From the Eighth Pole to the Wire - 2/24/14

From the Eighth Pole to the Wire -  2/24/14
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Aaron Haggart

No pot of gold at the end of this Rainbow 

Imagine $1.6 million so close you could touch it, and then ‘poof’ it’s gone in the blink of a changing number on the toteboard … To the unidentified person who this nightmare became reality on late Saturday afternoon, I pass along my sincere condolences. I simply cannot imagine what you are going through, nor do I believe, can anyone else. I only hope that you are hanging in there. Having said that, it is my job to weigh in on the unfortunate situation that transpired after the final leg of Gulfstream’s Rainbow 6. I watched the 12th race live, and then saw all the replays while the stewards were deliberating, including the head-on view. For what it’s worth, I do not believe the Gulfstream Park stewards blew the call. The final margin of a neck between Collinito and Strategic Keeper seemed to be less than the ground lost by the latter due to the impeding of the drifting out horse who got to the wire first. The Rainbow-Gate decision was not wrong, but rather a terribly unfortunate one.

Fantastic Finish Part I - The Fountain of Youth 

I don’t care that most people do not believe that the top two-finishers in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth will be able to repeat their success at the extend Kentucky Derby distance of ten furlongs. Not everything is about the Derby. The way Wildcat Red and General a Rod hooked up early and then ding-donged it all the way to the Gulfstream Park wire was a celebration of horse racing, in my estimation. Both horses laid it all on the line, and it was a pleasure to watch. So much so, that the ultimate winner, Wildcat Red, snared the highly prized ZATT’s Star of the Week award. I haven’t seen a Derby prep like this since the 1981 Gotham of Proud Appeal and Cure The Blues.

Fantastic Finish Part II - The Risen Star

The Risen Star may have lacked some of the early excitement of the South Florida battle, but the finish was every bit as tight. I must admit, I feel a little bad for Albano. He led the large field every single stride until the very last one as a 13-1 longshot. It’s a tough way to lose, but it demonstrated solid improvement from the lightly raced brother of Mark Valeski. Meanwhile, I was never sure that Intense Holiday was going to get there until that last fateful stride. His rally was relentless, and finally away from the talented shadow of Cairo Prince, this was his time to shine. Looking forward, I’m not sure if the New Orleans three-year-olds have quite the talent as a few other places around the country, but both Intense Holiday and Albano are clearly improving and should account for themselves well in the rich Louisiana Derby. I look forward to seeing the rematch in person.

Untapable wins Big and Easy

Once thought of as a real up and comer after winning the Pocahontas in her second career start, things did not pan out in California for Untapable. Those races are now all but forgotten. Throwing down the gauntlet with the best race by a three-year-old filly so far this year, the bay daughter of Tapit steam cleaned her well thought of competition to the tune of a nearly ten length romp in the Rachel Alexandra. She also ran faster than not only the two colts discussed just above, but also good older males that finished the big day at Fair Grounds in the Mineshaft Handicap. I have no beef with anyone that calls Untapable the current Kentucky Oaks favorite after this doozy of a performance. 

The Return of Normandy 

They used to call him the best ‘non-winner of one other than’ in training. Now you can call him the best ‘non-winner of two other than’ in training. I’m speaking of course about the electrifying return of Normandy Invasion. In his first start since taking the lead into the Kentucky Derby stretch, the son of Tapit blitzed an allowance field with disdainful ease on Saturday, and in the process broke the Gulfstream track record with a 1:33.13 for the flat mile. Still, with the souped-up nature of the South Florida course, Normandy Invasion remains an enigma. Is he a huge talent finally poised to be one of the best in the United States this year, or is he a paper tiger destined to throw in the towel against the very best? I lean more to the former, with the caveat that I expect him to be best at middle distances, but only time will tell. Bring on the Met Mile!

Not sold on Onlyforyou or Constitution

So everyone and their Aunt Harriet knows that the track at Gulfstream was not only lightning fast, but also playing kindly to those with early speed. Why then, should I get overly excited about either Onlyforyou or Constitution? I get it, both are undefeated, and until someone beats them… But taking their performances on Saturday just on face value, I am not excited. They both had the lead on fractions that were just plain slow considering the surface, so if they had done anything but have something left the stretch, that would have been the shocker. Find them a legitimate pace on a neutral track, and I suspect both will be exposed right quick.

Top Billing and Mexikoma continue to look like 10 furlong horses

On the other end of the running at Gulfstream Park spectrum were Top Billing and Mexikoma. Going into Saturday, I thought both were prime candidates to appreciate the type of race that the Kentucky Derby invariably is. After each rallied to be third in their respective races, I saw absolutely no cause to change my mind one iota. Top Billing got the better trip, but you simply could not win coming from that far back, especially against a nice pair of horses like Wildcat Red and General a Rod. The fact that he made up gobs of ground to get within two lengths at the wire, continues my belief that he is a topnotch sophomore. A few races earlier, Mexikoma made his season debut against the aforementioned Constitution. The slow pace, wide trip, and most of all, condition of the track, gave him no chance to win on Saturday, but he did everything I wanted to see with his solid rally for the show. I say watch out for him in about 9 ½ weeks. 

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

ZATT's Star of the Week
Raging Bull

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