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The West Point team joined together and took a crack at handicapping each of the Breeders’ Cup 2012 races. Some races are handicapped in more detail than others, but we thought you’d enjoyed the insight from each member of our team. You can view our bios by clicking here.
 

Friday Races:

Juvenile Sprint:
Dawn Lenert


With the defection of Beholder it’s hard for me to pick against the inexperienced but visually impressive Bob Baffert charge Super Ninety Nine. The lightly raced colt posted a strong work over the weekend and as you all know, Baffert is a master at prepping and placing horses for a peak performance. There are several "pretenders" in the race and while they don't stand a chance on paper, they are still a presence in the contest and could be a factor in some race scenario. Remember these are babies and anything can happen

1) Super Ninety Nine (pictued) Inexperienced but appears to have extreme talent. Dueled and won debut at 7 furlongs. Will tip to Baffert to have him ready to deliver the goods in his second career start on the big stage.

2) Merit Man Improving each race and has demonstrated he can run right off the pace and attack.

3) Ceiling Kitty (GB) I’ll take the foreigner who has seven races under her belt and 3 wins. Not worried about the surface change from turf to dirt. I expect she’ll prompt a pace and hang around at the end for a slice.


Marathon:
Shannon Castagnola

Your guess is as good as mine. I was on the rail when Awesome Gem ran in this race at Churchill in 2010. I had enough time hyperventilate, pass out, come to, go to the second floor Clubhouse for a glass of water...and the race was only halfway over.

Horses in the U.S. just aren’t bred for this type of distance. I’m going with a the European bred Fame And Glory (GB). Trained by possibly the best conditioner of all time, Aiden O’Brien, they didn’t travel halfway around the world to run on a surface the horse is untested over for no reason. O’Brien must think he has a big shot. 

2) Almudena (PER)
3) Juniper Pass

Juvenile Fillies Turf:

Lindsey Heumann

There is no real standout on paper and I think no longer allowing medications within 24 hours of the race may impact a few of the contenders.  It will be interesting to see where the Europeans (who don’t use Lasix) end up compared to the Americans.  This makes me wonder, does this change really create a level playing field or does it put some at a disadvantage?  

Top 3 Picks –
 

Sky Lantern and Waterway Run – both have run consistent and comparable low Ragozin numbers and continue to improve with each start.

Kitten’s Point – everyone loves a Graham Motion horse on the grass.  You’ll get some value with this one.

Wise guy horse:

Tara From the Cape – has improved with every start, but has not won since early August.  She could be due for a big effort. 

Juvenile Fillies:

Tom Bellhouse

Musings from The Spa

I'm often accused of letting my loyalties and emotions cloud my handicapping. So, the irony of having to decipher these two races, Juvenile Fillies and the BC Turf, where I have huge sentimental favorites tugging at my heartstrings, is not lost on me.

In the Juvenile Fillies, take notice of Dreaming of Julia’s dam, Dream Rush.
  
 Dream Rush (pictured right) was quite possibly the most brilliant horse ever to don the Black & Gold WPT silks.  Her performance in the G1 Darley Test still brings goosebumps to those of us who were in attendance.


1.  Spring in the Air
Filly coming off two monster races in Natalma & Alcibiades...Both her and stablemate (in juv filly turf) may be freaks.

2.  Executiveprivilege
Done absolutely nothing wrong and may better rating. Concerned may be pace compromised.

3. Dreaming of Julia
AP Indy- Dream Rush...undefeated.  Hope the sire helps Julia overcome momma's distance limitations.

4.  Kauai Katie
Speedy filly, blew them away at the Spa w/ Rosie up.  Not sure what she's beat yet, but would be my pick in Juvenile Sprint. 

Filly & Mare Turf:

Dawn Lenert

1) Ridasiyna (pictured) Going with the French filly who, although only a 3-year-old, is four for five and keeps rising to each steadily progressive harder assignment. She’ll have a four pound weight advantage against her older rivals and will easily handle the distance.

2) Nahrain  Darley filly has money and wins to her resume, including a strong showing in the G1 Flower Bowl. Second in this Breeders’ Cup race at Churchill last year. Love her race performance pattern and can produce strong back to back runs.

3) I’m a Dreamer  Game mare is sneaky good. Won G1 Beverly D at Arlington and then performed well next out in the G1 Flower Bowl at Belmont- a race she didn’t need to go all out and win. Think she’s saving her best to peak in Cali.


Ladies’ Classic:
Debbie Finley 

1st:  Love and Pride:  Love the jock/trainer combination along with the fact that this filly has already won over this surface in the G1 Zenyatta. Her dam loved Santa Anita!

2nd: Questing:  Irad knows this filly very well. All of us at WPT are rooting for Irad in his first Breeders’ Cup.

