NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

BELMONT FALL MEET OPENS WITH BOWLING GREEN HANDICAP
Al Khali may find himself at the perfect distance when he competes in the Grade II, $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on the Inner Turf Course on Saturday, September 11, opening day for the 2010 Fall Championship Meet at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

After taking the Saranac, Al Khali was off the board in his next four starts before he returned to the winner’s circle two starts back with a gate-to-wire triumph in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer at Belmont on July 8. Trying 1 ½ miles in the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga on August 14, the 4-year-old led in the stretch but was outkicked and finished third.

“We thought he might be one who could get the trip,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott of the decision to try Al Khali at 1 ½ miles. “It looks like that last furlong might have stretched him out a little, but a mile and three eighths might be in his range.”

Al Khali, the 4-1 second choice who was assigned 116 pounds, will be ridden by Julien Leparoux for the first time and leaves from post position 3.

Remaining at the same 1 3/8-mile distance is the 2-1 morning-line favorite Winchester, most recently third in the United Nations at Monmouth Park on July 3. Prior to that performance, the Christophe Clement-trainee upset stablemate and reigning Champion Older Horse Gio Ponti with a half-length decision in the Manhattan Handicap over 1 ¼ miles at Belmont on June 5.

“He’s had the summer off, but he’s ready to go,” said Clement of Winchester, who will carry 119 pounds, leave from post position 5, and once again have the services of Cornelio Velasquez.

Trainer Barclay Tagg has elected to keep Dry Martini on the grass following a seventh in the John’s Call at Saratoga on August 6.

“It looked like he liked [the turf] all right,” said Tagg. “He’s a pretty classy horse – I wouldn’t run him against Gio Ponti or Get Stormy; the turf division is never easy – but running him on grass might help him last longer, keep him happy, and he might enjoy it. It’s a very forgiving surface.”

Dry Martini, whose five stakes victories include the Suburban Handicap, drew post 7 under Edgar Prado and 115 pounds at 12-1 on the morning line.

Grand Couturier picked up his first victory of 2009 in the Bowling Green and will try to repeat history on Saturday when he aims for his first win in 2010. Sixth last time out in the Sword Dancer, a race he won in 2007 and 2008, the 6-year-old son of Grand Lodge was installed at 8-1 and was assigned 117 pounds. Alan Garcia will ride from post 2.

From the rail out the complete field with horse, jockey and weight is: Simmard (jockey, John Velazquez, weight, 115); Grand Couturier (Alan Garcia, 117); Al Khali (Julian Leparoux, 116); Strike A Deal (Ramon Dominguez, 117); Winchester (Cornelio Velasquez, 119); Gabriel’s Hill (Eibar Coa, 113); Dry Martini (Edgar Prado, 115); Southwest (Javier Castellano, 113); Interpatation (Channing Hill, 116); Followmyfootsteps (Rajiv Maragh, 113); and Jeune-Turc (Jose Lezcano, 116).

ROSARIO CROWNED DEL MAR RIDING KING WITH THRILLING WIN IN FINAL RACE
In a blazing, all-out finish, jockey Joel Rosario won one of the most dramatic and exciting jockey races in years at Del Mar. A victory yesterday in the final race of the 37-day meeting gave him the riding title by a count of 57-56 over Rafael Bejarano. Rosario closed from last to first on Tiz Argent to eke out a victory at the wire over horses ridden by Patrick Valenzuela and Bejarano.

Rosario and Bejarano engaged in a seesaw battle throughout most of the season, as well as on the last day, which saw Rosario triumph four times. The day opened with Rosario, trailing Bejarano by one victory, winning the first two races and Bejarano countering by winning the next two. A third win for Rosario tied it up again and set things in motion for the dramatic finish.

“I was very, very lucky today,” said Rosario. “It was very exciting, and I’m happy for everything.”

FAIRPLEX PARK OPENS TODAY – WITH A MATCH RACE BETWEEN TWO TOP JOCKS
Historic Fairplex Park begins its 72nd season of horse racing today at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, Calif. The 2010 race meet runs 15 days through Sept. 27.

Highlighting the opening day program is a match race with horses ridden by Martin Pedroza and David Flores, the runaway leaders at Fairplex Park in career and stakes victories. The match will be the sixth race and will be contested at a mile and one sixteenth.

The match race is the brainchild of Fairplex Park racing secretary Tom Knust. “I was at Canterbury Downs in 1988 when Shoe [Bill Shoemaker] was contemplating retirement,” Knust recalled. “They thought it would be a good idea to have a match race between Shoe and Julie Krone instead of a match race between horses, so I thought a race between Pedroza and Flores would be a natural.”

While Pedroza and Flores have raced against each other countless times during their careers, neither has participated in a match race.

“They have ridden against each other — one against the other — in morning workouts,” said Pedroza’s long-time agent, Richie Silverstein, “but I can’t ever remember either riding in a match race. It will be exciting, but as far as who will win, a lot depends on the form of the two horses. You can’t change a horse’s style because of a match race, but it will be good for the fans. There will be those who favor David, and those who support Martin,” said Silverstein.

