Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keen Ice has the last laugh in the 146th Travers

As the horses were being stalled for the 1986 Arc De Triomphe at Longchamp in 1986, the BBC ( there was a commentary in English for the British fans) commentator made a statement. “The favorite here is Dancing Brave. He has won several races but the Epsom Derby (1986) will be spoken about more for his loss than the victory for Shahrastani.”


Dancing Brave, with Greville Starkey,  came from out of the blue and failed to catch Shahrastani who had taken over with less than a quarter mile to run.  The race was run in June. The two met at Longchamp in October 1986. Pat Eddery rode Dancing Brave and won the Arc with a well-timed stretch charge.


This is what happened on Saturday at Saratoga, USA. American Pharoah was conquered by Keen Ice in the 146th Travers Stakes. American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown Champion, was seeking his ninth win in a row. Keen Ice had made a winning debut and had been beaten in the next eight outings. It was an upset of enormous proportions. The 146th Travers will be more remembered for the defeat of American Pharoah than for Keen Ice’s victory.


American Pharoah’s loss is in keeping with the ‘graveyard of champions’ notoriety. Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Secretariat failed to break Saratoga’s tradition. American Pharoah  now has become the latest addition to that list that is growing ever slowly.


Keen Ice, a 16/1 outsider, raced in fifth as American Pharoah, the 35/100 favorite, set out on a start to finish mission. The quarter came in 24.28.  The half (800 metres) was in 48.30. The numbers convey that American Pharoah was in his comfort zone but Frosted, who had run second in the Belmont Stakes, was putting pressure on the leader. Victor Espinosa, committed to the lead, asked American Pharoah for more. Keen Ice was not going away. The three quarters (1200 metres) came in 1 11.48. Turning  for home, American Pharoah had seen Frosted off. He had a lead of about two lengths as raced inside the last eighth. Jockey Espinoza could realize that the Triple Crown champion was leg weary. The winning post did not come soon enough. The party-ruining Keen Ice, responding to jockey Javier Costellano, was gaining ground. In the final 100 yards, it was clear that Keen Ice would win. The margin was three parts if the length and the time was 2 01:57. 


It must be noted that the Kentucky Derby time was 2 03.02. There was no pressure-free lead. Plus the 18,000-mile back and forth air trips was a contributing factor.


Dale Romans trains Keen Ice. He had thanked the Saratoga management for capping the attendance at 50,000 so that there would not be a bigger number  booing when Keen Ice lowered American Pharoah’s colors. Was it a funny thing to say? Was it a prophetic statement?


Jockey Castellano was winning his fifth Travers Stakes. He said, “I followed those two (American Pharoah and Frosted) and I just kept tracking them. I saw them coming back to me turning for home. I knew I had a chance. My horse ran a hard race and to beat American Pharoah, that’s a good race.”


Victor Espinoza made a matter of fact statement. “May be it was a just little too much those three weeks, flying back and forth. I knew I was in trouble some way to go.”


Trainer Bob Baffert is a thinking man. “You never know how the horse is feeling until he runs. American Pharoah travelled and trained well. I could tell by Victor’s body language that he was done at the half mile pole. The only reason he was second, it’s because he’s such a great horse. The winner ran a really great race.”


“My gut feeling is we should retire him. He is not the American Pharoah I know,”  Owner Ahmed Zayat emphasized.


Keen Ice is by Curlin out of Medomak who is by Awesome Again. Curlin won the 2007 Preakness Stakes and won the 2008 Dubai World Cup.


It is jockey Castellano’s comment that sums up the Travers story. “Anything can happen in horse racing. That is what makes this a great game. American Pharoah is a great horse. Take nothing away from him.”


In other news, jockey Lindsay Charnock has died. He was 60. He rode primarily in Northern tracks in England. He rode with considerable success in Calcutta. He is a brother in law of Richard Alford.


Bart Cummings has passed away. A legend in the training profession, Cummings won 12 Melbourne Cups. His last win in the ‘Cup’ came with Viewed in 2008. Cummings was 87. He won 266 Group I contests.                   

