Gold Cup will probably be missing biggest stars

Both Well Armed, a 14-length winner of the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March, and the ultra-consistent Tiago were absent from the $250,000 Californian — the final major prep for the $700,000 Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11 — and there’s little chance that either will run in the Gold Cup.

Actually, Well Armed is a definite no-go. Trainer Eoin Harty is aiming for a return sometime during the Del Mar meet, perhaps on Aug. 2 in the San Diego Handicap. That would set him up perfectly for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 6. No word yet from the Tiago camp if he’s going to contest the Gold Cup, but the odds are slim. He’s raced only once this year — a third in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 2 — and even though trainer John Shirreffs says Tiago does not require a lot of work to get into racing shape, it’s unlikely he’ll try a race like the Gold Cup off a five-month layoff.

Even Rail Trip, who finished second in the Mervyn LeRoy and again in the Californian, is not a definite for the longer Gold Cup, according to trainer Ron Ellis.

“I thought he ran awesome (in the Californian),” Ellis said. “He turned the tables on Ball Four. It’s just a tough situation when you have two speed horses in there, and it cost him in the end. Without Ball Four in the race I think we’re an easy winner. We’ll see about the Gold Cup. I want to see how he comes out of this. I’m not sure if farther is better for him.”

The Gold Cup is 1 1/4 miles on Cushion Track, whereas the Californian was 1 1/8 miles. Ball Four, the Mervyn LeRoy winner, did not run nearly as well in the Californian and I’d have to say his status for the Gold Cup is tenuous at best. Although if there is no Rail Trip in the Gold Cup to challenge him early and no other speed enters, well, who knows?

We might be looking at much the same lineup for the Gold Cup as we were the Californian. If I’m a trainer outside of California and I have a good handicap horse in my barn, I’d sure as heck be looking at the Gold Cup. Heck, if I was the connections of Einstein, I’d be looking at it real hard. I think the Gold Cup, without Well Armed and Tiago, would be Einstein’s for the taking, whereas if he goes in the Arlington Million it’s a little more iffy. Einstein’s connections already know he likes synthetics and he’d already be out here for the Pacific Classic if they shipped him here for the Gold Cup. I’d be very tempted if I was them.

Team Alexandra still undecided about filly’s next start

Co-owner Jess Jackson said a few weeks ago that his star filly’s next race might come in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park on June 27, the same day that Zenyatta is scheduled to run in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in an attempt to run her career record to 11-0.
But trainer Steve Asmussen said this morning that Rachel Alexandra’s next race is still undecided. An update, courtesy of the Churchill Downs publicity office:

RACHEL ALEXANDRA SIZZLES IN SIX FURLONG WORK – Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra helped usher in the era of night racing at Churchill Downs when the winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Preakness worked a sparkling six furlongs under temporary lights on Monday at Churchill Downs.

The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro stepped on the track around 5:30 a.m. (EDT) with trainer Steve Asmussen’s second set of horses and worked a very strong six furlongs in 1:12 over a “fast” surface. Exercise rider Dominic Terry was in the saddle as Rachel Alexandra covered the distance in splits of :12.40, :24.40, :36.40, :48.40 and 1:00 and galloped out seven furlongs in 1:24.80.

The work was easily the fastest of four at the distance.

“She went super – she’s doing great,” said Asmussen. “She’s definitely been stronger every week and she looks great.”

Asmussen’s filly has been unflappable throughout the spring and Asmussen said she handled training under the temporary lights just like she handles everything else.

“She’s got a great presence about her,” Asmussen said. “She always seems to take everything in stride so well. She comes back so sure of herself.”

Majority owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables had earlier mentioned the $300,000 Mother Goose (GI) at 1 1/8 miles on June 27 at Belmont Park as a possible first start for Rachel Alexandra since her historic win over males in the Preakness on May 16. Asmussen said the choice of a race for the filly’s next start was still being assessed.

Chantal Sutherland No. 2 at Woodbine

Chantal Sutherland, arguably the No. 2 female jockey in history behind Julie Krone, made the right decision to move her business back to Woobine Park in Toronto at the end of Santa Anita. It might not be best for her love life, but she’s faring quite well in her professional life since the switch.

Sutherland, romantically involved with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, wanted so badly to make it on the Southland circuit this past year. She and Smith shared a home in Pasadena and their relationship was well-chronicled on the Animal Planet’s reality show entitled “Jockeys.” But Sutherland wasn’t happy with the amount of winners or mounts she was getting here in Southern California, so she decided to return to Canada, where she’s been very successful in the past. It’s not like she embarrassed herself at Santa Anita, however. She finished 11th in the standings with 18 victories while riding against the best jockeys in America. But she wanted more, and she’s getting it in Toronto.

