Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shackleford: A Charismatic Superstar

Photo by Terri Cage

With his energetic parade before the gathered crowd, his big white blaze, his shining copper coat, and his charismatic personality and presence, it is easy to fall in love with Shackleford. A colt I have followed since his maiden victory, the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI) victor has certainly made a name for himself, and not just for his racing talent, but for his appeal and the energy he displays on the track. Due to his compelling characteristics and racing brilliance, Shackleford has garnered a large fan base, which affectionately refers to him as “Shack.”

After Shackleford captured the Preakness in a stirring victory over Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Animal Kingdom, however, it began to seem impossible for the lovable chestnut colt to find the winner’s circle again. Between his Preakness triumph and the Breeders’ Cup six months later, Shackleford raced four times, finishing off the board twice and crossing the wire second in two graded stakes races, including the Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI).

In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), Shackleford helped set the pace with The Factor and as the horses turned for home, Shackleford held a 2 ½-length advantage on the others. He ran very well down the stretch, but was outrun by Caleb’s Posse, a colt he had finished in front of in the Indiana Derby (GII) when the two ran behind Wilburn.

Shackleford began 2012 on a sour note, finishing seventh in the Donn Handicap (GI) prior to a third-place result behind Jackson Bend and Caleb’s Posse in the Carter Handicap (GI). “Shack” finally returned to his winning ways a year after he contested in the Kentucky Derby, gamely battling champion sprinter Amazombie down the stretch in the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) before prevailing by a length.

Following Shackleford’s gutsy return to the winner’s circle, trainer Dale Romans prepared the classic-winning colt for a start in the legendary Metropolitan Handicap (GI) – better known as the Met Mile – at Belmont Park on Memorial Day. The colt was slated to run against three other grade one winners, including his rival Caleb’s Posse. The field was sure to make the race one of the best of the year, but no one could predict just how thrilling it would be.

Shackleford broke very sharply, going straight to the lead down Belmont’s backstretch to set a brisk first quarter of 22.77. Extending his advantage on the others to 1 ½ lengths as the field began their journey into the wide, sweeping turn at Belmont, Shackleford completed the initial half-mile in a blistering 44.73, meaning he had completed the second quarter-mile .81 seconds faster than the first one. With John Velazquez aboard for the first time due to an injury suffered by regular rider Jesus Castanon ten days earlier, Shackleford proceeded to hold the lead as the field turned for home. His white blaze leading the charge of six talented Thoroughbreds into the long Belmont homestretch, Shackleford began to open up on the others, but Caleb’s Posse was charging on the outside, growing closer to Shackleford with each and every stride. However, Shackleford dug in to hold off Caleb’s Posse, who appeared to have hung just slightly, to win by a nose before galloping out well ahead of the others. The final time for eight furlongs was a spectacular 1:33.30, just over a second off the track record.

In his past two victories, Shackleford has conquered two Breeders’ Cup winners, Sprint victor Amazombie and Dirt Mile champ Caleb’s Posse. In addition, he has defeated two Eclipse Award champions – Amazombie and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

The Met Mile has long since been considered a “stallion-making” race, producing several victors that went on to be very successful sires, including Langfuhr, In Excess, Gulch, Conquistador Cielo, Fappiano, In Reality, Buckpasser, and Native Dancer. Not only does a victory in the Met Mile bode well for Shackleford’s chances at becoming a lucrative sire when he stands stud at Darby Dan Farm, but so does his pedigree.

Both of his parents have been very successful producers themselves. His sire, Forestry, has sired such grade one winners as Diplomat Lady, Discreet Cat, and Forest Danger. His dam, Oatsee, was voted 2011 Broodmare of the Year and has produced the graded stakes winners Baghdaria and Lady Joanne.  

Notably, Forestry’s sire – Shackleford’s grandsire – is Storm Cat, one of the greatest sires to ever live. The very successful stallion was also very productive as a sire of sires, producing such studs as Bluegrass Cat, Giant’s Causeway, and Hennessy. This certainly augurs well for Shackleford, as Storm Cat is the grandsire of such productive stallions as Johannesburg and Shamardal.

Shackleford’s damsire, Unbridled, sired the dam of Tapit, who was the third-leading North American sire of 2011. Unbridled himself was a very effective sire of sires, producing the successful sires Broken Vow, Empire Maker, and Unbridled’s Song. Shackleford’s fifth dam, Tamerett, could also serve as a catalyst in Shackleford’s stud career, as another direct descendant of the dam of the great racehorse and sire Known Fact is the legendary sire Gone West.

Shackleford, a fan favorite at the racetrack, is a horse that will not soon be forgotten, as we have not yet heard the last from him – on the track or in the breeding shed. With a win in the Met Mile, Shackleford earned a position in the starting gate in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park this fall – a race in which he will be seeking revenge. Racing fans will eagerly follow the stunning colt throughout the rest of 2012, reflecting on his outstanding victories in not only the Preakness, but the Met Mile as well. And when the popular chestnut retires to the breeding shed, fans will await his foals, which will grace racetracks as spectators flock to see them, ready to see them carry on Shack’s charisma and brilliance.

Photo by Terri Cage

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nates Mineshaft: A Cinderella Story

Rags to riches stories often capture the hearts of racing fans, leading them to frequently cheer for Thoroughbreds with Cinderella stories. Many famous racehorses have ascended from claiming ranks and onto the national racing scene, such as the Hall of Famers Stymie and John Henry, as well as the multiple grade one-winning Californian champion Lava Man. During the most recent Fair Grounds meet in New Orleans, Louisiana, a five-year-old bay emerged from the claiming ranks to astonish many in graded stakes company, and in impressive fashion.
Nates Mineshaft
Photo by Mary Cage

It took many by surprise when Nates Mineshaft captured the Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) – named after his sire – in February of 2012. As the longest shot on the board at nearly 14-1, few expected him to win. It was plausible to believe he would lose. The bay ridgling took four tries to break his maiden, had never finished better than fourth in a stakes race, and in his past two starts, both of which were victories, he had raced for a claiming tag. Against the odds, Nates Mineshaft led from start to finish to win the grade three stakes by 2 ¾ lengths.

Believing that Nates Mineshaft’s victory in the Mineshaft was a fluke, bettors sent him off at odds of 9-1 next out in the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at the same track. Yet again, however, it was understandable that handicappers allowed his odds to inflate. He was facing a much tougher field; five of the seven horses he was up against were graded stakes winners. Yet Nates Mineshaft emphatically proved his doubters wrong, leading from start to finish again, but this time triumphing by an imposing 7 ¼ lengths while setting a new track record for nine furlongs in 1:47.64.

Following his breathtaking graded stakes victories at the Fair Grounds, Windy Hill Farm and trainer Austin Smith sent the ridgling to the historic Churchill Downs for the Alysheba Stakes (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day. But his success was not meant to continue that day; Nates Mineshaft finished sixth of eight. Breaking from the inside post, the son of Mineshaft made contact with eventual winner Successful Dan coming out of the gate. Rather than going to the lead like usual, Nates Mineshaft was rated off the pace and remained uncomfortable throughout the race. Gradually, the son of Mineshaft drifted back.

