in the Fourstardave – Cowboy Cal, Cosmonaut and Wesley – but none of them seemed in top form (and although the course was listed as ‘good’ it was, one presumes, still quite wet). Justenuffhumor (a half-brother to Dreaming of Anna and Lewis Michael) swept by the bigger names to take the race.

And then, of course, came the Haskell. You may have already seen yesterday’s post recounting our trip to the Jersey Shore, but I would also encourage you to check out The Aspiring Horseplayer and Railbird for their thoughts on the day. Rachel Alexandra’s performance was nothing less than dazzling – her 116 Beyer is the highest any horse has earned this year (and certainly compares favorably to Commentator’s 120 – the highest overall last year). The number is a useful figure for those who like to grouse about the competition or the surface, but it doesn’t convey how effortlessly she was running or what it was like to see her flash by the stands; it’s something so rarely seen in our sport that we may no longer possess an adequate vocabulary to describe it. It’s easier to sum up in platitudes: long may she reign.

But just as it seemed that there were no new worlds for her to conquer against her own age group, Quality Road threw his hat back into the ring yesterday, taking the Amsterdam in a track-record time. His win over Capt. Candyman Can may not have been as visually impressive, but he worked for it and showed his class. While using a sprint as a prep for the Travers is a bit unorthodox, it’s good to know he’s back in the picture.

As mentioned above, it’s unlikely that Rachel Alexandra will run in the Travers, since Kensei needs a major win to build his stallion resume, but the alternative mentioned is more interesting to me – taking on older horses in the Woodward. The race, as Val notes, is rarely won by 3-year-olds and is long overdue for a filly or mare to win it (it’s never been done); a good showing there would sew up Horse of the Year for many voters.

The one older horse the entire racing world would like to see face off against Rachel Alexandra is in action at the weekend – Zenyatta is back to defend her Clement Hirsch title in what is shaping up to be another paid workout. One hopes that the stars can somehow align to get them in a race together – surely someone can step up to the table and simply create one somewhere?

In the meantime, there’s the Arlington Million, which is looking like a considerably more competitive race; blog favorite Einstein is taking on Gloria de Campeao, Gio Ponti and Presious Passion (among others) – check back later in the week for more!

5 comments to A Lot Happened

  • Frank

    There's a race already created in which RA and Z could and should meet — the Breeders' Cup. That will get more public interest than anything else that could be done w/ the two horses. At the very least, there's no compelling reason not to give RA a try over the Pro-ride in advance of the BC — if she doesn't like it, fine — skip it. If she does, on to the BC. That would be the sportsmanlike thing to do.

  • SaratogaSpa

    Well Said Frank, something tells me RA would be running if Curlin had fared better last year at the BC.

    Regarding the Woodward, this would be a perfect spot , the spacing is right, about 5 weeks, and beating older males would put another feather in her cap.

  • ljk

    IMO: Rutherienne was best in the Diana.

    I think the JC Gold Cup may be the goal for RA and I think the Personal Ensign may be the way they get her some 10f experience.

  • Amateurcapper


    Tight synopsis. As for MTB, I MIKE SMITH took one for the team. He realizes now MTB is a dirt horse needing cover like a turf horse. Considering where SOUL WARRIOR won from, I can also understand CHIP WOOLLEY's frustration. A while back, I suggested COREY NAKATANI for MTB because of his patient, from the clouds BC Sprint wins. He's hungry for the big time…whaddya think?

    This gelding has only one chance to win…from that far back especially on the dirt, and against a quality speed horse it's very hard for a jockey not to get antsy.

    Frank and SaratogaSpa,

    Last year STEVE ASMUSSEN was quoted as saying CURLIN went to Dubai early for the Jaguar Cup to prep for the World Cup because he runs better the second time he runs at a track (Mth – 3rd Haskell/1st BC Classic and Bel – 2nd Belmont S./1st Jockey Club Gold Cup). It seems to have escaped everyone that he did not give CURLIN a prep on the Pro-ride…was poor planning on purpose to use the surface as an excuse if he lost (he did, and it was). Now it's the excuse that may keep RACHEL from racing on the second biggest stage (if the Kentucky Derby is the biggest).

    Frank, you're dead right about giving her a prep in the Lady's Secret to test her ability on the Pro-ride. Trouble with that plan is the ZENYATTA vs. RACHEL debate will be settled one race before people want the match up…one would have a blemish going into the Breeders' Cup which would lessen the importance of the CLASSIC or DISTAFF CLASSIC.


    RUTHERIENNE had a ton of trouble and I can see your point for her being best considering she was stopped to a walk yet made a huge late run. However, she always seems to be on the rail and in trouble. FOREVER TOGETHER lost enough ground with her wide rally to make each gal's trip a wash when compared to the other…edge is still to the champion.

  • Anonymous

    "Was poor planning on purpose to give Curlin an excuse"? So Jackson didn't insist on a prep race on pro-ride because he half expected to lose?

    Come on. That's just silly. Any owner wants to win, and to suggest Jackson wasn't to looking to do so in the BC is stretching it. Too many (Jackson included) ignore the fact that he didn't struggle on the surface at all. Albarado said as much right after the race. While Raven's Pass was peaking, Curlin's season was tailing off and he gotten beaten by the better horse on the day.

    Still, the 5 year old Zenyatta who is behind in HOY voting and hasn't ever run a 116 Beyer or anything near it this year should come East. She's the one who is behind is everyone's mind outside of Jerry Moss.

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