Monday, June 30, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
NEW KENT, Va., June 21 -- Editor's Note: Because of a computer error, the story about Saturday's race at Colonial Downs that appeared in the Sunday, June 22, Sports section referred to last year's race. The correct story appears below.
When the rains came in waves Saturday, accompanied by thunder and lightning, the owners in the Team Valor International syndicate at Colonial Downs couldn't have been happier.
In a field of 3-year-olds either untested on turf or unproven on soft ground, Team Valor's Sailor's Cap stood out, having run two straight powerful races on yielding courses in his most recent starts. The crowd of 4,557 at the track, which enjoyed sunshine most of the afternoon, sought cover inside the grandstand and bet Sailor's Cap down to 3-1 favoritism to win the Grade III $600,000 Colonial Turf Cup.
With a swift, sweeping move five wide on the far turn, Sailor's Cap delivered under jockey Alan Garcia, pulling away in the stretch to easily win the first leg of the Grand Slam of Grass series by 6 3/4 lengths.
Before the race, Colonial Downs General Manager Ian Woolnough asked the jockeys if they thought the soaked turf course was still safe for racing. Garcia, who is based in New York, couldn't wait to get out there.
"I was confident," said Garcia, who rode Da' Tara to an upset victory two weeks ago in the Belmont Stakes. "The owners said he loved that kind of soft course."
After Sailor's Cap had won the 1 3/16 -mile race in 2 minutes 4.42 seconds, the partners in the colt's ownership submitted to a drenching to collect the trophy in the winner's circle.
"It was worth it to get soaked like this," said Nick Benmeir, whose group took down the first prize of $360,000. "The wetter it got, the more we liked it. The last two times he ran were on wet tracks, and he was brilliant. We had the rider we wanted, and he was brilliant."
Even with the purse for the Colonial Turf Cup reduced from $750,000 this year, the race attracted several noted 3-year-olds, including Lane's End Stakes winner Adriano; Court Vision, part-owned by IEAH Stables, the team behind Big Brown; and Preakness entrant Kentucky Bear.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Simon Hobson's Jeffersonton (a small village near Culpeper, VA) was second.
VIRGINIAN David Ross won the second race "The Victims of Nick's Picks" Purse with Cherokee Spirit. That's Nick Hahn pointing at his tip sheet that touted the winner. Get more info about Virginia racing and racing in general at http://www.virgniaracehorse.com/.
VIRGINIAN SAM ENGLISH, II won the third race and Lazy Lane Farms' Surveyor was second. Here Susie Chatfield-Taylor presents an VHBPA Owners' Appreciation Day award to trainer Patrick Nuesch and rider Johathan Joyce.
ONE, TWO, THREE SWEEP for Virginians in the fifth race. Marshall Dowell's Regina Madre won the race and R. Larry Johnson's Broken Treaty was second and O.J. Peterson's Miswes rallied for third.
JUST HANGIN' OUT...
CHAMPION THREE-YEAR-OLD PLEASANT STRIKE: (from left) Erin Keely and Spring Hill Farm Yearling Manager Dave Keely.
CHAMPION OLDER MALE KONA BLEND: (from left) Frank Shipp, manager of Lazy Lane Farm and VHBPA Executive Director Frank Petremalo.
CHAMPION TWO-YEAR-OLDER FILLY HOW BOUT TONIGHT: (from left) Nellie Mae Cox of Rose Retreat Farm and Belle Bradley reprenting Dr. and Mrs. E. C. Hart of South Gate.
CHAMPION TWO-YEAR-OLDER COLT GRAND MINSTREL: (from left) Nellie Mae Cox of Rose Retreat Farm and Chris, Diana and Emma Baker.
LEADING BREEDER EDWARD P. EVANS and HOWELL E. JACKSON BROODMARE AWARD CHRISTMAS GIFT: (from left) Dave and Erin Keely and David and Melanie Watson of Spring Hill Farm, Andrea Heid, Equine Marketing Specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
When the subcommittee asked the panelists about the use of drugs in horses, Van Berg said, “It’s like chemical warfare.”
Arthur Hancock III, president of Stone Farm, second from right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 19,2008, before the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee hearing. From left are, hall of fame trainer Jack Van Berg; ESPN analyst Randy Moss; Hancock; and Jess Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Farm and Kendall-Jackson wine fame. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The owners of the late horse Barbaro, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, attend the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee hearing. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The Association of Racing Commissioners International also did not receive a place at the table among 13 witnesses who were invited to testify in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection’s hearing titled "Breeding, Drugs and Breakdowns.”
