The Penn Mile

With one week to go before the Belmont Stakes, we take a diversion to the 3YO turf division with the GII Penn Mile from Penn National Race Course. It’s restricted to 3YO and carries a purse of half a million dollars. As the name suggests, it’s 8 furlongs — a mile on the turf. Only in it’s 5th running, the Penn Mile has become a key turf race for 3YO, especially in the eastern half of the country. That doesn’t mean that western horses aren’t shipping in, as we will see. It will be run at 7:45 eastern time, as part of a special mid-afternoon card at Penn National, which normally runs exclusively at night. Firm turf is expected.

Maraud is a likely deserving favorite with a morning line of 5/2. He won the GIII Palm Beach at Gulfstream on firm turf in an early test in March. He ran near the pace that day. He followed it up two starts later with on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs in the GII American turf, where he came off the pace on the yielding turf. Both of those race brought excellent Beyer Speed Figures. He’s trained by 3YO specialist (along with many other things) Todd Pletcher. He’s only run at mile once (early in his career) — typically running 8.5 furlongs — and finished a disappointing 3rd as the favorite.

Therapist has been off since late March when he won the Cutler Bay in track record time. He earned a tied for field-best 92 Beyer for that performance. He’s won 4 of 5 starts, with his only loss coming at the hands of Maraud in the Palm Beach. He’s 2 for 2 at the mile, with his other wins coming at the 6f distance. He prefers to come from slightly Freshened by Christophe Clement, who made his reputation on the turf (he’s since become a very good dirt trainer), he should be a major contender for the top prize today.

He’s Bankable is a bit slower than the top two, but has won two stakes in a row — both at 8.5 furlongs. He won them both in front-running fashion. It took him a while to break his maiden and couldn’t pass the N1X condition, but seems to have turned into a new horse in his last 2 starts. Trained by Mark Casse, he’ll be hoping for an easy trip on the front end — something that happens out east more often than not.

Hawkish is relatively inexperienced but ran a tied for field-best Beyer in a first-level allowance at Aqueduct in April. He was the heavy favorite that day with an easy field, something that can ultimately create an unrepeatable Beyer (although the second-place finisher went on to win next out). Despite the fast speed, a win would be a surprise in his stakes debut. It is an ambitious placing, but one that makes sense. He is trained by James Toner.

Encumbered ships in from the west coast and makes his seasonal debut. He was last seen getting smoked by Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, losing by 16 1/2 lengths. You always need to fear a horse that was good at 2 — he won the Del Mar Juvenile Turf — making his 3YO seasonal debut. That said, it still should be a little much for him to find the winner’s circle for trainer Simon Callaghan. ColtandMississippi is another Todd Pletcher trainee. Unlike Maraud, he’s significantly slower and without a win on the turf. He did have a nice third in the 6f Bridgetown at Aqueduct but would have to improve quite a bit to factor today. Way Early, for George Weaver, is inexperienced, with only a maiden win on the turf and a second in an NY-restricted allowance. A win would be a major surprise. Smart Remark returns to the turf after a poor performance in the Pat Day Mile. He broke his maiden on turf for his only win on the surface. Trained by Victoria Oliver, a win is not out of the question — he’s shown some speed on the turf — but he’d still need to improve and rebound from the last performance.

Analysis: The race comes down to how Maraud handles the shorter distance. If it affects him (he wants to go longer), then this is Therapist’s race to lose. I’ll side with Therapist who is proven at the distance.

Good luck at the races!

The Three Year Old Division: What’s on Tap?

Mainstream coverage of three year olds unfortunately tends to wane after the Belmont Stakes.  But the second-half of the season provides just as many terrific story lines as the Derby trail. The Triple Crown participants join up with new contenders, who typically are either late-developing or may have missed time due to injury.

It’s important to note that there are two informal divisions of three-year olds. The first is generally a Grade I path through either the Haskell at Monmouth and the Travers at Saratoga and then joining older horses in September and eventually for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The second involves a number of Grade II, Grade III, or ungraded stakes races, such as the Ohio Derby and West Virginia Derby.

Here are the key races coming up.  Note the amazing weekend of July 25-27 with three races, including the G1 Haskell.  Check back here for further coverage of the division!


July 19: Ohio Derby, Thistledown Racino, 8.5f, $300k

July 25: Curlin Stakes, Saratoga Race Course,  9f, $100K

July 26: Jim Dandy Stakes, Saratoga Race Course,  9f, Grade II, $600K

July 27: Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park,  9f, Grade I, $1M

August 2:  West Virginia Derby, Mountaineer Race Track, 9f, Grade II, $750K

August 23: Travers Stakes, Saratoga Race Course, 10f, Grade I, $1.25M

September 1: Smarty Jones Stakes, Parx Racing,  about 8.5f, $300K

September 6:  Super Derby, Louisiana Downs, 9f, $500K

September 20: Pennsylvania Derby, Parx Racing,  GII, 9f, $1M

September 28: Oklahoma Derby, Remington Park, September 28, GIII, 9f $400K

October 4: The Indiana Derby, Indiana Downs,  October 4, G2, 8.5f, $500K


Donnie Ray Jones, “Horse Race – Louisiana Downs”, Copyright 2011.



