Friday, April 30, 2010

Kentucky Derby Selections: Make a Plan!

"The best we can do is size up the chances, calculate the risks involved, estimate our ability to deal with them, and then make our plans with confidence."

-Henry Ford

Clearly, Henry Ford didn't have a Derby horse when he offered up those words of wisdom.

And here it is, the eve of the 136th Running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and I don't have a Derby horse. All these months of prep races and I lack a favorite - a tout worthy of a confident proclamation and a fistful of dollars at the mutuel windows. It has come down to merely reading the past performances and Genius Alan's rundown. So, I've sized up and calculated and estimated and made a plan:

Stately Victor. After my recent pseudo-research on the colt, I'm really liking him. He ran against some nice horses in the Bluegrass, and I loved how he turned on the gas and closed. He's run on turf, dirt, and synthetic tracks; perhaps not displaying dazzling performances on dirt but, frankly, I fail to see a whole lot of "dazzling" in this Derby field. Jockey Alan Garcia, a plus.

Lookin at Lucky. The deserving Derby favorite, as he should be, but I hate that 1-hole. And, with a 20 horse field, lots of odds on the board, and recent memories of Mine That Bird and Giacomo, my WIN money will be somewhere else. However, he'll be boxed into an exotic wager or two.

Super Saver. Usually I avoid Mr. 0-for-24-in-the-Derby, Todd Pletcher. The last time I had a Derby relationship with a Pletcher horse was Bandini, which to say the least, was not a success. But Super Saver has won at Churchill Downs, has won in the slop - weather forecast for the Derby calls for rain - and he has Calvin Borel aboard. I'm not a fan of front runners, but Super Saver rated well in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1), losing by a neck to front runner Line of David.

Jackson Bend. Ah, maybe appears too slow on paper, but this Florida-bred chestnut colt has been in the exacta all 9 of his races. Regarding his Wood Memorial performance, the chart reads, "No match 2nd best." Well, who was a match to Eskendereya? Eskendereya ain't here, and I think he can be competitive with this field.

Plans are for various exotic wagering strategies - exacta boxes, a tenuous dabble in a trifecta. No, I don't have a true Derby horse but it certainly won't keep my wagering dollars in my pocket tomorrow.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Test Your Texas Mile Knowledge

Today, children throughout the state of Texas will be taking the TAKS test. Therefore, in celebration of standardized tests everywhere, I have created a short quiz covering this past weekend’s Texas Mile (gr. 3) and the events surrounding the race. This quiz should be easy and straight forward if you were one of the 18,232 in attendance. For the rest of you, please feel free to refer to your racing form or answer the questions to the best of your ability. Good luck!

Texas Mile Standardized Assessment

1. Mythical Power, trained by Bob Baffert, won the Texas Mile, completing the mile in 1:35.71. In the Winner’s Circle, the flower garland draped over his withers is of which state’s flag?
    a. West Virginia
    b. Kansas
    c. Vermont
    d. Texas

2. What remarks did winning jockey Martin Garcia use to describe the race?
    a. “I just let him break comfortable and he settled nicely into second position early on. I thought I had a lot of horse to go after the leader, and when he kicked on, my horse really dug in.”
    b. “It’s Dollar Day and I was in a hurry to snag a cold beer!”
    c. “A win here at Lone Star is important to me – I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by Gary West.”
    d. “Is there a Whataburger on the way to the airport? Mr. Baffert wants me to pick up an order to go.”

3. Besides an impressive card that also featured the Grand Prairie Turf Challenge and the Irving Distaff, it was also Dollar Day at Lone Star Park: $1 admission, $1 beer, $1 hot dogs and so forth. Which line was the longest?
    a. Line for beer
    b. Line for hotdogs
    c. Line for bathrooms
    d. Lines for beer, hot dogs, and bathrooms were a dead heat

4. Lone Star Park boasted an attendance of 18,232 for the races – a pleasant and cheerful turnout enjoying a day of great racing with picture perfect weather. Walking amongst the throng of fans, which phrase were you most likely to hear?
    a. “Excuse me, but I think you’re sitting on my blade of grass.”
    b. “The end of the beer line is where???
    c. “Aaron Gryder is riding here at Lone Star? I used to watch him on Jockeys – I kept waiting for him to beat up Joe Talamo!”
    d. All of the above

5. Suebroux, the author of the blog Post Parade, crossed paths with Lone Star Park’s Vice President and Assistant General Manager, G.W. Hail, and Global Gaming’s Michael Chang. How likely would it be that at that moment she would be drinking a dollar beer?
    a. Not likely
    b. There’s a possibility
    c. Very likely
    d. She’s probably holding 2 beers!