3rd: My Miss Aurelia: Steve Asmussen has this filly primed for a good effort. 

Love & Pride wins by two with Questing/My Miss Aurelia battling it with Questing getting second by a nose.

Saturday Races:

Juvenile Turf:

Jeff Lifson

Let me say this quickly without a ton of whining....you're silly to take my picks all that seriously because I haven't watched any of these horses train.  I was so blessed to have the Breeders Cup’ in my backyard last year and the year before, because I would get up early, rub the sleep from my 4 am eyes. and giddy up down to the Downs for training.  

Simple stuff and my power alley when it comes to handicapping.  I'm pretty worthless at sizing up a race on paper (ask any of my Partners who have heard me talk through one of our West Point outings).  But put the equine athlete in front of me for a couple of weeks and I'll tell you if they're at the top of their game or not.  I'm writing this from Kentucky, leaving just a few days before the races...so I'm hamstrung.


1. Know More
2. George Vancouver
3. Balance the Books 

Filly & Mare Sprint
Clif Hickok

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Belle of the Hall (pictured right) is entered, traveling from post #2, against a field of nine others.

“Belle” is entered with the intention of winning the race! She is training and running as well as ever (last race Beyer was a career top 95).

Her jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr has ridden her very well in her last three starts and her trainer, Tom
Albertrani, is behind her entry 100%, as are the Partners and WPT management.

We are in it to win it! Can she win, yes! Will she win, maybe! Here is my analysis and commentary:

The heavy favorite is Groupie Doll, a 4-year-old daughter of Bowman’s Band. Morning line even odds, and deservedly so. She drew well and has won her last four races by a combined margin of over 20 lengths! Rajiv Maragh has ridden her five times in a row and she is working lights out! If she runs her race she is the winner. Simply too much on her resume to argue against her.

The early frontrunner should be Dust and Diamonds. With her natural speed, post position, and staying power I see her no place but in first taking the field through the first half mile in 43.4 or 44 seconds. With three furlongs left the fun begins!!

Teddy’s Promise has a Grade 1 win at Santa Anita in the LaBrea and at seven furlongs!! That was 11 months ago exactly and she hasn’t maintained that form since. By default, with her post she will try to keep up with Dust and Diamonds but could falter well before the top of the stretch.

Ditto for the close to the pace and mid pack group of Strike the Moon, Rumor, Turbulent Descent, Musical Romance, and Great Hot. All of them will be caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place,” between Dust and Diamonds up front and Groupie Doll watching the entire field and ready to pounce when asked. If any of them go early they burn out – if they wait OH OH there goes Groupie…

All this leaves the two deep closers; Belle of the Hall # 2 and Switch # 10. Belle will have found a way off the rail as she has speed both inside and outside of her. Her best hope is for a quicker than 44.3 first half mile with someone (anyone) running stride for stride with Dust and Diamonds. That scenario also works for Switch, but, her best surface may be synthetic. Belle also needs to change leads immediately when asked…

So, at the top of the stretch there is Dust and Diamonds maintaining her lead with Groupie
Doll still about five lengths off and running five wide. Turbulent Descent and Musical Romance will make their best efforts to catch up, but Saturday will not be their day.
At the wire it is…...

Groupie Doll (pictured right) by a length and a half, Dust and Diamonds a safe second by three lengths and Belle of the Hall edging out Turbulent Descent to get the show by a head. Musical Romance will complete the “superfecta” and be a length ahead of Rumor.

Sorry, I didn’t get Belle home first, BUT, let’s hope 20-year-old Mr. Ortiz does!!!!!! It can
happen!!!

Dirt Mile
Erin Finley


Emcee (pictured) This is a serious, serious horse. He’s run two “1” Ragozin numbers this year. Lightly raced but loaded with talented. This is his first time around two turns, but I still like his chances.


Shackleford- I’m one of Shack’s biggest fans. He’s loaded with personality and tries hard. The mile distance suits his high cruising speed, but my gut tells me he’s not the same horse since the Met Mile. Dale tells me he’s training great though...

Delegation- I watched this horse’s last win at Woodbine- he did it with ease. This is certainly a step up, and he’ll have company near the lead. The other question is how he’ll handle the dirt- he’s never run over it and he’s a bit of an unconventional mover. He’s my Breeders’ Cup longshot this year.

Tom Bellhouse knows Jersey Town has always been one of my favorites. He bested Shackleford in the Kelso, but I’m afraid he’s a bounce candidate off such a big effort. Gotta have respect for a horse who’s hit the board in 17 of 20 starts though. I love his white face :). 

 

Turf Sprint
Clif Hickok

I just completed handicapping the Belle of the Hall Race and this is so anticlimactic! Albeit, interesting.

