06/19/2011 11:58AM

Foster, Vanity, and Phipps Thoughts

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There was so much hope!

Twirling Candy was lights out winning his return at Hollywood. Friend Or Foe and Rail Trip battled it out in their comebacks at Belmont in the manner of those intent on breaking big – in the case of Rail Trip, it would be breaking big again – in their division. Tizway had everyone chasing him wondering which way he went in the Met Mile. It seemed, after months of mediocrity, the handicap division was finally ready to be the marquee division it is expected to be.

And then Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap happened.

In a classic case of one step forward, two steps back, Pool Play’s upset of the Foster as the longest shot in the field of 11 at 36-1 seemed to stop the delicate momentum the handicap had just begun to build up. And it’s hard to say what was more surprising about the Foster, that Pool Play won it, or that Pool Play won it the way he did.

Never before had Pool Play raced on a dirt track, which means much more in his case. Instead of being a lightly raced horse who had not explored his potential and possibilities, Pool Play is a 6-year-old who had already accumulated 27 career starts before Saturday. Pool Play had never won anywhere other than at Woodbine. And his only prior two stakes wins came in the Canadian Grade 3 Durham Cup in October of 2009, and in the listed Valedictory last December.

Now, take that horse, and put him dead last, even last still at the top of the stretch. Put him behind a pace that included fractions of 48.74 and 1:13.37 which, while run on a Churchill Downs main track that was drying out and perhaps a bit tricky, nevertheless seemed totally pedestrian. Nevertheless, Pool Play somehow blew past everyone through the drive to get up in the last couple of jumps.

Whatever Pool Play’s Foster shocker says about him, I think it says more about those he defeated. Runner up Mission Impazible is a useful horse, but he is certainly no superstar. Third place finisher Apart looked like he was going to finish well off the board in upper stretch, only to come again late. Often, when a horse runs a yo yo race like that, it is a sign that the race wasn’t too good. And Giant Oak’s fifth place finish was more evidence that his big win in the Donn last February was purely a function of a tremendous pace set up.

For me, the biggest disappointment in the Foster, beside my longshot stab of Equestio (who proved not much of a longshot, going off at 7-1, and who proved not much of a stab, finishing ninth), was Crown of Thorns. Crown of Thorns shipped in with strong California form, but finished a dull seventh. This was Crown of Thorns’s second career start on dirt, and like his first try on dirt, it turned out to be one of the worst performances of an otherwise fine career. So one could surmise after the Foster that Crown of Thorns is a synthetic track horse who hates dirt, or that the California older male form is overrated, or that it is some combination of the two.

Fortunately, the older mares did more than their part Saturday to help clean up this mess. Almost every top member of this division saw action, with two notable exceptions: Divisional leader Havre de Grace, who ran last Saturday, winning her prep for next month’s Delaware Handicap, and Unrivaled Belle, who was to have run in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont, but who was injured in the paddock and has been retired. And what we saw Saturday suggests that the older female division has a depth of quality that the handicap division can only wish for right now.

The Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park was a tremendous race, featuring three top 10 older females, and was the vehicle for a compelling performance by Blind Luck. Blind Luck, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, got off to a slow start this year, finishing a soundly beaten second in her first three starts of 2011. But Blind Luck indicated she was coming around last time out when she won the La Trioenne at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks day over Unrivaled Belle, winner of last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic over – you guessed it – Blind Luck. And Blind Luck took another big step forward in the Vanity.

With a very slow early pace putting her seriously up against it, Blind Luck still rallied from last to impressively outkick everyone. Switch, who was farther back early than she figured to be considering her positional speed, ran on gamely to be a close second, and did more in this outing to dispel doubts about her at nine furlongs than she had previously. St Trinians, the Vanity’s third big gun, just couldn’t kick with the top two late despite having every chance. She finished fourth, yet was beaten only two lengths for it all.

In the Phipps, Awesome Maria dominated, making it 4 for 4 in 2011, and making amends for a surprising close call last time out in the Shuvee. In truth, Awesome Maria didn’t beat anywhere near the field Blind Luck did – runner up Payton d’Oro and third-place finisher Super Espresso are a decided cut below, and fourth place finisher Life At ten is a shell of what she used to be. Still, there is something about Awesome Maria that makes you think she is certainly on Blind Luck's level.

