Who Needs A Rollercoaster Ride When You’ve Got Horse Racing?

by | 09.05.2017 | 12:52pm

Things I learned during this topsy turvy summer of racing: 

Young Guys Rule: Flavien Prat, 25, won his second consecutive Del Mar summer riding title (he tied with Rafael Bejarano in 2016) and the native of France has established himself as the West Coast leader. Jose Ortiz, 23, a native of Puerto Rico, defeated his older brother, Irad, to claim his second straight Saratoga crown. These young men have immense talent, humility and character and are going to be fun to watch for years to come.

Old Guys Rule:  Though he's cut back on his numbers, Hall of Fame John Velazquez at 45 had a sensational Saratoga, scoring 46 victories, a dozen behind Jose Ortiz, winning at a 26 percent clip at the toughest meeting in racing against a deep and talented group of riders. He sets a tremendous example of both character and competitiveness for the younger riders in that colony. Out West, 47-year-old Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux had a strong Del Mar, finishing fourth in the standings with 26 wins. Corey Nakatani, 46, revived his career and made the most of limited opportunities, winning with 11 of 61 mounts. Gary Stevens, the 54-year-old Hall of Famer, continues to taunt Father Time, winning 12 races from 76 opportunities.

2-Year-Olds Do The Darndest Things: You can never put the binoculars down (or take your eyes off the screen) until the horses cross the wire. That was never more true than in Monday's closing day, Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, the premier race for 2-year-olds during the Spa's summer meeting.

Sporting Chance, a Tiznow colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas, appeared well on his way to victory under Luis Saez when the jockey decided to switch the stick from his right to his left hand in deep stretch. One crack of the crop sent Sporting Chance careening toward the grandstand, crossing directly in front of the Dale Romans-trained Free Drop Willy and jockey Robby Albarado. Saez leaned left, straightened his mount far to the outside and got to the wire first with a neck to spare.

Stewards took a long look at the incident and ultimately decided to let the results stand, ruling that it did not affect the outcome of the race. Romans disagreed: “It's a ridiculous call,” he said.

No Such Thing As A Sure Thing
: The mystifying performances of reigning 3-year-old champion Arrogate at Del Mar this summer reminded us of this racetrack axiom. After four dominating stakes performances dating back to the Travers in August 2016 that put the son of Unbridled's Song on top of the world, the Bob Baffert trainee dropped a huge stink bomb in the G2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, finishing off the board at 1-20 odds. He regained some stature when second to stablemate Collected in the G1 Pacific Classic but does not look like the same colt who dominated Gun Runner, among others, in the G1 Dubai World Cup in March. The latter's three consecutive G1 victories since Dubai – in the Stephen Foster at Churchill and the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga – make for an intriguing G1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.

Patience Is A Virtue: Horse owner Gary West wants to win the G1 Kentucky Derby as much as anyone, but he's been around the game long enough to know that the natural development of a horse does not always coincide with the racing calendar. West Coast, a talented 3-year-old colt West campaigns with his wife Mary, got a late start and wasn't ready or qualified to run on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. West and trainer Bob Baffert circled the last Saturday in August on the calendar and laid out a roadmap to get to the G1 Travers with a fresh and improving horse – just as Baffert had done for Juddmonte Farms with Arrogate in 2016. West Coast rewarded them for their patience with a victory that puts the colt by Flatter smack in the middle of a confusing and contentious 3-year-old Eclipse Award race.

Winning Isn't Everything: That image of the Baffert family (trainer Bob, wife Jill, son Bode) shown on TVG, standing in the paddock and watching the big board as Collected held off favorite Arrogate in the Pacific Classic and giving the Hall of Fame trainer a 1-2 finish in the $1 million race, is one for the ages. It doesn't exactly look like a celebration, does it? It seems more a reflection of people feeling as though a horse that had been ranked No. 1 in the world – one that Baffert himself compared to Secretariat in the wake of his remarkable Dubai World Cup win – wasn't yet back on his game.

Winning Is Everything: The NBC Sports cameras caught trainer Chad Brown at Saratoga screaming at the television monitor in his box as his Money Multiplier surged to the front briefly in the final sixteenth and then facing the reality of defeat as the colt was nipped at the wire by Sadler's Joy in the G1 Sword Dancer Aug. 26. Brown may not have liked this moment of intensity broadcast nationally, but it's really a reflection of what this game can do to our emotions and why we love it so much. It's OK to get a little crazy now and then at the races.

Racing Can Be Magical: When jockey Sasha Risenhoover brought longshot winner Terra's Angel back to the Del Mar winner's circle following a 19-1 upset of the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes on Monday's closing day program, tears were streaming down her cheeks. For good reason. This was the horse that brought her to California from Texas, the jockey said afterwards, and this was her first win of the meet. But there's much, much more to the story.

