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With the Wood Memorial (Aqueduct), Blue Grass Stakes (Keeneland) and Santa Anita Derby all Grade Is going off this weekend, you would think we'd have gotten more of a handle on at least three of the shooters who will run around in a circle on May 7th trying to win a blanket of roses and other prizes at Churchill Downs.
But after Saturday's mudfest, all I can say is we don't know much of nuthin'.
If you're making your Kentucky Derby pick today, that's a problem. But we'll wait for the post parade and relax for now
The Uncle Mo colt Outwork lived up to his name in edging 81-1 moonshot Trojan Nation by less than a head in the heavy mud at Aqueduct. Outwork showed the same pluck as he did last out in the Tampa Bay Derby March 12 when he was beaten a length by Destin.
Successful or not - he's 3-3-1-0 lifetime - Outwork will try to outwork you (hey, it was just laying there) if he's close to the lead, which he always is. Trainer Todd Pletcher had a genuine look of terror on his face while waiting for the wire photo. Outwork won by a full nose, but it looked tighter than that live. Trojan Nation just wasn't close enough to get in a winning head bob.
We do know Outwork has the cred to be in the Kentucky Derby, but after a hot pace - 22.91 for the first quarter and 46.93 for the first half-mile - the tires started losing air and they crawled home in 1:52.92, the slowest time in the 92-year history of the race. Adventist finished third but the flip-side angle is that Shagaf, he of the lofty 451 Tomlinson (breeding rating for wet tracks) Rating and winner of the Gotham at Aqueduct a month earlier, finished a poor fifth and Matt King Coal, the pacesetter, fourth. He looks more like a sprinter.
At sunny Keeneland, the Blue Grass was more formful as Brody's Cause, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland last fall, came from almost last in the first turn to win by two. His Beyer Speed Figure of 91 is three higher than his previous best, an 88 in the Juvenile. But they don't run the Derby at Keeneland, although he has won at Churchill.
Morning line favorite Zulu finished a horrible 12th out of 14. My Man Sam, Julien Leparoux aboard, who should have enough points today to make the Derby, finished second.
I need your help. The next time I even think of putting a bet on a Leparoux horse, put socks and rubber bands on my hands and cut the mouse cord. The guy's a bum.
The Frenchman is a better turf rider and he has his moments, but he was horrible Saturday. He can't, or seems afraid to, get his horse out of trouble that he shouldn't have been put in in the first place. He was often behind the wall of leading horses and never attempted to swing out. He's at a 16 percent win clip for the year, which is dime a dozen. JJ Castellano is at 22 percent, John Velazquez at 20 percent. Irad Ortiz, who won five races at Aqueduct Saturday (his brother Jose won three), is at 26 percent. Dems some good riders!
Out at Santa Anita in sunny Arcadia, California - wait a minute - it's raining cats, dogs and coconuts out there. I don't remember the last time I've seen the SA track sealed (rolled hard so the water slides off). As a horseplayer, I didn't like it, but they sure need the precip, so I won't begrudge it.
Kent Desormeaux piloted Exaggerator out of the clouds to take the Santa Anita Derby six-plus lengths over Mor Spirit, who has failed in his last two big races. Also disappointing was Danzing Candy, who wired those two in the Grade II San Felipe prep for this race.
Exaggerator, trained by Kent's brother Keith Desormeaux, laid back, way back, inside the first eighth and was out of the TV picture on the backstretch. Approaching the final turn, the son of Curlin turned on the rockets and began consuming the field, almost the whole run missed by track announcer Michael Wrona who, if he's still auditioning for the job, didn't do himself any favors in this one.
Exaggerator, as a precocious 2-year-old, won three very close races out of five, including the Saratoga Special and the Delta Downs Jackpot. He also lost to probable Derby favorite Nyquist in February's San Vicente, but no shame there. The BIG question is that his best performances have been in the mud or slop. What are the odds of getting that on May 7?
The next and last big installment of The Road to Kentucky will be this week's Arkansas Derby, where Cupid will try to parlay a win in the Rebel Stakes. With Beyers of 88 and 95 in his last two, Cupid will need to improve - or not falter - in his upward swing. He looked tough in his fast-slow-fast Rebel, when he had to hit the accelerator again in the late stretch to hold off Whitmore, whom he'll see again here.
Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel retired from race riding suddenly March 30th, telling his jockey agent Larry Melancon he was finished. Former Borel agent Jerry Hissam said Borel told him "It's time." Borel is 50 years old.
The colorful Cajun, a Hall of Famer, finished with 5,146 career victories, good for $127,087,376 in purse earnings and 27th on the all-time list. Just think about that. I could spin out the names of 26 great jockeys in a New York minute.
