Diamonds in the Rough - by Lenny Shulman

September 28 was widely hailed as the greatest day of action in Major League Baseball history, quite amazing since it featured only regular season games as opposed to the playoffs or World Series. Yet, with four teams attempting to squeeze into two post-season berths, the sudden reversals of fortunes and late-inning heroics that lifted Tampa Bay and St. Louis while crushing Boston and Atlanta captured the attention of a nation that had long forsaken the pastoral “national pastime” for the violent collisions of the National Football League. It is not overstating the case to say that careers were made (hello Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria) and lives changed (goodbye Boston’s manager Terry Francona) in the span of a few fateful minutes.

Perhaps on a smaller scale but in its own emphatic way, Thoroughbred racing enjoyed a thrilling climax to its “regular season” (excepting the three weeks of Keeneland yet to come) the weekend of Oct. 1-2 in the final tune-ups for the Nov. 4-5 Breeders’ Cup World Championships. We witnessed awe-inspiring performances, dramatic comebacks, and tissue-grabbing human-interest stories as top-shelf racing worked its magic on us from the scenic turf of Longchamp to the muddy majesty of Belmont and the sun-splashed palms of Santa Anita. If this is just the regular season, the championship round a month hence will be tough to wait for.

The idea of male dominance in the handicap division has taken a series of body blows over the past two seasons as Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta worked their ways to the head of the class, defeating the boys and copping the last two Horse of the Year trophies. To prove this could be more of a trend than a fluke, Havre de Grace, merely a top-notch 3-year-old filly a year ago, took another step toward proving she has evolved into a full-out monster this season, winning the grade I Beldame Stakes Oct. 1 as though it were an exhibition at a county fair. She defeated the boys in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) last out with equal dispatch—much easier than Rachel two years ago—and although owner Rick Porter was playing it coy post-race, it will be a major upset if she is not turned loose against males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) considering her current form.

Flat Out, impressive in taking the same day’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), is a horse that is impossible not to like. Besieged by injuries early in his career, he has patiently waited for his moment and has now seized it. His crooked blaze reminiscent of his grandsire, A.P. Indy, who enjoyed some glory over the Belmont strip, Flat Out obviously has the heart of a warrior. And he has another intangible: His 70-year-old trainer “Scooter” Dickey, who hails from a dot on the map called Anthony, Kan., was enjoying his first grade I victory after 48 years of saddling horses. Think he’ll be popular around Louisville in the coming weeks?

And what would sports be without the classic comeback story? Joining the battle in the Classic will be Uncle Mo, the champion 2-year-old of last year who, instead of being tested in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) five months ago, was in a clinic being tested for a rare liver disease. Uncle Mo flashed his brilliance once again in the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont and will have yet another shot at the golden ring under the Twin Spires.

Need a dose of Bob Baffert in the Classic? No problem. He’s got Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) best Game On Dude and third-place Coil to add some West Coast seasoning to the burgoo.

Although 2011 for months on end was beset by mediocre racing, the Classic is all of a sudden shaping up as one of the best in years.
And the other divisions are in good shape as well. European-bred Stacelita, who has battled stalwarts Midday and Sea The Stars across the water, is obviously all class as she showed once again in the Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) as she prepares for the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Creative Cause is tearing up the 2-year-old scene in California, and juvenile filly Weemissfrankie is only three-for-three with two grade I victories and a track record so far.

And then there is the queen of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT), three-time winner Goldikova, who showed she was merely mortal in her final race in her native France, losing a head decision to Dream Ahead in the Oct. 2 Qatar Prix de la Foret (Fr-I), the penultimate battle of her phenomenal career. Has she lost a step? Would it matter if she has? Can she make it four in a row?

Wouldn’t it lift the soul if baseball and Thoroughbred racing can both mount spectacular comebacks?

17 Comments

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mz

...and the Prix de l'Arc?  Fillies one-two-three.  Danedream looks really, really good and really, really tiny.  A fine representative of her great-great-great-grandsire.