Jockey Sasha Risenhoover celebrates after Terra's Angel's victory in the $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf, Monday, September 4, 2017 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar CA.

Terra's Angel is the namesake of Terra Bibb, daughter of co-owner Terry Eoff, wife of Jeremy Bibb, loving mother of Rylan, Conor and Parker Bibb. Those three young boys recently lost their 36-year-old mom to an eight-year battle with brain cancer.

Terra Bibb, an accomplished horsewoman in her own right who loved barrel racing, had the opportunity to see Terra's Angel win her first race at Lone Star Park on May 13. She died a few weeks later in her Austin, Texas, home on June 9.

Winning trainer Dallas Keen told the story of Terra Bibb to TVG's Britney Eurton in the Del Mar winner's circle. Sasha Risenhoover wasn't the only one crying.

  • Richard C

    Cue up “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players.

    • Chris Lowe

      Say what?

  • gus stewart

    Ray, u have highlighted whats great about racing. The stories that run from the top in racing, to the young and new in racing. You have traveled to many race tracks in and out of the usa, so your perspectives are genuine. Im not going to beat up other sports because its not productive in getting new fans. But if people would just take a look at the good in the sport the majority of good people in the sport, for the most part the love of the animals in the sport, and finally the fan freindly part of meeting these people and animals. In other sports they really truley have no other connection besides a hat or jersey or occasional charity event. Those players for the most part dont live in the same zip code u do, or really care where they play or what uniform they wear. Racing still has a connection to the average fan, and i think that deserves our support more then a big corporate biz as most other sports are.

  • David Worley

    Great montage. Really enjoyed Ray’s editorial perspective.

  • Delrene

    Thank you for this roller coaster read. The beautiful but very sad story of Terra’s Angel is a real heartbreaker. I’m sure it meant the world to the family. The photo says it all. This is the heart of horse racing with all the backstories of family, friends and connections.

  • Chris

    Nice story, Ray.

  • kcbca1

    Enjoyed reading this article very much. Thanks.

  • ForLoveOfTheGame

    LOVE THIS PIECE, RAY. Especially the trainer pics. LOL. The Baffert family photo is a truly terrible picture of all of them (I see them all the time at SA), but it’s also great and heart-warming, because their reactions make them so NORMAL. This reaction is not an uncommon feeling that everyone in racing is very familiar with. LOL. I LOVE OUR SPORT. Great work!!!

  • Blue Larkspur

    Nice story about the jockey from Texas and I love the photo of the Baffert family – priceless!

  • Birdy2

    Great article, Ray; I thoroughly enjoyed it. And kudos to Dallas. He’s good people, a true horseman and somebody I respect as a trainer who gives it his all.

    • Shocking

      • frank graziano

        I get it. Not sure others do.

        • Fort Worth

          The electric horseman is back. What a good guy.

    • Blue Larkspur

      Matto Mondo sure thanks him and Donna!

  • Andrew Stonebarger

    What a great picture of Risenhoover and Terra’s Angel, whose name seems to say it all.

  • Olebobbowers

    There is only one in your great Roller Coaster story above, Mr. Paulick, that could bring forth as many tears as Terra’s Angel’s win. Never mind, they don’t compare on second thought, cos considering every detail of the entire Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes win, it either matches, or possibly exceeds, the most remarkable true honoring of Terra Bibb, the young mother of three that did indeed see her namesake break her maiden, before she left on her journey ‘home’. No one on Earth could ever convince me that Mrs.Bibb was not in attendance in some form to watch the passionate joy displayed by her loved ones as her namesake outgamed her rivals. This story, in all it’s splendor, tops any I’m familiar with in the mere six decades since horseracing became my home. Rest in Peace Terra;*( The other subject that would’ve brought tears, but of anger, to my eyes would be if I was involved as a trainer, or owner, of second place finisher of the Hopeful, Sporting Chance. That stewards decision, in a Grade One Stake, no less, is nothing short of absurd. The tracks could save some money if they would consider eliminating the Board of Stewards, or at least give them an eye exam., as well as a Breathilizer.

  • GloriaU

    Been waiting for a story about Terra’s Angel. I’d read about this horse the day before her race and then watched her win it on television. What a great story. I will be rooting for her from now on. Congratulations to the connections.

  • pt

    I really enjoyed this read, Mr. Paulick. Two things in particular struck me, though: first, the Risenhoover photo is one of greatest, most moving and powerful racing photos I have ever seen, and I’ve been a fan since 1985. And second, I read everyone’s comments on here and did not see a single negative one! Try finding that with any other online piece, about any sport, anywhere. I think it says a lot for those of us proud to call ourselves racing fans!

  • talkingman17

    I was screaming with Chad . Cost me the win 4.

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