This Side Up

This Side Up: Another Fine Messier

Red Smith put it well; of course he did. So well, in fact, that he said it all over again. In 1975, writing one of the pieces that won a Pulitzer Prize the following year, Smith declared that Kentucky Derby week was "the only one in 52 when the instrument of Satan known as horse racing becomes a showpiece of the American sports scene." Four years later, back at the same point in the cycle, he wrote that little old ladies in Wisconsin would this week be glad to learn...

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This Side Up: Some Processions and a Funeral

Though yielding to few other Englishmen in stubbornly championing the merits of the speed-carrying dirt horse, I must admit that I have been somewhat less voluble over the past week. After so much anticipation, it felt like there were just too many Breeders' Cup races decided within strides of leaving the gate. Obviously track surface and configuration can often be a factor, but perhaps the proliferation of methods introduced from Quarter Horse training has also contributed to the times when dirt racing can appear lacking in subtlety. The GI Distaff,...

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This Side Up: A Showcase for Horses Born to Run

Now this, we can all agree, is just what a GI Longines Breeders' Cup Classic should look like. Three of the first four in the Derby, albeit not the one that may ultimately be credited as winner. And besides resolving the questions left open by that processional race at Churchill, they must also pick up the gauntlet thrown down by an older horse whose plain running style should leave no stone of merit unturned. A race, in other words, commensurate with the biggest prize of the American Turf, with the...

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This Side Up: A Warning Flare Illuminates Empress Bid

Nobody in our community is more eligible than Ted Bassett to say that he has seen it all before, but something will be attempted Saturday that falls outside even the long experience encompassed by his 100th birthday in just a few days' time. For a Keeneland showpiece that Mr. Bassett helped to inaugurate in 1984, as host to the lady for whom it was named, could well present one of her subjects with the opportunity to complete a unique double. First, in the backyard of Windsor Castle, William Haggas saddles...

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This Side Up: Back to Front Keeps the Breed Moving Forward

He really had to earn his stripes, his farm resorting to pretty desperate measures to keep him in the game as his early books dwindled along with his fee. But he has long since vindicated (as well as virtually trademarked) that farm's management style, evolving into one of the great stallions of our time--a status on which he set a formal seal last weekend with his 100th stakes winner. And his name is... Into Mischief. Or is it? Hang on a minute. Syllable for syllable, you can say exactly the...

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This Side Up: Grounds for Optimism

Surface tensions in our business have run pretty deep in recent years, nowhere more so than at Santa Anita. After a failed revolution, with a synthetic track, they eventually backed into a terrifying breakdowns crisis. Racing in California still has its problems, of course, not least the cloud currently over its premier barn--which, after that curious hesitation last week, instead gives its most controversial resident a home game Saturday in the GI Awesome Again S. But given our community's fury right now with another racetrack proprietor, who this week cashed...

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This Side Up: Quit Chasing the Dollar and Try Cruz Control

Assuming that you, too, have by this stage marvelled at the tenacity, balance and athleticism of Alex Cruz in winning a race despite losing both irons leaving the gate, at Emerald Downs last weekend, then perhaps you might also have been prompted to reassess our prejudices against the seat of the 18th Century guardsman. To the modern eye, the long-shanked equitation of those days appears ludicrous: awkward, stilted and, above all, inimical to the freedom of the horse's movement. We think of the elevation of the modern jockey, as popularized...

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This Side Up: Market Goes Back to the Future

The cyclical nature of our business, from the foaling shed to the race program, invites a length of perspective that can only be of comfort in times of trouble. This, too, shall pass--even a global pandemic. And if COVID disrupted our routines in 2020 as seldom before, with a September Derby and no Saratoga Sale, we appear determined to make as seamless a resumption as its lingering challenges allow. Trade at Saratoga last month was eerily close to 2019. Of 180 hips into the ring for Fasig-Tipton's Select Sale, 135...

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This Side Up: 'Doc' Was a Tonic to Us All

Three years ago this week, at the September Sale, I was privileged by as powerful a reminder as I'd enjoyed in a long time as to why this is such a great business. Not in the sale ring itself, watching the billionaires puffing out and locking antlers, but just sitting in the pavilion lobby with a guy who had been born in a one-room house to teenage parents--and had spent the intervening seven decades accumulating the kind of riches, being contingent on a mighty intellect and noble heart, that would...

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This Side Up: Seeking the Essence of Travers Quality

In an age that takes such relish in discovering offense where none is intended, I suppose we will eventually have to stop referring to a "Graveyard of Champions". Never mind that most horsemen would perceive a fairly benign destiny in themselves being laid to rest in Saratoga, with the implicit likelihood of an exit--a Parting Glass, indeed--achieved by some excess of bliss or excitement. For the squeamish tastes of today, the metaphor is doubtless becoming a little too sanguinary. Be that as it may, there's no denying that Saratoga's long...

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This Side Up: Asmussen Poised to Convert Silver to Gold

Could happen, you know. Within the random weavings of the Thoroughbred, after all, it's always tempting to discern some pattern suggestive of a coherent, governing narrative. And if Silver State (Hard Spun) were to win the GI Whitney S., and in the process happened to become the 9,446th winner saddled by his trainer, it might well feel as though 35 years of skill and endeavor, processed daily through random fluctuations of good or bad luck, have all led logically and inexorably to this pinnacle. The trouble is that whoever came...

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This Side Up: Haskell Throwbacks to the Future

So the big question is whether the out-of-town jocks, in the heat of a $1-million battle for the GI TVG.com Haskell S., can master the instinct to reach for the whip? If any lifelong flagellants are anxious of their self-discipline, then they need only play back the 1988 running and remind themselves how Laffit Pincay, Jr. coaxed Forty Niner home, in withering heat, by a nose from Seeking the Gold. The whip is unsheathed, for sure, but so seamlessly with the horse's own efforts that the overall effect is like...

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