An essential part of Kentucky Derby winner Orb’s origin story is that he almost didn’t exist. His dam, Lady Liberty, seemed a subpar producer after three foals, only one a winner. Ogden Phipps wanted to sell. Others within Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm thought the Unbridled mare deserved another shot, and so Lady Liberty visited Malibu Moon. The result was “pretty conventional,” until it wasn’t: “Now that it’s happened you look at that mare, you’re, ‘We knew you had that in you.’” Lucky Liberty, whose stall door now boasts a triumphant news clipping. She’s reportedly in foal to Malibu Moon again.
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Orb, Orb, Orb: The Hello Race Fans Preakness cheat sheet fills you in on the other eight starters. Johnny D has a few wagering tips (beyond Orb on top). Andrew Beyer wants to see “a truly great effort,” if Orb wins, but he doesn’t seem like a blowout kind of beast. (And if he is capable of a truly great, truly dominating win, wouldn’t it be better that he save it for the Belmont?) Orb’s “consistent grinding style” is winning, not flashy. He reminds me of Invasor, a tough, game, champion grinder, never dazzling, running just fast enough.
Chris Rossi looks at the three Preakness Stakes winners in the last 20 years who didn’t start in the Kentucky Derby and finds a few commonalities.
Related: Recent Preakness history: How have Kentucky Derby winners and favorites fared in the second leg of the Triple Crown since 2001?
See also: Paul Moran ponders jockey Eddie Arcaro’s 1986 prediction that there would never again be a Triple Crown winner. Too many foals, said the jockey. (That could be, in which case, the bright side of the decline in the number of North American registered foals from the recent high of 38,261 in 2005 to 28,260 in 2010 and an estimated 24,700 in 2012 is that if we don’t get a Triple Crown winner this year, we might before too long — 2010 was the first year since 1976 that fewer than 30,000 North American foals were registered, and the estimated number for 2012 nearly matches the 24,361 registered in 1970, the year of Secretariat’s birth.)
Not so recent history: “When Mr. Longtail Feasted On Racing.” Arcaro rode two Triple Crown winners, Whirlaway and Citation. The first rivaled Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams for sports fame in 1941, but wasn’t a horse even his connections wanted to call great. “He was not dead game,” said Jimmy Jones, son of trainer Ben Jones. “He had a tendency to give up.” He was fast, though.
Curiously, Frankel appears doomed not to produce a son or daughter who is superior to him. The Racing Post’s bloodstock expert, Tony Morris, writes: “No horse rated 138 has ever sired a horse rated 138 or above. Frankel may well get plenty of good runners, and I hope he does, but I can guarantee he will never sire his equal; he is the ceiling, and regression to the mean dictates that all his stock will be inferior to him.”
This is probably also true of Beyer speed figures. Has a horse who has peaked at 120 or above ever sired an equal? Ghostzapper topped out at 128 (in the 2004 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park); Contested and Hunters Bay, two of his best progeny, certainly haven’t come close to such a number.
As foal crops have declined, so has the number of race days for a total of 6,250 race days lost since 2006. Yet the number of stakes awarded graded status has remained level: 475 awarded in 2006 and 474 awarded in 2011. This failure to adapt to the new racing landscape has resulted in an increase of 14% in the number of races awarded graded status.
The 2016 projection should strike fear in everyone involved in breeding and selling American Thoroughbreds. Without correction, short fields and ducking connections won’t be just the bane of bettors in the very near future.
I’m one of those people who believe we really have changed the conformation of the breed — but not by the surgical conformation. It’s that we have moved the entire breed to a different conformation: the offset knee. It’s happened because those have been the most productive horses.
“I think if they’re talking about weakening the gene pool with medication, then they’re also weakening the gene pool by doing (corrective surgery),” said trainer Charlie Lopresti. “They’re taking mares that produce crooked foals, cosmetically fixing them and selling them for a lot of money at the sale. It used to be back in the old days, only the strong survived, and if they were crooked and they could run through it, they were good horses.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I think we all need to get on the same page. And if they’re going to try and clean up the racing act, they need to clean up their act too.”
