The Derby Gods Strike Again

Your Kentucky Derby winner, ladies and gentlemen...

Yesterday, I wrote the following sentence here on this blog:  I am always looking for the karma angle, and I have to wonder if this last minute switch from Robbie to Johnny isn’t a weird, cosmic shift to make an Animal Kingdom win more palatable.

I should have listened to myself more thoroughly. Thing was, Animal Kingdom had so much history to beat. In winning the Derby, he became the first horse since Exterminator in 1918 to win off of only four lifetime starts. He became the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win off a six week rest. Most importantly, he became the first horse in history to win having never raced over dirt before.

I love this photo of Animal Kingdom winning the Derby. Please note that he is the only horse with his ears pricked. People think horses are dumb, and do not know where the finish line is, do not know if they've won. They absolutely know where it is and whether or not they've won.

But I loved the horse’s looks (how could you not?) and I love, love, love the horse’s trainer. I previously went on and on about the glories of Graham Motion when discussing his training of Toby’s Corner. The same applies here. Motion’s horses are treated like horses. Fair Hill in Maryland is my favorite thoroughbred training facility in the United States. The horses live the good life there, in every possible way. I am also incredibly happy for Team Valor, who went all in with Graham Motion, putting all of their horses with him, and building a state of the art barn for him to use at Fair Hill. You’ve got to love it when someone is rewarded for doing right by the horse.

All that said, I’d dismissed Animal Kingdom early on, thanks to the four starts, the six weeks, and the lack of dirt experience. Because of that, I didn’t look more closely at the horse until the last minute switch to Johnny V. That’s when my antennae went up, because I sensed the Derby Gods in motion. I looked at some photos of Animal Kingdom, and remembered how handsome I’d found him to be. But even then, I didn’t stop and think the following thought: “Hey, this horse LOOKS like a dirt horse.”

Check out the definition of his serratus muscle. This is a horse with size and power. This is a dirt horse.

Because he does. He totally, totally looks like a dirt horse.  He carries a lot of size, and with that size comes strength and power. At the same time, his classy turf pedigree gives him incredible stamina. It might just be that we’ve found a very special crossover hit, here. I am reminded of Cigar, another great horse bred for the grass who didn’t find his best stride until they tried him on dirt. Or even Secretariat, a horse bred to excel at a something less than a classic distance, who found his best moment at a mile and a half. Horses that transcend their breeding don’t come along very often, but when they do, they are often our most special racehorses. Whether Animal Kingdom will follow in these illustrious hoofsteps we’ll just have to see.

In Other News:

Patrick V. did take care of Comma, who raced close to the pace until in deep stretch. When it became evident Comma was done, Patrick wrapped up on him and he wound up crossing the wire last. Once back at the barn, they discovered an ankle injury. It does not appear to be serious.

Archarcharch had a horrible trip, complete with slipping saddle and a leg injury incurred while Jon Court pulled him up. A very bad, no good Derby for Archarcharch. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the injury is career ending.

The Todd turned comedian, making not one, but two jokes at Mike Repole’s expense. Completely shocking, in a good way. The Todd even smiled. Possibly in a, “Ha ha ha, this guy is driving me crazy, I don’t care if I make him angry, maybe then he’ll leave, ha ha ha,” sort of a way.

The Todd was also extremely gracious after the race, giving Johnny V a high five with so much enthusiasm you would have thought The Todd trained Animal Kingdom. It was almost enough to make me forget the owners of Sway Away, watching at home, sad and old.

On to Baltimore:

Animal Kingdom looked great this morning. I watched a video of him walking the shedrow, and he looked relaxed and supple. No evidence of exhaustion or stiffness. The plan is to go on to the Preakness. Also heading to Baltimore is Much Macho Man, who was a very good third for Kathy Ritvo. Apparently he, too, came out of the Derby well. Dialed In, the favorite who placed a non-threatening 8th, is thinking of going as well.

As the crab cakes get closer I’ll post further updates. Fingers crossed Animal Kingdom can get it done in Maryland. He definitely won in the right way in Louisville – strong, steady, and with something left in reserve.

