Picks and Ponderings: Royal Ascot – 2018 Gold Cup Preview

The Gold Cup is one of the world’s premier events for true stayers, going two and a half miles over the grass.  First run in 1807, the race is the oldest of the Royal Ascot meet.  It has been run at Ascot through the vast majority of its history, though it moved to Newmarket during wartime periods (1917-18, 1941-44), and was run at York in 2005.  It is the traditional feature race of the third day of the meet, Ladies’ Day.

The local prep race, the Sagaro Stakes (G3), is named after a dominant Gold Cup performer. Sagaro won three times, 1975 through 1977, becoming the first horse in the race’s history to win three times.  That record has since been surpassed by Yeats.  The son of Sadler’s Wells marked himself as one of the best stayers of all time by winning four consecutive editions of the race, 2006 through 2009.

Read on for my preview of the race at Picks and Ponderings!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Springfield Stakes and Purple Violet Stakes Preview

We hope you’ve caught your breath after a whirlwind Triple Crown season, because the stakes calendar at Arlington continues this week.

Saturday afternoon three-year-olds from the Land of Lincoln take the spotlight.  The card features a pair of main-track miles, the Purple Violet Stakes for fillies and the Springfield Stakes unrestricted by sex.  Both races offer a $50,000 base purse, plus an extra $25,000 for anyone by an Illinois sire.

Read on for my analysis of both races in my latest piece at Picks and Ponderings!

The Underground Man, two times two, and Justify

So said Fyodor Dostoevsky in his masterpiece “Notes from Underground“:

With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began and with the ant- heap they will probably end, which does the greatest credit to their perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it.

Since the horses crossed the wire in the Belmont on Saturday afternoon, since the end of the “game” that is the Triple Crown season, I felt dread over having to fill out my NTRA All Ages poll.

The three-year-old poll was obvious, of course, at least as obvious as a poll of opinions can be.  There was, as always, a lot of splitting hairs underneath…but Justify reigned supreme.  Winning a Triple Crown makes that obvious.

But, his accomplishment gave me a crisis of conscience about my All Ages poll.

And who knows (there is no saying with certainty), perhaps the only goal on earth to which mankind is striving lies in this incessant process of attaining, in other words, in life itself, and not in the thing to be attained, which must always be expressed as a formula, as positive as twice two makes four, and such positiveness is not life, gentlemen, but is the beginning of death.

Leading into the Belmont Justify was not on my All Ages ballot, and I was seriously considering not putting him on there again.  After all, one thing is positive: he hasn’t faced older horses.  To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — and on average, “the best” are older horses.  Justify is a freak — but his only foes have been three-year-olds.  How can I rank him better than the older horses if he hasn’t been tested against them yet?

With that question, the thought of putting Justify on my all-aged poll at all makes me sick to my stomach.

It makes sense to base my votes on things I know.  Twice two makes four.  Older horses are, on average, more developed, stronger, better than three-year-olds.  Justify may be the exception, may be more developed than some top-class older horses, but how do we know, if he’s only ever beaten three-year-olds?

Anyway, man has always been afraid of this mathematical certainty, and I am afraid of it now. Granted that man does nothing but seek that mathematical certainty, he traverses oceans, sacrifices his life in the quest, but to succeed, really to find it, dreads, I assure you. He feels that when he has found it there will be nothing for him to look for. When workmen have finished their work they do at least receive their pay, they go to the tavern, then they are taken to the police-station — and there is occupation for a week. But where can man go? Anyway, one can observe a certain awkwardness about him when he has attained such objects. He loves the process of attaining, but does not quite like to have attained, and that, of course, is very absurd. In fact, man is a comical creature; there seems to be a kind of jest in it all.

But, on the other hand?  My search for anything approximating mathematical certainty in the older division has eluded me.  Since “six furlongs on the turf” is a little too specific a niche to be a division (sorry, Disco Partner!), the closest thing any division has to a clear leader is the open sprint division, with Mind Your Biscuits.  His Golden Shaheen (G1) victory was a triumph.  The Met Mile (G1) was a defeat in which he lost absolutely nothing: he missed by just a nose behind lone speed, going a distance longer than his best.  He’s a superstar, but he hasn’t had an unprecedented kind of season.  Heart to Heart has emerged best in the middle-distance turf division, Accelerate is the top of the handicap division…but how far above the rest do they loom?

