Calibrachoa, Driven by Solar, Driven By Success, Eighttofasttocatch, and Endless Circle.
Those are the horses that are on the first page of nominations for Saturday’s Toboggan Handicap at Aqueduct. So far, routine. These are the horses that were expected to point for this race. Three of the five horses (Calibrachoa, Driven By Success, and Endless Circle) are coming out of last month’s Gravesend Stakes, a race in which they all hit the board. All are interesting horses, sure. All of them make for what should be a fascinating renewal of the Toboggan. But none of them are surprises.
Turn to page two, however, and the first name that appears is one that hasn’t been on anyone’s radar in quite some time.
Indeed, it is something of a shock to discover that Fabulous Strike is back on the worktab, and inching closer to returning to the races.
You remember Fabulous Strike. The eight year-old son of Smart Strike, Fabulous Strike was last seen on track at Belmont a little over a year ago, where he finished a game second to Kodiak Kowboy in a rain-soaked renewal of the Vosburgh Invitational. In his decorated career, he’s notched victories in a number of NYRA stakes including; the Vanderbilt at Saratoga, the True North at Belmont, and the Fall Highweight and Gravesend at Aqueduct to name just a few.
Fabulous Strike caught an unfortunate break with the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cups being run over Santa Anita’s (then) synthetic surface. In both seasons, he ranked among the top sprinters in the country, and stood a legitimate chance of winning the race if it were run on dirt. In the 2008 Sprint, it was immediately evident that he didn’t take to the synthetic, as he, for one of the few times in his career, did not make the race lead. His lackluster fifth place finish that day discouraged trainer Todd Beattie from making the return trip out to Southern California in 2009.
Early in 2010, Fabulous Strike was diagnosed with a ligament strain in his pastern. The way in which he was treated was somewhat revolutionary. Fabulous Strike was given stem cell therapy, a procedure in which bone marrow was used to generate tissue.
“It wasn’t like he was limping or anything, but he just wasn’t right,” Beattie told Jason Shandler of Bloodhorse Magazine last June. “So we decided to do an ultrasound. There was no tear or anything but there was some edema. We decided to go the stem-cell route.”
It isn’t a stretch to say that if Fabulous Strike wasn’t a gelding, his career would, almost certainly, be over. A horse of his caliber is seldom kept in training at age eight, even if he’s of perfectly sound health, as his value as a stallion would make running on the racetrack a risk not worth taking. Trying a comeback from such a serious injury would be all the more unlikely. But with no future in the breeding shed, the road is clear for Fabulous Strike to return.
Ultimately, Fabulous Strike was not entered in the Toboggan (weather permitting, a field of eight, including the coupled entry of Driven By Success and Calibrachoa, is scheduled to go to the post), but that doesn’t change the fact that he is getting really close. He shows eight works since November, most recently going five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Penn National, Beattie’s home base.
When he finally does make it back to the track, he will do so with the full support of the New York railbirds. Fabulous Strike has always been a favorite around these parts. Horses with guts like his are in short supply. In this town, such athletes, be they human or equine, are held in the highest regard.
Another Big A Confidential column, another dazzling three year-old performance to report. This one was turned in on Monday’s card, as Fort Hughes captured the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes in most impressive fashion. He completed the six furlongs in 1:08.33, on his way to a 4¾ length victory. The time set a stakes record for the track, and was less than a second off of the overall track record, set by Kelly Kip in 1999.
Like Flashpoint from two days before, Fort Hughes will be kept sprinting, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and his assistant Artie Magnuson. The latter raved about Fort Hughes after Monday’s race.
“He’s really coming into his own,” Magnuson said. “Better than we could have imagined earlier. We were very excited about him after his first race. He’s really grown taller and put on a few pounds – he’s bigger than Henny Hughes already.”
In comparing him to his sire, it is clear the McLaughlin barn has big plans for Fort Hughes this season. As part of his stellar 2006 campaign, Henny Hughes captured such prestigious races as the King’s Bishop at Saratoga and Vosburgh at Belmont. Based on Monday’s performance, it is safe to say that those races are very much on the radar for Fort Hughes.
Congratulations go out to trainer Rick Dutrow, as his 6 year-old charge Laysh Laysh Laysh won the Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel on Monday. In and of itself, this wouldn’t seem to be all that much of an accomplishment. Not to be overly critical of the Maryland racing landscape, but Laurel Park has certainly seen better days, and more competitive fields.
What makes Laysh Laysh Laysh’s win noteworthy, though, was that it was the third time in 9 days that he had run. The first two were at Aqueduct. On Sunday January 9th, Laysh finished a game second in an optional claimer, and was given a triple-digit Beyer figure for his efforts. He ran back on Thursday the 13th, this time in for a tag. He was not claimed, and he won the race. So Dutrow decided to ship him to Maryland for Monday’s Native Dancer, and was rewarded when Laysh captured the race by a widening 2¼ length margin.
This is not unprecedented for Dutrow. El Real Madrid ran three times in 8 days during the Saratoga meet. Like Laysh Laysh Laysh, he finished second in the first start, and won the final two (Update: Many thanks to Chris Hernandez and Chris Rossi for alerting me to the fact that, indeed, El Real Madrid has run back since his three starts at Saratoga. He was taken down to the Carribean, where he, amazingly, ran just one month after the three Saratoga races. I regret the error).
This training method is made more interesting when examining how Dutrow has handled his star Kentucky Derby prospect, Boys At Toscanova. He has spaced all of the horse’s starts approximately two months apart, planning only to run him twice prior to the Derby (first in next Sunday’s Holy Bull, and then in the Florida Derby, both at Gulfstream). It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out going forward, but you can hardly argue with the success to date. With well over $500,000 in graded earnings, Boys At Toscanova is all but guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate.
One unorthodox trainer. Two unique methods. So far, both have proven effective.