Tag Archives: Preakness Stakes

Lockinge Stakes 2021

There is a special place in my heart for the Lockinge Stakes. The reason is as simple as obvious: Paco Boy.

He’s the one that made me fall in love with flat racing. The most incredible moment of his illustrious career came quite clearly in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes. Visually it was such was such an enormous performance.

Richard Hughes with balls the size of footballs. Paco Boy, overcoming early keenness, still travelling like a dream on the bridle approaching the final furlong marker. Stunning. Beautiful. Unbelievable.

The 2021 renewal of the Lockinge Stakes looks a good one. A competitive one – at least for the minor placings.

Because Palace Pier stands head- and shoulders above the rest of the field. The betting market isn’t wrong when it gives him a 60%+ chance of adding a third Group 1 to his tally.

The four-year-old colt looked as good as ever on his seasonal reappearance last month when making 115 and 116 rated horses look like class 6 handicappers. He left the disappointment of British Champions Day firmly behind. A race he still managed to finish in third place despite losing a shoe.

Palace Pier’s 114 topspeed rating is – not surprisingly – the highest on offer in this field. A performance achieved on heavy ground. Therefore the rain won’t stop him today.

Aiden O’Brien saddles Lope Y Fernandez – the second highest rated horse in the field. Clearly a talented individual, he started the season well with a fine effort in a listed contest at Leopardstown. His overall win record isn’t impressive, though. Yet to win at the highest level, he only found three times the winners enclosure in 13 starts and hasn’t run beyond a 97 topspeed rating. Not good enough.

Progressive Top Rank, a recent Doncaster Mile winner, is six from eight. Not impossible that he can improve again. He’d have to take giant steps to challenge the favourite, though.

Light raced My Oberon is on the up too. The drop to a mile shouldn’t be an issue. The ground is a question mark and the fact remains in six runs he hasn’t been able to achieve an adequate topspeed that in my book is required for this level.

I can only see two horses able to make this a race: Century Dream and Safe Voyage. The latter enjoyed the best year of his career as a seven-year-old in 2020. Three victories, including two Group 2 races and a fine third place in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret.

Even though he won the Boomerang Mile at Leopardstown last autumn, I have a few concerns over the mile trip, particularly in soft conditions.

That won’t be an issue for Century Dream. He posted a career best when winning the Celebration Mile at Goodwood last year where he achieved a 110 topspeed rating. Clearly the more rain the better for him. He wasn’t able to win a Group 1 yet, though ran with plenty of credit in a number of them.

Century Dream shouldn’t be good enough to pose a real danger to Palace Pier. Nobody in this field is. He is, nonetheless, a huge price and overpriced, certainly from ad an each-way proposition. If the price would drift out further for Safe Voyage he also would become a viable each-way alternative.

Nonetheless, it’s impossible look past Palace Pier. He is in a different league to all the others here. Baring a accident, I can’t see him getting beaten here. Will it be as impressive as Paco Boy in 2010? Unlikely.

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From a pure betting perspective I have a fundamental interest in the King Charles II Stakes (2:40pm) at Newmarket this afternoon. This looks a intriguing contest. You can’t ignore the impression Bellosa made over course and distance four weeks ago.

At given prices I reckon there is significant juice in the price of the Gosden horse Fundamental. He is beautifully bred and has ran to 92 topspeed rating already when landing a strong contest on the Chelmsford polytrack last month. He followed up with another promising display in the Greenham Stakes.

That performance is much better than the bare form may suggest. Fundamental raced rather uneconomical, making a big move on the outside of the field from six to four furlongs out using a lot of energy and buying ground when it wasn’t really advantageous to so in such an aggressive manner.

Whether 7 furlongs is his trip remains to be seen. But Fundamental has shown enough speed and may enjoy the slower ground here. He’s overpriced at 9/2 and above on the exchanges.

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Preakness Stakes: the second leg of the American Triple Crown tonight. Leaving the doping controversy aside, the question from a racing perspective is: can Medina Sprit follow up?

Fair to say he got the run of the race in the Kentucky Derby. A pretty clear run to grab the lead after the start and unchallenged for the lead throughout. While some of the fancied front-runners didn’t have it so easy. He’s one to take on here, no doubt.

Not much made an impression from off the pace that day. The one who did and clearly caught the eye was Midnight Bourbon. He got badly bumped and squeezed right after the gate opened and had his route to a more advantageous position blocked.

He settled well off the pace, forced wide. Whether it was the smartest ride by rider Mike Smith to give so much ground away is debatable. Perhaps no other ride would have made any difference.

