Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Jon White Commentator

Wednesday November 1, 2006

Talkin' Breeders' Cup 2006

A simulcast commentator from the paddock at Santa Anita and Oak Tree and a host for HRTV since its inception, Jon White has been involved in racing since 1974. A 25-year career with the Daily Racing Form took him to tracks from coast to coast as a reporter, columnist, handicapper and chart-caller.

White has also been involved in racing as a track official, media relations manager, and licensed Thoroughbred owner. As a writer, White’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Blood-Horse, Louisville Courier-Journal, New Orleans Times-Picayune, California Thoroughbred, Washington Thoroughbred, Canadian Horse and Paddock magazine.

He received the 2004 Mark Kaufman Media Award from the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association "for his excellence in reporting on the Washington Thoroughbred industry and Emerald Downs” and has appeared as a racing expert on radio stations in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Shreveport, Baltimore, and Albuquerque.

In 2003, White won a Santa Anita pick six that paid $45,981.20 with a $120 ticket that had been displayed on HRTV. Charlie Sigrast, an HRTV viewer and horse owner in Chicago, also won $45,981.20 because he saw the ticket on HRTV and decided to bet it.

Seattle, WA:
I often listen to you chatting with Joe Withee on his radio show here in Seattle. If both Joe and I would have listened to you last year, we could have hit with Giacomo and Closing Argument. I'm hooked since then. Last out, I watched Henny Hughes dominate the field in the Vosburgh, as he did previously in the King's Bishop and the Jersey Shore. This time he's hooked quite the good West coast company, along with a few others. Similarly, Fleet Indian has been quite impressive all year; but talented group in the Sprint What are your thoughts? Joe and I are listening this time.

White:
First, thanks so much for listening to Joe Withee's radio show. I really enjoy doing that show when it doesn't conflict with my HRTV schedule. It's funny you mention Closing Argument. I was at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Tuesday and, as I always do when I go there, I watch many of the old Derbies. When I watched Closing Argument lead for most of the final furlong at 71-1, I could only cringe at how close I came to hitting one out of the park. As for Henny Hughes, I was on HRTV with Becky Witzman when Henny Hughes won his first race of 2006, the Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park. He won by 10 that day. The first thing I said on the air was, "Wow! We just might be looking at the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner the way he won that race." Since then, Henny Hughes has won the King's Bishop and Vosburgh. I have tremendous respect for Bordonaro. He is a 1:07/1:08 machine. And I'd love to see trainer Bill Spawr win the Sprint. I've known Bill since 1981 and consider him one of the hardest working trainers I've ever seen. But I have to go with Henny Hughes based on what I've seen from him in his three races this year. I also thought Commentator was a great upset possibility, but unfortunately he won't be running because of reaggravating a shin injury. And you're right about Fleet Indian. She has been quite impressive all year. I'm probably crazy for not picking Fleet Indian, as I had planned to do for the last three months. But I'm picking Happy Ticket. She had a horrible trip in the Spinster and still only lost by three lengths. Happy Ticket has finished first or second in 17 of her 19 career starts. So I really think she can at least get into the exacta. And, again, I'd be tickled to see her trainer, Andrew Leggio, win a Breeders' Cup. I first got to know him when I worked at Louisiana Downs for the Daily Racing Form back in the 1970s.

Pleasureville, KY:
I think Bernardini is very special. How do you think Lava Man will do against Bernardini?

White:
You just asked the No. 1 question going into the 2006 Breeders' Cup World Championships. In my opinion, it is not impossible for Lava Man to win the Classic. I say that after watching him win all seven of his races in California this year while becoming the first horse to ever win the big three races for older horses in Southern California during the same year, the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. Lava Man is a true mile and a quarter horse, something we don't see all that much anymore. That in itself gives him a license to win the BC Classic. And don't forget he ran a 120 Beyer when he won the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup while winning by the biggest margin in the history of that race, 8 3/4 lengths. I saw Lava Man on Tuesday morning and he looked good. The Doug O'Neill team is confident. No, they aren't confident that they are going to beat Bernardini. O'Neill last week said Bernardini is a beast. But the O'Neill team is confident that Lava Man is going to run a big race. People who are automatically throwing him out because of he did outside of California last year do so at their own peril. Lava Man was having some physical issues in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Japan Cup Dirt last year. So I think Lava Man is going to run quite well in the Classic. But even if he runs quite well, I really question if he can beat Bernardini. Again, while at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Tuesday, it was interesting to hear post-race comments following Seattle Slew's Kentucky Derby win. Jim McKay pointed out that many people had knocked Seattle Slew because he hadn't been tested. Yet Seattle Slew overcame a horrendous start and having to find a way through traffic early to win the roses. And, of course, he went on to become the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. So when people knock Bernardini because he hasn't been tested or because he hasn't beaten anybody, they might be sorry. Bernardini has a beautiful pedigree, a beautiful way of going and a beautiful record. I'm singling Bernardini in the pick six. I'll sink or swim with him.

