Monday, April 27, 2015

Kentucky Derby week - 141st Run for the Roses - The Triple Crown first step


The first Saturday of May can always help drive away the memory of nasty winter cold, politics, wars, terrorism and all the other distractions of life when the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world, takes place.

It is the first step in the American Triple Crown for Thoroughbred horses and the beginning of reaching for that dream of all horse breeders and a place in history.

For 141 years horses have gone to the gate in the Kentucky Derby at the legendary Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, in hopes of winning the Triple Crown.

The Triple Crown has three races of over a mile against the best horses in the world during a five week period and is the true test of champions. In the 141 years since the Kentucky Derby began only 11 horses have won the coveted Triple Crown. It has been 37 years since the last Triple Crown champion, Affirmed in 1978, the longest drought ever between Triple Crown champions.

Since Affirmed won in 1978 twelve horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but none won the Belmont Stakes to claim the Triple Crown. The closest was Real Quiet in 1998 who lost by a nose in the Belmont.  In fact, more people have walked on the moon than there have been horses winning the Triple Crown.

Now no horse will ever be the champion like Secretariat in 1973 who blazed to glory winning the three races by a record total of 36 lengths. It had been 25 years since the previous Triple Crown winner and to this day Secretariat holds the records in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

As for the last winner, Affirmed, his legendary races against Alydar rank as the best competition of all time. Alydar was the only horse to ever finish 2nd in all three races and in the Belmont when Affirmed was going for the Triple Crown they were nose to nose at the finish line with Affirmed winning in a photo finish by a nose. In all three races the two horses finished just two lengths apart.

The Kentucky Derby is the most amazing two minutes in sports and this year has one of the strongest fields in years.  Here are the top five favorites with five days to go before the race.

2015 Kentucky Derby Favorites

1. American Pharoah
2. Dortmund
3. Carpe Diem
4. Frosted
5. Mubtaahij

Wednesday, April 29 will be the day the final horses are selected to run in the Derby and the draw for post positions will take place.  Here are profiles of the favorites this year.

American Pharoah
The Pharoah Show Gets Rave Reviews

Not many people who watched American Pharoah breeze five furlongs this morning could believe it when they were told he had worked in :58 2/5. The likely Kentucky Derby favorite looked as if he was on cruise control all the way, and the final time and gallop-out seemed to contradict what everyone was seeing.

“He looked like he was just loping out there,” said veteran trainer Phil Thomas. “I really didn’t think he was working that fast. I’ll tell you, Bob’s taking no prisoners this year.”

Bob, of course is trainer Bob Baffert, who has been seeing American Pharoah work like this the past two years.

But for Justin Zayat, racing manager for Zayat Stables, a work like this was a reality check in realizing just what kind of horse they will be sending into the Kentucky Derby.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “It gave me chills.”

Gary Young, one of the most respected clockers and bloodstock agents in the business, could not contain his enthusiasm. “I have been doing this for 35 years and he might be the best horse I’ve ever seen,” Young said. “He’s simply like Michael Jordan and stays in the air like he did in his rookie year. He stays in the air longer than any horse and you get the feeling that there’s not one gear left, but he may have two, three or four gears.”

As for yours truly, if you had asked what he worked in, I probably would have said around two full seconds slower than he actually did. With that long, fluid, and (as Young noted) airborne stride, he just popped off the eighths in :11 2/5, :11 3/5, :11 3/5, and :11 4/5 before coming home another eighth in :12 flat without even the slightest urging by jockey Martin Garcia, who barely moved on him. He then galloped out six furlongs in 1:11 2/5 and pulled up seven panels in 1:27. He galloped back still prancing along, and wasn’t blowing at all coming off the track. In other words this was a freaky good work, but it’s certainly not the first time the word ‘freak’ has been associated with American Pharoah, who was full of himself being washed down.

“It’s pins and needles and lots of anxiety from now on,” Baffert said. “The hard part will be containing (Ahmed Zayat). He’ll be a nervous wreck. The draw will be the next stressful moment.”

