Monthly Archives: October 2015

Recap of Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Races With Virginia Ties

The 2015 Breeders' Cup is at Keeneland on Oct. 30 & 31

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland on Oct. 30 & 31

Here’s a Breeders’ Cup update from Friday’s trio of races that featured horses with Virginia ties!

After a thrilling two horse stretch duel and a five minute steward’s review, Stopchargingmaria’s half length win over Virginia-bred Stellar Wind in the $2 million Longines Distaff held up. Both horses went off at 7-1 and shook free from a crowded 14 horse field in the stretch. The eventual winner, who was inside, bumped the runner-up three times before the finish but not enough in the steward’s minds to overturn the order. Stellar Wind, who has 4 graded stakes wins this year, is a 3-year-old daughter of Curlin and was bred by Peggy Augustus’ Keswick Stables & Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. The winner, a Todd Pletcher trainee, paid $16.20 and the $2 superfecta combo of 4-9-8-14 paid $9,249.40.

Virginia represented horses also were solid in the $1,000,000 Las Vegas Dirt Mile, finishing 3rd, 4th & 5th!

Red Vine, a 4 year old son of Candy Ride that was purchased by Virginia Equine Alliance President Debbie Easter at the 2012 Fasig-Florida two year old sale (for Californian’s Jon and Sarah Kelly), finished 3rd after being sent off at 9-1. 4th place finisher Wicked Strong, sent off at 11-1, came on strong in the stretch and beat Virginia-bred Valid, who ended up 5th by a slim quarter length margin. Owned by a Centennial Farms Partnership that includes Maggie Bryant, Wicked Strong received his early training from Paula Parsons at Centennial’s facility in Middleburg, VA. Valid, sent off at 45-1, was a $500,000 yearling from the next to last crop of Ned Evans’s homebreds.

Highland Sky finished a respectable 6th in the $2,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, ending up only 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Hit it a Bomb. Highland Sky was bred by Virginia Thoroughbred Association member Bonner Young, who is Manassas, VA resident. The winner paid $16.40 and the $2 superfecta combo of 14-6-8-10 paid a whopping $15,166.20!

Day Two of “Cup” action is Saturday (Oct. 31) and can be seen live on NBC Sports Network from 1-4 PM, on NBC from 4-6 PM., and on line at You can bet on line at TVG, XpressBet & Twin Spires!


Diplomat Wins Last Saturday’s Grade 3 “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Steeplechase Stakes

It doesn’t qualify as an “American Trilogy”, but Diplomat got to the winners circle for the third time in the U.S. this year and second since being claimed by the Flying Elvis Stable, in last Saturday’s $50,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Steeplechase Stakes (Gr. III) at Great Meadow. The 2 1/8 miles stakes highlighted the under card of the annual fall International Gold Cup Day of five steeplechase and four flat events.

Diplomat, sent off as the 2-1 second favorite in a field of seven, was making his 7th start this year since being imported from England after his 2014 campaign. The 6 year old son of Kitten’s Joy, who was bred by Ken & Sarah Ramsey, didn’t come on until the stretch when rider Bernald Dalton led a late surge past four frontrunners. Diplomat crossed six lengths ahead of the consistent runner-up Gustavian in 4:11.0.

Diplomat wins 2015  Zeke Ferguson NSA Stakes

Diplomat wins 2015 Zeke Ferguson NSA Stakes

This is the running style our horse needs to duplicate every race now,” said Diplomat’s co-owner Adam Newman who claimed the horse three starts ago. “He was last through most of it today, saved some energy and just came home big. In his last three starts, he’s got to the front and did win the race we claimed him in at Saratoga, but tired late in the other two. We had our eye on him through the whole Saratoga meet and were really surprised he was in for a tag” (on September 2nd).

Newman, who with his younger brother makes up the Flying Elvis Stable, collected his first ever graded stakes win. “My father was into thoroughbred racing with his brother for decades as an owner, so we grew up in the business,” said Newman. “With Diplomat, my brother and I purchased our first steeplechase horse and as it turns out, it’s probably the best bred horse we’ve ever owned. I know this doesn’t happen often,” added Newman when referencing the big victory so soon after purchasing his first steeplechase horse. “I’m not a big fan of claiming, and it doesn’t seem to be a big part of the steeplechase game, but we waited for the right moment and got the right horse.”

