Horse Track Blog

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Jamaica, NY—On the year’s last day of significant racing in New York, Larry Jones had a winner that showed early Derby potential and Nick Zito lost a veteran horse in the waning sunlight on Saturday, November 29th.

Old Fashioned (Unbridled’s Song—Collect Call) got a rocking chair ride on the front end and lulled the field to sleep in the $200,000, 1 1/8-mile Remsen. Ramon Domingez was allowed to get away with a 24.2 first quarter on his way to a 1:38.1 mile as he drew off to a 7-length win. The running line in the chart read, “Good, under wraps final 1/8.” The $600k purchase by sire Unbridled’s Song didn’t appear to turn a hair.

Jones has many options with Old Fashioned. It is a long time and distance and it takes wheelbarrows full of luck and manure to get from a graded stakes win in Ozone Park, Queens in late November to the feature race on the first Saturday in May in Louisville. However, it appeared that Old Fashioned went to the lead on his own courage and could have repelled any serious threats that day. Dominguez barely moved a muscle and even sneaked a peek between his legs in deep stretch looking for competition.

Plus, “Old Fashioned” is perhaps the most perfect Derby-sounding name of all time.

“I ‘member when Old Fashioned won by daylight back in ’09. That horse closed like Rumbo!” is the kind of sentence that you might imagine hearing an old hardboot say around mid-century while kicking blades of Bluegrass in the Commonwealth.

The race after the Remsen was the $300,000 Cigar Mile. Two familiar names from the Triple Crown trail, Tale of Ekati and Harlem Rocker, dueled down the stretch while racing forward and moving back and forth across the track. The result was a nose photo finish, with two added twists: 1) Zito’s Wanderin Boy was pulled up in distress heroically by the jock at the top of the lane, avoiding a possible disaster; and 2) Harlem Rocker appeared to lug in during the stretch run. The “STEWARDS’ INQUIRY” sign went up immediately after the race. It wasn’t clear whether the subject of the inquiry was Wanderin Boy or Harlem Rocker. Possibly, both.

Harlem Rocker was disqualified and placed second, with Tale of Ekati declared the winner. From the Cigar, Wanderin Boy was vanned off and later euthanized.

Another Derby dream lives for Larry Jones while a 7-year-old gives his life to the track and Nick Zito.

One new race that Jones and other trainers of promising three-year-olds have available this year is the first running of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes from Kempton Park Racecourse in England. Churchill has partnered with Kempton to establish a showcase race early in the British racing season that will make the winner of the $150,000 race eligible for a spot in the starting gate in the Derby, plus a $100,000 bonus for simply running in Louisville. The Challenge will be contested over 1 1/8 miles, on Polytrack, under lights at night, run clockwise.

If your English thoroughbred can run fast and far on plastic late one March day and turning right, then the Challenge might be perfectly suited. Doesn’t sound as though the race was written with many American horses in mind. There must be a breeding cross that would produce that unusual European nick.

The race could provide a springboard for a European-based horse to compete in the Triple Crown series. Historically, the English racing season has few graded stakes early in their year so European-based horses are at a disadvantage when trying to earn a berth in the Derby starting gate which is based on graded stakes earnings. The Challenge clears the path for more international interest in the American racing scene, particularly interest in the form of fans’ attention and betting dollars.

There is precedent for an English horse running well in the Derby. In 1986, Bold Arrangement shipped in from Great Britain, prepped in the Blue Grass and was one masterful ride by Bill Shoemaker aboard Ferdinand away from wearing the garland of roses. Trainer Clive Brittain ran Bold Arrangement in the Breeder’s Cup at Aqueduct as a two-year-old and then in the Blue Grass at Keeneland so he was used to racing counter-clockwise on dirt. The winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes wouldn’t have the same sort of American experience that Bold Arrangement had in 1986.

Still, it is a very positive development for international thoroughbred racing that Churchill and Kempton are willing to give it a go. Pints and crisps, mate?




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