Friday, May 15, 2015

American Pharoah Aims at the 2015 Preakness Stakes

Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah in the prep race, the Arkansas Derby - photo courtesy Tom Ferry

American Pharoah was a solid winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).  In the run for the roses, he overcame breaking from the unfortunate eighteenth post.  In the Preakness, he will break from the first gate.  In a field of eight horses, he should get a clear shot at the lead from post one.  With this draw, he will get a short trip close to the rail.

American Pharoah had a nearly ideal trip in the Kentucky Derby, despite his wide post position.  He settled comfortably in third behind Dortmund’s pace of 23.24, 47.34, and 1:11.26 for the opening quarter, half, and three-quarter mile.  

 Out of the turn, Gary Stevens aboard Firing Line pressured American Pharoah to drift five paths wide, but he was able to maintain his momentum early in the homestretch run.  However, he did lose some speed when he drifted back towards the rail, passing Firing Line.  Under Victor Espinoza’s vehement urging, American Pharoah overtook Firing Line to win the Kentucky Derby by one length.  His final time for the 1 ¼ mile journey was 2:03.02.  After the race, Espinoza stated, “He has been a special horse since the first time I rode him. He has a lot of talent and is an unbelievable horse. Turning for home I started riding a little bit harder. At the eighth pole I just couldn't put that other horse [Firing Line] away, but he got it done."  This win aboard American Pharoah gave Espinoza his second consecutive Derby win, and his third overall.  Last year, he won aboard California Chrome, and aboard the Bob Baffert-trained War Emblem in 2002.  

American Pharoah has handled the two week break between the Derby and Preakness Stakes well.  On the Tuesday morning leading up to the Preakness, American Pharoah galloped 1 ½ miles over Pimlico’s dirt.  His trainer, Bob Baffert, commented, “American Pharoah, he is something to see out there.  He just floats over the track.”  

The son of Pioneerof the Nile is obviously coming into the Preakness Stakes at a solid fitness level, and should not have many excuses for a loss in the Triple Crown’s second jewel.  In this 1 3/16 mile contest, he will face Firing Line and stablemate Dortmund.  In the past twenty years, the top three Kentucky Derby finishers have run in the Preakness only seven times.  In the Preakness, American Pharoah is likely to be the first to the wire over Firing Line and Dortmund respectively.  While American Pharoah and Firing Line are close in quality, it seems that the Derby winner will get the advantage again. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Can California Chrome Dominate Dubai?

 California Chrome - Photo by Bunny Hinzman

Yes. But…
Reigning Horse of the Year, California Chrome, completed his final work in North America on March 13 before leaving for the prestigious Dubai World Cup (Gr-I).  The impressive chestnut colt recorded a seven furlong gallop on Los Almitos’ dirt oval.  In front of a crowd of fifty fans, California Chrome completed the work in 1:23.80.  “He worked excellent today,” trainer Art Sherman said. “In the final work before Dubai, he looked awesome. It was pretty impressive.”  The trainer also commented, “He's a lot stronger horse right now.  He's been training awesome. It's about as good as I've seen him train since I've had him.”

Trainer Art Sherman stated the near-Triple Crown winner would ship to Dubai on March 17.  He also said the colt would work once at Meydan, likely over four furlongs, three days out from the Dubai World Cup which will be held on March 28.

California Chrome has not lost any respect, even when he finished third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).  The son of Lucky Pulpit was beaten narrowly by fellow three-year-olds Bayern and the international challenger, Toast of New York.  The Kentucky Derby winning California Chrome was three and one-half lengths ahead of the unfortunate Shared Belief. 

At the end of November, he erased all doubts of his worthiness for Horse of the Year and Three-Year-Old Male when he won the Hollywood Derby (GI), held at Del Mar.  Making the switch over to turf, he was anxious to establish the early lead on the inside.  However, running into the first turn, he surrendered the pace to Sawyer’s Hill.  Through the middle of the race, he remained in his usual stalking position.   

Into the final turn, he closed in on the pacesetter and made his bid coming into the home straight.  California Chrome achieved the lead coming into the stretch run and drew away.  With command, he won by two lengths over Lexie Lou.  His final time for the nine furlong contest was a good 1:47.88.

However, his most recent start does raise a concern for his chances in Dubai.  California Chrome was a soundly defeated runner-up to a talented Shared Belief in the San Antonio Invitational Stakes (GII) in early February.  Though under a slight hold, California Chrome looked exceptional throughout the early stages of the race. 

Entering the final turn, jockey Victor Espinoza allowed California Chrome to advance prematurely.  The brilliant chestnut took the lead by a half-length with ease and looked as if he was the decided winner.  Mike Smith aboard Shared Belief wisely followed not far behind, and when California Chrome tired nearing the wire, the dark bay rival took over and achieved victory. 

