Saturday, March 31, 2012

Monterosso Flies in Dubai

Prior to the running of the Dubai World Cup (GI), I posted a blog that analyzed each contender entered in the richest race in the world. Among those horses was Monterosso, a horse I said had “a legitimate shot at Dubai World Cup glory.” He went on to triumph by about three lengths as jockey Mickael Barzalona stood in the irons in celebration.

Keeping up the trend of a horse that had performed well in the previous year’s World Cup going on to win the next year’s running, Monterosso redeemed last year’s third-place effort with a victory. He’d only started once since last year’s DWC performance, finishing fourth in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge (GIII) behind stablemate Capponi in his first start in nearly a year.

Monterosso turned the tables on Capponi when it counted most, finishing approximately three lengths ahead of his stablemate on Saturday in the World Cup. Similar to Barzalona’s celebration in the 2011 Epsom Derby (GI), the rider stood in the irons, triumphantly pumping his fist in the air with less than fifty meters left of the race. Monterosso’s victory gave Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum his sixth win in the Dubai World Cup.

“It is a very special night,” Sheikh Mohammed told reporters. “It is a big party for everybody and I’m very, very pleased.”

The Americans Game on Dude and Royal Delta did not fare well, finishing up the track. Royal Delta’s chances were eliminated around the far turn when she was forced to check. It was not America’s year to shine, but rather time for Godolphin to excel. Monterosso has plenty of back class – having had much success in Europe – and has now justified his talent. Winning the richest race in the world is certainly a difficult task, but Monterosso was able to do it in easy style. The 2012 edition of the Dubai World Cup was Monterosso’s time to shine in his connection’s homeland.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 Dubai World Cup Field Analysis

As Americans awake in the morning on March 31, Dubai will celebrate under the starlight as top-class Thoroughbreds take center stage, galloping across the expansive Meydan Racecourse beneath their ambitious jockeys as their legs carry them over the ground, their breaths come in sync with their strides, and their manes flow in the air. Thousands of racing fans will keep their eyes glued to the majestic athletes, cheering until their voices are hoarse as the equine competitors and their connections fight for some of the highest purses in the world. People from across the Earth will watch on television, most cheering for the athletes that hail from their home nation. Spectators at Meydan will shout before, during, and after the races, applauding newly-crowned victors.

At nearly ten o’ clock at night in the United Arab Emirates and almost two hours into the afternoon on the east coast of the United States, several of the top handicap horses in the world will file into the starting gate for the richest race in the world: the Dubai World Cup (GI). For a brief moment in time, the superb Thoroughbreds will stand beneath their jockeys, their eyes gazing upon the large track at Meydan, their hoofs sitting on the Tapeta racetrack surface, and their muscles quivering in anticipation. Within seconds, the gates will burst open and the jockeys and horses will emerge from the gate to fight for Dubai World Cup glory, to battle for the ten million dollar purse, and to clash for the acclamation of racing fans across the globe.

Listed below are each of the horses entered in the Dubai World Cup, along with a brief description of their recent racing endeavors. The horses are recorded in post position order, with the country they are representing in parentheses next to their name.

#1. Master of Hounds (South Africa): Known in the United States for his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (GI), Master of Hounds is coming off a victory in the Jebel Hatta (GI) at Meydan, in which he led from start to finish over the turf. The race was his fourth start of 2012 and his first victory of the year, as he ran respectably in three graded stakes at Meydan earlier in the year, garnering one second and two thirds. Master of Hounds is very familiar with Meydan and has never finished out of the money there, though not all of his starts there have come over the Tapeta surface. Nonetheless, his Meydan experience gives him an indisputable advantage over several horses in the field.

#2. Eishin Flash (Japan): A talented three-year-old in Japan, Eishin Flash was winless in six starts in his home country last year. He did, however, turn in good performances in several races, including a second-place finish in the Arima Kinen Grand Prix (GI) behind the Triple Crown-winning Orfevre. He definitely has back class, as he captured the 2010 Japanese Derby (GI). However, he will have to turn a new page in order to be successful in the Dubai World Cup.

#3. Zazou (Germany): He only won two starts last year, but those two were the Preis der Sparkassen Finanzgruppe-Spreti Rennen (GIII) and the GBI Racing Premio Roma (GI). In his final start of the year, he finished third in the Hong Kong Cup (GI) behind the brilliant California Money and the multiple group stakes-winning Irian. Zazou’s final prep race for the Dubai World Cup came in the Prix Meydan Hotel, in which he closed from the rear to defeat the highly-regarded Cirrus de Aigles by two lengths over Chantilly’s new synthetic track. Zazou is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Dubai World Cup.

So You Think
Photo: Terri Cage
#4. So You Think (Ireland): Aidan O’Brien’s charge is many people’s top choice for this year’s edition of the Dubai World Cup and rightfully so. A New Zealand-bred, So You Think began his career at tracks in Australia, triumphing in several prestigious races, including two victories in the esteemed Cox Plate (GI). Following twelve consecutive starts in Australia, the son of High Chaparral began racing more often outside of the country, winning several group stakes, including the Tattersalls Gold Cup (GI), the Coral Eclipse (GI), and the Irish Champion Stakes (GI). So You Think also finished fourth in the renowned Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI). He made his penultimate 2011 start in the Champion Stakes (GI) at Ascot, finishing second behind the talented Cirrus de Aigles. He made his U.S. debut in the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), finishing sixth in the race despite many changes thrown his way. It was a disappointing end to an impressive season, but So You Think is clearly a magnificent horse. He will need to be at his best, but if he is, it will be very difficult for the others to stop him.

#5. Smart Falcon (Japan): This seven-year-old has become a sensation in Japan, winning nine straight since he triumphed in the JBC Classic (GI) in November of 2010. He is proven over the 2000-meter distance of the Dubai World Cup, but has had most of his success on dirt. Nonetheless, Smart Falcon is clearly a brilliant horse, as it takes a horse with an immense amount of talent to keep a running streak like his going. Last year, the Dubai World Cup brought much joy to Japan after tragedy, as two Japanese horses crossed the wire ahead of the rest of the field. The runner-up, Transcend, had had achieved the most on dirt, but ran incredibly to finish a close second. Smart Falcon has a very good chance to run a similar race.

#6. Planteur (France): He has not raced since September of last year, which gives him a disadvantage against the others. Against such brilliant horses, a nearly six-month layoff is certainly not beneficial. Usually, it is helpful to get at least one race in before a horse faces top competition after such a long time off. It is also discouraging that Planteur appeared to be tailing of near the end of 2011, finishing out of the money in his final three starts of last year. He did begin the year well, winning a group two and the Prix Ganay (GI) – in which he defeated the talented horses Sarafina and Cirrus de Aigles, but things only went downhill from there. What is interesting about Plantuer, however, is that he is making his initial start under the care of conditioner Marco Botti and that prosperous jockey Ryan Moore will be aboard. If he is on the top of his game, he could very well be successful in this race. However, his chances of being at his best are hindered by his long layoff.

