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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

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


Commentator, a two-time Grade I winner for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, leads a field of seven for this Saturday’s 66th running of the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. The MassCap has a star-studded roster of past winners, including such racing legends as Seabiscuit and the sport’s all-time leading money winner, Cigar.

The morning-line favorite at 3-to-5, Commentator is coming off of an impressive gate-to-wire score in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on July 26. He won the 2005 Whitney as well. Overall this year, the seven-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor has three wins from four starts, including a dominant victory in the Richter Scale Handicap at Gulfstream Park, which he won by over 13 lengths. Commentator starts from post two in the mile-and-one-eighth dirt contest and will be ridden by John Velazquez for owner Tracy Farmer.

“He’s been training spectacular,” said Farmer. “I’ve had a great number of horses in my life and he has a bit of Seabiscuit in him. He understands what he is supposed to do. He’s just a special horse. It’s almost like he’s my child. He’s someone that keeps coming back and running.”

Dr. Pleasure, third in last year’s MassCap, returns as the 7-2 second choice for owner John Oxley and trainer John Ward. The five-year-old son of Thunder Gulch out of the champion mare Beautiful Pleasure returned from nearly a five-month layoff to post an impressive 8 ¼ length win in an optional claiming race at Saratoga on August 10. Cornelio Velasquez is named to ride Dr. Pleasure, who will break from post six.

Philadelphia Park will provide the stage for the richest race of the weekend when the Bensalem, Pa., racetrack hosts the Grade II, $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes for three-year-old fillies. Proud Spell, fresh off a stirring win in the Grade I Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, is the prohibitive favorite in a field of seven.

A leading candidate for Champion three year-old filly honors, Proud Spell has been nothing short of sensational since setting foot on the racetrack last summer. On Saturday, she will look to top the $2 million mark for her career. Should she turn in a good effort over the Philadelphia Park dirt, it is possible she could next take on her elders in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic on October 24 over the new synthetic surface at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

“We’re going to take it one race at a time, but if we do go, needless to say, this will be our last race before that, and we’ll just kind of see how she comes out,” said Larry Jones, trainer of Proud Spell. “We’ve been working her at Fair Hill all the time just in case we decided to go. We’ll have as much synthetic practice in her as we can get.”

A number of talented fillies will be here looking for an upset in the Cotillion. By the Light has tasted defeat only once in her seven race career, running second to Indian Blessing in her first graded stakes appearance on July 5th in the Grade I Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park. Her most recent start was an off the pace victory in the Union Ave. Stakes for New York breds on August 18 at Saratoga.

Others of note include Seattle Smooth and Never Retreat. Seattle Smooth won the Bay Meadows Oaks back in April and ran a close third in the Black Eyed Susan Stakes in May at Pimlico. Never Retreat finished within two lengths of Proud Spell in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont in late June.

The two horses that figure to attract the most wagering support in Saturday’s Grade II, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., are clearly at two different points in their career, even though the 1 1/8-miles race is restricted to three-year-olds.

The probable favorite from post three in the field of 10 is Macho Again, a battle-scarred veteran of 12 races, including the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes and Travers Stakes. To be ridden Saturday by Big Brown’s jockey Kent Desormeaux, Macho Again has performed admirably in the top circles, finishing second in the Preakness behind Desormeaux and Big Brown, and winning the Jim Dandy. And his eighth-place finish in the August 23 Travers can be excused by horrific traffic problems at the top of the stretch that caused him to clip heels and lose all momentum. A victory by the hickory tough colt would come as no surprise.

Out in post 10, however, is Forest Command, who is a head shy of being undefeated through his first three races, all of which were at seven furlongs. Since dropping a heartbreaker in his debut, the son of Monarchos has broken his maiden at Churchill Downs, and destroyed a strong allowance field at Saratoga by six lengths.

Will Forest Command be able to cope with Saturday’s stretch out in distance?
“I don’t think the stretch out is going to bother him,” said Forest Command’s trainer John Ward. “Both riders that have ridden him, both Robby Albarado, who will ride him in the Super Derby, and Edgar Prado came back just amazed with what kind of raw talent this horse had. So you know the rider, Robby Albarado, was extremely happy with the animal. He doesn’t think he’ll have any problems going into the two turns. This horse trains big, runs big and probably I was doing him an injustice running him seven-eighths of a mile.”

Sept. 18, 1920: Carrying the top weight of his career, 138 pounds, three-year-old Man o’ War won the Potomac Handicap, conceding 24 pounds to his nearest rival, Paul Jones, and 30 pounds to the second-place finisher, Wildair.
Sept. 18, 1943: The U.S. Army occupied the grounds of Hollywood Park as part of the war effort.
Sept. 18, 1999: Jockey David Gall retired as the fourth winningest rider of all time with 7,396 victories to his credit.
Sept. 19, 1943: Rider Eddie Arcaro returned to racing after a 12-month suspension that resulted from his attempt to injure a fellow rider in the Cowdin Stakes the previous year.
Sept. 19, 1942: Alsab, runner-up in the 1942 Kentucky Derby, beat 3-10 favorite Whirlaway, the 1941 Triple Crown champion, by a nose in a $25,000 match race at Narragansett Park. The match was arranged after Alsab was scratched from the Narragansett Special, a race won by Whirlaway one week earlier. Narragansett’s president, James Dooley, offered to contribute the track’s share of the mutuel handle, plus breakage, to the Army and Navy Relief Funds, making attendance at the race a patriotic gesture. Alsab and Whirlaway met twice more that year, with Whirlaway winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 3, and Alsab besting him in the New York Handicap on Oct. 10.
Sept. 19, 1997: Chelsea Zupan set an Emerald Downs record by winning seven consecutive races at the Auburn, Wash. oval. Zupan won four on September 18th and three on September 19th. The feat was a national record for consecutive victories by a female rider.
Sept. 20, 1965: Jockey Jorge Velasquez made his American racing debut, riding for owner Fred W. Hooper, at Atlantic City Racecourse. He won with his first mount, aboard Keypoint, in the sixth race, at 8-1 odds.
Sept. 20, 1976: Two-year-old Seattle Slew made his racing debut, winning a six furlong maiden race by five lengths at Belmont Park. His zesty workouts prior to the race made Seattle Slew the 2-1 favorite and he was the public’s choice in both his subsequent races that year. After only three starts (including the Champagne Stakes) in the space of 27 days, Seattle Slew was voted champion two-year-old colt for 1976.
Sept. 20, 1980: Before a crowd of 23,000 spectators, four-year-old Spectacular Bid won the Woodward Stakes in the world’s richest walkover. To the surprise of trainer Bud Delp and owners Harry, Teresa and Tom Meyerhoff, “Bid” was awarded only $73,300, which was half of the winner’s share of the purse, but all that was allowable under the track’s rules. There had not been a walkover in a major U.S. stakes race since Coaltown won the Edward Burke Handicap on April 23, 1949.
Sept. 20, 1999: Storm Cat’s stud fee was raised from $200,000 to $300,000.
Sept. 20, 2001: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Dubai’s Crown Prince and Defense Minister of the United Arab Emirates, donated $5 million to a disaster relief fund, established by Keeneland, to assist those affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
Sept. 20, 2001: Leading breeder Harry T. Mangurian, Jr., pledged $1 million to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association-New York Heroes Fund.