Despite coming off a two month absence from race day, California Chrome seemed supremely fit.  One cannot doubt he will be well-prepared for the Dubai World Cup at the end of this month. 

Any doubts regarding his chances in the world’s richest race lie not with his ability, but the ride his jockey may give him.  Previous starts, such as the Belmont and San Antonio, California Chrome was not been able to overcome his rides.  In the early running of the Belmont, California Chrome acquired a lucrative position on the rail stalking the pace.  However, Espinoza allowed his mount to become complacent and subsequently he lost his position.  Trapped behind pacesetters establishing slow fractions, California Chrome was unable to get into a comfortable stride and was eventually forced to travel five paths wide around Belmont’s exhaustingly wide final turn.

Assuming California Chrome is physically well-prepared for the Dubai World Cup, and his jockey is up to the challenge, it is easy to imagine he has a strong chance at taking the winner’s share of the $10 million purse. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays from Bits N' Bunny

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and all the best in 2015!

Declaration of War (2013)
Graphite Pencil - by Bunny Hinzman

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Great Grey Gatsby

The Grey Gatsby (outside) winning over Australia in the Irish Champion Stakes (Gr-I) - All photos courtesy Jason Doyle
2014 has produced a strong three-year-old male division in North America and abroad.  Most popular of the colts in Europe are Australia and Kingman, but The Grey Gatsby has gone under the radar despite some quality efforts this year.  He has proven himself as a top class horse throughout his 2014 campaign and perhaps now he will reap the recognition he deserves. 

Most recently, The Grey Gatsby took down Australia in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Gr-I) at Leopardstown.  After the victory, his trainer Kevin Ryan remarked, “Now the horse will get the credit he deserves because he hasn’t had it yet.”
The Grey Gatsby after winning the Irish Champion Stakes

Though having won the prestigious Prix du Jockey Club (Gr-I) earlier this season, the Irish Champion seems to be The Grey Gatsby’s best performance of the season.  The seven horse field included a top class cast of horses such as Trading Leather, Mukhadram, and Al Kazeem. 

In the Irish Champion Stakes, jockey Ryan Moore kept The Grey Gatsby in the rear of the field throughout the early fractions.  Having conserved ground and energy, The Grey Gatsby burst forward one furlong from the wire and pursued Australia, who was well in the lead with a strong drive.  In the 1 ¼ mile contest, the nearly white colt tackled the favorite in a matter of strides and got his neck in front passing the final post.  On good to firm ground, he completed the race in 2:03.18

Kevin Ryan commented, “I’m immensely proud of the horse and it was a great ride.  He saved a lot of ground on the inside and was passing horses without doing a lot.  When I saw him picking up, I thought he’d go close.

“He won’t go for the Arc.” He added. “He might go to Ascot for the Champion Stakes if he runs again but he stays in training next year when he’ll start off in the Duty Free in Dubai.”

Moore said, “My horse is improving and he was impressive in France and very good in the Juddmonte [International Stakes (Gr-I)].  I thought Australia would be hard to beat but that mine would come on from York. 

“They went a good gallop but my horse tries really hard.  He travels well and you just have to give him a target to aim at and he’ll chase it.

“They both ran a good race to pull clear like that.  Hopefully mine can improve a bit more.”

The Grey Gatsby has started seven times this year, winning three times and placing second on two occasions.  The Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes (Gr-III) was his first outing of 2014, and in this race, he was second beaten two lengths by Toormore.  In all starts leading up to this race, he had been ridden by Graham Lee, but Jamie Spencer got the leg up in this outing.

Less than two weeks after his tenth in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas, The Grey Gatsby won the 10 furlong Betfred Dante Stakes (Gr-II) by ¾ lengths with Ryan Moore aboard for the first time. 

This victory was followed by the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly.  In the 11 furlong event, he was opposed by fifteen rivals and raced in midfield on the rail.  Angling out into the stretch, he closed on the leaders with a ¼ mile to spare and led entering the final furlong.  The Grey Gatsby drew away to win with a three length margin over Shamkiyr and a final time of 2:05.58.

Next time out, he was sixth-best in the Juddmonte Prix de Paris (Gr-I) contested on very soft ground at Longchamp.  Prior to that race, he had never been tested at the 12 furlong distance.  However, he showed great ability in his proceeding start, the Juddmonte International Stakes (Gr-I) where he was second, beaten two lengths, by Australia at 10 furlongs on good to firm ground.   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Telescope Comes Into Focus at Royal Ascot

Telescope is a vintage racehorse - his muscularity, length, and elegance are reminiscent of pivotal sires such as St Simon.  The dark colt is a regal, long-bodied figure capable of great inspiration and prowess.

