Friday, September 30, 2011

Good Things Come in Small Packages

They usually end up being the greatest races, but it’s tough to watch some of my favorite horses race against each other. However, it’s one of the best parts of racing. Of course, it happens often in big races and it will definitely happen in the Kelso when Uncle Mo and Jackson Bend go head and head.

Uncle Mo
Photo: Terri Cage
Every horse in the field has talent, but Uncle Mo has shown the highest level of sheer talent. Many eyes will be on the son of Indian Charlie, but those eyes should also keep a lookout for Jackson Bend. Both Uncle Mo and Jackson Bend have become two of the top horses in the nation and are forces to be reckoned with.

Uncle Mo is obviously a very popular horse. The Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male is putting in his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup after just missing in the Foxwoods King's Bishop Stakes (GI). His connections are using the Kelso as the colt’s last race before the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), though many believe he should go in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) instead.
Jackson Bend is a horse that is expected to run in the Dirt Mile. The four-year-old is coming off impressive wins in the James Marvin Stakes and Forego Stakes (GI). The son of Hear No Evil seems to have found his niche in one-turn races. With his explosive late kick, he seems to be Uncle Mo’s top competition.
Also in the field is Jersey Town, who won the Cigar Mile in late November. He’s only raced twice this year, in which he has finished second in two stakes races, including the Forego. The other horse in the field, Golddigger's Boy, is a stakes winner. Sangaree will miss the Kelso due to a cough, leaving the Kelso as a four-horse field.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sprinter Showdown

Big Drama, Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) 2010 winner and Eclipse Champion for 2010 Male Sprinter, will be making just his third start of the year in his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. However, he will have to face two of the top sprinters in the nation: Euroears and Trappe Shot.

Photo: Terri Cage

Since Euroears has been one of my favorites for nearly two years now, I may be a little biased, but Bob Baffert is very high on the seven-year-old son of Langfuhr. The chestnut horse kicked off the year with an impressive win in the Palos Verdes Stakes (GII), winning in an impressive time of 1:07.23 for six furlongs. Euroears followed up that win with a commendable second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI). Euroears returned to the races with a track record-breaking victory in the Bing Crosby Stakes (GI) on July 31. His final work before the Vosburgh came in half-mile breeze at Santa Anita in 47.20.
Big Drama should not be counted out, though. He has won three straight, but those wins have been very spaced out. Yet the five-year-old seems to be in great form again. His first win of the year came in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (GIII), in which he broke the six furlong track record at Gulfstream Park. After nearly eight months off, Big Drama returned with an easy win in the Whippleton Stakes at Calder Race Course. The Vosburgh will definitely be his biggest test yet this year, but Big Drama is coming into the race strong, as his final work was a bullet five furlong work at Calder.
Big Drama and Euroears aren’t the only big threats in the Vosburgh.  The 9/5 morning line favorite, Trappe Shot, is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The colt who I have followed since early in his career will try to return to his winning ways after closing in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) to miss by a nose. Prior to that race, the son of Tapit dominantly won the True North Handicap (GI) on Belmont day in the slop. Considering there is a chance of rain at Belmont on Saturday, the track may end up muddy or sloppy, which would likely give Trappe Shot the edge.
Trappe Shot, Big Drama, and Euroears make up what looks to be the top three, but the other horses in the field should not be counted out. The Repole entry, Calibrachoa and Caixa Eletronica, is a competitive one. Calibrachoa kicked off the year with two grade three wins and has since finished third in both the True North and the Vanderbilt. Caixa Eletronica, winner of the Westchester Stakes (GIII) in April, is coming off two starter handicap wins. However, the six-year-old ran poorly in the James Marvin Stakes prior to those wins.
Force Freeze, who has raced mostly in the United Arab Emirates, is coming off a win in the Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth, in which he defeated 2010 Hill 'N' Dale Cigar Mile Handicap (GI) winner Jersey Town soundly. Also in the field are graded stakes winners Giant Ryan and Justin Phillip, as well as graded stakes-placed Apriority.
With three of the top sprinters in the country, the Vosburgh looks to be a preview for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. We will know much more about this year’s sprinters after the talented horses cross the finish line. It ought to be a Vosburgh for the ages.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lurking in the Shadows

