The last Saturday in November is NYRA’s farewell to grade I and grade II racing, with the running of the Cigar Mile (gr. I) and the grade II Remsen and Demoiselle Stakes for 2-year-olds. But last year, there was a buzz in the air that had nothing to do with any of those three races.
“I gotta big tip on
Sure enough, Quality Road, sent off at 3-1 in the 13-horse field, charged out of the gate, fought off pressure for the first half-mile, then drew off under Alan Garcia to win by 2 3/4 lengths in a sharp 1:16 flat for the 6 1/2 furlongs that would earn him a lofty 101 Beyer speed figure.
“I just wish Richie had been on this horse,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said in the winner’s circle. “He’s worked so closely with him and knows him so well.”
But Migliore had been committed to ride his Breeders’
Quality Road showed up next at
Quality Road began training like gangbusters, prepping for the Fountain of Youth with a bullet :58 2/5 work six days before the race. This time, the colt’s coat was resplendent, and it was just a matter of how he would handle the wicked pace that was expected, and the lack of experience.
With John Velazquez aboard this time,
Migliore, watching from the jocks room at Aqueduct, knew at the five-eighths pole
“Although he’s got speed, he’s not a horse that wants to be rushed,” Migliore said. “When he got off slowly in his first start this year it was a perfect opportunity to take hold of him and let him get in stride, but he was gunned out of there. Today, Johnny was able to get him into that rhythm and I knew there was going to be a lot of horse there when he turned for home.
“He definitely touted himself early on. I worked a lot with him starting from September, so it was disappointing I couldn’t ride him. A real good horse is a combination of several things. Obviously they have that kind of stride that’s so big and efficient; they have size but are very light on their feet; they cover so much ground they’re always going faster than you feel like they’re going; and they’re very intelligent. He was all four of those things. He was extremely intelligent. Something would happen that would spook 90% of the horses and he would just stop and look at it with a quizzical look, and then drop his head and go on. That’s something you can’t teach; it’s something the good horses seem to possess. To me, from the first time I got on him I thought he was the complete package.”
“He definitely has the ability and I know he can go as far as he needs to go,” he said. “That’s not even a question in my mind. It’s only his third start of his life, but they’ve been breaking all these
“Jimmy’s not a vocal guy, but when he started working him a half and five-eighths he made it clear this horse can really run,” Baker recalled. “And when Jimmy says that you need to listen.”
So, once again, we have to ask ourselves, just how special is this horse, will he be as effective going two turns, and is he capable of winning the
Quality Road’s sire, Elusive Quality, although a miler/sprinter, has already sired a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner in Smarty Jones , and Quality Road’s female family is loaded with class and stamina through broodmare sire Strawberry Road, and tail-female influences Alydar and Bold Bidder. Strawberry Road’s sire,
Speaking of the Fountain of Youth, the one-mile distance drew a great deal of criticism for its placement on the schedule. Instead of a natural progression from the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) to the one-mile Holy Bull (gr. III) to the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby (gr. I), the 3-year-olds who had already run nine furlongs in the Holy Bull (gr. III) or in allowance races were asked to go a flat mile against a number of exceptionally fast horses stretching out from six furlongs. That scenario was rejected by most trainers, and as a result, only one horse -- Beethoven, whose pedigree is more geared toward a mile – made the drop back in distance.
Instead of providing a chance for much-needed graded earnings going two turns, the Fountain of Youth draw a field made up in good part of horses coming off huge Beyer numbers in sprints – This Ones For Phil 116, Notonthesamepage 114, Taqarub 103, and Capt. Candyman Can 101. And
While that made for a wide-open, contentious race, there was a question whether it would actually serve as a useful prep for legitimate Kentucky Derby horses. As a result, several of the top horses based in South Florida changed course for the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), Gotham (gr. III), or Louisiana Derby (gr. II), with one even going to California for the Sham Stakes (gr. IIII). That raises a second question: who will be left to run in the Florida Derby, a race that likely will be headed by
There is one other note regarding Gulfstream. It is time to simply ignore the fractions in one-mile races run out of the chute. In order to give horses as much room as possible behind the gate for safety reasons, the gate is moved up, so instead of having a run-up before the teletimer is triggered, the timing starts as soon as the horses break. As a result, the opening quarter in the Fountain of Youth was a sluggish :23 4/5, while the half was run in :45 2/5. That means the second quarter was run in :21 3/5 after a :23 4/5 first quarter. Sorry, but horses simply do not do that, so pay no attention to the fractions of this race.
