Dan is still the Man
He’s won 16 of his last 19 races. He’s a grade 1 winner in four consecutive seasons. He’s a back-to-back to winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He’s a graded stakes winner on turf, dirt, and synthetics. He is the reigning two-time Horse of the Year. He is the antithesis of the horse who is ushered off to the breeding shed after only ten races or so. And thankfully for fans, it looks like the seven-year-old version of Wise Dan is very much like the six-year-old version, and the five-year-old version, and the four-year-old version… His triumphant return to the races in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile was vintage Dan. Shuffled between and behind horses in the early going, he gave rider John Velazquez all the horse he needed to patiently wait for a seam to open, before demonstrating his clockwork burst that effectively ended any suspense to the outcome. So what if has become strictly a middle distance turf specialist? Isn’t that exactly what Frankel and Goldikova were? Let’s enjoy the continuing brilliance of a truly marvelous American racehorse
A Danza stunner in Hot Springs
The romping win by Danza in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby may have been the biggest surprise since the successful eight-year primetime run of Who’s the Boss?. A promising juvenile of last summer, the son of Street Boss was ignored by me and most bettors before the race. With only an unsuccessful seven furlong optional claimer to show for the past eight months, not including Danza among your top picks for Oaklawn’s signature race seemed a prudent way to go. Color me surprised … and impressed. Danza took full advantage of a rail hugging trip, and exploded early in the stretch to skip away from a solid field in the million dollar affair. In only his fourth lifetime go, it would seem that the chestnut stunner is every bit the colt who flashed big promise last summer, and then some. Whether he can pair this performance up with an even bigger one needed to win under the twin spires, remains a point of skepticism for me, but he clearly looks like one to watch for later down the road. I would also be remiss not to hand out big kudos to Joe Bravo on a brilliant ride, and trainer, Todd Pletcher, for having his inexperienced charge ready to pop.
Wild and Wooly for Will Take Charge
Granted, the weekend past was not one of my finer handicapping performances, but one thing I knew for sure was that Saturday was going to be the day that things would finally all fall into place for the three-year-old champ, Will Take Charge. The beautiful white-faced, tri stockinged colt had been up against track bias and running style when second in both the Donn and the Big Cap in his first two starts of the year, but it looked like neither would be a problem at his home base in Hot Springs for the Oaklawn Handicap. Sure enough, the big horse answered the bell when the real running began, and swallowed up his competition in mid-stretch. Problem was, from that point to the wire, the path home was anything but direct. The running became rough, and the heavy favorite was a big reason why. He was the best horse, and survived a late running Revolutionary, and the inquiry, as I thought he should, but the win was less than impressive. As always, I thought that if the race went farther, Will Take Charge would have had more in reserve to exert his will on his competition, but on the other hand, I felt a little uncomfortable with his erratic path down the Oaklawn Park stretch. It made me wonder if his arduous schedule of the past 20 months might be finally catching up with him. Time will tell.
Hatches holds serve
The older female division is really starting to take shape. First, Close Hatches returned in fine form while winning last month’s Azeri. Then the Good Princess of Sylmar looked like three million bucks in romping home over Wedding Toast at Aqueduct. On Friday, it was time for the Juddmonte owned, and Bill Mott trained, Close Hatches to hold serve in Oaklawn Park’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom. Hold serve she did in her typical cat toying with mice style. Facing a small, but select field of five, the daughter of First Defence dictated the running right from the opening bell and never looked back. The facile 1 ¼-length victory over On Fire Baby, Stanwyck and the rest, confirmed her fine form heading to bigger tests to come. The victory raised her lifetime record to a sparkling record of 10-7-2-0. Clearly she knows how to win and enjoys doing so. She also is enoguh to be placed just about anywhere in the race as needed. Bring on Beholder next in Sunday’s Santa Lucia, and then bring on all three excellent four-year-old fillies for the rich Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day. I am already licking my chops thinking about that one.
The Fate of Polytrack
The fickle hands of fate have dealt the well-intentioned life of Polytrack a death knell with the recent announcement by Keeneland that the eight-year experiment had reached an end. One of the factors of going back to the future with dirt was the importance that it’s signature race, the Blue Grass, played in identifying horses to beat for the Kentucky Derby. Or, in the life of Polytrack, the lack of this happening. Most believe that a return to dirt for the Blue Grass would reverse the recent downward trend trend in importance of the historic race as a prep for the Run for the Roses. Seeing the results of the eighth and final Polytrack Blue Grass, it would be hard to argue with this line of thinking. No offense to fine races run by the winner, Dance of Fate, and his two closest competitors, Medal Count, and Pablo Del Monte, but it’s hard to imagine a similar result happening if the race had been contested on dirt. Look for more serious Derby horses to find their way back to Keeneland starting in 2015.
Judy is a Beauty
Betting Judy the Beauty in the old exacta box is like money in the bank. Never better than she is at the friendly confines of Keeneland, the five-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper flaunted both her sprint running prowess, and her affinity for the Lexington, Kentucky oval, with a dominating score in the Grade 1 Madison on Saturday. In so doing, The Wesley Ward trained miss earned her first career grade 1 victory. She also raised her career mark to 15-7-7-1, with her only failure to fit into the exacta was a good 3rd place finish to the two-time champion, Groupie Doll. Since the retirement of that one, I see it no stretch at all to anoint Judy the Beauty as the current Queen of female sprinters. The 2 ½-length show of class was her second easy win in as many starts this year. Oh, and by the way, looking forward to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, the Keeneland loving mare also has run big in both of her attempts at Santa Anita.
Hard Not to Like Sometimes