Saturday, April 14, 2012


Hansen, who goes into this weekend's Blue Grass Stakes as the favorite has much is his favor to discuss, but first we'll focus on his most notable attraction...his color.

Hansen (Tapit x Stormy Sunday by Sir Cat)

The color "grey" is not uncommon among thoroughbreds. It results when a horse develops white colored hairs over dark colored skin. Although it was once though to be a "weak"color and indicative of a horse's poor health or abilty as a runner, we now know that a grey horse has no more health problems than one of any other color (except a strong tendency towards melanoma, for obvious reasons). Still, grey racehorses are usually actually grey in color (often with dark dapples throughout their coats), and do not attain the lighter patina that might be described as "white" until they are older. Hansen does not fit this pattern.

Hansen at 2.

He's a bloody magic carousel horse, and the dream of every horse loving girl in America.

As if he wasn't flashy enough by himself, his owner (also named Hansen) is a very flashy kind of guy. He doesn't fit the mold of a traditional horse owner, and makes for excellent interview material. But let's stop with the petty info and get down to the real question of what kind of racehorse he is.

Not too shabby, as it turns out.

Hansen is the reigning juvenile champion of 2011. He got this title after winning his first two races very impressively, and following them up with a nose win over Union Rags in the ever important Breeder's Cup Juvenile. Those three races were enough to crown him champion, but not enough to convince most folks that he could make the mile and a quarter Derby distance. His running style was very much a "go to the front and never look back hell bent for leather" kind of style, which tends not to bode well for longer distances. His defeat of Union Rags appeared to be at least partly luck, for if the latter had not swerved crazily in the stretch, he probably would have caught the white wonder.

Hansen started out this season with a loss that confirmed the suspicions of some, but did not detract from his supporters, who expected a bit of a "bounce" off his long layoff. He improved in his next start, winning the Gotham Stakes and proving, in doing so, that he could rate (meaning that he could allow other horses in front of him a bit and save some of his speed for the end of the race). Now he heads back to his Bluegrass home to see if some horse (any horse) can keep the Derby favorite spot for more than a week.

From a pedigree perspective, Hansen is by one of the hotest up and coming sires around (and the progenitor of a whole bunch of grey colored stakes winners). Tapit is a good sire for distance horses and is proving himself to be the best sire son of Pulpit, who was himself probably the best sire son of A.P. Indy. All good distance horses. His mother's side leaves a bit to be desired. His dam is a daughter of Sir Cat, who is a second rate son of Storm Cat, and her female family is even more questionable.

Whether or not Hansen wins on Derby day is something one can only guess at today. However, its clear that, of all the horses currently pointing towards the starting gate, he'd look the prettiest in a horseshoe of roses.

He's just so damn adorable!!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Horse with a Cause

Since at least one person has expressed continued interest in this blog (although they're probably the only one), I'll soldier on.

Creative Cause (by Giant's Causeway, out of Dream of Summer by Siberian Summer)

Today Creative Cause shall attempt to prove that he is the "best of the west", taking on a challenging field in the Santa Anita Derby. If he wins, it might be enough (in the minds of many horseplayers) to skyrocket him to the coveted favorite position amongst Derby hopefuls. Although many still believe that Union Rags (who I profiled before, and who recently finished a disappointing third in the Florida Derby) is the cream of the crop, no one can argue that Creative Cause is not far behind.

After starting off to an impressive 2-year old season, Creative Cause came up a creditable (but somewhat distant) third to Union Rags and Hansen in the Breeder's Cup juvenile. He's managed to duck those two monsters since then, but otherwise has not failed to impress in his stakes efforts. In his first start of the season he again finished third in the San Vicente stakes. This somewhat surprising loss was quickly followed up by a fairly comfortable win in the San Felipe. I say fairly comfortable, because he did not blow the competition away, and had the well regarded Bodemiester breathing down his neck through the stretch. How he performs today will have much to say for him (and possibly his competition) in the upcoming Derby.

Creative Cause is by Giant's Causeway, one son of Storm Cat that proved he was a route horse through and through. After being a European horse of the year, he finished a close second to Tiznow in that horse's first of two consecutive Breeder's Cup Classic wins. Creative Cause's female family is also replete with horses that could go the one and a quarter mile Derby distance. As such, no one is questioning his ability to run all day, if necessary.

