Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cross Traffic Shines at Saratoga

Cross Traffic earns his Grade I credentials in the Whitney
Credit: Courtney Heeney, Courtesy NYRA/Coglianese
A week after the untimely death of super sire Unbridled's Song, his son, Cross Traffic, emerged as a shining star today, capturing the prestigious Whitney Handicap-G1 at Saratoga over a stellar field of older handicap horses.  It was the first stakes victory for the four-year-old steely gray colt, and in addition to his trophy and purse monies, Cross Traffic earned an automatic berth in November's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Cross Traffic grabbed the lead from multimillionaire Mucho Macho Man soon after the start, and seemed to just cruise along in first position until the far turn of the mile-and-an-eighth contest, when he was challenged in earnest by both Mucho Macho Man and last year's Whitney and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned.  Though Fort Larned couldn't sustain his bid, both Successful Dan and Mucho Macho Man appeared to be getting to Cross Traffic in the stretch.  Jockey Johnny Velasquez roused him, and he quickened, then swerved slightly, but it didn't matter.  There was no catching Cross Traffic today.

It wasn't that way in the colt's last two races, when he was narrowly bested after setting the pace in the one mile Westchester-G3 and Metropolitan-G1 at Belmont, grudgingly settling for second both times.  In spite of stretching out today, Cross Traffic didn't appear to be spent at the wire, galloping out with strength and confidence and the admiration of race fans hungry for a new hero.

Unraced at two and three, Cross Traffic broke his maiden in his initial outing at Gulfstream last January, then captured an allowance race at the same track before graduating to stakes company in New York.  Cross Traffic has now won or placed in all of his five starts, while amassing earnings of $681,300.

He was born to be great.  Cross Traffic is at least the 101st stakes winner and 16th grade I stakes winner by sire standout Unbridled's Song, a son of Brilliant-Intermediate Chef-de-Race Unbridled. His dam, the consistent and classy Cure the Blues mare, Stop Traffic, notched Grade I stakes on both coasts, including Saratoga's seven-furlong Ballerina, which she captured by seven widening lengths over Alabama victress Runup the Colors (by A. P. Indy), dam of this year's Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary (by War Pass).

The sixth foal out of Stop Traffic, Cross Traffic was purchased for $300,000 by his current connections, GoldMark Farm, at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale.  He is a full brother to the stakes-placed filly, Bianco Tartufo, and a half-brother to three other winners, including stakes-placed Into My Soul (by Pleasantly Perfect).  Cross Traffic's victory in the Whitney is sure to fuel interest in his yearling half-brother by Medaglia D'Oro, who is slated to be sold as Hip #134 on Tuesday night at Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion, across the street from the storied racetrack.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Orb's Class Shines Through

Orb after the Florida Derby
Photo courtesy of Coglianese/Gulfstream

The best horse doesn't always win the Kentucky Derby.  But yesterday, he did.

If you want to know what a superior equine athlete looks like, look no further than Orb, who relentlessly surged from the back of a muddy pack to capture the 139th Kentucky Derby with absolute authority.  It takes a really good horse to do that.

When the equine biomechanical experts at EQB evaluated Orb's cardiovascular system for owner-breeders Janney and Phipps, they deemed his heart scan results to be "elite."  That's no surprise, given his illustrious pedigree.  A grandson of Belmont winner and classic sire, A. P. Indy, out of a mare by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, Orb hails from a female family that has been flush with class for generations.  It's produced standouts Ruffian, Icecapade, Buckfinder, Private Terms, Coronado's Quest, and now, Orb.

Through his sire, Malibu Moon, and his maternal grandsire, Unbridled, Orb is inbred, 3 x 4, to the influential Mr. Prospector, bred on a similar cross to Tapit (by Pulpit, out of Tap Your Heels, by Unbridled).  Orb's second dam, the Cox's Ridge mare, Mesabi Maiden, won the Black-Eyed Susan-G2 at Pimlico for Janney and Phipps in 1996, narrowly defeating favored Cara Rafaela, who would later achieve Broodmare of the Year status as the dam of Champion Bernardini

Orb's dam, Lady Liberty, though never finishing on the board in stakes company, was no slouch, either, amassing $202,045 in earnings.  She broke her maiden at Saratoga at three, at a mile and an eighth on the grass, and subsequently captured allowance tests at Gulfstream, Belmont, and Keeneland during three seasons of competition.  Throughout her career, in which she won from six and a half furlongs on the dirt to 12 furlongs on the turf, she demonstrated the same late kick that Orb has shown in each of his five victories. 

Orb's Derby conquest was no fluke.  He ran farther than most of his 18 competitors, and in the final quarter mile, when it counted, he ran fastest.  According to Trakus, whose technology digitally measures each horse's performance during a race, Orb was the only runner to have accomplished his final quarter mile in less than 26 seconds; Orb did it in 25.88.  Orb also covered 80 feet more ground--the equivalent of nine and half lengths--than runner-up Golden Soul, whose official losing margin was two and a half lengths. Thanks to Trakus's saddle-mounted GPS system, we know that Orb's performance was even more impressive than it seemed.

If all goes well, we'll see Orb in two weeks, at the Preakness.  His unflappable quality dares us to dream that he could be the first Triple Crown winner of the 21st century: the second since his great grandsire, Seattle Slew accomplished the feat in 1977.   Orb seems to be that good.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Day of Firsts at Keeneland

Jack Milton (white bridle) edges Up With the Birds
 in the Transylvania-G3 on Keeneland's Opening Day

Photo: Coady Photography

It was a day of firsts on Opening day at Keeneland

In the inaugural two-year-old race of the season, juvenile filly Sweet Emma Rose was never headed, flying through the four-and-a-half furlong maiden special weight contest in :51.94 while trouncing second-place finisher GingerStone by nine widening lengths.  After her impressive showing in her initial outing today, the highly touted daughter of City Zip may have earned a trip to Royal Ascot in June, according to trainer Wesley Ward. 

Two races later, first-time starter I'll Call, a three-year-old son of Smart Strike, rallied smartly to win a maiden special weight test at a mile over firm turf, giving trainer Graham Motion a much-needed boost on the day Team Valor announced it planned to remove its horses from his care, notwithstanding the trainer's superb record on the partnership's behalf.  

An Augustin Stable homebred, I'll Call demonstrated composure and class while debuting without lasix, marking himself as one to watch.  Out of the graded stakes-winning Danzig mare, Recording, I'll Call has the credentials to suggest that he'll get better yet.   His full brother, the durable and consistent millionaire Smart Bid, was a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf.  He entered stud this year and stands for $4500 at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds in New York.

In the featured Transylvania-G3, lightly raced Jack Milton notched his first graded stakes win in only his third lifetime start, gliding over the mile and a sixteenth grassy distance in a respectable 1:41.80.  Piloted by John Velasquez for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Gary Barber, who had purchased the colt 24 hours before he won at first asking at Gulfstream in January, Jack Milton further burnished the shining reputation of hot Danzig sire War Front, becoming the stallion's 11th graded stakes winner from just three crops to race.