by Jon White
January 20, 2022
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Pappacap, who is ranked No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list, makes his 2022 debut this Saturday (Jan. 22) in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile affair has enticed a field of nine.
Pappacap is the 8-5 favorite on Mike Diliberto’s morning line.
Another major player is Epicenter. Listed at 9-5 on the morning line, he scored a sparkling 6 1/2-length victory for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in Fair Grounds’ Gun Runner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 26.
Asmussen trained 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
Gun Runner is off to a terrific start at stud. In fact, he is the sire of the aforementioned Pappacap, who won last year’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar in only his second career start.
If not for Corniche, there is a very good chance that Pappacap would have been voted the 2021 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. But because of Corniche, Pappacap is not even one of the three finalists in the category. The three finalists are Corniche, Jack Christopher and Modern Games.
Pappacap finished second to Corniche in both the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes and Grade I BC Juvenile.
Without Corniche in the picture, it seems quite likely that Pappacap would be getting the Eclipse Award off wins in the Grade II Best Pal, Grade I American Pharoah and Grade I BC Juvenile.
Mark Casse trains Pappacap. Casse has held the colt in high regard all along. Such an assessment by the Hall of Fame trainer proved to be justified by Pappacap’s fine record at 2.
Pappacap’s Beyer Speed Figures last year certainly won’t knock your socks off, though. In five starts last year, his Beyers were 63, then 70, then 67, then 80, then 88.
However, to Pappacap’s credit, he did receive a better Thoro-Graph number than Corniche both times they met. In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, a higher number is better than a lower one. The opposite is true for Thoro-Graph.
I consider Beyer Speed Figures to be a useful tool for horseplayers. As I have stated before, if I didn’t believe that, I would not refer to those figures as frequently as I do.
But as I’ve also stated before, I am of the opinion that Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account that the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
The winner of a race will never get a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second will never get a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.
In the case of the Thoro-Graph numbers, a horse who finished second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the things I love about Thoro-Graph. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a much truer reflection of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.
Corniche’s Thoro-Graph numbers were 7 for the American Pharoah and 4 1/2 for the BC Juvenile. Pappacap received a 6 1/2 for the American Pharoah and 4 1/4 for the BC Juvenile.
All indications are that Pappacap has trained well for the Lecomte. Joe Bravo, who rode Pappacap in all of his stakes starts last year, will again handle the reins in the Lecomte.
My Lecomte selections are below:
1. Pappacap (8-5 morning-line favorite)
2. Epicenter (9-5)
3. Cyberknife (6-1)
4. Trafalgar (5-1)
I am not about to pick against Pappacap when twice he posted better a better Thoro-Graph number when running against likely Eclipse Award winner Corniche. That being said, I certainly see Epicenter as someone who warrants much respect in the Lecomte.
When unveiled in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill Downs last Sept. 18, Epicenter showed early zip and finished sixth at odds of 13-1. He showed significant improvement next time out, winning a one-mile maiden special weight contest by 3 1/2 lengths on Nov. 13 at Churchill when 3-1. That was followed by his 6 1/2-length victory in the Gun Runner at 5-2.
It should be noted that Epicenter sports an improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern. The Beyers in his three starts to date have been 67, then 80, then 87. That 87 is just one Beyer point lower than Pappacap’s career-best 88 when he ran second in the BC Juvenile. This alone illustrates that it would be no surprise to me if Epicenter wins the Lecomte.
Joel Rosario rides Epicenter in the Lecomte. Rosario is considered the favorite to get the 2021 Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey. He is one of the three finalists, along with Irad Ortiz Jr. and Flavien Prat.
In Epicenter’s Nov. 13 maiden win, Rosario was the pilot. Brian Hernandez Jr. then rode Epicenter in the Gun Runner. That’s because Rosario was unavailable. Rosario was recuperating from a hairline fracture of a rib sustained when he was unseated shortly after a Dec 2 race at Aqueduct.
