NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

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

DOYLE WINS $500,000 IN DRF/NTRA NATIONAL HANDICAPPING CHAMPIONSHIP
John Doyle of Scottsdale, Ariz., won the $500,000 first-place prize and title of DRF/NTRA Handicapper of the Year at the 12th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) on Saturday night.

The 49-year-old Doyle, a longtime IBM account executive who resigned to become a fulltime horseplayer roughly one year ago, amassed a winning score of $234.80 from 30 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers over the two-day tournament held at Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa in Las Vegas. Doyle, an NHC rookie who qualified for the NHC at NHCQualify.com, never led until the contest was over, scoring with Santa Anita race 10 winner Dapper Gene ($13.20 to win, $5.40 to place) in the event’s final race to leapfrog eventual second place finisher Ron Geary, who had led for much of Day 2. The consistent Doyle tallied a solid $91.00 on Day 1 and added another $143.80 to his contest total today, putting himself atop the field of 301.

“This is just incredible, especially winning on the last race like that,” said Doyle. “I actually visualized this moment when I left work about a year ago. I’ve always loved betting the horses, but had never gotten involved in tournament play until this past year.”

Geary, a Louisville, Ky., resident who owns Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., finished with a score of $226.40 to win the second-place prize of $150,000, after having qualified for the NHC at Fairplex Park. Thomas Anderson, a Burnsville, Minn. resident who qualified at Canterbury Park was third at $213.40 to collect $100,0000 plus another $2,500 for having the top Day 1 score of $182.00. Jon Cianci of Seal Beach, Calif., (qualified at Surfside Race Place) was fourth at $211.60 to take home $55,000 as well as another $3,000 for having Saturday’s second-highest score ($170.20). Jim Templin of West Chester, Pa., (qualified at Horsemen’s Park) was fifth at $194.00. That score was good for $40,000 plus $2,500 for having Saturday’s second-highest score.

The NHC XII finals paid out to the top 30 finishers from a record total purse of $1,050,150. Including $75,000 awarded to Tom Noone, the winner of the year-long NHC Tour, the aggregate payouts this weekend to contestants totaled $1,125,150.

The highest finish by a previous NHC winner at this year’s event was recorded by 2006 winner Ron Rippey, who checked in 40th. Last year’s winner, Brian Troop, finished tied for 234th place. No one has ever won the NHC more than once in the event’s 12-year history.
By virtue of his victory, Doyle also automatically earns an exemption into next year’s NHC finals, where the purse is projected to rise to $2 million with $1 million to the winner.
Registrations for the 2011 NHC Tour are now being accepted at www.ntra.com/nhctour. Full standings and results for this weekend’s just completed NHC can be found at http://www.ntra.com/ and http://www.drf.com/.

FLY DOWN, RULE, GIANT OAK MEET IN DONN HANDICAP
Fly Down was last seen finishing third behind Blame and Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 6. The now 4-year-old colt sets off on his 2011 campaign in Saturday’s Grade I, $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.

Fly Down’s highly-accomplished rivals in the 53rd edition of the 1 1/8- miles Donn include fellow 4-year-old Rule, ranked among the nation’s leading Kentucky Derby prospects early last season, but sidelined after finishing third as the favorite in the Florida Derby in March; and the 5-year-old Giant Oak, winner of the Clark Handicap at Churchill in late November on a disqualification.
Jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard Fly Down in the Classic and retains the mount for trainer Nick Zito after they teamed up for Dialed In’s stunning 3-year-old debut victory in last Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes. The Classic closed out a very productive but frustrating season for Fly Down’s connections as he finished a close-up second in both the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes.
Rule was beaten 1 ½ lengths by the Zito-trained Ice Box in last year’s Florida Derby before missing the Kentucky Derby and the rest of the season. A homebred colt by Roman Ruler, Rule returned with a good effort finishing second in the one-mile Hal’s Hope Handicap at Gulfstream on January 8, beaten 1 ¼ lengths. Jockey Javier Castellano gets a return call.

Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan flies in for the mount on Giant Oak for trainer Chris Block as he makes his first start since finishing second by a head behind Successful Dan in the Clark on November 26 before being awarded the victory by the stewards. The chestnut son of Giant’s Causeway ran big races to finish a close second in both the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park and the Hawthorne Gold Cup earlier in 2010.

