Mor Spirit Returns to Winner’s Circle

Mor Spirit earned his first win in over 13 months when he took home first place in the $250,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park on March 18. His previous win came in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) Stakes last year, which kickstarted his run to qualifying for the 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1). While Mor Spirit’s absence from the winner’s circle was lengthy, he showed indications of a return to his previous winning ways when he finished in second to stablemate Hoppertunity in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) on February 4.

“Heading for home, a horse came up to his outside. He dug in and I just stayed a little busy on him,” said jockey Mike Smith. “Just because it’s his first time here. You’re so close to the crowd here, which is pretty cool, but sometimes it will get a horse looking around a little bit. So I just stayed more or less just after him to keep his attention, and he won very nice today.”

While Shotgun Kowboy set the early pace with fractions of :23.48, :46.63, and 1:10.81 through the first six furlongs, Mor Spirit took over late and crossed the finish line in a time of 1:41.62.

“We were hoping he’d jump well and sit off whoever, and if not, I’d be the aggressor and take the lead,” said Smith. “I was thinking about it for a minute, but I was happy with where I was at and we just went from there. He ran really good—really well today.”

In 11 career starts, Mor Spirit has won four times and came in second in five other races. He has earned $886,400 during his career.

Stakes Records Fall

Tapwrit Part of Stakes-Record Races over Weekend

Racing continues coast to coast, and while many fans focus on the Kentucky Derby trail and Triple Crown races, there are plenty of exciting and meaningful races with more stakes records being set last weekend.

Tapwrit (6/5, pictured) wowed fans in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), showing his Triple Crown potential as he gathered up his competitors on the far turn and galloped home an easy 4 ½ length winner for jockey Jose Ortiz. The gray son of Tapit covered 1 1/16 miles in a record time of 1:42.36 to break the stakes race record set by Destin last year.

Also at Tampa Bay Downs, Stanford (2/5) led from the start to win Saturday’s $100,000 Challenger, covering 1 1/16 miles in a track-record time of 1:41.75 with John Velazquez riding home the winner by 3 ¼ lengths.

A third record nearly fell at Tampa Bay Saturday when new York-bred Fifty Five (4/1) came rallying from the back of the pack to roll past the leaders in the deep stretch and win the $200,000 Grade III Florida Oaks by a neck over the odds-on favorite, La Coronel.

In Saturday’s turf sprint at Gulfstream, Pay any Price (5/1) led from the start in the $75,000 Silks Run Stakes and got home by 3 1/4 lengths in front of odds-on favorite Power Alert. The 7-year-old Pay Any Price set a turf course-record time of 53.61 seconds over 5 furlongs.

And the sad news of the racing weekend happened in the other Road to the Roses qualifying race when one of the top Kentucky Derby favorites, Mastery, sustained a fracture of his left front leg following his victory in the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes. Jockey Mike Smith unsaddled Mastery shortly after his 6 ½-length win, and the Candy Ride colt was loaded into an ambulance.

Trainer Bob Baffert said, “You see what he did today was just incredible and puts him as the best 3-year-old in the nation.”

Unfortunately, we won’t see Mastery on the Triple Crown trail following the injury and surgery.

Unique Bella Wins Again

Unique Bella is the current favorite to win this year’s Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and she showed why in her $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) 2 1/2 lengths win. It was Unique Bella’s fourth straight open-lengths win.

Previously, Unique Bella won her maiden by 10 1/4 lengths and followed that up with a 7 1/2-length victory in the Santa Ynez (G2) and a 8 3/4-length win in the Las Virgenes (G2).

“We have a very talented filly and we’d like to look at the Kentucky Oaks,” said legendary trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “We like to take one step at a time. We’d like to go for the Santa Anita Oaks (G1), and if we win or do well, then we’ll try to go to Kentucky.”

Going into the race as the 1-9 favorite, Unique Bella started off sluggish, trailing early pacesetters Tap It All and Spooky Woods. She eventually took the lead after the first turn and set fractions of :23.35 and :46.23 after the first quarter and half-mile, respectively. Her lead was as big as five lengths after the first six furlongs and that’s when eventual runner-up Abel Tasman made a push from the back. It wasn’t enough though as Unique Bella went on to win in a time of 1:10.70.

“It was pretty eventful,” said jockey Mike Smith. “Sometimes you just stay out of the way of the good ones and they’ll run for you. That’s pretty much what I did today.”

Unique Bella paid $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10 for the win. In five career starts, Unique Bella has won four and has earned $342,400.

2017 Fountain of Youth

‘War Cry’ Falls At 2017 Fountain of Youth

There was no doubt that the pressure at the 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes hosted by Gulfstream fell squarely on the shoulders of Irish War Cry. The winner of the Holy Bull Stakes one month earlier had moved steadfastly in to second place on the KDFW as a 7/1 option to win the Kentucky Derby, and his new backers needed a confidence boosting win. They didn’t get it.

