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Displaying items by tag: jockey

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 – This week, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) welcomed the debut performances of a new resident company: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) has a new summer home at the Spa Little Theater. Another jewel in the summer resident company “crown” which already includes iconic entities such as the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra

 

The schedule of performances (see box – page 11) will continue over the next two weeks, through August 26. All the performances are hand-selected and unique, designed to give both the newly initiated as well as the connoisseur of chamber music a thorough introduction to CMS’s repertoire. 

 

But, by no means, an exhaustive one. 

 

“There are hundreds of pieces available by Mozart alone,” said Co-artistic director David Finckel on the afternoon following CMS’s debut on Monday, August 11. “Most companies will play the top ten or so. But we like to go deeper. I find that the brain works differently; it’s more stimulating when you are hearing new notes.” 

 

Indeed, I’ll go further and say that their debut performance was completely transformative. Every thing I thought I knew about Chamber music went out the window, along with my reporter’s objectivity. 

 

My mind soared while my eyes were mesmerized. It was stimulating, exciting and endearing. 

 

I became a fan for life. And it took just one performance – a performance that immediately became one of my most memorable live performances – of any genre – at any time.

 

“This first performance was designed to exhibit virtuosity,” said Wu Han, Co-Artistic Director, who plays the piano to Finckel’s cello. “At the same time, it is meant to be trust-building. There are misconceptions about chamber music; that it is only for a limited few. But it is extremely accessible.” 

 

And dramatic. And engaging. And dazzling. And every other emotional verb you can muster in your vocabulary. I have very little technical expertise to offer. With music, I’m all about the qualitative experience. 

 

My experience at Monday’s debut performance convinced me to advocate to everyone that you are cheating yourself if you don’t make it a point to see CMS while they are here. 

 

The company’s roster (a total of 160-180 performers; of which about 24 will perform at SPAC this month – A new roster each week joining Wu Han and David) comprises the best of the best, at the top of their game. 

 

One example among many that illustrates an incredible, incendiary aspect of Chamber music when it is performed at this high level is the interaction of all the performers. Wu Han and David have been married for 28 years. It is said that couples married that long anticipate and finish each other’s thoughts. Now apply that principle to every performer in CMS; in every combination; in every composition they play. 

 

A case in point was the playing of Samuel Berber’s Souvenirs for Piano, Four Hands. The picture of the sheet music helps to tell the tale: Wu Han played the left page (she called it the ‘bottom position’) and operated the pedals, while Anne-Marie McDermott played the right side (or upper) simultaneously. This led to a frenzy of interaction and trust, not to mention furiously page turning. 

 

Since both performers’ hands were otherwise occupied, Wu Han’s daughter Lillian turned the pages “She’s much in demand for this!” Wu Han said, smiling. “And a great piano performer in her own right.”

 

“We had such a warm welcome here,” Wu Han said, noting that it was her first time in Saratoga Springs. “The audience was accepting, and made us feel very comfortable, as did all of the SPAC staff. It made us want to play our best for everyone.”

 

Upcoming performances should be similarly stimulating, and SPAC has enhanced the experience by adding pre-performance talks one hour before each show, as well as post-performance gatherings at Putnam’s restaurant at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, and on closing night a reception outside the Spa Little Theater. 

 

There’s no doubt in my mind that I give my initial CMS at SPAC experience two thumbs up. My only regret is that I don’t have four hands.   

For more information, visit spac.org

Published in News

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