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TrackNotes: Out Of Hibernation

The other guys in the Beachwood Sports Department have been doing all the heavy lifting lately.

When large animals attack, like the Bears and Bulls, the crew has hunted down the angles. We heard about the joys of spring training, wait in the paddock for the Cubs and Sox, the Hawks seem on cruise control, we hope, and even the departure of Elena Delle Donne. Also, I really enjoyed watching the Lady Vikings of Geneva High School take the 2-A title in last-shot, total clutch, thrilling fashion in both the semis and the final.

We also saw some real drama in Wrigleyville, even before the first nacho cheese melt.

Thank goodness, I don't believe we've ever heard "Coming out of the (Bear)Cubs Den to pinch hit is . . . " They'll still be coming out of The Dugout, or will they? Not even Jon Taffer, America's Barchangel, dealing with the biggest mook since Mookie Wilson, could save a Wrigleyville bar, within a Dave Kingman blast from home plate, that couldn't make money during the season! It was a way better train wreck than Piratz, but then, we are the championz!

I had to postpone sawing logs until after the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in late January. The weeks after that were exhale, decompress, rest and savor the performances of Arrogate and California Chrome last season.

It feels a little like coming out of hibernation.

And lo and behold, we're already approaching the far turn preparing for the May 6 Kentucky Derby and the rest of the Triple Crown. Before I knew it, 'twas time to learn about a whole 'nother group of three-year-olds.

You never know what to think coming out of the old pied-a-terre after a short winter's nap. It's unnerving, trying to learn who these horses are and speculating about what they can do. And it's nothing but speculation, all the way to post time, when you have to pin the tail on the wager. You assume these contenders will run for the roses in May, but you know many will not. They drop off the trail, requiring a lot of swivel-hipped handicapping.

Gunnevera looked awfully good by a visually impressive five lengths in the March 4 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, the prep for the April 1 Florida Derby. He showed Derbyesque acumen in coming from last and beating Practical Joke, who was equally impressive in winning both the Hopeful and the Champagne last year as a juvenile.

Irish War Cry, an early Derby darling, finished a dull, to say the least, seventh.

Can't get your hopes up about any horse, especially this early in the season. Two examples still sting. I was real excited about Fountain-Florida Derby winner Quality Road in 2009. He never ran a Triple Crown race. And Eskendereya the next year got me goin' after winning the Fountain of Youth, then the Wood Memorial. He was injured in training before the Derby and never ran again. More recently, Uncle Mo, who has become one of the new young stars of the breeding barn and broke Secretariat's record in the Champagne (two-year-olds) at Saratoga, scratched the day before the Derby in 2011.

Tapwrit ran a stakes record 1:42-2/5 in last Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby, winning by another visually stunning four lengths plus. Like Gunnevera, Tapwrit, son of super sire Tapit and the Successful Appeal mare Appealing Zophie, overcame adversity while setting up for the finish, which will hold him too in good stead for the Derby stampede.

It must be noted, however, that McCracken, wisest among the earliest Derby wiseguys and at the top of the first Derby Futures pool, missed the Tampa race after hurting himself in training after winning the Sam F. Davis prep for this. He's apparently training well now and will have to use the suddenly important and once-again relevant Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 8 as a singular prep for Kentucky.

We'll need to see some quality then out of the son of Ghostzapper, one of the greatest horses, with some of the worst health, of the 21st century. He could sprint (Vosburgh Stakes), go a mile (Metropolitan Mile) or stretch out (Breeders' Cup Classic). Healthy, one of the greatest I ever saw. He was my wi-fi handle until 'Pharoah came along, so do you believe me now?

But I digress, again.

In the third race of his life and second on dirt, Girvin gritted out a two plus-length win in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Feb. 25. It's the prep for the April 1 Louisiana Derby.

Did Girvin beat anybody in this race? We often have to find out in the next race. We'll see, but Girvin has nouveau royalty in his blood lines with sire Tale of Ekati, Sunday Silence(!), and throw in Sky Beauty, Orb, Life At Ten and Devil May Care and you're really dropping names now.

