September 2, 2015

10 Questions of American Pharoah - Past, Present & Future

  1. Now that we're all settling down from Saturday's Travers Stakes, let’s compare the mood of the US thoroughbred racing scene now versus this time last year after the vitriolic rage from Team Chrome and his subsequent clunker race in the PA Derby.  Wouldn't you agree that Team Pharoah has produced the positive vibes and momentum that racing desperately needed which hasn't been experienced since Zenyatta (but on an even grander scale)?
  2. American Pharoah was not "perfect" before the Travers, nor is he perfect after his super game runner-up effort to Keen Ice.  But which horse on the planet would you rather own right now for one last dance in the Breeders' Cup Classic?
  3. Regarding the debate over pace scenario with interior splits and tactics of Jose Lezcano aboard Frosted, I am in the camp of how a horse is going (loose lead vs. dueling) is more relevant than raw times. Can anyone state with sincerity that Pharoah's 23.18 and 23.60 seconds 3rd and 4th quarter splits while dueling with a Grade 1 winning horse on his outside wouldn't have softened up ANY horse for the last quarter of a 10 furlong race?
  4. Back to Lezcano's ride aboard Frosted that even "surprised" his trainer's expectation, which was to lay a few lengths off the leader(s).  Do you realize that had Joel Rosario not been thrown from his long-shot mount (Bourbon Courage) just 2 races prior to the Travers, we're probably seeing a replay of the Haskell? Talk about the Saratoga jinx, Graveyard of Champions/Favorites, whatever you want to call it!
  5. Going back a race, I haven't commented (sans Twitter) on Pharoah since his smashing Triple Crown triumph, but how about the ease of his impressive score in the Haskell at Monmouth Park blazing a mile in 1:34.44 before "foxtrot" Victor wrapped him up? While Keen Ice would not have caught him on that day, his strong late charge was a sign that he was well capable of the upset if things went his way.
  6. Who else believed that Baffert would bypass Saratoga, not to dodge the tougher field, but to space out the pre-BC races better and rack up another easy win in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 19th?  To that point, who else was overly optimistic and booked a flight and room? (I'm holding my hand up!)
  7. Even in spite of the champ's loss in the Travers, who currently supports the decision Zayat/Baffert made to bring their champ to Saratoga given the unprecedented coverage and attention he received at the Spa?  (I'm halfway holding my hand up, pending the Breeders' Cup outcome!)
  8. Assuming Pharoah makes his swan song at Keeneland for the Breeders' Cup, how much excitement is bubbling with his likely presence, along with Beholder (either race), Wise Dan and European star, Gleneagles? Anyone else thinking about the epic Tiznow vs. Giant's Causeway battle in the 2000 edition at Churchill? Further, would the cagey white fox (aka Bob Baffert) consider the Dirt Mile if he can't gear the big guy up for the demanding 10 furlong distance after his current break?
  9. Can American Pharoah regain the luster from racing journalists and fans with a Breeders' Cup victory whereby he would still be mentioned in the same breath with the elite sophomores Secretariat, Citation, Rachel Alexandra, Seattle Slew/Affirmed?
  10. After an incredible run with historic superstars such as Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Curlin and Wise Dan the last few years (with Frankel, Black Caviar and Goldikova internationally), will American Pharoah be the caboose in this string of greats or could there be a brighter start yet emerging???  I have to end it there, this is the most perplexing question so far...

June 9, 2015

12thCrown post on HRN - Holding out for a Pharoah

With renewed inspiration from American Pharoah's electric Triple Crown, I channeled by best "Weird Al" frame of mind for a rendition of Bonnie Tyler's 1984 hit "Holding Out For A Hero."  Aren't you glad there's no audio???  Please read and comment on HRN site...

2015 Triple Crown - Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah

First a nod from Victor as he entered the Belmont Park winners circle aboard the Triple Crown Champ, then he liked my Tweet later that night. Victor Espinoza is my new favorite jockey...

Victor Espinoza
favorited your Tweet.
Eric Kords @DerbyTalk
@EspinozasVictor @SimonTVG Classic ride by Victor controlling the pace -- job well done.