Here goes – six and a half furlongs over the downhill course. Oh boy…like a ski slope!
Speed upon speed upon speed. However, this is not five furlongs but six and a half furlongs and that will make all the difference!

California Flag is obvious speed who has won here BUT his last race was in April. He will be on the lead but will falter in mid-stretch…

Now that I have tossed the fastest of the fast horses I’m going to discount all the speed horses. There goes Chosen Miracle, Great Mills, Mizdirection, Next Question,  Reneesgotzip, and Global Power.

99% the best closer that has the best trip wins this race!!!

Bridgetown is a very nice horse but not a true closer. He will have trouble traveling wide. Toss!

Camp Victory and Corporate Jungle just seem a cut below.

I’m left with the odd looking group of Tale of a Champion, Upgrade, Great Attack, Unbridled’s Note, STARSPANGLEDBANNER (AUS), and Starspangled Heat.

Of the final group I believe the lightly raced Tale of a Champion, Unbridled’s Note (Nakatani is hot), Great Attack (Why does Rosario choose him?) and Starspangledbanner (Father/son - trainer/jockey combo back again) look the most likely. Yeah, I’m really thinking a bomb in this race!!

Who plays a horse that was off for two YEARS, comes back and runs two terrible races with a very nice one in between - in Ireland? Well, I guess I do! He also has two Group 1 race wins on his chart, at Ascot and Newmarket of all places!

At the wire it is:

Starspangledbanner (AUS) (pictured) flying on the outside to win the photo by a nose, Unbridled’s Note is beaten in the final stride, Great Attack is in third 1 length back and Tale of a Champion in 4th a neck behind Great Attack.

Go cash that Trifecta!!!! As wide open a race as you will see all weekend!

Good Luck.


Juvenile:
Shannon Castagnola

1) Shanghai Bobby (pictured)- Good horses have good names. Some may call it happenstance, but in the horse business we’re all a little superstitious and I think you set the tone of the course your horse will take when you give them a moniker. I love how this horse came to be named Shanghai Bobby, here’s the fun story if you want to find out more.

This colt is undefeated in four starts, including wins in the the Grade I Champagne and Grade II Hopeful under a hand ride by 3 ½ lengths. He’s won at four and one half, five and one half furlongs and seven furlongs, a really nice progression.

Shanghai Bobby is one of 12 stakes winners—four of them of graded caliber—representing WinStar Farm stallion Harlan's Holiday in 2012. Harlan's Holiday leads the juvenile sire list by earnings and number of stakes winners with four. He gets a beautiful, well balanced horse.

And last, but not least, this colt will be ridden by my current favorite jockey, Rosie Napravnik. Rosie really came upon the national scene this spring upon winning the 2012 Kentucky Oaks on Believe You Can (ironically named don’t you think?) for trainer Larry Jones and owner/breeder, Brereton Jones, aka The Governor. She became the FIRST female jockey to win the Oaks.

At only 24 years of age, she’s already notched over 1,000 wins. I’m a big proponent of women in racing and I think Rosie can develop a huge following in the years to come.

She rode at Keeneland during this recent fall meet and we stopped her for a picture with my daughters. Rosie was noticeably tired, and probably a little disappointed in the race outcome, but she stopped, smiled and took the picture. Thanks for the memories you created Rosie and I’ll be cheering with everything I have for you!



 

2) Know More
3) Power Broker

Turf:
Tom Bellhouse

One of the greatest perks to residing in Saratoga Springs year-round, is the opportunity to see some late developing 2-year-olds in the fall, when the track is quiet and the circus has left town.

One such colt is Breeders’ Cup Turf favorite Point of Entry. I've always been a bit of a "Dynaformer groupie," so when Robbie Medina (Shug McGaughey's assistant trainer) first showed me this beast one October morning at the Oklahoma track and said "this colt's just going to need a little time to develop," I filed him away into the "Bellhouse vault of useless knowledge" and looked forward to meeting up with him again, somewhere down the road.

1.  Point of Entry (pictured)
Absolutely love his versatility.  Love horses who don't need a setup.POE can rate, stalk, close or be up front.

2.  Shareta (Ire)
The thought of considering a filly here makes me crazy, but she just may be the goods.

3.  St. Nicholas Abbey (Ire)
Defending champ...didn't handle soft going in the Arc de Triomphe, but that's not a concern in Santa Anita.

4.  Optimizer
Quite possibly the most mismanaged horse in America in 2012.  Best turf 3-year-old in US.  Effort in Kent (G3) was amazing.

5. Treasure Beach (GB)
Been waiting for him to pop through with a great effort in NY this fall.  Might move up with "Bellhouse Off" angle.
   