Want anther one? Trainer Joe Sharp has the distinct luxury of his wife, (Please Come Back) Rosie Napravnik breezing Girvin in the morning workouts. Remember that one year (2013?) when she seemed to win every race at the Fair Grounds meet?

Bob Baffert's Mastery was masterful in winning the Grade II San Felipe last Saturday, and would have become the "It" horse after the wire seemed to pull him like a magnet in a 6-3/4 length win. Just a few long strides later, Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith eased him to a stop, jumped off and unsaddled the son of Candy Ride. He broke a condylar bone in his left front and underwent successful surgery Monday. He may run again, but it's way to early to tell. If his form had held, and with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in this race, he would have been a cinch to be the Derby favorite.

Classic Empire, he of the same Pioneerof the Nile parentage as American Pharoah and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November, looks to be having heaps of physical problems after his early buzz. He emerged after a fourth in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull with a foot abscess and has apparently had some back problems. Trainer Mark Casse is pointing him to either the Blue Grass or the Arkansas Derby. I wouldn't bet yet on him getting to either race and I probably wouldn't bet on him even if he does get to the gate.

Baffert will send American Anthem, probably now his biggest Derby threat, Saturday in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. I'll be watching Wayne Catalano's Uncontested, a son of Tiz Wonderful, in the same race. The horse apparently displaced his palate in the Southwest Stakes prep for this and is said to be working lights out now. I've seen horses who have recovered from this malady run great, which I can dream he will at morning line 10-1 or better.

We're also pulling for Catalano, who won a gazillion races at Arlington and Hawthorne back in the day. I beamed when he won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Dreaming of Anna. He won the same race two years later with She Be Wild and took the Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2011 with the great Stephanie's Kitten.

Much of his Chicagoland success came for the claimer dropper, Frank Calabrese, who would claim a $10,000 horse and run him in a $4,000 claimer purely for the win, and the many owner titles that followed. It was a real love-the-winning/hate relationship for the two and they eventually parted, with Catman getting opportunities he deserved.

So while we're in a bit of a quiet period now, as the preps for the Derby preps wind down, all hell breaks loose April 1 with the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby. We'll have a prep trifecta April 8 with Aqueduct's Wood Memorial, Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby. The Arkansas Derby hits April 15.

And while Churchill Downs Inc. erased the April 22 Illinois Derby from Kentucky Derby prepdom, the race has evolved into a tuneup for the Preakness Stakes.

Is it possible for a Thoroughbred race horse to be a gigolo?

In the strict sense of the word, no, because they don't get the money. But many of them, including two of racing's biggest stars are certainly acting like it. And what of their "connections?"

It was announced earlier this month that American Pharoah will be jetting to Australia in July to "participate" in the southern hemisphere breeding season, with a return to Coolmore Ashford Stud's Lexington, Kentucky base late this year. He is expected to demand a fee of $50,600.

While 'Pharoah's initial fee was announced at $200,000 for each live foal, it's been reported that the actual amount might be more like $100,000. Coolmore is not currently revealing his North American fee. The 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic winner became a sire for the first time just this past January.

And only Thursday, we got the news that California Chrome will be shuttling to Chile on a three-year contract for the southern hemisphere season. 'Chrome is reportedly getting a $40,000 booking fee. No report on his South American fee.

This is important as the owners strike while the breeding dollars are hot. Their racing reputations are currently sky high, while neither one of them has had any progeny run yet. For example, Uncle Mo's breeding value is growing steadily after producing successful runners like 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Mo Tom, Outwork, Forget Me Not, Royal Mo and Unbridled Mo.

It will spread their lineage in those southern hemisphere areas, including Asian breeders who will ship their mares to Australia. You never say American lineage is better than any other, especially for turf racing, where the Europeans rule. Breeders want pedigree, wherever it comes from.

These two wild and crazy guys have it all right now.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021