The race looked promising for Irish War Cry at the beginning as he battled Three Rules for the lead. The other top choice on the board were Practical Joke at 3/1 and Gunnevera at 4/1. Neither got off to a great start. In fact, Gunnevera was last out of the gates to being the $400,000 challenge.

Three Rules, Irish Wary Cry were joined by longshots Takaful and Made You Look through the first half-mile, which was blitzed in :47.18 and everything in the 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes shifted at that point. Practical Joke was given the green light to go all out, and he was pursued by Gunnevera who marched steadily along the outside as he overtook the remainder of the field. Three Rules had extended a lead over Irish War Cry who didn’t seem to have another level in this one. He was asked at the top of the final corner, but didn’t respond.

Instead it was Practical Joke and Three Rules who would begin the battle of the home stretch only to be overtaken by a streaming Gunnevera who had a clean run to the finish line. Gunnevera won the 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes in a time of 1:44.25, nearly two second slower than the results at the Holy Bull. Practical Joke came second while Three Rules showed well in third place. Irish War Cry fell all the way to seventh, which was ironic given his newly minted 7/1 odds to win the Kentucky Derby in the futures market.

The 2017 Fountain of Youth Stakes was yet another example of this year’s muddled Road to the Kentucky Derby. There are no clear cut favourites and horses like Gunnevera can have their day on any Saturday. He’s certainly one to keep tabs on, but I wouldn’t invest whole heartedly in any of the top rivals from this race until we see them compete again at the Florida Derby.

 

Imperial Hint Goes Gate to Wire to Win General George

Imperial Hint Sets Fast Fractions and Holds Off Favorite in General George at Laurel Park

Imperial Hint made it 2-for-2 this year, setting the fast fractions and holding off the race favorite Stallwalkin’ Dude to win the $250,000 Grade III General George Stakes at Laurel Park by 2 1/2 lengths Saturday. The victory was worth $150,000 and capped a big day of racing at Laurel Park for the Winter Carnival.

Off as the second choice at 5/2, Imperial Hint was the third-straight horse to knock off the favorite in the closing three Winter Carnival stakes races after High Ridge Road (3-1) won the Barbara Fritchie Stakes and Bodhisattva (22-1) pulled the upset in the John B. Campbell Stakes.

Imperial Hint paid $7.60, $3.80 and $3.20 across the board in a final 7-furlong time of 1:21.20. He set the fast early fractions of 22.61 and 45.28 seconds at the half mile marker. He maintained the lead through six furlongs in 1:08.88 prompting his rider to Julien Pimente to note “He’s a very fast horse,” after the race. Stallwalking’ Dude could not track down the winner in the final furlong and returned $2.80 and $2.20 while Never Gone South (37-1) was third with a mild late run to pay $7.80 and provide a nice trifecta payoff of $248.40 on a $2 wager (5-6-1). Imperial Hint, a Florida-bred 4-year-old colt by Imperialism, has now won three straight races with six wins in 10 starts.

Luis Carvajal, who scored the first graded stakes win of his training career, said, “After he won his first race I thought he was going to be a nice horse. We just had a couple little hiccups down the road but now he’s doing really well. I have no plans right now. I’m just hoping to go back to the barn and see if he’s healthy and we’ll go from there.”

2017 El Camino Real Derby results

Longshot Steals 2017 El Camino Real Derby

Nobody outside of the Northern California area usually cares for the El Camino Real Derby, even though it’s a stop on the derby trail. But this weekend’s event provided a show stopping thriller for those that bothered to invest in the most unlikely of heroes. At 48/1, Zakaroff was the longest horse on the board and received a pitiful $3,922 in action. He surprised everyone with a stunning performance.

 

Even money favorite Ann Arbor Eddie, who had gone 3-0-1 in four starts with wins at the California Cup Derby and King Glorious heading in to this race, was the horse to watch. He was followed by Sheer Flattery at 5/2, and then More Power To Him who slid in as the 9/2 third option. It seemed to be a race that was pretty run-of-the-mill. Ride the top two favorites and cash out when all is said and done.

A grand total of $147,686 was spent on Ann Arbor Eddie and Sheer Flattery.  This was the most logical pathway, and one I would’ve followed as well. But as the race unfolded, Zakaroff found the opportunity he probably should haven’t been afforded.

As the field rounded the last turn, Zakaroff was blocked off by three other rivals and if they had simply stayed in a tight formation there would’ve been no way for the longshot to contend for the 2017 El Camino Real Derby title. But in a strange twist that allowed for an unexpected result, that blockade parted like a biblical sea to give jockey Kyle Frey and Zakaroff the opening they needed. “Normally you might be concerned about being boxed in, but my horse was completely relaxed and in hand,” Frey said. “It did get a little bit shaky coming out of that final turn, but luckily we were able to muscle out and get a clean trip outside.”