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Not an unmitigated disaster

My handicapping debut was not an unmitigated  disaster. In Pune, Lord Jim carried even money favoritism to an easy victory. Jupiter, I believe, left his galloping shoes in his stable. Jockey S J Sunil had my hopes up with a crisp steer on Scarlet of Hope in the opener but was all at sea on Jupiter who was a lost cause a long way from home. One lesson to learn was that Jupiter hates running two races alike.


In Kolkata, Real Presence was bet as if defeat was out of the question. Torero had a ground-saving trip and was no match for Aashikaara when the heat was on. Deserving Visit had post one. She stayed in striking range. C Alford ran into a spot of trouble but there was no denying Evesham who was making his fourth start in 38 days. Deserving Visit finished behind Gentle Knowledge. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow.


Let us now take a look at today’s Pune card. The first race has two ‘in form’   horses. Blavatsky carried 60 kgs to win on July 24 in class 1-26. That form was franked when Soul Centric, second in that race, was a winner in 20-46 yesterday.


Atalya played the bridesmaid role when Iridescence won in 1- 26 in Race 26.  Iridescence got an encore in 20- 46   in Race 65. Annie, Flying Show and Zahrazan, all winners this meeting,   followed Iridescence home.   Another noteworthy fact is that Sail Past was behind Atalya in Race 26. Sail Past was a winner yesterday.


The irrepressible Trevor Patel rides Atalya and that influences me.


Jockey Patel is aboard Jefferson in the second race. A winner in his debut, Jefferson was third and second in two subsequent starts. He carries the statutory penalty for a win. The principal adversary is Turf Dancer, a filly. She broke the duck in a field that lacked depth. I am taking Jefferson’s side.


In the third, my choice is Remember Me. He is receiving chunks of weight from Maximus and Silver Streak. Maximus has S A Amit about whom we know precious little. Silver Streak gives Remember Me 14 kgs. An Imtiaz Sait trainee, Remember Me comes off a win in Race 53 in 60-86. Remember Me was fourth behind Gold Bag in Race 16. The latter has won four in a row.


The fourth race is at the mercy of Victoria Harbour. The Phoenix Tower filly is two for two. Suraj Narredu gets the call. The Mistry establishment has been firing on all cylinders. Victoria Harbour won her debut by six. She repeated with a four-length romp.


Am I in a quandary or what? The fifth race is a 1200-metre dash (handicap) for horses in 20-46. Roman Flame, a Holy Roman Emperor filly, made a belated debut in Race 8 at Pune. What a debut it was! Roman Flame blew her maiden rivals out of the water. She has been given 62 kgs in her handicap debut and will be ridden by apprentice Abhijeet S about whom we hardly know anything. Roman Flame has drawn 10. Jockey Abhijeet claims a five-kg allowance. I am unable to make a case for Roman Flame. At the same time, I do not wish to oppose her given how brilliant her debut was.


Schiehaillon is the one to pick up the pieces if Roman Flame fails. The Aussie Rules gelding has a record that is worth a second look. Suraj Narredu gets the call.


Aquamarine is the one to beat in the sixth race. The Mastercraftsman filly could not give weight to The General in Race 37. She is back with the girls. She did well in the Mumbai winter Classics. She ticks the right boxes.


I do not have an opinion about the seventh race.


Sunday’s finale is difficult and intriguing.        

Friday, August 28, 2015

American Pharoah tries to add the Travers feather to his glittering cap

Despite living abroad, thanks to the technological marvel called the internet, I have been able to follow horse racing in India. It was perhaps about 15 years ago that Indian racing began its world wide web journey.


America provided a good platform for me to see all the big events in the US racing calendar. It also made it convenient for me to travel to Europe, Japan and Dubai. The Melbourne Cup is the one glaring omission from the list of places I have visited. I made a seven-day trip to Trinidad in December 2006 to see racing at Santa Rosa racecourse.


