Photo: Benoit Photo
Challenging the Crown
Sir Barton (3), Gallant Fox (4), Omaha (5), War Admiral (7), Whirlaway (4), Count Fleet (3), Assault (7), Citation (8), Secretariat (5), Seattle Slew (8), Affirmed (5). In all of the eleven Triple Crown clinching victories to date, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner faced fields that were either tiny or smallish. In fact, if you look at the field size of the Belmont Stakes in each Triple Crown year, the average is under 5 ½. That will be far from the case in 2014. With a likely field of approximately a dozen for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, our current Triple Crown hopeful, California Chrome will have to do something none of the previous champions had to do ... defeat a large field in the Belmont to win the Triple Crown. Whether it speaks to contenders gaining confidence from recent failures of Triple Crown hopefuls, or a sign of modern connections liking to have their charges in the starting gate for our most visible races, or perhaps even California Chrome just not having scared anyone off this year compared to past champions, it creates a unique challenge never before successfully managed. Clinching a Triple Crown against a large field is just one more reason that if California Chrome does cross the finish line first on Saturday, he is very deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat, Citation, Count Fleet, Affirmed and all the other great Triple Crown champions.
American Room Service is the best
Regular readers of this column might remember a piece I wrote soon after the Ashland Stakes saying that Room Service was one of the more interesting of the Kentucky Oaks contenders. Scratch that. Her trainer Wayne Catalano thought long and hard about the female classic, but in the end decided that the daughter of More Than Ready was better suited for grass than a run against the best of her crop on dirt. He knows her better than I, after all, and on Saturday, in the weekend’s lone Grade 1 event, Room Service backed up her trainer’s faith in her turf ability with a victory in Santa Anita’s American Oaks. And it was impressive. Storming down the middle of the track carrying the familiar pink silks of Gary and Mary West, Room Service ran right by the best three-year-old turf fillies in California, in route to a going away 2 ¼-length victory. Coming at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles, it also points her out as a filly who can be a threat in many of the biggest female races run in America, including this autumn’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She is ZATT’s Star of the Week.
Kitten purrs on the Penn National lawn
With sharp wins in a Saratoga maiden and the Pilgrim Stakes in the East, and then a solid third to a pair of Euros in the BC Juvenile Turf out West, I didn’t have much trouble in calling Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Bobby’s Kitten the best juvenile turf horse in the nation last year. It appears he’s only better as a sophomore. He looked the part in beating future graded stakes winner Global View in his seasonal debut on the Tampa grass, but we may have forgotten just how good this Kitten is on the grass when he failed to carry over his best form to the Polytrack of Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes. That brief memory lapse did not last long as the homebred returned to turf on Saturday for the $500,000 Penn Mile. Stalking the early lead of big longshot, Sing the Dream, the race favorite looked as comfortable as a plastic surgeon at an aging model convention. He pounced early, and before the time the field hit the far turn, Bobby’s Kitten was in command. A trio of talented turf runners in; Global View, Storming Inti, and Divine Oath tried to make headway in the stretch, but the Kitten would have none of that, roaring to an easy victory in the rich race.
Last Gunfighter fights to be first
If Bobby’s Kitten was the headliner of the excellent Saturday evening card at Penn National, then Last Gunfighter was a helluva opening act. My favorite kind of horses are those that like to win. Last Gunfighter is just such a horse. Making his first start since winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup six months ago, Last Gunfighter honestly never looked like a winner until they posted his number on top in the Mountainview Handicap. This was never expected to be easy, after such a long layoff, and while giving five pounds or more to his competition, but when the talented speed horse Valid got away with moderate early fractions, his job became that much tougher. Sure enough, Valid had no designs on stopping down the lane, so it was up to the five-year-old son of First Samurai to go and get him. He would do just that, methodically reeling in his competition to get a whisker in front on the wire and raise his record to 9-of-16 lifetime for trainer Chad Brown. It’s on to bigger and better things now for the John D. Gunther runner, starting with Belmont’s Suburban, but one thing’s for sure … Last Gunfighter likes to win.
Photo courtesy of B & D Photography/Penn National
Even though he’s only four-years-old, It’s been kind of a long and winding road for Frac Daddy. Once a highly regarded juvenile who finished second in the Kentucky Jockey Club, the son of Scat Daddy stayed on the Kentucky Derby Trail from start to finish last year. A second place finish in the Arkansas Derby renewed hope, but in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, he was little more than a footnote in strong victories by Orb and Palace Malice. Not afraid to experiment with his talented colt, trainer Kenny McPeek started trying new things with the Magic City Thoroughbred Partners runner, and it has paid off. First on turf, Frac Daddy showed improvement with an allowance win at The Spa, and a solid second in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes. He’s good on turf, but clearly that is not his best surface. Starting with an allowance win at Keeneland in October, Frac Daddy has reeled off three impressive victories on Polytrack. A sharp win in the Grade 3 Ben Ali in April was followed up with yesterday’s dominating win north of the border. Bettors pounded Frac Daddy down to 4-5 favoritism in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Eclipse Stakes, and the Daddy responded in kind with a five-length dismantling of the Toronto horses. Now undefeated and untested in three Polytrack starts, it would seem that Frac Daddy has finally found his niche.
Clubhouse Ride deserved one
If ever a horse deserved some luck and a breakthrough victory, it was Clubhouse Ride. Saturday’s Californian was not the six-year-old’s first graded stakes win, but it was only his second, and first since the same race last year. Hard knocking, Clubhouse Ride could have won a lot more if not for the exploits of one horse. Game On Dude has beaten him five times, and in three of those races, all graded stakes, Clubhouse Ride finished second. It seems that some of his best lifetime performances came at the wrong time. Clubhouse Ride supporters can take a little solace in this weekend’s victory, though. Sent off as the 6-1 second choice, the son of Candy Ride stayed well off a fast early pace set by the race favorite, Fury Kapcori. Making a big move from last on the turn, Clubhouse Ride and Joe Talamo were fortunate enough to find an inviting hole on the inside as the field came spinning out of the turn, and suddenly the perpetual bridesmaid was on the lead. Fury Kapcory fought back, but Clubhouse Ride rode the momentum to a half-length victory. It marked only his 5th win in 37 lifetime starts. Oh what could have been if not for Game On Dude. In defeat, Fury Kapcori was extremely game, while seeing his four-race winning streak snapped.