Dec 20, 2010

Dec 9, 2010

One of a Kind

In 1968 I was golf editor of the New Orleans States-Item, fresh from an NCAA career uptown at Loyola University. I got a call one day from Larry McKinley, a popular disc jockey at a blues station, inviting me to play in a golf tournament at Pontchartrain Park.

When I showed up it was apparent that I was the only Caucasian in the field. I was informed by Larry that white golfers avoided Pontchartrain Park rather than play alongside black players in the midst of the civil rights movement.

After hitting off the first tee I was approached by a member of our group who said "hey, white boy, do you want to play for some cash".

If memory serves, we agreed on a $5 Nassau or so and were nip-and-tuck in the match when a torrential storm rolled in from the lake and flooded the course. Sunday's round was cancelled also and the only action to be found was at the various dice games that ensued.

Some months later I headed North to try my luck at tournament at golf. I became just another dew sweeping, trunk slamming impecunious rabbit who hastened back to journalism.

And I never met Joe Bartholomew, more's the pity.

Oct 6, 2010


Galen May liked to gamble and it may have cost him his life. A key man in trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's organization, Galen was entrusted with Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck at Churchill Downs.

Galen was semi-retired after a life on the racetrack but Jerry would call on him whenever he needed a seasoned hand to prepare a horse for a big race until he could arrive on the scene. I got to know him from his frequent trips to Kentucky on behalf of Hollendorfer. He was a quiet and friendly man.

After Blind Luck's epic victory in the Oaks Galen returned to his California home.

Police arrested a neighbor of May's and charged him with murder. The motive was said to be robbery. Galen was a regular patron of a casino near Sacramento and the killer may have known his routine.

There is a sense of danger that pervades a gambling site, one of the few remaining businesses dealing in "cold cash".

I can recall several other big scores that resulted in homicide.

Fair Grounds had begun to offer the exacta as part of its wagering menu in 1969. There was an exacta only on the last race each day.

One day there was a lot of hooplah coming from the clubhouse bar. A regular had hit for big money in the last race exacta. A boisterous impromptu party broke out among a group of clubhouse regulars.

I drove home to my apartment on Esplanade in the French Quarter and thought nothing of it until I read the morning paper account of a murder victim who had been robbed of his winnings on the Fair Grounds exacta. He was shot in the carport of his apartment about a half-mile from where I lived on Esplanade.

I was at Hollywood Park one day when another steady high roller hit a Pick-Six for $40,000 and crowed about it enough to alert everybody in the park.

An assailant followed him down Century Boulevard towards the airport. The victim turned into the portico of a luxury hotel where he was shot dead. A gust of wind began to blow the money away and the thief could grab only a small amount. The scene sounded like the finale of "Treasure of Sierra Madre" when Humphrey Bogart watched his gold dust disappear in a sand storm.

The unlucky horse player drove a Jaguar with a vanity license that read YRU POOR.

Moral of the Story: If you hit a big lick it's best to keep it to yourself.

Sep 9, 2010


Jockey Patrick Valenzuela has been blessed over the years with a certain bonhomie that, no matter how many times he has burned the racing population, there's a tendency to consider his misdeeds as "victimless".

I don't think so.

Patrick burned me and my Santa Barbara Stable partners but good by failing to keep his engagement aboard our horse Sunny Blossom in the Frank DeFrancis Memorial. The DeFrancis was the richest sprint in the country, other than the Breeders' Cup ,with a $300,000 purse.

Sunny Blossom was capable of six furlongs in 1.07.1, a Santa Anita record which still stands. It made sense to take him to Baltimore in hopes of upsetting champion Housebuster.

A number of our partners made the trip to Maryland, excited to take on the best eastern sprinters. The Kesslers from Seattle; the Caligiuris from New York and Santa Barbara; the Koenigs from Los Angeles; Nick Ben-Meir from Beverly Hills; Bob Estrin from Hollywood and various extended family boosters were all on hand.

Patrick was due to take the "red-eye" from Los Angeles which would give him plenty of time to prepare for the race. Despite calls to the hotel there was no word from our jockey. An hour before the race he finally called the stewards and claimed to be sick.