His achievements were borne out of determined, consistent effort, faithfully working out the horses in the morning, and being a riding stalwart in multiple afternoon races.
He ended up the king of Oaklawn Park with 947 wins there, topping Pat Day and Larry Snyder. He won 16 riding titles at tracks including Churchill Downs (more than 1,000 wins there), Louisiana Downs, Delta Downs, Ellis Park, Turfway Park and the all-turf Kentucky Downs. He rode many more than a few times at Arlington Park, occasionally full meets.
But he also had his share of spectacular single moments, perhaps none better than the string of pearls he put together from 2007 to 2010.
In 2007, he guided Street Sense to the roses in the Kentucky Derby, the first time a horse had ever won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then the Derby.
As often happens, America got a bit manic about a guy who had already been around many years after Borel showed Mine That Bird the daylight on the magic rail at Churchill in 2009's Derby and brought him home at 50-1, making a move that no other jockey seemed to have the guts to pull off.
The field content to merry-go-round in the two-three-four-five lanes, Borel went with it for awhile. As soon as they straightened out in the stretch, his eyes probably bugging, Borel saw the daylight, pulled a Walter Payton cutback left and shot the 'Bird to the wide open one lane, tight on the rail, and romped by six. It wasn't clear if he did it in that race, but Borel was no stranger to scraping his boots on the rail for being so close.
When given the inevitable Triple Crown query moments later, he immediately said he'd be riding Rachel Alexandra, with whom he had won the Kentucky Oaks the day before, in the Preakness. "No question. She's a better horse," Borel said. Simple as that. Rachel won the Preakness.
Borel then won the Derby in 2010 on Street Sense.
"Javier Castellano on Prince Will I Am cut off Martin Garcia on Romp as they came out of the turn in the 1-3/4-mile race," I wrote then. "Romp went to his knees and Garcia literally pulled him back up, by his own description. As Garcia was dealing with his disaster, Borel, on A. U. Miner, came up to Garcia's right and had to check up himself. In recovering, Garcia was completely out of the saddle, hanging on for dear life with just the reins to hold. He plopped back down on his seat and I believe Borel was so close to him, horses touching, that he may have helped Garcia get back in the saddle."
Borel was furious. In the post-race weigh-in area, Borel forcefully trying to teach the kid a lesson, Castellano threw a left cross that Borel blocked and followed with a short right hook to Borel's face. Then it was on. It took four people to keep Bo-Rail from inflicting certain damage. Just as well, as Borel's eyes were popping out in true rage. I happen to think he was right, and Castellano started it.
Borel was one of the last of the throwbacks in race riding, willing to do what he had to to win a race. Even if it meant getting pinched way down on the (Bo)Rail.
Sorry, but every time I see her run, you're going to hear about how great Songbird is and how exciting it is to watch her.
She continued her perfection in the Santa Anita Oaks, winning by nearly four lengths that could have easily been a dozen.
"She's just incredible," jockey Mike Smith said. "I feel so blessed and I keep pinching myself, having to remind myself that I'm the one that gets to keep the weight on her. That's really all I do."
The others looking like horsehead oil pumps, she just glides right along. She led all the way. God forbid she gets any mud on her party dress or her jockey.
There is very sad news in the world of Chicago horse racing and for like-minded fans around the country.
Janine Starykowicz, proprietor of web site Chicago Barn to Wire, passed away Saturday after a brief illness. She was 56.
She had journalism and political science degrees from the University of Indiana and worked for several years for Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.
The news and general racing interest site, launched in 2000 because she just wanted to, features two separate forums, one for Thoroughbred racing and one for harness. With its own share of spit-and-vinegar craziness over the years, the forum has matured quite nicely into a lively debate over every racing issue you can imagine, particularly valuable for the latest on the goings-on in Springfield. Janine would protect your free speech, but truly act like a knucklehead (and there were a few) and you'd be out faster than a sprint furlong.
Janine was a dedicated advocate for the welfare of horses and was one of the prime champions of the campaign to end horse slaughter in Illinois and beyond.
I communicated with her a couple of times, but not about anything truly important. If she knew behind my BTW handle of my work for The Beachwood Reporter, she never said. And I never made a point of telling her. But you got to feel like you knew her.
Amid all of the hot air of the forums, there was one constant: Janine's the best. I would never, but blast Janine or "the moderator" unfairly, and members would set you straight in no uncertain terms.
After her passing, there were heartfelt condolences all around. Then BTW posters got back to talking racing.
Just the way Janine would have wanted it.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.