News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP TOPS FIVE GRADE ONE STAKES SATURDAY AT BELMONT
Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird will try to become the first three-year-old since Easy Goer in 1989 to win the Belmont Stakes, Shadwell Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year when he takes on six opponents in the 91st running of the Grade I, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The 1¼ mile Jockey Club Gold Cup is the centerpiece of “Super Saturday” at Belmont Park, with four other Grade I races and a special first race post time of 12:30 p.m. Also on the card are the $600,000 Beldame, the $400,000 Vosburgh, the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, and the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, with the latter four comprising a $500,000 Guaranteed All Grade I Pick Four.
“Any Grade I race is important, but when you add onto it the historical significance of Easy Goer being the last 3-year-old to win the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year, it’s very meaningful,” said Tim Ice, who trains Summer Bird for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman. “Horses like Man o’War and Arts and Letters did it. If Summer Bird could add this to his resume, it would speak volumes for him.”
Although favored in the morning line at 2-1 with Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux aboard, Summer Bird will have a strong challenge from a cadre of older stakes winners, including Macho Again and Asiatic Boy, as well as another outstanding three-year-old in Quality Road, who was third in the Travers.
The second choice at 5-2 on the morning line, Quality Road set track records in both the Grade I Florida Derby and the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga and has been training well since the Midsummer Derby.
“The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a very important race in its own right,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “Our focus is hoping our horse does well.”
In addition to Easy Goer, Man o’War (1920) and Arts and Letters (1969), three-year-olds who have won the Belmont, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup include Twenty Grand (1931), One Count (1951), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967) and Temperence Hill (1980).
Both Macho Again, winner of the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs earlier this year, and Asiatic Boy exit an encounter with another three-year-old – the superb filly Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga Race Course on September 5.
“He’s a top horse, championship caliber,” trainer Dallas Stewart said of four-year-old Macho Again, who has six wins from 20 starts including victories in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap and the Grade II Jim Dandy and a second in the Grade 1 Whitney. “We’re looking forward to running.”
The complete Jockey Club Gold Cup field, in post position order, is: Sette E Mezzo (jockey: Ramon Dominguez, morning line odds: 12-1); Macho Again (Robby Albarado, 7-2); Summer Bird (Kent Desormeaux, 2-1); Tizway (Rajiv Maragh, 15-1); Asiatic Boy (Alan Garcia, 8-1); Dry Martini (Edgar Prado, 8-1); and Quality Road (John Velazquez, 5-2).
LOOKIN AT LUCKY STRONG CHOICE IN NORFOLK; OAK LEAF WIDE OPEN
When California’s stellar juveniles compete in Oak Tree’s pair of Grade I stakes for 2-year-olds on Sunday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s unbeaten Lookin At Lucky will be a solid favorite in the $300,000 Norfolk Stakes, but the $300,000 Oak Leaf, an event that has produced nine Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champions, has become unusually unsettled with the recent injury to highly regarded Mi Sueno.
Lookin At Lucky will be seeking his fourth win, second Grade I and third graded stakes victory to take into Oak Tree’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 7. Garrett Gomez rides the son of Smart Strike who will be stretching out to a route for the first time in the mile-and-one-sixteenth Norfolk. He was even-money when taking the Grade I Del Mar Futurity while going seven furlongs on Sept. 7.
Lookin At Lucky drew post position No. 2 among 12 entrants in the competition that Baffert has won four out of the past 12 years. Baffert’s most recent Norfolk triumph came in 2004, with Roman Ruler. The Hall of Fame conditioner was second in the race last year with Midshipman, who went on to take the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Oak Leaf turned topsy-turvy when Mi Sueno, California’s top-ranked juvenile filly, was injured while training last Tuesday at Hollywood Park.
Blind Luck, who closed strongly for second in the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante, will be a leading contender among 13 aspirants in the Grade I at 1 1/16 miles leading up to Oak Tree’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 6.
The Norfolk is scheduled as the eighth race on a nine-race program at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack, which will have a post time of 12:30 p.m. (PT). The Oak Leaf goes as the sixth race.
GRAZEN EVEN-MONEY CHOICE IN SATURDAY’S CAL CUP CLASSIC
Nick Alexander’s roan homebred Grazen has been established as the even-money favorite to become the fourth 3-year-old to capture Oak Tree’s $200,000 California Cup Classic presented by City National Bank on Saturday when he faces five rivals in the mile-and-one-eighth event that highlights the nine races for California-breds that comprise the 20th Cal Cup at Santa Anita.
