Moss backs Shirreffs as Trainer of the Year

It’s no surprise that owner Jerry Moss would come out in support of his trainer, John Shirreffs, for a 2009 Eclipse Award. Shirreffs trains many of Moss’ horses, the most notable of course being Horse of the Year contender Zenyatta.

On Saturday, when Moss announced he was going to run Zenyatta in 2010, he was effusive in his praise of Shirreffs, who won the two biggest races on Breeders’ Cup weekend when he saddled Zenyatta for a victory in the Classic and Life Is Sweet to win the Ladies’ Classic the day before.

Part of Moss’ decision to rethink Zenyatta’s retirement is the enjoyment he and his wife Ann gain from watching the 6-year-old mare run. He also knows this struggling sport needs all the stars it can get, and he hopes it all works out for both Zenyatta and her trainer.

“I want this to be as great a year for John as it can possibly be,” Moss said. “He’s done an amazing job with this horse. Whatever he thinks is right, is right for me.”

Said Shirreffs, one of the three finalists for an Eclipse as top trainer of 2009 along with Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen: “I’m really excited to be chosen like that. It’s really nice, and I have to thank Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet.”

Shirreffs is such a low-key guy, he rarely visits the winner’s circle with his horses. When Hollywood Park and Santa Anita held their Zenyatta Days to salute the unbeaten champ, he preferred to stay out of the limelight and let others get all the glory.

If Asmussen wins the Eclipse tonight in a Beverly Hills ceremony, no one can argue with the result. The guy broke his own record for earnings last year and is one of the top trainers in the business. He also had 30 times more starters (2,944 to 99) than Shirreffs, while their respective win percentages were almost identical (Asmussen 22 percent and Shirreffs 21 percent).

As I wrote on this blog two weeks ago, I voted for Shirreffs. I have no doubt in my mind, given the number of starters Asmussen has, that Shirreffs would fare as well if not better. Sometimes you have to reward a man for a job well-done rather than rely strictly on the numbers.

Asked if it sometimes bothers him that he can’t compete with the Asmussens, Bafferts and Todd Pletchers of the world because he doesnt have the number of horses they do, Shirreffs gave an answer you’d expect.

“You don’t compete with it,” he said. “You just focus on what you’re doing that day and do the best you can for your horses.”

What do you think?

Pick Six at Santa Anita today

Sometimes as a horse player, you look at a card and it just has a certain feel to it. It might not be the best lineup of horses, and for some players it may look like eight wide-open races, but for some reason I really like the pick six on Wednesday at Santa Anita.

I was looking at the PPs Tuesday night and here’s a very affordable $18 ticket I came up with:

I like the fact Paloma’s Flight is going back to synthetic and dropping into a more realistic ($8,000 claimer) spot. Christian Santiago Reyes, the man who most likely will win the Eclipse for top apprentice of 2009 Monday night at the Beverly Wilshire, regains the mount and I think she’s going to give a top effort against these fillies and mares.

Mama Rosa
switches back to the turf, where she came up only three-quarters of a length short two races back down the hill at Santa Anita. She retains the services of Victor Espinoza and will be coming home swiftest of all.

I think three horses — Bad Boy, Nitro Active or Young Joe — could win this $40,000 claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs. Young Joe is the one who could take them gate to wire, but I’ll put all three in my pick six.

Rafael Bejarano stays aboard Lady Alex for trainer John Sadler and she’s 1 for 1 on the grass. I think she wins this one-mile turf event.

Partywithlarryz, Total Bull
and Equiparado are my three plays in this 6 1/2-furlong sprint. Total Bull won his only start impressively over this track on Nov. 1, Partywithlarryz is sitting on a win in his second race back from a layoff and Equiparado could win off his good form in Argentina.

Hopefully I’m still alive in the nightcap with Torrey Cliffs, who retains Bejarano and ran a strong third at this distance across town at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25. Trainer Steve Knapp doesn’t win at a high percentage, but I think he gets his first win of the meet in this spot.

I also think Martin Pedroza could sweep today’s early daily double aboard Red Door Drive in the first and Lucy Got Lucky in the second. It won’t pay much, but you can’t control the odds in this game.

Flores joins up with agent Craig O’Bryan

David Flores, who will turn 42 on Feb. 5, has parted ways with Ron Anderson and reached an agreement with longtime agent Craig O’Bryan to book his mounts, according to sources. Flores and Anderson hooked up during the Del Mar meet this past summer, but the veteran rider’s business never picked up and he made the switch in agents this week after initially announcing he was going to serve as his own agent.

Flores, who won three Southland riding titles in 1999 but has seen his business decline sharply this past year, won three stakes races on opening day of the 2007-08 Santa Anita meeting, but his best finish at any of the five major Southland meets in 2009 was a three-way tie for 10th at the Del Mar meet.

Flores, who joined the Southern California jockey colony during the 1989 meet at Del Mar, has won three Breeders’ Cup races and numerous other local major stakes, including two Hollywood Gold Cups, a Santa Anita Handicap and the Pacific Classic.

O’Bryan last served as Richard Migliore’s agent when the East Coast-based jockey rode here during the Oak Tree meet.

Eclipse Awards finalists announced

I was really happy to see that Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were the only two horses to receive Horse of the Year votes when the NTRA announced the finalists for the 2009 Eclipse Awards, which will be handed out Monday night, Jan. 18, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. The ceremony begins at 5 p.m., PST.

Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were flawless in 2009. They both finished undefeated, both beat males and both brought tremendous attention to a struggling sport both on and off the race track. I don’t think the latter can be minimized at all.

Here are the Eclipse Awards finalists, listed in alphabetical order:

Horse of the Year
Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta

Two-Year-Old Male
Lookin At Lucky, Noble’s Promise, Vale of York

Two-Year-Old Filly
Blind Luck, Hot Dixie Chick, She Be Wild

Three-Year-Old Male
Mine That Bird, Quality Road, Summer Bird

Three-Year-Old Filly
Careless Jewel, Flashing, Rachel Alexandra

Older Male
Einstein, Gio Ponti, Kodiak Kowboy

Older Female
Life Is Sweet, Music Note, Zenyatta

Male Sprinter
Dancing in Silks, Kodiak Kowboy, Zensational

Female Sprinter
Informed Decision, Music Note, Ventura

Male Turf Horse
Conduit, Gio Ponti, Presious Passion

Female Turf Horse
Goldikova, Midday, Ventura

Steeplechase Horse
Mixed Up, Red Letter Day, Spy in the Sky

Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome S. Moss

Adena Springs, Juddmonte Farms, Dolphus C. Morrison

Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, John Shirreffs

Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux

Apprentice Jockey
Luis Batista, Christian Santiago Reyes, Luis Saez

What do you all think? Any surprises?

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Eclipse Award finalists set to be announced

The three finalists for each of the Eclipse Award categories are scheduled to be announced sometime Wednesday. We’ll post them when they become available.

Remember, the Eclipse Awards ceremony, including the much-anticipated crowning of Horse of the Year, is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. The festivities begin at 5 p.m., PST.

TVG is scheduled to televise the event.

Lava Man retired for good

Co-owner Steve Kenly told this morning that the 9-year-old gelding Lava Man, the richest claimer in racing history, will be retired again following his last-place finish in the San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita on Dec. 27.

So much for the critics who denounced the comeback attempt, claiming the owners of the horse were doing it for greed. The gelding’s connections said all along he was a sounder horse after stem cell therapy and that he would run only if he could compete against stakes-caliber horses. Well, he showed he couldn’t, and true to their words, the owners have now ended the comeback.

I think what’s most important in all this is that it appears Lava Man will live a more comfortable life in retirement because he underwent the stem cell therapy. Kenly told the Racing Form’s Steve Andersen that had he not undergone the procedure, arthritis would have caused Lava Man much discomfort as the years went by.

Here’s the link to Andersen’s story about Lava Man, who gave us all many memorable moments during a career that was truly something that is best depicted in Hollywood movies:

Well, my Eclipse Awards ballot is in

The deadline for online voting was noon, PDT, Monday. Here is how I filled out my ballot in the key divisions, with a quick explanation why:

Top 2-Year-Old Male: Lookin At Lucky
This was one of the easier selections for me. The early Future Book favorite for the 2010 Kentucky Derby won three Grade 1’s and had a terrible trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile while losing by a head.

Top 2-Year-Old Filly: She Be Wild
She showed up on Breeders’ Cup weekend and beat the best juvenile fillies in the nation. Blind Luck, with two Grade 1 victories, was a strong second on my ballot.

Top 3-Year-Old Male: Summer Bird
Another easy choice. His victories in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup make him a cinch in this category.

Top 3-Year-Old Filly: Rachel Alexandra
Is there really anyone who won’t vote for the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro? Sadly, yes there is, but she should be a unanimous choice.

Top Older Male: Einstein
He was there from January through November, putting it all on the line in most of the country’s top races for older horses. He won two Grade 1’s and narrowly lost another when he was beaten a neck in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Top Older Female: Zenyatta
Just like in Rachel Alexandra’s case, there will be someone who will vote for another distaffer other than Zenyatta, and we’ll just shake our heads.

Top Sprinter: Dancing in Silks
Won the big one on Breeders’ Cup weekend and three other sprints before that one. I also gave Kodiak Kowboy much consideration. Zensational, who was never really tested during his victories, needed to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to win this award.

Top Female Sprinter: Informed Decision
She should win this category comfortably after winning three Grade 1 sprints in 2009, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Top Male Turf Horse: Gio Ponti
The Arlington Million winner, who won three other Grade 1 grass races this year and also ran second to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was as consistent as could be all year.

Top Female Turf Horse: Ventura
Goldikova may win this category, but I won’t vote for a horse who ran just once in the U.S. Ventura, in addition to being one of the top female sprinters in the country, also became the first female to win the Woodbine Mile on grass.

Top Jockey: Garrett Gomez
No one is better in the money races than this guy, who also competes in the toughest jockey colony around.

Top Trainer: John Shirreffs
No one in the nation did a better job handling a horse in 2009 than Shirreffs did with Zenyatta. His plan for the unbeaten mare worked to perfection, and his work with BC Ladies’ Classic champ Life Is Sweet wasn’t too shabby, either.

Top Apprentice Jockey: Christian Santiago Reyes
The leading money winner among the nation’s apprentice riders, this was an easy choice.

Horse of the Year: Zenyatta
I won’t argue one bit with anyone who voted for Rachel Alexandra, but I feel Zenyatta’s victory in the BC Classic trumped anything Rachel accomplished in 2009. It’s too bad they can’t share this award.

Any thoughts?