It wasn’t plain sailing to fight for space when turning for home either. Midnight Bourbon showed guts and fought for a gap entering the home straight. The bird was flown at that point, nonetheless he ran on well enough until eased in the final furlong.

His Derby trial performances, while not super impressive, where promising and the form franked. He’s a huge runner in the Preakness this evening from a good draw, in a smaller field and a much better chance to be up with the pace. At 8/1 he’s a good price in my book.

Favourite Horse: Rachel Alexandra

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I am writing a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Classy miler Paco Boy kicked off proceedings in part I – next up is a “filly for the ages”. 

Normally US racing on dusty dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. Yet here on dirt it happened: a race I’ll never forget. It’s the 1st of May 2009, an unusually scorching hot day – I remember it vividly, sweating in front of the laptop in a stuffy living room.

Late evening, I’ve got a grainy stream from Churchill Downs: post parade for the Kentucky Oaks. This ridiculously short priced favourite heads the field – I throw a bit of money on Flying Spur, the second favourite. Not the wisest investment as it turns out.

Rachel Alexandra is three to one on in the betting. Little did I know about her at this point in time. Minutes later the whole racing world will know about her. Hard on the bridle she destroys her six rivals by 20 lengths – the widest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks ever:

The “super filly” goes on from here proving this otherworldly performance wasn’t a fluke. She takes on the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Odds are staked against her: no filly has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1924. Rachel Alexandra usually enjoys to run from the front but has been dealt the widest draw on this day.

Yet jockey Calvin Borel gets Rachel Alexandra across to lead wire to wire: “And the filly did it!” screams an excited Tom Hammond in the commentators box. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes, doing so she’s defeating Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird.

Rachel Alexandra becomes a star that shines beyond the boundaries of horse racing. She features in “Vogue” magazine and a legion of fans follow her every move – so do I, although from far away. Still, those Saturdays in the summer of 2009 – “Rachel Saturdays” – are cherished memories to this day.

Only six weeks after the Preakness she romped home in the Mother Goose – only three rivals in her way, though leaving a multiple Grade one winner more than 30 lengths behind, nearly breaking Secretariat’s track record, if not for being heavily eased in the final furlong.

Another almighty performance against the boys in the Haskell Invitational Stakes – she makes it look so easy, beating Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird by six lengths on a muddy track, again running an incredibly fast time, despite the conditions, becoming the second filly in history to win the race,

A final ‘hallelujah’ in September saw Rachel Alexandra write history – once more – as the first filly to land the Woodward Stakes. This time in a dramatic finish, holding off the late charges from high class rivals after setting grueling early fractions from the front in her usual style. It leaves commentator Tom Durkin stunned as he concludes his call “She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra The Great!”.

2009 was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s – each for every month from May to September. She beats the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward – her spectacular three-year campaign is probably only matched by Sea The Stars on the other side of the globe!

That intense year took a toll on Rachel Alexandra. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same filly. Five more races, three of them end in defeat. She never reached the same heights again. After another shock defeat in August 2010 Rachel Alexandra is retired to become a broodmare.

She produced a colt and a filly but it turned out she wasn’t suited to the breeding game. She nearly died in the aftermath of the delivery of her second and final foal, Rachel’s Valentina.

To this day Rachel Alexandra has a loyal fanbase and they come to visit her at Stonestreet Farm. Once a year the “See Rachel Day” provides opportunity to those who are lucky enough to win a ticket to be invited to spend some time with the “Super Filly”.

There was something special about Rachel Alexandra as a race horse that made me follow her with passion throughout her career, but especially that magic summer of 2009: the white blaze across the face, you could easily make her out among a bunch of other horses. An athletic, strong body and beautiful bay colour; alert and all heart when it mattered most, galloping her rivals into submission from the front.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful homage on Rachel Alexandra and her biggest victories – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

PREVIEW: Belmont Stakes – Justify a Triple Crown Winner?

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An almighty task on hand, the chance to become an equine legend beckons at the end of it – Justify has to defy history one more time to land the Triple Crown!

Still unbeaten, the Scat Daddy colt only started his racing career in February this year. He’s come a long way since then. Memorable victories in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes bring him here to this day, the day where it’s all on the line.

We all want to see a Triple Crown winner. And we may do so today. It’s so difficult to achieve, such a tremendous ask for a three year old colt who’s still learning his trade. Three grueling races within four weeks; different trips, tracks, underfoot conditions, going against some fresh and not so fresh, inexperienced and race hardened rivals.

