NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

TOP HORSEPLAYERS TO VIE FOR $500,000 FIRST PRIZE, RECORD $1.1 MILLION PURSE AND TITLE OF “HANDICAPPER OF THE YEAR” IN 12th ANNUAL DAILY RACING FORM/NTRA NATIONAL HANDICAPPING CHAMPIONSHIP

Defending champion Brian Troop heads a record field of 305 horseplayers who will gather at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa on January 28-29 to vie for horse racing’s official title of “Handicapper of the Year” and a first-place prize of $500,000 in the $1,125,150 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC). The total purse represents an NHC record.

The NHC has enjoyed outstanding growth since its inception. By way of comparison, the first NHC in January 2000 carried a total prize pool of $200,000 and a winner’s share of $100,000.
“We are delighted to return to Red Rock in Las Vegas for what has become the most anticipated tournament in the world among horseplayers,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA. “This year’s field of 305 is our biggest ever, which means this year’s NHC will be not only the richest but the most competitive in the event’s history.”

As the 2010 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship winner, Brian Troop of Barrie, Ontario, Canada received a special exemption into the tournament to defend the title he won last January when he bested 301 other horseplayers in the two-day competition. The 62-year-old accountant won by amassing a mythical bankroll of $266.00 from a total of 30 $2 win-and-place wagers pared from a mind-numbing menu of more than 130 races run at seven different tracks. Troop, who took over the lead last year early on in Day One and never looked back, will look to become the first ever two-time winner of the NHC, but he will face five other past champions who qualified for the finals this year. Judy Wagner, Steve Wolfson Jr., Ron Rippey, Stanley Bavlish and Richard Goodall–the winners of NHC II, NHC IV, NHC VII, NHC VIII and NHC IX, respectively–will all be in the field with the same goal of a historic win in Las Vegas.
Contestant Tom Noone of Redondo Beach, Calif., will be hoping to make NHC history of a different kind. As the winner of the third annual NHC Tour in 2010, Noone not only won a $75,000 bonus for his top scores in the year’s NHC qualifying events, he is eligible to receive a $2 million bonus should he emerge victorious in the January 28-29 competition. So a win by Noone in Las Vegas would result in a payday of $2.5 million ($500,000 first-place NHC purse + $2 million NHC Tour bonus).

In its 12th year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. This year’s finalists advanced from one of 109 local tournaments held at more than 50 different sites across North America since January 2010.

So far, more than 100,000 people have participated in these local tournaments. Red Rock will also host the second annual “Red Rock Shootout” on Sunday, January 30. The Sunday contest is a qualifying event for the 2011-12 contest year.

The tournament format for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on each day of the two-day tournament. Eight of those wagers will be on mandatory races as selected by a panel comprised of Daily Racing Form National Handicapper Mike Watchmaker, NTRA Senior Director of Media Relations Eric Wing and Red Rock Casino Director of Race and Sports Jason McCormick.

The remaining seven races each day are optional plays to be made on races at one of eight designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Turf Paradise.

Regular Championship updates will be posted on the Internet throughout the two-day contest at both www.ntra.com and www.drf.com.

ZENYATTA TO BE BRED TO BERNARDINI
Owners Jerry and Ann Moss announced yesterday that Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, will be bred to Bernardini in 2011.

A son of two-time leading sire A.P. Indy, Bernardini was named champion three-year-old colt in 2006 following a campaign that included a victory in the Preakness Stakes. In 2010, with his first crop to race, Bernardini was the leading freshman sire by number of graded stakes winners and by number of stakes winners.

Zenyatta is boarded at Mr. and Mrs. William S. Farish’s Lane’s End Farm near Versailles, Kentucky.

THE USUAL Q.T., EVENING JEWEL GIVE CASSIDY SOLID HAND IN SATURDAY’S SUNSHINE MILLIONS TURF & DISTAFF AT SANTA ANITA
With multiple Grade I winners The Usual Q. T. and Evening Jewel, New York City-born trainer James Cassidy figures to be a force Saturday in Santa Anita’s portion of the 9th Sunshine Millions, a competition conducted in concert with Gulfstream Park.