When one thinks of an alley cat, they think of a stray cat that lurks in the shadows between buildings. That could metaphorically fit the situation that a horse by the name of Rys Alley Cat is in.
I’ve known who the son of Tale of the Cat is for four months. I saw the chestnut gelding run in the Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park. Though unimpressed by him, I remembered his name because of a photograph I took of him. It is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken because of how detailed it is. For instance, you can see the water dripping from the gelding's mouth. I even won a blue ribbon for it and the picture now hangs on my wall.
Photo by Mary Cage
That day, Rys Alley Cat finished last in a field of nine in the mile and one-sixteenth turf stakes. Nonetheless, the field was a very talented field. Thirtyfirststreet, who won the Lone Star Derby, has since gone on to finish third in the La Jolla Handicap (GII). The runner-up, Close Ally, recently won an allowance optional claiming at Belmont Park while the third-place finisher was Coolmore Lexington Stakes (GIII) winner Derby Kitten, who just won the Ontario Derby. Also finishing ahead of Rys Alley Cat were stakes winners Aces N Kings and Awesome Bet, as well as stakes-placed horses Dreaminofthewin, Unbridled Sheriff, and Uncle Sam.
In his next race, the Dean Kutz Stakes at Canterbury Park, Rys Alley Cat crossed the wire ahead of one horse. It was yet another race on turf, though this one was a sixteenth of a mile shorter. The winner of that race, Wild Jacob, won three straight stakes races before going on to finish fifth in the Kent Stakes, which was originally a grade three but was deprived of its graded status after being taken off the turf.
Rys Alley Cat was then entered on the dirt. In a mile and one-eighth allowance at Remington Park, the chestnut closed gamely to just miss catching the highly-touted Pass Line, who had won his past two races in dominating fashion at Lone Star Park. Rys Alley Cat had just run his best race since breaking his maiden.
Rys Alley Cat returned in another allowance on the dirt at Remington Park. In the one mile race, the son of Tale of the Cat easily won by seven lengths. By winning the race, he defeated two stakes-placed horses, one of which is graded-stakes placed.
Though he had good performances on the turf in the maiden ranks, Rys Alley Cat’s best performances against winners have come on the dirt. Hopefully the gelding has found his place, as he has been very impressive on the main track. It’s always nice to see a horse find his place and even if Rys Alley Cat doesn’t make it in the stakes ranks, his picture will always have a place on my wall.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

To See a Champion

All photos by Terri Cage

To see a champion racehorse is like no other experience. Even if you don’t see one race, it is amazing to catch a glimpse of one in a paddock or barn during retirement. Going to the races on any given day is wonderful in and of itself, but to see a very accomplished horse on the track or at the farm is an experience I highly recommend.
To me, a champion isn’t necessarily an Eclipse Award winner. To me, a champion is any horse that has accomplished great things. A champion can come in many forms and fashions, but these champions are champions that are known for their triumphs and have touched my heart.
I have compiled a list of my top eleven encounters with champions. It was not easy ranking these wonderful horses and there were definitely horses I did not want to leave off, which explains why it’s a top eleven list instead of a top ten list. Most of the top eleven horses I met while they were in retirement, but four of them I witnessed on the track. I didn't rank them by order of how big a fan I was of them, but rather by how great the experience of seeing them in person was. I can remember each encounter quite clearly, especially number one.

11. John Henry
I didn’t really know who he was at the time, but I knew that my mom was making a big deal about seeing him. All I knew about him was what the guide at the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park told me: that he was a thirty-two-year-old champion, had won many prestigious races, including the Arlington Million, and that he was extremely ornery and knew he was boss.
When I first saw him was just seven months before the great horse passed away. Since then, I have learned a lot more about him. I now greatly admire John Henry and not just because he won 6.5 million dollars. John Henry never gave up and though he may not have been a sweetheart, he was a hero.

10. Funny Cide

Though I do not remember watching Funny Cide’s bid for the Triple Crown, I know I did watch it. However, I do recall cheering for him in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup over the television. Even though I don’t clearly remember watching him race, I’ve always been a big fan of the “Gutsy Gelding.”
The second time I visited the Kentucky Horse Park, I was extremely excited for one main thing: I would get to meet Funny Cide. Apparently, Funny was excited to meet me as well. He decided to lick my hand for several minutes as I stood outside of his stall. When I walked out of the barn to see Da Hoss in the paddock, I turned to see Funny sticking his head out of his stall’s window, staring at me. Needless to say, Funny Cide had quite the personality.

