JC / Railbird

Belmont Park

Lady Eli’s Foot

Four months from the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and Lady Eli looks unbeatable in her likely year-end race. “She certainly has the most devastating turn of foot I’ve ever worked around,” trainer Chad Brown said after the 3-year-old filly brought her undefeated career record to six with a 2 3/4-length win in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks. Her final time of 1:59.27 earned a Beyer speed figure of 98. Her TimeformUS figure is 120.

The Belmont Oaks finish time was almost two seconds faster than the Belmont Derby, run at the same distance, which Force the Pass won in 2:01.16 (92 Beyer, 118 TimeformUS). It’s interesting to think that Lady Eli could have won the age-restricted race with its larger purse ($1.25 million versus $1 million), and she might have. Pace complicates the comparison. According to Trakus, Lady Eli won the Oaks with quarters of :23.92, :24.27, :24.30, :24.21, and :22.77. Force the Pass went :24.97, :25.77, :25.05, :23.58, and :22.07. The first three-quarters in the Derby, with Bolo as leader, was 1:15.58. The same fraction for the Oaks, with Lady Zuzu in front, was 1:11.80*. Watch the replay:

*Trakus time; Teletimer/chart time is 1:11.71.

7/13/15 Update: Heartbreaking news from trainer Chad Brown — Lady Eli has laminitis. Brown’s statement is below:

“We have some unfortunate news to report from our barn. Following Lady Eli’s impressive victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks on July 4, she sadly stepped on a nail on the horse path on the way back to our barn and injured her left front foot. Despite our efforts, including a talented team of veterinarians, Lady Eli’s injury has led to her developing laminitis. Thankfully, we have assembled the best possible team of veterinarians and farriers to stabilize her and assist her through these difficult times. I ask that all of her fans keep this magnificent racehorse in their prayers and hopefully she will be back on the racetrack flashing her brilliance again.”

Laminitis is a vicious disease. “If you’re an optimist, you’d say she’ll race again. If you’re a pessimist, she could be battling for her life,” co-owner Jay Hanley told the Blood-Horse.

7/24/15 Update: Encouraging news via the Daily Racing Form (DRF+):

Brown, back in Saratoga for opening day Friday, said Thursday that doctors are “extremely pleased with her progress, and they’re cautiously optimistic she’s putting this behind her.”

Brown said the veterinary team caring for Lady Eli has established a set of goals for the filly to achieve on a weekly basis, and thus far she has met them.

“I am personally pleased with how she’s moving and her overall condition and attitude,” Brown said.

Plainly Said

Dick Powell:

I love the Met Mile (G1) and hate that it is run on the Belmont Stakes undercard. It is a race worthy of its own big stage and should not share it with anyone.

Seconding the sentiment. It pains me to see a race as significant and historic as the Met Mile crammed into a bloated Belmont Stakes “Big Day” card between the Just a Game and the Manhattan Stakes. Restore it to Memorial Day!

Sunday, Belmont

Sunday at Belmont Park

Nothing to See Here

Charlie Hayward on “Big Days” at racetracks:

I believe that consolidating stakes too aggressively can have the opposite of the intended effect — actually reducing customer interest and wagering activity on regular and weekend race days throughout the rest of the meet. “Big Days” are exciting for the casual racetrack customer. However, I would suggest that offering consistent weekend race cards combined with a takeout reduction would be a better way to grow the racing business and make our product more competitive with other gambling and entertainment offerings.

Yes. How easy is it to find something else to do when even a holiday weekend card is full of short fields and/or lacks a classy feature? The many factors making super-cards a trend “may have reached critical mass with Saturday’s card at Belmont,” says Mike Watchmaker, running down an afternoon of racing that’s “a little scary” in its lower-level quality. (Sunday isn’t better.)

Super Saturday Aftermath

Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.

That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]

At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.

“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”

Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.

While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”

Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:

Figure sources: DRF stakes results (Beyers); Craig Milkowski (TimeformUS)

Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”

Beholder Preps for Phipps

With rider Gary Stevens up, Beholder worked a mile in 1:40.20 at Santa Anita on Monday in preparation for the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Trainer Richard Mandella got her in “1:38 and change,” and apparently, thought she looked so good that he “did a giddy jig afterward,” reports Jay Privman. Marcie Heacox observed her recent afternoon schooling:

Beholder schooled in a new way — without a pony but with a saddle and regular exercise rider David Nuesch. Like previous schooling sessions, she wore a hood to block noise, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella distracted her with peppermints. The team put the saddle on soon after she arrived at the paddock, and Nuesch mounted a few minutes before she exited, but she didn’t react to either change. She usually goes crazy at some point during schooling, but this time she behaved absolutely perfectly.

Sounds like she’s physically and mentally in the same shape as she was before winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and ready to meet Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches on their home turf.

Oaks Reprise

Jon White surveys the likely Odgen Phipps field:

The 2013 Kentucky Oaks field was considered one of the best ever. The five fillies listed above as candidates for the Phipps all ran in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Princess of Sylmar won at 38-1. Beholder finished second at 9-1 after acting up and unseating Garrett Gomez prior to the start. Dreaming of Julia finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite after she “got annihilated at the start” and “got stopped later in the race,” according to Todd Pletcher, the filly’s trainer. Midnight Lucky finished fifth at 7-2, which has been her only loss in four career starts to date. Close Hatches finished seventh at 7-1.

Amazing. Unlimited Budget, third in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, hasn’t been mentioned among the Phipps possibles, but she is still running, finishing second in the G3 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream last month.

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