The Zayats have experienced a good deal of frustration, not only in the Kentucky Derby, in which they have finished second in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but in all three Triple Crown events, losing the Preakness with Bodemeister in a heartbreaker, and getting beat right on the wire in the Belmont Stakes with Paynter, who led every step of the way except the final two jumps. Ahmed Zayat considers the latter their toughest defeat. In 2012, they had the distinction, both impressive and dubious, of finishing second in all three Triple Crown races with two different horses.

In their three seconds in the Derby, they were beaten by 50-1 Mine That Bird in one of the biggest shockers in Derby history; were beaten by the first horse (Animal Kingdom) ever to win the Derby in his first start on dirt; and were beaten by as lightly raced horse who became the first horse ever to win the Derby from post 19.

Will this year be the payback from the Derby gods or do they have more nasty tricks up their sleeve? After watching American Pharoah breeze, inspiring such a wave of superlatives, another defeat would make today’s work the Derby gods’ ultimate tease.

For Baffert, his day was completed when his other stud, Dortmund, arrived from California. Now, all that is left is six days of envisioning unforgettable images and scenarios when he unleashes these two titans.

In addition to Dortmund, two other California horses -- Firing Line and Bolo -- arrived, adding three new exciting faces to the party. Firing Line, a classy-looking, intelligent horse, spent about 20-30 minutes grazing, while Bolo, a powerful nearly black colt, was bedded down just across the road in Al Stall’s barn.



The New York Times

Dortmund Romps to 6-0, Rising as a Kentucky Derby Favorite

ARCADIA, Calif. — Call it Selection Saturday — three important prep races run in a stretch of 90 minutes to determine which horses have a realistic chance to capture the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby next month. When it was over, there was little doubt about the overwhelming favorite at this moment.

His name is Dortmund, a strapping and fast colt who decimated five rivals here in the Santa Anita Derby to remain undefeated, which was no small thing for his owner, Kaleem Shah. Before the race, Shah said that he was not only nervous for the first time but also thinking about history.

About two previous Kentucky Derby victors, to be exact: Smarty Jones (2004) and Seattle Slew (1977).

“I was looking to do what Seattle Slew did when he went to the Derby 6 for 6, Smarty Jones went there 6 for 6,” Shah said. “It was critically important that he move forward, not regress.”

Dortmund, now 6 for 6, certainly looked like them. He overcame a stumble out of the gate to lead every step of the way in an emphatic four-and-one-quarter-length victory. He set fast fractions: 46.36 seconds for a half-mile, and 1 minute 10.57 seconds for three-quarters of a mile.

He finished strong, covering a mile and an eighth in 1:48.73. His rider, Martin Garcia, looked as if he were out for a pleasure ride as Dortmund turned for home. His whip was idle and blowing in the wind like an antenna.

“I didn’t do anything,” Garcia said. “He just dragged me around there.”

How Dortmund won and where he did it mattered greatly. The best 3-year-old horses in the nation have resided at Santa Anita Park, in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, for the past six months. In Dortmund’s case, he shares a trainer, Bob Baffert, and a barn with a couple of them, American Pharaoh and One Lucky Dane.

American Pharaoh, last year’s 2-year-old champion, is the favorite to win the Arkansas Derby next week at Oaklawn Park. Lucky Dane finished second on Saturday and earned a trip to the Kentucky Derby as well.

Don’t forget about Firing Line, either. Twice previously, he has dueled down the stretch with Dortmund, finishing a head behind in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Los Alamitos Futurity. He then went to New Mexico and crushed the field in the Sunland Derby.

But there will be 16 other horses lined up against Dortmund and the California contingent at Churchill Downs.

Among them will be Frosted, who won the Wood Memorial on Saturday by going a mile and an eighth in 1:50.31. He had shown more potential than results, finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. Afterward, his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, had throat surgery performed on the horse to help with his airways.

