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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Year of the Blue-Collar Horse

A post-Breeders’ Cup malaise combined with the arrival of colder weather and the end-of-semester crunch has left me uninspired. Can you say “burnout”? I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting this and yet the sport feels compelled to shove more and more racing at us. With the saturation point already reached, I suspect other fans may feel as I do: if you take a break from it, it’s easier and easier to just forget about the sport altogether.

Over the past month, I’ve watched only a handful of races (including Rapid Redux’s 21st straight winning effort)—and I don’t think I’ve missed much. Each time I looked at the Paulick Report or another industry publication all I read was negativity. Federal legislation signed that could allow horse slaughter plants to reopen in the United States. John Veitch “grossly negligent” in Life At Ten incident. One of Rapid Redux’s Charles Town races being investigated for impropriety. Jockeys injured. Promising contenders injured and out of action. Breakdowns galore. Enough! Let’s hope 2012 is a damn sight better than 2011.

Still, reflecting back, one of the most interesting developments over the past 12 months is the rise of the blue-collar horse, led by Rapid Redux. Oh, the narrow-minded have vocally proclaimed there’s no way he is worthy of an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, but, honestly, has there been another horse more consistent or successful at what they do this year than the Pleasantly Perfect gelding? In a year in which no horse—male or female—dominated graded stakes events over any surface or distance, why not make a statement and give the award to a horse that was not only masterfully handled in terms of race placement, but also just flat out ran, giving his best effort each and every time? Watch his races—this isn’t your typical plodder. No matter what distance, at what track, over what surface condition, and with whatever jockey aboard—Rapid Redux did what thoroughbreds are bred to do: he ran, and loved doing so!

He’s not the only claimer or former claimer to capture the imaginations of owners or potential owners everywhere. How about:

Mission Approved: Claimed in June 2010 for $35,000, this 7-year-old stepped up to finish a mere neck back to Gio Ponti in the G1 Man o’War a month later; he began this year with a victory in the G1 Manhattan. Since being claimed, he’s earned $425,000 for the Chatterpauls.

Calibrachoa: Dropped into the claiming ranks last November by owner/breeder Nelson Bunker Hunt and trainer Steve Asmussen, this 5-year-old son of Southern Image was claimed by Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher for $40,000. Over the past year, he’s made $334,500 including three G3 wins and two third-place finishes in G1 events—the Vanderbilt and Cigar Mile.

Juanita: Stakes-placed as a juvenile, owner/breeder Padua Stables dropped this 3-year-old Mineshaft filly down into claiming company in Florida this past winter, where she was claimed for $25,000 in March. For her new connections she made $181,517, including a win in the G2 Indiana Oaks over G2 Fair Grounds Oaks victress Daisy Devine and G1 Frizette winner AZ Warrior.

Jimanator: Claimed in June for $25,000, this 5-year-old Broken Vow gelding has earned $123,720 for his new owners, including a victory in the G3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap at Calder.

I’m sure there are others—feel free to chime in. It’s not just former claimers stepping up in class that made news this year. How about some love for those blue-collar workhorses that just keep plugging away, like 12-year-old West Seattle Boy who won four of his 12 starts this year, including his 105th career start? Or 10-year-old Ohio legend Catlaunch who won five of eight starts, topping $1 million in 91 career races?

In an age in which far too many horses are retired prematurely and barely race, as a fan it’s hard not to love a warrior like Australian G2-placed Mustard, a 14-year-old gelding who recently made his 126th lifetime start, or 14-year-old English-raced The Tatling, a multiple G1-runnerup who capped his career recently with an improbable win in his 176th career race. In case you missed it:

If you didn’t shed a tear at that storybook finish, you haven’t a heart. These are the horses we should be talking about, not the injury-plagued flash-in-the-pan industry insiders too often focus on.

While Havre de Grace may indeed win the Eclipse for Horse of the Year—and rightly so given her performances against Blind Luck and against males in the Woodward—2011 will not be remembered in the U.S. as the “Year of the Chick”—instead, long live the Year of the Blue-Collar Horse! Happy holidays, folks!


Jen Morrison said...

excellent - it was a good year for those kind of horses, despite all the bad news
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Unknown said...

I'm always excited when a old warrior gelding comes across our radar doing the CANTER listings. They are generally incredibly cool characters with great stories and more often than not clean legs. People always lament that they're still running at their age, but I think it's cool. As long as they're out there having fun and feeling good might as well let them do what they love to do. :)

G. Rarick said...

Don't forget two of Europe's blue-collar stars, Dunaden and Danedream. Dunaden was sold for 1,500 euros as a foal, later claimed for less than 20,000 and went on to win the Melbourne Cup and Hong Kong Vase this year! And he his pedigree wouldn't turn any heads, believe me. And then there's Danedream, the Arc-winning filly who sold for 9,000 euros as a yearling (and no, there's not a zero missing from that figure). Gives us all hope!

Bill Daly said...

The Rapid Redux story is really amazing. Claimed for $6250 and wins all these races consecutively. You know I don't care if his trainer cherry picks the fields he runs in you have to be ready to go every time the gate opens. You have to be good and lucky enough to either avoid or overcome obstacles along the way. This has to be one of the greatest bargain basement claims of all time. Most people nowadays never heard of Stymie, but he is considered the greatest claim of all time I believe. I think Hirsch Jacobs trained the horse after claiming him for $1500! The horse wound up winning just about every significant race on the east coast and almost a million dollars in total earnings over a period from 1941 to 1947. This was the 1940s and that bought a lot of oats and hay in those days. Rapid Redux may never approach the deeds of Stymie, but what he has done is pretty impressive.

dddundalk said...

Many horse racing fans have come to the same conclusion. We know Rapid Redux is not in the same league as Zenyatta or Golikova, but that's pretty rare air. RR is the little horse that could. He did the best he could with what he has - 21 times in a row. Even Team Z is impressed with him. The Blue Collar horses are what keeps the sport alive. Excellent article!