News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications, (212) 230-9500.
MILLION DOLLAR NATIONAL HANDICAPPING CHAMPIONSHIP STARTS TOMORROW
Defending champion Stanley Bavlish of Virginia Beach, Va., heads a field of 278 horseplayers who will gather at Red Rock Resort and Casino on January 25-26 to vie for horse racing’s official title of “Handicapper of the Year” and a first-place prize of $500,000 in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC).
This year’s National Handicapping Championship will be the richest in the event’s nine-year history, offering estimated total prize money of $1,000,000–$163,000 more than last year. The winner’s share of $500,000 is also an NHC record, eclipsing last year’s mark of $400,000. By way of comparison, the first NHC in January 2000 carried a total prize pool of $200,000 and a winner’s share of $100,000.
“We are delighted to be hosting our first ever million-dollar DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA. “The purse money for the NHC has grown tremendously in recent years, which speaks to the tournament’s immense popularity among both horseplayers and qualifying sites.”
In just its ninth year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. This year’s finalists advanced from one of 87 local tournaments held at more than 50 different sites across North America from February through December 2007. So far, more than 100,000 people have participated in these local tournaments.
The tournament format for the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is meant to be the best possible test of overall handicapping ability. Players attempt to earn the highest possible bankroll based on 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on each day of the two-day tournament. Eight of those wagers will be on mandatory races as selected by a panel comprised of Daily Racing Form National Handicapper Mike Watchmaker, NTRA Senior Director of Media Relations Eric Wing and Red Rock Casino Director of Race and Sports Jason McCormick.
The remaining seven races each day are optional plays to be made on races at one of seven designated NHC tournament tracks: Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
There is also an additional $46,500 in prize money to be awarded incrementally to the five best finishers on each day.
Regular Championship updates will be posted on the Internet throughout the two-day contest at both www.ntra.com and www.drf.com.
EAST VS. WEST IN SUNSHINE MILLIONS
Sunshine Millions, the annual eight-race extravaganza pitting the nation’s top Florida breds against the fastest California breds for bragging rights and total purses of $3.6 million will be contested this Saturday.
The Sunshine Millions takes place simultaneously at two racetracks, and coverage will be presented on ESPN2 from both Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., and Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Featured live races will include the marquee event at both tracks: the $1,000,000 Frank’s Energy Drink Sunshine Millions Classic from Santa Anita and the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf Presented by OBS from Gulfstream. Also scheduled to air live from Gulfstream is the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff Presented by Pepsi. Comprehensive coverage of other Sunshine Million races, all with purses of at least $250,000, will also be included in the telecast.
Stronach Stable’s 5-year-old mare Ginger Punch, recently named 2007 Eclipse Champion for Older Female and IEAH Stable’s 5-year-old sprint star Benny the Bull are among the most prominent names entered in the four Sunshine Millions races at Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.
Ginger Punch leads a formidable team of California-trained stakes where she will be the favorite in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff with regular rider Rafael Bejarano also making the trip for the 1 1/8 miles test for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Ginger Punch will likely be odds-on in a full field of 12 fillies and mares. Completing the field for the Distaff are J. Paul Reddam and Rockin BB Ranch’s Peach Flambe, WinStar Farm’s’s Leah’s Secret, Roland Powell’s Saffronista, Tailwind Racing’s Swiss Current, Stable H.M.A.’s Night Power, Kenwood Racing’s Exchanging Fire, Silly Goose Stable’s Prop Me Up, Betty Currin’s Memorette and Paul Pompa, Jr. and Millenium Farm’s Lost Etiquette.
Jockey Edgar Prado gets the call on Benny the Bull for trainer Rick Dutrow in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint at six furlongs in his first start since capturing the DeFrancis Memorial Dash (G1) at Laurel Park on Nov. 24 after a good try when fourth behind Midnight Lute (2007 Two-Year-Old Male Juvenile Eclipse Champion) in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Monmouth Park
Benny the Bull is a confirmed stretch-runner who appears to have plenty of speed for a set-up in the Sprint.
One of the speedballs he’ll be facing is Bushwacker, a Florida-bred who has never been better, winning his last two starts for co-owner and trainer Bill Currin.
Completing the field for the Sprint are Harris Farms’ High Standards, Randall Hartley and Dean DeRenzo’s Praying for Cash, Rolbea Thoroughbred Racing’s Finallymadeit, David and Teresa Palmer and Bill Kaplan’s Storm in May, Saud al Saif’s Cobalt Blue, Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Mr. Umphrey, West Point Thoroughbreds’ Tropic Storm and Millenium Farms’ Santana Strings.