“We know he has a ton of ability, and the last race really made us scratch our heads, asking why he would go to the lead and throw his head up and stop,” McLaughlin said. “We did everything we could to change everything we possibly could.”

It worked.

In the Bluegrass Stakes in Kentucky, Carpe Diem established himself as the class of the East Coast-based horses. He has won four of his five races and impressed his jockey, John Velazquez. He took command at the top of the stretch and rushed on for a three-length victory.

“There wasn’t much speed in the race,” Velazquez said. “It was a nice slow pace, and I didn’t want to fight him very much. Down the lane, I asked him, and he responded right away.”

There is little doubt, however, that Dortmund will be the horse to beat come the first Saturday in May. The son of the 2008 Derby winner, Big Brown, Dortmund may just follow his father, Seattle Slew and Smarty Jones into the winner’s circle beneath Churchill’s twin spires.

Dortmund’s trainer, Baffert, has won the Derby three times before, with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002. But Baffert knows better than to get ahead of himself — he has lost with seemingly unbeatable horses, including Point Given and Lookin at Lucky.

“The feeling is like we’ve been here before,” Baffert said. “Just enjoy the moment because the next race is going to be the one.”

Carpe Diem

Horse Racing Nation
by Brian Zipse 

Carpe Diem

Overview - Owned by WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stables, and trained by Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem currently stands as the 20-1, third choice, on the most recent 2015 Kentucky Derby future odds from Wynn Las Vegas.
With three very good juvenile performances under his belt, the good looking son of Giant’s Causeway was one of the top two-year-olds in the nation, and his prospects to progress as a three-year-old are promising. Following his trip West, and subsequent second place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Carpe Diem will get a short break and winter at Pletcher’s winter base at Palm Meadows in South Florida.
His most likely path to get to the Derby will begin at Gulfstream Park.

Race Record (3-2-1-0) - Carpe Diem began his racing career solidly, taking a 5 1/2 furlong maiden special weight race at Saratoga, wire-to-wire on the first day of September. Sent off as a big 7-10 favorite, the $1.6 million 2 year old in training purchase demonstrated his superiority by setting fast early fractions, before turning away a challenge early in the lane, on his way to a facile 2 ½-length score in a snappy 1:03.99.

From there, he stepped right up in both distance and class. On paper, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, with a field of 12, running 8 ½ furlongs, looked like a tough spot for his second career start. Carpe Diem made it look easy, though, as he stalked the early pace and grabbed control of the race on the far turn. He left the large field in his wake, after that, rolling to an eye catching 6 ¼-length romp at Keeneland.

Carpe Diem’s final start of the year came at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was on the other end of a 6-length plus victory, finishing second to the impressive winner, Texas Red. He uncharacteristically fell well behind early, and had to race well wide on the turn, and into the stretch, but rallied strongly down the middle of the track to get up for place money over Upstart in the final stride.

Pedigree -
Carpe Diem was purchased for $1.6 million for more than just his looks and a fast workout in front of sales watchers. Out of the graded stakes placed Unbridled’s Song mare, Rebridled Dreams, he is a half-brother to stakes winners on both sides of the Atlantic

Grade 1 winner J.B.’s Thunder in the U.S., and Doncaster Rover, a durable multiple stakes winner in England, along with Carpe Diem, give his 14-year-old dam three stakes winners.

His sire Giant’s Causeway remains one of the world’s top sires, and on the track he displayed his class and versatility by running a strong second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his dirt debut at the same distance and track as the Kentucky Derby. Combined with the female side of his pedigree, the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby would seem to be within the scope of Carpe Diem.

Strengths - Besides the excellent racing record and pedigree already mentioned, Carpe Diem has already accomplished a few things that most juveniles never do. He has run well from three different early race positions; on the lead, close to the pace, and way back early. This tactical nature, and ability to adapt, should suit him well on the trail, as well as in a difficult race like the Kentucky Derby.

He also has already proven to travel well, having gone from New York, to Kentucky, to California, while bringing his “A” game to each region and racing surface.

