By Anthony “The Big A” Stabile
In this weeks’ installment, we’ll break out a feature that will pop up every now and again, The Week That Was, which essentially will cover a week of thoughts since we last met.
Tuesday, Feb. 11th – I spent most of Tuesday thinking about the new Belmont Stakes day card. Not much else to do with limited racing action and a foot of old snow outside your door. I didn’t want to write about the announcement last week because I wanted to see if me knee-jerk reaction of hating the idea of putting the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap, or Met Mile as its friends call it, on the Belmont Stakes undercard as opposed to its traditional spot on Memorial Day.
You see, I’m a traditionalist. It’s called a triple, not a trifecta. I put milk, not pumpkin spiced chai latte with a hint of nutmeg creamer, in my coffee. I despise the DH and buy my hot dogs from a vendor. And I don’t like the Met Mile being carded as an afterthought.
I know, I know…Belmont will offer 10 stakes, $8 million in purses, making it the second richest day in stateside racing behind Breeders’ Cup Saturday. I get it. They’ve dressed June 7th up beautifully. The problem is Belmont Stakes Day is their biggest day of the year. They didn’t need to dress it up, racing-wise.
Four other stakes races have supported the main event for a bunch of years now and I didn’t even think they were necessary. People are going to watch the Belmont for the most part. Not the Woody Stevens or Manhattan…THE BELMONT!!
Adding these races made little sense to me until they announced that offering a stakes program of this caliber meant that they would now raise admission prices to those comparable of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Day. And then it all made sense. It’s all about the money.
Unlike the other two Triple Crown race host tracks, Belmont never raised their prices exponentially on Belmont Day. They possibly doubled the prices, but when you think about the fact that you have a chance to witness history in any given year for $10, it’s a pretty amazing deal. That won’t be the case this year
Memorial Day was one of the few days left where people actually came to the races in good numbers. You go Belmont, you watch the Met Mile, you go home or somewhere and barbecue. It was that simple. And this year, you can go to Belmont, you just won’t see the Met Mile. And you won’t see me.
Wednesday, Feb. 12th – My man Chad Summers, host of HRRN Live! got me all fired up on air when he asked me for my Mount Rushmore of racing. I was still feeling pretty ornery from the day before so I decided my mountain would in fact be MY mountain. I went with all contemporaries…Cigar, Ghostzapper, Wise Dan and the greatest I’ve ever seen, Easy Goer.
No Secretariat or Man of War. No Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Forego or Kelso. My mountain consists of horses that I’ve actually seen run and have left a mark on me and my passion for this great game. I was hoping it would invoke some debate from you, HRRN Nation, but it hasn’t yet. So I’m giving you guys another chance. Tweet me at @thebigastabile or better yet call in to the Brisnet.com Call-In Show on Thursday night from 6-7PM EST and we can talk about my mountain, your mountain or anything else you’d like to talk about.
Thursday, Feb. 13th – Oh, look, more snow. Another eight inches fell, leaving the roads unmanageable, thus keeping me from HRRN Live! Not to worry, NYRA made another announcement and there were a couple of allowance races at Santa Anita that I was really looking forward to watching.
NYRA announced that Belmont would host its inaugural Stars & Stripes Day on July 5. The day would include a pair of million-dollar, Grade 1contests: $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational and the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational, formerly the Jamaica and Garden City, respectively. Both races are 1 ¼-mile turf races for 3-year-olds, with the Oaks restricted to fillies. Also on the July 5 card are the Grade 2, $500,000 Suburban Handicap, which will once again be run at 1 ¼ miles the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (formerly the James Marvin, run at Saratoga) and the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer.
This day I’m a fan of. I love three-year-old turf races, and would actually like to see the Breeders’ Cup add one since I think sophomores are at a severe disadvantage against older horses come Cup time and that most of the really good ones skip the event altogether. I also like the fact that they are trying to get people out to the races on another day. I hope, being that the name of the day leads one to believe we’re celebrating our great country they tie in something for our military, namely our wounded warriors.
Out at Santa Anita, Eblouissante returned from a plethora of infirmaries to make just the fourth start of her career in an allowance contest. The five-year-old half-sister to the remarkable Zenyatta, also trained by John Shirreffs, was given what some feel was an overly confident ride by Mike Smith and had the lead in the stretch before getting run down by Macha, who was making her conventional dirt debut and is now 3 for 12. I don’t think it was Smith fault at all. I just think everybody is waiting for her to turn into something close to what her big sis was and Eblouissante isn’t anywhere near as good.
