On the road with the horses, again

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You going racing this weekend? Good stuff all over, especially at Parx Racing (which is still difficult to type – had to delete Philadelphia Park) which features the return of California Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby and a scary good rendition of the Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies.

Saturday night at Charles Town, Miss Behaviour tries to continue the run of excellence for trainer Phil Schoenthal and owners Cal MacWilliam and Neil Teitelbaum in the $500,000 Charles Town Oaks.  

Thursday, I headed north to Belmont Park for two jump races and a pretty good afternoon card. It was fun to see Demonstrative do it again. If you’ve got access, watch him jump the last fence – huge leap that makes you realize how athletic Thoroughbreds really are. He took off from way back, got plenty of height and kicked home to win. Spy In The Sky ran well for George Weaver, Gregg Ryan and Tom Foley, making bold move to look like a potential thief on the turn. Divine Fortune set an easy pace, but got swallowed up leaving the back and fell at the last fence. He got up right away and galloped off, but tough to see an old pro struggling to find his form.

I keep thinking I’m going to find time to get to Parx Friday morning to see Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, but we’ll see. Running out of hours. It would be nice to compare him to the horse I saw at Pimlico. Is he thinner? Fitter? Bigger? Stronger? He was difficult to judge during the Triple Crown because he looked his best going fast. At a gallop or working, he was a winner. At a trot or a canter, you had questions. But horses can be like that. That’s the beauty of it – they come in as many shapes and sizes as a 10,000 piece Lego set. As for the others in the Pennsylvania Derby, I kind of hoped for more though I get the point. The target is November at Santa Anita not September in Bensalem. The race didn’t lure Tonalist or Wicked Strong, but Bayern will be there blazing away near the front. Can he carry the speed this time? Candy Boy makes you think. Nice horse, probably sitting on a big race.

A little bit behind the California Chrome float in the big parade is the Cotillion. The Grade 1 has a habit of being must-see racing thanks to performances by 3-year-old filly stars Havre de Grace and Blind Luck a few years ago and more recently My Miss Aurelia and Questing and way back even the great Shuvee when the race was at Liberty Bell Park.

This year’s field could produce something special. Division leader Untapable, back against fillies after trying the Haskell in mid-summer, is in there but will have plenty of classy company in the form of recent Grade 1 winners Sweet Reason, Stopchargingmaria plus a cast of potential upsetters.

Untapable’s story is well told. She’s won six of nine career starts, including four stakes this year. Steve Asmussen trains for owner Winchell Thoroughbreds and will give a leg up to Rosie Napravnik. Sweet Reason tries 1 1/16 miles, off wins in the Acorn and Test in New York. Leah Gyarmati trains for Treadway Racing and hands the reins to Irad Ortiz Jr. Stopchargingmaria banked two major wins at Saratoga for Repole Stable, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez. She can leap to the top of the 3-year-old filly class with a win.

This summer at Delaware Park, trainer Larry Jones spoke about a Cotillion contender, without really saying it. At the time, Cassatt had run twice for owner Fox Hill Farm, a second as a 2-year-old last year at Churchill Downs and a maiden win at Fair Grounds in January. At Delaware, a few minutes after Coup de Grace won the Oh Say Stakes, Jones talked about the gray daughter of Tapit who was coming back from some shine issues.

“She is a freak, she’s raced twice but she’s ready to go soon, this filly is so talented,” Jones said. Then he went all story-teller and recalled a conversation with Napravnik last year.

“I know you’re going to think I’m crazy but I’ve got a Tapit filly that looks like (Grade 1 winner) Joyful Victory and I swear she’ll outwork Joyful Victory right now,” Jones told the jockey.

Napravnik worked Joyful Victory, then got on Cassatt.

“She came back and her jaw dropped,” Jones said. “She said ‘You’re right.’ “

Napravnik rode Cassatt in the maiden win, but hasn’t been aboard in a race since. Saturday, she rides favorite Untapable while Kerwin Clark takes the mount on Cassatt.

Then there’s Miss Behaviour. Nobody gets as animated as Schoenthal when it comes to talking about his favorite horse. From watching Schoenthal watch her in the Prioress at Saratoga, I’ve got a page of scribbled notes. They never saw a computer because the filly finished second to runaway victor Stonetastic, but it’s fun stuff. He’s a bit of a nervous wreck when the race is going.

Before or after, he can tell you what it’s like. I hope somebody gets to interview him.