Month: July 2011

Haskell: Which 3 Year Old Will Answer the Call?

Pants on Fire goes for another win at Monmouth - '11 Pegasus Stakes

All eyes will shift to Monmouth Park on Sunday following today’s battle of the 3 year olds in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. While today is the first installment of Triple Crown contenders returning to action for their summer debut, the GI $1 Million Haskell Invitational is more intriguing. The reason is because the race features not just Triple Crown contenders but winners. In what could be a showdown between Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler on Ice, the element of surprise should still be considered. The 3 yr old division has shown plenty of obscurity in 2011 but after Sunday, a top contender for the title of 3 yr old champion (Male) may be a little bit clearer.

Summer racing is in full swing and the countdown to Breeders’ Cup weekend is on. With the introduction of the “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge, Sunday’s outcome is going to create a lot of buzz. The Haskell winner will earn themselves a spot in the starting gate at the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5th. 2 of last the last 10 Classic Champions took down the field at age 3 so if anyone in this class is capable of beating older horses, let the discussion begin. (more…)


Fine and Dandy

Belmont runner up, Stay Thirsty, bid gamely down the stretch

The Spa takes center stage this Saturday as the race for 3 year old champion intensifies with the running of the G.2 $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes.  The race is named after 1930 Travers Stakes winner Jim Dandy who upset Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox at odds of 100-1.  A field of 7 is entered for the local prep for the Travers Stakes.  The highest odds on the board are at 15-1, so don’t look for a repeat of 1930, but do look for an interesting race as two Triple Crown contenders make their return to the track as do other notable runners ready to make their case for 3 year old champ.   (more…)

Two Triple Crown Winners Set for Haskell Invitational

Bill Denver/Equiphotos

Hometown Kid Ruler on Ice

While Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom continues to recover from a successful surgery earlier this month, the other two triple crown winners return to the East Coast for the $1 million G1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth ParkPreakness Stakes winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice will headline the race and hope to make a big difference in the battle to become the 2011 3-year-old Champion.  One reason the Haskell is such a big stepping stone in their bid for becoming the 3 yr old champ is that this is the first race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, Classic Division, that is strictly for 3 yr olds.  So a win on Sunday will guarantee one of these 3 yr olds a spot in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic.   (more…)

The Morning Line: Stars and Stripes

Winchester edges out Gio Ponti in last years Manhattan Stakes

Returning to the site of his first ever graded stakes win, Winchester comes back to the turf at Arlington Park for today’s G3 Stars and Stripes Stakes.  It has been an interesting racing career for the 6 year old.  Between today’s stakes and the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in 2008, Winchester has reached a few highs and lows.  After romping home and running away by 7 lengths, this horse looked like a serious contender for the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf.  But things didn’t go according to plan.  Against a healthy field of European Turf specialists, Winchester was unable to deliver and finished 7th.  Following the BC Turf, Winchester came back in December in the Hollywood Turf Cup.  Again, he just couldn’t find it and finished 6th.    (more…)

Summertime at the Spa

Saratoga Race Track

As the heat wave continues to blanket the country sending record temperatures soaring, the racing world begins to heat up with the opening of one of the most historic and legendary race tracks in all of North America. Saratoga Race Track, located in Saratoga Springs, NY, is the oldest organized sporting venue in the United States and its doors officially open for business this afternoon. 

Traditionally Saratoga opens in late July and runs through early September.  The meet is home to several prestigious Grade 1 races with the centerpiece being the mid-summer derby, The Travers Stakes.  This season, Saratoga will run 52 stakes races with 17 Grade 1 races at the forefront.  The Travers will be held on Aug. 27.

Saratoga continues to define horse racing in the United States.  A great amount of attention is paid to the sport during the winter and spring months leading up to the derby, but once Saratoga opens, the focus begins to sharpen once again.  The 3-yr. old crop resurfaces and takes aim at accolades and a possible start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Older horses continue their pursuit of championship blankets and the ‘Win and You’re in System’ is very much in play.  Saratoga is a spring board to bigger and better things.  It also offers the chance for redemption.  Uncle Mo is currently back in training at Saratoga as are many other 3-yr. old Triple Crown competitors.

Known as The Spa due to nearby mineral springs, Saratoga is also known as the Graveyard of Champions.  Man O’War suffered his only defeat in 21 races at Saratoga.  Secretariat was also defeated after winning the Triple Crown.   The racing at Saratoga is absolutely stellar and on any given day, each horse that enters the gate has a chance to win. The fields are usually full and very competitive.  Opening weekend will be no different.  Today, the highlight of the card will be the $75,000 James Marvin Stakes, tomorrow will be the G.1 $250,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, and Sunday will be the G.2 $150,000 Sanford Stakes. 

