Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ajax Downs Selections May 21

Back in action at Ajax Downs this week with an eight race card featuring the unofficial start of Stakes season. Today's card is highlighted by two trials for the AQHA Challenge Maiden and two trials for the Picov Maturity. Last week's feature, a $20,000 QROOI Overnight series race for mares was won by Cartels Fast Money, ridden by Tony Phillips for Bob Broadstock. We have several new U.S. imports this week as well as many well recognized veterans. Here are my selections.

Race 1: 1-3-4
Welcome to Ajax Downs! #1 PERFECT TO LOOK AT was competitive in each of his four starts last year, facing some solid horses, most notably Memory Of Jay. He catches a soft looking field for his 2017 debut. #3 NORSE BAY made a start on opening day where she was bumped at the start and finished fourth behind the ultra-impressive Ghost Pines. We'll see if she moves forward in her second outing. #4 GEORGIES MAY KITTY put in some okay runs last year, albeit not in any notable races. She had an easy breeze on May 3 prepping for this start. The Daily Double starts here.

Race 2: 4-3-6
#4 HOPE RAMBLES ON was a four time winner in nine tries last year. She missed the board only twice, and in both of those starts she was shut off at the start. One very notable race was her second behind Alakazaam in the Ontario Sires Stakes Derby trials. She worked well from the gate on May 8. #3 FIRST ELEMENT was a two time winner last year running in consistently good quality fields. His final start was better than it looks on paper, First Down the Track was much the best and this gelding was only a length behind the runner up at the wire. Although his form shows races primarily at 400 and 440 yards he has had success going 300 yards in the past. #6 TRES SEIS SMOOCHES had a rough trip in a very tough optional claimer last week and returns in this softer spot. She showed good form here last year and had success in Alberta in her younger years. She should be able to be competitive.

Race 3: 2-4-1
This is the first of two trials to the AQHA Challenge Maiden. #2 CORONAS CHROME was beaten a neck on debut at Remington. In his third start he was fourth in a Speedhorse Futurity trial behind a horse named Dreamers Liaison, who later won a trial to the Miss Roxie Little Futurity at Indiana and was fourth by half a length in that final. He has had two local gate works in preparation for these trials. #4 ONE DASHIN ROSE barely broke and was outrun in her final start at Will Rogers. She had decent form prior at Remington and Indiana, including a field-best 66 speed figure on September 13. She looks competitive, assuming she breaks with the field. #1 TWO KOOL TO WAVE was an impressive fourth after a bad break in his debut, then continued to run well despite not being able to get the win. I do expect him to win something this year, and if the US invaders prove to be overrated in this field he could be very dangerous. The early Pick 3 begins here.

Race 4: 1-2-4
This is the second of two trials to the AQHA Challenge Maiden, as well as the start of the $.20 Pick 4! #1 FEARLESSLEE debuted with a fourth place finish in the Ruidoso Futurity trials. The winner of that trial, Apolltical Chad, went on to win the Ruidoso Futurity before finishing fourth in the All American Futurity. That trial also contained Sam Houston Futurity winner Just Call Me Carter and eventual stakes-winner Whata Corona, who is five for 10 in his career. His most recent start was a close third for a claiming price at Los Alamitos. He is the class of the race. #2 MARYLAND MAGIC has scored four top-three finishes in seven starts so far in his career. So far in 2017 he has two thirds in three tries at Sunland and Remington, including a run in the slop which should be noted in case of poor weather conditions. He seems like an honest type. #4 FLIRT WITH THE BOYZ put in some good efforts against solid horses as a two year old. She raced on opening day, finishing a very good second behind Ghost Pines, a filly who looks to have a very bright future. Although she catches some tough looking invaders here, she has at least proven she can compete with the high-end locals.

Race 5: 5-8-7
#5 MISS DOCK HILL was beaten a nose in her final start of 2016, a maiden claimer at Will Rogers. She had a solid juvenile season which included a third in a Heritage Place Futurity trial and warrants consideration here. #8 FAST STREAKIN NICK didn't offer much in his first two starts but showed some run in his next two, which were both third place finishes, including a Futurity trial at the Fair Grounds. He wrapped his season up with a non-threatening run in the consolation for that Futurity. His speed figures are respectable. #7 NEX FAVORITE BULLY has shown nothing in any of his starts at his home base of Indiana Grand, but was very game in both of his starts here last year, losing by a head in each of them. I'm not sure he raced against anything too noteworthy in his two starts here, but he may have some sort of affinity for the local surface.