Nates Mineshaft redeemed himself on Memorial Day, however, when he contested in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII). In a race that featured the grade one winners Awesome Gem, Flat Out, and Game on Dude last year, Nates Mineshaft faced a field of seven other horses that included the graded stakes winners Apart and Marilyn’s Guy.

The race was over as soon as the horses broke from the gate. Much pace was expected to be in the race, but when Nates Mineshaft broke very sharply whereas the horse that was viewed as his stiffest competition – Marilyn’s Guy – broke slowly, the son of Mineshaft scored an easy lead under Campbell. I knew he had the race won when he completed the initial quarter-mile in an easy 25.11 seconds.

Effortlessly, the five-year-old ridgling galloped down the backstretch without much pressure at all. Despite attempted rallies from Get in Da House, Night Party, and Marilyn’s Guy, Nates Mineshaft readily opened up on the field, drawing away under confident handling from Campbell en route to an impressive 7 ¼-length victory.

Jesse Campbell blowing kisses aboard Nates Mineshaft while winning
the Lone Star Park Handicap
Photo by Terri Cage
“I had a big smile going into the first turn,” Campbell, who gave Nates Mineshaft a textbook ride, told Lone Star Park paddock host and 1988 World Champion All-Around Cowboy Dave Appleton. “But I had a bigger one at the sixteenth pole.”

Nates Mineshaft’s journey is certainly a rags to riches story in every way. He only cost $8,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale prior to briefly ending up in the claiming ranks, but yet he has emerged as a leading handicap horse, which was further proven when he ruled the Lone Star ‘Cap. He was clearly an auspicious purchase for father and son Pete Reiman and Peter Scott Reiman of Windy Hill Farm and has since brought them along on the ride of a lifetime. One can’t help but cheer for the magnificent horse and his team.

Nates Mineshaft and his connections in the winner's circle after the
Lone Star Park Handicap
Photo by Mary Cage

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dover Heights: Love at First Sight

Standing along the rail of the saddling paddock as the fourth race approached at Lone Star Park on May 12, 2012, I focused my attention on the horses strolling into the paddock for the approaching allowance race. I was completely unaware of the fact that the horse that would impress me most would not be one of the entrants, but rather one of the schooling horses. As I watched the horses file into the ring, my eyes took in a breathtaking gray colt. It was love at first sight.
Dover Heights
Photo by Mary Cage

With his neck arched, the charcoal-colored Thoroughbred pranced into the saddling paddock beneath the cloudy sky, immediately drawing my attention to him. My eyes were glued to him as he marched around the paddock with magnificence, outshining every other horse in the paddock. A well-balanced athlete, the gray Thoroughbred possessed a long, beautiful neck that tied in well to his robust shoulder. He was a stunning individual.

Fortunately, alongside my mom and my best friend as I stood watching the beautiful colt were Dallas and Donna Keen. Donna knew the trainer of the horse – Cash Asmussen, brother of champion trainer Steve Asmussen who was the champion apprentice jockey of 1979 – and contacted him so that I could know the horse’s name. Once she informed me that his name was Dover Heights, his name – which he shares with a beautiful coastal suburb in Sydney, Australia – was etched in my mind.

With the knowledge that Dover Heights would make his first start the following week, I researched his pedigree. Much to my surprise, the colt had the same birthday, April 18, as my beloved Miss Fifty. It was as if I was meant to fall in love with the colt.

Though an official Kentucky-bred, Dover Heights was bred and owned by La Bahia Stud, Inc., a Texas-based breeding farm that produced the only two Texas-bred early 2012 Triple Crown nominations. Sired by The Cliff’s Edge and out of a daughter of Fastness, Fast Goat, Dover Heights is an outcross, as he has no inbreeding in his first five generations. This is believed by many to produce sounder horses and has been effective in producing such grade one winners as Alphabet Soup, Giacomo, and Lite the Fuse.

The Cliff’s Edge, a son of champion sprinter Gulch, was a multiple graded stakes-winning juvenile who won the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) and placed second in the Travers Stakes (GI) as a three-year-old. Since entering stud in 2005, The Cliff’s Edge has sired the graded stakes-winning Our Edge, the stakes-winning Cliffy’s Future, and Dave’s Revenge – an earner of over $245,000 who ran fourth in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI).

Fast Goat, the dam of Dover Heights, though a Kentucky-bred mare, descends from primarily Irish and English bloodlines. Her sire is the multiple grade one-winning Irish-bred Fastness, a son of the champion miler Rousillon. The dam of Fast Goat is the stakes-winning Irish-bred mare Capracotta, who ran in twelve stakes races out of the seventeen starts she made. To date, Fast Goat has produced the stakes-placed gelding Fast Track.

Notably, Dover Heights’ fifth dam is the group three-winning Caprera, who produced the group one-winning Romildo, the group three-winning Pevero, and the stakes-winning Starina. Being a direct descendant of Caprera certainly bodes well for Dover Heights, as other direct descendants of the lucrative mare include the group one-winning Albisola, the group two-winning Arbatax, and the group three-winning Stagelight.

Dover Heights
Photo by Mary Cage
Dover Heights was slated to make his debut on May 19, 2012 – Preakness Day – at Lone Star Park in a one-mile maiden special weight over the main track for three, four, and five-year-olds. However, he lost his jockey and ran off prior to the race and was a late scratch.

Rather, his first start came eight days later, on May 27. Present at the track, I watched as Dover Heights warmed up in front of the crowd under the hot sun, fluidly trotting before the grandstand, his coat a more rosy-gray than charcoal under the bright sun rather than a cloudy sky. He loaded easily into the starting gate for the six and one-half-furlong maiden special weight prior to breaking a bit poorly. Dismissed at odds of 8-1, the impressive-looking gray colt found a position mid-pack along the rail under Tony McNeil, settling several lengths off the leader. The pace-setter, Lac Seul’s Dream, began opening up on the field, instilling me with worry that Dover Heights would not be able to win the race.

Lac Seul’s Dream had a five-length advantage on the field as the Thoroughbreds galloped around the far turn, but Dover Heights began making his move, angling to the outside. However, as the horses turned for home, Lac Seul’s Dream appeared home-free, leaving the other six horses behind. But the five-year-old began to falter as the others began to rally, most notably Dover Heights. My excitement surged as the stunning gray colt I had fallen in love with two weeks earlier accelerated, cutting into Lac Seul’s Dream’s lead. With elation, I watched as Dover Heights crossed the wire a neck in front of the closing Konko Jones.

Dover Heights winning his debut
Photo by Terri Cage

Standing along the rail, I watched with bright eyes as the rosy gray colt jogged up to the winner’s circle to greet his connections. A roar arose from the crowd as the striking colt sauntered into the winner’s enclosure, holding his attractive head up high as cameras clicked. I couldn’t help but grin as the triumphant colt marched back to the barns, ready for the rest of his racing career.

Dover Heights further showed me how exhilarating it is to follow a horse from the beginning of its career, most notably before the horse even makes its debut. So go out there and fall in love with a horse like Miss Fifty, Hy Lime Time, or Dover Heights and relish the excitement of following that Thoroughbred throughout its career. I hope that Dover Heights’ debut was only the beginning of a thrilling journey.

