Opinion Columns

Watchmaker: Risen Star Stakes does nothing to clarify Derby picture

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Watchmaker: Risen Star does nothing to clarify Derby picture
Emily Shields
Bravazo (No. 7) narrowly beats Snapper Sinclair in the Risen Star Stakes.

It’s important to remember that the road to the Kentucky Derby is not linear. We are not going to have a Derby prep season that sequentially builds on what previously transpired in terms of quality and strength. Sure, it would be nice if things were all nice and neat like that, but it doesn’t work that way.

This is a good time to remind oneself of that, on the morning after a head-scratching Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds that threw one of the first big monkey wrenches into a 2018 Kentucky Derby prep season that will almost certainly see a few more.

Hovdey: Looking for Chrome's reflection in Faversham

There are two surefire ingredients of near-certain failure when it comes to the recipe for a Thoroughbred racehorse. First, bring him into this world as a full brother to a champion. Then, name him for a friend.

On Monday at Santa Anita, the 3-year-old colt Faversham will take a serious step toward bucking the trend. The son of Lucky Pulpit, a maiden with only one start under his belt, will run in the $200,000 California Cup Derby at a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track, with his namesake in the holiday crowd and the specter of big brother looming large.

Hovdey: Barber hopes for heroics from Wonder Gadot

Barbara D. Livingston
Wonder Gadot has won two graded stakes for owner Gary Barber, including the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct.

As CEO of MGM, Gary Barber is a key player in the entertainment business. “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot, was one of the biggest, most entertaining hits of the 2017 movie season. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Barber should own a filly of quality named Wonder Gadot.

“That’s how highly we thought of her,” Barber said this week, as Wonder Gadot was preparing to run in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Saturday at the Fair Grounds.

Hovdey: Two Eclipse champions leave no gray area

Benoit & Associates
Unique Bella re-established her two-turn ability with a rousing win in the Santa Maria.

Gray Thoroughbreds make up about 10 percent of the population, which already put World Approval and Unique Bella in a class of their own. Then, as Eclipse Award champions, they joined an even more exclusive club.

Watchmaker: Unique Bella shows again she's major player

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Watchmaker: Unique Bella a major player
Emily Shields
Unique Bella earned a 109 Beyer Speed Figure for her Santa Maria victory.

Saturday was a “Champions Day” of sorts, as 2017 Eclipse Award winners Unique Bella and World Approval (who was also a finalist for Horse of the Year), made their 2018 debuts, and came away winners.

I realize it might sound silly gushing about Unique Bella because, as the 1-10 favorite in Santa Anita’s Santa Maria Stakes, she was supposed to win, and win big. But that’s the kind of special horse Unique Bella is, because even if she went out and did what she was supposed to do, she still makes you want to sing her praises.

Hovdey: Gulfstream Turf, Santa Maria deserve staying power

The victory of Unique Bella in the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26 has been given considerable credit for her victory in Eclipse Awards voting for outstanding female sprinter.

Hovdey: Misery always has company on jockeys' injury list

On Nov. 18, 2017, at Punchestown Race Course in Ireland, the heavily favored mare Let’s Dance went down at the fourth-from-last hurdle and tumbled along the ground with her jockey, Ruby Walsh. Let’s Dance emerged unscathed, but Walsh, 38, fractured the tibia of his right leg.

Hovdey: Funny money alters serious calculations

One month into the 2018 season, some familiar trends already are developing in the national standings, especially among trainers. Steve Asmussen is setting the pace, with Bob Baffert and Chad Brown near the top, both of them just warming up.

Hovdey: In spite of Derby horses, Roy H gets a headline

Welcome to the first Saturday in February. Let the madness begin. For the next four months, true believers in the racing game will spend most of their time worshipping at the altar of the Triple Crown. All roads lead to Louisville, where a garland of roses and a white puff of smoke will announce the chosen one, then it will be on to Baltimore for validation. Beyond that, the faithful can only hope for a pilgrimage to New York, and the chance for another Triple Crown winner to save the sport anew.

Gun Runner makes transition from fighter to lover

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Hovdey: Gun Runner makes transition from fighter to lover

It is a common conceit of human nature that we think we know what animals are thinking. But, in the case of Chris Baker and Gun Runner, we’ll give him a pass.

Baker has been part of the Gun Runner story from the beginning, from his conception to his birth to his yearling romps in a Kentucky field. It was fitting, then, that Baker was there to greet Gun Runner as the chestnut stallion arrived in Lexington on Sunday afternoon at Blue Grass Airport, bound for Three Chimneys Farm and his new career.

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