A son of the brilliant stallion, Galileo, Telescope never raced as a juvenile.  However, he showed promise the following year.  As a consequence of injury, Telescope wasn’t able to achieve his connections’ hopes at three, but raced five times, never finished worse than second, and built a solid résumé that includes Group wins.

Favored by the betting public in the 2014 Hardwicke Stakes (Gr-II), the four-year-old had been training well and appeared in good form.  Described as a “free sweater” before his races, he began perspiring in the paddock due to his nerves and the oppressive heat, and was thoroughly sponged down. 

The spectators anticipated this colt would enjoy the good-to-firm ground at Ascot.  Telescope had only two starts this season, finishing second to Frankel’s full-brother and eventual 2014 Tattersalls Gold Cup (Gr-I) winner, Noble Mission, by nine lengths and 2 ¼ lengths respectively on soft turf.  Notably, Telescope’s first-ever start was a narrow runner-up performance last September on Ascot’s good-to-firm ground.

Saturday’s Royal Ascot crowds focused on Telescope as he went to the post for the Hardwicke with Ryan Moore aboard.  The leading jockey of the meet looked to secure his top standing with his ride on Telescope, who he had ridden in all but two of his starts.  Breaking from the eighth stall, the imposing colt settled just off the leaders in fourth through the early stages of the 1 ½ mile event. 

Just inside the three furlong marker, Moore pressured his charge for his best effort.  Telescope responded instantly with an impressive surge, throttling the vanguard and driving clear into the final furlong to win by a dominating seven length score.  The potent colt won the ten horse race with a striking final time of 2:27.45, provided trainer Sir Michael Stoute with his eighth win in the King Edward VII, and completed a jockey/trainer double for closing Saturday.

After the victory, Ryan Moore remarked, “He's got a real good attitude in his races now.  It probably wasn't the strongest Hardwicke, but I was delighted with the he did everything during the race and he stayed on very well. He sees that trip out very well; 10 [furlongs] has just been a bit short for him the last twice.”

Harry Herbert, managing director for owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, commented, “He travelled very well at Chester, but when I let him down he struggled on that ground. This was obviously a career best and hopefully he can push on from here.” He added, “He had his ground today and over the right trip it was a hell of a performance. Sir Michael will make the decisions but you'd be pretty bonkers to say the King George [VII and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr-I)] is not the obvious race having performed like that.”

Eagle Top Soars at Royal Ascot

When Kingman won the St James’s Palace Stakes (Gr-I) on opening day of Royal Ascot, few people expected trainer John Gosden would strike again with another bold three-year-old colt in the King Edward VII Stakes (Gr-II) on the Friday card.  Offering one of the most inspiring performances of the Royal Ascot meeting, the flaming red Eagle Top stormed passed the final post with an astonishing last-to-first drive.

The son of Pivotal was the most inexperienced colt of the King Edward VII, having only two starts to his record.  Never sent out as a juvenile, Eagle Top made his career debut on April 12, in a thirteen horse contest on Newbury’s turf.   In the 1 3/8 mile race on good ground, rider William Buick restrained him towards the back of the field through the early stages.  Inside the final furlong, he ran on strongly and took the lead entering the final forty yards.  The muscular colt won comfortably by ½ lengths over Automated, and finished with a final time of 2:27.68.

In his second start, Eagle Top was a close fourth-best in a 1 ½ mile contest at Leicester.  At Royal Ascot, John Gosden explained, “There were a lot of long faces coming home on the bus from Leicester last time, but his blood was upside down when we checked a few days later, so we gave him a long rest.”

The Lady Bamford homebred entered the King Edward VII for his Group class debut, where he would face a promising set of colts.  In his three race career, it was the first time he went to the post without favoritism. 

Instead, it was Adelaide who bettors fancied.  The relaxed dark bay had finished second in the Prix Hocquart (Gr-II) on good to soft ground at Longchamp, then went on to win the Curragh’s Gallinule Stakes (Gr-III) later that month by three lengths on soft turf.  His Ballydoyle connections believed he would fare better on quicker ground, and felt positive about their chances in the King Edward VII.

As the physical standout of the field, Eagle Top looked a picture when galloping to the post with potent legs.  After the start, the colt settled comfortable in last throughout the early stages of the King Edward VII. 

He travelled well over the good to firm footing, and angled into the widest path to pursue the leaders.  When Buick asked for Eagle Top’s quickened turn of foot two furlongs out, the inexperienced colt responded instantly with nuclear speed, but showed greenness by drifting in the stretch.  With striking ease, he overwhelmed the leading Adelaide and was superior by 3 ¼ lengths at the final post.  Eagle Top’s final time was a strong 2:27.98 for the 1 ½ mile race.