04 Oct 2011 12:15 PM
Convene

Goldikova is still HORSE OF THE WORLD, the French race notwithstanding. It took a 3 year-old champion everything he had to get just a whisper ahead of her on the wire. No, she's not unbeaten - but that isn't the measure of a champion. She took on the world and won - time after time, males and females alike - and that is the measure of a champion. I hope she takes a 4th Breeders Cup; it'll give everyone something to chase for years to come. But in an era when horses retire to the safety of the breeding shed before they're even fully adults or fully proven, Goldie's accomplishments place her in a class by herself. All I ask is that Freddie Head make the wise choice and I'm sure he will. He loves her too. If she doesn't run - or if they finally beat her - no matter. Her place in history is sure. In my books, she's simply the best.

Likewise, I'm sure Larry and Rick will make the wise choice with Gracie, who they love too. She's a monster, also in a class by herself. I love Blind Luck - Lord help me, I do - but Gracie, whatever she does now, has proven herself consistently all year long and stamped herself with her place at the top of the list. If that's not what it takes to be a champion, I surely don't know what does. Whichever BC race she runs, she loses no luster. We already know what she is. Kinda makes you realize what a treasure we lost when we lost St. Liam ...

For the boys, they're an upsy-downsy lot this year. I still couldn't really name an overall standout, altho I think now that Uncle Mo is back - and it seems he is - he's a bona fide contender. I really am on the edge of my chair for Breeders Cup this year!

04 Oct 2011 12:29 PM
Bill Two

Is there any doubt we live in the Age of The Fabulous Fillies?  I thought I've seen it all until I saw DaneDream destroy that Arc field on Sunday.  Talk about small and mighty, wow! Her people are thinking of one more start this year for her and it just might be here at CD.  Wherever she goes she will attract the attention of the racing world.  

04 Oct 2011 1:15 PM
PioneerCountry

Convene - well put.

04 Oct 2011 1:28 PM
The Deacon

Nice article Lenny, love your humor. Just wondering, any word on what may be wrong with Blind Luck if anything. In 22 races never once saw her throw in a chunker like that. Not in a good way, it reminded me of Life at Ten in last years Ladies Classic.

04 Oct 2011 1:32 PM
The Rock

The Best BC Classic in years...? Hmmm..... I'd have to respectfully disagree with that. Flat Out Havre de Grace and Uncle Mo do not really scream Zenyatta, Blame & Quality Road  when compared to last year. The stories are nice though....

04 Oct 2011 3:28 PM
Giddyup

Baseball and Thoroughbred racing won't be making any spectacular comebacks until they deal with the issue that caused them to lose their lustre in the first place - drug abuse.

04 Oct 2011 5:44 PM
Alex'sBigFan

Wouldn't it be uplifting if ESPN Sports Center would give as much attention all weekend to horseracing as they do baseball and football?  I did not hear one mention of any races by them let alone a huge photo of Havre, Mo, or Flat Out flashing on the screen.  National media coverage has to lead all the way up to the BC if they want people to be aware of it and watch it.  What station is televising and carrying the BC races this year?

Nice article Lenny.  You must love Flat Out representing the A.P. Indy line.  How is old A.P. doing at Lane's End, have they found another career for him do you know since his pensionning?  Hope he is happy and has things to do.

04 Oct 2011 8:05 PM
Karen in Indiana

Every time Havre De Grace and Blind Luck met up, I rooted for Blind Luck. So when the hype started about HDG running in the Woodward, I wasn't that excited about it. But she has won me over. Not that I like Blind Luck any less - here's hoping the rest brings her back right. But HDG showed her depth of talent in that race and she is every bit as qualified to go in the Classic as any other horse that's been mentioned with that as a goal. I love the way she's built - one of the most balanced forms I've seen since Big Brown.

04 Oct 2011 10:27 PM
Karen in Indiana

Lenny, you didn't even mention Acclamation. He's been an under the radar over-achiever.

04 Oct 2011 10:30 PM
skyfire

Nothing was more thrilling than Cape Blanco's gutsy win in the Turf Classic! He just wouldn't be beaten.  How brave he was to run and not quit, in spite of career ending injury!  IMO he is the leader for champion  US turf runner.  What a beautiful horse!

