Another busy weekend in the books and now a brief moment to take a deep breath, relax for a moment and rev up again with the Kentucky Derby, Middleburg Spring, Maryland Hunt Cup and so much more down the road.

We’re still a little waterlogged or frozen or both in some of our outposts, including Saratoga, which welcomed the return of horses to the Oklahoma Training Track Monday morning for the 2018 season. Tick, tick, tick, it’s won’t be long until the meet swings into action in upstate New York. But first …

 

Now We Know

Well, at least we know who might run in the Kentucky Derby in a little less than three weeks’ time as of Monday afternoon. The Arkansas Derby and Stonestreet Lexington put the last few pieces into the puzzle that is certain to be disrupted between now and the first Saturday in May.

So who’s in and who’s out?

Unlike the popular March Madness men’s college basketball tournament, the Derby doesn’t feature a committee to determine the field. It’s cut and dry, points are earned throughout the fall, winter and spring and it produces (hopefully) the best collection of 3-year-olds to run 10 furlongs May 5. Seems like a GEICO commercial, “everybody knows that.” Oh well, here’s the 20 as of Monday:

Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Audible, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso, Bolt d’Oro, Enticed, Mendelssohn, Justify, Quip, Flameaway, Solomini, Bravazo, My Boy Jack, Promises Fulfilled, Free Drop Billy, Lone Sailor, Hofburg, Firenze Fire and Gronkowski.

The first four out (that seems to be a popular thing with the basketball) are: Combatant, Snapper Sinclair, Reride and Dream Baby Dream.

So how did the group firm up this past weekend?

Magnum Moon and Quip running 1-2 in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby certainly helped the chances of those toward the bottom of the standings since they earned a collective 140 points. Solomini put himself in the mix earning 20 extra points for finishing third, bringing him from 34 to 54.

My Boy Jack also went from “on the bubble” (again with the basketball) to in when he won the Lexington by a head over Telekinesis to earn 20 points. He jumped from 32 to 52.

Magnum Moon, who was already most likely headed to Louisville barring a disastrous effort in Hot Springs, is part of an extremely strong four-horse entry for Todd Pletcher headed to the Derby. The son of Malibu Moon, sire of 2013 Derby winner Orb, is unbeaten in four starts and joins Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso for Pletcher. They are a collective 14-for-18 on the way to Churchill Downs.

My Boy Jack overcame the 10 post to win the Lexington in his fourth start this season for Keith Desormeaux. He’s run at Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Fair Grounds and Keeneland and figures to be the most experienced member of the Derby field with 10 starts before May 5.

By the Numbers

93: Days until Opening Day at Saratoga. Time to book an ad for The Saratoga Special.

28,307: Record Friday crowd last week at Keeneland for the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile, topped the previous mark of 24,734 set in April 2010. 

Worth Repeating

“It was blankness.”
Chad Summers describing his feeling after winning a second straight Dubai Golden Shaheen last month with Mind Your Biscuits.

"We can buy a bus..."
Summers, on what the Mind Your Biscuits team can do now that their horse passed Funny Cide (whose owners traveled the Triple Crown trail by school bus) as the all-time leading New York-bred earner

“It’s like drawing straws.”
Leading New York breeder Chester Broman on how he picks stallions for his star-studded band of broodmares.

“We need everyone rooting for Audible in the Derby.”
Richard Leahy of Oak Bluff Stable at the NYTB Awards Dinner after accepting champion 2-year-old male honors for Therapist. Oak Bluff also bred Florida Derby winner Audible.

“New York-breds starting their campaign at Keeneland; that’s something you wouldn’t have heard 30 years ago.”
NYTB Awards Dinner emcee and retired jockey Richard Migliore, after Fifty Five was named champion 3-year-old filly. Fifty Five didn’t debut in Lexington, but finished second in her 2018 bow in the Plenty Of Grace at Aqueduct Saturday.

“We’ve won a lot of big races … when you have the stallion, we raise these horses and see how hard it is and you’re able to accomplish something like the Adirondack at Saratoga, that race meant more than winning some Grade 1s that we won because of the big picture.”
Randy Gullatt, Twin Creeks’ team manager, after homebred Pure Silver earned champion 2-year-old filly honors.

“Remember when the knock used to be that New York-breds were too small? Bill and I fixed that.”
Dr. Joan Taylor, co-breeder of champion 3-year-old male Twisted Tom with her husband Dr. Bill Wilmot.

“She’s won ten of her last 12 and the other two we’ll blame on the jockey.”
Co-owner Michael Dubb on champion turf female Fourstar Crook

“It’s important that in the game that we keep horses around. The temptation would be to breed her, we could have sold her for a bunch of money, but racing is more important I think in the long term.”
Dubb on the now 6-year-old Fourstar Crook, second in Saturday’s Grade 1 Coolmore Jenny Wiley at Keeneland

“I think he may give me a divorce if I give my opinion.”
Valerie Clement, joking about her husband and trainer Christophe Clement after being asked when Disco Partner would make his 2018 debut

“Got him out of Saratoga.”
Summers when asked how he turned around Mind Your Biscuits’ form last season into 2018.

