Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Goldencents fan at the barn to say goodbye. #BC14Untapable #BC14 #Distaff#BC14 #ClassicInside the sixteenth. #BC14 #Classic #latergramThere was a garden for Baby Z at the #Zenyatta statue shortly after the gates opened this morning. #BC14Santa AnitaThe best find during Thursday's Beacon Hill Stroll was this pencil sketch of Man O'War. Now I just have to figure out where to hang it ...

Gangsters and Bookies

Depression-era horse racing in Cuba:

Like scenes out of an Ernest Hemingway novel, gunfire mingled with mariachi music near the betting ring.

It was an open secret that when track-backed bookmakers thought they were going to lose money on a heavily bet horse, they would call up to the stewards’ stand. Using a system nicknamed “window washing,” the stewards would raise and lower a window shade corresponding to the number of the horse they wanted “protected.” It was the starter’s job to watch for this signal, and to make sure the hot horse was at a disadvantage when the starting tape sprang up.

Foundation

Tom Jicha considers whether Khozan can break the last Kentucky Derby rule, that the winner started at least once as a 2-year-old:

The greatest example of all that the curse of Apollo is nothing to scoff at is Curlin. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream then galloped in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. But the best he could do in Louisville was third.

He went on to win the Preakness, the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, the Dubai World Cup and was twice Horse of the Year. But the Run for the Roses was too tough a challenge too soon.

Bill Finley shrugs at Khozan’s challenge:

… the modern Kentucky Derby bears little resemblance to what the race was even just 15 or 20 years ago. Khozan won’t be going up against grizzled veterans of the turf wars, horses that have started 15 times or so, including seven or eight starts as two-year-olds. He will be facing horses more like him than not. Most will have had only six or seven lifetime starts, their races carefully spaced out and their trainers careful never to have pushed them too hard. As a lightly raced horse with no experience as a 2-year-old, he’s simply not going to be at that big of a disadvantage.

Previously re: the curse: 2014, 2013.

The complete list of Kentucky Derby starters unraced as juveniles (PDF).

Rebel Possible for Brandi

Owner Willis Horton and trainer D. Wayne Lukas are considering entering filly champion Take Charge Brandi in the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the same race American Pharoah is expected to make his first start in since last September. Lukas told Mary Rampellini that the Kentucky Oaks is still Brandi’s goal, but Horton likes the idea of keeping her options open: “If we win the Rebel we get the 50 points for it, and it puts us in a position where we can either go to the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby.” And if she finishes second, she’ll get 20 points, which would likely put her on the bubble for a Kentucky Derby entry. The returning 2-year-old male champion looks formidable; he’s also been out with a foot injury. Add in the larger purse and that, aside from Pharoah, the Rebel is expected to draw “names that shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone,” starting Brandi in this race, instead of the Honeybee, looks like a pretty good (and sporting) move.

Vance Hanson isn’t so sure:

From what I’ve witnessed from my seat on the backbenches, Take Charge Brandi would seem better served going for the Honeybee rather than the more difficult Rebel hornets’ nest. If her connections ultimately choose the latter, though, it would probably be no less useful a prep for the Fantasy …

She has 40 points towards the Oaks — there’s really nothing for her to lose.

Mr. Z, another Lukas trainee, is one of the defectors from the Rebel Stakes after finishing third in the Southwest. He’ll start next instead in the March 28 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. He’s also getting an equipment change:

3/3/15 Update: She’s going in the Rebel, says Lukas.

Itsfiftypoints for a Star

Kentucky Derby preps moved into the 50-point round with the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and Risen Star at the Fair Grounds yesterday, and Itsaknockout and International Star both essentially secured places in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May with their respective wins. Charts, replays, speed figures, and the updated leaderboard are all available via the big Kentucky Derby prep schedule.

Itsaknockout was given a Beyer speed figure of 90 for the Fountain of Youth; he technically remains undefeated. Upstart, first to the wire, but disqualified and placed second for interfering in the stretch with the official winner, earned a Beyer of 95. Trainer Rick Violette called the stewards’ decision “very, very questionable,” and is considering sending Upstart to the Wood Memorial for his final prep, instead of starting him in the Florida Derby as planned.

For the Risen Star, International Star was given a 93 Beyer. He’s owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, yet not one of their many Kittens, being by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. (A little note for Suffolk Downs players: He’s also a half-brother to a familiar name in the 2013-2014 entries — Jet Pack.)

Doing Better

Joe Clancy asks if it’s time to change the claiming game:

… think like an outsider. You really want to try to explain claiming to an animal-rights activist, a state legislator or a 60 Minutes host? “So, let me get this straight Horse Racing Person … a trainer can run a horse he or she no longer wants because it’s slow or has an ailment that really doesn’t look like one, and hope some other trainer claims it? No questions asked?”

This has nothing to do with Hendrickson or Navarro or Trombetta or the Morrises, or people who play the claiming game. It has everything to do with the racing model the industry provides for its participants. We can do better.

Yes. The outcry over Grade 1 winner Monzante’s death following a claiming race in 2013, or the spike in inner-track fatalities at Aqueduct in 2012 (and again, this winter), is but a preview of the crisis to come if one of these stories about claimers not only crosses over into mainstream media, but sticks.

← Before