Frank’s Energy Drink Sunshine Millions Classic, a 1 1/8-miles race for Californian and Florida breds aged four-and-up at Santa Anita drew a full field of 12 and will include last year’s Sunshine Millions Classic winner McCann’s Mojave, who shocked his rivals at 33-1 odds last year. McCann’s Mojave, a California bred, will have his hands full to repeat. Fellow Cal-bred Bilo is an accomplished sprinter who comes in to the race with a three-race winning streak, including the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood last July. Bilo may have company on the front end, however, in Florida bred Gottcha Gold, another confirmed frontrunner, who was second last time out in the inaugural running of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Monmouth Park in October. The projected hot pace may set things up nicely for Florida bred Diamond Stripes, who last year captured the Grade II Meadowlands Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles and placed third in a trio of nine-furlong Grade I contests: the Stephen Foster Handicap, the Whitney Handicap and the Woodward Stakes.
In the Sunshine Millions Turf, presented by OBS a field of 12 four-year-olds and-up will go 1 1/8-miles on the turf in this affair at Gulfstream. On paper it looks like the Floridians may have a talent edge to go along with their home field advantage. Breaking from the extreme outside post will be Presious Passion, who comes in to the Turf off a 67-1 upset win last month in the Grade II McKnight Handicap over the Calder turf course. Trying to prove that last win was no fluke, he will face the Todd Pletcher-trained Icy Atlantic, a fellow Floridian who was ninth last time out in the $2 million NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile. Those two will have to deal with the up-and-coming Florida bred War Monger, who will break from the rail and has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief, six-race career for trainer Bill Mott. But don’t count out California bred Epic Power, a seven-year-old with 53 starts and 12 victories to his credit. The Jack Carava trainee has hit the board in each of his last eight races, all on grass.
Hosting the telecast at Santa Anita will be Joe Tessitore, joined by analysts Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss and reporter Jay Privman. Reporter Jeannine Edwards and handicapper Hank Goldberg will appear from Gulfstream Park.
WAR PASS RECEIVES TOP HIGH WEIGHT
War Pass, undefeated winner of the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, received the high weight assignment of 127 pounds on the 2007 Experimental Free Handicap, released today by The Jockey Club.
The filly division is headed by undefeated Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Indian Blessing at 123 pounds.
The Experimental Free Handicap, published annually by The Jockey Club since 1935, is a weight-based assessment of the previous year’s leading 2-year-olds, with the weights compiled for a hypothetical race at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. This year’s weighting committee of racing secretaries was composed of Ben Huffman of Churchill Downs, P.J. Campo of the New York Racing Association and Thomas S. Robbins of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
The committee weighted a total of 105 males and 99 fillies. Eligible for weighting were all 2-year-olds of 2007 that finished among the top four in graded or other unrestricted races with an added value of at least $75,000, run in the continental United States.
Robert V. LaPenta’s War Pass (Cherokee Run – Vue, by Mr. Prospector) won all four of his starts last year for earnings of $1,397,400. In addition to his 4 ¾-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he also won the Champagne Stakes. He was bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm LLC.
he 127 pounds assigned to War Pass is equivalent to the assignment on last year’s high weight, Street Sense, and is 1 pound above the standard impost for top Experimental colts. Street Sense became the 11th Experimental Free Handicap high weight to win the Kentucky Derby.
War Pass is weighted 7 pounds higher than the triumvirate of Dixie Chatter, Into Mischief and Pyro. The 7-pound spread in weights equals the record established in 1952 when Native Dancer, at 130 pounds, was weighted 7 pounds more than runner-ups Laffango and Tahitian King.
In the filly division, the 123 pounds assigned to Indian Blessing (Indian Charlie – Shameful, by Flying Chevron) is the standard impost for top Experimental fillies and is equivalent to the assignment on last year’s high weight, Dreaming of Anna.
Bred in Kentucky by her owners, Patti and Hal J. Earnhardt III, Indian Blessing went undefeated in three starts at 2. In addition to her 3 ½-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Indian Blessing also won the Frizette Stakes for earnings of $1,357,200.
RACING ON THE AIR (all times Eastern)
January 26 Sunshine Millions (Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park); 5:00-6:00 p.m., ESPN2
RACING TO HISTORY
Jan. 24, 1974: Jockey Chris McCarron rode his first race, in which he finished last aboard Most Active, at Bowie Racecourse.
Jan. 25, 2000: According to The Jockey Club Fact Book for 2000, gross purses and total handle rose again in 1999 with North American purses topping $1 billion for the first time in history.
Jan. 26, 1950: Citation’s 16-race win streak came to an end in the La Sorpresa Handicap at Santa Anita. Despite giving 16 pounds to the winner, Miche, Citation, carrying 130 pounds, lost only by a neck.
Jan. 27, 1973: Penny Chenery accepted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year on behalf of Secretariat, who was also voted champion two-year-old of 1972.
