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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

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

Rachel Alexandra projected as 1-5 choice in new orleans ladies
Based on her unprecedented success as a 3-year-old filly last year, Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra has been installed as the prohibitive 1-5 morning line choice when she faces four female rivals in Fair Grounds’ inaugural running of the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies this Saturday in the super filly’s first start of the 2010 racing season.

The Ladies will be contested at 1 1/16-miles over the main track at the historic Crescent City oval – the same venue where Rachel Alexandra underlined her initial 2009 success with a facile 1 3/4-length win in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks a year ago.

Following her score in the 2009 Fair Grounds Oaks, Rachel Alexandra journeyed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she captured the Grade II Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. After that, it was on to Churchill Downs, where she became the fourth of the last five Fair Grounds Oaks winners to go on and capture the Grade I Kentucky Oaks. However, her win under the Twin Spires was by 20 1/4-lengths in a dominant performance on the day before the Kentucky Derby.

That Kentucky Oaks win proved to be the genesis of a private sale to Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable and his partner Harold McCormick, who redirected her campaign under their trainer Steve Asmussen toward a start against male rivals in the Grade I Preakness as the middle jewel of the 2009 Triple Crown. There she beat Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird by a length on May 16.

Back in against members of her own sex June 27 at Belmont Park, Rachel Alexandra was dominant again in the Grade I Mother Goose, winning by 19 1/4-lengths, a performance that set up a challenge against older males in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Aug. 2. That time she defeated Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird by six lengths, setting up her final start of the year – again against older males in Saratoga’s Grade I Woodward Stakes – where she withstood last year’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap winner Macho Again by a head at the wire.
Her opponents Saturday in the New Orleans Ladies, where she will be ridden once again by regular rider Calvin Borel, are headed by Arnold Zetcher’s Brazilian-bred Zardana, fourth in Santa Anita Park’s Grade II Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 13 but winner of Hollywood Park’s Grade II Bayakoa Handicap before that. She will be ridden by Southern California jockey David Flores and is pegged at 5-1 in the morning line.
Next in the morning line odds in the New Orleans Ladies at 6-1 is Coteau Grove Farms’ Clear Sailing, heroine of Fair Grounds’ $60,000 Pelleteri Stakes Feb. 13 and a winner by 8 3 /4-lengths here before that in a first-level allowance race Jan. 17. Shane Sellers retains the mount.
Completing the field is a pair of 15-1 long shots – Robert Adams’ Unforgotten, seventh in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at last asking Jan. 30 who will have Miguel Mena aboard; and Jim Tafel’s Fighter Wing, second behind Clear Sailing in the Pelleteri. She will have Corey Lanerie astride.

Zenyatta, racing’s paragon of perfection, returns to action Saturday in the 73rd running of the Grade I, $250,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita, where last seen on Nov. 7 she was scoring an unprecedented victory over males in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic that extended her unbeaten streak to 14. That win led to a repeat as champion older female and emblazoned her enormous popularity.

If you listen to her Hall of Fame jockey, Zenyatta’s 2010 campaign as a 6-year-old will only buttress her brilliance. “I know it sounds funny,” Mike Smith said following a recent workout, “but I really think she’s getting better.”