Kansas City, MO:
Of all the California-based horses running in this year's Breeders' Cup, who do you think has the best chance?

White:
Good question. My answer is Aragorn. And even he could have a tough time of it against that monster Gorella. But Aragorn has a trainer in Neil Drysdale who, like his old boss Charlie Whittingham, is a master at having a horse peak for a big race. Charlie did it better than anyone in history. Neil is great at that, too. I remember Neil telling me early in the spring of 1984 at Santa Anita that Princess Rooney would be much better in the fall than she was at that time. In the fall, in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Distaff, Princess Rooney ran such a great race that very few fillies or mares who ever lived could have beaten her that day. She won by seven lengths while completing a mile and a quarter in 2:02 2/5. Wild Again won the Classic in 2:03 2/5. Princess Rooney earned a 120 Beyer Speed Figure, compared to Wild Again's 113. My point is that I expect Aragorn to run a better race in the BC Mile than he did in the Oak Tree Mile. He does need to run better than he did in the Oak Tree Mile to beat Gorella. Gorella probably should have won the Mile last year. She was awesome in this year's Beverly D. and was only asked for about the final sixteenth of a mile when she won the First Lady recently at Keeneland. She, like Aragorn, has a great trainer in Patrick Biancone. But Kurt Hoover told me that he read Neil Drysdale said he feels Aragorn is coming up to the BC Mile better than any horse he's ever had.

Murfreesboro, TN:
The Juvenile seems very open to me. Do you like one of the California horses?

White:
Yes, I like Principle Secret, Great Hunter and Stormello. All three are very good colts. All three can win the Juvenile. Of the three, I like Principle Secret the best. He won the Best Pal at Del Mar, beating Great Hunter. In the Norfolk, Principle Secret set the pace without ever getting a breather and still only lost by a neck. It is my understanding that Principle Secret's trainer, Christopher Paasch, was not pleased to see Principle Secret in front early in the Norfolk. There has been a rider switch for the Juvenile. I don't think we'll see Principle Secret in front early this time. Great Hunter is consistent (he's never been worse than second) and could give trainer Doug O'Neill back-to-back Juvenile wins following Stevie Wonderboy last year. And Stormello merits more respect than what he will probably get in the wagering because he's trained by Bill Currin and not O'Neill, or Pletcher, or Baffert or some other high-profile conditioner. But Bill Currin has done an excellent job with Memorette and he also won this year's California Cup Juvenile, not to mention the Delta Jackpot with Outta Here. So don't Stormello should not be taken lightly. However, all that said, I'm picking Circular Quay to win the Juvenile. He's got the home court advantage (two for two on the main track at Churchill Downs). I liked him before the Breeders' Futurity, and I'm not going to get off him just because he lost on the Polytrack at Keeneland. As the Daily Racing Form comment accurately points out, he "lost position on the far turn." Yet he still only lost by a length and three-quarters.

Isle of Palms, SC:
I read where Aragorn likes firm turf and they had rain in Kentucky, so he doesn't figure to get that. Can he still win?

White:
In the winner's circle after the Oak Tree Mile, I asked the co-owner of Aragorn, Belinda Strudwick, if there was any kind of scenario that she could envision in which Aragorn would not run in the BC Mile. Her reply was that he probably wouldn't run if the ground was soft. She also told me that the reason Aragorn was sent to the U.S. was because he needs firm ground. As it stands at the moment, I think the ground will be firm or good at the worse Saturday. If it's either firm or good, Aragorn should be okay. If, however, it's yielding or soft, it would decrease his chances considerably.