Diplomat is trained by Kate Dalton and with the win, sports a 2015 bankroll of $125,000. The name of Newman’s stable came about through random brainstorming with his brother. “With a steeplechase horse, we wanted something with the word soaring, jumping or flying in it. And one of my favorite movies is “Honeymoon In Vegas”, where a bunch of Elvis impersonators end up skydiving.” And that’s how the Flying Elvis Stable came to be.

Gustavian, a 9 year old Giant’s Causeway gelding, earned his 21st “in the money finish” by finishing second and Able Duty, who was making his first start since winning the 2014 “Zeke” Ferguson Stakes, was third.

Grinding Speed Wins 3rd International Gold Cup Oct. 24 at Great Meadow

Grinding Speed wrote another chapter in his storied career at Great Meadow when he captured his third International Gold Cup victory this past Saturday to complement a pair of spring Gold Cup triumphs.


The 9 year old Grindstone gelding charged to the top spot in the 3 1/2 mile marathon contested over timber fences with only four jumps to go. Personal Brew set the pace early, mid and in the near late going with a front running journey over nine other contenders. After catching a brief breather mid race, Grinding Speed and Dakota Slew came on with a rush with a mile left to pass the fading leader and waged a three horse battle with Straight To It to the wire.

Personal Brew leads the 2015 International Gold Cup as the field encounters an obstacle

Personal Brew leads the 2015 International Gold Cup as the field encounters an obstacle

Regular rider Mark Beecher delivered the win again Saturday for trainer Alicia Murphy and owner Michael Wharton. In five starts this year, Grinding Speed has three wins and a runner up finish and a bankroll of $124,550 and with the big 2015, is all but assured of being named NSA Champion Timber Horse.

“He’s a versatile horse”, said owner Wharton. “You can pretty much put him anywhere in any situation and he’ll succeed. He ran on the front end in the slowest Gold Cup last spring and then today, he came from behind in what seemed like a very fast race.” Saturday’s “Cup” finished in 7:15, a full three seconds faster than the 2014 fall edition. “Mark (Beecher) gave him a breather midway through like he always does,” added Wharton, a lawyer whose practice is based in Annapolis, Maryland. “Mark said he knew Grinding Speed had a lot left after that break but was surprised at how much horse he actually had left. It looks like he is definitely a horse for the course.”

International Gold Cup winner Grinding Speed with rider Mark Beecher

Grinding Speed, a Maryland bred out of Cozelia by Cozzene, earned his 10th life victory and fifth in six Great Meadow starts. Dakota Slew finished second, 1 1/4 lengths behind, and Straight To It was a neck farther back and took third. The place finisher was ridden by Darren Nagle for Richard Valentine and the show jumper had Sean McDermott up top for trainer Jack Fisher.

Breeders’ Cup Horses With Virginia Ties – 2 Day Championship Weekend is Fri/Sat, Oct. 30/31

The annual Breeders’ Cup Championships will be held this Friday & Saturday, October 30 & 31 at Keeneland and there are 7 horses entered that have ties to Virginia! If you haven’t yet done so, open an on line betting account and wager all the action with any of our partners — TVG, XpressBet and Twin Spires. A piece of every dollar bet goes toward the purses Virginia horses compete for throughout the year.


Here is the “Cup” television broadcast schedule:

*Friday October 30 – NBC Sports Network from 3-6 PM
*Saturday October 31 – NBC Sports Network from 1-4 PM
*Saturday October 31 – NBC from 4-6 PM


Highland Sky, bred by Virginia Thoroughbred Association member and Manassas, VA resident Bonner Young, is a long shot at 30-1 in the $2,000,000 Juvenile Turf, which will go to post Friday at 3:30 PM. This “Cup” race is the first of 13 which will be contested over the two days. Out of Kristi With a K, a grade 3 placed mare bred and raced by Young, the 2 year old daughter of Sky Mesa has only two life starts — a win at Saratoga Labor Day weekend and a fourth most recently in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont September 26th. She was bred and raised in Kentucky. Cornelio Velasquez will ride for trainer Barclay Tagg. 