My winter sojourns in India  (since 2000) have helped me make friends and develop contacts. I contributed to Indiarace in a big way for five years. RWITC carried a lot my stories and that gave me considerable exposure.


Given my interest in Indian racing and the time I spend understanding it, I believe that the time has come for me to venture into the ‘handicapping’ arena. I will make a beginning in this piece.


There are two meetings on Saturday, August 29, 2015. Let us deal with Pune first.


I like the chances of Lord Jim in the fourth race. Pesi Shroff trains Lord Jim, an Iffraaj progeny. Lord Jim was an eye-catching second in his debut. An odds on chance in his next start, Lord Jim delivered in impressive fashion. On February 28, 2015, Lord Jim, Richard Hughes up, ran listlessly in an 1800-metre race. Shivalik Showers won easily making it all and franked that form climbing to greater heights. Lord Jim, without question, did not perform up to his potential. Officially, no explanation has been given. Exactly six months later, the Shroff trainee sets foot on the track. The freshening should have done Lord Jim a world of good. Trevor Patel gets the call. Lord Him finds eminently manageable opposition.


There is another horse that I like in the Pune card. It is Jupiter in the fifth race.   In his first race in a handicap, Jupiter was ridden aggressively by Yash Narredu. Stalking the pacesetter until the final turn, Jupiter bounded forward when asked the question. I feel that there is more to come. Yes, jockey Sunil rides but claims a three and one half kilo allowance. Sunil is unlikely to hurt Jupiter’s chances. Christmas Eve, a filly with speed, will attempt start to finish tactics. Once looked in the eye, from what I have seen, she throws in the towel.


I have three in Kolkata that I strongly recommend. Real Presence, Shailesh Shibde up, went down fighting in a photo finish as  the 65/100 favorite. It is time for Real Presence to make a winner’s circle visit.


In the third, Torero,  who was touched off in his last outing, is ready. P S Chouhan has the mount.


The sixth race is the Kolkata  Monsoon Sprint. Deserving Visit has the most appeal. The China Visit filly has a record good as gold. Returning from a layoff, Deserving Visit, in the hands of C Alford, roared thru the short Kolkata stretch to win in her Monsoon debut. She is in cracking form and it is difficult to oppose her.


Here is news from England. Richard Hughes has been granted a trainer’s license. He will train in a yard located in Hampshire. British bookmakers are offering even money that Hughes will have a winner (as a trainer) at Glorious Goodwood in 2016. Richard Hughes has had  remarkable numbers as a jockey at the Chicester course.


American Pharoah will leave from post two in the Travers on Saturday. . The Travers (dirt 2000 metres) has a 10-horse field. The Bob Baffert pupil is the 1/5 morning line favorite. Coral, the UK bookmaker, is offering 2/7. It is about 29/100.


Texas Red, winner of the Breeders Cup Juvenile in 2014 and the Jim Dandy winner at Belmont this year as a sophomore, will oppose American Pharoah. Frosted, second in the Belmont Stakes and again second in the Jim Dandy, is also in the Travers line up.


Two facts about Saratoga this year. The inside has not been productive. Favorites have been falling like nine pins.  Will the Triple Crown champion overcome these  two trends?


Only three Triple Crown winners have raced in the Travers. Gallant Fox was the runner-up in 1930. Whirlaway won in 1941. Affirmed, who had beaten Alydar in the Triple Crown races in 1978, won the Travers but was disqualified and placed second behind Alydar.


On Thursday, American Pharoah made a five-minute appearance for a gallop at Saratoga. Jorge Alvarez, the regular exercise rider, was aboard. He said, “you want to make sure that they handle the track the first time on it. He has been to numerous tracks. He handled it really well.”


American Pharoah will have another gallop on Friday and Bob Baffert will supervise the work.


Saturday’s Saratoga has an abundance of Grade I contests. The Travers is the centerpiece. There is the Ballerina, the King’s Bishop, the Forego, the Sword Dancer and the Personal Ensign.


