Friday, April 23, 2010

Talking Dirty in Indiana

Yesterday I was assigned to follow up on the injury of jockey Nelson Arroyo in Indiana Downs' eighth race on April 20. The story quickly grew as I spoke to more and more Indiana horsemen, and I found there is quite an uproar at the track over the safety of the surface. Arroyo was thrown to the track when his mount broke down in the stretch, an event which was one of three breakdowns and Indiana Downs over a three-day span. Some claim that the track, which doubles as a Standardbred track, has a poor base, and others claim that dirt added to the surface has made it too deep and stressful for the horses to run on, as well as inconsistent.

At morning's end, the news report had turned into a 700 word discussion with various Indiana horsemen. The link is provided below.

Gettin' Down and Derby

Eight days out from the big dance, Derby Fever has officially set in in Lexington. Well, at least in my little corner in my cubicle at The Blood-Horse. I've been fortunate to get a few early assignments, including a chat with Bob Baffert on Derby contenders Lookin At Lucky and Conveyance:

These thoughts will likely change multiple times throughout the next week, but I'm ready to offer my early picks. Despite the fact that Californians have a spotty Derby record as a group, I'm opening with Lookin At Lucky and Sidney's Candy. How can you not like Lucky? He has never not tried in a race, and between the Rebel and the Santa Anita Derby, he's the most battle-tested horse on this year's Derby trail. He has a running-style well suited to the Derby, and he seems to want to go the distance. But when it comes down to it, it's the grit and courage he's shown in each race that leaves me stuck on him. With his last Derby win in 2002, Baffert is in the midst of a big comeback after a few dry years. Wouldn't this be the icing on the comeback cake?

Sidney's Candy, on the other hand, has encountered little trouble in his recent races, bouncing right to the lead from the gate and never looking back. The son of Candy Ride is unbeaten in three starts in 2010, and first started turning heads with a win in the seven furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on Feb. 15. The critics are out there, but Sidney's Candy has silenced every challenge thus far, running away next with the 1 1/16 mile San Felipe, then the 1 1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby over a troubled Lookin At Lucky. While the Derby always presents unique challenges, if there is a front runner who can go wire to wire, this blogger believes it is Sidney's Candy.

Of course, both horses will have to make the synthetic to dirt transition. Lookin At Lucky has already won on dirt, two starts back in the Rebel. Sidney's Candy has never raced outside California.

I leave you with some early Derby and Oaks thoughts from my colleagues Esther Marr and Jason Shandler:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Big Changes!

I would also like to add that yesterday I made the following changes on my blog description and profile:

"Aspiring turf writer" was changed to "turf writer"

"Journalism student" was changed to "recent journalism graduate"

I still get a kick out of that!

All Oaks

With just two weeks until the first Saturday in May, Derby Fever is beginning to reach a high. With that comes Kentucky Oaks Fever. Here are a few tidbits that have caught my interest regarding the Run for the Lilies over the last few days:

A well-researched blog by my cubicle neighbour Esther Marr on the meaning behind the names of Oaks-bound fillies. Esther has done a wonderful job keeping us all posted on the happenings of the Oaks trail:

An emotional HRTV segment on a special triangle involving 2009 Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra, her former trainer Hal Wiggins, and a critically-ill young girl named Rachel Mattson. I made the mistake of watching this in the office, and was tearing up throughout. How can one not love this horse, this trainer, and this little girl? Underlying it all, being reminded that Rachel was taken from Wiggins' care is truly heartbreaking.

*Warning: fetch a box of tissues before beginning this video.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I will be posting more of my thoughts in the final two weeks leading up to the Derby and Oaks, both of which I will be attending with The Blood-Horse.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gorgeous George

Turf Beat has experienced some serious neglect recently. What can I say other than life gets in the way? But I have now completed my thesis, and thus completed university, so my goal is to devote more time to the blog.

I'm going to start back with some words on a horse that holds a special place in my heart. Those of us who have spent time on breeding farms know that while we often have recollections of many horses, there are a special few who grab our heartstrings and never let go. One of those horses for me was D's Wando. It seems natural that I would fall for a colt from the first crop of my beloved Wando, but for me, there was more to D's Wando than that. Out of the Bold Ruckus mare Silver Taler, D's Wando was born on May 8, 2007, just before noon. I had been keeping vigil outside Silver Taler's paddock all morning, and when the moment came, I was able to help bring D's Wando into the world. One of our first assessments of the minute bay with the tiny white star was how petite he was, unimpressive in the grande scheme of our 13 horse foal crop. But as we were soon reminded, size doesn't always matter. Shortly after his birth, I nicknamed D's Wando "George", in tribute to the curious monkey. He was always one of the first of the herd to approach his visitors, and when the whole mare and foal crop joined up in the field in the summer, he would stand by the gate and assess the situation as each mare and foal were turned out, trying to sneak out or jump into the arms of any human within range.

As George matured into a weanling, then a yearling, his personality grew, though his size barely did. But other than his smallish figure there was little to begrudge him for, and George pleased us by bringing $32,000 at the 2008 CTHS Canadian bred Yearling sale. What pleased me even more was that his new connections, D's Stable, Riviera Racing Stable and Yorktech Racing Stable, were stationed at Woodbine with trainer Ian Black. Translation: chances were good that I would be able to follow George's career in person.

As we had hoped, George has translated his personality into productivity on the track. Making his first start the day after my 21st birthday, George finished 3rd in a maiden event at Woodbine (and yes, I was there to see him). George improved his position in his next two starts, running second less than a month later, and, on August 16, 2009, broke his maiden to become the first winner for his freshman sire. After running unplaced in his next two starts, George won an allowance event before closing off the year with a third place effort in the Coronation Futurity behind 2-year-old champion Hollinger.

After taking a well-deserved winter's nap, George is now back at Woodbine with full aim on the July 4 Queen's Plate. Having made his first start the day after my birthday, how fitting would it be if he won the Queen's Plate on the day of my 22nd?

I will be keeping a close radar on George as he prepares for a run at Canada's greatest race. I was recently very pleased to find some publicity for my special horse. Canadian writer and blogger Keith McCalmont recently included George in a photo essay from the Woodbine backstretch:

In addition, the young son of one of George's owners has taken a special interest in the sport, and has included a video of George's recent work on his blog: Cheers Santino, keep up the enthusiasm!

I sincerely hope to be able to attend this year's Queen's Plate. With a number of promising colts from my former workplace, including George, targetting the race, and with Queen Elizabeth attending this year's event, it would certainly be a special birthday gift to make an appearance at the race, and, god willing, the winner's circle.