Archive for August, 2009

Mine That Bird to return to the track Friday

Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is back in Saratoga after undergoing minor surgery for an entrapped epiglottis Tuesday and is scheduled to return to the track Friday in preparation for the Travers Stakes on August 29.

“It was smooth as silk, the whole thing,” trainer Chip Woolley said Wednesday morning.  “We hit a little traffic around Albany on the trip back, but we got him here, he ate all his feed last night, you can see him eating there now; he looks great.

“Dr. [James] Hunt will scope him Friday morning, and provided everything scopes good and he looks good, we’ll get him to the track.”

Woolley  reiterated that Mine That Bird still could miss the Travers if he was not completely healthy.

“If he’s 95 percent, we won’t run him,” Woolley said.  “We’re not going to take any chances with his career for one race.”

Well, we know she’s not in the Alabama

As the racing world waits for Jess Jackson to announce where Rachel Alexandra will make her next start, one race has officially been ruled out. Entries for the Grade I Alabama Stakes were drawn today and – not surprisingly – Rachel’s name was nowhere to be found. Of course, the Alabama was probably the least likely place she would end up as she would only be beating up on the same 3-year-old fillies she has already throttled many times over. So now, it’s either the Travers, the Pennsylvania Derby, the Personal Ensign, or the Woodward on tap.

For those interested, here are the entires for this weekend’s Alabama at Saratoga courtesy of Equibase:

PP Horse Virtual
A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer
1 Sweet and Flawless (KY) 3/F L R A Dominguez 121 E R Reed
2 Wynning Ride (ON) 3/F L K J Desormeaux 121 B Baffert
3 Funny Moon (KY) 3/F L A Garcia 121 C Clement
4 Don’t Forget Gil (NY) 3/F L R Maragh 121 M A Hennig
5 Careless Jewel (KY) 3/F L* R C Landry 121 J Carroll
6 Be Fair (FL) 3/F L J R Leparoux 121 D W Lukas
7 Casanova Move (VA) 3/F L J Lezcano 121 T A Pletcher
8 Milwaukee Appeal (ON)

Derby Museum staff to shift trophies to Churchill Downs

As part of the ongoing preservation of pieces affected by flooding that hit the museum earlier this month, staff members from the Kentucky Derby Museum will be moving all of the trophies from the main floor exhibit cases to a vault at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

Staff will walk approximately 80 trophies by hand in white gloves across the courtyard for temporary storage. Among the trophies to be moved include Flying Ebony’s 1925 Gold Cup, Carry Back’s Preakness and Gold Cup trophies from 1960, Determine’s 1954 Gold Cup, and Kingfisher’s 1870 Travers Stakes trophy.

Some of the remaining trophies in the collection are currently housed in a vault in the Derby Museum which was unaffected by the flood and will remain in the museum during the next stages of cleanup.

The Derby Museum sustained an estimated $4 million worth of damage when Louisville was hit with flash floods on August 4th. The Museum remains closed through the completion of clean up and repairs.

Regular updates of the progress are posted on the blog page at

Hal Wiggins to retire at the end of Churchill meet

Longtime trainer Hal Wiggins, who conditioned Preakness and Haskell winner Rachel Alexandra for the first ten starts of her career, has announced plans to retire at the end of the Churchill Downs fall meet after more than 30 years in the business.

A resident of Louisville for the last 16 years, the affable Wiggins was the leading trainer at Keeneland in the fall of 1998 and tied for leading trainer for the 2000 Kentucky Downs meet. It was the rise of Rachel Alexandra, however, that put Wiggins in the national spotlight as the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro became his first Grade I winner when she announced her dominance to the world with her record-setting 20 1/4 length triumph in the Kentucky Oaks.

Rachel Alexandra, who was bred and previously owned by Wiggins’ longtime client Dolphus Morrison, was sold privately to Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick days after her Oaks win and transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen.

“(My wife Renee) and I have been thinking about it the last year and a half trying to figure out when we would do it and Rachel definitely made it possible for us to do it,” Wiggins said of his decision to retire. “Right after the Oaks, right after she was sold we kind of looked at each other and said ‘This might be a good time.’

“When you have one like that and all of the sudden they’re out of your barn… leaves a hole. But we were just very blessed to have had her for the time we did.”

Wiggins said he has about 19 horses in his barn and added that his son Lon, also a trainer, would likely take over the horses he currently has for Morrison.

“I think Renee and I have been looking forward to this but with mixed emotions, obviously,” Wiggins said. “When you train for so many nice people, it’s not easy to walk away. You want to make sure everyone is taken care of because they’ve been mighty nice to us to let us train these horses. They’re not just clients, they’re friends and let me tell you whoever gets theses horses will be getting some great owners.”

Wiggins may not be as big a name as the Pletchers or Bafferts of the world but make no mistake, his retirement will represent a huge loss on the backstretch. I was fortunate enough to spend a good deal of time with Wiggins and his wife during Rachel’s run up to the Oaks and one would be hard pressed to find two more good-natured, genuine people anywhere. Even as the media crush began to descend on him, Wiggins would treat everyone who came into his shedrow as if they were an old friend and by the time you were done talking with him, you were as much at ease as if you indeed had been chatting with a longtime acquaintance.

