September 25, 2009

Summer Squall and Cryptoclearance - Legends from the late '80s

There is a folk legend that bad things come in threes. This was certainly the case yet again in the equine world, as Margaux Farm’s Cryptoclearance joined El Prado and Summer Squall as major sires who all met their maker this week. The rare pure-breed bay stallion died yesterday from a heart attack after complications following colic surgery. For some reason, I always thought of Oaklawn Park when hearing the name Cryptoclearance, even though it turns out he only ran at the “Southern Spa” once – a solid second place finish to Lost Code in the 1988 Oaklawn Handicap (finishing ahead of Gulch). However, his name comes up often in the Daily Racing Form as a major influence as a sire, with colts winning consecutive runnings of the Arkansas Derby in 1997 – 1998 with Crypto Star and Victory Gallop, respectively. His other standout offspring include Breeders’ Cup Classic winning Volponi, Bluegrass Stakes winner Millennium Wind and multiple Grade I stakes winning filly Strategic Maneuver.

Cryptoclearance may not be as heralded as his famous Derby winning brother, Unbridled, both coming from the legendary Mr. Prospector sire line via Fappiano, but only time will tell how his true legacy unfolds as he seems to have more breeding momentum going with grandson Candy Ride (remember Chocolate Candy from this year’s Derby and Evita Argentina who has beaten males sprinting?). Regardless, his bloodlines will continue to provide a boost to stamina for generations to come, particularly on the bottom half of the breeding equation.

Now a word on fellow departed Summer Squall, who is the “it” horse in breeding circles after his grandson Summer Bird dominated the summer three year-old male series. The hard luck Summer Squall was known for two things; being THE breakout runner for Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stables racing partnership (one of my models used for Saturday Racing Syndicate - coming soon to a town near you!) and his “forgotten” rivalry with aforementioned Unbridled. I say forgotten in that horses seldom meet these days more than a couple of races during a particular meet and then go their separate ways. Summer Squall faced Unbridled head to head six times and won an impressive four of them! Problem is that Unbridled won the big ones -- Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (Squall was sick and did not run in Classic) and was voted Champion 3YO colt over Summer Squall.

Summer Squall was produced from the Secretariat mare, Weekend Surprise, making him a half-brother to uber-stallion, A.P. Indy, again being overshadowed! Squall’s best runners included 1999 Kentucky Derby hero and Horse of the Year Charismatic and Champion 2YO filly Storm Song. Due to declining fertility from his status as a ridgling (check if you need a translation), he retired from stud duty at Lane’s End Farm in 2004.

I referred to Squall earlier as hard luck in that he was slighted in the voting for Champion 2YO colt to Rhythm (who happened to be owned by blue blood, Ogden Phipps) in spite of going five for five, including three historically significant races. Furthermore, due to New York’s anti-medication rules, he wasn’t able to participate in the 1990 Belmont Stakes where he likely would have finished ahead of 4th placed Unbridled yet again. He also came down with a severe viral infection that sidelined the second half of his 3YO campaign, likely costing him another crack at an Eclipse Award. But he did get the better of Unbridled in the end, outliving him for 8 years!

September 22, 2009

Irish Eyes are Crying - El Prado dies

El Prado (IRE), the 20 year-old son of Great Britain and Ireland's sire of sires - Saddler's Wells, was found dead yesterday morning in his stall from apparent heart failure at Frank Stronach's Adena Springs. And while it is not uncommon for me to eulogize some of racing's greatest equine athletes on this blog, many of you may have thought that "El Prado" was Spanish for Mr. Edgar Prado, jockey of Barbaro. Since he raced exclusively in Ireland in 1991, most Americans were not familiar with his talent but would certainly recognize his successful sons who raced in the States, led by major purse earner of nearly $6 million including Oaklawn Handicap, Medaglia d'Oro, and turf champion Kitten's Joy. But make no mistake, after this racing season El Prado is best known for the title "Grandpa of Greatness" as the paternal grandsire of Rachel Alexandra.

The legendary Irish spirit of El Prado was best known to me through his alabaster offspring - Chindi. One of El Prado's first born, the Steve Hobby conditioned hard-knocking gelding captivated Oaklawn audiences throughout his 11 year-old season with his patented stretch rally, once winning Oaklawn's only graded sprint stakes - the Count Fleet Stakes - en route to $1 million in career earnings. Chindi has got to be one of the top favorites of Oaklawn's iconic track announcer, Terry Wallace.