Huntington, WV:
I don't get HRTV. Why can't there be one network for horse racing?

White:
I get asked this question all the time. First of all, I am very sorry you don't get HRTV. Interestingly, this subject came up Tuesday morning while I was talking with trainer Nick Zito at his Churchill Downs barn. First, he told me how much he enjoys watching HRTV. Then he said he can't understand why people say there should only be one network for horse racing. "I wish there were more than two," he said. "When I hear people say there should be one racing network, I tell them, 'Should there only be one ABC, or one CBS, or one NBC, or one FOX?"

Paris, KY:
What do you think is the single most important factor when handicapping?

White:
That's a great question, one that I often ask of other people. To me, there is no single most important handicapping factor. That's part of what makes the game so much fun. Each race is different. In a race at Longacres on Longacres Mile Day in 1972, I thought pace was the single most important handicapping factor. Strong Award was in the best current form, but Royal Ruler was the only early speed. Royal Ruler, with Joe Baze (Russell Baze's father) up, went right to the front, set a soft pace, was challenged by Strong Award on the far turn, but then kicked away in the stretch to win easily at a nice price (around 7-2 as I recall). In the Pinjara Stakes the other day at Oak Tree, class was the most important factor. As I wrote in my comments that appear in the Oak Tree program and as I said in my paddock commentary for the simulcast audience, Whatsthescript had finished less than three lengths behind Teofilo in Ireland on July 29. After that, Teofilo won Group I races in Ireland and England. Even without knowing that, all you had to do is look at the Timeform rating of 96 for Whatsthescript in that July 29 race. That's a high rating for a two-year-old in a non-group race. If Teofilo ran in the Pinjara, he would be about 1-5. Whatsthescript went off at almost 5-1 and surged late after being blocked in the upper stretch to win by a half-length. He paid $11.80. To me, he should have paid about $3.80. You don't get many of these situations anymore. I singled Whatsthescript in the pick six, but couldn't hit it. But, fortunately, I also bet Whatsthescript to win. Sometimes the most important handicapping factor could be a dam who always throws debut winners. That happened with a Quarter Horse in Washington state in the 1970s. After she produced seven consecutive debut winners, I told my dad that the lock of the year was running at Yakima Meadows in the first race. When my dad opened his Daily Racing Form, he saw a field of 10 maiden Quarter Horses who had never raced. "Are you nuts?" he asked. "How can you say anybody is a lock in that race?" After the race, that Quarter Horse broodmare did it again, producing her eight straight debut winner. So, again, in my opinion, the most important handicapping factor various from race to race. It depends on the circumstances of that particular race.

Albany, NY:
I liked Thor's Echo's last race. Is he good enough to win this race?

White:
I got a chance to see Thor's Echo at trainer Doug O'Neill's Churchill Downs barn Tuesday morning. He looked fine. Yes, he is good enough to win the race. But since he's won only three of 16 lifetime starts, I think there is a better chance of him finishing second or third.

North Brunswick, NJ:
Assuming the obvious answer is Bernardini, what OTHER horse do you make the "most likely winner" of one of the BC races on Saturday? I am thinking Wait a While in the F&M Turf as a key "single" in the Pick-4, at somewhere around 5-2 or 3-1.

White:
Three months ago and two months ago, I would have told you I think Ouija Board is "the most likely winner" of one of the BC races on Saturday. Now, as you correctly surmised, I have to say it's Bernardini. In the pick six, I will not be singling anyone else. But unlike many Breeders' Cups, there are races in which I will be surprised if one of two horses don't win. And it's not too bad in the pick six if you use two. It's when you have to go deeper than two when the ticket starts to get expensive in a hurry. And you're pick four ticket shouldn't be too costly since you do have a single in Bernardini. You're thinking Wait a While is a possible single. I think you could regret not also putting Ouija Board on your ticket. I'm using both Wait a While and my top pick in the race, Ouija Board, in the pick six. Keep this in mind. Ouija Board has faced considerably tougher competition than Wait a While. Wait a While won the Yellow Ribbon by 4 1/2 lengths. Right after the race, I looked it up to see if it was the biggest winning margin in the history of the Yellow Ribbon. It was. But I also think Ouija Board can beat Dancing Edie by 4 1/2 lengths, if not more. Three months ago and two months ago, I would have said Ouija Board is a single. Now I have to also put Wait a While on my ticket. I wish I also could use Lava Man and Sun King in the Classic. But without any other singles, I can't do that.

