Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stephen Foster, et. all interlude

As my previous Belmont blog took an unprecedented three hours to write, it's been a slow-going to get all of the next one written down. I wanted to take a moment out to mention the big races today in the meantime.

It was exactly one year ago I saw Curlin race in person for the first and only time in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, something I'll never forget as long as I live. The images of his coat shining like living gold, his diehard fans clambering in the grandstands, and the moment he started making his move around the final turn will be etched in my memory as fragments only a champion could leave in his wake. Curlin's presence would hang heavy over the racetrack today if I had gone to see it; once you see a horse like him in person, it's hard to shake off the impression he leaves on you. I feel I was lucky to be in such a horse's presence, to see him at the pinnacle of his career, immediately after his seven-length romp in the Dubai World Cup.

But I digress, Curlin isn't racing in today's Stephen Foster. Today, a horse Curlin beat in last year's renewal will be attempting his own bid at greatness: the versatile Einstein will try to become the first horse in history to win three consecutive Grade I races on three different surfaces. The triple started with his win in the Santa Anita Handicap, which is a mother of a race in itself. Then he went to Churchill Downs, where I saw him win a thriller in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic against a game Cowboy Cal in the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Few horses can transfer their dominance to different surfaces, and for Einstein to do it on three is remarkable. He won the Clark Handicap over the dirt at Churchill last November against Commentator and a furious Delightful Kiss, so he has been hailed as the favorite in this year's Foster. With Curlin out of the picture, Einstein has little standing in his way to history.

A second race I'm chomping at the bit over is the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, where Rail Trip (previously undefeated before Ball Four broke his five-race win streak) will be pit against some heavy competition. Not only is Ball Four back to gloat, but my personal favorite horse, Mr. Napper Tandy, is also entered to run. The five-year-old Mr. Napper Tandy has finished second 11 times in 22 starts and finally won a race in his last outing, the Grade II San Francisco Mile over the turf. A veteran of graded stakes competition, don't count out this war horse against the likes of Awesome Gem, Mast Track, and Dakota Phone; the Californian will be run over the main track.

Today also marks the day of Music Note's four-year-old debut. She's running in the Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont against stablemate Seventh Street and Seattle Smooth, who's won her last three races. Music Note was probably last year's second-best three-year-old filly from the summer to fall season. Though in her last start she ran third, it was in the Ladies' Classic, and only Zenyatta and Cocoa Beach were in front of her. When she wasn't being tested by the valiant Proud Spell, every other race she coasted through last year. Expect to see big things from her today in the Phipps.

Unfortunately for me, I will be watching all of these races taped, because I've got a long day of work ahead of me. I hope all of you enjoy the exciting races today, and if you're going to the track, be sure to bring your camera.

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