If history tells us how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown then we must saviour the opportunity to witness the second one of these historical achievements within three years. Amercian Pharoah broke through this barrier that latest decades. Who’d have thought we might see one again so soon after?

So, the question everyone is asking: can he do it???

No. He can’t. My heart wants it. My head disagrees.

There are a few much smarter brains than I am out there who brought compelling arguments forward for and against. What sticks out for me personally is Simon Rowlands take on the race as he uses striding analysis to understand how Justify’s performances to this date compare to other notable Triple Crown winners.

His comparison and the facts uncovered are comprehensive. They tend to agree with my less so analytical thoughts: Justify is all speed. Or mostly speed. His pedigree doesn’t scream “I want a trip” either.

Don’t get me wrong, he impressed me in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, no doubt. The way he looks, the way he moves, the way he goes about his business.

Today is an entirely different race, though. Different conditions. An additional two furlongs. Against opposition that didn’t have to compete in all three Triple Crown races. Some of these may have a bit more left in the locker plus a few of the rivals Justify will meet today are likely to appreciate this marathon trip quite a bit more than he likely does.

Lest to forget: Justify needed to go all out for a while now – on the go since February – each month one important race for him to contest and be at his best. That must take its toll.

if it doesn’t- and if Justify can overcome all of these hurdles then he truly is a special horse, one that warrants to be mentioned in line with the best – make no mistake about that.

Okay so, if not Justify, who’s then going to win the Belmont?

Well, I take a punt. He’s not the most obvious one, he may not be good enough after all. Regardless, I do sense that Free Drop Billy is overpriced. He hasn’t won a race this year and only managed to get places in a couple of Grade 2- and 3 contests. He ran in the Kentucky Derby like his price suggested: rotten.

BUT there is a big but: Free Drop Billy is a Grade 1 winner already, nonetheless. He landed the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland as a juvenile. He also was a fair runner-up at this seasonal reappearance this year in February behind Derby third Audible. He clearly has class.

That says he very much looks like a grinder. One who’s always going to get beaten for speed. He’s also one who is likely to get into his own in the second half of the year – so now! Free Drop Billy is May foal; normally these individuals need a bit more time.

Connections clearly felt that way after the Derby. They gave him time off. He bypassed the Preakness and comes here fresher than most. And there is the fact that he is a son of Union Rags – himself a Belmont Stakes winner – while also being a half-brother to multiple 1m 4f Stakes scorer Hawkbill.

Dare I say that Free Drop Billy looked excellent in his work this week leading up to the big race? I start to believe….

In saying all of this, Free Drop Billy needs to improve, needs to step up a good deal to be in with a shout. I feel there is a better chance for him to do exactly that than the betting suggests. I believe he is a lively place chance, at the very least.

Selection:
5pts Each/Way (3 places, 1/5) – Free Drop Billy @ 66/1 VC

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Photo: nytimes.com

A Sunday filly for Ripon

Beaten in the dying strides – life as a horse racing punter can be an agonising affair. Cloud Computing got the better of Classic Empire in the Preakness Stakes. The fresher horse, with the better, less aggressive and more economical ride, won in the end.

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4.10 Ripon: Class 3 Fillies’ Handicap, 6 Furlongs

Open enough looking contest and I take a chance on bottom weight Savannah Slew. Other three year old’s in the field are better fancied and this filly has questions to answer given that she already had eight career runs, is a bit temperamental and wasn’t convincing on her seasonal reappearance.

However she should strip fitter now and will enjoy the return to six furlongs, a trip she won two starts back. Ground wise it won’t be a big deal if any cut is left as her two victories came on softish ground although on pedigree better ground is what should be her optimum.

A mark off 78 is stiff enough and she will need to improve, though juvenile form gives her every chance given she already ran to an RPR of 81 and should be home in the conditions encountered here at Ripon.

Selection:
10pts win – Savannah Slew @ 10/1 Bet365

Preakness: Who can beat Always Dreaming?

Two winners today (there’s still one late runner in the lucky last at Doni to come): Paddy Power (advised 4/1) under a wonderfully brave and patient ride by Sammy Jo Bell in the Newmarket finale and exciting prospect Denaar (2/1 SP) did the business.

On the other side I got it horribly wrong in the Lockinge. Were my eyes blinded by love for all things Paco Boy? Did I want the son to emulate daddy too much?

