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Looking Ahead To The 2011 Handicap Division
Blame, Quality Road, and Travers winner Afleet Express have all recently been retired to stud. Rail Trip and Crown of Thorns are scheduled to come back, but physical issues make them shaky propositions. So when it comes to the 2011 handicap division, it looks like it will rely even more on graduating 3-year-olds than it usually does.
There is good news in this regard, for there are several quality 3-year-olds who figure to help populate the older male division next year, led by Lookin At Lucky. Now, we don't yet know for sure that Lookin At Lucky will race next year at 4, but the latest comments from his camp make it seem like there's a good chance he will. And if he does, as divisional champ last year and likely divisional champ again this year (Incredibly, Lookin At Lucky would be the first 2-year-old male champ to repeat at 3 since Spectacular Bid 31 years ago), Lookin At Lucky would begin 2011 as the pro tem leader of the handicap division.
Fly Down, who came this close to winning the Travers and a fine third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Paddy O'Prado, who showed by finishing fifth in the Classic that he is a threat on both dirt and turf, should be important older horses next year. So, too, should be Sidney's Candy, who I thought actually ran well when sixth in the Breeders' Cup Mile when he was simply a short horse, and First Dude, who has hit the board in five Grade 1 races, which probably makes him the best horse in America eligible to an entry-level allowance race.
Other coming 4-year-olds who have a license to make serious noise next year are Morning Line, who validated his Pennsylvania Derby decision by falling a head short of winning the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile; Noble's Promise, whose season this year was essentially sacrificed to a sporting attempt to win the Group 1 St. James Palace at Royal Ascot (he finished a creditable fifth), but who returned with a strong score in an undercard stakes on Breeders' Cup Friday; Twirling Candy, the Del Mar Derby winner who will have every opportunity to prove he is as good as his fans say he is; and Friend Or Foe, an above average New York bred who was close to Afleet Express over the summer.
Two coming 4-year-olds who I am especially intrigued by are Apart and Admiral Alex.
I became an Apart fan after watching him win the Prelude Stakes as tons the best, and he followed with victories in the Super Derby and in the Ack Ack Handicap on the Breeders' Cup Friday undercard. Apart's effort in the Ack Ack was one of those that was much better than it looks on paper. Not only did he beat a couple of older opponents, he did so after withstanding a long drive. Apart has become relentless in the stretch, much like Blame was. Then again, comparisons between the two are inevitable. Not only do they share a similar profile in that they really developed late in their 3-year-old campaigns in back to back seasons, they were also stablemates.
As for Admiral Alex, I was one of the many who was wondering what owner-trainer Leon Blusiewicz could have been thinking when he ran his colt in the Travers. After all, Admiral Alex had raced just once before, and his maiden win was distinguished only because it came around two turns on dirt (you don't see many first time starters win going two turns on dirt anymore), and because Admiral Alex got the money as an international good thing (they don't win too often, either). Admiral Alex finished a distant last in the Travers, and followed with another uninspiring effort in the Jamaica, and it looked like that was that.
But then something funny happened with Admiral Alex last time out in the Arts and Letters Stakes: He ran a huge with a capital H. Blusiewicz said his colt would go to the lead in that nine furlong race no matter the cost, and the cost was high. Admiral Alex had to go in 22.56 seconds and 45.66 to own the lead, and yet he kept right on going. Sure, the field was small and not especially tough, but after going that fast early, Admiral Alex still went fast enough late to complete the distance in 1:47.67, win by nearly five lengths, and earn his first triple digit Beyer Figure.
One thing that's interesting - amusing, actually - about Apart and Admiral Alex is the way expectations are being managed for them. A few days after the Ack Ack, Al Stall Jr., trainer of Apart, told DRF's Marty McGee: "You couldn't realistically say that Apart is the same as Blame. For some reason, Blame gave you a feeling all the time that he was the bomb, even when he was still a 'one-other-than.' Apart is different, but we're probably going to give him a shot."
The day after the Arts and Letters, less than two weeks before the Breeders' Cup, Blusiewicz said of Admiral Alex to DRF's Dave Grening: "This ain't a good horse, this is a super horse. If I had the money, I'd run him in the [Breeders' Cup] Classic. I'd dare somebody to beat him."
By reading what their connections said, you would think that Apart should still be stuck in low level allowance conditions and that he's dragging his connections into stakes events kicking and screaming, and that Admiral Alex is the second coming of Seattle Slew. As always, the truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle.
