There is no horse in this race named “Other.”
But, that’s who they’re picking to win.
A stampeding herd of 10 voters had flocked to the polls by Thursday afternoon, eight of them picking a horse to win the Grade 1 $750,000 Start Up “other” than the first four qualifiers.
A brief, non-scientific study of the Derbyfever.com polling system reveals that the smart bettor may place his wager on “Other.” One supposes if the question were, instead, which way would you go if you were lost? And the choices were, north, south, east or west? Then, the “other” category may not dominate as it has here.
Or, perhaps if a similar poll had been conducted for the 1973 Belmont, “Secretariat” may have been a more popular choice than “Other.”
Or, maybe if I had covered the Start Up in similar fashion last year, the choice may have been “MUTANT POWERS” over the “Other.” We’ll get to that EOY Award winner, and winner of last year’s Start Up, in our review of recent runnings, to follow shortly. (Or, not so shortly?)
But before we get to that, let us attempt to entertain by retelling a gory story of small-town politics, as recollected by the measly vote total of 10 in our poll for this race. When I saw the paltry response to our Message Board Poll, I was reminded of the often whacky results which can take place in small-town elections, when one vote really can make a difference.
My Uncle Don told me this particular story.
One year in the tiny town of New Matamoras, Ohio, there occurred a horrific incident. It began innocently enough. A little old man, something of a recluse, passed away. Normally, this would present hardly a problem at all. However, with this little old man, was a particular complication that he had gone to meet his maker while in possession of about 20 mangy mutts.
Over the years, the poor fellow had accumulated a collection of odd pooches. As Uncle Don told the story, the man would catch stray dogs and adopt them, with or without the consent of the new subject, and tie him or her up in his yard. That would have been humane, had the man fed them regularly or bothered to look after them.
Instead, at the time of his passing, his collection of odd dogs was in very poor condition.
First, they called the coroner. Then, they called the Dog Warden. The Chief of Police showed up on his own account.
The poor gal who happened to be serving as county dog warden was in a fix. In her pickup truck, she had only two dog boxes. The county dog pound was about a 30-mile drive from New Matamoras. She would have to make about 10 trips to take all the dogs, Noah style, two by two.
Unfortunately, to no Biblical nor happy ending.
She was going to put them all down, just as soon as she got them to the pound.
The Chief of Police had a bright idea. He could help her out!
Would it not make more sense, if she was just going to put all the dogs down, that he would just shoot them all? Right on the spot?
Of course, it would.
She agreed. Now, here is where it got weird.
The Chief of Police started shooting. And, the dogs knew what was up. They began to let loose with a squaller and a life-fear canine panic that never had been heard in New Matamoras, Ohio, and if God is willing, never will be heard again.
Having committed to his path of action, the Chief of Police could not back down.
He took his gun back to his cruiser, and reloaded. And reloaded again. And reloaded again. And on and on, ladies and gentlemen, to an ungodly degree.
To make matters worse (a lot worse), school had just let out. To make matters worse (a lot worse), it was the middle of winter, and there had been snow that year in New Matamoras, Ohio. There was a thick coat on the ground.
Racing fans, you can picture the scene.
The dogs knew what was up. They were protesting their impending deaths with all the howling panic left in their malnourished bodies. The innocent school children were walking home, their halcyonic youths interrupted with the worst kind of bloody, eyewitness nightmare no child ever should experience.
And, there, in the fateful afternoon, was the panicked Chief of Police, rushing back and forth to reload his gun.
By the time he shot all the dogs, the cow was out of the barn, so to speak.
From that ugly afternoon set forth a bitter debate. Some of the townsfolk, as might be expected, were horrified. Immediately, they called for the resignation of the Chief of Police.
Hold it right there!
Said other members of the community. The Chief of Police had served the town in a forthright manner to that point, had he not? What would anybody else had done in such a predicament? Was he not just trying to help out the Dog Warden?
So, the debate raged in New Matamoras, Ohio.
That’s small-town politics folks, the kind of which we practiced this week in our meager, “other” worldly response to our Main Message Board Poll.
Get out there and vote! Seems likely, or maybe not. If you don’t vote, maybe you keep your two dollars?
Oh, hell. It did not cost the trainers who entered horses in the Grade 1 Start Up such an exorbitant sum.
Both politics and horse racing involve exorbitant sums, do they not?
The purse for the Grade 1 Start-Up, going a mile on turf in Deauville for fillies and mares, is “only” $750,000, which is a lot of dough but the lowest purse offered in Grade 1 racing in the Sim. Every once in a while, you can see one of these lower-echelon Grade 1 races go to post with a less-than-loaded field.
That certainly seems to be the case for this year’s running.
Despite a flood of late entries (it almost seemed like trainers would rather enter a horse in the Start Up than vote on it), there can be no other assessment of the strength of this year’s field than to say it’s an opportunity for the fillies and mares entered here to earn Grade 1 points.
Let’s take a look at the last five runnings of this race to see if it’s always been this way.
2018: No, it is not always been this way. Last year, Sicko’s MUTANT POWERS ($9.30) won the Start Up while on her way to winning the Eclipse Award in this division. Mutant Powers, a 6yo roan daughter of English Channel out of the graded-placed Tapit mare EXCEPTIONALISM, remains No. 1. However, after following up her score in the Start Up with another Grade 1 win before her triumph in last year’s Breeders Bowl, Mutant Powers finally began feeling the effect of all her Grade 1 races, and has gone off form. It must be torturous for Sicko, as Mutant Powers stands on the precipice of the Simulated Hall of Fame. She has five Grade 1 wins, one short of the required six to make the HOF. Even with only 11 runners, last year’s running of the Start Up featured a far more accomplished field. There were five Grade 1 winners in the race last year. This year, one.
2017: Two years ago, Tees’ RUSHIN ($17.50) held off a furious late rally by Frankster’s NYC to win by half a length. In the early stages, the eventual exacta finishers were third from last and last. Shoot, Frank’s horse was still last at the head of the stretch. They came flying, and Rushin had gotten the jump on NYC. There were five Grade 1 winners in the race two years ago, so the trainers in this year’s Start Up begin to get the impression that they have caught a break this year.
2016: Different trips, and different kinds of horses, can win the Start Up, as evidenced three years ago when Kingranch’s DEVIL’S INTENT ($18.50) already was in the lead by the head of the stretch after racing in close attendance. She went on to win by a length. And then, she never ran in another Grade 1! Devil’s Intent was an unusual mare, indeed. First of all, she was sired by Preferred Issue, a son of Giant’s Causeway who stands in Texas. She is the only graded winner ever sired by Preferred Issue in the Sim, and one of only three stakes winners total. Not long after winning the Grade 1 Start Up, Devil’s Intent was back home in Texas, racing against local-breds, and not always winning.
2015: In researching the Start Up, a race for 3yo and older, we learn that very few trainers of 3yo fillies have taken up the Deauville racing secretary on his dare to run against older so early in the year. By the time they run the Breeders Bowl, the 3yos have caught up to the older horses, and 3yo colts historically have fared well in the BB Classic. But in July? It’s a more than most trainers are willing to ask of their good 3yo colts and fillies. Four years ago, Fernando took a shot with JESSA, a very talented daughter of Galileo. Already, Jessa had won two Grade 1 races in age-restricted company. Now, in the Start Up, Jessa was dismissed at 18-1. She bided her time early in fourth, then advanced on the leader, running down BREATHTAKING FREAK, who settled for show, and holding off WALKS AWAY. So, to become a breathtaking freak, Jessa had to run down Breathtaking Freak. In doing so, she won her third Grade 1 of her 3yo season, which made her tops for the 3yo turf fillies that year. Like Mutant Powers last year, Jessa used her win in the Start Up as part of winning an EOY Award. It is not possible for a 3yo to win the race this year. None are entered.
2014: Yet another EOY Award winner! Five years ago, Tisjuliet’s COSMIC OASIS ($17.20) overcame a terrible wide trip around the first turn from post No. 14 to prevail in a fantastic photo finish over Epcotlen’s TEOFILO CAT. While Cosmic Oasis was losing ground all the way, Teofilo Cat was saving it, racing on the rail. Only a filly with superb class like Cosmic Oasis had in 2014 could have held off the late charge of Teofilo Cat. Watching the replay, you would have placed your bet on Teofilo Cat to catch the winner. Somehow, Cosmic Oasis had one more kick to win in dramatic fashion. She won the EOY Award, but fell short of the Hall of Fame. Cosmic Oasis, a 9yo bay daughter of Deep Impact, got off to a spectacular start in the breeding shed. Her first foal, bred in 2015, was by Dubawi and won a Grade 1. His name is READY REVOLVER, a winner of more than $1 million. In 2016, Tisjuliet went to Dansili, and got a graded-placed horse named NIGHTMARELAND. Unfortunately, a breeding career that seemed destined to put the mare in the Hall of Fame has been interrupted. Cosmic Oasis was not bred in the last two years, and has yet to be bred in 2019. If this mare ever becomes available to the entirety of the Sim, there is going to be a stampede.
Trainers in this year’s running of the Start Up may take heart from this five-year review. Three of the last five winners have gone on to win EOY Awards!
Can it happen again?
Coming into the race, there is only one filly who already has won a Grade 1. At first glance, this seemed like a Grade 1 that had come up particularly soft. Just last week, only eight runners had been entered. Now, we have a full field of 14 after a flurry of late entries. If I am being honest, I will say before handicapping the field that I have to suspect that this year’s Start Up is going to play out a lot more like the 2016 rendition, when a Texas-bred prevailed, then never entered another Grade 1 event.
And now (finally?), let us get to the contestants.
Our top qualifier is MTK’s GUINEAS TRIOMPHE, a gorgeous 5yo bay daughter of Giant’s Causeway. She is the only runner in the Top 20 of the division entered in the Start Up, is one of only two earners of at least $1 million, and is favored by the Deauville Morning-Line Oddsmaker at 5-1. And yet, nobody voted for her in the Message Board Poll, not even her trainer. Maybe I should have voted in my own poll. Then, the total for Guineas Triomphe likely may have been “one” and not “none.” It would take a very special filly to take my vote away from a solid prospect like Guineas Triomphe. Not only does she hold a class edge over this field, she also holds big edges in form and distance ability. In Guineas Triomphe, MTK has a mile specialist. Look at that race three back in the Grade 2 Mountain Vista in February in California. That dominating victory by three open lengths is the type of race that they’re going to face in the Start Up. Just draw a line through that failed run at nine furlongs two back. That’s not this mare’s game. She hits like a ton of bricks at Sunday’s distance of a flat mile. Her last four races at eight furlongs have been terrific, all with speed figures of 113 or 114. After a strong second-place run last out in the Grade 1 Breeders Bowl Game, it appears that MTK has Guineas Triomphe primed for a top effort on Sunday in the Start Up. Everything seems to be working in this mare’s favor, from her form cycle to nice post at No. 3 to her top Sim rider P. Harzheim. MTK had no control of how tough the race would come up, but even that has worked out in his favor. This is a perfect opportunity for Guineas Triomphe to add yet another feather in the cap of her Hall of Fame mare, the 14yo brown daughter of Kingmambo, GUINEAS TOAST. MTK has made an unreal amount of hay with this fantastic mare. For five straight years, from 2013 to 2017, she gave nothing but Grade 1 winners and Grade 2 winners! All of them have been named Guineas Something. Never has Guineas Toast produced a horse that was anything less than stakes-placed. MTK could not have this mare in a better spot to win her first Grade 1, with or without any votes on the message board.
FINKE BERYLLIUM got a vote, from his trainer, Kyogle. This 5yo bay daughter of the South African sire Variety Club is out of a Cape Cross mare named OUTBACK BERYLLIUM who did not even manage to break maiden. So much for the theory that you must have a mare who could run a little bit. Finke Beryllium began her career racing exclusively in South Africa, but not in local races. She won three conditioned allowances in a row once introduced to what would become her favorite distance, the flat mile. Racing exclusively at eight panels, Finke Beryllium has far outrun her pedigree, showing herself to be a tough, resilient frontrunner. Simulated racing fans may share an admiration for a mare like this. As we all know, frontrunners do not enjoy the same advantage in the Sim as they do in real-life racing. There is no such thing as a measured lead in the Sim. Simulated jockeys do not rate their horses on an easy lead. No. The closers always seemed to have the best chance, as the speed horses have nothing left if the late runners approach in the lane. To make matters worse, it often seems like a speedball in the Sim is like a bully. Once he gets his bubble burst, it seems like he cannot get his confidence back. Once a speed horse starts getting caught in the Sim, it seems like he keeps getting caught. Not so with Finke Beryllium! This mare has rebounded several times to run very strong after getting caught in the lane in the previous race. For instance, she set the precedent early in her first two stakes races, both listed events. In the first one, she faded to seventh after setting the pace. In the second one, she led from gate to wire. Last July, she got her Grade 1 win in the Foul Mouth Stakes. Then, she faced Grade 1 males in two of her next three, and was soon a filly in need of another recovery. “I thought she was on the way out after she went walkabout following her G1 win just over a year ago,” Kyogle admitted. “If she’d had a stronger sire, she’d probably be making babies by now.” Instead, Kyogle guided her to another rebound with some rest and confidence restoration with an easy allowance win three back. Now, she comes into the Start Up off a victory last out in the Grade 2 Winter Forest. In 10 career graded starts, Finke Beryllium has missed the board only three times, and two of those were against the boys. She almost always hits the board in graded races against fillies and mares. Off a strong race last out, there is no reason to think she is going to be anything else but hard to catch on Sunday. “She bounced back nicely last start, so gets another chance to add to the trophy cabinet,” Kyogle said. “We live in hope, rather than confidence.” That is being modest. Finke Beryllium has earned the confidence of her trainer. She breaks from post No. 12 at 6-1.
