#5: the sixth 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 through 2019. Among all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones to which my mind keeps wandering back.

#12: Curlina Curlina Finds the Wire
#11: A Pleasant Surprise, Volgograd
#10 Ajaaweed Emerges as a Juvenile to Watch
#9 Lady Apple Trains On
#8 Tenfold and Cordmaker Stretch Out
#7 Chaos Theory Defies His Inexperience
#6: Global Campaign, Standard Deviation, and Curlin Grey Hit the Trifecta

#5 Point of Honor Lives Up to Expectations

When a horse wins impressively on debut, you never quite know what you have until you test them against tougher company. That adage carries particular weight when a horse wins so impressively in a dirt race that was originally carded for the lawn.

Hence the cautious enthusiasm when Point of Honor (Zayanna, by Bernardini) romped by six lengths in a maiden special weight at Gulfstream on December 18, 2018. It was a good first step, and her $825,000 RNA at Keeneland September suggested that she came to the track with expectations. She was well bet, and no one looked a real threat to her as she drove clear.

But, not only would she have to answer how she would do against winners, but also how she would do against company originally intended for the dirt.

Even with that caveat, plenty of people believed she was the real deal.

Some new owners believed. Point of Honor was owned by Stetson Racing LLC for her maiden win, but Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners had bought in by the time she entered her next race.

Her trainer George Weaver believed. He had not placed Point of Honor in an easy slot for that next race. Instead, she resurfaced February 9 at Tampa Bay Downs, in the Suncoast Stakes, a race in its second year as a Kentucky Oaks points prep.

Even the wagering public believed. On the strength of that one off-turf victory, they sent her off the 5/2 choice in a field of eight. Standing at the rail at Tampa Bay Downs that afternoon, I felt like the only one whose caution overwhelmed their optimism.

They were right, and I was wrong.

Point of Honor poses in the winners' circle after the 2019 Suncoast Stakes.
Point of Honor poses in the winners’ circle after the 2019 Suncoast Stakes.

Jockey Javier Castellano settled her off the pace, two wide at the rear through the clubhouse turn. Though she brought up the rear, she was hardly far from the lead; she sat in eighth, but still only four lengths off the pace a quarter of a mile in, the field was so compact.

Passing the half-mile pole, Point of Honor was still near last, but beginning to improve. She was three wide heading into the turn: certain to lose ground, but also out of the kickback and unlikely to get caught in a traffic jam. Ridden along, she responded, and she hit the quarter pole in third position: behind only pacesetter Lady Kate and the stalking Sweet Diane.

She loomed in upper stretch, already going better than Sweet Diane, though Lady Kate wouldn’t give in without a fight. At the furlong mark, Point of Honor shifted into her next gear. She drove clear of Lady Kate, daring anyone to doubt anymore that she was for real, crossing the finish two and three quarters lengths clear, announcing herself as a three-year-old filly to watch.

Though any whiff of lilies in the air proved premature — she ran fourth behind Champagne Anyone in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) next out, and did not race at Churchill on the first Friday in May — she returned for the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico, overhauling Ulele to win by half a length. That made her part of a banner day for Curlin babies at Pimlico. By the time she won the Black-Eyed Susan Tenfold and Cordmaker had already finished 1-3 in the Pimlico Special (G3), and later that day Mylady Curlin won the Allaire DuPont Distaff (G3).

Her year concluded with a pair of second-place finishes at the very top level at Saratoga: behind Guarana in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) in July, then behind Dunbar Road in the Alabama (G1) in August.

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Gotham/San Felipe/Tampa Bay Derby

This is week six of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

This week is a huge one, with three stateside Kentucky Derby preps: the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, and the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs.  Come see what we all think…and let’s see if I can add to my win, exacta, and trifecta tallies!

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Sam F. Davis S.