When the Arc weekend racing is completed on October 4, Longchamp, the storied Paris course, will be demolished and reconstruction will begin. The plan calls for an all-weather track too. Longhcamp will not be ready until 2017. It is not known where the 2016 Arc De Triomphe will be run. Either Maisons Laffite or Saint Cloud, both Paris tracks, will face the axe. The decision will come soon.


I have great memories of Saint Cloud, It is left handed and it is beautiful.


I have been going to Longchamp for close to 20 years. The Arc weekend is one of the best organized meetings. The viewing area, the transportation, the press facilities and the general ambience are unparalleled.


Monday, August 24, 2015

American Pharoah sets sights on Saratoga's Travers

Is this a coincidence or what? La Tonnarella, a five year-old Glory Of Dancer mare, won a race in Pune on Sunday August 23, 2015. The Vishal Gaikwad-trained La Tonnarella had not raced since April 5, 2014. She failed in her debut. The April 5, 2014 start was La Tonnarella’s second start. She was a prohibitive favorite and who else was on board? It was Trevor Patel. La Tonnarella won laughing and the margin was nine lengths.


Turn the clock forward. On Sunday, August 23, 2015, the race was over 1400 metres. Trevor Patel was riding La Tonnarella who was the favorite and a clear favorite. Held up and making headway from halfway, La Tonnarella proved the fastest when it mattered in the lane. Trainer Gaikwad deserves recognition for a special skill. How many trainers can have a horse race-ready after an 18-month layoff? It is a simple case of defying conventional wisdom.


We now take a look at the Betfred Ebor, a 2800-metre race, run in York (England) on Saturday, August 22, 2015. Litigant, a seven year-old gelding by Sinndar out of Jomana (by Darshan),  had run on April 18, 2014 and was winning his fourth race in a row. Move the clock forward to August 22, 2015. Litigant was a 33/1 outsider in the Ebor .  Oisin Murphy, a promising young British rider, was aboard. Litigant came from trainer Joseph Tuite’s yard. Litigant asserted himself in no uncertain terms. Another case of conventional wisdom going awry. The question is if Vishal Gaikwad was Litigant’s trainer and Trevor Patel the rider, would the odds have been much lower?


Long layoffs are a concern in handicapping. It is a rule that must be rigidly followed. Yes, there are exceptions and those exceptions must be evaluated with due care and thought.


On the American front, there is news worth reporting. There were three Triple Crown champions in the US in the 1970-1980 span. Secretariat did it in 1973. Seattle Slew won all three races in 1977. In 1978, Affirmed and Steve Cauthen accomplished the feat. It was not until 2015 that there was another Triple Crown champion.  American Pharoah, favorite in every one of the contests, delivered in effortless fashion. In early August, American Pharoah, a son of Pioneerofthenile, made the trip to Monmouth Park (New Jersey) and justified odds on favoritism in the William Hill Haskell Invitational.

It has now been confirmed that American Pharoah will go to Saratoga (upstate New York) to race in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Saturday, August 29, 2015.


The decision was made after American Pharoah did an exceptional piece of work at Del Mar where he is stationed. A pupil of trainer Bob Baffert, American Pharoah was ridden by Martin Garcia. After going through fractions of 23, 47 1/5, 58.4/5 and  1 10 3/5, the three-year old American Pharoah completed 1,400 metres in 1 23:1/5.


Bob Baffert, rarely lavish in his praise, said, “it was  pretty incredible work. He is a pretty incredible horse.”


Asked to comment on a possible clash with Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (October 31 at Keeneland), Baffert gave an evasive but humorous answer. “I just hope she (Beholder) is his (American Pharoah’s) first date next year. They need to date.”


The Travers, called the midsummer Derby, has a 1. 25 million dollar purse. It has been increased to 1.6 million.


Saratoga has long been called the ‘graveyard of champions,’ Secretariat was beaten at Saratoga. It is a five-week meeting that carries immense prestige.


American Pharoah will be flown on August 26 to New York from San Diego. Victor Espinosa, going through a renaissance in his riding career, will continue the partnership.


