Breeders’ Cup, All In One Place

Here’s where you can find links to all my Breeders’ Cup work!

My race previews, in detail, are over at Picks and Ponderings.  There are separate pieces for Friday and Saturday; between them, I discuss every race.

I also discuss my thoughts on several of the races, and several of the more general themes of Breeders’ Cup, in the latest issue of Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  My Q&A runs from pages 21-23, but make sure to read the entire issue for in-depth Breeders’ Cup analysis and opinions!

I’m also on several panels where we share our picks, including Big Race Showdown on America’s Best Racing, the TwinSpires Betting GuideThoroFan, and Hello Race Fans.

Enjoy them, good luck, and happy Breeders’ Cup!


Book Six – Episode 4: Gone West to Indiana

In Episode 4 of Book Six, we head to Indiana to look at a filly from Elusive Bluff’s first crop since moving to the Crossroads of America.

Though the sale is a mixed sale, we continue with the fall theme of yearlings.  This episode focuses on Hip 6: a filly named Explosive Justice, by Elusive Bluff out of Explosive Miss.  Elusive Bluff is by Elusive Quality, a son of Gone West.  Explosive Miss is by Gone West.  This 3×2 inbreeding to Gone West made me wonder: what happens when Gone West is crossed closely with Gone West?

Find out in Episode 4 of Book Six!

Listen here, or subscribe on Google Play or Apple Podcasts so you never miss an episode!

Frontier Red

Frontier Red
a bay more brown than blood
when shrouded by sweat and twilight
only occasionally sparkling
when she passes under the burning floodlights

most of the time the winner trots back
easily, head held high
a quarter-mile victory stroll

she laboured back, dragging her empty rear hooves behind her
hanging her head, bobbing it up and down, searching
for any current of spare oxygen her flaring nostrils could catch
to replenish reserves run empty
by fighting to the wire to beat
six other non-winners
     of one pari-mutuel
     to be claimed for eight thousand dollars
a level that wouldn’t test so many on the grounds
but only left her with enough
to perform the herculean labours of
lifting her eyes to the winners’ circle camera
and trudging home

Book Six – Episode 3: Honest Ohioans

Episode 3 pays a visit to the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Sale, coming up October 7.

The sale is a mixed sale — but it’s yearling season, and I zoom in on Hip 33, a yearling filly by new Ohio sire Cryptolight out of the Shakespeare mare Be True.  Cryptolight is a rarity in the stud barn nowadays, a horse to raced to age 11.  Both his female family and Be True’s pop up frequently in state-bred stakes ranks, though some close dam-side relatives have shown up in stakes races in New York and California, too.

Get to know an honest Ohio pedigree in the third episode of Book Six!

Listen here, or subscribe on Google Play or Apple Podcasts so you never miss an episode!

Lone Sailor Wins His Derby in Oklahoma; Asmussen and Santana Win Five Stakes

by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

One of the most consistent 3-year-olds in the division this year, Lone Sailor has been a bright light for G M B Racing after the loss of owner Tom Benson in March. But there was one thing the colt couldn’t manage to do – win a Derby.

Lone Sailor (outside) got the nod over Believe In Royalty (between) and Diamond King (inside) to win the 2018 Oklahoma Derby. (Photo: Melissa Bauer-Herzog)

That all changed in the 1 1/8 mile Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby on Sunday night at Remington Park when the Tom Amoss trainee stuck his nose in front of Believe In Royalty and Diamond King. The victory was the shortest margin in the history of the race and was his fourth attempt at a “Derby.”

Sitting near the back of the field throughout the early running of the race, Lone Sailor was over five lengths behind the pacesetting Diamond King during multiple calls as they clocked the first half in :46.94. Jockey James Graham swung the colt out five wide in the stretch then the game was on. But it wasn’t easy sailing with both Diamond King and Believe In Royalty determined to get the win as well. None of the three horses yielded in the final strides, with a photo called to determine the placings.

The three-way photo finish was so close that even the jockeys weren’t sure who won when they crossed the wire with Graham jubilant when the photo was announced. Believe In Royalty was second with Diamond King in third.

“I had no idea who of the three of us won when we hit the wire,” Graham told track publicity. “But I did know this, I could feel my horse stretching his neck out, so I thought we had a chance. Tom didn’t give me any instructions, he just said that he thought this horse was continuing to get better and better. I could feel that too. He would run second and second and second, but I think now he is finally figuring it out.”

Lone Sailor went off at odds of 3.40-to-1 and completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.97.

Lone Sailor has made nine starts in 2018 for $749,600 in earnings. In his career thus far, the colt has finished second or third in five graded stakes but this is his first stakes victory.

Also notable on the card was a day of epic proportions for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. The pair combined for five stakes wins, a new record for the track. The pair’s biggest win of the night was in the Grade 3 Remington Park Oaks when favorite She’s a Julie won by 1 ½ lengths over Remedy and Cosmic Burst.