Through Sunday’s races, Sutherland is second in the Woodbine rider standings behind Patrick Husbands, 60-41. She’s riding a great majority of the races, which is necessary if a jockey wants to make a name for themselves and grab some of the bigger mounts that she covets. She’d love to ride in Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races.

Some other former Southland jockeys are also faring well since leaving the circuit and relocating to other parts of the country:

* Jon Court is eighth in the jockey standings at Churchill Downs with 16 victories.
* Saul Arias, known for his ability to boot home long shots at Santa Anita, is sixth at Emerald Downs (Seattle) with 15 wins. And he apparently hasn’t lost his knack with the boxcar horses, finishing second with 33-1 and 36-1 long shots on Sunday.
* Omar Figueroa is 10th in the standings at Golden Gate with 38 victories.
* Patrick Valenzuela has 16 wins at Louisiana Downs — good for third in the rider standings.
* Emile Ramsammy is riding with Sutherland at Woodbine and is third with 35 victories.
* Isaias Enriquez is riding at Sunray Park in New Mexico and is eighth in the standings with nine wins.

More on Einstein’s troubled trip

They were still talking about Einstein’s horrendous trip this morning in Saturday’s $660,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Here is an excerpt from today’s Churchill barn notes:

FRUSTRATION REMAINS HIGH IN EINSTEIN CAMP AFTER FOSTER FINISH – Einstein’s bid for racing history came up a length short Saturday when the 7-year-old Brazilian-bred horse ran third after encountering trouble throughout his 1 1/8-mile journey in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

“I just want the best for him and I really wanted him to get a Grade I win on the dirt,” trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi said of Einstein, who had won the Santa Anita Handicap (Grade I) on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) at Churchill Downs in his two prior starts.

No horse had won three consecutive Grade I races on three surfaces.

The footnotes in the Foster chart told the story of Einstein’s race under Julien Leparoux: “Einstein bobbled at the start to get away a bit slow, checked off heels near the seven-eighths marker, was bottled up between horses down the backstretch and through the second turn, shifted out a bit and found a seam entering the stretch, was bumped and stuffed behind rivals with three-sixteenths to run, got through toward the inside late but was left with too much to do.”

“It was just bad racing luck and he was much the best horse,” Pitts-Blasi said. “I’d like to get Horse of the Year with him and a race like this could hurt him and it was not his fault.”

Pitts-Blasi said Einstein came out of the race fine with the Arlington Million (Grade I) next up on the radar on Aug. 8.

“I am going to give him a little break with the Million as the next goal,” Pitts-Blasi said. “The Pacific Classic (on Sept. 6 at Del Mar) I’d strongly consider because that would give us a month between the two races.”

His difficult trip in the Stephen Foster left Einstein’s career record at 11-3-3 in 26 races with earnings of $2,673,924.

That Truest Legend can run!!!

Did you catch today’s eighth race at Hollywood Park? If you didn’t, check it out because the winner — Truest Legend — looks like he could be one of the next great sprinters on the West Coast.

Truest Legend, a 3-year-old son of Songandaprayer, debuted last September at Fairplex Park and finished eighth in a 10-horse field at 53-1. Trainer Ron Ellis then gave him a freshening and brought him back on April 18 at Santa Anita in a maiden special weight. He went gate to wire, winning by 1 1/4 lengths after setting splits of 21 1/5 and 43 2/5 in the 6 1/2-furlong event. His final time was 1:15 4/5.

Today, he went six furlongs and again went gate to wire in a non-winners of one allowance, setting fractions of 21.79, 44.31 and 56.03 en route to a final clocking of 1:08.42. Jockey Victor Espinoza was easing him through the final sixteenth of a mile or there’s no telling what he might have run.

Easily one of the most impressive races I’ve seen this year. He was purchased for $240,000 at the October 2005 Barretts sale, but he ran like a $600,000 purchase.

Speaking of $600,000 buys, also keep an eye on I’ll Show Them, purchased for that price at the Keeneland September 2007 sale. He debuted today in the seventh race, didn’t break real well and still ran down 4-5 favorite Gallatin’s Run in the last sixteenth for trainer David Hofmans. He’s by Smarty Jones, so look for this guy to eventually stretch out and really strut his stuff.