05 Oct 2011 12:03 AM
KarenToga

Lenny, well said!  This past weekend was a thrill to watch my favorites come through and shine. MO was spectacular as well as Havre De Grace. What a beauty , she makes it look easy. Blind Luck was a hugh disappointment. I love this filly ! She always gives 100 plus percent and to see her not run was shocking. Something is wrong and I am glad that they did not push her . She is a smart filly and perhaps  the last race she gave it all she had left. She has traveled all over the globe racing and she has got to be more than a litle tired. One thing about fillies when they are done they let you know. Enough! She has proven herself as one for the ages . I hope she gets the praise she deserves .

05 Oct 2011 5:36 AM
TerriZ

Don't you love how Larry Jones vans Havre de Grace to her races? He knows she is royalty and treats her as such.

I read that after the tragic accidental death of her sire, Saint Liam, the Warrens (his owners) tried to acquire all of his progeny. He was in stud only for a season at Lane's End and supposedly all of his progeny looked like him.

She surely is daddy's girl--much like Terlingua was Secretariat's girl. And the spirits of her sire and his breeder Ned Evans are urging her on.

05 Oct 2011 6:06 AM
Linda in Texas

Very nicely written Mr. Shulman,though i am not a baseball fan, unless The Rangers are in to win, i certainly am a Horse Racing Fan. Seems like the females have taken the headlines now for 3 years.

But i cannot as skyfire stated ignore Cape Blanco, just as i was beginning to really admire the fella in another gallant run to the wire he is injured. That to me is the total definition of courage.

And i ditto Alex'sBigFan's interest in A.P.Indy, would love a story and photos of him while he is still here.

D'Accord, Secretariat's 32 year old son died Monday, article stated that Ms.Feron the farm manager said his longevity was attributed to the care of his groom

Karin Mallard. So thank you Karin Mallard you are to be commended and praised for your loving attention to detail with D'Accord.

Those are the gifts of life i love to know about and acknowledge and i do that now for KARIN MALLARD.

Thanks Mr. Shulman, may i call you Lenny?

05 Oct 2011 10:51 AM
Stellar Jayne

Lenny - Wonderful article pointing out that we did have standouts this year.  Let us hope that the longshots do not run down our favorites mentioned above again this year.  I wonder if Blind Luck just got sour on racing, she has done so much and every where on the map.

TerriZ - I agree with everything you wrote.  St. Liam will always be among my most favorites.  I saw him race many times.  Havre de Grace is truly Daddy's girl in talent and looks.  Thank God she is in Larry Jones' hands!

Linda in Texas - Thank you for the sad update regarding D'Accord.  I had visited him in July 2009, he was a sweet heart and he looked sooo good even then.  Thank you to Karin Mallard for her tender care of him.  

06 Oct 2011 1:58 PM
Matthew W

Ultra Blend is not only a Cal-bred, she's obscurly bred, yet her record and current condition have her looking like a real contender for win honors in Ladies Classic--another diamond in the rough, this time rough sod/roughly run conditions, is a two year old N Y bred filly, her most recent race, her third, had her winning as if in another class-zone, at 23-1---that followed a debut win at 37-1, and both wins were troubled trips/both races she won as if she hadn't even found her level--her stock is rising, she'll fetch double digits again in Breeders Cub and I will be playing her to win! Didn't think I would ever see another filly win The Classic, but I'm beginning to think Harve De Grace is the deserving favorite and horse to beat! Would love to see then try to win HOY with Acclamation, and go in the Classic--I am confident in both of the N Y 2yo fillies winning their Cup heats (cannot think of their names but will be playing both to win on Friday/oh yeah, one is named Weemissfrankie)...as always, lots of diamonds out there, they might not get it perfect but it is America's biggest and best day/s of the year in The Sport Of Kings....

09 Oct 2011 9:15 PM
melanchthon

I would love to see Dabirism run at CD in the 2yr old grass race.  I could never understand why the US let Sunday Silence get away and then never show any interest in his sons.  Finally we have two SS stallions in North America and they look really good.  

12 Oct 2011 2:11 PM

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