Top 5 Desert Island Races: #1 Smarty Jones

Yes, it’s technically Birdstone’s Belmont Stakes in 2004, but this day —  in defeat — belongs to the people’s champion.  Smarty Jones — hailing from what was then Philly-park — was undefeated, had rather easily won the first two legs on the Triple Crown, and captured the public imagination in a way not seen in decades.

When he turned for home under Stewart Elliot’s premature move, he appeared to be pulling away and the question — for at least a second — was “how much?”  But, then announcer Tom Durkin noted that  Birdstone was commencing a rally, and it became a race against the tiring stretch of the mile and a half and, of course, history.


Top 5 Desert Island Races: #2 Secretariat

So many wonderful places to go with Secretariat.  I love his Canadian International win — he was, impossibly, an even better turf horse.  But, when it comes down to one, it has to be the Belmont Stakes.  Think about it — he runs two 6f sprints without tiring — with a style that should demand a collapse in the stretch.  I don’t know if there is a more amazing performance in sport.

#5: A.P. Indy in the Belmont Stakes, 1992

#4:  Frankel in  the Juddmonte Stakes, 2012

#3:  Cesario in the American Oaks, 2005

#2: Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes, 1973

#1:  Released July 8, 2014 (hint:  It’s from 2004)

Top 5 Desert Island Races: #5 A.P. Indy

If I was trapped on a desert island, I wouldn’t want a book or movie with me.  Instead, I’d want a collection of my favorite YouTube races.  I’m going to count them down over the holiday weekend, starting today.

#5:  A.P. Indy’s Triumph in the 1992 Belmont Stakes. This race is a testament to his pure stamina, which he showed both here and in winning the Classic.  A sire of sires, he passed his routing prowess on to his sons and daughters, including the 2007 winner of this race, Rags to Riches.



On Casual Fandom, the World Cup, and the Importance of Story

I’m never been terribly sure why mainstream media coverage of horse racing essentially disappears post-Triple Crown.  As someone who did not grow up around horse racing (a very suburban, generation X’er, Midwestern childhood — my father is a law professor and my mother writes about macrobiotic foods and healthy living), I too once inhabited the limited place known as the”Triple Crown-only” horse racing world. In comparison to my now deep involvement in the sport of horse racing, I  am very much a casual sports fan for another of America’s part-time sports, soccer.  Like many, I only really pay attention to the World Cup, and I’m enjoying the current one.

So, I ask myself — what keeps me from turning on an MLS game or even the highest-level football, such as the Champions League?  I actually really enjoying watching soccer, and it’s fun to watch the action and opportunities develop so deliberately. I don’t watch outside the World Cup because I don’t know the stories. And knowing the stories — the personalities, the histories, the sentiments —  is essential to the enjoyment of sports.  It’s why rivalries are always compelling theater — the history is known and  usually angry — and its why seven-game series and championship rematches can develop an epic quality.

Yes, the Triple Crown is compelling, but not any more so than other dramatic arcs of racing. Wise Dan’s and Palice Malice’s recent campaigns have been astonishing, and Moonshine Mullin’s rise to grade I winner has been sensational. He is a horse in simply amazing condition. Mucho Macho Man‘s triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a testament to life after the Triple Crown. Furthermore,  the racetrack and its community tend to be deeply intermingled in ways not typically found in contemporary life.  Rich stories are found in these settings everyday.

We’ve seen recently how much a good story can move the needle.  The American sport-viewing public (and, perhaps, the public in general) has a constant desire for drama and story.  Horse racing — year-round, from all levels — has the ability to provide it.



10 words or less about every Belmont Stakes horse

Medal Count: Closing threat, needs improvement. Wise guys will like him.

California Chrome: 36 years. Many disappointments. Hope.

Matterhorn: Ambitious placing. Waiting for later in year.

Commanding Curve: Heavy buzz. Another possible closer. Likely overbet.

Ride on Curlin: Word is he’s tired. Not surprising.

Matuszak: Connections are his biggest asset.

Samraat: Gutsy NY-bred. Absent bias, too much to expect a win here.

Commissioner: Pedigree screams this race. Worth a long look.

Wicked Strong: Rested. Another possible closer. Is pace hot enough?

