Monday, February 27, 2012

A Force to be Reckoned With: Arm Force

I featured this full brother to 14 length Dubai World Cup victor Well Armed on my blog as one of my auction selections for Keeneland’s two-year-old sale in April 2011. Arm Force has been on my radar since he failed to meet his reserve of $450,000, and he has begun to follow his older brother’s footsteps to success.
Arm Force, racing without Lasix for Bill Casner, made his first start in mid-January.  With John Velazquez in the irons, he finished a distant fifth over Gulfstream Park's dirt course.  The Eoin Harty trainee, equipped with a shadowroll, came back to race again at Gulfstream Park on February 26th, but had Julien Leparoux in the irons and was starting with blinkers.

Upon breaking from the eighth gate in this seven furlong event, Arm Force’s large stride and rapid turn of foot was instantly apparent. He raced in third between horses with minor restraint from Leparoux, and took over second place after the opening ¼ mile in :22.46. Arm Force was only a neck behind Spin Out for most of the contest, and raced on the outside. Under Leparoux’s right-handed urging at the top of the homestretch, Arm Force took the lead away from Spin Out, who slightly interfered with him as he passed. Arm Force drew away mid-stretch, and crossed the wire with a time of 1:23.17. Having a winning margin of 3 ¾ lengths against ten others, Arm Force breezed out beautifully, seeming as if he could handle a farther distance.

During the breeze-outs at the sale, I noted his potent, elongated stride, as well as his resemblance to Well Armed. As a racing three-year-old, he put these same qualities on display at the racetrack.  Though Arm Force appears to carry his head slightly high while racing, he exhibits an overall efficient running style.  His impressive build demonstrates the consistency of the cross between Tiznow, and Well Dressed, the dam of Arm Force and Well Armed.  Arm Force, who was foaled in April, appears to be notably well-proportioned for a young three-year-old.  In addition to this important asset, he is a particularly commanding, fit horse with strong hindquarters, and depth through his heart girth. Arm Force’s muscularity does not seem to weigh him down, as many horses’ brawniness does.  Arm Force is an outstanding example of the equine athlete, being light and agile, yet sturdy and robust.

Arm Force’s talent would easily rank him amongst my “Derby Darlings”, but he was not included in this series because I am concerned he will not attain the required amount of Graded Stakes earnings quickly enough.  Arm Force possesses a large amount of talent, and could possibly become a force in the other Triple Crown races.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gamilati: The Girl's Got Game

This year’s installment of the Dubai World Cup and its undercard promise a night of racing with the highest-quality horses in the world.  One of the many horses I look forward to watching is the Godolphin-owned Gamilati.  This three year old filly who most recently won the UAE 1,000 Guineas could run in either the UAE Derby or the fillies’ version of that race, the UAE Oaks.  Regardless of where her connections choose to start her, she is a force that must not go unnoticed.  Gamilati’s distance favoring pedigree will help her to win longer races and she appears to be on the improve.

Gamilati, trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni, was coming off a 2 ¾ length victory in a trial race for the UAE 1,000 Guineas, and garnered 85% of the win pool money in international tote for the UAE 1,000 Guineas.  The trial race was her first start of the year.  Previously, she had finished in last place in a Group II event as a juvenile, but this was the only exception to a solid two-year-old campaign consisting of one win and two second places.

In the early stages of the race, Gamilati rounded the field that was led by what appeared to be a rapid pace.  She began gaining on the leaders by travelling three wide around the turn of this one mile event contested over a tapeta surface.  Jockey Frankie Dettori steadied Gamilati into Meydan Racecourse’s home straight, and brought her around the entire field in mid-stretch.  Once the daughter of Bernardini was clear, she showed the field her heels by drawing away to win by an effortless 5 ½ lengths.  Gamilati covered one mile in 1:38.84.  Heavy favorites in the UAE 1,000 Guineas have been defeated in the past three of four runnings of the race (Last year’s victor, Mahbooba, broke the trend).  Second across the wire was her stablemate, Pimpernel, who is also owned by Godolphin.  After Gamilati’s win, Sheikh Mohammed said, “Everything’s open,” meaning that she could run in either the UAE Oaks, the UAE Derby, or she could skip both races and ship to Newmarket.