No matter what happens Sunday, trainer Atthewire has a candidate for 2019 Claim of the Year in CRITICAL VISION. He has only had this mare for four races, picking her up in January for the top top claiming price of $150,000. Most players are reluctant to claim at that high level, but if ever a trainer was going to pull an expensive trigger, Critical Vision was the one. She is a very nice scratch-bred, by Oasis Dream (Montjeu X Dubawi). Moreover, she was bred and raced by the Sim’s all-time greatest trainer, Dixie. When you claim from the game’s best trainers, at least you know you are claiming a horse that was bred by an expert. Now, moving a horse up when you claim from a player like Dixie is another thing. However, Atthewire has done it, and in dramatic fashion. In four races for her new barn, Critical Vision has won two graded races! Her victory two back in the Grade 3 Kentucky Distaff took place on Oaks Day in Simulated Louisville, and featured a wild finish. The top three runners in the Kentucky Distaff hit the wire together, each earning identical 114 speed figures. This particular race may have been the subject of some discussion at the East-West Connection, as the trainers of the first two both are residents. Surely Rockriver thought he had the race won with ROCKY DEAL, who was defeated by only the slightest of margins. That was quite a race as the three top finishers all dashed for the wire together, closing as a team. Critical Vision will need a similar huge effort to contend on Sunday in her Grade 1 debut. She breaks from post No. 8 and is 10-1.
Think an English-bred is going to win the Start Up? Six of them will GO AHEAD AND TRY. Steve555 will represent the Universal Racing Club with Go Ahead and Try, a scratch-bred 5yo bay daughter of Frankel (Seeking the Gold X Northern Dancer). With a serious investment like that, a Simulated breeder like Steve555 certainly is hoping for a graded-quality animal. That’s what we have in Go Ahead and Try, who has earned more than $360,000 in 16 career starts, all of them on the turf. Only one of those starts was in graded company, but all it took was one to show that Go Ahead and Try has graded class. She set the pace last out in the Grade 1 Breeders Bowl Game before fading in the lane and settling for third. She was beaten almost six lengths at the wire, but that does not matter, and does not change that nice yellow badge she has, which says “GP” for graded placed. Now, Steve555 sends her out in her second-straight Grade 1 in hopes of improving on her collection of badges. Might she get a nice one that shows her to be a Grade 1 winner? To do that, she’s going to have to win what may become a hot pace duel with the second qualifier, Finke Beryllium. That one already has shown herself to be Grade 1 speed, and has prevailed to set the pace in 10 graded attempts. Go Ahead and Try also guns from the gate and gets the lead, but almost always in listed or allowance company, until her Grade 1 debut last out. These two, Go Ahead and Try and Finke Beryllium, are the only two frontrunners in this field of 14. If we do not know who will be in front at the end, it may be easier to predict who will be in front early. If they will let you bet on the running order at the halfway point, bet it all on an exacta box with those two. Now, if for some reason one of them does not fire, the other is bound to be left as a lonely leader. However, the more likely scenario shows this mare in a speed duel with Finke Beryllium. Go Ahead and Try breaks from post No. 10 at 12-1.
There can be no doubt that this writer was meant to cover this race. After having already committed to do so as a favor to my friend Spinround, who trains NAG HAMMADI, my new friend JWSonny came into the chat with another special request. Could I cover a race for BTB in which he had a horse? I hate to say no, especially to a hardworking BTB colleague like JWSonny. However, two articles in one week would have been a little much and I winced when I first read his request. Then, before I could say no, he explained that he had a horse in the Grade 1 Start Up. Why yes! Yes indeed! Yes I can cover that race! LOL. What a lovely coincidence, and I am glad to take a look at FRANKLY DUE NORTH. This 4yo bay daughter of Frankel is a scratch-bred (Unbridled X Storm Bird). This filly was bred to be dynamite and that’s just what she is! It did not take long for Frankly Due North to start proving her talent. After running second on debut, JW showed some shrewd placement skills and dropped his maiden into an allowance with only four runners, with the N1Y condition. Frankly Due North won, and enjoyed the unlikely class advantage of already having defeated allowance horses when she cleared her N2L condition next out. By her fifth start, Frankly Due North had won four in a row on the turf, at varying distances from 8.5 to 9 to 10 furlongs. “I’m shooting for the moon here,” said JWSonny. “I’ve had a lot of fun with her. She came up lame when I stretched her out too far back in February, but has come back strong since.” In February, Frankly Due North saw her four-race winning streak snapped when she faded badly going 12 furlongs, beaten 18 lengths. However, as good trainers often do, JWSonny has turned that misstep into a blessing in disguise. He gave the filly eight weeks off, coming back in April with an experiment on the dirt. She was not interested, dawdling home in sixth, beaten 10 lengths. So, JWSonny had learned that his filly probably did not want more than 10 furlongs, and did not want to race on the main track. Using the dirt experiment as a prep, he cut back to a mile on the turf. Boom! Frankly Due North earned a new career-best speed figure of 113 when blowing away an allowance field going eight furlongs. Considering how well she performed at varying distances earlier in her career, it’s no surprise that JWSonny still is not sure Sunday’s distance is her best. “Ideally, I was looking for another half furlong or so, but she came back happy from her last strong performance at a mile. She should have plenty of bullets left in the gun and she should keep improving, so I’m giving her a second chance to catch Finke Beryllium.” In her graded debut last out, Frankly Due North showed a strong late kick to get up for second in the Grade 2 Winter Forest. She got within two lengths of Finke Beryllium who, truth be told, was not seriously threatened. However, there is major reason for optimism for JWSonny and this talented daughter of Frankel. Maybe the pace in the Start Up may play more to this filly’s favor, as there is a serious bullet to bother Finke early. Will it be enough to make up two lengths? We’ll see. If she wins, it would be a special victory to her trainer. “I am looking for my first graded win,” he said. To get that in a Grade 1 would be something else. This is only her 10th start and she holds a right to improve.
It has been a Blessing to have Sim friends like Nextbonus Bill in my 20 years here at derbyfever.com. Over the years, I have found satisfaction in the fact that Sim trainers seem to enjoy my BTB work, as evidenced by the kind comments I always receive. Usually, some of the kindest comments come from my old friend Chicago Bill, who also is not above yanking this writer’s chain occasionally to make sure he’s not too full of himself. I’ve had a lot of big laughs over the years in chat, but perhaps none so memorable as the time Bill said I was “semi-intelligent in a Cro-Magnon sort of way.” The deadly accuracy of it was what caught me eternally funny. Bill nailed me with that zinger, as he often nails it here in the Sim. It is a compliment to his prodigious operation that when searching late for a candidate to run in this spot, he came up with a mare who will go off at a respectable price. It’s only 8-1 on T FORMATION, who was not intended to run in Deauville until last week. “Rules are made to be broken,” Bill said. “Ever since I started playing 19 years ago, I have treated my horses as if they were real. Since I’m conservative by nature, I tend to ‘baby’ them through their conditions and rest them when they go off form. T Formation finished next to last as the favorite in a listed stake last time out, so I intended to give her a long rest. She has been good to me and is approaching the end of her racing career, in all probability. But, when I saw that my good buddy Itch was writing up this race, I started scrounging through all my horses to find an entrant. Too young, too slow, wrong surface, wrong gender, bad distance, raced too recently, ad infinitum. Finally ran across T in the paddock placidly eating grass. Decided to cut her rest short. Honestly, even at the peak of her career, she would have her hands full against this bunch. So, I’m not expecting much out of her. But, I am expecting a lot out of the BTB author!” I am doing my best, old buddy. Good luck with T Formation! She’s one of the six English-breds in the Start Up, an impeccably-bred Dansili out of the Kingmambo mare NORTH DALLAS FORTY. During both her 4yo and 5yo seasons, T Formation has been running the same play, over and over again. “Hey!” as John Madden might say, “if they ain’t stopping it, we ain’t stopping it.” T Formation has been picking up one check after another in listed company. She has been a reliable late runner, usually running her race, and showing improved form as a 5yo, winning two in a row. As Bill mentioned, she clunked last out, but what if we just pretend that never happened? Maybe the saddle slipped. Maybe A. Rolling did an impression of J. Maloney and took a little nip in the starting gate. Shoot, the race was in Italy. Maybe there was skullduggery involved. Whatever. We’re giving her an excuse for that one, then noticing that her form is wonderful save that one poor race. She will make her Grade 1 debut here in unusual circumstances. However, if you could unlearn the facts that you’ve learned, and that last race successfully ignored, it would look like Bill had this planned all along.