Wild Bull of the Pamplemousse
Apologies to all those who have never heard of the noted heavyweight fighter of the 1920s, Luis Firpo, who was nicknamed “Wild Bull of the
Anyone who has seen The Pamplemousse run and the way he charges at his opponents with legs going off in all directions can understand the comparison. Of course, both Firpo and The Pamplemousse’s trainer, Julio Canani, were born in
The Pamplemousse does not possess the smooth, graceful strides you look for in a
With a pedigree laced with speed in his tail-male and tail-female families, one has to wonder where this reserve comes from. His sire, Kafwain , was a tenacious bulldog on the track, and Kafwain’s sire, Cherokee Run, has sired a number of hard-knocking horses.
In any event, The Pamplemousse looks to be a horse you do not want to tangle with, especially in races with no early speed, as was the case in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes (gr. III). Other than the second- and third-place finishers, Take the Points and Mr. Hot Stuff, respectively, the Sham was a pretty weak group. Take the Points traveled cross-country, arriving two days before the race after his original flight was canceled, and was running on a synthetic surface for the first time. Mr. Hot Stuff, although impressive in his previous start, still was coming off a maiden race, in which the proverbial light bulb finally went on after four mediocre-to-dismal performances.
While The Pamplemousse’s time of 1:47 4/5 earned him a strong 103 Beyer, the track was producing fast times all afternoon in sprint races. So there are no distance races to use as a comparison. As mentioned earlier, The Pamplemousse has a stride that from a head-on view makes him look like a car in need of a wheel alignment. He swings both his front legs way to the left, with his right front lined up between his back legs and his left front out in another path. But with that said, it hasn’t affected his performances, and from the side, where most people see him, he’s actually quite entertaining to watch, with that big high leg kick and bounding stride. If you like watching horses who are different from other horses, then The Pamplemousse is your kind of horse. And if you like trainers who are different from other trainers then you’ll have two reasons to root for him.
There are several interesting videos of the horse on Youtube, where you can get a good look at him in action and just walking to and from the track. If he and the colorful Canani make it to Churchill Downs, he will be an instant fan favorite, especially with the Alex Solis Sr. and Jr. connection and the often-told story of his name, which is French for “The Grapefruit” and the name of a popular eatery across from Del Mar.
In the meantime, if anyone has hopes of beating this horse in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), they better come prepared to double-team him or hope someone on a kamikaze mission shows up.
Credit must be given to Take the Points, who not only had to travel thousands of miles to face the rampaging bull, he found himself in a no-win situation having to chase him the whole way on a foreign surface after breaking from the outside post. He was able to put in a strong, but short-lived, run to move into close contention at the head of the stretch, but everything caught up with him in the final furlong and he became a bit leg weary. Still, he was able to finish second, nearly two lengths ahead of Mr. Hot Stuff, and should get a lot out of the race. His effort was similar to Giacomo ’s 6 1/2-length drubbing by the speedy Consolidator in the 2005 San Felipe (gr. II), run in a blistering 1:40 flat. Giacomo was able to use that race as a step toward Kentucky Derby glory. We’ll see if Take the Points can do the same.
It is not known at this time whether he will remain in
Mr. Hot Stuff, a full-brother to Colonel John , ran well enough in his first start against winners and is at least moving in the right direction. But he’ll have his work cut out for him in the Santa Anita Derby.
With the big Derby preps getting closer, and so many variables to consider, such as surface, timing, and proven record, this is a good time to rate them, with the ratings being: excellent, good, fair, and proves little.
Lane’s End Stakes: Proves little -- Yes, Derby runner-up Hard Spun won it and Derby fifth Sedgefield was second in 2007, but last year’s winner, Adriano, looks to be more the type of winner this race will produce. The winner still needs to come back in a dirt race to shows if he’s a legitimate
Santa Anita Derby: Good to fair – This race used to be “excellent,” but it leaves too many question marks if the horse involved has never raced on dirt. That’s not to say he won’t be as effective on dirt, but there is no way of knowing if he is until he runs in the
Wood Memorial: Excellent – I liked this race better when it was three weeks before the
Blue Grass Stakes: Proves little -- This race is OK as a Derby prep for proven dirt horses like Street Sense who have already shown they can at least handle Polytrack. Street Sense used defeats at Keeneland to prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. He was a shell of himself on Polytrack, but good enough to get something out of the race. But for
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