In addition to Fly Down, Zito will send out the 4-year-old Morning Line with John Velazquez aboard. A son of Tiznow, Morning Line developed late last season to win the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park in his stakes debut and sixth career start. Morning Line came back with a big performance to finish second by a head behind longshot Dakota Phone in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill on November 6. Morning Line returned this year with a good third-place effort in the Hal’s Hope, beaten 1 ¾ lengths for it all as the even-money favorite.

The big question mark in the deep field set for the Donn will be 5-year-old Square Eddie, shipping in from California for trainer Doug O’Neill with Corey Nakatani coming along for the ride. The son of Smart Strike was a major player as a 2-year-old in 2008 after beginning his career in England, winning the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and finishing second to Midshipman in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, both races run on synthetic surfaces. Square Eddie made six starts as a 3-year-old in 2009 without a victory, though he placed in stakes at Keeneland and Santa Anita. Following a sixth-place try in the Malibu Stakes late that year on December 26, he was tried at stud, but brought back to the races in an allowance race at Santa Anita on January 14 of this year when he dazzled while winning by 3 ¼ lengths and setting a track record for 6 ½ furlongs.

The 6-year-old gelding Eldaafer won a Breeders’ Cup race in his last start and makes his 2011 debut in the Donn, but will be a longshot in the field as his victory at Churchill Downs came in the 1 ¾ miles Marathon, and his effectiveness at nine furlongs at this level of competition is a question. Jockey Edgar Prado rides the son of A.P. Indy for trainer Diane Alvarado.

The complete field for the Donn Handicap, in post position order, is: I Want Revenge (jockey: Ramon Dominguez); Hear Ye Hear Ye (Jeffrey Sanchez); Morning Line (John Velazquez); Giant Oak (Shaun Bridgmohan); Eldaafer (Edgar Prado); Fly Down (Julian Leparoux); Square Eddie (Corey Nakatani); Rule (Javier Castellano); and Ron the Greek (Jose Lezcano).

BIG DAY SATURDAY AT SANTA ANITA WITH STRUB, LAS VIRGENES
Once-beaten 4-year-old Twirling Candy and unbeaten 3-year-old filly Turbulent Descent will be solidly favored to continue their respective climbs toward divisional supremacy on Saturday’s Strub Stakes Day at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

Jenny Craig’s Twirling Candy, the homebred son of Candy Ride whose overall brilliance has dimmed a single setback in six trips to the post, is expected to be the odds-on favorite among eight 4-year-olds in the 64th running of the historic Grade II, $200,000 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Turbulent Descent, a $160,000 sales purchase whose flawless three-race career includes a handy triumph in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet, will be a solid choice among seven 3-year-old fillies set to contest the 29th running of the Grade I, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile.
Dakota Phone, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs last November, will face eight rivals in yet another graded stakes race on the ten-race program, the Grade III, $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap at one mile on turf for older horses.

Penny Chenery, who owned the legendary Secretariat, and who was prominently portrayed in the recent move “Secretariat,” will present Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, with the first Secretariat Vox Populi (Voice of the People) Award during a winner’s circle ceremony. Chenery and the Mosses will sign selected prints of “Racing Royalty: Secretariat and Zenyatta” in the East Paddock Gardens area for one hour beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Last time out on December 26, Twirling Candy gave a sensational showing, rallying at odds of 7-2 to nose out Smiling Tiger in the Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs. Santa Anita’s new dirt track was playing unusually fast just after installation, but Twirling Candy’s record-breaking time of 1:19 3/5 in the Malibu didn’t particularly surprise his jockey. “When you’re on the best horse like Twirling Candy,” Joel Rosario commented, “it’s no surprise that he ran that fast.”
Rosario, who was not aboard Twirling Candy in the Goodwood, will be the riding companion on Saturday as the bay colt trained by John Sadler takes aim on a storied stakes race that not infrequently leads to the Santa Anita Handicap.