9. Cigar
The first champion I ever saw was Cigar. It was a drizzly, chilly day in the Bluegrass and it was the first time I ever visited the Kentucky Horse Park. I first saw him in his stall and was amazed by the stature of the horse. At the time, I didn’t know exactly how much Cigar had contributed to racing, but I did know he was one of the greats.
When a worker pulled him out of his stall, I was blown away. I still to this day consider him one of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen. I’m blessed to have met Cigar twice and will visit him again later this year. He’s just the type of horse that takes your breath away.

8. Uncle Mo

I knew of all the hype surrounding the son of Indian Charlie, but I had not watched either his Saratoga maiden win or his scintillating Champagne Stakes (GI) victory.  However, I knew he was extremely talented. Yet, being the huge Smarty Jones fan I am, I was cheering for Rogue Romance in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Nevertheless, from my seats under the Twin Spires, I knew Uncle Mo had the win as the horses came around the far turn.
I watched as the bay colt in the blue and orange Repole silks drew away from the field, digging his hoofs into the dirt and galloping towards the wire powerfully. Uncle Mo left a big impression on me in that race. He’s something special and you can definitely sense that when you’re in his presence.

7. Curlin
My heart had been broken the day before I met Curlin. The previous evening, I had watched as Zenyatta fell just half a head short in an incredible, but heart-wrenching performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Seeing the magnificent chestnut stallion consoled me.
The physique of Curlin is extraordinary. He is built like a tall Quarter Horse, exhibiting round, quality muscling. He has a very kind eye that matches his personality. You could say touching the chestnut champion that I had been such a big fan of while he was racing soothed my sadness. It was incredible to meet one of my favorite racehorses of all time and be able to touch him.

6. Blind Luck

Let me just say I love this hard-knocking filly to pieces.  I’ve only seen her in person once (so far), but I’ve been a big fan of hers since she was a two-year-old. I’ve watched every race of hers since she finished second in Darley Debutante Stakes (GI) and absolutely fell in love with her when she won the Oak Leaf Stakes (GI). She’s definitely one of my favorite fillies ever.

I made signs for two horses at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup and Blind Luck was one of those horses. I watched the little chestnut filly during the post parade and cheered for her as the horses came down the stretch. Though she couldn’t catch Unrivaled Belle that night, Blind Luck took my breath away with her electrifying closing kick. I can still remember that little chestnut blur in pink flying past me.

5. Pepper’s Pride

There are two ladies of nineteen: Zenyatta and Pepper’s Pride. Obviously, Pepper’s Pride isn’t as famous as the great Zenyatta, but she is a champion. I watched several of the New Mexico filly’s races and was a big fan of hers.
When I visited Taylor Made Farm before the 2010 Breeders’ Cup, my mom immediately asked about Pepper’s Pride, as we knew she resides at Taylor Made. I thought they would just give us an update on her, but instead I was astonished as we drove down to the broodmare paddocks. After strolling through the barn, we walked out to a paddock holding three mares: a light chestnut with a blaze, a liver chestnut, and a bay. I immediately knew which one was Pepper’s Pride. The bay mare approached the fence where we stood and allowed us to stroke her as she snuffled at our hands. It was wonderful to meet the undefeated filly in person and I still to this day can recall her warm breath against my hand.

4. Goldikova
The evening sun was casting its glow over Churchill Downs as the horses for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) came onto the track. As the name of Goldkiva was announced, a cheer went up from the crowd. As the field loaded into the gate, I fixed my eyes on the gate of the mare who had won the race the past two years and was going for a three-peat.
I knew who Goldikova was. The past two years, I had watched her win the Mile in dazzling fashion on television. This time, I saw her in person. Right before my eyes, I saw the dainty bay mare lower her head and lengthen her stride as she swept past the males. From my seat, it was very difficult to see the finish line, but I stood on the tip of my toes on top of the bleachers to see the great mare cross the wire in front. I had just witnessed history and the moment is still engraved in my mind.
3. A.P. Indy

Seattle Slew is one of my dad’s all-time favorite racehorses. Slew’s son, A.P. Indy, is my all-time favorite stallion. Though enthralled by what he accomplished on the racetrack, I have always greatly admired him as a sire.
The day I met Curlin was the same day I met A.P. Indy. Though in a down mood, I was extremely excited to get to meet Indy. I practically dragged my family over to his stall multiple times. Though getting up there in age, A.P. Indy was stunning. Despite acting docile, you could tell he knew he was king of Lane’s End. I waited not-so-patiently in line to touch him. He stood still as I set my hand on his soft, dark coat. Though I was gloomy from the evening before, A.P. Indy brought light to my eyes.