Owner Steven Specht also commented on his surprise El Camino Real Derby winner’s odds heading in to the challenge. “They didn’t give me much credit, even though I didn’t finish that far behind some of these horses the last two times,” Specht noted. “I really thought this race was too far, that one mile or 1 1/16 miles was his limit. When he got to the stretch, he showed a little extra that I didn’t think he had. I actually entered him in a first-level allowance sprint, but the race didn’t go, so I got stuck running here. Not a bad stick. I wasn’t out of my league, but somebody has to be favored and somebody has to not be.”

Zakaroff was worth a whopping $99.60 with the win, while More Power To Him gave back $6.40 and $4.00 in second. Tribal Storm took third and was worth $5.00 at 10/1. For what it was worth, Ann Arbor Eddie was just outside the top-three finishing 4th while Sheer Flattery trailed to dead last.

This derby trail has been full of surprises all year long, and the 2017 El Camino Real Derby was no exception.

McCraken Makes His Move to Win Sam F. Davis Stakes

McCraken Rallies in Track Record Time to win Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs

McCraken made another stride towards the Kentucky Derby Saturday. The rising, talented Kentucky-bred made a magnificent move down the stretch to win the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes in a track record time at Tampa Bay Down.

McCraken, the undefeated son of Ghostzapper, won his fourth straight race with a winning time of 1 minute 42.45 seconds. He picked up $120,000 as the top prize and broke Destin’s track record from last year which is the best 1 1/16 mile time in the Downs’ 91 year history.

Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. settled McCraken behind the pack five lengths off the pacesetter State of Honor, who set fractions of 23.63, :47.15 and 1:10.90 through six furlongs. When Hernandez asked McCraken to go, the strapping colt unleashed his big stride and flew home to win by 1 ¼ lengths over a late charging Tapwrit.

“Riding a horse like (McCraken) puts a lot of confidence in you, and you’ve got to go out there and ride him with the confidence we do … and he gets us there,” Hernandez said. “When I first got to the half-mile pole, I asked him for a run and he hesitated a bit. But I think it was him telling me, ‘Hey, jock, don’t worry. We’re going to get there when it’s my time.’ And he did.”

State of Honor held on for 3rd, while Wild Shot finished fourth after briefly taking the lead by a head in the stretch. Fact Finding, No Dozing, Six Gun Salute, Chance of Luck and King and His Court completed the finish.

McCraken went to post as the 3-2 favorite and paid $5, $3.60 and $2.80. Tapwrit returned $8.20 and $5.20, and State of Honor paid $6.20. The top four finishers received Kentucky Derby points on a sliding scale of 10-4-2-1.

Trainer Ian Wilkes knows has a special horse in his barn, and has been trying to downplay all the Derby talk about McCraken.

“If he’s good enough, he’ll take us there,” Wilkes said. “I don’t know how good (he is). But there have been some nice horses that have run a mile-and-a-sixteenth here.

“We’ve got a long way to go. This is not a one-race program. I want two more races for him, then the Derby. This is just one stepping stone, and we keep building.”

McCraken will build on his latest victory and success in his next race, the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

2017 Holy Bull Stakes results

Irish War Cry Dominates 2017 Holy Bull

We have yet another legitimate contender for this year’s Triple Crown. Irish War Cry seized immediate control of the 2017 Holy Bull stakes from Classic Empire and never relinquished it, romping the field in a wire-to-wire performance that has busted him in to the next level. The derby trail just got a whole lot busier.

All eyes were on Classic Empire, a 1/2 first choice in the 2017 Holy Bull who had essentially been established as the Kentucky Derby preference. In the KDFW Pool 2, he closed with 5/1 odds and $30,161.56 in action. By comparison, Irish War Cry finished with 26/1 odds to win the futures bet garnering a meagre sum of $6,957.96. Well, “meagre” in the sport of kings anyhow.

Exploding from the gate, Irish War Cry charged to the front as a 4/1 outside shot and never gave an inch. He led by at least a length in what was a slowly paced race, and then exploded down the home stretch to seal the victory. Classic Empire was urged onwards but couldn’t find that next throttle, and was ultimately passed by Gunnevera who was also a strong consideration to win. The winner paid out $10.80, $4.00 and $2.20.

The 2017 Holy Bull victory is the third straight in as many starts for Irish War Cry. The typical next step is preparation for the Florida Derby but Graham Motion, his trainer, simply revelled in the moment instead of jumping to conclusions. “I really haven’t gotten beyond today,” Motion said. “It will be hard enough to run back in one of them, obviously, but we’ll figure it out. There’s nothing quite like being involved in these three-year-old races. It’s what we all like to do. It’s pretty exciting.”

