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Acclamation Colt Stays Unbeaten in Cal Cup Derby

Nothing has phased Heck Yeah in his first two starts, whether it was sprinting on the main track on debut Dec. 7 at Los Alamitos or coming from behind down the hillside course here in the California Cup Turf Sprint Jan. 27. He has found the winner’s circle in both.

In his first test routing, the heavily favored dark bay was challenged for the lead to his outside by Intimidate (Vronsky) around the first turn. He was a length clear passing the half-mile pole and opened up the margin while still in hand around the far turn. He kicked clear by three lengths inside the final furlong before holding off a late charge by Violent Ridge in the final strides to remain unbeaten.

“I was telling Bob that down the backstretch, I felt like I was in the Olympics (with a strong headwind), said winning rider Mike Smith.” I was trying to be as aerodynamic as possible. (The wind) was really strong and it took its toll on all of them in there…I wanted him to stay in that nice rhythm and we were able to hold them off down the lane.”

This is the first foal to race out of Lutess and hails from the family of MGSW Moment of Hope (Timeless Moment). She also has a juvenile colt named Inconceivable (Coil), a yearling colt by Surf Cat and was bred to Vronsky last year.

CALIFORNIA CUP DERBY, $201,035, SA, 2-19, (S), 3yo, 1 1/16m, 1:46.60, ft.
1–HECK YEAH, 124, c, 3, by Acclamation
1st Dam: Lutess, by Maria’s Mon
2nd Dam: Alchema, by Menifee
3rd Dam: Madeira M’dear, by Black Tie Affair (Ire)
O-Robert Baedeker, Michael Pageler & Michael Sigband;
B-Michael Pageler (CA); T-Bob Baffert; J-Mike E. Smith.
$110,000. Lifetime Record: 3-3-0-0, $194,000.
2–Violent Ridge, 120, g, 3, Violence–Feel Ridge (Brz), by
Choctaw Ridge. O/B-BG Stables (CA); T-Hector O. Palma.
3–Continental Divide, 124, c, 3, Animal Kingdom–Bandora, by
Dixieland Band. ($45,000 Ylg ’16 BAROCT; $245,000 2yo ’17
BARMAY). O-D P Racing; B-PT Syndicate #1, LLC (CA); T-James
M. Cassidy. $22,000.
Margins: 1 1/4, 3 3/4, HF. Odds: 0.90, 6.10, 13.90.
Also Ran: Fire When Ready, Campaigner, Black Site, Hardboot, Faversham, Intimidate, Kaleidoscope Kid, Lucky Romano. Scratched: George From Tahoe.

Click for the Equibase.com chart or VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.


Wood carving sculpture “Arabian horse”

Wood carving sculpture “Arabian horse”

Process of wood carving sculpture “Arabian horse”
Wood: linden.
Aqua color and wax.

The Week in Review: Who Says They Don’t Make Tough Horses Anymore?

A 27-year-old rookie trainer claims a horse for $10,000 at Mahoning Valley and, usually, the story goes nowhere. But not this one. There are better horses out there than Chella (Where’s the Ring), but good luck finding one more consistent and durable. When she won a $50,000 starter stakes at Gulfstream Saturday it was not only the biggest win of her career purse-wise, but raised her career record to a remarkable 26 for 41.

“She’s not normal,” said owner-trainer Elliot Sullivan, now 29 and based for most of the year in Ohio.

No, she’s not. Sullivan claimed the horse for $10,000 on April 1, 2015. He won a three-way shake to get her, but wasn’t sure if he had done the right thing. Chella had already won six times in her career, including three in a row, and was taking a suspicious drop in class.

“It looked a little too obvious that she was in for $10,000 the day I claimed her,” Sullivan said. “She ran a bad second in the race we claimed her out of. She was a really body sore horse when I got her and they put her on vet’s list day I claimed her.”

But using such methods as a magnetic blanket and ice treatments, Sullivan got the horse back to her best. She won eight straight for her new connections, many of them in starter allowance company at the Ohio tracks. Sullivan got more adventurous and started shipping around to find spots. Chella has won at, among other tracks, Keeneland, Churchill, Fort Erie, Delaware and Mountaineer. Normally, Sullivan stays in Ohio for the winter but decided to ship to Tampa Bay this year. There, for the first time since he started campaigning her, he put her in for a tag. She won the $62,500 optional claimer at Tampa and there were no takers. Next out she won another starter allowance, this one at Tampa, and then headed to Gulfstream. The second choice in the wagering, the 7-year-old won by a half-length. She’s won 63.4% of her starts.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” Sullivan said. “To me, she’s just a freak of nature. Anything you put in her way she takes it down. Seven-eighths is not her preferred distance, but yesterday she found a way to win. She looked like she was in trouble at the quarter-pole but she really has the will to win. She is a very competitive horse. She loves her job. I haven’t trained many horses like that who love to go out and train in the morning and love what they do. She makes your job a lot easier as a trainer.”

