Wednesday, September 19, 2012

G1 Cotillion Stakes More Than It Seems

Even with just four entries, the G1 Cotillion Stakes for three-year-old fillies on Saturday is more than it first appears.

Two-Year-Old Champion Filly My Miss Aurelia is making her second start of the year, and first graded stakes start since her G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies victory. She comes into the race with an undefeated record and the hype that she may be the same filly that she was before an injury took her out for most of 2012.  

The Stonestreet filly's status has been built up even farther by her three length victory in the August 8th Mandys Gold Stakes.

In the gate next to her will stand Questing (GB), a two-time Grade One winner this year. Questing's last meeting with My Miss Aurelia went to My Miss Aurelia with Questing finishing fifth in the Juvenile Fillies. 

Questing career wasn't much to write home about for the first six races of her career. The filly had placed in a few stakes in Europe, punching her ticket to the Breeders' Cup but overall, she wasn't a horse that people would think of as a leading three-year-old filly.

In fact, there was talk of retiring her earlier this year. But since her 3 3/4 length allowance win on June 24, the filly has turned a corner with back-to-back wins in the G1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and G1 Alabama Stakes. Even with a green looking stretch run by the filly, her time in the Alabama has made her a contender for a three-year-old spot.

Lining up on both sides of the main attractions are multiple stakes placed Moment In Dixie, who last finished second in the Summer Guest Stakes, and Dixie Strike, the winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes against males last out.

While Questing and My Miss Aurelia are the two favorites with morning odds of 1/1 and 8/5 respectively, the other two should not be discounted going into the race.

Moment in Dixie may not have a stakes win to her name but the Dixieland Band filly last finished just a 1/2 length behind Lady Cohiba, a two time stakes winner at the Summer Guest distance. While the filly doesn't look like she will challenge the two top competitors, she has never finished worse than second in her four race career.

Dixie Strike may be a surprise victor if she gets to the wire first but her record isn't one to sneeze at. 

The filly was sixth in the August 6th Breeders' Stakes but the race was on turf, which may make it suspect when comparing it to her chances here. Before her Prince of Wales win, she finished third in Canada's premiere race, the Queen's Plate (granted, it was on the Woodbine all weather surface). The filly hasn't only been running in ungraded stakes, as she won the G3 Selene Stakes in May. Her record this year sits at 8-3-0-2.

Even if the Cotillion turns into the match race that it's thought to be, it is a race that has significant meaning outside of the $1 million purse being offered as Questing works on wrapping up the Three-Year-Old Filly Eclipse Award and the others try to unseat her from her throne. 

The 1 1/16 mile dirt race is scheduled to go off at 5:40 local time at Parx Racing. It will be followed approximately 36 minutes later by the G2 Pennsylvania Derby, a match up between G1 Travers winners Alpha and Golden Ticket.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keeneland Dreams

After months of preparation, it all comes down to one moment in the auction ring for horses and consigners at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

But first, the horses had to go through grueling days of showing to potential buyers before getting their time in the ring.

The Keeneland catalog for Books 1 & 2.
Thursday started the organized chaos as the first horses shipped in. Throughout the day, trailers waited at the Versailles Road stoplight in front of Keeneland and the stabling loading docks had hooves on them for the first time in months. The day also saw Blue Grass Airport bustling as owners and trainers from around the world landed in Lexington to see the 3,000-plus yearlings in the sale.
Even though there were over 72 hours until the first horse stepped into the legendary auction ring in the Keeneland Sales Pavilion, Friday brought on the first busy day of the Fall Sale. Potential owners walked around in groups, talking in low voices whenever they looked at a horse of interest. The huge catalog holding pedigrees of two books worth of horses, 1,047 horses to be exact, was a staple for not just these buyers but also others that had come to see the blue blooded animals.

More people and horses were seen entering the grounds on Saturday, braving a rainy morning that soaked the Kentucky ground with much needed moisture. Horses were pulled out of their stalls for both new interests and those coming by for another look as buyers worked on cutting down their list to the few that caught their eye the most.

A buyer looks at a yearling in the Eaton Sales area.
Veterinarians carried around equipment to look at the internal workings of these young horses, making sure they have the ability to carry out the potential their pedigree and conformation suggests. Those same veterinarians would look at countless radiographs throughout the two weeks of the Sale to make sure their clients were bringing good investments home.