One thing that is odd, is his connections' decision to run him today for the first time without blinkers. Those are what we call the face-mask with the eye cups you can see him wearing in the picture above. They're usually intended to keep horses that spook at things such as shadows andother horses coming up close to them with their mind on their business (that being running on the track in front of them). They can also help a horse that needs a little encouragement to keep a sharp turn of foot (meaning quickness). To switch tactics this late in the game could mean that his trainer doesn't think he needs the focusing help that blinkers supply anymore. Or it could mean that he's been showing a bit too much speed in practice, and they want him to learn to rate (meaning to harbor his strength early on) better. Whichever is the reason, any time you introduce something new to a horse is a chance for them to freak out about it and not perform to their best level (horses, as a species, do not prize novel situations). If and how it will affect his performance, remains to be seen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Let's try this again....

For those of you not familiar, a long time ago I used to have this blog where I explained horse racing to the largely non-horse enthusiast crowd...and then I stopped. Why?

Becuase it wasn't Triple Crown trail time anymore. And I have to admit, even I have problems keeping my attention on the sport when it's not leading up to one of its dual-annual jewels (those being the Triple Crown and the Breeder's Cup). So for years I let this blog languish and instead posted my horse racing commentary on Facebook.

So this year as I was gearing up for my first Facebook note on the 2012 Triple Crown hopefuls, it suddenly occured to me that what I was doing was stupid. That's what this blog is for!

So here I am again.

For now, anyways.

Screw it, let's get to the pretty horsies.

Union Rags (Dixie Union, out of Tempo by GoneWest

This is Union Rags. He's currently my Derby favorite. He was my Derby favorite last year. That means he is doomed to never win the race. Still, since he's my favorite, and since he'll be racing in his 3-year old debut this Saturday, I figured I'd start with him. First,let's do the pedigree analysis.

Union Rags is a son of Dixie Union, who is not what we would generally consider to be a stallion that breeds distance runners. Nor is his broodmare sire (that's his maternal grandaddy, for those of you not in the know), Gone West, know for passing on the ability to get the trditional Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Not only that, but he's inbred 3x4 to Northern Dancer, and 4x3 to Mr. Prospector. What's that mean? It means he's got a not insignificant amount of inbreeding going on!

Generally, I don't like to pick Derby horses with a lot of speed influences in their pedigree as I think it's asking sprinting horses to go too far. I also don't normally like horses with even half the inbreeding currently present in Union Rags' ancestry. Why? Well, I'm a biologist. We tend to shy away from inbreeding when we can. So why am I so interested in Union Rags?

Partly, its the fact that he does have a double dosage of the famous cross between Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, but more it's because of the way her runs. He does not run like a sprinting horse, he runs like a trueborn stayer. He's a late closer (which has hampered him a bit in his previous starts), and he may just be a "stretch running sprinter", but I personally don't believe it. I think this guy's got the scope to go a mile and quarter and win, and it seems I'm not the only one.

Union Rags' racing career began well, but with little fanfare, when he won a maiden special weight race at Delaware Park in mid July, 2011. Instead of giving him another chance at allowance level company, his connections decided to let him play with the big dogs and enetered him in the Saratoga Special (one of the more prestigious events for young two-year olds). Union Rags was up to the challenge and put a giant exclamation point next to his eventual victory, by winning the event by a 7+ length margin.

There was nothing else but to enter the young colt in the Champagne Stakes, next. The Champange, before the creation of the Breeder's Cup, used to be the premiere event for two-year olds in the fall, and it still draws the best horses in the countryas they prepare for their eventual entry in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile. Union Rags again left his competitors in the dust, winning by over 5 lengths. There was only one race left for him to conquer, one more time around the track to cement himself as the 2-year old champion and the early 2012 Derby favorite.

You can see where this is headed can't you?

Unfortunately, in the prestigious Breeder's Cup Juvenile, Union Rags hooked up with a sprightly little grey named Hansen. Like Union Rags, Hansen was also undefeated in 3 prior starts. Unlike Union Rags, he's a little speed demon who had never been headed (meaning, he'd never let another horse be in front of him in any of his races). Union Rags, a late closer, went wide on the turns and, most damning of all, swerved in the middle of his stretch drive (something he had done previously in the Saratoga Special as well) and lost by a nose.

