In retrospect, 2002 has been kind of an "unfinished" year in Thoroughbred racing, at least off the track.
War Emblem was impressive in winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in May. But the courts have yet to rule on who is entitled to the bonus he earned for winning both the Illinois Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Arlington Park ran a great Breeders' Cup in October. But New York Courts - with an assist from other jurisdictions, including the Illinois Racing Board - still have to decide what to do with the Ultra Pick Six money that won't be paid to the "wise guys" who were just a little too lucky with their bets.
And the World Series Racing Championship ran its most extensive and, arguably, most interesting season, with newly added races in Singapore and Hong Kong. But it did so without finding a replacement for its initial title sponsor, Emirates Airlines. Emirates bailed out after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
C'mon, guys. The horses can only provide the sport. They can't deal with regulation, administration and sponsorship issues, too!
As the horses continued to do their job during the year's final weekend:
Calder Race Course
New Economy got Saturday's Grand Slam II off to a great start for the plungers. Racing from off the pace, the 4-year-old Red Ransom filly drew clear in the final furlong to win the $200,000 LaPrevoyante Handicap by 1 ¼ length over fellow longshort Jennasietta. With third-place finisher Tweedside, the $2 trifecta kicked back $6,948.80 and the addition of Julie Jalouse resulted in a $22.883.60 superfecta. Winning rider Rosemary Homeister Jr. said New Economy's last race was just too short. "So when we saw this mile and a half, I knew the distance would fit her perfectly," Homeister said. "I couldn't have asked for a better trip."
Man From Wicklow fought though and around traffic before getting clear to win the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap by 1 length over Serial Bride. Rochester was third in the 1 ½-mile turf event, clocked in 2:04.61. "He gave me a lot of confidence all the way around," said winning rider Jerry Bailey, who had to check in the first turn and then ran in between horses on the backstretch. "It was just a matter of finding a shot to shake loose. He was traveling good and I was waiting on room." Trainer Richard Violette Jr. said while Man From Wicklow is eligible for the Sunshine Millions on Jan. 25, he may wait for longer grass trips later in the Gulfstream meeting.
The Judge Sez Who got the jump on Best of the Rest at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap, the slowly worked clear to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Dancing Guy was third with Booklet fourth. The Judge Sez Who, a 3-year-old son of Judge T C, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.53 under Cornelio Velasquez and gave trainer Milton Wolfson a double stakes score in Grand Slam II. "It's been a hell of a day and a hell of a year from beginning to end," Wolfson said. He said he will try The Judge Sez who in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Jan. 25.
Wolfson also had his picture taken Saturday with Stormy Frolic after the 3-year-old daughter of Summer Squall won the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap by a comfortable 5 ½ lengths over Small Promises. Redoubled Miss was third. Stormy Frolic toted Jose Santos over 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.08. Despite some disappointments on the grass, Wolfson said Stormy Frolic now has a lot of chances in dirt racing at Gulfstream. "She's been training great all along," he added.
Got Koko took the outside path into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, ran past Spring Meadow and won off by a comfortable 3 ¼ lengths. Erica's Smile was third. Bella Belluci was fourth and the favorite, You, ran a disappointing fifth. Habibti was seventh. Got Koko, a Texas-bred daughter of Signal Tap, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.57 with Alex Solis in the irons. Trainer Bruce Headley said Got Koko will continue on in the La Canada series. "To beat a filly like You and Habibti and the other great fillies in there, it's really quite a thrill," he said. You's rider, Pat Valenzuela, said she ran well down the backstretch, "but when we got to the quarter pole, she gave it up."
Sunday, Grammarian led the whole way in the $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap, scoring by 1 length over David Copperfield. Decarchy was third as the favorite. Grammarian, a 4-year-old son of Definite Article, ran 9 furlongs on a "good" turf course in 1:48.12. Owner Lindsey Williams said Grammarian is supposed to be pointing, long-term, toward next November's Melbourne Cup at 2 miles. "If his style is to run in front, it's going to be a very, very hard mission," he added.
Peace Rules went to the front turning for home in Saturday's $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes for 2-year-olds and then held off Singletary in the late going to win by ¾ length. Bis Repetitas, a stablemate of Peace Rules in the barn of Bobby Frankel, finished third. Peace Rules, a Florida-bred son of Jules, ran 1 mile on the turf in 1:35.44. "He's learning to relax," said Frankel. "He can't be a good horse if he's pulling all the time. He's learning."
In Friday's $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies, Pocketfullofpesos drew off in the stretch to win by 3 lengths over Long Term Wish, with Denali Cat third. Pockefullofpesos, a daughter of In Excess, was claimed Nov. 9 by trainer Mike Mitchell for $40,000 and likely will make her next start in a Gulfstream Park leg of the Jan. 25 Sunshine Millions.
And Thursday, Julie Krone steered Debonair Joe to a huge upset in the $200,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds. Racing from near the back, the Cal-bred colt came down the middle of the stretch to beat Total Limit in the final strides. American System was third and the favorite, Japanese-bred Sunday Break (remember him finishing third in the Wood Memorial and winning the Peter Pan this past spring?), finished last of 11.
Those of us already looking for a Kentucky Derby horse woke up from Christmas torpor in time to see Ghostzapper get zapped pretty good in a NW1X event on Boxing Day. Scrimshaw, a Kentucky-bred son of Gulch, rallied from off the pace to win by a head over Zayed. The rest, including the Frankel-trained Favorite Ghostzapper, were well back at the end of the 6 furlongs. The day's feature, the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 2-year-old state-breds, went to Excessivepleasure, a son of In Excess, by 5 lengths. Favorite D's Bertrando finished seventh of eight. Fall back and regroup. And Saturday, Robledo earned a spot in the Jan. 18 Santa Catalina Stakes - an early Santa Anita Derby prep -- by winning a $56,000 allowance race over favorite Appalachian Thunder.
