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Summer’s Over, But Racing Fever Intensifies

Summer Racing Comes to a Close

Joel Rosario After Kentucky Derby WinAs Saratoga and old Del Mar have both come to a close, the sun is setting fast on racing’s summer.  With it comes an air of heightened intensity.  We have now entered the homestretch of the year, where final statements are made and championships are decided.  For some, these last few months will be no more than a coronation, celebrating a banner year.  For others, this is a vital time.  What they do between now and the new year will determine the accolades either given to or taken from them.

Javier CastellanoThe human side of the game is gearing up for championship season just as much as the equine side.  Joel Rosario, with wins in a few of the world’s biggest races this spring, seemed an almost inevitable jockey champion.  However, with an injury knocking him out of contention for another month or so, could one of his peers jump up to take his crown?  It could be certainly one of a duo of jockeys side-by-side atop the jockey standings with Rosario – John Velazquez and Javier Castellano, the latter of which just won the riding title at Saratoga.  Even Gary Stevens, who could have a great rest of the year, has a shot.  The 50 year-old Hall of Fame jockey launched an incredible comeback out of retirement and is riding better than ever.  If Rosario comes back less than stellar, it could be a race to the wire for jockey superiority.

Todd Pletcher after Belmont WinTodd Pletcher just easily won the training title at Saratoga, continuing what has been a terrific year for him.  With leaders of many equine divisions in his barn, these next few months could be even better for him.  If, however, his horses happen to run poorly, the Eclipse Award might not be a Pletcher lock after all.  His former boss, the tenacious D. Wayne Lukas, is having the best year he’s had in a long time.  Shug McGaughey has a Derby winner and two of the top turf males in his barn, and Chad Brown is winning everything on grass.  Let’s not forget Bob Baffert, either, who trains a horse arguably the best in the country, Game On Dude.  However, it is relatively improbable that Pletcher’s horses – considering how many good ones he has – will slip up this close to the finish line.
Strong MandateThe two year-old divisions are just now beginning to take shape.  On the West Coast, She’s A Tiger captured the Del Mar Debutante (G1), using her speed to get to the wire first.  In New York, Sweet Reason reached the far turn in front and never looked back, splashing home in a sloppy Spinaway (G1).  Those are just two of the many talented juvenile fillies out there.  In the juvenile male division, out in California, Tamarando flew home first after bad trips for some of the race favorites in the Del Mar Futurity (G1).  The two year-old males at Saratoga seemed fairly evenly matched – that is, until the well-bred Strong Mandate ran away from them all in the Hopeful Stakes (G1).  Is this Lukas trainee merely a mud freak, or could that have been his breakout performance en route to a juvenile championship?

Dance to BristolThe sprint and turf divisions – of both genders – are as wide open as can be.  Last year’s speediest lady, Groupie Doll, returned to the races amidst much anticipation.  The champion, however, finished a dull third in her 2013 debut and will have to work harder next time in order to capture another female sprinter award.  The new leader of her division is certainly Dance to Bristol, the recent Ballerina (G1) winner who is currently enjoying a seven-race winning streak.  The sprint male division is even more wide open, as no one horse seems to be able to string together even two or three consecutive victories.  Forty Tales, the leading three year-old sprinter, put in a lackluster off-the-board performance in the King’s Bishop (G1) won by stablemate Capo Bastone.  Names like Justin Phillip, Trinniberg, and Bahamian Squall are all familiar, but none of these seem to have any sort of lead over the rest.

Wise Dan Winning the FourstardaveEuropean invaders to the Breeders’ Cup often play a huge role in how the end of the year shakes out for North America’s turf divisions.  Last year’s Horse of the Year Wise Dan will meet a very strong rival in Obviously in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).  The latter is having his best year yet, and the former has had to overcome lofty weight assignments against weak fields.  Their showdown will certainly be something to see.  Marketing Mix is probably the most well-known female turf horse in the country, but she has competition to take home the title at the end of the year.  Stephanie’s Kitten poses a threat, as does Dank, a European invader who just defeated Marketing Mix in the Beverly D. Stakes (G1).  Going a route, Point of Entry was the best in the country on grass.  His injury, which he should be coming back from sometime soon, left his division with a lot of question marks.  Big Blue Kitten, with two Grade 1 wins, seems to be the new leader, but his stablemate Real Solution, who just won the Arlington Million (G1) via disqualification, is also a horse on the improve.

Will Take Charge After Travers VictoryThe three year-old male division – America’s glamour division, as some have called it – has no clear-cut leader.  After the Travers Stakes (G1), in which Will Take Charge and Moreno finished 1-2, no one really knew who held the lead in this male crop.  There is Orb; with wins in the Kentucky and Florida Derbies and third place finishes in both the Belmont and Travers, he seems to be the most logical front-runner for a championship.  Belmont winner Palace Malice also has a say, as he might do very well against older males in the upcoming Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).  Verrazano, the Haskell (G1) winner who faded badly in the stretch of the Travers, could improve off of that race at shorter distances.  Names like Departing, Will Take Charge and Moreno are also certainly in the mix.  This fall will definitely be a proving ground for the nation’s top three year-old colts.

Princess of Sylmar Winning C C A OaksIn stark contrast to the male division, Princess of Sylmar has the three year-old filly division all wrapped up.  Likewise, Royal Delta sits firmly atop the older female division that she has reigned over for quite some time.  With tiaras firmly in place, there’s only one thing left for these equine royalty to do – face each other in a race.  With Sylmar not likely to travel to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup, it must be soon.  The showdown may occur in the Beldame (G1) at Belmont, a race Delta has won before.  Wherever or whenever a meeting occurs, a race between the princess and the queen will surely be one of the biggest racing events of the year.

Game On Dude Winning the Pacific ClassicFinally, we arrive at the discussion of the big guns – Horse of the Year honors, which often go hand-in-hand with the award for champion older male.  Game On Dude is the most accomplished horse this year, with victories in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and the Pacific Classic (G1), as well as a couple of other graded wins.  If he manages to win – or even hit the board – in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he is our horse of the year.  Horses like Whitney (G1) winner Cross Traffic and last year’s Classic winner Fort Larned pose a threat to what looks like right now as a championship shoe-in for Baffert’s gelding.  It is much too early to hand out accolades, especially for an award as prestigious as Horse of the Year.

There are many questions to be answered and many prizes to be won.  What will the autumn of 2013 have to offer us?  Racing fever does not end with the death of summer; it merely intensifies.

 

 

 

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Emily White has been in love with horse racing since she was nine years old. The first race she ever watched was the 2004 Belmont Stakes - she was hooked instantly. Ever since, she has enjoyed writing about the sport. Her favorite aspects of the industry are sales and breeding; she loves researching pedigrees. Next year, Emily will be attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a journalism major, with an intent to transfer to the University of Kentucky the following year to pursue her dreams of being a turf writer.

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