Anyway, hats off to Ribchester. He did it from the front and he could have not been more impressive. Smart tactics from Godolphin as well. Pace maker I heard you saying? Good joke they said. Fooled them all.

On to the big race of the night – the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes! 

Always Dreaming was brilliant the way he won the Kentucky Derby, doing it “the hard way” as by no means he got an easy lead that day. He found plenty when it mattered after gruelling fractions on the front for most parts of the race.

Derby winners have a good record taking the second step along the road toward Triple Crown glory. So Always Dreaming may well be hard to beat today. However conditions are quite different this time around and he’s an odds-on chance – short enough to take on at this point in time given there are two intriguing alternatives at bigger prices.

It’s not difficult to give Classic Empire another chance today. This massively talented colt is quite a character and it wasn’t all plain sailing for him since winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Still he managed to get ready in time for the big one at Churchill Downs, on the way there proving himself to still retain all his class when getting up late in the Arkansas Derby.

Unfortunately things did not work out for him in the Kentucky Derby. A wide draw that day, bumped left and right once the gate opened, he was a long way off the pace and had to make his move widest of all around the home turn, then bumped again, mud in his face, banged up, he still ran on to finish fourth.

It was a tremendous performance, probably as good as the one of the winner, Always Dreaming. If he has recovered in time for the Preakness I really fancy him to turn the form around in a much smaller field with a better chance for a clear run. In my book he’s closer to Always Dreaming than the odds suggest.

That says there is a second horse that I feel is overpriced, by quite a margin, actually. That is Arkansas Derby runner-up Conquest Mo Money. He was qualified for the Derby but connections decided to target the Preakness. So that is certainly something to take note of.

You have to take note of his massively brave performance at Oaklawn Park too. From the second widest draw he crossed over to be right up with the pace and take up the lead halfway through. Put under immense pressure turning for home he fought gamely; headed a good furlong out he went on again to put his head in front…. just to be beaten in the dying strides by Classic Empire.

Now Conquest Mo Money has a wide draw today again, however with only ten runners this is not quite as big a deal. He’s still quite a lightly raced individual, so there is every that he learned a bit more and finds some improvement. At 25’s he’s huge value against the market leader.

Selection:
5pts win – Classic Empire @ 7/2 Bet365
5pts win – Conquest Mo Money @ 25/1 Paddy Power

Rachel Alexandra – A Filly for the Ages

CONGRATULATIONS! Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta – two of racing’s most spectacular equine superstars of the past –  have been inducted into racing’s hall of fame (to be precise: the ‘National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga’).

These two female racehorses, both at the peak of their craft in the one memorable year of 2009, never actually met at the race track, yet their stories are so closely intertwined as both captured the imagination of racing fans across the globe at the very same time.

Unfortunately the eagerly anticipated duel of the two greats never materialised – never at a race track at least. Now, there’s a saying, though, you’re either in one or the other camp; a Rachel fanboy/girl or a Zenyatta fanboy/girl… it’s the ever ongoing discussion, the human battle of arguments for and against: who’s been the better one?

You can’t have not an opinion. To say “ah well both are great horses” doesn’t cut it. So here’s my view on it.

The short answer is: there can’t be a doubt Rachel Alexandra was the better horse!

The long answer is: it’s not so easy. Zenyatta won plenty of races, won in awesome style and landed the Breeders Cup Classic – and take nothing away from her – she was an outstanding race horse.

Yet, if it comes to sheer brilliance, resilience, determination, will power and of course the all important looks – Rachel wins hands down!

2009: it was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s, beaten the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward as a three year old filly – this unparalleled campaign is probably only matched by all-time legend Sea The Stars!

I can’t state enough that this is only my opinion. In this debate, I guess, there is no right and wrong.

And I totally accept others in their view, claiming Zenyatta’s longevity of a career spanning over 20 races, with 19 victories, most of them in Grade 1 company, only marred by an agonisingly close defeat on the very last day of her career, give her the nod – and I agree, this was an outstanding career from an outstanding horse….

…. yet purely from an emotional point of view I never quite warmed up to her in the same way as I did to Rachel Alexandra. And isn’t that what racing is about? Beside everything else of course. But it’s not all about the betting, and the dream of making some bob on the nags – no, it’s also the sheer beauty of the sport when you witness these special creatures producing special moments.

This special moment – when I fell in love with Rachel Alexandra – it was the first May of 2009, a hot summers day. It’s was been only a bit more than a year that I followed closely the sport of horse racing and back then I was still living in Germany.