Wicked Strong is 5-1 in the $1,000,000 Las Vegas Dirt Mile, which is scheduled for Friday at 4:10 PM, and can be seen on the NBC Sports Network. The 4 year old is by Hard Spun out of Mayne Abbey, by Charismatic. Owned by a Centennial Farms Partnership that includes Maggie Bryant, Wicked Strong received his early training from Paula Parsons at Centennial’s facility in Middleburg. He beat 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist in the 2014 Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr. II) at Saratoga. John Velazquez will ride Friday for trainer James Jerkens. In 18 career starts, Wicked Strong has 3 wins, 4 seconds and 3 thirds, good for $1,934,460 in earnings. 


Virginia-bred Valid is 10-1 in the Dirt Mile. A 5 year old son of Medaglia d’Oro, Valid was a $500,000 yearling from the next to last crop of Ned Evans’s homebreds. He is out of the Grand Slam mare Grand Prayer. This year, Valid won the Grade III Iselin Stakes August 30th at Monmouth (shown above – photo courtesy of Bill Denver)and the Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream February 7th. From 31 career outs, he has 10 wins, 7 runner-up finishes and 6 thirds. Nick Juarez will ride Friday for trainer Marcus Vitali.


Red Vine, at 6-1, will challenge the above duo in the Dirt Mile. The 4 year old son of Candy Ride was purchased by Virginia Equine Alliance President Debbie Easter at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Florida two year old sale for Californian’s Jon and Sarah Kelly, and is coming into the race fresh off a pair of nice efforts. He was third in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar August 22nd and was a solid second in the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont prior. Joel Rosario will be in the irons for trainer Christophe Clement. The consistent Red Vine has bankrolled $565,715 from 17 “in the money” finishes in 19 starts.

Hronis Racing's Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Grade I $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks Saturday, April 4, 2015 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA.   ©Benoit Photo

Hronis Racing’s Stellar Wind and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Grade I $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks Saturday, April 4, 2015 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA.
©Benoit Photo


Virginia-bred Stellar Wind will compete in the $2,000,000 Longines Distaff, which highlights the card Friday at 5:35 PM. The 3-year-old daughter of Curlin is 12-1 early and competes in a large field of 14 — Curlin of course was the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Stellar Wind was bred by Peggy Augustus’ Keswick Stables & Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, and is out of the Malibu Moon mare Evening Star. She was sold as a yearling for $40,000 at the Fasig-Tipton fall auction in Maryland. Two months later, she was resold to Barbara Houck for $86,000. After breaking her maiden impressively at Laurel Park, she was sold privately by Houck and trainer Donald Barr to current owner Kosta Hronis. After winning the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks (Gr. I) this spring, Stellar Wind was the favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, but ended up finishing fourth. Since, she has added another pair of graded stakes wins to her resume. Victor Espinosa will ride for trainer John Sadler.


The stellar Breeders’ Cup $5,000,000 Classic field is the showcase of Saturday’s card and ten elite horses will go to post at 5:35 PM. Two of the entrants have Virginia ties and both are early co-third choices at 6-1. Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont Stakes winner, was bred in Kentucky by Lauren & Rene Woolcott but raised at their Woodslane Farm in The Plains. The 4 year old son of Tapit, who has bankrolled $3.1 million from only 14 starts, will be ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Christophe Clement. Tonalist has earned $1,145,000 this year alone. He is shown above winning the 2014 Jim Dandy Stakes (photo courtesy of Chelsea Durand)


Honor Code (shown below, photo courtesy of Kenny Martin), winner of the 2015 Grade I Whitney Stakes and the Metropolitan Handicap, will get the services of jockey Javier Castellano A son of A.P. Indy, Honor Code has earned over $2 million in his career and has finished in the top three in 9 of his 10 career outs. Honor Code was bed by the Dell Ridge Farm,which also co-owns the horse with Lane’s End Racing. Sarge Reynolds, who is the Virginia Racing Commission Chairman, is a partner in Lane’s End Racing.


The star studded “Classic” field includes 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, 5-year-old mare Beholder who beat the boys in the Pacific Classic, and Travers winner Keen Ice among others.

Recap of Saturday’s International Gold Cup Flat Races

Complete St. and Renown, two horses that captured Virginia Equine Association (VEA) events in September, rolled to victories on the flat at Great Meadow Saturday afternoon during the 78th running of the International Gold Cup program.