Coyote Lakes rallied on the outside through the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Gallant Fox Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths over Pleasant Breeze. It was the third straight year Coyote Lakes has led them home in the marathon and the fifth year he has run in the event. Fisher Pond, who led the pack through most of the 1 5/8-mile event, held on for third. Coyote Lakes, an 8-year-old, Arizona-bred son of Society Max, finished in 2:43.54 under Mike Luzzi. "He doesn't feel like he's 8," Luzzi said. "It was just picture perfect."
Sunday, Multiple Choice was the winning choice in the $100,000 Gravesend Handicap. The 4-year-old Mt. Livermore colt moved outside pace-setting Sing Me Back Home in deep stretch to win by ¾ length. Gold I.D. was third, with Say Florida Sandy fourth. The 6 furlongs took 1:09.26.
Also Sunday, Tom's Thunder - a 4-year-old son of the immortal Thunder Puddles - led most of the way to a ½-length victory over John Paul Too in the $75,000 Alex M. Robb Handicap. Mount Intrepid was third. Tom's Thunder finished the 1 1/16 mile on the fast inner track in 1:42.92.
Skate Away rallied from well back on the turn for home in Saturday's $100,000 Woodchopper Handicap for 3-year-olds, then survived a late inside bid by Seainsky to win by a neck. Pace-setter Runaway Groom held on for third and the favorite, Better Talk Now, faded to finish eighth after pressing the early pace. Skate Away, a Belong to Me gelding, ran the about 1 1/16 mile over firm turf in 1:45.25. "This makes him three-for-three on the turf and you have to be thankful to have a horse of this caliber in the barn," said winning trainer Jeff Trosclair.
Sunday, Saintly Look got the outside edge in the stretch run of the $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes for 2-year-olds and collared Broke Again to score by ¾ length. Crowned King was third. Saintly Look, a Kentucky-bred son of Saint Ballado, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.38 under Shane Sellers.
On Friday, Historie Sainte scored a 1 ½-length victory over Quick Tip in the $75,000 Furl Sail Handicap, remaining perfect on the Stall-Wilson turf course. The French-bred daughter of Kendor is four-for-four on the surface - all of them stakes races. "She definitely runs extremely well here and hopefully we'll get a chance to run her here again this meet," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen.
Sum Trick rallied past pace-setting Red Hot Kitty as the field turned for home in Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity and drew off to win by 4 ½ lengths. Double Intrigue was second and Seneca Prowler was third. Sum Trick, a Kentucky-bred Favorite Trick colt, got the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:15.43
Golden Gate Fields
Maddie's Charm moved to the leaders on the stretch turn in Saturday's $60,000 Corte Madera Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, got a clear lead and held on to win by 1 ¼ length over Tale of a Dream with Viansa Ossidiana third. Maddie's Charm, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Capote, finished 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:35.78. Winning rider Roberto Gonzalez said he could have taken the lead earlier but wanted to say toward the inside to get the best part of the wet track. "I had the horse the whole way," he said.
Wildcat Annie worked quickly to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Gowell Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, held on gamely and beat Golden Marlin to the line by ½ length. Jenny's Prospector was third. Wildcat Annie, a Florida-bred daughter of Forest Wildcat, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.30 on a muddy track.
Tampa Bay Downs
Secret Romeo stuck close to the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Pelican Stakes, swung five-wide into the stretch and cruised home a 1 ¾-length winner over Tour the Hive. Winnie's Pooh Bear finished third. The favorite, Tour of the Cat, showed little in finishing sixth of 11. Secret Romeo, a 4-year-old Michigan-bred by Service Stripe, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.87. "He had a lot left at the end of the race," said winning jockey Fredrico Mata. "He eases up when he once makes the lead."
P Day used a pace-stalking strategy to win Saturday's $60,000 Challedon Stakes for Maryland-breds. Tracking the speed, jockey Ryan Fogelsonger sent his 7-year-old son of Private Terms after the lead turning for home and won off by 3 lengths over Haygetoutofmyway. Aggadan was home third. "I just had to be patient and make sure there was enough room when it was time to make my move," said Fogelsonger, a candidate for an Eclipse Award in the apprentice rider category.
Sunday, Svea Dahl came down from New York to win the $50,000 Carousel Stakes, leading from gate to wire. The 5-year-old mare, claimed for $62,500 in June by trainer Bruce Levine for Roddy Valente, has won four races for her new connections, including the Grade III Turnback the Alarm at Aqueduct last month. She now will try the Sunshine Million at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.
Hawthorne Race Course
Talknow began his bid at the quarter pole in Saturday's $40,000 Colonel Power Stakes got the lead in the lane and won by 1 ½ lengths over Classic Appeal. Silver Bid was third as the 6 ½ furlongs went in 1:15.07. "This horse has been fantastic this year," said winning rider Shane Laviolette. "He wants to give you everything he has. He runs his heart out." Trainer Tom Tomillo said Talknow may resurface in a few weeks in New Orleans as Chicago-area live racing takes a two-month vacation.
Hadif's Allstar pressed the early pace in Saturday's $40,000 Genesis Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then took over in the stretch and won off by 4 lengths over Ritzy Dame. Fantasy On Fire was third. Hadif's Allstar, a Texas-bred daughter of Hadif, ran 5 furlongs in 59.52 seconds.