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!


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.


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.

a special horse, and a special win

Every time I think Ben’s Cat can’t do anything more awesome, I am proven wrong.

Ben’s Cat is not one of those horses who typically wins by a huge margin.  The 2014 Fabulous Strike Handicap, which he won by 3 1/4 lengths, was a bit of an anomaly.  His winning margins are more typically a neck, half a length…he makes everyone sweat, but he wins.  He gets there.  His record of 31 wins in 54 lifetimes starts going into today was enough of a testament to that.

Today, with a sixteenth to go, it didn’t look like Ben’s Cat was going to get there.

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paint the canoe green and gold!

On September 6 of last year, a horse named Keen Ice had a improbable task ahead of him.  Turning for home, Starbound and Tiznow R J were in a race of their own.  Keen Ice had found his best stride, but may have left himself too much to do.

Yet, Keen Ice kept going.  He closed the gap, ran them down, and got his nose on the wire first.

Today, Keen Ice had another improbable task ahead.

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happy retirement, Conquest Curlinate.

This morning, I hoped that whatever was keeping Conquest Curlinate out of the Queen’s Plate turned out to be minor.  I also noted that there would likely be more information soon, given how good Conquest Stables is about keeping people posted about their horses.

This evening, they shared a bit more news about him.

Conquest Curlinate has been retired.

There hadn’t been time to delve into the severity of the injury before Queen’s Plate injuries were taken this morning, but he sustained a sesamoid injury severe enough to make retirement the best option.

I don’t know any more details than what Conquest Stables posted on Facebook about the incident or about the injury.  I’m sure more will surface in time.  I don’t know what happened at Woodbine, how the incident occurred, or what exactly went wrong.  If it turns out that the incident could have been prevented, I hope to see measures put in place at Woodbine (and everywhere) to make it less likely that this repeats itself.

It still hasn’t sunk in that I’ll never get to see Conquest Curlinate race again.

This hurts.  Seeing him in the Illinois Derby earlier this year was one of the most memorable racing moments of the year.  As much of a fan as I was of him before the race…in the paddock, I was smitten.  He was big, grey, and majestic.  Taking my eyes off of him to do paddock observations for the rest of the field was next to impossible.

He was only getting better, too.  He followed his strong second in the Illinois Derby up with a second in the Peter Pan (GII), and a second in the Plate Trial.  He had yet to win a stakes race, but I thought there was time.  He was still so lightly raced, and he already had so much going for him.  In terms of race record, he reliably fired with a closing run.  In terms of pedigree, the Curlin babies get better with time and experience; they do not tend toward precocity, but rather toward being fun to follow as they age.  I was looking forward to following Conquest Curlinate on the track for years to come.

My sentiment from earlier this morning stands: get well soon, Conquest Curlinate.  Your connections love you.  Your fans love you.  I love you.

Have a great time in retirement.  Even though you’ll be galloping around a farm instead of a racetrack, I really hope I get to see you again, and maybe even give you a carrot this time.

get better soon, Conquest Curlinate!

Conquest Curlinate has been my Queen’s Plate horse since I first put my mind to having a Queen’s Plate horse.

Conquest Curlinate in the post parade before the 2015 Illinois Derby.
Conquest Curlinate in the post parade before the 2015 Illinois Derby.

I had my eye on him since his debut last year, when he finished a late-running fifth beaten just two lengths.  The race looked too short for him.  That opinion bore out when he returned at age three and made an impressive maiden score at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn.

After finishing third in an allowance, he came up to Chicago, where I was fortunate enough to see him in person in the Illinois Derby.  He flew up for second, beaten just a nose by Whiskey Ticket.  Seeing him run made me happy, and just seeing him made me happy.  I was already a fan of Conquest Curlinate going into that race.  How could I not?  I love Curlin babies, I love grey horses, and I love Conquest Stables.  But, seeing him in the paddock was something else.  He was a gorgeous, grey tank, and though he had greyed out considerably from how he looked at two, he still knew how to put the “roan” in “grey or roan”.

His connections supplemented him into the Belmont, but decided not to run there…that he wasn’t quite training well enough, and that he would point to the Queen’s Plate instead.  That made sense — Conquest Stables does tend to be cautious with their placings.  If he wasn’t quite ready for the Belmont, they were not going to run him there.  The Queen’s Plate looked like a great spot, though.  He had handled the poly fine on debut, and handled it well again when he finished second behind Danish Dynaformer in the Plate trial two and a half weeks ago.

This morning, Keith McCalmont from Woodbine announced that Conquest Curlinate was out of the Queen’s Plate due to a minor injury in training.

I don’t have a ton of detail on his injury, just a quote from Mark Casse that he had to check abruptly during training.  Given how good Conquest Stables is about keeping the fans posted on their horses, we should know more soon.  I just hope it remains something minor, and that he will be back to the races shortly.

(Prince of Wales, perhaps?  He is Ontario-bred, and we all know he can run a cracking race on the dirt…)

Get well soon, Conquest Curlinate!

a long time coming

“In the fifth race, scratch the four.”