There is an old angle I’ve always used in my BTB handicapping. It goes like this: Beware the horse that goes off at short odds despite qualifying someplace other than near the top of the order. Our next two runners in the 2019 Start Up fit the profile. First, we have CRAFT SPIRITS, a 5yo roan daughter of the Irish sire Mastercraftsman who goes to post at 7-1, the fourth choice, despite qualifying in sixth place. Normally, this angle is used to describe more acute cases, but this one still fits! It might not be by much, but the morning-line oddsmaker in Deauville thinks Craft Spirits has a better chance than might be suggested by her current stakes points total. It’s an angle which reveals horses that have a tendency to improve those totals immediately. Craft Spirits has earned her short price by displaying sharp current form while running very fast at the distance in allowance company. Congratulations are due to Tees for yet another masterful Sim training job with this mare. He claimed her for only $10,000 back in May 2018. Since then, she has become our favorite kind of Sim horse: a win machine! In nine starts for Tees, Craft Spirits has won seven, and been second in the other two. At first, Tees was knocking over tomato cans in local starters, but when Craft Spirits ran fast and dominated in winning her first three for him, Tees decided she had earned the right to take on vastly more difficult competition in open allowance company. She was up to the challenge and more, and kept on winning. At one point, Tees won six in a row with this gal. When earning graduation to listed competition, she still ran great but got beat a couple times while a close second. Then, she broke through last out with her first stakes victory. Take a look at the training job here, Simulated racers. This is how you do it! If I were making the line in Deauville, I would give extra consideration to this mare because of who is calling the shots. She has certainly earned the chance and is a remarkably great claim. Also, do not forget that Tees just won this race two years ago, so the precedent has been set.
Translated from Spanish to English, the name of our next runner means “Ruthless.” DESPIADADA is the second of two straight contenders in the Start Up to fit the profile of a horse going off a short price from down the order. Despite qualifying seventh, Despiadada goes to post as the co-second choice at 6-1. Maybe the morning-line oddsmaker at Deauville knows how sharp they are at Hispano Parlante. Despiadada is trained by Simhispanotr, one of those one-barn outfits at Hispano Parlante with scary win and in-the-money percentages. From 133 career starts, Simhispanotr has won 39, for a strike rate of 29.3 percent, to go with 66.9 percent on the board. As often repeated in this column over the years, one of the best side benefits of BTB reporting is the chance to observe the game’s best at work. This is a famous trainer behind this horse, who prefers to remain unnamed, so he will remain unnamed. However, Sim veterans probably can guess by the name of the hemare, K’S LAST MOMENT. If you look that horse up, you will see a very unusual badge. It’s shiny with a yellow streak through the middle of the letters “XV.” Know what it means? I did not, either. It means the horse won at least 15 races in a row! K’s Last Moment was kind of the opposite of our friend Roxyken’s hot racer special, STUCK ON CARDS. While Stuck on Cards runs exclusively in hot races and loses every one, K’s Last Moment ran in hot races and won every time. Who knows if the horse could have been any good? It may have been, with its exceptional breeding. K’s Last Moment was by Dynaformer (Distorted Humor X Mill Reef). Now, Despiadada also is a win machine, but a far greater horse than the hemare. The only 6yo in the race, Despiadada has won 12 of 21 starts in impressive fashion, earning her way up the class ladder. Throughout her career, Despiadada has been placed conservatively, but that approach ends on Sunday. As stated, take a look at how a great trainer brings a horse up to a big race. This will be the third race back off a long layoff for Despiadada. We may see that the trainer here has pointed for this race. He laid her off from Nov. 25 to April 13. That’s almost five months! She came back strong, closing to be second while completely freshened. Last out, she responded by winning a listed at Sunday’s exact distance. The trainer has filled the gas tank and given the mare a taste of Sunday’s distance. While it may seem unusual to wait until a mare’s 6yo season to make her graded debut, this trainer seems to have the mare set up perfectly for a huge run on Sunday. It will be very interesting to see what she does.