“I understand the public reaction to Eight Belles, and I believe as a horse owner that it was tragic, but we have been working on it,” Santanna said. “It’s not as if we’ve been asleep at the wheel. Those things do tend to accentuate the issues.”
“They have not run any ideas past us, and we would encourage them to widen the circle that they’re talking to,” Martin said. “I think people have a false impression that if you create one central authority the state racing commissions will go away. They will not. So the danger here is that you could take a situation and make it worse. You can make it better by being cognizant of the problems the state racing commissions face. One of them is funding. For drug testing, for wagering security, those are the two main challenges that state racing commissions face. I don’t know of a racing commission in the country that is not under the gun when it comes to state budget processes.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Adriano burst into the national consciousness with a dominant 6¾ length win in a turf allowance at Gulfstream in January. The A.P. Indy colt failed in his dirt debut, the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream but rebounded in the Lanes’s End Stakes (gr. II), scoring a powerful 2½–length score over Turfway’s polytrack.
Jockey Edgar Prado liked Adriano enough to choose him as his Kentucky Derby mount over Grade I winners Tale of Ekati and Monba. Adriano was never a factor while finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby but Prado sticks with him for the Colonial Turf Cup. Prado was the leading rider here in 1997 and 1998 and has won a record three Virginia Derbies.
The 1 3/16-miles Colonial Turf Cup will be Adriano’s first start for new trainer Bill Mott, also a three-time Virginia Derby winner. Graham Motion previously trained the Courtland Farms’ homebred.
Mott will also saddle IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm’s Court Vision (left). The Gulch colt came into his sophomore campaign as a leading Kentucky Derby contender after winning the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) to close out a strong juvenile campaign. Court Vision closed well to get third in both the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial (gr. I) but finished thirteenth after a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby. Regular rider Garrett Gomez will be back aboard Court Vision Saturday as he makes his turf debut.
Bear Stables’ Kentucky Bear is the final former Triple Crown contender in the Colonial Turf Cup field. Kentucky Bear finished well to get third in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) but was excluded from the Kentucky Derby field due to insufficient graded stakes earnings. The Mr. Greeley colt went to the Preakness instead, finishing sixth after a very rough trip. Trainer Reade Baker will reunite Kentucky Bear with jockey Elvis Trujillo, who was aboard for his easy maiden win. The Colonial Turf Cup will be Kentucky Bear’s turf debut.
Sailor’s Cap (below right) and Nistle’s Crunch both bring solid turf credentials, including finishing second and third respectively behind Tizdejavu in the Grade III Crown Royal American Turf Cup in their most recent start. That race got a big boost when Tizdejavu returned to win the Jefferson Cup (gr. III) by four lengths.
Team Valor International’s Sailor’s Cap was beaten just a neck by Tizdejavu after launching a furious stretch rally. The Distant View colt was making his stakes debut that day for trainer James Toner. Sailor’s Cap was actually favored over Adriano in the January 11 allowance at Gulfstream but he faded after setting a fast pace, finishing 11 lengths behind Adriano.
Allen Farm LLC and Alan Furst’s Nistle’s Crunch was just 1½ lengths behind Tizdejavu and may have been even closer with more running room in the stretch. The Van Nistelrooy colt has never been worse than third on turf for trainer Ken McPeek. Robby Albarado will ride Nistle’s Crunch Saturday.
Sporting Art is arguably the field’s most accomplished runner on turf after a pair of Grade III victories in Florida this spring. Sporting Art was most recently a disappointing fifth in the Arlington Classic after back to back wins in the Palm Beach Stakes and Calder Derby. The Doneraile Court colt is four for seven on turf for trainer Christophe Clement and owners Jon and Sarah Kelly. Jockey Javier Castelleno was aboard Sporting Art for both graded stakes wins and is reunited with him after missing the Arlington Classic.
El Sultry Sun was third, just 1¾ lengths behind Sporting Art, in the Calder Derby. The Eltish colt is three for five lifetime and comes off strong nose win over Prussian in the Lamplighter Stakes at Monmouth. John Kimmel trains El Sultry Sun for Live Oak Plantation.
KatieRich Stables’ Your Round returns to turf for the first time this season after finishing fifth in the Ohio Derby (gr. II) three weeks ago. Your Round broke his maiden on turf as a 2-year-old and was third in the Grade III Summer Stakes on turf in just his second start. The Distorted Humor colt was only beaten 4¾ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his most recent turf try. Trainer Mark Hubley has named James Lopez to ride Your Ride in the Colonial Turf Cup.
Boss Lafitte finished very fast to win the USA Stakes at Lone Star in his Colonial Turf Cup prep and add even more evidence of the strength of the Crown Royal American Turf, in which he was sixth behind Tizdejavu. The Dynafomer colt is four for 11 overall for trainer Tom Amoss and owner Uptown Racing, LLC.