Tom: By "classic" I absolutely meant 10 furlongs. The Donn is a nice race, but it's not at a classic distance. The fact is, the East Coast doesn't have many gr.1 races for older males at a classic(10 furlongs+) distance. Not that long ago the East Coast had the Gulfstream Park Cap(10f, gr.1), Suburban, Brooklyn, and Woodward(10f) to go along with the one 10f gr.1 race still left for older males, the Jockey Club Gold Cup. California has had the same big 3 10f handicap races since 1991. NYRA should put some money back into the Suburban to get it back up to gr.1 status, and if both the Whitney and Woodward are going to be run at Saratoga, why not make the Woodward 10 furlongs? Saratoga has gr.1 10 furlong races for 3 year old males, 3 year old females, and older females but not older males?
I guess Go Between was a bum. Oh I forgot dirt horses can't run on synthetic. Einstien won the Big Cap. Where do these people get some of their crazy ideas from. No eastern horses running out here ? The Dogman has them all baffled with his BS
I was a little disappointed to not see Admiral Alex entered in the Discovery at Aqueduct this Saturday. I thought the trainer mentioned that would be his next start; but who knows, maybe he's decided to wait for the Dubai World Cup! In all seriousness, though, I think this horse can do big things if he's properly managed.
Mike, the nature of this article implies that there will be a half decent handicap division. Given the spate of recent retirements, outside of Zenyatta, there isn't much to get excited about. The light really turned on for me today when I realized that one of the reasons the "outside world" doesn't really care about Horse Racing is the very fleeting presence of it's stars. My wifes' girlfriend called us on Breeders Cup day to place a bet on Zenyatta. She could care less about racing otherwise. I think there is a real good chance that Arlington Park will be closing after the 2011 season, if not sooner. They aren't doing any on-track business at all - and this place is a pleasure to attend (except for the incredibly weak and uninteresting racing that takes place there). I do my best to get my friends interested in racing but when there is no mainstream media coverage WHATSOEVER in any form, no "stars" to follow, and the distraction of every EASY form of gaiming within easy reach - why bother?
I think Nick Zito holds the aces for next year. MORNING LINE and FLY DOWN look really good at this point, and I think they both are maturing and getting better all the time. I expect big things from both of them.
you left out Musket Man.... to leave him out is obviously a mistake on your part or a diss on the connections....
I too have been thinking about who might actually be coming back next year and might be good. I was excited about Afleet Express but then he gets to go live the good life sooner than expected, darn. Glad to hear that Fly Down and the others listed are coming back and am SUPER EXICTED that they plan on bringing Lucky back - would be incredible if he could get the Eclipse Award 3 years in a row. Just love his and Fly Down's style of running. And it surely will be interesting to see what Admiral Alex does, I did have him in my Travers bet! Does anybody know anything about Musket Man. I hope they bring him back, he's a classy guy.
I note that GunBow says "the Santa Anita Handicap is the only elite, classic test for older horses on dirt during the winter months. " I would place the Donn Handicap as am elite, classic test for older horses on dirt but note that the Donn Handicap is a 9 furlong race instaed of a 10 furlong race. I assume GunBow was referring only to 10 furlong races. Could you, Mike, please list the races which you consider to constitute the races for the Handicap Division in 2011? It would be fun for all of us to be following the same races because your recent articles on the Handicap Division indicate that you will following the Division and sharing your thoughts throughout the year. Thanks. Tom
Mike, I believe Lookin' at Lucky has been retired. He is listed on the Coolmore Stallion Roster. (MW: He might have been listed on Coolmore yesterday (Thursday), and it seems like there is an empty page where his listing once might have been. But as of early Friday morning, he is not listed. Strange.)
I'm very interested to see how Santa Anita's return to dirt will afffect the handicap division in SoCal. There are so few 10 furlong gr.1 races for older males in North America, and Cali has 3 of them. After 3 years of what many described as "weak" fields in these 3 SoCal classics, presumably the result of being run on synthetics, will we actaully see horses from the East ship out given that 2 of these races will now be run on dirt and the dirt-like Cushion Track? As a fan living in California, I was told by many different Eastern and Midwestern fans that the presence of synthetics destroyed outside interest in these 3 rich and prestigious events, and that shippers would have shown up if the races were run over dirt. I hope they were right; it's time to see if the presence of Pro-Ride at Santa Anita truly did reduce the number and quality of shippers for the Big Cap these past 3 years. With the Dubai World Cup now being run over synthetic, the Santa Anita Handicap is the only elite, classic test for older horses on dirt during the winter months.