The annual fall renewal featured five steeplechase events, four flat races that all attracted full fields, a crowd of 30,000, actress Meg Ryan, and two Keeneland- bound Virginia breeders whose respective horses, Tonalist and Sticksstatelydude, will compete in this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Championships. All the flat races in addition to the Grade 3 David “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Steeplechase Stakes were presented by the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association.

Complete St. won the featured $35,000 Old Dominion Turf Championship in a similar come from behind fashion she showed in winning the $60,000 Brookemeade Stakes September 26th at Laurel. The 5 year old came from mid pack in a field ten Virginia-breds Saturday and with a well timed stretch move that saw her pass Hooping, Gumper, Slavic Aura and Pride Of The Fleet, earned her second straight triumph. She crossed in 2:09 3/5 in the 1 1/4 miles race. Rider Richard Boucher delivered the big effort for trainer Lilith Boucher and owner Harlan Crossman.  Complete St., bred by the Mede Cahaba Stable and Stud LLC, is a St. Averil mare out of Complete Number, by Polish Numbers.

“She can adapt her running style to accommodate whatever you ask of her,” said rider Boucher when comparing her two most recent victories with back to back stakes wins Complete St. earned in 2014 when she ran near the front throughout. “I was concerned heading down the backside because we were getting outrun and the times were pretty quick. I wasn’t sure how the horse would react on the rolling terrain because she’s more of a racetrack mare,” added Boucher. “Through the turn though, she had lots of run left in her. We went inside down the stretch and without an inside rail, faced no obstacles and got a nice win.”

Renown on the other hand was third at the quarter fraction of his $45,000, 1 1/2 miles open flat race, took control shortly after and led the rest of the way, finishing the 1 1/4 miles race in 2:38 2/5. The 4 year old Champ Elysees gelding beat runner-up Bishops Castle by 2 1/2 lengths with Jack Doyle in the irons again. The Great Britain-bred is trained by Elizabeth Voss for the Merriebelle Stable LLC.  Renown dominated an allowance race September 20th during the VEA’s inaugural Virginia Downs event at Great Meadow by going gate to wire and beating eight other challengers by 5 3/4 lengths.

Ack Feisty, one of two wins trainer Neil Morris’s stable had Saturday, surged past Collinito in the stretch of his $40,000 allowance flat, then held off fast closing No Wunder to win by 3/4 lengths. Darren Nagle directed the lightly raced 3 year old Birdstone gelding to his second straight win, though that last victory was 4 1/2 months ago at Belmont.

“I bought him at a sale in July and he developed issues shortly after,” said Tennessee based owner Jill Johnston, explaining the extended time between starts. “We treated his problems and thought this would be a nice race to hit on his way down south for the fall and winter. It’s actually the first time I’ve seen the horse in person since I bought him, so it’s quite a thrill.”

The New York-bred, who is out of Patagonia Tango, by Storm Boot, made his first start outside the Empire State. “I buy horses primarily to compete in jump races”, added  Johnston. “That is the plan for Ack Feisty though I’d probably be stupid to not consider another flat race this year after his performance today.”

The most exciting finish of the day, which came in another $40,000 allowance flat, saw Candy Man Can, Surf Classic, Mutasaawy and Max Crown finish in a thrilling blanket photo, with barely a neck separating finishers one thru four. Upset winner Candy Man Can, who paid $36.80 to win, kicked off the four race flat program in grand style as jockey Ross Geraghty guided the 4 year old Lemon Drop Kid gelding for trainer Morris. The finish was so close that it took several minutes before stewards could declare the race and order of finish official.

Virginia-bred Max Crown, 6th in the recent Bert Allen Stakes, led the 11 horse field coming out of the final turn and finished 4th. Surf Classic, a regular Fair Grounds competitor, raced among the top three for the first mile and just missed in taking second. Mutasaawy, another Neil Morris horse fresh off a claiming win at Belmont, earned third with a late rally. The winner, who rebounded from a pair of recent 7th and 13th place finishes, got his first life win in start number 16. The Florida-bred is owned by the Noble Stables and is out of Snow Cone, by Cryptoclearance.

International Gold Cup Races Are This Saturday (Oct. 24) at Great Meadow

The $35,000 Old Dominion Turf Championship has drawn a full field of 12 Virginia-breds, and will close out the International Gold Cup card at Great Meadow this Saturday. The 9 race program features pari-mutuel wagering and tailgating with 35,000 of your closest friends!