Robert Gerczak and Kaygar Stable’s Baltimore Bob is the only entrant with experience on the Secretariat Turf Course. The Malibu Moon colt was placed first in his career debut at Colonial last summer. Baltimore Bob won two other turf races to close out his 2-year-old season and remains technically unbeaten on the lawn. Baltimore Bob’s lone start this season was a fourth in the off-the-turf Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico. Leading rider Horacio Karamanos has the call for trainer Carlos Garcia.
Rutherienne comes into the 1 1/8 miles All Along off a rare loss in the Grade I Gamely Handicap. The 4-year-old Pulpit filly is nine for 12 lifetime, including a two length win in the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) last summer over likely second choice Valbenny. Rutherienne won the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland under Garret Gomez in her seasonal debut and will be reunited with the Eclipse Champion rider in the All Along. Christophe Clement trains Rutherienne for Virginia Kraft Payson LLC.
Lael Stables’ Valbenny (below right) will be making her second start of the season and second start for new trainer Michael Matz in the All Along. The 4-year-old Val Royal filly was a graded stakes winner at both two and three for former trainer Patrick Gallagher. Valbenny was an even third in the Gallorette Handicap on the Preakness undercard after being trapped behind a slow pace. Three-time All Along winner Edgar Prado will be aboard Saturday.
J’ray looks to rebound off a disappointing sixth in the Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. II) in late May. The multiple graded stakes winner has been somewhat unlucky this season, getting beaten less than a length in three straight stakes. The 5-year-old Distant View mare has been first or second in 13 of 20 starts for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Lawrence Goldman.
Earl I. Mack’s Lady Digby finished second in the Gallorette, just a half-length behind winner Roshani and 4 ½ lengths to the better of Valbenny. The 4-year-old Grand Sla filly annexed the Dahlia Stakes in April and has been on the board in all five starts this season for trainer Graham Motion.
Indescribable scored her first graded stakes win in the Arlington Matron Handicap (gr. III) May 26 at Arlington but is somewhat unproven on turf. The 4-year-old Pleasant Tap filly won and allowance race on Hollywood Park turf course in December was a badly seven in her only other turf try. The All Along will be Indescribable’s first race for trainer Bill Mott. Garrett Gomez will ride the Courtland Farms homebred.
Palmilla, Eclisse, Dancing Band, Royal Pleasure and High Moment round out the All Along field.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Louzeeanna’s victory in the $7,500 claiming race with a published purse of $10,500 turned out to be an impressive $11,970.
(Photo by Jeff Coady/Coady Photographer)
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
4) THE RACETRACK - We surmise the boys at Belmont were damned worried about another 8-Belles debacle. Our guess is they did everything they could to make the track safe, but it doing so they created a very "deep" track that Big Brown didn't like. The weather and some water issues could have confused an already tricky process, and a close viewing of the race will show you the horses going into the track up over their ankles.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Trainer Rick Dutrow said he was "numb" as he watched his failed Triple Crown runner, Big Brown, stagger across the finish line far behind the rest of the field in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
We didn't like the people around Big Brown, especially his boorish, bad-boy trainer, yet we pulled for him to win. We didn't like the fact Big Brown was a Winstrol wonder, getting a monthly injection of the synthetic steroid to boost his performance, yet we pulled for him to win.
It's about the horse, we constantly reminded ourselves, not the people.
On this hot and humid June afternoon, however, it became impossible to separate racing people from the horses who play the game. The history of the sport has been graced with so many good and decent men and women. Do we really need to celebrate those who would bring it dishonor?
When dawn broke and news reports confirmed the injury-forced scratch of Casino Drive, the colt expected to be Big Brown's chief rival in the Belmont, thoughts went to that colt's owner and trainer, along with the many Japanese fans and media members who followed him halfway around the world to see if he could make history of his own.
Then came word that racing lost two stalwarts, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Croll and the legendary sportscaster Jim McKay. It would be difficult to find two finer gentlemen than Croll, who is best remembered as trainer of 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, or McKay, a Maryland Thoroughbred owner and breeder and the longtime host of Triple Crown telecasts on ABC Sports.
So it was with mixed emotions as I watched Big Brown break from the starting gate in this 140th running of the Belmont Stakes, the so-called test of the champion, a race that has foiled 10 other Triple Crown attempts since 1978.
I had bought into the "foregone conclusion" theory Dutrow had been preaching in the wake of Big Brown's winning performances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. I admired the way jockey Kent Desormeaux tried to leave something in the tank while dusting his Preakness foes three weeks earlier. I was only moderately concerned that Big Brown had to miss a few days of training two weeks before the Belmont when one of his brittle feet popped a small quarter crack. The unfortunate withdrawal of Casino Drive virtually assured that Big Brown would become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.