Still, I remember it vividly, sitting in front of the laptop, the grainy Racebets stream open – there was this ridiculously short priced favourite in the big race so I threw some Euros on Flying Spur, the second favourite.

Not the wisest investment. Soon it become clear why there was this one filly, called Rachel Alexandra, three to one on in the betting – she slaughtered the field!

She turns for home and Calvin Borel glimpses over his shoulder, the rest of the field is labouring hard but his filly’s still hard on the bridle…. and then…. the ‘WOW’ moment I’ll never forget…..

Still hard held, with every ease in the world she finds another gear, suddenly, so smoothly, she puts the whole world between herself and the rest of the field. WOOOOWW!!!

Horses are special – Rachel Alexandra is extra special. She went on to produce more memorable moments the same year. In the Woodward, the Preakness and the Haskell, then against the boys, fighting through some gruelling finishes she came out always on top.

It took a toll on her. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same. But who can begrudge her? She’s done it all, she showed the world how good she is, Rachel had nothing to prove. She gave us enormous pleasure – to ask her for even more would be greedy.

And so she retired, as the one filly that I’ll keep close to my heart as a racing fan forever and ever.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful video below, showing all her big wins – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

 

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Saturday Selections:

3.20 Newmarket: Fashaak @ 20/1 Coral
2.30 Newbury: Frankuus @ 4/1 Skybet

Photo: Copyright Daily News

Preakness Stakes: Rod can spoil the party!

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Here we are, only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, there’s the second leg of the American Triple Crown right in front of us! Yes, it’s Preakness Stakes Saturday, and boy, it promises to be an exciting renewal: the Derby winner, runner-up, third and fifth – they are all here. It’s round two of American Pharoah v Dortmund v Firing Line!

Of course there is the all overshadowing question: Do we have a Triple Crown winner on our hands? Well, American Pharoah was as good a Kentucky Derby winner as it gets, no doubt about that (though you better don’t get me started to talk about the butcher of a jockey Mr Espinoza!). But that doesn’t make him a ‘wonder horse’, as some ‘experts’ want to make us believe.

Anyway, let’s stay focused on what is important: Can American Pharoah win the Triple Crown? Nope. No chance!

Don’t get me wrong, this is a really talented individual. He was the best horse in the Derby, and he won, despite one or two difficulties to overcome during the race. But hype comes and goes quickly. We know that. Once he starts losing, he’s already forgotten.

Personally I find it hard to believe that American Pharoah is capable of staying the Belmont trip. The facts are against him. He’s a dubious stayer on pedigree and the Belmont is traditionally a race where you find some fresher horses in the line-up who are also better suited to the kind of unique test this race provides.

As for today, absolutely American Pharoah is the favourite. Though maybe not quite as clear as the betting wants us to believe he is?! Well, maybe he is. But a price of 5/6 isn’t really anything more than a fair price. So, do we have alternatives?

Derby runner-up Firing Line ran the race of his life. He was gutsy, but couldn’t quite hold on. The slight drop in trip may help him. He looks progressive and should be a big contender once again today. If he is quite good enough to beat American Pharoah, who’s probably even more fancied to do better over the shorter trip, remains to be seen.

I love Dortmund. I stated it quite often in recent weeks. His Derby performance doesn’t change that. He ran out of gas and that was always a possibility with the trip not sure to suit. The drop in distance is sure to suit today, though may still stretch him enough. My main concern is the fact that he had already four tough runs this year. It might be time to give him a break.

Derby fifth Danzig Moon is a good, tough horse. He always keeps going, though never seems to be really dangerous. That means he’s probably not good enough. His only win came in maiden company.

A brief look at the betting tells us there’s no other horse with a chance in this race….. or is there? Absolutely, there is! The exciting Tapit colt Divining Rod is overlooked. But not by me. I like his lightly raced profile and the fact that he comes into this race fresh off a five weeks break.

He won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes in super style last month, which would have entitled him to start in the Kentucky Derby. However he wasn’t rushed to be ready in time for the big one, instead connections decided to skip the first leg of the Triple Crown and aim him at the Preakness. He should love the trip and may be able to improve quite a bit.

I really like his Lexington performance, He showed gate speed, settled well and one single slight flick with the whip ensured that he went almost effortless into the clear. To my eyes he’s the right type to take on the well fancied Kentucky Derby runners.

That says It may turn out he is not quite up to the highest level. It may well be that American Pharoah is too good. But we don’t know that yet. And with the facts in hand right now, I have to believe Divining Rod is outstanding value.

Divining Rod @ 20/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win