When word came down that Rachel Alexandra was being sold, Wiggins was the epitome of class and dignity despite his obvious – and understandable – heartache over the matter. Where it would have been easy to give in to bitterness, Wiggins did and has continued to express nothing but gratitude about being able to have such a filly in his care.

In a business that can be inherently selfish, Wiggins was as generous as they come. Thus, as much as he will be missed, he has more than earned this right to walk away on his terms.

Keeneland’s Jim Williams to retire

Keeneland’s long time Director of Communications, Jim Williams, today announced plans to retire after more than 38 years with the company. He will step down in December.

Williams succeeded J.B. Faulconer as Keeneland’s Director of Publicity in November 1971 and, ultimately, assumed the title of Director of Communications for the company.  He has worked under three company presidents—Ted Bassett, Bill Greely and current CEO Nick Nicholson.

“To put Jim’s tenure in perspective, when he joined Keeneland in 1971, Richard Nixon was president, All in the Family premiered on television, and gas was 30 cents a gallon,” said Nicholson. “Since that time, Jim has been the public face of Keeneland, and he has conducted himself in a manner that has enhanced Keeneland’s stature in the eyes of everyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him. Jim is a man of character, integrity and humility. We at Keeneland thank him for his many years of service and wish him the best in his retirement.”

In the position, Williams has overseen the advertising and communication for Keeneland’s racing, auction sales and simulcasting, serving as the company’s spokesman.

“What a phenomenal privilege it’s been to spend almost my entire working career at a company that’s a world leader,” said Williams. “After 38 years on the job, it’s time to pass the baton, enjoy the flexibility of retirement and look forward to attending Keeneland as a spectator.”

During Williams’ career, Keeneland’s facilities have undergone almost a total transformation. Each spring and fall the track hosts two of North America’s premier race meetings and Keeneland is the largest dollar volume Thoroughbred auction company in the world.

Keeneland has not yet named a successor to Williams.

Mine That Bird to have surgery, still on course for Travers

Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will undergo throat surgery to free an entrapped epiglottis discovered after he breezed Monday morning at Saratoga Race Course. The 3-year-old gelding should remain on target for the Grade I, $1 million Travers on August 29, trainer Chip Woolley said.

“After Mine That Bird’s work this morning, we scoped him, and he’s got an entrapment of the epiglottis,” said Woolley just three hours after the gelding worked five furlongs in 1:03.83 on the main track with Jamie Theriot aboard. “It’s enough that we’re going to take him to the city [Elmont, N.Y.] tonight and do surgery on him in the morning.

“The doctors think – there’s no guarantees – but the doctors think he’ll be good for Travers; he’ll be here and ready to run in the Travers,” he added. “But, it will be somewhat day to day. We will not run him if he’s not 100 percent, so we’re gonna see how things go with the deal tomorrow.”

Woolley said the brief procedure will be performed at about 8 a.m. Tuesday morning by Dr. Patricia Hogan at the Ruffian Equine Medical Center across the street from Belmont Park, after which Mine That Bird will immediately return to Saratoga.

“We could do it here, that’s not an issue, it’s the fact that the doctor down there has a full-day schedule tomorrow, and there was no way for her to come up here and get back and do her other surgeries,” said Woolley. “This horse transports well. It’s not that big a deal, we’ll just haul him down there, spend the night and do it, haul him back here tomorrow afternoon.”

Woolley said that the condition, in which the thin membrane lying below the epiglottis (the fleshy tissue that covers the windpipe when a horse swallows) moves up and covers the epiglottis, was discovered during a routine endoscopic examination by veterinarian Dr. James Hunt.

“Every time, two weeks out, we always scope him just to make sure we don’t have any problems,” said Woolley. “It’s just standard procedure with me, that’s how I’ve done it in every race. At his two week-out work, we scope him. We had no clue there was any problem. He came off the race track bucking and playing this morning. I never gave a second thought to it. He finishes up in eleven and three the last eighth of a mile. I mean, I would have never dreamed there’s a problem.”

The procedure, similar to the one Alysheba underwent 30 days before he won the 1987 Kentucky Derby, will take a matter of minutes, said Woolley, after which Mine That Bird should be able to resume training with little interruption.

“Basically, they’ve got a little hook with a kind of a sharp [piece] inside of the hook, and they just reach in and they hook the little piece that’s grown up over the top and slice it in two,” he explained. “And that thing will kind of draw back away, and, for the most part, it will be gone.”

Mine That Bird, who was second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, third to Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes and third in the West Virginia Derby, is scheduled to have his final tuneup for the 1¼-mile Travers next week.

Old Fashioned to stand at Taylor Made

Multiple graded stakes winner Old Fashioned, who was retired in April after suffering a slab fracture in his right knee, will enter stud at Taylor Made Farm for the 2010 breeding season. A stud fee has yet to be determined.