2. Smarty Jones

Smarty Jones started it all for me. While watching pre-race coverage for the Kentucky Derby, I heard the commentators talk about a horse who had almost died as a result of a head injury that had occurred in a starting gate incident. The horse’s name was Smarty Jones. I had found my horse to cheer for when the gates opened. I watched with my eyes glued to the television as Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby in the slop by nearly three lengths. Racing has enthralled me ever since.

The first time I saw Smarty Jones was on a tour of Three Chimneys Farm. The lovable chestnut stallion was in his paddock and walked eagerly up to the fence, gazing at his fans. Let’s just say I was frozen in place for a while. He was my favorite racehorse ever and he was just a few feet away from me, gazing at me with friendly, bright eyes.
The Wednesday before the 2010 Breeders’ Cup, we visited Three Chimneys Farm for their open house. The first horse I saw when we walked into the stallion barn was none other than Smarty Jones. I knew this visit to Three Chimneys would be the last time I would see the beloved chestnut stallion, as he would be leaving for Pennsylvania soon. We looked at every stallion and took a stroll around, but I made sure I stayed near Smarty’s stall most of the time. My experience with Smarty Jones is one I’ll never forget.

1. Zenyatta
This could be several pages in and of itself, but I’ll try to shorten its length. In 2008, I discovered Zenyatta. I’d heard about her, but the first time I ever watched a race of hers was when she first won the Vanity Handicap (GI). When she stepped onto the track and the camera focused on her, I thought she was absolutely beautiful. She impressed me with her win that day, but when I really fell in love with her was when she won the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (GI) like “poetry in motion.” Zenyatta had cast her magical spell on me. I immediately became a huge Zenyatta fan.

She thrilled me with each and every win. Smarty Jones had always been my favorite racehorse, but Zenyatta easily passed him, though Smarty still resides as my second favorite. I remember very clearly watching Queen Z winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). At the beginning of the race, I was in a chair. By the end of the race, my face was just inches from the television screen while I was on the floor, my voice hoarse and my eyes full of tears of joy.
I followed (and still continue to follow) Zenyatta avidly. I’m fascinated by her.  My room is decorated with all things Zenyatta.
Considering it was the best day of my life, I will most definitely never forget the first time I ever saw her. I think all of us that have seen her in person can agree that it was a magical experience.
It was after nine in the morning on the Friday of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup. Even if I didn’t see Zenyatta that day, it would be one of the greatest days of my life. I had just led a filly that Mr. and Mrs. Moss had bred onto the track at Churchill Downs. Then that filly’s trainer allowed my family and I to go wait for Zenyatta to come to the track.
We stood by a viewing stand near one of the gaps and I fixed my eyes on the barn I knew Zenyatta was in. There were hundreds of people around, most of them with cameras. All of a sudden, I saw something dark and imposing. I immediately knew it was her.
Then she stepped into my view. With Steve Willard aboard, Zenyatta marched towards me. I’m almost certain I was barely breathing. She grew closer and closer to me, each step of hers regal. Her expressive ears, filled with cotton, were pricked and her majestic eyes connected with mine. I suddenly knew what everyone meant when they said it felt magical if Zenyatta looked into your eyes. Before I knew it, Zenyatta was just a foot from me. I could have easily reached out and touched her, but I knew better.
We made our way up the steps into the viewing stand, my eyes remaining locked on her. The clicking of cameras was just background music as I watched Zenyatta in awe. As the great mare moved to the other side of the track, others chatted amongst themselves while she was out of view. I, however, followed the tan jacket Steve Willard was wearing. I can still picture watching the huge, magnificent mare rounding the clubhouse turn at an easy gallop.
Of course, I saw Zenyatta again the next evening. I held a sign for her and the crowd cheered wildly for her as she warmed up. As I waited for the starting gate to open, I felt more nervous than I ever have before. I can clearly remember screaming at the very top of my lungs as the horses came down the stretch. The ground was literally shaking. It was a heartbreaking evening for me, but I’m blessed to have witnessed her. I will never forget Zenyatta and the times I saw her in person.
To see a champion is to witness magic. A champion is no ordinary being. A champion is a hero. A champion is worth going through troubles to see. A champion will light up your eyes and bring a smile to your face.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Diary of Dexter: An Afternoon Ride

