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TrackNotes: Road To Breeders'


Looks like I picked the wrong autumn to quit "studying the line" on Chicago Bears games.

Besides the pure joy of seeing the Bears' ineptitude, mismanagement and miserly intentions coming back to bite them in their lethargic, moss-covered furry asses, I have accrued tangible benefit.

As coach and one-time U.S. Senate flirt Mike Ditka once said, what goes around comes around. While I can't promise I'll get the classic 10 furlongs in the end - although I have every reason to believe in my under 7 1/2 wins for the season - I'm sitting nicely right out of the gate, staying out of trouble into the clubhouse turn, all with an enhanced balance sheet for the rest of the way. Courtesy of your Chicago Bears.

Unlike Trump, these newly gained funds will be kept right where they are, used for their original intention.

Because things are really heating up in the world of Thoroughbred horse racing.

Coming around the bend, like a locomotive, are the Breeders' Cup Championships, November 4-5. As with any great destination, getting there will be just as much fun.

Better than Harry Truman whistlestops, the first station is Parx in Bensalem, Pa., home of Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby and The Cotillion.

The next stop is October 1 in Elmont, N.Y., for five stakes races led by the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at historic Belmont Park. We'll have to highball it that same day for the nightcap, the Zenyatta Stakes in Arcadia, Calif., home of Santa Anita.

Heading back east, some will get off October 8 in Lexington, Ky. for the Shadwell Turf Mile and two other Grade Is at Keeneland. Others will stay on to circle back to Belmont for four Grade Is the same day, led by the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Although I'm not sure I've ever heard Joe Maddon use the term, we have to take it one day at a time, although my races come around every 20 minutes or so. But Chicago has its mantra for the days ahead, so lets use it for whatever we need.

Is that the same as praying?

Back at Parx, our three-year-old crush, Songbird, takes off from the five post in The Cotillion (Grade I, three-year-old fillies, $1,000,000, 8.5 furlongs).

You can't ask for a better lineup. The perfect 10-10-0-0 daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, coming off a stunning seven-length win in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga, Songbird will face the next three best fillies in the division. If she's going to get beat, is this the day?

She and Cathryn Sophia seemed destined to meet in May's Kentucky Oaks, which 'Sophia won, but Songbird spiked a fever and took some time off.

'Sophia comes in off a win on this very same Parx surface in the Princess of Sylmar earlier this month. Trainer John Servis says he has a plan to beat Songbird, and his horse is getting hype.

"While Songbird has systematically dispatched divisional challengers en route to being undefeated in 10 career starts, Cathryn Sophia looms as a new threat who could throw a previously unseen wrinkle at the bay daughter of Medaglia d'Oro," writes Bloodhorse's Alicia Wincze-Hughes.

What's the plan? Take off and make Songbird catch you? And who exactly did 'Sophia beat in the Sylmar in what might be called a glorified workout? Her Beyer Speed Figures seem to have plateaued at 95 and the horse inside her, Carina Mia, beat her in June's Acorn at Belmont. I guess the intrigue is that 'Sophia, who is 5-2 morning line, and Songbird, 1-2, have never met.

That was Carina's last win, although she ran well in the Ballerina last out and in a loss to Songbird in the Coaching Club America Oaks. The Cotillion distance seems her upper limit, but if 'Sophia and Songbird destroy each other up front . . .

Land Over Sea has run in some of the best filly races there are, but a sole win in the Fair Grounds Oaks is not gonna cut it.

I say Songbird guts this one out, one way or another.

In the Pennsylvania Derby, we have Exaggerator and Nyquist, a great match-up. Or is it? First of all, money talks.

For what's basically a million-dollar race, casino-fueled Parx offered to raise the total purse to $1.5 million if Creator, Exaggerator and Nyquist all showed up; $1.25 million for two of those three. Exaggerator and Nyquist are there. Additionally, winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell or Travers receive a $100,000 appearance bonus. Since Exaggerator won the Preakness and the Haskell, ka-ching the $200K. Nyquist's Derby win gives him $100K.

As for the race, the monumental, double-barreled query includes Nyquist's condition and Exaggerator's ability, or absence of it, to win on a dry track.

Word is that Nyquist took a working poolside spa vacation at the relatively isolated training facilities of San Luis Rey Downs, near San Diego. There was mention of a growth spurt, dips in the horsey pool and good workouts at the one-mile distance. You have to think the 5-2 morning liner will be ready.

But can Exaggerator win on anything other than slop or mud? Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Haskell: sloppy. Breeders' Cup Juvenile (finished fourth), San Felipe (third), Kentucky Derby (second), Belmont (bad 11th), Travers (bad 11th): dry. At 9-2, that seems the rock bottom price to take. Name recognition? Phooey on that. I might take a flyer at 7-1 or better, but I'm thinking he'll have to beat me on dry first.

Awesome Slew comes in off a win in the Grade III Smarty Jones at Parx. Summer Revolution, son of Summer Bird, has a 105-96 Beyer parlay in his last two. Bob Baffert's Cupid comes in off wins in the Indiana Derby and West Virginia Derby.

Neither Gun Runner nor anyone else could catch Arrogate in his legendary, record-setting performance in the Travers, but this son of Candy Ride scored a 105 Beyer himself in that race, which is just fine here. Your longshot, with a triple-digit Beyer in his saddle bag, is Hit It Once More, a son of Hard Spun.

I don't think it has to take any heroics, but if Nyquist runs to his ability, see you again at Santa Anita.

The Cotillion goes off at 3:55 Central and the Derby at 4:45, though television will be hard to find. Racing channels will have it, and will stream it.

Big Blue Kitten, Ret.
Word is in that Big Blue Kitten, son of Kitten's Joy out of the Unaccounted For mare Spent Gold, has been retired.

The eight-year-old turf specialist, with nearly $3 million in earnings, just couldn't get untracked this year, finishing back in the Northern Dancer, Manhattan Stakes and Turf Classic. After a tough beat in the 2015 Arlington Million to The Pizza Man, Big Blue Kitten was unable to ship to Arlington for this year's race after developing a foot abscess.

Winner of the United Nations and Sword Dancer, he broke the track record last year in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to cinch the 2015 Eclipse Award for Older Turf Male.

Those Kitten's horses? They handicap well in every race they run and Big Blue Kitten was the best of them all.


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


UPDATE: She's Really Something!

It doesn't seem that long ago at all, but it must have been about early 1996 when I saw a piece on Nightline about a great singer who was ill.

She had her hope, and a voice. Her name was Eva Cassidy. I don't care if she was on the brink of stardom, although she was, whatever that means. She was already very good and one of those artists you would love to see. She hailed from the D.C area and made a great live album from Georgetown's Blues Alley club. And many other great ones. I made sure to get many or most of her records and still listen.

It's an easy heart tug, but her versions of the gospel "People Get Ready" and "Over the Rainbow" are wonderful cuts on an album named Songbird.

She didn't make it, but her songs live on.

So, I'm watching The Cotillion today, and I learned that the finest filly in the land, Songbird, is named in honor of Ms. Cassidy and her great album.

I learned that her owner, Rick Porter, is fighting his own battle with cancer. He was in the winner's circle.

Songbird today crafted, as is her usual, that we must not take for granted, a grand, elegant, determined effort in winning the 50th Cotillion (Grade I, fillies three-years-old, 8.5 furlongs, $1,00,000) at Parx. It wasn't easy, but she made it look so.

In a perfectly sane, some said slower, pace, Songbird was happy to stay a neck and shoulder behind Carina Mia, the one horse. They went 23 and 4, 47 and 3 and 1:12 for the mile.

Cathryn Sophia, whose trainer, John Servis, said he had a plan to beat Songbird, lurked two to three lengths behind, the key word being behind. Apparently, his plan was to lurk, then take off in the final 200 yards or so and win. Well.

Like a young lady perhaps learning how to dance, Songbird pulled a couple two steps of a move just to keep up on the turn. She made her own rhythm. While it looked so easy, it was a measured, energy effort and she developed the momentum to win by almost six lengths. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith never touched her, communicating through the reins and the talk.

I remember Rachel Alexandra and how great a filly and mare she was. She was so good, she took on the boys, and older boys, and did quite well. And the Euro Goldikova, what a great turf miler she was. Although her connections only had their eyes on the streak, I will admit how good Zenyatta was, even in the biggest races where she became so much better than her people, except Mike Smith, who knew.

This Songbird, she belongs only in the filly, female races, which is where they're keeping her. She's not clock-stopping fast, she's just the best of her gender, graduating class. Most thankfully, the announcers today said that all plans are to run her next year at four.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. She's worth the watch, seek her out. She'll drop your jaw.

Penn Derby
In the Pennsylvania Derby, the big names Nyquist and Exaggerator did not do well.

Exaggerator was at my Friday 7-1 at some point, but dropped to 5-1. He was never in it.

Nyquist was with the leaders coming around the turn, had every right to win, but flattened out. Did not look good. Trainer Doug O'Neill was understandably confused after the race. What now?

Your winner was Connect, at 10-1. Saratoga whiz kid Chad Brown trained him into it and Javier Castellano made a good ride. Yes, I had him.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021