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NEW YORK — Tuesday morning, Churchill Downs Incorporated announced that the 2020 Kentucky Derby, originally scheduled for May 2, has been postponed and will now be run on Saturday, Sept. 5. 

In response, New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) CEO & President Dave O’Rourke issued the following statement: “NYRA is working closely with all appropriate parties, including media rights holder NBC Sports, to make a determination about the timing of the 2020 Belmont Stakes. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend American life, decisions about large-scale public events must prioritize public health and safety above all else. NYRA will deliver an announcement only when that process has concluded to the satisfaction of state and local health departments. The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution with wide-reaching economic impact. We look forward to its 152nd edition in 2020.”

Since March 12, NYRA has conducted live racing without fan attendance at Aqueduct and through March 17 restated its intention to continue racing behind closed doors. 

The 40-racing days Saratoga Meet is slated to run July 16 - Sept. 7. Spring training at the Oklahoma Training track, located on Union Avenue across from the main racecourse typically begins in mid-April. 

Published in Sports
Thursday, 09 May 2019 13:15

145th Kentucky Derby

Maximum Security (#7-pink cap) was disqualified from the 145th Kentucky Derby. After a 22-minute review (replays of TV), based on objections by jockeys, the objection was upheld unanimously (3-0). As a result, the second-place finisher, Country House (#20, yellow cap) became first, and first place finisher became 17th. The “connections” of Maximum Security are filing their objection into the proper avenues. This is the first winner of the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified via an objection or inquiry.  In 1968 the winner, Dancers Image, was placed last due to a highly disputed “phenylbutazone” (anti-inflammatory)drug post-race decision.

Published in Sports
Thursday, 02 May 2019 00:00

America's Greatest Horse Race Part 2


Last week we took a look at some of the more interesting runnings of the Kentucky Derby from its inception through the swinging sixties. Where better than the seventies and Secretariat to begin part two.

This was the decade that the Racing Gods decided to bombard the Kentucky Horse Farms with the creme de la creme of the Thoroughbred Racing Breed. 

Let's begin with His Royal Highness,  the immortal  Secretariat. He was owned by Penny Chenery and her Meadow Stable. From north of the border, Lucien Lauren was responsible for his conditioning. Ron Turcotte, a fellow Canadian, had the mount on the Big Chestnut for most of his career. Secretariat was so good that he was named Horse of the Year at two. At three he would shake the racing universe to its core. He not only took the Derby, in doing so he set a new track record in winning the event. "Big Red" as he was fondly called continued his dominance through the Triple Crown events. He wrapped it up with a devastating thirty-one length romp in the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat was on his way to a second Horse of the Year title and a stall secured in "The Pantheon of Champions."  Charles Hatton who witnessed them all including Man O' War had this to say about him: "I never saw perfection before. I absolutely could not fault him in any way." Pure poetry from the premier turf writer of the twentieth century. 

Four years later lightning struck Louisville again. An unbeaten dark brown colt by the name of Seattle Slew thrilled the Derby crowd as he easily dominated his competition. He went on to become the second TC Champion of the decade. 

If Secretariat and " The Slew" were not enough, 1978 brought thunder to Churchill Downs on a sunny day. Harbor View Farm sent out their Derby hopeful Affirmed to combat Calumet Farm's Alydar. Calumet was looking to nail down its ninth Derby trophy. Affirmed, with  seventeen year old sensation Steve Cauthen in the saddle had other plans. The combo was too much for Alydar. They met again in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Affirmed prevailed by the slimmest of margins both times. The Warriers  faced off against each other a  total of eight times in their Hall of Fame careers.  They are forever  linked.  When one thinks of Affirmed, Alydar comes naturally as the next thought.  The seventies had now produced three Triple Crown winners after a twenty-five year drought. 

Next up was 1975 and Spectacular Bid. He was trained by Grover G. Delp better known as "Buddy." He took his highly talented  specimen to Kentucky with no doubt that he would win the Derby...and he did just that. Bid added the Preakness. He came to Belmont Park seeking the fourth TC in seven years. The powerful gray stepped on a pin the night before the race. That along with jockey Ronnie Franklin's sophomoric ride ended the dream. Only a blip in his tremendous career, Spectacular Bid went on to reach dizzying heights...a Champion of the highest order. 

The 1970's had produced four Kentucky Derby winners who found themselves among ten or so of the greatest racehorses of all time. What a decade it was for "The Sport of Kings."


On the first Saturday in May, 1980 it would be Ladies Day at Churchill Downs. Leroy Jolley, at the top of his training skills, sent out Filly Genuine Risk and jockey Jacinto Vasquez to test the boys in "The Run For The Roses." She stunned her male counterparts and headed home with the Derby Trophy and a blanket of roses befitting a queen. It was the first time that a member of the fairer sex had taken the Derby in eighty-six years. 

Four years later Swale came to Louisville and got his Derby with ease. At the Belmont Stakes Swale took on the look of a champion, as he toyed with the rest of the field. A week later his life ended when he collapsed after a morning workout. A autopsy showed a flawed heart. That may have been his only flaw. We can only wonder how great Swale's career could have been. 

