With the Belmont Stakes being next weekend, this weekend could be dubbed “the calm before the storm”.
This weekend will feature just one key race and a pair of others that some merit attention as well. The key race is the Grade: 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park, an 8 ½ furlong contest for three year olds and up fillies and mares.
A short, albeit very competitive field of 6 has been drawn led by Point of Honor, who quietly ran a tremendous race in finishing third in the Grade: 1 Apple Blossom last time out.
We will also be looking at the Louisville Stakes, a turf marathon at Churchill Downs. The 12 furlong turf event draw Arklow, who chased 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Breeders Cup Turf two back and a streaking Alpha Zulu in the Pegasus World Turf Cup in his last. He will meet no such rivals om saturday afternoon.
Lastly, we will be examining the Thors’ Echo at Santa Anita Park. Desert Law is the best horse in this race but will be making his first start in almost a year.
With only three races that draw our attention I found myself with a little extra “room” this week. What better way to fill it up with a look back to last weekend’s wild weekend? One that saw upwards of a dozen Stakes races being run from, not only coast to coast, but across the pond as well.
European star Pinatuba, who did put in a strong late run, could do no better than 3rd in the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket. The colt suffered his first defeat after winning his first six starts as a two year old. I thought that comparisons to the great Frankel were a bit premature going in. Having said that, it looks as though he will get a boatload out of that race and should still have a tremendous year.
Jose Ortiz was not only brave, but brilliant in the way he handled his horse Tribuvan in the Fort Marcy Stakes. Ortiz’s left rein snapped completely leaving him with almost no control over his horse while going into the first turn at Belmont Park. Ortiz calmly grabbed the other end of the rein, which was basically dangling from the bit, and “steered” slightly better but was still in dangerous and scary situation.
Its happened to me several times years ago on training tracks and it was troubling, but to happen during a race takes it to another level.
In an act pure, unadulterated courage, Ortiz refused help from a quick thinking outrider who had positioned himself to Ortiz’s outside. Ortiz tried valiantly to, not only stay in control, but actually put his horse, who was now in the middle of the track, back in the race. His efforts proved futile and he had no choice but to “ease” his mount and dismount in one of the most courageous acts I’ve seen at racetrack in all my 41 years.
America’s Surprise, a half sister to the great Songbird, took the lead in mid stretch in her second career start, but was gunned down in deep stretch in an improved effort off her debut. It won’t be long before she breaks her maiden.
Volatile proved his last race was no fluke as you can make the argument he was the most impressive horse of the weekend. The gray “bullet” won the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs while getting six furlongs in 1:07.3 and scoring a towering 112 Beyer Speed Figure. This effort off a 7 ½ length win over optional claimers on April 24th, where he stopped the clock in 1:08.3 and etching a 101 Figure. Although he runs with his head a little too high for my liking, he was nothing short of explosive down the lane. This son of Violence is now 4 for 5 in his career and it looks as though the sky is the limit.
The talented Newpaperofrecord took command of the Intercontinental Stakes not long after the start and held sway late for a win. Couple things about her and this race. First off, she is still “running off” early with her rider and won that race on pure class alone. I still believe they will have problems trying to get her to stretch out to over a mile. Lastly, trainer Chad Brown entrants ran 1, 2, 3 and 4 in that race….remarkable.
Code of Honor could not have run a better race in his four year old debut. He didn’t do to little, yet he didn’t due to much, so he should definitely improve (not bounce) in his next start, which figures to be the Met Mile at Belmont. From a distance, the 2020 Met Mile is shaping up to be an absolute barn burner.
Vekoma won the Carter with the greatest of ease and it was some of easiest money I’ve won all year long. Well, that and Sole Volente in the feature at Gulfstream this past Wednesday. Vekoma, who won by 7 and scored a 110 Beyer, is most likely also heading to the Met Mile for his next star as well. Performer was scratched due to the off track.
