Archive for May, 2010

Interactif joins Belmont field

Graded stakes winner Interactif will compete in Saturday’s Grade I Belmont Stakes, trainer Todd Pletcher announced Monday morning. With the presence of Interactif, the Belmont is now expected to feature a field of 12.

Pletcher and owner Alain Wertheimer had originally planned to send Interactif to Friday’s Grade III Hill Prince on the turf, but began to consider the Belmont following a promising workout on May 22 when the son of Broken Vow covered six furlongs on the main track in 1:14.29.

“We decided to call an audible and send him to the Belmont,” said Pletcher. “Two works ago, we had it in our minds, and after surveying the field we decided to go.”

Javier Castellano will have the mount aboard Interactif, who will be making his first start on dirt since finishing eighth in the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga in July. He closed his juvenile campaign with victories in the Grade III With Anticipation and Grade III Bourbon on the grass before finishing a close third in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Second by a nose in the Hallandale Beach on the turf at Gulfstream in his sophomore debut, Interactif has competed over synthetic surfaces in his last two starts, finishing second to Sidney’s Candy in the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita and fourth in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland.

“His second to Sidney’s Candy in the San Felipe was very good, although we were a little disappointed with his performance in the Blue Grass,” said Pletcher. “We had the Derby in mind after [the Blue Grass], but thought the three weeks might be a little fast back.”

Romero, Azeri among 2010 Hall of Fame inductees

Jockey Randy Romero and horses Azeri, Best Pal and Point Given have been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. The Class of 2010 will be inducted on Friday, August 13 in a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at the newly renovated Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.

Romero, Azeri, Best Pal and Point Given were elected in the contemporary category by the 182 members of the Hall of Fame’s voting panel. The Hall of Fame’s Historic Review Committee will announce its selections on Wednesday, June 9, completing the Class of 2010.

Romero, 52, won 4,294 races in a career that began in 1973 and concluded in 1999. He won 16 percent of his races and his mounts earned purses totaling $75,264,198. He was the regular rider of two of the most spectacular fillies of his era, Go for Wand and the undefeated Personal Ensign, both of whom Romero will join in the Hall of Fame.

Azeri won 17 of her 24 races, including 11 Grade I contests. She debuted with a six-furlong victory at Santa Anita on November 1, 2001 and won her only other start that year as a 3-year-old, but it was her 4-year-old season that would put her in the history books. That season the daughter of Jade Hunter won eight of her nine starts, including Grade I victories in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap, Apple Blossom Handicap, Milady Breeders’ Cup Handicap and Vanity Handicap, en route to earning Horse of the Year honors.

Best Pal was a durable, popular and successful gelding who won 18 of his 47 career starts and placed in 11 others. Racing from ages two through eight, he won 17 stakes and had career earnings of $5,668,245.

Based in California, Best Pal is one of only four horses to win a particular trio of the West Coast’s top rung of races: the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Charles H. Strub Stakes.

Point Given was named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male in 2001. Trained by Bob Baffert, Point Given broke his maiden in his second start as a 2-year-old and also won the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile and Grade I Hollywood Futurity during his juvenile season.

At three, Point Given dominated in his two starts at Santa Anita. He took the Grade II San Felipe by 2¼ lengths before a 5½-length romp in the Santa Anita Derby. Point Given was then a troubled fifth in the Kentucky Derby, which turned out to be the last race of his career that he lost.

Following the Derby, Point Given won the final two jewels of the Triple Crown with a 2¼-length victory in the Preakness and a jaw-dropping 12¼-length triumph in the Belmont. He then went on to win the Haskell Invitational and Travers, becoming the first horse to ever win four consecutive races with $1 million purses.

Ice Box tunes up for Belmont; Dave in Dixie joins list of probables

Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box has his final serious move in preparation for next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, posting a bullet four-furlong workout in 46.65 this morning over Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma Training Track, the fastest of 22 works at the distance.

Spotting 3-year-old stablemate Dark Cove five lengths at the start of the workout, Ice Box went in 23.25 for the first quarter and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.02.

“I liked everything about the work,” trainer Nick Zito said of the Grade I Florida Derby winner. “I wanted to see what I saw (in his work). He finished with good energy and he looked good doing it. That’s the main thing. Sometimes, you got to have a little zip in him, even though he’s going a mile-and-a-half. This is the exact workout he had coming into the Kentucky Derby. Hopefully, everything goes good.”