What impressed Sullivan the most is the mare’s consistency. She may not always win, but she always tries. She has run out of the money only once during the 23 starts she’s made for his barn.

“The best thing about this mare is she has stayed at the same level for so long,” he said. “I’ve never had a horse that has come close to that. They all seem to have a peak of six months to a year, max. Three years ago, she was at the same level she’s at today. If anything, she’s gotten even gotten better with time. She’s just special. She’s been a special part of my life.”


Speaking of Iron Horses

Page McKenney (Eavesdropper) was also in the winner’s circle Saturday at Gulfstream, winning a $60,000 starter stakes. That was win number 21 for the 8-year-old gelding who has made 54 career starts.

There were some signs that time had finally caught up with the Mary Eppler trainee as he had finished a non-threatening eighth and fifth in his prior two starts. But both were in tough spots, including the GIII Harlan’s Holiday S., where he was eighth behind Fear the Cowboy (Cowboy Cal). Dropping down into easier company helped as he won by four lengths.

Like Chella, Page McKenney is one of the more remarkable stories in racing today. He was claimed in 2013 for $16,000. He’s now earned $1,796,000, most of it for current owners Adam Staple and Jalin Stable.


Aqueduct’s Winter Blues

For those of you who still think winter racing at Aqueduct–at least four days a week of it–is a good idea, please look at the charts of this week’s races.

Sixty-seven horses started Saturday in nine races for an average field size of 7.44, and that was the good day. On Thursday, there were five races with five-horse fields and the average field size for the day was 5.5. Friday’s eight-race card kicked off with an early double consisting of two four-horse races. Forty-seven horses ran, for an average field size 5.875. The first three races on Sunday’s card were all four-horse fields and the average field size for the day was 5.77.

The product matters. Horseplayers are not going to bet on this stuff and, though no one equates Aqueduct in the winter to Saratoga, NYRA is tarnishing its brand and driving customers to other signals by putting together the types of cards horseplayers despise.

Surely, there has to be a better way.


Former Jockey Found a Second Career

One Joey (Skinny Joey) Merlino was all over the news last week. The reputed boss of the Philadelphia mob, he was in court in Manhattan on racketeering charges and, on Thursday, the jury told the judge it was deadlocked. However, the judge told the jury to get back to work and they will reconvene on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported: “Joseph ‘Skinny Joey’ Merlino was a tough-talking ‘fixer’ in a widespread scheme to collect insurance payments by bribing doctors to write bogus prescriptions for a pain cream, Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Nicolas told Manhattan jurors.”

But once upon a time, Merlino, 55, was a fairly obscure bug boy on the Mid-Atlantic circuit.

Starting in 1979, Merlino rode for three years and won 41 races, most of them at Monmouth and Parx (then known as Keystone). His biggest win came in the 1981 Annapolis H. at Pimlico.


A Sleeper for the Triple Crown

Still Having Fun (Old Fashioned) is going to have to do a lot more than win a $100,000 stakes in the middle of winter at Laurel before anybody gets too excited about him, but don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more from this colt down the road.

First off, some pretty smart people in Gary Barber and the Wachtel Stable have already bought into him and they surely weren’t disappointed by Saturday’s Miracle Wood at Laurel, even though the horse only won by a neck.

Coming off a 4 1/2-length win in the Frank Whiteley S., he had a brutal trip Saturday. Ridden by Fergal Lynch, he broke from the one-post on the one-mile, one-turn race, and ducked in at the start, which cost him about four lengths. Trapped on the inside and lacking room all down the backstretch, Lynch was forced to steady. Finally, he found an open lane in mid-stretch, but it looked like long shot Old Time Revival (Brethern) was long gone. But Still Having Fun showed admirable courage, dug down and caught the longshot before the wire. Trainer Timothy Keefe said the Private Terms S. is likely next. If the connections don’t point for the Derby, he might just turn out to be the hot new shooter in the GI Preakness S.