Following the victory, William Buick said, “We have so much belief in this horse," said Buick. "He was relaxed, he has all the attributes of a top, top racehorse.  There was a good gallop like you would expect in a race like this, so he was able to make up a lot of ground.” The rider added, “He wasn't up to racing last year, but he's a really classy horse. What we've always liked about him is his ability to quicken and he has a lovely turn of foot.”

Winning her first race at Royal Ascot, Lady Bamford remarked, “I feel weak at the knees.   It was a beautiful ride, set up by a beautiful trainer.  He's very under-exposed, but he really showed his form today.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leading Light Shines in the Gold Cup

Leading Light - All Photos Courtesy Jason Doyle
By denying Estimate’s place in history as one of the few multiple Gold Cup (Gr-I) winners, Leading Light kept to his winning ways under an exceptional ride from Joseph O’Brien.  The impressive Montjeu son provided Aidan O’Brien with his sixth victory in this race – the most any trainer has had in the Gold Cup.  “I'm so lucky to have the horses and work with the people that I do.”  Aidan O’Brien said after the race. “I'm in a very lucky position and the lads have unbelievable horses with unbelievable pedigrees and it (Ballydoyle) is an unbelievable place to train from.”
Leading Light after winning the 2013 Gallinule Stakes
At the 2014 Royal Ascot meeting, The Ballydoyle contingent had been struggling, and suffered further disappointment when their well-fancied juvenile, The Great War, gave a lackluster effort in Thursday’s opening race, the Norfolk Stakes (Gr-II).  However, the striking Montjeu daughter, Bracelet, broke the losing streak two races later in the Ribblesdale Stakes (Gr-II), the race prior to the Gold Cup.  

In the daunting 2 ½ mile Gold Cup, Leading Light went to post as the favorite with high hopes of overthrowing last year’s victess, Estimate.  Wearing the silks of Her Majesty the Queen, Ryan Moore rode Estimate down to the start in her attempt to overcome her 240 day break from racing.  Nonetheless, she appeared in fit condition as she loaded into her gate. 

Leading Light started from the second-outermost post slightly awkwardly and jumped to the outside.  However, he did not lose ground and gradually moved closer to the field.  During the early stages, he seemed to cover the ground with a low head and heavy stride, but appeared to become more comfortable as the race progressed.  O’Brien tucked Leading Light in fourth just off Brown Panther’s rump, and the eventual winner strode easily in the peloton of the field. 

As the pace quickened on the final turn, O’Brien angled the four-year-old colt to the outside.  Though he did not get an immediate response when urging Leading Light, eventually the colt quickened his tempo.  Into the home straight, O’Brien was diligent to keep Leading Light straight in his path, tight on the side of a trapped Estimate.  The reigning filly’s jockey, Ryan Moore, searched for running room between Brown Panther and Leading Light, but realized there was no chance of an opening and cut to the inside where he could fully unleash his charge.

The four leaders drove across the course.  Under left-handed encouragement, Leading Light squeezed in towards Brown Panther, Estimate, and Missunited, but did not interfere.  The Montjeu son then bolted towards the grandstand, but straightened and moved back in under a correctional whip.  At the final post, Leading Light was a neck superior over Estimate with a final time of 4:21.09 for the 2 ½ mile journey. 

After the Gold Cup, Joseph O’Brien said, “When you win it is always a good ride, there's no such thing as a bad winning ride. I kept a straight line. Ryan [Moore] was looking for a bit of room but I was entitled to keep a straight line.

“He had a little look when he got to the front and then went a bit to his left. He's a big, lazy horse but I think he's better at a mile and six.

“I was rowing away on him but I had loads left, I was trying to hold off asking for everything for as long as I could. Ryan gave me a bit of help by coming up my inside as he pushed me along a bit – this fellow is as tough as nails.”

Aidan O'Brien commented, “He's idle, but he was in a lovely position and settled well.  He was very lazy when he got there. Joseph was trying to keep him with company.”  He continued, “We were worried about two and half miles as he's out of a Queen Mary winner. He's a horse we thought could go back to a King George maybe, but he was up there for the last half a mile and after two miles.  You never know what is going to happen.”

Leading Light had raced only once this year, at Navan on May 18 in the Vintage Crop Stakes (Gr-III).  As the favorite of that event, the brawny bay won the fourteen furlong contest by three lengths over Royal Diamond.  However, his 2013 form is what made him the bettor’s choice for the Gold Cup.  Last year, he won all his outings with the exception of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr-I).  The highlight of his three Group class wins last season was the St. Leger Stakes (Gr-I) in September.