This one blemish on his career did not deter his fans. He had lost by a nose to a speed horse who may never get beyond the mile and one sixteenth distance of the Juvenile, and after giving himself at least an extra 10 feet to run by his shenanigans in the stretch. Having worked hard all fall, he was sent to the farm for some R&R and to await the spring. His first start as a 3-year old will be tomorrow in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. There he'll be facing the imposing (Todd) Pletcher duo of Algorithms (who has already impressively won a stakes this year) and Discreet Dancer, not to mention a handful of other talented hopefuls that may be just waiting to break out.

Why else should you like Union Rags? Well first there's his trainer, Michael "I Walk Unscathed Out of Burning Passenger Jets" Matz. Matz is not my favorite trainer, but you can't argue he knows how to get a horse to the Derby winner's circle, nor that he knows horses in general. He's taking the same sort of "laid back" training approach with Union Rags as he did back in 2006 when Barbaro took the roses. You have to wonder, if it worked once, why not again? Also, there's his jockey. There was big news in the thoroughbred horse racing world when it was reported that Union Rags regular rider, Javier Castellano, decided to take the mount on Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth. Often, when a jock jumps off one horse in favor of a rival animal, it's generally considered to be evidence of his professional opinion as to their likelihood of winning. However, I'm not so sure Javier made the right choice, here. Regardless, Union Rags quickly picked up Julian Leparoux for his jockey, and I couldn't be more pleased. He's possibly my favorite rider for guiding late closers like Union Rags up to victory.

So is that enough reason to overlook a somewhat checkered pedigree? For me it is.

For now, anyways.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Big Surprise?


Raise your hand if you're shocked to find out Big Brown is being retired at three due to injury. Looks like we'll never get to see the big Curlin/Big Brown match race we were all looking forward to in this year's Breeder's Cup Classic. But guess what, Big Brown will soon be ensconced in a breeding shed where starry-eyed owners of classic racemares will spend millions for the chance to breed and race one of his sore-footed offspring.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Brown Got Served

Dutrow danced, then Jackson danced, and now it's on!

Yeah, it's been a while. I've been busy. So shoot me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Weekend preview

And if you thought racing was all over for the year after last weekend, well, you were wrong. For your racing pleasure this weekend we have “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” live from Churchill Downs, as well as a bundle of other high class stakes races from across the country. I’ll profile a few of the more interesting ones (from my point of view anyways):

Stephen Foster Handicap

This week’s feature race showcases the triumphant return of Curlin. Fresh off a romp in the Dubai World Cup and with his sights set on Cigar’s all time winnings record, there’s not much to say against the champion. Steve Assmussen groused about the imposition of the relatively high 128 pound weight on his horse, but really, does anyone think he doesn't deserve that kind of handicap? Even if I didn’t love him to death, I’d have to pick him to win.

Primary among the mighty Curlin's contenders is Einstein, who if this race was run on any other surface, I might be backing instead of the favorite. I was truly bummed not to see Eistein on Belmont day and I currently think he's the best turf horse running in America. That being said, he'll be running on dirt come Saturday. His trainer, Helen Pitts of "I used to train Curlin" fame, decided that he needed a race to fit in his training schedule and that the Stephen Foster was it. His last time on dirt (the Donn Handicap last February) he ran an unimpressive, but not awful, sixth. Mind you, he's won over Churchill's dirt track before, so I've decided not to accord the racing surface all that much thought.

Brass Hat has been consistently in the money this year, but hasn't won anything since last September. Sam P, a one time 2007 Kentucky Derby contender, looks to regain his previous form and bounce off of a recent allowance win. Grasshopper underperformed on the Preakness undercard, finishing 5th. Whether that was just a flub or the shape of things to come remains to be seen. Delightful Kiss comes off a second place finish in the one mile Blazing Sword Stakes. Keep an eye on hard knocking former-claimer Red Rock Creek, who is full of consistency.

1. Curlin
2. Einstein
3. Sam P

Northern Dancer Stakes

Everything old is new again as the primary contenders of this year's Kentucky Derby face off in this grade III race on the Stephen Foster undercard. Heading the list of contenders is my one time baby, Pyro. He'll be meeting up with former competitors Visionaire, My Pal Charlie, Texas Wildcatter, Unbridled Vicar and Recapturetheglory. So, I'm taking the track of betting this race as if it were the Derby (minus some significant competition).

