Guest blog: The King and the Queen

By J. Keeler Johnson, "Keelerman"

The horses are ready. The stages are set. Saratoga and Del Mar, hosts of the two most prestigious summer meets of the year, are about to play host to something even bigger: the King and the Queen of horse racing.

On the east coast there is Saratoga, almost two weeks into its 142nd meet. Devil May Care, Forever Together, Proviso, A Little Warm, Afleet Express, and Fly Down are just a few of the quality horses  that have run there this year. But that means little when you have the reigning king, Quality Road, getting set to enlarge his kingdom. The warrior made determined efforts to dethrone Summer Bird from champion three year old colt honors last year, but was twice unable to match strides with the Belmont Stakes winner. This year, Quality Road has come into his own, winning the Hal's Hope Stakes, the Donn Handicap, and the Met Mile in impressive fashion. But he faces his stiffest test of the year this Saturday. Can he continue his dominance of the older males and snatch a fourth grade I win?

On the west coast there is Del Mar, which drew an opening day crowd of 45,000. Just as Saratoga has drawn some fine horses, Del Mar has already played host to Twirling Candy, The Usual Q T, Victor's Cry, Evening Jewel, Richard's Kid, Dakota Phone, Battle of Hastings, E Z's Gentleman, and Cost of Freedom. But they'll have the best of all when the reigning queen, Zenyatta, returns with hopes of winning the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes for the third time. The amazing mare has won all of her seventeen starts, including a win over the best the world had to offer in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Can she extend her streak to eighteen and take another step toward defending her Classic title?

It's difficult to say who has the tougher task. Quality Road faces tougher opposition. Lined up to face the king are Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Stephen Foster and Clark Handicap winner Blame, Suburban Handicap winner Haynesfield, Illinois Derby winner Musket Man, and allowance runner-up Jardim. On the other hand, Quality Road will be running at arguably his best distance and at Saratoga, where he set a 6 ½-furlong track record last year.

Zenyatta, although she faces lesser competition, will be running on her least favorite racetrack at a distance which may prove a bit too short for her.

Will they both come away victorious, one step closer to a meeting in the Breeders' Cup? Or will one or both be dethroned? A great weekend of racing is shaping up; let's see who is running!


It's hard to see past Quality Road, especially if the track is fast. But if it does rain, you can't forget about Mine That Bird. This will be the gelding's first start on dirt since the West Virginia Derby last August, and we should see a different horse. It's hard not to like him, because he always tries his best, and he's due for another win.

Blame should also come running late and will likely get a better trip than the one he got in the Stephen Foster. He's relentless in the stretch and with a five pound break in the weights, who knows what might happen?

Musket Man will make his first two-turn start since last year's Preakness, where he finished third, beaten less than two lengths. He was closing in on Quality Road in the Met Mile and perhaps this time around he can make up that last little bit.

Haynesfield was very impressive in winning the Suburban Handicap over two very nice horses, but the Whitney will be a big step up in class. He also likes to run near the lead, like Quality Road, which could be bad if he tries to take on the king early. But he has a lot of upside.

My pick is Mine That Bird. With Haynesfield ensuring a fast pace,  I see a brilliant rail ride by Calvin Borel to lead Mine That Bird to victory, especially if the track turns up sloppy. Quality Road will be right there at the finish.


Just as it is hard not to pick Quality Road in the Whitney, it is hard not to pick Zenyatta in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. Yes, the distance is not her best, and yes, Del Mar isn't her favorite track, but she has found a way to win all seventeen of her starts and should do the same this Saturday. Every time I start to doubt her, I just think of her closing four lengths in the final eighth of a mile in this race last year. Add that to the fact that she has been training beautifully and you have a horse that is just about unbeatable here.

If someone is to hand Zenyatta her first defeat, it will likely be Made for Magic. She does have a win over the Del Mar polytrack, albeit a claiming race, and she is the only other graded stakes winner in the field, having won the grade I Vanity Handicap back in May. However, she has run poorly in her two starts since then, including a last-of-five finish against Rachel Alexandra in the Fleur de Lis Handicap.

Princess Taylor is another obvious contender. Making her third start in the United States, she comes off of a determined second in the grade III Beverly Hills Stakes after setting the pace. She closed fast there, and if she gets away with a slow pace on Saturday, she could prove impossible to catch.

Dance to my Tune is the only horse here, however, who can claim to have nearly upset Zenyatta previously. The mare had a three-length lead on the champion at the eighth pole of the Santa Margarita, but fell a length and a quarter short of pulling what would have been an astonishing 52-1 upset. Can she succeed this time at a shorter distance?

My pick is, without a doubt, Zenyatta. Yes, she'll have to really run to win, but there seems to be enough speed here to set up her late run. Dance to my Tune, Princess Taylor, and Rinterval, who comes off of a second to Informed Decision last time out, have all run their best races on the lead.

I'll pick Princess Taylor to finish second.


Franny Freud! Pica Slew! Champagne d'Oro! Buckleupbuttercup! So many fine fillies, but there can only be one winner.

Although Franny Freud has a win over Champagne d'Oro, I'll pick the latter here. She didn't get the best of trips in the Prioress and should rebound nicely here with a little more distance. Belle of the Hall should come running late if the pace is fast.

It's going to be exciting. So many great horses running on the same day! Will the king and the queen continue their dominance? Or will one or both fall to defeat? What do you think?

J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") is a racing enthusiast and blogs at

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