The complete field for the Strub Stakes, in post position order, is: Honour the Deputy (jockey: Garrett Gomez, weight: 118); Indian Firewater (Mike Smith, 123); Twirling Candy (Joel Rosario, 123); Tweebster (Rafael Bejarano, 118); Paris Vegas (Brice Blanc, 118); Make Music for Me (Chantal Sutherland, 118); Do It All (Patrick Valenzuela, 118); and Oilisblackgold (Victor Espinoza, 118).

If there is any hint of descent in the future of Turbulent Descent, it would not figure to develop on Saturday. The bay filly conditioned by Mike Puype has been training exceptionally well for her return after being freshened since her 1 ¼-length win over Big Tiz in the Starlet at Hollywood Park on December 11.

“Great” was how regular rider David Flores described a five-furlong drill in 59 1/5 last Sunday at Hollywood Park. “We’re ready for Saturday,” said Flores. The filly had worked a sparkling seven furlongs in 1:23 2/5 the previous week at Hollywood Park.

A Florida-bred daughter of Congrats who was purchased in April of last year, Turbulent Descent won Hollywood Park’s $100,000 Moccasin Stakes following her maiden debut victory. Her spotless record in three starts has netted $328,350 for her owners.

The complete field for the Las Virgenes, in post position order, is: Plum Pretty (jockdy: Martin Garcia, weight: 118); Bluegrass Chatter (Garrett Gomez, 118); Tiz the Route (Brice Blanc, 118); California Nectar (Patrick Valenzuela, 118); May Day Rose, Rafael Bejarano, 119); Turbulent Descent (David Flores, 122), and Zazu (Joel Rosario, 118).

Winless while chasing Aggie Engineer in two starts since springing his 37-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Dakota Phone will switch to grass in the Thunder Road. In his last start on turf in an allowance race at Hollywood Park on June 27, Dakota Phone rallied for second, one-half length behind multiple stakes winner The Usual Q.T. Joel Rosario rides Dakota Phone for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The 6-year-old bay gelding has earned $1,282,810 from a career record of 6-7-9 in 34 starts. He has raced on turf five times with a 1-1-1 showing.

The complete field for the Thunder Road Handicap, in post position order, is: Blue Chagall (Garrett Gomez, weight: 118), Fluke, (Joe Talamo, 120); Dakota Phone (Joel Rosario, 120); Proudinsky (Patrick Valenzuela, 120); Meteore (Alonso Quinonez, 116); Jazzman’s Dance (Kayla Stra, 108); Skyrush (Martin Pedroza, 116); Colgan’s Chip (Brice Blanc, 116); and Victor’s Cry (Victor Espinoza, 122).

INDEPENDENT MONITOR RELEASES REPORT ON NTRA SAFETY AND INTEGRITY ALLIANCE
The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson, independent monitor of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, and the Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld released a comprehensive public report on the Alliance yesterday. The 12-page “Report of the Independent Monitor” covers the Alliance’s progress to date in implementing safety and integrity standards and reforms.

The report, available in full at NTRA.com, cited the successful implementation of several meaningful safety improvements at accredited racetracks throughout North America and also praised the Alliance for sparking legislative changes in states whose rules were substandard relative to those in other racing states. The report expressed disappointment, however, that only five new racetracks availed themselves of the accreditation process in 2010. Suggested areas for improvement included the creation of incentives to compel more tracks to seek accreditation, and the need to better educate the general public about specific improvements made at racetracks.

“While the lack of accreditation through the end of the calendar year appears to be problematic, it must be recognized that the Alliance is still in its infancy – just two years old,” the report stated. “The number of accreditations may seem small in quantity, but it should be recognized that the tracks accredited thus far represent most of racing’s premier venues. In addition, nearly 70 percent of annual nationwide wagering handle is represented by the tracks already accredited. However, for the Alliance to succeed, broader support must be garnered.”
“I commend Governor Thompson and his team at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for what is, once again, a frank and thorough report,” said Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “The analysis recognizes economic challenges; spotlights many areas of achievement; and points out several other areas where improvement is necessary in order to ensure the future success of the Alliance.”Thompson, the former four-term Governor of Wisconsin and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, has served as the Alliance’s independent monitor since its inception in October 2008.