Dover Heights
Photo by Terri Cage

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Agave Kiss Remains Undefeated

Agave Kiss has raced six times. She has visited the winner’s circle in just as many occurrences. Having followed her since her breathtaking 6 ¼-length maiden victory, I relished the filly’s accumulated next five wins, which came by a combined winning margin of 30 lengths. With plans of contesting in prestigious grade one sprint races at Saratoga this summer, the owner of Agave Kiss, Flying Zee Racing Stables, and her trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, have campaigned the daughter of Lion Heart methodically throughout her career.

After easily winning her debut, Agave Kiss crushed allowance foes at Aqueduct prior to capturing her first stakes win in the Ruthless Stakes. Following a victory in the Cicada Stakes (GIII), the three-year-old chestnut filly captured the Trevose Stakes at Parx Racing in her first race outside the confines of the Empire State.

The daughter of Lion Heart continued her winning ways on Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico Racecourse (May 18) in the Miss Preakness Stakes, going six furlongs – the only distance at which she has ever contested. As usual, Agave Kiss set the pace, breaking very sharply to attain the lead, never allowing the others to come near her. With Ramon Dominguez aboard for the first time, Agave Kiss constantly drew away from the field as the champion rider remained motionless. At the top of the stretch, the striking chestnut filly had a 5 ½-length advantage on the field, which remained the same as she swept under the wire effortlessly without being asked by Dominguez in the final yards.

Among the six fillies Agave Kiss defeated in the Miss Preakness was Millionreasonswhy, a highly-touted Sagamore Farm-owned filly. The daughter of Grand Slam was a graded stakes winner at two who ran second behind eventual champion My Miss Aurelia in the Adirondack Stakes (GII), becoming the filly who came closest to defeating My Miss Aurelia. Prior to the Miss Preakness, Millionreasonswhy had won an ungraded stakes and placed in a graded stakes as a sophomore. However, Agave Kiss easily defeated her in the Miss Preakness.

Clearly, Agave Kiss’ niche is sprinting, considering each of her races – and victories for that matter – have come at three-quarters of a mile. Her main goal has been made the prestigious seven-furlong Test Stakes (GI), which is scheduled for August 4 at Saratoga Racecourse. This race has produced such victors as the champions Go For Wand, Indian Blessing, and Lady’s Secret.

Only one of Agave Kiss’ four stakes wins is a graded stakes victory – her win in the Cicada Stakes. However, the dominance with which she has won implies that she will be competitive in higher company. But it is not just her racing performances that suggest she will be a lucrative graded stakes performer, but her pedigree as well.

Her sire, Lion Heart, is famous for running second behind Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (GI) and winning that year’s Haskell Invitational (GI). Though Agave Kiss is a sprinter, Lion Heart has sired successful routers in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI)-winning Dangerous Midge and the Arkansas Derby (GI)-winning Line of David. However, the son of Tale of the Cat has been primarily successful with one-turn horses, such as the multiple graded stakes-winning Kantharos and the multiple stakes-winning Gran Lioness. He has also been very profitable with fillies following a path similar to that of Agave Kiss, as he is also the sire of the Cicada Stakes- and Miss Preakness-winning Heart Ashley and the runner-up in the 2009 Test, Pretty Prolific. Agave Kiss’ dam, Salty Romance, was a stakes winner and graded stakes-placed runner who has also produced Luxury Appeal – a black-type winner around one turn.

Considering I have followed Agave Kiss since her astounding maiden victory, the undefeated filly’s campaign has been a fine example of how rewarding it is to follow a racehorse from the beginning of its career. Though incredibly exciting for me, I believe the rest of Agave Kiss’ campaign can be quite exhilarating for other racing fans, too, as she looks to extend her undefeated record. Winning streaks have proven to be very effective in building a horse’s fan base, such as in the case of Black Caviar, Cigar, Rapid Redux, and Zenyatta. Of course, Agave Kiss’ name is unlikely to ever be mentioned in the same breath as many of the aforementioned horses, other than when winning streaks are discussed perhaps. And despite the fact that racing is often focused on middle- or classic-distance races, sprinters can capture the hearts of racing fans as well. The brilliant Agave Kiss has the potential to become a very popular filly.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'll Have Another Showing Shades of Affirmed

Among the most well-known stretch duels in the history of racing, most racing fans can easily picture the image of Affirmed and Alydar deadlocked at the eighth pole at Belmont Park as the pair of chestnut Thoroughbreds battled down the stretch of the twelve-furlong race, their jockeys striving to guide their mounts to a victory in the Belmont Stakes. For Affirmed, a Triple Crown was on the line. For Alydar, the opportunity of redemption was just ahead.
Affirmed's grave
Photo by Terri Cage

The clash between the two in the Belmont did not deteriorate at the eighth pole, but rather, it continued all the way to the wire, at which it was Affirmed that got his nose ahead, capturing not only a win in the Test of the Champion, but the title of Triple Crown winner. He was only the eleventh horse in history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, and since then, not a single horse has achieved the same feat.

But I’ll Have Another looks to change that on Saturday, June 9 when he goes to post in the Belmont Stakes. The Derby and Preakness winner will attempt to become the twelfth Triple Crown victor, rather than the twelfth horse since Affirmed won the Triple Crown to triumph in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but fall short in the Belmont.

Remarkably, I’ll Have Another possesses many similarities to Affirmed. These parallels, which were briefly discussed in my article “I’ll Have Another Keeps Hopes Alive in Preakness,” do not only exist in the two Thoroughbreds’ racing endeavors, but also in their pedigrees and phenotype.

Their connections begin with the female families from which they descend. Their dam lines do not coincide until you stumble across Gallopade, a gray mare born in 1828 who won the eighteen-furlong Doncaster Cup. Continue to backtrack and you will find that both Affirmed and I’ll Have Another hail from female family twenty-three, which has also yielded the additional Kentucky Derby winners Burgoo King, Kingman, Lil E. Tee, Mine That Bird, Ponder, Tim Tam, Winning Colors, and Zev. This female family has proven to be filled with stamina, producing such stayers as the champion Ardross, a winner of several prestigious races at distances of over two miles in Chanticleer, the Grand National victor Cortolvin, and the great filly Twilight Tear, who won several route races.

Of course, the most obvious relationship between Affirmed and I’ll Have Another to those unfamiliar with the sport of horse racing is their appearance. Like Affirmed, I’ll Have Another is a mahogany-colored chestnut with a fairly small white marking on his face. His similarities to Affirmed in exterior extend even further, however. Comparable to Affirmed, I’ll Have Another is a robust individual with a slender neck that ties in appropriately to a powerful, sloping shoulder. The angle of their strong shoulders allows each Thoroughbred to be very well-balanced individuals, being easily divided into thirds at the girth and flank. Like Affirmed, I’ll Have Another also has a long, stout hip that allows him to propel himself forward, giving him much length to his stride.

