JC / Railbird


A Perfect 25

Why Black Caviar is the right horse for this moment:

In short, the vibe when you watch a Black Caviar race is one of assurance. The absolute certainty that Black Caviar is indisputably better than those around her.

This is no small thing. In this age of online commentary and social media, everything is up for debate. Everything can and will be refuted by someone, somewhere, and with venom.

You can’t troll Black Caviar.

She’s so freaky good, she converts even the skeptical: “[Black Caviar] takes us away from our daily grind … like some 21st century Pegasus.”

And now she’s 25-for-25, the winner of a record 15 Group 1 races in Australia after the T. J. Smith Stakes. “Her odds of $1.14 made her unbackable.” Did anyone care? “You’re beautiful,” they shouted when she entered the paddock.

More Black Caviar at Randwick on Saturday here, in this fantastic album posted to Facebook by photographer Bronwen Healy.

4/17/13 Update: Black Caviar has been retired.

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On Friday, Horse of the Year Wise Dan (pictured here in the post parade) returned a winner in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland (the odds were in his favor). He looked eager on the backstretch, but waited for rider Jose Lezcano’s cue to go. “He wanted to go on, but I wanted to slow him down,” said Lezcano. “I waited as long as I could, but he’s a champion, you know.”

The win was a relief to trainer Charles LoPresti: “I did not want this horse to get beat today. I would have been really sad if he got beat today.”

1:00 PM Addendum: Beyer speed figure of 99 for Wise Dan, via Dan Illman.

Classic Contrarian

Caton Bredar on why Royal Delta should attempt a repeat win in the Ladies’ Classic, not try the Breeders’ Cup Classic, this year:

More important than semantics or awards, though, is the idea that the Ladies Classic — particularly this year — is a great race in its own right. Should the field remain intact, it will feature three previous BC winners — Royal Delta joining last year’s juvy filly winner My Miss Aurelia and the 2010 Juvenile Filly winner Awesome Feather. Throw in Questing, Love and Pride and possibly It’s Tricky and right there you have five of the more dynamic distaffers we’ve seen in a long time outside of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were all lamenting the fact that two of the greatest race mares of our generation never raced against one another? In the Ladies’ Classic, we have the chance for a classic confrontation—a chance many would just throw away simply in the name of “beating the boys.”

10/3/12 Addendum: “It’s shaping up as one of the greatest editions in recent memory.” The distaff buzz, 30 days out.

It Takes Two

For all the complaints about its short field, the Cotillion ended up a pretty good reminder that it only takes two game horses to make a race exciting:

Going Begging

Gary West on the tiny Cotillion field:

Anyway, it’s embarrassing, but there it is: four horses racing for a million bucks in a Cotillion that has turned into something of a private dance party. And Saturday night, how many owners and trainers will regret not having entered?

A fifth-place finisher could have earned $30,000. Any runner finishing worse than that could have earned $10,000 just for starting. #gasface

You’d think with only about $9 million in age-restricted main track graded stakes purses for 3-year-old fillies through the year (compared to $23 million for males), connections would be reluctant to pass up the earnings.

9/24/12 Addendum: Post-Cotillion, John Pricci considers why some may have decided against entering their fillies:

What if you were the owner of any 3-year-old filly in the land not named Questing or My Miss Aurelia, would you be knocking down the racing office door to get into the fray? And, remember, please, there is more pressure than ever to “do the right thing by the horse.”

The obvious overmatching of race horses for the purpose of earning minute shares of a big purse does not serve the best interests of the Thoroughbred.

Believe in Fairy

Irish Champion Stakes winner Snow Fairy has overcome injury to win Group 1 stakes in five countries. She’s now a mare on the verge of worldwide fame:

“I usually don’t notice these things,” said rider Frankie Dettori, winning the ten-furlong contest for the fifth time, “but I could hear the crowd get behind her and the roar when she crossed the line. I’ve had some great days here but this one was all about this mare.”

Romance and record combine to make her an organic star.

And to think, she might not have been.

Blind Luck to Lady’s Secret

Farewell to the rivalry for this year:

While Blind Luck’s rival Havre de Grace will likely use the Beldame as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) against males, Hollendorfer said there is no way his filly will run in that race.

“I’m not running her in the Classic,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. If others want to do it, God bless them. If we win the Ladies’ Classic, that’s plenty good for us.”

Farewell to Horse of the Year, too.

9/22/11 Addendum: About HOTY, Hollendorfer? Hovdey inquires. “If I did the right thing for my horse, I’d say that nothing would make a difference.”

9/29/11 Update: Interesting — the rivalry could resume in 2012. According to their connections, both fillies are expected to race as 5YOs.

Goldikova: That’s It?

While recognizing that once Triple Crown season is over, it’s the handicap horses that take up the Glamour Division mantle, I think Vic Zast is being a little dismissive of Goldikova as a story for promoting the Breeders’ Cup:

It would be fun to be a bug on the wall in the Breeders’ Cup offices. Having a star to promote your event provides you a leg up. But, right now, at least, there doesn’t seem to be any available. If you think the three-year-old division, the main source of Breeders’ Cup promotional currency, is weak, then you probably believe the handicap division is bankrupt. If the Breeders’ Cup was smart it would send representatives to England today to talk the owners and trainers of Royal Ascot runners to plan ahead for Louisville this November. The unbeaten Frankel, of course, would serve ideally to sub for Zenyatta as publicity fodder. As of now, nonetheless, what the Breeders’ Cup has is Goldikova — that’s it.

Not “that’s it,” but “that’s it!” A globe-trotting champion and three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner on track for a fourth consecutive victory, she’s a huge story, with a terrific international hook. She’s a gift, not an also-ran.

