Trainer Bob Baffert, who considered using the Ancient Title Stakes on Oct. 11 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet as a final prep for his star sprinter Zensational heading into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 7, has called an audible and will now train the 3-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt up to the Breeders’ Cup without a final prep.
Zensational, coming off three consecutive Grade 1 victories in the Triple Bend at Hollywood Park and the Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien at Del Mar, worked four furlongs in a bullet 47 seconds flat Wednesday over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
Victor Espinoza, who will ride Zensational in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is unbeaten on the colt in his past four starts. He’s partly credited, along with Baffert, for getting the head-strong colt to relax.
“Since I’ve been riding him, he’s never been rank at all,” Espinoza said. “He might have been for other jockeys who have ridden him, but never for me. Maybe it’s because he’s more relaxed, or he’s matured. He’s a fast horse, but I can control him without fighting him.”
Opening day at Oak Tree and I’m eager to jump back into action after only two days of betting the ponies at Fairplex Park.
Here’s my straight plays today:
2nd — Scat Thief
4th — Indy Ride
5th — Dixie Passion
9th — De Brief Me
Early $1 pick four:
1 — Craig’s Storm, To the Penny, Acquire the Fire, Russian Liquor, Scottish Diamond
2 — Scat Thief, Headache
3 — Killer Bear, Cabo Chico, General Bee Lucky
4 — Dynamic Range, Indy Ride
Late $1 pick four:
6 — Worth a Punt, Rapid Heat, Royal F J
7 — Emmy Darling, North Rodeo, Petite Cherie, Andalacia
8 — California Flag
9 — De Brief Me, Boo Too
$2 pick six:
4 — Dynamic Range, Indy Ride
5 — Charlie and Chris, Dixie Passion
6 — Worth a Punt, Rapid Heat, Royal F J
7 — Emmy Darling, North Rodeo, Petite Cherie, Andalacia
8 — California Flag
9 — De Brief Me
Track president Joe Harper has maintained for years now that Del Mar is a viable option as the host track for a future Breeders’ Cup. Santa Anita will host the event for a record second consecutive year on Nov. 6-7 during its Oak Tree meet, Churchill Downs will host an overall record seventh Breeders’ Cup in 2010 and, though it won’t be officially announced until sometime next spring, Belmont Park would seem to be the leading contender for the 2011 event.
Del Mar in 2012? By that time track management will have had plenty of time to expand its turf course to Breeders’ Cup specifications and any leasing issues will have been solved. It seems like the perfect year for Del Mar to host its first Breeders’ Cup. San Diego has hosted a World Series and Super Bowl. Why not the World Series or Super Bowl of horse racing?
In an exclusive interview recently, Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said event officials love the idea of the World Championships being held by the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
“We have a very close relationship here at the Breeders’ Cup with Joe Harper, (executive vice president) Craig Fravel and the entire Del Mar management team, and in our opinion they’re one of the top management teams in all of racing and probably all sports,” Avioli said. “They have a tremendous facility, one of my personal favorites, and I believe that the city of San Diego would really embrace a Breeders’ Cup in the same way that we felt the Dallas and Fort Worth area would when we went to Lone Star (Park).
“We would love to have a Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, and we have been in semi-active discussions with Del Mar over the last decade to explore what it would take for us to come there. Right now the two biggest challenges, and I don’t think they are big challenges, are their license renewal and that they would need to make some modifications to their turf course. Once those are accomplished, I would be the strongest advocate there is for holding a Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. I just think it would be a perfect venue for it.”
It’s going to happen. It’s only a matter of when, and the only question is whether Del Mar will still have its synthetic Polytrack surface when the Breeders’ Cup comes to town. In my opinion, it’s less than even-money that synthetics will still be around when the Breeders’ Cup comes to San Diego.
Many thanks to Nick King, who pointed out that Europeans won 2 of the 8 Breeders’ Cup races that were on Pro-Ride last year and 5 of the 14 overall.