For the older set, the 1986 Derby was a dream come true. Bill Shoemaker flew into Louisville seeking his fourth Derby. This one would be special, very special indeed. "The Shoe" had the mount on Ferdinand. With all the great skills in his arsenal he waited for the perfect time to make his move. At the top of the stretch Shoemaker weaved through traffic. Then out of nowhere he came flying on the inside with his mount. He blew past the leaders and won the race. At age fifty-four the "Shoe" had become the oldest jockey to take the Derby...the Immortal Bill Shoemaker.

Let's move ahead to 1989. This one was one to remember. Ogden Phipps had Easy Goer in this rendition. "The Goer" came into the race with an impeccable resume. Charlie Whitingham, a topnotch West Coast trainer brought a formidable challenger, Sunday Silence to test the big horse. The California upstart drew clear and won the Derby by two lenghts over Easy Goer. The two went on to become arch rivals, contesting some of the most thrilling races in memory. 

The nineties was the decade of three great trainers  on Derby Day. The brilliant  Nick Zito got the first of his two in 1991 with Strike The Gold. Three years later he would  "pardon the pun"...Strike again with Go For Gin. 

Derby slayer Bob Baffert got his first with Silver Charm in 1997. He followed with Real Quiet the next year. Both of his steeds took aim on the Triple Crown. Silver Charm came close in his attempt. Real Quiet came closer. He was lengths clear of the field at midstretch in the Belmont Stakes.
His nemesis Victory Gallup came toward him like a Concorde in full throttle. At the wire they were inseparable. The photo finish showed Victory Gallup the winner by a hair. Baffert was denied the Crown for the second time. As we shall see, the worm would turn in his favor seventeen years later. 

Zito and Baffert had both struck twice in the nineties. D Wayne Lucas would outdo them both. Lucas was at the top of the heap in the final decade of the twentieth century. He had scored his first Derby win with filly Winning Colors in 1988. She was only the third damsel to get the roses. When the nineties rolled around Wayne Lucas was about to own Churchill Downs on Derby Day. The roll took some time to get started. Halfway through the decade it began. He nailed down the 1995 version with Thunder Gulch. It was back to back when Grindstone charged home the winner the following year. Lucas had one more up his sleeve. In the last year of the twentieth century he pulled the hat trick with the ill fated team of Charismatic and his jockey Chris Antley. Charismatic broke down after a valiant effort in his quest for the Triple Crown. Antley passed away a year later. Racing fans will never forget his heartfelt cradling of Charismatic's injured leg moments after the Belmont Stakes loss. 


Lightning struck home in the 2003 Kentucky Derby. A Saratoga area partnership led by Jack Knowlton and Gus Williams owned Funny Cide. The gelding hit his stride at the exact right time to make him a Derby contender. Racing enthusiasts were ecstatic as the fan favorite took the roses. Funny Cide became the first gelding to win the race in seventy-four years. He went on to demolish the Preakness field by almost ten lengths. He was always a tough competitor and can be considered something of a folk hero for his exploits on the racetrack. 

Next up was Smarty Jones. He like Funny Cide the previous year had a huge fan base. He had a loveable name and was bred in of all places, the State of Pennsylvania. Despite being bred in a state that was far removed from the Kentucky Bluegrass, he could outrun any three year old on the planet, save one. He headed for Louisville unbeaten and stayed that way. He easily won the Derby, then moved onto Baltimore where he exploded to an eleven length romp in the Preakness.  He was off to Belmont and a shot at glory. Saratoga's great benefactor Mary Lou Whitney sent out a distinct outsider named Birdstone to test his luck in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Nick Zito had the thirty to one shot prepped and ready to run... and he did just that. Birdstone caught Smarty down the stretch and drove past him to the finish line. In a grand gesture  Mrs. Whitney apologized to Smarty Jones'  connections for ending their dream of taking the Triple Crown. Birdstone had one more gift in his shopping bag for Mary Lou. He came to the Spa that August and garnered a  much deserved Travers Stakes Trophy for The Grand Dame of the Saratoga Racing Scene.

There was one more running of the Derby that decade worth a look. This time it was Big Brown...and big he was. In 2008 the lightly raced and unbeaten colt came to Churchill Downs and toyed with the rest of the field. He continued his success with an easy score at Pimlico two weeks later. The Big Guy had aspirations of glory. Nick Zito put that dream to rest with another long shot as Da'Tara  romped home in the Belmont Stakes.

The decade had produced four Kentucky Derby winners that failed in their attempts to take the Triple Crown. Things were about to change.

The last decade is not over just  yet. This weekend's Derby will see the end of it. It has been one for the ages. Let's take a look.

We can start with 2014. It was the year of trainer Art Sherman and California Chrome. The first time  Art had made the trip to the Derby, he rode in a boxcar with 1955 Derby winner Swaps. At the time he was the exercise rider for the "California Comet" as the great Swaps was known. This time he flew first class to Louisville on a jet plane and was ushered to a box seat to watch his horse win The Kentucky Derby. To quote the great one, Jackie Gleason, "How Sweet It Is." Chrome went on to win the Preakness and reaped Horse of the Year Honors for 2014 and again in 2016. 

