Friday, 19 August 2016 10:05

Weezie at the Flagpole What a Week!

By Louisa Foye | Sports

‘Tho Mother Nature thankfully blessed us with perfect weather at the start of the week for the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales, by midweek she was cursing us with the dreaded “h-cubed muggies”, and by Fourstardave Saturday, she was defiantly laughing in our faces! The annual Sales hold a very special place in my heart. It is there that my lifelong love affair and fascination with horses began. Since my childhood home (our Presbyterian Church’s manse) was literally behind the yearling stables on the north side of Madison, I could walk out my backyard on Fifth, cross over what was then a real alley, slip under a gap in the fence, and be in seventh Heaven! If I knew then what I know now, however, I would never have been filled with the joyful innocence of that little girl who believed that one day a horse like these could be hers! On the second night of the sales, a filly by Medaglia d’Oro, (sire of the great Rachel Alexandra and current star Songbird) elicited a bidding war between Mandy Pope and B. Wayne Hughes that resulted in the Sales topper at $1.45 million! Ms. Pope, who has been building a powerful breeding operation in Ocala for some time now, along with the reputation as a fierce player and bullish foe, outdueled Mr. Hughes in a spirited battle, as they sat close by to each other! It never becomes old to watch in wonder as these beautiful babies are led out to the walking ring, often and loudly displaying their dismay with all of the attention, and to then see their potential suitors fight over them in the Sales ring like jilted lovers! In the very same location on Friday morning, pillars of the industry gathered for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. For many years, I’ve relished being able to attend this wonderful event that has always been open to everyone, but thank goodness I had a media pass this year, because for the first time, it was closed to the public! Sadly, this resulted in a much smaller crowd than usual, for what was perhaps their most decorated class ever. Even though I’m sure the Hall anticipated huge ticket requests from the connections of this star-studded class, it was common knowledge that they were mostly fearful of PETA protesters ruining their event because of the scurrilous and baseless allegations of abuse that were leveled by Joe Drape in the New York Times against Steve Asmussen. Thank goodness these trumped up charges, based on a dubious and highly edited video that was manufactured by PETA, were found to be false after lengthy investigations by both the NY and KY Racing Commissions. After two agonizing years of waiting, their findings opened the door for the Hall to finally and rightfully induct him. Steve’s wife Julie, who began as a hot walker in his barn, introduced him, and remarked that the most important lesson he has shared with their three sons, is that you never give up, and that you wake up every morning and give it your all, because effort is everything! Although it’s been said that Steve is rather unapproachable and can appear aloof, in an extremely emotional and heartwarming acceptance speech, he showed us a very different side. He made it clear that he owes so much to his wife, who stood bravely by his side in spite of battling cancer during this ordeal, and to his Mom and Dad, (a former Jockey and Trainers who were in attendance) who raised him and his older brother Cash (a former Eclipse Award Winner as an Apprentice Jockey) in the small Texas town of Laredo, to believe in their ability to succeed, and to understand the importance of family and hard work. Choking back tears, he thanked his Mom for her faith in him, and his Dad for being the essence of a “true man”. He also made a point to thank his longtime Assistant, Steve Blasi, who had been the focus of the PETA witch-hunt. He went on to explain that this honor belonged to his entire team, and to his owners that never stopped believing in him, and most importantly, to the horses, including greats like Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, My Miss Aurelia, Untapable and Kodiak Cowboy. I can’t recall ever feeling any more devastated about an athlete’s injury than I did after hearing the horrible news of the bad fall Ramon Dominguez had taken on the hard inner track at Aqueduct, that January afternoon in 2013. I was absolutely heartbroken that this could happen to not only such an amazing talent, but to such an incredibly fine human being. Praying incessantly that he would recover, and hoping beyond hope that he would be able to return to the saddle, as the months passed, I remained optimistic. When the final verdict was announced, that the 3-time Eclipse Award Winner had to retire, I cried like a baby, and continued to tear up each time I saw him after he finally returned to the Track that following summer in Saratoga. But this year, and this day, are different, as the tears of sadness have turned to tears of joy for a man who has accepted his fate with the same humility, class and grace that defined his career. To make it easier on us who are easily moved to tears, he engaged us with hilarious stories during his acceptance speech, and showed us all why he will forever remain on top, no matter where life leads him. The ever-entertaining Tom Durkin, who once again served as the MC, introduced each honoree with his usual flair, and when he did so for Ann and Jerry Moss’ incomparable Zenyatta, he lamented that he was never able to call one of her races. Moss, the founder of A & M Records, (hence Queen Z being named