Photo: Terri Cage
Diary of Dexter is a series within Past the Grandstand about my retired racehorse, Wet Paint (AKA Dexter). Periodically, the blog will feature updates on the grandson of Storm Cat. You will really grow to love this wonderful horse.

As the afternoon sun inched closer to the horizon, I led Dexter into the round pen, beginning to longe him. Unfortunately, it was most definitely not the best session we've had on a longe line. Dexter, though seeming lackadaisical before we went into the round pen, unleashed his pent-up energy while on the end of the longeline.
However, once I got in the saddle, Dexter was a different horse. After a few bending exercises, we tried side passing, which we have done a few times. He side passed to the left, but he had issues going to the right. After a few minutes, he side passed to the right a few steps and I decided to leave it on a good note.
Afterwards, I allowed him to walk a few laps around the round pen before I urged him into a jog. He performed beautifully and after a while, I decided it was time to lope. Since he usually has issues with his right lead but no problems with his left lead, I asked him for his left lead first. The oddest thing happened. He picked up his right lead.
Being the willing horse he is, the incorrect lead was quickly corrected. After loping on the left lead for a while, I gave him a little breather before asking for the right lead. For what I believe was the first time ever, he picked up the right lead at first asking.
He’d deserved a nice walk. I then cooled him off, allowing him to walk leisurely around the pasture while I was in the saddle. It had been a good ride. After I had dismounted and untacked him, I hosed him down with the water hose to further cool him off.  He relaxed for the rest of the evening and was especially eager when it was dinner time.

It is amazing how well racehorses can do in their second careers. Regardless of how well he does when I ride him, I’ll always be proud of my grandson of Storm Cat.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Waiting for an Awesome Return

I had heard about yet another Jacks or Better Farm two-year-old in south Florida. The filly was introduced as Awesome Feather and I planned on watching her race that afternoon, the Florida Stallion My Dear Gal Stakes. However, I ended up riding my horse that evening while the race was run. It is not often for me to miss a race I am looking forward to, but I guess a ride in beautiful weather was too good to pass up and I lost track of time.
I came inside to find out that she had won by over eight lengths. Though I had missed the race, I had found a new horse to cheer for. I must admit, I love Calder two-year-olds. To me, it is like finding a diamond in the rough or an underdog to cheer for. Awesome Feather was that underdog for me.

Awesome Feather battling with R Heat Lightning
before going on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
Photo by: Terri Cage

While at the Breeders’ Cup in November 2010, I found myself cheering for the bay daughter of Awesome of Course as she and R Heat Lightning battled down the stretch. I was thrilled when the filly drew off to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) under Jeffrey Sanchez. It ended up being one of my favorite races of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup.
Two days later, Awesome Feather was sold for $2,300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed sale. She was purchased by Frank Stronach under the name of Adena Springs and was transferred to Chad Brown’s stable.
Just days before being named Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, it was announced that Awesome Feather had an issue with a tendon and would be sidelined for an unknown amount of time. By February, she was walking under tack and by the end of the month, she returned to jogging. She returned to the work tab on May 24, breezing three furlongs at Belmont Park in 36.78. She breezed four more times until some minor issues appeared.
After two more months off, Awesome Feather returned to the work tab yet again. Since August 30, the three-year-old filly has worked four times at Belmont Park. Since returning after her most recent break, Awesome Feather has breezed a half-mile twice and five furlongs twice. 
Trainer Chad Brown believes the filly could be ready to race again in a month. It will be exciting to see last year’s champion juvenile filly return. After all, she is still undefeated. However, we cannot necessarily expect her to win her first time back, as it is difficult for a horse to come back after such a long layoff. Nonetheless, I will be eagerly cheering on the hard-trying bay filly.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Juvenile Spotlight: State of Play

