THE DESK OF...
Hopefully Saturday's GI Fountain of Youth
and Sunday's GIII Risen Star (provided Repent runs and wins) will help start to
separate the men from the boys as this year's crop of North American
three-year-olds steps up a gear on the road to Louisville. They need
there have been 8 1/2-furlong, then seven-furlong prep races, in both Florida
and California, and so far Came Home's (Gone West, 2.81 APEX A Rating)
four-length win in Santa Anita's seven-furlong GII San Vicente S. is the only
one to have set pulses racing.
Home recorded a Beyer 109 in the San Vicente, but you'd have to be wildly
optimistic to imagine he will stay the 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs. His dam
was a crack sprinter, after all.
Classic season kicked off with the GIII Holy Bull at Gulfstream and the GII
Santa Catalina at Santa Anita, both at 8 1/2 furlongs, on Jan. 19. In the Holy
Bull, the tough little Notebook (2.41) colt, Booklet, held off the GIII
Iroqouis S. winner Harlan's Holiday (by the late lamented Harlan, 2.02), but
the time equated to a Beyer figure of just 101. At Santa Anita, the Bobby
Frankel- trained Skywalker (1.61) colt Labamta Babe ran 104 in slamming the
slow-starting Breeders' Cup Juvenile third and Hollywood Futurity winner
Siphonic, who of course is from Siphon's first crop. Labamta Babe has
subsequently been injured and is out of the Triple Crown picture.
weekends later, and two weekends ago, two seven-furlong Grade II races were
run--the Hutcheson at Gulfstream and the San Vicente. As is most likely the
case with Came Home, these races are usually won nowadays by horses who might
get nine furlongs (but usually not, not to mention 10 furlongs), no matter how
impressive they are at seven. Came Home was impressive; the Hutcheson winner,
Showmeitall, by the previously unheralded (unheard of, more like) Fappiano
horse, All Gone, was less so. He led gate to wire, but his Beyer number was
only 94. So the division looks wide open right now. Johannesburg's Breeders'
Cup form still looks good, in that several of those behind him have come back
and won well, but his Beyer number was only a 99, though he ran correspondingly
much better figures when winning over six furlongs in Europe. BC Juvenile
runner-up Repent (Louis Quatorze) came right back to win the GII Kentucky
Jockey Club, but again the figure wasn't very high, nor was BC Juvenile
also-ran Saarland's when he won the GII Remsen. So we await further clues this
weekend with interest.
Meanwhile, Across the
they call proper racing,' meaning, I have come to learn, jumping. You may
find it hard to believe if you're sitting in the warm sun just now, but it has
been raining for weeks in Britain and Ireland, and the ground is very heavy
right now. Conditions were very testing at Newbury (in England on Saturday) and
Leopardstown (near Dublin on Sunday) for their key weekend meets, just five
weeks now from the Cheltenham Festival, the Royal Ascot (lose the morning
suits) of jump racing. One cautionary note is that Cheltenham is now a very
quick-draining track, and often the ground is good, or even faster. Soft-ground
form, which is what we're getting now, is often totally irrelevant by the time
they get to Cheltenham.
and Irish jump racing takes place over hurdles (smaller) and fences (bigger),
with a few 'bumpers' (flat races for jumps-bred horses), mainly at distances
between two miles (Champion Hurdle) and 3 1/4-miles (Cheltenham Gold Cup). The
Grand National, over 4 1/2 miles, is an anomaly.
any question the greatest hurdler I have ever seen, live or Memorex, is J.P.
McManus' Istabraq, a three-quarter brother (by Sadler's Wells) to Epsom Derby
winner Secreto (by Northern Dancer), and three-time winner of the Champion
Hurdle (1998, 1999, 2000--no Cheltenham, due to foot-and-mouth, last
is still the favorite to win his fourth, but he's now 10, and the Pretenders
are snapping at his heels, at least in the betting markets. One of the three
main pretenders, Sue Magnier's Ned Kelly, is actually 'jumps-bred' (he's by
current leading jumps sire Be My Native, by Our Native, by Exclusive Native, by
Raise a Native), but the other two main pretenders, like many hurdlers
especially, are straight off the flat: Valiramix (by Linamix), and Landing
Light (by In the Wings).
were two heavy-ground Cheltenham Gold Cup trials last weekend, won by Lady
Lloyd-Webber's Bacchanal (by Bob Back, a 10-furlong Group 1 winner by Roberto)
and Alexander Banquet (by Glacial Storm, by Arctic Tern). They are two of seven
or eight horses quoted under 12-1 in the Gold Cup betting, headed by 2000
winner Looks Like Trouble. He is by Zaffaran, by the way, a SW half brother (by
Assert) to none other than Shareef Dancer. Other leading contenders are by Un
Desperado (son of Top Ville), Arazi, and Shernazar.
about separating the men from the boys. The Cheltenham Gold Cup--that's 3 1/4
miles, with an uphill finish, jumping about 20 fences along the way. It looks
like being a vintage meet, and the Gold Cup is the showpiece of the last of the
meet's three days, Thursday, Mar. 14. That really could be one of the great
races we'll ever see. And you thought the GI Florida Derby was the week's most
small dash of number-crunching this week; it's to do with stallions who were
sold to Japan. In the early 1990s, when the American and European markets were
mired in recession, the Japanese bought big. They dominated the markets in
those years, buying yearlings like A.P. Indy and stallions like Sunday Silence.
Since 1995 their purchases have leveled off, but even so most of the Japanese
sires with current APEX ratings came from Europe or America, either to begin
their stud careers, or after they had already been at stud. About 40 of them
had stood elsewhere, and a few of those have already come back. You have to
keep in mind that the money in Japan is very heavily weighted towards older
horses. Most Japanese stallions' age ratings improve dramatically at four and
five. But, with that in mind, here are a few numbers to chew over (covering
(oldest 4yos of 2001): 147 Runners,' No A Runners - 0.00 A
Europe, from previous crops: 334 Runners, 22 A Runners - 3.29 A
now back in Europe, at Plantation Stud (GB)
Japan: 286 Runners, 3 A Runners - 0.52 A Index
Europe (French crops): 349 Runners, 10 A Runners - 1.43 A Index
now back in Europe, at Cheveley Park Stud (GB)
(oldest 5yos+): 149 Runners, No A Runners - 0.00 A Index
Europe: 281 Runners, 12 A Runners - 2.14 A Index
now back in Europe, at Ballylinch Stud (Ire)
(oldest 5yos+): 493 Runners, 9 A Runners - 0.91 A Index
from previous crops: 695 Runners, 39 A Runners - 2.81 A Index
(oldest 4yos): 222 Runners, 4 A Runners - 0.90 A Index
435 Runners, 33 A Runners - 3.79 A Index
(oldest 3yos?): 118 Runners, 1 A Runner - 0.42 A Index
363 Runners, 17 A Runners - 2.24 A Index
(oldest 4yos?): 106 Runners, 1 A Runner - 0.47 A Index
594 Runners, 20 A Runners - 1.68 A Index
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