Horses race for the finish at the Virginia Downs event at Great Meadow September 20th

Horses race for the finish at the Virginia Downs event at Great Meadow September 20th

Lilith Boucher’s Complete St. (shown below) is early “Turf” favorite at 3-1. Fresh off a victory in the $60,000 Brookmeade Stakes September 26th at Laurel, the 5 year old St. Averil mare brings a hefty bankroll of $173,000 into the race. Second choice at 4-1 is a Susan Cooney trainer named Gumper. The 4 year old Even The Score gelding finished 5th in last month’s Bert Allen Stakes, but captured a turf claimer at Delaware Park in his start prior. Third early pick is Silver Frame at 6-1 for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. The 5 year old Northern Afleet mare was 6th in the Brookemeade Stakes, but only finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Complete St. The trio of early contenders were bred respectively by the Mede Cahaba Stable, Quest Realty and William Backer.

Complete St. wins the 2015 Brookemeade Stakes with all time Virginia leading rider Horacio Karamanos up

Complete St. wins the 2015 Brookemeade Stakes with all time Virginia leading rider Horacio Karamanos up

Several other horses from recent Virginia Equine Association (VEA) sponsored events will compete, including two others from Boucher’s stable — Mushroom King and Jump Ship — who will vie in different $40,000 allowance races. Both competed at the VEA’s Virginia Downs event at Great Meadow on September 20th and took respective 1st & 2nd place finishes in maiden special weight company that day.

Renown wins a Virginia Downs allowance at Great  Meadow, Sept. 20 ---photo courtesy of Kurtis Coady

Trainer Elizabeth Voss, who scored a big allowance win with Renown at the same Virginia Downs event, returns to Great Meadow Saturday where her 4 year old Champs Elysees gelding (Great Britain-bred) competes in the $45,000 Open Flat Allowance. Despite his win in Virginia a month ago, Renown is 8-1 early in a field of 12. Jonathan Sheppard’s Rum Rum Tugger is early choice at 3-1.

Post time Saturday is at 12 Noon. The first 5 races are steeplechase events and the final 4 are flat ones that filled completely with fields of 12 each. Featured jump races are the $50,000 David “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. III) at 2 1/4 miles (4th race) and the 78th running of the $75,000 International Gold Cup Timber Stakes at 3 1/2 miles (5th race).

More details are at

(Photos courtesy of Jim McCue and Kurtis Coady)

Entries Drawn for Saturday’s International Gold Cup Card at Great Meadow

Entries have been drawn for Saturday’s (October 24) International Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow. A link to the overnite sheet is posted below. Scratch time as a FYI is Wednesday at 10 AM. There are a total of 9 races — 1 thru 5 are steeplechase events; 6 thru 9 are flat events and have each drawn full fields of 12.  There is pari-mutuel wagering on all 9 races and post time is 12 Noon.


Tonalist, Volponi Share Common Thread

Enjoy reading Steve Haskin’s article about Tonalist who foaled in Kentucky but was raised in Virginia by his breeders Rene and Lauren Woolcott.

October 18, courtesy of

He’s reliable, he’s honest, he loves a mile and a quarter, and he consistently runs fast speed figures. But is Tonalist good enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic…away from Belmont Park?

The main reason for asking that question is, prior to his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, run at his favorite track and over a sloppy surface he relishes, he was the beaten favorite in three consecutive stakes. He was 2-5 in the Suburban Handicap and 8-5 in the Met Mile, and last year was beaten at 4-5 in the Jim Dandy Stakes.

But he has won two Jockey Club Gold Cups and a Belmont Stakes, and he’s always in contention. It must be noted, however, that he is 5-for-7 at Belmont Park and 1-for-7 away from Belmont.

So who is the real Tonalist? With that big stride of his, is he basically a Belmont Park specialist and finds it more difficult negotiating the tighter-turn tracks, as we’ve seen at Saratoga and Santa Anita and will see at Keeneland? And finally, as I’ve asked before, is he a better horse with or without blinkers? And that is where you will find striking parallels between him and past Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Volponi, which we’ll get to a bit later.

The subject of blinkers was addressed prior to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but it is still an interesting and thought-provoking topic and makes for some light reverie leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, as moot as it may be, considering trainer Chris Clement from his quotes seemed more inclined not to use them, but said later he will not make a decision until after his final work next week..

