August 31, 2010

Afleet Express noses out Fly Down and Zito in Midsummer Derby

Editor's note: Sorry - thought I had posted this weeks ago!

The Travers Stakes at Saratoga has a lofty reputation for displaying the top 3 year-0lds of the "second half" of the racing season, which is rarely the same group of sophomores considering the brutal grind of the spring Derby fever prep races. With the narrowest of victories, Afleet Express essentially locked up divisional honors for a colt not even in the race, Lookin At Lucky. The victory also catapulted his sire, Afleet Alex, to the head of the second crop sires list and now seems well on his way to be a major influence in classic bloodlines, ala Birdstone.

Perhaps if Fly Down could have gotten his nose to the wire first he could have still made a case for an Eclipse Award with a good showing in a Breeders' Cup race, considering his previous Belmont runner-up status. But Baffert has yet again proven his skills in this division. Three year-olds are especially judged by the Triple Crown series and with Super Saver and Ice Box's poor showing in the Travers, Lucky is essentially the last horse standing. But First Dude deserves another mention for yet another in the money finish with his show spot. The 3 year-old bay colt now has hit the board in the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes (all grade I), and has earned more than $600,000 despite only a maiden victory in ten career starts!

Moving on to the Zenyatta vs. Rachel debate (as if there was any remaining), Miss Zen picked up her 18th consecutive victory without a defeat in early August at seaside Del Mar in the Grade I Clement Hirsch Stakes. Mike Smith rode Zen with extreme confidence as she was fanned wide on the turn and reached the front much earlier in the race than usual, but held on by her mammoth neck. She will likely get one penultimate start in California before the November 6 Breeders' Cup Classic.

On the other coast, Rachel Alexandra lost her third race of 2010 while racing at 10 furlongs for the first time in the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at historic Saratoga -- the site of her titillating victory in last summer's Woodward Stakes. After flashing her customary early speed to put away Life At Ten by the quarter pole, Rachel could not withstand the persistent stretch run of, well... Persistently - the $45 winner. This result confirms my belief that Rachel is most effective between 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles, which may now leave the Ladies Classic race as the only option for owner and trainer for Breeders' Cup consideration (assuming she shows up at all to Churchill Downs!).