1. Pyro
2. Visionaire
3. My Pal Charlie

Fluer de Lis Stakes

I love (love, love) Hystericalady. That being said, I don't think this distance (9 furlongs) is right for her. Meanwhile, Cowgirls Don't Cry comes into the race off a win in the mile long Shuvee Handicap. Peach Flambe impressed me in the Cicada at this very distance, and though she was 4th last out on the Preakness undercard, I'm willing to give her a nod today. Apparently ignored by the cognescenti is Kathleens Reel, who has shown she can fight for the finish of a 9 furlong race before (finishing 3rd in the Sixty Sails Handicap).

1. Peach Flambe
2. Hystericalady
3. Kanthleen's Reel

Affirmed Handicap

All the talk in this race seems to be about Two Step Salsa, who was a solid winer his last time out in the Lazaro Barrera Memorial, but who will be trying distance for the first time today. It's one of my rules not to pick a horse in a route race who's never tried two turns. Now, sometimes this does bite me in the behind and a horse I would have labeled a confirmed sprinter turns out to be able to hold off a late challenge. But, knowing next to nothing else about this horse, I'm going to go with my normal picking style. Meanwhile, Dixie Chatter just couldn't catch up to Two Step in the Barrera. Perhaps an added furlong or two might give him some more time to shine. One horse I do know quite a bit about is Tres Borrachos. He didn't perform like I thought he would in the Preakness, but it took a stumbled start to put him in that position. I think he's got a good chance at returning to top form here. Trevor's Clever won by a neck his last time out at the slightly longer distance of the Alydar Stakes (wouldn't it be funny if he won both the Alydar and the Affirmed?).

1. Trevor's Clever
2. Tres Borrachos
3. Dixie Chatter

Eatontown Handicap

Okay, I'm not actually going to hanicap this one, I just like that one of the fillies is named Beatrix Kiddo. You go girl.

In other news

- If you wanted your own Derby fantasy stable, but were too late to participate in the Road to the Roses, you can now play the Road to the Breeders Cup!

- My Belmont pictures, though now in, were not what I had desired them to be. They will require some cleaning up (and significant whittling down) before I’m willing to post them here.

- Kent Desormeaux and Rick Dutrow have apparently mended their fences about Kent’s ride on Big Brown in the Belmont. For those who were asleep the past week the argument goes like this:
1. Kent pulled Big Brown up in the Belmont, saying the horse didn’t respond to his urging at all and that because of this he thought that there might be something wrong.

2. There was nothing wrong with Big Brown and, in fact, he fought Kent’s braking all through the stretch.

3. A lot of people, Dutrow included, questioned whether Kent really thought there was something wrong with Mr. Big, or if he just pulled him up because he knew he couldn’t win (or even place) and would rather have the race “thrown out” because of the horse’s possible injury than just stand to mark a poor performance by his colt.

Some people have asked my opinion on this situation. My opinion is this- Rick Dutrow is an ass and shouldn’t complain. Yes your horse lost, but it was clear your horse wasn’t going to win at that point anyways. Boo hoo. That being said, I have the sneaking suspicion that Kent’s decision to pull up was not 100% founded upon concerns for his mount. That being said, I refuse to openly criticize Kent, because how am I supposed to know what went on in his mind, and if he did think there might be something off with Mr. Big, than he did the exact right thing. It would take balls to pull up a horse essentially to throw a race, it also takes balls to pull up a horse in a historic Triple Crown performance because you’re concerned for his health and safety. In other words, let’s just move on with our lives people.

Monday, June 9, 2008

This post has two titles

It's like a choose you own adventure novel! Pick which Belmont story you want to read. I'll give a more comprehensive re-cap later, but I want to be able to upload all the photos I took first. In the meantime, here's the short version(s):

1. OMG! Penny Chenery TALKED to ME!!!

This is the story of the various "Squeee!" type moments I had throughout the day.

So Mr. Blacktype and I arrived early at the track, having met with only one minor mishap on the way there (anyone know what the punishment is for accidentally not paying the toll on the Washinton Bridge?). It was pretty empty, so we were able to get a lot of neat photos. Including one with Hall of Fame Jockey Jerry Bailey, who had just finished a filming episode with co-star Randy Moss (who looked surly, so we didn't ask for his photo). I'd also get surreptitious photos of Hany Goldberg (who cares?) and our man Kenny Mayne. Oh, and this big old guy on a little girl's yellow Vespa. I assumed he was someone important, because only important folks can get away with that sort of nonsense.