As the cards thinned out in the box and fewer horses were called for, hay was set in front of stalls for dinner and the rakes were pulled out to make the shed rows spotless for the next day. Like the shed rows, the walking rings wouldn’t betray that there were horses in the surrounding stalls by the time Sunday rolled around.

Unlike Saturday, the second day of the weekend would dawn sunny and pleasant for the last 36 hours of pre-auction viewing. Consigners and photographers alike were in a better mood as the lighting made their subjects look even more spectacular. By nine in the morning, the walking rings were full again with horses, people, and the occasional dog.
Familiar faces were a common sight both in the barns and in the center of the rings as all levels of horsemen looked for their next winner. Keeneland’s claim of selling five of the last six Triple Crown race winners, among other major races, ran through the minds of hopeful buyers and sellers with every yearling pulled out of its stall.

More yearlings arrived at their temporary home throughout the day, but not all would be shown upon arrival, with some barns closing their doors until the following day. Even without these animals coming out for buyers, the energy around the barns could be felt by all.

Hip No. 1
As the sun fell lower in the sky, movements became more hurried as buyers tried to fit just one more showing in on an already busy day. The hours before the auction on Monday would see more of the same before attention turned to the ring. Hip No. 1, a chestnut Irish-bred son of Danehill Dancer out of a stakes winning daughter of Gulch, would kick off the sale. He would bring a winning bid of $250,000 and kick start the dreams of his buyer, obviously hoping the colt will be racing’s next big thing.
Over the next two weeks of the Sale, thousands of horses will parade in front of buyers in the barn area before going to the highest bidder in the Pavilion. There’s no doubt that at least a few of these horses will catch lightning in a bottle and become the next generation of high profile stakes races.

For the last year, they have lived with the question of how much money they will bring in the ring. But with the fall of the gavel, the question now becomes what the horse will do on the track, if they even make it that far.

But like every question in their life, this new one will take hours of hard work and a bottle of talent to find an answer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Calumet's Fields are Full Once Again

Almost five months after Calumet was sold amid weeks of rumors, horses have returned to the pastures of the historic farm.

Calumet's storied history has been full of up and downs over the last 30 years with the farm filing for bankruptcy in 1991. The farm was bought at auction by Henryk de Kwiatkowski the following year for $17 million with the promise that "The fences will be painted white as long as I live."

De Kwiatkowski died in 2003 and the farm became part of the late owner's trust with his children as the beneficiaries. Like their father, the younger de Kwiatkowskis kept the fences painted white for nine more years, even bringing stallions back to the farm with Ice Box and Cactus Ridge standing at Calumet in 2012.

But when it was rumored that Calumet had sold in mid-April on the Paulick Report, Lexington held its breath. 

Calumet isn't just one of the many historic farms in the area, its the white-fenced farm that many people see when flying into Blue Grass Airport. The farm is the very symbol that Lexington, and Kentucky, are known for with its sprawling pastures and thoroughbreds grazing in the fields.

But the collective breath was let out when the rumor became true a few weeks later and it was announced that the 800-acre farm would be leased to horse owner Brad Kelley. The Lexington Herald-Leader also announced in their article that "The investors, who were not named or numbered, "plan to continue to keep it the way it is."

Even though the farm was in safe hands after the sale, it was still a little sad to drive by the farm and see empty pastures. The farm seemed to be a ghost town for most of the summer until tractors with mowers attached appeared in the fields in mid-August, signaling that something was about to happen. 

And happen it did.

One morning as commuters drove by the farm on Versailles and New Circle Roads, they saw the familiar sight of horses in the pastures. By that afternoon, many of the pastures of Calumet were full and the Bluegrass' symbol was back.

While it will take a long time to restore Calumet to its former glory, the promise by Kelley that there are currently no plans to develop any part of the farm is a definite relief. 

In addition to Kelley's promise, de Kwiatkowski Trust Spokesman Bud Greely left everyone with this quote.

"I feel confident your new buyer is going to spend a lot of money on the farm. I think everybody's going to be very pleased."

In a time where change is the only thing for certain in the world, it's nice to know that some things can go back to being the same.
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