This Sunday is Father’s Day. Not only that, it would have been my father’s 91st birthday if he had not passed away on June 1, 2017.
I miss my dad so much. I do.
My dad loved horse racing. He also loved baseball, basketball and football. But horse racing was his favorite sport. His love of horse racing actually was the main reason I became a huge fan myself.
My own love of horse racing was such that when I was a high school student, my goal was to work for the Daily Racing Form. I aspired to become a writer/columnist for the DRF at the Southern California tracks.
I grew up in Spokane, Wash. I was hired by the DRF in 1974 at Spokane’s Playfair Race Course. After spending the next several years working for the DRF at tracks from coast to coast, I was promoted by the DRF to the position of writer/columnist for the Southern California tracks in 1981. I held that position until switching to replace Warren Williams as the DRF chart-caller for the SoCal tracks in 1986.
I left the DRF after the 1993 Del Mar meeting to embark on a television career at Santa Anita. Mike Schneider replaced me as the chart-caller on the SoCal circuit, first for the DRF, then for Equibase. Schneider’s long run in that position will come to an end this Sunday at Santa Anita when he retires.
How much did my dad mean to me? He was the best man at my wedding in 1983 at the Santa Anita Church (what else?) in Arcadia, Calif.
If you would be so kind to indulge me, I’ve composed the following letter to my late father:
Let me first say that I really miss being able to chat you about racing, sports and so much else. But I’d also like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for being such a great father.
I know that your dream was to be a major league baseball player. But after a few years of playing first base professionally in the low minors, you knew it was not going to happen. You then married a wonderful woman (yes, when she tied the knot she became Betty White) and the two of you raised two sons while you become a highly respected golf course superintendent.
Luckily for me, you also became a big horse racing fan. The Belmont Stakes is this Saturday, Dad. If you were still alive, it’s 1-100 that you would be watching the Belmont on TV.
The Belmont this year will be run at 1 1/8 miles. The race is this Saturday. No, I haven’t lost my mind, Dad. You see, the whole world has been turned upside down this year because of something called the coronavirus pandemic. The Kentucky Derby will be run this year on Sept. 5. No kidding, Dad. And the Preakness will be on Oct. 3. How crazy is all of this?
These are my selections for the Belmont:
1. Tiz the Law
2. Tap It to Win
3. Sole Volante
4. Dr Post
Tiz the Law looks like he’s going to be mighty tough to beat, Dad. It also looks like he’s going to be a big favorite.
I know that you’ve always been very interested in my horse racing fantasy league. I am in contention this year, but I had a couple of really bad breaks recently. First, Nadal emerged from a workout with a condylar fracture. And then Maxfield did the same thing. I thought either one of them could have won the Belmont and/or the Kentucky Derby this year, Dad. It’s a devastating blow to me in the fantasy league to lose them both for the rest of the year.
I also thought Charlatan had an excellent chance to win the Belmont. Michael Hammersly has him in the fantasy league. But Charlatan came up with an injury and also won’t be in the Belmont.
The way I see it, without Nadal, Maxfield or Charlatan in the Belmont, it seems to practically hand the race to Tiz the Law on a silver platter.
Tiz the Law really does have a lot going for him, Dad. He’s four for four when racing on a fast track. He’s already won at 1 1/8 miles. After he won the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull by three lengths in February, he looked terrific when he won the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby by a little more than four lengths. He’s also one for one at Belmont. He won the Champagne by four lengths there last year. It’s important that he’s seems to like that track.
The only time Tiz the Law has been beaten was when he had a troubled trip and finished fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year at Churchill Downs when the track was sloppy. The forecast is calling for about an 80% chance of no rain at Belmont this Saturday.
Tiz the Law hasn’t raced since the Florida Derby in late March, but it appears he’s trained beautifully up to the Belmont.
All in all, it looks like it is all systems go for Tiz the Law this Saturday. His odds will not be appealing, though. He is the 6-5 morning-line favorite. I think there is a good chance he will be 4-5 or shorter when the field of 10 is dispatched Saturday.
While Tiz the Law looks formidable, we learned a long time ago that there is no thing as a sure thing, didn’t we, Dad? I know some people are saying that Tiz the Law’s opponents are pretty much garbage, but I strongly disagree with that.
Tap It to Win, for one, is extremely interesting to me. His allowance win at Belmont on June 4 was dazzling. He annihilated some really nice 3-year-olds that day in a freaky good performance when his final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:39.76. When you see 1:39 and change, that’s impressive. He was just .54 off the track record.
Mark Casse trains Tap It to Win, Dad. Casse’s trying to make it three straight wins in a Triple Crown race after taking last year’s Preakness with War of Will and Belmont with Sir Winston.
I know Tap It to Win is running again just 16 days after his June 4 victory. But Casse is a trainer who has done well doing this type of thing.
You weren’t around to see it, Dad, but Casse won a Breeders’ Cup race in 2018 and the Foustardave Handicap at Saratoga in 2019 with a couple of fillies who had a short period of time between races.
Shamrock Rose won Keeneland’s 2018 Raven Run Stakes on Oct. 20, then 14 days later pulled off a 25-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Got Stormy won Saratoga’s De La Rose Stakes last year against fillies and mares on Aug. 3. And then, just seven days later, she won the Fourstardave Handicap vs. males in a brilliant performance when she won by 2 1/2 lengths and completed one mile in 1:32.00 to break Saratoga’s grass-course record.
Even though Tap It to Win is racing again 16 days after his last start, I definitely think he just might win the Belmont.
The 16 days between races for Tap It to Win running in the Belmont is nothing compared to Conquistador Cielo. Heck, Dad, I know you remember him, right? Conquistador Cielo in 1982 won the Met Mile by a little more than seven lengths against his elders on Monday, then just five days later won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont by 14 lengths on a sloppy track. As for Tap It to Win, he’s coming back in 16 days and “only” going 1 1/8 miles, not 1 1/2 miles.
Speaking of coming back quickly, how about Sole Volante? He’s being wheeled back in 10 days by trainer Patrick Biancone. Sole Volante, off at odds of 2-1, rallied from last in a field of six to win a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest at Gulfstream on June 10. Finishing fourth was 7-10 favorite Ete Indien, also trained by Biancone.
I’ve had my eye on Sole Volante ever since his maiden win in a 7 1/2-furlong maiden race on the grass at Gulfstream Park last year. Earlier this year, he won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He then finished second to King Guillermo in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
What Biancone is doing with Sole Volante in terms of the short period of time between races is not a concern to me. Not when I think back to the remarkable job Biancone did in 1984 with All Along when she won four big races in three different countries from Oct. 2 to Nov. 12.
What All Along did in her final four 1984 starts was incredible. On Oct. 2, she won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France. On Oct. 16, she won the Rothmans International (aka the Canadian International) at Woodbine. On Oct. 29, she won the Turf Classic at Aqueduct. And then, on Nov. 12, she won the Washington, D.C., International at Laurel.
All Along was voted America’s Horse of the Year in 1984. But after winning important races in France, Canada and the U.S., All Along essentially was the Horse of the World in 1984.
Meanwhile, Dad, I have a hunch Dr Post might run a biggie in the Belmont. I do think that’s possible. He has won both of his races this year for Todd Pletcher, a trainer who has won the Belmont three times (Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017).
How good is Dr Post? We really don’t know. When he won his 2020 debut, he got a serious 96 Beyer Speed Figure in a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream. He then got only an 86 Beyer when he won the Unbridled Stakes at Belmont, but his troubled trip that day might have had something to do with the substantial drop in the Beyer department.
Modernist should not be taken lightly in the Belmont, Dad. His trainer, Bill Mott, seemed to have been leaning to running him in the Ohio Derby instead of the Belmont. Mott then went ahead and entered him in the Belmont after Modernist had a sharp five-furlong workout in :59.20 last Sunday, according to Equibase. Jockey Junior Alvarado was aboard Modernist, who worked in company with 4-year-old multiple graded stakes winner Tacitus on Belmont’s main track. Jockey John Velazquez was on Tacitus.