Weaknesses - Not much to say here, but despite being as successful as any American trainer in the 21st century, Todd Pletcher, has had several top youngsters not hold up on the Kentucky Derby trail, and if they did make it to the first Saturday in May, the Hall of Fame trainer sports only a 2.5% winning percentage. 



Frosted earns spot in Kentucky Derby with Wood Memorial win

Sunday, April 5, 2015

With his throat now clear, Frosted let it be heard loud and clear that he’s a top contender for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. The gray colt won Saturday’s Wood Memorial by a convincing two lengths at Aqueduct, earning a trip to Churchill Downs.

After tiring to fourth in the Feb. 21 Fountain of Youth Stakes, Frosted underwent a minor procedure on the soft palate of his throat to help clear his air path and it paid off.

“This has been a top, special project for my team, my brother, the grooms, etc.,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who has never saddled a Kentucky Derby winner. “We know he has a ton of ability, and the last race really made us scratch our heads, asking ‘why?’

“He would go to the lead and throw his head up and stop. . . . We did everything we could to change everything that we thought went wrong, including the jockey. It all worked out and it’s just a special win for our team.”

Racing in sixth under jockey Joel Rosario early in the seven-horse field, Frosted began his winning move on the turn for home, drawing even with longshot Tencendur at the top of the stretch before pulling away late to win for just the second time from seven starts. Frosted earned 100 Derby qualifying points for the effort, guaranteeing him a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

“He didn’t break that sharp and I didn’t really want to send him out of there and be on the lead,” Rosario said. “He was always there for me. I tried to get him to the outside, where he’d be comfortable. The whole way, he was taking me. That was a very good race. I wasn’t concerned with (Tencendur) because I know when you ask him, he’s always there for you.”

Frosted returned $6.40, $4.50, and $3 after running the mile and an eighth in 1:50.31 over a track rated fast. Tencendur, sent off at 21-1, paid $15.40 and $5.60. El Kabeir was third and paid $2.70.
Tencendur may join Frosted at the Run for the Roses, with his 40 points likely qualifying him to go.
“I’m from Louisville and I’d love to run in the Derby,” trainer George Weaver said. “As long as the horse is in good shape, I’d be inclined to go.”

Daredevil, the 2-1 post-time favorite, pressed the early pace before tiring to fourth. 

Mubtaahij the X Factor in Kentucky Derby

"A variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome...a noteworthy special talent or quality... an indescribable quality; something about a person that you cannot put your finger on."

Those are all definitions of the term "X factor," and they all could describe Mubtaahij in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) run May 2.

Perhaps the most relevant of those definitions in describingMubtaahij and his chances at Churchill Downs is the last..."something that you cannot put your finger on."

Yes, he could have a "significant impact on the outcome," and, yes, he definitely could be "a special talent," But if only we could put our finger on just how talented he is and where he fits with a group of Derby horses people are calling the deepest and most gifted in many years.

Americans, both fans and horsemen, seem to be pretty much split down the middle on whether we have a potential superstar on our hands who has a big shot to knock off this year's illustrious group of 3-year-olds or whether he simply has been beating up on a slow bunch of horses at Meydan and will not be able to match the speed of the Americans, while competing in unfamiliar surroundings in a 20-horse field with a French jockey on his back.
And that is why no one can really put their finger on how he is going to perform in the Derby. And that is what makes him so intriguing.

The son of Dubawi currently is stabled at Arlington Park and had his first three-furlong blowout over the Polytrack surface this morning, April 21.

Just look at some of the intangibles we are dealing with:

* He will be the only horse in the Derby racing without Lasix.

* In Dubai, he resided in an outdoor barn to get fresh air because he had been prone to lung infections as a young horse, but appears to have grown out of it and has been fine this year. But trainer Mike de Kock said one can never sure and has continued to stable him outdoors just in case.

* He trains without shoes and will not be shod until race day.

