10/05/2009 3:44PM

Interpatating a Big Weekend of Racing

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Before Saturday's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at boggy Belmont Park, a likeable seven-year-old gelding named Interpatation was best known as somewhat of a throwback to thoroughbred days of yore, a veteran that danced every dance, albeit most of them at waltz speed.  After the 1 1/2 mile marathon was completed in 2:41.22 (a mere seventeen seconds off the course record), Interpatation was a Grade 1 winner and conqueror of Gio Ponti, the scourge of the turf division for the majority of the 2009 racing season.. 
"...I was waiting for him one day to pick his head up and do it right," winning trainer Bobby Barbara said after the race. "He did it right, on the perfect day.  This horse made $700,000 the hard way, and now he's over a million in one day!  I don't know what's next for him."
Heavily-favored Gio Ponti, seeking his fifth straight Grade 1 victory, looked like a winner after passing Interpatation at the eighth pole, but he faltered in the final furlong over the testing ground. 
"Second best in that one, but I thought he ran a very good race - he really tried," said trainer Christophe Clement.  "The idea is to go from there to the Breeders' Cup, use the race and move on."
Which Breeders' Cup race Gio Ponti eventually contests is still up in the air.  He has proven himself over synthetic surfaces in the past, and may opt to turn back in distance for the 1 1/4 mile Classic over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride main track.  The Turf at 12 furlongs is another option, but some tough European stayers are scheduled for that event, and 1 1/2 miles may not be Gio Ponti's best game.  
Although beaten by a 43-1 shot, let's not allow the loss to cast too much of a pall over Gio Ponti's remarkable season.  He won four straight Grade 1 races at distances between 8-11 furlongs over all types of going.  Sometimes the little guy wins one.  The stars happened to be in alignment for Interpatation on Saturday afternoon. 

Music Note
confirmed that she is back to her best form with a resounding victory over overmatched rivals in the Grade 1 Beldame at 1 1/8 miles.  Although she easily defeated crack sprinters Indian Blessing and Informed Decision in the seven-furlong Ballerina at Saratoga in her previous start, trainer Saeed bin Suroor seems inclined to try the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic once again (Music Note finished third last year to Zenyatta).  
"We'll take her to the Breeders' Cup," Godolphin's trainer admitted after the Beldame.  "Nine furlongs will suit her.  She looked better than ever."
It will be interesting to see if Music Note's apparent fondness for wet tracks will translate to the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita. 

Kodiak Kowboy
took advantage of a spirited battle between fleet speedsters Go Go Shoot and Fabulous Strike to earn a hard-fought decision over the latter in the Grade 1 Vosburgh, normally a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.  Now a multiple graded winner at two, three, and four, Kodiak Kowboy, the winner of the Victoria Stakes over Woodbine's Polytrack surface as a juvenile, looks like a prime candidate for the Sprint.  
The gritty and game Fabulous Strike emerged from his early battle with Go Go Shoot with a clear stretch lead, but couldn't hold off the winner's determined late surge in a race eerily reminiscent of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 4.  Fabulous Strike is always a threat at six furlongs, but he is questionable over synthetic surfaces.  He bombed last year in the Sprint, and the connections are unlikely to try him again in the Breeders' Cup.
There aren't many fillies more consistent than Pure Clan, and the daughter of Pure Prize added the Flower Bowl Invitational to her excellent record.  On the board in 14 of 15 starts (the only blemish in last year's Filly and Mare Turf), Pure Clan pooh-poohed the difficult going en route to a comfortable win over a game Criticism.  
"The turf course was really soft," said winning rider Julien Leparoux.  "She had to work hard at it in the stretch.  Still, she got the job done."
Criticism's trainer, Tom Albertrani, mentioned the Filly and Mare Turf as a possible next-race target.

In winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Summer Bird became the first horse since the popular Easy Goer to sweep the prestigious fall event along with the Travers and Belmont Stakes.  Trainer Tim Ice expected a pitched battle with Florida Derby winner Quality Road, seemingly ready for a top effort in the third start following an injury-induced layoff, and Summer Bird got all he could handle from the Todd Pletcher-trained Quality Road during the final three-eighths of a mile of the Gold Cup.  After pacesetter Tizway dropped out on the far turn, the two top three-year-old colts hooked up, and Summer Bird had to call upon his considerable reserves to wear down Quality Road.
"When Kent swung him to the outside, I knew he had the spot he wanted," Ice said after the race.  "He had said in the paddock the inside wasn't that good so he wanted him about four or five off the rail...Summer Bird was hanging a little bit on him; Kent said it was easier than it looked.
It means a lot to win the three races in New York.  It's been 20 years since a three-year-old won the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  I think it puts him in an elite group and he should be named [champion] three-year-old colt.  The goal is the Breeders' Cup."
When asked whether this was Summer Bird's best effort to date, jockey Kent Desormeaux responded in the affirmative.  "By far.  He was awesome.  He pulled up quietly like nothing had ever happened."
Quality Road continued his "bad-boy" habit of acting up before the starting gate, but he showed his abundant class with a courageous runner-up performance. 
"He ran well," said Todd Pletcher, "...I think he's better on a fast track.  Summer Bird relishes this kind of surface."  Pletcher mentioned that he would converse with owner Edward Evans before deciding on a trip to the Breeders' Cup.  
"I don't think we've seen the best of him yet," said Summer Bird's rider, John Velazquez.  "...I think my horse is better on a dry track.  [Summer Bird] had an advantage over my horse.  He had been running all summer long..."
How Summer Bird will handle the synthetic surface at Santa Anita is anyone's guess.  Originally conditioned by John Sadler in Southern Calfiornia, the then-unraced Summer Bird reportedly came up with a foot abscess while training over synthetics, and was shipped to Ice in the Midwest. 

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Maybe I'll be right with this one.  From the September 25 blog:

DAN, now that the Saratoga meet is over, who could be this years BIG BROWN or PIONEEROF THE NILE.  You know, a horse that breaks their maiden in a 1 and 1/16 mile turf maiden race at Saratoga, then goes on to the "Derby Trail"
Captain Bodgit

He hasn't broken his maiden yet, but keep an eye out for Eskendereya, a son of Giant's Causeway out of Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew.  The $250,000 yearling finished a fast-closing second in his debut at the Spa, and while his pedigree is mostly turf, the third dam is a half-sister to 1974 Derby winner Cannonade

Eskendereya won his maiden in the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont on Sunday, and he earned a solid 90 Beyer Speed Figure. 

"it was a very good effort," said trainer Todd Pletcher.  "The horse had trained very well and we knew he was an impoving horse.  He got excluded from a maiden race, so we decided to take a shot in the stake.  When it came off the turf, we had a decision to make, but we felt like the horse had improved in his training recently on the dirt and felt it was worth taking a shot. 
I was particularly pleased with the way he finished up and the way he galloped out.  I'd say that he's typical of the Giant's Causeways, and probably good on any surface."

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Lookin At Lucky 

(photo - Benoit photo)

Lookin At Lucky continued his winning ways in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, a major prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Lookin At Lucky, a half-brother to Jim Dandy and Dwyer winner Kensei, ran his undefeated record to four in a row for trainer Bob Baffert. 
"He's the best 2-year-old I've had in the last five years," Baffert said after the race.  I know that...He's sort of a different horse that I've ever had, a lot different.  I never worry where he draws...He's a pretty exciting horse.  I'm becoming a big fan of his now, watching him run.  He's got power steering.  He's not one-dimensional, which is so great because you don't have to worry about track condition or speed.  He's just a very good horse."
"This was his first time long, and he handled it perfectly," said winning rider Garrett Gomez.  "He's never been a horse who was real keen but I wanted to be a bit more forwardly placed than I was last time.  He made the lead turning for home and when he did, he threw his ears up and kind of waited on that horse inside of him.  When I got after him though, he went on with it and finished up real game..."
Lookin At Lucky, a $35,000 yearling buyback that sold for $475,000 at Keeneland in April, looks like the probable favorite for the Juvenile. 

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BlindLuck 

(photo - Benoit photo)

Blind Luck has to be considered one of the leading candidates for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile fillies after her win in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf at Santa Anita on Saturday.  A winner of three of four races (the only loss to the now-sidelined Mi Sueno), Blind Luck improved her Beyer to a career-best 88 as she drew away from Baffert's recent maiden winner Always a Princess.  
"...As far as I'm concerned, she's the best 2-year-old filly in California," said jockey Tyler Baze after the Oak Leaf.  "In the Debutante, she was all over the place with me and I really think that if she'd run down there like she did today, she'd have won it.  She's doing everything right now and I can't wait to ride her November 6."
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was suitably ecstatic after his filly's winning performance.  "After she broke her maiden, the owner offered her up for sale and we bought her right away.  She was just a nice big filly, and she won so easy...She looks like she's a pretty nice filly."  
The runnerup also seems ready for a tilt in the Breeders' Cup.  "She got a little tired at the end, but she did all the running," Baffert said of Always a Princess.  "I think this will set her up perfect for the Breeders' Cup."
"She's very talented," said Garrett Gomez, the rider of Always a Princess.  "I'm excited about her.  I liked the way she did everything.  She didn't throw in the towel...She galloped out nicely.  Hopefully, this will set her up to end up in the winner's circle next time."