“The program is amazing up here. … Don’t tell anyone this but the Kentucky-bred program sucks.”
Samantha Will Baccari, based in Kentucky and the breeder of 2017 New York-bred Horse of the Year and now six-time champion Mind Your Biscuits.

“There’s your lede.”
Former NYRA President Charlie Hayward to the note-taking TIHR’s Tom Law after Baccari’s joke

“I changed my business around the New York-bred program. I decided six, eight years ago that the purses and purse structure of the New York-bred program was so good that I didn’t want to go to Miami in the winter any longer. That was a great change for me and my business. Hence I’ve managed to win this award.”
Linda Rice after taking home her sixth New York-bred trainer of the year title

"It was the first time I cried for a horse I had nothing to do with."
NYTB executive director Jeff Cannizzo, about watching Bar Of Gold win the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

"He does weigh 100 pounds less than me."
Owner Sol Kumin, accepting Irad Ortiz Jr.'s award as NYTB Jockey of the Year

"My wife says now I have a small indication of what it takes to get a C-section. It’s a good thing men don’t give birth because the human race would probably not exist."
Trainer Tim Keefe after undergoing an appendectomy last week

 

Hall Call

Champion Heavenly Prize will be lone contemporary selection inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in August after being only one of 10 finalists chosen by the Hall of Fame’s Nominating Committee.

Heavenly Prize was picked by a nationwide voting panel of 166 racing writers, broadcasters, industry officials and historians. Finalists need a majority approval – or 50.1 percent – from the voting panel to be elected into the Hall of Fame. The nine finalists not elected were Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Robby Albarado, Corey Nakatani, Craig Perret, Mark Casse, John Shirreffs and David Whiteley.

Heavenly Prize will not the only inductee at the Friday, Aug. 3 ceremony, with others expected from the Historic Review Committee and the Pillars of the Turf Committee expected to be announced next month.

Owned and bred by the late Ogden Phipps and trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, Heavenly Prize won nine of 18 starts, earned $1,825,940 and was named champion 3-year-old filly in 1994. She won eight Grade 1 stakes at 2, 3 and 4 and finished second in back-to-back editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

 

Reading List

The Turf writing world lost a legend with the passing of seven-time Eclipse Award winning writer Bill Nack. The author of the popular biography of Secretariat, “Big Red of Meadow Stable,” Nack wrote for Sports Illustrated for many years and started his career covering racing with Newsday in New York. Many articles were written about Nack after he passed, and we thought a few stood out over the others. Give them a read, and do him proud and give The Great Gatsby a read sometime soon.

Spurred by his heroes, Nack gave depth to ours

Remembering William Nack: A Passionate, Personable Master of His Craft

 

Steeplechase Report

Two jump meetings Saturday brought the tally for the 2018 NSA season to five with a big slate ahead to finish the month.

Jack Fisher, who won his sixth straight NSA training title in 2017, put his name in the win column for the 2018 season with a pair of winners at the Tryon Block House Races in Columbus, N.C. Fisher’s victories came in the featured $35,000 Block House Hurdle with Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro in his U.S. debut and the 25,000 Dr. John Bradshaw Memorial allowance flat with Woodslane Farm’s Overwhelming.

Sean McDermott rode both winners for Fisher, who went 1-2 in the feature as Bruton Street US’s Lord Justice finished second under Jack Doyle.

Richard Valentine also doubled up at Tryon, winning the $25,000 Tryon Riding & Hunt Club ratings handicap hurdle with his Life Said and the opening $15,000 Carter P. Brown Memorial maiden claiming hurdle with Maggie Bryant’s Bob’n For Silver.

Jonathan Sheppard, who always seems to win at least one at Tryon, did it again when Mrs. Calvin Houghland’s Last Shani won the $30,000 Cannon Harmon Memorial maiden hurdle under Doyle.

The timber season also revved up with a four-race card Saturday at My Lady’s Manor in Monkton, Md.

Neil Morris sent out two winners, including Sara Collette’s homebred Zanclus in the $30,000 My Lady’s Manor. The 8-year-old Xenodon gelding, off since November 2016, won the 3-mile feature by 25 1/4 lengths under Darren Nagle. Morris added a second win in the next race as Thomas Hulfish’s Formidable Heart won the $15,000 John Rush Street Memorial maiden timber by 20 lengths under Archie MacAuley.

The other winners at My Lady’s Manor were Irv Naylor’s Shinobi in the $15,000 John Rush Street Memorial amateur maiden timber for trainer Katherine Neilson and jockey Eddie Keating and Blair Wyatt’s Witor in the $15,000 John D. Schapiro Memorial amateur apprentice timber for trainer Todd Wyatt and jockey Eric Poretz.

As for the ST Handicappers, we have the makings of a two-way battle for the lead and wide chasm back to third. Sean picked four winners on the weekend - Formidable Heart and Witor at My Lady's Manor and Gibralfaro (of course) and Overwhelming at Tryon - to pull within one of the lead at seven wins on the season. Joe maintained his season edge with Witor and Last Shani at Tryon to improve to eight wins. Tom remains third, not showing any recovery from his lackluster handicapping last summer at Saratoga, with three wins after picking only Last Shani on the weekend.