Jan. 27, 2003: Azeri became the first female since Lady’s Secret in 1986 to receive the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
Jan. 28, 1979: Bob Baffert won his first race as a Thoroughbred trainer, saddling Flipper Star to win the second race at Rillito Park in Tucson, Ariz. The winner’s share of the $600 purse was $330.
Jan. 28, 1999: The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association announced the creation of the “Claiming Crown,” a six-race event to be held at Canterbury Park.
Jan. 28, 2006: Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey concluded his riding career with a second-place finish aboard Silver Tree in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park.
Jan. 29, 1960: Future Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Carry Back finished tenth in his first start ever, a three-furlong race for two-year-old maiden runners at Hialeah. Sired by Saggy, the only horse to defeat Citation during his three-year-old season, out of an undistinguished mare named Joppy, Carry Back became a popular runner and was dubbed “the people’s horse.”
Jan. 29, 1969: Patti Barton, a 24-year-old exercise rider, applied for a jockey’s license in Las Cruces, N.M. The stewards declined to act on the application, which if approved would have made Barton the first female licensed jockey in Thoroughbred racing.
Jan. 29, 1973: Forego, eventual three-time Horse of the Year, 1974-76, broke his maiden by eight lengths in his second career start, at Hialeah Park.
Jan. 29, 2003: Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. gained his 9,500th career win aboard Saxony in the fifth race at Santa Anita.
Jan. 30, 1981: Jockey Julie Krone rode in her first race ever, finishing second by three lengths in a six-furlong sprint for $3,500 maiden claimers at Tampa Bay Downs. Her mount, a 22-1 shot trained by Jerry L. Pace, was named Tiny Star.
Jan. 30, 1992: For the second time in one month, jockey Mike Smith won six races in one day at Aqueduct Racetrack. His first six-winner day at Aqueduct occurred Jan. 13.
Jan. 30, 2001: Tiznow was named 2001 Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards in New Orleans.
Jan. 30, 2007: Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, was euthanized at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., due to complications from laminitis. Barbaro had developed laminitis while recovering from an injury to his right hind leg suffered during the 2006 Preakness Stakes.
Jan. 31, 1958: Jockey Bill Shoemaker notched his 3,000th career win, aboard Eternal Pere, in the eighth race at Santa Anita Park.
Feb. 1, 1941: Golden Gate Fields opened for its inaugural race meet. After a five-day “season,” the track was forced to close because severe rainstorms washed out the racing surface. The advent of World War II prevented the facility from reopening until Sept. 9, 1947.
Feb. 1, 1999: Owner-breeder and philanthropist Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stable died at his residence in Upperville, Va. He was 91.
Feb. 2, 2001: The Jockey Club announced that gross purses in the United States during 2000 topped $1 billion for the first time, an increase of 7.0 percent compared to 1999 figures.
Feb. 3, 1989: Apprentice jockey Nate Hubbard hung on for second–literally–when his horse, Sweetwater Oak, stumbled near the finish line at Golden Gate Fields and flipped the rider out of his saddle. As he tumbled forward, Hubbard grabbed on to the filly’s neck and hung in mid-air until the race was over. The track stewards ruled it an official finish because Hubbard’s feet never touched the ground and Sweetwater Oak carried her assigned weight throughout the race.
Feb. 3, 1990: Jockey Bill Shoemaker rode his final career race at Santa Anita Park, finishing fourth aboard Patchy Groundfog in ‘The Legend’s Last Ride.’ He retired with 8,833 wins, a world record.
Feb. 4, 2005: Jockey Richard Migliore scored his 4,000th career victory aboard Benjamin Baby in the seventh race at Aqueduct.
Feb. 4, 1926: Wheatley Stables, formed by Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, recorded its first win ever, with a two-year-old filly named Sturdy Stella.
Feb. 4, 1997: Cigar was named Horse of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Feb. 5, 1997: A six-year-old horse, Isitingood, broke the world record for a mile–1:32 1/5–set in 1968 by Dr. Fager. Isitingood was timed in 1:32.05 over the Santa Anita Park turf course.
WEEKEND STAKES RACES (unrestricted stakes worth $75,000 and up)
SATURDAY, JANUARY 26
Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap, 4&up, $100,000, 1 1-8M, Sam Houston Race Park
Paumonok Handicap, 3&up, $75,000, 6F, Aqueduct
SUNDAY, JANUARY 27
Santa Monica Handicap, 4&up (f&m), $250,000, Grade I, 7F, Santa Anita
California Derby, 3yo, $150,000, 1 1-16M, Golden Gate Fields
Appleton Handicap, 4&up, $125,000, Grade III, 1M (T), Gulfstream Park
Wishing Well Handicap, 4&up (f&m), $75,000, 6 1-2F (T), Santa Anita