One of the most riveting parts of I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown campaign is his young, charismatic jockey, Mario Gutierrez. This is yet another similarity I’ll Have Another shares with Affirmed, who was ridden by the compelling teenager, Steve Cauthen. Though seven years older than Cauthen was when he captured the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed, Gutierrez has only been race riding for six years. Both riders quickly became successful, each winning riding titles within their first year of riding races. Once they each hit the national headlines, they immediately became immensely successful. For instance, Mario Gutierrez’s first grade one victory came in the Santa Anita Derby, aboard I’ll Have Another no less, and he then followed up that win with his Triple Crown journey.

A few parallels between the horses’ trail to the Triple Crown can be found as well. I’ll Have Another, like Affirmed, made starts in California and New York as a juvenile – though Affirmed also raced in Maryland once as a two-year-old. Both colts contested in the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at the renowned Saratoga Race Course in New York, though their results were completely different. I’ll Have Another struggled over the sloppy track and finished sixth of ten, whereas Affirmed met rival Alydar – who ironically appears in I’ll Have Another’s pedigree – for the third time and prevailed by a half-length. As three-year-olds, both colts prepared for the Triple Crown at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California with the San Gabriel Mountains as a beautiful backdrop. Each Thoroughbred captured California’s premier Kentucky Derby prep, the Santa Anita Derby, despite doing it in very different fashions. Whereas Affirmed set the pace for the majority of the nine-furlong race before drawing off to an eight-length victory, I’ll Have Another sat off the leader prior to running down Creative Cause for a nose win. Yet both colts ended a dry spell for Santa Anita Derby victors to triumph in the Run for the Roses: Affirmed was the first Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby in nine years, while I’ll Have Another was the first winner of California’s most significant Derby prep to capture the Derby in twenty-three years.

In both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, both Affirmed and I’ll Have Another faced a fierce rival. For Affirmed, he went up against Alydar, who he had already formed a rivalry with as a result of their six meetings as juveniles. In the Triple Crown, Affirmed bested Alydar, defeating him in the Derby by 1 ½ lengths and in the Preakness by a neck. Astonishingly, these are the same margins by which I’ll Have Another conquered rival Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively. However, unlike, Alydar, Bodemeister will dodge the Belmont, in which Affirmed battled Alydar intensely down the stretch to prevail by a head.

It is eerie how similar I’ll Have Another has proven to be to Affirmed. It is the hope of racing fans worldwide that the son of Flower Alley will continue to be similar to the most recent Triple Crown winner, as that would, of course, provide him with a Triple Crown victory, thus ending the thirty-four-year drought. Similar in appearance and fight, I’ll Have Another has shown the same determination as Affirmed while hailing from the same female family and participating in similar racing endeavors. With any luck, these parallels are not just coincidences, but rather a hint of what is to come on June 9.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

I'll Have Another Keeps Hopes Alive in Preakness

I'll Have Another alongside Lava Man
Photo by Julie June Stewart
He'd won the most prestigious race in the world, had worn the coveted garland of red roses before the Twin Spires, and had become the only horse with the chance to win the Triple Crown as the Preakness Stakes (GI) approached. Yet Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another did not receive the plethora of respect he deserved as the middle jewel of the Triple Crown grew closer. Derby runner-up, Bodemeister, was set as the morning line favorite due to his amazing performance in the Run for the Roses, leaving I'll Have Another as the second choice.

Breaking smoothly from the ninth gate under Mario Gutierrez before yet another record crowd (there was a record crowd at this year's Kentucky Derby as well), I'll Have Another chased after Bodemeister as Creative Cause, Pretension, and Went the Day Well also rushed toward the front. As Went the Day Well checked going into the first turn, I’ll Have Another went wide around the curve, settling in fourth. While Bodemeister set a much more relaxed pace than he did in the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another remained relaxed on the outside in a stalking position as the eleven Thoroughbreds galloped down the Pimlico backstretch.

Inching closer as the field grew closer to the far turn, I’ll Have Another remained comfortable beneath Gutierrez. Stalking in third after a half in 47.68 seconds, I’ll Have Another set his sights on Bodemeister and Creative Cause as the horses entered the final curve. With urging from his calm, cool, and collected twenty-five-year-old rider, I’ll Have Another began to accelerate around the far turn.

For a large part of the homestretch, the race appeared to be reminiscent of last year’s Preakness, in which the speedy Shackleford led the way down the stretch as Derby winner Animal Kingdom charged on the outside, only to miss by a half-length. However, I’ll Have Another continued to dig in, displaying his brilliance and determination as he ran down the magnificent Bodemeister. Though their noses became even in an electrifying battle in the final yards, I’ll Have Another continued to mow down the Derby runner-up and proceeded to win by a neck. Notably, the top pair left third-place finisher, Creative Cause, nine lengths behind.

Yet again, I’ll Have Another galloped out tremendously. This certainly implies that the colt will relish even more ground, as does his pedigree, considering he is a grandson of Distorted Humor – who sired 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer.

I'll Have Another is the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to approach the Belmont Stakes (GI) with a chance to win the Triple Crown, a feat that has not been accomplished since Affirmed captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 1978.

Interestingly, I'll Have Another shares many parallels with Affirmed. Both won the Santa Anita Derby (GI) en route to their Triple Crown journeys. Furthermore, both chestnut colts have young, rather unseasoned jockeys. In addition, both challenged a rival in the prestigious series. Affirmed's rivalry with Alydar is considered the greatest horse racing rivalry to ever exist, whereas I'll Have Another battled Bodemeister in the Derby and Preakness. Whether the two will continue that rivalry in the Belmont remains to be seen, but it is eerie how similar I'll Have Another's Triple Crown journey has been to Affirmed's.

Needless to say, the industry undoubtedly hopes that I'll Have Another will proceed to be similar to Affirmed. If he does, he will end the drought that the sport desperately needs to see conclude. And with four wins in just as many starts this year, I'll Have Another just may have forgotten how to lose.

Since I’ll Have Another was one of my featured “Derby Hopefuls,” you can read more about him here.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Yet Another Pimlico Special Comeback

All that is left of them are their memories and their marks in the history books. We’ve let them slip through our fingers, becoming solely a part of history. They’ve become something that we can only reflect on and remember, rather than something we can look forward to. What are these lost treasures? They are the prestigious races filled with history that will never be run again.

Unfortunately, there are several of them. Our last memory of the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap – a race that carries a roll of victors that includes Secretariat, Forego, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Slew o’ Gold, Chief’s Crown, and Turkoman – is  Java Gold rallying down the Belmont Park homestretch to take the ten-furlong race over Nostalgia’s Star, Polish Navy, Gulch, and Bordeaux Bob in 1987. The final time we saw a horse win the Flaming Stakes was in 2001, when Thunder Blitz concluded the race that saw such horses as Citation, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid capture a victory. Recently, we almost lost a race that boasted a list of winners that included War Admiral, Seabsicuit, Whirlaway, Twilight Tear, Assault, Citation, Tom Fool, Cigar, Skip Away, Real Quiet, Mineshaft, and Invasor – the Pimlico Special.

Rich in history, the most famous running of the Pimlico Special was the second installment of the race, which came in 1938 when Seabiscuit and War Admiral went to post in their legendary match race that resulted in the West Coast underdog capturing a victory. Since the initial time the race was run, fourteen Horse of the Years won the Pimlico Special during their championship campaigns.

