Saturday, October 31, 2009

Now it's on!

Originally posted on
I admit, I've had a difficult time getting excited about this year's Breeders' Cup. It's not only a little deflating the best horse in America won't be running in it, but with the championships being held on a biased surface, I can't help but feel the outcomes will be slanted. One only has to take a glimpse at the pre-entries drawn this past Wednesday to realize this is not the typical way horse races are conducted; for instance, only nine horses were pre-entered into the Breeders' Cup Turf, and none of them are the dominating turf horses from either America or Europe—no, you'd have to look under the Breeders' Cup Classic to find those entrants, running over Pro-Ride instead of grass, and against America's best dirt horses.

But there's a silver lining in all of this mayhem caused by the synthetic monkey wrench, and that is our all-American girl, Zenyatta. The undefeated mare, 13 for 13 starts (11 of them stakes races, 7 of those Grade Is), based in California, outside of which she's only raced once in her lifetime, has been pre-entered in both the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, and the Breeders' Cup Classic. On Wednesday, her trainer, John Shirreffs, stated in a national teleconference, "If she works well Saturday and continues to train well the following week, we'll definitely lean toward the Classic... She has a great shot to win the Ladies' Classic, which has a very large purse. But the Classic is an opportunity to try to garner Horse of the Year honors, and to not run her when she's doing so well would be a mistake. Mr. Moss said it's not about Horse of the Year as much as it is to see her compete at the highest level."

It's only too bad Zenyatta's connections haven't had this attitude the whole year-long. 2009 has been a cakewalk compared to Zenyatta's 2008 campaign; this one last shot to prove her status as one of the all-time Greats in racing has been a long time coming. She only deserves this opportunity to prove her hand against males for the first time on the world's biggest stage. Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, racing against Rip Van Winkle, Einstein, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, Quality Road, Mine That Bird, and Colonel John; if we had to have the Breeders' Cup World Championships at California only to build up to this moment, this two-minute race, I think it'd all been worth it. But only if she runs in the Classic.

If Zenyatta is pointed to play with the boys for the first time, the field for the Ladies' Classic becomes relatively wide-open, with perhaps one exception. Only nine fillies or mares have been pre-entered to this epic girl-fight, and without Zenyatta, the veritable Berlin Wall of mares will be lifted for other females to get a shot at Breeders' Cup glory. Of the contenders, Careless Jewel looks to be the filly who is most deserving to carry on Zenyatta's torch.

A winner of 5 of 6 lifetime starts, Careless Jewel is a 3-year-old gray filly just coming into her own as a runner, quickly gaining respect by knocking off 5 consecutive victories over the synthetic track at Woodbine and traditional dirt at three different tracks, including Saratoga, where she won the Grade I Alabama Stakes. With her impressive resume, Careless Jewel will inherit the role as the favorite if Zenyatta sits this one out and runs against the boys instead.

Lethal Heat was second-best to Zenyatta in the Grade I Lady's Secret at Santa Anita on October 10, and has that prep under her belt as an advantage. Cocoa Beach is also entered, who ran second to Zenyatta in last year's Ladies' Classic; unfortunately, the Godolphin filly hasn't been the same mare this year as last and it's hard to tell where her form stands at this point. Music Note, who was third in last year's Ladies' Classic, has won her last two races and has a good chance of improving off those victories. The 1-2 finishers in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland are also entered, Proviso (GB) and Mushka; in the Spinster, Proviso was disqualified to second when she veered into Mushka's lane in the final leaps of the stretch. Life is Sweet and Rainbow View are also entered. If Careless Jewel doesn't like the Pro-Ride, look to Proviso and Lethal Heat to try and steal the show.

The next time this column publishes, the first day of the Breeders' Cup will already have begun. Friday's races will kick off at 12:35pm PT with the Breeders' Cup Marathon, and will be preceded by the Juvenile Fillies Turf at 1:08pm, the Juvenile Fillies at 1:45pm, the Filly and Mare Turf at 2:23pm, the Filly and Mare Sprint at 3:02pm, and the Ladies' Classic at 3:45pm PT.

Now that online wagering has been made legal in Illinois, bettors can head over to if for some reason they can't call in sick and make it to their local OTB. Not only will there be flurry of bets on the ponies, but the jockeys are also getting some action. For the first time, pari-mutuel wagering will be offered to bet on which jockey will win the most Breeders' Cup races. Last year, that honor went to Garrett Gomez when he took four races; when in doubt, you can count on Go-Go no matter where the track happens to be, unless, of course, he's riding against Mike Smith on Zenyatta.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The luck o' Larry follows him to Keeneland

So what I'd like to know is why, after all the interviews with Larry Jones and talk about the significance of Just Jenda's start in the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland, did nobody at TVG nor any other publication after the race, mention the fact the filly flipped over in the post parade before the race? Larry Jones has a perpetual rain cloud following him around. It's so unfortunate this great horseman's career has been marred in terrible luck the past two years. It's true he has had his share of good luck, but c'mon, can't a guy catch a break?

Just Jenda was Larry Jones's last starter at Keeneland before he retires. The trainer began his illustrious career with his first stakes win at the beautiful Kentucky racecourse, so it would've been a storybook ending to go out with a win. However, the trainer's luck has been plagued with disaster the past two years, beginning with the tragic breakdown of his filly, Eight Belles, in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the bumps and bruises of his trainee Friesan Fire (the post-time favorite for the 2009 Kentucky Derby, where he finished next to last) and most recently with Just Jenda's flip in the post parade before the Raven Run; so maybe the tale is true to form in its disparity with Jones's last chance at Keeneland ending with a strike-out.

To her credit, Just Jenda ran a credible race for a filly who had the wind knocked out of her only minutes before the gates banged open. While sitting next to last for most of the race, Just Jenda passed rivals and got up to third place before fading to fifth in the final few strides of the 7-furlong stakes race, her first start over a synthetic surface. In contrast, the favorite, Flashing, never fired, and finished third from last for her first time out of the money; Flashing had previously placed, but never won, over a synthetic surface (Presque Isle Downs).

Great reporting, everyone.

All sarcasm aside, has reported on the status of Friesan Fire. The A.P. Indy colt has been passed into the training care of Steve Asmussen. It seems that Jones's Vinery Stables connections are dispersing their horses to Asmussen with Jones's pending retirement; earlier, Kodiak Kowboy was transfered to Asmussen's barn. Kodiak Kowboy won the Grade I Vosburgh under Asmussen's care on October 3. Friesan Fire is looking for a comeback in most likely the Grade I Donn Handicap after surgery on a stress fracture in his left front ankle and a bone chip in his right front ankle.
Larry Jones's final stakes starter will be with Payton d'Oro at Churchill Downs at the end of November.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A scoop on the Secretariat film

Since hasn't officially listed exactly who is playing who for next year's Secretariat film by Walt Disney Pictures, I thought I'd get the jump on the all-knowing movie database by unleashing the casting information I was passed on by Mr. I-Wrote-the-Book-the-Movie-is-Based-on:

John Malkovich....Lucien Lauren

Diane Lane....Penny Chenery

James Cromwell....Ogden Phipps

Fred Thompson....Bull Hancock

Nelsan Ellis....Eddie Sweat

Eric Lange....Andy Beyer

Kevin Connolly....Bill Nack recently published a great article on the scope of the film and how it will be different from Seabiscuit. You can read that article at this link.

For more official news about the Secretariat film, visit Big Red's website at this link.