Last time I looked there were no sure things in racing. There are, however, some pretty safe bets. Here are a few I see:
The atmosphere of the Keeneland September sale's two-day select session Sept. 11-12, along with the two non-select days that immediately follow, will be electric. The Maktoum family's various racing stables are enjoying their best year on American soil, with first-ever victories in two of the three Triple Crown races -- the Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) Stakes, and outstanding performances by their horses in several other divisions. Their quest to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), that first jewel in the crown, continues, and that should translate into good news for consignors of well-bred, nicely conformed colts. Generally speaking, when the first two books are strong, there is a positive trickle-down effect on the rest of the sale. Helping keep the middle market healthy will be American buyers from states where racing purses are slots enriched.
One of the most upbeat people at the Keeneland sale will be Ahmed Zayat, a 43-year-old beverage distributor in Egypt and relative newcomer to horse racing who won his first grade I stakes Sept. 4 when Point Ashley (by Point Given) captured the Del Mar Debutante. If that victory wasn't enough to whet his appetite to shop for more good young horses, Zayat also got to see his Malt Magic, a 2-year-old Cherokee Run colt, break his maiden by 9½ lengths going a mile at Del Mar that same day. Make that a Sept. 4 triple: Chief Officer, a 2-year-old filly by Officer racing for Zayat Stables, won the $250,518 New York Breeders' Futurity over New York-bred colts at Finger Lakes. If a trio of promising 2-year-olds doesn't put a little spring in the step of a horse owner, I don't know what will.
The Breeders' Cup will present eight outstanding races at Churchill Downs Nov. 4, whether Tom Durkin, Trevor Denman, or Bob Uecker is at the microphone. As the only track announcer the Breeders' Cup has ever had -- for both on-track fans and viewers of the NBC telecast -- Durkin has called some of the greatest races of the past 25 years. But let's not forget it was the horses who provided those moments. Denman, the voice of Santa Anita Park and Del Mar, will do just fine as the new voice of the Breeders' Cup as it moves to ESPN.
Equine surgeon Dean Richardson and the staff at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center will win the 2006 Eclipse Award of Merit. No one is more deserving than Richardson and his team at New Bolton. The work done in the hours and days following Barbaro's devastating injury in the Preakness was remarkable from a veterinary medicine standpoint. Their decision (and that of owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson) to provide frequent updates (including photographs and video) on Barbaro's recovery, despite the very real possibility that the colt could die, allowed millions of people who might have given up on horse racing because of the injury to stay connected with the sport.
Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of the Breeders' Cup, will not be singing "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown" along with the Rolling Stones during the band's concert at Churchill Downs Sept. 29. She will be hoping time is on her side if the turf course suffers any damage from the concert, which is starting up just five weeks before the Breeders' Cup.
Lock of the year: Todd Pletcher will be leading money-winning trainer at year's end. With a $10-million lead over his closest challenger (he's currently just shy of $18 million), Pletcher is dominating the trainer ranks like no one has since the 1980s, when D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher's former boss, used multiple bases of operation to pile up the numbers. The amazing thing about Pletcher's year is a winning percentage, currently at 27%, higher than any other trainer in the top 10. He's done that despite having more starters than seven of the top 10.