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Saturday, March 28.
7:15 a.m. Today's another day, I guess.
Still steamin' from the NCAA fixes the night before, it's up and at 'em for the single longest day of horse race handicapping of the year.
It's the richest racing Middle East oil money will buy with the Dubai World Cup from beautiful Meydan Grandstand and Racecourse. Add Florida Derby Day from Gulfstream Park and the Louisiana Derby from New Orleans Fair Grounds and you've got interesting racing right into the gloamin'.
Announcers and jockeys are commenting on the intense desert heat at Meydan, but two internet weather sites say it's 85 degrees. If you think about it, it's hot for European and American horses.
7:30 a.m. On the (synthetic) surface.
We learn Meydan has switched to an all-dirt main track, the better to lure American horses there and the cooler the running for all of them. Completed way back in 2010, Meydan quickly saw the error of its ways and switched surfaces.
Keeneland, in Lexington, Kentucky, did the same, making the Bluegrass Stakes relevant again as a Derby prep and helping its being selected as the site of this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Arlington Park, so stuck in 2007, defiantly stays with its black, polluted and worn out PolyTrack, surely long after the Amortization Express has left the station, which has a Metra stop right there. Feels just like sitting in the 5-foot inflatable and watching the neighbor kids scream down the corkscrew composite slide into the quarter-acre in-ground luxury pool. And we'll hear more about the new Meydan surface later.
7:45 a.m. That's a good cup.
Coffee's just now brewing, and so I miss wagering for the first race, the Godolfin Mile. Just as well as even-money Tamarkuz comes nearly out of the clouds to beat Sloane Avenue by a head. It's his patented move and he makes it look easy. British trainer Jeremy Noseda hints of an Arab conspiracy to keep Sloane' from winning. "I don't know how a horse (Tamarkuz) gets drawn (to posts) one or two in four consecutive races. I'll leave it at that. Don't want to seem a bad loser, but I feel a bad loser." Noseda was right about the post compromising his horse's chances, but as is so 21st century de rigueur, Noseda later apologized.
8:20 a.m. But, it's two miles!
4-1 favorite Brown Panther wins the two-mile Dubai Gold Cup by 6.5 lengths in 3:23.89, the fastest time in five years.
8:40 a.m. The State Band Competition.
Man, where is Bobby Fleet and His Band with a Beat when you need them? Maybe it's the song or the sound mix, but the Meydan bunch sure sounded a lot like the Mayberry Town Band on the United Arab Emirates national anthem, which sounds suspiciously like a holdover from colonial days. Mayor Stoner cannot be happy.
9 a.m. YUM!
The Kentucky Derby (naming righted by YUM! Brands) peeks out from the desert night as three-year-old Mubtaahij (6-5), Christophe Soumillion up, easily wins the UAE Derby by an impressive six lengths at 9.5 furlongs, just a half furlong less than our Derby distance. It will probably be the longest of any prep run by the multitudes on May 2. File this one in the old noggin. Legendary South African trainer Michael de Kock: "We'll go. We'll be there." Don't worry, he can afford the Louisville LaQuinta on Derby weekend.
9:33 a.m. Senior Discounted.
Eight -year-old gelding Sole Power wins the 5-furlong Al Quoz Sprint. You ask? The answer is no.
10:08 a.m. A Little Somethin'.
Super Jockey at 31-1 takes second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. I'll take it.
10:45 a.m. Still Golden.
Freddie Head's Solow wins the Dubai Turf. Which gives us the opportunity to goosebump again with Freddie's beautiful Goldikova.
11:16 a.m. A Little Somethin' More.
Dolniya (8-1) and Flintshire (5-2) finish 1-2 in the 12-furlong Dubai Sheema Classic. Thankfully, I had it that way.
11:30 a.m. Hey, just like CurtTerryHowieMichaelJimmie.
It's the switch over to FoxSports1 - and hi-def - for the Dubai World Cup, featuring California Chrome. The big-for-horse-racing panel includes the solid Greg Wolf, a refugee from TVG; former jockey Richard Migliore; no-nonsense New York Racing Association analyst Andy Serling; and Arlington Park paddock analyst Alyssa Ali, who made only a couple of fleeting appearances as she "monitored" social media; she's good, give her a chance. Former trainer and horse trader Simon Bray was trackside in Dubai. No bald bumpkins here. It's the analysts' consensus that the American horses, including 'Chrome, Lea, Candy Boy and Long River, will dominate this race.
12:03 p.m. Sham. Wow. This 'Chrome is so tarnished, not even CLR will work.
It would be easy to disparage California Chrome, the horse, for not being able to get it done in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, but upon reflection, I have even more admiration for our California dreamer because his connections, most specifically owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, are aspiring down to the inane banner they fashioned for themselves, Dumb Ass Stables. Dumb asses, indeed.
'Chrome, starting from the outside 9 post (which said connections drooled they relished) was taken outside, four wide, by jockey Victor Espinoza. We know he wants to be in the clear, but four wide almost all around the track is not good either. Coming around the turn, the race developed into three, with 'Chrome in the middle of a trio down the stretch.