It has been stated that the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be American Pharoah’s swan song. It is indeed a courageous gesture on the part of American Pharoah’s connections to have accepted to race in the Travers.


Athens, winner of the Bangalore Oaks this year, is a daughter of Pioneerofthenile.  Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes in the slop, is Pioneerofthenile’s father. On that day, across the pond, Kris Kin, Kieren Fallon up, won the Epsom (Vodafone) Derby.

Look over your credit card statements carefully

This is a lesson all credit card users need to learn. Before you pay the balance or part of the balance every month, please go through the items. And go through the items carefully.


Seven years ago, my credit card carried a nine-dollar charge for a highway toll in France. On the date the toll was incurred, I had returned to Chicago from Paris. Marriott Courtyard charged me for a breakfast (Pasadena, California )  after I had left a hotel. Marriott charged me for a movie I did not watch in my room. Radisson in (Stockholm, Sweden) charged me for a bottle of wine (in the mini fridge) that I did not consume.


These are not mistakes or cases of  oversight.  I strongly believe that this is a pattern. These (fraudulent) charges are inserted in your card statement. There are many who pay the amount without checking the charges. If one cardholder out of 100 pays this charge, it is money that these businesses get without providing the service.


In my July Chase Explorer Card statement, there was a $24.95 charge for a Time Magazine renewal. When I asked for a Time (12 months) subscription in July 2014, I used my Explorer card. As a matter of principle, I do not opt for automatic renewals.


I disputed the charge with Chase. My daughter (in Redmond, Washington) called Time and asked that the subscription be cancelled. She was told that it had been done and that the credit card will be notified.


In the August statement, a $24.95 charge for Time has appeared. I disputed the charge with Chase.


I went to the TIME webpage and canceled the subscription. I wanted an explanation why a second charge is in my statement after the subscription had been canceled.


I am awaiting TIME’s reply.


The point is that any merchant can put in a charge. It, then, becomes your headache. Same thing with US credit reports. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can put in a negative item. You have to fight it.


All businesses indulge in this nefarious practice. Please look over the items in your monthly statement.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beholder teaches boys a racing lesson in the Pacific Classic

This is a horse racing story that has to be told. What happened at Del Mar in California on Saturday was out of the ordinary. Let me set the table. The race was the $1,000.000 Grade I Pacific Classic over 2000 metres. Beholder, a girl tackling the boys, was the favorite despite the fact that she was going over 2,000 metres  for the first time in her career. 


Beholder, ridden by Gary Stevens, justified the public confidence. Yes, she won without giving any anxiety to her supporters. And yes, she became the first filly or mare to win the Pacific Classic but the overwhelming part of the story was the manner in which Beholder did it.


Beholder and jockey Stevens sat third through fractions of 22.36, 45.45 and 1 09:98 and when Stevens let his mount loose, the five year-old Henny Hughes mare, shot to the front. In a matter of strides, the Pacific Classic had been put to bed. Beholder ran on putting daylight between herself and her adversaries. The winning margin was eight and one quarter lengths. The mile came in 1 35:2 and Beholder completed the 2000-metre journey in 1 59:77.


Richard Mandella, Beholder’s trainer,   was winning his fourth Pacific Classic since the race was instituted in 1991. “When she made that move, it just took my breath away,” Mandella said.


Jockey Stevens was effusive in his praise. “She did all that on her own. Her ears were pricked straight up as if it was a morning workout. I knew she hadn’t hit the after burners yet. I let out a scream as we went past the wire. It was out of jubilation. This mare makes me emotional,” Stevens averred.


Beholder now has a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run on October 31 at Keeneland Race Course. It is the mighty American Pharoah that Beholder will face in that race.


The Breeders’ Cup Distaff is another option. Beholder, by virtue of her win in the Clement Hirsch, has an automatic berth in the Distaff.


Beholder is Henny Hughes, a Grade I winner of the King’s Bishop and the Vosburgh stakes. Henny Hughes is a son of Hennessy. Leslie’s Lady, a daughter of Tricky Creek,  is Beholder’s mother.