June 8, 2015

American Phar-whoah! 12th Triple Crown Champion

American Pharoah (great-grandson of Unbridled) closed out his successful Triple Crown bid in flashy style, running seven opponents off their feet throughout the 12 furlong “Test of Champions.” While Pharoah’s clocking was impressive enough in its own right being the 6th fastest Belmont at 2:26.65 in the race’s illustrious history (147th renewal, 6 more than the Kentucky Derby), the stat garnering attention is that he ran his last quarter mile FASTER than Secretariat’s final two furlong time (24.32 seconds vs 25 seconds). Astonishing feat considering how widely Big Red separated himself from his few peers in that 1973 stretch run. In fact, each quarter mile was clocked at a consistent pace between 24 1/5 and 24 4/5 seconds and had Pharoah been pushed may have been faster.
However, my message today will not be trying to rank American Pharoah against the all-time greats. His last few races this fall and the months that follow will give us ample time to dissect his overall record when the dust settles. I’d like to celebrate how this special yet imperfect horse, rider, trainer and owner all converged to give our thrilling sport the boost it so desperately needs at exactly the right time.
American Pharoah is not an undefeated Triple Crown champion, like Seattle Slew. Nor did he set track records every time he graced the track, like Secretariat. He threw in a clunker in his lifetime debut race at Del Mar finishing a spent fifth place, as most horses do experiencing a race for the first time. But the silver fox, Bob Baffert, never lost the extreme confidence he had in this horse from the beginning. He wheeled him back in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and obviously was not favored that day (future trivia question: Who is the only horse to be favored over American Pharoah?  Answer: Skyway) but won by 5 widening lengths in his now customary front running fashion.
How about the job Bob Baffert has done with this horse, including rider change, earplugs and paddock schooling, nursing him through a deep hoof bruise injury that prevented a Breeders’ Cup start? And perhaps most importantly mapping out the pre-Derby race schedule and not being afraid to use the Arkansas Derby as final prep even though it’s the last of the marquee prep races to stay at three weeks prior to Kentucky Derby. Perhaps the reason we’ve had such a long Triple Crown drought is due to “new wave” trainers changing preparations going into the grueling Classic series and handling their horses with kid gloves, rather than running them MORE to toughen them up (I’ll save this fight for another day!). But certainly Baffert hasn’t been a poster boy for racing throughout his career either, with his once cocky attitude and even recent string of mysterious horse deaths in his California stable (later determined by autopsies to be rat poison entering food supply). But to see his humble interviews now with his family by his side and crying when thinking of his parents truly makes me want the best for this man, whom I have come to respect over time.
Like any politician entering an election year (just ask Hillary, whose husband Bill was in attendance at Belmont to witness history), breeder and owner Ahmed Zayat had some skeletons exposed over recent weeks from years past of bankruptcy filings after his early foray into thoroughbred ownership and slow-pay (or alleged no-pay) to vendors and bookies (yes, gambling!). While I can’t speak to his business practices, I can tell you firsthand how genuine and humble he has been through his success with American Phaorah (and Mr. Z and El Kabeir for that matter). Back in March on their first trip to Oaklawn Park on a dreadful rainy day for the Rebel Stakes, I stopped Ahmed and Justin as they made their way to the owners stand to watch Pharoah’s front-running splashing victory (similar to his later Preakness triumph). I thanked them for bringing their juvenile Champion to Oaklawn and they shook my hand and told me how sincerely pleased they were to be here and everyone had been so kind to them. This on the worst weather day imaginable! They have constantly deflected praise to Baffert and assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes for being with the horse every day. As the breeder, it would have been so easy for Mr. Zayat to come up with some elaborate story about the mating decision to give himself the credit, but he refused this limelight (are you paying attention dumb asses? Still think no horse will EVER win the Triple Crown with these “G_D_ cowards taking the cheaters way out?”).