I contend that at the 300-meter mark, it dawned on 'Chrome that he had the close quarters he doesn't like and hesitated. If he had had a burst then, which I don't believe he did, he could have gone on and won. But Prince Bishop, in a perfectly timed run, took control and won by nearly three lengths. It was a great win by 'Bishop and California Chrome gave it all he had.
Soon, Migliore was all over Espinoza for not exploiting California Chrome's "game" and shooting to the lead as they settled into the stretch. But has California Chrome been trained conflicting signals? Run. Don't run. Be in the open. Be on the lead. Be off the pace and pounce. Horses are not stupid and they can be confused.
I believe that either 'Chrome has been mistrained, or he just didn't have it Saturday, to be able to win the race. He gave a great effort - as the days go on, I'm more inspired by his run - winning $2 million in purse money, and perhaps a rumored appearance fee, which his owners probably care much more about than the horse's career or legacy. He's won about $6.4 million. How much does class cost?
With the gassy "America's Horse" oozing out of his bushy white mustache, co-owner Steve Coburn who, you will remember, called Tonalist and his connections "cowards" for winning the Belmont Stakes fair and square and denying 'Chrome the Triple Crown, was ready, half a world away, with more disappointing, lame excuses that put even more dumb in ass.
"He didn't have any training over the track. We just got here (a week ago), he had no works and only galloped the track. I'm not sure he liked it. We weren't in Dubai long enough." I heard one comment on-air that the new Meydan track was state of the art, as fine a dirt track as there is on Earth, a wonder mix of virgin sand and sandy loam.
"I just invite Sheik Mohammed (sic) to bring his horses to America and run over there," Coburn said of Prince Bishop owner Sheik Hamdan bin Mohd Al Maktoum. "This is America's horse."
Nearly immediately afterward, as had been rumored, it was learned that California Chrome will be shipped to England to dip Martin's beak in the Royal Ascot meet, specifically the Prince of Wales Stakes. He'll probably run a prep at Newmarket. On the turf. The thick English turf. If he's America's horse, why not the nice and legitimate turf of the Arlington Million? Think a horse doesn't know confusion?
For his part, 'Chrome's trainer Art Sherman, who brushed greatness with 1955's Swaps, is feeling the full range of emotions. Full of concern, "It's been a remarkable journey with this horse, and it's put me in the limelight all over the world," Sherman said "It's sad that I don't have the horse under my shed. I just hope he comes back to me in good shape out of those races."
The gutless Martin, who doesn't/won't show his face beyond a press release, offered this nugget, as reported by Daily Racing Form editor Steve Crist: "Both Art and Steve wanted to prep in the San Antonio against Shared Belief," Martin said. "Their argument was that the match-up was good for racing. I did not want to disappoint them, so abstained. This was an emotional decision, and it was wrong. This time, we will do what gives Chrome the best chance to win. This time, I've got Chrome's back."
What a relief!
Martin is wrong, at least in the challenge that 'Chrome facing Shared Belief is not good for racing. Shared Belief is a wonderful horse, one of my current favorites. These two are made for each other. Martin ducks, for the money, in my opinion.
Art Sherman is worried. I believe him.
Martin and Coburn? If only California Chrome could talk. But in a way, he does. He screams, and runs, with his heart, way beyond what these two have to offer.
12:21 p.m. Bracket Fatigue.
Fox actually shows BRACKETS for horses, all of whom will probably make it, working into the Derby. But they don't actually show the standings or the names of the races! When will the NCAA and NFL marketing godzillas be slain?
1:15 p.m. Chicago Police Estimate One Million People Attended.
TV going great on Gulfstream crowds. It's a shopping mall and casino. No seats for racing. So it looks packed. This has been the Yelp since they remodeled.
2:28 p.m. Just Desserts?
Veteran Pants On Fire and Sir Shackleton, both 3-1, go 1-2. I got both and the exacta. Won't save the day, but my self esteem spikes.
3 p.m. For Pete's sake get me to the gate . . . on . . . time.
Gulfstream and Fair Grounds both extending post parades to prolong betting. As Bugsy asked, "Did you think I wouldn't see that? Do you think I wouldn't notice?"
5:31 p.m. BAM!
International Star workmanlike to win the Louisiana Derby. We'll keep an eye on him.
6:02 p.m. Nice Butt!
Materiality and Upstart ended up battling it out. Upstart seemed to be a follower with his nose "behind" Materiality. But I will say Upstart will be worth a look next month.
6:17 p.m. Trying to kick the monster white powder.
I tried, I really did. But it was chalk all day. Dry as dust.
Saturday, April 4.
Time Marches On
We've got the Blue Grass Stakes and the Wood Memorial on Saturday. Carpe Diem is the precocious in the Blue Grass. Milwaukee conservative talker Mark Belling is parts on Unrivaled, who has the breeding, if not the bones, to passport to Churchill Downs on May 2. Props.
Daredevil, El Kabeir and Frosted contend at Aqueduct. A damn far cry from Angle Light and Sham. Who both beat Secretariat in this race. But you know all about that.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.