Edited Gulfstream Park release:
LOUISVILLE – Few know better than Zayat Stables that one can never have too many good 2-year-olds in the holster when one’s mission is to eventually take aim at the Kentucky Derby trail.
Already positioned in the catbird seat for 2015 with multiple Grade I winner American Pharoah and hard-knocking graded stakes performer Mr. Z, owner Ahmed Zayat can now add a colt with a two-turn, graded stakes win over the Churchill Downs surface to his stacked deck of classic hopefuls for next spring.
Justin Zayat joked he was fairly sure the screams coming from his father’s New Jersey home could be heard in Louisville as their gray colt El Kabeir shot to the lead out of post 5 and had enough class to hold off Imperia by a head to win the Grade II, $233,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Saturday evening.
The 1 1/16-miles Kentucky Jockey Club was the co-feature along with the Grade II, $230,400 Golden Rod Stakes for 2-year-old fillies of Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow II” card featuring all juvenile races.
In breaking his maiden second time out by 10 3/4 lengths going seven furlongs at Saratoga on August 30, El Kabeir earned the ‘star quality’ label within trainer John Terranova’s shedrow. Following a runner-up effort in the Grade II Nashua Stakes on November 2, Terranova backed off the son of Scat Daddy and was admittedly concerned that fitness would be as much an obstacle as the colt’s 10 challengers in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
“He came out of the his last race kind of tired, so I went easy on him and actually missed a work coming in here,” Terranova said. “We knew we were coming in on the short side with him. He ran on a deep tiring track in the Nashua and he got a little keen with the blinkers on that day, so we took those off.
“We decided to ship him down here and see how he handles the two turns. He’s a real talented colt, he’s just trying to find his balance.”
The Zayats were thinking El Kabeir had Breeders’ Cup potential after his impressive maiden triumph, but backed off that notion when he was fourth, beaten 17 3/4 lengths over a sloppy track in the Grade I Champagne Stakes.
With three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel in the irons for the first time in the colt’s five career starts, El Kabeir relaxed on an uncontested lead in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, clicking off fractions of 23.62 and 47.50 after 7-to-5 favorite Lord Nelson bobbled at the start.
“He did everything perfect, it was just a matter of getting the distance,” said Borel, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club for a fourth time. “With everything put together it was a matter of who could out grind the other one.”
Imperia indeed made a big charge after sitting seventh early on to bring some drama to the final strides, finishing three quarters of a length ahead of third-place runner Eagle. As El Kabeir crossed the wire in 1:44.82 over a fast track, the Zayats – who have owned three Kentucky Derby runner-ups – celebrated their current well of standouts.
“American Pharoah to me is kind of in a class of his own,” said Justin Zayat, racing manager for his father’s Zayat Stables. “But Mr. Z is closing very hard on him and El Kabeir can be right there. It’s getting hard to separate them. This horse, we debated back and forth (whether to run) and said why not take a shot? He’s a little short (fitness wise) but he’s got the talent to do it.”
West Coast Belle takes Golden Rod
Owners Gary and Mary West have reason to toy with a potential Kentucky Oaks trip next spring as their homebred filly West Coast Belle captured the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths to remain unbeaten in three career starts.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who won last year’s Golden Rod aboard Vexed, had a push-button mount carrying him in the 1 1/16-miles test as West Coast Belle sat fifth down the backside in an outside path through a half in 47.50.
The Wayne Catalano trainee and daughter of leading sire Tapit surged up to grab the lead at the eighth pole and then turned back a late challenge by No Fault of Mine to win the 1 1/16-miles race in a final time of 1:45.52.
“Well you think about (the Oaks) but it’s a little too early to think about too hard,” Gary West said. “There are a lot of things that go on between here and there, and we’ve had a lot of good horses at this point in time and we ended up with a lot of heart breaks along the trail. It’s just a matter of keeping her sound and healthy.”
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.
LOUISVILLE – Dwelling on the might-have-beens never got anyone anywhere fast in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. It’s a lesson owner Mike Pegram was schooled on many moons ago and one trainer Bob Baffert has to maintain in order to keep his sanity.
Still, as Hoppertunity – the Baffert trainee co-owned by Pegram – came to Grade I winner Constitution in the lane and battled his way to the front in Friday’s Grade I, $551,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, it was a challenge for all who witnessed the colt’s performance to not ponder what an outing under the Twin Spires would have looked like for him six months ago.
“You never look back in this business,” Pegram said in the aftermath. “If you look back in this business, you’re ready to retire.”