Ice Box, along with stablemate and fellow Belmont hopeful Fly Down, winner of the Grade II Dwyer, is scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park along with Zito on Wednesday, June 2.

The probable Belmont field grew to 11 on Thursday as trainer John Sadler confirmed that Dave in Dixie would be pointed for the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Dave in Dixie broke his maiden at first asking last summer at Del Mar and was sixth behind eventual Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky in the Grade I Norfolk Stakes in his only other start as a juvenile. Dave in Dixie began his 3-year-old campaign with a second-place effort in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, and followed that by finishing sixth in the Grade II San Felipe and fifth in the Grace III Illinois Derby, his first start on dirt, on April 3.

Co-owner Ike Thrash said the decision to join the Belmont field was finalized after Dave in Dixie worked a mile at Hollywood Park Thursday morning in 1:39.60.

“It’s worth a shot,” said Thrash, who was represented in the Kentucky Derby by Line of David, who finished 18th, but whose Derby Trial winner, Hurricane Ike, was withdrawn from Preakness consideration the morning of entry. “He worked for the last time this morning and we waited until afterward to make sure he was coming.”

Jockey Calvin Borel – who is scheduled to return to riding at Churchill tomorrow having been sidelined by an eye infection since May 16 – is slated to have the mount aboard Dave in Dixie.

Happy Birthday to Lookin At Lucky

The pro-tem leader of this year’s sophomore division can now finally call himself a top 3-year-old performer.

While January 1 is considered the universal birthday for all horses, juvenile champion and Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky officially turns three today having been foaled in Kentucky on May 27.

From his maiden start to his tenth career outing in the Preakness, Lookin At Lucky has been a superior member of his class, racking up seven wins – four of which are Grade I triumphs. The fact the bay son of Smart Strike has already enjoyed a most accomplished career makes him the latest May foal to debunk the myth that somehow their later birth date puts them at a competitive disadvantage against their “older” peers.

It is not uncommon to see May foals suffer in the public auction arena as they are often smaller and less developed at that stage. Lucky, for example, was a $35,000 RNA at the 2008 September yearling sale before later being purchased for $475,000 at the 2009 Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale.

Despite the tendency within the industry to often view May foals with a strike against them, history has shown that just because they hit the ground a little late doesn’t mean their development will be stymied in the least.

Last year’s Kentucky Derby hero Mine That Bird – who was also a 2-year-old champion in Canada – wasn’t foaled until May 10 while 2009 Derby runner-up and multiple Grade I winner Pioneerof the Nile wasn’t born until May 5. Dual classic winner and champion Afleet Alex boasts a May 9 birthday, 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun was born on May 10 and 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone didn’t emerge by his dam’s side until May 16.

Even though he isn’t technically a May foal, the brilliant Barbaro was only barely 3-years-old when he earned his Kentucky Derby triumph in 2006 as he wasn’t born until April 29. Same goes for last year’s Kentucky Derby betting favorite Friesan Fire who didn’t hit the ground until April 30th.

The success of May foals was wonderfully detailed in an article by breeder Rob Whiteley last season in the Thoroughbred Daily News, which was later reprinted in the Paulick Report ( ). If you missed it then, go check it out now as there are many interesting facts to soak in.

One of the most intriguing points Whiteley makes is how May foals have enjoyed a particular high rate of success in the Belmont, winning nearly 40 percent of the past 15 runnings prior to Summer Bird’s triumph last year. With that little angle in mind, there is at least one May foal I have found amongst this year’s Belmont probables – none other than Grade I Blue Grass Stakes winner Stately Victor, born on May 1.

The fact Lookin At Lucky is such a youngster was cited by trainer Bob Baffert as one of the many reasons he wanted to give the colt a break after the Preakness and bypass the Belmont. While I fault no one for putting the welfare of their horse first, it is a shame we won’t see the newest classic winner in the final leg of the Triple Crown. After all, if Lucky and his fellow May comrades have proven anything, it’s that their talent is more than capable of being far beyond their years.

Breeders’ Cup to finish under the lights in 2010

The Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs today announced this year’s Breeders’ Cup Championship Friday card and possibly its Saturday card will finish under the lights. The Friday card on November 5 will begin at 2 p.m. ET and finish at approximately 7:30 p.m. with the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic while Saturday’s card will begin at 12:05 p.m. and conclude with the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at 6:45 p.m. ET. Given the late post time of the Classic, the lights may be turned on for that race as well.