This race certainly throws a wrench in the backing of Classic Empire, who still rates out as the top horse in the overall field, but is beginning to show that he may not be as far ahead of the pack as pundits imagined. The 2017 Holy Bull is still just a small time race on the derby trail with a 10-4-2-1 split. Classic Empire still has time to bounce back – and many hope that he will – but Irish War Cry is sure to garner more attention. It’s well deserved after this weekend.

2017 Pegasus World Cup arrogate

Arrogate Dominant At 2017 Pegasus

The 2017 Pegasus World Cup cemented one living legend, while signalling the end of another.

Initially the oddsmakers had given the popular California Chrome the benefit of the doubt and made him the slight favorite. But by the time the race began, Arrogate had moved in as the 4/5 favorite with California Chrome holding 6/5 odds as the eventual second choice. The two would exchange early blows right from the onset.

Noble Bird took the field out as the pace setter with 30/1 odds of his own, and was trailed by Neolithic who had settled in at 23/1. Arrogate and California Chrome were next in position, trailed solely by War Story. Shaman Ghost was a few lengths back as the next in line ahead of the remainder who never stood a chance. One of the biggest shocks early on in the 2017 Pegasus was that Keen Ice had slipped all the way to the back and was very much a non-factor.

Clocking at :23.46 and :46.14 for the first two fractions, the pace itself was blistering but Arrogate was set up perfectly for a crash course down the final stretch. When pressed by jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate tore off and took the lead only to open up a cavernous gap between him and the rest of the field. California Chrome was urged on by Victor Espinoza, but simply didn’t have it in him today. It was a runaway victory for champion Arrogate, who solidified himself as the newest big ticket on the block.

California Chrome would slip all the way to 9th in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup during what is now known as the final race of his career. It wasn’t the storybook ending that his connections and fans had hoped for. “It looks like he scrambled away from there and couldn’t get his footing,” trainer Art Sherman noted. “It looked like he wasn’t getting a hold of the racetrack, like maybe his feet were getting out from under him. I don’t know why. He worked good over it.”

Smith was interviewed by NBC following the victory and was quick to point out that, “Once I got out going into the far turn, I knew we were going to be very tough to beat. He had a lot of run today and I was very happy. As far as winning the world’s richest race, I’m absolutely numb.”

It’s hard not to be happy with the lion’s share of the $12 million purse that came along with the 2017 Pegasus World Cup. This was exactly the start that Bob Baffert and the horse’s owners were hoping for, with the Dubai World Cup expected to be his next stop. Imagine winning two races totally $22 million to start the season? It’s unbelievable.

But that’s exactly what Arrogate has become. The reigning Breeders’ Cup Champion and 2017 Pegasus World Cup Champion drew a television rating of approximately 1.25 million with an all-sources handle of just over $40 million. Eyes and interests will be keenly fixated on Arrogate as he continues to storm the season.

As for California Chrome, it’s a quiet end to an otherwise boisterous career. Though the 2017 Pegasus World Cup didn’t unfold the way Sherman had planned, at the very least California Chrome escaped uninjured. He has settled in at Taylor Made Farms where he will begin a lengthy and prosperous second career at stud.

 

Celebrating California Chrome’s Career

California Chrome’s Racing Career comes to a Close

The sensational racing career of California Chrome came to a close Saturday. The world’s richest race did not go as planned for the two time Horse of the Year and 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. But the interest in racing and specifically the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational received great exposure and coverage thanks to the credentials and career of California Chrome.

The credentials of California Chrome are most credible. In 27 starts, he won 16 times. He added 4 second place showing and one third place finish. He won seven Grade I races and was victorious on ten different race tracks including one in Dubai. His accumulated earnings of $14,752,650 makes him the all-time leading money earner in North America.

Race fans embraced California Chrome, as he developed a legion of followers during his career. In today’s age with more race horses retiring and sent to the breeding shed to earn more money for their connections, we were given a gift with California Chrome continuing to race as a 6-year-old.

Following six straight wins to start the 2016 season, California Chrome came up just short in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But his connections rewarding racing fans and specifically the ‘Chromies’ with a final race in 2016 at his home track, Los Alamitos. And California Chrome gave his most devoted fans one final victory, by 12 lengths in the Winter Challenge Stakes.

The buildup to the Pegasus World Cup nearly 6 weeks later was great for racing. But the end of an era is one that should be celebrated for California Chrome.

California Chrome is completed booked for the 2017 breeding season, and he was shipped to Kentucky this week and will start test breeding immediately. California Chrome is commanding a fee of $40,000, and perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to see this son of Lucky Pulpit produce another great champion. Regardless, California Chrome, purchased for $10,500, is a symbol of dreams realized and a journey that should be celebrated.