Rosario was back riding last Friday at Oaklawn Park. It happened to be his 37th birthday. Rosario celebrated the occasion by guiding the Asmussen-trained Chasing Time to a 7 3/4-length victory in the sixth race, a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest for 3-year-olds. (Though this win by Chasing Time was visually impressive, enthusiasm for his performance is tempered a bit due to it not receiving a higher Beyer than an 81.)
Cyberknife, like Epicenter, is by Gun Runner.
It appears that while Cyberknife has a lot of raw talent, he also is something of a work in progress for Brad Cox, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2020 and one of the three finalists for this award in 2021, along with Asmussen and Chad Brown.
Cyberknife has been something of a goofball in each of his three starts so far. After he finished first by a half-length at Churchill in his Sept. 25 debut at six furlongs, the 6-5 favorite was disqualified and placed second for causing interference.
In his second start, Cyberknife’s greenness contributed to his half-length defeat as a 2-5 favorite in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race on Nov. 5. And then in his New Orleans debut, Cyberknife won by a half-length as a 1-2 favorite going 1 1/16 miles vs. maiden special weight foes on Dec. 26.
An indication of Cyberknife being a work in progress is his blinkers situation. He raced with blinkers in his first race, then competed sans blinkers in his next two starts. Now the blinkers are going back on for the Lecomte.
“He’s very talented,” Cox said in a Daily Racing Form story written by Marcus Hersh. “He can run -- he showed that in all three starts. He has always been a handful and can be a little tough to ride. Not a mean horse or anything, just a very, very good-feeling horse that expresses himself in a very outward manner at times. He likes to rear up, for one thing.
“He was really tough to deal with at Saratoga. He’s gotten a lot better. He’ll have a good week, week and a half, but he still has his days. He’s just a horse if you school him in the paddock, you do it twice; gate the same thing. We try to keep him busy. But I like the horse a lot.”
For Cox to say he likes Cyberknife “a lot” is quite meaningful in that he has trained the likes of Monomoy Girl, Knicks Go and Essential Quality.
Trafalgar should not be cavalierly dismissed in the Lecomte.
When kicking off his racing career at Saratoga last Sept. 4, he finished second in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Saratoga. The 6 1/2-length winner was Classic Causeway, who ranks No. 6 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
After his defeat at the Spa, Trafalgar won a one-mile maiden special weight race by 2 1/4 lengths at Churchill on Oct. 2. Next, he won a Fair Grounds allowance/optional claiming race by a head at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 2.
Trafalgar’s Beyer Speed Figures are going in the right direction. He recorded a 78 at first asking, then an 81, then an 82.
Albert Stall Jr. trains Trafalgar. Stall is best known as the conditioner of Blame, the Eclipse Award-winning older male of 2010. Blame won the Grade I BC Classic that year when edging the great Zenyatta by a head for her lone defeat in 20 career starts. Despite that narrow loss, Zenyatta was voted Horse of the Year after winning five of six starts in 2010.
MY CURRENT KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Tiz the Bomb remains No. 1 following yet another team drill with No. 2 Smile Happy last Saturday at Gulfstream Park. They each were timed working four furlongs in a sharp :46.52 for trainer Kenny McPeek.
Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch, one of the best in the business when it comes to evaluating workouts, tweeted the following:
“Smile Happy and Tiz the Bomb super impressive in company this a m here at Gulfstream Park 4F 23.01 46.52 the latter slightly better at wire out 59.74 up 112.74 SH holding edge around turn on rail.”
A story posted Saturday on the Gulfstream Park website said “it was the fourth in a series of workouts at Gulfstream for the workmates.”
McPeek said: “It was a nice maintenance work. They went a little quicker than I wanted them to. I gave them instructions to go in about :48. But it’s OK. They’re doing good.”
Of the two colts working together yet again, McPeek said that “you need a fast horse to go with a fast horse. You can’t work a fast horse with a slow horse.”