Narayan Reddy on Organic Farming

Narayan Reddy on Organic Farming

In this interview with Mr. Reddy, he tells us about his journey and how organic farming is the only solution to a better future for us all.

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TwinSpires.com Road to the Triple Crown Throwdown: Southwest

Ed DeRosa of TwinSpires.com takes on TDN’s Steve Sherack and Brian DiDonato as they handicap each prep race leading up to the GI Kentucky Derby. The three will make $100 Win/Place bets – highest bankroll after the Lexington S. wins.

DeRosa: Saturday Noble Indy settled for third after some traffic trouble in the stretch of the Risen Star, while Choo Choo was fifth in the El Camino Real Derby. Bankroll: $770.

GIII Southwest S. I went into the Smarty Jones opposing Mourinho but left Oaklawn thinking he’d be tough in the Southwest, and no one who shows up here makes me think the result will be any different. Hate chalking out for the weekend, but I can’t just stab. Selection: #4 Mourinho (2-1).

Sherack: Saturday Principe Guilherme finished far back after a wide trip in the Risen Star. Paved (+$530), closer than last time, got the job done at Golden Gate with room to spare. Bankroll: $750.

GIII Southwest S.Combatant continues to improve with every start and should really appreciate a much different pace scenario in this speed-laden contest than what played out when chasing Mourinho home after that one was allowed very easy early fractions in the Smarty Jones. Son of Scat Daddy is primed for a breakout performance. Selection: #10 Combatant (6-1).

DiDonato: Saturday Supreme Aura never looked comfortable in the Risen Star, but Paved (+$530) sat a perfect trip in the El Camino Real Derby to prove best against the boys. Bankroll: $2240.

GIII Southwest S. Zing Zang is probably the ultimate “wise guy” type and very possibly a trap, but he’s one of the few confirmed closers in a race full of speed. He was just much too far back last time, but seems poised to turn in a career best. Hopefully it’s good enough. Selection: #8 Zing Zang (15-1).


Brav(az)o! Lukas Upsets Risen Star with Awesome Again Colt

Bravazo (c, 3, Awesome Again–Tiz o’ Gold, by Cee’s Tizzy), runner-up at 47-1 in last year’s GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and a narrow optional claiming winner at Oaklawn last time Jan. 13, lit up the tote board at 21-1 odds in the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds.

The Calumet homebred kept the pressure on Snapper Sinclair (City Zip) through fractions of :24.15 and :47.96. He reached even terms with that one at the top of the stretch, and, after a long duel, just got up to win the bob on the wire. Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy) was third.

The final time was 1:42.95.

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas also campaigned Calumet’s GI Preakness S. hero Oxbow (Awesome Again) by this same sire.

Lifetime Record: 7-3-1-1.

O/B-Calumet Farm (Ky); T-D. Wayne Lukas.

arabian horse dancing 2 in mexico

arabian horse dancing 2 in mexico

trained or not trained?

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Rusty Arnold Facing Suspension

Veteran trainer Rusty Arnold will be suspended for 90 days by Kentucky stewards for two positive tests for ractopamine, according to Paulick Report . Both date back to September 2016 at Kentucky Downs. Ractopamine, a Class 2 drug with a Class A penalty, is a food additive.

Trainer Joe Sharp is also facing a 30-day suspension for a positive test for ractopamine. All three positives occurred within five days of each other at Kentucky Downs. Other positives to ractopamine that same year were linked to contamination in horse feed.

“I thought I was going to get through my career without a suspension,” Arnold told Paulick Report. “I think the system has failed me and I’m pissed about it.”

Arnold has trained Grade I winners Romantic Vision (Lemon Drop Kid), Weep No More (Mineshaft), Centre Court (Smart Strike), Karlovy Vary (Dynaformer).

Pletcher Unveils Plans for Top Sophomores

With a barn full of top horses, trainer Todd Pletcher is a force to be reckoned with on the Triple Crown trail year in and year out. The conditioner has already won the GI Kentucky Derby twice and boasts three wins in the GI Belmont S., including respective victories in those Classic contests last year with Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) and Tapwrit (Tapit), who are both returning for 2018 campaigns.

Last seen finishing off the board in the GI Travers S. Aug. 26, GI Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming was given some time off and has been working towards his return. The bay most recently fired a half-mile bullet in :49.87 at Palm Beach Downs on Valentine’s Day.