Tacitus also was clocked in :59.20. He ran second in the 2019 Belmont. Tacitus, who is one of the horses I have in my fantasy league stable, is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont on July 4.
In my opinion, Dad, I also don’t think Pneumatic should be taken lightly in the Belmont. He won his first two races, both at Oaklawn this year, before finishing a respectable third behind Maxfield and Ny Traffic in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill on May 23. Considering that was Pneumatic’s stakes debut, I thought that was a fine effort in defeat.
It appears to me that both Max Player and Farmington Road are capable of making their presence felt in the Belmont.
Max Player, trained by Linda Rice, has won two of his last three. He hasn’t raced since he won Aqueduct’s Grade III Withers at one mile by a little more than three lengths on Feb. 1. While it’s true that Max Player hasn’t started since Feb. 1, at least he already has won at 1 1/8 miles. And Rice has said that she believes based on what she’s seen from Max Player in his training, he has improved a lot in the last couple of months.
By the way, if Max Player does win the Belmont, history will be made. Rice will become the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race. I think that would be pretty darn cool, Dad.
I will be honest, Dad. I have never really been a Farmington Road fan. He usually drops far back early and comes flying late. Yes, Sole Volante has the same running style. But the difference to me is Sole Volante has won four of six, while Farmington Road has won one of six. That being said, would I be shocked if Farmington Road wins the Belmont? No. But, again, I’m just not a fan, at least not at this point.
Fore Left was a surprise entrant in the Belmont. He’s 30-1 on the morning line. He won three of eight starts in this country, then took a Group III race in Dubai at about one mile on Feb. 6. If he won the Belmont, I would be happy for owner Reddam Racing and trainer Doug O’Neill after what happened eight years ago. They had I’ll Have Another, the 4-5 morning-line favorite for the Belmont after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But I’ll Have Another was denied his chance to go for a Triple Crown sweep when he was withdrawn the day before the Belmont due to an injury.
If Jungle Runner wins the Belmont, that would shock me. He is 50-1 on the morning line. After losing by 22 1/2 lengths at 60-1 in the division of the Arkansas Derby won by Charlatan, how in the world is Jungle Runner going to win the Belmont? To me, Dad, the Belmont looks like it’s a mission impossible for him.
By the way, Dad, I know you would have been interested in the announcement this week that two criminal complaints were unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y. Larnel Miller and Lafayette Morrison have been charged with “Hobbs Act robbery” in connection with the armed robbery of over $280,000 in cash from Aqueduct earlier this year on March 7. The two men were arrested Monday.
Morrison, a security guard at Aqueduct, is accused of being the “inside man” who posed as a victim in the robbery that occurred at about 10 p.m. on the night of March 7 following the running of the Gotham Stakes.
According to documents, Miller and a co-conspirator held up at gunpoint several racetrack employees — including Morrison, who was employed as a racetrack security guard — as they were transporting more than $280,000 in cash to a vault. Wearing surgical masks, Miller and the co-conspirator allegedly emerged from their hiding spot in a stairwell and confronted the employees at gunpoint. Miller and the co-conspirator are alleged to have taken the employees’ cell phones and the cash, then forced the victims into a closet. As the “inside man,” Morrison allegedly provided information in advance of where and when the money would be transported to the vault.
“The defendants allegedly gambled that they could pull off a high-stakes robbery with the benefit of inside information, but thanks to the outstanding efforts of ATF special agents and NYPD detectives, they ended up on the losing end of that bet,” said Richard Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The reason that Aqueduct robbery would interest you, Dad, is I will never forget what you told me about the night you thought the money room was being robbed at Playfair in the 1970s. While you were counting money in the money room, all of a sudden there was a power failure. You told me that when the lights went out, it was so dark that you could not even see your hand. It was pitch black. And then, all of a sudden in the darkness someone yelled, “Nobody move!” You told me that when you heard that, you got scared because you thought the money room was being robbed. But fortunately it turned out that the person who yelled, “Nobody move!” was the policeman who guarded the money room. It wasn’t a robbery. It was just a power failure.