Under the Twin Spires...and winning by a good margin, too.

Happy Derby Day!

Our Derby favorite, Dialed In. He definitely looks the part.

It is here, the First Saturday in May, arriving as late as it possibly could. Here are some thoughts to take us into the race.

So, great moments in small town living. I go to the local Bi-Lo, known as the Ghetto Bi-lo, because it is in Pendleton, and therefore small, old, crowded and raggedy. Clemson Bi-Lo is newer, bigger, and fancier, BUT! Ghetto Bi-Lo has WAY better produce and meats, and that store is CLEAN. I heart my Ghetto Bi-Lo. So anyway, I was there, in the produce section, and alas, there was no mint to be found. A produce guy was there, stocking green beans.

ME: Any chance you have any mint in the back?

PRODUCE GUY: Unfortunately, no. You a racing fan?

ME: YES.

PRODUCE GUY: I hear the big horse, Uncle Mo, scratched this morning.

Animal Kingdom, previously ridden by alleged wife beater Robbie Albarado, now ridden by Johnny V. Didn't I say he was a nice looking horse?

I proceeded to tell Produce Guy every down dirty rumor I’d heard, which may or may not be true. Rumors like – Mike Repole wanted to secure an extra three box seats, so he entered the horse, knowing he’d scratch. Rumors like – they wanted to shrink the field to benefit their other horse, Stay Thirsty. And I also told Produce Guy some cold hard facts, like, The horse had been looking like crap all week. His coat looked bad, his appetite wasn’t good, and while he was mechanically sound, he was clearly off. The Todd SAID this. OUT LOUD. While saying that they wanted to give Mo “every chance” to improve. Look, The Todd, you know and I know that if your horse looks like crap on Tuesday, has been looking crappy for some time, has been battling an internal infection – he’s not going to be up for one of the toughest races in the world come Saturday. SO WHY ENTER? Unless Mike Repole wants those extra box seats.

Meanwhile, Sway Away, who would have been in the race if Mo hadn’t taken up a spot only to abandon it a day and a half later, is on the outside looking in. His owners, who are in their 70’s, will probably never get the experience of having a horse in the Derby. But don’t worry, The Todd, Mike Repole, you just do whatever you want. (As a side note, I really like Sway Away, who runs with a fascinating, head-way-up posture. He’s a quick horse, but likely 1 1/4 miles isn’t his game. MUCH LIKE UNCLE MO. AND HALF THE FIELD. ANYWAY. I’LL TRY TO STOP SHOUTING.)

So! Our beloved Archarcharch, of Adorable Arkansasness Fame, drew the one hole. Heavy sigh, kids. Heavy sigh. Ferdinand won the Derby in 1986 from the one hole, but he had the immortal Bill Shoemaker in the saddle and the advantage of a come-from-behind running style. Does Jon Court want to drop to last to avoid the crush? Probably not, but he also might not have much choice about it.

You’ll have to trust me on this one, but as the post positions were drawn, I kept thinking, my horses are going to be in 7 and 8. As it turned out, Dialed In and Pants on Fire wound up in those spots. I didn’t mention Dialed In previously, as I have no special feeling for him, really, but I do respect the holy heck out of this horse. He’s all class, and Nick Zito thinks the world of him. While a Dialed In win would not be especially sentimental for me, it would definitely be satisfying.

In other news, Johnny Velasquez, The Todd’s top jock who was set to ride Uncle Mo, wound up getting a new mount in Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is a nice looking chestnut trained by Toby’s Corner’s trainer, Graham Motion. AK has heretofore been a grass or synthetic horse, so we’ll have to see how he likes the Churchill dirt.

Twice the Appeal, Calvin Borel's mount, winning the Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Note the lush and beautiful landscaping.

Interestingly, Animal Kingdom’s jockey, newly minted wife-beater (allegedly) Robbie Albarado, was thrown from a horse on Wednesday and then the horse stepped on his face, breaking his nose and orbital bones. Sucks to get beaten up, doesn’t it, alleged wife-beater Robbie Albarado? So, Robbie is out, and Johnny is in. I am always looking for the karma angle, and I have wonder if this last minute switch from Robbie to Johnny isn’t a weird, cosmic shift to make an Animal Kingdom win more palatable.