That brings us to Victor Espinoza, the masterful jockey who sees Pharoah only on race day and admittedly without studying film or thinking about things too much.  He simply climbs aboard the glistening bay, feels his charge’s neck swell with eagerness and uses his judgment however the race unfolds.  He usually guides Pharoah to the lead but deftly knows how to shut off a few cylinders before firing them back on in the stretch.  What a rhythm he has found with this 1,187 pound bob-tailed bay colt whose stride has recently been claimed by physicists to be longer than that of Secretariat (to which Penny Chennery called BS!). Victor has been subject to the freshest of distractions, being on the cover of the New York Post with a teenage blonde when he’s supposed to be happily engaged to a lady he’s not noodling in the photos. How does he deal with this stress/distraction?  No, he’s not getting attacked by a scorn woman with a golf club in his Escalade (errr, Ferrari). Rather, he shows up at a nearby distinguished Jewish prayer site Ohel Chabad Lubavitz two days before the Belmont. While there, he lit a candle and wrote a prayer in Spanish before walking backwards from the gravesite as a sign of respect, following tradition.  Only 48 hours later, Materiality, then Mubtaahij, then Keen Ice, then Frosted would also be going backwards at the top of the Big Sandy stretch after taking turns making runs at the Champ. Perhaps the spirit of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson had more to do with breaking this curse than anyone knows!

And finally, that moment when American Pharoah crossed the wire first by nearly six widening lengths to a worthy adversary in Frosted, and eight ahead of also-rans Keen Ice and Mubtaahij to a “thundering roar” as Baffert and others would describe the scene. I happened to be standing next to a lady from Ft. Worth at a very tactical 2nd row spot above the winners circle enclosure, just past the finish line (photos and videos will be posted tomorrow). She is also a horse lover but not as into handicapping a race so I was giving her and another group behind me brief commentary every time I saw the Longines clock with split times pop up (hey, they gave me a nice cap so the least I can do is help them sell a thousand dollar watch!). With each successive quarter going in :24 and change I grew increasingly animated with my description. It started with “that’s good, he’s moving easy” then “he’s rocking them to sleep -- leave him alone Johnny (aboard Materiality)” but at the halfway point I’m literally looking directly across the track and see Pharoah’s mouth open, like he’s laughing at the other horses. (A later video confirmed that it wasn’t the tongue tie I saw, but literally Pharoah’s teeth – rare to see a horse’s mouth open during a race.) His front legs looked as if he was walking on air and was ready to do more, but Victor kept him in perfect fluidity. I’ve only seen this on one other occasion in my life and that was when Karen’s Tom broke the 6 furlong track record at Oaklawn Park over 25 years ago. By the time they hit that giant sweeping turn, it was hard to tell if others were closing or losing ground, but when track announcer Larry Colmus’ voice began escalating we all knew that he was pulling away and was going to win the race. I will defer to Mike Vaccaro’s wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Post on how the final moment crystallized…

“the scene everywhere at Belmont Park was one you’ll remember for a lifetime: Strangers slapping hands. Strangers exchanging hugs. Fans on every level of the grandstand exiting their seats, taking to the corridors, running wildly, as if ­inspired by what they’d seen, emptying their lungs with glee, with joy, with bliss. Some of them weeping, too.” (ok, I admit it)

“If somehow the Yankees could win the World Series, the Giants the Super Bowl and the Knicks the NBA championship at the same exact time, in the same exact place — well, that’s what it sounded like. If you were there, you’ll remember that sound forever. You’ll remember what you saw. Forever. History as it happened.”

Whether I see another Triple Crown happen in 2016 or 2046 or never, this will be a wonderful moment. American Pharoah will be the horse we measure all horses against in the future and that is a very high bar. American Pharoah is horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown Champion.
Eric Kordsmeier
Dallas, TX

June 6, 2015

Horse racing's historic day

Now that Belmont morning has finally arrived, you all should be very well aware that it has now been 37 years since Affirmed swept thoroughbred racing's coveted Triple Crown over rival Alydar. Horse racing and US history has been closely intertwined through racing's glory days, which ended several decades ago for most Americans and casual sports fans.

