Steve Haskin The Blood-Horse senior correspondent
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin returns to Talkin' Horses for his first look at the 2008 Breeders' Cup World Championships. Submit your questions about the October 24-25 races at Santa Anita, as well as your other racing related issues below.
Haskin is an award-winning Turf writer renowned for his Kentucky Derby commentary, with weekly articles, Classic Spotlights, and the "Derby Dozen" all found on the BloodHorse.com website's special Triple Crown Mania section. Previously, during his nearly three decades at Daily Racing Form, Steve made a name with his "Derby Watch" columns. Haskin's new book, "Tales from the Triple Crown", is a poignant look at many of the Classic winners.
Steve, I cannot believe the stewards awarded the photo in the Personal Ensign to Ginger Punch. I have looked at that photo again and again and just don't see it. Do you?
I looked at once right after the race and I couldn’t see any separation either. What made it look that way, I believe, is that they had the runner-up’s nose on the wire and Ginger Punch’s nose a smidgen after the wire, so it made separation even more difficult to see. I have to add that I could not separate Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle either, and I’ve looked at that a few times. I would think you need a magnifying glass to call it. What a tough defeat for both those horses. Can you imagine how much in stud value that loss cost Will Farish?
If Curlin wins the Woodward on Saturday in "champion" style, who in your opinion is front runner for Horse of the Year?
I think Curlin would have to win impressively to pull into a virtual dead-heat with Big Brown and let the chips fall where they may the rest of the year. As we speak, I would give the edge to Big Brown, because he’s won twice as many grade I stakes as Curlin. As subpar as the 3-year-old division may be as a whole, the only horse Curlin has beaten this year who has come back to do anything is Well Armed. By beating a grass horse in Einstein, and Barcola, Asiatic Boy, and Well Armed, Curlin needs to beat a horse like Divine Park in the Woodward to boost the competition he’s been facing this year. As for Big Brown, yes, it hasn’t been a stellar year for the 3-year-old colts, but the horses who Big Brown did beat, and convincingly, have gone on to win to finish one-three in the Travers, one-two in the Jim Dandy, one-three in the Swaps, and the one-three in the Ohio Derby. And Big Brown did run the fastest Kentucky Derby ever won the Thoro-Graph figures. So, while I normally would give the edge to the defending Horse of the Year, I think we have to wait and see what happens over the next few months. Right now it’s a toss-up.
Hi Mr. Haskin First off just wanted to say how happy I am to have you back. I love these chats and, frequently blog with you. Ok this is just a silly question, nothing too serious, but if you had a race that just had Big Brown, Curlin, Invasor, Bernardini, Smarty Jones, and Barbaro, going 1 1/4 on dirt, who do you think would come out on top? I love Curlin so I can't answer since I'm so biased. Also who are your all-time favorite racehorses and why?
I normally don’t like partaking in made-up races with horses of different generations, especially when they consist of accomplished older horses and 3-year-olds who have never faced older horses. But, being you’re a frequent blogger I will say that I would eliminate Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and Barbaro, because of the fact they never faced older horses, and two of them never raced after the Triple Crown. That would leave Curlin, Invasor, and Bernardini. I think Bernardini had the most God-given talent of any of these horses (sorry), and on his best day, I think he could beat almost anyone. But he did lose to Invasor, and Invasor always found a way to win, regardless of who he was running against and where. I admit to being prejudiced when it comes to Invasor, but I would have to give him the nod. As talented as Curlin is, he still needs to beat better quality horses to approach the realm of greatness. Wins in the Woodward and JC Gold Cup would move him in that direction. If he could then meet and defeat Big Brown in the Clark Handicap, you can call him a great horse. His biggest win so far has been in the slop when most of his main competitors didn’t handle it, finishing up the track. I actually think his Preakness was his best performance. That stamped his potential greatness. All these mentioned are magnificent horses who could beat the others on their best day. My all-time favorite horses are Damascus, Dr. Fager, Arts and Letters, Gallant Bloom, His Majesty, Forego, Tiznow, Invasor, and Touch Gold. The next group would include Spectacular Bid, Skip Away, Cigar, and Holy Bull. The reasons for each are way too long to go into. Maybe I’ll write it up in a blog in the near future.
Thank you Mr. Haskin for answering our questions. What is your opinion of this 3-year-old crop?
Big Brown stands well above anyone else. He is the crop of 2008. None of the others have really distinguished themselves as anything special, but Colonel John is moving up the ladder, having won grade I stakes on synthetic and dirt, and he’s been consistent, something you can’t say about most of the others. I think Smooth Air still has a shot be one of the leaders of the crop, and Visionaire has found a home going one turn and will be a force the rest of the year. All in all, talking about depth and overall talent, it’s below par at this point, but there’s a good chance a 3-year-old will win the BC Classic and maybe another BC race or two and that certainly would boost their reputation.
Mr. Haskin, I watched as Mani Bhavan broke her maiden at Delaware Park, she shot to the lead and I kept waiting for her to wilt but she was just so powerful and trounced the field. Is it too early to call her the best juvenile filly? And should we expect her at the Breeders' Cup?
I think at this point, and it’s extremely early, she’s probably the best 2-year-old filly in terms of accomplishment and brilliance. But let’s see what happens when some of these impressive Saratoga maiden winners run again and what happens when they go two turns. We’ve just scratched the surface.
Grants Pass, OR:
Having watched Colonel John's thrilling nose victory in the Travers Stakes, I was wondering if there were ever other California based horses that won this prestigious race? If so, who were they?
Most recently, Ten Most Wanted was based in California with Wally Dollase, as was another Dollase-trained winner Deputy Commander. Before that, you have to go back a long, long way. In fact, I can’t even think of any others. Point Given was based in California a good portion of the year, but he had won the Haskell prior to the Travers, as opposed to coming off the Swaps. You have to go back to Tompion in 1960 to find a California-based horse to win the Travers. He raced in California early in the year, winning the Santa Anita Derby, before heading east for the Triple Crown. In fact, Tompion and Point Given were the only Santa Anita Derby winners to win the Travers before Colonel John pulled off the double.
