JC / Railbird

Champions

Super Eli

I loved this moment so much that I had to GIF it:

Lady Eli

Lady Eli enters the Belmont winner’s circle to applause after the Flower Bowl — the champion’s second start back after beating laminitis. “It takes such a rare horse to overcome what she has,” said trainer Chad Brown. “I think she’s one of the all-time great turf mares.” It’s onward to the Breeders’ Cup.

Old Warrior

When NYRA tweeted a photo of the newly retired Stymie parading at Jamaica in 1949, it immediately called to mind one of the great pieces of turf writing — Joe Palmer’s “Common Folks,” about the popular horse’s final appearance.

Stymie was retired after finishing second in the 2 1/4 mile New York Handicap on October 1; he was found sore in the right front leg, in the same spot where he had previously sustained a sesamoid fracture. “He was just getting good,” lamented trainer Hirsch Jacobs of the 8-year-old. A month later, Jacobs reported Stymie was galloping sound, “but he doesn’t trot the way he should.” The next day, the trainer declared that Stymie’s career was over.

New York Times correspondent James Roach described Stymie’s last trip to the track before the third running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup like so:

It’s about time to make mention of the fact that old Stymie, racing’s money champion, was very much among those present for the third running of the Gold Cup. He’s on the retired list now. In a sentimental gesture that was appreciated by all hands, Hirsch Jacobs had him jog through the stretch before the race and then take part in the paddock preliminaries. It was his last public appearance in New York before he goes to stud in Kentucky.

Stymie, with pink and green ribbons braided in his mane and tale, got a fond farewell from Jamaica’s children. There was much beating of palms when a pony boy, Alton (Mickey) Finney, led him through the stretch and there was additional applause when he was walked back to his barn …

Some think he’s the most popular horse that has run in this theatre of turf operations since Exterminator’s day.

Palmer, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, put it this way:

… the racetrackers, I think, save most of their affection for the Exterminators and the Stymies and the Seabiscuits, who do it the hard way in the handicaps, pounding out mile after bitter mile, giving weight and taking their tracks wet or dry, running for any jockey, and trying with what they’ve got, even when they haven’t got enough. That’s why Stymie fitted a farewell better at Jamaica than a welcome in Kentucky …

This tourist … will long remember the way Stymie came around the turn in the Pimlico Cup Handicap, making pretty good horses look as if they had just remembered a pressing engagement with the quarter pole.

He was not a great horse, in the sense that Man o’ War and Equipoise were great. He isn’t versatile … [b]ut give him a field with speed in it, at a mile and a half or more, and horses had better get out of his way, even Whirlaway.

Anyway, another fine and ardent and satisfactory story of the turf was brought to a close at Jamaica. And it was happy to note, for all the the long campaign, it was not a battered and limping warrior which left us. Stymie never looked better with his bronze coat in great bloom, and the high head carried as proudly as ever.

As he stood for the last time, before the stands, people around the winner’s enclosure were shouting … “Bring him in here, for just for one more time.”

The groom didn’t obey, and probably was right. Stymie never got in a winner’s circle without working for it. It was no time to begin.

(I love those last two paragraphs.)

Stymie retired with a record of 131-35-33-28 and earnings of $918,485.

Winning Legende

Legende has a ways to go before he reaches the rarefied level of his full sister, two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Gentildonna, but the 3-year-old colt made an auspicious career debut at Kyoto Racecourse on February 15. Michele MacDonald recaps the race for Thoroughbred Daily News:

Legende (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) … entered the starting gate as the even-money favorite in a field of 14 maidens going 1800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on turf. After breaking without incident, he rated kindly in second under jockey Keita Tosaki while the filly Kurseong (Jpn) (Empire Maker) set the pace for much of the trip.

When Tosaki rounded the far turn on Legende, he asked the colt for more and his mount bounded quickly to the lead. Tosaki tapped his flank twice in the stretch and Legende proved clearly best, defeating Kurseong easily by three-quarters of a length in 1:52.4 on a course rated firm, and he galloped out with his ears pricked. Fillies Gold Glory (Jpn) (Harbinger {GB}) and Juwelen (Jpn) (Deep Impact) finished third and fourth.

Watch the replay:

Getting Started

Beholder

Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder returns on Sunday (DRF+):

Mandella considers the Santa Lucia to be a prep for the $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7. With that in mind, Mandella said Beholder is not 100 percent ready for the Santa Lucia.

“I don’t think she’s ready for her best, but I didn’t plan it that way,” he said. “I think she’ll get enough out of this to do what we want to do. I haven’t tightened the belt. I’d have a strong mile in her if I wanted her at her best.”

Even not fully cranked, and giving six pounds, Beholder may still just outclass her rivals — she is the only stakes winner in the field. But if there’s a returning champion who’s statistically vulnerable, it’s a reigning 3-year-old filly champ: 74% return, 87% are favored in their first start of the year, and only 32% win.

4/20/14 Update: Wow. You expect a champion to return well, but Beholder made winning the Santa Lucia look like the easiest gallop. Watch the replay:

Nice bit of detail in the Brisnet race recap: “Beholder … was content to bide her time in second as Legacy set splits of :23 2/5 and :47, then began whittling away at that rival’s advantage under her own power.”

4/21/14 Update: Beholder gets a Beyer speed figure of 98 for the Santa Lucia, and now she’ll point to the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont, the same target as Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches. We have a rivalry: “Beholder looked fantastic in her return, Belmont day will be some race,” owner Spendthrift Farm tweeted. “Princess of Sylmar is looking forward to Beholder visiting the Big Apple. Great for the game!,” Edward Stanco replied.

Wise Dan’s Return

The Horse of the Year is set to make his first start of 2014 today, and:

“If he is going to be vulnerable, this is it because the others that are in there have been running,” [trainer Charlie] LoPresti said.

True, but he’s also a returning champion. The odds are good that he’ll win. In 2010, I found that returning champions beat the winning favorites average by a significant margin when they made their first starts of a new season.

The stats for returning champions are now updated through 2012: You can view the numbers and complete spreadsheet via Raceday 360. There are a couple of changes in this year’s version: I restricted the data to only starts made in North American races with wagering (horses who returned in non-wagering exhibition races and foreign races were excluded, as were steeplechase champions). I also broke out the numbers by division and decade this year, as well as by class, which revealed a few interesting tidbits.

One thing I left out of the R360 post, but wanted to make note of, is that all champions, not only the favored, won or finished in the money in 186 out of 228 races (or 82% of starts). Be sure to include them in your exotics.

The original data, including all champions named from 1971-2012, and not only those who returned to race, can be downloaded as an Excel file.

4/12/14 Update: And Wise Dan wins the Maker’s 46 Mile by three-quarters of a length over Kaigun. Here’s the returning Horse of the Year chart, updated:

That brings the returning HOTY record to 18 wins from 23 starts (18 wins from 22 favored), for a total payout of $49.10 on $46 bet.

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