Handicapper Blog

Posted by Brian Skirka on Sunday, November 06, 2011 4:04 PM

This marks the final edition of the 2011 Monmouth Park blog.  It’s been a heck of a year and hopefully all you loyal readers out there shared in our entertainment and [attempted] education.


We sure went out with a bang yesterday at the Breeders’ Cup.  Turns out there was a reason I couldn’t separate Amazombie and Force Freeze on paper.  There wasn’t much between them on the track.


It’s on to Gulfstream Park for me this week.  Looking forward to getting down to that warmer weather – not after one last fishing trip on Monday though. 


Thanks to all of you to check out the blog every week.  We truly do appreciate your support.  Have a great winter and let’s plan on meeting back here in the spring.


Brad Thomas’ Sunday Samplings  


Breeders’ Cup


The best ride of the weekend was delivered by rapidly-improving, Calder-based jockey Juan Leyva in the Filly and Mare Sprint.  The filly broke left and bumped a rival, but quickly was straightened by her rider.  They pressed a slow pace early, but Leyva eased his mount back on the turn when the tempo quickened and others (especially favored Turbulent Descent and jockey David Flores) unleashed premature bids.  Leyva and Musical Romance came out in the stretch to begin their rally, but congestion blocked their path.  Undeterred, Leyva quickly, decisively, and adroitly altered his course to a clear inside rail and charged to a 20-1 victory.  It was a stellar performance by a rising star.  (Incidentally, I wonder how much more stretch kick and grit faltering, 5th-finishing Turbulent Descent would have had if she actually competed in a real race at least once in the last about three months rather than coming into this championship contest on a new-age regimen of morning workouts alone?)


It was fantastic to see a natural marathon horse like 41-1 Marathon upsetter Afleet Again run to his potential.  The long-striding grey is by Afleet Alex, a Belmont Stakes winner who is proving to be a welcome source of true stamina for the overly-speedy modern gene pool.  Afleet Alex’s sire, Northern Afleet, is by top sprinter/miler Afleet, himself a son of profound speed and precocious influence Mr. Prospector – it’s interesting how things can change through the generations!  (My friend and long-time colleague Thomas Cassidy, in his first Breeders’ Cup at TVG, picked Afleet Again on air!)


Wrote’s dominance and powerful stride in the Juvenile Turf indicate that he actually could prove a European-based winner of that race capable of being a major 3-year-old factor on that continent next season.


The performance of the day was turned in by 3-year-old Shackleford who dueled top sprinter The Factor into defeat through fast fractions and only yielded late to perfect-trip closer Caleb’s Posse, another sophomore, in the Dirt Mile.  Shackleford, on his year-long, dance-every-dance and ultra-consistent, top-notch performances is my clear choice for champion 3-year-old.


Brilliant Speed, who should have won the 2011 Belmont Stakes, proved his distance prowess with an outstanding third-place finish – behind two top-notch Euros – in the Turf.


Favored Union Rags was exposed as just another nice juvenile in the Juvenile.  A true Triple Crown horse would have gone by front-running Hansen, who himself, based on pedigree and style, might have a short shelf-life at the top of the division.  Next year’s marquee races are wide, wide open.


Goldikova wasn’t good enough in the Mile despite a perfect trip, but was more gallant in defeat than she ever had to be in victory.  Kudos to her connections, who are just as classy as their mare, for racing her though her sixth year, and taking on every challenge while magnanimously sharing her repeatedly with North Americans.


The most positive thing about the whole weekend for me was the comeback of the Belmont Stakes as a major classic race.  The Classic was won by 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer and 2011 Belmont victor Ruler On Ice was a strong third.  The Classic field this year was weaker than usual while the group as a whole – as usual – was distance-challenged even by 10 furlongs.  The 12-panel specialists simply outstayed their competition.  Hopefully breeders – and the people who buy from the breeders – will gain some much needed insight and wisdom from this event and use it to properly value stamina in producing and purchasing Thoroughbreds.


Horse of the Year?  I haven’t a clue.  There’s still more racing in 2011 to watch and observe.  But my blogging for the year is done.  Thanks for reading!  Good luck and see you next year!


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Brian Skirka graduated from Rutgers University in 2007 with a degree in journalism. He currently works for Monmouth Park’s marketing and publicity departments and is in his fifth year working at the track. In the past, Brian’s work has also been published on www.thebigm.com and www.ntra.com.