Sometimes, the key to picking Breeders’ Cup horses is to look for the overlay. You can be sure that during the course of the Friday and Saturday races you’re going to have several proven, classy stakes horses win at odds far greater than they’ve ever gone off before. That is why the Breeders’ Cup is about finding those live overlays.

There is no doubt that Tonalist is going to be a strong overlay in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, most likely going off as the fourth choice behind American Pharoah, Beholder, and Honor Code, despite his recent victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, his second straight win in that event. Let’s say he’s even third choice. The highest price he’s gone off at since his Belmont Stakes victory was 4-1 in last year’s Classic.  He’s been 3-1 or lower in eight of his last nine starts, but even coming off a Gold Cup score he’s still currently the 8-1 fourth choice at the Wynn Race Book. Many bettors will believe he simply loves Belmont Park and loves the slop, over which he is undefeated, and will not get too enamored with his Gold Cup victory.

Tonalist has been what one could call an honest, consistent enigma, whose running style has run the gamut from pace horse to stone closer. He’s run big sitting just off the pace and has run big coming from the back of the pack, some 15-20 lengths back. He just rarely wins from there. It seems perplexing how a horse with his kind of tactical speed drops so far out it without blinkers…at least on fast tracks. He has proven he can win from back there, but has suffered three defeats in big races because he simply had too much ground to make up. It just seems he’s run in several races throughout his career he should have won, but let it get away from him, either rallying too late or just not being able to finish off his opponents in the stretch.

Regardless of whether or not Tonalist wears blinkers, which allows him to keep in relatively close touch with the leaders, or runs without them, which has often turned him into Silky Sullivan, he’s always on the board. In short, you can count on getting your money’s worth and can bet him with confidence in the exotics, regardless of where he is on the racetrack, because he’s one of the few horses in the field who has consistently run big races at a mile and a quarter and moves up going a distance of ground.

Sometimes, when you’re handicapping races you can’t help but notice similarities between a horse in the field and a horse from the past. And when the horse from the past won big at a monster price, you naturally want to pay more attention to those similarities.

I can’t help notice a distinct similarity between Tonalist and 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Volponi, also an honest horse on any surface, at any distance, but not as naturally gifted at Tonalist. Volponi managed just seven victories in 31 career starts, while Tonalist has won six of 14 career starts.

On Oct. 22, 2000, trainer P.G. Johnson took the blinkers off Volponi and he won the Pilgrim Stakes by two lengths. On July 30, 2001, Johnson put the blinkers on and Volponi won an allowance race at Saratoga by 13 1/2 lengths. On July 5, 2002, Johnson took the blinkers off and Volponi won the Poker Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths in a blistering 1:32 1/5 for the mile at odds of 9-1. Then on Oct. 26, 2002, Johnson put the blinkers back on and Volponi shocked the world by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 1/2 lengths at odds of 43-1. There is no doubt that Volponi ran his best races with a blinkers change, whether on or off.

Because of that pattern, Volponi was my pick in the Classic and my best bet of the Breeders’ Cup, cashing the biggest win ticket I had ever cashed on a horse. I just loved that Johnson was putting the blinkers back on him and I knew he was the one horse in that field that would love the mile and a quarter.

So, here we are 13 years later and we find that same pattern with Tonalist. On. Jan. 18, 2014, Clement put the blinkers on and Tonalist broke his maiden at Gulfstream by four lengths. On Sept. 27, 2014, Clement took the blinkers off and Tonalist won the Jockey Club Cup by almost two lengths. On May 2, 2015, Clement put the blinkers on and Tonalist won the one-mile Westchester Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:34 flat. On July 4, 2015, Clement took the blinkers off and Tonalist came from 13 lengths back to be beaten a head in the Suburban Handicap, giving the winner, Effinex, six pounds.

So, it is safe to say that Tonalist’s best performances on a fast track have come when the blinkers either went on or came off, much like Volponi. Phil Johnson said his decision to put the blinkers back on for the Classic was “a wake-up call,” and admitted it “probably was a lucky guess.”