Royal Delta
Photo: Terri Cage
#7. Royal Delta (United States): The most spectacular three-year-old filly in America last year, Royal Delta acquired three graded stakes victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI). In her 2012 debut, the daughter of Empire Maker finished a distant second behind the Gulfstream monster Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes (GIII). Despite the understated result, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott continued to point the champion filly toward the Dubai World Cup. Though it is worrisome that Royal Delta’s first start of the year was subdued, the fact that Mott is still confident in sending her to Dubai is certainly a good sign. However, Royal Delta will likely need to run the best race of her life to win the Dubai World Cup.

#8. Monterosso (United Arab Emirates): Numerous times, a horse that performed well in the previous year’s Dubai World Cup goes on to win that year’s running. For example, Gloria de Campeao won the 2010 DWC after finishing second in the 2009 running and Well Armed, who dominantly won the 2009 DWC by fourteen lengths, finished third behind Curlin in the 2008 edition. Last year, Monterosso finished third in the DWC. The son of Dubawi is entering this year’s rendition off a fourth-place finish in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, which was his first start since the 2011 DWC. The Darley homebred has started three times over the Meydan Tapeta surface, finishing first, third, and fourth. The horse also had a successful career in England and Ireland prior to relocating to Meydan, winning the King Edward VII Stakes (GII) at Royal Ascot, as well as three handicaps. Monterosso also finished fourth behind champion Cape Blanco in the 2010 Irish Derby (GI). Monterosso has a legitimate shot at Dubai World Cup glory.

#9. Silver Pond (United Arab Emirates): This French-bred horse has not won since June of last year, but has finished in the money in four of his five starts since that victory, which came in the Grand Prix de Chantilly (GII). His string of losses were certainly very respectable: a third in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud (GI) behind the highly-regarded horses Sarafina and Cirrus de Aigles, a runner-up performance behind Cirrus de Aigles in the Grand Prix de Deauville (GII), an eighth in a sixteen-horse field in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI), a good third in the Hong Kong Vase (GI) behind the Melbourne Cup (GI) winner Dunaden and the group stakes-winning Thumbs Up, and a second behind Capponi in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge this year. He is certainly a world traveler that does not dodge the world’s top competition. He could very well be much more prepared than many others to face the world’s best horses.

#10. Transcend (Japan): As part of the emotional edition of the Dubai World Cup last year, Transcend was just narrowly defeated by fellow Japanese horse Victoire Pisa. Since then, Transcend has held up to form for the most part. He did not start after the DWC until October, capturing the Mile Championship Nambu Hai before finishing second to Smart Falcon in the JBC Classic. He then repeated in the prestigious Japan Cup Dirt (GI), carrying Shinji Fujita to his fifth win aboard the horse. However, his 2012 debut was not up to par. He finished seventh in the February Stakes (GI), the race he had won a year earlier before he ran second in the DWC. Transcend will need to return to his normal self in the Dubai World Cup.

#11. Capponi (United Arab Emirates): Owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum, Capponi began his career in England before changing his base to Dubai last year. He only started once in 2011, finishing seventh in a handicap. Following two losses at the beginning of 2012, the son of Medicean reeled off two victories at Meydan, one in a handicap and one in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (GI). In the latter, the five-year-old horse pressed the pace before striking to the lead on the final turn en route to victory in the local prep for the Dubai World Cup. He completed the 2000-meter (approximately 10 furlongs) in 2:03.05, nearly three seconds faster than last year’s World Cup. However, the 2011 World Cup was run over a very slow track. Still, Capponi’s time was .78 seconds faster than the 2010 World Cup. He may not be extremely competitive against the top international horses shipping to Meydan, but he certainly has an advantage against those who have not run at the track, especially since he has already effortlessly won over the same conditions as the Dubai World Cup.

#12. Prince Bishop (United Arab Emirates): It took Prince Bishop a while to get his career rolling, but once he did, he wheeled off four consecutive victories, including two group stakes wins at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. Four of Prince Bishop’s five outings at Meydan have resulted in defeat, including a disappointing tenth-place finish in last year’s World Cup. Prince Bishop has only won a 2000-meter handicap at Meydan and when he has faced top competition at the Dubai track, he has not fared well. His best finish against group stakes company at Meydan came in his most recent race, a third in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge. In his three starts of 2012, Prince Bishop has had his best showings at Meydan: a victory, a fifth, and the aforementioned third. Prince Bishop seems to have resurfaced, and though he will need to step it up to obtain a Dubai World Cup victory, he seems to have a good chance to do so.

#13. Mendip (United Arab Emirates): Mendip has turned in few lackluster performances in his ten-race career. Unfortunately, his most uninspiring finish came last out in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (GI), in which he finished eleventh behind Capponi. Prior to that dull performance, Mendip had triumphed in the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge after crossing the wire fourth in the first division. Before 2012, Mendip had only lost twice and had made all but one start at Meydan. This is a horse that is very familiar with the Meydan course, but he will need to be on the top of his game to win the World Cup.

Game on Dude
Photo by Mary Cage
#14. Game on Dude (United States): Sure to have many American fans cheering for him, this hard-knocking gelding is coming off a big victory in the San Antonio Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita, winning the mile and one-eighth race by 5 ¼ lengths under regular rider Chantal Sutherland, who will become the first female jockey to contest in the Dubai World Cup. The pair teamed up to capture two grade ones last year, including the ten-furlong Santa Anita Handicap (GI). They also finished a tremendous second in the prestigious mile and one-quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to Drosselmeyer, finishing just 1 ½ lengths behind the horse, who closed on the far outside, which Game on Dude likely could not see. Though the five-year-old gelding is winless over synthetics, he finished fourth in a field of nine in the Pacific Classic Stakes (GI) over Del Mar’s synthetic surface and a very close second in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (GI) over Hollywood Park’s cushion track. Game on Dude has been working spectacularly for trainer Bob Baffert in California, giving his connections much confidence going into the richest race in the world. Perhaps he is not the most talented horse in this field, but he is certainly one of the hardest-trying.

The field for the 2012 Dubai World Cup is extremely deep, sure to live up to its reputation as a clash of titans from around the world. It is difficult to pick who the likely winner of the race is due to its competitiveness, though So You Think looms as the most intimidating presence. The local horses Capponi, Master of Hounds, Monterosso, Prince Bishop, and Silver Pond seem to have very legitimate chances, as do the shippers Game on Dude, Smart Falcon, So You Think, Transcend, and Zazou. This year’s rendition of the Dubai World Cup certainly appears tremendously competitive and could indeed be one of the best runnings to date.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Derby Top Ten #9

Countdown to Derby Day: 38 Days

Here is my list of Kentucky Derby contenders as of March 27.