New Brunswick, Canada:
Hi Steve. I really like your new column Hangin’ with Haskin. My question is, do you think Colonel John is going to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and will his win in the Travers cause some owners who are convinced that a synthetic specialist can't run on dirt and vice versa to take another look at things. I am of the opinion that the good ones will run on anything.
Thanks. Colonel John definitely will be pointed for the Classic, and, yes, I do believe it will get some trainers thinking that maybe they should take a shot at the Classic. But, let’s remember one thing. Colonel John proved that a synthetic track horse can win on the dirt, as Gayego did earlier in the Arkansas Derby. But he didn’t prove that a dirt horse can win on synthetic. There’s a big difference going dirt to synthetic than the other way around. Many synthetic horses will take to the dirt because it is a natural surface and what they were bred to run on. Most confirmed dirt horses won’t take to synthetic because it’s not a natural surface and not what they were bred to run on. How many grass horses would be just as effective on artificial turf? No one knows, because once again it’s not what they were bred to run on.
Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham UK:
Hi Mr. Haskin, I really enjoy your articles on the Internet and in The Blood-Horse magazine. Does your new book include Seattle Slew? He was a tremendous success story but did nearly die as a 4 year old and had problems as a stallion in his later years too didn't he? You were kind enough to respond to my last eulogy about him and are clearly a fan of his. I think six of the horses in the Travers Stakes have Seattle Slew's name somewhere in their pedigree which is quite extraordinary! I was very sad to read of Vindication's death. Do you agree that Seattle Slew really stamped his horses and that a lot looked like him? Perhaps not so much his best son so far, and a great favourite of mine, A. P. Indy, whose offspring seem to come in all colours. God Bless, All the best Abbie Knowles.
Thank you very much Abbie. I love the name of your town. There is no chapter on Seattle Slew, because I concentrated mostly on the last 25 years. Although I followed Slew’s Triple Crown closely, I had no real behind-the-scenes stories I could write about, and everything else has already been written. The Slew story, from a $17,500 yearling, is perhaps the greatest success story I’ve ever encountered in racing. The dynasty he built, as a racehorse and mostly a sire, is unprecedented. A good many Slews did look like him, and Vindication had all the qualities to carry on his sire’s tradition on the track and in the breeding shed. A.P. Indy didn’t look like Slew or run like Slew, but that can be said for lots of stallions. Has any father and son been less alike than Thunder Gulch and Point Given?
Hi Steve, It’s great to have you taking our questions again. I'm a relative newcomer to horse racing and since most of what I know has come from reading your books and articles (which I treat as gospel), I have one more question that I need to ask. Other than the fact it’s always been done that way, why is it that a stud is really required to actually cover a mare instead of allowing closely supervised artificial insemination?
Thanks so much. Racing and breeding are steeped in tradition, and mares are meant to be bred to stallions. No matter how closely you supervise artificial insemination there is too much room for error and it would be too open to nefarious activities. Just imagine the millions of dollars involved. How much would Storm Cat’s or A.P. Indy’s semen be worth? Stealing it would be like stealing an expensive work of art. And it’s just not natural, and that’s what this sport is all about (well, except for some racing surfaces).
Hi Mr. Haskin, I'm so glad you're on to answer questions again. In your opinion, does Zenyatta pretty much have the older female title locked up, or can Ginger Punch steal it away if she defeats her in the Breeders’ Cup? Ginger Punch is really showing some guts this year, more so than last year, and it's making for very exciting observance. Also, Proud Spell seems to be on top of the three year old fillies division, but could Indian Blessing possibly take to longer distances with her new found rating abilities and win some? Would that be a threat to Proud Spell? Thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge with us.
Thanks, glad to be back. Ginger Punch definitely has a big shot for the Eclipse Award if she beats Zenyatta in the Distaff. And she wouldn’t be stealing it from her, because she’s the defending champion, so the crown is hers to lose. She hasn’t been as brilliant as she was in the past, but what guts. It’s obvious she hates to lose. Indian Blessing also has a shot at the title – in fact she has a shot at two titles if you add the Filly and Mare Sprint division. I still think she’s a better one-turn horse. So she can win the Gazelle or Ruffian, both around one turn, but after that Baffert is going to have to make a big decision where to go with her – try to keep stretching her out around two turns or drop her back to sprints where she seems unbeatable right now. Proud Spell has a narrow lead over Music Note in the 3-year-old filly division right now and there’s a good chance Proud Spell won’t run in the Distaff, so we’ll have to see what happens from now on.
Cedar Rapids, IA:
Hi Steve! Thanks so much for taking our questions today, it’s always a good day when you're on Talkin' Horses! I read your story about Dark Mirage in the Blood-Horse and loved it but it made me want to read more! Any chance you'll write about her in more detail? Or what about a book on Native Diver?
Thank you. I’m glad you liked the Dark Mirage feature. She was a very special filly. I have no plans to write about her in detail at this point, but you never know what new information will crop up. Native Diver would make a great book, but I’m afraid I’m not the one to write it, especially since I’ve concluded my book-writing career. I’d rather just concentrate on features, the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup reports, race recaps, and my blog.
If Curlin skips the Breeders' Cup Classic, but Big Brown shows up and wins, do you think the UPS poster boy will take the Horse of the Year title? It certainly doesn't look like these two will ever meet unless at Santa Anita this October. If the Dutrow meal ticket does well over New Jersey grass and Curlin is entered in the Breeders' Cup Turf, what do you think are the chances that Big Brown will skip the Classic to take on Curlin?
Yes, Big Brown will be Horse of the Year in my opinion. I couldn’t conceive of him not being Horse of the Year. I would hardly call him Dutrow’s meal ticket, unless you completely dismiss the existence of Benny the Bull, Kip Deville, Diamond Stripes, and Frost Giant, who have combined to pay for an awful lot of meals this year. Why would you think Curlin will be entered in the BC Turf? If they felt he was as good on the grass as on the dirt he’d be in France right now pointing for the Arc.