One of my favorite things to do is find young horses that have the potential to be superstars. It is very entertaining and rewarding to "discover" two-year-olds before they go on to record prestigious victories. Juvenile Spotlights highlight some of the two-year-olds I have "discovered." Some Juvenile Spotlights feature horses right after they have broken their maiden or after they record their first major victory. Either way, I have followed these horses since before they hit the headlines. I don't do a Juvenile Spotlight on every two-year-old I "discover", but I try to feature as many as I can.
The green and red silks of Team Valor International flashed across the finish line in front. The horse’s name was not Animal Kingdom, Daveron, Pluck, or Summer Soiree. It was State of Play, a two-year-old colt by War Front and out of the Procida mare Valeta.
State of Play broke his maiden in his debut, a five and one-half furlong race on the turf at Saratoga. After keeping close to the pace, the dark bay/brown colt swept to the lead in the stretch to win by two and one-half lengths in a hand ride.
In his next start, State of Play took on talented turf juveniles in the With Anticipation Stakes (GII) at Saratoga. He led from start to finish, and though he only won by a half-length, jockey Ramon Dominguez rode him confidently. The final time for a mile and one-sixteenth on the turf was 1:43.97.
State of Play’s sire, War Front, is currently the runner-up on the leading second-crop sires list. This year, he has sired grade one winners Summer Soiree and The Factor, as well as many other stakes horses. Though on the track War Front was a talented sprinter on the dirt, he has sired both talented sprinters and routers on every surface. The Factor is a graded stakes winner on dirt and synthetics and has won at a distance range from six furlongs to a mile and one-sixteenth. Summer Soiree has won on both the dirt and turf, with each of her wins coming at over a mile. Needless to say, War Front is a very versatile sire.
The dam of State of Play, Valeta, also produced Straight Gin, a flat-racer turned talented steeplechaser. After finishing fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) and a disappointing ninth in the Preakness Stakes (GI), Straight Gin was turned into a steeplechase horse.  In his fourth start over hurdles, Straight Gin got the win. He then went on to finish third in the International Gold Cup Timber Stakes.
In addition to being the dam of State of Play and Straight Gin, Valeta produced Knoxville. As a two-year-old, Knoxville finished second in the Christmas Futurity at Turf Paradise. He later went on to win the Talks Cheap Stakes at Turf Paradise as a three-year-old. Both of these races were at six and one-half furlongs on the dirt.
Clearly, Valeta is capable of producing speed and stamina. It seems she has passed this on to State of Play, as he won his first race at five and one-half furlongs near the lead and then won the mile and one-sixteenth With Anticipation on the lead. With War Front as his sire and Valeta as his dam, State of Play seems to have plenty of versatility.
The Graham Motion trainee definitely has a chance to become a top horse on grass or dirt. Depending on the decisions his connections make, they could defend their title in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf or the Kentucky Derby, or any other prestigious race for that matter. They seem to have a talented enough colt on their hands to do so.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Diary of Dexter: A Retired Racehorse

Past the Grandstand will begin a new series called Diary of Dexter about my retired racehorse, Wet Paint (AKA Dexter). Periodically, the blog will feature updates on the grandson of Storm Cat. You will really grow to love this wonderful horse.

Photo by Mary Cage

Wet Paint may not have accomplished big things on the racetrack, but this horse means a lot to me. The son of Chelsey Cat (by Storm Cat) and out of the Lost Code mare Little Betty Blue earned $32,851 in twenty-three starts. He raced from age two until age four, all in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Louisiana.
After being eased in his final start, Wet Paint was retired from racing. He ended up with an outrider at Fair Grounds Race Course, but after that outrider left for Florida, Wet Paint was left in Louisiana. Dallas and Donna Keen took the chestnut gelding under their care, training him patiently and getting him some much-needed dental care.
The outrider who had had him before leaving for Florida had claimed him uncontrollable, but the Keens realized that was most definitely not the case. Once his teeth were floated, Wet Paint caught on to lessons very quickly, responding willingly. He was most definitely not the “uncontrollable” horse the outrider had deemed him.
A few days after Wet Paint arrived at the Keens’ Remember Me Rescue, I adopted him and named him Dexter. I just couldn’t ignore him. He was extremely friendly, gorgeous, and seemed very smart.
In fact, I believe he is the smartest horse I have ever ridden. He is an extremely quick learner and is willing to please. You can teach him something one day and he will remember it the next and if you don’t work on that one thing for a month, he will still remember it when you try it again. I have had him for over six months now. He still has a lot to learn, but he has made a lot of progress and looks to have a bright future.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Little Colt That Could

