Stable vs. Stable!

In my first piece for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, I sit down for a chat with trainer Payton Ode about an idea that has grown into something seriously exciting: Stable vs. Stable!

It started as a challenge to his friends to come out to the racetrack…and it has grown beyond his own barn and his own friend, into a friendly competition and a way that anyone (including you!) can meet the people and horses of harness racing up close.

So — read my first piece for the IHHA, and if you’re in Chicago, make plans this winter to come out for an up close and personal day at Hawthorne!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Smarty Jones Stakes

The Smarty Jones is a one-mile dirt race, the first in a series of Kentucky Derby preps over the Hot Springs oval.  The series continues with the Southwest Stakes (G3) on February 19, the Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 17, and the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the final day of the meet, April 14.  The Smarty Jones is the newest addition to Oaklawn’s series of Kentucky Derby preps.  The race has always been at a flat mile, but has only been run since 2008.  This year’s edition offers a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Jerome Stakes Preview

Originally scheduled for January 1st, the Jerome Stakes — like much of the northeast and midwest — has been stuck in a deep freeze.  As New York will have hopefully become warm enough to safely race, the Jerome has been released from its suspended state, and scheduled for January 13.

The race had been a Grade 2 as recently as 2014, but was downgraded to a Grade 3 starting with the 2015 running, and was downgraded to listed status for the 2018 running.  This year’s edition drew seven runners to contest for a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Jerome Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Lecomte and Silverbulletday Stakes Preview

This week the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail kick into major gear, and Picks and Ponderings will be there.  The weekend’s racing action features three-year-old preps at three different tracks: the Lecomte Stakes and Silverbulletday Stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds, the Jerome Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct, and the Smarty Jones Stakes Monday at Oaklawn Park.

This piece focuses on the pair of races in New Orleans; separate pieces will focus on New York and Hot Springs.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s three-year-old preps at Fair Grounds, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

looking back, and looking forward, on Blinkers Off’s fourth birthday

Four years ago today, I started a blog to keep me on top of horse racing through the course of the winter, while Hawthorne wasn’t running.

It’s still here.  I’m still here.  Every year I look back with amazement at where the last year has taken me, and no year so far was more of a whirlwind than 2017.

Continue reading “looking back, and looking forward, on Blinkers Off’s fourth birthday”

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Santa Ynez Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Santa Anita features the first chance for the Derby-bound to get points in 2018, with the Grade 3 Sham Stakes.  Sunday, however, is all about the fillies: the day’s feature, the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes, is the first Kentucky Oaks points race of the year.

As with so many stakes races at Santa Anita, this race takes its name from a place on the map.  Santa Ynez, California, a valley town about 135 miles northwest of Santa Anita racetrack.  Inaugurated in 1952 as a six-furlong sprint, it has varied in distance between six and a half furlongs and seven since 1954.  Through most of its recent history it has covered seven furlongs; for 2012-2016 it shortened up to six and a half, but last year it returned to its current trip.  In addition to shares of a $200,000 purse, the Santa Ynez also offers Road to the Kentucky Oaks points, apportioned 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Santa Ynez Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Sham Stakes Preview

Thoroughbred racing has concluded at Hawthorne, not to return until late March.  With that, Picks and Ponderings will be casting its eyes afield, focusing most strongly on the three-year-old prep season.

The Jerome, originally scheduled for New Year’s Day, was supposed to be the first race on the Derby Trail this year.  However, bitter cold and snow have delayed Aqueduct’s first points race of 2017; that race will likely be run next weekend.  Instead, the first points of the year will be up for grabs this Saturday at Santa Anita, in the Sham Stakes (G3), which we preview in detail right here.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Sham Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

#1: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company
#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally
#2: Whisper to Curlin Fights On In Chicago

#1: Keen Ice Upsets the Suburban

Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) did not always win, but when he did, he did so when it looked an impossible task.

Even though he went off the favourite in a Churchill Downs maiden race in September 2014, he had eight lengths to make up on Tiznow R J and Starbound with a furlong to go.  Keen Ice got there.

The next year, in the Travers (G1), few thought Triple Crown champion American Pharoah could be beaten.  No one bothered to tell Keen Ice that, and he took command in the final sixteenth.

Antepost, most had already handed this year’s Suburban Stakes (G2) to Shaman Ghost.  The son of Ghostzapper had come closest to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), then followed that up with victories in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and the Pimlico Special (G3).  He had the form, the stamina, and the tactical ability to shine at a mile and a quarter in a field of five.  Among the few who thought Shaman Ghost could be beat, most of them leaned toward Matt King Coal, figuring he could just wire the field.

Keen Ice, dismissed at 5/1, had other ideas.

Continue reading “#1: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies”

#2: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company
#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally

#2: Whisper to Curlin Fights On In Chicago

I’ve loved Whisper to Curlin (Whisperifyoudare, by Red Ransom) as long as I’ve known who he was — and, why wouldn’t I?  After all, Palace Malice got me into Curlin’s progeny in the first place, and there’s no Curlin baby so closely related to him as this Iowa-bred bay.  Whisper to Curlin’s dam, Whisperifyoudare, also produced Palace Malice’s dam Palace Rumor.

It took a while for him to break his maiden, but once he did, he had an excellent three-year-old summer culminating with a win in the 2014 Iowa Breeders’ Derby.  After one more start that year, however, he dropped off the map for over a year and a half.  He struggled in allowance and stakes ranks last year, but during his seven-year-old year he showed some moments of form in the claiming ranks, including a win and a second at Prairie Meadows.

This fall, he came to my home track.

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Whisper to Curlin in the paddock before his race on October 18, 2017

Continue reading “#2: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies”

#3: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company

#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally

To say I had been looking forward to Volgograd’s debut for a while is an understatement.  Back in 2013, I stumbled across a picture on Facebook of a Curlin foal.  I did a little sleuthing about the dam, and found out she was someone I could get excited about, too.  Though she raced before I began to follow the races, Magnetic Miss was a local: an Illinois-bred who made 24 of her 36 lifetime starts in the state of Illinois.  She was also a good one, a six-time stakes winner.  Finally, she was an interesting match for Curlin: as Curlin had classic stamina, Magnetic Miss (like her sire Artax) did her best work going around one turn.

I waited, and waited, and waited for Volgograd to appear in the entry box, and hoped that would happen here.  His two-year-old year passed quietly.  His three-year-old year passed quietly.

In September of his four-year-old year, closing week at Arlington, he finally passed the entry box.

volgogradblinksoff
Up close with Volgograd after a third-place finish at Hawthorne.

Continue reading “#3: the fourth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies”