by Jon White
November 19, 2020
It seems like Speightstown’s name is popping up all over the place these days.
Two outstanding Speightstown 3-year-old colts, Charlatan and Nashville, currently are on a collision course. They are scheduled to clash in the Grade I Malibu Stakes, a seven-furlong race on Dec. 26, opening day of Santa Anita Park’s winter-spring meeting.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Charlatan. Fellow Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen conditions Nashville.
Charlatan has finished first in each of his three career starts by margins of 5 3/4, 10 1/4 and six lengths. He has not started since taking a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2. He subsequently was disqualified from purse money in the Arkansas Derby for a medication violation.
Nashville has won each of his three career starts by margins of 11 1/2 , 9 3/4 and 3 1/2 lengths. In his most recent appearance under silks, Nashville zipped six furlongs in 1:07.89 when he won Keeneland’s ungraded Perryville Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. Later in the day, Whitmore won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint by completing six furlongs in 1:08.61.
Nashville’s time of 1:07.89 broke Keeneland’s track record for six furlongs of 1:08.43 set by A.P. Indian in the Grade II Phoenix Stakes in 2016.
By the way, Nashville also was the name of a colt foaled in 1954. That Nashville splashed his way to a 1 1/4-length win in a six-furlong allowance race at Belmont Park in 1956. He handed Bold Ruler the first loss of his career after winning his first five races. Bold Ruler would go on to become the 1957 Horse of the Year, then sired the 1972 and 1973 Horse of the Year in Secretariat, who swept the 1973 Triple Crown when running the fastest Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in history.
Still another Speightstown colt, 4-year-old Performer, is headed for Aqueduct’s Grade I Cigar Mile on Dec. 5 for trainer Shug McGaughery. Like Baffert and Asmussen, McGaughey is a member of the Hall of Fame.
Performer has reeled off five consecutive wins after finishing third at first asking in an Aqueduct maiden race on Nov. 3, 2018. In his 2020 debut, he returned from a long layoff to win a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race on a muddy track in a sparkling 1:33.93 at Belmont Park on Oct. 17. That was his first race since his victory in the Grade III Discovery Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, 2019.
Speightstown had an impact in both the Desi Arnaz Stakes and Bob Hope Stakes last weekend at Del Mar.
Astute, a 2-year-old Speightstown filly, drew away in the stretch and won last Saturday’s Desi Arnaz by 7 1/2 lengths.
In Jay Privman’s July 8 Daily Racing Form story on the subject of 2-year-olds to watch at the upcoming Del Mar summer meet, Hall of Fame trainer Mandella called Astute “a real runner.”
Astute was pounded down to 7-10 favoritism when unveiled in a 5 1/2-furlong grass race for maidens at Santa Anita on Oct. 12. She dashed to a clear early lead and went on to win by a neck. She switched to the dirt in the 6 1/2-furlong Desi Arnaz.
Despite the hype associated with Astute when victorious on Oct. 12, she got away at 5-1 in the Desi Arnaz. One assumes that anyone who remembered what Mandella had said to Privman in July might have been astute enough to put some money on the Desi Arnaz winner, who paid $12.20 for a $2 win wager.
The Baffert-trained Private Mission finished fourth in the Desi Arnaz as the overwhelming 1-2 favorite. Private Mission went into that race off a 1 3/4-length debut win Oct. 18 on Santa Anita’s main track.
Astute recorded an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for her victory last Saturday, way up from the 70 she posted in her first race. Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free pointed out that the 87 is the highest Beyer by a 2-year-old filly in California this year.
In last Sunday’s Bob Hope, Red Flag won impressively in a 10-1 upset. He is by the Speightstown stallion Tamarkuz, who won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile by an emphatic 3 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita in 2016. Tamarkuz recorded a career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure in his Breeders’ Cup triumph in which Gun Runner finished second. Gun Runner would go on to be the 2017 Horse of the Year.
Red Flag finished fifth when debuting in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race on the dirt Sept. 6 at Del Mar. He won a maiden contest at the same distance on the grass Oct. 10 at Santa Anita. Sixth in the early going on Oct. 10, Red Flag surged late to prevail by a neck.
In the seven-furlong Bob Hope, Red Flag vied for the early lead while four wide, kicked clear approaching the quarter pole, then widened in the lane to win by 7 1/4 lengths. The Baffert-trained Spielberg, sent away as the 3-5 favorite, finished fourth.
A $1 million auction purchase, Spielberg went into the Bob Hope off a maiden win Nov. 1 at Del Mar. Prior to earning his maiden diploma, Spielberg had finished second in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and third in the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes.
John Shirreffs of Zenyatta fame trains Red Flag, who becomes an interesting horse in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Shirreffs won the 2005 Run for the Roses with Giacomo. Earlier this year, Shirreffs saddled the now-retired Honor A.P. to finish fourth behind the victorious Authentic in the Kentucky Derby.