Also interesting – Plum Pretty won the Oaks on Friday. She came out of New Mexico, like Mine That Bird. Some think the training/racing at elevation is what allowed Mine That Bird to decimate the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He was, of course, ridden by the great Churchill Downs jockey, Calvin Borel, who has won 3 out of the last 4 Derbies. This year, Calvin is on Twice the Appeal. And where has Twice the Appeal been training and racing? New Mexico.

In other news, this morning I procured two packages of mint, so I’m all set. Hope you all enjoy the Derby, and most importantly, that every jockey and every horse gets around safe and sound.

Hello, Behind the Bit-ers!

Stacey's beautiful Harv - BTB's most apt logo

Just saw Stacey sent you over here. (Heee!)

Although I am a lifelong horse person, have ridden dressage for – Holy Cats, y’all, I just did the math. TWENTY YEARS. Can that be right? Can I be old enough to have ridden dressage for twenty years? (A technical delegate has just reviewed the evidence and it turns out, yes, twenty years is accurate. Wow. This post just went from fun and fluffy to a headlong collision with my own mortality. Talk about whiplash.)

ANYWAY. Despite my horse-yness, I don’t often post about horses. For some reason, I tend to focus on bad song lyrics. But sometimes I do write about my four-hooved friends, including those with substance abuse problems, like Bob. Here is Bob’s Story.

For Fanfreakingtastic’s horse loving readers – and for those who are horse-curious – Stacey does the foremost dressage blog on the interwebs at Behind the Bit.

Kentucky Derby 2011: A Guide, Part 1

Toby’s Corner won’t be there, but the show must go on, and I wanted to present a handful of horses worth rooting for. Two of these horses, Mucho Macho Man and Archarcharch, I almost included with Toby’s story. Hopefully, you’ll find a horse here you like!

 

Archarcharch trains for the Kentucky Derby.

THE LITTLE GUY: Archarcharch comes into the Derby having followed exactly the same path as Toby. He won his first prep, was third in his second, and won his last, the million dollar Arkansas Derby. His trainer, Jinks Fires, is 70 years old. This will be his first Kentucky Derby. Fires’ daughter married a jockey, Jon Court. Jon wanted to make it to the Derby, and moved his family out of Arkansas to Southern California. They had a deal. If Jon didn’t find a Derby horse within so many years, they’d move back home to Arkansas. Jon never found his Derby horse. They moved back to Arkansas. Jon, now 50, is still a jockey. And he’ll be on the back of Archarcharch, who he has ridden in all of the horse’s races. He found his Derby horse in his father-in-law’s backyard.

So, you might be wondering, how down home is Archarcharch? THIS down home:

While the stress might be getting to Archarcharch’s owner, Yagos said because of unique circumstances he is quite confident his colt will handle the excitement and media crush awaiting him at Churchill Downs.

 

Jon Court celebrates his Arkansas Derby win with Archarcharch.

“Just before we sent him to be broken, he lived with us on the farm, and that’s right next to the salvage yard,” said Yagos. “He’s been used to forklifts and trucks and equipment since he was a baby. And we are also right in the flight path for an Air Force base. We get those big C-130s coming and going all the time. He’s sure going to be used to all the noise.”

Archarcharch himself is an attractive horse with a near-black coat. He’s not particularly big, but he is bred to run a distance of ground. His people love him, and report that he is a very kind, easy horse to deal with. He’s a quiet horse. Jinks Fires is the same way. This is an old school crew, think John Wayne and his trusty mount.

BABY HUEY: Mucho Macho Man is from a very different kind of group of people. From Suwanee, Georgia, MMM’s owners have put up billboards along the I-85 corrider telling Georgians that MMM is their hometown horse. They’ve also campaigned the Georgia legislature to find a place for horse racing in Georgia. Quiet cowboys they are not. But they are also good people. The day before MMM’s best Derby prep, the Risen Star, his longtime jockey, Eibar Coa, suffered a devastating fall. He watched, paralyzed from the neck down, as Rajiv Maragh won the race on his horse. The next day, Mucho Macho Man’s owners visted Eibar in the hospital, and gave him a check for $18,000 as though he’d made the winning ride himself.