Panama City Beach, FL:
While I realize it was not the more famous Triple Crown, it should be noted that the winner of the New York-bred Triple Crown, Tin Cup Chalice, won with dignity and displayed a zest for the sport sometimes missing at the so-called highest level. Do you think he would be competitive against open company?
I’m glad you brought him up, so we can give him the recognition he deserves. Any horse who is seven-for-seven and has won at six different distances from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles should be recognized for his accomplishments. He has shown brilliance and heart. If he was to compete against open company I would think his best chance would be at shorter distances where he’s been faster and more dominant. But I do think he’d be competitive at any distance because he wants to win and knows nothing else.
What are your thoughts on the offer made by Big Brown's connections to race Curlin in a match race?
I don’t like the idea at all. Why pit a horse with good early speed against a horse who comes from fairly well off the pace? What would that prove? Match races are a thing of the past, and even then they’ve proven nothing. It would be nothing more than a publicity stunt that would induce more smack talk. Yes, it would give the sport a lot of ink and air time, but that’s about all.
Do you think anything will come from all the recent talk about Halsey Minor and John Brunetti meeting and hoping to revive Hialeah after it closed more than seven years ago?
Boy, I sure hope so. I’ve heard Minor on Steve Byk’s radio show and he certainly sounds sincere. Brunetti has been sitting on this track for ages it seems, and I hope he takes advantage of the situation. Racing needs Hialeah, and so does the Breeders’ Cup, which would have a great home on a regular basis. Not only was Hialeah one of the most beautiful tracks in the world, but also one of the fairest tracks in America. So many great horses have competed here.
Steve, Thanks again for your great columns and blogs. Any clues on the upcoming Secretariat movie? It seems as though the first announcements said that Nack's work was the core, but now it sounds as though the movie is a Penny Chenery biopic. What's the scoop?
Nack did include some bio stuff on Penny Chenery, but I understand the movie focuses around her and the old standby racing movie plot – daughter comes home to save farm after father either dies or in this case becomes gravely ill. Daughter races superhorse to win the Kentucky Derby and saves farm. It was a formula that worked in the 1930s with “Kentucky” starring Loretta Young and Walter Brennan and continued to be successful after that. This time, however, it was pretty much true. I’m sure a good deal of the film was based on Nack’s book, but Chenery had some issues with the book when it first came out, mainly how it portrayed her, so who knows?
With due respect to Curlin and Big Brown, in the last number of years has the dirt handicap divisions ever been so weak? Kudos to Colonel John for winning the exciting Travers but I was not impressed by the race line-up. I must admit to the turf and fillies/mares divisions being very talented. Being I believe Zenyatta only does what it takes her to win-Do you believe, like I, that she could step up and be competitive in the BC Classic? Especially with Curlin being a no-show? Should she take a shot?
I agree with you about the filly/mare division, but the BC Turf division doesn’t look strong at all. The Europeans had a field day in the Arlington Million and Secretariat Stakes, and those were hardly the cream of the crop. And don’t forget about what Red Rocks did to Curlin in the Man o’War. So, as of now, we’re pretty weak in that division. Our best turf horse likely is Kip Deville, who will try to defend his title in the BC Mile. I think Zenyatta would be a formidable foe in the Classic, but Shirreffs has indicated that is not in her plans. I would think long and hard about it. She has all the tools to beat this bunch of older horses. It would just be a question of how Big Brown takes to the synthetic surface. I think a lot will also depend on how Tiago comes back. He’s been sidelined and only had his first work back a few days ago. If he makes it back he would be a legitimate contender to win the Classic.
Steve, I crack up every time I see a veterinarian, a trainer, and anyone else who talks about how steroids don't enhance performance of these animals. I have worked out my entire life and have witnessed firsthand, without using what they are capable of in humans in small doses. People are not stupid, and vets should know that. When one of these guys quotes a credible study then I like most fans might believe what they say. Until then I'll trust what I've seen firsthand. Do you know of any credible studies done on the subject?
I don’t know that there have been any major studies yet comparing steroids in horses and in humans, or what their effect is on horses. Two anabolic steroids – Winstrol and Equipoise – are made for horses and not humans, and although some humans have been known to take them, humans in general use different steroids than horses. On HBO Real Sports, it was reported that comparing human and equine steroids is like apples and oranges – it cannot be done accurately.
Steve, I'm a long time horse racing fan serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq. Trying to keep up on my horse racing adds a sense of normalcy to my 15 months here. I know it’s early, but who would be your lock for a Breeders’ Cup race win this year; and a sleeper who can sneak in and do some damage? I look forward to your column during Breeders’ Cup week to get final insights.
Thank you so much for writing, and I can’t begin to tell you how proud and gratifying it is for me to help contribute to your “sense of normalcy.” It is even more gratifying to know that racing has found a place over there and helps bring you a little bit closer to home. I hope those 15 months are dwindling down to a few. As you know it’s difficult to find a lock on Breeders’ Cup day, never mind two months in advance, but if I had to find one now I would have to look at a turf race because of the uncertainty of the synthetic track. Unless the Europeans have a super miler, Kip Deville looks like a good bet to make it two BC Miles in a row. I’ll even give you an exacta box with the French colt Tamayuz, who could be that super miler I was referring to. The way he’s been running, I don’t know if anyone can beat Duke of Marmalade in the Turf. As for a sleeper, watch out for Break Water Edison in the BC Juvenile, of course, assuming he handles the surface, and in the Classic, don’t forget about Tiago, who, as I mentioned earlier, is on the comeback trail after being sidelined. And I’m looking for a much-improved effort from Awesome Gem. I don’t know what happened to him in the Pacific Classic. All the best and hurry back home.
Hi Steve, I love your videos with Lenny and your blogs. Keep’ em coming! Do you think Commentator on a good day could beat Curlin?