Jackson Bend at Churchill Downs
The dark chestnut colt stepped onto the track alongside a pony horse. The pony horse was taller than him. He may be little in size, but he sure isn’t little in heart.
The gutsy racehorse is known as Jackson Bend. As a two-year-old, he became the seventh horse ever to sweep the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes. At the time he was owned by Jacks or Better Farm – also his breeders – and trained by Stanley Gold. Not long after winning the Florida Stallion In Reality Stakes, a majority interest of the colt was sold to Robert LaPenta and the colt was transferred to Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
Jackson Bend kicked off his three-year-old season with a good second in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. He wheeled off two more seconds, both to superstar Eskendereya, in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) and Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) respectively. After finishing twelfth in the prestigious Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), Jackson Bend rebounded with a very game third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (GI).
Jackson Bend lost seven more races. He had not won since he was a two-year-old. Finally, things came together. On July 22 of this year, Jackson Bend found an opening along the rail in the James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga and exploded, winning by two and one-half lengths
In the race before the Woodward Stakes (GI), the little colt followed up that win with a victory in one of the most prestigious one-turn races in the country: the Forego Stakes (GI).  Yet again, Jackson Bend found room in the stretch and exploded to win going away. The final winning margin was three and one-quarter lengths.
Zito has since said that Jackson Bend will likely race next in the Kelso Handicap (GII) at one mile over the Belmont Park surface on October 1. The ultimate goal for Jackson Bend is the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) as Zito believes Jackson Bend would prefer the one-turn mile over a six furlong race such as the Vosburgh Stakes (GI) or Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI).
I know Jackson Bend will run his heart out each time he steps foot on the racetrack, as that’s just the kind of horse he is. The other horses may tower over him, but don’t be fooled by his small size. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in heart and determination.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Girl Power...Again

Havre de Grace (red and white silks)
and Blind Luck (pink silks) flying home in the
2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
Blind Luck finished second while
Havre de Grace finished third.

Horse racing has had many female superstars in the past few years: Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Rags to Riches, and now Blind Luck and Havre de Grace to name a few. In July, we saw a stirring stretch battle between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, in which Blind Luck won by a nose. The chestnut daughter of Pollard’s Vision has finished ahead of Havre de Grace in four of their six meetings. However, that does not mean Havre de Grace is lacking in talent. After all, she just won the Woodward Stakes (GI) against males.
It was a very impressive victory for the daughter of Saint Liam. The bay four-year-old filly finished ahead of Flat Out by a length and one-quarter in a final time of 1:49.18. By winning this race, she became the second female in history to win the Woodward.
The first female to win the Woodward was Rachel Alexandra, who won by an official margin of a head over Macho Again, setting a stakes record of 1:48.29. Many have said that Havre de Grace’s victory in the Woodward was much easier than Rachel’s. She did win it more easily, but her final time was also nearly a full second slower, she had only raced four times before the Woodward versus Rachel’s seven, and she had not already raced against males twice prior to the Woodward like Rachel. Besides, Rachel had an extremely easy win against males prior to the Woodward, winning the Haskell Invitational (GI) by six lengths.
Many people believe that Havre de Grace faced tougher, but in fact, on paper, she really did not. In both of the fillies’ Woodward’s, each horse in the race was a graded stakes winner except for one. In both of those races, the horse that was not a graded stakes winner was at least graded stakes-placed. They both faced very tough fields and were wonderful in victory.
Not only are Havre de Grace and Rachel Alexandra now being compared, but Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are caught up in a rivalry. Though rivalry is great for the sport, some of the comparisons can get a little harsh. I believe that each filly should be appreciated for their accomplishments and let it all be spoken on the racetrack. Most of all, horse racing has been blessed with many incredible fillies and mares in the past few years. Let’s just enjoy watching these girls run.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pride and Power