Stop! You have completed the quiz. Your standings in academia are completely and wholly unaffected by your results of the Texas Mile Standardized Assessment.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stately Victor: Who's Your Daddy? And Why Should That Make You My Derby Horse?

There’s one at every track. You know who I’m talking about. The loud-mouthed rube who proclaims he had the longshot winner “all the way”. Arrogant and cocky – it was no “guess” or “stab” or “accident”, but merely his uncanny expertise to read The Form – and he cackles all the way to the IRS window as a bevy of bettors contemplate tossing beer at the lout.

That lout showed up for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes when Stately Victor won at 40-1. I chalked it up as a fluke. It was the Keeneland surface. It was the other horses. It was the pollen in the air. It was the line to the bathroom. I had reams of excuses. Stately Victor was not going to be my Derby horse. No chance. No how. No way. An immediate toss out.

However, Mr. Lone Star Loudmouth, as he swaggered up to the mutuel window, winning tickets in hand, spouted his [unsolicited] reasoning: Ghostzapper.

Ghostzapper, of course, is the 2004 Horse of the Year and sire to Stately Victor. The lout blathered on about Ghostzapper, yammering on about “running style” and “dominance” and “greatness” and blah blah blah. I’ll admit, I kind of tuned out, figuring the guy to be nothing more than another lucky blowhard.

But, I did perform a little research (read: I glanced at Ghostzapper’s past performances), just in case he knew what he was talking about. Ghostzapper only raced 11 times; twice as a 2-year-old, and was mainly considered a sprinter as a 3-year-old. He didn’t even compete beyond 7 furlongs until he was a 4-year-old, when he dominated the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth, against 4 other horses in the slop, if I recall correctly. And yes he won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star, yet he wired the field - not exactly the style exhibited by Stately Victor in the Blue Grass.

Time out to scratch our heads and ponder ...

Stately Victor has already raced 8 times, with his campaign directed mainly at routes on either the turf or synthetic surface. His two routes on dirt don’t exactly knock your socks off. However, as Monsignor Steve Haskin wrote in his April 19th edition of his Derby Dozen,
... any horse who runs as well as he did on two occasions at Saratoga, on dirt and grass, has got to be legitimate. Other than his allowance at Churchill, after which he was very ill, and his return race after a three-month absence, he hasn’t shown any indication he won’t run well on dirt.


So, a little help here – I’m not exactly seeing a whole basketful of similarities between Ghostzapper and Stately Victor, just some intriguing speculation. Something like, “Since Ghostzapper was capable of dominating sprint, middle, and classic distances, we can extrapolate the potential that should have Ghostzapper ran routes and Triple Crown races as a 3-year-old, he would have most certainly dominated. And furthermore, had he attempted to run on either turf or synthetic surface he would have languished and have most certainly ended up a pony at Fonner Park.” Ah, a most plausible explanation for making Stately Victor a Derby favorite ... at some pretty long odds.

But didn’t you like that stretch run in the Blue Grass? And don’t you think Ghostzapper was pretty darn good? And isn’t all that speculation worth a few bucks on Derby Day?

In the meantime, the TBA and all of their really smart friends are posting their morning line for the Kentucky Derby starting field. It’s noteworthy that yours truly will abstain from this little exercise because it’s my little way of letting Mike Battaglia know that his job is quite safe from me. It requires way too much speculation, extrapolation, ingenuity, and vodka martinis to assign odds on the Derby field. Plus, I don't want anyone to make fun of me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Celebrate Secretaries!

Today is National Secretaries Administrative Professionals Day. And look who showed up among Alyson Ward's salute to famous secretaries:

Finest moment: In 1973, Secretariat won the U.S. Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. And the famous name Secretariat? It was suggested by the secretary at Meadow Stable, where the horse was born. [Star-Telegram]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Haunted by Kela

Six years ago, a Southern California invader named Kela shipped into Lone Star Park to race in the Texas Mile (gr. III). I recall that the turf writer for the local Dallas rag was quite smitten with Kela and proclaimed him a cinch to win the race.