Thanks, I enjoy both of them and Lenny makes the videos fun to do. I think Commentator on any given day and at his very best can beat anyone, and that would mean getting loose on an uncontested lead. He would have to open up on Curlin and try to get a big enough lead to be able to hold him off. But if they ran against each other 10 times I believe Curlin, who is three years younger than Commentator, would win the majority of the time.
It's interesting to see Big Brown to run the turf at Monmouth. It would have been more interesting to see Curlin cancel his plans to meet him there. Any thoughts on that? And on a side note- when do you think all tracks will move to synthetic?
Eek, bite your tongue. I don’t even want to think about all tracks moving to synthetic. I think there would be too much protesting from trainers and even breeders who would be “stuck” with dirt and speed pedigrees in their stallions and mares. As for the Monmouth race, wouldn’t that be a kicker if Curlin showed up there. However, considering he’s committed to the Woodward, that’s not going to happen. That would be a pretty weird spot to determine Horse of the Year.
I have read that eight retired hall of fame jockeys, including Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens, are going to ride in a race leading up to the Breeders' Cup races. This seems absolutely amazing to me. How can they possibly be in shape to do this? I would think some of them have probably put on extra weight too. Will this be an actual race, or some kind of promotional demonstration?
From what I read, it sounds like a legitimate race. To ride in one race, jockeys, even retired, are such great athletes and physical specimens they would be able to do it and be competitive. Remember, Angel Cordero rode in the Cotillion Handicap a couple of years ago. He didn’t do very well, but the spirit sure was willing, and most of the jocks riding in this race are quite a bit younger than Cordero.
Are there any books (other than your own) or movies (DVD) that you would recommend to people new to the sport or to old fans?
I would never recommend any of my books. That would be for others to do. The three “bibles” when it comes to horse bios are “Big Red of Meadow Stable,” by Bill Nack; Ruffian: Burning From the Start, by Jane Schwartz, and of course “Seabiscuit,” by Laura Hillenbrand. I also enjoyed the “Funny Cide” by Sally Jenkins and “The Big Hoss” by Joe McGinniss. For DVDs, definitely “The First Saturday in May,” “Smarty Jones,” “Race to the Derby,” and “On the Muscle,” which is a year in the life of Dick Mandella.
Did you know that the trainers of 2 stakes races, ( Pat O'Brien and The Pacific Classic) Win and you’re In yesterday at Del Mar are both protégés of Hall Of Fame Trainers Marion & Jack Van Berg. They both galloped and/or rode races at Hazel Park and Detroit Race Course for these Hall Of Fame trainers. I guess they learned their lessons well!
I knew Bill Mott worked for Jack Van Berg, but I did not realize that Wayne Catalano had as well. Thanks for sharing it.
Steve, Big Kristin Mulhall fan and she looks to have a keeper in Sky Cape. Do you think she's gonna try to stretch him out to a mile for the Breeders Cup Turf, or play it safe and get ready for a strong 2009 campaign? He seems to be stuck between sprint races and distance races.
I’m also a fan of Kristin. She is a super horsewoman. I see no reason why she shouldn’t point him to the Mile. He has sprinter’s speed (and is by Najran) and can carry his speed 1 1/16 miles. A drop back to a mile would be a natural for him. I’d also like to see his co-owner Steve Taub in the Breeders’ Cup. He’s one of my favorite colorful characters, and it was quite interesting to say the least when he and Kristin came to the Derby and Preakness with Imperialism. He would jog from his hotel to the track every morning carrying a box of Dunkin Donuts.
Always great to have you back on the forum. Without asking you to pick on the Breeders' Cup too much, please comment on three potentially problematic situations, and which one you think could be the most damaging. The first is if several high profile horses, other than Curlin, decide not to go to Santa Anita. Second, the days are dominated by synthetic specialists that have not otherwise distinguished themselves. Third, that the best match up during the two-day event ends up being run on Friday in the Lady's Classic. Thanks so much.
You have echoed all my concerns, and if all three problematic situations become a reality I can only blame the Breeders’ Cup for committing to Santa Anita for two straight years when they didn’t even know what kind of surface they were going to have and if it was going to be conducive to championship racing. If Curlin, Proud Spell and other division leaders don’t run, then it will only add fuel to the fire of those who insist championship races should not be run on synthetic surfaces. The void it will create will be near-impossible to fill. As for the domination of synthetic track specialists, I imagine many Eclipse voters will do as I plan on doing, which is not factoring in the Breeders’ Cup dirt races at all in my voting, thus removing any significance the BC races will have on determining championships. Finally, if Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Music Note, and Proud Spell (if they change their mind) stage a race for the ages in front of a minimal audience on-track and watching on TV, perhaps it will get the BC to reconsider putting such an important event on Friday.
San Diego, CA:
As of right now, do any three-year-olds look like Breeders' Cup Classic prospects except Big Brown, Colonel John, and Mambo in Seattle? Another interesting angle in the Classic is the matchup of top sires Tiznow (Well Armed and Colonel John) vs. Kingmambo (Henrythenavigator and Mambo in Seattle). Have any of Kingmambo's offspring won major stakes on synthetic?
Unless their plans have changed, Casino Drive (remember him?) has the Classic targeted, with a prep in the Goodwood. And I wouldn’t throw Da’ Tara out of the mix. He ran a good race in the Travers, beaten only five lengths after being pressed on the lead most of the way, and LaPenta and Zito I’m sure would like to have a 3-year-old in the Classic. You mentioned Henrythenavigator and he’s certainly a distinct possibility. That is a hell of a matchup of sires, and if Da’ Tara does run, you’ll have three Tiznows. And in response to your question, Student Council is by Kingmambo and he won the Pacific Classic on Polytrack and could make it three Kingmambos as well.
Mr. Haskin,If you had to pick right now who would be your top horse for each of the 14 Breeders Cup races? Thanks.
That’s a pretty tall order in August. To be honest with you, I can’t even name all 14 races, never mind the winners.