Red Flag sports an improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern. He recorded a 51 at first asking, then a 63, then improved substantially to an 80 for his win last Sunday.
Speightstown stands stud duty at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. A son of Gone West and the Storm Cat mare Silken Cat, Speightstown won 10 of 16 lifetime starts.
An earner on the track of $1,258,256, Speightstown won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths at Lone Star Park in 2004 in the final start of his career. He provided trainer Todd Pletcher with his first Breeders’ Cup win.
Speightstown received a 112 Beyer Speed Figure for his Breeders’ Cup victory. He was voted a 2004 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter. His top Beyer was the 117 he was credited with when he won the Grade II Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in 2004.
By the way, Speightstown’s sire ended Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens’ extraordinary winning streak in the Belmont Stakes. Stephens won five straight Belmonts, widely recognized as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the sport.
After Stephens’ Belmont victories with Conquistador Cielo in 1982, Caveat in 1983, Swale in 1984, Creme Fraiche in in 1985 and Danzig Connection in 1986, Gone West finished sixth in the 1987 renewal won by Bet Twice.
MY “EARLY” ECLIPSE AWARD CHOICES
Established in 1971, the Eclipse Awards are presented annually to recognize outstanding achievements in North America by Thoroughbreds and individuals.
Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Association and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Eclipse Awards also are bestowed to members of the media for outstanding coverage of the sport. Additionally, an Eclipse Award is presented to the winner of the National Horseplayers Championship.
Ballots for the 2020 Eclipse Awards will be disseminated to voters in December. Recipients will be announced early in 2020.
Now that the Breeders’ Cup is in the rear-view mirror, I pondered how I would fill out my Eclipse Award ballot if I did so right now in terms of the Thoroughbred categories (excluding steeplechase).
If I voted today:
TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Essential Quality, 2. Jackie’s Warrior, 3. Golden Pal.
TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. Vequist, 2. Aunt Pearl, 3. Dayoutoftheoffice.
THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Authentic, 2. Tiz the Law, 3. Happy Saver.
THREE-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. Swiss Skydiver, 2. Gamine, 3. Shedaresthedevil.
OLDER DIRT MALE: 1. Improbable, 2.Maximum Security, 3. Vekoma.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE: 1. Monomoy Girl, 2. Valiance, 3. Midnight Bisou.
MALE SPRINTER: 1. Whitmore, 2. Volatile, 3. Vekoma.
FEMALE SPRINTER: 1. Gamine, 2. Serengeti Empress, 3. Belle’s the One.
MALE TURF: 1. Channel Maker, 2. Zulu Alpha, 3. United.
FEMALE TURF: 1. Rushing Fall, 2. Tarnawa, 3. Audarya.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: 1. Authentic, 2. Improbable, 3. Monomoy Girl.
While this is how I would vote at this time, there undoubtedly will be a number of changes when I do ultimately fill out my 2020 Eclipse Award ballot for real. That’s because there are races with Eclipse Award ramifications still to be run in the remaining weeks of 2020. Eclipse Award voting closes on Dec. 31.
RACING MOURNS DEATHS OF HORNUNG AND WRIGHT
Football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, an enthusiastic horse racing fan and Thoroughbred owner, died Nov. 13 in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. He was 84.
Growing up in Louisville, Hornung was a high school sports star. He also became a lifetime frequent visitor to Churchill Downs.
A Heisman Trophy winner in 1956 as a standout football player for Notre Dame, Hornung was the overall No. 1 pick when drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1957. He was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1961.
Hornung played on four of the Packers’ five NFL championship teams and the victorious team in Super Bowl I coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi. Hornung missed the entire 1963 NFL season when suspended by commissioner Pete Rozelle after Hornung admitted to betting on NFL games.
Following Hornung’s retirement from football in 1967, he became a radio and television broadcaster...and a racehorse owner.
Probably the best-known horse that Hornung owned part of was Titletown Five, who was trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Titletown Five finished fourth in the Grade III Derby Trial at Churchill a week before Orb won the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Titletown Five then ran ninth in the Grade I Preakness Stakes, which was won by the Lukas-trained Oxbow.
Hornung and Lukas became friends.
“He loved to bet ’em -- I mean race 1 through 9. He loved the horses,” Lukas was quoted as saying in the Hornung obituary written by BloodHorse’s Byron King. “I think if you said to Paul, ‘Where would you like to spend the afternoon today?’ he would say the racetrack every day.”
Meanwhile, I was saddened to learn the news that former jockey and trainer Richard Wright had passed away on Nov. 10 at his home in Renton, Wash. He died just three weeks shy of his 82nd birthday, according to his son, trainer Blaine Wright.