Now at the time, I was new and pitifully na├»ve to horse racing; I could, I think, name three horses (Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, and Seattle Slew - I warned you it was pitiful!) so the significance of Kela was lost on me. For all I knew, "Kela" could’ve been the name of the Viking ship that Leif Eriksson used on one of his great explorations.

Leif: Men! We shall set forth tomorrow aboard Kela in our quest to discover Greenland! Smorgasbord will be served on the Lido deck at 1:00!

So, Kela shipped in and on that miserable rainy Saturday afternoon, charged down the sloppy track and won the race by 5 lengths. That race made a strong impression, so much so that when Kela returned to Lone Star Park later in the year to race in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, I confidently included him in my exacta with Speightstown and declared myself a handicapping genius.

Anyway, last week Gary West posted a brief story about a very promising – and speedy – 2-year-old, Aces N Kings. It’s only the middle of April and I gleaned from the Professor’s observations that one should “take note.” The juvenile race lured me out to the racetrack on Friday night; that, and the dollar beer.

After bobbling the start and bumping around like a typical 2-year-old, Aces N Kings “drew off under steady urging”, completing the 4 ½ furlongs in 52.78, winning by 6 lengths.

Dreams and possibilities swirl around juvenile races – are we witness to the start of something special? Future champions? Next year’s Derby winner? Is Aces N Kings – a Texas-bred sired by a teaser – on a path to be a champion sprinter? Could this be the name included in my exacta in the 2011 or 2012 Breeders’ Cup Sprint?

And since I'm busy asking all these questions, here's one more: Will I ever take a decent picture of a horse in the Winner's Circle??

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Get Hip! Lone Star Park Opens Its 14th Season

Lone Star Park opened its 14th season this evening and, it appears, it will be MEC’s swan song in Texas horse racing. Last week, Global Gaming submitted its application to the Texas Racing Commission to acquire the ownership license of Lone Star. Global Gaming isn’t the owners yet. But, if I may be so boldly optimistic, I was under the distinct impression this evening that the current Lone Star’s team is putting a little more effort into its final furlong.

According to reports, there’s to be a kiosk to assist newcomers to horse racing. And dollar beer - $1 Beer! - specials on Friday nights’ Party in the Park. And they hired an “entertainment host”, Ali Dee – she’s cute and perky and her mission is to make it “hip” to be seen at Party in the Park. And they have a cool line up of bands. And there’s 60 days of horse racing, replete with the Lone Star Derby, Lone Star Millions, and two days of fireworks extravaganza for the 4th of July!

Well, this evening I didn’t find any kiosk for newbies but I did run into Drew Shubeck, the President, General Manager, and Best Dressed Executive of Lone Star Park. He in turn, kindly introduced me to his equally dapper companion, Michael Chang of Global Gaming. At that moment, I was happy about three things:

    1. I was not drinking
    2. Drew Shubeck thinks that lil’ ol’ blogger me is worthy of an introduction
    3. I did not use the words “nit wit” and “Frank Stronach” together in a sentence

Anyway, we all had a pleasant albeit brief conversation – Drew Shubeck appreciated the fact that I wrote complimentary things about Lone Star’s bathrooms, and Michael Chang announced that he would be at Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom (“I have a ticket!”).

I also ran into Gary West as he was making his opening day rounds throughout the facility. We both rather groused about the state of Texas racing, lamenting that there had been a wonderful opportunity to do something to captivate North Texas after the track hosted the 2004 Breeders’ Cup. But alas ...

Oh, and I ran into Railbird Roy, who I hadn’t seen all winter. His prediction is trainer Bret Calhoun will win the Training title this year as he’s been putting out some speedy critters.

Traditionally, the first race of the meet is the Premiere Stakes for Texas-breds. The race was won by the talented 3-year-old gelding, Coyote Legend, trained by Bret Calhoun. Coyote Legend had won his last three previous races, most recently the Jim's Orbit Stakes at Sam Houston. And it was fitting to see the Scharbauer silks in the Winner’s Circle at the beginning of the meet.

I'm giddy and optimistic, regardless of the woes that face this region. Be it sagging purses or impending changes in ownership, it's time to get hip to Texas horse racing.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ummm ... I Gotta Question??

Oaklawn's unique Information Desk in the grandstand - how can you not like it??