Next up it was Amercan Pharoah.  This beautiful bay colt would have made Ramses ii proud. He won The Derby in a driving finish. Bob Baffert had captured his fourth Derby and it was about to get better. he rolled home in The Preakness. His next stop was Elmont, New York and a shot at immortality. Baffert's horses had failed in two previous attempts at Triple Crown glory. This time he would not be denied. Pharoah devastated the field. He was all by himself at the wire. Baffert finally had his Triple Crown, the first in thirty-seven years. 

Last year Bob Baffert was back at Louisville with a lightly raced, highly talented colt named Justify. He had gone to the post only three times before The Derby. Given  the same task that Big Brown had faced a decade earlier, Justify too got the roses despite his lack of experience. Unlike Brown, he went on to capture The Triple Crown, Bafferts second in four years. The thirteenth TC winner was retired shortly after taking the series. 

The decade has seen the likes of California Chrome, American Pharoah, and Justify thrill racing fans across the country with breathtaking efforts. They  as so  many before them, raced to fame at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Many that we have discussed went on to beome great champions. A select few entered the gates of immortality. Others had their brief moment of fame, then faded into relative obscurity. Then there were the Derby losers who forged on to great careers. They include Native Dancer, Damascus, Point Given, and Nashua to name a few. Last but not least is Man O' War. This icon plain skipped The Derby. His "Out Of This World" exploits need no introduction here. 

This Saturday will mark the end of fifteeen decades of Kentucky Derby history. We don't know what the outcome will be. We do know that when the band strikes up "My Old Kentucky Home" we are about to witness the one hundred and forty-fifth consecutive running of "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports."

Published in Winner's Circle

It’s a blockbuster week what with the release of Avengers: Endgame and the Kentucky Derby. If the splash page of a comic book, as The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey wrote, features the most dramatic, sweeping images, “where the staple meets the binding, where a series of organized panels are replaced by an expansive landscape. It is the wide-angle shot. This is where artists can gather all the momentum built across an issue, a run, or a character’s arc, and deliver a visual wallop.”

And is there a greater “visual wallop” than 20 horses breaking from the gate on the first Saturday in May? 

With this particular renewal of the Kentucky Derby, it’s interesting to note that Todd Pletcher, he of 52 career Derby starters (now 54), he of two Derby wins (Super Saver, Always Dreaming), he of routinely saddling, three, four, five Derby starters, has only two in this year’s field, and not very good ones at that. Sorry to throw shade at Cutting Humor and Spinoff, both 30-1 on the morning line.

In the Kentucky Derby Cinematic Universe, you could say that Pletcher started it all, much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man did back in 2008. Around the same time, 2007, it was Pletcher who saddled five horses, a rare an incalculable feat of horsemanship and tenacity, that he could be spread so far and wide and yet have so much power aimed directly at Louisville (his best finish that year was sixth with Circular Quay). 

It was what we came to expect from the Pletcher Industrial Complex. Since 2007, that first time he saddled 25 percent of the entire field, he brought 39 horses to Churchill Downs for an average of 3.25 starters each year. He brought five twice and four three times. 

The victory, in my opinion, is merely getting the horse to the Derby because largely the winner is horse benefiting (or not benefitting) from the post-position lottery. A trainer’s program to get a horse to the Derby starts several years before, so it’s a testament to good scouting, good genes and “hacking” into that coveted 20-horse gate.

So this year, would it be any different? Shouldn’t Pletcher roll in with yet another crop of precocious three-year-olds? This year, not so much.

Simply taking a look at the most recent prep races, Pletcher hasn’t had the horses. He saddled two in the Wood Memorial, one in the Louisiana Derby, one in the Florida Derby, one in the Blue Grass, one in the Tampa Bay Derby, one in the Sunland Park Derby, and zero in the Santa Anita and Arkansas Derbies. 

This isn’t the Avengers-style cohort we’re used to seeing when Pletcher arrives at Louisville for Derby Week. His two colts, Spinoff and Cutting Humor are Nos. 15 and 19 on the Derby leaderboard and stand no real shot at winning the race. Cutting Humor, to his credit, won his last race—the Sunland Park Derby—and even then it was only a Grade III. Spinoff finished second in the Louisiana Derby and appeared to slow down once he was collared by By My Standards.

For a dozen years we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing Pletcher’s march through the spring and taking the Derby by storm. Sure, he’s only won two from 52 starters, but, like I said a moment ago, getting the horse to this starting gate in particular is a big, big win. Ask any owner and they’d be tickled to have a horse in the Derby.

Pletcher, for his part, recognizes this for what it is: a slump.

He told The Paulick Report’s Tom Pedulla, “Part of the reason we didn't do as well in the summer months of 2018 was we didn't do as good a job in the recruiting process, yearling sales and 2-year-old market. So those are areas we are looking to improve. Like any trainer, any coach, you are a lot of times as good as your athlete.”

Is he any less of a horseman because he only got two mediocre colts to the Derby? Hell, no. Some years you have the athletes and some years you don’t. If the New England Patriots fail to make the playoffs in 2019, is Bill Belichick suddenly washed up?

