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.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prince of Wales's Stakes 2014: The Fugue

The Fugue working at the 2013 Breeders' Cup - BNB Photo
The featured race of Royal Ascot’s Wednesday card, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Gr-I) promised to be one of the year’s best contests.  Last year’s brilliant Arc victress, Treve would be making her first career start outside of France, and she was anticipated to become the first filly to win the race in eight years.  Treve would have to outrun five of Europe’s top older horses:  the striking 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) winner, Magician, and that race’s runner-up The Fugue; the imposing Mukhadram, the consistent Parish Hall, and the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf champion, Dank.

Despite Treve’s awesome talent, she would not become the first filly to win the Prince of Wales’s in eight years.  Instead, it was The Fugue who added her name to the race’s prestigious list of winners.  The Fugue’s final time was a course record-breaking 2:01.90 on good to firm footing.

Trainer John Gosden gave regular rider William Buick the leg up onto The Fugue for her third try at Royal Ascot glory.  Though having a fantastic résumé which included the narrow second to Magician at the Breeders’ Cup, there were some doubts due to her lackluster effort in the Dubai Duty Free (Gr-I) – her only start of the year.  However, The Fugue looked trained to the minute as she galloped to the post.

The dark bay was slow from the starting gates and angled inward behind the leading four as they approached the first turn.  The Fugue raced at Treve’s side, striding behind Magician.  As the field straightened, Elkaayed drew away to fulfill his role as an uninfluential rabbit.  Magician comfortably strode into the pacemaker’s previous position and The Fugue followed.

Into the home straight, William Buick guided his mount into a clear path on the outside.  As other horses tapped into their reserves for a finishing kick, The Fugue calmly maintained her position and, once asked, she willingly passed the leading Magician.  She drew away well under steady urging, and crossed the wire with a 1 ¾ length margin.  In winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, she gave John Gosden his second victory of the 2014 meet, and Buick his first.

After the race, Buick remarked, “She's been an absolute star for me and everyone back at the yard. She proved today what she can do against top-class horses.

“When she gets an uncomplicated run it's no bother to her. When she has a clear run at them she's lethal.”

Though Treve offered a commendable third place, defeated by only 2 ¾ lengths, she clearly did not seem herself when striding down to the start and throughout the running of the race.  Her trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, said, “I was not happy with the way she was moving. She didn't stretch out like she usually does. Her action didn't please me at all. Maybe we'll find something wrong. We have lost the battle, not the war.”  Head-Maarek continued, “I am going to put her in longer distance races as they'll go slower and it will be easier for her. It is the 18th of June today - the Battle of Waterloo. It is just a French defeat.”

Treve jockey, Frankie Dettori, commented, “When she was going to the start she wasn't the 'real' Treve. In the back of my mind I thought we were in trouble and I thought at the start she would loosen up.  She ran a good third but it is not the Treve we know. Something was definitely wrong.”

Kingman Rules at Royal Ascot

Kingman before winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas (Gr-I) on May 24 - All Photos Courtesy Laura Battles
Mankind has harnessed the horse’s power and constantly influences it with the dreams of creating the idealized equine athlete - Kingman.  The bay colt assured his place atop this year’s three-year-old crop when winning the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Kingman winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas
In the meet’s opening race, the Queen Anne Stakes (Gr-I), the triumphant Toronado had set a high standard for the promising contenders in his contest’s three-year-old equivalent, the St James’s Palace.  Nonetheless, a strong cast of colts confidently galloped to the post on a sunny day.  Our protagonist would oppose Toormore, Europe’s top rated juvenile of 2013; the Dewhurst Stakes (Gr-I) winning War Command, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) champion, Outstrip, and all contenders would have to race against a stubborn headwind.
In the lineup, Night of Thunder was Kingman’s most threatening rival.  The eventual St James’s Palace winner had faced the chestnut colt in two of his past three starts.  In their first meeting, the Greenham Stakes (Gr-III), Kingman crossed the wire victorious with a dominant 4 ½ length margin over the runner-up Night of Thunder.  
However, the vanquished colt turned the tables on Kingman next time out: in the 206th renewal of the 2,000 Guineas (Gr-I), Night of Thunder won with a ½ length score over his rival.  This Classic victory sparked a debate regarding which horse possessed more prowess, and racegoers eagerly anticipated their rematch in the St James’s Palace. 
With James Doyle aboard in the Juddmonte colors, Kingman broke from the outside post in the seven horse event.  Doyle calmly tucked him behind horses and his mount momentarily matched strides with the last-placed War Command on the rail.  However, Kingman would slightly advance his position. Positioned at the heels of Toormore, he maintained a fluid stride as the field swept around the bend. 
As the field raced towards the noise of the crowd, Kingman naturally quickened his turn of foot.  Nearing the final furlong marker, Doyle summoned Kingman’s amazing drive and instantly throttled past the leading Night of Thunder and the final post victorious by 2 ¼ lengths. 
Thrilled by having given Kingman a trip that would hush the horse’s doubters, James Doyle lifted a silencing finger to his lips as his mount shot across the wire.  Kingman won with a time of 1:39.06, which can be easily disregarded due to the headwind and lack of speed in the track.
A joyous Doyle remarked upon returning to the grandstand side, “It was awesome; that's the best way to describe it.”  He continued, “They just can't go quick enough for him, even when you go it seems as if you're going too soon.”
In the winner’s enclosure, trainer John Gosden stated Kingman will be enjoying small break from his campaign, having already started four times this year.

Defeated in only one start, Kingman has always shown bright potential.  He made his first-ever start in late June 2013 at Newmarket.  In the seven furlong event on good ground, he faced ten other juveniles.  The Invincible Spirit son led over one furlong out and charged on to win with a 6 length score over Adhwaa.  With Ryan Moore in the irons, Kingman stopped the clock in 1:24.30.
He did not start again until August 31’s Solario Stakes (Gr. III) at Sandown.  While the post-time favorite would race at the same distance as his career debut, he would be ridden by James Doyle for the first time.  Kingman was steadied and held up after the start, but linked with the leader two furlongs out.  Under urging, he quickened and gained the advantage one furlong out.  Though Kingman was in command, he showed his immaturity and drifted out nearing the final post.  Winning by two lengths, he completed the seven furlong event on good-to-firm footing with a final time of 1:28.38.
The Juddmonte home-bred would make his three-year-old debut in the Greenham on April 12.  The John Gosden trainee was sent off again as the favorite with James Doyle in the saddle.  During the early stages, he was restrained to the rear of the ten horse field, but made a smooth ascent to the lead when let loose.  Into the final furlong, he quickened and drew away with extraordinary ease and won with a 4 ½ length margin and time of 1:26.95.
After a respectable second to Night of Thunder in the 2,000 Guineas, Kingman had his penultimate start in the Irish 2,000 Guineas (Gr-I).  Though the ground came up as soft to heavy at the Curragh, he would win by five lengths over Shifting Power, but had a glacial final time of 1:47.29 for the one mile trek.

Kingman winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas