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If Thoroughbred horse racing had a mirror today and through this weekend, its gaze would reveal a diminished opacity, ghostly, with the demonic horseflies of fan discontent, ill-bred horses, greedy track companies, oversaturation and perverted priorities dancing about its head, without so much as a Thoroughbred's tail to swat them away.
It would also see, standing right behind, an image frozen in time. Frozen on Wednesday, June 7, in fact. The racing "industry" will never be able to escape his eyes, his plea eternal: "I did my part. Will you now do yours?"
For today, we mourn the passing of Holy Bull, just as 12 horses - as of this writing - of questionable talent and soundness, are to be sent off Saturday in the 149th Belmont Stakes (Grade I, $1,500,000, 12 furlongs/1.5 miles) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Holy Bull, the 1,300-pound, silver/dark gray behemoth out of Great Above and the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown, was the definition of greatness in 1993-94 in a short career that included a three-year-old season that was as good as it could have possibly been without winning the Triple Crown. He was euthanized Wednesday, at 26, due to the infirmities of old age.
Enjoy the sweeping brushstrokes of his 1994 Florida Derby masterpiece. The will-not-be-denied of the scintillating Travers, and the I'm-better-than-you Woodward. After taking the Belmont Futurity at two, he also won the Hutcheson, Blue Grass Stakes, Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile), Dwyer Stakes and the Haskell Invitational the next year.
The 'Bull, at three, took them all on, age be damned, including Go For Gin, Cherokee Run, Devil His Due, Tabasco Cat, Commanche Trail and 1994 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern. After a dull 12th in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track, Holy Bull bypassed the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and launched his odyssey against his elders in the Met Mile. He won the Olympic Handicap early in 1995. Injured on the backstretch, he was pulled up in the Donn Handicap, where he was facing the soon-to-be-legendary Cigar. That Donn became Cigar's fourth win in his epic 16-race win streak.
"I feel sure myself that that day, he would have beaten Cigar," owner and trainer Jimmy Croll said upon 'Bull's induction into the Hall of Fame. "Holy Bull was right at his peak. But it was one of those things. He made a misstep."
In retirement he forged a second legacy, as a sire. His progeny include 2000 two-year-old champion Macho Uno, who begat Mucho Macho Man; the 50-1 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo; Stephen Foster winner Flashy Bull; Confessional; Bishop Court Hill, and; Pohave. He also sired successful broodmares, who produced Judy the Beauty, Cairo Prince, Happy My Way, Munnings, Caravaggio and Going Ballistic. His grandson, Tommy Macho, fittingly represents him and Macho Uno in Saturday's Met Mile.
The thrill of the game courses our veins in reliving Holy Bull's great carer, but the pulse slows in looking at a Belmont Stakes that looks a mess this year. There's trouble out West, too, but more on that later.
Classic Empire is out of the Belmont with an abscess in his right front hoof. It's the same ailment that caused him to miss at least one prep on the way to a brutal and gutty fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Maybe he didn't have enough foundation, explaining Cloud Computing's nipping him at the wire in the Preakness. Trainer Mark Casse did a solid by scratching him before the race draw. Had he run, or on early bets, he would have been a nagging-hooved favorite and horseplayers wouldn't have known.
'Empire's music stopped and that gave the morning line favorite's chair to Irish War Cry at 7-2, for a race trainer Graham Motion didn't want for this son of Curlin just a few weeks ago.
"He's had a good couple of weeks and I can honestly say this was not my original plan," Motion said. "When he ran so disappointingly in the Derby, I wanted to go home and just forget about the rest of the Triple Crown - which is what the Derby does to you when you don't run well." Irish' breezed six furlongs last Saturday in 1:14 to earn his way in.
As a bettor, you have to wonder about Gormley. His trainer, John Shireffs, also seems to be reluctantly enthusiastic. Creatures of habit, Gormley worked at Santa Anita on Saturday, alone and in blinkers, both firsts for him. Seems he also earned his way into the Belmont with a good workout. The Santa Anita Derby winner and ninth-place finisher in the Derby was fashionably late to Elmont, arriving on deadline Wednesday. Eyes on the prize or just a shot? I think the latter.
We have a potential situation with Japanese entry Epicharis. Promised a $1 million bonus by the New York Racing Association if he came in and won this race, it now appears he has an ouchie in his right front that required a "lameness treatment" that included phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to ease pain and swelling.
Banned for humans - Aleve is your go-to over-the-counter NSAID, boomers - the horse is required to not receive any more for at least 24 hours before the race. Dancer's Image in the 1968 Derby . . . aww, that's another story. While his connections are saying he should be ready, what if he's not feeling tip-top? He was last seen beaten a nose to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby way back in March. Do you wager on him?