Jockey Ricardo Santana with E.L. Gaylord Memorial Stakes winner Adventurous Lady. (Photo: Melissa Bauer-Herzog)

But that wasn’t the only spectacular filly on the day for the pair with Kantharos’ 2-year-old Adventurous Lady taking out the E.L. Gaylord Memorial Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths for her third win in five starts. The duo swept the baby races with B.B. Dude getting their day off to a winning start when taking out the Kip Deville in the first stakes of the day. Both victories were for owner Jerry Durant.

Hence also returned to the winner’s circle for the pair when winning the Governor’s Cup for Calumet Farm. Forevamo was second and crowd favorite Shotgun Kowboy was third. Adore shut out the big day of stakes at Remington Park in the Ricks Memorial Stakes with a 3 ½ length victory over Hachi – again for the Asmussen/Ricardo Jr. pair, this time for Winchell Thoroughbreds.

2018 Oklahoma Derby Selections

This year’s Oklahoma Derby drew a competitive field of eleven, which Melissa Bauer-Herzog previewed here yesterday. The wagering appeal is as strong as the field size, particularly given the question marks hovering over the likely favourites.

Lone Sailor is the most proven horse in this field, and it looks like he’ll get some pace to chase from Sea Foam, Diamond King, Eisenstaedt, Limation, and possibly even Retirement Fund in the field. However? Dirt routes at Remington have been relatively kind to forward placings, and Lone Sailor himself has been a frequent runner-up. It is difficult to see that changing today — it would be likely to see Lone Sailor run into a placing, but there isn’t a compelling reason to think he will break the cycle and find the line.

Morning line favourite Limation, from the imposing shedrow of Steve Asmussen, has questions surrounding him. His Super Derby was a huge effort, and his tactical speed makes him a threat. It was a career best, though anyone willing to toss his Ellis Park Derby clunker will notice it wasn’t such an anomalous effort compared to the form he was coming around to earlier in the year at Churchill and Ellis. A repeat of the Super Derby effort will make him tough. But, that race came on good dirt, and Limation’s better work has come on off tracks. He merits a look for a defensive use or a spread ticket, but isn’t the most exciting as an affirmative play.

So, who gets the nod?

Todd Pletcher has not won an Oklahoma Derby yet, but he has a live one in Wooderson. Pletcher picks a reasonable spot for the lightly-raced colt’s stakes debut. His breeding suits a mile and an eighth well — he is an Awesome Again half-brother to Rachel Alexandra — and that has borne out on the track. Wooderson has blossomed at this trip. He broke his maiden July 22 at Saratoga going nine furlongs, and then missed by just half a length at the same distance last time out. It was his first attempt against winners, and he was beaten by an older horse. Now he drops back against his own age group. Though he takes the blinkers off, his single start without blinkers had him forward, suggesting he should be able to gain a forward position.

Sea Foam gets a class test in this, as he spent most of his summer running aganst New York-breds. His only open stakes try was on grass, so not necessarily a reflection of how he will perform on dirt in this race. He has won his last two, including a wire-to-wire victory in the Albany Stakes on August 24. That came at a mile and an eighth, a positive since this race covers that same trip. Though he will not likely get the decisive lead he got that day, looking back into his two-year-old form suggests that he can be more tactical if he has to be. If his new rider Florent Geroux can tap into that, he can stalk and pounce at attractive odds.

#2 Wooderson (4/1)
#9 Sea Foam (12/1)
#4 Limation (3/1)

Longshot: #3 Believe in Royalty (20/1) has yet to prove himself at this level, but should be able to make better account of himself at this mile and an eighth trip. During his career he has shown some tactical versatility; he cleared his maiden and one-other-than conditions on the front end, but rallied from well off the pace to take down the Ellis Park Derby on August 12. That gives rider Gabriel Saez some options. he has never gone past a mile and a sixteenth, but he is bred to thrive with the extra bit of distance: he is by Tapit out of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can. Don’t let the price get too low, since Believe In Royalty still has to take a step up from that Ellis Park Derby outing. But, the upside is there, and Larry Jones has a plan when he puts his horse on the van.

2018 Oklahoma Derby Features Big Names and Big Pedigrees

by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

A day after watching Super Saturday races across the nation, attention turns to Remington Park on Sunday for a 12 race card boasting 10 stakes and headlined by the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby.

Worth $400,000, the Oklahoma Derby has attracted a field of 11 with some of the biggest trainers in the country – Steve Asmussen, Christophe Clement, and Todd Pletcher among them – sending runners. Pletcher’s shipment to Remington has a horse with a familiar pedigree in Wooderson, the Awesome Again half-brother to Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra.

Lightly raced, Wooderson provides a bit of an unknown with the colt breaking his maiden at Saratoga two starts ago then finishing second to the year-older Weather Wiz in an allowance next out. He has never tried stakes company before and the step up here may be more difficult than the older horses he faced in Saratoga with two Kentucky Derby contenders in the field. However, a graded stakes victory would look good on his stallion resume and if there are two things Pletcher knows how to do it’s getting a horse ready to win a targeted race and the best way to develop a stallion prospect.