* He is the only horse other than 1971 winner Canonero II to come into the Derby having already raced twice at a distance farther than 1 1/8 miles, winning the last two legs of the United Arab Emirates Triple Crown (the Al Bastakiya and grade II UAE Derby), both at 1 3/16 miles.

* He has already competed in a Triple Crown series and has twice defeated a Triple Crown winner, the Southern Hemisphere-bred 4-year-old Sir Fever, winner of the Uruguayan Triple Crown.

* When he broke his maiden on the dirt at Meydan as a 2-year-old, he defeated 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, something unheard of in this country.

* Unlike the majority of the American horses, he has raced five times in the past four months, and keeps improving.

* In the UAE Derby, Mubtaahij displayed a spectacular turn of foot and burst clear of his opponents, winning by eight lengths, with jockey Christophe Soumillon looking back twice in the final furlong. In winning the UAE Derby, he defeated horses from England, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, U.S., and Dubai.

In summation, we have an Irish-bred horse, owned by an Arab sheikh (Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum), trained by a South African, and ridden by a Belgian. And you're surprised you can't put your finger on this horse?

One thing you can depend on, a lot of people will be putting their finger on his number when they punch out their tickets, either at the track or on their computers. And many will be doing so because of that intangible called the unknown.

And that unknown also includes how the colt will perform without his regular (and special) feed that is not registered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be permitted in the U.S.

"I think that's the most significant thing with all the traveling," de Kock said on a national teleconference April 21. "It's something that's out of our control, and I understand where they're coming from. But no trainer would like to change a regular diet going into any sort of event. The diet I've changed to is something I do know a little bit about and have used before. But the fact is, it's not what he's used to regularly. How much bearing that would have on his performance, quite frankly, I'm not that sure. But from a trainer's psyche it's not ideal, let's put it that way."

As for the decision not to use Lasix, de Kock said. "It's purely about bleeding. As I understand things, Lasix is there to assist known bleeders and there has not even been a suspicion of this horse ever bleeding. I'm not sure what he'll do if given Lasix, and because he's never bled, I'm not prepared to gamble on his performance being altered with Lasix."

In discussing his decision to use Christophe Soumillon instead of looking for an American jockey, de Kock said, "I believe he will have a game plan in his mind and I don't like to interfere too much with jockeys because I don't want to hold them to any tactics. I believe if one employs a jockey, you can sit down and have a game plan, but there's no race ever run on paper. So you have to really have faith in your man, and if the game plan changes in the first 400 meters (quarter mile) of the race, well, so be it. One just has to accept that. The reason why I have Christophe Soumillon riding the horse is because I trust the man, I think he's a very good jockey, and I'm going to live by the decision he makes."

What makes this story all the more fascinating is that Mubtaahij's career on dirt nearly never happened, and most likely only did because he was such a disappointment in his first two starts on grass at Newmarket and de Kock had no idea what to do with him.

"He was showing us a fair bit at home, so we were quite disappointed with his first two starts in England," de Kock said. "I think he was kind of immature and just wanted a little bit of time. In fact, there was a great debate amongst us whether to take him to Dubai or not. We almost left him in England just to do the winter there, and then I thought, 'What the hell, let's get him to Dubai, get a bit of sun on his back, and see what he does.

"When he got to Dubai he just seemed to mature and enjoy himself, so we thought let's have a crack at a maiden race (on dirt) and he goes and wins that and just keeps improving. So it all happened by chance and we'll just accept the result as it is."

De Kock said he is confident Mubtaahij can handle all that is being asked of him because of his temperament.

"With his demeanor and the fact that he's an easy horse to travel and won so well in the UAE Derby, it gave confidence to take a crack at it," De Kock said. "But I probably picked the worst year when it comes to the opposition, but at the end of the day you never know. 

It's a sporting event and there are never any guarantees."

Some people in America also are skeptical about a horse traveling this far and being able to win a grueling race like the Kentucky Derby. But to de Kock, this is old hat.

"In South Africa, we train in Johannesburg and we race in Cape Town, which would roughly be 18 to 20 hours by van, and it's something we do very regularly during the Cape Town season. I'll do it multiple times and the horses win group I races regularly. I've shipped to Hong Kong to win multiple group I races there, which is about 12 hours door to door. It's not something that's actually foreign to us. I've put horses on a van for eight hours and race the next day and have been successful.

"I think the key to transporting horses is, a) the horse has got an appetite, and b) the horse has got to take in fluids. If you can get the balance of the two right, you've got half the battle won," de Kock said. "An 18-hour or even 24-hour journey to a destination to race is something that does not put us off."

As for Mubtaahij as a traveler, de Kock said the trip to Arlington Park was about 24 hours door to door (with a stopover in Amsterdam), and when the colt arrived he just didn't look quite the same as when he left Dubai, according to assistant trainer Trevor Brown.

"Trevor just felt that he looked a little bit tucked up, so I decided not to travel him down to the (Skylight) Training Center near Louisville as originally planned. Why put him on a van two or three days later and another eight hours shipping. Let's just stay in Chicago and let him recover and get used to his surroundings. We're very comfortable with that track and we've raced very successfully at Arlington.

"So we switched plan in midstride and I think we did the right thing, because within two or three days the horse was just bursting out of his skin and he hasn't stopped eating and drinking, and whatever weight he lost he put back on really quickly. As horsemen, we have to be flexible when it comes to these kinds of things. I think the horses talk to us."

In looking at the Derby and how Mubtaahij's running style would fit the likely pace scenario, de Kock said, "Given the little I know about the horses that are in there, the emphasis in America does seem to be on speed, and he's a horse who can relax fairly well off a hot pace and has a big kick and will be doing his best running toward the end. Certainly I'm not there to match the American horses for speed; I don't think we have that ability. But I do know we have the ability to get the 10 furlongs and we have the ability to come home strong the last three or four furlongs."

De Kock feels Mubtaahij has all the attributes to handle anything that is thrown at him in the course of the race.

"I think he needs the speed to be on and he's a horse who has courage enough to deal with the kickback, although I probably wouldn't want him down on the rail. We might just want to give ourselves the easiest passage sitting a little off the gallop, maybe a little wide away from all the trouble. In Dubai there was a fair amount of kickback and I think if he can deal with that, he can deal with most dirt tracks. He's got a lot of courage and a real competitive spirit and can deal with adversity. He never lays down in a race and I never work him in company because he's so competitive."

De Kock, however, admits the UAE Derby set up perfectly for Mubtaahij because of the hot pace.
"They went a little too quick early on with four horses taking each other on at a suicidal pace," de Kock said. "It was a little crazy up front and that's why his acceleration possibly could be a little flattering. The two Japanese horses really took each other on and he was able to relax behind them and get the perfect trip. He does have acceleration, though, and he does get the 10 furlongs and runs hard to the (finish) line.

"He has the ability to sit off a lot of speed and accelerate off that, and that's probably in his favor. However, in America I think we're taking on a different animal in that they can lay the speed down and keep going. So, we have to accelerate; we can't wait for them to come back to us."

Even coming from South Africa, de Kock not only appreciates what the Kentucky Derby stands for and the prestige it holds around the world, it is a race in which he has always dreamed of competing.

"It doesn't matter what country you come from, they Kentucky Derby has proven it's the greatest, and if it isn't, you tell me which one is. To be part of that is something very special to us. We're not going with a 100-1 shot, and it would be fantastic if he ran well. It is mind-boggling to think about it and I don't believe it will all settle in until we're actually there and see the real scenario and all the spirit around it all.

The name Mubtaahij translates to "elated," which is most appropriate, considering what de Kock feels having a horse like this and being able to embark on such a special journey.
"I don't think I'll be disappointed and I hope to gain everything out of it that I expect," he said. "It's something that has been an ambition and a dream since I was a very young man in this industry, and I'm really honored and privileged to realize that dream."

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