1. Union Rags: He has every reason to be in the top position, as he is clearly absolutely brilliant. He will need a spectacular performance in next weekend’s Florida Derby (GI), but if he’s anything like the Union Rags we’ve seen, he will have the perfect final prep for the Kentucky Derby. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

2. Creative Cause: He clearly has plenty of stamina and raw talent. The way he was just beginning to accelerate at the end of the San Felipe Stakes (GII) was incredibly impressive, denoting that this colt is ready for more ground. He could not quite keep up with Union Rags and Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), but he did gallop out ahead of them. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

3. El Padrino: He is a tough, talented horse, but he will be on the top of his game in the Florida Derby against the likes of Union Rags. He is a versatile colt with plenty of potential, but will need to run well this weekend. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

4. Gemologist: He is bred for ten furlongs, has obvious talent, and is improving. He will need to acquire more graded stakes earnings in order to make it the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, but if he does, it will be his third time to race over the Churchill Downs surface, which is more than any other Kentucky Derby hopeful. This gives him a huge advantage. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

5. I’ll Have Another: It is discouraging that his connections are waiting so long for his final prep, as it would be benefical for him to get more than two preps into him. However, his win in the Robert B. Lewis (GIII) was very impressive, as he seemed to just be winning for fun. He will face a tough field in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 7 and will need to run a tremendous race, but he certainly seems to have the talent to do so.

6. Bodemeister: He is also improving, which is extremely important. His race in the San Felipe was importantly, though he very well may have been growing fatigued near the end of the race. However, as mentioned, he is improving. His work on Friday was very impressive, as he had to maneuver nine other horses but still effortlessly outworked them all without any asking from Martin Garcia. He should not be underestimated.

7. Mark Valeski: Plain and simple, he will have to win or at least run a very remarkable race in the Louisiana Derby (GII) this weekend. He is clearly talented and full of heart, but he will need to continue to justify his position on this list. He could very well provide Rosie Napravnik with her second mount in the Kentucky Derby.

8. Dullahan: Obviously bred for the Derby, Dullahan has also proven to be talented. His final prep in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) on April 14 will need to be an impressive effort, but he has already run well over the Keeneland surface, winning the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) there.

9. Hansen: He is clearly a brilliant horse that loves to run and he has improved by learning 
to rate, but it is still uncertain whether he will get the Derby distance. His final prep, which will be in the Blue Grass, will be against a deep field, but he is already proven over the Polytrack. Also, Hansen has proved that racing over a Polytrack surface prior to making a start at Churchill Downs is a successful strategy for him. He won over Turfway’s Polytrack before triumphing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill last year.

10. Went the Day Well: It was practically déjà vu when this colt won the Spiral Stakes (GIII) at Turfway on Saturday for Team Valor and Graham Motion. A year prior, Animal Kingdom had won the race for the same connections. Ironically, they both even broke from post four. We all know how the Spiral set up Animal Kingdom for the Kentucky Derby: he went on to win the Run for the Roses. At this stage, Went the Day Well is already a step ahead of Animal Kingdom: he has already been victorious over dirt. Also unlike last year’s Derby winner, Went the Day Well is likely to make one more prep before the Kentucky Derby. Barry Irwin is even more confident in him than he was in Animal Kingdom and rightfully so. Went the Day Well is obviously a very talented colt. He also has encouraging bloodlines. By Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and out of a Tiznow mare, Went the Day Well seems to have plenty of stamina in his pedigree.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha: His connections finally decided on his final prep for the Derby: the Wood Memorial. This will be his stiffest competition of the year and his chance to prove himself. He must run well against the likes of Gemologists and the others likely for the Wood in order to be a top contender.

Cigar Street: Featured in Late Blooming Three-Year-Olds, Cigar Street is slated to make his graded stakes debut this weekend in the Louisiana Derby. It will be the toughest race of his life and he will certainly need to run well to acquire sufficient graded stakes earnings. He clearly has the pedigree to get there and appears to have the talent as well. 

Daddy Nose Best: A decent turf horse as a two-year-old, Daddy Nose Best began his sophomore campaign on the synthetic in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII), in which he outdueled Lucky Chappy for a nose victory. His second start as a three-year-old came in the Sunland Derby (GIII), which was his third try over dirt. Though it seemed as if Isn’t He Clever would pull of the win, Daddy Nose Best dug in for the three-quarters of a length victory, drawing away at the wire. This son of Scat Daddy clearly wants more ground and has plenty of talent. However, he will need to prove that he can compete against the very best contenders. Nonetheless, Daddy Nose Best possesses unquestionable talent.

Heavy Breathing: Despite an uninspiring third-place finish in the Spiral, I felt he needed to at least be mentioned. He is beautifully bred, being a direct descendant of La Troienne and a full brother to Frost Giant. The Spiral was the toughest field he’s faced yet and he has already been a mile and one-eighth twice, more times than any of these other horses. Perhaps, he can learn more and get one more start in before the Derby. However, if that is the case, Heavy Breathing will need to win or perform extremely well in that start.

Howe Great: Proven on both dirt and turf, Howe Great has proved to be brilliant. However, his pedigree only gives small hints at stamina. I believe his connections have a better shot with Went the Day Well.

Optimizer: His runner-up finish in the Rebel Stakes (GII) was his most impressive start in quite some time, but the fast fractions set him up for his performance. He has not fared well against the best in the past, but perhaps he has improved. Or, perhaps, the Rebel was a fluke. Only time will tell.

Paynter: He is only on this list for his talent, but I hope that his connections skip the Derby for him. He has the pedigree for it, but not the experience. I would not be surprised if he made a splash in the Illinois Derby (GII) on April 7, but with only a maiden sprint currently under his belt, Paynter is certainly not ready for the grueling Kentucky Derby.

Prospective: His good performances this year may just be due to an affinity towards the Tampa Bay Downs’ surface. He was a successful juvenile in Canada, but did not defeat a single horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He will need to prove himself.

Street Life: He has been incredibly impressive and certainly has a Derby pedigree, but Street Life has no graded stakes earnings. He will quickly need to acquire an abundant amount of them to be allowed in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but if he does not, look for him in later races.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Oaks Contender: Princess Arabella

The sun was setting on the year of 2011 as a chestnut filly paraded before the grandstand at Santa Anita Park in Peachtree Stable’s silks. In minutes, a maiden special weight for juvenile fillies, who the next day would be declared three-year-olds, would be run. It was their last chance to get a victory as a two-year-old. The chestnut filly carrying the purple colors of Peachtree was one of only two first-time starters in the field, but was certainly the most highly-regarded filly entered, as she went off at even-money.

After breaking slowly, Princess Arabella gained on the leaders with every stride, always growing closer to the lead. Under Martin Garcia, the Bob Baffert trainee swung wide on the far turn, floating effortlessly to a victory that resulted in a final winning margin of 3 ½ lengths. By the end of the six-furlong race, many people were talking about Princess Arabella. Lofty hopes and dreams were already pinned to her.

With the champion two-year-old filly of 2011, My Miss Aurelia, out of the picture with sore shins and arguably the best California juvenile filly, Weemissfrankie, also out with an injury, many Kentucky Oaks (GI) dreams found their way to Princess Arabella. She was just a maiden winner, but when she loaded into the starting gate on February 12, 2012 in an allowance race at Santa Anita, those dreams had a chance to expand.