Sprint:
Jeff Lifso
n

1. Coil (pictured)
2. Amazombie
3. Capital Account



Mile:
Erin Finley

Full disclosure here. I LOVE the Breeders’ Cup Mile. In 2009 I had the biggest parimutuel score of my career at Santa Anita. Superfecta: Goldikova, Courageous Cat, Justenuffhumor, Court Vision.

Never come close to a big score again, but I’m still biased toward the race.

And now onto the 2012 running....

Wise Dan (pictured)- I know most people are going to pick him and I don’t normally side with favorites, but I just don’t see him losing. I went back and forth between him on Excelebration, and kept WD on top. I don’t love the fact the Excelebration wheels back so quickly while flying across the world. 

This horse is a class act, and he’s posted some very good numbers this year. I’ve watched his last few races and they were all pretty awesome. He is versatile- capable of adjusting to any pace scenario.

Mr. Commons- He’s a cool horse who doesn’t win often, but has run some strong numbers this year and is a veteran of this turf course. He’s posted three very strong works since his last race. I like his versatile style.

Obviously- He’s the speed of the race. I see him leading most of the way before getting tired down the lane. He’s hit the board in 10 of 11 starts, and has two wins from three starts over this course. He seems a notch or two below Wise Dan, but could get a piece of it.

Excecelebration (IRE)- A very talented horse- one of Europe’s best. He might just be “that good”, but I don’t love the fact that his last race was on October 20, and he ships across the world to run in a race of this quality off two weeks rest.  Word is he got pretty got on the racetrack earlier in the week. 

Classic:
Terry Finley 


1. To Honor and Serve (pictured)-  I picked this horse last year. He’s as visually impressive as they come and I think he’ll go out with a bang.

2. Pool Play- 7-year-old is a hard knocker. He’s going to be a price on the board, but I think he’s a live longshot. 

3. Flat Out- I loved his effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It seems like he’s rounding back into form.  


Disabled
EFinley
Nov 2 2012 - 12:15pm
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12 pm on November 02, 2012

The West Point team joined together and took a crack at handicapping each of the Breeders’ Cup 2012 races. Some races are handicapped in more detail than others, but we thought you’d enjoyed the insight from each member of our team. You can view our bios by clicking here.
 

EFinley
EFinley's picture
3618
Blog
West Point Team Member Breeders' Cup Handicapping

Ever have that moment where you think to yourself, “I just witnessed greatness?” At age 21, I saw Zenyatta cross the wire first in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I watched in awe from the grandstand as she blew by Gio Ponti and gave one of my all time favorites, Awesome Gem, an ole’ fashioned whoopin’. I witnessed greatness...

Ask anybody who knows me. They’ll tell you I’m not very well rounded. I live for horses. I think it concerned my parents for quite some time, but now they realize it’s a good thing. Very few people are fortunate enough to call their work and passion one and the same. As many say, “It’s in your blood.” But that late October day in 2009 took my love of racing to a whole new level.

We’ve all read blogs and articles about Zenyatta- she changed all of us in some way, shape, or form. I will never, ever forget the feeling I had when she won that day at Santa Anita. It changed me in a way I won’t even try to explain. Nothing could have wiped the smile off my face as I walked out of the track.

 


I’ll also never, ever forget the feeling I had when they loaded into the gate for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill. Talk about mixed emotions. Total joy. Anxiety. Fear. Excitement. For my fellow three-day eventers- it’s that unexplainable mix of emotions you get when the timer starts counting you down from 10 and you walk into the start box.

If you’ve ever seen me during a big race, you know I don’t typically watch all the way through. My nerves get the best of me, I cover my eyes, and peer up at irregular intervals. I’ve tried a number of times to suck it up and just watch the damn race, but that never happens. That’s what I did on that blustery November night.

When Blame’s nose was in front at the wire, I cried. Not a regular ole’ cry, but a weep. My dad hugged me and told me everything was going to be ok. It would in fact be ok despite my total disbelief at the time. We all moved on with our lives, but never forgot.

 


 

I thank that mare for bringing so much joy to my life. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see another one like her in my lifetime. I’ll look back in 10, 20, 30, 50 years and she’ll be a defining part of my youth. I’ll share the story with my grandchildren (yes Mom, you will be a grandmother one day) and probably spend Christmas watching race replays on YouTube with them.

It was a tough decision, but I decided to stay home in Lexington and watch the Breeders’ Cup on TV this year. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be feeling pretty nostalgic come Saturday afternoon. Hopefully another 21-year-old is lucky enough to walk out of the track a changed person with the same youthful smile I had three years ago....

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Anonymous
Oct 31 2012 - 1:35pm
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10 am on October 31, 2012

Ever have that moment where you think to yourself, “I just witnessed greatness?” At age 21, I saw Zenyatta cross the wire first in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I watched in awe from the grandstand as she blew by Gio Ponti and gave one of my all time favorites, Awesome Gem, an ole’ fashioned whoopin’. I witnessed greatness...

