This Side Up

This Side Up: Still Amending the Derby Agenda

We should have known better. The moment we deceived ourselves that we had a crossroads of perfect symmetry, with four standout colts converging inexorably on the first Saturday in May, one promptly limped off the trail and then last weekend another was beaten at odds-on. Nobody, then, will be making any assumptions when the other two complete their GI Kentucky Derby preparations, Concert Tour (Street Sense) in the GI Arkansas Derby next week and Essential Quality (Tapit) as the geographical and narrative pivot of three rehearsals staged coast to coast...

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This Side Up: Seconds Out for the Next Round

No getting away from it: even 107 previous runnings, a million bucks and 170 starting points can't dress up the recent misfortunes of the GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby as a springboard to the first Saturday in May. Maybe that's because it falls between stools, in terms of scheduling, the previous cycle of rehearsals having left trainers scope for one more start before the GI Kentucky Derby. Not many around, nowadays, who'd even be thinking about running again with just six weeks to go. Credit to the Fair Grounds team, then,...

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This Side Up: River Levels Rising

They used to say that when you think you have two Epsom colts in your stable, you don't have any. The axiom has long since been decommissioned, however, by the skills of Aidan O'Brien and his patrons, albeit with the inane complicity of a commercial market that is disastrously diluting competition. And it looks as though it no longer transfers to the GI Kentucky Derby, either. Having (eventually) landed running with champion Essential Quality (Tapit), and with Caddo River (Hard Spun) and Mandaloun (Into Mischief) testing their own credentials over...

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This Side Up: It's Elementary as Fire Tests Water on Dirt

On the day that the leading grass juvenile of 2020 rolls the dice on the GI Kentucky Derby trail, here's a really important question for every American horseman. Just what was it about European turf star Mishriff (Ire) that qualified him to run down as irresistible a dirt runner as Charlatan (Speightstown) for the richest prize in our sport last weekend? The answer is so straightforward that it condenses into a single word, yet the implications continue to elude almost everyone in our industry. And that word is: opportunity. There...

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This Side Up: Proxy Steps In to Try that Unique Fit

Derby dreams at this time of year can prove as ephemeral as the vapours rising into the glacial air of Hot Springs. But the owner of the champion juvenile knows perfectly well that plans, with Thoroughbreds, can only ever be provisional--and that the postponement of Monday's Oaklawn card is a relatively trivial inconvenience to Essential Quality (Tapit). To recall the graver vexations that can unravel a Derby colt, Sheikh Mohammed needs only rewind to the last cycle, and the last colt that offered to requite perhaps the greatest single ambition...

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This Side Up: One Last Apple from the Cox Orchard

How aptly we talk of our walk of life as the Turf. Because raising a horse is just like raising a lawn. Take a microscope out there, if you like, but no human being has actually seen grass grow. Yet one morning toward the end of winter, the birdsong sounds different and you realize you left your coat on the peg without thinking about it. And you look at that lawn and, no argument, it's time to take the mower out of its stable. That moment remains a long way...

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This Side Up: Honor Abides in Pegasus of Clipped Wings

It's the obvious question in South Florida this week. Back in January 2017, everything was henceforth going to be different. The language was brash, it was immoderate, it certainly wasn't to the taste of traditionalists. But like it or not, it looked a game-changer. Yet here we all are, four years on, asking whether the whole project has failed; or whether, despite its apparent humiliation, it retains enough momentum never to permit a return to the old ways? No, we're not talking about the latest senior citizen to retire to...

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This Side Up: Manners Maketh Mandaloun

How ironic, that a man with a nearly anguished instinct for self-effacement should have left so indelible an impression on our walk of life--one he strolled so quietly that he insisted on registering his silks, with The Jockey Club in Britain, simply in the name of Mr. K. Abdullah. How many others who covet the Turf's great prizes, in contrast, elbow their way through the crowd in preening advertisement of their wealth and acuity? If we learn much about such people from their presumption of some deeper dignity, from a...

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This Side Up: A Channel of American Merit

It doesn't make me mad anymore. Maybe it's just the idealism of youth ebbing away. But I have also begun to understand the virtue of markets. If people want to breed to unproven stallions, that's their prerogative. I can always buy a mare, send her to a sire of runners, and see y'all in the starting gate. If I'm right, the odds are in my favor; I get value from the market. And if I'm wrong, well, no need to be angry. Even in setting all that aside, however, it's...

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This Side Up: John Keeps Bob Honest In Sham

We all trust that life must be better in 2021. But the immediate question is whether it will be 'Good' or maybe 'Sweet'? Right now, I'd settle for either. But it certainly looks an auspicious coincidence that the first race to sharpen focus on the Triple Crown trail--the opening leg of an adventure that reliably sustains us year in, year out--should include, among just five runners, one colt named Life Is Good and another out of Life Is Sweet (Storm Cat). Their respective trainers, Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs, dominate...

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This Side Up: The Elusive Lesson of 'Can't Miss' Sires

He has trademarked the move, his name reliably invoked whenever a horse picks off his rivals with the kind of flair that luminously separates him from the herd. Yet just about the only time I ever saw one glide through an elite field with quite the same extraterrestrial contempt as Arazi (Blushing Groom {Fr}) in the 1991 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile was the following May, at the same track, when that nimbus-among-the-shadows exhibition was reprised along the backstretch by a horse called... Arazi. His discovery of mortal limitations, both in...

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This Side Up: If You Can Run, You Won't Have to Hide

"When you figure it out, let me know." Those were the parting words of a highly esteemed breeder this week, after we exchanged a few thoughts on the diminishing viability of stallions once they have covered their first book of mares. Not that "diminishing," as an adjective, is really equal to the case. I suppose you could diminish down a lift shaft, but it wouldn't be the first word that would occur to you in the time available. Spoiler alert: I haven't figured it out. But I think I know...

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