For Pletcher, it all goes back to the yearlings of two years ago and the two-year-olds of last year. Like he said, his recruiting process suffered. What that means exactly is a bit nebulous. Did he and his team suddenly fail to see what a talented horse looks like, or did the horse, by no fault of his own, sell them a false bill of goods? Did they look the part, run great in the mornings and then not care for the races?  Could be, but with so many years of prolonged excellence, and the resurgence of Bob Baffert and the rise of Chad Brown, Pletcher might have to make due with less than he has the past decade.

Pletcher has the mindset of a coach and maybe this slump is just what he needs to propel him into this next phase of his career. 

Pletcher and underdog don’t usually go together, but at this point, that’s what he and his two horses are for this Saturday, the endgame of a long prep season.

Published in Winner's Circle
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 20:00

America's Greatest Horse Race

Cover photo: Jockey Don Meade on the inside spars with Herb Fisher. Meade gets the call with longshot Broker’s Tip. Photo provided.


It is called “The Run for the Roses” and “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”

Call it what you may, there is no doubt that  The Kentucky Derby is America’s greatest horserace. Let’s go  back and take a look at some of its glorious history. So many great, near great, and not so great renditions of the race have been witnessed. We can only cover so much here. So let’s get started.

It all started one hundred and forty five years ago. It was 1875. A racing meet began in Louisville, Kentucky. The course was named Churchill Downs. In that first year of the track’s existence, the initial Kentucky Derby was contested. The date of the race was May 17. A three-year-old colt, Aristides, took the event. That fact alone lends his name to the lore of the sport. Also worth noting, the first Derby was run at the distance of a mile and a half. It wasn’t until 1896 that the race was shortened to the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. Many of the three-year-old colts that won the nineteenth century runnings of the race are now just footnotes in hisory.

What is of more interest to that era is the dominance of African American jockeys in “The Sport of Kings.” They were led by Isaac Murphy who took home three Derbys. He is considered one of the greatest race riders of all time and a charter member of horseracing’s Hall of Fame. Right behind Murphy were Willie Simms and Jimmy Winkfield. They took a pair of Derbys each at the turn of the century. Let’s not forget Oliver Lewis who guided Aristades to the winner’s circle in the inaugural race. As a group they had collectively won fifteen of the first twenty eight renditons of The Kentucky Derby. 


Let’s move ahead to 1915. Harry Payne Whitney’s filly Regret took center stage in this Derby. She became the first female winner of the race. It would take sixty one years to duplicate this feat. Genuine Risk got hers in 1976. Winning Colors made it a hat trick when she held on to win the 1988 version. No filly has prevailed since. 

1918 brought an end to the great World War 1. At Churchill Downs a colt with the apropos name Exterminator took the Derby. He would go on to become one of the great handicap stars of the American Turf. 

Sir Barton came along a year later. He got his Derby. He added the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to his resume to become the first of thirteen Triple Crown Champions. Of note, the term Triple Crown wasn’t used as a title for the series until 1930. America’s foremost Turf Writer Charles Hatton coined the phrase in the year of Gallant Fox, the second of the TC Champions.

The Roaring Twenties brought the immortal Man O’ War to the forefront of sports pages across the country. His owner Samuel Riddle did not believe a colt should be asked to go ten furlongs so early in his three-year-old campaign.
Man O’ War skipped the 1920 Derby in what surely would have been a cakewalk. 

1923 came along. Harry Sinclair’s famed Rancocas Farm sent out the future Hall of Famer Zev. He easily took the race. Warren Harding, America’s twenty-ninth President, died unexpectedly that August. Soon after news of a major scandal in his administration hit home. Sinclair was heavily implicated in what became known as “Teapot Dome.” He ended up in Federal prison. With that came the end of Rancocas Farm, one of racing’s premier racing venues in the Golden Age of the sport. 

The 1925 Derby was won by Flying Ebony. Of note here, it was the first Derby that was broadcast on radio. Also it marked the great Earl Sande’s second Derby win. He had previously won it with Zev. He would win it one more time, five years later.

The clock moves forward to 1930. This was the Year of Gallant Fox. William Woodward and his beloved Belair Stud notched their first Derby. Sande got his third. Belair would do it again in 1935 with Galland Fox’s progeny Omaha. Both these Derby winners went on to take the Triple Crown, the only father and son tandem to accomplish the feat. 

A year later, the 1931 event was moved to the first Saturday in May. Not realized at the time, this would become a Kentucky Derby tradition now in its eighty-ninth year. 

The 1933 race deserves a look. The winner Broker’s Tip only had one win in his entire career. You guessed it, The Kentucky Derby. The story doesn’t end there. Don Mead, Broker’s Tip jockey and his counterpart Herb Fisher aboard Head Play beat on and whipped each other in a ferocious nose-to-nose stretch drive. Inexplicably, neither rider was suspended for the rough riding. The finish of the race was called official with Broker’s Tip the winner by a nose. Ah... The Good Old Days!

The year 1937 brought a change in thinking from Sam Riddle. Riddle faced the same dilemma that he was in seventeen years earlier. This time he had War Admiral, a son of Man O’ War as a Derby contender. He decided to enter him. The decision was a wise one. The Admiral not only took the Derby, he went on to sweep the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the third Triple Crown winner of the decade. 