EFinley
EFinley's picture
3618
Blog

If there were eyes in the Twin Spires, my next statement might generate some high velocity daggers aimed my way in a mint julep-ed second.  


I love the Breeders Cup. There. I said it.

I live in Louisville and I’ve never missed a Kentucky Derby since 1992. I don’t just identify and understand the magic of the “greatest two minutes in sport,” I believe in it.

And yet I’m here to tell you that the Breeders’ Cup can live on the same lofty pedestal as the Kentucky Derby in the minds of any right thinking racing fan. Here are the top reasons why.


1) Waiting for Johannesburg--the world comes to the Breeders’ Cup

There is something very,very,very cool about the best from other continents running on our red, white and blue ovals. The chance to see stars from overseas is a huge draw for the Breeders’ Cup.

I remember the drooling festival we Yanks encountered when waiting for the undefeated juvenile named 
Johannesburg to land and train at Belmont Park in 2001. I followed the little dude (he really wasn’t that imposing, but boy was he a curiosity) from the quarantine barn to the gate and back again on a blustery Thursday in New York just to see what all the fuss was about.  

 

On BC Saturday, I understood. Johannesburg sailed, and prompted a joyful and intoxicating celebration by a number of gents and ladies from Ireland. Yes they toasted, yes they cheered, but the singing made it seem like the UEFA Cup Final. That’s what happens when the magic of cultures converge for racing.

 


And in case you still need some convincing that overseas horses on our friendly shores is the best thing ever...I give you one word that changed the Breeders Cup forever.  Arazi.  Watch the replay of his Juvenile in 1991.  You’ll know why.




2) Established Stars

Understood. One of the beauties of the Kentucky Derby is the unknown--20 three-year-olds that haven’t gone a mile and a quarter before, have never faced 150 thousand screaming fans, have never carried 126 pounds. The mystery is mesmerizing.  

That said, only the Breeders’ Cup brings you the already established stars of the the game in a Championship atmosphere. Many horses who run in the Breeders’ Cup have been racing for a few years and have built up a fan base.

No one who was there at the time is going to forget the zombie-like following that
Zenyatta brought from her fans the final week before the Cup in 2010 at Churchill Downs. It was a glorious zoo of folks shuffling from her barn to the entrance gap to the racetrack at approximately 8:45 every morning in the week leading up to the race. You couldn’t move against that pack craning to get a glimpse of the champion mare, nor did you really want to. The electricity was magnetic. (I think an old physics professor once told me that). Established stars bring that kind of attention

 

3) One for the Books--The Breeders’ Cup Has History

It was awfully tough to say this early on. By definition in the 80s,when the Cup was just a pup, there was no lasting narrative from decades ago to draw upon to add luster and importance to the races. But now in the second decade of the new millenium, this Breeders’ Cup thing has a few grey whiskers. And with age comes some great, old stories.

My favorites:
A.The Wet/Ice Box afternoon at Churchill Downs in 1988 when 
Wayne Lukas dressed like Inspector Clouseau in trench coat and fedora and proceeded to win just about every race. (The one exception was my favorite race of all time, the overcoming of the elements, up in time win for undefeated Personal Ensign)

 

B: “Mr. Mandella, would you care to play a lottery ticket tonight?” Dick Mandella’s “are you kidding me,” set of wins including Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Turf and Classic in 2003 at Santa Anita. All of this set in a surreal way against the backdrop of nearby wildfires dropping ash at the Great Race Place all week leading up.


C. Emotions Beyond Breeders Cup. The combination of fear and pride I felt in 2001 with the Cup at Belmont Park, weeks after the tragedy of 9-11 was real and shared by many who were there that weekend. I saw the snipers positioned on the rooftop and felt that the world had changed. I screamed when Tiznow won “for America” in the Classic and realized that the best of raw emotions (like wonder and joy) are hard to trample.

 

 

D. West Point’s Numbers Game. It’s a personal thing, but when your racing partnership sends five horses into the World Championships, it’s an unbelievable feeling. In 2007, The West Point team and partners braved the soggy Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park and finished the weekend strong with Awesome Gem charging home to an unexpected third in the Classic. We look back and are so grateful for the support of our partners who got us to that weekend with fast horses who had earned their spots in the starting gate.

So here we are again, poised at the beginning of Breeders’ Cup week for immersion in a weekend full of international intrigue with big time stars who will make their own new history. At West Point, we’re thrilled to be contributing to the show with our own 
Twilight Eclipse in the Breeders' Cup Turf and Ring Weekend in the Breeders' Cup Mile. You gotta love it. You really should.