Zenyatta will carry high weight of 127 pounds against eight opponents in the mile-and-one-eighth Santa Margarita as she prepares for her greatly anticipated showdown with 4-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, in the $5 million Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9. Rachael Alexandra makes her seasonal debut 25 minutes earlier than Zenyatta in the inaugural $200,000 New Orleans Ladies’ Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana.
The eight fillies and mares who will line up against Zenyatta have been entered with few if any illusions. The realistic goal is a Grade I race placing along with second money of $50,000. “There can’t be anyone going in there thinking they can beat Zenyatta,” said Ben Cecil, who trains Gripsholm Castle, a British import who was second to Striking Dancer in the Grade II La Canada Stakes on Feb. 14, her stateside debut.
Zenyatta, who will break from post position No. 8, will be spotting anywhere from 12 to 19 pounds to her opposition. Once previously she has borne more than 127 pounds. Zenyatta carried 129 when taking the Grade I Vanity Handicap by 2 ½ lengths last June at Hollywood Park.
She is expected to add $150,000 to her earnings for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, which would elevate her career income to $5,624,500. This will mark the daughter of Street Cry’s sixth career start at Santa Anita. “She looks like she’s on top of her game right now,” commented trainer John Shirreffs as the dramatic mare neared her return from four months on the sidelines.
According to Shirreffs, Zenyatta will depart her Hollywood Park headquarters at 10 a.m., PT, Thursday and arrive at Santa Anita at approximately 11 a.m., PT. She will school in Santa Anita’s paddock between races later in the day and remain at Santa Anita until Saturday’s Santa Margarita.
At 115 pounds, Striking Dancer is Zenyatta’s highest weighted opponent. The improving 4-year-old filly’s victory by 1 ½ lengths in the La Canada at odds of 13-1 was her first in a stakes race. Alex Solis will ride back for trainer Kenny McPeek. The Smart Strike filly has earned $206,097 for Steve Stan Stables from a 4-1-3 record in 11 starts.
The Barry Abrams conditioned Pretty Unusual took Santa Anita’s Grade II El Encino Stakes while upsetting former 2-year-old filly champion Stardom Bound at odds of 29-1. It was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old Unusual Heat offspring who will again be ridden by Chantal Sutherland. Owned by Madeline Auerbach and partners, Pretty Unusual was weighted at 113 pounds.
The complete field for the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap, with jockeys, weights and morning line in post position order: Dance to My Tune, Martin Garcia, 111, 50-1; Pretty Katherine, Joel Rosario, 111, 50-1; Made for Magic, Omar Berrio, 111, 50-1; Pretty Unusual, Chantal Sutherland, 113, 12-1; Striking Dancer, Alex Solis, 115, 8-1; Powerofvoodoo, Tyler Kaplan, 108, 50-1; Gripsholm Castle, Victor Espinoza, 112, 12-1; Zenyatta, Mike Smith, 127, 1-9, and Floating Heart, Joseph Talamo, 111, 12-1.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out Dublin in Saturday’s Grade II, $300,000 Rebel Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth event for three-year-olds at Oaklawn Park.
Dublin, the second place finisher in the recent Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, was flying at the end of the one mile Southwest and just failed to catch the undefeated winner, Conveyance. Winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last summer, Dublin has been highly-regarded ever since and is expected to improve with distance. His Southwest Stakes effort came on the heels of surgery for an entrapped epiglottis and gave trainer Lukas plenty of confidence that the colt is on the right track to Triple Crown success. He continues to train brilliantly and will be tough to handle on Saturday.
Saturday’s race will be a major test for Dublin, since he will likely do battle with two of the most highly-respected members of the three-year-old crop. Among those entered for Saturday’s Rebel are Watson, Pegram and Weltman’s 2009 two-year-old juvenile champion Lookin At Lucky, and Chasing Dreams Racing 2008’s Noble’s Promise, both considered among the top ten Triple Crown prospects.
Lookin At Lucky comes from the barn of yet another Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has scored with both of the horses he has sent to Oaklawn for stakes events this far this year, Conveyance in the Southwest and Freedom Star in the Azeri. The bay son of Smart Strike, who also sired former Oaklawn champion Curlin, has won five of six outings, losing only in a photo to Vale Of York in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Baffert has expressed a desire to give the winner of $1,243,000 a chance to prove himself on conventional dirt, since all his previous efforts have been on synthetic tracks.
“If it was dirt, I would leave him [at Santa Anita],” said Baffert on an NTRA national media teleconference. “I know what he can do here. I want to see what he can do on dirt.” Champion jockey Garrett Gomez, a former regular at Oaklawn, will be back in the saddle atop Lookin At Lucky on Saturday.
Noble’s Promise, trained by another former Oaklawn regular, Ken McPeek, has hopes of gaining a measure of revenge, having suffered losses in his last two races to Lookin At Lucky. The bay son of Cuvee followed a win in Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity Stakes with a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, then second to Lookin At Lucky in Hollywood Park’s Cash Call Futurity. His record now shows three wins from six starts and earnings of $733,500. However, like Lookin At Lucky, all his success has been on synthetic tracks, so trainer McPeek is seeking out a good test on a conventional dirt track prior to his assault on the Triple Crown.