They’ve had good seasons so far, but none of them have done anything that, if portrayed in a work of fiction, would cause you to roll your eyes and murmur that it couldn’t happen in real life.

Justify has.

If you tried to tell me a horse would go from unraced three-year-old to Triple Crown winner in under four months, I’d have told you that would never happen.  If you handed me a book about a horse whose star rose so fast, I’d have scoffed at the implausible plot.  Yet, I’ve now seen it happen with my own two eyes because Justify did it.

But yet mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.

Is Justify better than the older horses?  Will he beat older company later this year?  We won’t know until he tries.  In that sense, I’m still not quite happy about my choice to put Justify on my All Ages ballot at all.

But, he has changed my definition of what it’s possible for a racehorse to do, and has done that while racing a grueling Triple Crown schedule.  I’m more certain of the fact that Justify has done something truly difficult than I am about anything in the older horse landscape right now. When so little elsewhere is stable maybe it’s not such a bad thing to break my rule, surrender begrudgingly to the wisdom of the Underground Man, and let twice two be five this time around.

Picks and Ponderings: Christian C, Dreamofjean E. Prove Themselves in Stakes Company

Though rain washed Saturday’s pair of Illinois-bred stakes races off the grass, the races held together well and still featured some of Illinois’s most talented two-turn horses.  All six entrants remained to contest the Black Tie Affair Handicap, in which favoured Christian C stalked and pounced his way to victory.  Two races later, in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, polytrack maven Dreamofjean E. scored the gate-to-wire upset.

Read on at Picks and Ponderings!

Saturday Stakes Action at Belmont and Arlington!

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I look at stakes action both here and out east!

Saturday’s card at Arlington features a pair of turf stakes, the Mike Spellman Memorial and the Black Tie Affair Handicap.  Both drew small yet classy fields, but the Illinois turf route division is still such a good group that both should be exciting, competitive contests.

Of course, Belmont’s card also grabs attention.  In addition to the Belmont Stakes — with Justify’s Triple Crown attempt — the card features a full day of stakes action.  At Picks and Ponderings, I look at the Belmont horse-by-horse as well as give picks for all the stakes races on the card.

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Belmont Gold Cup Preview and Belmont Thursday-Friday Stakes Selections

Though the top racing story leading into the weekend is Justify’s bid for a Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival ensures that it is not the only one worth following.  With top-class stakes races across all ages and divisions, the weekend has established itself as American racing’s top midyear showcase, and the action begins this Thursday.

Picks and Ponderings will tackle both Friday and Saturday at Belmont this week.  In addition to fully previewing the Belmont Gold Cup here, Nicolle Neulist also provides selections and longshots for all three stakes at Belmont Park on Thursday, and all five on Friday.  A separate piece takes a horse-by-horse look at the Belmont field, and also provides stakes selections for Saturday at Belmont.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and let’s dive into one of the precious few two-milers we have!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Addison Cammack Memorial Handicap and Isaac Murphy Handicap Preview

This Saturday begins the set of state-bred summer stakes races at Arlington Park.  The card features a pair of sprint stakes for older horses: the Addison Cammack Memorial Handicap for open-company Illinois-breds, and the Isaac Murphy Handicap for fillies and mares.  Both races will be contested at six furlongs on the polytrack, and both races have a base purse of $50,000 with another $25,000 to sweeten the pot for any horses who were both conceived and foaled in the state.

Saturday’s stakes entries read like a who’s who of Illinois-bred sprint stakes stars over the last few years, including horses like Puntsville, Dandy Gal, Recount, Goneghost, and Devileye. Read my full preview of both races at Picks and Ponderings, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

a good weekend for the old folks

This weekend was a great weekend for the grand old horses.  It seemed like all over the continent, older horses were showing the younger ones just what they could aspire to someday.

