06/20/2010 11:00PM

Performance of the week: Music City


When you're hot, you're hot. Music City, a 4-year-old synthetic specialist, proved equally adept on turf by upsetting last Friday's Morluc Stakes going five furlongs at Churchill Downs.

Music City had to work every step of the way in the Morluc. Breaking adroitly under jockey Tommy Pompell, Music City was immediately confronted from the outside by race favorite Barge, a Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old who had recently won a second-level allowance over the course and distance in gate-to-wire fashion. Music City and Barge dueled through a hot first quarter-mile in 21.93 seconds, and they entered the stretch on even terms. Music City was simply too much for Barge in the final furlong, however, drawing off from his exhausted rival to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The final time of 56.56 over firm going was good for a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. Left in Music City's wake were stakes winner Hold the Salt and multiple stakes winners Awakino Cat and Turfiste.

Music City is by City Zip, who dead-heated for first in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at seven furlongs as a juvenile colt of 2000. A half-brother to Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, City Zip is represented by 2010 graded winners City to City, Unzip Me, Get Serious, Acting Zippy, and Gleam of Hope. All five of those stakes winners earned their stripes on grass, proving City Zip to be an excellent, yet underrated, source of good turf performers.

Music City's dam, Play Po (by Play On), won 2 of 21 starts for $58,226 in earnings. She also has foaled Premier Performer, a Grade 3-placed sprinter who banked more than $400,000.

Although both of Play Po's career victories came around two turns in route races, she hails from a family of quality sprinters. A half-sister, Penny's Reshoot, won the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes, while Daimon, a half-sister by Strike Gold, won the Berlo Handicap at Aqueduct. Two other half-sisters, Twin Propeller and Hope Rises, also earned black-type victories. Twin Propeller won the Thelma Stakes sprinting at Fair Grounds, while Hope Rises stretched her speed to 1 1/16 miles in taking the Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita. The second dam, the winning Mr. Leader mare Ahpo Hel, is a half-sister to Grade 2 sprint winner Pok Ta Pok.

Bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. A. Leonard Pineau, Music City went through the auction ring three times before making his career debut. He sold for $15,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale before being listed as a $21,000 buyback the following April at Ocala. Two months later, he was purchased for $35,000 at the OBS horses of racing age sale.

Sent to veteran trainer Bill Helmbrecht, Music City made his debut on Dec. 5, 2008, in a six-furlong maiden special weight over the Polytrack at Turfway Park. He showed good early speed but faltered in the final quarter-mile. He finished ninth, beaten 15 lengths.

Dropped into a $30,000 maiden claimer 22 days later at Turfway, Music City came through with flying colors. He zipped to the front of the six-furlong dash, opened up a big lead on the turn, and was never threatened. He won by 7 3/4 lengths and earned an 87 Beyer, a solid figure for a late-season juvenile.

Helmbrecht successfully stretched Music City around two turns for his first start at 3. Racing in an entry-level allowance going one mile at Turfway, Music City used his potent speed to immediately grab the tactical advantage. He shook loose on a lonely lead and won by a large margin, despite being late to complete his final lead change.

That win earned Music City a berth in the WEBN Stakes at one mile at Turfway on Feb. 7. Sent off as the 2-1 favorite in the field of 12, Music City once again set the pace and drew clear on the final turn. Again, he was late to change leads and was outfinished in the final quarter-mile by Parade Clown, a horse that Music City drubbed in the allowance win on Jan. 7. Helmbrecht reportedly received some private offers for Music City following the WEBN but decided to retain the colt.

Music City didn't show much in his next four starts. Racing on sloppy dirt, Polytrack, and turf, Music City flashed his customary early speed but failed to stay when the real racing began. It took Helmbrecht until the summer to get his charge turned around, but Music City ran a good second in the Humphrey S. Finney Stakes for Maryland-breds at Laurel going 1 1/16 miles on the turf on Aug. 1. He has remained in good form ever since.

Sent to Presque Isle Downs for a second-level allowance over the Tapeta racing surface, Music City returned to the winner's circle with another gate-to-wire jaunt. He faced pressure from the outside for the majority of the trip and looked beaten when the field swung into the stretch. Once more, Music City didn't make his final lead change until the furlong marker but he gamely beat back the late challenge of favored Vaquero. Although victorious, Music City looked very tired in the stretch. His gallop-out wasn't impressive, and critics could argue that the 1 1/16 miles was the very limit of his ability.

Music City finished his 3-year-old campaign by earning a pair of minor checks while racing in third-level optional claimers over dirt at Penn National. He was freshened after finishing fourth over sloppy going on Halloween and has returned at 4 with a vengeance.

Helmbrecht returned Music City to sprints on April 20 at Indiana Downs. Offered for the $40,000 tag in a second-level optional claimer, he zipped to the front and faced multiple challenges. His final lead change was much smoother this time, and he gamely fought off all comers to prevail by a hard-fought neck. The runner-up, Chief Talkeetna, returned to win with an 88 Beyer.

In his race preceding the Morluc, Music City returned to Presque Isle to score in a third-level optional claimer over Tapeta. As usual, he made the lead following an alert beginning. Music City faced early pressure but drew away in the stretch to win as much the best.

There isn't much strategy involved in Music City's races. He is expected to go immediately to the lead in a gate-to-wire bid. While perhaps not a Grade 1-level performer, he has a nice combination of speed and courage, has succeeded over all three surfaces, and looms an intriguing horse to watch over the next few months.