Old Bridge, NJ:
Hi Steve. Rich from Twin C here. I know you hate the fact that the Breeders Cup is being run on a synthetic surface. (and I'm not thrilled either) But why not just send Curlin since it is his last race? If he loses it can be forgiven because of the surface but if he wins I think that will just elevate his status. Hasn't Jackson said he wants Curlin to be the people’s horse? What about the people on the West Coast that want to see him close up? What do you think?
Hi Rich. If the people on the West Coast want to see Curlin they’ll have to move or take their vacation back East. Jackson likely is not sending Curlin because it IS his last race, and no one wants their horse to lose, and possibly even be embarrassed, in his last race, especially because they couldn’t handle the artificial track. That leaves a bad taste. Everyone wants to go out a winner, and as Jackson has said numerous times he doesn’t want Curlin and his final race to be an experiment. But who says he and Big Brown won’t meet? Don’t give up hope. There is still the Clark Handicap on Nov. 28 and Iavarone has said he’d run against Curlin there.
Well Steve, Curlin and the Arc was not to be. I bet you were looking forward to a trip to Paris as well! What’s your idea of the winner and can you believe that Henrythenavigator is 5/1 over here for the Classic?
I wouldn’t have turned down that assignment, but it was interesting while it lasted. By him not going, you can’t say we haven’t gotten a lot of press out of it here, with all the Curlin/Big Brown bickering and smack talk going on. I still have to think Big Brown will win the Classic if he handles the synthetic surface, but of course we won’t know until he runs on it. I would hate to see a horse win who is only good on synthetic. Colonel John will be tough, and Tiago is a sleeper. As far as Henrythenavigator, I can’t tell if you feel 5-1 is too high or too low. I think 5-1 is too low on most anyone right now, but I would make Henrythenavigator no worse than third choice in the Classic. He’s that good, and he there is no reason to think he won’t handle the surface. Aidan O’Brien is overdue to win the Classic, and after last year’s tragedy, he deserves one.
Who are some of the under the radar horses to watch for in the Breeders’ Cup that no one is talking about?
I’ll go back to Tiago in the Classic. Watch out for Girolamo, Break Water Edison, Munnings, Charlie’s Moment, and Just a Coincidence in the Juvenile, but I really think Azul Leon is a good one and will be tough to beat. I haven’t given up on Unbridled Belle for the Distaff, although that is a brutally tough race. Tamayuz in the Mile. Surf Cat in the Dirt Mile. Those are just a few off the top of my head.
Hey Steve, I'd like to know your thoughts on this Curlin vs. Big Brown rivalry. Should the reigning Horse of the year have to prove he's better than Big Brown or vice versa?
What rivalry? They’re both undefeated against each other. Seriously, neither has to prove he’s the better horse. You have two different philosophies working here. Jackson doesn’t feel championship races should be decided on an artificial surface and IEAH feels the Breeders’ Cup is the championship race regardless of the surface its run on. So, there’s your stalemate. Curlin, as reigning Horse of the Year, has to have the title taken away from him, but if Big Brown wins the Classic, his five grade I wins and two legs of the Triple Crown should be enough to earn Horse of the Year, assuming they don’t meet. But let’s see how impressive Curlin looks in the Woodward and possibly JC Gold Cup, and who he beats.
Hi Steve: I'm a huge Commentator fan. Do you think he's the fastest horse in the USA, or close to it?
I do think he’s the fastest horse in the country. Sometimes his speed and talent don’t come out, mainly when he’s pushed in sprint races and doesn’t break sharply. And he is getting up there in years. But for a 7-year-old, it’s amazing how fast he still is. Just imagine if he’d been sound his whole career.
Steve, with all the posters of Curlin, Key for the City, and on and on, I am just glad that Divine Park can't read or see the Saratoga goings on! I do like the marketing campaign. NYRA blew the Belmont with their non-marketing of the race. What do you think of Divine Park’s chances?
Amen. I wrote a few weeks ago that everyone has forgotten about Divine Park, in much the same way they forgot about another McLaughlin horse, Invasor, when they made the 2006 Classic a match-up between Bernardini and Lava Man, and used only those two on the posters. However, I would think Divine Park is at a disadvantage against Curlin, having only been two turns once in his career and not having run since May 26. But McLaughlin can get them ready as well as anyone, and he should at least test Curlin. But I would still have to give the advantage to Curlin, who seems primed for a big effort.
I bet Mambo in Seattle to win. It was by far the toughest beat I have ever suffered and I have been playing this game for 30 years. I will never forget this race - but please, any advice so I can move on and not dwell on losing the Travers by less than one inch. Thanks for the therapy!
If it makes you feel any better you are not alone. I can’t tell you how many people I know bet Mambo in Seattle and blew a bundle. It’s going to stick in your craw for a while longer, and you can’t fight it. I’ve been there, but not on that large a scale. All you can do to make yourself feel a little better is think of how badly Neil Howard feels and how much Will Farish lost in stud value (at least for now) by that head bob. Also, a lot of people I’m sure blew more of a payoff than you did. In a little while the pain will subside and you’ll have a great racetrack sob story to entertain your friends with. I know that probably didn’t help much, so I won’t send you a bill.
Steve, Have you seen any Smarty Jones's run yet and what’s the buzz on his 2YO's. And what has been the most impressive 2YO you seen race so far.
Yes, Smarty has already had his first stakes winner and an impressive maiden winner at Monmouth in Keefer. I think the buzz is starting to pick up, as indicated by some of the prices his yearlings sold for at Saratoga. I’ve seen several impressive 2-year-olds, but none more impressive than Munnings, not only because he won by daylight in 1:09 4/5 at Saratoga and is an awesome-looking colt, but the horse he beat, Just a Coincidence, is supposed to be pretty special himself.
Steve, what's your opinion of Ginger Punch? Do you think she's one of best fillies/mares in recent years? Will she go down as one of the best?
