Rachel Alexandra in her Stonestreet paddock, May 2012.
I’ll take any excuse for a Rachel Alexandra post, and Melissa Hoppert gives me a good one with a story about visiting the 2009 Preakness Stakes winner, who is recovering well from her near-death post-foaling ordeal earlier this year:
“Running is not the word for it,” Comer said. “She is breezing for the Belmont. When we turn around, she’s back to her old self. She is up in the air, she rears, she runs, she bucks, she plays. She is definitely feeling good.”
Wonderful! Get in the mood for today’s Preakness (post time 6:20 PM ET) with a replay of the 2009 edition. “She’s got her ears up, pricked, ready to go …”
You’re rooting for Orb today, right? “You’ve gotta.”
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.
After dashing through the second half of an 800 meter work in less than :22, trainer Peter Moody couldn’t help gushing about 6-year-old Black Caviar:
“She’s the complete package now, stupid as it sounds. She could work like that when she was a three-year-old, but it was rushed, not like today.”
Black Caviar starts next (depending on the ground at Randwick) on Saturday in the T.J. Smith Stakes, which is the second 2013 Breeders’ Cup Challenge race on this year’s schedule, released on Monday. Not getting a lot of attention is that this year’s Win and You’re In series is slightly reduced from 2012, going from 73 races to 67, and that among the 15 races dropped are the Met Mile (Belmont, Dirt Mile division), Delaware Handicap (Delaware Park,
Distaff Ladies’ Classic), and the Canadian International (Woodbine, Turf).
Dick Jerardi doesn’t care where a single comes in a bet sequence: “The way I look at it, there are two possibilities: I am going to be right or I am going to be wrong. When that is determined is irrelevant.”
Breeders’ Cup Turf Trends: It’s all about the finish.
As much as I’d like to think Excelebration will be the second-favorite to Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (and available at 3-1 or better), raceday betting will probably look more like the current ante-post odds.
Appreciating Frankie Dettori, “global proponent of la dolce vita.”
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.
The Champion Stakes wasn’t Frankel’s most brilliant win (replay), but it didn’t have to be. His winning margin was 1 3/4 lengths, well below his average, and the provisional ratings of 139 from Timeform and 137 from Racing Post put the race slightly below his best. But he exits a perfect 14-for-14, and that’s what everyone in the stands at Ascot was there to see.
Sad as his retirement might be, take comfort that Frankel will endure:
One day far in the future, after all those who will watch his final race at Ascot are gone, a horse may win a Classic at Epsom or maybe Newmarket, and someone in the grandstand will trace through its pedigree, come upon the name of Frankel and think to themselves: “Ah, the mighty Frankel. Now there’s a horse I’d have loved to see racing.”
Today, though, wouldn’t you like to hug Frankel too?
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” says rider Tom Queally. So have we.
3:10 PM Addendum: Love this detail from Sporting Life’s Champions Day live blog: “Even the Queen hung around to look at this incredible beast.”
10/21/12 See Also: From the BBC, facts about Frankel, such as, his total winning margin in 14 races was 76.25 lengths.
From half a mile out, it’s like having someone suck all the energy out of your own horse…. He kills off the opposition. He breaks hearts…. you’ll watch him go by and just lengthen away into the distance. It’s awesome.
Post time for the Champion Stakes on Saturday: 11:05 AM ET/4:05 PM BT.
Only the ground is a concern: “… if it’s heavy, we are in no man’s land.”
2:25 PM Addendum: Grimthorpe raises the possibility of scratching Frankel, depending on the course condition. Would that be it, then, for the colt? Or would a scratch open up the possibility of a Breeders’ Cup tilt? (Ever hopeful.) Tweets @corneliusracing: “don’t believe #Ascot run ‘hangs in the balance’ …”
10/20/12 Update: Frankel will definitely run.
Enthusiasts will have to return to the humdrum of an annual champion who was the best of his group but ultimately beatable on an off day and certainly no Frankel; a return to championship races which are open to more than one horse; to speculative punting instead of money-laundering on 1-20 shots, to a time of oligopoly instead of monopoly, and to a time when valid debates can be held over who is the ‘best’ horse in a given year.
Also an apt description of the America scene since November 6, 2010.
In advance of a trip to Woodbine for next Sunday’s Pattison Canadian International Stakes, I’ve been reading up on the race’s history. It’s drawn globetrotters such as Dahlia; it’s been part of championship seasons like that of 1997 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Chief Bearhart.
It was also Secretariat’s last start. That the Triple Crown winner ended his 21-race career at Woodbine, in Toronto, Ontario was a nice nod to racing history and the original Big Red — Man o’ War’s 21st, and final, start was a 1920 match race at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario, in which he defeated Sir Barton, the first-ever Triple Crown winner, by 17 lengths (there’s film).
According to the Thoroughbred Record’s account of the star’s appearance:
With a slightly different perspective, Secretariat’s arrival in Toronto six days before the Championship had overtones of the Threatre of the Absurd, with pockets of newsmen, photographers and television cameramen paying court to this four-footed millionaire from the sky. With Secretariat safely billeted in Barn 8 at Woodbine, looking out at the newly sodded surrounds, visitors were kept at bay by a nine-man security guard and signs which said: “Admittance by Appointment Only.” A telephone was installed ten feet from Secretariat’s stall … so that his handlers could use the phone without leaving the colt unattended, one was told. But, noticing the intelligent glint in Secretariat’s eye, one wondered.
“He can do everything but talk,” quipped Mr. Laurin…. “He’s a real ham.”
That he was also a real race horse was evident from his morning gallops, expending as little energy as possible in his preparation, and seemingly floating over the grass, balanced like a dancer.
To please trainer Lucien Laurin, the grass on Woodbine’s Marshall turf course was cut from approximately 4 1/2 inches in height to two inches, and parts of the course were patched with new sod and rolled. (“The course has never been better than it is right now,” said Woodbine tub thumper Bruce Walker.) Secretariat was obviously at ease on the surface: He worked five furlongs in :57 3/5 on the grass three days before the race, and skipped over the firm turf to win the International by 6 1/2 lengths, beating 11 others for a purse that totaled $142,700, the largest then ever offered in Canada. His $92,755 share of the purse brought his single-season earnings to a record $860,404. No other horse had ever won so much in one year.
In 1974, Dahlia — who had her own earnings record, as the first of her sex to win more than $1 million — set a new course record, running the International in 2:40, a full second faster than The Axe II had in the 1963 edition. The win was significant for another reason — it made Dahlia a stakes winner in five countries. Running and winning stakes around the world is still an exceptional accomplishment; 38 years ago, though, a 4-year-old filly with a career record that included wins in the International (Canada), Irish Oaks (Ireland), King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (England), Man o’ War Stakes (United States), and the Prix Saint-Alary (France) was a truly remarkable filly indeed.
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This year’s Euro starters have begun to arrive for the Canadian International, as well as for the E.P. Taylor and Nearctic. Next Sunday’s races at Woodbine are the last three Breeders’ Cup Challenge races of 2012.
Superterrific, prepping the HRF Woodward Stakes Ten Things to Know feature in advance of Saturday’s race at Saratoga, sent me this reminder of Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 Woodward, a classic Ernie Munick video:
Picking up on the closing scene above:
The grandstand shook. We stood and roared for her. I’ll never forget.