The Forties, brought one champion after another to Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Whirlaway was the first of a record eight winners produced by Warren Wright’s Calumet Farms. The Dean of America’s race riders Eddie Arcaro took him home for his second Derby score. When it was all said and done Arcaro would end up with five Kentucky Derby Trophies. Whirlaway went on to a Triple Crown season and became the only winner of that series to also win the Traver’s Stakes here at the Spa. 

Move ahead to 1943. It was all Count Fleet. The great Johnny Longden took him on a joyride as he took the Derby with the utmost ease. He then buried his competition in the final two jewels of the crown. HIs dominance of that series wasn’t duplicated until Secretariat came along in 1973. Count Fleet...An all time great!

The war ended in 1945. A year later King Ranch and trainer Max Hirsch sent out Assault to contest the Derby... and assault he did. He breezed to an eight length victory on his way to The Triple Crown Trophy. He became the third colt in six years to sweep the crown.

Two years later storied Calumet iced the Derby with the immortal Citation. He went on to obliterate all competition to seize the fourth Triple Crown of the decade. 

1949 brought another Derby Trophy to Calumet. The immensely talented Steve Brooks guided Ponder to the winner circle. This one was special. The race was locally televised for the first time. Three years later it was presented nationwide. 

The 1950’s opened with a bang. A sixteen-year-old apprentice jockey named Bill Boland guided Middleground to victory in the first Derby of that decade. Boland would go on to a Hall of Fame career that spanned twenty years.

Three years later the Racing Gods were not in a kindly mood. Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt brought his super horse Native Dancer to the Bluegrass State looking to conquer the Derby. In one of the worst rides in Kentucky Derby history, jockey Eric Guerin piloted the Great Dancer on a scenic tour of the course. As entrepreneur and racetrack legend Tommy Roberts relayed a quotable quip to this writer...”Guerin put him everywhere except the ladies room.” It was the only time the Big Gray lost a race. Despite his Derby loss, he is considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time...One of the immortals.

1955 brought a Derby that pitted East verses West. Belair Stud sent out the great star Nashua to compete against Rex Ellsworth’s West coast invader Swaps. The cowboys from California got the best of the East coast bluebloods in this one. Swaps prevailed, setting up a Match Race later that summer. Nashua got even this time besting Swaps by six lengths. They both rank among America’s Greatest Champions and hold highly respected positions in the Hall of Fame here on Union Avenue. 

Two years later it was a Derby to remember. Three of the toughest gladiators in the history of the sport knocked heads to get the prize. They were Bold Ruler, Round Table, and Gallant Man. It was not to be their day. In a nightmare ending Bill Shoemaker aboard Gallant Man misjudged the finish line. This gave Bill Hartack the greatest gift of his fabulous career. He got the nod over Gallant Man by a nose with lightly regarded Iron Liege. In so doing Hartack seized his second of a co-record five Kentucky Derby scores.

1958 saw another Calumet star Tim Tam take the Derby. Five weeks later he went to the Belmont Stakes as a prohibitive favorite to take the Triple Crown. At the top of the stretch he took the lead. In a split second Lady Luck took a devastating turn. Tim Tam suffered a career ending leg injury. Yet with the grit and courage of a champion he was able to finish the race a game second to the winner Cavan. 

The 1961 version of the Derby was all Carry Back. Without question he was a fan favorite. He was owned by Jack Price, a self-made millionaire who loved the spotlight. He acquired the services of Johnny Sellers to ride his stead. Carry Back with his patented come from behind move gave his fans everything they could ask for as he swept past the field and nailed down his Derby. Johhny Sellers would wow fans here at the Spa a year later when he finished the then four week meeting with thirty-five wins and a highly deserved riding title.

Three years later Canada came to the Derby. That country’s leading horseracing figure E. P. Taylor brought the great Northern Dancer to Louisville. This guy was about to make racing fans North of the Border proud. This Dancer was trained by the stylish Argentinean, Horatio Luro internationally known as “El Grand Senor” a title of the greatest respect in his native Spanish language. Bill Hartack, The Dean of Kentucky Derby race riding had the mount. He held off a late challenge by the formidable Hill Rise and got his Derby setting a new track record for the ten furlongs.  On his retirement from racing Northern Dancer became one of the most important sires to ever enter a breeding  shed. His  DNA  stretches universally in the bloodlines of thoroughbred champions.

The great Damascus came to Louisville in 1967 looking to take the roses for the asking. Unfortunately he was spooked by the large crowd. Plainly speaking it was not his day. He finished a lackluster third. Damascus went on to become one of the premier stars of the turf. His head-to-head battles with Dr Fager are the stuff of legends. 

The following year disaster struck the famed race. Peter Fuller won the 1968 version of the Derby with Dancer’s Image. The scene at the winners circle was one that you would expect from a racing stable that had just captured America’s greatest race. The exhilaration was short lived. A post race urinalysis found traces of Phenylbutazone, a painkiller that was illegal and could not be administered to horses racing in Kentucky. The State Racing Commission came down with this harsh verdict. Dancer’s Image was disqualified and placed last. The Derby, it’s trophy, and purse money were awarded to Calumet Farms and Forward Pass who finished second in the race. Courtroom battles lingered for years over the decision. The original ruling after all was litigated prevailed. With it, a sorry chapter in the annals of the Kentucky Derby was finally put to rest. 

