Monday, April 13, 2009

The puzzle is scattered on the table

The Kentucky Derby is a bit less than three weeks away and this is the point from which nothing good happens. Any news is almost certainly bad, this at the point of decision. The puzzle is scattered on the table.

Excluding the Jeff Mullins story, the bad news began last week, actually, with the withdrawal of The Pamplemousse from chase. Then appeared the quarter crack in one of Quality Road’s hind hooves. “You don’t see (quarter cracks) behind too often,” Jerkens said last week. But there was one, though it seems at least for the moment not to bother the Florida Derby winner, who galloped strongly last week and breezed well on Friday at Belmont. All quarter cracks are serious, Jerkens said. So, the horse I intend to back in the Derby is suddenly on a day-to-day watch. Hold your breath.

This will always be the case with Quality Road, who may be the most underrated of the leaders at this point. The Florida Derby is the most impressive individual effort by any of the winners of the last round of Grade 1 preps. He was under a hold leaving the quarter pole, when asked ran away from Dunkirk and hit the wire as owner of the Gulfstream course record, the fastest 9 furlongs run there since the reconfiguration five years ago.

Quality Road is 17-hands tall at the withers, a monster with a huge stride. He will be a difficult horse to keep sound but is in conservative hands and if he shows up on Derby day, he will be the horse to beat in a group with several others who have the talent to be opportunistic.

The latest news followed shortly after the Arkansas Derby. Old Fashioned is out of the Derby and his career ended by injury, which leaves trainer Larry Jones with Friesan Fire, an obviously talented colt who swept the three Fair Grounds preps and has a fair amount of support going into Louisville.

The knocks against Friesan Fire are the long layoff that follows the Louisiana Derby and the lack of an all-important 9-furlong prep. This is enough to put me off Friesan Fire as a Derby threat. It would be easier to overlook the layoff if not for added challenge of distance. Besides, though it is not difficult to root for Larry Jones after the loss of Eight Belles last year, with Proud Spell and Old Fashioned already in retirement and little more than the first quarter of this year behind him, this outfit is going the wrong way.

Fortunately, there is the warm and fuzzy story in 75-year-old Tom McCarthy and his one-horse stable named General Quarters. This colt has won on dirt in Florida, on Polytrack at Keeneland and has an eye-catching stride. This is the kind of horse that anyone who has ever had a one-horse stable thinks about in those moments when they are privately and unreasonably optimistic. With the ever-controversial Jeff Mullins at center stage with I Want Revenge and the story of Ernie Paragallo in the background, the game needs a warm and fuzzy story. -- PM

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Mullins debate: Peering through the smoke

The Jeff Mullins incident has spawned a good deal of debate during the last week and two distinctly different schools of thought.

The first: Since the substance that Mullins was observed administering with an oral syringe to Gato Go Win, who was to have run in the Bay Shore Stakes, was a perfectly legal product, a mixture of natural ingredients (and a small amount of alcohol) called Air Power, the matter is overblown and amounts to no more than a detention barn infraction. “It’s like sucking on a cough drop,” Mullins said, claiming ignorance of the New York rules and inferring that detention barn personnel saw him carry both the syringe and the substance into the facility in which horses are sequestered prior to races.

Security personnel at the barn, however, contend that both the substance and syringe were concealed, in fact smuggled into the barn. Mullins has raced in New York before. The rules have not changed. Then again, Mullins said that he routinely gives his horses Air Power on race day in California, but rules in that state prohibit all such substances on race day.

The second school of thought: Where there is smoke, there is fire.

Considering Mullins long and less than illustrious record, built primarily in California and other western states, where he is known as “Milkshake Mullins,” giving him benefit of the doubt out of the question, a possibility only for the na├»ve who would consider the remote possibility the Mullins is telling the truth. If Gato Go Win required a “cough drop” before a race, he should not have been running on Saturday. It would require an unreasonable leap of faith to believe that Mullins was simply giving the horse something totally innocuous that he did not require for an effective run.

Despite the endorsement of Air Power by the respected Michael Matz, it is interesting that the promotional literature assures potential customers that the product: “Will not test.”

Though no veterinarian who practices on racetracks will address this on the record, some claim that the interaction of Air Power and some medications – Lasix, derivatives of procaine and some antiseptics – can meaningfully alter performance in horses.

If this is true, the story – and perhaps many others -- has a new and intriguing element. The interaction of various permitted medications, especially the universally-used Lasix, and other substances, some of which may be natural, is not a subject that has been scrutinized, at least in the public light, by regulatory chemists.