Based on her record and consistency, she definitely has to be one of the best in recent years. We knew she could blow her opponents away, but we’ve learned in her last two races that she’s tough as nails, can overcome adversity, is as gutsy as they come, and does not like to lose, something she showed in last year’s BC Distaff. You can’t ask any more of a horse. And you know she’s special when Bobby Frankel names his dog after her.
Des Moines, IA:
Hey Steve, I spent a weekend at a track recently and watched three races that featured 2 year olds that had not run one single race. They were so green that several acted up in the paddock just having a saddle put on them. How is it possible to even place a bet on those races? What do you look at?
You look at precisely what you just said. Instead of looking for a horse you like, eliminate the ones you don’t like because of their bad behavior. Sometimes, a really talented horse will win despite their pre-race antics, but most of the time they will leave their race in the paddock or post parade or at the gate. And unless you have a reliable tip or fall in love with a pedigree, it’s not wise to bet too much money on baby races, especially when all or most of the horses have not started.
Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer our questions. Steve, I was all over Miraculous Miss in the Ballerina and she came up short like she usually does. She has a great late kick, but just can't seem to win at 6 to 7 furlongs.
With her running style she’s always going to be victimized by pace, and a filly like her is going to lose more often than she wins. Unfortunately, she hasn’t won since Sept, 2006. So, until she does, put her in the back end of your exactas and trifectas. She ran super in the BC Filly& Mare Sprint, and her day will come. She just needs to have the race set up perfectly for her.
Steve, I know that you are high on Harlem Rocker, he made a good move at the top of the stretch in the Travers, but just flattened out after that. Since you were there, did you see or have an opinion as to why he did not continue to gain. And are you still high on him?
My only concern with him, as I stated before the race, was the question of whether he could get the 1 1/4 miles. He’s not really bred to relish 10 furlongs, and he ran like a horse who simply got tired in the final furlong. So, the concern turned out to be warranted. I still believe he’s extremely talented, and don’t be surprised to see him turn it around big-time at a shorter distance – anywhere from a mile to 1 1/8 miles. He made a big move around horses on the far turn, but losing that much ground he just couldn’t sustain his run. He’ll be back.
One of my all-time favorites was Holy Bull. I'm just curious on your view of him as a racehorse and sire and where/if he fits alongside the all-time greats.
I was a big fan of The Bull, and got to see him many times at Jimmy Croll’s barn at Monmouth. Although I think he was a much better horse than most people realize, I can’t rank him among the likes of Slew, Secretariat, Forego, and Spectacular Bid. He really didn’t want to go 1 1/4 miles and won the Travers on sheer guts. But at a mile to 1 1/8 miles, I’d rank him right up there with any of them. His Woodward was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen, and he knocked off some very good older horses in that race and in the Met Mile. He probably beat more grade I-winning older horses than any 3-year-old I can recall. And he was incredibly fast, and such a neat horse to be around. If he hadn’t gotten hurt I believe he would have had an amazing 4-year-old campaign and would have elevated himself into the realm of great horses. Imagine the rivalry between him and Cigar.
Saratoga Springs, NY:
Mr. Haskin, what did you think of Big Brown's Haskell win? I thought it was good but I was wondering what your opinion would be.
Big Brown’s Haskell win was much more impressive than most people think. I wrote a blog explaining why (“Mixed Feelings” Aug. 7) if you care to look it up in our blog archives. All things considered, I don’t understand why so many people were down on that race and acted as if he had lost. Not every race can be an easy one, and Desormeaux did take a hold of him in the last 70 yards. When a horse turns certain defeat into victory he should get some credit for that.
Do you think that after seeing the Travers, Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle could possibly be better than Big Brown?
Not at this time. I think the Big Brown we saw in the spring would have won the Travers by daylight. It was a perfect set-up for him, and I feel he would opened up turning for home. How both those horses will continue to progress we’ll find out in the Classic. They both have a good deal of potential and should only keep improving. But I still feel that Big Brown is in a class by himself in the 3-year-old division. But by him running on the grass and then on synthetic in the Classic, it will be difficult to tell if he is the same horse we saw in the spring. He could add more dimensions, but we won’t be able to compare those races to the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness.
Compare Grasshopper to Mambo in Seattle. Do you think 'Mambo' will be a sucker horse like Grasshopper?
I don’t consider Grasshopper a sucker horse. I don’t think he’s had the best of trips, and I didn’t like the ride he was given in the Iselin. Has he been a disappointment after that Travers performance? Yes, but he’s still a good horse. Mambo in Seattle in no way will be a sucker horse. He won three in a row before the Travers, showed he’s got guts, and missed winning the Travers by a hair despite losing a lot of ground. He will only get better and will be one of the top-ranked 3-year-olds by the end of the year. He also was a standout in the paddock for whatever that’s worth.
Hi Steve! Over the weekend, on ESPN, they were talking about a Big Brown/Curlin match race. Big Brown's owners wanted a match race at Churchill or Gulfstream. But Curlin's owners wanted a regular stakes race against Big Brown. Do you think that it would be a good idea for those 2 to face off in the Gr.II Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs after the Breeders' Cup?
I’ve been saying all along that the Clark is where they should meet. I spoke to Iavarone (Tuesday) and he didn’t realize the Clark was the same weekend as the match race he had proposed, so he’s willing to face Curlin in that race. If Big Brown wins the BC Classic and pretty much nails down Horse of the Year, and Iavarone brings him back to face Curlin, it would be a move unprecedented in these times. That would be the ultimate in confidence in one’s horse. I can’t imagine Jess Jackson not wanting to run Curlin in the Clark to settle Horse of the Year after all his proposals, so maybe it will actually happen.
Rising Sun, MD:
After the 1985 BC Juvenile in which Pa-bred Storm Cat lost by a nose, his trainer Jonathan Sheppard was asked after the tv commercial break if he would get Storm Cat ready for following years Ky Derby? His answer was “absolutely NOT". Did that answer get him fired?
Wow, you’re really testing my memory on that one. To be honest with you, I can’t recall much about the horse after the Breeders’ Cup other than he only raced twice as a 3-year-old. Not many owners want to hear that their star 2-year-old has no intentions of even embarking on the Derby trail. You sure would never hear Wayne Lukas say that.