This year’s popular Cal Cup extravaganza has been advanced to the first Saturday of Oak Tree’s 41st season in part to allow entrants the possibility of competing in the two-day Breeders’ Cup, to be staged Nov. 6 and 7. This year is the first time the Breeders’ Cup has been held at the same venue for two consecutive years.
If Grazen runs to his notices on Saturday, Alexander said consideration will be given to the Grade I, $1-million Dirt Mile on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. The son of Benchmark’s credentials have been exceptional this year.
Following a troubled debut in September of last year, the Mike Mitchell-trainee has won four of five starts in 2009 including Hollywood Park’s Grade III Affirmed Handicap. His only setback came in the subsequent Grade II Swaps in which he ran second to Misremembered, a victim in the Affirmed.
“It’s really neat to breed something special,” commented owner-breeder Alexander. “Up until now, we’d been known as the king of the $12,500 maiden claimers at Golden Gate.”
Garrett Gomez will ride the colt who has earned $245,400 and will break from post position three in the Cal Cup Classic.
The complete field for the Cal Cup Classic, in post position order, is: Bold Chieftain (jockey: Russell Baze, morning line odds: 5-2); Star Nicholas (Michael Baze, 4-1); Grazen (Garrett Gomez, 1-1); Lethal Heat (Alex Solis, 7-2); Blackbriar (Brice Blanc, 30-1); and One Chin Again (Rafael Bejarano, 30-1).
INDEPENDENT MONITOR TO ISSUE REPORT ON ALLIANCE BY END OF YEAR
Tommy Thompson and the Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld have announced in a letter to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) that they will issue a public report assessing the progress of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. The report is expected to be issued by the end of 2009. Thompson, the former four-term Governor of Wisconsin and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, has served as the independent monitor of the Alliance since its inception in October, 2008.
“As independent monitor to the Alliance,” Thompson wrote, “it is my responsibility to examine the work of the Alliance and to assess industry progress in achieving the reforms called for by the Alliance…That report will be made available to the public and I will make myself available to the media and to fans to answer any questions concerning that report.”
During the upcoming months, Thompson will preside over a systematic data-gathering phase that includes the submission of a formal questionnaire to racetracks that have undergone the accreditation process; one-on-one interviews with key industry stakeholder groups; the online solicitation of public comment about the Alliance; and a thorough examination of the entire racetrack accreditation process, including a review of all Alliance applications, inspection team make-up, inspection team reports and actions taken on the basis of those reports.
“My partners at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and I take our responsibility to the public and to racing fans very seriously,” Thompson concluded in the letter. “We fully understand that many are relying on us to assure them of the genuineness and effectiveness of industry efforts to implement safety and integrity reforms.”
“Akin Gump and Governor Thompson have been actively engaged in the Alliance since its inception, and we welcome their candid assessment of the industry’s progress to date,” said Mike Ziegler, Executive Director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance.
The Alliance, formed last October with the goal of establishing national uniform standards in the areas of safety and integrity, includes 55 racetracks in North America and every major national horsemen’s organization. Alliance certification standards cover five broad areas: injury reporting and prevention; creating a safer racing environment; aftercare and transition of retired racehorses; uniform medication, testing and penalties; and safety research.
SCENES FROM “SECRETARIAT” TO BE FILMED AT CHURCHILL DOWNS NEXT WEEK
Scenes from the Walt Disney Studio’s forthcoming motion picture “Secretariat”, starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery and John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin, will be filmed at Churchill Downs starting Monday, October 5. Officials say that filming at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby is expected to last five days.
Transformation of the Churchill Downs grounds is underway. Areas that will be used in scenes include the paddock, the paddock runway, sections of the Grandstand, the main track and the barn area. Also, the track’s Matt Winn Dining Room on the third floor of the Clubhouse is being used as an area for makeup and thousands of costume fittings for film extras.
The most notable facility changes are period updates to the paddock area and Grandstand signage that signifies the year 1973. Secretariat, of course, ran 1 ¼ miles in a track record 1:59 2/5 on May 5, 1973 to defeat Sham by 2 ½ lengths and win the 99th running of the Kentucky Derby. The two-time Horse of the Year would go on to sweep horse racing’s Triple Crown which culminated in a jaw-dropping 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes.
Walt Disney Studios is seeking additional extras for the film. They are asking people of all ages to wear clothing from the 1970s and come to Churchill Downs on Monday, October 5 and Tuesday, October 6. Registration will begin at 8:00 a.m. on both days. Extras should enter through Parking Gate 12 off Queen Avenue, walk to the Gate 10 admission gate and follow signage to the ITW area on the second floor of the Clubhouse. The first 500 extras will receive free hot dogs and drinks, while all extras will be eligible for prize drawing giveaways.