There are trainers, most notably men like D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito, who have never liked synthetic race tracks. Zito has never run a horse in California — over dirt or synthetic track. He chose to skip last year’s Breeders’ Cup that was run over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface, and despite the fact he told us last October he’d most likely come out this year, it would still be a surprise if he showed up in November for Breeders’ Cup XXVI at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet on Nov. 6-7.
It’s a new concern for Breeders’ Cup officials, having to deal with people staying away from their event because of artificial tracks. Jess Jackson, co-owner of the most popular horse in training, Rachel Alexandra, is not coming this year because he says he doesn’t like “plastic tracks.” We all know the real reason is because Curlin, whom Jackson also owned, got beat at Santa Anita last year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after taking the lead at the top of the stretch.
“It definitely concerns us whenever we’re not able to include a top horse in the championship, but if you’ve been in this game long enough you know that people have lots of different reasons for why they choose to enter or not to enter a horse in a particular race,” Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli told me last week in an exclusive interview. “But I can tell you that if we were not running on a synthetic surface this year, there would be a number of owners who would identify that we were running on dirt as the reason they did not want to come to the championships. So it’s a very difficult business with literally thousands of owners and hundreds of trainers.
“Can you please everyone? Ultimately, the event is judged by the horses that participate in the event, and I think we are going to have an exceptional group of horses, maybe the most and the best we’ve ever had.”
The biggest group of horses that would stay home if this year’s event were run over the dirt at Churchill Downs or Belmont Park is the Europeans, who won five of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races last year, including Raven’s Pass in the $5 million Classic. There were 31 Europeans who started last year, a figure that could easily be surpassed if the world’s economy doesn’t keep some of the overseas horsemen home. In a normal economy, you might see upwards of 50 Europeans this year. As it is, 35 to 40 could show up.
“I get calls. I get e-mails (from disgruntled horsemen),” Avioli said. “There are lots of differing opinions out there, and we do our best to satisfy as many of our top owners, breeders and trainers as we can, and we’re going to keep working every day to try to get the event to the right track to satisfy the most people.”
Steve Kenly, one of the three gentlemen who claimed Lava Man for $50,000 at Del Mar in August 2004 and saw him evolve into a seven-time Grade 1 winner, the only horse to win Grade 1 races on turf, dirt and synthetics and one of the most popular horses in California racing history, has no second thoughts about putting the 8-year-old gelding back into training for a possible comeback.
Lava Man drilled three furlongs in 36 seconds over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track on Wednesday morning and is said to be a different horse since undergoing months of stem-cell therapy on bad ankles at Dr. Doug Herthel’s Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Hospital in Los Olivos, Calif.
“It got to the point where it’s like, he’s doing so darn well, how can you not think about bringing him back?” Kenly said from his Arizona home on Thursday afternoon. “This is a horse who when he trains, you don’t have to lead him to the race track, he wants to take you there. He wants to be on that race track and you can’t even pull the horse up.
“He may not get (back to the races), but right now it’s looking pretty good. I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves or get too excited in case he doesn’t make it back, but right now he’s telling you everything you want to see from a horse. Forget the number (age) in front of his name, he’s going really strong. But this game is tough, and any day anything can happen to any horse.”
If Lava Man is a far happier animal by running and a veterinarian who knows far more about this stuff than I do says it’s the right thing, I don’t see any problem with trying to determine if he wants to race again.
Kenly compares the possible comeback to the ones made by NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who has frustrated some with his on-again, off-again retirements.
“The funny part about this is that people also rip on (Favre),” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing, in my opinion, whether you like Brett Favre or don’t like him, it’s sure a heck of a lot more exciting to read the paper or watch SportsCenter when he’s playing than when he’s not.
“And I’d say the same thing about Lava Man — it’s better to have him participating in the game than sitting retired on the farm if he can do it. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself because, well, he’s 8 years old, right? We’re a long ways off. He passed a pretty good test (Wednesday), but he’s still got a lot more tests to go.”
It would be one thing if they were thinking of bringing Lava Man back as a high-stakes claimer or high-level allowance horse, but both Kenly and trainer Doug O’Neill say that if he comes back, it will be to race in stakes races and nothing more.