Does Tonalist, despite winning the Gold Cup in the slop against only five opponents, need a wake-up call to fire his best shot in a big field against the best horses in training, away from Belmont on a tight-turned track, and with a good chance the pace is not going to be a very fast one? As impressive as he was in the Gold Cup, did winning at a mile and a quarter in a small field dull him just a little, having to come back in another mile and a quarter race? Would the addition of blinkers sharpen him a bit and make it easier for him to find a comfortable position in midpack, rather than drop far off the pace and then try to out-close Honor Code, something he’s been unable to do in past races? Honor Code has shown that in order to beat him you have to get a pretty big jump on him and leave him with too much ground to make up.

Clement first took the blinkers off Tonalist following a pair of defeats in the Jim Dandy and Travers, in which Tonalist ran well, but had little kick in the stretch, so the equipment change was understandable. The question is, was it the removal of the blinkers that attributed to his subsequent victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, or was it the fact that Tonalist simply is a far better horse at Belmont than he is at Saratoga, where he is 0-for-3? The blinkers didn’t stop him from winning the Belmont Stakes.

Although it may sound like it, this in no way is meant to suggest that Clement put the blinkers back on Tonalist for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I’m in no position to suggest anything to any trainer, never mind one as successful as Clement. It just seems to be an interesting thought to ponder based on the results of his past blinker changes and the stark similarities to Volponi. In analyzing the Classic, I am merely putting the question out there.

The belief here is that depending on whether he gets a suitable pace, Tonalist has a big chance to win the Classic with or without blinkers, but we don’t know what that pace is going to be, especially with Liam’s Map out of the race. I admit it would be kind of exciting to see Clement step out of the box and make a change coming off a victory. But he knows his horse better than anyone and no doubt will make the right decision. If he elects to keep the blinkers off, he’ll just have to hope Beholder or Smooth Roller challenges American Pharoah and that Tonalist doesn’t have too much ground to make up, as he did in last year’s Classic. He doesn’t need exceptionally fast fractions as much as he needs a contentious pace, with American Pharoah and Beholder, and possibly Smooth Roller, hooking up fairly early in the race, somewhere down the backstretch or at the half-mile pole.

Perhaps even a couple of snappy works prior to the Classic will be sufficient to keep Tonalist sharp and focused and closer to the pace, if that’s the way it sets up. He turned in his first work since the Gold Cup on Saturday, going six furlongs in 1:14. Not exactly snappy, but he doesn’t need anything too fast having run a mile and a quarter two weeks ago. We’ll see what he does in his next work.

At the price he’s likely to be, I definitely will have a win bet on Tonalist and include him in almost all exotics. He’s too honest and talented not to. But I admit I probably would bet a little more on him with the blinkers back on in the hope it would sharpen him a bit and enable him to get a more tactical position.

It seems like folly for a journalist to spend the majority of a column, once again, expounding on whether a horse should wear blinkers or not. And as mentioned, Clement appears to be leaning against it, but did say a decision won’t be made until after his final work, so nothing is definite. But, again, it is just part of analyzing a race and thinking out loud and nothing more. And the similarities with Volponi seem worth mentioning, even if nothing more than an interesting parallel. Whether or not Tonalist wears blinkers, you can count on him giving 100 percent as always, and you can’t ask for more than that.
– See more at:

Virginia Bred Valid Headed to Breeders Cup Mile

Article courtesy of

After turning in a swift breeze Oct. 12 at Palm Meadows Training Center, multiple graded stakes winner Valid convinced trainer Marcus Vitali he is deserving of a place in the starting gate for a run in the Oct. 30 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).

Vitali confirmed that he will indeed enter Valid, who most recently capturedGulfstream Park‘s seven-furlong Groomstick Stakes Sept. 26 and the Philip Iselin Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park Aug. 30, in the $1 million Dirt Mile, a race Vitali had targeted last year with his charge following a win in the Eight Miles West Stakes but ultimately opted to bypass.

“He breezed awful fast,” Vitali said of the five-furlong move, timed in 1:00.85 over the Palm Beach County oval. “He did everything right and came out of his last race really good. He’s been training good, looking good, and I figured, there’s no time like the present.

“I tried to get there last year, but I didn’t quite think he was ready. I think he’s getting a little better as he gets older, and we’re going to take a shot at it.”

Ned Evans-bred Valid (Medaglia door) winning the Grade III Fred Hooper Stakes on February 7. Photo courtesy Adam Coglianese.

