Last Sunday’s Grade III Springboard Mile, which was taken by Shoplifted, wrapped up the 2019 portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby points races.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a series of 35 races from Sept. 14 this year through April 11 next year. These races award a sliding scale of points to the Top 4 finishers. This system has determined preference for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field since 2013.
The 2020 Run for the Roses, which had a $3 million purse this year, will be run for the 146th time at Churchill Downs on May 2.
The Springboard Mile was the ninth 2019 race to offer points toward the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Below are the nine winners:
Date Winner (Race and Track)
09-14-19 Dennis’ Moment (Iroquois at Churchill Downs)
09-27-19 Eight Rings (American Pharoah at Santa Anita)
10-05-19 Tiz the Law (Champagne at Belmont Park)
10-05-19 Maxfield (Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland)
11-01-19 Storm the Court (BC Juvenile at Santa Anita)
11-30-19 Silver Prospector (Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill)
12-07-19 Shotski (Remsen at Aqueduct)
12-07-19 Thousand Words (Los Alamitos Futurity)
12-15-19 Shoplifted (Springboard Mile)
Below are these same nine winners listed in descending order of the Beyer Speed Figure they each recorded:
91 Thousand Words
90 Dennis’ Moment
89 Tiz the Law
87 Eight Rings
87 Storm the Court
81 Silver Prospector
I think the above Beyer Speed Figures are very interesting in that eight of the nine range from a high of 91 to a low of 86. Put another way, in terms of the first nine races on the Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby, nobody has been able to separate themselves from the pack. Also, no one has stepped up and posted a Beyer higher than 91.
Eight of the nine races run so far on the Road to the Kentucky Derby have been worth 10-4-2-1 points. The BC Juvenile had 20-8-4-2 points up for grabs.
Four races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be decided during January, each worth 10-4-2-1 points. Those four races are the Jerome at Aqueduct on Jan 1; Grade III Sham at Santa Anita on Jan. 4; Grade III Lecomte at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Jan. 18; and Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 24.
FIERCE BATTLE TO THE FINISH
Shoplifted moved down the class ladder to run in the Grade III Springboard after having started in three consecutive Grade I races. He finished second in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga in early September, fifth in the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita in late September, then seventh in the Grade I BC Juvenile at Santa Anita in early November.
Sixth early in the Springboard Mile, Shoplifted rallied to win by a head in 1:37.95. Ricardo Santana Jr. rode the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Answer In, the 3-5 favorite, finished second. Embolden ended up third, a half-length behind Answer In.
MY ECLIPSE AWARD CHOICES FOR THE DECADE
Eclipse Award ballots for 2019 recently were disseminated to voters.
With this being 2019, I wondered what I would do if I were asked to fill out an Eclipse Award ballot for this decade.
In order to qualify for a category on this hypothetical ballot, a horse or a human must have been an Eclipse Award winner from 2010 through 2018. (The 2019 Eclipse Award winners will be announced early next year and they also will qualify for the mythical Eclipse Award ballot of the decade. I will monitor the 2019 winners to determine if I should make any changes regarding my choices. If I do elect to make any changes, I will pass them along early in 2020.)
Again, keep in mind that any Eclipse Award champion from 2010 through 2018 is eligible for the mythical Eclipse Award ballot below. And now, without any further ado, this is how I would fill out my ballot:
Two-Year-Old Male: Uncle Mo
Two-Year-Old Female: Songbird
Three-Year-Old Male: American Pharoah
Older Dirt Male: Gun Runner
Older Dirt Female: Zenyatta
Male Sprinter: Roy H
Female Sprinter: Groupie Doll
Male Turf: Wise Dan
Female Turf: Goldikova
Trainer: Bob Baffert (two Triple Crowns!)
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Apprentice Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke
Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Breeder: Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Horse of the Decade: American Pharoah (ended 37-year Triple Crown drought!)
You might disagree with any number of my choices. And it’s perfectly fine if you do. This is just my opinion. There is no right or wrong.
TRAINER TROY TAYLOR PASSES AWAY
It was with sadness that I found out trainer Troy Taylor passed away last Saturday at his home near Langley, Wash. He was 88.
Taylor had much success at tracks up and down the West Coast, most especially from Northern California to Hastings Racecourse (formerly Exhibition Park) in Vancouver, B.C. He won numerous training titles at Hastings to go along with those titles he also won at Portland Meadows and Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash.
For Glen Todd alone, Taylor “trained over 130 stakes winners,” according to the owner. Todd himself was a trainer in the 1970s and 1980s. After Taylor retired in 2016, Todd began training horses again. Todd won this year’s Grade III British Columbia Derby at Hastings as the owner and trainer of Five Star General.
Taylor Said was one of the many stakes winners Taylor trained for Todd. When conditioned by Taylor in 2012, Taylor Said won a starter allowance race at Golden Gate in February, then reeled off four stakes victories at Hastings from May 6 to Aug. 6.
After those five straight wins, Taylor sent Taylor Said to trainer Mike Puhich for the 2012 renewal of the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Aug. 19. That is the biggest race in the Pacific Northwest. Taylor Said prevailed by a head under jockey Mario Gutierrez, who earlier in 2012 had won the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness aboard I’ll Have Another.
