JC / Railbird

Racing History

Rachel’s Valentina, Ann’s Legacy

We’re just a few hours away from the Kentucky Oaks, when all eyes will be on likely post-time favorite Rachel’s Valentina, trying to emulate her dam, 2009 Oaks winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, with a win. I’m a fangirl, she’s my pick. For the more considered and better-priced opinions of other handicappers, check the Kentucky Oaks day picks grid on Hello Race Fans.

Earlier this week, Golden Gate Fields announced that it hired Angela Hermann as its new race caller, replacing Michael Wrona, who moved to Santa Anita. Hermann comes to her new gig as the former racing analyst and substitute announcer at Canterbury Park, and she’s now the only full-time female race caller working in the U.S. She’s not the first, though — that would be Jefferson Downs’ Ann Elliott, who began calling at the defunct New Orleans track in 1962. Her almost forgotten story emerged with a tweet from Ron Flatter, who shared an episode of What’s My Line that Elliott appeared on that same year. Let T.D. Thornton pick up the story:

[Elliott] was comfortable in front of a mike, already had a decent local following, and the small track could reap the benefits of the novelty of having a lady announcer. What could go wrong?

Well, for starters, Elliott got booed lustily the first time she called a race. Shortly thereafter, an inebriated owner barged into the booth and started rooting for his horse in the middle of a call. Elliott, trying to keep her composure, had to lean so far out the window that she almost fell to the grandstand. Eventually, the racetrackers and fans took a liking to her, and she to them.

Keep reading.

Taral’s Tattoo

Joe Palmer, writing in Names on Pedigrees, on the great racehorse and prepotent sire Domino (1891-1897) and his jockey:

Domino has his first outing at the Gravesend track at Brooklyn, in a five-furlong 2-year-old sweepstakes. Fred Taral, who rode the colt in all but one of his 25 races, and who was one of the most powerful “whip riders” of all time, was in the saddle. Domino broke in front, led all the way to win by six lengths from Fonso and Patrician …

Taral, whose contract had been bought for $10,000, hammered a terrific tattoo on Domino on several occasions, and the horse, sensibly enough, came to hate him, tried to savage him whenever possible. Toward the end of the horse’s racing career, according to Foxhall Keene, a blanket had to be thrown over the colt’s head before Taral could mount.

(This passage jumped out as I was looking something up in Pedigrees today, a lingering after-effect of this year’s Kentucky Derby whip discussion.)

Belmont Stakes 2015 Wrap

The crowd at Belmont Park after American Pharoah wins the 2015 Belmont Stakes and becomes the 12th Triple Crown winner
The crowd at Belmont Park celebrates. Credit: Chelsea Durand/NYRA

The Triple Crown winner isn’t sticking around — New York, at least. American Pharoah met the media, charmed the “TODAY” show audience, and boarded a van leaving Belmont Park around 7:30 AM, arriving back at Churchill Downs by 1:30 PM, less than 19 hours after he won the Belmont Stakes and became the 12th Triple Crown winner in American racing, the first in 37 years.

The first in 37 years.

Like a lot of horse racing fans, I don’t remember the last one. I’m not quite sure what to do with this one. He’s marvelous! It’s wonderful! The minutes before the race were nerve-wracking, the seconds it took him to cross the wire — 5 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Frosted — thrilling.

There is satisfaction in discovering that a Triple Crown is still possible.

“After seeing what we saw on Saturday,” writes Jason Gay, “can we all agree that stubborn old horse racing had this the right way all along?”

The Triple Crown just needed a racehorse who could take one of the hardest things we ask a young horse to do and make it look easy.

American Pharoah completed the 1 1/2-mile race in 2:26.65, and he did it by going to the lead and reeling off steady :24 quarters, running the first half in :48.31, the first six furlongs in 1:13.41, and the first mile in 1:37.99:

The incremental times for the 2015 Belmont Stakes
DRF incremental times above. View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

He was never pushed, never threatened. Materiality, tasked with keeping the 3-5 favorite honest on the front, was out of contention before the mile. Frosted looked like a challenger at the top of the stretch — for a stride. American Pharoah gave him no ground. He was going to get away with it all.

“I’m telling you,” said jockey Victor Espinoza afterwards, “in the first turn it was the best feeling I’ve ever had.” Watch the replay:

The 12th Triple Crown winner was given a Beyer speed figure of 105 for the Belmont Stakes. TimeformUS gave him a speed figure of 128. His figures are as consistent as his fractions — American Pharoah’s Preakness and Kentucky Derby Beyers were 102 and 105, his TFUS numbers 125 and 127.

Trainer Bob Baffert reported on Sunday morning that American Pharoah came out of the Belmont in good shape. “Looking at the horse today, he looked pretty darn good for a horse that just ran a mile and a half,” said Baffert. “He’s a tough horse. Today he looked like he could run back in three weeks.”

Per the NYRA press office notes, the plan is for the colt to race again:

“After we freshen him up, we have options,” said Baffert, who mentioned the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, and a “little race” at Del Mar, most likely the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

Jay Privman explains why he believes the Pacific Classic is likely: “it would certainly be an endorsement by Zayat of the return to dirt at Del Mar to run there this summer, and there’s no bigger ‘get’ right now than American Pharoah, who — remember — hasn’t raced in California this year. Yet.”

The Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland is the goal for his final career start.

Recaps! Tim Layden recounts the Belmont Stakes and the weeks before, when the word chingon became code for the confidence of the American Pharoah campJoe Drape captures the moment the Triple Crown became real to the 90,000 at Belmont ParkBrendan Prunty writes about the build-up.

More recaps and reactions are bookmarked on this page; I’ll be adding to it.

Hollywood’s Final Moments

It feels as though we’ve had chance after chance to say goodbye to Hollywood Park since it closed in December 2014, but the demolition of the grandstand in a controlled implosion on Sunday may truly be the end.

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.

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