In the bicoastal event offering purses of $1.8 million and comprised of six races exclusively for California and Florida-bred Thoroughbreds, The Usual Q.T. will be the leading challenger to Floridian multi-millionaire Presious Passion among eight entrants in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf. Evening Jewel heads a cast of nine in the $300,000 Distaff. The $200,000 Sprint, featuring Cost of Freedom, completes the Sunshine Million races at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.
They will be interspersed among the three stakes taking place at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, with the afternoon’s headliner being the $500,000 Classic. Gulfstream will also present the $300,000 Filly & Mare Turf and the $200,000 Filly & Mare Sprint.

The Turf, at 1 1/8 miles on the grass, has attracted a formidable lineup that includes such notables as Florida-bred Jeranimo and Cal-bred Caracortado, in addition to Presious Passion and The Usual Q. T.

A gelded 8-year-old son of Royal Anthem trained by Mary Hartman for Patricia A. Generazio, Presious Passion has amassed $2,679,099 in earnings while racing 49 times. His record is 14-7-2. He will be joined by Elvis Trujillo, aboard for his last 16 races.

Presious Passion won Oak Tree’s Clement L. Hirsch by 2 ½ lengths over the Santa Anita turf in October of 2009 before losing by one-half length to Conduit in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. No stranger to The Great Race Place, he was second to Soldiers Dancer in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita in January of that year.

The veteran campaigner, who clearly likes the grass course at Santa Anita and who does his best running on the front end, will be attempting to end a five-race losing streak when returning to Southern California. The Usual Q.T., a gelded 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat, has earned $1,423,240 from an 8-5-2 record in 19 career starts for Don Van Racing and partners. Regular rider Victor Espinoza will be in the saddle.

After finishing third to the remarkable Goldikova and Gio Ponti in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on November 6, The Usual Q.T. went to the sidelines for a freshening. He returned as the 7-10 favorite in Santa Anita’s San Gabriel Handicap on December 27, but was upset by Jeranimo when fading to third.

The San Gabriel was the second win in as many tries on turf for the 5-year-old son of Congaree who had taken Santa Anita’s prestigious Strub Stakes last year at odds of 11-1. Jeranimo has compiled a 5-3-2 record in 15 starts for earnings of $429,400.

Caracortado was an impressive winner in his only race on turf, a sprint at Hollywood Park last November. He came back to run third at seven furlongs in the Malibu Stakes behind Twirling Candy and Smiling Tiger on Santa Anita’s opening day, December 26.

Trained by Michael Machowsky for Blahut Racing and Lo Hi Racing, the 4-year-old Cal-bred son of Cat Dreams has won 6 of 10 starts while banking $326,520. Caracortado captured the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita as a 3-year-old to extend an unbeaten streak to five races.

The complete field for the Sunshine Millions Turf, with jockeys and weights in post position order, is: Pickapocket (Joel Rosario, 122); Mobilized (Alonso Quinonez, 122); Jeranimo (Rafael Bejarano, 122); Soul Candy (Garrett Gomez, 122); Caracortado (Joseph Talamo, 120); No Inflation (David Flores, 122); The Usual Q.T. (Victor Espinoza, 122); and Presious Passion (Elvis Trujillo, 122).

Evening Jewel, whom Cassidy trains for the Tom and Marilyn Braly, has not raced since finishing third behind Dubai Majesty and Switch in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs on November 5. Cassidy expects her to be fit enough for the 1 1/16 miles of the Distaff.

The 4-year-old California-bred daughter of Northern Afleet hasn’t been off the board since her maiden debut at Del Mar in August of 2009. While earning $1,015,943 from a 6-5-2 record in 14 races, Evening Jewel posted Grade I triumphs in the Del Mar Oaks and Ashland Stakes at Kentucky last year while banking $915,343.

Her primary competition might come from trainer Vladimir Cerin’s Briecat, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare who won the Las Palmas Handicap at Hollywood Park last October before venturing to Delta Downs where she took the $125,000 Treasure Chest Stakes by 5 ½ lengths. Patrick Valenzuela, who was aboard for both those wins, has the return call.