Coincidentally, a personal such moment was when I attended the 2004 Belmont Stakes hoping to root home Arkansas' adopted KY bred son, Smarty Jones, to end the TC drought dating back to 1978. But that day started on a bad note when the track announcer came over the loudspeakers to inform the 120,000 plus at "Big Sandy" that former President Ronald Reagan had died. The hush that covered that crowd was fitting of the grey skies and fog that blanketed Long Island on that depressing day. This morning I woke up at about 5:00am just 8 miles from Belmont Park to light rain and the first thing I heard on tv was that Vice President Joe Biden's son will be buried today. I ask myself, "Is this some kind of bad dream?" But that's where I fully expect the similarities to end.

Some rays of sun (and hope!) are now beaming through those clouds and the track should be sunny and fast by early afternoon. There are a host of quality stakes races (including several Oaklawn runners like champion Untapable and undefeated filly Promise Me Silver) and perhaps a few chances to cash some nice tickets by the time American  Pharoah hits the track in race 11 for the capped crowd of 90,000 fans to simply enjoy the moment.

But whether or not this 2015 version of Smarty Jones can make history and finish the sweep will NOT be the most significant historical event of the day - not even for a loyal fan like me. For 71 years ago today American and allied forces hit Omaha Beach as part of the D Day invasion.  And while I don't mind if people my age don't recall or care about horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Affirmed, it would be a shame if all Americans were not absolutely aware and thankful for those soldiers and their families who sacrificed everything to beat the odds 71 years ago. I hope Belmont Park will recognize this special day. Speaking of which, if you want a "historical" tip, go with V E Day in race 6. He is appropriately named, being a son of English Channel.

Now off to Belmont Park!

June 3, 2015

American Pharoah cruises through Pimlico monsoon - Belmont next!

American Pharoah made the most out of the torrential rains that drove down just as the call to the post commenced. Kentucky Derby - check, Preakness Stakes - yep, Belmont and Triple Crown next up for Pharoah -- for sure!

Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah turned the anticipated three horse race into a walkover after breaking awkwardly but soon rushing past Mr. Z after a brisk opening quarter mile. Firing Line took a terrible step at the start and was virtually eliminated from contention, while Dortmund never challenged after getting a good stalking trip on the outside.  Now we're just days away from seeing if Derby also-rans Frosted and Materiality can step up their game and prove the spoiler, as multiple "fresh" horses have done both recently and decades ago by sitting out the Preakness to target the test of Champions. Only time will tell, but I still have that special feeling about the chances of the short-tailed bay colt by Pioneerof the Nile. Pharoah's unique spelling is giving sports writers worldwide fits, but this is fitting due to the tradition of naming an offspring after the sire and/or dam since his sire has a similar peculiarity in his name (lack of space before "of" due to Jockey Club naming limitations on characters).

The post positions were drawn just hours ago and American Pharoah was assigned post #5, same position as the speed oriented Seattle Slew who annexed the Triple Crown back in 1977. In that race, the Champ shot straight to the lead then had minor challenges on the backstretch to no avail. Slew got away with a moderate to slow 1:14 six furlong time and drew clear into the stretch to hold sway by 4 lengths. By comparison, the last two Belmont Stakes split times were 1:12.4 (Tonalist) and 1:10.4 (Palace Malice) where both winners were within one length of the lead. Based on comments from both Baffert and Espinoza following Pharoah's front running Preakness score, I believe they will again try to dictate the pace and go to the front.  It seems that only Materiality has the early foot to offer any serious challenge, so Johnny V's ride will be crucial to the outcome of Pharoah's Triple Crown bid.

The bottom line is that multiple distinguished race horses before American Pharoah (namely, Majestic Prince '69, Spectacular Bid '79, Real Quiet '98 and Smarty Jones '04) lost this race when it was their race to lose with a poor "trip" that worked against them. Certainly, the same can happen to Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah. But I'm hoping this time when I return from Elmont, NY my wallet flush with $2 win tickets will be prized scrapbook material rather than substantiation of a tax deduction. Finish the job, American Pharoah!