It’s time for the third week of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing!: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

This week, we visit one of my favourite tracks in the country: Tampa Bay Downs.  Head over to ABR, and see who we like for the Sam F. Davis!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Sam F. Davis Stakes and Suncoast Stakes Preview

For the first time in a couple years, Picks and Ponderings won’t be at the Sam F. Davis Stakes — our foray south will instead happen a little later this winter, for the Tampa Bay Derby.  However, being in Chicago won’t stop us from previewing Saturday’s pair of sophomore dirt stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) for open company and the Suncoast Stakes, the newest-minted Oaks points prep.

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

(My preview of the Sam F. Davis Stakes is published at ThoroFan Handicapper’s Corner, as well!  It’s not the only race at ThoroFan this week; Michael Amo also tackles the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf.)

winter days in Tampa Bay

Last weekend, I headed back out to Tampa for a few days of horses and friends.  A few of my pictures from my trip were published in my article at Brisnet.  But, I got far more pictures than that…so come, take a look, and enjoy a long weekend at Tampa Bay Downs!


A Day at the Races: Tampa Bay Downs

Last week, I returned to one of my favourite tracks: Tampa Bay Downs.  Over at Brisnet, I talk about my trip in words and pictures.

The big races of the weekend were the graded stakes on Saturday, and you’ll certainly see the likes of McCraken and Isabella Sings here.  But, you’ll also see the other race days, the mornings, and the unique events that give Tampa Bay Downs its character.

Go see Tampa Bay Downs through my eyes — and then plan a trip there when you can, so you can see it through your own!

a scene from a friendly track

The first word that comes to mind when describing Tampa Bay Downs is friendly.  I got that feeling when I visited the track last year.  Strangers would come up to me to talk horses, and by the end of the weekend, I felt comfortable striking up some equine small talk with whoever happened to be next to me at the rail.

I returned to Tampa Bay Downs this week, and it took no time to confirm that this friendly spirit still fills the track.  After all, if you lose your ticket, there’s no place you’re more likely to get it back than this one.

Just before Thursday’s second race, I headed to the paddock.  I came to look at the horses, and lingered long after the post parade went off because classy grey Kasaqui was schooling in the paddock.  I expected it to be quiet there, since most people gravitated back toward the grandstand to rejoin their friends and get a bet in.

A woman with a ticket in her hand walked up to a security guard posted at the trackside entrance to the paddock.  She let the guard know that the ticket had been cast aside, pointing with her other had toward where she had seen it flutter to the ground.  She explains to him that she had not seen who dropped it.  After talking for a few moments, they decide that the ticket may have been left by one of a group of horseplayers about twenty feet down the rail.

The guard walks down the rail with the ticket, and asks the group whether any of them had dropped the ticket.  They looked — no one had.  They checked the ticket — none of them had even played that horse in the upcoming race.  The guard walked back over to the woman, who still stood near the paddock gate.  They resumed discussion of the ticket’s provenance.

Suddenly, the guard.  “I know why none of them had that horse — look!  The 3 scratched!”  The woman turns to the infield tote board, and finally notices the empty space where Nite of the Hunter’s odds would have been.  The guard continued, “he should be able to get his $10 back!”

As post approached, the woman walked back toward the grandstand to join her friends.  She left the ticket with the security guard.  He kept his post at the gate.  He furrowed his brow, beginning to wonder how he would find the owner of the tossed ticket.  It wasn’t a winner…but after all, $10 beats ticket confetti any day, and its owner would appreciate having it back.

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes Day Preview

Saturday’s card at Tampa Bay Downs features four stakes races, including Tampa’s first Derby prep of the year, the Sam F. Davis (G3).

In addition to the Davis, sophomore fillies get their chance to go two turns on the dirt in the Suncoast Stakes.  Older turf routers also get their due in a pair of Grade 3 affairs: the Tampa Bay Stakes for open company, and the Endeavour for fillies and mares.  Though Tepin will not make her anticipated debut in the Endeavour this year, the race drew a large and competitive field — and without the Queen, it should be a better wagering affair.

