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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

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


Keeneland will kick off its 2008 Fall meet tomorrow with a bang as the Lexington, Ky., track presents its annual FallStars Weekend, which includes nine stakes races worth $3.4 million. The 17-day meet continues through October 25.

Five of the Keeneland stakes this weekend are Grade I events and are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series whereby the winning horses automatically qualify for the corresponding division race in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to be held October 24 and 25 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

Headlining Friday’s opening-day card are two Grade 1 events: the 57th running of the Darley Alcibiades for two-year-old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on the main track, and the 11th running of the First Lady for fillies and mares, three-years-old and up, going a mile on the turf. The Darley Alcibiades, which is a “Win and You’re In” race with a field of eight, has attracted the undefeated Mani Bhavan, who is three-for-three lifetime including Saratoga stakes wins in the Grade II Adirondack Stakes and Grade I Spinaway Stakes. The First Lady drew seven and is topped by 2006 Two-Year-old filly Champion Dreaming of Anna, and the multiple Grade 1 winner Precious Kitten.

Topping Saturday’s card that features five stakes are the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile and the Grade I Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity. Both are “Win and You’re In” races, and both will be shown live on ESPN during a special two-hour telecast from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (ET). Rahy’s Attorney, winner of the Grade I Woodbine Mile in his most recent start, tops the field for the Shadwell Turf Mile, despite drawing post 12 in a big field while Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Terrain may prove the horse to beat despite a similarly wide draw-post 11–in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity.

Sunday’s card features the weekend’s final two “Win and You’re In” events: the 53rd running of the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster for fillies and mares three-years-old and up at a mile and an eighth on the main track, and the 18th running of the Grade III Woodford Reserve Bourbon for two-year-olds going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. The 11-horse Spinster field is headed by Little Belle, winner of the Ashland Stakes earlier this year at Keeneland and Unbridled Belle, who captured last year’s Grade I Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. The Woodford drew a full field of 12, including Giant Oak, who is undefeated in two starts for trainer Chris Block.


Saturday’s Grade I, $2 million, Pattison Canadian International highlights what will be the richest card in Woodbine’s Thoroughbred history other than the 1996 Breeders’ Cup, which was held at the Rexdale, Ontario, track. In addition to the Pattison, which drew a field of 10 turf specialists, Woodbine will present three other turf stakes – the $1 million E.P. Taylor for fillies and mares, the $500,000 Nearctic for sprinters, and the $300,000 Summer Stakes for two-year-olds. All four events will be televised live by ESPN in a special two-hour telecast from 4:00-6:00 p.m. (ET), and all four are Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ races, meaning the winners also earn berths into their respective Breeders’ Cup races, slated for October 24 and 25 at Santa Anita in California.

Heading the Pattison is the globe-hopping French-bred Doctor Dino, the 2-1 morning line favorite. To be ridden for the first time by Frankie Dettori, who has won two previous Internationals aboard Mutafaweq (2000) and Sulamani (2004), Doctor Dino counts the Group I Hong Kong Vase last December in Sha Tin and the Grade I Man O’ War at Belmont Park in September of 2007 as his two biggest triumphs, in a 27-race career.

“We feel we have him in good shape for his autumn campaign,” said Richard Gibson, trainer of Doctor Dino. “He’s a remarkable athlete in that he can put out of the box every day with a big smile on his face. He loves his work.”

The Grade I, $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes, for fillies and mares at one and one-quarter miles on the turf, has drawn a well-matched field of nine, including the 5-2 morning line favourite J’ray, winner of the Grade II Canadian on September 7 at Woodbine.

The Grade II, six furlong $500,000 Nearctic Stakes, drew a field of 12, headed by the race’s defending champion Heros Reward.

The Grade III, $300,000 Summer Stakes, a one-mile test for two-year-olds, has eight entrants, with Utterly Cool established as the 7-5 morning line favorite, while stakes-placed Skipadate is next at 5-2.


No Breeders’ Cup berths will be on the line Saturday at Zia Park, but the racing world will shift its focus to the Hobbs, N.M., track at about 5:20 p.m. (ET) that day when Peppers Pride enters the starting gate for race eight, a six-furlong, New Mexico bred allowance race. Should Peppers Pride win it against her five foes, it will be her 17th win without a loss, and she will break the modern U.S. record for consecutive wins, which currently stands at 16 and is held by the quartet of Triple Crown winner Citation, two-time horse of the year Cigar, Santa Anita Derby winner Mister Frisky and the Louisiana-bred sprinter Hallowed Dreams.

“She’s doing well,” said Joel Marr, trainer of Peppers Pride. “She hasn’t raced since April, but has had two works.”

Last time out, the four-year-old daughter of Desert God won the Foutz Distaff Handicap at SunRay Park on April 26. She has remained in training since that win in Marr’s stable.
Peppers Pride, who has raced exclusively at tracks within the state of New Mexico, was scheduled to make her record attempt on two occasions this summer at Ruidoso Downs. She was slated to run in the Lincoln Handicap on July 27 but that racing card was cancelled after the remnants of Hurricane Dolly damaged Ruidoso Downs. The Lincoln Handicap was then rescheduled for August 31, and Peppers Pride entered that race only to have Marr scratch her due to an off track. She has only raced on fast racing surfaces.

This means that Marr has twice prepared to race and then the 5-year-old mare has not competed, not the optimal training regimen for a racehorse. “It probably has had an effect, and we’ll find out Saturday,” Marr said. “But, she has been training well.”

Peppers Pride has raced at Zia Park each of the last three years and is five-for-five over the Hobbs oval.

Peppers Pride will point to the New Mexico Cup Championship for Fillies and Mares after Saturday’s allowance race, providing she comes out of the allowance race in good order. New Mexico Cup day is November 9 and the $2 million in purses makes that program the richest day for any state-bred racing program.

Peppers Pride’s attempt to extend her perfect record to 17-for-17 is slated to be televised by TVG.


Jockeys John Velazquez and Garrett Gomez reached historic milestones on opposite coasts as Velazquez guided Rogue Agent to a six-length victory in the first race at New York’s Belmont Park for his 4,000th career victory, and Gomez scored his 3,000th career win aboard Hyperbaric in the Grade II, $200,000 Oak Tree Mile at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

“This was probably the hardest 10 winners of my career,” Velazquez, 36, said. “It feels great to put it behind me and move on to other things. As you get closer to a big number, it seems harder and harder to get there. I had a great weekend and rode some really nice horses. Every one of my wins was memorable to me. Every one counts to get to 4,000. This was a $16,000 claimer and it means a lot to me, making 4,000. Every one of them is special.”

A two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s leading jockey, Velazquez began his riding career in Puerto Rico after having attended jockey school there, and rode his first winner, Rodas, in 1990 at El Commandante. In March of that year, under the guidance of Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero, Jr., who is now his agent, he moved to New York, where he has been among the top 10 jockeys every year since 1991.

Gomez, a 36-year-old native of Arizona, has overcome substance abuse problems and regained his place as one of racing’s brightest stars in the saddle. Last year, he won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading jockey.

“I’ve had some bumps in the road,” Gomez said, “and I think a milestone like this makes you reflect back and appreciate where you are. I think I’m a better person because of what I’ve been through. As long as I keep winning, I hope to get to 4,000 pretty quick.”