I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.  I looked at my past performances just to make sure I was remembering things correctly, since my brain works far better on horse names than it does on horse numbers.  However, I knew Frostbite Falls had drawn the 4 gate in the fifth race.

Scratched again?  He had scratched two weeks before, which I had found out while I was on my way to the track that day.  It took the wind out of my sails, since I thought last Saturday would finally be the day I saw Frostbite Falls in person for the first time in almost two years.

In a brief, disappointed moment, that time rushed through my head.

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on Palace Malice and expectations

I am a pessimist.

I was not always that way.  When I was young, optimism seeped out of my pores.  Everything was awesome, everything was going to be alright, and there was no point walking anywhere but on the sunny side of the street.

Once I gathered the least bit of self-awareness, somewhere in my pre-teen years, I realised that the combination of my natural enthusiasm and my optimism made me terribly obnoxious.  Bad things would happen to me and the people I cared about.  Nobody needed another Pollyanna, Tony Robbins, or Oprah Winfrey to deal with.

So, I crossed the street.  The shade suited me better, anyway.  I could assume from the outset that things were going to turn out poorly.  If they didn’t, it was a pleasant surprise.  The good things were going to mean more if I didn’t expect them to happen, and the bad things couldn’t take the wind out of my sails.  After all, there were no longer any sails.

Then, horse racing happened.

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congratulations, Away Westward!

Horses…it sounds so obvious.  We wouldn’t have horse racing without horses.  Strip away the grandstand, the clubhouse, the tote board, the rails…what does a day at the track boil down to?  Whose horse gets from point A to point B faster — nothing more, nothing less.

It’s easy to get caught up in everything that springs up around horse racing.  Handicapping and betting mean fun (and potentially profit) for analytical types.  Seeing people at the track is satisfying for the social butterfly in all of us.

However?  The biggest reason I started coming to the track more often is because it means seeing horses live and up close.  Horses, by nature, are gorgeous creatures…though even, among all of the horses I see week in and week out, a few stand out for their beauty.

This brings me to Away Westward.

Away Westward stretches his legs in the paddock before today's Arlington 7th.
Away Westward stretches his legs in the paddock before today’s Arlington 7th.

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take two.

Last week, Palace Malice was supposed to return in the Westchester (GIII).  He scratched, though he returned to the worktab on Tuesday.  That boded well, suggesting that his foot bruise that kept him out of the race last weekend was not something serious.

Tomorrow, he gets a prep over the Belmont dirt, the Diablo Stakes.

Instead of being a mile, it is six furlongs.  He broke his maiden going six and a half.  Palace Malice has never gone six flat, and has gone shorter just once: a baby race at Saratoga, his debut.  Six furlongs seems short for him.

He also faces some serious horses.  Palace, a serious sprinter, comes in second off the lay.  Clearly Now may not be the most consistent horse, but when he does find his mojo, he can be sharp.  Unlike Palace Malice, he is a proven sprinter.

Part of me wants to hope.  I went through this last year, after all.  First off the lay at age four, in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, he cut back to a mile and ran the best race of his life.  I want to think he will find that same drive and that same form tomorrow in the Diablo.  But, this situation is far different.  He was not pointing to this race nor was he pointing to this distance.  It screams that they just needed a race under him before even considering sending him to the Met Mile, since he has not raced in the better part of the year and the Met Mile looks like it will turn up tough.

If Palace Malice is competitive tomorrow and gets something out of the race, I will have seen what I hope to see.  If he wins, you will hear a guttural scream from the general direction of Chicago.


A bit lost in the shuffle of Derby Madness was the Westchester Stakes (GIII) at Belmont.

Ever since Dogwood Stable announced Palace Malice’s comeback schedule, the Westchester had been planned as his comeback race.  He had won it as easily as a 1/20 shot should have last year, reasserting his class and his affinity for Big Sandy.  This year’s field turned up a bit tougher, particularly due to the presence of Tonalist.

Palace Malice scratched Thursday.

The word was that he bruised his right front foot just in time to have to miss a few days of training before the race.  I believe that.  Though Cot Campbell had said earlier in the week that he had been looking “for the easiest spot”, and the Westchester did not turn up that way with Tonalist in the field, Palace Malice has had foot issues in the past.  He had a foot bruise earlier this year that delayed his return from Aiken to trainer Todd Pletcher’s string in Florida.

Fortunately, things look like they are getting back on track for Palace Malice.  He returned to the worktab today, breezing four furlongs in 49.22 at Belmont.  The plan remains the Met Mile (GI) next month.

I am simultaneously excited and petrified.  I cannot wait to see Palace Malice back on the track, and hope that he can come back into himself at five.  After as sharp as he was for his first four races last year, it seemed like he had so much more he could have done on the track.  However…a return against any kind of company after ten months off the track will be tough to ask.  A return against the likes of Tonalist, Bayern, Honor Code, Tamarkuz, Private Zone, possibly even Lea?

As much as I want to see him prevail, Palace Malice will have to be a superhorse to win that.