My favorite race filly since Ruffian is Lakeway. As a 3-year-old she set stakes record time in three grade 1 stakes. I don’t know of any racehorse that could match this as a 3-year-old. Does she belong in Hall of Fame?
It’s a close call. I would say definitely yes had she won a couple more races as a 4-year-old, but going 1-for-6 probably would hurt her when it comes to the Hall of Fame, even though she ran some good races at 4. She just didn’t win them, and you have to win those big races to be elected into the Hall of Fame. She was beaten some 15 lengths by Inside Information in the BC Distaff. So, yes, she was a terrific 2-year-old and super 3-year-old, but her 4-year-old campaign didn’t help her.
White Plains, NY:
The Beyers earned by Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle (each a 106) in the Travers put them within a couple of lengths of Big Brown on his best day (I believe his best is a 109). Coal play was right there in the Haskell. From a numbers standpoint, BB does not seem to have progressed at all since the late winter/early spring. Could you comment on whether you think we are seeing the natural progression in some 3YOs as they have matured during the campaign and whether there is any basis to believe BB has hit his ceiling?
Well, we’re definitely seeing the progression in Colonel John, which was expected, considering he’s by Tiznow and is such a big, long-striding horse. Mambo in Seattle showed he is an emerging star and will only keep improving. Big Brown, obviously, hit a major snag in the Belmont Stakes, and we really don’t know yet if he’s the same horse he was in the spring. I don’t think the Haskell did anything to clarify that. It wasn’t his best performance, but it was not as bad as some people think. I believe it was an excellent comeback race and showed a new dimension to him. As I mentioned earlier, we may never know if he’s the same horse because of the two surfaces he’ll be running on. Only the Clark would answer that. For a horse to do the things he did in the spring, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s already reached his apex. It’s difficult for a horse with so little foundation to rise that quickly and keep progressing or even maintain that level all year. But he is an extraordinary horse, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hi Steve! Thanks again for the amazing writing (I can tell your writing without looking at the author!) I was wondering if you have any heads up on well bred two year olds who have started (or not). I love to keep track of those guys!
Thanks, so much. I consider that the ultimate compliment. The 2-year-olds who have really impressed me so far are Munnings, Just a Coincidence, Girolamo, Break Water Edison, Capt. Candyman Can, Silent Valor, and Vineyard Haven. I loved what I saw from a 2-year-old filly firster named Obsequious. The first three finishers in a recent Del Mar maiden race – Majormotionpicture, Empire House, and Massone – could all turn out to be good ones.
Hi Mr. Haskin. Thank you for your time with all your insights. I heard some Breeders’ Cup executive talking about how well received Ladies Day has been. Are they kidding themselves? I don't know one person who likes this idea of a Ladies Day! Being a woman myself, I find it insulting to the girls to not be on the Headliner day. Who are the people they are talking to getting their information? Seems to me they are very out of touch. What do you think of it?
That’s like being at democrat or republican convention and asking the people there what they thought of the speeches. If the BC is going to claim it’s been well received, they should specify who those people are that like it. I’m sure there are people who do like the idea, but I have to think the vast majority do not, judging from what I hear. If only a fraction of what they’re going to get on Saturday – on track and TV audience – get to see Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Music Note, and maybe Proud Spell clash in the Distaff (I can still use Distaff because this is a chat) I can’t imagine the BC being too thrilled. But, maybe the match-up will draw more people than expected. I’m trying to put a positive spin on it, although I still think it was a bad idea. I agree with you that the biggest race for fillies, and likely the best race on the entire BC card, should be run on the main day when people are watching. What they’re doing basically is segregating the fillies and putting them on a smaller stage in an effort to create two big days. Now, if they can only get people to stay home from work on Friday to attend or watch the races they may have a chance to accomplish that. They’re even making people pay for both days, and charging outlandish prices, which is pretty brazen on their part.
New York, NY:
Steve, If Curlin were to lose the Woodward this weekend do you think his connections would reconsider their decision not to go to the Breeder's Cup? Thus, maybe looking to re-establish Curlin's dominance so to speak.
I think that’s a good point. That would be two losses in a row and would start to chip away at his reputation. They would probably bring him back in the JC Gold Cup in order to get back in the win column and then contemplate where to go from there. If he lost that race, too, then the experiment Jackson referred to might actually seem more attractive and to his benefit. He wouldn’t have that much lose, and one more defeat, on a synthetic surface, isn’t going to mean that much, but a win would restore his reputation.
Thanks for stopping by to chat. Although I've seen very positive words spoken about last Saturday's wild day at Saratoga, I see a potential downside to such unpredictability at the wire. Do you think that long-priced winners and huge payoffs help draw more fans to the sport, or does more stability encourage the casual fan to become more involved?
Like everything else, you need a balance. You have to maintain your 30-35% winning favorites, and you have to have enough big prices to let people know that there is a potential killing to be made. Racing has kept that balance all these years and there is no reason to think it will change.
Thank you very much for taking our questions. With regard to the increased attention to inappropriate steroid use: this has followed closely upon Eight Belle's tragic death. However, Eight Belles was reportedly not given steroids. So, it seems unfair that Larry Jones and her connections would be so closely drawn up into this. Can you comment?
Larry Jones was drawn up into it by fanatics who reacted in ignorance. What happened to Eight Belles had absolutely nothing to do with steroids. And why would it? Steroids don’t break horses down. The steroids issue became a big issue when Rick Dutrow said Big Brown had been on them (as was Curlin). Just the link between the Kentucky Derby winner and steroids caused this to explode. And from the actions we’ve seen from the tracks, it looks like a good thing it was brought out in the open. The effect of it will be a complete ban of steroids in the near future. Eight Belles’ death was more of an attack on the sport in general, the use of drugs in general, and the use of the whip.