Princess Arabella did not disappoint. The distance of her second start was just one furlong longer than her debut, so the chestnut filly would still only be racing around one turn. In a field of five, Princess Arabella found herself in third for most of the race before striking to the lead under light urging to gallop to another 3 ½-length victory.

Talk of the Kentucky Oaks regarding Princess Arabella heated up. Baffert pointed the filly to the Sunland Park Oaks, the same race that Plum Pretty won by 25 lengths in 2011 before triumphing in the Kentucky Oaks. Facing stakes company for the first time, Princess Arabella used a new tactic, breaking like a rocket from the starting gate to find the lead in her first try around two turns. She did not look back from there, going on to effortlessly win the mile and one-sixteenth race by 8 lengths.

With her remarkably easy win, Princess Arabella likely stamped herself as the current favorite for the Kentucky Oaks. There are still just less forty days until the prestigious race for sophomore fillies, but this filly, who I have followed since nearly the beginning of her career, has clearly declared herself to be one of the most talented three-year-old fillies in the nation. Princess Arabella has not yet faced very tough horses, but in winning the Sunland Park Oaks, she defeated the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Glinda the Good, the stakes-winning horses Take Me Away Today and Regal Betty, and the stakes-placed Ize in Trouble. By easily defeating Glinda the Good, she effortlessly conquered a filly who faced one of the top-rated sophomore fillies in the nation, On Fire Baby.

Her pedigree suggests that she will also have no trouble getting the nine-furlong distance of the Oaks. She is by Any Given Saturday, the winner of the 2007 Haskell Invitational (GI, 9F), the Brooklyn Handicap (GII, 9F), and the Dwyer Stakes (GII, 8.5F). Princess Arabella is a member of his first crop, which includes horses that have already been proven at races at one mile or longer. For instance, his daughter, Sunday’s Child, is a black-type winner at one mile on the grass, and his son, Saturday Launch, is an allowance optional claiming winner over one mile on the turf at Gulfstream. Any Given Saturday is by Distorted Humor, who can obviously produce distances horses. He is, of course, the sire of the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning Drosselmeyer, the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship Stakes (GI, 10F)- and San Luis Rey (GII, 12F)-winning Fourty Niners Son, and the Kentucky Derby (GI, 10F)- and Preakness Stakes (GI, 9.5F)-winning Funny Cide.

Princess Arabella’s dam, Tortuga Lady, is by the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes-winning Thunder Gulch and out of a Conquistador Cielo (also a Belmont winner) mare. In addition to producing Princess Arabella, Tortuga Lady has produced the filly’s half-sister, Dyna’s Lassie, a stakes winner and multiple stakes-placed mare. Tortuga Lady is full sister to the late Invisible Ink, third-place finisher in the 2001 Florida Derby (GI) and runner-up in that year’s Kentucky Derby.

Princess Arabella descends from female family two, the same family that has produced the great champions Busted, Cigar, Go for Wand, Northern Dancer, Phar Lap, Secretariat, and With Approval. Recent family two stars include Dreaming of Anna, Giacomo, Gio Ponti, Kitten’s Joy, Point Given, and Shackleford.

This filly could certainly be on an ascent to stardom. With her sheer talent and promising pedigree, Princess Arabella packs undeniable potential to not only become a graded stakes winner or even the Kentucky Oaks winner, but a fan favorite. She has not yet been tested and is already beginning to capture the hearts of racing fans. This excitement is only aided by her flawless race record. Princess Arabella could very well go on to do great things and produce a huge fan base along the way.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Gemologist

Following a spectacular two-year-old campaign, Super Saver started two times before the Kentucky Derby (GI), after which he was presented with the most coveted garland of red roses on the planet. The colt had provided trainer Todd Pletcher and owner WinStar Farm with their first Kentucky Derby victories. Two years later, a colt with the same connections and similar race history looks to allow them to bring home their second Derby trophy.

Gemologist’s race record, unlike Super Saver’s, is currently flawless. The bay colt debuted at Turfway Park on September 24 of his two-year-old year, setting a quick pace alongside another colt before drawing off to win the six-furlong maiden special weight over the synthetic track by 5 lengths. He made his second start in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming at the esteemed Churchill Downs, the same track at which the Kentucky Derby is held. Though he set the pace yet again, he rated, completing the fractions in 24.65 (first quarter), 49.44 (first half), and 1:13.95 (first three-quarters). He completed the mile and one-sixteenth in an unspectacular 1:45.24, winning by two lengths.

His initial pair of races convinced his connections to enter him in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) under the Twin Spires, the same race that Super Saver won dominantly in stakes record time at the conclusion of his juvenile year. Gemologist, though 1.63 seconds slower than Super Saver two years earlier, outran the highly-touted Ever So Lucky, Timely Tally, and the runner-up in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (GII), Optimizer, to score by 1 ¾ lengths, completing the final sixteenth of a mile in 6.72 seconds.

Gemologist was given the winter off and did not return to the work tab until the beginning of February. Following three fairly lackluster works as far as time is concerned, the Todd Pletcher trainee fired two bullets before working a half-mile in 49.77 in preparation for his 2012 debut.

Though it was expected that the colt would make his first start as a three-year-old in the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park on March 17, WinStar Farm “tweeted” on March 11, “Gemologist will stay in Florida. No plane for a return trip, so he would have to van back. Plus it's a five horse field instead of 14.” 

The colt made his sophomore debut in a one-mile open allowance at Gulfstream Park, facing the grade one-winning Currency Swap. The race was effortless for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes victor. Gemologist set a steady pace before accelerating beautifully at the top of the stretch, drawing off with no asking from Javier Castellano to triumph by seven lengths. The colt improved his speed drastically from his two-year-old races, completing the one-mile race in 1:35.95 though the track was only labeled ‘good.’ The time for the one-mile contest was 2.57 seconds faster than the one-mile split in his allowance optional claiming win as a juvenile and 1.79 seconds quicker than the one-mile split in his Kentucky Jockey Club victory.  Despite no urging, Gemologist completed the final quarter of a mile in 24.69 seconds.

Gemologist is now undefeated in four career starts. Though it may discourage some that he has set the pace in every one of his races, the colt has proved that he can set a steady pace that will not cause him to become fatigued.

Tiznow, the sire of Gemologist
Photo: Terri Cage
He clearly has the pedigree that suggests Triple Crown distances will not be an issue, as he is by the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning Tiznow, who has thrown several successful distance horses, such as the Travers Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Colonel John, the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Da’ Tara, the American Derby (GII, 9.5F)-winning Tizdejavu, and the Dubai World Cup (GI, 10F)-winning Well Armed.