London, England:
I know our horses are up against it (especially George Washington on dirt), but how do you think your horses would do over our 'up and down, any which way courses' on grass?

White:
How great to get a question from London. I haven't been there since 1984 and sure would like to return one of these days. I had a great time at Newmarket, especially at the museum there where I got to see Eclipse's skeleton. My wife loves the castles in England. After the third castle, I'd seen enough of those. But, like I said, I really enjoyed Newmarket. I think a mile and a quarter might be even more of an problem for George Washington than the dirt. That's why I give David Junior a better chance to win the Classic than George. David Junior is proven at a mile and a quarter and supposedly has trained well on the all weather surface in England. The main concern I have for David Junior is not having raced since July 8. It's tough enough to try and beat Bernardini and Lava Man. But it's even tougher for a colt who hasn't competed since July 8. It brings to mind this year's Arc. I really think a long layoff cost Japan superstar Deep Impact the victory. As for how our horses would do over your "up and down, any which way courses" on grass, they would be in big trouble, I think. Unlike the days when the Jockey Club Gold Cup was at two miles instead of at a mile and a quarter, our American horses generally lack the stamina to beat a European horse on the grass at distances beyond a mile and a quarter. Which is one reason why the Europeans have done so well in the BC Turf. That's why I find it hard to pick English Channel or Cacique, even though they are very good. But can they beat one of the top European horses at a mile and a half? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Chicago, IL:
Thank you for your time and expertise. Can you please share your thoughts on handicapping the European horses and the use of the Timeform figures?

White:
It's my pleasure to answer these questions. My thoughts on handicapping European horses was kind of explained in part in the previous answer about what I think is the most important handicapping factor. Handicapping European horses for American turf races pretty much means concentrating on what kind of races they ran in (emphasizing group races), what tracks they ran at (Newmarket or Longchamp instead of one of the lesser tracks, Trevor Denman has talked a lot about this through the years), how big the fields were (it always impresses me to see a horse win a race with 20 starters or something like that) and who trained them (it always means more to me to see the horse was trained by someone like Andre Fabre or Aidan O'Brien or John Gosden). And Timeform ratings can be very helpful, as I cited in talking about Whatsthescript. Even better is if you read the Timeform comments for a horse (available for a fee at their website) or the comments provided at The Racing Post website. Racing, whether it's at Epsom Downs or Churchill Downs or any other Downs, is all about getting as much information as you can, then sifting through that information and trying to make it work for you.

Little Rock, AK:
Mr. White who is your pick in the Breeders' Cup Turf? And do you think Hurricane Run can come back to his form?

White:
First, since your from Little Rock, let me say how much I've always enjoyed myself whenever I've been to Oaklawn Park. That includes my first visit. While working at Louisiana Downs in 1980, Randy Moss, now of ESPN, was working in publicity at that track. He's from Little Rock and took me to Oaklawn for a visit in the fall. As for my pick in the Breeders' Cup Turf, it is Hurricane Run. Yes, I think he can come back to his form. Really, his form this year isn't all that bad anyway. He won a big race in late July, barely lost to Shirocco in September, had a horrible trip in the Arc in October, then ran third in the Champion Stakes when facing an outstanding mare who had finished a fast-closing second in the Arc. Hurricane Run's current form is plenty good enough to win the BC Turf. But now I am worried. Why? In Jim Mazur and Peter Mallett's terrific publication "Crushing the Cup 2006," they point out that Hurricane Run's trainer, Andre Fabre, has been present to supervise each of his three Breeders' Cup victories. But when Fabre stayed home, he has never won a Breeders' Cup race. I heard that Fabre is not coming to Churchill Downs for Saturday's race. So, if it turns out that's true, it make me nervous about picking Hurricane Run.

Los Angeles, CA:
Love your work out here at beautiful Santa Anita, Outstanding! I would like to know who you feel are the biggest pretenders in this years Cup. I am talking about horses who are likely to be well bet but who you think have little chance. Best wishes!