But the big news is that Ron Turcotte (Secretariat's jockey, for those not in the know) was there signing stuff. The stuff they were selling for him to sign was pretty expensive, so I didn't bother (if I had known he would be there I would have brought something for signing). Anyways, later I reconsidered my decision, and decided I would go back and at least have him sign my program or something. Well, I walk around the corner and there...there was Penny Chenery (Secretariat's owner, for those not in the know). You'll have to excuse me, but I seriously freaked out for a minute there. Jimmy Gaffney (one of Secretariat's 2 major exercise riders...and no, even people in the know would generally not know who he was) was also there signing. This, I could not pass up.

So, I stood in line (totally missing out on the Just A Game Stakes), to buy an overpriced poster of Secretariat and get it signed by some of my heroes. I ended up having to tell some people not in the know why everyone was standing in line like that. One guy asked me if what I paid was worth it. I answered, "It is for me, because I'm an obsessed horse racing fan." This became a running theme, as people throughout the day kept asking me how I knew certain things (how to bet exotics, the location of Big Brown's birthmark, etc.).

The only thing that would have made this fangirl's day 100% perfect was if there had been a triple crown victory, but that's a story for the other section of this post.

2. Da'Tara- What the Hell?!?

Our tickets were far off on the right hand of the stands as you're looking at them. This put us really close to the final turn, but completely out of view of the finish line. No matter, it was relatively empty and cool there for most of the day, and it served as an excellent "home base" as we wandered around the track seeing different things. The one problem was that it was right by the ESPN broadcast booth. This was neat, because we got to see a bunch of the TV personalities filming, but it was bad because it effectively blocked a significant part of the view of the turn. No matter, I spent the better part of the day figuring out how to set up shots from near our seats so that I was 100% certain to get a good photo of the field as they passed the 3/16 pole. I chose my photo spot carefully and during the post parade I got a slew of shots of various horses from that location, including one of number 6, Da'Tara, who was lathered all to heck.

"Wow," I said to the random woman at my side, "Is that guy fractious." (Note to n00bs: fractious= sweaty and nervous, generally not a good sign).

She replied, "Yeah, a horse sweating that much before a mile and a half race in this heat has no chance."

A moment later she somewhat thoughtfully amended, "Watch him win now just to spite me."

I watched the race, cheering the start like everyone else and following the ant-size horses on their trip around the giant track. I flicked my eyes between their far off forms and the infield tote-board where you could actually see the action on the big screen. For some reason, I couldn't hear the announcer at all. They got to the point where I thought Mr. Big should make his move and under my breath I muttered "Now, go now!" At which point, the horses on the track disappeared from my view. I hunkered down at my rail, camera in place. I focused everything on the pole, ready to shoot the horses as they first came into view. The people around me were shouting, and suddenly a horse swam into my field of vision. I clicked the shutter. Immediately, I started resetting the camera for a second photo, tracking the leading horse. I was completely focused on my photography (it happens to be another obsessive hobby of mine), but I managed to register one fact about the horse in front of me.

He wasn't wearing saddle cloth #1.

A nice man on my left had brought his two young kids to the track. His son, who could not have been more than 7, was standing in front of me. I'm sorry, but I think I may have offended his tender ears.

In the end, it was Da'Tara, a longshot with little to recommend him who was victorious that day. Thanks a lot random woman at the rail, you totally jinxed us all. Or perhaps it was just me, my curse proving true once again. Oh well, better luck next year.

1. Big Brown- last
2. Macho Again- 5th
3. Icabad Crane- 8th

In all honesty, I'm not that broken up about it. Mr. Blacktype was considerably more depressed. I'm glad that I don't have to write this post about how happy I am Big Brown won the Triple Crown, while being secretly a little sad that he did and harboring the silent belief that he didn't really deserve it. And like I said before, now I have a cool T-shirt to wear for Derby day next year (and the year after that? and the year after that?). Plus I have a good reason to drag Mr. Blacktype to the Belmont again the next time there's a potential champion. All in all, it was a great trip and, lack of a crown aside, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.