Hoppertunity’s chance at a run in the Kentucky Derby was thwarted this May when he was scratched two days before the race due to a quarter crack issue. Under perfect stalk-and-pounce handling from jockey Martin Garcia, the son of Any Given Saturday managed to score his first Grade I win over the Louisville track and signal his presence in the 2015 handicap division when he defeated fellow 3-year-old Protonico by half a length in the Clark.
Blessed with an even-paced, lengthy stride and the handiness to rate just about anywhere, Hoppertunity had a classic look about him this spring coming off a victory in the Grade II Rebel Stakes in March and runner-up finish to eventual dual classic winner California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.
In his second start back since being sidelined, the bay colt was professional as ever as he sat just off Constitution through fractions of 24.30 and 49.04 en route to his third win in seven career starts.
“After missing the Derby and still being able to come back here and win, it means something special,” said Pegram, who owns Hoppertunity along with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. “He was ready and he showed it today. The race he ran in the Rebel was unbelievable, he was always a fighter. The Santa Anita Derby was a stroll around the park where we were waiting for a bigger thing that never happened.
“This time, he was able to strut his stuff. We hope he has a good 4-year-old year ahead of him.”
A half brother to fellow Grade I winner Executiveprivilege, Hoppertunity had an ankle chip taken out as well when he was sidelined with his foot issues this spring and returned to run a fast-closing second in a seven-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita Park on October 29.
Garcia, who had not been aboard Hoppertunity since his fourth-place outing in the Grade II Risen Star this February, put the colt much closer to the early going in Friday’s Clark and kept his mount relaxed even as Easter Gift ranged up to his flank midway down the backside.
“I think the (allowance race) was short for him but I knew today would be a really good race for him,” Garcia said.
Under right-handed urging from Garcia in the stretch, 2-to-1 favorite Hoppertunity overtook Constitution – who himself was making his second start back after missing the Derby due to injury – trying to last along the rail and turned back a late charge from Protonico to hit the wire in 1:49.88 for the 1 1/8-miles distance over his eight rivals.
Constitution, the only Grade I winner in the field going into the race, ended up third giving the trio of sophomore runners in the Clark a sweep of the top three spots.
“Constitution was maybe a tad headstrong and Churchill is not always the most speed conducive track,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who also conditions Protonico. “But I thought he showed some guts when those horses came to him and he kept trying.”
Baffert’s three wins in the Kentucky Derby are juxtaposed against some gut-turning beats his horses have had at Churchill, including multiple Grade I winning gelding Game On Dude falling a head short of champion Will Take Charge in last year’s Clark.
The Hall of Fame trainer already has 3-year-old Bayern, winner of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, sitting on go for 2015. With Hoppertunity materializing with the top level form expected of him, Baffert is looking ahead to some divisional dominance once the calendar turns.
“All I know is that stretch (at Churchill) has been a killer for me but that horse was bred to run a 1 1/8, 1 1/4-miles,” said Baffert when reached via cell phone. “We’ve got him, we’ve got Bayern. I’m just glad they’re in my barn, I don’t have to run against Bayern and Hoppertunity.”
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.
The Stronach Group announced Wednesday that Tom Chuckas, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, has resigned his position with the company, effective November 30.
Chuckas joined the Maryland Jockey Club in May 2008. Over the years, he has led the effort to develop a long-term plan to bring stability to horse racing in the state of Maryland. He has also played a pivotal role in rebranding the Preakness Stakes which saw record-breaking attendance for 2014.
“It has been a great personal pleasure working with the entire team at the Maryland Jockey Club,” Chuckas said. “Racing in Maryland is positioning itself for tremendous growth opportunities and I hope for nothing but success in the years to come.”
Frank Stronach, Founder of The Stronach Group, stated, “Tom has been a valuable part of our team over the past six years as the company has worked towards developing a strong foundation to restore Maryland’s racing industry. We very much appreciate his contributions and wish him the best in the next phase of his career.”
The Stronach Group and Chuckas are in negotiations regarding the transition of his responsibilities in the company moving forward.
The Stronach Group is also announcing that Salvatore “Sal” Sinatra has been appointed Vice-President and General Manager of the Maryland Jockey Club and will join the company on December 1. Sinatra has been involved in the Thoroughbred racing industry for over 20 years. He previously held the position of Director of Racing with Parx Racing, formally Philadelphia Park, since 1999.
“I am very glad to welcome Sal to our company,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer of The Stronach Group. “His knowledge and expertise in racing operations will be a great benefit to both Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course going forward.”
Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, KY, will hold a special open house for members of the press as well as the public on December 1 to welcome Kentucky Derby winner, Eclipse champion, and Hall of Fame inductee Silver Charm.
The open house will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The now 20-year-old stallion, who is slated to arrive at the facility this week, will then enter a 21-day quarantine.