Ten-year-old Four Left Feet won at Arlington on Monday.  (Go here, make sure you’ve allowed Flash for this website, and watch Monday, May 28, Race 1.  You won’t be sorry.)  His female family excels in terms of durability, and his Memorial Day victory was Four Left Feet’s second in three starts this year — and his twelfth win in 78 career starts.

War Diamond, a daughter of War Front (a sire with so many good younger runners), didn’t make her first start until she was five.  In Monday’s Arlington 7th, only her third lifetime start, she fought gamely and shed her maiden label.  It sounds like she takes a bit more from her female family.  After all, War Front didn’t race past age four.  But, her dam Snow Diamond is a full sister to Fort Prado: 18-for-59 in a career that ran from ages two through eight, a multiple graded stakes winner at five, and a multiple stakes winner at eight.  The only other Snow Diamond to race didn’t emerge until rather late as well: Snow Mesa (Sky Mesa) debuted at three and graduated second-out at four.  (The third, Sister Mary Cletus, is a Declaration of War two-year-old who isn’t on the worktab yet.)  But, if War Diamond continues to follow in her sister’s late-blooming footsteps, she may have a thing to say in the allowance ranks in the next year or two.

At Woodbine, even though seven-year-old Melmich and five-year-old Gigantic Breeze (that whippersnapper!) tried their hardest, eight-year-old Are You Kidding Me fought them off and won the Eclipse Stakes (G2) for the third time in his career.  He has now won twelve times in thirty-eight career starts — and when his career winds down, he will hopefully get a chance to pass his durability on to the next generation.  After all, unlike so many horses who race in graded stakes through age eight, he is still a stud horse!

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/aNnvzUQTTWM?rel=0

At Monmouth, eight-year-old Page McKenney wore down an in-form Shaft of Light to achieve his second career graded stakes victory in the Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth.  He had won in Grade 3 company once before, a head score in the 2016 General George (G3), but he had been competitive over and over again in stakes company (graded and not!) since the summer of 2014.  A maiden winner in $16,000 claiming company in 2013, and claimed for that sum out of an N2L later that year, his stakes success from ages four through eight is a perfect testament to having patience and letting a horse grow into himself.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/j_fxc1RHHk8?rel=0

I’m often asked how old horses are when they retire.  As I discussed a year and a half ago when another grand old man retired at the age of eleven, it depends.  I steadfastly hold that older horses who continue to make a race of it against company against whom they’ve been competitive for years have every right to keep running.  This past weekend was a shining example of that.

Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association: Laurie Price-Chapman Stays Connected To Dad

In the eighth race at Hawthorne on May 10, Allaboutme Hanover drove clear to win by two and a half lengths.  It was his first win of the year, and his third since entering the care of owner Laurie Price-Chapman and her late father Duncan Price.  

When they first got Allaboutme Hanover, there was no guarantee he would ever race again.  Hopes had been high early for the son of Somebeachsomewhere, as he sold for $95,000 as a yearling.  He began his career on the east coast, racing mainly at the Meadowlands, Pocono, and Yonkers at ages two and three.  But then, Allaboutme Hanover suffered a broken coffin bone. It was during that recovery that Duncan Price purchased him, and he and his daughter took over his care and rehabilitation.  Even as they scaled down their string of horses after the closure of Maywood and Balmoral, they kept the big bay gelding in training.

Read on at the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association!

Picks and Ponderings: Arlington Classic Winner Ezmosh at Home on the Turf

Ezmosh began his career on the dirt, and always showed flashes of promise over the main track.  He broke his maiden over the main track at Churchill Downs last September, finished a close second behind eventual Preakness 2nd-place finisher Bravazo earlier this year, and his connections thought enough of him to try graded stakes company in both the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last year and the Southwest Stakes (G3) this year.  He had yet to break through at the graded level — but after a solid allowance win on the grass at Fair Grounds in March, the Oklahoma-bred son of Tizway tried stakes company once again.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and catch up on today’s Arlington Classic!