(Disclosure: I’m working with the Breeders’ Cup on a BC Classic website, set to launch early in July. The opinions here are my own.)

Plans for Goldikova

Trainer Freddie Head, at Meydan for Dubai World Cup day, outlined a likely campaign for the 6-year-old champion mare:

“We will try and run in the same races as last year, starting off in the Prix d’Ispahan and then the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot.

“One of the big plans is the Jacques Le Marois again and the Breeders’ Cup.

“If she wins the Breeders’ Cup she could go for the Hong Kong Mile as she will not run next year.”

It’s going to be quite a valedictory world tour.

Black Caviar 10-for-10

The 4-year-old filly looked sensational winning at Flemington:

Perfection comes in many forms but rarely, if ever, has it looked as easy or as arrogant as Black Caviar stretching her unbeaten winning streak to an Australian record 10 in the Newmarket Handicap.

Running her undefeated record to a new high wasn’t the only record Black Caviar set. She also established a new stakes record time of 1:07.36 — “Had Nolen not eased her down, Black Caviar would have smashed the track record” — and mark for weight carried by a mare to victory in the race.

Shades of Zenyatta? She’s becoming a phenomenon bigger than racing:

The fastest horse in the world is not only changing the face of thoroughbred racing, but also that of fashion. A little confusingly, the great mare Black Caviar is the new black, but her colour of choice is salmon pink….

As Black Caviar ran the second quickest time in more than 150 years over the 1200-metre course, she did so among a sea of salmon. There were salmon pink flags, badges, lollies and even a salmon pink dress, worn by Laura Phillips, a friend of the mare’s part-owners Jill and David Taylor.

You can see a bit of the crowd’s excitement in the paddock snips below:

More! “Step aside Zenyatta: Black Caviar is the new ‘It Girl’” (R360).

A Communications Breakdown

How many downloads have there been from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission website of the Life at Ten report released on Thursday? The number must be in the hundreds, at least. The findings, the result of more than four months of investigation into what happened before the start of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and Life at Ten’s poor performance make for fascinating reading, with day-by-day accounting of who was interviewed and what they said. The conclusions also confirm what was obvious in the days immediately following — there was a communications failure:

Had Dr. Bramlage given the jockey’s name or horse number to Dr. Peckham this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If Dr. Bailey had relayed the information she received in a text message to the KHRC veterinary staff, this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If the stewards had notified the veterinary staff after Zimmerman contacting them this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. Pletcher, his staff, and Velazquez all noticed LAT was unusually quiet during the day and in the paddock. Velazquez also noticed LAT was not warming up like she normally did. While in the best position to feel a potential problem and have the horse examined, Velazquez obviously did not present LAT to the KHRC veterinary staff for examination. Had Pletcher or Velazquez communicated any concerns to any veterinarian this situation could have been resolved.

Abetted by the assumption of almost all involved that responsibility lay elsewhere, the situation was allowed to turn into an incident that made bettors feel like fools (thank goodness that was it, and Life at Ten recovered well). If the above reads like everyone shared in the fault, Bill Finley has no problem naming the person ultimately to blame for the fiasco:

There are three stewards, in this case Veitch, Butch Brecraft and Rick Leigh. But it is Veitch, as the Chief State Steward representing the State of Kentucky, who is in charge. The buck stops with him. The moment he heard from Zimmerman, he should have been vigilant and done everything within his power to make sure than a horse that was in no condition to race never entered the starting gate. Instead, he did nothing.

The KHRC recommended that chief steward John Veitch, along with jockey John Velazquez, face sanctions for their parts in the incident. Velazquez’s lawyer Maggi Moss has said that the rider is being made a scapegoat.

Whether anything useful will come from the report remains to be seen. Among the suggestions made by the KHRC to prevent another such failure are that the stewards’ roles should be clarified and a protocol for decision-making determined — a need painfully obvious on reading accounts of the conversation in the stewards’ booth after Velazquez’s comments on ESPN were made known — and that the distribution of veterinary staff on-track be reviewed. What seems most likely to result is a negative — the report recommends that other industry groups consider media training and pre-race interview rules for jockeys, and “consider the impact of post parade jockey interviews on wagering integrity.”

But the problem wasn’t that Velazquez spoke honestly on television about how his mount was warming up, and the answer isn’t to prevent future on-camera revelations. This game needs more transparency, not less.

Going back to the stewards’ pre-race discussion:

BECRAFT cannot recall the exact conversation among the stewards after they came aware of VALEZQUEZ’S comments but remembers it as follows:

BECRAFT: “We need to have a veterinarian look at this horse”.
LEIGH did not respond.
VEITCH: “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”.
BECRAFT: “If there is something wrong with the horse that is what needs to be done”.
BECRAFT said an “eerie silence” followed this comment.

VEITCH denies hearing these comments from BECRAFT but acknowledges BECRAFT might have said it. VEITCH denies responding, “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”. VEITCH does recall commenting to the other stewards “Let’s see what the jockey does”.

It’s not one of the KHRC’s recommendations, but perhaps it should have been — record the stewards as they work.

3/12/11 Addendum: Gregory Hall makes a good point re: the findings:

The report didn’t directly answer the central questions being debated by the racing public since the race — whether Life At Ten definitely should have been scratched beforehand because of her condition or whether gamblers who made her the second choice in the betting were defrauded by the decision to let her run.

What makes Becraft’s recalled conversation so striking is that if it occurred as recounted, then the answer to the latter question is a definite “yes.”

6/29/11 Addendum: In testimony tweeted by Courier-Journal reporter Greg Hall during the first day of the KHRC hearing into John Veitch’s role, the chief steward, “acknowledges he said calling vet would mean might as well scratch horse ‘and stand by it’.” More here on the hearing.

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