It was announced in October by Three Chimneys Farm that the 1997 champion three-year-old colt had been retired from breeding in Japan and would be return to the United States to live out his life at Old Friends. The decision about his retirement was a joint venture among Three Chimneys Farm, Silver Charm’s owners Jeff and Beverly Lewis, and the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association (JBBA).
For additional information please call Old Friends at (502) 863-1775.
WHAT Open House at Old Friends
WHY To welcome back champion Silver Charm
WHEN Monday December 1, 2014 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
WHERE Old Friends Farm, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, KY.
The Turf Publicists of America announced Friday that recently retired track announcer Tom Durkin will be honored as the recipient of this year’s Big Sport of Turfdom Award. The annual honor is bestowed upon a person or group of people who enhance coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and Thoroughbred racing publicists.
Previous winners of the Big Sport of Turfdom Award include jockeys Mike Smith, Pat Day, Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Bill Shoemaker, Angel Cordero Jr., Eddie Arcaro and last year’s winner, Gary Stevens; trainers Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, Dale Romans and Jack Van Berg; as well as individuals who may not be involved in the day-to-day aspect of Thoroughbred racing but made significant contributions to the sport including author Laura Hillenbrand, broadcaster Jim McKay, and actors Tim Conway and Jack Klugman.
“I am delighted to win this award and join the ranks of some of the people I’ve admired and respected all of my professional life,” Durkin said. “It is thrilling to me to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of those folks.”
Durkin, 63, called the final race of his career on Aug. 31 at Saratoga Race Course. Over 43 years as a track announcer, he elevated the craft by injecting his calls with unprecedented drama and the improvised narratives he summoned enhanced the thrill of race-watching.
Durkin is responsible for many of the most iconic calls in the history of Thoroughbred racing, from “the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar” to “Rachel Alexandra raises the rafters here at the Spa!”
Born in Chicago, Durkin studied theatre at St. Norbert College and began calling races at county fairs in Wisconsin in the summer of 1971. In 1975, he moved on to ply his trade at a string of small tracks including Cahokia Downs, Balmoral Park, Quad City Downs and Miles Park before landing the job at famed Hialeah Park in 1981. Three years later, he was hired as the announcer for the annual Breeders’ Cup, a job he held until 2005, and gained further fame calling the Triple Crown for a decade beginning in 2001.
Overall, he is estimated to have called more than 80,000 races, including at least 40,000 as lead announcer for the New York Racing Association over the past 24 years. Beyond his professional duties, Durkin has been involved in several causes assisting backstretch workers, including New York’s Backstretch Employees Service Team, for which he serves as a board member.
Durkin sat for countless media interviews in the months leading up to his retirement.
“For so many of us, our memories of racing’s greatest moments are inextricably linked with Tom’s voice,” said TPA President Mandy Minger. “This award recognizes not only his contributions as an announcer, but as an ambassador. Tributes to Tom’s career permeated the mainstream media this year, capturing the class and generosity of a man who represents the best of our sport.”
Durkin is the first track announcer to receive the Big Sport of Turfdom, which has been awarded annually since 1966.
The Big Sport of Turfdom will be presented at the Race Track Industry Program Awards Luncheon on Tuesday, December 11, emceed by Chris Lincoln. It is part of the 2014 Symposium on Racing & Gaming presented by the University of Arizona at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson, Ariz. The TPA consists of approximately 150 publicity and marketing personnel from racetracks and racing organizations around the country.
The Awards Luncheon is included in the registration fees for the symposium. Additional information about the luncheon may be obtained by contacting TPA President Mandy Minger at (212) 366-7694.
Three Chimneys Farm and Dogwood Stable collectively have something to look forward to in 2015 as the two operations announced Friday that Grade I winner Palace Malice has been declared fully healed from bone bruising and would to trainer Todd Pletcher with an eye on a 5-year-old campaign.
Palace Malice was initially announced to be retired when the bone bruising was discovered following his sixth place finish in the Grade I Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on August 2. Three Chimneys purchased a half interest in the 4-year-old son of Curlin in September and it was then announced that if the colt has suitably healed by November, a return to racing for him would be on the table.
“The X-rays and ultrasounds taken in Kentucky on Thursday morning are as good as we hoped they would be, and Dr. Larry Bramlage and Dr. Robert Copelan pronounced him completely sound,” Dogwood president Cot Campbell said in a release. “Therefore, he shipped Friday morning from Three Chimneys to Aiken for 60-90 days of pre-training, and then we will send him down to Todd Pletcher in Florida. His 2015 schedule will be formulated by Three Chimneys, Dogwood, and Todd, and we will announce that at a later date.”