The complete field for the Sunshine Millions Distaff, with jockeys and weights in post position order, is: Camille (Alonso Quinonez, 120); Warren’s Blossom (Martin Pedroza, 120); Briecat (Patrick Valenzuela, 122); Amazing ( Rafael Bejarano, 122); Antares World (Frank Alvarado, 120); All Due Respect (Joseph Talamo, 120); Evening Jewel (Victor Espinoza, 120); Lady Railrider (Russell Baze, 122); and Ultra Blend (Joel Rosario, 122).

In search of his fourth straight win, Cal-bred 8-year-old Cost of Freedom will take some beating in the six-furlong Sprint. The Cee’s Tizzy offspring, trained by John Sadler for Gary and Cecil Barber, has won 11 of his 21 starts including the 2008 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita two races after being claimed for $50,000.

After finishing fourth in the following year’s Ancient Title, Cost of Freedom subsequently ran a bang-up third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita when crossing the wire just a head behind victorious Dancing in Silks. Joe Talamo, aboard for Cost of Freedom’s last three wins late last year that included the Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park, will be back at the controls of the gelding who has earned $857,983. He drew post position three.Quick Enough, who finished 4 ½ lengths behind Cost of Freedom when second in the Dec. 11 Miles Tyson Stakes at Hollywood Park, may be among the most formidable challengers on Saturday.

The complete field for the Sunshine Million Sprint, with jockeys and weights in post position order is: Amazombie (Mike Smith, 122); Cayambe (Garrett Gomez, 122); Cost of Freedom (Joseph Talamo, 122); Don Tito (Joel Rosario, 120); Excessive Passion (Russell Baze, 120); Quick Enough (Patrick Valenzuela, 122); Apriority ( Rafael Bejarano, 120, and Dance With Gable (Victor Espinoza, 122).

FIRST DUDE HEADS FIELD OF TEN IN SUNSHINE MILLIONS CLASSIC
Donald Dizney’s homebred colt First Dude became a familiar name on the national scene last season placing in the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and other major 3-year-old events. Now the 4-year-old gets his 2011 campaign going as one of the choices in Saturday’s $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

The 1 1/8 miles test is the richest of the three Sunshine Millions races to be run at Gulfstream while three others races in the Florida-bred vs. California-bred series will go that afternoon at Santa Anita. The other Gulfstream races will be the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles and the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint at six furlongs.
First Dude drew post 1 in a field of 10 with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard for trainer Dale Romans. Florida-breds are assured of a sweep in the Classic as there are no California-breds entered. First Dude makes his first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 6 behind Blame and Horse of the Year Zenyatta.

A son of Stephen Got Even, First Dude had a productive but frustrating season for his connections as he placed in five straight Grade I stakes, including the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga following the Triple Crown events. He also lost a neck decision when second in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park in September prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

First Dude faces a number of highly-accomplished rivals in the Classic led by Duke of Mischief, Dry Martini and Birdrun.

Duke of Mischief has won two of three starts over the Gulfstream track for trainer David Fawkes, including a victory in the off-the-turf Fort Lauderdale Stakes early last year. The 5-year-old son of Graeme Hall scored his biggest career victory in the Oaklawn Handicap in early April and later scored in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth in August.

Dry Martini is the veteran in the field as the 8-year-old gelding by Slew Gin Fizz will bid for a 10th victory in 36 career starts while posting earnings of over $1.3 million as he makes his first start since a close-up third-place finish in the Mad Hatter overnight stakes at Aqueduct on November 20. Trained by Barclay Tagg, Dry Martini scored his biggest career victory in the 2009 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

Birdrun came to hand late last season for trainer Bill Mott, winning an allowance race at Belmont in September and taking his game to another level winning the $150,000 Carl Rose Classic last time out at Calder on November 13 by 4 ½ lengths. The 5-year-old son of Birdstone ran twice over the Gulfstream track last year, finishing second and winning an allowance, both races going a mile.

The complete field, from the rail out, for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic is: First Dude (jockey: Kent Desormeaux); Duke of Mischief (Eibar Coa); Tackleberry (Javier Santiago); Black Hills (M. Hernandez); Birdrun (Rajiv Maragh); King Ghidorah (Jose Alvarez); Cigar Man (Julian Leparoux); Dry Martini (Javier Castellano); Dream Maestro (Juan Leyva); and Honour the Deputy (John Velazquez).

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