Bold Ruler and Princequillo Reign Together

Gamilati’s pedigree is a strong representative of the successful Bold Ruler/Princequillo cross.  Being by Bernardini, Gamilati is a descendant of Secretariat, who is indubitably the best horse by Bold Ruler out of a Princequillo mare.  A.P. Indy, Bernardini’s sire, is a member of the Bold Ruler sire line, as is Bernardini’s second dam, Oil Fable.  Gamilati’s third dam is by Princequillo’s son, Round Table, while her second dam’s third generation sire is Bold Ruler. Intriguingly, yet unrelatedly, we see that Miesque, the dam of Gamilati’s broodmare sire, Kingmambo, is by Prove Out, who defeated Secretariat in Saratoga’s GI Woodward.

The cross between Bold Ruler and Princequillo reaps immense success because of the two stallions’ similarities in their pedigrees, despite being completely dissimilar on the racetrack (Bold Ruler was outstanding at short distances, while Princequillo set a course record at Saratoga for 1 ¾ miles.). 

Bold Ruler descended from the highly-regarded Nearco sire line.  The Italian world-beater Nearco had four crosses of St. Simon in his first five generations.  Nearco’s legendary breeder, Federico Tesio, was not an advocate for inbreeding, but felt that St. Simon was an exception to this rule.  A more recent star with multiple crosses of St. Simon would be the undefeated four-year-old Frankel.  Interestingly, Nearco traces back to Bernardini’s female family: female family four. 

The Irish-bred Princequillo does not appear to share many qualities with Bold Ruler on the surface.  However, Princequillo hails from the St. Simon sire line, and has one other cross of this stallion on his dam’s side.  Princequillo’s dam, Cosquilla, is a product of the Rock Sand sire line while Bold Ruler’s dam, Miss Disco, is from the Fair Play sire line.  The cross between Fair Play and Rock Sand has reaped a wealth of success in the form of Man O’ War.  Nearco is from female family four, and Princequillo descends from female family one.  These two female families cross particularly well, producing horses such as Zenyatta, and Unbridled’s Song.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bits N' Bunny Celebrates its One Year Anniversary!

Bits N' Bunny celebrates its first year! I have posted 107 articles and have written 184 pages about what is dear to my heart. I am humbled and grateful to the over 20,000 visitors from around the world who have taken their time to share, support and encourage my passion for Thoroughbred Horse Racing.

The unconditional support from my family has allowed me the opportunity to live life true to my soul. The greatest gift this past year has been the genuine kindness and generous nature from the people I have had the privilege to meet. These people have enriched my life. I am inspired by them and pledge to work even harder this year to improve my writing and knowledge so I may become a witness worthy of garnering a single reader of my words.

I invite you to please click on the link to take a look back at a magical year!
Bits N' Bunny 2011- One Year Anniversary

With deepest gratitude and appreciation,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Re-post: Handicaps

This is a revised edition of my article, "Phelps to Carry 10 Pounds in Olympics - NOT", dated August 5, 2011

Known by his followers as Big Red, Man O’ War was undisputedly the first racehorse to captivate the nation.  Despite being defeated on only one occasion, the flaming chestnut maintained a figure of perfection to his last breath.  As his fan base grew, so did the advantage his competitors had on him.  Horseracing’s first celebrity gave up thirty-two pounds to his opponents, and still showed them his heels in one start.  However, Man O’ War’s race record beyond his three-year-old year will forever remain absent from the history books.  Why?

Samuel D. Riddle, the owner of this heralded horse, sent his trainer, Lou Feustel, to ask Walter Vosburgh, a New York Racing Secretary, what weights he would assign Man O’ War if he was to run as a four-year-old.  Vosburgh did not hesitate to inform Feustel, “Lou, I can’t tell you exactly what weight I’d put on him next year, but I’ll say this much: I wouldn’t start him in his first out at a pound less than 140.” * Upon hearing the news, Riddle said, “Retire him; he’ll never run again.”  Without hesitation, he chose to retire his legend that, in 1999, The Blood-Horse magazine would hail as “The Best Racehorse of the 20th Century”.

Our imagination is the only place where Man O' War's unraced years can live.  We can only dare to dream what he would have etched into horse racing's history.  I ask once more, "Why did this happen?"

