Assessing the 2014 Racing Season

July 28, 2014

It was exciting to introduce our readers to a young and talented apprentice rider going after his dreams and taking his tack to where the turf meets the surf at beautiful Del Mar. A few weeks ago Past the Wire introduced you to Carson Sullivan, and it did not take long for this talented young jockey to make some noise on the big stage.

This past Thursday, while riding three year old filly Mon Petite for trainer Robert Bean, Carson put in a really nice ride on the Del Mar turf course guiding the filly home first. She paid a very generous $108.80 to win making his supporters and some readers of Past the Wire very happy. Carson came back with another really nice ride on Sunday finishing third on Tacit Approval for West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer Craig Dollase. He continues to ride well in one of the toughest colonies in the country.

While it is no surprise to us, things seem to be progressing for young Carson according to the plan of Jockey Agent Lou and the handling of Carson’s book by agent Mike Ciani. Mike is an excellent agent who has enjoyed success with past riders and knows how to bring a young rider along. He also has the benefit of mentoring from hall of fame rider Kent Desormeaux who leads the Del Mar standings right now but still makes time to work with team member Carson. Carson is getting on more and more horses in the morning and we wish him continued success as we follow along.

The 2014 Racing Season So Far

We’ve just about reached the half mile pole in the 2014 racing season, and most of the divisions are getting somewhat clearer. The three-year-old colt division remains more of a mystery than most realize. California Chrome holds the lead based on his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories but we have a few other horses who have served notice they have at least a chance at top honors by year’s end. These runners would be Shared Belief, who is pointing to the Pacific Classic against older horses, Tonalist, while second best in the Jim Dandy to Wicked Strong, should come back for the Travers looking for revenge which he may very well get, and Bayern, who looked every bit in the Haskell like the horse I thought he was back in March.

When you look close, all these runners are racing like California Chrome was back in the spring and they simply may have just developed a bit later. This means the three year old title is still very much up in the air. We still don’t even know how much California Chrome’s 2014 racing campaign took out of him. I took plenty of heat last year when I said Princess of Sylmar was no lock for the three year old filly title and Beholder was lying in wait so have at it. There is plenty of racing left in 2014 for these guys to sort themselves out. This is only the half mile pole.

Untapable was nice enough to illustrate some other things we had spoken about. First, she’s no Rachel Alexandra and the comparisons to her were not earned or deserved. Second, it is easy to look like a superstar beating fillies that you are faster and better than. That does not automatically equate to being a real superstar or mean you can do it against colts as fast and classy as you. You can take a horse struggling to find the wire with $16k claimers and run him for $7,500 and he jogs in hand looking like a superstar. He isn’t, neither is she. She’s a nice filly.

Nothing has happened to shake up top older horse Palice Malice, who runs next week in what promises to be a telling and exciting Whitney. He’s answered every bell during the 2014 racing season and continues to hold his razor sharp form. The Whitney will be a test however and is no walk in the park. Itsmyluckyday comes in on a roll of easy victories, Will Take Charge has already shown he is always dangerous and like the Spa, Departing appears to be coming around, and Zivo is on quite a roll as well. Lea who would have been a serious contender is not quite ready but he will be soon and will have to be dealt with in the future.

Wise Dan enjoys his lofty spot intact as he recovers from surgery and is working back to racing shape. Close Hatches has propelled herself to the top of the older fillies and mares with workingman like races against the best of her division. While she beat Beholder over the Belmont strip, that race may just have been one of those races Gary Stevens was referring too when discussing the problems with his knee that hampered some of his rides. I look for a huge rebound from her when she shows back up and him too for that matter.

2014 Racing – Jockeys

Shifting back to riders, we wish Gary Stevens all the best for a speedy recovery from his knee replacement and hope he can return to the saddle. His latest comeback was one of the greatest in sports and it would be nice to see it continue. Speaking of that and watching Kent Desormeaux ride recently reminds me of something I have enjoyed watching in veteran riders for years. Going way back I have noticed something that happens to some great riders and when it does you see an athlete performing in one hell of a zone. You have to pay attention to jockeys to notice and recognize it and have to really know and understand the talent levels between them but if you do it is a thing of beauty.

While I was growing up, even before being a teenager, I spent the weekends at the racetrack and the summers in Saratoga. While most kids’ heroes in those days were sports figures from baseball, football, basketball and hockey, mine were horses and jockeys. As such I have watched them very closely and at times see things the casual or untrained eye doesn’t. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes in the latter parts of their careers, riders go through a lull when it looks like their career is winding down. They aren’t winning or riding as good as they used to. Their timing is off, they aren’t finishing as strong as they used to, their business is down, they’re making mistakes and it looks like retirement is near. The first rider I noticed it with was Larry Adams, a cagey old pro at the time. All of a sudden he snapped out of it and hit the zone. He could do nothing wrong. Every move he made was right and even his dismounts looked like smooth works of art.

We saw the same thing with Laffit Pincay, after a great career as one of the best ever, he hit a lull. He was riding for primarily Bill Spawr and it looked like he would retire soon. All of a sudden he hit the zone and it was like he was reborn. He was riding better and stronger than ever. Every move is right when you are in that zone. The same thing happened to Pat Valenzuela at one point. It’s the great jockey’s second wind. It happened to Mike Smith and continues with him to this day. With Gary Stevens it happened during his comeback. He was riding better and even looked better on a horse than he ever did. The latest is Kent Desormeaux. He is in that second wind zone and riding at his peak level making every right move and looking great doing it. If you appreciate riders for the athletes they are, it is great to watch.

I’m not sure what is going on at Del Mar with the breakdowns of late but it is troubling to see. At least they are watching it closely and even took Sunday’s races off the new turf course to work on it. Let’s hope that trend stops immediately.

High 5

While I did not fact check this it was tweeted by David Grening of the DRF. Razzle Jazil marked the 46th year in a row Jonathan Shephard has won at least one race at Saratoga. Wow what a streak. It has to be one of the greatest in sports and right up there with Woody’s five consecutive Belmont Stakes and Lukas’ six consecutive Triple Crown races. That is a streak to be in awe of.

Low 5

I would love to be in a production meeting for TVG. I wonder how the conversation went when they decided to show some meaningless chatter in the Del Mar paddock as opposed to the live Saratoga race. Nobody watching wants or prefers that. There is plenty of time for the meaningless chatter between the races of the premier meets in the country. This is not the first time they have done this either. It happens regularly. There is no excuse for it; it is extremely Mickey Mouse, and it shows a complete disconnect with your viewers and racing fans.

Horses to Watch

Viva Majorca, coming out of two sprints and stretching out for the first time, was taken far back off the pace in the Curlin stakes; he rallied very strong down the middle of the track and should move forward off the race and trip.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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