The sixties ended on a high note. Majestic Prince became the first unbeaten colt to take the Derby since Morvich pulled it off in 1922. Of note here, Johnny Longden became the first and only horseman to win the race as both a jockey and trainer. Also, it was Bill Hartack’s Swan Song as he rode his fifth and final Kentucky Derby winner. 

Next week we will take a look at the Derby from Secretariat and the 1970’s through the first two decades of this Century.

Published in Winner's Circle
Thursday, 17 May 2018 14:52

Preakness Stakes

When Justify brought the pipe to Kentucky, it harkened back to 2004, that time that Smarty Jones and Lionheart went to the front and finished 1-2 respectively. With both horses in the 2018 renewal coming back for the Preakness, something similar might happen. 

Justify’s win raises a far more wide-ranging point that doesn’t get volleyed around too much: that Bob Baffert is the greatest trainer of three-year-olds of all time. 

Because he rarely has older horses (a product of training such great young ones) and never a turf horse (only 1,177 turf starters since 2000 as of this writing. Compare that to 8,005 on dirt), he can’t be considered the greatest all-round trainer, but when it comes to training three-year-old colts—and one special filly—who, aside from D. Wayne Lukas—even comes close?

“He’s right up there,” Lukas said in Art Wilson’s Orange County Register story. “You can put him anywhere you want in the top three or four and you will be right. I mean, I think that what he’s accomplished and what he’s put together … you gotta look at the big picture. Our game is more than just training race horses. It’s managing people, managing horses, developing studs, affecting the breeding industry, causing economic impact in the sales ring, and Bob has done all of that. Bob affects every facet of the industry in some way or another.”

This is also a guy who won his first Derby and most recent Derby 21 years apart, first with Silver Charm and then with Justify. And there’s the matter of a Triple Crown winner thrown in there like in ain’t no thang.

I always thought it would be fun to do a fantasy draft for horses and see whose stable would kick a superlative amount of tail, but why open that up when we could have a Fantasy Draft of Baffert’s best three-year-olds? Justify could very well be on his way to joining the elite Baffert sophomores, but let’s take a dive and rank the 10 Best Baffert Three-Year-Olds of the past 21 years. 

10. Drefong

This son of Gio Ponti won the King’s Bishop and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as a three-year-old adding a fourth BC Sprint to Baffert’s CV.

9. Congaree

Congaree ran a screaming fast opening mile to the Kentucky Derby in 2001 before losing the photo finish for second place in the fastest Derby since Secretariat. We’ll never know what was laced in the dirt that day at Churchill, but Congaree would be far higher on this list were it not for his stablemate later in this list.

8. Lookin At Lucky

He was the best horse of the 2011 Kentucky Derby with the worst post: Post 1. To quote race caller Tom Durkin (in his final Derby call), Lookin At Lucky had to tap on the brakes heading out of the gate. It cost him the race.

He came back two weeks later to win the Preakness Stakes and reassert himself as the best three-year-old of his class. He’d later win the Haskell and be named Champion Three-Year-Old.

7. War Emblem

This horse was sorta like the Allen Iverson of colts: small, scrappy, tough. War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 2002 but couldn’t make it three in a row in Baffert’s third try for the Triple Crown in a span of five years.

War Emblem would soon win the Haskell, a race Baffert wins with colonic regularity.

6. Silver Charm

Silver Charm brought Baffert to the scene as we know it. He was Baffert’s first Kentucky Derby winner, first Preakness winner, and first shot at the Triple Crown, something that would be painfully close—too close to call—just a year later in 1998.

5. Real Quiet

Go watch Real Quiet’s Belmont Stakes. … How does he lose!? How is he not the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown after 20 years? It would take another 17 years before that streak got snapped, but Real Quiet had the game and nearly pulled off the feat.

At three, he won the Derby, Preakness and the Santa Anita Derby. He lost by the shortest of margins in the Belmont Stakes, which gives him an edge over Silver Charm and War Emblem.

4. Arrogate

This is a tough one to slot. Are we still drunk off his 2017 Dubai World Cup win as a four-year-old that it clouds our (my) vision? 

In a sense the answer to that question is yes, but as a sophomore, Arrogate exited his allowance condition in California only to break the track record in the Travers Stakes. He took a breather then beat California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. 

It was a forgettable season for the Triple Crown with Nyquist, Exaggerator, and Creative Cause winning the three big spring races, but aside from Exaggerator, no other three-year-old took command of the division until Arrogate went mental in the final push for the Eclipse Award.

3. Point Given

Few horses these days run in all three legs of the Triple Crown especially if they tire and finish poorly in Kentucky as Point Given did. This monster went on to win the back end of the Triple Crown sweeping the Preakness and Belmont Stakes after flattening out in the Derby.

He later won the Haskell and the Travers en route to being named Horse of the Year, and, naturally, Champion Three-Year-Old.

2. Silverbulletday

She won eight races in her three-year-old season including four Grade 1s. She was so dominant among her own gender that she ran in the Belmont Stakes only to flatten out to seventh after carrying the field around the oval on her back for eight furlongs. 

She won the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama Stakes and finished second the Grade 1 Beldame against older fillies and mares. 

1. American Pharoah

It has to be American Pharoah, the 12th winner of the Triple Crown who went on to win the Haskell in style, lose the Travers, and then complete the “Grand Slam” by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic like it was a Monday-morning gallop. 

American Pharoah was perfectly campaigned and had the equally perfect mix of talent and demeanor, which allowed him to weather 99 percent of all challenges. 

Who else could handle that kind of pressure beside Baffert? Few…few indeed.

Now, where will Justify sit? Who knows, but he is unbeaten and if he wins the Preakness he’ll be in this company and his running style seems perfect for yet another Haskell win and maybe a Travers win for the greatest trainer of three-year-old horses the world has ever known.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 02 May 2018 20:00

Kentucky Derby

Doesn’t it feel like in any given year the banner ad for the Kentucky Derby is “one of the most competitive fields in history?”

By its very nature, the Kentucky Derby is an intensely competitive race for a bouquet of reasons: the random nature of the post draw, the field size, the horses’ questionable stamina, the weather, and the fact that about half the horses in any given year can win the race.

Even in 2015, the year American Pharoah—a.k.a. No. 12—won the Derby and subsequently the Triple Crown, that Derby was a firefight down the lane with Pharoah simply out-talenting and out-grinding Firing Squad and stablemate Dortmund. The rest of the Triple Crown was a bit of a cakewalk for AP12.

Point being no matter how you dissect the race, whether you use Racing Forms, Thorographs, or YouTube (the primary handicapping device of your correspondent), the race is always competitive. And it can often have deleterious effects on the horses. This race is traumatic. These horses, especially the ones that run hard, are, for better or worse, transformed for carrying that burden. Frodo Baggins was never the same after carrying the Ring of Power.

“They’re never the same after they win the Derby or the Belmont,” said Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Derby winner Bob Baffert. “They can never be the same.”

And who will thus be transformed and be the one with a shot at being No. 13? The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg gave a mike-dropping breakdown of who he thinks will win the race and take the first of horse racing’s Infinity Stones (Spoiler Alert: It’s Bolt d’Oro), but we’ll get to him and others soon enough.

The Derby has essentially the same set of characters every year, which makes it fun and easy to handicap the winner. There’s the Horse or Horses Who Didn’t Race at Two, thus we must hear how nobody has done it since Apollo in 1882. 

There’s the requisite Dubai Invader, usually the winner of the UAE Derby. 

There’s the poor sucker who draws Post 1, who should, IMO, gallop around the oval and jog straight to Pimlico no worse for wear. 

There’s the yearly Todd Squad (say what you will, but Todd Pletcher is a mutant).

The equation is the same, only the names change. History stacks against a select few, but the two who seem the most likely to buck the trends are Justify and Mendelssohn, the unraced-at-two colt and the Dubai colt.

One ran a blisteringly fast race to win the Santa Anita Derby and the other won the UAE Derby and looked like Secretariat doing it. The latter is a globe trotter who seems to have not only the speed but the disposition to handle the rigors of 10 crowded furlongs.

We’d be remiss to skim over Pletcher’s herd, namely Audible. 

At this point the number of Pletcher’s Derby Starters to Wins Ratio starters, his “batting average” if you will, is a tired point and should be embalmed and entombed in the storylines of yesteryear. He’s transcended that very point by winning two Derbys with what turned out to be very average three year olds. And plenty of gifted and skilled trainers have gifted and skilled horses and never reach the Derby. Pletcher still pleases his owners every year giving them a shot at the most coveted race on the calendar. 

Audible, despite a fairly weak top and bottom immediate family, boasts Harlan’s Holiday as his grandsire, a winner of the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. 

Post 5 for the son of Into Mischief is a nice spot to be in near the fence but not too far.

Bolt d’Oro won a key race at two (the Frontrunner), a race won by future Derby winners in American Pharoah and Nyquist. Being the son of Medaglia d’Oro makes him look even nicer.

Bolt d’Oro also gets the services of Victor Espinoza, a three-time Derby-winning  jock.

“Victor said, ‘Wow, I’ve got my fourth Derby win,’” said Mick Ruis, Bolt d’Oro’s trainer. “I said, ‘I sure hope so.’”

With all the speed and tactical speed filling up the past performances, who’s the one to peak and break on through to the other side? Will we see a blanket finish with so many of the horses rationing speed? Or will one horse separate and win by daylight?

What we do know, if nothing else, is the race will be—you guessed it—competitive.

Brendan O’Meara is an independent writer and author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. He also hosts The Creative Nonfiction Podcast.

Kentucky Derby lineup

Published in Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga TODAY Newspaper has learned that there is potential pending litigation against the City of Saratoga Springs’ Department of Public Safety, seeking relief and potential damages against the pending imposition of a one-way street plan in a neighborhood that borders Saratoga Race Course, during the six weeks the Race Course is in operation. 


The affected area will involve Wright Street, Frank Sullivan Place and a portion of Lincoln Avenue between the Race Course and Nelson Avenue. The portion on Lincoln Avenue fronts Siro’s Restaurant and a handful of private residences. Some of these residences have provided parking on their lawns/driveways to race goers for decades.