Palace Malice would race in the name Three Chimneys Farm/Dogwood Stable, and in Dogwood colors. He will stand stud at Three Chimneys upon his retirement.
Bred by William S. Farish, Palace Malice captured the 2013 Belmont Stakes to stamp himself as leading 3-year-old of his generation and was widely considered among the top older horses in training this season prior to his injury. He won his first four starts of 2014, highlighted by a gritty triumph in the Grade I Met Mile where he overcame the inside No. 1 post position to defeat Goldencents by a length. Goldencents would go on to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile earlier this month.
“Three Chimneys bought into Palace Malice based on his race record, his looks, and his pedigree,” said Three Chimneys chairman Gonçalo Torrealba. “We are excited at the opportunity to race the horse with Dogwood Stable. Having missed the Breeders’ Cup this year, we look forward to a campaign in 2015 that has the $5,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Classic as our ultimate goal.”
Palace Malice has seven wins from 17 starts with $2,676,135 in earnings.
John Sikura has cultivated some of the best female families within the Thoroughbred industry on his palatial Hill ‘n Dale Farm, balancing his head and his heart as he has invested in and sold fillies and mares that have become game changers.
All those bloodlines Sikura put his time and money into paid him tribute within the Keeneland sales pavilion during the second session of the 11-day November Breeding Stock sale. In rewarding him and his partners, they helped lift all the boats on a gangbusters day of selling that now has the auction’s overall gross running ahead of 2013 numbers.
Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales can put Wednesday in the annals of some of the best days it has had inside the sales arena. Of the 11 offerings that cracked the seven figure barrier during the auction’s second session, five were consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale including three of the day’s top four prices, the best being the sale of a Tapit filly for $3 million which established a North American record price for a weanling of either sex.
Where Tuesday’s opening session featured across-the-board declines, Wednesday’s lineup blew last year’s corresponding session out of the water producing a single-day gross of $54,454,000 that was 22.98 percent higher than in 2013. Global sire power once again fueled the fire, most notably in the case of Aloof, a 5-year-old daughter of world’s elite sire Galileo in foal to leading Claiborne stallion War Front who went for a sale-topping $3.9 million to Mandy Pope.
Though the overall average of $351,106 and median of $200,000 are still running 1.81 and 9.09 percent behind last year’s totals, respectively, the cumulative gross of $95,852,000 is now up 10.77 percent from 2013.
“It’s the old adage that quality sells,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “We had 18 million-dollar horses the first two days over 14 last year, three horses over $3 million, the top end is very strong. But these are families that are hard to get to and when they come on the market, people want them.”
Pound for pound, Sikura knew he had a consignment full of families that would rule the day.
At the 2003 Keeneland November sale, Sikura sold Serena’s Cat – the first foal out of his former top producing mare Serena’s Tune – as a weanling to Dell Ridge Farm for $1.4 million, but later bought back a percentage of her after Serena’s Tune was euthanized in 2006 due to laminitis.
With Serena’s Cat having already produced graded stakes winners Noble Tune and Honor Code, her leggy Tapit filly Sikura offered up Wednesday represented a rare chance to obtain a family Bridlewood Farm general manager George Isaacs called “a genetic masterpiece.”
“Really it came full circle,” said Sikura, who earlier sold the 2-year-old Tapit filly Modeling, out of another top Hill ‘n’ Dale mare, Teeming, in foal to Distorted Humor for $2.85 million to Don Alberto Corp. “I was always so sick I had sold (Serena’s Cat) so I went back in and did a deal with Dell Ridge after Noble Tune won a stakes.
“That was the goal to be the highest priced filly in the world sold this year and (the Tapit filly) achieved that. We brought some unique fillies in here. I thought we’d have what other people wouldn’t and we got rewarded.”
Thus, Isaacs battled bid for bid with Pope for the Tapit filly, getting the go-ahead from Bridlewood owner John Malone via phone to go up to $3 million, then walk away if it wasn’t enough.
“She’s everything we’re looking for. We’ll own her until the day she draws her last breath,” Isaacs said. “Physically she’s the best filly on the grounds. You couldn’t draw a picture any prettier.”
Pope may have lost out on the Tapit filly but her broodmare band that already features 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty and champion Groupie Doll gained another notable addition in Aloof.
Consigned by Paramount Sales, Aloof is out of the Group I winning mare Airwave and showed her class on the track in becoming a Group III winner.
“(The price) was about twice what I had hoped she would go for. But Galileo is the best stallion and in foal to War Front, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” Pope said. “She was beautiful and leggy which I think will help because War Front’s tend to be a little plain.
“She better (have a pretty War Front),” Pope joked “Or I’ll send her back to Paramount.”
The sale continues Thursday beginning at 10 a.m.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.