Walt P. More than 1 year ago
Posting this to both your blog and Steve Crist's: In the video you did (http://www.drf.com/news/video-fillies-deserve-series-3-year-olds), you both touched on something that I've felt has been needed for a long time: A true, national equal of the Triple Crown for fillies, that like what the NYRA series (which I believe in 2011 is the Acorn, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama) could be called the Triple Tiara. Unlike what was said in the video, I think it could be done at three different tracks if all arrangements could be worked out. While for many years it was not the true equal of the Kentucky Derby like it is now, The Kentucky Oaks has certainly become the premier race in the sport for three year old fillies. With the purse finally reflecting that at $1 Million and a possible move of the Oaks to prime time (and if so, possibly airing on NBC for the first time ever) in 2012, this may be the time to put such a series together with the Oaks at the main linchpin. One thing I would do in association with such a move, however, is to lengthen the Oaks to 1 1/4 Miles from its traditional distance of 1 1/8 Miles, making the fillies run the same distance their male counterparts do. The middle leg to me has two options, in either case scheduling such race in most years for the Memorial Day Monday holiday, making for in most years a three and a half week (24-day) gap between the first two legs (except in years where Memorial Day falls on May 31, in those years, the middle leg would be nine days earlier on Saturday, May 22, 22 days after the Oaks). This leg would also be in the mid-Atlantic Region, but not at Pimlico. My choices for the second leg would be either the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park or the Cotillion at Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park). While both are currently Grade 2 stakes, if either or both races continue to get the fields they currently do, they could be looking at Grade 1 status for 2012 anyway (especially the Cotillion, which last year attracted Blind Luck and Harve de Grace, arguably the two top fillies in the division), in the case of Parx, if so it would be the first Grade 1 stakes event in the history of the track. Either race would also have to be lengthened in my version from 1 1/16 Miles to 1 3/16 Miles, the same distance the boys go in the Preakness. The purse for this race would be $1 Million, which Parx could do be simply cutting the Pennsylvania Derby to $750,000 or Delaware could do by cutting the Delaware Handicap to $250,000 (from $750,000) and perhaps finding the other $250,000 by shaving other stakes events a bit. The final leg would be the Coaching Club American Oaks, which would be scheduled for two weeks after The Belmont Stakes and returned to its former distance of 1 1/2 Miles and would also be increased to $1 Million, in this case using funds that will be coming in from the VLT revenue that should start flowing later this year to pay for the increase. Returning the CCA Oaks to 1 1/12 Miles mean the fillies would have to face the same "test of the champion" distance two weeks after their male counterparts do. There would be other residual changes from this as well. The most notable as I would do them would be for the Acorn and Mother Goose to both be moved to Aqueduct and run early in the year: The Acorn lengthened to 1 1/16 Miles and becoming the first Grade 1 race of the year in New York and first Grade 1 ever on the inner track in March, eight weeks before the Oaks and the Mother Goose run at 1 1/8 Miles on the main track as part of the Wood Memorial program. These two races can serve as the main New York preps for the new series. The Comely (Grade 3), which has been run at Aqueduct could be moved to the Belmont Stakes program and beefed up in purse value to replace the Acorn on that program while the Gazelle (Grade 1) could be taken out of its exile late in the fall meet at Aqueduct and shifted to replace the CCA Oaks as the opening Saturday feature at Saratoga and primary prep for the Alabama. If NYRA wants to have a big late-season race for three year old fillies, it could revive the Rare Perfume, which used to be a significant late-season race for three year old fillies (that was a Grade 2 as I remember when it was disbanded in the early 1990s) and have that replace the Gazelle on Thanksgiving weekend at Aqueduct. These changes to me would allow for a solid companion to the Triple Crown that can keep interest in the sport high during and after the Triple Crown series, especially with the CCA Oaks run two weeks after the Belmont Stakes.
Captain Bodgit More than 1 year ago
Jockey Julien Leparoux, who was aboard third-place finisher Apart for the first time, said he just missed because of timing. “I thought I had so much horse, I couldn't wait to go,” he said. “But when I asked him, the other one (Duke of Mischief) came around me and kind of took my spot, and by the time he got going, it was too late. “I think if I would've asked him a little earlier, he would have won it.”
Liz Jamieson More than 1 year ago
Blind Luck is rounding back into form -she is my bet for HOY
Captain Bodgit More than 1 year ago
Pool Play shouldn't have been 36-1 either (up from 20-1 morning line). He had an awesome bullet work at CD like a week before the Foster.
Captain Bodgit More than 1 year ago
Churchill Downs main track is the closest dirt track ,in the world, to a synthetic surface. "Turf" horses or horses making their first start on "dirt" do very well at CD don't they? If I'm the trainer of Pool Play, I keep him to turf routes like the ones he was running in before the Stephen Foster. Then go back to "dirt" for the Classic. Giant Oak will be tough at CD in the Classic if he gets a fast pace to run at. Pool Play and Giant Oak should both love 1 and 1/4 miles.
Randy Zalman More than 1 year ago
I agree Pool Play shouldn't have been 36 to 1 he was coming into the race primed
Jim Pino More than 1 year ago
Mike keep an eye on our FLA win machine (Sweet Repent ) now 9 wins and again another 3 digit beyer....rounding back to form......may get back into your top 10 like 2010 and 2009....
Bill Daly More than 1 year ago
I'd love to see Larry Jones send Havre de Grace west some time this year to take on Blind Luck in her backyard. Hollendorfer is a real gamer - as is Blind Luck - to travel all over the country taking on all comers. If Havre de Grace is as good as I think she is now it will elevate the sport to watch these two ladies take each other on in California. Usually Californians have to travel east to get nationwide approval, but it ought to work both ways. I live in Maryland so it's not like I'm on a west vs. east rant. I'd just like to see an even playing field.
Aaron from Louisville More than 1 year ago
Took a stab with Apart in the Foster and was disappointed, but I think we haven't heard the last from Mr. Pool Play. He went off at nearly 35-1, but looked like a 3-5 shot in the paddock. I don't know much about how horses are supposed to look or horseflesh etc, but this horse looked absolutely magnificent. He's put together really well. This race wasn't a fluke, and we will hear some big noise from this animal down the road in the older male division. Pool Play could be a superstar.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
The older filly and mare division is deep this year despite Zenyatta's retirement. Hollywood Park's Vanity was the race of the year, so far. I just hope Hollendorfer, realizing the star he has, points Blind Luck towards the BC Classic and not the Ladies Classic. This Athletic mare is as game and professional as they come. Remember, she started out in a Maiden $30k claimer at Calder.
Sam Ludu More than 1 year ago
Fillies and mares have been, to borrow your phrase, cleaning up a lot of messes the past few years. Thank God for the gals. You've been having a hard time putting up anyone as the leading male Thoroughbred in America. At one point, you had to go with Haynesfield. Oh boy. One suggestion: Life at Ten should be retired immediately. She was never the same after dueling with Rachel in the Personal Ensign
Ak43 More than 1 year ago
And poor Rachel was never the same either after that awful trip she got in the Woodward the year before.