Gemologist’s dam, Crystal Shard, also hints that the colt has plenty of stamina, as she is by Mr. Prospector, who sired the sires of the Derby winners Smarty Jones and Thunder Gulch, as well as the sires of the Belmont winners Commendable, Editor’s Note, and Jazil. Mr. Prospector was also the broodmare sire of such horses as Horse of the Year Mineshaft, who won two ten-furlong races, and Rock Hard Ten, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 10F).

Crystal Shard, a daughter of the graded stakes winner at nine furlongs, Sulemeif, is a full sister to the multiple graded stakes-winning Withallprobability, whose longest winning distance was a mile and one-sixteenth. Withallprobability was also the runner-up in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (GI, 9F). In addition to being the dam of Gemologist, Crystal Shard has produced the stakes-placed Perfect Cut and the stakes-winning Clear Destiny.

The cross of Tiznow and a Mr. Prospector has already proven successful at producing a distance horse. Tizaqueena, a graded stakes winner at nine furlongs, also finished second in a mile and three-sixteenths graded stakes on the grass.

It is also encouraging that Gemologist descends from female family ten, which has produced the grade one-winning distance horses Charismatic (winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes), Drosselmeyer (winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Belmont Stakes), and Reference Point (winner of the Epsom Derby).

Not only has Gemologist matured in his speed, but his conformation has matured as well. The colt has clearly gained more muscle tone, showing more delineation in his shoulder, forearms, gaskins, and hip. Though he was certainly a talented juvenile, it seems as if he was not one of many precocious two-year-olds that do not carry their brilliance into their sophomore career. In fact, he seems to have improved drastically and looks to be an even better three-year-old than he was a juvenile.

Of course, though he has over $100,000 in graded stakes earnings, he will need to acquire more in order to be one of the twenty horses in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. Gemologist is likely to make his final prep in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) on April 7, in which he could face the Champion Two-Year-Old Male of 2011 in Hansen.

Gemologist is certainly bred for the Kentucky Derby and he has a huge advantage over many top contenders for the 138th running of the prestigious race: he has already started twice over the Churchill Downs surface. This could be extremely beneficial, as could the colt’s impressive and stamina-based bloodlines and race record. Gemologist is undoubtedly a top contender for the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Derby Top Ten #8

Countdown to Derby Day: 48 Days

This is my top ten list of Kentucky Derby contenders as of March 18.

1. Union Rags: This colt is full of pure talent and clearly loves to run. He was extremely professional in his Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) victory, effortlessly galloping to victory. He could face a deep field in the Florida Derby (GI) on March 31, but if he’s as talented as he seems to be, we could see something spectacular from him yet again. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

2. Creative Cause: He is certainly bred to run all day and was brilliant in his triumph in the San Felipe Stakes (GII), despite running greenly in the stretch, which could be a result of being struck by the whip. The way he accelerated just as he hit the wire was incredibly impressive, especially considering how far ahead of the others he galloped out. It also must be noted that he galloped out in front of every horse after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Once Creative Cause has his mind on running, it is hard to defeat him. He is expected to run next in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 7. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

3. El Padrino: He is a tough, gritty colt with bloodlines and conformation that should allow him to handle long distances. He has run extremely well both over fast and sloppy tracks and has displayed professionalism in each of his starts. He could start next in the Florida Derby (GI) on March 31 or the Louisiana Derby (GII) on April 1. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

4. Gemologist: He made the top ten of the first two editions of this list, but became an honorable mention the longer his sophomore debut was put off. He needed to get a race in which he displayed that he had matured and grown faster over the winter. He ran exactly that race on Friday at Gulfstream, defeating the grade one-winning Currency Swap in a one-mile open allowance that became practically his only choice when travel complications kept him from shipping to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes (GII). He was hardly asked at all by Javier Castellano en route to a 7-length victory. In fact, he was in hand for the majority of the homestretch. He completed the final quarter of a mile in 24.69 seconds despite only slight urging. He completed the eight-furlong distance in 1:35.95, a much faster one-mile clocking than his one-mile splits in his allowance optional claiming (2.57 seconds quicker) and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) (1.79 seconds quicker) victories as a juvenile. It was the perfect sophomore debut. He may have led the entire way in the allowance on Friday, but he has proven in the past that he can rate off the pace. By Tiznow and out of a Mr. Prospector mare, Gemologist surely should be able to handle the Triple Crown distances. In addition, he already has two very important wins over the Churchill Downs surface. His final prep is undecided, but is likely to come in April.

5. I’ll Have Another: Though I do not particularly care for his connection’s decision to not give him a race between his Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) win and the Santa Anita Derby (GI), I believe this colt is underrated. He has good form, a pedigree that hints at a future in route races, and he clearly enjoys to race. He will need to turn in a terrific performance in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, but I believe he is capable of doing so.

6. Bodemeister: He did appear to be slightly fatigued after his game effort in the San Felipe, but he ran extremely well in that race and it was his first try around two turns. He will grow more robust under the care of Bob Baffert, especially considering his connections think highly of him after his dazzling maiden victory and tremendous second-place effort in the San Felipe. He may make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

7. Mark Valeski: He was extremely tough in his runner-up finish behind El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes (GII), giving the colt all he had before falling a nose short. His pedigree suggests that he will be able to get the Derby distance of ten furlongs, as he is by a Derby runner-up and has the same broodmare sire, Fortunate Prospect (RIP), as this year’s Santa Anita Handicap (GI) winner, Ron the Greek. He will likely race next in the Louisiana Derby (GII) on April 1.

8. Dullahan: If any horse has the pedigree to be able to be competitive at the Derby distance, it’s Dullahan, as he is a half-brother to the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird. He has proven that he is talented, as he won the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland as a two-year-old before closing well to finish fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause. His 2012 debut in the Palm Beach Stakes (GIII) on March 11 was very respectable, as he closed to finish second after not having run in four months. It is anticipated that Dullahan will make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over the same racetrack at which he ran his best race.

9. Hansen: We all know he is brilliant, but there is plenty of room for doubt when it comes to the distance question. He can get a mile and one-sixteenth and certainly has the potential to get nine furlongs, but I am unconvinced that he can be victorious at ten furlongs. He has improved, proving that he can rate, but that does not confirm that he will be triumphant at long distances. He is expected to make his final start before the Kentucky Derby in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) on April 7.

10. Secret Circle: Despite the fact that he has a pedigree full of stamina, it seems as if Secret Circle has distance limitations. However, his victories in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) and the Rebel Stakes (GII) were certainly steps in the right direction. His Rebel win on Saturday was very impressive, as, instead of running on or just off a quick pace, he found a position in fourth. Yet another factor of his triumph in the Rebel that was remarkable was that the son of Eddington dug in to get past Scatman in late stretch though it has been revealed that the colt is not the best about going past horses in the stretch.  Optimizer was gaining ground on him, but Secret Circle found enough to hold him off. His final time for the mile and one-sixteenth race was 1.87 seconds (approximately 9 ½ lengths) slower than Union Rags’ time in the Fountain of Youth and .71 seconds (about 3 ½ lengths) slower than Hansen’s time in the Gotham. However, though Secret Circle’s final sixteenth of a mile was .48 seconds slower than Union Rags’, it was only .04 seconds slower than Hansen’s. Secret Circle is a horse that is bred for long distances but will likely be more successful at shorter ones. He may make his next start in the nine-furlong Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 14, which should tell us more about him. For more on why he has the potential to become a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha: He is definitely talented and well-bred, but has not been beating up on much. His connections have been quite indecisive on his final start before the Kentucky Derby, which could come in the Florida Derby on March 31, the Louisiana Derby on April 1, the Louisiana Derby on April 1 or the Arkansas Derby on April 14. They do not want to run him against horses they view as extremely tough, such as Union Rags and Hansen, but the colt needs to prove himself and needs to get a race in.