Later in the day, Bob Baffert sent out two of the five three-year-olds in an entry level allowance races, namely Bayern and Tap It Rich. Bayern broke his maiden in his debut impressively going seven furlongs and was stretching out while removing blinkers while Tap It Rich was adding blinkers in the hope it would help him focus more and shake his juvenile antics.
Last year, Tap It Rich was rank when breaking his maiden at first asking, all over the track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when fifth beaten a little over three lengths then ended the year with a complete mental meltdown when rank and eased in the CashCall Futurity. It wasn’t much better this year.
As Bayern set the pace from his inside post, Tap It Rich Broke awkwardly, was rank yet again and appeared to bother another rank runner in Brother Soldier before finally settling a bit down the backside. In the meantime, Bayern was long gone and after setting honest fractions throughout, came the final quarter in :24 flat and won by 15 lengths, going the mile in a sharp 1:35 3/5. Tap It Rich and Brother Soldier finished second and third, respectively.
Now before we all get what I like to call “Big Brown crazy” let’s keep in mind that it was a first level allowance contest, the two horses behind him couldn’t have been more unprofessional if they tried and it was 31 lengths from first to last, hardly a competitive bunch.
Friday, Feb. 14th – Unfortunately, the most memorable moment of the day happened after HRRN Live! went off the air, as the Shirreffs trained Peace and Justice served notice that he could be a major player in the turf division this year with a scintillating gate-to-wire allowance score in race 5, covering a mile in 1:32 1/5, less than a second off the track record. If you haven’t seen this race, go take a look at it.
Saturday, Feb. 15th – Defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Mucho Macho Man worked and his connections announced he would bypass a trip to Dubai for the World Cup to run in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 8th, a wise move when you consider how much that desert journey can take out of a horse and that he LOVES the course at Santa Anita. It also means we get a Classic rematch as Will Take Charge is pointing for the Big Cap as well.
On the track, Twilight Eclipse looked good winning the Mac Diarmada on the turf at Gulfstream while stamping his ticket for Dubai. I think he’ll be a major player in the longer turf events this year as long as that Dubai run doesn’t take too much starch out of him.
In California at Golden Gate Fields, Tamarando came from behind to run down Dance With Fate in the El Camino Real Derby, earning 10 precious Derby points in the process. Russell Baze really worked hard on Tamarando to get the money while Dance With Fate looked completely stretched at the 1 1/8 miles distance. Combine that with the fact that they both seem to do their best running on surfaces other than conventional dirt and it’s really hard for me to get too excited about either going forward on the Trail.
Sunday, Feb. 16th – As uninspired as I was by Tamarando and Dance With Fate, Kobe’s Back really impressed me in the seven furlong San Vicente. In his first start since a troubled trip in the CashCall, Kobe’s Back handled his first start over conventional dirt beautifully, charging from last to win by daylight. He admittedly beat nothing under Joel Rosario but this was the best I’ve seen him and truly believe he handles the dirt much, much better than synthetic surfaces. It looks like trainer John Sadler will give him another chance to prove he’s not just a sprinter in the Rebel next out at Oaklawn Park on March 15th.
Monday, Feb. 17th – Speaking of Oaklawn, it took center stage on Presidents Day with a solid renewal of the Southwest Stakes. Five of the dozen starters had already won stakes, including Hopeful winner Strong Mandate who was making his third start since his third place finish in the B.C. Juvenile and Tapiture, winner of the KJC at Churchill in his latest nearly three months ago. They wound up finishing one-two, but the race was certainly a tale of two trips.
While Tapiture was forwardly placed throughout after breaking cleanly under Ricardo Santana Jr. from his rail draw, Strong Mandate didn’t get out of there in perfect fashion, and found himself farther back than planned. Worse than that, he found himself seven wide as well, as Tapiture saved all the ground.
Strong Mandate made a strong move approaching the turn but Tapiture had the jump and was able to separate himself from the field en route to a more than four length score. Strong Mandate, who appeared more tired than the winner through the lane as he drifted in and out, obviously had a far worse trip but I’m not sure he was beating the winner on that day. Third place finisher Ride On Curlin held well after rushing up while extremely wide and was in contention throughout and should be given another chance next out. Of the three, I’m most interested in seeing how Strong Mandate comes out of this heat.
I hope you liked The Week That Was. Next week, it’ll be all about the three-year-olds as Derby preps are abounding at both Gulfstream and the Fair Grounds, who’ll also host the return of B.C. Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia. See you then!!!
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