Valid (Medaglia door) winning the Grade III Fred Hooper Stakes on February 7. Photo courtesy Adam Coglianese

Valid, a 5-year-old gelded son of Medaglia d’Oro  , has won or placed in seven stakes this year for Crossed Sabres Farm, also winning the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream in February. The Virginia-bred also finished third in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) in March, won by Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) contender Honor Code, and hit the board in a trio of other black-type events this summer at Monmouth, including the Majestic Light, Salvator Mile (gr. III), and Monmouth Cup (gr. II), before winning the Iselin.

“He’s amazing. He just likes to win races,” Vitali said. “While he’s in the mindset and I’m in the mindset and the owners are in the mindset, we might as well try it.”

Vitali, who noted the two-turn mile distance at Keeneland “was another reason why we decided to go,” said the majority of Valid’s pre-race preparations have been completed, and he will keep things status quo until shipping to Lexington a week before championship weekend.

“I’ll probably ship a week ahead of time, give him a couple days over the track there,” he said. “I’m not going to do much with him now leading into the racejust try to keep him happy. I might give him a two-minute lick next weekend before I send him on his way. I think we’ve done enough with the drills. I think he knows what to do, and let’s hope it all works out.”

Recap of October 14th Virginia Racing Commission Meeting – 2 Hearings Scheduled for November

The Virginia Racing Commission scheduled future hearings on two key subject matters this morning at the regulatory body’s monthly meeting at the Patrick Henry Building in downtown Richmond.

The first issue centers on Twin Spires, one of three ADW (Advance Deposit Wagering) companies permitted to take wagers in Virginia (along with TVG and XPressBet). Twin Spires has not paid the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) commissions due for the past three months. According to VRC Executive Secretary Bernie Hettel, “Twin Spires didn’t find the VEA to be a legitimate organization and thus has not paid. They will either pay up or face consequences”. A hearing date has been scheduled for November 17 as part of the next VRC meeting.

Jeb Hannum, Executive Director of the VEA, noted the three month total due from Twin Spires now stands at $264,597 — approximately $80,000 from July, $105,000 from August and $78,000 from September.

The second issue involves Colonial Downs and a pending lone race date request of November 30th that they had previously submitted. The request has not been withdrawn, nor has any action been taken on the request. As a result, the VEA has no ability to move forward in opening Off Track Betting Centers and creating an additional means of generating purse money. A hearing on this issue also has been scheduled for November 17 as part of the VRC meeting.

Wednesday’s VRC meeting marked the one year anniversary of the meeting at which Colonial’s owner, Jeff Jacobs, turned in the track’s racing license. Discussion took place on the recent history of negotiations between Colonial Downs, the VaHBPA and VEA in hopes of working out a lease/rental deal of the New Kent facility. As recently as October 1st, the VEA submitted a rent proposal to Colonial Downs, which followed a lease proposal that was sent and discussed on September 25th. Both included live racing opportunities and the re-opening an OTB in Richmond and Hampton. Neither option was accepted nor was a future counterproposal welcome.

“I’m willing to accept the parties are not coming to an agreement,” said Commission Van Clief, who has been active in trying to help both sides carve out a deal since 2013.  Jeb Hannum and VaHBPA’s David Ross both noted the importance of allowing the VEA to open up OTB’s. “We’re poised to move forward in that direction when that opportunity is available to us,” said Hannum.

Dr. Griffin, Director of Racing at the Gold Cup, gave a report on the inaugural Virginia Downs thoroughbred race day, which was held September 20th at Great Meadow. He was quite pleased with the number of entries (112) for six races, the horses that ran (52), the crowd (3,800) and money raised by non-profit partner, the Fauquier SPCA ($20,000). He also noted Foxfield ran a week after the Virginia Downs event and the International Gold Cup is 10 days away. “We’re being choked though at this point,” said Griffin. “We need more racing opportunities and a way to generate more purse money for horsemen to compete for”.

VEA President Debbie Easter gave a report on the Virginia-bred races and graded stakes that were held at Laurel in September. The 8 races generated a combined all sources handle of $2.1 million. She noted that this year’s Virginia-bred Day handle was double that of last year’s and Laurel was very happy with the back-to-back events. “Between those races, the six Virginia Downs events and three more flat races being held next weekend in conjunction with the traditional Gold Cup steeplechase races, I think we’ve reached most every class of Virginia-bred to create a racing opportunity for them this year,” said Easter.” Moving forward, we just need to create more opportunities.”