(Trainer and jockey quotes courtesy of the NYRA and Oak Tree press departments)

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Sea the Stars, arguably the best horse on the planet, continued his European rampage with another stunning victory, this time in the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most prestigious races in the world.  Here's what our friends from The Racing Post had to say about the performance.

A thrilling Arc won in extraordinary style by a horse set to enter history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest racehorse of all time.
Expectation was sky-high beforehand that SEA THE STARS, who´d carried all before him in England and Ireland this term, winning five times in the space of five months, all at the top level, would take another giant leap towards racing immortality. Despite being sent off a short-priced favourite, though, his task was a formidable one, on several counts. He was at a disadvantage in having not enjoyed a mid-season break, which has become the norm for Arc winners in recent years, and there were still some who doubted his stamina for a strongly run 1m4f. In addition, the stats backed up the view that what he was attempting was something out of the ordinary. Since Sea-Bird in 1965, only three horses had completed the Epsom Derby/Arc double in the same season (Mill Reef, Lammtarra and Sinndar), while 17 others had tried and failed. He was also trying to emulate the great Dancing Brave in becoming just the second winner in the previous 40 years to have taken the Guineas en route. A big field also threatened to make things tricky for him, but on the plus side was that the weights favour the 3yos in this race, evidenced by the fact that 12 of the previous 15 winners were representatives of the Classic generation, the ground had come right for him, he´d bagged a good draw, and he´d enjoyed a trouble-free preparation.
The early gallop was set by the Ballydoyle pacemakers Set Sail and Grand Ducal, but they were given no respect by the opposition and, despite winding things up from a long way out, they were ignored, and the main bunch went about following the no-more-than-fair pace set by Stacelita.
Very little went right for Sea The Stars for much of the race. Warm beforehand, he pulled for his head through the early stages, got shuffled back in the pack as Kinane tried to restrain him, and continued to race very keenly to the entrance to the straight. He was then hampered and lost his footing momentarily on straightening up before going for his run up the inside rail. Finding the rapidly weakening Grand Ducal falling back towards him, Kinane swiftly switched Sea The Stars around the pacemaker and the colt then found the most electrifying turn of foot to leave the fillies Dar Re Mi and Stacelita for dead inside the last. Kinane didn´t even have to get that serious with him, he won with a ton in hand and left genuine Group 1 horses looking like slow old boats. The first horse ever to complete the Guineas/Derby/Arc treble, he has it all - stamina, speed, durability, and above all class. It was a truly sensational performance, the kind that will live long in the memory, and future champions will no doubt have to get used to being compared unfavourably with him. Whether or not he goes to Santa Anita for the Breeders´ Cup Classic, for which he´s a best-priced 4-5, hardly matters to his reputation, but success in America would undoubtedly cap a most incredible career, for which his trainer John Oxx deserves the utmost credit.

So, will he or won't he?

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Goldikova, on the other hoof, did disappoint her many backers with a sub-par third-place finish in her final Breeders' Cup Prep, the Prix de la Foret at siven furlongs at Longchamp. 

I again, defer to the experts at The Racing Post for the analysis:

This was a Group 1 race containing only one genuine Group 1 performer. As such, the below-par performance of Goldikova means one has to regard this as a seriously substandard top-flight contest.
While VARENAR deserves enormous credit for producing a personal best effort, the vast majority of the post-race attention centred on Goldikova, who had been expected to cement her status as red-hot odds-on favourite for the Breeders´ Cup Mile with an easy victory. However that wasn´t the case as, racing over 7f for the first time in her career, she tired in the closing stages after racing prominently. Having been handed a horribly wide draw in stall 14, Olivier Peslier decided to let his mount roll along from the gate, but she then ended up at the head of a frantic gallop and one which took its toll in the final furlong. That said, runner-up Sweet Hearth also sat close to the lead, so it would be dangerous to place too much emphasis on the tactics employed by Peslier.
Explaining Goldikova´s display is difficult, and it left trainer Freddie Head perplexed, but the four-year-old bounced back from a disappointing seasonal reappearance and she will very likely do so again. Although a wide-margin winner of two Deauville Group 1s during the summer, Goldikova must have been drained by those wins, so much so that she might well have been feeling the effects here. If back to her best at Santa Anita, where the round 1m track plays to her strengths, she will be very much the one to beat, and it´s unlikely that Stan James´s 11-10 quote will last long.
  

Goldikova received a 118 Racing Post Rating for the Prix de la Foret, a thirteen-point drop from her win in the Jacques le Marois on August 18.  

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Here are the winning Beyer Speed Figures from last week's stakes races (scroll over for more information): 

Here are the lifetime past performances for the highest and lowest Beyer stakes performers of the week:

Download SummerQueen

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Be back tomorrow with questions, comments, and pp requests, and we're still waiting for Baltimore Brian to select this week's HandiGambling exercise.

Cheers!

Dan