Race 6: 5-4-3
This is the first of two trials to the Picov Maturity. #5 FIESTY ICON did not look to be a serious factor in the top older horse division in his first starts last year, but quickly got back on track with wins in the trials and final of the Ontario Sires Stakes Maturity. He then came back to open company for a third place finish in the All Canadian Classic, then a very narrow runner up finish in the Alex Picov Memorial Championship. If he is ready off the bench he is a player here. #4 ONE FAMOUS GLASS has been a winner in these trials two years in a row. It's obvious why one would pick him: he practically always runs well. He's a 14 time winner with nearly a quarter-million in the bank. He won the Alex Picov Memorial Championship last year and always runs well off of the layoff. #3 ONE KOOL WAVE made his return to the races with a light campaign of four starts last year, with two wins, a second and a third. He wrapped things up with a win in the QROOI Sprint series final, and was beaten a neck by his powerful stablemate First Down the Track in a previous QROOI Sprint Series race. He is a very capable veteran. The late Pick 3 starts here.

Race 7: 1-3-7
This is the second of two trials to the Picov Maturity, as well as the start of the Late Double. #1 COUNTRY BOY 123 tasted defeat only once in seven local starts last year, scoring two Derby wins along the way. They took their berth to the Adequan Derby Challenge Championship at Los Al and finished a very credible fourth in the $200,000 final behind Jess Good Reason, who went on to win the G1 Charger Bar Handicap and Toughie, a three time Stakes winner in Alberta who qualified to the Ed Burke Million Futurity as a juvenile. With a clean break, it's tough to anticipate a poor run from this gelding. #3 ALAKAZAAM is hardly a slouch either. He scored six wins in eight starts last year, one of the losses being the start where he dropped his rider at the start. He did outrun Country Boy 123 once last year and finished narrowly behind him in the Derby Challenge despite not breaking perfectly. He's a perfectly capable horse. #7 RUNAWAY CAUSE is not a model of consistency but does throw in some very good runs on occasion. In her 2016 debut she was second behind One Kool Wave. She also ran credibly behind Alakazaam and Fast Man Vic last year. She has a lot of run in her, it's just a case of whether or not she'll show it.

Race 8: 4-3-7
#4 A GAME DASHER won a maiden race at Fair Grounds as a two year old. In her Ajax debut she was a good third behind Sign It Down and Im Aquicktrick in a QROOI Overnight series race, but she then dropped to a NW2 and failed to threaten. She was given the rest of the season off and may be ready to fire off the bench. #3 COLD HARD DASH won in late 2015 as a two year old at Evangeline. He raced only three times last year, finishing second in a maiden race at Delta over a muddy track in June to highlight things. Some of his earlier races indicate that he is not the best leaving the gate but he has put in two good workout times from the gate this spring. #7 ZOXTOBEYOU had a prep at Remington in early April, then was beaten a nose by US invader Miromar on opening day. He finished second behind Home to Vegas and Rpainted Pistol as a two year old and hopes to carry that class over as a three year old.

Good luck and thank you to everyone joining us today!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Ajax Downs Selections May 14

Onto the second week of live Quarter Horse racing at Ajax Downs. After one card we have a tie in the jockey's standings with Brian Bell and Cassandra Jeschke both winning two, and Scott Reid leading the trainer standings with a pair of wins. New trainer Carol McIntyre won with her first starter, Hammer Tyme, and the team of Jason Pascoe and Ramiro Sanchez Castillo, who were red-hot in 2016, scored a win with Miromar. Today's card is highlighted by a $20,000 QROOI Overnight Series race for mares going 250 yards. Here are my selections.

Race 1: 3-4-1
Welcome to Ajax Downs! #3 RICH AND ON FIRE had a good 2016, with six top three finishes in 10 starts. Two of his poorer starts came against very tough company, including a sixth out of seven in the Alex Picov Memorial Championship. He is respectable and would be a serious overlay at 10-1. #4 SIX SHOOTIN TEX his the top three in each of his five starts last year. He finished third behind Rich and On Fire on September 12. Although lightly races he is clearly well managed, finishing in the top three in nine of his eleven career starts. It is tough to fault that kind of consistency. #1 PURRFECT STORM is only for two for 28 in his career but has some respectable lines in his form, with good races against horses like No Cerveza For You, Albertt and Soxy N I Know It. He had a very easy breeze on May 3. The Daily Double starts here.