I will be at Keeneland for the two-day Breeders’ Cup meeting on October 30 and 31.


I saw Beholder win the Juvenile Fillies race at the Breeders’ Cup festival in 2012 at Santa Anita. I was at Santa Anita again when she  won the Distaff in 2013 as a three year-old. In 2014, she was a late scratch in the Distaff.


Treve remains favorite to win the Arc De Triomphe this year. Now five, Treve is on course to make it three in a row. It is a case of a girl taking the boys on. With Golden Horn’s loss in York’s Juddmonte International, Treve is firmly planted atop the pecking order. The Arc will be run at Longchamp on October 4.


In the US, Beholder has run out of competition in the distaff division. Her Pacific Classic romp should encourage her connections to take their chances against American Pharoah.  What a treat will that be? Mouth-watering may be a hackneyed cliché. Let me call it ‘nerve-tingling.’



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Air Ticket Mess

My wife and I have been in Chennai, India since early July. We are here to attend two weddings.

Every winter we leave our Chicago base to go to India for four months. More often than not, we use frequent flyer miles to book our tickets.

On Monday August 17, 2015 about 3 P M India time I contacted the American Airlines award travel ticketing section. I used the Skype system to call. It was 1 30 AM in America on Monday. The wait time is short when it is late night or early morning in the US.

After I had given the preliminary information, I got connected to an agent within a minute. I spoke to a patient and friendly lady agent. You need 135,000 miles for a round trip business ticket. I and my wife had enough miles in our respective accounts.

The agent was able to find two business (round trip) seats with Qatar Airways, a partner in the One World group that American heads. I gave the agent my frequent flyer number. She confirmed the (number of ) miles in my account. She made the booking and gave me a reference (what is called a record locator) number.

We moved on to my wife's ticket. I gave the agent my wife's frequent flyer number. She confirmed that there enough miles in my wife's account. She made the reservation and gave a record locator number.

I gave her my (Citi MasterCard) number. The cost (phone booking charges and taxes and fees) were charged. The agent assured me that the process was complete and that I would receive confirmation for the two bookings by email.

Twelve hours later, there was a confirmation for my wife's ticket. No confirmation for me.

I checked my frequent flyer account. A 135,000-mile deduction had been made.

There was no deduction from my wife's account.

Something had gone wrong.

I waited for 24 hours. I called  3 30 AM Tuesday US time. I got through to an agent quickly. I explained the situation. The agent responded. "Sir, you did not have enough miles in your account for two tickets."

Another attempt was made. I said that a deduction had been made in my account and my wife's ticket had been issued. I had not been ticketed and that no miles had been taken from my wife's account.

Finally, the agent seemed to grasp the problem. Then there was this statement from the agent. "Sir, I now see what has happened. I need the credit card information but it must be your wife's card."

My wife has a Citi card but we did not have it in our possession. I pleaded with the agent to look at the number of times we have travelled together. She was adamant. "Sir, I cannot help you unless I have (my wife's) credit card information."

The conversation ended.

We contacted our daughter who had my wife's credit card. We obtained the details.

My wife called American. This is where luck came in. We are blessed. The lady agent did not take more a minute to understand our predicament. "There is a simple solution," she told my wife.

"I will take the miles from your account and issue a ticket for your husband and let me have the credit card information. I see the last four digits of the card," she said.

The agent mentioned the last four digits in the card and asked to confirm the validity date (until when) and the three-digit security code on the back of the card. Not a word that the card had to be my wife's. The exercise was over.

Yes, there's a security concern when using credit cards. In our case, there was overwhelming evidence everything was proper. The agent, playing hardball, made it difficult. From the first exchange, she appeared impatient.

The lesson is that no two agents ( people) are the same. You need to be lucky. We got lucky.

After all, we are going to travel together. We have been American passengers for a number of years. It was nothing but luck that brought an exasperating experience to a delightful end.

All this while hoping and praying that the Skype connection will not get disconnected.