I can't end this post without giving condolences to someone desperately in need of cheer, the embattled owner of bankrupt Magna Entertainment and founder of Adena Springs Stud Farm - Frank Stronach. In fact, El Prado was a risk when Mr. Stronach chose a relatively obscure Irish bred horse to be the foundation of what would become a five-time consecutive Eclipse dynasty for breeding operation.

September 9, 2009

Rachel Alexandra is "Great" in Historic Woodward

It's hard to believe that a savvy racing "railbird" could be more impressed by a diminishing head victory than a 20 length romp, but Rachel's triumph in Saturday's Grade I Woodward Stakes was the most thrilling finish I have ever witnessed. I have seen some doozies in my day, most notably the Pine Bluff - Lil E. Tee and Azeri - Take Charge Lady duels down "Dogwood Lane" at Oaklawn Park. But this one was different in that even though I was there, the last 40 yards prior to the finish line was blinded from my vantage point behind the winner's circle area, where I had staked out a second row spot to greet the decorated champion. Thus, track announcer Tom Durkin was my eyes and ears until I saw Rachel's head hit the wire just before the grey blob of Macho Again. And what a classic call by Durkin.

We (my fellow railbird friends) were alarmed from the get-go after Durkin began his race-call, "Rachel Alexandra will duel with Da'Tara... making her work today through a punishing quarter mile." Then the stage was set at the top of the stretch as Durkin pronounced, "A dramatic stretch drive awaits." After Rachel turned away both Da' Tara and Past the Point (last year's Woodward runner-up to Curlin after setting the pace) the toughest challenges were yet to come. First, Whitney Handicap winner Bullsbay couldn't quite get to the winner's flank straightening for home with his best effort, but Robby Albarado on stone-cold closer Macho Again split horses perfectly on the turn to save ground while keeping all his momentum moving forward. He proved to push Rachel to her limits, while Calvin repeatedly wailed on her with the crop (no wonder Rachel tossed him in the post parade while warming up!), knowing he would be made to pay for his tactical error if she were nailed on the line. But alas, Rachel was too much woman for Macho Again and actually never let him pass - even in the gallop out. To which Tom Durkin jubilantly exclaimed, "Rachel won... she is indeed Rachel Alexandra the Great!"

To think that Macho's momentum wouldn't have buoyed him past the tiring filly at the wire is as improbable as Rachel holding off these multiple challenges from proven older horses after setting torrid opening fractions. There's a reason that no filly had ever won this particular race since it's inception in 1954 and fillies beating older male horses anywhere is as common as Halley's comet. But the unthinkable has been achieved time and time again with Rachel in 2009... from multiple 20 length victories to Calvin smiling and pointing to cameras whilst cantering to the finish line to charging right out of the gates and making the boys catch her. The only thing is that none ever did, which is why she will undoubtedly be voted champion three year-old filly as well as overall Horse of the Year.

There is an emerging music group called Shinedown that has a current hit, Second Chance, where the lyrics state, "I just saw Halley's comet, she waved - Said why you always running in place?" You get the feeling Rachel IS such a rare treasure and is taunting the competition during her races with "Why you always running in place?" Rachel Alexandra has shown the world that running like a girl is not a bad thing after all.

September 5, 2009

Rachel being Rachel

Carly Simon once sang "Nobody does it better" and that was certainly true of today's performance of Rachel. On a stellar, blue Saratoga sky day, Rachel sent the packed house home in top spirits after her GUTSTY performance in the Grade I Woodward Stakes, holding off multiple grades stakes winner and stone-cold closer, Macho Again (after a scorching half-mile). Can you say nine for nine, baby!

That's it... Rachel is "Brooks & Dunn" for the season. After studying her resume - her 11 month tear across American racing - she deserves the balance of the year off. Since she has been declared out of the Breeders' Cup, what more could she prove in a meaningless October or November dance against overmatched foes? She is already a Champion, check that... THE Champion for 2009 - Horse of the Year!

That's all I want to say tonight... it's time to celebrate in the full moon glow of lovely Saratoga. Rachel Alexandra, I think I love you.