TURFWAY PARK OPENS TODAY FOR ITS FALL MEET; LAUREL TO REOPEN SATURDAY
Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., opens its 52nd fall race meet today with a full slate of activities on tap. The meet, which ends October 3, encompasses 16 days of live Thoroughbred racing, highlighted by the Grade III, $100,000 Turfway Park Fall Championship this Saturday. For the third year, the Turfway Park Fall Championship, a one and one half mile event on Polytrack, has been designated a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs.

The Fall Championship drew a field of 10, including Coolcullen Times, Eldaafer, Falling Knife, Lignon’s Hero, Sligovitz, and Smarten Destiny.

On Saturday, live racing returns to Laurel Park in Laurel, Md. The opening day card includes the Geisha Stakes and an all-turf Pick 3 to end the program. Opening day features free admission, an open house with live music and a barbecue on the apron, wine and appetizers in the clubhouse and foosball and air hockey in the Horse Wizard Room. The 57-day stand will feature live racing on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons through Dec. 18.

CONTENTIOUS NEW JERSEY “WIVES” SET FOR REUNION SHOWDOWN SUNDAY
Monmouth Park track announcer Larry Collmus created an international sensation with his stretch call of the seventh race at Monmouth Park on August 22 when Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow hooked up in a memorable stretch duel.

Apparently that race did not settle the score between the two contradictory fillies, so they will square off again Sunday in the eighth event on the 12-race card at the Oceanport, N.J. oval.
Collmus enthusiastically joined the spousal spat in the August 22 encounter. Down the stretch the two came, with the announcer giving a blow-by-blow account of the battle, capped by a final line: “Mywifenosevrything. Thewifedoesntknow. They’re one-two. Of course they are!”
The replay of the race and Collmus’s call became a viral sensation on YouTube and has generated more than 1,000,000 hits to date.

Since that first spousal “conflict”, Collmus has appeared on the CBS-TV Early Show and the nationally syndicated Inside Edition. The race replay was featured prominently on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and was also aired on the Today Show (NBC), Good Morning America (ABC), World News with Diane Sawyer (ABC) and on CNN broadcasts. Collmus also did a live interview with a radio station in Auckland, New Zealand.

In that August 22 race, the Jane Cibelli-trained Mywifenoseverything –ridden by Elvis Trujillo — scored by two lengths over Thewifedoesntknow –trained by Ed Broome and ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr.
And for those who disdain handicapping but can’t resist a good hunch, the “Wife” exacta returned a generous $29.40.
Monmouth Park gates open Sunday at 11:30 a.m., with post time for the first race at 12:50 p.m. The “Wife” race is slated to go off at 4:02 p.m. It will air live on TVG.

T-shirts celebrating the last meeting of the “Wife” horses are available for $18 at the Monmouth Park gift shop in the grandstand, or online at www.monmouthparkstore.com.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN $2.2 MILLION BONUS PROGRAM ANNOUNCED
MI Developments Inc. (MID) introduced this week the Black-Eyed Susan 2.2 bonus program for three-year-old fillies, which could award $2.2 million in bonuses ($2 million to the owner and $200,000 to the trainer) to the winner of the 2011 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 20, 2011. The Black-Eyed Susan purse will also be increased for 2011 from $150,000 to $250,000.

The Black-Eyed Susan 2.2 is designed to allow both East and West coast based three-year-old fillies to qualify by having preliminary races take place at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields and Portland Meadows.

“We have worked hard to take Black-Eyed Susan day to the next level, and this promotion, in conjunction with the enhanced purse, will increase the amount of excitement,” said Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

TICKET SALES FOR 2010 BREEDERS’ CUP AHEAD OF LAST YEAR’S PACE
With two months until the November 5-6 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs, advance ticket sales for this year’s two-day event are outpacing sales over the same period last year by almost double. Heading into the Labor Day holiday weekend, Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs had sold $7.2 million in reserved seating for the Breeders’ Cup compared to $3.7 million in advanced sales for the same period in 2009, when the event was held at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park, and total attendance for the two days was 96,496.

To help meet the increased demand, the Breeders’ Cup is releasing for sale a limited number of Premium Box Seats overlooking the finish line and a limited number of premium tickets with indoor dining options. These seats had previously been reserved for Churchill Downs’ personal seat licensees, 85% of whom elected to purchase Breeders’ Cup tickets. In addition, while several sections of reserved seating are sold out, there are a limited number of Reserved Grandstand seats still available at single-day prices as low as $20. Breeders’ Cup officials attributed the robust sales to a variety of factors, including strong local interest in the greater Louisville market, the capacity and variety of reserved seating options at Churchill Downs and the potential that undefeated Champion Zenyatta may attempt a repeat of her 2009 victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“With its loyal fan base for racing, our home state of Kentucky is traditionally one of the strongest markets for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. That interest combined with the broad range of choices at a state-of-the-art racing facility and the possibility of a truly historic Breeders’ Cup Classic has produced the strongest pre-event sales in Breeders’ Cup history,” said Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Greg Avioli. “We’re very excited to be running one of our premier races under the lights on Friday and we look forward to staging two days of the finest racing in the world at Churchill Downs.”

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