McPeek went on to say that he “may have to run them against each other in the Holy Bull to get the year started. At this point, I’m planning to run both.”
Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 2.
However, on Monday it was reported that McPeek had changed his mind as to running both Smile Happy and Tiz the Bomb in the Holy Bull.
In a story Monday written by Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee, McPeek said he is likely to wait for Fair Grounds’ Grade III Risen Star Stakes with Smile Happy. The Risen Star will be run at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 19.
McPeek said he has “really thought things through” for Smile Happy, who is two for two. The Kentucky-bred Runhappy colt won a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race by 5 1/2 lengths at odds of 3-1 on Oct. 29 at Keeneland. He then registered a 3 1/4-length victory at 9-2 in Churchill’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 27 at the same distance.
Elaborating on why he now plans to wait for the Risen Star with Smile Happy, McPeek said that “ideally I’ll just need two preps” toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby for him. “Plus, I want to keep him separated from Tiz the Bomb for now.”
Smile Happy was 12-1 on the Kentucky Jockey Club morning line. Tiz the Bomb was favored at 3-1. But Tiz the Bomb was scratched due to what was reported to have been an infection in his left foreleg.
With the hiccup that prevented him from running in the Kentucky Jockey Club seemingly well behind him, Tiz the Bomb has been training smartly on the dirt in preparation for the Holy Bull. He will be switching to the dirt in the Holy Bull after finishing a strong second to Modern Games in the Grade I BC Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 5.
Prior to the BC Juvenile Turf, Tiz the Bomb won a pair of grass stakes, Keeneland’s Grade II Bourbon and the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile.
In Tiz the Bomb’s lone start on the dirt, he demolished maiden special weight opponents at Ellis Park on July 2 when victorious “in hand” by 14 1/4 lengths.
My up-to-date Kentucky Derby Top 10 is below:
1. Tiz the Bomb
2. Smile Happy
6. Classic Causeway
7 Oviatt Class
8. Slow Down Andy
9. Giant Game
BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
God of Love
H P Moon
Make It Big
Rattle N Roll
BILL SEWARD, BRAD TAYLOR PASS AWAY
It was with much sadness that I learned that Bill Seward and Brad Taylor had died.
An item in Santa Anita’s stable notes last Sunday stated: “Santa Anita regrets the passing of longtime LA-based sportscaster Bill Seward, who passed earlier this week following a lengthy battle with cancer. Seward hosted a number of Santa Anita television productions in the 1990s and was considered a pro’s pro.”
Seward died Jan. 14. I worked as a commentator with him on a great many of those “Santa Anita television productions in the 1990s” and into the early 2000s.
I agree with the characterization that Seward was a “pro’s pro.” But in addition to that, he was just a wonderful guy to work with. Those were fun times. It was fun even when sometimes on the Friday night program “Inside Santa Anita,” which aired on KDOC Channel 56, technical problems might prolong the taping of that broadcast. It is times like that when it sure was good to be working alongside a good-natured fellow like Seward. In circumstances such as those, his keen sense of humor was much appreciated by his co-workers.
I can attest that Seward thoroughly enjoyed his involvement with horse racing. In addition to all the Santa Anita broadcasts, he also worked for TVG and HRTV.
All in all, Seward had an impressive career in broadcasting. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University, he began his radio career in 1987 at KWNK in Reno, Nev. He would go on to work for Los Angeles radio stations KGIL (1989), KNX (1990-97), KFWB (2001-14) and KFI (2017-21). He earned multiple Golden Mikes during his time with KNX.
As for television, Seward began as sports director at KVIQ in Eureka, Calif. That was followed by stops at KATY in Oxnard, Calif., and WNHT in Concord, N.H. He then returned to Southern California to become a sports anchor at Los Angeles stations KCBS Channel 2 and KNBC Channel 4.