I had the pleasure of watching Wright ride in the late 1960s at Playfair Race Course in my hometown of Spokane, Wash. Playfair was a five-eighths oval, known as a “bullring” because it was smaller than one-mile in circumference.
Wright was one of the best bullring riders I ever saw. He had a knack to be in the right place at the right time, which is a lot easier said than done. He won the riding title at Playfair in 1967 and 1968, my early years in racing.
One reason Wright rode so well on a bullring is he had extensive experience doing so. When I was a writer for the Daily Racing Form in the 1970s, I once interviewed his brother, Dale Wright. I asked Dale where he got started riding. He said he started riding at a track in Jackson Hole, Wyo. That track was a bullring.
“I’ll tell you how tough it was riding at Jackson Hole. In my first race, I got dropped by own brother!” Dale said, referring to his brother, Richard.
In addition to Richard Wright’s Playfair titles, he had success riding at Longacres, the biggest track in that part of the country (located south of Seattle in Renton), and at Portland Meadows.
“Richard Wright began riding match races when he was 12 or 13 and was usually in the Top 10 in the jockey standings for 22 years at Longacres, Playfair and Portland Meadows,” Randy Goulding wrote in his Daily Racing Form obituary.
In the 1970 Governor’s Handicap at Longacres, Wright rode Kid Cabin, a 10-1 shot in the field of 10. The 6-5 favorite was Fleet Fair. Off at odds of 4-1 was Turbulator.
Fleet Fair had to pack top weight of 127 pounds in the Governor’s as a consequence of his six-race winning streak (three at Golden Gate Fields, followed by three at Longacres). Turbulator carried 120, Kid Cabin 114.
Showing his typical early zip, Fleet Fair set a wicked early pace. He led through an opening quarter in :21 3/5 and half in :43 4/5. Kid Cabin raced third in the early going. Turbulator lagged far off the early pace, as usual.
Approaching the eighth pole, Fleet Fair began to weaken, eventually finishing fourth. Kid Cabin took the lead with a little more than a furlong to go.
Kid Cabin led by a half-length at the eighth pole, then opened up a clear advantage of about 1 1/2 lengths at the sixteenth pole. The six-furlong fraction was 1:07 3/5. To put that clocking into perspective, the track record for six furlongs was 1:08 flat.
Years later, I asked Wright what he remembered about that race.
“At the sixteenth pole, I really thought I was going to win,” Wright said. “My horse had the lead and was running so strong. But then I heard the announcer say Turbulator’s name. When I heard that, I thought, ‘Oh oh.’ I looked over my right shoulder and could see Turbulator was smoking. Then I thought, ‘Where’s the wire?’ I couldn’t hold off Turbulator, but it took a world record to beat my horse. All these years later, I still can’t believe I didn’t win that race as good as Kid Cabin ran.”
Yes, it took a world-record performance on the part of Turbulator to beat Kid Cabin in the 1970 Governor’s Handicap at Longacres. Turbulator came home with a rush to win by a half-length in 1:14 flat, which sliced two-fifths of a second off the world mark for 6 1/2 furlongs.
Wright retired from riding in 1974 and became a trainer. He won 962 races as a trainer, with his most important victory coming in the 1982 Longacres Derby with Flying Judgement, who dead-heated with the Ron McAnally-trained one-eyed Southern California shipper Cassaleria. Earlier in 1982, Cassaleria had finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby. Standout Northwest jockey Gary Baze rode Flying Judgement for Wright. Ray Sibille piloted Cassaleria for McAnally.
That dead heat between Flying Judgement and Cassaleria was one of the most memorable races ever run at Longacres during its existence from 1933 to 1992.
Richard Wright was proud of how well his son, Blaine Wright, has done as a trainer. Blaine has enjoyed success at Emerald Downs near Seattle and at Golden Gate, among other tracks. Blaine sent out Anothertwistafate to win this year’s Grade III Longacres Mile on Sept. 10, the most important race in that region. It was a terrific training job on the part of Blaine in that Anothertwistafate had not started since finishing 10th in the Grade I Preakness Stakes on May 18, 2019.
“Richard was a great guy, a super trainer, and he was so proud of Blaine,” Emerald Downs television commentator Joe Withee was quoted as saying in Goulding’s obit. “He was stoic and he would say something with a straight face that would get everyone laughing in the winner’s circle in the post-race interviews, mostly after Blaine won a stakes race. He talked a lot about how much he loved his trip to the Preakness with Blaine and the rest of the family last year with Anothertwistafate.”
Richard Wright was a big fan of HRTV. During the many years I was a broadcaster on HRTV, Wright would call me from time to time. Somehow someone had given him my wife’s cell phone number rather than mine. I gave him my cell number, but to no avail. From time to time for years, my wife would hand me her cell phone and say, “It’s that guy from Washington again.”
I thoroughly enjoyed my many chats with “that guy from Washington” through the years.