More smoke? -- PM

Board to Paragallo: You're out

New York State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John D. Sabini released the following statement this afternoon following the arrest of Ernest Paragallo on charges of animal cruelty under the state Agriculture and Markets Law.

“After we learned from the State Police today that Mr. Paragallo was being charged with cruel treatment of horses at Center Brook Farm, the Racing and Wagering Board immediately terminated his privilege to be involved with thoroughbred racing in New York. In fact, the Board earlier this week urged Mr. Paragallo to remove himself from involvement as an authorized agent for Paraneck Stable. He at first declined to do so but yesterday announced he would surrender his authorized agent privilege next Thursday. That’s not soon enough.

“I stand committed to enforcing the rules of thoroughbred racing and ensuring that those involved in the sport do not jeopardize the health and welfare of the horses we rely on to compete in the races we regulate. Promoting integrity in racing is a top priority for this Board. Further, I commend NYRA for deciding to keep Paraneck Stable from entering horses at the NYRA tracks until certain questions are satisfactorily resolved. I also wish to express my appreciation to New York State Police, the ASPCA and the Columbia Greene Humane Society for the excellent work they have done in this matter.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Laragh put to dirt test in Comely

If she kicks off her 2009 campaign the way she finished up 2008, it could be quite a year for Laragh.

The lanky gray daughter of Tapit, who closed out her 2-year-old season with a front-running victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on December 13, makes her sophomore and main track debut at Aqueduct Racetrack Saturday, heading a field of six in the 60th renewal of the Grade 2, $150,000 Comely for three-year-old fillies at a mile. She is considered a prospect for the Kentucky Oaks, a decision that will likely be determined based upon her performance on dirt in Queens.

“She’s bigger, she’s stronger, and hopefully, she’s faster,” said John Terranova, who trains Laragh for IEAH Stable. “She had a nice break over the winter. We originally had planned on bring her back in March, but the extra time off did her a world of good. We went right up the to end of last year with her with a lot of travelling, and the transition from age two to age three is a real jump.”

Laragh made her first three starts on turf and artificial surfaces in Canada before being purchased by IEAH and joining Terranova’s barn in the fall. In her first start for her new connections, she won the Jessamine Stakes on the turf at Keeneland, earning a berth in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita, in which she lead to the final furlong and finished third, a length behind Maram.

Her final performance of the year was a memorable one – in her first Grade 1 race, she struck the lead under Edgar Prado and held on for a one-length victory over Wynning Ride on the artificial surface at Hollywood Park.

Although the Santa Anita Oaks was under consideration for Laragh, with IEAH also owning Stardom Bound, it was decided to skip that race and head elsewhere. The Comely, at a mile, seemed like the perfect spot, said Terranova.

“We had a few options, including the Beaumont, the Ashland or the Fantasy, but figured, let’s just come here and try her on dirt,” he said. “A mile is great for her – when the gates open, she knows where she wants to be. In each of her races, she’s taken control.”

After spending the early part of the year at Palm Meadows in Florida, Laragh was sent last month to Terranova’s barn at Belmont Park, where she has had a pair of works, including a five-furlong move on April 5 in 1:00.22, fastest of six on the main track at the distance.

“This will be her first start on dirt, but she has been training really well on it,” said Terranova, who will give a leg up to jockey Ramon Dominguez in the Comely, in which Laragh will break from post No. 4. “She trained great on it at Palm Meadows, and also before she went to Keeneland. She’s just a class filly who’s done everything right so far.”

One who’s also done well so far is Don’t Forget Gil, a dark bay daughter of Kafwain who is coming off a four-length victory in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs on March 14. Trained by Mark Hennig for Alan Brodsky, Don’t Forget Gil began her career in New York, winning at first asking, finishing second in an allowance over a good track and closing out her freshman campaign with a win in the East View Stakes. She was third to Pumpkin Shell in the Busanda in her first start of 2009, then headed south to finish third in the Suncoast, also at Tampa Bay Downs.

She will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh from post No. 2.

Another who will receive considerable support is Stewart Armstrong’s Dream Play, the beaten favorite in the Grade 3 Cicada after a slow start. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the daughter of Hennessy won the Dearly Precious on Valentine’s Day by 8¼ lengths under Eddie Castro, who will return in the irons. Dream Play will leave from post No. 5.l

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens sends out Edward P. Evans’ Subprime, who broke her maiden over Aqueduct’s main track on an off-the-turf event last October, then ran into a buzzsaw in her first two starts this year, finishing third to What a Pear in the Wistful on Feb. 1 and second to that one on Feb. 22 in the Busher.