Much Macho Man trains for the Kentucky Derby.

Eibar Coa went on to shock his doctors by regaining movement in his limbs. Less than two months after his cataclysmic injury, Eibar walked out of the hospital. How unbelievable was Coa’s recovery? This unbelievable:

“In all my years of neurosurgery never have I seen a case, an event, this impressive and this miraculous,” said Dr. Scott Berta, the attending surgeon at Memorial Regional Hospital South.  “To have a man who’s completely paralyzed from the neck down — a complete quadriplegic — and then be able to get up and walk is an extremely rare event.  And do to it so quickly on top of it is pretty much unheard of.”

Coa will be at the Kentucky Derby to root on the big horse, Mucho Macho Man. And when I say “big horse” I mean that literally. MMM is over seventeen hands tall, and he’s not yet three years old. He will not turn three until June 15th. Most thoroughbreds are bred to be born as close to the January 1st cut-off date as possible. MMM’s dam, Ponche de Leona, was bred late, but her owners expected her to foal at the first of May. Still late, but not obscenely late. Ponche de Leona had other ideas, holding onto her baby for another six weeks.

A newly acquired member of Carole Rio’s broodmare band, she did not yet know the mare’s unusual foaling behavior. Which is, essentially, no behavior whatsoever. When Ponche de Leona is about to have a foal, you’d never know it. She just stands there, grazes, acts totally normal. Then she lays down, has a foal. Gets up, continuous to act as though has happened. And so it was with Mucho Macho Man, who was foaled in a field, thanks to his dam’s unusual behavior. The weirdness didn’t stop there.

Rajiv Maragh celebrates with Mucho Macho Man after the Risen Star Stakes.

Everyone thought MMM was stillborn. He lay, lifeless, in the field, while people worked over him, rubbing him, trying to get him to breathe. Just as they gave up, the colt leapt to his feet and took off. There were no struggling first steps, no awkward attempts to get up. Bizarre as this scene was, it has since been repeated by MMM’s younger siblings. Ponche de Leona is a strange mare, indeed.

MMM might have been born too late, but his mind was always two steps ahead. Super easy to train, MMM made up for his physical immaturity with his kindness and intelligence. He eventually found his way to the barn of trainer Kathy Ritvo, a heart transplant survivor. For Kathy and Mucho Macho Man, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Kathy and MMM have a deep affinity for one another. (As a side note, if he were to win the Kentucky Derby, Kathy would become the first female trainer of a Derby winner.) MMM is too tall, too gangly, his ears are too big and his legs are too long, but despite all that baby huey awkwardness, he finds a way to win. MMM has heart. Just like his jockey, his owners, and his trainer.

Toby Update

The official word is below…

Toby’s Corner, who upset juvenile champion Uncle Mo in the Resorts Casino New York Wood Memorial (gr. I), has been withdrawn from the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Late on May 2, Motion noticed the colt was off in his left rear and Toby’s Corner was sent to New Bolton Center in West Chester, Pa., to be examined. The colt spent the night at New Bolton and all the tests proved negative. He returned to Motion’s farm near Fair Hill earlier May 3.

Officials at Churchill Downs said May 3 that additional details would be provided later as to why trainer Graham Motion withdrew the Bellamy Road colt. Toby’s Corner was scheduled to ship Churchill Downs later May 3 from Motion’s base at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.

A homebred for Julian and Dianne Cotter, Toby’s Corner is out of the Mister Frisky mare Brandon’s Ride. He has a 4-0-2 record from six starts and has earned $722,240. In addition to the Wood Memorial, Toby’s Corner won the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 5. Between stakes victories he ran third behind Derby contender Stay Thirsty in the one-mile Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 5.

The defection of Toby’s Corner opens the Kentucky Derby door for Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Derby Kitten, winner of the April 23 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III).

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The good news is, they’re doing right by the horse and he’ll be back to win again.