Castaway: He easily won the first division of the Southwest Stakes (GIII), but it was slower than Secret Circle’s victory in the second and final division. He was also recently outworked by Secret Circle, which may show that he is simply not fast enough. However, his pedigree (sired by Street Sense and out of a Storm Cat mare) shows that he very well may be much more appreciative of longer distances.

Heavy Breathing: Heavy Breathing is royally bred, being by Giant’s Causeway and out of a direct descendant of La Troienne that has already produced a grade one winner. He has been impressive in his two starts, winning them both handily. However, he will need to prove that his royal bloodlines and remarkable performances are legitimate. He will get his chance to do so in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) on March 24, which Animal Kingdom used as a launch pad prior to his Run for the Roses victory.

Howe Great: He has been brilliant this year and is proven on dirt, but though the sire of his sire is the Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning Sunday Silence, his pedigree does not offer much encouragement as far as Triple Crown distances are concerned. However, he has the right connections to get him there: Graham Motion and Team Valor.

Optimizer: After a string of very disappointing finishes, which included an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a ninth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes (GII), Optimizer ran an impressive second in the Rebel, closing quickly to finish second behind Secret Circle. The fractions may have set him up for this, but the D. Wayne Lukas trainee may have turned a new page.

Paynter: He is certainly talented, but I no longer feel as if he has a position in the top ten. Yes, he is making his next start in the Illinois Derby (GII), but he is going from five and one-half furlongs to nine furlongs, which is a huge jump. In addition, contending in the Kentucky Derby off of just two starts is not an advantage by any means. Though I would love to see him in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, I believe it would be rushing things. Perhaps his connections should await the Preakness Stakes (GI), or at least make the goal the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). After all, he is by Awesome Again and out of a full sister to Tiznow.

Prospective: He was a good juvenile in Canada, but finished last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile against many of these horses. He has flourished at Tampa Bay Downs this year, winning two of three starts, including the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).  Yet I am not extremely confident in how he would compete against many of the top Derby contenders.

Street Life: He has appeared on the honorable mentions list here several times (as well as in my article, Late Blooming Three-Year-Olds), as he impressed me in his breathtaking maiden victory, in which he closed in spectacular fashion to win. He won the Broad Brush Stakes on Saturday in similar fashion, but the race was not graded. By the Derby-winning Street Sense and out of a mare that is by the 1996 Derby winner, Grindstone, he is undoubtedly bred for the Derby. However, he would have to acquire a large amount of graded stakes earnings in his next start, which would need to come in time for the Derby. Perhaps he will not make it to Kentucky Derby, but look for him later on down the road.

Read more about many of the honorable mentions in my article, Late Blooming Three-Year-Olds.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Zenyatta and Life is Sweet: Similar in Many Ways

The first Friday and Saturday in November of 2009 were surely two days that will never be erased from the memory of trainer John Shirreffs. By the culmination of those two days, Shirreffs had rewritten the history books of horse racing, leaving a mark on not just the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but the world of horse racing, that will forever be remembered.

Under beautiful blue skies, a four-year-old filly named Life is Sweet closed from behind to take the final Breeders’ Cup race on the Friday card, the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). The next day, a five-year-old mare by the name of Zenyatta ran similarly, unleashing a breathtaking rally in late stretch to triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), becoming the first female racehorse to do so. Both horses had emerged from the same barn.

John Shirreffs, trainer of Life is Sweet
and Zenyatta
Photo: Terri Cage
John Shirreffs had become the first ever conditioner to train both the victor of the Ladies’ Classic (formerly called the Distaff) and the Classic in the same year. The feat would be repeated in 2011 by Bill Mott at Churchill Downs, but the accomplishment has only occurred twice since the Breeders’ Cup was first contested in 1984 at Hollywood Park.

Racing fans rejoiced in Shirreffs’ achievement at the 2009 Breeders’ Cup. Zenyatta had caused the grandstand of the Great Race Place to shake harder than it had in about seventy years, when Seabiscuit had ruled the Arcadia, California track. Some even said the thousands of fans who witnessed the great mare prevail in the Classic made the grandstand erupt in the loudest sound ever made by spectators at a race, a sound even louder than the cheers that were released for Seabiscuit.

Though overshadowed by Zenyatta, Life is Sweet’s victory also stirred racing fans. The mare was popular in her own right and had grown famous not only for being Zenyatta’s stablemate, but for acquiring several graded stakes wins and being a full sister to the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 2004, Sweet Catomine.

Following Zenyatta and Life is Sweet and watching the two blossom under the care of Shirreffs became a hobby for many racing enthusiasts. Video footage of the mares slurping up Guinness from a plastic container, relaxing in Barn 55, and training in the mornings had racing fans falling head over heels for the Shirreffs trainees. The love racing fanatics had for Zenyatta and Life is Sweet only swelled as the mares obtained prestigious victories.

Though it was anticipated that Zenyatta’s career would conclude before Life is Sweet was done on the track, Zenyatta was declared unretired in January 2010, about two months after the spectacular mare had crossed the wire victoriously in the Classic. After another two months had passed, Life is Sweet was unexpectedly retired when she tied up after a work.

Photo: Terri Cage
Life is Sweet found a new home in Kentucky at Lane’s End Farm, where she was bred to Smart Strike before settling down with other broodmares, growing accustomed to her new life. Meanwhile, Zenyatta continued racing, increasing her fan base as she ran her perfect record to nineteen-for-nineteen before running an incredible but heartbreaking second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Racing fans tearfully watched Zenyatta leave the racetrack, where she also found a new home at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. Nearly four months after the 2010 Horse of the Year arrived at the renowned farm, Life is Sweet delivered her Smart Strike colt. By the end of 2011, both mares were in foal to Bernardini. Zenyatta gave birth to her Bernardini colt on March 8, 2012 and fans of the mares await the birth of Life is Sweet’s second foal, which is expected to come later this year.

Not only did Life is Sweet and Zenyatta share the same running style and trainer, but they now share the same farm in retirement. However, those are not the only things the spectacular mares have in common. Several similarities can be found in their bloodlines as well.