She will be ridden by Richard Migliore and break from post position No. 3.

R. Mary Zuckerman’s Platinum Girl brings a two-race winning streak into the Comely, having taken a one-mile optional claimer at Laurel on Feb. 21 and posting a 12 ¼-length win in a claiming race on Jan. 24 at Philadelphia Park. Trainer Todd Pletcher has named Mike Luzzi to ride from the rail.

Rounding out the field from post No. 6 is Karen S. Farrar’s Holdontoyourdream, who has a record of 2-1-0 in three starts at Philadelphia Park for trainer Anthony Dutrow. David Cohen will ride. -- NYRA

At the Races selections:

Dream Play
Laragh
Holdontoyourdream
Subprime

House of Paragallo continues to crumble

Update: According to published reports, Ernie Paragallo was charged today with 22 counts of cruelty to animals and arraigned in the town of Coxsackie, N.Y. All counts are misdemeanors. He faces, potentially, a year in prison and $1,000 fine on each count.

The New York Racing Association has barred the suddenly contrite Ernie Paragallo, who yesterday was in the process of surrendering his authorized agent license to the Racing and Wagering Board, from access to all areas of its racetracks except those open to the general public and will not accept entries from Paraneck Stable, which is owned by two of his daughters, until a suitable agent is named.

The moves follows seizure of 177 horses, all suffering from malnutrition in various stages, at Paragallo’s upstate farm in what may be the most egregious case of animal abuse in the state’s history.

Paraneck-owned horses, which will not be moved from the grounds and remain in the care of trainer John Campo Jr., may be again permitted to compete at NYRA tracks after the replacement of Paragallo by an authorized agent acceptable to officials. Paragallo has been without an owner’s license since 2005, when his was revoked by state officials for financial irresponsibility. Paragallo’s daughters are expected to name a replacement for their father, who has long been among the most visible figures at NYRA tracks and is widely regarded to be the owner the Paraneck as well as the majority owner of the elite stallion Unbridled’s Song, from whose service he has realized tens of millions of dollars in stud fees over the years and who remains active in Kentucky. Paragallo also owns the New York stallion Artax.

"We're saying we want to see somebody who is not a blood relative, somebody who is not a current employee running the affairs of that stable," Hal Handel, NYRA's executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the Daily Racing Form.

While facing the very real possibility of criminal charges for abuse of animals and a meeting today with State Police, Paragallo, who admits only to poor management of the upstate farm, vowed to take an active role in rectifying the situation.

"All of them are going to be big and fat and good looking again," he told the Albany Times-Union. "I will give an open invitation to anyone who wants to come and see my horses and see that they are in good shape. I am sorry that this happened."

It remains impossible, however, to consider Paragallo’s apologetic remarks as anything except eyewash or to accept the veracity of his claims of ignorance of the condition at his farm, where several horses were rescued in 2007 and several more in February of this year. A horse reportedly died there yesterday.

Sorry, Ernie. Nice try. -- PM

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Arkansas Derby: Old Fashioned, Winn Willy II

Win Willy, the upset winner of last month’s Rebel Stakes, and Old Fashioned, the beaten favorite in that race, head a field of 10 for the 73rd running of the $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. The mile-and-an-eighth fixture for three-year-olds anchors Oaklawn’s prestigious Racing Festival of the South.

The Arkansas Derby will be telecast live on ESPN2 from 6:00-7:00 p.m. (ET) on “NTRA Racing to the Kentucky Derby”. Also on the telecast, via same-day tape, will be the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, run earlier on Saturday at Keeneland.

Win Willy shook the racing world with his last-to-first rally to capture the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 14.The gray son of Monarchos was making his first start around two turns in the Rebel. The win marked the third score in a row for the Mac Robertson trainee and placed him in the middle of the national picture of horses headed for the Kentucky Derby. Cliff Berry, who brought his mount to victory in the Rebel, has the return call on Win Willy, who was 56-1 in his win in the Rebel. For Saturday, however, he is pegged as the 7-2 second choice in the Arkansas Derby morning line.

Filling the role as favorite once again will be Old Fashioned, the gray son of Unbridled’s Song who was considered a top favorite for the Triple Crown races until his upset in the Rebel. Prior to that race, Old Fashioned had won all of his four starts, the last three by a combined margin of 26 lengths. Chasing a quick pace by Silver City in the Rebel, Old Fashioned had no response when challenged by Win Willy in the final furlong, but was still eight lengths clear of the rest of the field.