Or so I thought.
The energy drained from the crowd of 94,476 just as quickly as it had from Big Brown, who faded to last as Da' Tara galloped on to an easy victory.
Big Brown walked off the track apparently uninjured. The damage to the egos of Dutrow and the IEAH partners was far more severe.
"This horse winning the Triple Crown wasn't going to do a damned thing for racing," a friend said while Nick Zito walked his second Belmont Stakes winner down victory lane.
It was the slap of reality I needed. I knew then that I'd fooled myself, falling for the "good of racing" argument that somehow a Triple Crown winner would help a sport that often can't seem to help itself.
Meanwhile, on the victory stand, Zito was talking about the importance of humility and grace in this sometimes humbling game.
It's a lesson Dutrow and the Big Brown team could learn.
The equine palace off of I-64 opens its 12th season Monday amid as rich and interesting a backdrop as the track has ever experienced.
Historic achievement, soaring gas prices, reasonably priced entertainment, a soft economy, dead animals and antagonistic legislators. Oh, and by the way, the owner has the joint up for sale.
Aside from that, it's business as usual at Virginia's only pari-mutuel horse track, where the 45-day thoroughbred meet includes full barns, competitive fields and two major race days.
Owner Jeff Jacobs again has bankrolled the $5 million Grand Slam of Grass, a four-race series in which any 3-year-old that wins all four earns a $2 million bonus. The first two legs will be held at Colonial Downs, on June 21 (Colonial Turf Cup) and July 19 (Virginia Derby).
Jacobs' announcement last January that he was putting the track up for sale — again — doesn't seem to have affected the enthusiasm for the track among horsemen.
"I spent an awful lot of time on the road this winter and I think it paid off because we have a full barn area," said Iain Woolnough, the track's perpetually sunny vice president and general manager.
"It's something that's above me, whether Mr. Jacobs sells or doesn't sell. My job is to continue racing, whether it sells or doesn't, and we'll continue to do that. It's a great place to be, it's a great place to race."
What Colonial Downs isn't is profitable enough for Jacobs. Much of that is tied to its location — a half-hour from Richmond, at least 45 minutes from Hampton Roads — and resistance from pockets within the state Capitol.
Efforts to get gaming legislation passed that would allow Colonial Downs to augment its purses have become practically a running joke on the floor of the state legislature, so routinely and swiftly are they whacked.
The Dalai Lama will have a ticker-tape parade through downtown Beijing before the state OKs gaming machines. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will tandem skydive before an OTB parlor is built in Northern Virginia.
The latest push is for so-called "instant racing" gaming machines — video machines equipped with thousands of old races that provide just enough information to bet, but not enough to determine where or when the races took place or, in other words, to routinely beat the machine.
That proposed legislation barely saw the light of day. Never mind that advocates didn't push for machines placed in every 7-Eleven, or that a large chunk of the revenue generated would be earmarked for transportation, a la state lottery money going to public schools.
Funny how some legislators support tobacco and Sunday liquor sales and gun ownership and conceal-carry permits, under the banner of individual freedom and personal responsibility. Yet when it comes to gambling, fair citizens of the commonwealth must be protected from their baser instincts.
But we digress.
West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania have slot machines that supplement their respective racing industries. Maryland, which has long resisted slots and gaming machines, might be prepared to go that route as well, if recent polls are any indication.
"It's a big problem for us," Woolnough said, "when the other (states) have this other source of income that we don't have and has not been forthcoming lately.
"We have something that they don't have, and that's the lawn out there," he said, meaning the signature turf course. "How long that can make it survive out there, I don't know. ... It would be nice to have a level playing field, but unfortunately we don't."
The bump that horse racing got from Big Brown's historic quest for the Triple Crown is in some ways offset by the hit the sport absorbed after the filly Eight Belles' very public breakdown and on-track euthanasia at the Kentucky Derby.
Colonial Downs' sales pitch as an economical, family-friendly entertainment alternative is balanced by the fact that Star Trek-style transporters aren't yet dialed up for New Kent.
"Unfortunately, if you look at the racing in this country right now," Woolnough said, "the whole economic situation in the United States is taking its toll on racing."
Attendance and handle are down at nearly all tracks, Woolnough said.
"Disposable income is not there," Woolnough said. "It's being disposed of in the gas tank, in the car."
Colonial Downs feels the pinch, just as you do. Stop on by, they say. Spend as much or as little as you like.
It's a hell of a lot more entertaining than watching legislators and oil company executives.