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Seven-Course Thanksgiving Spread

by Jeremy Plonk

November 20, 2017

I’m a weird bird Thanksgiving week because I’d rather sample all the sides than even taste the turkey. So with that in mind, let’s take the scattershot approach with the holiday edition blog instead of one big main course.


It’s amazing how the end of racing meets everywhere instantly pump up field sizes as horsemen with no chance to bypass local races settle on running. Such a fact makes you wonder just how good each race could be with less of them. If that means paying down deeper places for purses, then reward everyone for running.


You could make a solid argument for Rushing Fall as this year’s Champion 2-Year-Old Filly after her resounding scores in the Jessamine at Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar. She was Lady Eli-like at 2, and I thought her Chad Brown barnmate deserved the honor once upon her freshman campaign as well. The debate resides in that Rushing Fall (and Lady Eli before her) didn’t really win in truly “open” company as we see it in America. While turf races aren’t restricted, per se, they do lure a cast of players that’s fractional to the overall crop. I can respect a vote here either way, but I say Rushing Fall would be more than deserving.


Tom Queally, the rider who gained fame in Europe aboard the legendary Frankel, will become a Golden Gate Fields regular this season. If it sounds like a less-than-ideal place to unleash a US career, note that it was a good launching pad for guys like Joel Rosario and Martin Garcia to gain acceptance. Plus, converting to American racing with the benefit of a synthetic main track could make the transition smoother than Queally being an unappealing pilot for predominantly dirt stables.


The incomparable Ben’s Cat was laid to rest last week adjacent to the Laurel Park paddock and generations of Maryland racing fans will be able to pay their respects to a horse who gave us a lot of thrills. He was never one of America’s very best horses; I won’t go that far in my adoration. Some will say Ben’s Cat was merely a local specialist. That’s okay with me. He specialized in special performances and making people feel like they got their money’s worth when they came out to see him. There are dozens of regional horses like him at points of call around your favorite tracks. But if he’s your local horse, there’s only one.


Remington Park is shifting its weekly schedule around the Thanksgiving holiday to offer live racing Monday and Tuesday this week with a 3 p.m. central local first post time. It’s both a diversion from its daily and hourly schedule from typical Thursday-through-Sunday night racing. With limited simulcast competition, perhaps the timeslot will prove to be more bountiful in the national simulcast marketplace. Remington Park’s signature 2-year-old race, the $400,000 Springboard Mile, should see its best edition ever when it’s renewed Dec. 17 (closing day) given the cancellation of this year’s Delta Downs Jackpot in the region.


Penn National stakes its claim to Thanksgiving Eve with a 10-race card that includes the $200,000 Fabulous Strike for sprinters, the $100,000 Swatara for the handicap division and the $100,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile for PA-breds. Elite pilots Irad Ortiz, Luis Saez, Martin Garcia and Paco Lopez are among the raiding riders. Millionaire Stallwalkin Dude and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint third-place finisher Favorite Tale headline the Fabulous Strike marquee, while Met Mile third Tommy Macho tops the Swatara for Todd Pletcher against defending champion Charitable Annuity, who looks to top the $900,000 plateau.


You may be most familiar with Hoppertunity if you follow California racing, or Diversify if you’re a NYRA horseplayer. But I’m a Keeneland guy, through and through, as most know. And there was no more impressive horse at the 2017 Fall Meet than The Player in his rousing Fayette Stakes win. He blitzed a loose-leading Neolithic with ease in a razor-sharp 1:48 over a track that played on the slowish side most of the meeting. The fact that they put 10 lengths on the rest of the cast tells you how good Buff Bradley’s rising The Player was on Oct. 28. Don’t be surprised if The Player reps out best when everyone is looking for that east-west showdown at Churchill in Friday’s G1 Clark Handicap.