If Saturday's 8.5f G2 San Pasqual is any indication of how this year’s male handicap crop is shaping up, it’s going to be a long b-o-r-i-n-g season. Watching them huff-and-puff through the stretch, gasping for the finish line, wasn’t enjoyable, no matter how Jeff Siegel on HRTV ridiculously fawned over Cowboy Cal’s pokey time (1:41.26) and ability to last (by a nose) over claimer Informed and third-place finisher 8-year-old Magnum whose last graded-stakes placing was a victory in the G3 Lone Star Handicap in May 2006. Much ballyhooed even-money favorite Well Armed could only muster fourth, just a length in front of another claimer Mostacolli Mort. Ho-hum...the fact that Cowboy Cal is ahead of Delightful Kiss in the Twinspires.com Older Horse category in the TBA standings surely will be an anomaly as the year moves forward, but who are the older male horses we have to look forward to this year? It's hard to imagine any of last year's poor quality three-year-old crop stepping forward, but more surprising things have happened.
On the other hand, this year's sophomore class provided some thrills, as Larry Jones-trained Friesan Fire demonstrated some potential in winning the G3 LeComte at Fair Grounds, and the Lion Heart-filly Pumpkin Shell took the Busanda with flair at Aqueduct. I was particularly pleased to cash a WP ticket on Pumpkin Shell ($26.80 win, $10.80 place) as I had hailed her last July before her first start at Saratoga. She’s well-bred for distance, so I hope we see her on a trajectory for the G1 Oaks. According to the DRF, trainer David Donk plans to run her in the Busher Stakes on February 22. Friesan Fire is on track for the February 7 Risen Star. Also looking forward to another Larry Jones trainee, Old Fashioned who apparently will start in the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn on February 16.
Fantastic news early this week that Proud Spell hated life on the farm and thus is back in training for a four-year-old campaign. Dare we dream of a match-up sometime this year with Zenyatta, preferably on dirt, say in the G1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn?
Meanwhile, in Australia the two-year-olds are getting cranking in advance of their Triple Crown races, beginning with the G1 Golden Slipper on April 4 at Rosehill. On Saturday at Gold Coast, massive longshot Phelan Ready ($85.50 win) swept by previously-undefeated filly Paprika to win the A$2 million Magic Millions Classic, and it was beautiful! He’s another promising offspring of More Than Ready who has cranked out some impressive turf horses in Australia over the past two years, including last year’s Magic Millions Classic victress Augusta Proud and G1 Golden Slipper and G1 Sires Produce winner Sebring. What I also like about Phelan Ready are his connections, father-son trainers Bruce and Jason McLachlan, his jockey Jason Holder, and the fact that (you knew this was coming) he is a descendent, through his dam, of Foolish Pleasure. His dam Nancy Eleanor, winner of the G3 Adelaide Guineas, is by Blevic, and is also a half-sister to the very talented Baughurst.