And now, NAG HAMMADI, trained by Spinround as a favor to the original operator of the Eminc Stables. She is your friend and mine, a wonderful resource and servant to Derbyfever.com, our Eliza. Special good wishes and good luck to this all-or-nothing, yet versatile, 4yo bay daughter of Uncle Mo, out of the Grade 3-winning War Front mare, THE PUPPET SHOW. Like me, you may find yourself wondering: What is a Nag Hammadi? Thanks again for your help, Mr. Google Button. With a click or two, we learn that Nag Hammadi library (also known as the “Chenoboskion Manuscripts” and the “Gnostic Gospels”) is a collection of early Christian and Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. Who knew with your BTB reading you might get a history lesson? Now, let us get to the here and now, and more particularly, the near future (3 p.m. Sunday). Nag Hammadi ran a huge race last out, winning the Grade 3 The Statue at Sunday’s distance and surface. As mentioned, this mare is versatile, and is stakes-placed on both turf and dirt, while appearing to prefer turf for now. It’s amazing that she ran second two back in the Grade 2 Real Danger Handicap, a six-furlong sprint on the main track, because that’s the only time in this filly’s life that she ever ran second. As mentioned, it’s normally all or nothing for Nag Hammadi. She has won 9 of her 19 lifetime starts, while second only once and third only once. “As the trainer of Nag Hammadi, I’m going with other,” Spinround said in explaining her message board vote. “I like my chances. My filly is a two-time Grade 3 winner at a mile, including her last start. I think the timing of the race is perfect for her and she’s training great.” Sounds good to me! We’ll see you at the betting windows as Nag Hammadi is a generous 14-1. She’s already earned $561,000 and can add a big chunk to that total on Sunday. Like her trainer said, the mare really likes the game she is playing here. She has two graded wins going a mile on turf. She earned an impressive 114 speed figure in winning that Grade 3 last out, plenty fast enough to compete with this company. Can Nag Hammadi run that fast in a Grade 1? Spinround says she can.
As a special “insider information” tip to BTB readers, we will let you know that “they” are now serving Moonshine Mary’s in the office. I got five horses to go and I am breaking out the good stuff!
Special congratulations to MISS BUFF, aka Ace, trainer of PUNKIN TAPRAY, the longest shot in the field at 21-1. It is not unusual that Ace’s horses go to post at long odds, as the gal has a tremendous competitive spirit and sees the value in giving it a try against the odds. Earlier this summer, my horse finished off the board in a Grade 1, but somehow there was a smile on my face as I watched the winner cross the line. It was Miss Buff’s horse! The champion of the little horse that could (or could not) finally has a big horse! SHERPA RAY’S TAP won the Grade 1 Strand Broke, and ascended even farther on top of the turf sprint division for older horses. My very good horse WONDEROZZY won the Breeders Bowl Turf Sprint last fall, a shock to this writer’s system that remains today. This year, he’s still No. 3, but he’s run two poor races in graded company and we had to drop back to allowance to get him a win. It stings, but with experience we know that’s how it goes, and it lessens the pain to know that Ace’s horse is the one making all the hay now. Sherpa Ray’s Tap is a real champion and I am so happy for Ally. Now what about this horse? Punkin Tapray, a 4yo light gray daughter of Tapit, out of the Grade 1-winning Nureyev mare, MURF RAY, has missed the board in two straight graded tries at Sunday’s distance. The two defeats have taken the shine off a three-race winning streak. Before running seventh over an off track in the Grade 2 Blood Bond Stakes, then sixth in the Grade 1 Weedy Establishment Stakes, Punkin Tapray had won three in a row, culminating in a victory three back in the Grade 3 Kyoto Highway.
I’ve got several pals with horses in this race and the next one is our fearless leader at Empire State Racing, who is Trotter. There sure are some wonderful folks playing this game and my friend Pete ranks at the top. The first day I ever hung out with Pete at Saratoga, it was he, Frankster, Spinround and Cadet sitting at a table in the paddock at the Spa. What a day that was, and we were just getting started! The next morning, I got to the track early, by myself. The plan was to meet Pete and Frank at the paddock bar. I sipped a Heineken and read the Racing Form. I never saw him coming. A voice whispered in my ear. “You cannot hide from us,” Pete said. It was at once terrifying and reassuring. The silver lining is, who would want to hide from Pete? We have all had such a great time together in the two summers we have hung out at the track. I wish nothing but another great time this summer to my friends from New York city. I also wish good luck to his runner in the Start Up, but I am afraid she is going to need it. KIKI’S SHAM, a 5yo chestnut daugher of Shamardal, out of the Grade 1-winning Deputy Minister mare KIKI COTTON, will need a significant reversal of form to compete on Sunday. Last out, she was 10th, beaten 15 lengths, in a listed going 9.5 furlongs. Usually, Trotter has an angle, but it looks like he may be going with play B or C in cutting back to a mile with this mare. She has enjoyed limited success at a mile, warranting the attempt. She broke her maiden and initial allowance condition at a flat mile and since then has been competitive at the distance, almost always hitting the board. However, for many of her opponents in the Start Up, there is no “if” involved with Sunday’s distance. Kiki’s Sham is meeting a lot of high class mile specialists in this race. The Start Up does not appear a likely spot to snap a five-race losing streak, put it that way.