“With the large, passionate base of racing fans in Kentucky and its magnificent facility, Churchill Downs is always one of the most popular venues for our Championships,” said Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Greg Avioli. “We’re very excited to be running one of our premier races under the lights on Friday and to be staging two days of the finest racing in the world in our home state.”

After a successful night racing experiment last summer, Churchill Downs installed permanent lights in its historic facility and will host six night racing cards this year.

While it has never officially gone under the lights prior to this season, the Breeders’ Cup has concluded in darkness before at Churchill Downs during the rain-soaked 1988 running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic when champion Alysheba captured the race to en route to cementing Horse of the Year honors.

Tickets for this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs go on sale beginning June 5 – Belmont Stakes day. Fans will be able to purchase single day tickets for either Friday or Saturday programs or purchase bundled seating and dining packages for both days of the Championships.

General Admission tickets will go on sale beginning October 5 for online purchase only. The online price for Championship Friday will be $10. General Admission online price on Championship Saturday is $20. Patrons will be able to print their tickets at home and bring them to the track for admission. General admission prices at the gate on Championship Friday will be $15 and $25 on Championship Saturday.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets in two ways this year:

  • Fans can go to the Web to to access the online ticket system by Seat Advisor Box Office (SABO), which allows purchasers to view seat locations and buy their tickets in a fast, efficient manner.
  • Those without online access can purchase tickets by telephone by calling toll-free at (877) TIX-4CUP.

Blue Grass winner Stately Victor works toward Belmont

Tom and Jack Conway’s Stately Victor, winner of the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and eighth behind Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby, tuned up for his expected run in the Belmont Stakes with a sharp five-furlong workout on Tuesday at Churchill Downs’ Trackside Louisville training center.

The son of Ghostzapper zipped over a fast track to cover the five furlongs in :59.40 in the only work at that distance over the six-furlong oval with splits of :11.60, :22.80, :34.20 and :46.80 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.20.

Trainer Mike Maker timed the work a bit slower on his stopwatch, but was happy with the effort by Stately Victor. He said the Conway colt would ship to New York’s Belmont Park on Thursday for final preparations for the 1 ½-mile concluding jewel of the Triple Crown.

“Time doesn’t mean anything to us, it doesn’t mean anything in the race,” Maker said. “He’s happy and he did it the way he always works, so we’re pleased.”

Stately Victor is scheduled to complete his serious preparation for the Belmont Stakes with a Tuesday work over the sprawling 1 ½-mile Belmont oval.

“Hopefully we’ll draw an outside post, just slap him on cruise control and grind it out,” Maker said. “I thought he ran a credible race in the Derby and I think you throw him out at your own risk. Compared to some of the other horses, if he fires his Blue Grass race back, he’s going to be competitive. I think if he runs his Derby race back, he’s going to be competitive.”

Mine That Bird returns to Churchill Downs

One day after arriving at the barn of his new trainer, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird stretched his legs over the Churchill Downs track on Friday.

Despite developing the gelding into not only the Derby winner, but the runner-up and third-place finisher, respectively in last year’s Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Mine That Bird’s owners made the decision to remove the son of Birdstone from trainer Chip Woolley and place him with Lukas for his 4-year-old campaign.

On Friday, Mine That Bird jogged around to the sixteenth pole with Lukas alongside and then jogged back to the backstretch before finishing his morning exercise with a little time in the mile chute before heading back to Barn 44.

I think he looks better than I have ever seen him. I am very pleased with what I see,” Lukas said. “He will gallop tomorrow morning.”

Mine That Bird has not started since finishing ninth in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Though no specific race has been picked out yet for his 2010 debut, co-owner Mark Allen said he hoped to get three starts into the gelding before this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 6.

“We will work backward from the Breeders’ Cup to make sure we look good here,”  Lukas said. “I’m sure the Whitney (Aug. 7) is going to jump out there and maybe the Suburban (July 3) at Belmont could be another possibility. Then they’ve got the Salvatore Mile (also July 3) at Monmouth Park, so there are plenty of options.”

Thayer makes push for repeat Kentucky Breeders’ Cup

With the New York Racing Association facing a possible shutdown and Santa Anita Park’s recent termination of its lease with Oak Tree Racing Association,  Republican Senator Damon Thayer sent a letter to members of the Breeders’ Cup Board urging the organization to bring the two-day championship event back to Kentucky in 2011, 2012 or both years.