 


                     

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JLifson
Nov 1 2012 - 7:00am
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4 pm on October 29, 2012

If there were eyes in the Twin Spires, my next statement might generate some high velocity daggers aimed my way in a mint julep-ed second.  


I love the Breeders Cup. There. I said it.

I live in Louisville and I’ve never missed a Kentucky Derby since 1992. I don’t just identify and understand the magic of the “greatest two minutes in sport,” I believe in it.

And yet I’m here to tell you that the Breeders’ Cup can live on the same lofty pedestal as the Kentucky Derby in the minds of any right thinking racing fan. Here are the top reasons why.

JLifson
JLifson's picture
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Why I Love the Breeders' Cup- And Why I Humbly Suggest You Do Too

In my years covering races at the television network TVG we helmet-headed announcers spent a few moments after races talking about why winners triumphed, cashed our mythical bets, slapped each other on the back for picking so well, and moved on to the next race. That’s a shame. And it doesn’t take into account the other horses who finished behind the winner.


If you own of one of those non-winners, you’re trudging to the car (or the bar) wondering why you’re not in the winners circle sipping champagne and smiling knowingly. And maybe, just maybe you’ve lost a little or all of your optimism for the future of your horse. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. But take heart, take a deep breath (or an antacid) and know that the race ain’t necessarily over for your horse, and especially for you.  

With that preamble, in no apparent order of worth, here are the top three encouraging signs for someone to look for when re-watching what might have looked like a disaster at first blush:

1)”We broke from the gate like a shot and looked like we’d win by a football field...it was so depressing when we got caught late and only beat a few.”   

Horses who are racing for the first time are going to get a little tired no matter:

  • how many miles they’ve put in before their debut,
  • how many lively workouts and gate rehearsals they’ve had, and
  • how much you want to believe that practice is like the game, it isn’t.


There’s practice fit and racing fit, and horses who have raced before generally are just that much more in shape to finish the job.

The takeaway from this scenario is that your horse showed speed and was involved early,  and with race fitness early from this first tussle, should be that much more prepared next time.

A horse that I remember that fit this profile is a graded stakes winner West Point campaigned named High Finance.  He gave up ground late in his first race after taking the lead pretty early.  He went on to win the Tom Fool at Belmont--a pretty fast dude who improved off that first discouraging loss.

2)”The start was so-so (or a disaster) and then my horse made this huge move on the turn.  When they turned for home, I thought we were a sure winner, but we flattened out late.”   

When I hear this, or when I say it to myself after watching a first race for one of our West Point horses, I have to stop and re-examine the replay. This is a classic first race “middle move” scenario.  

Several of our best horses ever at West Point made this move, finished well back in that first race and went on to greater glory later on in their racing careers.

Flashy Bull, our Kentucky Derby starter and grade I winner was a great example of the sluggish starter who started figuring it out in the middle of the race, and then got tired late (remember that first race fitness issue?). King Congie looked like he was going to blow by Uncle Mo on the turn first time out at Saratoga before tiring. He went on to run well in a number of graded stakes races.

 


 

What this scenario demonstrates is a willingness to overcome trouble and enough talent to make up ground in the middle of the race. Flashy Bull finished fourth in his very first race and on paper it looked pretty ordinary. But not when you know what you’re looking for.

3)My horse was just so darned slow early on.  Sure we passed a couple of our competitors late, but we were never really close to winning.”

Believe it or not, Awesome Gem, West Point’s all time winning money earner at 2.8 million dollars was 10th leaving the gate in his first start and finished a non-threatening fourth.   

You’re never quite sure at what distance (long or short) your horse is going to best perform.  You can look at all the physical attributes and family tree, consult a fortune teller, or throw darts to guess, but the horse will answer the question over time.

Awesome Gem started off at a very short distance and excelled later in life at longer distances.  There was no way he was gonna out hustle some of the speedy ones in that first start, but he did pass horses late. That’s a beautiful thing to see in the debut performance, slow beginnings but faster endings. Even if it’s just a few horses passed late, it leads you to believe there’s some untapped potential unveiling itself slowly in your four legged athlete.



There are a number of other things to think about after that first race where you’re not hoisting the trophy over your head and discouraged because of it. Is this the best surface for my horse? Did the weather or track conditions compromise his or her performance?  Did something happen to severely compromise the horse’s chances (slammed at the break, carried out by bolting horse)? We all know some pretty whacky things can happen in maiden races, especially with 2-year-olds.

I’ll say it again.  Most horses don’t win their first race. In fact 90% of them don’t.
It’s hard while you’re choking back a little or a lot of your initial disappointment to remember that there could be a number of encouraging signs to look for. But you oughta do it. It’ll make you feel better as an owner. And it rightfully gives you hope for the next time. Not all of them end up being good, but I’ve seen plenty of horses who don’t win first out go on to create memories for their owners.