Owned by Rick Porter and trained by Larry Jones, Old Fashioned won his first three races by a combined 23 lengths including a 7 1/4 length romp in the Grade II Remsen Stakes last season. After winning the Grade III Southwest in his seasonal bow, the son of Unbridled’s Song finished second in both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby prior to his injury.

“Old Fashioned has the traits we look for.  He has the ability to go two turns and is a brilliant stallion prospect,” said Ben Taylor, Vice President Taylor Made Stallions, which also stands Unbridled’s Song.  “We raised Old Fashioned, his sire and all his dam’s foals so we know first hand how exceptional looking the whole family is. We are very excited about his future as a sire.”

Jockey Club projects 2010 foal crop

The Jockey Club announced today that it is projecting a 2010 North American registered Thoroughbred foal crop of 30,000. In addition, The Jockey Club has revised its original estimate of registered foals for 2009 from 35,400 to 34,000.

The foal crop projection, traditionally announced in mid-August, is computed by using Reports of Mares Bred (RMBs) received to date for the 2009 breeding season. RMBs are to be filed by Aug. 1 of each breeding season.

“After remaining stable for more than a decade, the number of mares bred has declined annually beginning in 2006 and the rate of that decline has accelerated in each of the last two breeding seasons,” said Matt Iuliano, The Jockey Club’s vice president of registration services. “These declines will have an obvious impact on the business in the years ahead, most notably at the racetrack, where, on average, 70 percent of registered foals make at least one career start.”

The 2010 foal crop is projected to be the smallest foal crop since 1977, when a comparable 30,036 foals were registered.

“We strongly encourage all stallion owners to submit their 2009 Reports of Mares Bred as soon as possible so that we can fully gauge the impact of these declines in 2009 breeding activity,” Iuliano added. “As always, we will publish this information in full as soon as a representative number of reports are in hand.”

Given the declines that have hit the Thoroughbred marketplace the past year, some breeders – particularly smaller operations with less commercial mares – previously expressed they may opt to keep some of their broodmares out of production until the landscape takes a turn for the better.

Suzi Shoemaker, owner and general manager of Lantern Hill Farm in Midway, said she welcomed the news of the decreased numbers as a sign the breeding industry was finally adjusting to the issue of overproduction.

“No, I’m not surprised at all. In fact I see it as a positive,” Shoemaker said Friday. “I think it’s the best thing we could have hoped for because I don’t think any of us would want to breed and overproduce an animal for whom there are few end users. We need to be responsive to market conditions and …people this time seem to have immediately made the adjustments they needed to make.

“If these numbers came out and there was only a small drop, I would have been very depressed.”

Added Iuliano “The only thing I can say is the connection between the market and the decisions the breeders make is very strong. It’s a very tight bind between those two.”

Graded Stakes Committee alters eligibility requirements

The American Graded Stakes Committee announced changes to its grade eligibility requirements on Wednesday following its August meeting in Saratoga.

In addition to suspending its requirement that states/tracks adopt the RCI model rule on toe grabs, the Graded Stakes committee is reducing the minimum purse for Grade I races in 2010 to $250,000, down from $300,000 this year. However, the Grade I minimum will revert back to $300,000 in 2011.

The Committee has also expanded its change in conditions requirement for graded races. Beginning in 2010, if a race is not run for two or more years or is not run in two of the last three years, it is ineligible for grading. Among the races that could be affected by that rule is the Grade I Pimlico Special, which was not held in 2007 and 2009, and the Massachusetts Handicap, which has not been run the last two years due to financial reasons.

The Committee will meet again in early December for its annual grading session.

Fair Grounds attempting to lure Rachel, Zenyatta

Count Fair Grounds Race Course among the entities trying to make this Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta showdown happen.
The New Orleans track – which announced Tuesday it was boosting the purse of its signature Louisiana Derby to $750,000 and extending the distance to 1 1/8-miles – has added a pair races for fillies and mares, including a new 1 1/8-miles stakes race on Dec. 19 to potentially entice a year-end showdown between the two star distaffers. The unnamed race currently carries a $100,000 purse but track officials said the prize money could increase if Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both show.
“Horse racing fans desire to see Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta race against one another, and we’re no different,” Fair Grounds vice president Eric Halstrom said. “By positioning this new race six weeks after the Breeders’ Cup and three weeks after the Churchill Downs’ Clark and Falls City Handicaps, it gives all parties involved something to consider and opens the door for further discussions. Anything further at this point would be premature and circumstances could be different in four months, but this races gives us an option to dream.”
Fair Grounds will host a record $7.24 million, 66-race stakes schedule for its 2009-2010 meeting. The meet will begin on November 6, a week earlier than last year.
In addition to increasing the purse and distance of its main Kentucky Derby prep race, Fair Grounds has also moved the Louisiana Derby to March 27, five weeks before the first Saturday of May. Last year saw eventual Derby favorite Friesan Fire storm to victory in the Louisiana Derby, but the positioning of the race meant the bay colt had a seven-week layoff heading into the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
The 2008 Louisiana Derby card produced a spectacular day of racing with Rachel Alexandra winning the Fair Grounds Oaks on the undercard and eventual Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap winner Macho Again taking the New Orleans Handicap.

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