In addition, make sure to follow on Twitter all weekend — I’ll be on site at Tampa Bay Downs all weekend!  I’ll be tracking Saturday’s card from @picksponderings all day long.  I will also be posting photos, notes, and Periscope broadcasts from @rogueclown from Thursday through Sunday.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s stakes action at Tampa Bay Downs, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Tampa Bay Derby Preview

Saturday’s features the richest race of the season at Tampa Bay Downs: the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).  The race drew a competitive field of ten runners, including the top three from the local prep, the Sam F. Davis.  It also features the return of Brody’s Cause, who won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall.

However, there is one long shot in the field who I really like, and who I cannot wait to play for a price.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Tampa Bay Derby, and leave a comment to let me know what you think!

a weekend in Tampa Bay

Of course, the one weekend when this winter in Chicago finally felt like winter, I had flown south.  It was for good reason, though, despite my preference for the cold.  I visited Tampa Bay from Thursday, February 11 through Sunday, February 14, and spent most of my waking hours at Tampa Bay Downs.  The main event was Lovely Loyree’s graded stakes debut in the Endeavour.  But, from start to finish, it was a great chance to see friends, see horses, and enjoy a track I had never visited.

Lovely Loyree puts her game face on before the Endeavour Stakes.

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Picks and Ponderings: Illinois-breds in Tampa!

Yesterday at Picks and Ponderings, I published my analysis of the stakes races on Saturday’s excellent card.

Today, I took a look at the pair of Illinois-bred runners in Saturday’s stakes races: Lovely Loyree in the Endeavour and Missalaney in the Suncoast.  I chatted today with trainers Michele Boyce (Lovely Loyree) and David Hinsley (Missalaney) about their  stakes horses this weekend, so head on over to Picks and Ponderings and get to know a couple of promising horses with local ties!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Sam F. Davis Day Stakes Preview

This Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs has one of its biggest cards of the year: Sam F. Davis day.  In addition to the Grade III local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the card features three other stakes races: the Suncoast for three-year-old fillies, the Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII) for older turf routers, and the Endeavour (GIII) for older turf fillies and mares.

I got to Tampa Bay today…but, with no racing today, it was a perfect opportunity to hang out at the track anyway, and finish handicapping and writing about Saturday’s biggest races.  Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, see where I landed, and leave a comment with your thoughts!

Blinkers Off hits the road!

In less than two weeks, Blinkers Off will hit the road to Tampa Bay!

No…not for good, only for a few days.

I will be heading down to Tampa Bay from February 11 through 14 for Sam F. Davis weekend.  Nominations have come out forr that Saturday’s four stakes races, as well as a prep handicap for the Challenger Stakes later in the meet.  With those out, it finally seems real, since I can zero in on horses I’m excited to see.

Lovely Loyree may be a goofball in the barns, but she is a serious turf mare.
Lovely Loyree may be a goofball in the barns, but she is a serious turf mare.

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Picks and Ponderings: weekend stakes previews!

Big ‘Cap Weekend is a big weekend all over the country, and Picks and Ponderings has stakes previews from coast to coast.

Santa Anita has five stakes on the card; between me and Paul Mazur, we preview them all.  I take a look at the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (GI), the San Felipe Stakes (GII), and the China Doll Stakes; Paul delves into the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and the San Carlos Stakes (GII).

The weekend also features Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races across the country.  We have been following the marquee three-year-old races all winter, and we are not about to stop because we got too distracted by warm weather and a certain fast little gelding out at Santa Anita.  I took a look at the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), and Paul looked at both the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct and the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, let us know what you think in the comment sections, and get ready for an exciting weekend of racing!

a change of plans for Ocean Knight

Though Ocean Knight (Ocean Goddess, by Stormy Atlantic) raced last in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs, the original plan was that he would be shipping north for the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct.  Instead, it was announced today that he is staying south, and will race in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).

In the balance, this looks like a great move.

Ocean Knight, prevailing over Divining Rod in the 2015 Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII).

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