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Arnie (not verified)
Oct 20 2012 - 1:15pm
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5 pm on October 15, 2012

In my years covering races at the television network TVG we helmet-headed announcers spent a few moments after races talking about why winners triumphed, cashed our mythical bets, slapped each other on the back for picking so well, and moved on to the next race. That’s a shame. And it doesn’t take into account the other horses who finished behind the winner.

JLifson
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My Horse Didn't Win First Time Out (And It Wasn't Even Close) Now What?

I’d like to thank all of Awesome Gem’s Partners, fans and supporters for their kind words over the past few days. We’ll certainly miss seeing Gem in action, but it puts a smile on my face to think back over the past seven years. This sport needs more horses like him - sound, durable, hard-knocking veterans who build a fan base and provide excitement year after year.


My team put together a photo tribute to Awesome Gem’s career. Below are videos of his biggest wins. Enjoy.

Terry

P.S. We’re working on a retirement home for Awesome Gem. More to come in the next few weeks.

 

 

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ScottC (not verified)
Nov 15 2012 - 10:54pm
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92085
/news-and-blog/blog/2012/09/25/photo-tribute-to-awesome-gems-career
1 pm on September 25, 2012

I’d like to thank all of Awesome Gem’s Partners, fans and supporters for their kind words over the past few days. We’ll certainly miss seeing Gem in action, but it puts a smile on my face to think back over the past seven years. This sport needs more horses like him - sound, durable, hard-knocking veterans who build a fan base and provide excitement year after year.

tfinley
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Photo Tribute to Awesome Gem's Career

We bought an absolutely amazing Tiznow colt at the Keeneland yearling sale yesterday. Not coincidentally, my inbox has started to bubble up the number one question I am asked by prospective Thoroughbred racehorse owners every year in September, "Jeff, should I buy a yearling or a two-year-old?"

Well, last year I wrote a blog about the question of buying yearlings versus 2-year-olds in racing partnerships. It's a good time to share it again.

Enjoy!

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JLifson
Sep 17 2012 - 10:24am
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/news-and-blog/blog/2012/09/13/yearling-versus-two-year-old-racehorse-ownership-how-do-you-decide
4 pm on September 13, 2012

We bought an absolutely amazing Tiznow colt at the Keeneland yearling sale yesterday.

JLifson
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Yearling Versus Two-year-old Racehorse Ownership How Do You Decide?

Ok. So we got one. And he’s a beauty. Late in the day on Tuesday, I outbid a number of others and landed a colt by the first year stallion Pyro. It’s a heady, surreal feeling when the winning bid is yours and you can go back to the barn and look at what was up for grabs and suddenly is part of the West Point stable and the West Point future. That is sometimes as sweet as an open length victory on a Saturday afternoon. And in these first several days of the September yearling sale, it’s very tough to do this well.

The reasons for this are varied. There are fewer good horses to buy than there were 10 years ago. We’ve gone from foal crops in the thirty thousands to the low twenties. That’s a huge difference.

Buyers are getting really picky and even more sophisticated. The days of “taking a chance” on a horse with some physical flaws or pedigree question marks are gone at least for now. It means buyers are all focusing on the tiny group of “perfect horses.” They look good on paper. They pass all the x-rays, heart scans, pedigree nicking reports and even DNA analyses that buyers throw at them. And then they bring the top dollar.

Finally, I’ve found that the buyers with the big dough stick around longer than they used to through the first week of the sale. Their hefty checkbooks force everyone who is a little less loaded to look harder and be more imaginative and creative in their search for good horses, because the big guns tend to aim at the obvious targets.

So we bought an amazing colt by Pyro. The creative side of this is that he’s a first year stallion. None of his little puppies have run yet- Pyro is all promise with the hope of top performance. So you go with what you saw when the stallion was a fighter and runner, not a lover.

We like that Pyro was a top two-year-old- second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. He was a Kentucky Derby contender with his win in the Louisiana Derby. When our biomechanical consultants told us that the Pyro colt was a top profile for all the yearlings evaluated on the day, we were sold. That’s being creative and crafty when the competition is tenacious.

And we get up the next morning and try to do it all over again. 

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DLenert
Sep 26 2012 - 2:23pm
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/news-and-blog/blog/2012/09/12/how-sweet-it-is-how-tough-it-is-keeneland-day-3
10 pm on September 12, 2012

Ok. So we got one. And he’s a beauty. Late in the day on Tuesday, I outbid a number of others and landed a colt by the first year stallion Pyro.

tfinley
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Pyro colt purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale

When you are buying, or trying to buy Thoroughbred yearlings, and you take a break, grab a sandwich, look to your neighbor at the next lunchroom table, it’s pretty easy to stoke up the conversation:

“What day are you working on?,” is the conversation starter so many of us reach for as a warm greeting.