Azeri, Ginger Punch, Lethal Heat, Moscow Burning, Stardom Bound … Kate Hunter on the Yoshida brothers’ starry broodmare band (PDF).
But the horse will tell us what he wants to do. “It’s an absolute crock. Frankel has been saying all year I can do what YOU want me to” (via).
It’s not about the surface. What Dullahan really wants is distance. Given his one-run style, this makes sense. It doesn’t raise his prospects in any of the three Breeders’ Cup races he might enter, though.
East vs. West, Sid Fernando, March 2012: “… it’s striking that even cheaper dirt tracks in the East have lower overall rates than most anything out West.” Hm.
As each year comes to its end, I go through all the racing stories I’ve bookmarked or shared over the past 12 months and pluck together a short list of pieces that stand out, whether for great reporting or great storytelling. If you haven’t read the stories linked below yet, take a few minutes to enjoy some of the best turf journalism from 2011 before 2012 begins:
“As 10-year ban hangs over Rick Dutrow, opinions vary about controversial horse trainer.” The definitive profile of the New York trainer, handed a record suspension this year, by Jerry Bossert for the New York Daily News.
“For Pletcher, managing a training empire is all in a day’s work” Joe Drape on how he does it, for the New York Times.
Pletcher was an assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, dubbed “The most interesting man in racing,” by Gary West this spring, in one of the last posts published on his Star-Telegram blog. That the formidable turf writer with the superb flapdoodle detector was let go by the newspaper was a loss for Texas racing. Fortunately for readers, West now appears on ESPN.
Claire Novak won her first Eclipse award this year with “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” about the announcer’s decision to step down from calling the Triple Crown races on NBC, but I’m biased toward her terrific Kentucky Derby week story, “The Inside Scoop: Why Calvin Borel owns the rail,” which appeared on Kentucky Confidential. For fun, and a touch of Gay Talese, Novak’s recounting of a New Orleans cabbie’s racetrack story can’t be beat.
At Suffolk Downs, a rider reached a significant milestone: “Piermarini gets win 2000 on Sugar Trade.” Susan Salk of Offtrack Thoroughbreds talked to Tammi Piermarini about becoming only the fifth female jockey in racing to crack 2K.
Ryan Goldberg added context and depth to this year’s intense (and ongoing) Lasix debate with his well-researched and matter-of-fact story for the Daily Racing Form, “Lasix: Demystifying the drug, methods of training without it.”
DRF photographer Barbara Livingston shared some marvelous historic racing photos from her private collection this year, as in this post: “Man o’ War’s funeral: Remarkable final tribute for majestic champion.” The great horse was laid out in a casket for viewing; thousands filed past to pay their respects.
“Gray Thoroughbreds, a precious relic of the breed’s earliest days, became a rarity on the racecourse for a good part of the 19th century.” I had no idea. Kellie Reilly on the revival of grays in the 20th century, on BRISnet.
A preliminary Beyer speed figure of 103 for The Factor in the Rebel Stakes, the sole graded Kentucky Derby prep this weekend. As DRF Derby tweeted, that figures ties “with Soldat for best Beyer by a 2011 3-year-old going mile or longer.” Soldat just happens to be the other War Front colt on the Derby trail, casting doubt on claims by pedigree handicappers that The Factor can’t get the Derby distance. Count me among the skeptical, but on the matter of pace, not breeding. The Derby isn’t kind to front-runners.
Trainer Bob Baffert said that the April 16 Arkansas Derby is a likely next start, but that all options are open to The Factor. “I could go anywhere. He’s nominated everywhere. You never know where I’m going to go.”
Mike Watchmaker favorably compares the Rebel to the Azeri Stakes, impressively won by Havre de Grace: “… you can argue that The Factor had the more demanding trip, and yet still ran almost as fast as Havre de Grace.”
Arienza is off to a promising start after winning her debut following a strong gate work at Oaklawn. “Well, she looked like her mother this morning.”