WHIRLAWAY ATTRACTS A FIELD OF SEVEN AT THE BIG A
With an eye to the future, seven 3-year-olds will find out if maturity and distance are on their side when they line up for Saturday’s $100,000 Whirlaway at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y.

At 1 1/16th miles, the Whirlaway – named for the popular colt who swept the 1941 Triple Crown – is just the second open stakes of 2011 for sophomores in New York, and the connections of many of Saturday’s entrants are hoping the race will be a gauge of things to come.
“They all change so rapidly this time of year,” said Dogwood Stables’ Cot Campbell, whose Sky Music drew post position 7 for the race. “Dramatic things happen. Some of those unwatched pots begin to boil, and that’s where we hope he is.”

The New York-bred son of Sky Mesa, who fetched $140,000 as a yearling at Saratoga’s Fasig Tipton sales, has two victories in four starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, all against fellow state-breds. He followed his maiden victory at Belmont Park on October 3 with a 3 ¾-length win in the Restrainor Stakes over the Big A’s main track on November 18, and then finished fourth and third, respectively, as the favorite in the Damon Runyon and the Champagneforashley.
“He got off to a splendid start and won a stakes,” said Campbell. “We think – repeat, think – he got a little unlucky in his past two. In the Damon Runyon he was in all sorts of trouble, and in his last race he dropped back and then came extremely wide. I think we might have had the best horse, and in this race, against open company, we’ll find out. Now’s the time to take a shot. He’s got the right to be a good horse, and, he’s in good hands.”

David Cohen will be aboard Sky Music, listed at 10-1 on the morning line.
Putting a 2-for-2 record on the line as the 2-1 favorite in the Whirlaway is Klaravich Stables, Inc.’s Rescind the Trade, who broke his maiden at Parx Racing and next took a one-mile, 70-yard optional claimer at Aqueduct on December 19.

“His Parx race was very professional,” said trainer Rick Violette. “He had to tap on the brakes a couple of times, and prevailed in a stretch-long duel over a horse [Tap Star] who won the next time out. In his next start, his first around two turns, the first turn surprised him, and when he got to the five-eighths pole he didn’t understand he still had another turn to go. He lost all position, but then circled widest and came back to beat a horse [Pants On Fire] who went on to finish second in the LeComte stakes at the Fair Grounds.

“So he overcame a less than perfect trip, and those turned out to be nice horses he beat,” added Violette. “You hope it carries forward.”

Alan Garcia will ride the Put It Back colt from post position 3.

Preachintothedevil comes into the Whirlaway off a mild upset in the Champagneforashley, in which he sat three-wide before taking over and pulling clear to a 3 ¼-length victory, his second in three starts. Trained by Gary Contessa, the Pulpit colt was a 7 ¼-length winner in his debut, which came off the turf, and next finished third in the Damon Runyon.

“It will be the acid test,” said Contessa, who trains Preachintothedevil for Crossed Sabres’ Farm. “With a young horse, you like to see every race be a step forward, whether it’s a baby step or a big step. He went from a maiden race to a stakes, and performed well, and then won a stakes. He’s continuing to impress me. And if we have even the remotest idea this horse has a chance to go to the Triple Crown, this is the place to find out.”

Junior Alvarado rides Preachintothedevil, 4-1 on the morning line, from post 5.
Norman Asbjornson carries a two-race winning streak into the Whirlaway, having broken his maiden in a one-mile event at Penn National in December and following that up with a front-running allowance win at Parx on January 11.

“The two turns has really helped him,” said trainer Christopher Grove of the Real Quiet colt, who was winless in his first three starts sprinting. “He didn’t show a whole lot going short. It’s a little ambitious, but he keeps improving.”

J.D. Acosta will ride Norman Asbjornson, 20-1 on the morning line, from post position 4.
The complete field for the Whirlaway, from the rail out, is: Toby’s Corner (jockey: Eddie Castro, morning line odds: 6-1); Arthurs’ Tale (Chuck Lopez, 6-1); Rescind the Trade (Alan Garcia, 2-1); Norman Asbjornson (J.D. Acosta, 20-1); Preachintothedevil (Junior Alvarado, 4-1); J J’s Lucky Train (Jose Ferrer, 5-2); and Sky Music (David Cohen, 10-1).

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