West Point wins another Stephen Foster

Here’s the press release from Churchill Downs regarding today’s $660,000 Stephen Foster Handicap. Jockey and trainer quotes follow at the end:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Saturday, June 13, 2009) – West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, last in the early going, made a strong move on the far turn to reach contention and then drew clear to win Saturday’s 28th running of the $660,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) at Churchill Downs by a length over Asiatic Boy (ARG).

Einstein (BRZ), bidding to become the first horse to win three consecutive Grade I races on three surfaces, finished a nose back in third.

In giving West Point its second Stephen Foster win in three years — Flashy Bull won in 2007 — Macho Again gave jockey Robby Albarado his third consecutive Foster triumph. Albarado won last year on Horse of the Year Curlin.

Finallymadeit set the early fractions of :24.13, :48.13 and 1:12.71 with Researcher and Alphabet Magic in closest pursuit. Julien Leparoux had Einstein in three path about mid-pack while Macho Again lagged at the back of the eight-horse field.

Leaving the backstretch, Albarado swung Macho Again wide and kept him in the clear turning for home and avoiding a tightly bunched pack to his inside. Macho Again, now three for five at Churchill Downs, opened a clear lead in the stretch and had enough left to hold off Asiatic Boy, who was making his U.S. debut.

Trained by Dallas Stewart, Macho Again covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.75 over a fast track, carrying 117 pounds five fewer than Asiatic Boy. The victory was worth $396,924 and increased the 4-year-old Florida-bred son of Macho Uno’s earnings to $1,475,247.

Macho Again, who won the 2008 Derby Trial here, returned $17.40, $6.20 and $3.60. Asiatic Boy returned $7 and $3.80 with Einstein, carrying top weight of 124 pounds, paying $2.10 to show. Arson Squad and Bullsbay dead-heated for fourth, a neck behind Einstein, and were followed in order by Researcher, Finallymadeit and Alphabet Magic.

POST-RACE QUOTES – THE STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP

DALLAS STEWART, trainer of MACHO AGAIN (winner)
“He ran great, you know. He’s a great horse. We had a great rider. We put it all together today. You know he’s not an in and out horse like most people think. He got the money today on a dry track today at Churchill. He proved himself. I think we’ve got a lot of good things ahead of us. He’s won major races on major tracks from down in New Orleans to Saratoga to here. He’s all dirt horse is what he is.”
Q: What might be next?
“The Whitney (the Grade I, $750,000 Whitney Handicap for 3-year-olds and up over 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga on Saturday, Aug. 8) will be our next goal.”

ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey of MACHO AGAIN (winner)
“The race set up great for us today. We had an outside trip and got a clear run. It’s not by design that I wanted to go around that wide, but I just put him in a path where he can run around horses. That’s just where he wants to be. You just hope that you don’t have to go too wide. He just prevailed to be the best today.”

TERRY FINLEY, co-owner of MACHO AGAIN (winner)
“He’s not a big, imposing horse but he’s well balanced. He’s a sound horse, obviously. He’s danced a lot of dances. For a horse like this you’ve got to be a Grade I winner to be a Kentucky stallion. That was the reason we brought him back this year. We fully intend, if everything stays on track . . . we’re in the racing business and we love the game. We really think that in 2010, if everything stays on track, we’d love to come back and defend our title in the Stephen Foster.”
Q: What about the rest of this year?
“We’re going to try and get the money in the Whitney. We’ll talk to the partners and try to knock out the Jockey Club (Gold Cup) at Belmont and try to get to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

JULIEN LEPAROUX, jockey of EINSTEIN (third as the favorite)
“I’m on the horse to beat, so of course they’re trying to beat me. I had nowhere to go; I just had to wait. I was in a pretty good spot, but I had nowhere to go. So I just waited and when he got room at the eighth pole, he finished strong. He was probably the best horse, but that’s horse racing. Sometimes you get a tough trip and that’s that.”

HELEN PITTS-BLASI, trainer of EINSTEIN (third as the favorite)
“He ran huge, it was just bad racing luck. They did all they could to get him beat, but that’s just part of racing I guess. He gallops out in front. What can you do?”

Einstein gets terrible trip in Stephen Foster

Ouch!! Anyone see that horrendous trip that Einstein got in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs? Ridden by Julien Leparoux, the 7-year-old Brazilian-bred checked around the first turn and then was continually shut out of racing room through the stretch until it was too late. Macho Again, at 7-1, had taken control on the outside by the time Leparoux found room. Einstein wound up third with Asiatic Boy taking second.

So, with the defeat, Lava Man is still the only horse to win Grade 1 races on all three surfaces — artificial, turf and dirt. The popular gelding accomplished the feat over a two-year period, whereas Einstein was bidding to become the first horse to win all three in the same calendar year. I think he’ll get another chance. Perhaps the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in the fall?