In the letter, Thayer outlined tax credits that could be worth up to $1 million should the Breeders’ Cup be held in Kentucky in either of the upcoming two seasons. In order to qualify for the credits, however, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. must commit to coming back to Kentucky over the next two years by November 4. If Breeders’ Cup does not commit by that date, 80 percent of the tax credit would go to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, 13 percent to the Standardbred Development Fund, and 7 percent to the Quarter Horse Development Fund.

Churchill Downs is already scheduled to host this year’s Breeders’ Cup on November 5-6. The Breeders’ Cup board has reportedly been considering going with either one permanent host site or using a multi-track rotation.

Santa Anita – which has hosted the last two Breeders’ Cup as part of its Oak Tree meeting – had been considered the favorite to gain the Breeders’ Cup if the board opted to go with a permanent site. But with the recent decision by track-owner Magna International Developments not to renew its contract with Oak Tree, that idea has now been thrown into question.

In April, executives from NYRA sent a letter to Breeders’ Cup chairman Bill Farish expressing its desire to host the Breeders’ Cup in 2011. NYRA is facing a possible shutdown due to lack of funds, however, and sent notice to its 1,400 employees Thursday indicating layoffs could begin as early as June 9.

“In difficult economic times, the General Assembly is willing to forgo over $1 million in General Fund revenue to attract the Breeders’ Cup to Kentucky on a frequent basis,” Thayer said in his letter. “It is a win-win when the Breeders’ Cup is held in Kentucky. The Commonwealth benefits from an estimated $30 million economic impact and the added prestige of hosting other international events like the Ryder Cup and World Equestrian Games.

“For Breeders’ Cup Ltd., Churchill Downs has always been the event’s most lucrative venue, held in the Horse Capital of the World, and close to home for many breeders who nominate foals and stallions to the program. In addition, both Lexington-based sales companies (Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton) report higher receipts at the November sales when the Breeders’ Cup is held in Kentucky.

“It is my hope Kentucky will play a significant role in the future rotation of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.”

NYRA issues “warn notices” to employees in advance of shutdown

The financially troubled New York Racing Associated announced Friday it has provided notice to its employees that it expects to cease racing operations and begin the implementation of plant closures on Wednesday, June 9 at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Aqueduct Racetrack.

The notices, pursuant to the requirements of the Federal and New York State Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts (jointly referred to as the WARN Acts), were sent to more than 1,400 NYRA employees on Thursday, May 20 and indicated that layoffs can be expected to begin as early as June 9.

NYRA president Charles Hayward had previously stated that the association is running out of the money and would have to shut down shortly after the Belmont Stakes on June 5 – the final leg of the Triple Crown – if it did not get financial help from the state.

New York Governor David Paterson responded by saying there is a plan to loan NYRA between $15-$25 million, but that deal is not yet assured. NYRA has also said the state, which now owns the bankrupt New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., should be responsible for paying out the $17 million it is owned by corporation.

In the statement released Friday, it said “NYRA continues to pursue solutions with the State of New York that may avert the cessation of operations”.

Borel, Leparoux sidelined

Jockey Julien Leparoux, who went down in a spill at Pimlico Race Course last Friday, will be out of action for about two weeks after the Eclipse Award winner was discovered to have a compression fracture in his back.

“He has a compression fracture of the T-8 in the middle of his back,” said Steve Bass, Leparoux’s agent. “He had an MRI done Tuesday and that’s when the fracture was discovered. He will be out a week and a half to two weeks.”

Currently the second-leading rider at the Churchill meet with 13 victories, Leparoux was hurt last Friday when his mount in the Black-Eyed Susan, Diva Delite, clipped heels approaching the far turn and threw Leparoux. Leparoux honored all of his commitments Saturday at Pimlico and Sunday at Churchill Downs, where he rode two winners.

“Julien was still sore when he got back here and when we went to the doctor he didn’t think it was anything major,” Bass said. “I told him it was something that needed to be tended to before it turned out to be something that could affect him long term.

“It is the first time he has been hurt and I hope it is the last.”

Meanwhile, leading rider and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel was off all of his mounts Thursday because of an eye infection.

“He is off today and maybe Friday, but he hopes to be back Saturday,” Borel’s agent Jerry Hissam said.

Borel, who has ridden 22 winners at Churchill this spring, has a huge lead in the jockey standings in his bid for the first Spring Meet leading rider title. He has won one Fall title outright and shared two others.

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