Arlington Heights, IL:
Steve, The thing that fascinates me most about Rick Dutrow's trash talk is his obsession over the fact that Curlin was beaten by "a girl." Never mind that Eight Belles was a worthy opponent to Big Brown, isn't Dutrow setting himself up for a royal embarrassment if Zenyatta were to actually skip the Ladies' Classic, run against Big Brown and win?
Dutrow’s comments about Curlin getting beat by a filly were ludicrous even for him. That was no ordinary filly and fillies are more effective against colts at extreme distances – going short or going long. Dutrow doesn’t give a hoot about being embarrassed. He is cloistered in his own world – which is his horses. He says what he feels at the time and the heck with any repercussions. If Big Brown should get beat by Zenyatta, he would just move on to the next race and pay no attention to what people say.
St. Louis, MO:
Sorry for the esoteric bent, but how do you tell when a race rider's abilities are declining? They seemingly hold their form or talent for years and then, suddenly it seems, they don't have "it" anymore. Your thoughts?
Interesting question. Not being a rider and appreciating the physical aspect of the profession, the bottom line is that you can tell a rider’s abilities are declining when his horses start losing over prolonged period of time. From what I’ve seen it’s not his skills that deteriorate, it’s his strength – in his arms and legs, just as it is with football or hockey players. A receiver will lose his speed and strength, a running back will lose his speed and the ability to cut, a lineman his strength. When a hockey player’s legs go, so goes he. Same with a jockey. After a while, the physical demands and age catch up with them, as do their numerous injuries. Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Angel Cordero didn’t lose any of their skills. They just weren’t able to perform physically at a high level. Steve Cauthen, the most talented rider I’ve ever seen for the short time he rode here, left to go to Europe after losing some 110 races in a row. In his case, he started having trouble making the weight in this country and he began losing confidence. His main attribute was his hands – he had great hands, like Shoemaker. When that confidence goes, the horses feel the negative vibes through the hands, just as they felt the positive vibes when he was riding in top form.
Any word on what happened to Last Year's Del Mar winner Crossing the Line? How about Maimonides?
I haven’t heard anything, but if you e-mail me at email@example.com I will find out.
I've heard you talk about horses having the "arched neck" as they prepare for a race (for example, Mambo in Seattle in the paddock before the Travers). It looks great, but what does it really tell us about a horse? When Curlin was preparing for the Dubai World cup, I pointed out his arched neck during workouts to a friend, but I couldn't tell him why that was a good thing. Can you enlighten me on this?
Many times a horse arching his neck shows that he is focused and on his toes -- basically he has his mind on business. Some horses always arch their neck out of habit, such as Alysheba. But in general I always like to see a horse with a slight arch to his neck. In a more aesthetic sense it's just attractive.
Prague, Czech Republic:
Mr. Haskin, may you remember racing days of Pleasant Tap, Skip Away and Artax, please? Do you think American and international breeders gave them good chance with its mares? Thank you very much for your answer.
Thanks for writing. Pleasant Tap was a very versatile horse who could sprint in top company and go a mile and a quarter in top company. He actually ran in four different Breeders' Cup races -- the Juvenile, Turf, Sprint, and Classic -- finishing second in the Sprint and Classic, which was quite a feat. He's been an excellent sire and now broodmare sire and is continuing the Pleasant Colony line. Skip Away was one of the toughest, most durable horses ever and won nine consecutive stakes as a 5-year-old, running the fastest Classic ever (1:59) at the time. Of the 18 races in which he had the lead turning for home he won 17 of them, losing only the Belmont Stakes. He sired many winners and a number of stakes horses, but never got that big horse that could have boosted his stud career. Artax was one of the fastest sprinters of all time, breaking or equaling track records held by Dr. Fager, Groovy, and Mr.Prospector. He also ran the second-fastest BC Sprint ever -- 1:07.89.
As a resident of Michigan and horse racing fan of many years...what do you think we need to do to put us on the map in the racing world? I am frustrated that we always seem to be up against it in this state when it comes to really stamping our place in the nation! And, what is your opinion of the new Pinnacle Racecourse? Will you visit? Will it last?
Michigan has always been an important racing state, and many of the top horses competed in the Michigan Mile -- later the Michigan Mile and an Eighth. Michigan could become a major force with some big purses for stakes at Pinnacle and coming up with a good marketing idea, like Calder did with the Summit of Speed. Something unique that would lure big-name horses. The fact that racing wasn't allowed to die in the a state shows they are dedicated and determined to have racing in Michigan. I have relatives in Michigan, and I will try to schedule my next visit at a time when I could get to Pinnacle. I'd love to see it.
Steve, if you got to pick your own dream race - using any horses past or present, any racetrack, any surface and distance...which ones would you pick and why?
I'm not big on dream races, but how about having several rabbits to assure an honest pace, none of whom could win, and let Damascus, Forego, Buckpasser, and Carry Back (four of the best deep closers of all time) all make their runs from far back and see who can outclose the others. Then have a race with Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew, Swaps, Skip Away, Ruffian, and Holy Bull and let them go at it from the start. Run the races on dirt of course and either at Aqueduct or Hialeah, the two fairest tracks in the country.
It's always good to have you here!....my questions are: Where is Fernando Jara riding; and there was a horse in Northern California named Imaginary Sailor, that was very impressive last year, do you know what's going on with him?
Jara had been riding in California and recently visited Uruguay. He had gone through several agents. I'm not sure what his status is right now, but I will look into that, as well as Imaginary Sailor if you send me your e-mail address.
I was impressed with Desert Key finishing second in the King's Bishop. Do you think he will be effective going farther in distance, or does he appear limited to sprint races? Any idea what is next for him?
He was able to rate in his early races, then seemed more of a speedball. But he was able to lay off the pace in the King's Bishop and finish fairly strongly. If he can continue to settle off the pace, he should be able to stretch out to a mile. But with his natural speed, it seems as if six and seven furlongs would be his best distance. If he can run big in a race like the Vosburgh, they'd have a choice whether to drop him back to six for the BC Sprint or stretch him out in the Cigar Mile.
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