Following Vertex’s win in 1958, the race appeared to be extinct. It was not contested for thirty more years, returning in 1988 as a handicap race won by the Belmont Stakes (GI) victor of 1987, Bet Twice. But the Pimlico Special, despite being won by five champions between 1988 and 2001, was not run in 2002 due to an issue with purse distribution. However, when it was renewed in 2003, it aided Mineshaft in his Horse of the Year campaign. Following three more editions of the Pimlico Special after Mineshaft’s victory, one of which was a win by 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, the race experienced an absent year yet again for similar reasons as its nonexistence in 2002.

Prior to Friday, May 18, 2012, the Pimlico Special had only been run once since Invasor’s victory – when the grade one-winning Student Council captured the historic race in 2008. But continuously, as the Maryland racing industry struggled, the race was cancelled.

But on Friday, the race underwent another comeback. Technically it was the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (GIII) with a new name, as the Pimlico Special had previously been deprived of its graded status. Yet the legacy of the Pimlico Special continued on as it attracted a slew of ten very talented handicap horses, six of which had previously won at least one graded stakes race.

The race could not have been any more exciting. The Texas Mile (GIII)-winning Endorsement set an impressive pace while running without the anti-bleeder diuretic furosemide (Lasix/Salix). However, setting the pace took its toll on him and the son of Distorted Humor faltered in the final furlong as the multiple graded stakes-winning Alternation and the multiple grade one-placed Nehro surged past him.

The two dark-colored Thoroughbreds crossed the wire in a tight photo finish that saw Nehro give a runner-up performance that resulted in a very narrow loss for the third time in his career. While rallying remarkably on the outside, the 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up missed by a nose to Alternation, who ran his winning streak to four wins in a row, three of which are graded stakes races.

Like Endorsement, Alternation is sired by Distorted Humor – who is the grandsire of the Kentucky Derby victor, I’ll Have Another. Now possessing four graded stakes wins, Alternation looks to add to the magnificent roll of victors of the historic Pimlico Special. His name is accompanied by the names of some of the greatest racehorses of all-time and his win is certainly one of the most exciting renditions of the Pimlico Special to ever be contested. Hopefully, it was just an indication of what is to come in the future of the race.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012 Preakness Stakes Field Analysis

With the excitement of the Kentucky Derby (GI) behind us, the focus shifts to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes (GI). Contested at a mile and three-sixteenths at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland, the middle jewel of the Crown is half a furlong shorter than the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby victor, I’ll Have Another, will continue his bid for the Triple Crown and should he emerge as a winner on Saturday, he will proceed to the Big Apple for the Belmont Stakes (GI) for the final leg of the Triple Crown in attempt to receive title that has not been captured since 1978. The Preakness features a record of many notable winners, having produced a three-year-old Eclipse Champion in ten of its last eleven runnings. This year’s Preakness at Old Hilltop is sure to be one that will be remembered for years to come.

Listed below are all of the horses entered to run in the 2012 Preakness Stakes, along with descriptions of their recent racing and training endeavors, as well as the chances I believe they each have. The entrants are listed in post position order.

#1. Tiger Walk: Following two easy wins at Laurel Park, the son of Tale of the Cat ran well in three graded stakes at Aqueduct: two thirds in the Withers Stakes (GIII) and the Gotham Stakes (GIII), as well as a fourth in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). I believe the Preakness field will prove to be too much for him, despite the fact that he has had more training over Pimlico’s surface than any other entrant.

#2. Teeth of the Dog:
He ran a good third in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI), but the top two finishers in that race - Gemologist and Alpha - did not make much of a dent in the Kentucky Derby, though Gemologist did emerge from the race with an injury. Though he is on a rise, he appears to be outclassed here.

#3. Pretension: Coming off a stakes win at Pimlico, the son of Bluegrass Cat clearly has an affinity for Old Hilltop. However, he has not fared well against graded company, having finished fifth in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) and ninth in the Illinois Derby (GIII). I do not expect for him to run very well in the Preakness.

#4. Zetterholm:
After an eleventh-place finish in his debut, Zetterholm has finished no worse than second and is coming off a three-race winning streak. However, he has never won anywhere other than Aqueduct and has never faced tremendously high-quality athletes. The Preakness is too large of a step up for him.

#5. Went the Day Well:
A colt that I have much confidence in, Went the Day Well finished more strongly than any other horse in the Kentucky Derby. Given a smoother trip, the son of Proud Citizen could have given his connections a repeat victory in the Run for the Roses. I believe he has a very good chance at providing his connections with redemption at the Preakness. For more on Went the Day Well, please click here.

#6. Creative Cause: This colt
ran a great race in the Kentucky Derby, but just did not have the acceleration necessary for a victory. However, the race seems to have taken quite a bit out of him and between traveling from Kentucky to California to Maryland, the colt may be quite fatigued. He’s gifted, but he may not be on the top of his game, which he will need to be. For more on Creative Cause, please click here.

#7. Bodemeister: He ran
an absolutely spectacular race in the Kentucky Derby, but there is the worry that he may have fatigued himself too much in doing so. However, the fact that Bob Baffert is sending him to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown just two weeks after his amazing performance is encouraging. Bodemeister will need to be more relaxed than he was in the Preakness, but the pace should be much less taxing this time around and he could very well get an easy lead. Should he continue the brilliance he has shown, he will be very difficult to defeat. For more on Bodemeister, please click here.

#8. Daddy Nose Best:
Despite nice wins in graded stakes prior to the Run for the Roses, Daddy Nose best finished tenth in the Kentucky Derby. He is a physically impressive horse, and though the smaller field should be easier on him, the colt has never fared very well against the best of competition, so the Preakness will not be an easy race for him.

#9. I'll Have Another:
Though he has his work cut out for him, the Derby winner is a very gifted horse and has had the great opportunity of getting much training in over Pimlico's surface. Undefeated in three starts this year, I'll Have Another is entering the Preakness with much confidence. He is not receiving quite the amount of respect he deserves and could be underestimated here, especially considering how confident trainer Doug O’Neill is in how well the colt has been training. For more on why I'll Have Another, please click here.

#10. Optimizer: The D. Wayne Lukas ran a fairly respectable race in the Derby, but he has not won since his maiden and has never been victorious on dirt. Optimizer seems to be the type of horse to never get there. It would be a big surprise to me to see him win the Preakness.

#11. Cozzetti: A winner of only a single start in seven races, Cozzetti has run respectably in his three starts this year, finishing in the top four in three stakes, two of which were graded – the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) and the Arkansas Derby (GI). He has made up ground in his past couple of starts, but those rallies were never enough to score a victory and likely would not be in the Preakness, either.

Mostly, I expect for horses exiting the Kentucky Derby to have the largest impact on the Preakness. I believe this race is between those who ran in the Kentucky Derby, most notably those who finished in the top five in the Derby: I’ll Have Another, Went the Day Well, Bodemeister, and Creative Cause. 

Of course, it is I'll Have Another that many will be pulling for to win. There is never a bigger build-up of excitement than a Derby and Preakness winner approaching the Belmont. So, despite being the second choice on the morning line, I'll Have Another is the only horse with a chance at the Triple Crown. Would a win in the Preakness be an easy task for I'll Have Another? No. Would a win by I'll Have Another be the best thing for racing? Yes.

