Smile Politely

Race-a-Palooza This Saturday

Curlin Ready to Nose Out Cigar

Cigar ended his career $185 dollars short of earning a cool $10 mil in 33 career starts. His record is one not only remembered through a dollar amount in earnings, but for his brilliance as an older horse. From fall 1994 through the summer of 1996, Cigar went on to accomplish an unprecedented feat for a horse racing in major stakes competition: when he was four, five, and six years old, he competed in the world’s best races and burned up a winning streak of 16 in a row. He was the kind of unmatchable, unconquerable force that horsemen dream about. His racing record stands tied with the great Citation as the only other horse to win sixteen straight races against graded stakes competition. Purses were not quite as large even in those years, though the Breeders’ Cup Classic was at that time the richest race in the world. And so it is a bittersweet thing that Cigar’s record will likely be surpassed this Saturday if Curlin wins his second Jockey Club Gold Cup in a row.

Take nothing away from Curlin; he’s faced all the best who dare face him, never dodging horses and always entered in Grade I stakes and handicaps. He’s been weighed down to “fairness” and still beaten his competitors; he almost eclipsed two different track records in the slop and in a gallop. He gave a valiant first effort on the grass, placing second in a field including two other Breeder’s Cup winners. He went on to race as a four year old when all the other good horses in his crop retired. He is our horse of the decade. But Curlin hasn’t and never will race as many times as Cigar. But if he wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup or places in his next two races, Curlin will have earned enough to become horse racing’s first $10 million dollar earner.

The Gold Cup won’t be a walk in the park for Curlin. Though his competition is, as a whole, not on the same level as the 2007 Horse of the Year, he will be facing the up-and-coming three year old, Mambo in Seattle, the runner-up in the Travers Stakes who was beaten by a hair. Other horses who pose a possible threat to the reigning champ are A.P. Arrow, Wanderin Boy, and Stones River. With the forecast for the New York area foretelling a sloppy Belmont track, handicappers are looking to past performances and even the genes to see how well the field will fair on an off-track. Of course, anyone who saw last year’s Breeders’ Cup knows Curlin has natural water skis in his hoofs. Though Mambo in Seattle has never raced in the slop, his trainer, Neil Howard, says the horse’s family has “mud all over the place.”

Can Zenyatta Hold Off Hystericalady?

The undefeated California Colossus will be making her eighth career start this Saturday in the Grade I Lady’s Secret Stakes at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. This race will be Zenyatta’s prep for the Breeder’s Cup Ladies’ Classic less than a month away; let’s hope she doesn’t come out too mangled with her battle with Hystericalady, the mare who’s been on a racing streak of her own lately. Hystericalady has bagged the Fleur de Lis Handicap, the Delaware Handicap, and the Molly Pitcher Handicap within the past four months, all Grade II races where the mare romped by impressive margins. One thing is for certain; unless one of these girls scratch before the race, one of them is going to come out of it with a broken winning streak this Saturday.

Hystericalady will have a pitfall when facing Zenyatta not only because she won’t be tall enough to look the beast in the eye, but because the five-year-old mare doesn’t seem to like synthetics as much as dirt. Zenyatta, on the other hand, was raised on the stuff. Hystericalady finished fourth in her last start at Santa Anita, on the old Cushion Track before it was replaced with the new Pro-Ride surface. Adding further intrigue into this race is that Zenyatta has beaten Ginger Punch, Hystericalady’s arch enemy. Of course, when Ginger Punch beat Hystericalady in last year’s BC Distaff, Hystericalady was not the same dominating force she has blossomed into this year.

Zenyatta hasn’t faced many dominating horses over her career. Her best adversary, the tenacious Tough Tiz’s Sis, will never face her again, as she was recently retired from a workout injury. Facing a competitor like Hystericalady will test Zenyatta’s heart and will determine how fresh the big filly will be come Breeders’ Cup day. Will the face-off be a grinder like the showdown between Proud Spell and Music Note? Larry Jones, Proud Spell’s trainer, has decided to turn Proud Spell out to pasture to rest instead of enter her in the Ladies’ Classic. The outcome of the Lady’s Secret will ultimately tell us who is going to be in top form come the Main Event on October 24th. If Zenyatta does prevail, hopefully she’s tactful enough not to blow the doors off of the old girl.

Speaking of Ginger Punch…

Belmont Park will be the place to be this Saturday, as Ginger Punch will be featured on an undercard race of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff is going for her fifth win in a row in the Grade I Beldame Stakes tomorrow.

These fillies know no easy way to prep for the Ladies’ Classic. Ginger Punch will be facing a small, but venerable field of fillies and mares. Among the four other horses going up against the champ is Lemon Drop Mom, coming back for a rematch after losing to Ginger Punch by a nose in the Personal Ensign. The race is almost a rerun, as the third place finisher from the same race, Unbridled Belle, is also slated to challenge again.

The Beldame Stakes will be Ginger Punch’s final prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, after which she may be retired. Ginger Punch has won 12 of 20 starts and equaled her best Beyer Speed Figure in her last start, where she earned a 104. This mare has a lot of heart, and being put up against the filly that pushed her to that figure will be a thrilling clincher before her final start.

The Beldame Stakes will be broadcast live on HRTV and TVG. Post time is scheduled for 2:40 p.m. CST.

The Lady’s Secret Stakes will be broadcast on HRTV and TVG. Post time is slated for approximately 4:30 p.m. CST.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup will be aired live on ESPNEWS, TVG and HRTV. Scheduled post time is 4:52 p.m. CST.

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