I have something in common with Puhich. Turbulator is our all-time favorite racehorse. Turbulator’s biggest claim to fame came when he ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14 to break the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs by two-fifths of a second the day he won the Governor’s Handicap at Longacres in 1970.
And whose world record did Turbulator break? Turbulator broke Sandy Fleet’s world mark that had been set at Longacres in 1966. And who trained Sandy Fleet? Yep, it was Troy Taylor.
Regarding Taylor’s death, Todd tweeted this last Sunday: “It’s sad to pass along this message my longtime friend and a legend in Pacific Northwest horse racing has passed on. RIP my great Friend.”
Heath Belvoir is an Equibase chart-caller, having worked in that capacity at a number of tracks, including Saratoga, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and Lone Star Park. Belvoir tweeted this last Sunday: “My uncle Troy was a great guy! He taught me how to golf when I was young! Troy was a true old fashioned horseman! He had a lot of great horses! Troy was known for arriving before everyone else in the morning and finishing before break time! Also for eating dry toast! RIP.”
Turn to Fire was another of Taylor’s stakes winners. She is one of the best Washington-bred distaffers of all time. I believe she really should be in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.
At Longacres on May 28, 1972, Turn to Fire won a very important race for me. I put $100 to win on her that day in the $7,500-added Fashion Handicap. It was the first $100 wager of my life.
Turn to Fire had been a star at Longacres in 1971 as a 3-year-old filly when she won a number of stakes races outside her division. She won both the Fashion Handicap and Belle Roberts Handicap against her elders. She also won the Tacoma Handicap when beating the boys.
Many had hoped to see Turn to Fire take on the top 3-year-old male at Longacres in 1971, Rock Bath, in the Longacres Derby. But “leg ailments” forced Turn to Fire out of action in mid-summer of 1971, “negating hope for an encounter with Rock Bath in the Derby,” according to a story on the filly in the February 1972 edition of The Washington Horse magazine.
Turn to Fire went back into training in the spring of 1972 at Golden Gate Fields.
“Trainer Troy Taylor started his chestnut charge four times at Golden Gate,” The Washington Horse story continued. “Though racing with such speedy distaffers as Ribula and Veneke, Turn to Fire returned to the winner’s circle twice and finished second and third in her other two starts.
“So there was very little genuine surprise when, on May 28, Turn to Fire and stablemate Batita Princess jumped off the tote board at 3-10 odds. The occasion was the 25th running of the Fashion Handicap.”
I waited and waited and waited for just the right horse in just the right race to make my first $100 bet. The odds did not matter to me. What mattered was trying as hard as I could to not lose the bet. And I finally decided that I would make this “milestone wager” on Turn to Fire in the 1972 Fashion Handicap. I felt confident she would not let me down.
Fleet Ahead was who I feared the most. She had been acclaimed the 1971 Horse of the Meeting at Playfair when the daughter of Dead Ahead outran males to win the Playfair Mile. But based on Turn to Fire’s 1971 record and spring form at Golden Gate, I did not think she would have any problem defeating Fleet Ahead and everyone else in the 1972 Fashion.
Though the race took place 47 years ago, I still vividly recall how sweaty my palms were as they reached the starting gate. I watched it while standing in front of the grandstand near the winner’s circle with my father.
As expected, Batita Princess and jockey Richard “Tex” Hollingsworth dashed immediately to the front. Fleet Ahead, with Jack Leonard in the saddle, stalked in third on the backstretch. Turn to Fire, with regular rider Larry Pierce aboard, raced in fourth early.
Pacesetter Batita Princess zipped the opening quarter in :21 4/5 and half in :44 4/5. Entering the stretch, she led by 1 1/2 lengths. Turn to Fire still was fourth and had yet to begin rallying. I was starting to get very concerned.
At the eighth pole, Batita Princess was rolling along and continued to lead by 1 1/2 lengths. But Fleet Ahead now was closing in on the leader. Turn to Fire? She was still fourth. It was beginning to look like maybe Turn to Fire was not going to fire. I suddenly realized that probably my best hope to cash my first $100 wager would be if Batita Princess could stay in front all the way to the finish.
So out of pure desperation, during the stretch run, I started rooting for Batita Princess to bail me out. But even that backup plan went down the tubes when Fleet Ahead came on to take the lead in the final furlong. My heart sank. I thought my $100 wager was dead for sure.
But then Turn to Fire unleashed a furious late charge. Somehow, she turned what had seemed certain defeat into being involved in a photo finish for the win with Fleet Ahead.
I looked at my dad.
“Who won?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders, saying, “I don’t know.”
It was that close. We both thought it might even be a dead heat.
Turn to Fire was No. 1A. Fleet Ahead was No. 2. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the “photo” sign came down. And then the numbers were posted on the tote board:
Yes, Turn to Fire had eked out a nose victory. I won $30. Yes, that was nice. But, again, the most important thing to me was not losing my first $100 bet. For me to win this important wager, especially in such dramatic fashion, is a memory that I cherish to this day.
And so I will be forever grateful to Troy Taylor, Larry Pierce and, most especially, Turn to Fire for coming through to win the 1972 Fashion Handicap.