Both mares descend from the Phalaris sire line, which originated with the Darley Arabian, one of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. Life is Sweet, sired by the great sire Storm Cat, descends from Pharalis through Pharos, the sire of the incredibly influential sire Nearco. Zenyatta, sired by the prospering sire Street Cry, descends from Pharalis through Sickle, the great-grandsire of Native Dancer.

Other descendants of the Pharalis sire line include many of the greatest racehorses of all-time, including Affirmed, Buckpasser, Cigar, Native Dancer, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, and Tom Fool. In addition to producing these horses and Life is Sweet and Zenyatta, the Pharalis sire line has yielded recent superstars such as Bernardini, Curlin, Havre de Grace, Invasor, and Rachel Alexandra. The Phalaris sire line is the most common one found in Thoroughbred racehorses.

Not only do Life is Sweet and Zenyatta share somewhat similar top sides of their pedigree, but they have a very similar dam side, both being out of Kris S. mares. Life is Sweet’s dam is the stakes-winning and grade one-placed 2009 Broodmare of the Year, Sweet Life, and Zenyatta is out of Vertigineux, the 2008 Broodmare of the Year. The sire of both prosperous broodmares is the stakes-winning Kris S., a son of the influential sire Roberto and the Princequillo mare Sharp Queen. Not only was Roberto a significant sire, but Princequillo was an incredible broodmare sire, being the sire of the dams of many great horses, such as Key to the Mint, Mill Reef, and Secretariat. In fact, Princequillo was the leading North American broodmare sire eight times. Kris S. went on to sire sixty-three stakes winners and became the broodmare sire of such grade one-winning horses as Balance (Zenyatta’s half-sister), Kris Kin, Ladies Din, and Student Council.

Both Life is Sweet and Zenyatta captured the hearts of racing enthusiasts, galloping their way to victory before crowds cheering deafeningly and bringing smiles to fans with their endearing personalities. Their lives on the track are over and now they reside on the prestigious Lane’s End Farm in the historic bluegrass, bringing to the world offspring that look to extend the mares’ legacies and similar royal bloodlines. There will always be a large impression left on the racing industry from these two remarkable mares.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Late-Blooming Three-Year-Olds

Every year, we see several impressive sophomores emerge in late winter or early spring. Often, they are too late for the Kentucky Derby (GI), but they are frequently seen in the Preakness Stakes (GI) or even the Belmont Stakes (GI). If they are not ready for the spring classics, we sometimes see them at prestigious summer or fall meets such as Saratoga and Del Mar.

We have already seen numerous talented three-year-olds that may not make it to the Derby or other Triple Crown races, but look to be forces in later races. Here are some late-blooming three-year-olds:

Cigar Street: If you want a colt with incredible bloodlines, you want a colt like Cigar Street. He is by the 2007 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner, Street Sense, and out of a half-sister to the Hall of Famer and second richest racehorse of all-time, Cigar. The colt’s dam, Arcadiana, is by the incredible broodmare sire, Deputy Minister, who ironically is the broodmare sire of the richest racehorse of all-time, Curlin. The dam of Arcadiana is of course Solar Slew, who was sold for a total of $4,945,000 in her four purchases at major sales. In addition to producing the great Cigar, Solar Slew also produced Mulca, the multiple group-winning South American champion. Through this female family, Cigar Street traces back to the Burton Barb Mare (female family two), the same mare that produced the families of the ill-fated multiple grade one-winning champion Go For Wand, the Kentucky Derby- and Preakness Stakes-winning Northern Dancer, the Australian legend Phar Lap, the Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval, and possibly the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle in the Triple Crown-winning Secretariat.

In his debut, Cigar Street finished a troubled fifth in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Fair Grounds racecourse in early February. On March 10, the colt avenged his loss in style by winning his second start by a dazzling 13 ¾ lengths. He finished the mile and one-sixteenth maiden special weight in a final time of 1:43.75 after leading from start to finish. Surely he gave his connections – owner Jake Ballis and trainer Steve Margolis – much hope for success in bigger races down the road.

Closerwalk: This colt is also by Street Sense, who is making a name for himself as a sire. In fact, the 2007 Derby winner is currently the second-leading second crop sire. Closerwalk’s dam, Cool Pussycat, is by Tabasco Cat, the Preakness- and Belmont-winning son of Storm Cat. The cross on which Closerwalk is bred is similar to the cross that produced the multiple group stakes-winning Desert Party and the grade three-winning 2012 Derby contender Castaway. Cool Pussycat is out of a Raise a Native mare who also produced the graded stakes-winning horses Chilly Rooster and Rotsaluck, as well as the stakes-placed Cold Awakening. This is female family one, which is one of the most prolific Thoroughbred families. Horses that descend from family one include the multiple group one-winning champions High Chaparral and Snow Fairy, as well as the Hall of Famers Buckpasser, Genuine Risk, and Sword Dancer.

Following two runner-up finishes in maiden special weights at Gulfstream – one of which was against state-bred company and the other which was against open company – Closerwalk broke his maiden in his third lifetime start. Racing against Florida-breds for the second time, Closerwalk led from gate to wire to score by 2 ¾ lengths while being pursued by the drifting out Saint of Saints. He completed the seven furlongs in 1:22.67. He has already ran second against open company, so surely he will be competitive against it again in future starts.

Ender Knievel: By the leading sire of 2011 in Distorted Humor and out of an A.P. Indy mare, Ender Knievel’s pedigree is already impressive at first glance. It gets even more remarkable the more you study it. The cross of Distorted Humor with A.P. Indy mares has produced several top-class racehorses, including the grade one-winning Any Given Saturday and the grade three-winning horses Brethren, Endorsement, and Z Humor. Ender Knievel’s dam, Ender’s Sister, won three stakes and placed in five graded stakes races, including a second-place finish behind champion Ashado in the Cotillion Handicap (GII). The dam of Ender’s Sister is Gold Rush Queen, a Seeking the Gold mare who also produced the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Ender’s Shadow. Ender Knievel hails from female family fourteen, the same family that produced the Epsom Derby (GI)- and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (GI)-winning Workforce, the champion and prominent sire Polynesian, the Kentucky Derby-winning Foolish Pleasure, the multiple grade one-winning Hall of Famer Skip Away, and the multiple grade one-winning Horse of the Year Invasor.

After two fifth place finishes in maiden special weights in Kentucky, Ender Knievel closed out his two-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish behind the eventual graded stakes-winning Thunder Moccasin at Gulfstream. In his sophomore debut, Ender Knievel set the pace in a one-mile maiden special weight at the same Florida track before easily drawing away from the field by 7 ¾ lengths. He could make his next start in the Sunland Derby (GIII) on March 25, which could give him sufficient earnings for the Kentucky Derby.

Flashy Dresser: With the Stephen Foster (GI)-winning Flashy Bull as his sire and the Two Punch mare Saltnvinegar as his dam, Flashy Dresser’s pedigree does not suggest that he will appreciate very long distances. However, his bloodlines give plenty of reason to believe that he will be a successful sprinter or miler. His dam is a half-sister to the black-type-placed sprinter, Covert, and a full sister to the multiple black-type-placed sprinter, Creative Tension. He descends from a slightly nondescript female family in family seven. Though this family is not as prosperous as a family like female family one or four, it has produced some talented horses, including the champions American Flag, Coaltown, Ladysman, and Lando.

