Horse Racing News & Views by Saratoga Slim presented by RacingDudes.com (Volume 1, Issue 1)
What’s “THE SKINNY”? A new column looking at a top story in horse racing first and then providing you a different, fun view of the game. We’ll mix in a look at the WEEK AHEAD, QUICK WITS with some light-hearted / funny perspectives on the game, COMEBACK TRAIL featuring horses making their return and THE FINISH LINE with a final thought.
Let’s kick off the first “SKINNY” talking about one of the biggest stars in the game.
The return of the “Queen of the Turf” Tepin in the Grade-1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Saturday will headline this weekend’s action. After winning the Group-1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot in England in June, the coronation as “Queen” was complete as she has rallied off seven Stakes wins in a row.
Since she has arrived back stateside, though, she has had some bumps in the road, but all systems look ready to go now. Trainer Mark Casse originally was only pointing to the Woodbine Mile as her next race after Royal Ascot and always said that things would need to go perfect for her to run at Saratoga this summer.
Things didn’t go perfect as she missed a few days of training in late July / early August and needed to bypass the Grade-1 Fourstardave. The Grade-2 Ballston Spa became a possibility, but would’ve been a quick turnaround, so team Casse skipped that race to make sure she was fully prepared for the main target race Woodbine Mile.
The waiting game may pay off for Casse, as all reports from her last three breezes at the Oklahoma turf training track at Saratoga have been nothing but stellar. It took some time for Tepin to get fully back into form after a grueling win over a soft Royal Ascot turf and the travel that came with it.
The Casse team put the super mare’s needs first as they focus on the year-end goal of defending her 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile title. Even though it was tempting to try to erase her two losses last year at Saratoga with a triumph this year, the team has focused on only running her when she is at her best.
With a strong field of seven challengers assembling around Tepin for the Woodbine Mile, she may get a stern test. Will she be ready off a three month lay-off?
To the legions of Tepin fans, just note that if she doesn’t win on Saturday it does nothing to discredit her. Great horses lose all the time. The main focus is the defense of the Breeders’ Cup Mile title and the Woodbine Mile may be just a stepping stone to that ultimate goal, win or lose.
The Woodbine card overall will be a fun one to watch including the Grade-1 Northern Dancer that will bring Grade-1 United Nations winner World Approval up north for the Casse clan to face off against a strong European contingent including Majeed. 2015 Arlington Million winner and fan favorite, The Pizza Man, will try to get back in form in this spot. Another looking to get back into his top 2015 form is defending turf male of the year Big Blue Kitten for the Chad Brown barn. Brown will also enter Wake Forest looking to rebound off a disappointing tenth-place in the Arlington Million.
Other stakes will dot the Woodbine card in the Grade-2 Canadian (featuring the return of Dacita after her Grade-1 Diana win) and Grade-3 Ontario (with top Ontario-bred three-year old Amis Gizmo).
It’s also time to talk Derby! Don’t look now, but the first race that awards 2017 Kentucky Derby points is on the docket for Saturday in the Grade-3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs. In a great move by Churchill to shine as much light on their product as possible, they have made this race the first race that they award valuable Derby points to.
Don’t get too excited, though, because none of the winners of the Iroquois in the past four years since the points system was implemented has even run in the Derby! Recent winners like Cocked and Loaded, Lucky Player, Cleburne and Uncaptured haven’t done much to bolster the form of the Iroquois. This year’s group looks salty, though, with Blame Will, Thirstforlife and Not This Time (half-brother to 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map) leading the group. One thing’s for certain: super-fast Recruiting Ready will be setting the early pace!
Kentucky Oaks points will start to be doled out in the Grade-2 Pocahontas and at least eventual Kentucky Oaks champ Untapable won this race in 2013. Ever So Clever for Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen looks tough in this rendition of the Pocahontas.
(DISCLAIMER: This part of THE SKINNY is not meant to offend anyone in anyway, but hopefully gets you to smile a bit about the game.)
· The Grade-1 Del Mar Futurity has been won in back-to-back years by two horses named after Gustavs. Who knew a 19th century artist (Klimt) and a 21st century hockey player (Nyquist) would have so much in common?
· Who’s tougher to find: Maria Borell or someone actively looking to bet win money on Frosted in the Breeders’ Cup Classic?
· The retirement of fan favorite Juba to stud caused more uproar in the Horse Racing Twitterverse than when Serena Williams was named Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year over American Pharoah.
· Last Saturday they celebrated “California Chrome Day” at Los Alamitos. I am personally planning to celebrate “Frosted Day” in February in Saratoga when we get two feet of snow.
· Beholder’s half-brother just sold for $3 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale! Since he was born on May 17, 2015, he’s basically earned over $6,100 a day in his life. If I earned that much every day of my life I would’ve accumulated over $84 million!
· With all the buzz about the first ever horse racing convention Equestricon coming to Saratoga in August 2017, I’m already planning my outfit to dress like racing ambassador Dan Tjordman with bow tie and fedora. (Check out what Equistricon is all about here: equestricon.org)
· 2015 Champion sprinter Runhappy continues breezing in his return to the races with the one-turn, one-mile Grade-3 Ack Ack at Churchill on October 1 as his likely return race. The goal this year is the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with an ultimate goal of a shot in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream.
· Welcomed news last week that the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red may soon return to training for Keith Desormeaux. Best of luck to Team Texas Red and Eric Brehm, Jr. hoping that “third time’s the charm” as he has had to fight back twice before after sustaining injuries after the 2015 San Vincente and 2015 Travers.
· Off a year lay-off, 2015 Preakness third-place finisher Divining Rod returned triumphant at Parx on September 5 in an allowance for trainer Arnaud Delacour. We’ll see if Divining Rod looks to step up in class in his next start.
· Off since January, top sprinter Ivan Fallunovalot returned a winner on September 1 at Remington Park. A disappointing ninth-place in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, maybe he’ll look to tango with the top of the class once again.
THE FINISH LINE
Not to end the first “SKINNY” on a down note, but both Sheer Drama and Stopchargingmaria recently retired. Both were multiple Grade-1 winners in the older filly and mare division over the past couple years.
They hold another distinction in common as both squared off on April 9 in the Grade-1 Madison. At that point this year, some labeled it “the race of the year” as a slew of Grade-1 fillies and mares lined up in the Keeneland starting gate. The ensuing stretch duel that pitted these two nose-to-nose lived up to the hype with Sheer Drama getting up late to win.
Sheer Drama was never the same mare after that battle, as she raced three more times only hitting the board once. She was retired sound a couple weeks ago and brought to her owner / breeders Harold Queens’ farm in Ocala, Florida by her trainer David Fawkes.
Stopchargingmaria, trained by Todd Pletcher, would only race once more after the Madison in a disappointing sixth in the Grade-1 Ogden Phipps. It was later reported that she had a “cough” and needed to skip her scheduled start in the Grade-3 Shuvee (which she had won in 2015). It was announced last week by her owners Town & Country Farm that she would be retired sound.
All we can hope for in the game sometimes is to see our favorite horses retire sound and that’s the case with two of the top mares we’ve seen the past couple years. Pletcher and Fawkes and the connections should be commended for making the right decisions and giving these top performers a good life after racing.
Here’s to hoping we see their babies on the track in the year 2020!
On that note, we’ll end this first edition of “THE SKINNY” with that replay of their 2016 Madison duel:
Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for my thoughts on the horse racing game.