Saratoga is special. It is a tribute to the past and it will continue to flourish in the future.  As for now, we have an opportunity as race fans to witness great things this summer.  I’ve always felt that the opening of Ellis Park was the precursor to the summer, but summer didn’t actually begin until Saratoga opened.  Summer begins today.  Get your programs and your pens and let the handicapping begin once again as we shoot for the Travers and the plethora of racing being held at Saratoga.

Written by Big Brink 


Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Win and You’re In

Photo Finish: 2011 Hollywood Gold Cup

That’s right, it’s as simple as that.  The Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, which began in April, guarantees the winner of 68 designated stakes races a spot in one of the 15 Breeders’ Cup races this November at Churchill Downs.  For those lucky enough to win a challenge race, provided that the horse has already been nominated, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fee to their respective BC Race.  To sweeten the deal even more, if the winner’s owner chooses to move on to the big show this fall, the Breeders’ Cup will provide a travel allowance of $10,000 to horses based in the U.S. and $20,000 to those who will be coming in from outside of the United States.

Now in its fifth year, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge and the Win and You’re In program, brings a wealth of attention to the Breeders’ Cup during the summer.  In the first week of August we will officially be inside of 3 months until Breeders’ Cup weekend on Nov 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.  Even better, between now and the middle of October, a stakes race at a major track with Breeders’ Cup implications will be featured every weekend.  With ABC / ESPN owning the rights to the Breeders’ Cup, it will likely result in Breeders’ Cup automatic qualifier TV Coverage as we get closer to the main event this fall.  I for one was impressed when ESPN made it to Arlington Park to cover the Beverly D and Arlington Million on Arlington’s biggest racing day of the year.  Hopefully, they will be there again this year on Saturday August 13th to cover one of the best days of turf racing in the U.S.

So what have we seen so far this year that is worth noting?  Two feature races on Breeders’ Cup weekend, the Ladies Classic and the Classic, have both added their first 2011 automatic qualifiers.

The first was a thriller out west, the Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park (Results).  With a birth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the line, we came about as close to a double qualifier, in the form of a dead heat, as you can get.  The man behind the stretch duel and photo finish was the Meets Leading Trainer, Bob Baffert.  It was Game On Dude with Chantal Sutherland aboard who took control of the race at the top of lane, fending off Twirling Candy, a threat on the near inside.  She looked to have this race locked up in impressive fashion when First Dude came storming and nipped his stablemate at the wire.  Jockey Martin Garcia was poised down the stretch and got the late jump when he needed it.  To make this duel between stablemates even more interesting, both are possible to return in the Pacific Breeders’ Cup Classic on August 28th at Del Mar.  This race is also a Breeders’ Cup Classic automatic qualifier, so you can bet on Baffert looking to snatch up another $10k travel allowance and another entry fee waived by the Breeders’ Cup.

Last weekend was another impressive stretch duel for the ages.  In a battle between the top two older females in the country, it was Blind Luck who got to the wire first by a nose over Havre de Grace in the G2 Delaware Handicap (Results).  After winning the last two meetings, Havre de Grace was ready to even the win count at 3 going in.  Coming out, the narrow defeat plays to Blind Luck’s favor as she now holds a 4-2 advantage in the fillies 6 races against each another.  The thrilling victory gives Blind Luck, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Jockey Garrett Gomez an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

After Blind Luck finished 2nd and Havre de Grace finished 3rd, behind Unrivaled Belle in last years Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, these two fillies have distanced themselves from the competition.   On the horizon might be a fall showdown as exciting and talked about as any rivalry on the college gridiron.  Except for that Breeders’ Cup race last year, in the 5 races where they faced off, one of them has won each time with the other finishing 2nd on all 5 occasions.  The biggest margin of victory: 1/4 Length.  It’s unbelievable how close the talent is between them which makes it all the more interesting as we wait to see them go at it again.  Rumors are beginning to circle around a potential purse increase for the GI Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug 28th.  It has been mentioned that the $300,000 purse could almost double, bringing the supposive purse to a total of $600,000.  If so, it is very likely that the next round between the two will be at Saratoga this summer……..Stay tuned

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge series comes back to American soil on the last weekend of July with three different stakes races at three different major tracks.  The one everyone will be talking about is the Haskel Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 31st.  At stake will be the second Win and You’re In qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Also on the schedule that weekend will be a Ladies Classic qualifier — Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga and a Dirt Mile Qualifier — San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

For those of you with Kentucky Derby fever year round, the 2 yr old racing scene and automatic qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile pick up over Labor Day weekend.  The first two races to mark on your calendars are the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, Sept 5th and the Del Mar Futurity Sept 7th.

Written by: Little Brink

All Eyes Are On The Ladies

Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, Set to Battle Again

While this coming weekend showcases a total of 6 graded stakes races, the big two getting all of the attention will feature only the lovely……..fillies and mares.  Let’s face it, ladies might not get all the attention they deserve sometimes, but when they do, it can be hard to take your eyes off of them.  Horse racing proved it over the last couple of years with the grandest female champion of all time: Zenyatta.  Her dazzling career along with her style and method of racing last until hitting the top of the stretch capped some of the most thrilling races we’ve ever seen.  With her career coming to end at the Breeders Cup Classic last November, she has been missed in 2011.  But there are a number of fillies and mares that are contending to replace her.  After finishing 19-1 with over $7 Million in lifetime earnings and over 85,000 Facebook fans, that is a very tall order because let alone being the greatest mare of all time, Zenyatta put herself into the conversation of best horses of all time.