Before I sign off, Dad, I want to say again how much I miss you. I was thinking the other day how much I regret that you passed away before getting the chance to meet my good friend Ryan Stillman. I just know you would have really liked Ryan. He’s a terrific guy. Ryan became a racing fan relatively recently and actually has become quite knowledgeable on the subject.
Something I think of often, Dad, were all those times we traveled out of town to go to the races at Longacres, Yakima Meadows or Portland Meadows. At night in a motel, we’d both pore over the past performances for the card the next day. You always marked the past performances with a special red pencil. And sometimes I would hide your precious red pencil. You understandably would get irked. But, gee, what’s a son for?
I also look back fondly on all the many days we spent at the track. Like the time we went to Portland Meadows in the 1970s and it was raining hard while we were walking toward the grandstand from the parking lot. They had a dirt section of parking that was free, then a paid section closer to the grandstand that was paved. We always parked in the free, dirt section. The day that it was absolutely pouring while we sloshed our way through the mud on the dirt section of the parking lot, I looked over at you and said, “You know, this just might be the only track in the country that people need mud caulks while walking into the track from the parking lot.” We both laughed while continuing to get soaked.
It was 50 years ago this Sunday — June 21, 1970 — that you did disappoint me when, despite my begging, you would not take me to Longacres to see Turbulator make his Longacres debut in the Space Needle Handicap. We were staying with your parents north of Seattle. Because your father did not like horse racing, you didn’t want to upset him by taking me to Longacres on a day when we would be celebrating your birthday with your parents.
But as an example of what a fantastic dad you were, you said that because you were sorry that we wouldn’t be going to Longacres to see Turbulator run on June 21, I could go ahead and pick any day I wanted during the rest of the year and you would take me to Longacres. Without hesitation, I said, “the Fourth of July.” And you said, “Okay, it’s a deal.”
I picked July 4 because I figured that probably would be the day of Turbulator’s next race.
Turbulator rallied to finish third in the 1970 Space Needle Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. He did indeed make his next start in the 1970 Independence Day Handicap, a one-mile race at Longacres on July 4.
I will never, ever forget sitting next to you, Dad, near the sixteenth pole in the bleachers at Longacres on that Fourth of July afternoon. It was a warm, comfortable summer day.
We both watched Turbulator’s race with binoculars. As they headed for the clubhouse turn, we were startled when there was a spill. Silver Double, in front early, crossed over to the inside rail without clearance. Judgelyn clipped Silver Double’s heels. Judgelyn fell, tossing his rider, Mark Jennings, to the ground. Turbulator, as usual, was well off the early pace. He actually jumped over the fallen rider. After that, as the horses rounded the first turn, Turbulator found himself 14 lengths off the lead.
Because you knew what a huge Turbulator fan I was, Dad, you felt bad for me when Turbulator was so far behind. While you were still watching the race through your binoculars, you said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, son. There’s no possible way he can win from there.”
And I said, “Don’t worry, Dad. Just keep your binocs on him. He will win. Believe me.”
Turbulator roared home to win going away by two lengths in a sparkling 1:34 4/5.
“Wow, I can’t believe he won,” you said after the race.
Thanks to you, it was a memorable belated birthday present for me to witness the first of Turbulator’s 12 victories he would register at Longacres during his career.
How about this, Dad? Just the other day, Vince Bruun, the director of media relations at Emerald Downs, emailed me the 2008 Daily Racing Form story written by Dennis Dodge on jockey Larry Pierce being voted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame. Pierce rode 1,039 winners during his riding career. His 63 stakes wins at Longacres ranked third on the all-time list for jockeys at that track.
Vince knew I would love what Pierce said to Dodge about Turbulator.