Steve Asmussen sends out four horses in the Derby including Grade 3 Super Derby winner Limation who beat Lone Sailor last out but an even more interesting entry from the barn is Combatant. Second in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes here last year, Combatant was on the Kentucky Derby trail this year. His results on the trail earned him a spot in the Kentucky Derby and he finished 18th in the race before finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes a month later.

The most interesting thing about Combatant is that even though he’d done fairly well on the dirt, placing in four stakes races his connections opted for turf after the Matt Winn. The colt didn’t disgrace himself on the turf when running his fastest Equibase Speed Figure to date on the surface at Saratoga but after two off-the-board finishes he’s back on dirt here. A placing on this track already and running again horses on the Derby trail and at Saratoga should give bettors some confidence here but this race definitely isn’t a walk in the park.

The horse with the best credentials in this race is almost certainly the Tom Amoss-trained Lone Sailor.

Lone Sailor misses by a nose to Core Beliefs in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, run at the same nine-furlong distance as the Oklahoma Derby. (Video: JACK Thistledown YouTube channel)

Admittedly, he does have two strikes against him with no wins this year and the 5 ¾ length trouncing Limation gave him in the Grade 3 Super Derby. But for the most part Lone Sailor has been consistent. He’s spent the last year butting heads with some of the best 3-year-olds in this class and was third two starts ago to champion Good Magic.

The worrisome thing about Lone Sailor that the Majestic Warrior son doesn’t seem to love to win but perhaps a drop in class here will help him. Even if he doesn’t get to the winner’s circle, it’s hard to see him finishing off the board.

A sleeper in this field may be the extremely lightly raced First Mondays, who has only made three starts in his career. Debuting in late June, the Curlin colt won his first two starts before finishing third in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx. Diamond King, the second place finisher in that race is also running here, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see First Mondays make a big leap from his first stakes start to his second. No matter how he runs here, the best to come from him will probably be next year.

First post for the 12 race card is at 3:06 p.m. central time with the Oklahoma Derby scheduled to go off as the second to last race at 8:06 p.m., one race after the recently upgraded Grade 3 Remington Park Oaks.

Book Six – Episode 2: World-Class Bloodlines, Mid-Atlantic Focus

Book Six continues with Episode 2, which turns focus to the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Yearling Sale.

Joining me on this week’s edition of Book Six is Melissa Bauer-Herzog of Pyrois Media!

Since there are two of us, we discuss two hips of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic in detail — both of whom are by stallions whose first crops are two this year, and both of whom have fascinating pages.

We start with a look at hip 19, a filly by Real Solution out of the Perfect Soul mare Winsome Woman, who goes through the ring on October 1.  This filly is inbred to one of the classiest stallions of the last forty years.

Then, we discuss hip 162, a colt by Super Ninety Nine out of the Touch Gold mare Fleet and Fancy who goes through the ring on October 2.  His pedigree is a perfect example of looking to a regional sire to reproduce breeding patterns that have succeeded on the biggest stages.

Dive into them both in the second episode of Book Six!

Listen here, or subscribe on Google Play or Apple Podcasts so you never miss an episode!

Book Six – Episode 1: Seeing Double Maplejinsky

Welcome to the first episode of my new podcast!

Entitled Book Six, it is dedicated to unearthing the hidden gems in sales catalogs: pedigrees from the back pages of national sales, or from regional sales, that get my heart racing and my mind churning.

The first episode is right here, and fittingly, it discusses a horse coming up in Book Six of Keeneland September: hip 3848, by Tale of Ekati out of Indy’s Million.  This colt is inbred 3×3 to Maplejinsky.

This got me wondering: what’s so great about Maplejinsky?  Have her lines been crossed before?  What happened?

Find out in the first episode of Book Six!

building Catholic Boy’s foundation

When I think of Catholic Boy, I think of the unheralded hard work that goes into building a great horse’s foundation.  I think of running in circles, measured circles, incessant circles.

In the week and a half leading up to the Breeders’ Cup last year, I spent the mornings trackside, radio clipped to my side, spotting Breeders’ Cup horses and calling their names and positions up to the camera nest.  Most of the horses wouldn’t spend much time out on the track.  They’d come out, jog a circuit or two, three at the most, then go back to the barn.

Not Catholic Boy.  He’d come out, we’d spot him, they’d show him on the camera for a while.  Then, a flurry of activity.  Horses would come in through the backstretch gap, there would be five or six other superstars of our sport to cut between.  Then, another lull.

“Anyone out here?”, the camera spotter’s voice on the radio would crackle.

I’d look up, see a familiar bay horse with a familiar maroon Bridlewood Farm saddle pad draped over a towel numbered 803.

Was it because he debuted at Gulfstream long after the geese, the cranes, and the best horses in the nation had returned north for the summer?  Was it because he skipped the traditional final round of preps, training straight from the With Anticipation in August all the way to November, around and around and away from the shouting throngs gathered along the rail on Saturday afternoons?  Was it because the name Jonathan Thomas didn’t roll off the tongue as easily, from years of repetition, as Aidan O’Brien or Chad Brown or Charlie Appleby or Graham Motion?

I’d push my button.  “Just Catholic Boy, coming past the seven furlong gap now.  Everyone else left.”