Trainer Larry Jones has selected jockey Terry Thompson to replace Ramon Dominguez on Old Fashioned for the Arkansas Derby. Jones has enjoyed considerable success with Thompson at Oaklawn and the rider, well in front in his quest for the local crown, is expected to try to get the talented horse to rate kindly and have more punch for the longer distance of the Arkansas Derby.

Local observers have been impressed by what they’ve seen of Papa Clem in training over the Oaklawn oval in recent weeks. Second in both the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, the son of Smart Strike could very well set the pace under jockey Rafael Bejarano and be tough to catch.

The complete field for the Arkansas Derby, in post position order, is: Captain Cherokee (jockey: Aaron Gryder, morning line odds: 20-1); Papa Clem (Rafael Bejarano, 6-1); Flat Out (Julio Garcia, 10-1); Poltergeist (Quincy Hamilton, 20-1); Ziegfeld (Jon Court, 12-1); Flying Private (Israel Ocampo, 6-1); Summer Bird (Chris Rosier, 30-1); Old Fashioned (Terry Thompson, 9-5); Win Willy (Cliff Berry, 7-2); and Danger to Society (Cornelio Velasquez, 6-1).-- NTRA

Blue Grass: Mafaaz out to first U.S. test

Hold Me Back, winner of Turfway Park’s Lane’s End Stakes, the undefeated Charitable Man and Mafaaz (GB), winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park in England last month, headline a field of 11 horses entered for Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is the final Grade I prep for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. A total of 19 horses that ran in the Toyota Blue Grass have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, with Street Sense in 2007 the most recent.

Hold Me Back, installed by handicapper Mike Battaglia as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line, has won three of four career starts, including an allowance score here last fall. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Hold Me Back made his 2009 debut in the Lane’s End. Kent Desormeaux, who rode Hold Me Back to victory in the Lane’s End, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position 10.

Charitable Man, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has yet to start in 2009. Sidelined by a saucer fracture in a shin after winning the Grade II Futurity at Belmont Park on September 13, Charitable Man will break from post position nine under Alan Garcia, who has been aboard for the colt’s two victories. Charitable Man is 4-1 on the morning line.

Mafaaz (GB) is already guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by virtue of his neck victory in the Kentucky Derby Challenge at Kempton Park over Polytrack on March 18. A winner of two of three career starts, Mafaaz made his 2009 debut in the Kentucky Derby Challenge for trainer John Gosden. Richard Hills has the mount on Mafaaz, who will break from post five and is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.

Second choice on the morning line at 7-2 is Theregoesjojo, who is trained by Ken McPeek. Third in the Grade I Florida Derby behind Quality Road and Dunkirk in his most recent start on March 28, Theregoesjojo will break from post position three under Calvin Borel.

The remaining Toyota Blue Grass starters seek to enhance their graded stakes earnings, which is the criterion for determining Kentucky Derby starting berths should more than 20 enter.

One horse that does not need to worry about graded earnings is Terrain. Second in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall, Terrain has graded earnings of $410,830, most of any Toyota Blue Grass starter. Trained by Al Stall Jr., Terrain made his 2009 debut in the Grade II Louisiana Derby with a third-place finish. Listed at 6-1 on the morning line for the Toyota Blue Grass, Terrain will break from post position six and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out the 1-2 finishers in last year’s Toyota Blue Grass in Monba and Cowboy Cal, respectively, will be shooting for his third victory in the race when he sends out Join in the Dance. Runner-up in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) in his most recent start, Join in the Dance will break from post position two under John Velazquez. Join in the Dance is 10-1 on the morning line. Pletcher’s other Toyota Blue Grass winner was Bandini in 2005.

The complete field for the Toyota Blue Grass, from the rail out, is: Patena (jockey: Robby Albarado, morning line odds: 10-1), Join in the Dance (John Velazquez, 10-1); Theregoesjojo (Calvin Borel, 7-2); Cliffy’s Future (Jesus Castanon, 20-1); Mafaaz (GB) (Richard Hills, 12-1); Terrain (Julien Leparoux, 6-1), Loch Dubh (Jamie Theriot, 50-1); General Quarters (Eibar Coa, 15-1 ); Charitable Man (Alan Garcia, 4-1); Hold Me Back (Kent Desormeaux, 3-1); and Massone (Garret Gomez, 12-1). -- NTRA