“Pierce said that Turbulator, whom he rode to numerous stakes wins and to a world record performance in the 1970 Governor’s Handicap, was undoubtedly the best horse he ever rode,” Dodge wrote. ‘He was the most awesome animal I’ve ever been on. His stretch kick was just unbelievable. I remember telling my brother, Don [Pierce], who rode lots of top horses in California, that I was riding a great horse. He said I had no way of knowing what a great horse was, because I had never ridden one. I did, though. I rode Turbulator.’ ”
Well, Dad, we both were there at Longacres 50 years ago to see Turbulator’s unbelievable stretch kick the first time he ever won there. Spending that whole summer afternoon at the races with you, Dad, is a memory I will cherish until the day I die.
And so I say to you, happy Father’s Day and happy birthday this Sunday, Dad!
Your son, Jon
BAFFERT UNVEILS ANOTHER PROMISING SOPHOMORE
On June 6, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent out the highly regarded $3.65 million auction purchase Cezanne to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 2 1/2 lengths as the 2-5 favorite.
Baffert unveiled yet another promising 3-year-old colt last Friday at Santa Anita when $250,000 auction buy Uncle Chuck won a one-mile maiden race by seven lengths as the even-money favorite.
I was quite impressed by Uncle Chuck. Away a step slow from the inside post, he moved up to engage for the lead not too long after the start. But I think it’s to his credit that he did not get headstrong or rank. He moved up smoothly early. I thought he bowled along as gracefully as a ballerina on the far turn and all the way down the lane. After boasting a four-length advantage at the quarter pole, he won by seven lengths in 1:36.78.
Uncle Chuck was credited with a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Making his performance all the more impressive is he won a one-mile race around two turns at first asking. It’s not easy to win a two-turn race at first asking. Cezanne recorded a 90 Beyer while winning a seven-furlong race around one turn.
The powerful Baffert barn has experienced recent setbacks in the 3-year-old male ranks with Nadal (injured, retired), Charlatan (injured, out of the Kentucky Derby) and Authentic (finished second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby for his first defeat in four career starts). But it certainly helps the Baffert barn cope with those disappointments to have a pair of 3-year-olds who appear to have a bright future in Cezanne and Uncle Chuck.
Speaking of the Baffert barn, a couple of sharp recent workouts by Thousand Words suggests that those who have written him off might have been wrong to do so.
Thousand Words won the first three starts of his career, including a pair of graded stakes races. He took the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 7, then won the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 1. But his stock fell dramatically after he then was soundly beaten in his next two starts.
In Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 7, Thousand Words finished fourth, 11 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Authentic.
After the San Felipe, Thousand Words stumbled at the start and lost by almost 30 lengths when he finished 11th on a sloppy track in the April 11 Oaklawn Stakes. He hasn’t started since that April 11 race, but his recent a.m. activity indicates he just might still have more graded stakes wins in him.
He recorded a five-furlong bullet drill in :58.60 at Santa Anita on June 6, then worked seven furlongs in 1:25.80 at Santa Anita on June 13. This is especially interesting in the context that he generally was not the sort to post a fast time for a workout last year or early this year.
One wonders if the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 4 might be in the cards for Thousand Words.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 343 Midnight Bisou (26)
2. 245 Mucho Gusto
3. 244 By My Standards (2)
4. 190 Code of Honor (3)
5. 138 Tom’s d’Etat
6. 129 Zulu Alpha (1)
7. 119 Vekoma
8. 100 Maximim Security (4)
9. 88 Improbable
10. 83 McKinzie
Note: Tiz the Law received one first-place votes in the Top Thoroughbred Poll. With 25 points, he ranked 14th in that poll.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 360 Tiz the Law (28)
2. 339 Honor A.P. (9)
3. 260 Authentic
4. 201 King Guillermo
5. 171 Sole Volante
6. 109 Maxfield
7. 97 Charlatan
8. 78 Nadal
9. 72 Basin
10. 70 Ete Indien