Shackleford, winner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes
Photo: Terri Cage

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Adoring Afleet Alex

As the warm May sun shone down on the track, Thoroughbreds paraded before the grandstand, being guided by pony horses as their breaths came in sync with their stride and their bits jingled with each step. Spectators rushed to the windows to put in their final bets while others watched the horses warm up on the track. The racehorses loaded into the starting gate as their muscles quivered and after a tense moment, they leapt onto the track as their riders jostled for position. Legs working like pistons, the tenacious Thoroughbreds followed the path their riders generated for them, every ounce of their body striving to get them to the wire first. The splendor of the competitive Thoroughbreds, the fortitude of the determined jockeys, the cheer of the crowd, the thunder of hooves, and the adrenaline that swelled formed the excitement of the race. This exhilaration immediately became infectious to me, filling me with a fire that will never be extinguished. It was my first day at the races.

As if witnessing live races was not enough to further my love for horse racing that had caught fire when Smarty Jones had won the Kentucky Derby the previous year, I soon found myself gazing at the large screen attached to the toteboard, which displayed coverage of the one hundred thirtieth Preakness Stakes – the second leg of the Triple Crown. My vision centered upon a mahogany bay colt in green silks as he loaded into the gate at Old Hilltop – the third racehorse I had absolutely fallen in love with. His name was Afleet Alex, the horse that had led me to race my dog on my bicycle while I pretended that I was Afleet Alex and she was Giacomo. Though I am now a Giacomo fan, I made sure I defeated my dog every time.

I’d fallen in love with Afleet Alex prior to the 2005 Kentucky Derby when I’d heard of the colt’s association with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a children’s cancer charity founded by Alex Scott, an eight-year-old girl who had lost her battle with cancer less than a year before. This, combined with the colt’s striking presence, caused Afleet Alex to be my next “racehorse love,” the two before him being Smarty Jones and Better Talk Now.

As my hands clung to the outer rail at Lone Star Park, I watched as Jeremy Rose and the son of Northern Afleet broke from the twelfth slot in the starting gate at Pimlico Racecourse. The pair glided closer to the inside in Cash is King Stables’ silks and found a position in mid-pack as the Thoroughbreds galloped in front of the grandstand for the first time in the mile and one-sixteenth race. Skimming the rail along the final turn, Afleet Alex quickened once he found room as the horses neared the end of the curve. The bay colt looked to be home-free, his breathtaking strides eating up ground effortlessly. Rose maneuvered Afleet Alex to the outside of Scrappy T, prepared to open up on the field with ease.

But suddenly, Scrappy T veered outward, coming into Afleet Alex’s path. With a gasp that was in unison with everyone else watching the race, I viewed the screen in horror as Afleet Alex went down to his knees. Astonishingly, Rose was not launched from the saddle and Afleet Alex did not collapse.

Rather, just the opposite occurred. With unbelievable resolve, Afleet Alex gathered himself and continued his impressive acceleration as if it had never been interrupted. Under strong urging from Rose, the three-year-old found more and drew away from Scrappy T. In miraculous fashion, Afleet Alex won the Preakness by 4 ¾ lengths.

In one of the most extraordinary recoveries ever in the history of horse racing, Afleet Alex showed me the incredible persistence a truly great racehorse possesses. His tremendous triumph in the Preakness brought a great conclusion to that fateful day for me and will forever be a Preakness Stakes I will never forget – a race that racing fans will always view as not only one of the best middle jewels of the Triple Crown ever contested, but also one of the most remarkable performances ever displayed by a Thoroughbred.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Super Siblings: Successful Dan & Wise Dan

The same age as the Kentucky Derby (GI), the Clark Handicap (GI) has been contested over the same esteemed Louisville, Kentucky track since 1875, boasting a roll of victors that is speckled with the names of all-time greats, including Exterminator, Whirlaway, and Silver Charm. Named for the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club and the man who played a large role in the construction of Churchill Downs, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the Clark Handicap is often viewed as the final significant race of the year for handicap horses.

In the 2010 edition of the Clark, a Thoroughbred named Successful Dan pulled on Julien Leparoux’s grip for much of the race, searching for a way to the lead. Down the historic Churchill Downs homestretch, the bay gelding veered outward, slamming into the multiple graded stakes-winning Redding Colliery and Rosie Napravnik, knocking the gray horse sideways. Galloping erratically down the stretch, Successful Dan battled with Giant Oak, making contact with him in their duel before crossing the wire ahead. However, as a result of his disruptive running, Successful Dan was disqualified to second.

A year later, Successful Dan’s half-brother, Wise Dan, would enter the same race off an impressive victory in the Fayette Stakes (GII) over Keeneland’s synthetic surface. The gelding had won the race in the same fashion as his half-brother, who had won the Fayette by three lengths a year earlier. Forwardly placed in the Clark, Wise Dan settled behind the stakes-winning Will’s Wildcat and the multiple graded stakes-winning Mission Impazible the first time past the Twin Spires. Wise Dan had the perfect trip over the main track prior to striking to the front around the far turn and edging clear in the final furlong, drawing away to a 3 ¾-length victory.

An injury kept Successful Dan away from the races the year Wise Dan won the Clark, but the bay gelding returned to post on opening day of Keeneland’s 2012 spring meet, loading into the gate for an allowance optional claiming over the all-weather track. Facing several graded stakes winners, Successful Dan battled for the lead in the one-turn race, galloping to a one-length victory.

Just over two weeks later, Wise Dan went to post over the same track, though the rewards for his race were more alluring. The chestnut gelding was making his first start since his Clark victory in the Ben Ali Stakes (GIII), in which he took the lead following the initial quarter of the nine-furlong race and never regressed as he easily coasted to a jaw-dropping 10 ½-length win in which he set a new track record of a breathtaking final time of 1:46.63. With his win, many began to declare him the early favorite for Horse of the Year. It was certainly one of the most impressive races that has been run in 2012.

Merely twelve days later, Successful Dan made his return to graded stakes company, going to post in the Alysheba Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day. Settling near the rear of the eight-horse field, the son of Successful Appeal swept to the outside and down the homestretch, galloped his way to a one-length triumph. With his victory, Successful Dan defeated many of the top handicap horses in the nation, including Mucho Macho Man and Nate’s Mineshaft. Like his half-brother had done less than two weeks earlier, Successful Dan set a track record.

Both geldings are homebreds for Morton Fink, who has been a part of the Thoroughbred racing industry for over forty years. Fink also owns the dam of both talented horses, the eighteen-year-old mare Lisa Danielle. Also the dam of the stakes-winning Royal Dancer, Lisa Danielle is by Wolf Power, who was Horse of the Year in South Africa in 1984. Though the South African champion is a relatively low-key broodmare sire, the damsire of Lisa Danielle is the great Secretariat – one of the most tremendous sires of broodmares of all-time. He has produced the dams of many grade one winners and successful stallions, including A.P. Indy and Storm Cat. Lisa Danielle also hails from a lucrative French dam line that stems from female family five, a prolific female family that has yielded the dams of such great horses as Native Dancer and Seabiscuit.