Einstein, still one of the early leading contenders for Horse of the Year, went postward at 6-5.

Top two older stars sit out Californian

The final major prep race for the $700,000 Grade 1 Hollywood Gold up will go as the ninth race today at Hollywood Park and will be minus the two best older horses in training in California — Tiago and Well Armed.

The $250,000 Grade 2 Californian attracted 12 horses, including the top three finishers in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap — Ball Four, Rail Trip and Dakota Phone. Also entered are 2008 Gold Cup champion Mast Track and 2007 Pacific Classic runner-up Awesome Gem, who lost by a neck in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate in his last start on May 25 but who seems to have tailed off since his best days.

It’s a solid field, but it lacks Southern Califonia’s two major handicap players.

Tiago is back on the track training and is not far off from a race. Maybe the Gold Cup on July 11? And Well Armed, who romped for fun in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in late March, is being pointed toward a return at Del Mar by trainer Eoin Harty. Well Armed may race in the San Diego Handicap on Aug. 2 and then come back in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 6.

As far as today’s Californian, I like Rail Trip to avenge his only loss in six career starts. Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. will have the 4-year-old gelded son of Jump Start on the lead today, particularly if they go a slow 24 1/5 opening quarter like in the Mervyn LeRoy. If Rail Trip is allowed to set the pace with a slow or moderate first half-mile, it will be all over.

Pincay: If Borel had it to do over …

Laffit Pincay Jr., the most remarkable jockey I’ve ever seen, believes Calvin Borel would change his ride aboard Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes if he could.

When I first watched the race last Saturday and heard critics were jumping on Borel for moving too quickly, I thought the criticism was a bunch of baloney, sour grapes or whatever. But after listening to Pincay talk about this year’s Triple Crown races, maybe I was wrong:

“I think if Borel would have known the track really, really well, I think he would have rode a different race and I think he probably would have had a better chance,” Pincay said on the telephone this week. “The horse ran his race, and I think if you ask Borel right now, he’d tell you he would ride a different race if he had to do it again.”

I asked Pincay which of the three Triple Crown races he felt was the most difficult to win, and he didn’t hesitate.

“I think probably the toughest one was the Derby,” he said. “It’s a crowded field, you’re going with your horse to a different race track and you’re hoping that your horse stays calm and the crowd doesn’t affect him.”

Laffit will be in the Bahamas in early September to compete in what is called the Legends Sports Challenge. He is going to play poker. I asked him if he is a good poker player.

“Not really, but I’m learning,” he said. “My son and I are going to take some classes and try to be good. It’s like riding horses … you got to have some good cards, you gotta use your head and get lucky.”

Laffit Pincay is one of the classiest guys you’ll ever come across in all of sports.

Some good news for a change

Some quick hits on the world of thoroughbred racing:

* The industry got some good news for a change when it was revealed earleir this week that Belmont Stakes numbers were up from two years ago — the last time the race was run without a Triple Crown on the line. Both attendance and on-track handle showed increases, which in this economy is a nice surprise. On-track attendance, understandably higher last year when 94,476 showed up to watch Big Brown go for the Triple Crown, was 52,861 on Saturday — a 12.7 percent increase from the 2007 crowd. On-track handle was up 2 percent from 2007, when Rags to Riches won the Belmont. All-sources handle showed an 18.6 percent spike from two years ago when the nation’s economy was in much better shape.

* Summer Bird’s connections announced this week that the Belmont Stakes winner will race next in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2. Their next goal will be the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 29. Summer Bird is currently stabled at Louisiana Downs. If all goes well, Summer Bird could also run in the $750,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 19. Trainer Tim Ice likes the six-week period between the Super Derby and the Breeders’ Cup, which is the ultimate goal for the Birdstone colt.

* Georgie Boy, a top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 7 if he can stay healthy, is back on the track galloping following a minor foot injury that took him out of the Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 25 and a possible start in the Met Mile at Belmont Park on May 25. Trainer Kathy Walsh has not mentioned a return target race for the 4-year-old gelding who won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 24 and then came back to take the San Carlos Handicap on Feb. 21 before he was sidelined by a quarter crack.

* The next starts for two of the leading ladies in the sport are set — unbeaten Zenyatta will return in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 27 after winning the Milady Handicap while hardly breaking a sweat in her first start of the year, and standout sprinter Indian Blessing will race Sunday in the $70,000-added Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park while carrying high weight of 124 pounds. Indian Blessing finished second in the Golden Shaheen Stakes in Dubai in her last start in March.