White:
That’s a very good question. Usually I would have a definitive horse with which to answer that question, but it seems it is even tougher this year. Pine Island, probably because, through the course of the year as a generality, I have been taking a stand against the 3-year-old fillies against older fillies. In almost all of the races, though, the first, second, and third favorites are all horses I respect and think will run well.

Ennis, NJ:
I enjoy betting supers, but my approach is to find horses who are unlikely to win, but likely to run on the bottom. Would you mind giving me a horse in each race that is likely to run third or fourth but not first or second. It's my reverse super approach! Thank you

White:
This is easy, because I have a longshot in each race. in the Juvenile Fillies, I would say Quick Little Miss, as well as Satulagi. Satulagi has somewhat of a similar profile to Juvenile winner Wilko. In the Juvenile, my longshot is Pegasus Wind and I would throw in C P West. In the Filly & Mare Turf, it is Mauralakana and Satwa Queen. In the Sprint, my longshot is Pomeroy, as well as Thor’s Echo. In the Mile, my longshot is Badge of Silver, who really runs well fresh, and Echo of Light. In the Distaff, my longshots are Round Pond and Balletto. In the Turf, my longshots are Better Talk Now and Scorpion. In the Classic, my longshots are Premium Tap and Sun King, both good candidates to win.

New York, NY:
As a Georgia Tech grad, I try and use an engineers approach to dissecting the races. My research has lead me to these two horses and I would appreciate your opinion on their chances...Street Sense and Thor’s Echo.

White:
Street Sense would not shock me because of his pedigree and his trainer. On the basis of both of those factors he could be dangerous. I saw Thor’s Echo the other morning, and he looks great and, again, I respect the trainer. He has run some big races, so he wouldn’t shock me if he won.

Hooper, East Coast:
With so many good animals on the track I have to go to breeding and class. As a true American patriot I am going all the way with George Washington in the Classic. I am thinking that this miler really wants more distance and that he will look like a rocket taking off just before the quarter pole? Do you give him a shot?

White:
I give him a shot, only because of the way many Europeans that I respect have raved about him. But my main concern is that he has two question marks to answer. Question mark one is whether he can handle the dirt. I am especially worried about that in light of Dylan Thomas. Even more than the dirt question, I think the 1 1/4 miles is a big question mark for him. He’s trying another country, another surface, and another distance. That’s why between George Washington and David Junior, I think David Junior has a better chance of winning the Classic because he is a proven
mile and a quarter horse.

Norwood, MA:
Hi Jon: I enjoy reading your columns. Do any Euros jump out at you?. Thanks

White:
No Euro jumps out at me this year but I am picking Hurricane Run because I don’t think his form this year as bad as other people think it is. In the Arc, he had a very troubled trip and he is still competing at the highest level in the world. Still, I am concerned that he might not be the same Hurricane Run who won the Arc in 2005.

Louisville, KY:
What do you think of Lemons Forever's chances in this year’s Distaff? Another out of the clouds victory maybe?

White:
Based on what I have seen from her here, I would be very surprised if she won the Distaff, not because of her style in coming from so far behind, but because generally I have taken a stand against the 3-year-old filly division this year in terms of being very doubtful that they can measure up to the older fillies and mares.

Chicago, IL:
I really like Siren Lure in the Sprint. I believe that there will be a ton of speed up front for this horse to come from off the pace and Solis has won the sprint in the past with Kona Gold. What are your thoughts here?

White:
You could be right. However, my main concern with Siren Lure was his very slow workout the other day. Generally, I would not put too much emphasis on one workout but Siren Lure is typically a very good work horse. Therefore, for him to come up with a slow work makes me concerned about him coming in to this Breeders’ Cup. But judging by how this race is setting up, it does seem that Sire Lure, if he is on his game, certainly is capable of winning it.

Coral Springs, FL:
What do you make of Go Deputy, with ascending Beyers all year and a repeat of his last (109) that would put him in the winner’s circle? And why did Pletcher choose Pesslier to ride?

White:
I have always kind of liked him because he is half brother to Dare and Go and because he is out of a Secretariat mare and I have always had a fondness for horses out of Secretariat mares. He has been very good broodmare sire. Go Deputy does seem to coming into the Breeders’ Cup on an upswing and could be scary. I don’t know why Pletcher opted for Pesslier. However, as a bettor I trust his judgment and certainly Pesslier is a world class rider.

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