Two chestnuts. One grade one race.
Monday’s Three Chimneys Hopeful (GI) has many brilliant colts, but the main two I will be cheering for are J C’s Pride and Power World. Both are very talented colts. One is known for his flashy speed while the other is known for his stamina.
J C’s Pride is the least experienced of the two, but he’s definitely not lacking in talent. He’s one of the most well-known two-year-olds on the East Coast. A chestnut son of Henny Hughes out of the Silver Deputy mare Hi Lili, he’s raced twice and has already broken a track record at Saratoga.
In his first start, J C’s Pride finished second to highly-touted Overdriven – who will miss the Hopeful after an inconclusive nuclear scintigraphy. J C’s Pride finished thirteen lengths clear of the third-place finisher in that five furlong maiden special weight at Belmont Park. He was then pointed to a maiden special weight at Saratoga Race Course.
Darley, where Henny Hughes -
the sire of J C's Pride - stands
at stud.
Photo by: Terri Cage
On July 27, the son of Henny Hughes broke his maiden in a stylish manner. The chestnut colt broke sharply from post three, shooting straight to the lead under Jose Lezcano.  He never looked back from there, finishing three and one-quarter lengths in front of the rest of the field. The final time was 56.54 for five furlongs, which broke the track record for that distance on the main track.
Not only has J C’s Pride shown much potential on the track, but his pedigree offers potential as well. His sire, Henny Hughes, has sired four stakes winners in two crops of racing age. The sire of Henny Hughes, Hennessy, sired Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and top sire Johannesburg, as well as many other talented horses.
Being by a tremendous sprinter in Henny Hughes, many people doubt J C’s Pride’s ability to go long. However, there is potential for him to stretch out on his dam’s side. J C’s Pride’s dam, Hi Lili, is by Silver Deputy, who of course sired this year’s Stephen Foster (GI) winner, Pool Play.  Hi Lili’s dam, Snit, won ten of twenty-seven starts, including four stakes races. Her one graded stakes win came in the Cotillion Handicap (GII) at a mile and one-sixteenth. Snit was victorious at the distance of a mile and one-eighth three times. She went on to produce three stakes horses, two of which won at the distance of a mile and one-eighth. One of those two was GIII winner Blind Date.
J C’s Pride may not be the next Belmont Stakes winner, but this talented colt definitely has potential to go long. And if he doesn’t go long, he certainly has a good chance to become an accomplished sprinter or miler.

Flower Alley,
one of Distorted Humor's
most successful sons.
Photo by: Terri Cage
One of my favorites in the Hopeful is Power World, a son of top sire Distorted Humor. The colt broke his maiden in a game victory at Churchill Downs before going on to finish second in the Bashford Manor Stakes (GIII) and the Sanford Stakes (GII). The distance of the Hopeful will be the longest distance he has covered yet, which should suit him just fine.
His sire Distorted Humor has sired many winners of a distance of mile and one-eighth or longer, including GI winners Commentator, Flower Alley, and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, as well as many others. Distorted Humor is currently the fourth-leading sire in North America by earnings. His chief earner this year is Alternation ($221,500), who won the mile and one-eighth Peter Pan Stakes (GII) at Belmont Park earlier this year.
The dam of Power World is Purrfectly, a daughter of the great pensioned sire Storm Cat. Purrfectly has already produced a top producer in Santa Catarina, a GII winner who finished second in three GI events, including the Kentucky Oaks. It is safe to say that Power World has an impressive pedigree that gives him plenty of potential to achieve success at longer distances.
Though both J C’s Pride and Power World are both chestnut colts with stellar pedigrees, they have completely different running styles. J C’s Pride is a front-runner who sets scorching fractions while Power World comes with a late run. The Hopeful should be an exciting race.
Of course, J C’s Pride and Power World aren’t the only talented horses entered in the Hopeful. Entries include impressive maiden winners Hunt Crossing, Vexor, Currency Swap, Clip the Coupons, Big Blue Nation, and Laurie's Rocket, as well as second-place finisher in the Best Pal Stakes (GII) at Del Mar, I'll Have Another, and fifth-place finisher in the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special Stakes (GII), Trinniberg. Regardless of who wins, the Hopeful could be a huge hint as to what horses will be our top three-year-olds in 2012. After all, past runners in the Hopeful include 2011 Travers Stakes (GI) winner Stay Thirsty, 2005 Champion Three-Year-Old Male Afleet Alex, 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall, multiple GI winner Chief’s Crown, Triple Crown winners Affirmed and Secretariat, and the great Man o’ War.

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