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From Coast to Coast

Capturing the Elusive Grade One

 
For precocious thoroughbreds, capturing a Grade One stakes race can happen as soon as the second race of their career, as was the case for 2010 Champion 2-Year Old Uncle Mo. But most thoroughbreds do not become Grade 1 winners at age 2, if at all. Part of that can be attributed to talent and part to maturity, but the biggest factor is the number of Grade 1 races relative to the number of foals born each year. For example, this year there are only 16 Grade 1 stakes races for 2-year olds with 8 restricted to fillies and 8 open to fillies and colts. At best, that means that only 16 2-year olds can become Grade 1 winners this year if a different colt or filly wins each one. That is 16 out of the 22,500 live foals reported to the Jockey Club for the year 2011, or less than one tenth of a percent of the total foals that could become Grade 1 winners as a 2-year old. The number of Grade 1 stakes races open to 3-year olds and up is significantly higher, so it makes sense that it can take a few years for a horse to achieve that particular goal. For most, capturing that elusive grade one takes years of hard work, tough luck, and patience. Perhaps no one knows that better than Tiz Miz Sue and her connections.
 
 
Tiz Miz Sue, a 6-year old daughter of champion Tiznow, has thirty-two career starts and is in her fifth year of racing. It took her 32 tries to finally capture her first Grade 1 win, this despite having placed multiple times in a grade one race. The dark bay mare broke her maiden at second asking in August of 2009, but it would be over a year later before she would become a stakes winner when capturing the 8.5 furlong Polly’s Jet Stakes at Delaware Park. From that point onward, the mare rose to the top of the distaff division, consistently hitting the board in graded stakes events. She developed a reputation as an Oaklawn and Delaware Park monster since she was particularly effective at those two tracks, but she surprisingly earned her first Grade 1 victory at Belmont Park when she dug in and gamely prevailed by a half length over a talented Ogden Phipps field under regular jockey Joe Rocco, Jr.
 
 
While Havre de Grace was busy dueling with Blind Luck and earning herself Horse of the Year honors, stablemate Joyful Victory was quietly making her presence felt in the 3-year old filly division in 2011. While not nearly as successful as the Fox Hill Farm star, Joyful Victory did string together a pair of graded stakes wins at Oaklawn before running a respectable 4th in that year’s Kentucky Oaks, 2nd in the Mother Goose, and 5th and last in the CCA Oaks behind the division’s top tier fillies. Throughout her 4-year old season, Joyful Victory continued to be consistent. She went 7: 1-4-2 for the year, winning a minor stakes race and finishing on the board in 5 straight graded stakes events. It wasn’t until Red Hot Rosie, who has had the King Midas touch as of late, climbed aboard the Tapit mare early this year, that Joyful Victory finally broke through to the next level. Now 5-years old, Joyful Victory, at last, has a Grade 1 victory on her already more than respectable resume.
 
 
Four-year olds On Fire Baby and Graydar both hit the ground running. As a 2-year old, On Fire Baby strung together a pair of Grade 2 races. She ran 3rd in her sophomore debut against the boys in the Smarty Jones, but trainer Gary Hartlage decided to run her against the fillies rather than continue to run her against the boys in hopes of making a Kentucky Derby appearance. After running 4th in the Acorn, the gray filly did not return to the track for almost a year after being sidelined with a stifle inflammation. Despite the long layoff, Hartlage ambitiously entered On Fire Baby in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom for her comeback race, and the Smoke Glacken filly did him proud by wiring the field to earn her first Grade 1 victory. Like On Fire Baby, Graydar was given a long layoff early in his career, which did not even begin until after he turned three. Even though the odds were stacked against him in the Donn Handicap, the speedy gray Unbridled’s Song colt shot straight to the lead and told his salty foes to catch him if they could. They couldn’t, and in just his fourth career start, Graydar became a Grade 1 winner. Unfortunately, fans will not see either for some time as On Fire Baby will miss this weekend’s Fleur de Lis due to a virus, and Graydar has been sidelined after having surgery to remove a bone chip from his left front ankle.
 
 
Others to capture their first Grade 1 victory in 2013 include Swagger Jack, Centre Court, Last Full Measure, Aubby K, and Sahara Sky. Five-year old Swagger Jack upset the Carter Handicap as the second longest shot in the field, but one race later, Sahara Sky turned the tables on Swagger Jack, who finished 7th, by winning the Met Mile by a whisker. Multiple graded stakes winner Centre Court captured the Jenny Wiley as the post time favorite, Aubby K made it two in a row when winning the Humana Distaff as the top betting choice, and Last Full Measure sprang an upset in the Madison.
 
 
With a slew of newly minted Grade 1 winners in the first half of 2013, it is not hard to believe that there will be others to capture their first top tier stakes race this year. Two top candidates to join the top ranks are Optimizer and Mucho Macho Man. Now that the former is back on his preferred surface, it is only a matter of time before he takes his place among the top turf stars this year. He has already finished second to the top 2 in the division, and with Point of Entry out of commission, it likely won’t be long before Optimizer can add a Grade 1 win to his growing list of accomplishments. Mucho Macho Man has been knocking on the door since his 3-year old season when he ran third in the Kentucky Derby despite being one of the youngest colts in his crop. He then finished second in two consecutive Grade 1 events to close out his 4-year old year, and only lost those two by a combined margin of less than a length. On Friday, he can take the next step forward when he returns to the starting gate for the first time in nearly four months. With half a year left to go, it’s more a question of when not if these two will add that elusive Grade 1 victory to their resume. 
 
 
I’m chasin’ that Grade One stakes race
I’m livin’ that Thoroughbred dream
‘Cause all I ever wanted
Was to make the Hall of Fame
              (Sung to the tune of Alan Jackson’s ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’) 

 

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Older Comments about Capturing the Elusive Grade One...

Four-year old Byrama turned out to be the next to earn a Grade 1 victory (in the Vanity) after having lost by just a neck to Last Full Measure in the Madison.
If MMM wins at Belmont on Friday, what will be next? The Whitney (G1)?
You've loved Tiz Miz Sue for some time, and I'm finally a believer ... what a nice mare she is!

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis
  
 

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

 

Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Since joining Horse Racing Nation as a contributing blogger, Ashley writes as frequently as possible as the Florida Filly. Though she mainly covers racing in South Florida, Ashley also blogs about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offers her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. Most recently, Ashley was selected to participate in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

 

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.