Horse racing needs its equine heroes, and Lava Man was certainly that while winning a record-tying three consecutive Hollywood Park Gold Cups and back-to-back Santa Anita Handicaps.
What do you think? Vote in our poll and then leave a comment telling us why you agree or disagree with the decision to put Lava Man back into training.
Daily Racing Form writer Steve Andersen talked with John Shirreffs on Thursday, and Zenyatta’s trainer said it’s entirely possible the unbeaten 5-year-old mare could run a few times next year before heading off to the breeding shed in Kentucky.
So if you’re one of the many fans still clamoring for a Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta matchup somewhere down the road, don’t lose all hope. It now appears to be a possibility once again.
Copy and paste the following into your Web browser to read Andersen’s story:
Kim Lloyd, equine manager of Fairplex Park, was a trainer for more than 25 years before giving it up in August 2002 because of rising workman comp payments. He says he doesn’t think he’d like to go back into the profession.
“The only time I don’t sleep well at nights is when I dream about training horses,” he said. “I say that laughingly, but it’s the truth. It’s a difficult business to survive in. It used to be where you had one guy own 20 horses, and now you have 20 guys owning one. It’s hard to keep everybody satisfied and it’s just a tough business. The training part is not the hard part of that deal.”
Lloyd had about 22 horses during his peak years and was down to four when he gave up the profession.
“Workman’s comp got real high, my stable had shrunk down and I just couldn’t afford to keep making those payments on that workman’s comp,” he said. “I got into the car business. I had a family to raise. It just wasn’t financially feasible for me to keep doing it.
“It killed me too. I’ll tell you, it was brutal. I didn’t think I could do anything else, truthfully. Then I got into the car business just to make a living. I kind of went into depression almost, and I never could afford to be depressed. It was rough.”
Now he’s back as top dog of Fairplex racing and loving it. He also still has a hand in the Barretts sales.
* How is Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old gelding who has won two Grade 2 races this year, ranked three spots higher in the latest NTRA Horse of the Year poll than Zensational, who’s won three Grade 1 races as a 3-year-old against older horses? I mean, c’mon. Zensational this year became the first 3-year-old to sweep the Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien at Del Mar.
* Isn’t it a bit hypocritical of Jess Jackson to skip the Breeders’ Cup this year with Rachel Alexandra, citing Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface as the sole reason why the 3-year-old filly won’t run, and in the same breath not completely rule out running the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro in next year’s Dubai World Cup over a proposed new Tapeta artificial track?
Said Jackson on an NTRA teleconference recently: “That (Tapeta) would preclude the appearance of Rachel unless something changes my mind about the risk that false tracks have to the horse itself.”
Would a World Cup purse of $10 million be enough to change his mind? Jess doesn’t need to worry about where his next pay check is coming from, but he does have a fondness for the bigger purses.
* Maybe Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar need to take a page from Fairplex Park’s book in regards to the latter’s policy of free admission and parking for off-track wagering at the Barretts sales pavilion. When the Southland’s big three are off-season, they need to take a hard look at their policy of charging fans to come in and bet. I can understand the tracks’ argument for charging general admission for live racing, although I don’t agree with it. But charging for off-track betting, in my opinion, is ridiculous, especially for a sport clamoring for new fans.
I can hear it now:
Wife: “But George, they don’t charge us to go in and play the horses when we’re in Vegas.”
Husband: “I know Phyllis, but just think — we can sit here and imagine the horses are in the paddock, and when we hear Jay Cohen play Call to the Post, well, it’s almost like we’re really there.”
In a move that could protentially set up a massive pick six pool on the second day of Breeders’ Cup weekend, the Breeders’ Cup announced today that an all Breeders’ Cup pick six will be offered on both days of this year’s event Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meet.
The Friday program will be made up of six Breeders’ Cup races, including all five of the female races. The $500,000 Marathon will kick off the all-Breeders’ Cup pick six. If no one hits all six, the pool will be carried over into Saturday’s program, which will include the $5 million Classic.