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The Remsen: A Long Kentucky Derby Drought

by Jon White

December 10, 2020

Brooklyn Strong splashed his way to a narrow victory on a wet track in Aqueduct’s Remsen Stakes at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday.

By virtue of winning the Remsen, Brooklyn Strong earned 10 qualifying points toward the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Daniel Velazquez trains Brooklyn Strong for owner Mark Schwartz.

In terms of the Run for the Roses, Velazquez said after that Remsen that “we’re definitely Derby dreaming.”

However, the Remsen has not been a harbinger of Kentucky Derby success in a very long time. Thunder Gulch won the Remsen in 1994. He was the last Remsen victor to win the Kentucky Derby.

As expected, 6-5 favorite Ten for Ten set the early pace in this year’s Remsen. Meanwhile, 7-1 Brooklyn Strong lurked within close range of the lead when fourth for the first half-mile.

Ten for Ten cruised along with a clear advantage all the way to the top of the lane. At that point, it became clear that the sole threat to Ten for Ten was going to be Brooklyn Strong.

In upper stretch, Brooklyn Strong closed the gap to take on Ten for Ten approaching the eighth pole. Ten for Ten led Brooklyn Strong by just a half-length with a furlong to go. It was a big gap of nine lengths back to Known Agenda in third.

Ten for Ten and Brooklyn Strong battled fiercely all the way to the finish. The photo showed that Brooklyn Strong had prevailed by a neck over the favorite.

Brooklyn Strong completed nine sloppy furlongs in 1:50.60.

Known Agenda, off at odds of 9-5, finished third, 8 3/4 lengths behind Ten for Ten. Pickin Time, sent away at 5-2, ended up fourth. Erawan, the longest shot in the race at 26-1, came in last.

This was the first graded stakes win for Brooklyn Strong.

In his first career start, Brooklyn Strong won a one-mile maiden $40,000 claiming race at Delaware Park on Sept. 12. He then competed in a pair of New York-bred stakes races at Belmont Park.

Brooklyn Strong finished third in the seven-furlong Bertram F. Bongard Stakes on Oct. 2. That was followed by a 2 1/4-length victory in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes on Oct. 24.

Joel Rosario rode Brooklyn Strong in the Remsen. Interestingly, the Wicked Strong gelding has had a different jockey in each of his four races.

Brooklyn Strong does debut on my updated Kentucky Derby Top 10, as listed below:

1. Essential Quality
2. Life Is Good
3. Highly Motivated
4. Hot Rod Charlie
5. Keepmeinmind
6. Fire At Will
7. Jackie’s Warrior
8. Caddo River
9. Mandaloun
10. Brooklyn Strong

One reason Brooklyn Strong cracks my Top 10 despite the Remsen’s long Kentucky Derby drought is the fine Beyer Speed Figure he received for his performance last Saturday. His Beyers continue to improve.

Brooklyn Strong recorded only a 53 Beyer Speed Figure in his first race, then a 62, then a 77, then a 93 in the Remsen.

How does Brooklyn Strong’s 93 Beyer stack up against other Remsen winners? Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Remsen winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):

2020 Brooklyn Strong (93)
2019 Shotski (86)
2018 Maximus Mischief (97)
2017 Catholic Boy (91)
2016 Mo Town (86)
2015 Mohaymen (95)
2014 Leave the Light On (90)
2013 Honor Code (88)
2012 Overanalyze (99)
2011 O’Prado Again (80)
2010 To Honor and Serve (102)
2009 Buddy’s Saint (82)
2008 Old Fashioned (100)
2007 Court Vision (76)
2006 Nobiz Like Shobiz (97)
2005 Bluegrass Cat (95)
2004 Rockport Harbor (102)
2003 Read the Footnotes (105)
2002 Toccet (101)
2001 Saarland (87)
2000 Windsor Castle (92)
1999 Greenwood Lake (91)
1998 Comeonmom (94)
1997 Coronado’s Quest (91)
1996 The Silver Move (91)
1995 Tropicool (94)
1994 Thunder Gulch (89)
1993 Go for Gin (95)
1992 Silver of Silver (96)
1991 Pine Bluff (93)


Despite giving her numerous backers concern when seeming to struggle somewhat on the sloppy track as an overwhelming 2-5 favorite, Malathaat won last Saturday’s Grade II Demoiselle Stakes by three-quarters of a length at the Big A.

Malathaat made it three wins in as many career starts by running down 3-1 second favorite Millefeuille in the last sixteenth. Malibu Curl finished third in the field of six 2-year-old fillies.

The sire Curlin, who was voted Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008, achieved a remarkable 1-2-3 sweep by his offspring in the Demoiselle.

Ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Malathaat completed her 1 1/8-mile trip in 1:52.36. She recorded a 76 Beyer Speed Figure.

Todd Pletcher, who is 1-100 to be voted into the Hall of Fame next year in his first year of eligibility, trains Malathaat. Pletcher also conditioned Malathaat’s dam, Grade I winner Dreaming of Julia.

I have compiled a list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in this country each year going back to 2004. I ranked Dreaming of Julia’s 21 3/4-length win in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks as the top performance in 2013. Velazquez also was aboard Dreaming of Julia in her scintillating Gulfstream Park Oaks victory.

Below are my top performances of the year going back to 2004:

2019 City of Light in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup
2018 Justify in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2017 Gun Runner in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2016 Arrogate in the Grade I Travers Stakes
2015 American Pharoah in the Grade I Belmont Stakes
2014 Wise Dan in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap
2013 Dreaming of Julia in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks
2012 I’ll Have Another in the Grade I Preakness
2011 Animal Kingdom in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2010 Blame in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2009 Zenyatta in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2008 Big Brown in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2007 Rags to Riches in the Grade I Belmont Stakes
2006 Barbaro in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2005 Afleet Alex in the Grade I Preakness Stakes
2004 Ghostzapper in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic


After losses in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, True Timber won this year’s renewal on a sloppy track.

Never far back last Saturday, True Timber raced in third early. He advanced while wide to take over turning for home, then drew away to win emphatically by 5 1/2 lengths at odds of 7-1. Snapper Sinclair (13-1 in the wagering) finished second, while Performer (the 4-5 favorite) had to settle for third in the field of six.

Kendrick Carmouche guided True Timber to his Cigar Mile victory. Carmouche, who has been riding since 2000, has 3,314 career wins. The Cigar Mile was his first Grade I victory.

“This means so much to me,” said Carmouche. “This is the biggest win of my career.”

Carmouche is a native of Vinton, La., where Delta Downs is located. Born in 1984, the year in which the Breeders’ Cup was launched, Carmouche rode his first official race at Delta Downs at the age of 16.

In addition to notching his first Grade I win, Carmouche topped the standings at the Aqueduct fall meeting that ended last Sunday. It was his first title at a New York track.

Jack Sisterson trains True Timber, a 6-year-old Kentucky-bred son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. Sisterson, a former assistant to SoCal trainer Doug O’Neill, took over as True Timber’s conditioner in the summer after Kiaran McLaughlin changed jobs from trainer to jockey agent.

In last year’s Cigar Mile, True Timber finished third behind Maximum Security and Spun to Run. In the 2018 renewal, True Timber ran second to Patternrecognition.

True Timber’s final time last Saturday was 1:36.49. He posted a 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

Next for True Timber is the Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23.


George Manos, who was responsible for transforming Playfair Race Course in Eastern Washington into a gem of a venue and a thriving enterprise, died Nov. 17 in Spokane, Wash. He was 87.

Playfair was located in Spokane, a few furlongs off an Interstate 90 exit to the north. The track was not all that far from the city’s downtown.

While growing up in Spokane, I saw first-hand what a rundown, shabby horse racing venue Playfair had become by the mid-1960s.