Flashy Dresser debuted on March 4 in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park, finding a position off the pace while advancing toward the leaders as the race progressed. He rocketed forward as the horses entered the homestretch, opening up nearly nine lengths on the field en route to victory. He certainly could have a bright future ahead of him.

Heavy Breathing: You can’t get much more attractive bloodlines than those of Heavy Breathing. He is by the prominent sire Giant’s Causeway and out the Gone West mare Takesmybreathaway, which makes Heavy Breathing a full brother to the grade one-winning Frost Giant and a half-brother to the stakes-winning Breathless Storm. Takesmybreathaway is a half-sister to the multiple stakes-winning Jet Around, the stakes-winning and group stakes-placed Mutakddim, and the grade one-placed Smooth Charmer. He is inbred to Northern Dancer and Secretariat through Storm Cat, which has produced horses such as the grade one winners Bluegrass Cat and D’Wildcat, as well as the grade three-winning Untouched Talent, who is the dam of the graded stakes-placed and 2012 Derby contender, Bodemeister. Heavy Breathing is a direct descendant of the great mare La Troienne, who is considered by many to be the most influential broodmare of all-time. Other direct descendants of La Troienne include the Kentucky Derby winners Go for Gin, Sea Hero, Smarty Jones, and Super Saver as well as the Hall of Famer Easy Goer and the multiple grade one-winning champions Mineshaft and Pleasant Tap. As if this isn’t impressive enough, he has the same third dam as Super Saver, which means from then on, he has the same dam line as the 2010 Derby winner.

Heavy Breathing made his first start on February 8, going seven and one-half furlongs over a dirt track at Gulfstream labeled ‘good.’ After settling off the pace, the chestnut colt struck to the lead at the top of the stretch before effortlessly drawing off to score by 7 ¾ lengths under Javier Castellano. He raced next in a nine-furlong allowance at Gulfstream – a distance that most three-year-olds have not covered yet. This time, he found a position closer to the lead, rating in second until the horses neared the end of the far turn. He took the lead and despite a threat from Big Screen, Heavy Breathing drew clear to a 4 ¼-length victory. He could make his next start in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) at Turfway Park on March 24, the same race that Animal Kingdom used as his final prep before his Derby triumph. Though Heavy Breathing is not Triple Crown-nominated, his connections still have a chance to nominate him for $6,000 on March 24. Hopefully they do so, as I would love to see him in the Triple Crown. After all, he is currently ranked eighth on my top ten list for the Kentucky Derby.

Paynter: Like Heavy Breathing, Paytner has an outstanding pedigree. If he was bred for one race in particular, it could very well be the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). His sire, Awesome Again, won the 1998 Classic and is the sire of several ten-furlong victors, including Awesome Gem (third-place finisher in the 2007 Classic), Game on Dude (runner-up in the 2011 Classic), Ghostzapper (winner of the 2004 Classic), and Ginger Punch (winner of the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Distaff). Paynter’s dam, Tizso, is a full sister to the only horse to ever win the Classic twice, Tiznow. The cross on which Paynter is bred is similar to the cross that produced the Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. He is also very similarly bred to the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Awesome Patriot, who is also by Awesome Again and is by a full sister to Tiznow and Tizso (Paynter’s dam). Tizso is also the dam of the graded stakes-winning Tiz West. Through Tizso, Paynter traces back to the Reine De Course mares Blue Canary and Papila, the latter of which is the dam of the champion Crimson Satan. This dam line stems from female family twenty-six, which has produced the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-winning Trempolino and the Australian Hall of Famer Gloaming.

Paynter has only raced once, when he made his debut on February 18 in a five and one-half furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita. After trailing the four-horse field, Paynter drew away in the stretch to win by 4 ¼ lengths, performing very professionally despite the fact that his forelock became unbraided and flew into his ear, causing him to shake his head. With any luck, Paynter will acquire sufficient graded stakes earnings in order to earn a position in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. He is currently ranked ninth on my Derby list, after all.

Street Life: This is yet another colt by Street Sense, who is clearly becoming a very productive sire. Street Life’s dam, Stone Hope, is by the 1996 Kentucky Derby winner, Grindstone, and out of a mare who also produced Brilliant, a multiple graded stakes winner. The cross on which Street Life was produced is quite similar to the cross that produced the grade one winners Aruna, Deepak, and J.B.’s Thunder. Street Life hails from female family sixteen, a rich family that has produced the likes of the champions Authorized, Ginger Punch, Holy Bull, and Orientate, as well as the popular grade one winners Barbaro and Hard Spun.

Street Life’s debut was disappointing, as he finished eighth in a field of twelve in a six-furlong Gulfstream maiden special weight. After being shipped to Aqueduct to face easier company, the colt closed impressively to score by an easy 2 ½ lengths while drawing away in hand. He completed the mile and seventy yards in an unspectacular 1:45.20, but made a remarkable stretch run to score. His race record may not be breathtaking, but the way he covered ground in his second start was. This is a colt with talent and a pedigree to back him up.

Whinston: A colt I have followed since the beginning of his career, Stonestreet Stables’ Whinston is by Pomeroy, the multiple grade one-winning sire of successful horses such as the multiple graded stakes-winning horses Flashpoint and Pomeroys Pistol, the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Positive Response, and the stakes-winning Mel Beach. A talented sprinter himself, Pomeroy has excelled at siring one-turn horses. Whinston’s dam, Leah’s Angel, has also produced the graded stakes-winning Expect an Angel and the multiple stakes-placed Tontine Too. Whinston descends from female family number five, the same family that produced the great champions Afleet Alex, Kona Gold, Hoist the Flag, Native Dancer, Nureyev, Pleasant Colony, Sadler’s Wells, and Seabiscuit.

Whinston was purchased as a juvenile in March of 2011 at the Barretts Equine Limited Sale of Selected Two-Year-Olds in Training as the sale-topper of $625,000. He was purchased by Stonestreet Stables of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra fame, who placed the colt in the hands of trainer Steve Asmussen. He made his racing debut in June at Churchill Downs, finishing fourth behind the impressive Brown Eyed Jozi. Defeated by Whinston in his debut was the eventual Remsen Stakes (GII) winner, O’Prado Again. Whinston started next in a five and one-half furlong maiden at Saratoga, finishing second behind the future stakes-placed horse Laurie’s Rocket. Crossing the wire behind Whinston was the eventual stakes-placed How Do I Win. Whinston was not seen again until March 10, when he made his sophomore debut at Oaklawn Park. After setting the pace, the bay colt effortlessly drew clear to win by an easy 2 ¼ lengths, completing the final eighth of the six-furlong race in 12.25 seconds. Whinston certainly has the potential to become a very profitable one-turn horse.

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