“He’s doing great,” Pletcher said. “He breezed a half again [Wednesday] and is looking good. We are probably a couple of works away from zeroing in on a race.”

Belmont winner Tapwrit has also been on vacation since the Travers, where he finished fourth.

“He is currently galloping at Bridlewood and we expect to have him back to us within a month,” Pletcher said.

The seven-time Eclipse-winning conditioner is primed for another big Triple Crown season this term with a slew of talented sophomores led by GII Holy Bull S. victor Audible (Into Mischief) and undefeated “TDN Rising Star” Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy).

A second-out graduate going a mile at Aqueduct Nov. 15, the New York-bred Audible captured an allowance over that track and trip Dec. 6. The $500,000 FTFMAR buy was originally being pointed for a New York-bred stake, but was re-routed to the Holy Bull when that race was canceled to due to bad weather. That choice proved to be wise when the China Horse Club, WinStar and SF Racing runner blew the field away for a 5 1/2-length score over GISW Free Drop Billy (Union Rags) (video).

“Right now the plan is to go straight to the [GI] Florida Derby [Mar. 31] with him,” Pletcher said. “We were expecting him to run well [in the Holy Bull]. We liked the way he fit in the race and the way he was training, but I think the final outcome exceeded even our expectations.”

Campaigned by breeder WinStar Farm and Repole Stable, Noble Indy romped by 8 3/4 lengths on debut sprinting at Gulfstream Dec. 3 and was tabbed a “TDN Rising Star” next out when he scored a 3/4-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance there Jan. 11 (video). The bay is drawn in post two for Saturday’s GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds with a 5-1 morning-line quote.

“He’s been training super,” Pletcher said. “We are looking forward to seeing how he handles a new location and a step up in class. We are very pleased with the way he is coming up to it.”

Robert and Lawana Low’s Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon) was quite impressive when winning his six-panel Gulfstream unveiling by 4 1/2 lengths (video). The $380,000 KEESEP buy followed suit with an effortless victory going two turns at Tampa Thursday in close to track record time, making him Pletcher’s newest “TDN Rising Star” (video).

When asked Thursday morning what his plans are for the bay should he run well at Tampa, Pletcher said, “Assuming that he runs well and comes out of it in good order, we talked to the ownership about going to Arkansas as they would like to race at Oaklawn, so the [GII] Rebel [S. Mar. 17] would be under consideration.”

Pletcher has been quite successful at Tampa, prepping Always Dreaming for his GI Florida Derby victory there last year and winning the GII Tampa Bay Derby with Tapwrit. This year he will be represented by GIII Sam F. Davis S. third-place finisher Vino Rosso (Curlin) in the Oldsmar oval’s marquee event Mar. 10. A first-out winner at Aqueduct Nov. 11, the $410,000 KEESEP purchase captured a Tampa allowance Dec. 22 and came flying late to complete the trifecta in last Saturday’s Sam Davis (video).

“[The Sam Davis] was a good education for him,” Pletcher said. “I like the way he finished and galloped out. Right now, the plan is to take him back to the Tampa Bay Derby.”

The Coolmore contingent and Bridlewood Farm went to $2 million at the Keeneland September sale to acquire Marconi (Tapit), a half-brother to GI Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno). Tabbed a “TDN Rising Star” for his good-looking 5 1/2-length graduation in his second start at Aqueduct Dec. 15 (video), the gray broke slow and displayed some greeness when third in the GIII Withers S. last time Feb. 3.

“We are giving the [GII] Fountain of Youth [S.] some consideration,” Pletcher said. “We are going to breeze him on Saturday and see how he does.”

Racing fans have been waiting anxiously for “TDN Rising Star” Montauk (Medaglia d’Oro) to make his next start and they will have to wait a bit longer now that the colt has been sidelined by a minor throat issue. The $850,000 OBSAPR grad has been one of the buzz horses since rolling home to a dominant 11 1/4-length victory in his career bow at Belmont Oct. 7 (video).

“He’s at Bridlewood in Ocala and will probably get a couple weeks off after the minor throat procedure,” Pletcher said. “He’s not going to miss a lot of time, but we were already on a tight schedule. We hope to have him back to Palm Beach Downs in a month or so. I don’t see him making the [GI Kentucky] Derby, but we hope to have a summer campaign with him for sure.”