NYRA calls it "enhanced recruitment," but it's really a bribe to allow New York to benefit from increased betting handle that would come from Japanese horseplayers. While Bloodhorse reprints a press release hyping this misdirectional bullshit, I smell a lame rat and they'd better hope to hell this horse doesn't break down in the race.
Continuing our theme, Lookin At Lee is the only horse out of 425 three-year-olds nominated for the 2017 Triple Crown running in this race after also having run in the first two legs of the Crown.
The last time that happened was in 2010 when Super Saver won the Derby, Lookin At Lucky (Lookin At Lee's sire!) the Preakness, and Drosselmeyer - that's a bad memory - the Belmont.
Your Triple Crown leg newcomers are Twisted Tom (post position 1), Hollywood Handsome (5) and Meantime (9).
Twisted Tom comes in with three straight wins, including the Federico Tesio at Laurel, but while his 70s Beyer Speed Figures range might play in Maryland, they won't here. Hollywood Handsome has no wins in a race of any consequence and finished fifth in the Illinois Derby. Meantime is only a maiden winner with a fading second in the Peter Pan.
J Boys Echo is spiraling downward. Senior Investment, third in the Preakness, looks enough of a closer here. I thought Joel Rosario gave Illinois Derby winner Multiplier a bad ride in the Preakness - why not bring in Hawthorne pilot Jimmy Graham for the mount? - and he comes in with first-time blinkers.
And our friend Patch, he without a left eye, once again drew the far outside post position at 12. Man, I hope he wins.
For me, it'll be a numbers game, look at the odds. They should be fair across the board.
Seems that for the second time this meet, Santa Anita cancelled a Thursday card, April 27 and June 8, because of a lack of entries to fill the races.
Read through the story and you see the classic blame game. Read the comments not too far down for the reality.
"You have to be concerned if you have a good horse population and you're not getting participation in the (entry) box," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Santa Anita.
"We need to find ways to say, 'OK, he's participating and brings some value, and he's not participating and maybe it's time to find another place to race,'" Ritvo said, clearly insinuating that trainers are using Santa Anita as a training facility and are not eager to run races.
"It's free stabling out there, and the only way we get a return on that investment is if the horses get onto the racetrack," said Stronach Group West Coast Vice President and bean counter Joe Morris.
Trainer John Shireffs, with the kind of immaturity (greed) we often see from horsemen, said New York also has small fields and it has bigger purses. So there!
"And somewhere along the way, instead of always having this negativity, they should (acknowledge) the horsemen are working hard to fill the races. Don't you think honey is a little better than vinegar?" Shireffs said.
Coming off of having just three entries in the Grade I (!!) Beholder Mile Stakes June 3, the Left Coast cognescenti need to get their traps shut.
Ritvo either doesn't know what horses he has on the grounds or can't write races for the horses he does have. Or both. That spells bad racing secretary. There are too many races and race days, all over the country. Hawthorne has scaled back, but it delivers what it promises.
Final Jeopardy. They are perennially the victims of the way horse racing is run. Who are: The fans?
NYRA's big M.O. has been to run a bunch of big races on Belmont Stakes Day, prestige and handle and all that. Concentrate, goose the gamblers and clean up.
But unlike outrageous boxing pay-per-views where the undercards suck, we do have a good day of racing from Big Sandy.
* The Easy Goer Stakes, $150,000, 3 year olds, 8.5 furlongs.
* The 129th Brooklyn Invitational, Grade II, $400,000, four and up, 12 furlongs;
* The Acorn Stakes, Grade I, $700,000, fillies 3 and up, 8 furlongs.
* The 49th Ogden Phipps, Grade I, $750,000, fillies and mares four and up, 8.5 furlongs.
We'll lay eyes once more on the lovely Songbird, the classy lady with the 11-1-0 in 12. Now four years old, she'll curtsy with long-time rival Carina Mia. But she hasn't raced since a nose beat in November's Breeders' Cup Distaff. Like a soap flakes afternoon drama, we approach post time, 12:52 Central, in total suspense and anticipation.
* The Jaipur Invitational, Grade III, $300,000, four and up, 6 furlongs turf.
* The Woody Stephens, Grade II, $500,000, 3 year olds, 7 furlongs.
Keep an eye on Bob Baffert's American Anthem, 8 post, to take his measure.
* The Just a Game, Grade I, $700,000, fillies and mare four and up, 8 furlongs turf. The Irish Roca Rojo will take on Dickinson.
* The Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile, Grade I, $1,200,000, three and up, 8 furlongs.
Awesome Slew, Tommy Macho. I'll be looking.
* The Manhattan, Grade I, $1,000,000, four and up, 10 furlongs turf.
Wake Forest, Potemkin, Divisidero, Sadler's Joy go around again.
Your coverage is 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Net and 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. on the big peacock. Twenty percent chance for rain in Elmont, 81.
This is a hardcore, wagering weekend, at least here at TrackNotes. Enjoy.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.