Race 2: 6-4-3
This race kicks off the early Pick 3. #6 YAWLPLAYINGWITHFIRE qualified to the Ontario Sires Stakes Futurity with a third in the trials behind Home to Vegas, then finished eighth in the final with a troubled trip. He then finished sixth in a tough maiden race topped by Kona Corona and The Flash Drive and wrapped up the season with a third place finish behind eventual Alex Picov Memorial Futurity winner Denali Teller Off. He is the class of the race and looks tough. #4 SCOUTING FOR ME raced last week, finishing a close third behind Ghost Pines. That race would have been far less close if not for Ghost Pines' troubled trip and probably looks a bit better on paper than it truly was. He has put in some solid efforts in spite of his 0 for 13 record and should probably be able to put in a breakthrough effort at some point. #3 MISS HER MADLY put in a second place finish behind The Dominyunator in her second start but then finished fifth in a weaker group when breaking out of the rail post. This is her first time racing against Ontario-bred company, which could be beneficial.

Race 3: 6-5-7
#6 ROCKIN MISS KITTY was new to Ajax last year and took a couple starts to get going, but showed she was game, winning four out of six races between July 10 and October 24. She was only a 1/4 length behind The Fdd Map in the Bank of America Challenge Championship, and he will likely be overbet while this filly could be a decent price. #5 COLE MINER is a 10 year old who showed no signs of slowing down last year, winning four of eight starts with his worst finish being a close fourth in a 110 yard race. He was third behind First Down the Track in his final start of 2016. He is a very solid old horse who always warrants consideration. #7 THE FDD MAP is the one to beat there; the 8 year old has been a local favourite for several years now, with 11 wins and over $200,000 in earnings. He was winless in five starts last year although they all came in tough races and none could truly be called poor efforts. It all comes down to what kind of price you are willing to take as he will take quite a bit of parimutuel support.

Race 4: 4-5-2
This race is our 110 yard Gridiron Gallop! It also kicks off the $.20 Pick 4! #4 RPAINTED PISTOL was a winner on debut at Remington Park before coming to Ajax to claim the John Deere Juvenile Challenge and a QROOI Overnight series race. He was shipped out to California for the John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship where he was outrun after a less than ideal start and returns now for his three year old debut. The choice to run 110 yards is interesting but sensible when you consider he has no allowance conditions left and is likely targeting the upcoming Derbies. Although I doubt he will be 15-1 at post time, he's an interesting proposition if he isn't overbet. #5 SUGARMANS DELIGHT had a very good 2016 season. He was beaten only a nose by Alakazaam in the Ontario Sires Stakes Derby, won an allowance over Reckless an Wild, finished second behind Country Boy 123 in the Picov Derby trials before finishing fourth in the very tough final. He crossed the wire first in his final start of the season but was disqualified for interference after veering in badly at the start. He was much the best that day. Like my top pick he is new to 110 yards but I don't doubt his gate speed if he gets out straight. #2 SWINGIN BEAR is new to Ajax Downs after racing in Louisiana as a juvenile. His form at the end of the season at Evangeline was very respectable, with a third place finish in a race that produced a next out winner, a good fourth in an LQHBA Futurity trial, and then a win in a $10,000 maiden claimer. He's facing some tough older horses here but could be worth a look.

Race 5: 4-2-6
#4 THE FLASH DRIVE was in the top three in three of his four starts last year. The other race was when Zoxtobeyou veered in suddenly in front of him and wiped out almost the entire field, including The Flash Drive. His first two races were solid efforts against horses like Denali Teller Off, One Special Domino and Kona Corona, and he wrapped the season up with an easy win over Make Me Bodacious. He has potential to move forward. #2 MAKE ME BODACIOUS improved with experience as a two year old, culminating in a win on closing day. She raced last week in the same class and was a very good second despite an awkward break. If she is fine off of a seven day turnaround she should be competitive. #6 EYESA WILD BOY has one of the ultimate cases of seconditis, with nine runner up finishes in 14 career starts. He did break his maiden last year, ironically in one of the better fields he competed in, besting Ittakestwototango and Ifwisheswerefishes, who both came back to win their next starts. He likes to be close and should fit in with this bunch. Late Pick 3 wagering is offered here.

Race 6: 5-3-1
This race is the start of the Late Double. #5 FISCAL FAST made her 2017 debut last week in a tough Speed Index race topped by Albertt and Valiant Stoli Time. She drew the rail post that day and didn't get a great start. She showed ability in Alberta before coming here and I still think that she'll be competitive here when she finds the right field. #3 FLY FAST FOR KAYLEE had seven top three finishes in 10 starts last year, including his first start of the season. His final race was a third place finish behind Angelles Baby Tnt and Deal a Fortune, respectable horses, where he stumbled at the start. He's a consistent sort who shouldn't be totally written out. #1 LUMMIS FIRST was disappointing in his first two starts (although they produced several good runners) but picked things up with a good third behind One Special Domino and Ghost Pines before breaking his maiden in an easier spot. He qualified to the Alex Picov Memorial Futurity where he finished seventh. He's well bred and may improve from two to three years old.

Race 7: 7-3-4
Today's feature is a QROOI Overnight Series race for fillies and mares going 250 yards. #7 RUNAWAY CAUSE has a lot of ability. Her first start of 2016 was a second place finish behind the terrific One Kool Wave at today's distance. She was a winner over Speedocracy and also put up very game runner up finishes behind Fast Man Vic and Alakazaam. She has worked twice from the gate this spring and wouldn't surprise me at all if she gets away from the gate well. #3 ANGELLES BABY TNT made it clear she had talent as a two year old in Alberta, winning half of her eight starts that year. As a three year old she made two starts out west in races won by Toughie and Cruisinforabruisin, probably the two toughest horses in Alberta, before coming to Ajax where she went two-for-two. She has a lot of ability and seems to like the Ajax surface. #4 NO CERVEZA FOR YOU had a good debut where she finished second behind Albertt, then when on to win three races. She finished third behind Valiant Stoli Time and Panther Hero in the Picov Derby trials, put up a big number finishing sixth in spite of a bad start in an allowance on September 26, then was empty in her final start. This seems like a good place to start the season.

Good luck and thank you to everyone joining us today!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Ajax Downs Opening Day 2017 Selections

Well, yesterday was Kentucky Derby day but today is the real most important day on the racing calender: opening day at Ajax Downs! Quarter Horse racing returns to Ontario with a six-race card. Several stables have purchased U.S. imports, several which will be on display today. For the fourth year, my Four-Forty selections will be appearing in the live racing program, and I will still be posting them on this blog. Here are my selections for opening day.

Race 1: 3-4-5
Welcome to the 2017 live Quarter Horse racing season at Ajax Downs! #3 ARCTIC FAME had a very solid 2016 campaign, hitting the top three in seven of eight starts racing against some tough competition. He was a winner at 110 yards on August 14, then followed that up with a runner up finish to One Kool Wave at today's distance of 250 yards in the QROOI Sprint Series final. He worked well from the gate on April 24. #4 MS DASHIN CORONA was awarded a win via disqualification on October 17 last year. She had a good season in 2016 with plenty of close finishes behind tough foes such as Caraway Blue, Jj Maxwell, Cole Miner and Storytime Blue. She looks like a factor. #5 CHANNELISLANDSFLYER scored three wins out of 11 starts last year, two in optional claiming races and one in a Speed Index race. He fits in with today's level of competition quite well, but I think he is at his best going further than 250 yards. The Daily Double starts here.

Race 2: 2-5-1
This race kicks off the early Pick 3. #2 MAKE ME BODACIOUS started off 2016 in some tougher races, the trials and final of the the Ontario Sires Stakes Futurity as well as a QROOI Overnight Series race and was in a bit too tough in those, but showed improvement as the season went on, wrapping things up with a win over Indiana invader Nex Favorite Bully. She shows a 220 yard workout at Hazel Park on April 29 in preparation for her three year old debut. #5 ICE N SNOW broke his maiden on August 11 in a tight photo over Grabin Awards, an eventual winner who remained competitive in NW2 races (see the October 3rd race won by Six Shootin Tex.) This gelding wrapped up the year with a close second behind Ifwisheswerefishes and by the end of last year was running speed figures that make him look like a top threat here. #1 HAMMER TYME broke his maiden via disqualification in his second start. He put in some solid races facing NW2, he finished just a neck behind Ice N Snow in the September 26 race won by Hal Bent. He will be the first starter for trainer Carol McIntyre, who assumes the training duties of horses owned by Big Dog Racing Stable.

Race 3: 1-4-5
The $.20 Pick 4 begins here! #1 MISS DOCK HILL spent her two year old year racing in Oklahoma and putting in some good runs, including a nosed-out second for a $15,000 claiming price at Will Rogers Downs. Although she is not the only American import in this field, I believe she is the one to beat. #4 TWO KOOL TO WAVE was a runner I advocated greatly for last year, and although he did not manage to break his maiden I stood by my conviction that he has some ability. His April 17 workout from the gate did not dissuade me from that opinion, he looked very good that day. He has to face open runners here as opposed to the Ontario-sired foes he has run with primarily but I see no reason why he shouldn't be competitive. #5 HELLO STOLI raced in Louisiana as a two year old and did not show much, with the exception of a third place finish at Delta Downs on June 4. He had a very easy, slow breeze on April 19 where he was not asked for much, then put in a decent gate workout on May 3.

Race 4: 6-2-5
#6 GHOST PINES was beaten a head by One Special Domino in her debut on August 21, the only start she made last year. One Special Domino went on to finish third in the Alex Picov Memorial Futurity. Also coming out of the August 21 race was Lummis First, who came back to win a maiden race and also qualified to the Alex Picov Memorial Futurity where he finished seventh. There is certainly potential based off of that one race. #2 FLIRT WITH THE BOYZ finished third in her debut, a good maiden race topped by Kona Corona and The Flash Drive. She then finished second in the Alex Picov Memorial Futurity trials behind Denali Teller Off before finishing ninth in the final. Denali Teller Off was the winner of the Futurity. She has certainly shown some class so far. #5 ADABOI KINGSLEY was a non-factor in his debut but progressively improved with experience. He was not far behind Flirt With the Boyz on August 28 and wrapped up the season with second and third place finishes. We'll see how he's progressed from two to three years old. The late Pick 3 starts here.

Race 5: 6-5-1
This race kicks off the Late Double. #6 VALIANT STOLI TIME had a solid 2016, with three wins including a Picov Derby trial victory over Panther Hero and No Cerveza for You. Even before he broke his maiden he was competing against the likes of Country Boy 123 and Memory of Jay. He worked very fast from the gate without being asked on April 19 and is worth a look as a longshot here. #5 ALBERTT scored three wins early last year, then returned from a gate-flipping incident in August to run three very good races at the end of the season. When he gets away clean he always gives an effort, and a horse like that who is spotted correctly is always worth consideration. #1 FISCAL FAST had two wins as a two year old in Alberta but did not have such luck last year. She kicked off 2016 qualifying to the Alberta Bred Derby in Lethbridge, then came out to Ontario and did not show a ton. In her final race of the season she finished fifth of six in a race won by her dam, Tres Seis Smooches. She is not an untalented mare and the drop into the Speed Index race is a reasonable one.

Race 6: 1-2-5
#1 ZING DYNASTY is one of several US imports in this field, by way of Los Alamitos. She broke her maiden in October of 2015, failed to win in NW2 Allowance races last year, and ended 2016 with a fifth place finish beaten a half length for everything in a $12,500 claimer. One of several logical choices. #2 UNOMASSENORSEABOLT raced in Louisiana as a two year old and broke his maiden when he made the drop into a $10,000 maiden claimer at Evangeline. He has made two starts this year, both at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. In the first he was crowded at the start, but in the most recent, a $6,250 claimer over a sloppy track, he was second by only a neck. Rain is in the forecast and this horse has done well over wet surfaces. #5 STEEL PATRIOT has raced in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. He broke his maiden at Retama Park last summer over horses named Gorab and Executive Rule, who both broke their maidens in their next starts. However, Gorab took 20 starts to get his first win and Executive Rule broke his maiden at the Gillespie Fairgrounds. He had an easy breeze on April 26 and will likely catch your eye in the paddock; he's a very good looking horse.
Good luck and thank you to everyone joining us today!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Sunland Derby Weekend Photoblog

People who follow my Twitter or followed this blog when I used it for non-work related handicapping may know that Sunland Park has long been a favourite track of mine. I used to follow it quite closely because they had high level Quarter Horse racing and a competitive enough Thoroughbred program. I really enjoyed following it and I had wanted to visit for a long time. This year, I finally got my opportunity. I found a reasonably priced trip to El Paso on Sunland Derby weekend, packed my things and headed down.

      Racing-wise it was a well-rounded weekend. Friday was an all Quarter Horse day consisting of nine trials to the G2 West Texas Futurity. Saturday and Sunday were both all Thoroughbred days, with Saturday being highlighted by three trials to the Copper Top Futurity, some of the first two year old races for Thoroughbreds of the year, and Sunday being Sunland Derby day, with seven Stakes races.
Category Five and Esgar Ramirez after winning West Texas Futurity trial #3

Eagles Tenaya with trainer Paul Jones' blinkers

Mr Perrys Tres Seis with Adrian Ramos

Eagle Approach and Alonsa Rivera. He has a cool blue eye but the watermark blocks it

Suenos Dineros and Jose Enriquez, fastest qualifier, 300 yards in 15.215, 90SI

Post parade, led by Corona for Milady and Cody Jensen

Significant Red winning under Felipe Garcia-Luna

House Edge and Manuel Gutierrez

G. R. Carter, Jr

Bf  Diversion (#5) and Saginaw Trail finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in their trial

Pops, trained by Guadalupe Munoz, Jr, a common name in the Sunland program

Domynation winning the final trial under G. R. Carter, Jr.
The Quarter Horse day was very cool for me. Since all of my live Quarter Horse racing experiences have been on the eastern half of the continent, this was my first time getting to see riders like Esgar Ramirez, G. R. Carter, Jr and Cody Jensen in person. One of my favourite Quarter Horse jocks, Manuel Gutierrez was there, but I have seen him before at Hialeah. I did get to meet Manuel and took a selfie with him, so that was very cool.

Jeremiah Who acting up in the paddock before the Copper Top Futurity trials

Gabby Who

Manor Man (#9) and Ry Eikelberry hold off Fancy Stripe in Saturday's fourth race

Coming off of the turn

Storm the Beach and Enrique Gomez pulled off a 7-1 mild upset in the final Copper Top Futurity trial

Probably the coolest parts of the Sunland experience was the opportunity to call a couple races. My host for the weekend was announcer Robert Geller, and he got permission to let me call a Quarter Horse race on Friday and a Thoroughbred race on Saturday. It was very exciting (althouh nerve-wracking) because I have only got to call harness races live before, but both went very well in my opinion. I got to call Rosicky winning the second West Texas Futurity trial, and he set the fifth fastest qualifying time so I know who I'm rooting for in the final. My Thoroughbred race was a $12,500 claimer, won easily by Cattle Company.

Cross Roads Ranch
      Although I didn't get to go to any match races over the weekend (there were some going on nearby, though) I did get to make a very quick stop at the Cross Roads Ranch on Saturday night. Cross Roads is on the New Mexico side of the NM-TX border, and looks like a pretty nice facility. I was told they used to have quite a bit of match racing there but not nearly as much anymore. It would have been nice to see some horses train there, but at least I got to see the place.

Robert Geller and his namesake, Citizen Geller

The grave of Mr Vale, a local champion from the early 60's

The Sunland paddock, mountains in the background

R H Express wins the Sunland Derby day opener

Citizen Geller and Alejandro Medellin

Attendance on Sunland Derby day was posted at 16,039

Citizen Geller in a 17-1 upset

Citizen Geller heading to the winner's circle

Pink Cadillac (#6) and Ken Tohil edged out heavy favourite Sippin in the New Mexico Breeders' Oaks

Woodacouldadid (#4) pulled off a 34-1 shocker in the La Coneja Stakes under Elvin Gonzalez

Defending champion Redneck Humor and Miguel Perez win the Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes

Mt Cristo Rey is a nice backdrop to the paddock

Ken Tohil

Javier Castellano

Go For a Stroll (#9) and Tracey Hebert got up for a neck victory in the New Mexico Breeders' Derby over Storming Back

Ghalia entering the paddock before the Sunland Park Oaks

No rider no problems

Jose Ortiz looking like he wants to punch somebody

Nice flags

Ghalia (#3) is a perfect 3-for-3 after winning the Sunland Park Oaks

Ghalia post-race, Jose Ortiz still looking like he's about to get in a fight

K P Wildcat snuck up the rail to win the Harry Henson Handicap under Roimes Chirinos

Local favourite Conquest Mo Money in the paddock for the Sunland Derby

Hence in the paddock. The groom has better hair than Steve Asmussen. #sorrynotsorry

#saddleclothsunday for the future

Conquest Mo Money in the early yards

Hence rallied from 10 lengths back to win under local jockey Alfredo Juarez, Jr

Alfredo Juarez, Jr

Hence in the winner's circle
The Sunland Derby was a pretty cool event. The crowd was very big, the racing was great and the mix of local horses and top-level invaders is always interesting when smaller tracks like Sunland put on these big days. One of the coolest parts of the day was seeing Citizen Geller win the second race. Robert introduced me to his owners, Larry and Denise, and they took us to the backstretch to meet the horse on Friday morning. After he won on Sunday they let me get in their win picture too, which will never not be fun.

      I really wasn't sure what to expect with Sunland in terms of the track itself, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The grandstand and clubhouse were very nice, the mountain backdrop was very pretty, the paddock wasn't the biggest but it provides fans with a good look at the horses, and the people were almost overwhelmingly friendly. Everyone I met, whether they be track employees or fans were extremely nice to me, which is always great when you're in a new place. I have to thank Robert Geller, Dustin Dix, Larry & Denise Nichols and everyone else who helped make the trip such a great experience. If you're looking for a winter track to visit and want something a little outside the norm, I would definitely recommend Sunland Park. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Webb Carroll/Red Springs/Laurel Park Photoblog

When you have four months off over the winters like I do, you have to find stuff to do to kill the time. So last month my girlfriend and I headed down to Virginia and the Carolinas for a roadtrip to get away for a few days. My travelling will almost always feature horses of the racing variety, that's just how I am, and this trip brought me to some unique places.

Backing up to the 1/4 pole at Webb Carroll
The first horse-related stop on the trip was the Webb Carroll Training Center in St. Matthews, South Carolina, near Columbia. My dad trains for Hopefield Farms at Woodbine during the racing season, and over the winter these horses head down to Webb Carroll to train, so I decided I might as well go see how they were doing.
It's a Breeze
I was quite impressed with the Webb Carroll facility. There are about 170 thoroughbreds there, both young horses and horses of racing age according to Travis Durr, who trains there. The track is a seven-furlong oval with a starting gate for gate training. The horses go out in large sets attempting to recreate the racetrack training environment.
The five Hopefield horses all looked good and seemed to be doing well during their winter vacation. It was good to see them and hopefully we'll have a good season with them at Woodbine.

It's a Breeze after training

He's a Breeze

The real highlight of the trip, however, was a day at the races in Red Springs, North Carolina. Heritage Park, as it is officially known, is a half mile track with a 1/4 mile chute. People who bet Charles Town may have noticed a few horses with workouts at a track code HTG. That would be Red Springs. On top of being a training center for a few Thoroughbreds, Red Springs is a popular match racing spot in the region, hosting races twice a month on average. 
Out for some training before the races
Superman getting a bath
My last trip to a bush track was Eagle Rock Downs near Raleigh last March. Eagle Rock was very small, it had a friends and family atmosphere to it, where the races seemed to be more just for fun than for any serious money or competition. Red Springs was not like that. The crowd at Red Springs was probably a couple thousand people, as opposed to maybe a couple hundred at Eagle Rock. While the people at Eagle Rock were primarily African American, Red Springs had a dominant Latin crowd.
However, there were many familiar faces from last year's trip. Before I left, I ended up talking with Harrison Todd from WellBred Racing, a group who races in the Carolinas and he remembered me from Eagle Rock. He asked me if I would hang out around his group and take pictures of the four horses they had racing that day (which I found surprising because I didn't think my Eagle Rock pictures were that great if I'm being honest.) It did feel good to be remembered though.
Red Springs barns
Porkchop ft. pony
Porkchop post-race
WellBred had two of their own horses racing, and had teamed up with some guys from South Carolina to race another two. Their first was a trail horse named Porkchop, a chunky little chestnut. He was match racing El Jarocho of Cuadra Veracruz, who he had previously beaten a few weeks prior. Unfortunately, Porkchop didn't have the same luck this time around, acting up and whacking his leg off of the gate, leaving him a length and half behind Jarocho in the 250 yard race and with a nice cut above his ankle.
El Jarocho after his win against Porkchop
Ike Turner
After Porkchop came El Durango of Cuadra Azteca vs La Romerita of Cuadra Dos Trebol going 200 yards. I should stop here to clarify that in match racing, the Latin groups are called cuadras [blocks.] The team of the owners, trainers, grooms, etc make up a cuadra, or at least that's my understanding. If you are at a registered track and you look closely at the silks, you will often notice a cuadra's name and logo. Romerita won the race quite easily as Azteca lugged in.
Getting ready for a workout
La Romerita before her win against El Durango

Porkchop on the hotwalker
The worst luck of the day for WellBred racing came when they raced Ike Turner, a NW2 at the registered tracks who's won several match races now, in a three horse race against El Sargento and La Catrina going 250 yards. We stood about 100 yards from the gate, and you could tell that Ike, who was in the middle of the three, was drawing away. However, there was a pole up at the 200 yard mark, which the jockey mistook as the finish. He began to pull Ike up, and lost to Sargento by a head, despite that 50 yard slam on the brakes. It was the definition of a heartbreaker.
Ike Turner is a solid looking horse, right?
Harrison Todd of WellBred Racing (on the pony) talking to Willie Cabbagestalk, a name some may remember from Hialeah
El Sargento, Cuadra La Herradura
Sargento vs Ike, La Catrina on the far side not pictured
Poor Ike
Unlike Eagle Rock, where most of the racers just hung out by their trailers to get ready, Red Springs has four barns for people to use. Some people did opt to just stay by their trailers, but a good number of the stalls were filled with racehorses. Also different from Eagle Rock was the presence of an MC. He was set up with a mic and loud speakers by the track and announced the upcoming races and when the horses were coming on the track. Between races there was music being played from the speakers.