We had to scramble for the best jock we could find, namely Edgar Prado who was tops in Maryland but a far cry from the household word he was to become. His English skills were limited.

In the confusion in the paddock our trainer failed to give the word to Prado that Sunny Blossom did not like to be whipped, nor did he want to change leads so there was no point in trying to make him change.

Housebuster went to the front and never looked back. In deep stretch it was apparent that Sunny Blossom could not win. To my horror I watched as the substitute jockey whacked our horse a number of times as if he was trying to get him to change leads. You could see him swerve to try and escape the left handed stick.

Sunny Blossom exited the race dead lame in the stifle and did not run again for many months.

The partners on hand had spent tens of thousands of dollars in order to attend one of the nation's top races and came away with nothing but a sour taste and an injured horse.

Pat Valenzuela? Not a peep out of him.

I am not interested in retribution after all these years. But there is something called restitution and I challenge Pat to make good on his many indiscretions and donate a significant sum to the Winner's Foundation.

You're making money now. Ten grand ought to do it.

Aug 27, 2010


Recently we posted a piece on how to address European dignitaries often encountered in the course of our equine wanderings. Most such meetings are usually cursory and formal at best..

And then there's Charlie, the Duke of Richmond and master of Glorious Goodwood, in the family for seven centuries or so.

Charlie, you say? A bit cheeky, that.


Our Four Stars Sales team sent over a draft of yearlings in 2003 to try our luck in the Tattersalls lucrative Newmarket vendue. We were advised to put on a splashy show to make the toffs aware of our imminent arrival in the UK, sort of a Paul Revere ride in reverse.

Goodwood was chosen as the site for this soiree and we complied with champion jockey Steve Cauthen in tow as media bait. Our entourage was whisked to the Duke's private quarters for champagne after the running of the Duke of Richmond Stakes.

I asked the Duke what he liked to be called , not having quaffed bubbly with a real duke before.

"You might call me Duke, or even Your Grace or just plain Charlie. Just don't call me anything bad," he said with a chuckle. We had a high old time sipping on the Duke's good champagne while he regaled his visitors with tales of Goodwood.

Goodwood had been a sponsor along with Oak Tree at Santa Anita with a home-and-home stakes offering which is now in jeopardy with the Santa Anita turmoil.

I hope I can find my way back to Goodwood one day and look up my buddy Charlie.

Aug 14, 2010


Sharp Secretary continues to shine among Woodbine's 3-year-old fillies. She smartly scampered away from a good field to annex the $150,000 Duchess stakes on August 7.

Several television commentators have noted that she was bought for only $1,100.
True enough. But we paid out $25,000 last spring to acquire her as a 2-year-old.
She has made everybody look good.

Highly regarded juvenile Western Mood regressed in the Best Pal stakes at Del Mar, finishing third.


Prince Khalid of Juddmonte Farm evidently picked out a good one to honor his longtime trainer, Bobby Frankel. The Galileo colt he named Frankel won decisively on the weekend at Newmarket.

Please excuse us if we throw out a couple more Frankel tales.

One concerns a horse named Mehmet, one of Bobby's first good stakes-winners to go to stud. When it came time to dole out a breeding right or a syndicate share as promised, Bobby hit the roof. He said that would never happen to him again and he included a clause in future training agreements granting him such perquisites.

One of those future stakes-winners was Missionary Ridge who won the inaugural Pacific Classic at Del Mar after being purchased from Robert Sangster by Canadian Peter Wall.

When Wall first signed on with Bobby he was told how he could expect to know when they would be running.

"You have lots of money," he said. "Buy a racing form".

Jul 27, 2010


This is a Del Mar story. Actually, it is a Bobby Frankel story that happens to take place at Del Mar.

In the summer of 1983 the first horse I ever bred was ready to race at Hollywood Park.
My trainer of choice was Bobby Frankel. I was a little daunted by his gruff demeanor but I was looking for a trainer who was a consistent winner with any kind of horse. I wasn't even sure he'd want to take on a British Columbia-bred maiden claimer named Bold Runaway .

I had only one request of Frankel: Let me know if we can win a bet.