CVBEAR has our next runner in SOMETHING NOBLE, a rapidly improving 4yo bay daughter of Noble Mission, out of the Grade 2-winning Kingmambo mare JUST THE TIP. Something Noble blew them away last out in her stakes debut, sprinting clear of a field of 13 to win going away by two lengths with a sharp 112 speed figure. There is no time like the present, says CV, and he pulls the big trigger with Something Noble, shooting all the way to Grade 1. This filly is an eye-catcher, what with her three-race winning streak and her parimutuel possibilities at 18-1. Can she continue to improve? If so, she may have a chance at a very juicy price. In handicapping this race, the top qualifier continues to be a standout in my mind. However, there are several in here who have been running very impressively in listed company, and are making the leap in the Start Up. Who’s to say one of those is not going to take a big step up and be there at the end? And, if you are taking the approach that you want to find one of those contenders to put on your ticket, would it not make sense to look to a filly like Something Noble who fits the same bill as others and may have a greater right to improve? After all, Something Noble is only a 4yo, while several of the others looking to move up are 5yos. Also, she has only been to post 11 times. Only two other fillies in the field have fewer starts. Let’s take a look at the path CV has taken to this spot with Something Noble. This has been a fine training job. He has managed to get this gal wound up nicely for a big shot at a Grade 1 off a three-race winning streak. How did he do it? By doing nothing! That’s right. When Something Noble was competitive as a 2yo, hitting the board a couple times in her initial allowance condition, many trainers may have been encouraged to continue to try to move forward with the filly. Not CVBear. He knew she needed time to develop into herself. He rested her for a long, long time. Something Noble went unraced from Halloween in her 2yo season until after the Fourth of July of her 3yo season. That’s the better part of a year! Most trainers never would have the patience to wait that long, but CVBear has been rewarded and shown us an example of how to show up in a big race with a rapidly improving 4yo.
Frankel is very well represented in the Start Up and we have our third and final racer by that English sire in ZUCCA MISCHIEF. This 4yo light gray filly is a scratch-bred, with Unbridled’s Song and Into Mischief behind. Ojai09 will represent All-Stars Racing with a filly that has flashed serious potential in only eight starts. Normally, it would be fair to describe a filly that reached the halfway point of her 4yo season with only eight starts as having been lightly raced. That would not be entirely accurate with Zucca Mischief. The reason this filly has so few starts is because she got such a late start. She did not make her racing debut until December of her 3yo year. Ojai09 has been trying to make up for lost time ever since. This filly’s career reminds this writer of his old days when he would show up late to a party after a long night working at the newspaper. He would always try to catch up to the crowd, and then quickly find that he had gone too fast and had a buzz that already exceeded fellow partygoers. Since her debut in December, Zucca Mischief started racing in quick succession, at one point winning three races in about a month. After winning the first five starts of her career, Zucca Mischief shows clunkers in two of her last three, but can easily be forgiven for those missteps. She suffered her first career defeat when stretched out dramatically to 11 furlongs, then never got going last out when making her graded debut at only six furlongs. Her current form is less than appealing as a result, but she’s undefeated in five races at or near Sunday’s distance. Also, she has run very fast, twice earning 112 speed figures. The Grade 1 Start Up represents a massive class challenge, but this filly can be taken somewhat seriously due to her obvious talent. Zucca Mischief will break from post No. 2 at 18-1.
Finally, we have DARKY HAACK, a mare who rates the look of an outsider. This 5yo light gray daughter of the Irish sire Dark Angel, out of the graded-placed Sadler’s Wells mare, HAACK’S DUCHESS, has found her way into a Grade 1 field despite amassing only three stakes points in 20 career races. This is not an X-factor type mare like Zucca Mischief who has yet to accumulate stakes points. This mare already has established herself as an allowance-level racer. She has won only four of 20 starts, racing in fields far, far more likely than the Grade 1 Start Up. Maybe Hispano Parlante has such a big party coming to Deauville that they needed two owner’s boxes instead of just one. This looks like the entry of a trainer who just wanted to be in on the party. Haack is a great Sim player, and knows what it takes to win Grade 1 races. He is nobody’s fool, and knows very well that there is no realistic chance for Darky Haack on Sunday. She made her stakes debut last out in a listed event, and failed to threaten. She was fifth, beaten six lengths. There are three jockeys named Harzheim with mounts in the Start Up, and the one with the frown on his face is J. Harzheim. He’s the one riding Dirty Haack. There will be better days for this trainer, who normally has the horse to beat in a big race like this.
GOOD LUCK EVERYBODY!!!!