General ARod: Will give a solid try, but better for Indiana Derby.

Tonalist: Potential heartbreaker. Fast enough to do it.

Belmont Diary — 8:34 A.M. Wednesday

Relatively quiet here at Belmont Park in the AM. California Chrome made an appearance — to the delight of about a hundred spectators lining the rail.  He’s visually impressive — has a strong head about him. Critics abound, however. The most critical gave much credit to what could be called “crazy racing luck” at worst, or “good positioning” at best. Some buzz about Commanding Curve, the second place Derby finisher.  He’s in good form and quite possibly improved off the Derby.  He’ll need to be if Chrome runs his race.

Interest throughout the town — certainly to increase as we get closer. Even non-racing fans are excited for California Chrome — don’t think I’ve seen this level of popular interest since Smarty Jones.  Fairly long segment yesterday during drive-time on THE FAN – always a good barometer of interest.  NYC is always a great sports town, but with a Triple Crown on the line and the Rangers in the Stanley Cup, the vibe is excellent.

The draw is in a few hours.  With such a long race, post position is less important. The most winners have come from the 1st post, but the last to do so was Empire Maker in 2003.

Remember, it’s not just the Belmont Stakes over the next few days. Belmont has the usual top-quality racing for the next three days — along with the inaugural Belmont Gold Cup contested over 2 miles on the turf on Friday. In addition to the usual coverage of the race of the day, I’ll have extensive coverage of one of the best races of the year, the Met Mile.

Belmont Park, The Peter Pan Stakes 6:08 PM ET

Race of the Day, May 10, 2014

Belmont Park, Elmont, New York, Race 9, “The Peter Pan Stakes”

1 1/8 miles, 3 years old, G2, Purse: $200K

Named for Peter Pan I, the 1907 winner of the Belmont Stakes and a Hall of Famer, today’s race of the day is the Peter Pan Stakes.  A very quick bit of research didn’t answer whether he was named for Peter Pan, the literary character ofJ.M. Berrie.  The non-equine Peter Pan was first mentioned in 1902, so…maybe.

Aside from the name, the Peter Pan is for high class three-year olds who did not develop in time for the Derby, but are ready to begin tackling classic distances.  It serves—somewhat—as a prep for the Belmont Stakes in 4 weeks, although it often is a springboard for a run at the Late Summer classics, whether the Travers or the slew of lower-level Grade II Derbies.  However, it stills stands on its one as an important race.  It’s a GII and it’s a long distance — 1 1/8 miles.  Interestingly, it is a one-turn race — Belmont’s massive configuration only makes this possible.

On paper, this is a nice group, but one that is nonetheless missing a standout.  There’s lots of potential, though.  Matterhorn (#1, 6-1) cost $625K, but hasn’t run that fast yet.  He won a first asking, had a nice workout, and has solid gold connections.  Making his stakes debut,  he’d either need to improve — a possibility for sure — or have the rest of the race come back to him. Commissioner (#3, 5/2) was on the Derby trail and fell short.  This son of A.P. Indy (my top sire) would need to continue to run as he has to be a contender.  If he figures out racing a bit, he could win big and come back for the Belmont Stakes.  Both Tonalist (#4, 2-1) and Our Caravan (#6, 6-1) have run fast enough to win — Our Caravan is a bit more of an outsider due to his connections and breeding.  This is silly noise.  In fact, our Caravan may offer a bit of value here — Michael Dilger is a very solid trainer with positive ROI’s in many categories.  Fabulous Kid (#2, 4-1) was sharp at Oaklawn over the winter. It’s questionable whether he’ll appreciate the longer distance, but he looms a threat with on the one-turn course.


  1. Will the highly talented, royally bred Commissioner figure it out and put up a huge speed figure today?
  2. Will the public respect Our Caravan’s speed last time out, or will he be a price?
  3. Will Fabulous Kid get an easy lead and coast home to an unchallenged win?


There is no clear cut favorite on paper.  In fact, you can only really eliminate Tapicero (#5, 20-1) and Irish You Well (#7, 15-1), who aren’t that far away from the leaders.  Our Caravan improved with the added distance and horses often ship well out of Calder (it’s a very tiring track).  He among the fatest and might offer a price.  Commissioner is the only horse that I could see moving way forward, but I don’t expect him to be very much of a price.  If you love him, he still could be value for you at 5/2 or even 2/1.  Good luck!


Tonalist made an aggressive early move to the front and pulled away in the stretch.  Connections immediately began their preparations for the Belmont Stakes.  But, we need to take this victory with a grain of salt.  The track was very wet, and the competition really didn’t show up.  Commissioner ran well in 2nd, but Our Caravan did not like the track or isn’t at this level.  Irish You Well finished third at a price, and may be improving.