Seven 3-year-olds were entered in the San Felipe with Caracortado high weighted at 119 pounds. Caracortado is fast becoming the blue-collar favorite among the bluebloods in the Triple Crown picture. Not only is he a California-bred gelding by little known sire Cat Dreams, but Caracortado is trained and co-owned by breeder Mike Machowsky, and he is ridden by Paul Atkinson, who had all but fallen off racing’s radar screen at the age of 40.
After Caracortado won the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a definitive 1 ¾ lengths as the race’s fourth choice while covering 1 1/16 miles in a sprightly 1:41.75, Machowsky remarked, “I read what everybody writes about him, that he is kind of off-bred, not a blueblood, but he’s honest. You can’t knock that. I think using a low-profile rider probably has kept him flying under the radar, but if he’s under the radar now, he shouldn’t be.” Each of Caracortado’s five wins has been accomplished with authority. The winning margin in each has been either 1 ½ or 1 ¾ lengths.
The Lewis provided Atkinson with his biggest career victory. And should Caracortado indeed reach the Kentucky Derby, Atkinson will indeed be there. Both Machowsky and his partner, Don Blahut, are pledged to that. “I’m a firm believer that loyalty means something, and Paul has ridden him flawlessly every time,” said Machowsky. “It’s everybody’s dream to get to the Derby, and Paul deserves as much chance as a guy like Garrett Gomez or Mike Smith.”
An earner of $199,200, Caracortado’s victims in the Lewis included a pair of 3-year-olds, Tiz Chrome and American Lion, who were early consensus choices among the nation’s top 10 Kentucky Derby prospects. American Lion will seek vengeance in the 73rd running of the San Felipe after fading to third, one-half length behind Dave in Dixie, in the Lewis.
Trained by Eoin Harty, American Lion has won 2 of 4 starts including Hollywood Park’s Grade III Hollywood Prevue for earnings of $113,600. He will be equipped with blinkers for the first time on Saturday.
Dave in Dixie, a son of Dixie Union owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash, is a stretch-running sort who turned in his best effort in three starts in the Lewis. Joel Rosario will be back aboard for trainer John Sadler as Dave in Dixie seeks his first stakes victory.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, deep in talented 3-year-olds again this season, will be represented by Interactif, a winner of a pair of Grade III stakes in the East and who ran a close third to Pounced in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet last November.
Wertheimer & Frere’s Interactif, who has posted a 3-1-1 record in six starts for earnings of $288,250, brings the biggest bankroll into the San Felipe. Rafael Bejarano will take over in the saddle from Florida-based Kent Desormeaux as Interactif tries a synthetic surface for the first time following four races on grass.
The contention for Caracortado is rounded out by Sidney’s Candy, the Craig Family Trust’s highly promising son of Candy Ride who will be racing around two turns for the first time with regular rider Joe Talamo in the irons.
Trained by John Sadler, Sidney’s Candy regained his luster with a 4 ½-length triumph in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 10 after a troubled but dull fourth-place effort as the 3-5 favorite in an allowance event on Dec. 30. His uneven four-race career began with a second-place debut before a sizzling four-length maiden win at Del Mar last summer that cast Sidney’s Candy as the local “buzz horse” among Derby prospects.
The complete field for the San Felipe Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Stephen’s Got Hope, Tyler Baze, 115; Interactif, Rafael Bejarano, 117; Erbeia, Solis, 115; American Lion, Julien Leparoux, 117; Sidney’s Candy, Talamo, 117; Dave in Dixie, Rosario, 115, and Caracortado, Paul Atkinson, 119.

Churchill Downs Incorporated chief operating officer Bill Carstenjen will be the featured subject Sunday night on CBS’s hit reality series “Undercover Boss” at 9 p.m. E.T.
“Undercover Boss” follows high-level chief executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies. Each week, a different executive leaves the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they often see the effects their decisions have on others, where potential problems lie within the organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run.
Last summer, Carstanjen traveled to Churchill Downs Incorporated’s Calder Casino and Race Course in Miami and Arlington Park near Chicago to work on a variety of jobs over a 10-day period. He worked with a trainer in the stable area and learned how to care for a horse. Carstanjen also worked in the Jockey’s Quarters, with the track maintenance and housekeeping crews and even shadowed the track bugler.
“Being undercover meant the people I was working with side-by-side could speak frankly about their work,” Carstenjen said. “They talked about their personal sacrifices, health issues and time management, all while showing up every day for work with the same attitudes so many of us feel for this business – the passion, dedication and drive to get more fans to love the sport as much as we do.”

Gary Stevens, Hall of Fame jockey and now racing analyst for NBC and HRTV, has known Calvin Borel well over two decades, and can’t think of a more deserving winner of Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. The 43-year-old Borel will be at Santa Anita Sunday to receive the prestigious honor following the sixth race. Borel’s fiancée, Lisa, and his agent, Jerry Hissam, also will be on hand.
Borel is the 61st Woolf winner selected by a vote of his peers. The George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award has been presented by Santa Anita Park annually since 1950 to the Thoroughbred horse racing jockey in North America who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.
The native of St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, is the regular rider of the superstar filly and 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra who will make her 2010 debut this Saturday in the New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds.
“I’ve known Calvin for 25 years,” said Stevens, the 1996 Woolf winner. “He’s a super guy and well-respected. I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody. He’s liked by everyone and very deserving of the award. He’s probably done more for the sport in recent years through his association with Rachel Alexandra, and winning the Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird and Street Sense.”
“His peers have been well aware of Calvin’s abilities for years, as well as his personality,” Stevens continued. “He’s been on the national stage for the last couple of years. He’s a super guy and very deserving.”
The award was created through donations from the racing public after the death of Hall of Fame jockey George Woolf. The one-time-only award is voted on by members of the Jockeys’ Guild who chose from among their peers nominated by Guild regional managers. The trophy that goes along with the award is a one-foot-high replica of the life-size statue of George Woolf that, along with a bronze sculpture of his favorite mount, Seabiscuit, has a place of honor in the Santa Anita Paddock Gardens.