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.

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