If you want to stay halfway sane at this “is it over yet” marathon of a sale, you really need to be several days ahead of what’s taking place in the auction ring at that moment.

For West Point’s purposes, we’re already winnowing down the catalog of Saturday offerings so that we can poke and prod them when they arrive mid-week. We’ve finished with a short list that the internal team, trainers, biomechanic analysts and vets can now take their swings at before solidifying our ultimate short list. That takes time, and all stakeholders have our prospective horses to evaluate before Thursday morning arrives.

For the record as of Wednesday morning, we’ve got somewhere between 15 and 20 colts that make the first several cuts for Thursday.

And Thursday is already in the rear-view mirror until it’s Thursday. In the meantime, I’m living today as if it were Saturday. 

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JLifson
Sep 12 2012 - 11:34am
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/news-and-blog/blog/2012/09/12/chasing-the-next-day-keeneland-yearling-sale-day-3
11 am on September 12, 2012

When you are buying, or trying to buy Thoroughbred yearlings, and you take a break, grab a sandwich, look to your neighbor at the next lunchroom table, it’s pretty easy to stoke up the con

JLifson
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Chasing the Next Day Keeneland Yearling Sale Day 3

About 6 a.m this morning after the dog had done her business and I was pouring the first cup of coffee down the hatch, The Louisville Courier Journal punched me in the face with its headline. Apparently, the Keeneland September Yearling Sale is roaring back after the first night of buying brought increases in the average and median prices.

This surprised me just a bit, as I found the tempo and prices mixed during the first three and a half hours of the sale. Wouldn’t you know it, I was about 20 hips too early heading to the parking lot and driving home to Louisville. That’s when tote board lit up and drove the sale up, up, up.

For our part at West Point Thoroughbreds, we targeted three horses that passed all our eyeball, biomechanical and veterinary tests. We bid on the first and the last of the three- the first didn’t make the reserve set by the buyer of almost $300k and the last brought more than $600k. In both cases,Terry Finley made the decision that the price did not match our own valuation.

It sort of begs the question, how much is too much? It’s an agonizing one, because there are so many conflicting examples within the industry and for West Point specifically. Seattle Slew and Real Quiet, were both yearlings bought for less than $20k. Zenyatta was less than $100k- seems like spending any more than that could make you look wasteful with your money.

For our part, at this very sale several years ago, we spent more than $400k for a yearling filly who went on to become Justwhistledixie- turns out that $400k was a pretty good deal for her racing partnership. 

The answer here isn’t very clear. It’s part instinct, part budget and part recent history. When you look at 2012 so far, we’ve raced seven new 2-year-olds and won with nearly 30 percent of them- pretty darn impressive numbers so far. All of them cost less than $200k. Safe to say we’re feeling pretty good about keeping our checkbook in check.

That said, you have to allow for the Justwhistledixies of this life to stride into the auction ring. And that’s when instinct can trump discipline. The paper tells us that this Keeneland September sale has started off more expensive than in past years. My guess is we’ll respect the facts and react in subtle ways if that trend continues, keeping our discipline that has served us well so far this year.

But if the next Justwhistledixie rolls into the ring- can you blame anyone for making one more bid beyond “enough?” 

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JLifson
Sep 12 2012 - 11:01pm
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/news-and-blog/blog/2012/09/11/how-expensive-is-too-expensive-keeneland-yearling-sale-day-2
12 pm on September 11, 2012

About 6 a.m this morning after the dog had done her business and I was pouring the first cup of coffee down the hatch, The Louisville Courier Journal punched me in the face with its headline.

JLifson
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Multiple graded stakes winner Justwhistledixie was purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Near the round bar surrounded by buyers and sellers, worn out from looking at more than a hundred horses late yesterday and today (Monday). The Marathon that is the Keeneland September Yearling Sale begins today. Terry and the team may bid on a few tonight in the Golden Hours of Opening Night. (More from Terry on that if we are successful).

Having bought one successfully with Erin Finley and two West Point Thoroughbreds Partners last year, I've learned a little to apply to this year's hunt. First off, I won't start bidding till the tail end of the week. With our budget, there's more value for money heading into the weekend. Second, I've narrowed my focus...strictly colts with distance in their blood and a little quality from mom added to the DNA stew. I've found about 15 of them that make the first couple of cuts for Thursday bidding. More to come as we push on towards the weekend.

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JLifson
Sep 11 2012 - 10:09am
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5 pm on September 10, 2012

Near the round bar surrounded by buyers and sellers, worn out from looking at more than a hundred horses late yesterday and today (Monday).

JLifson
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Keeneland Yearling Sale Day 1 from Jeff Lifson

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