The information was derived from on-the-record conversations with Mr. Keith Kantrowitz, owner of Siro’s; Mr. Kantrowitz’s attorney, Bob Sweeney a partner in the Albany law firm Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna; and Ms. Rose Tait, a resident of Lincoln Avenue for decades.


Mr. Sweeney would only confirm that “my client has retained me to explore all legal options” at press time. 


But there is no doubt that Mr. Kantrowitz is drawing a line in the sand. “They (the city) are playing with the wrong guy.” He said. “This is another example of a vicious and malicious attempt by government to interfere with private enterprise. I’m more than ready to push back this time.”  


The “this time” Kantrowitz refers to concerns an earlier battle with the city over noise levels for live music. Mr. Sweeney confirmed that his client agreed to install a sound barrier to mitigate the noise, at a cost of about $500,000. The barrier has to be put up and removed each season as well. 


At that time “I enlisted the aid of the downtown business community and others.” Kantrowitz said. “I told them: Siro’s fight today is yours tomorrow. Now look what the city is doing with live music noise ordinances. I even agreed to a lower level than they did.” (Downtown music venues are supposed to adhere to a 90-decibel limit.)


In the current case, Kantrowitz takes issue on two broad-levels: The one-way streets plan itself; and the way it passed through the city council.


The one-way street plan, in short, would have traffic routed from Nelson along Wright Street (which is the site of the Trackside Grill and other vendors in addition to pedestrians and vehicles). Traffic would then turn left in front of the drop-off point at the Racecourse’s clubhouse entrance onto Frank Sullivan Place, and then left again onto Lincoln and out of the neighborhood.  


The stated goal is to make things safer for all, yet Kantrowitz believes it may have the opposite impact.


“Look, first of all, there have been no accidents here for five years. It’s not like people are speeding around the corners.” He said. “But now, cars are going to have to go through this storm of traffic, with pinch points and backups as the clubhouse cars attempt to merge, people walking from the gates, and what used to be a smooth easy ride along Lincoln to get to our entrance is now a nightmare!”


He continued. “I’m putting the city on notice. They will be responsible for all that happens going forward. And I’m warning all visitors, pedestrians particularly: Be careful!” 


“This has worked just fine since the 40s. Why are they messing with this now?” Kantrowitz concludes.


The second issue involves the timing of the plan’s adoption and the way it was done. Back on February 18, an item on the city council’s official agenda appeared for a public hearing to “Amend Chapter 225-72 Schedule VII -One Way Streets.” There was nothing specific to one area or another. As it turns out, the area was revealed to be the area around Siro’s. No one from the public spoke at that hearing. 


The city is required to do certain things to notify the public of these hearings; putting legal notices in the daily press for instance, and there is no allegation that they did anything less than they are legally required to do. 


Yet, in the modern online era, is this sufficient. Note well that these notices are not carried onto most newspaper websites. In any event, Kantrowitz, who has his business headquarters downstate, said he did not know this was on the agenda. 


“Of course I would have come up had I known.” He said. “Why wouldn’t I? This is going to have a big impact on my business. But I ask you, why does something like this have to be decided in February? It wasn’t just me who wasn’t here at that time.”



“I came back from my winter home in South Carolina in April, and the first thing my friend said to me is: ‘Rose, they sure screwed you!’” Rose Tait said.


Yes, if you are having trouble mustering up sympathy for the rich, flamboyant owner of Siro’s, consider the plight of his neighbor (and friend) Rose, who has the property two doors down beyond Siro’s, closer to Nelson Avenue. 


On that property, she parks cars, as it has been done since the 1930s. It’s a pretty good-sized lot, I would estimate you could get about 40 cars in it, and while she didn’t want to reveal how much money she makes from parking cars, she did indicate that “it pays my city taxes” most years, although in recent years it would be a rare day that it would be filled to capacity. By the way, the house on the property is paid for – she’s not in danger of losing it.


Rose added this perspective to the mix:


On the notice: “I think they should have come and met with us.” She said. “Wasn’t there was some precedent set for this?”   


“Back when Ron Kim was commissioner, they were looking to do something similar,” she explained. “A whole contingent met with us at Siro’s, including Kim, Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, City Attorney Tony Izzo, representatives from police and code enforcement.” 


“Even Eileen Finneran was there. She was Kim’s deputy then.” Ms. Finneran is also the current deputy of public safety under Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “So I would think something similar is in order.” 


The economic impact: “It’s going to hurt, no doubt. It used to be an easy way for people to get a convenient space near the track. Now it’s going to be like navigating through a sea of cars and people.” 


“But more to the point, I have tenants on my property that I’m worried about. They are going to have to drive down some dimly lit streets after dark to get home. What people do not realize is that this isn’t just going to be during track hours. It’s for the whole six weeks.”


Rose and other affected neighbors have spoken out at recent council meetings asking that the whole idea be revisited. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had indicated that he was willing to meet and discuss this, but Rose is skeptical. “Sure, he’ll meet. But only to give his side of things. He’s not going to change his plan unless he is forced to.”


With the Race Course meet just two weeks away, the only recourse the neighborhood may have is injunctive relief. Certainly Keith Kantrowitz is ready to do battle: 


“If this kind of thing happened in Russia, we’d be sending over troops and demanding democracy.” He said. “How about democracy beginning at home?”

Published in News


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