Whereas Successful Dan is by Successful Appeal – a Man O’ War sire line stallion, Wise Dan is sired by Wiseman’s Ferry – a Northern Dancer sire line stud. However, both geldings form two crosses of Northern Dancer in just the first five generations of their bloodlines. Inbreeding to this champion has been present in the pedigrees of such horses as the champions and classic victors Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, and Summer Bird.

Both Successful Dan and Wise Dan appear to be among the top of their class. It is a rare occurrence to see two siblings posting such remarkable victories within the same time frame and should certainly be appreciated. Though trainer Charles Lopresti plans to avoid running the brothers against each other, we could be in store for a sibling showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita in November. Regardless what happens, Fink and Lopresti are very fortunate to have a pair of such gifted brothers.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hy Lime Time: Finally!

Hy Lime Time
Photo: Terri Cage
As Hy Lime Time’s chestnut frame flew down the turf course at Remington Park, excitement began to build. He flashed under the wire in second, but he was incredibly impressive in defeat. After a horrible break in the seven and one-half-furlong maiden special weight for two-year-olds, the chestnut son of Limehouse rallied remarkably in late stretch to miss by a half-length. With his spectacular stretch run, Hy Lime Time gave his connections high hopes for his future.

Unfortunately, Hy Lime Time became sick and did not start again until March, finishing seventh on the main track at Fair Grounds. Before long, it seemed as if the colt could never win despite his obvious talent. From his first race onward, he lost thirteen races in a row. However, he had finished in good company, racing against the winners of three graded stakes and four ungraded stakes races altogether, including the grade one-winning Ultimate Eagle. He also raced against runners who had placed in a total of five graded stakes races and three ungraded stakes. He’d run at six different tracks, in five different states, on three different surfaces,and at five different distances.

I’d followed the colt since his maiden and each time he raced, I eagerly hoped that the unlucky chestnut would finally cross the wire in front. I couldn't wait to see him race in person. Dallas Keen, the colt’s trainer, and his wife, Donna, had raved about him and were clearly excited about his potential. It was obvious that he was a gifted colt but just couldn’t catch a break.

I hoped that he would catch that break on July 2, 2011, when I got to see him in person for the first time. I saw him in the barn that morning, along with True Swither, a gelding that would claim the seventh race on the Lone Star Park card for the Keens. After the seventh race, my parents, my best friend, and I ran into the Keens on the first floor of the grandstand. We congratulated them on True Swither’s win and Donna even told us that she’d have let us in the winner’s circle with them if we’d have been down there. I optimistically told her we would join them in the winner’s enclosure later that day after Hy Lime Time’s race.

As the ninth race approached, I stood along the rail of the saddling paddock with my parents and best friend. Hy Lime Time was the first horse that sauntered into the paddock, his beautiful chestnut coat gleaming as he carried himself with much class. He looked tremendous, exceeding my expectations for how grand of an individual he was.

We took our place along the rail as the maidens paraded in front of the grandstand. As the field of ten loaded into the starting gate for the mile and one-sixteenth race on the turf, I fixed my eyes on the first gate. When the horses broke from the starting gate, Hy Lime Time settled near the rear, traveling wide around the first turn.

As the field came around the far turn, I grew excited as Hy Lime Time began to make his move. He had to travel wide yet again, but he was absolutely flying onthe outside, displaying his usual electrifying late kick. My best friend and I found ourselves hopping up and down, cheering for the colt as if he was our own horse. With his long stride, the son of Limehouse strived to reach the wire first. But the finish line came too soon. I felt my heart sink as Hy Lime Time missed by a scant head. He’d been closing incredibly fast; the final sixteenth was in a time of 5.80 seconds. Despite the fact that he had lost, Hy Lime Time came cantering back to the frontside like a champion.

Hy Lime Time crossing the wire in his July 2, 2011 race
Photo: Terri Cage
Though I’d been a fan of his ever since the beginning of his career, witnessing his thrilling race in person led me to follow his racing endeavors even more closely. With each of his next six races, I was disappointed with yet another loss, but left with the hope that once he did break his maiden, it would be in spectacular fashion.

On opening night of Lone Star Park’s 2012 Thoroughbred meet, Hy Lime Time went to post for the fourteenth time. However, this time was different than all the other times he’d contested in a race; he was starting for a claiming tag for the first time. In the seven and one-half-furlong $25,000 claiming, Hy Lime Time was forwardly placed before taking the lead and never looking back, drawing away over a firm turf course to win by 7 ¼ lengths. Just as I’d hoped,the colt had broken his maiden in remarkable style. In addition, he was fortunately not claimed and therefore not taken away from the Keens and owners Roger Sofer and Jack Randall.

Finally entering the winner’s circle must have been a huge confidence boost for Hy Lime Time. He soon faced winners for the first time, taking a step up when he entered a first-level allowance race for May 6 at Lone Star. In yet another seven and one-half-furlong turf race, Hy Lime Time settled near the back of the pack around the first turn prior to inching forward in position down the backstretch. Rounding the far turn, the chestnut colt swung wide under Larry Taylor, striking to the lead and drawing away to an impressive 5 ¾-length victory, boosting his career earnings to $71,100.

It took him over a year and half to get it done, but now that Hy Lime Time has had his picture taken in the winner’s enclosure, he is on a roll. The potential for him to become a successful racehorse was there all along in his pedigree. A $23,000 yearling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton July Sale in Lexington, Kentucky, Hy Lime Time walked into the auction ring with a strong pedigree.

He is sired by Limehouse, a four-time graded stakes winner who stands at Vinery Stud in Kentucky. Since entering stud in 2006, the millionaire son of Grand Slam has sired the Canadian classic-winning Miami Deco, the graded stakes-winning Humble and Hungry, and the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Delightful Mary.

The dam of Hy Lime Time is Saratoga Rhythm, a daughter of the grade one-winning stallion Saratoga Six and the stakes-winning mare Dancing Blade. Saratoga Rhythm is also the dam of the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Saratoga’s Magic and the stakes-placed Six Numbers. Notably, Hy Lime Time’s fourth dam, Crème Brulee, is the dam of the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Cloudy Dawn – who finished third behind Riva Ridge in the 1972 Belmont Stakes – and Hedevar – who was a stakes winner and world record-equaling rabbit of the Hall of Famer Damascus.

From the outset, Hy Lime Time has had the potential to become a lucrative racehorse. Plagued by bad luck, the stunning chestnut colt has finally found his groove and could not look any better. Big things are expected from Hy Lime Time. They’ve always been expected; he just needed to break through with a victory. Now he has a pair of wins to his credit and seems to be a rising star. Not only would seeing him succeed and continue to improve be rewarding since I have followed him since the commencement of his racing career and have become attached to him through his races, but his connections certainly deserve a gifted horse like Hy Lime Time.