"Maybe, maybe not," he told me when we met in the paddock at Hollywood Park. I took that as a "no" and made only a modest wager of support rather than conviction.
We ran second.
Three weeks later we were at Del Mar where terse instructions told me "bet your money".

My life at that time was embroiled in an unpleasant and costly divorce. My two children joined me for the trek from Santa Barbara. I was so sure that Bold Runaway would win that I plunked down a four-figure win bet. Not very clever, I realize, to drive a horse's odds down to 6-t0-5 on the nose. But I had blind faith in Frankel at that time and I needed a winner to boost my morale as well as that of Shannon and Josh.

Bold Runaway walked her beat under Martin Pedroza and,
after cashing my tickets, we went back to the barn to bid her adieu before the long ride home. To my dismay what I saw was my filly walking lame.

On the way out of the barn I bumped into Bobby. "Did you see your filly?
" he said, smiling.

"I think she's gone lame," I said. "Please have the vet look her over."

He muttered something to himself that sounded like "everybody's a trainer these days" and strode away.

The next morning, however, Bobby was on the phone with news that Bold Runaway had indeed suffered a slab fracture of her knee. The news was not unexpected so I paused, wondering what to do next, when Bobby asked what I planned to do with her.

"I'm not sure," I said. "Try to find her a good home."

"Would you take fifteen for her?" he said.

By that time I did not know if he meant fifteen hundred, fifteen thousand or fifteen cents. I knew enough about horse dealing to not make the first bid.

"I have a season to the top quarter horse stallion in America,"he explained. "I'll give you $15,000 for your filly and breed her."

Since I figured she was worth $1000, tops, I jumped at the offer while, at the same time, wondering which of us was loco. The sharpest guy in racing overpaying tenfold for a filly with no pedigree and a broken knee.

Bobby knew of my domestic disorder and seemed charmed by Shannon and Josh as only 5 and 10-year-olds can do. For years I wondered what his motive for that gesture represented. I didn't bring it up, perhaps in fear that he might want the money back.

Many years later I was in a group of horsemen, Frankel among them,
kibitzing at a Saratoga charity function. A couple glasses of wine loosened my tongue and I told the story for the first time outside my immediate family.

"Why, Bobby, why"? I asked.

He just smiled.

Jul 26, 2010


Somebody had to be second last Saturday in the Lady's Secret at Monmouth Park.

Queen Martha didn't scare Rachel Alexandra much but a tidy sum of $80,000 was more than worth the effort. The dam of Queen Martha was the good stakes producer' Cryptoqueen which I had purchased for John Franks some years back. She was a well-made yearling but a touch on the small side. I paid $22,000 for her but she was one of those fillies who did not grow much and thus had a modest racing career.Bred to the home stallion Lucky North, Cryptoqueen produced the very good stakes mare Clearly A Queen.

Our handiwork was evident in various quarters of late. Two brilliant juveniles surfaced, Wine Police and Roxy Gap, both by the surging third-year stallion Speightstown which yours truly bought as a $2million yearling. Furthermore, I purchased the dam of Roxy Gap (the stakes-placed Harts Gap) and sold the dam of Wine Police under the Four Star Sales banner.

Another Speightstown rising star is Jersey-based Spiteful Gypsy. I sold the dam, SW Leo's Gypsy Dancer for the Purse Strings Stable, a conglomerate of 17 women from Louisville. I earned my 5 % on that occasion I can assure you.

If this sounds a bit self-serving that's because it is. Remember: it's not bragging if you can do it. When you are ready to step back into the fray keep that in mind.


Canadians consider Strawberry Morn as one of the finest racemares ever seen in the Western province of British Columbia. The benchmark for greatness in that remote locale is to head South to take on the high class mares at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar.

I played a cameo role in arranging Strawberry Morn's transfer to the barn of Jenine Sahadi. She placed in a few starts, including a stakes at Hollywood, but she was clearly over the top by then and was sent to be bred to Awesome Again
and sold in the November Sale at Keeneland.
Strawberry Morn's run of success ran out the very night before she was due to be sold.

I received a call at 3 a.m. from a night watchman that the mare was in the process of aborting her foal. A bitter blow to be sure.