Seward also spent some time at ESPN. While there, he co-anchored a number of editions of the extremely popular “SportsCenter.” He also was frequently seen on the ESPNews channel.
That’s not all. For NBC, Seward was “on the mic” for a variety of sports, such as rugby, diving, skiing, ski jumping, synchronized swimming and cycling. He was part of the NBC broadcast team for several of the network’s Olympics broadcasts.
Talk about a versatile broadcaster.
Meanwhile, the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association reported on Jan. 14 that Brad Taylor had “passed away in December 2021.” He was 76.
I first met Taylor in the 1970s while I was working for the Daily Racing Form. He was a trainer at Longacres and Yakima Meadows. Later on, he trained at Emerald Downs and Turf Paradise.
A talented 2-year-old filly by the name of Dark Satin resided at Taylor’s barn in 1974. I first started to work for the DRF that year. Taylor sent out Dark Satin to win the Miss Spokane Stakes and Spokane Futurity that fall at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash. Dark Satin was my very first $400 win bet when she won the Miss Spokane.
The following year on opening day of the 1975 Longacres meet at the beautiful track near Seattle, Dark Satin captured a division of the Seafair Queen Stakes. I made my very first $500 win bet on Dark Satin that day.
Needless to say, Dark Satin became one of my favorite horses. My all-time favorite is Turbulator. Before Taylor began his training career, he had been an exercise rider for Turbulator in the 1960s.
On June 7, 1969, I saw Turbulator make his first career start at the age of 4 in a race that never appeared on his official record. As a maiden, he finished third while facing multiple winners such as the victorious Stout Me and runner-up Testify in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race at Coeur d’Alene, a little track in Idaho.
Turbulator rose from obscurity to win a total of 21 races. Later in 1969, after losing the unofficial race at Coeur d’Alene and two official races at Portland Meadows, he won seven straight at Playfair at distances ranging from six furlongs to two miles.
An 11-time stakes winner during his career, Turbulator broke the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs when he roared down the stretch to take the 1970 Governor’s Handicap at Longacres. He also broke Longacres’ track record for 1 1/16 miles that same year while carrying 128 pounds. At Yakima Meadows in 1970, Turbulator set a track record when he won the Yakima Mile. That record stood for 23 years until it was finally broken by Slew of Damascus, a future Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup winner.
In another of Turbulator’s 1970 races, he rallied from 20 lengths off the pace to win going away by two lengths while carrying134 pounds at Playfair. When making his final 1970 start in the Playfair Mile, he packed a staggering 138 pounds, which to this day stands as the record for the most weight ever carried by a horse at a Pacific Northwest track in a stakes race not restricted to state-breds. In a valiant effort despite his 138-pound weight package, Turbulator lost by a neck while spotting a massive 17 pounds to the victorious Ruler’s Whirl.
Beyond his many accomplishments, Turbulator was so charismatic that he became the most popular racehorse in Northwest racing history. He was such a huge fan favorite that there were Turbulator T-shirts, campaign buttons, coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets (I have them all).
“If ever there was a horse that brought sheer joy and hysteria to a track and thrived on that crowd response it would be Turbulator,” it was written in The Washington Horse magazine in 1970.
In 2008, former Turbulator exercise rider Taylor tracked me down at Santa Anita when I was doing television commentary from the paddock for the track’s simulcast network.
“I have something for you,” Taylor said as he handed me four horseshoes contained in a plastic bag.
“These were the shoes that Turbulator wore when he broke the world record,” Taylor explained. “I’ve wanted to give you these for a long time. I thought that nobody would appreciate having these shoes more than you.”
A truer statement than that has never been made. It was like a big Zenyatta fan being given the shoes from when she won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, or like a big California Chrome fan being handed the shoes from when he won the Kentucky Derby.
Thanks to Brad Taylor’s generosity, I own the four shoes that Turbulator wore in the most significant victory of his illustrious racing career, a world-record performance.