Out West, Swiss Skydiver was about 9 miles the best in winning the Santa Anita Oaks. She was much the best in leading all the way and winning by 4 lengths …but it could have been 104 lengths if the rider wanted. She ran a 95 Beyer and, with some of the other members of the three year old filly division struggling, you can make a case she is the best of her division right now.
The highly touted Cezanne?…see Code of Honor. This $3.65 million colt by Curlin had a perfect career debut. He didn’t due to much but didn’t due to little and he too should improve greatly in start #2. Although “green” coming down the lane, he looked like he was just getting warmed up at the wire of the 6 ½ furlong maiden special weight race. There is no doubt he needs/wants a route of ground. The good looking bay scored a soft 87 Beyer.
The Santa Anita Derby was over at the start. The previously unbeaten Authentic made a right turn coming out of the gate and was three wide on both turns before understandably tiring down the lane. Honor A.P. was spectacular, coming late with those big bounding strides to win this race easy.
In the Hollywood Gold Cup, that was the Improbable I knew was there the whole time. The enormous chestnut bounced out of the gate, quickly seized control of the race and won “laughing”.
On Sunday, McKinzie rallied from last and was pulling away in deep stretch to win the Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita. He looked tired and underweight when he returned from the Saudi Cup several months ago but kudos to trainer Bob Baffert for getting his “right” again. McKinzie is still another who is pointing for the Met Mile.
Around the Ovals
Little Bets N Pieces
***** First Nadal, now another leading 3 year old, Maxfield, is out with a condylar fracture in one of his front legs.
Perfect in three starts, the son of Street Sense was preparing for a start in the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland when his injury was discovered soon after a Wednesday workout.
According to trainer Brendan Walsh, the colt worked a half-mile in :49 on a fast track, but soon after began showing discomfort in his right front leg.
“Coming back to the barn, it was obvious there was something up,” Walsh said.
X-rays revealed a non-displaced lateral condylar fracture. At about 9:30 a.m. ET, he was sent to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, where he later underwent surgery with orthopedic specialist Dr. Larry Bramlage.
“They put two screws in the injury and it came together really well. It went as well as it possibly could,” the trainer said. “I think we’re in good shape, and he’s back (standing) now as well.”
Depending on the severity of a condylar fracture, a horse can return to competition after a period of rest, though with horses of high value, sometimes retirement follows. Nadal was retired by co-owner George Bolton after his injury, though trainer Bob Baffert has said the colt could potentially return to training after a 90-day layoff.
**** 2019 Nashua Stakes winner Independence Hall is now being pointed for a fall campaign, with one-turn December stakes such as the Cigar Mile Handicap and the Malibu Stakes as major targets.
“We sent him back to WinStar Farm for another 30 days, give or take, with a goal of perhaps being ready to run in the fall,” said Aron Wellman, the founder and president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “The Breeders’ Cup might be a bit too soon for him, but he’s an extraordinary athlete. We just needed to hit the reset button with him, and we’re looking forward to having a strong final part of the year.”
“He certainly exhibited an immense amount of brilliance around one turn at the mile distance, and conventional wisdom says we need to go back to that path,” Wellman added. “Maybe something like the Malibu at the end of the year or the Cigar Mile, if he’s ready, and after that maybe we can consider stretching him back out to two turns at some point.”
**** Following a five-furlong workout by Serengeti Empress in an eye popping :57 4/5 at Churchill Downs this past Wednesday, trainer Tom Amoss said his filly is targeted for the 1 1/8 Fleur de Lis Stakes. The speedy yet siomemtime inconstient filly could meet Midnight Bisou, who at this wiring is also being pointed to that race.
“Look, we have tremendous respect for a champion like Midnight Bisou, as well as Monomoy Girl, who is a possibility,” Amoss said of running Serengeti Empress in the Fleur de Lis. “It’s in our own backyard, and we’re going to see how it goes. It’s where we want to be.”
* Serengeti Empress’ stakes winning stablemate, No Parole smoked five furlongs in :57.3 on Wednesday as well. Amoss is pointing for the June 20 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park.