For a race replay of Hy Lime Time's allowance win, please click

6-4-12: Sadly, Hy Lime Time broke down at Lone Star Park on June 3, 2012 while making a dazzling move and is no longer with us. It was truly devastating and I missed him from the instant I found out he was gone. You will never be forgotten, Hy Lime Time. You were a special horse and one I will always hold dear to my heart. I can't believe you're gone. I love you, buddy.
Hy Lime Time
Photo by Mary Cage

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Endorsement: Confirming It Is Possible

Endorsement, fresh off an impressive graded stakes victory, seemed to have a very reasonable chance to perform well. Like every other horse expected to run in the race, he had a shot at wearing the coveted garland of red roses while standing before the Twin Spires. But the Wednesday before the 2010 Kentucky Derby (GI) was run, the chestnut son of Distorted Humor was withdrawn from consideration for the race due to a displaced condylar fracture of his right front leg – an injury that would prevent him from racing for over a year and one-half.

Nearly twenty-one months after his three-length victory in the Sunland Derby (GIII), Endorsement finally returned to the races. His return came in a six-furlong allowance optional claiming over Gulfstream Park’s dirt surface, in which he was forwardly placed but could not catch the eventual winner and finished second. Following another runner-up finish in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream (this time at one mile), Endorsement broke through with a victory. Not only did he impressively win the mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park by 2 ¼ lengths, but he set a track record while doing so, running the clock to 1:42.35.
Endorsement after winning the Texas Mile
Photo by Mary Cage

Endorsement continued his rise on April 28 in the Texas Mile Stakes (GIII) at Lone Star Park. Forwardly placed, the robust chestnut settled behind the leaders beneath Robby Albarado as the field of ten galloped around the track. Rounding the far turn, the horse surged to the outside of the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed California shipper, Canonize, and the multiple stakes-winning Lone Star veteran, Coyote Legend. Endorsement battled those two down the homestretch before galloping past Canonize with a sixteenth of a mile left to go. Once he made it to the front, Endorsement effortlessly coasted to a two-length victory under Albarado, who had ridden the horse brilliantly.

Notably, Endorsement contested in the Texas Mile without Salix (Lasix), the common diuretic used to prevent exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) – or bleeding in the airways of a horse’s lungs. The other nine horses that competed in the race ran on the anti-bleeding medication, and interestingly, Endorsement easily defeated them despite the fact that furosemide (Salix) has shown to be performance-enhancing.

When Endorsement was approaching the Triple Crown, he was owned by WinStar Farm, who ended up winning that year’s Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. At the time, Bill Casner was part of the partnership of WinStar Farm with Kenny Troutt, but in October of that year, the partnership was dissolved and Casner focused on his Casner Racing, whose silks display the green diamond with the initials KC scribed in white for Casner’s late daughter, Karri Casner, who tragically lost her life in a 2002 terrorist attack in Bali, Indonesia.

Casner is among those who believe in the prohibition of the use of furosemide. In fact, he contributed to The Blood-Horse of December 3, 2011 (No. 48, Page 3429), in which he wrote the article The Choice to Rebuild the Sport is Clear. In reference to banning Salix, Casner wrote, “Horses will run as well as they did before without Salix, and we will be in step with our global racing community. It is the right thing for the horse and for our industry.”

Pairing with trainer Eoin Harty, Casner has raced a plethora of horses without Salix and has been quite successful. These horses include Dubai World Cup (GI)-winning Well Armed’s full brother, Arm Force, who impressively won a maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park in February, and Right to Vote, a grade one-placed runner who earlier this year triumphed in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream.

The fact that horses like Endorsement are succeeding in graded stakes races gives hope that American Thoroughbreds can compete without being medicated with furosemide. This anti-bleeding medication is not used in other nations, which, of course, is one of many arguments that people like Casner use to push for the prohibition of Salix. Personally, I think we should search for ways to ban race-day medication and that organizations like Casner Racing are very important, persuasive, and supportive in the assistance of banning Salix and other medications.

According to the Blood-Horse online article KHRC to Discuss, But Not Vote on, Salix Plan, dated May 7, 2012, "The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission confirmed it will discuss but not take final action May 16 on a proposal for the three-year phase-out of race-day furosemide in graded and listed stakes." You can read the rest of the article, written by Tom LaMarra here.

As for Endorsement, the five-year-old horse is quickly returning to top form and should he keep improving, he could become one of the top handicap horses in the nation. Texas native Bill Casner even hinted after the race that the horse could certainly go on to bigger and better things.

An earner of half-a-million dollars, Endorsement is beautifully bred. His sire is WinStar Farm’s impressive stallion Distorted Humor, the sire of such horses as the Belmont Stakes (GI)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)-winning Drosselmeyer, the Kentucky Derby- and Preakness Stakes (GI)-winning Funny Cide, and the Travers Stakes (GI)-winning Flower Alley - who is the sire of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another.

The sire power in Endorsement’s pedigree does not come to a halt there. His broodmare sire is the great A.P. Indy, one of the best horses to ever stand at stud in the United States. Extremely successful with his own offspring, he is also a very productive sire of sires and broodmare sire. Like his own damsire, the great Secretariat, A.P. Indy has proven himself to be a very successful broodmare sire, being the damsire of such horses as the champions Royal Delta and Wait a While, as well as the fellow grade one victors Any Given Saturday, Bluegrass Cat, Morning Line, Mr. Sidney, Plum Pretty, and Super Saver.

Endorsement is not lacking in his dam line, either. Descending from the same female family of many great horses, including Cigar, Northern Dancer, Point Given, and Secretariat, in female family two, Endorsement comes from a dam line full of Argentinian flair. His second through ninth dams are all Argentinian-bred mares, including his third dam, Chaldee. This chestnut granddaughter of Raise a Native was a group two-placed mare who produced four group one winners – two of which were champions – and a multiple group stakes-winning runner. Endorsement’s second dam, one of those champions, was transferred to the United States when her racing career was over, where she produced Endorsement’s dam, the multiple graded stakes-placed Charmed Gift, who was ironically ridden by Robby Albarado in seven of her fifteen starts.

The appearance of the names Distorted Humor and A.P. Indy are not just “pretty faces” in Endorsement’s bloodlines. The cross between the 2011 leading sire and the Hall of Famer has been tremendously successful, producing many graded stakes victors. Among those horses are the grade one winner Any Given Saturday, the grade three winners Brethren and Z Humor, the ungraded stakes winners Al Muhtasib and Bank the Eight, and the graded stakes-placed horses Attempted Humor, Buen Verso, and Cal Nation. It is no surprise that this cross is rewarding, as A.P. Indy mares have typically crossed well with stallions from the Mr. Prospector sire line, producing such horses as the champion Royal Delta (by Empire Maker), the multiple stakes-winning Ravi’s Song (by Unbridled’s Song), the multiple graded stakes-placed And Why Not (by Street Cry), and the multiple grade one-placed Dunkirk (by Unbridled’s Song).

As a horse with spectacular breeding that is capable of succeeding at upper levels of racing without Salix, Endorsement displays the epitome of what a Thoroughbred racehorse should be. Though he received an injury that kept him from competing for over twenty months, he was injured during a time period in which he ran on Salix. Now, the magnificently bred colt is improving and rising through the ranks without the diuretic that is given to most American racehorses. If Endorsement continues his winning ways and improvement, he could set a huge example for American racing. Kudos to Bill Casner and Eoin Harty for the decisions they’ve made with this talented horse!

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