El Jl vs El Sargento (a different Sargento)
Sargento (far side) proved best
One of the most notable races of the day was La Dama of Cuadra Mezquite against El Aventurero of Cuadra La Sierra. I've watched several videos of these two match racing before. Dama has always won, but they have always been very close races. Today they set up a camera at 300 and 350 yards to see who would win at either distance. However, Aventurero refused at the start! Dama was already halfway down the track before I realized she was the only horse in the race. People ran out on the track to get a straight on look at Aventurero standing flat-footed in the starting gate. The MC yelled on the mic, "Oh my God, I've never seen anything like this in my life! Not even in Mexico!" It was wild. They already have a rematch set up at the same distances on April 1st.

La Dama
El Aventurero
I'm not sure how many lengths there are in 350 yards, but that's how many Dama won by
Although it was a large crowd, apparently we stood out. Later in the day I went up to the MC to ask how many more races there were. He told me, then said "I've never seen you around here before." I told him that I'd never been there before because I'm from Canada, and he got on the mic and said "My friends, we need to give a welcome to our friends here from Canada!" I ended up meeting the sheriff shortly after. They were there to keep people off of the track during the races, which has been a problem at that particular track before. Another guy I talked to earlier in the day said "wow, you came all the way from Canada for some horse racing? You don't have horse racing up there?" Apparently we aren't targeting the North Carolina market well enough.

Racing horses and drinking Corona, a fine combo
Another common sight between races were horses who were shipped in just to breeze or gallop around the track. I suppose if you're planning on putting up money for a gate in a match race later you want your horse to get some experience over the track.  The track at Red Springs was quite deep and dry, I imagine if I were to hand time the races they would come up pretty slow. Getting a feel for the surface is probably a good idea.

After WellBred's two horses raced, they had the two horses from South Carolina going later. First up was Superman, a fiesty grey with a large scar on his side who nearly kicked me in the head while I was taking pictures of him. My bad for kneeling on the ground. He raced against El Taliban at 250 yards but was beaten about a length and a quarter. State Trooper was the group's last hope, but he didn't break great and ended up literally eating El Mapa's dust. It was a frustrating day for the team.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No! It's my future Saddlecloth Sunday post!
El Taliban pre-race
I REALLY wanted a picture of Superman with all four legs off the ground. No such luck
State Trooper
What's this? Another Saddlecloth Sunday post!
I wasn't joking about State Trooper literally eating dust, unfortunately
Overall Red Springs was a great time. I know a lot of people probably have a perception about bush tracks that they're dangerous or that the horses aren't well treated or the quality of horsemanship is low, but based on my experiences that isn't the case. The horses I saw were all fit and healthy looking. I've seen more horses that made me cringe at registered tracks than I have in the bushes. It might seem sketchy looking from afar but it's a ton of fun when you get to experience it for real.
El Granito wins one of the last races of the day, despite his tack slipping a bit
Good night from Red Springs
Since I-95 was the primary route home, I realized that Laurel Park was an option for a pit stop. We took the opportunity to stop in for a few races because I wouldn't have been able to sleep that night knowing I passed up such an easy opportunity to add a track to the list.
Alyssa gets credit for most of the Laurel pics & some of the Red Springs ones
Harker with Wesley Ho
Laurel was nice. I never saw what it was like before but I know they've done some renovations to the clubhouse area and they were done very well, it's very nice on the inside. I guess the next job is the grandstand, because the yellow and orange chairs I've always seen in pictures are all torn out and it looks like an abandoned building in there. The crowd on a cold Sunday afternoon was not huge, but it wasn't super small either. We didn't spend much time inside, mostly floating between the paddock and the apron for picture taking.
Harker didn't break too well
Laurel reminded me of Hawthorne, although a bit flashier. Nice, functional, tough to knock, but probably not many people's favourite track. Definitely had nothing against it though, I'd stop in again if I was in the area.
Next Street and Forest Boyce prevailing over Poppy's Shadow

Overall it was a great trip. Seeing the world of horse racing from so many unique angles is always interesting and a lot of fun. Certainly worth the time spent in the car. Hope you enjoy the pictures! I'm headed to Sunland Park for the Sunland Derby next weekend which I'm very excited for. Slowly getting to 40 racetracks!