May 15, 2015

Pharoah prepares for Round 2 vs the Dynamic Duo

Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah was widely respected as the best horse leading into the Derby, although pundits questioned his heart, outside post position and need for the lead. In a sense, he has even MORE detractors following his Derby score than he did before, for different reasons (below). Firing Line and Dortmund ran well in defeat, so now the "Great One" talk has turned into the "Big Three" debate. This harkens back to the days of Triple Crown rivalries like Affirmed, Alydar, Believe It (1978), Silver Charm, Captain Bodgit, Free House (1997) and Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun (2007) repeating their top 3 finish at Baltimore two weeks later. I'll go out on a limb and say a long-shot will spoil the trifecta reunion!

Knock 1: American Pharoah had a perfect stalking trip with no dirt kickback.
Response: He was parked wide on both turns, which would translate to an additional 3-4 length winning margin and better finishing time. The perfect trips were actually those of the second and third place finishers, who couldn't finish him.

Knock 2: Victor had to use his whip far too much based on his position and the slow fractions.
Response: Pharoah's best weapon is his high cruising speed -- the ability to run his foes "off their feet" and keep going. He was compromised by the dawdling pace such that he won by running down an opponent for the first time. My guess is that Baffert tells Victor "GO" from the opening bell.

Knock 3: The time of the race and final fractions were slow.
Response: True, but this is more of a knock on Dortmund and Firing Line for not being able to hold him off, especially with Pharoah running sideways into the stretch while only Frosted made up any ground through the stretch.

Knock 4: Prior to Derby- he's not battle tested. Now- his stern Derby test probably took too much out of him.
Response:  Well, which is it?! Dortmund has had 7 tough races without even a training break since his Nov. 2 maiden race and Firing Line 6 races dating back to Oct. 25, also w/out a break. Pharoah had 5 1/2 MONTHS off prior to his 3YO campaign.  You tell me who the fresh horse is.

Obviously, my top pick (and Triple Crown hope) remains American Pharoah!  But I think Divining Rod is sitting on a big one and could steal the show. While Firing Line or Dortmund should round out the trifecta, I'll also have long-shot Bodhisattva in my 3rd-4th positions for sentimental reasons.  His dam, Dr. Cheryl P., leapt off the page at me when I recognized that name. Surely, this couldn't be the same mare that dropped a non-descript Louisiana bred foal that I had an ownership stake in a couple years ago named Byappointmentonly? Come to find out, that's one and the same! What drew me to this filly was that her 2nd dam produced juvenile champion Wilko about a decade ago.  Typical of my racing luck, I was a day late and a dollar (errr... horse) short!

May 3, 2015

American Pharoah leads California sweep of Derby 141

To all the handicappers who went with Dortmund because Pharoah wasn't "battle tested," he dang sure had to grind in that last sixteenth to wear down an ultra game Firing Line.  Like a tweet from last night stated, Victor Espinoza landed more right hands than Mayweather - Pacquiao combined! It was a great feeling to hit all exotic bets multiple times thanks to Firing Line's effort to fight on for second. What a gutsy little colt who runs with his head low, giving him an efficient stride that counters the lack of stamina in his breeding line. The closing quarter mile and final furlong were run shockingly slow to stop the clock in 2:03, but final times won't be relevant if Pharoah becomes the 12th triple crown winner we so desperately seek. Chalk another Derby win up for the Fappiano - Unbridled sire line!

Dortmund had absolutely no excuses as he set the slowest fractions to date, wasn't hounded on the front end (thanks to Materiality being left at the gate) and saved ground the entire way. This proves how difficult it is to win the Derby on the lead, a lesson I need reminding of from time to time (see my Verrazano pick 2 years back). Further, this result proves that favorites still do win The Derby (3 in a row) with a fair break and the best horses in this Derby finished as such. Materiality certainly was compromised and still made a great late run to prove this son of Afleet Alex could be dangerous in the Belmont sitting off Pharoah's hip for a change. Upstart ran very poorly while just moderately wide into the first turn but had mucho dirt caked on his face after just a few furlongs and may have simply checked out. Carpe Diem laid an egg - another in a long line of Pletcher horses at Churchill Downs. Slightly cramped early, but then had a dream trip saving ground fourth on the inside and Johnny V had no gas under him turning for home. Kudos to Danzig Moon as the only long shot to threaten, being 4th-5th all the way around the track. If he could have held onto fourth from Frosted I would really be grinning this morning with my winning tickets! 