Answer:  Handicaps

The horses in a handicap must carry a certain weight determined by the hosting track’s racing secretary in order to ‘level the playing field’. Handicaps were first introduced by Admiral Henry John Rous, who was appointed as a Jockey Club steward in 1838, and maintained that position for almost forty years until his death in 1877. Rous was appointed the public handicapper in 1855 where he introduced weight-for-age races; adding weight to the older horses as to give the younger, less experienced horse a ‘fair’ chance.
Handicapping’s supporters argue that it is only a true champion that can win under such conditions. While it is true that only a champion could overcome such challenges race after race, the question remains: Why should they have to?
Walter Vosburgh’s argument for handicaps is “If a horse has gone through his two – and three year old races successfully, he must at four give somebody else a chance. The principle is that he has demonstrated his superiority, and his owner has reaped a sufficient pecuniary reward, and should be content to carry the penalties or send him to the stud…”*
Horseracing is a sport – just like baseball, basketball, football, tennis, swimming, etcetera, etcetera. All other sports reward (not penalize) their top performers.  In baseball, football and basketball the team with the best record earns home-field/court advantage in the playoffs. In tennis, the top seeded players are matched against the lowest seeded players at the start of a tournament. This allows the best chance for the top players to meet at the championship match. Even in swimming, the fastest swimmer gets the best advantage by being assigned the center (fastest) lane in the pool, and the swimmers with the slowest times will be in the outermost lanes. Michael Phelps will always be swimming in Lane Four!
The politics of handicaps also play a role in the final judgment as to who gets assigned a certain weight. The simplest example would be that once a race secretary assigns a weight to a particular horse, the connections can manipulate the assigned weight by threatening to scratch their horse if an agreement cannot be met. In major races particularly, scratches can be quite costly to the track. Consequently, adjustments are made and the “science” of handicaps is blown out the window. The Blind Luck/Havre de Grace match-up in the Delaware Handicap is a good example of this point.
A common argument made in defense of handicaps is that three year olds do not have a fair chance against a mature, seasoned older horse. I am compelled to ask you to contemplate the situation in the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics. Legendary twenty-seven year old swimmer, Michael Phelps will be returning to compete in this year’s games. Should Phelps be weighted because of his age and accomplishments, knowing there may be teenagers swimming against him in the same event? If the Olympic Committee attempted to penalize him, do you think he would continue to compete? This addresses my opening statement regarding Man O’ War’s retirement. What if the same rulings had applied to Michael Phelps before his historic performance in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games? No doubt, he would have had the same reaction that Mr. Riddle did with Man O’ War, and thus America would never have this unprecedented, historic event proudly gracing the record books.
The same theory would apply to males and females racing together. I am inspired by a filly or mare who gives the colts a run for their money. However, my inspiration fades as I begin to understand that the colts have been “held back” at the starting gate. If a filly has been allowed a five pound edge, it translates into a five length advantage (according to the theory that one pound equals one length) before they have even left the gates. If the filly hasn’t reached the wire more than five lengths ahead of the colts, has she truly won the race?
I accept the fact that handicaps create a “good-for-business” atmosphere. That is not my concern. My concern is about the fairness and integrity of this sport I love. There are races that are not deemed handicaps, but are weight-for-age races and races where fillies automatically get the advantage due to their gender, threrfore making it practically impossible to escape handicaps even in stakes races.  Oddly, some stakes races such as the Haskell Invitational that are restricted to three-year-olds handicap the better horses.
In researching this subject I found many phenomenal accomplishments of weighted horses. I also found an infinite number of “legendary” races, past and present, in which the outcomes could have been significantly different had every horse carried the same weight. Much to my frustration, there have been so many incredible horses that were subject to heavier weights lost by a neck or less, being declared beaten, or not having a sufficient amount of ability time and time again.
“My horse is faster than yours.” One person told another, centuries ago, and thus began the sport of horseracing. It has been long since the days when the races came down to that one simple fact.  The deeper I delve into the analysis of horseracing and pedigrees, the more skeptical I feel about the proclaimed victors. With my current knowledge and state of mind regarding horseracing, I respectfully, but strongly disagree with Mr. Vosburgh’s opinion regarding the use of handicaps.

It seems like a simple concept: gates open – fastest nose to the wire wins. Not so simple it seems.

“I will give everyone Super powers, that way nobody will be Super!” - The Incredibles
*From Dorothy Ours’ Man O’ War A Legend Like Lightning, pages 256 – 257.