The Week in Review: Though Defeated a Huge Race for Smile Happy

Epicenter | Hodges Photography


The chart of the GII Risen Star S. run Saturday at the Fair Grounds will show you that the race was won by Epicenter (Not This Time) and that runner-up Smile Happy (Runhappy) was never a serious threat to win. It's just that there is a lot more to this story.

Expectations were high for Smile Happy coming into the Risen Star. He was 2-for-2 last year and his win in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. came at the expense of Classic Causeway (Giant's Causeway) and White Abarrio (Race Day). Classic Causeway won the GIII Sam F. Davis S. in his next start and White Abarrio captured the GIII Holy Bull S. in his 3-year-old debut. Colleague T.D. Thornton had Smile Happy on top in his TDN Derby Top 12 and Mattress Mack was out there doing his thing, helping to promote the horse who may be Runhappy's best offspring.

Smile Happy was made the 2-1 favorite, but with the way the race unfolded, he never had a serious chance.

Epicenter, a quality horse, was sent to the front by Joel Rosario and, going into the first turn, it looked like he might face some pressure. But Pioneer of Medina (Pioneerof the Nile) and Boddock (Street Boss) backed off. That left Epicenter alone on the lead. When he got through an opening half-mile in :47.94, it was clear that he was going to be hard to beat.

Meanwhile, Smile Happy was eighth in the 10-horse field down the backstretch. He probably could have won from there if the rest of his trip broke his way, but that didn't happen. Entering the far turn, jockey Corey Lanerie found himself bottled up between horses. Throughout the turn, he couldn't find a running lane and once he did he was still eighth. It looked the best he could do was fourth or fifth. But Smile Happy managed to close a good amount of ground inside the final 100 yards or so and was beaten just 2 3/4 lengths.

Finishing third, Zandon (Upstart) also put in a strong effort. He hopped at the start and was last early behind the slow pace. Despite all that, he lost by just 3 1/4 lengths.

After the race, trainer Ken McPeek said he had yet to decide what would be next for Smile Happy. The GII Louisiana Derby on Mar. 26 would be the logical spot. He'll surely get one more race before the Kentucky Derby to show why so many people were so high on him. Next time, he won't get beat.

Speaking of the Runhappys

Smile Happy, Runhappy's best colt, may have been beaten in the Risen Star, but it was far from a lost day Saturday for Jim McIngvale's favorite sire. At Oaklawn, the 3-year-old filly Happy Soul (Runhappy) came off a layoff of more than eight months to beat a good field in the Dixie Belle S. A decisive winner, she turned in an impressive effort.

When last seen, Happy Soul scored an 11 1/2-length win in the Astoria S. at Belmont. Considering that Happy Soul has never gone beyond six furlongs, a start in the GI Kentucky Oaks might be a stretch, but trainer Wesley Ward said the race is under consideration. Ward said she will make her next start in either the GI Ashland S. at 1 1/16 miles or the Apr. 10 GIII Beaumont S. at seven furlongs. Both races are at Keeneland. A start in the Ashland would mean that Ward is serious about the Oaks.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Starters Continue to Come Up Short

When Pappcap (Gun Runner) finished eighth in the Risen Star, it marked the latest loss by a horse who had run in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Pappacap was second in last year's Juvenile.

There were 11 starters in the Juvenile and not one has won since that race. They are a combined 0-for-9. Five Juvenile starters have not run since the Breeders' Cup, a list that includes winner Corniche (Quality Road). He has not had a workout this year and there have been no updates on his schedule. It is unlikely that trainer Bob Baffert will have him ready for the Derby.

Perseverance Pays Off For Cordmaker Connections

He may not be a superstar, but there are few horse in the sport that are more admirable than the 7-year-old Cordmaker (Curlin).

He was bought for $150,000 at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic Fall yearling sale by owner Ellen Charles and sent to trainer Rodney Jenkins. It was apparent early on what they had. Cordmaker, who was gelded before his career debut, was one of those tough old pros who just went out there and tried every single time.

He came into Saturday's GIII General George S. at Laurel with 13 career wins overall and nine stakes victories. But he had never won a graded stakes.

As last, he got it done, winning the General George by three-quarters of a length. It was his fourth straight win, all of them coming in stakes. At seven, he's never been better and with $989,640 in career earnings he could go over the $1-million mark in earnings in his next start.

The Marcus Vitali Meth Case

Marcus Vitali should have been thrown out of this sport a long time ago. His record is as bad as it gets. And shame on tracks like Turf Paradise and Presque Isle Downs that have opened their doors to him.

But that doesn't mean Vitali is guilty of the latest charge, a one-year suspension and a $10,000 fine handed down by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission after a horse he ran last summer at Presque Isle Downs tested positive for methamphetamine. Going to bat for Vitali, Todd Mostoller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horsemen at Penn National and Presque Isle Downs, said that the methamphetamine positive was a result of environmental contamination and that Vital should not have been suspended

He very well could have a point. Common sense says that giving a horse meth would not result in an improved performance and use of the drug by humans is rampant.

But the bigger issue is whether or not Vitali is being treated differently because he is, well, Marcus Vitali. Mostoller said there have been “three or four” other methamphetamine positives in recent months at Penn National and in all those cases it was ruled that the positive test was the result of environmental contamination and the trainers were not suspended.

In 2017, a Peter Miller-trained horse tested positive for methamphetamine after running in the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National. The Pennsylvania Racing Commission ruled that there were “mitigating circumstances” and fined Miller $1,500 but did not suspend him.

Vitali does have rights and should be treated like any other trainer. He's going to fight this and he may just win.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Breeders' Cup Releases Ballot for 2024 Members' Election
  2. Lukas Basks In Preakness Afterglow
  3. The Week In Review: Seize The Grey Won The Preakness; His Trainer's Glow Illuminates The Sport
  4. Derby Winner Mystik Dan To Ship To Saratoga, Decision On Belmont Awaits
  5. Surface, Location Provide the Draw as Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May Sale Opens Monday

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.