One of our racing stable mantras is "live in the moment" and while I loved this outcome, it is human nature to think ahead of what might be. This horse I've come to really admire getting to see up close at Oaklawn Park did what I knew he could. But now I want more. There will be plenty of critics after yesterday's victory but I can't blame people since I was "that guy" last year against California Chrome. But to American Pharoah, a job well done and I pray you stay healthy for "round two" in Baltimore in 13 days. And after that, who knows, I just may happen to be in New York a few weeks later for a little horse race going on there... ��

May 2, 2015

Derby Day picks and toss horse

Well it should come as no surprise that I will stick with American Pharoah as my official Derby pick after trying to beat the winning favorites Orb and Chrome the last two runnings.  I think Carpe Diem is the possible spoiler and should have versatility to be close or make a late move depending on the break. And I hope Upstart can return with his best race to complete my trifecta. In addition, my toss horse will be Materiality - another Pletcher lightly raced speed horse who crawled home in his Florida Derby score after having things all his own way.  My criteria for a toss horse is top 5 odds that I try to exclude from all tickets and only Ice Box has burned me over the last 15 years.

The horse I am worried about is Frosted, who I'm only including near the bottom of my super tickets. If the throat procedure prior to his last race truly made all the difference he should be right there late. But trainers have a tendency to lay blame too much on health issues rather than admitting their horse's shortcomings. Frosted's last 3 furlongs in the Wood were the fastest of all prep winners followed by Int'l Star, Carpe Diem, then American Pharoah (under wraps), Firing Line, and finally Dortmund (13:05 final furlong) and Materiality.

I was very bummed when I learned of my long shot pick El Kabeir being scratched yesterday (sorry Borel), but then Lovely Maria won and got my betting budget kickstarted! Best of luck with your Derby strategy and enjoy the greatest two minutes in sports!

May 1, 2015

Lilies for the Fillies - Stellar Wind & Oceanwave

What a delightful Friday morning, both here in Dallas as well as in sunny Louisville. The ladies own the day as Friday is known as "Louisville's Day at the Downs" where many locals will visit the race track today, but avoid the madness that is Derby Day. The sad part of Derby weekend is that many top stakes races get overlooked, but from a betting perspective I can't blame people for focusing on the massive payouts of the larger Derby and Oaks fields.

This year's Oaks edition seems to be a little more wide open than The Derby with regards to betting favoritism. Stellar Wind from the west coast is slightly favored at 7/2 over east coast heroine Condo Commando (kick-ass name!) 9/2 and Gulfstream Park (Florida) Oaks winner Birdatthewire 4/1. I like Victor Espinoza's chances to pull off the rare Oaks-Derby double with the stout daughter of Curlin - Stellar Wind.  I will also include two time Oaks winning owner Brereton Jones' Lovely Maria in my tickets as she seems to be improving at the right time when taking the Ashland Stakes. We all know Larry Jones has a special touch with his fillies. #10 Oceanwave (Harlan's Holiday) should be running well late after a couple of rough trips at Oaklawn (fanned 6 wide while just missing in the Fantasy Stakes) and could hit the board at a juicy 13-1. One of my stable's fillies faced Oceanwave in her first Oaklawn start where she weaved through the stretch (avoiding our Cherries backing up in the drive!) and I knew that day this well bred filly could be something special.

I'm also close to rounding out my trifecta and superfecta Kentucky Derby tickets and the only way to play an affordable ticket is to leave out some good horses, for me that appears to be Materiality, Mubtaahij and Frosted.  I'll have to keep chewing on this for a while before I'm able to pull the trigger.  Hope your mint julep syrup is coming together nicely - be sure to secure that mint today before the stores run out!  Best of luck to all today, especially hoping these fillies run their best and come back safe.