Lets take a look at our fillies are mares in action this weekend.  On the east coast it will be the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap and out west it is the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.  (more…)

The Morning Line: Summit of Speed

Princess Rooney Favorite: Sassy Image 5-2

In what Calder Casino & Race Course dubs “Thoroughbred racing’s fastest day” there will be plenty of speed worth watching when the Summit of Speed kicks off Saturday at 12:30 pm est.  Get there early, as this racing card may come to end about as fast as any one can imagine.  Of the 12 races on the card, the longest race of the day is race 5 at 1 1/16 mile.  The card concludes with a Graded Stakes Pick 4, beginning with the Grade III Azalea, followed by the Grade II Carry Back, and Grade II Smile Sprint Handicap.  The pick 4 then concludes with the feature GI Princess Rooney Handicap.  All four races will run at a distance of 6 furlongs over the dirt.  (more…)

Opening Day: Ellis Park

The Pea Patch

In Western Kentucky along the banks of the Mighty Ohio River is a little place called Ellis Park, where thoroughbred racing has been running since 1925.  Located in Henderson, KY with Evansville, IN just north, its safe to say I know a thing or two about Ellis Park.  Growing up you would always find me there, especially on a weekend of racing as big as the 4th of July.  It’s what’s growing on the infield at Ellis Park that got this track’s its nickname.  It’s actually soy beans that have been cropped and harvested on the spacious land inside the track but never the less, nickname’s stick.  “The Pea Patch” carries a bit of a country-style along with brutal heat and humidity inside the Ohio river valley but at the end of the day, it’s still a special racing venue.

Today is opening day for the Ellis Park racing season that will run through August and into September until Labor Day.  With an extra day of racing on Monday, it makes for a great chance to enjoy some good old fashion Kentucky Thoroughbred Racing.  Ellis Park is open for only a single racing season annually, opening the same weekend that Churchill Downs completes its spring meet.  A similar overlap occurred twice in recent years in 2007 and 2008.  Although it wasn’t always a choice that the Kentucky Racing Commission was a fan of making, I applaud them for the approval because business, attendance and attention is just too good over the three-day holiday weekend for both racetracks.

A few of the successful jockey’s that hung their tack at Ellis Park over the years include 3 time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel.  Calvin “Bo-rail” spent many summers at Ellis Park as he climbed through the ranks and eventually became the well-known jockey he is today.  In the late 90’s and early on during the 2000 – 2003 campaigns at Ellis Park, you would often find he and Jon Court going head to head on a regular basis.  Along with both of these jockey’s you can expect Corey Lanerie, Jamie Theriot and a few others to ride during the meets feature races this season.

Stakes Races:

  • July 16 — $50,000 Don Bernhardt — 3yo & up, 6 1/2 furlongs
  • July 23 — $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes — f & m, 3yo&up, 1 1/16 miles, turf
  • Aug. 13 — $100,000 Gardenia (GIII), f & m 3yo & up, mile
  • Sept. 5 — $50,000 The Cliff Guilliams Handicap, 3yo & up, 1 1/16 miles, turf

Ellis Park is where I became a horse racing fan and began to appreciate the sport.  The summer racing season was perfect for me and my brothers as we got the chance to make it out to the track a good amount of times.  Enduring the heat became easy but walking away with more winnings than the two of them, however, was always interesting.  “Who do you like in the 9th?”……. “Don’t worry about it.”  Some of the best times I had with my brothers growing up were without a doubt somehow related to a day of racing at the track.  So Ellis Park gets it’s credit for that, along with being responsible for teaching me that losing wasn’t a good idea.  So Ellis is where I learned to handicap and dig deep into the racing form before placing my wagers.  The outcome? Like any other day at the races – good days and bad.

Over the years, along with our Dad who introduced us to the sport of kings, we really enjoyed a good day of racing at Ellis Park.  We eventually even got the chance to meet a variety of jockey’s, owners, trainers, and few others connected to the sport.  Ellis Park also became the first place I ever got the chance to be on the Backside.  Strolling through the stables was a pretty cool opportunity.  Regardless of how small Ellis Park may be on the Kentucky and Nationwide Thoroughbred Racing Circuit, it’s still horse racing in the Bluegrass state.  For me, it was a great place to be, learn about the sport and enjoy good times.

Good luck, Ellis Park, on another successful racing season.  To all fans, riders, trainers, owners and connections, enjoy the meet and best of luck reaching the winners circle as often as possible.  I’ll see you there later this summer.

Written by: Little Brink