There was further melodrama in Strawberry Morn's life which we need not elaborate at this time (a partnership gone sour). Like many hard raced mares, Strawberry Morn needed a bit of time to reproduce her best foals.

The mare wended her way to Europe and gained international notice when her daughter Strawberrydaiquiri won a Group race at Royal Ascot for trainer Sir Michael Stoute.

Jul 24, 2010


There's an undefeated 3-year-old in Northern California named Goggles McCoy who will move into California-bred stakes soon at Del Mar for trainer Steve Sherman. Another Goggles McCoy rode races in the 1930s. A journeyman rider of no great distinction, McCoy will be remembered, if at all, as the jockey who invented goggles.

I met the two-legged "Goggles" when assigned to do a story on him when I covered the races for a New Orleans daily in 1968.

"It was a matter of self-preservation," I recall him saying. "I got tired of getting whacked in the face on muddy days at Fair Grounds. You just couldn't see through the mud and neither could the other riders. It was plumb dangerous.

"The other jocks were skeptical at first but it wasn't long before they were all wearing them, too".

Sometimes it's the little things that matter.

Jul 22, 2010


A flurry of victory has a number of my clients smiling in a dreary horse environment.

In recent weeks there's been the continued progress made by juvenile colt Western Mood. He overcame a tardy break from the gate to register at first asking at Hollywood Park. Then he staged a ferocious battle against odds-on J. J.'s Gusto before dropping a neck decision in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile. Western Mood has worked well in the weeks since and figures to battle J.J.'s Gusto in Del Mar juvenile stakes. What irony in the fact that our Four Star Sales company is the seller of J. J.'s Gusto. So let's root for a dead-heat!

He was a $50,000 2-year-old plucked from the March OBS sale in Florida.

Another OBS March aquisition in top form is the 3-year-old Lion's Story who made good in allowance company at Del Mark. The son of Wildcat Heir moved his career earnings to $116,220 and kept clean his record of never missing a check while paying a handsome dividend on his $50,000 price tag.

Softly Singing, yet another OBS graduate, won three of her first four starts and might have added another had the rider not dropped the ship at a pivotal juncture. The Holy Bull filly acts as if there's a stakes in her future.

Another good Canadian-bred winner is Audzeezee who has a developmental pattern that shows never worse than third in seven starts. I found her at a sale in Washington for a measly $18,000 and bought her as agent for Canuck Ted Smith who raced the brilliant Santa Anita sprinter Remarkably Easy some years back.

On the other end of the spectrum is the blazing fast Woodbine 3-year-old filly Sharp Secretary. She passed through a Kentucky sales ring for a paltry $1,100 yearling price.

Eight months later I forked over $25,000 of my best friend's money to acquire the daughter of Cactus Ridge. She whipped her Canadian foes in 1.09.10 under a Patrick Husbands hand ride. She'll be tackling stakes company in her next engagement, having already banked some $134,000.

Juveniles who won first out, in addition to Western Mood, are Given Episode and Ammunition. Given Episode appears the most forward at this time, having whipped Hollywood opposition in :58 flat.

Jul 7, 2010


The recent running of the Queen's Plate brought to mind my first appearance as a commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on that nation's richest and most coveted event.

On that occasion the royal family was represented by the Queen Mother. The TV team was briefed on protocol should we be spoken to by the Queen Mother.

The producer assumed that I was a Canadian citizen. She was surprised to learn that I was an American in Canada that allowed me to work. I told her that I was not entirely comfortable with the bowing and curtsying that Canadians love to shower on what are called "The Royals'.

I decided to behave myself, figuring the odds were pretty high that she would wish to come and speak to me in Woodbine's leafy walking ring. During a two-minute commercial break I began to sweat as the Queen Mother headed in my direction.

Just in time she stopped to chat with jockey Ken Skinner who had the mount on longshot Market Control for Kinghaven Farm. "I'm going to back your horse," she told Skinner and ambled off to watch him win at boxcars.

This year it was the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II who attended and received vigorous applause from her subjects. Another head of state that I encountered in a happy winner's circle was Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He had just won the Irish Derby with the great filly Balanchine.He was known around the world as simply Sheik Mohammed who can play the game in blue jeans and a T-shirt in Kentucky or a morning suit and top hat at Royal Ascot.

As I exited the Curragh I noticed a tall woman, regal in bearing, and greeted her as a fellow American-Mrs. Jean Kennedy Smith, the US ambassador to Ireland and sister to President John F. Kennedy. I couldn't help but think that high station in life doesn't grant immunity from life's woes.
The Aga Khan (make that H.H. Aga Khan as in His Highness) races with great success wherever he goes but he keeps a low profile when when he wins a big race. His breeding operation is second to none and I would love to talk breeding patterns with him. But I'm still not sure about this HH business.

The late Joe Taylor once drove me through a field of about 50 mares owned by the Aga Khan, boarded at Taylor Made farm, most of them grey as I remember.

On this side of the Atlantic, I was questioned from time to time why I addressed my main client, John Franks, simply as John while most called him Mr. Franks. I said that I was 47-years-old when we met, hardly a novice at this game and that we had terrific success right from the start. There were camp followers aplenty around him who adopted an obsequious demeanor with an eye on his pocket book more than proper etiquette.

And then there was the ecumenical duo of Prince Khalid of Juddmonte and Bobby Frankel. "Bobby called him Prince Khalid" said Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke. "But not very often. They spoke about twice a year."


Jul 5, 2010

speightstown at stud

Jun 15, 2010

Mervyn LeRoy

While Kentucky Derby fever swept the land in recent weeks there were stakes contests honoring the memory of two of the most disparate characters that you could imagine.

Mervyn LeRoy liked to spend his time as the head man at Hollywood Park when he wasn't making films like the immortal "Wizard of Oz".

Allen Lacombe ruled the Fair Grounds press box where, on any given day, he might be promoting a boxing match and presiding over a crawfish race down at the finish line.

I had the opportunity to interview LeRoy in 1969 during the Thoroughbred Racing Association convention in New Orleans. E.P. Taylor and Wilie Shoemaker had already kindly consented to suffer a cub turf writer. LeRoy proved just as gracious.

After a brief chat he asked if I had any tips for him to bet. My selection was a horse named Easy Lime, ridden by a jockey named Esteban Medina who was new in town, having migrated from Agua Caliente race track in Tijuana.

"Medina!" LeRoy fairly shouted. "He's my favorite jockey whenever I go to Caliente".

So we bet and Easy Lime wins. I'd never met a Hollywood mogul before and it was something to see his excitement stoked so much by a $9.00 winner. While taking his leave he issued an invitation to drop in any time I might be near Hollywood Park.

Allen Lacombe conferred the moniker ("Black Cat") on himself as the result of a losing streak that began when he dropped out of school. He had to hustle to make ends meet in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood known as the Irish Channel, hard by the Mississippi River docks.

Allen never met a favorite he couldn't bet and the shorter the price the better. The inevitable punishment this policy dished out left him undaunted. In fact, the only times I saw him really upset was when he cashed a bet, a situation rectified as soon as the next chalk struggled home.
I decided to leave it to Freud or Jung to figure what that was all about.

Unlike Hollywood swells, the Cat hung out with people named Hard Times, Pickle Nose Willy,Chew Tobacco Sam, Eatin' get the picture.

Hard Times was a Nom de Tout whose real name was Earl Vince. He was a survivor as a jockey on the West Virginia leaky roof circuits. The Cat kept him around because he might hit one occasionally. When Hard Times ran cold the Cat would retract his press box sandwich credential.

The Cat had other friends on the dole and he looked the other way as the press box began to resemble "The Grapes of Wrath". Hard Times had a daughter who owned a beauty shop near the track and she would give him a double sawbuck every Saturday with which to try his luck.

LeRoy was as good as his word when I showed up for my first look at Hollywood Park a decade later. He set me up with a champagne lunch. I began to wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity. By then I had graduated to Daily Racing Form columnist and, in those days, The Form carried a lot of weight as America's only national daily devoted to picking winners. A decade or so later I was hired to serve as host on Hollypark's nightly recap. Another movie guy, Howard Koch, also helped my career on its way.

The Cat's tragicomedy might have come from the pen of Tennessee Williams (who resided a mile or so from Fair Grounds in the French Quarter) but I witnessed his antics both puzzled and amused.

I often tagged alone with The Cat because you never what might happen next. One night we took a launch out to an ocean-going vessel in the Mississippi where we dined with the Argentine ambassador. Another jaunt came l25 miles downriver to board the USS Tirinte, a WW II era submarine. We dove twice during the lengthy sailing...Ah ooga, Ah ooga came the siren which gave you 60 seconds or so to "clear the bridge" or you were going to get wet. Years later I saw the Tirante on a popular TV show of the time, The Silent Service. The Tirante crew was heavily decorated for having penetrated Tokyo Harbor during the war..

About 40 years ago I rode a camel in a race at halftime of the NFL Saints. Beat national jockey champion Larry Snyder.

Mervyn LeRoy richly deserved to have a graded race in his honor.

Allan (The Black Cat) Lacombe and his crew may have had more run.

May 19, 2010


The late, great Daily Racing Form columnist Charles Hatton was fond of saying that "the place you lost it is the place you get it back." Hurricane Ike brought some Churchill Downs redemption to Graeme Hall by winning the Derby Trial in authoritative fashion. Trainer John Sadler had him poised for a run in the Preakness before he was sent to the sidelines for repairs.


In the beginning there was Graeme Hall. The chestnut son of Dehere was the first three-year-old sent out by trainer Todd Pletcher in quest of Kentucky Derby glory. Twenty-seven more attempts would be made before Todd and his WinStar cohorts would sniff the roses.

Graeme Hall loved a wet track and he got one in no undertain terms while winning the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Thunder and lightning wracked Hot Springs for hours right up to post-time.

I assumed that we would end up waiting out the storm but owner Eugene Melnyk was in a hurry to return to his home in Barbados. His pilot tried to assure us that it would not be unsafe and we would fly above the storm in a matter of minutes. Todd and I and my friend Diane were to be dropped off in Louisville.

Bad call. The thunder and lightning showed no sign of abating and the private jet bounced through a phenomenon known as St. Elmo's Fire. It felt like we were seated inside a giant firecracker. Prayers to St. Elmo went unanswered as we careened through the sky like an airborne ship of fools.

It turned out that the pilot was right. What seemed an eternity was l0 minutes or so and Eugene was rightfully excited about the great victory.

"On to the Derby," he announced with a great grin of anticipation.

It would have been a good time for me to keep my mouth shut but I guess that is just not my

I suggested that there might be alternatives to racing Graeme Hall in the Kentucky Derby against the likes of favorite Fusiachi Pegasus and More Than Ready, also trained by Pletcher.

Graeme Hall was a light-bodied sort who gave his all when racing and needed plenty of recovery time after a race. He figured to be a big price in the Derby and a hard race might send him to the sidelines and miss the rich summer races.

My advice found a frosty reception. Todd even questioned my reasoning.

"How can you tell a man who won a major prep that his horse doesn't belong in the Kentucky Derby?, he said.

So, off we go to Churchill Downs and Graeme Hall lays an egg, dead last at 46-to-1.

My cell phone rings. It's Eugene and he wants a cover story right away. I call Todd at his barn where he tends to fourth place finisher More Than Ready.

"Your turn," I say to Todd. Next day it's reported that Graeme Hall has "flipped his palate" and that explains his poor effort. Did he really? I didn't ask.
A happy post script to the Derby was the great job Todd performed in getting Graeme Hall to win the Jim Dandy three months later. He had some ankle troubles that kept him out of the Travers.

At four, Todd sent him out to win a Grade 2 stakes and added a Grade 1 second in the Cigar Mile to Pletcher's brilliant but ill-fated Left Bank.

Graeme Hall is now the leading sire in Florida. Imagine what career he may have had if only
he had skipped the Derby.

May 17, 2010


Warm spring weather arrived in Central Kentucky the other day. Exercise riders began to doff excess garb, thus revealing previously hidden "epidermal art". It makes one wonder if the only ones making money at the track these days are those who wield the tattoo tools. The recipients of these inky fashion statements, or should we describe them as victims, are not moving up in class a whole lot. The French have a derogatory word for this attitude, "deshabille'.

May 13, 2010


It's been said before that the best deals are often ones that you don't make. Case in point with the recent Star Shoot Stakes at Woodbine, won by Brereton Jones homebred Biofuel. Jones tried to sell the Stormin Fever at auction but found no takers and brought her home. A fellow came along later and said that he was prepared to pay the $20,000 reserve price set by Jones. He had only to confirm the deal with a partner.

A day or so later the man admitted that he could not close on the transaction due to his partner's backing away. Jones took the filly back home and put her in training last year as a 2-year-old.
You guessed it, she went on to be named champion juvenile in Canada and her brilliant win in her 2010 debut bodes well for further glories.

Second in the Star Shoot was a Cactus Ridge filly which I purchased for Canadian owner Dan Robb, a former golf pro turned Vancouver businessman. After an l8 month search I found a filly for him that would fill the best. I heard about her from the consummate horseman and trader Roy Coffee of Lexington, KY. Roy is known for his keen eye to find prospects for improvement at all levels. His motto for his Blind Faith Farm is "Horses bought and sold daily".

In this instance I need a two-hour ride to Lebanon, KY to inspect a lovely black filly who worked a quarter mile over a three furlong training track. Roy had bought the filly for $1,200 at a Fasig-Tipton sale and I forked over $25,000 of Mr. Robb's money, content that I had found the one I could recommend without reservation.
She's earned some $100,000 and has a bright future.

A good horse, like gold, is where you find it. I have beaten the bushes and worked the backwaters of the Thoroughbred world for some four decades now. That's what makes this fun.

May 10, 2010


When noted thoroughbred artist Pamela Parker called Churchill Downs to inquire about a dress code on Kentucky Derby she was told:

“Wear a wetsuit!”

Mar 31, 2010

Nary a horse ran a furlong in :09.4 in the March Ocala Breeders Sales of two -year-olds in training this spring. That compares to 10 such burning up the track moves at this same sale a year ago. Common sense moderation seemed to rule the day.

There is something about California speed that takes over when consignors cross the Rockies. Four horses raced in :9.4 at Barretts and another matched that during the Fasig-Tipton Texas sale. It looks a bit loony to scorch the earth that way, especially in view of the dismal performance record of previous hot-doggers.

Gone Fishin’ proved a useful horse after putting up that time on the Keeneland turf.

But between that Dogwood Stable horse and the outlandish Green Monkey there were any number of speedballs whose best day was the date they were sold.

Maybe I’m biased because we topped the inaugural Barretts sale in 1989 with a Roberto colt who had the stands buzzing when he worked an eighth in, get this, :11.

When I am buying at juvenile sales I give such horses a wide berth while in search for prospects that do not need re-education camp after such an injudicious breeze.


Just getting back home from the sales was a bit tense a few weeks back. The Atlanta-Lexington puddle jumper was full up as usual when two burly inebriates plopped down in front of my season. Soon after takeoff one decided to light up a Marlboro and puffed away.

The flight attendant (Delta) handled the situation professionally, having taken the offending butt and quietly letting the pilots know what was going on. I kept a watchful eye on smoker No. One (the other guy passed out) in case there was trouble.

Law enforcement officers met the plane and removed the nicotine fiend without incident.Police interviewed me but never did follow up on the incident to news media.

The whole episode got me thinking...the Transportation Safety Authority will confiscate 3 ounces of water but allows passengers who have flammable lighter fluid in their possession. What sense does that make?

Former Kentucky first lady (and Miss America) Phyllis George was also a passenger on that flight. If there’s ever a senior tour for onetime Miss Americas she could still compete.

Mar 25, 2010


Juvenile sales are in full stride at this writing. Your correspondent is shipping out with the morning tide (actually in an airplane) to do battle with the Somali pirates (pinhookers) who patrol the Florida shores in search of booty. Me, I’ll settle for a decent horse or two that’s worth the money.

The combat is not quite that bad but a whiff of piracy will always pervade the 2-year-old markets. It’s a mug’s game when seven figure prices can be extracted from gullible owners who think the difference of a fifth of a second can separate the men from the boys. The Green Monkey will not be forgotten for a long, long time and he was purchased by one of the smartest teams in the business.

There always seems to be a new angle at such sales. In their formative days juvenile sales served as liquidity for leftover stock that could not cut it in a yearling vendue.
A fast work was necessary to show a profit.

Sellers were fond of adding as much equipment to the horse as there was room for.
Shadow rolls were on almost every steed. Flesh colored blinkers were applied universally in hopes that the audience mighty not notice. Whips, sometimes even spurs were used to coerce one more tick of the clock.

The advent of high definition video means that attentive buyers would have ample opportunity to see the horses in a more natural state.

In vogue the past decade is the spread of “galloping out”. Most of this is a bogus attempt to sound like you have more horse than you do. Riders are now evidently ordered to stay down and milk another furlong out of their mounts.

As you might imagine, there are widely varied unofficial times reported . Some enterprising observers have taken to selling the product of their “gallop outs”.

Some of these guys couldn’t time a 3-minute egg yet they find believers ready to part with cash in hopes of having an edge.

I must confess that I would never be brave enough to see one of my horses exposed to injury by an unfamiliar furlong on the clubhouse turn.

A proper gallop out is highly desirable-I call it “natural gas”-when a horse is reaching out with no encouragement from the pilot. Those are the rare ones you want to pay attention to.

I’ve been doing this for decades and I developed some formulas that have produced some 40 stakes winners headed by Grade I winners Harmony Lodge, Bishop Court Hill and major winner Tricky Trevor.

It helps to be able to handicap the sellers. Make it a habit to deal with men and women who have proven they can turn out a sound horse.

You might want to have me on your side when it comes to buying an auction 2-year-old.


When Congaree was retired to stud after a brilliant racing career Stonerside manager John Adger commissioned me to round up a few mares that would complement the stallion.

I went straightaway to Toronto and came back with three Canadian stakes winners with a capital outlay of roughly $l00,000 for the trio (perhaps a little less with the currency differential).

Early returns indicate that our knack for finding top value in mares continues unabated.
The threesome of Brattothecore, La Grande Mamma and Leading Role earned a composite $l million from 62 starts in their racing days.

Soundness was the dominant theme of our search on behalf of Bob and Janice McNair.
Congaree’s fore legs were suspect, to say the least, and one could only ferret out lively prospective mates and hope. Canadian racing is conducted without analgesic nostrums such as Bute so it stands to reason that horses capable of stakes wins have displayed sufficient rigor to overcome some limitations in the sire’s makeup. Pretty elementary reasoning but it had worked splendidly a few years before when we helped launch the career of Canadian stallion Archers Bay.

Bratttothecore got off the blocks first when her City Zip colt named City Style won a stakes in Louisiana and followed it up with a placing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He is now in Dubai with the Darley population which was included in the Stonerside sale of its entire Thoroughbred investment.

La Grande Mamma produced a Congaree colt named Kettle River who won back-to-back races at Santa Anita and Hollywood, in the process earning a berth in the weekend’s Sham Stakes. He faltered in that salty spot but is a horse that bears watching in the second tier three-year-old races.

Leading Role was placed in the Stonerside Texas program and has a couple of foals that are considered promising.

Our handiwork showed up in other venues from Los Angeles to Miami to Barbados in recent days. Sweet Vale is the dam of Sterwins who took the Barbados Gold Cup. I recommended the purchase of Sweet Vale who did not stand training after three starts.
She has outdone herself as a producer.

Bickerson has Canadian antecedents, too. Winner of Gulfstream Park’s Forward Gal stakes, her second dam is Lil Ol’ Gal who I happened to buy for a friend in my fledgling role as caretaker for the British Columbia stallion Bold Laddie.

Lil Ol’ Gal was about l4.2 hands, hence the name, but lightning fast. She broke the world record for 3 1/2 furlongs first time out. I bought her back for a healthy buck as a 4-year-old for John Franks and she went on to win the Ontario Fashion Stakes at Woodbine. The diminutive mare was a favorite of Franks’ broodmare band.
At Santa Anita, Harris Farm’s Red Sun ran his record to four wins in five starts. I bought her dam (by Affirmed) for Franks although she became one that got away during one of his periodic dispersals. Her four stakes horses have run out $1 million or so.