after the album by The Police) and wife Ann, were understandably ebullient in their praise of, and thanks to and for their superstar, who wowed her throngs of fans with her diva-like prancing in the Post Parades, bigger than life personality, and devastating come from behind thrilling stretch runs. As has become my routine, I have saved the best for last, and I say this unapologetically and unabashedly with pride, because Rachel Alexandra is one of my very favorites of all time! I’ll freely admit that my opinion is based on the fact that I was so blessed to see her greatness in person several times, and from Churchill Downs in the Oaks, to Belmont in the Mother Goose, and ultimately on to Saratoga for her iconic Woodward, she thrilled me like no other, and left us all breathless and in tears! My heart stopped when we almost lost her in childbirth, and broke when we realized she would never be able to give birth again, but the unbelievable memories of her courage, grit and determination will remain alive in my heart and soul forever! As her compassionate yet understated owner, Barbara Banke, remarked during her acceptance speech on behalf of Rachel, it is her amazing courage that will define her legacy. In what was arguably his greatest race call, Tom Durkin reminded us of how Rachel’s heart stopping Woodward literally raised the rafters and moved the crowd with her gutsy victory! I will never forget standing at the rail on the finish line, with bodies ten-deep pressed up against me, and with tears running down my face, as she returned to the Winner’s Circle! Thank You, Rachel, for creating these unforgettable moments! Anticipating a storm of epic proportions, NYRA wisely cancelled the last six races on Saturday’s card, putting safety first, and all eyes then turned to Arlington Park. At this point, NYRA had to be very pleased with their fortuitous decision to provide bonus coverage that day from AP during their Saratoga Live show, and since Gabby Gaudet was already there to cover the big races, they smoothly transitioned from the mess at home, and turned it into a positive Win-Win for their new national programming. In spite of struggling in his Saratoga debut this Meet, with only three wins to his credit before he headed to Chicago, Florent Geroux, the almost-30-year-old French Jockey, had a day to remember at his old stomping grounds at AP! He racked up five wins from eight mounts, with four of them being Stakes, and two of these being Grade 1s. He owes a huge debt of gratitude to his hardworking Agent, Doug Bredar, (husband of TVG analyst Caton, and a former Racing Secretary at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream) for securing mounts for him three weeks out, on very live horses, that were favorites in every race he won! His Stakes streak began in the American St. Leger, on Mike Maker’s 4-5 favorite Da Big Hoss, and continued in the Grade I Secretariat for 3-year olds, aboard Chad Brown’s classy Beach Patrol, a son of Lemon Drop Kid. In the $700K Grade 1 Beverly D, FloG rode Chad’s even money favorite, Sea Calisi, stable mate and training partner of the great Lady Eli, to victory, and ‘tho he didn’t have the same luck in the Arlington Million, he closed out his streak in the Grade III Pucker Up, where with a continued stroke of good luck, he was awarded the victory on Chad’s 5-2 shot when the apparent winner was disqualified and dropped to third! The up and coming young Trainer from the UK, David O’Meara, further elevated his rising star when his 6-year- old Mondialiste, a son of the great Irish Sire Galileo, captured the Million. Although O’Meara only got his Trainer’s license six years ago, he has opened eyes with a win in the Woodbine Mile and a place in the Breeders Cup Mile already to his credit. In spite of still maintaining a four-win lead in the Jockey Standings with 31, it was a pretty rough week for Irad Ortiz, per his usual high standards. He was shut out on Wednesday, and again on his Birthday on Thursday, and also on the shortened card on Saturday. He was able to manage one win on both Friday and Sunday, but was also disqualified in Sunday’s feature, the Grade II Special, following a scary moment when his wayward 2-year-old bumped Ricardo Santana’s baby hard, who then in turn, bumped Johnny Velazquez, but fortunately, nobody went down! Javi Castellano was not involved, and ran down Irad aboard Gunneveral, who with an impressive turn of foot in the deep stretch, won in a thriller! This was Javi’s fourth Win of the day, and it moved him into a tie with Johnny for second in the standings at 24, but he would move ahead with a win on Monday to 25. However, this would be short-lived, as José Ortiz had a great Monday with four winners, too, and bolted ahead of them to 27! Joel Rosario remains in 5th with 18, and a streaking Luis Saez, who has been on fire since his huge 55-1 upset in The Test, now has 17! Manny Franco has 13, and after a big Wednesday for José Lezcano with three wins, he now has 10. ‘Tho FloG kept his hot hand going in the 1st Race Sunday, upon his return that morning from Chicago, he still only sits in 14th place with 4 Wins, proving how extremely difficult it is for any Jockey to venture into Saratoga and win! Chad Brown has a six-win lead over Todd Pletcher, 23-17, and Kiaran McLaughlin remains in 3rd with 9, while a red hot Rudy Rodriguez now has 8! I cannot wait for Saturday’s Alabama and the chance to see the magnificent Songbird once again! The delayed Fourstardave will also be on Saturday, and the cancelled Adirondack will now be run on Friday. See you next week!

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