Runner-up to unbeaten “TDN Rising Star” and Mucho Macho Man S. hero Mask (Tapit) on debut at Belmont Oct. 20, Navistar (Union Rags) earned his diploma next out in Hallandale Dec. 16 (video). The $900,000 OBSMAR buy looked primed to win a Gulfstream allowance Feb. 4, but veered right rounding the far turn and was eased, finishing sixth.

“We are trying to sort out why he did that,” Pletcher said. “Nothing physically has shown yet. We can’t come up with a good explanation. He has been training normal since then. We will look to work him back in 10 days or so and see how that goes. We might consider an equipment change, possibly blinkers, but we will see how the works go before we decide for sure.”

Paul Pompa Jr.’s Gleason (Algorithms) got his career off on the right hoof at Tampa Jan. 20, cruising to a 5 1/2-length success (video).

“We actually shipped him to New York, hoping to run in an allowance race that didn’t fill,” Pletcher said. “We are currently looking for another option, which could be at Laurel.”

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Coolmore’s Hazit is one of the few sons of War Front campaigned on dirt, besting champion juvenile Good Magic (Curlin) to earn the “TDN Rising Star” moniker in his career bow on the GI Travers S. undercard Aug. 26 (video). Fifth next out in the GI Champagne S. Oct. 7, the $430,000 OBSMAR purchase was last seen finishing eighth to Good Magic in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 4.

“Look at the overnight on Sunday at Tampa and I think you will find him on there,” said Pletcher, who entered the colt in a seven-furlong ‘one other than’ allowance along with stablemate Earth (Orb).

Fellow “TDN Rising Star” Gidu (Frankel {GB}) has been campaigned on the turf quite successfully thus far, but may take a crack at the dirt in the near future. Runner-up to stakes winner and GIII Lecomte S. third Snapper Sinclair (City Zip) when unveiled in a Saratoga turf sprint Aug. 14, the Zayat Stables runner donned cap and gown at Gulfstream next out Dec. 23 (video) and finished a gutsy second after setting a fast pace in the GIII Dania Beach S. on the Hallandale lawn Feb. 3.

“I don’t know what we are going to do yet,” Pletcher said. “We’ve had some conversations about trying him on the dirt when the opportunity is right. We are kind of playing that by ear. We’ve got several turf options, including the Columbia S. at Tampa Mar. 10 and we are also not ruling out the [GIII] Gotham [S. on dirt at Aqueduct Mar. 10] as well.”

Pletcher also has a trio of talented 3-year-old fillies, including stakes winners Orbolution (Orb) and March X Press (Shanghai Bobby). On the board in her first two attempts on dirt, Orbolution broke through with a decisive 2 1/2-length score when switched to turf and stretched to two turns at Saratoga July 23 and followed that up with a dominant victory in that venue’s P.G. Johnson S. Aug. 31 (video). Completing the trifecta in the GIII Miss Grillo S., the $370,000 KEESEP buy could only manage ninth when last seen in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 3.

“She is at my dad’s training center in Ocala and is just getting ready to start back in training,” Pletcher said.

March X Press followed a debut score Aug. 2 at Saratoga with a victory in the Spa’s Bolton Landing S. two weeks later (video). Fourth in the GI Natalma S., the dark bay was fifth when facing males last time in the Qatar Juvenile Turf Sprint S. on Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Del Mar Nov. 4.

“She is coming back well,” Pletcher said. “There is a five-furlong turf stake called the Melody of Colors at Gulfstream Feb. 24 that we are pointing her towards.”

Repole Stable’s Cilantro (Distorted Humor) is not a stakes winner yet, but will soon get her chance to become one after an good-looking graduation at Tampa Feb. 10. Completing the exacta in her career bow sprinting at Gulfstream Jan. 14, the chestnut sailed clear to a four-length score in Oldsmar last time (video).

“We were very pleased with her effort,” Pletcher said. “She’s a filly we think will handle more distance, so we are looking to stretch her out, probably in a stake, next time. We just haven’t decided exactly which one yet.”

“TDN Rising Star” Army Mule (Friesian Fire) stamped himself as one of Pletcher’s top 3-year-olds of 2017 after romping by 8 1/2 lengths in his first trip to the post at Belmont Apr. 30 (video), but unfortunately was benched for the rest of the year following that effort. The $825,000 EASMAY purchase made his long awaited return at Gulfstream Jan. 31 and proved no worse for wear, drilling an allowance field by 7 1/2 lengths (video).

“We are pointing for the [GI] Carter [H. at Aqueduct Apr. 7],” Pletcher said. “He will train up to the race.”