One of my earliest Playfair memories was what happened to me on a cold October weekend afternoon in 1967. The temperature was in the high 30s. Because it was so cold, I bought a piping-hot cup of hot chocolate. When I took my first sip, it burned my tongue. That had never happened to me before. From that moment on, I have always been careful whenever taking my first sip of a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.

In the Manos obituary written by Jim Price that appeared in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, Price noted that Manos became Playfair’s assistant general manager in 1956 at the age of 23. After Manos took control of Playfair as general manager in the late 1960s, “more than a decade of extensive renovation followed,” Price wrote.

The day hot chocolate burned my tongue in 1967, the outside of the grandstand was unattractive. The paint was peeling. It looked decrepit. That was before Manos took the helm. He spruced up the outside of the grandstand by having its outside changed to attractive golden-hued aluminum siding. No longer did the outside of the grandstand have the appearance of a neglected barn out on a farm.

Thanks to Manos, the inside of the grandstand also was extensively renovated. There also was more attention paid to keeping the place clean. All of the box seats were renovated. An individual heater was added to each box seat, a wonderful perk on chilly autumn days.

I spent many afternoons in one of those nice box seats in the early 1970s. That’s because a good friend of my father’s, Don O’Malley, had purchased two seats in one of the boxes. He was delighted to have me hanging out with him because he wanted to know which horses I liked. I was delighted to hang out with him because he made my bets and cashed my winning tickets. I was not yet old enough to do so myself.

Another Playfair memory of mine was what occurred on one brutally cold Saturday afternoon in the autumn of 1971. It was one of the coldest racing days I have ever experienced. I can tell you that it was so cold that the only two people in the box seats or in the entire grandstand were O’Malley and yours truly.

In anticipation of the expected cold weather, I had brought a big blanket with me that day. We used the blanket to construct a small tent right there in the box seat. As we sat on the floor in our cozy little tent, we huddled by the heater.

There were a few mutuel windows in Playfair’s grandstand. When we left our tent to make our bets on the first race that day, we thought the mutuel windows were not open because they were boarded up. O’Malley knocked on one of the windows. The mutuel clerk slid the board over to open the window as if it were a speakeasy. The clerk said, “Please hurry, sir.” O’Malley made our bets as quickly as he could, then we dashed back to our tent. When the race began, we poked our heads up out of the tent to watch it. Then, the moment the race was over, back into the tent we went. This process was repeated throughout the course of the afternoon.

Price’s obit pointed out that under Manos’ direction, the racing itself at Playfair also improved.

“Playfair became a hot ticket, helped by the emergence of Turbulator, a muscular 4-year-old that began the 1969 season without a win to his name and ended it with seven straight victories and honors as Horse of the Meeting,” Price wrote.

Turbulator would go on to break a number of track records and even a world record. As Price put it, before Turbulator retired, he “became recognized as one of the state’s equine immortals.”

In 1967, Playfair’s track announcer was the popular Chick O’Neall. He also called the races at the state’s biggest track, Longacres in the Seattle area, and at Yakima Meadows in Central Washington. But O’Neall had to give up calling the races at Playfair when it expanded its dates, which resulted in there being too much of an overlap with Longacres for him to be the announcer at both tracks.

When Playfair needed to get its own announcer in 1968, Manos reached out to Jim Price to replace O’Neall.

Manos “called me out of the blue while I was working in publicity at Arlington Park, barely three weeks before the Playfair meet opened,” Price recently recalled.

Prior to Manos’ phone call, Price did have some experience as a track announcer in that he had called races at Las Vegas Downs, Prescott Downs, Les Bois Park and Fresno.

Hiring Price as Playfair’s track announcer and publicity director was one of the best moves Manos ever made. Not only did Price do a terrific job as Playfair’s track announcer, his work as publicity director was nothing short of outstanding.

Price replaced Bob Benoit as Playfair’s publicity director. Up until 1968, Benoit had been working in Hollywood Park’s publicity department in addition to being Playfair’s publicity director. Benoit became Hollywood Park’s publicity director in 1969 and eventually became that track’s general manager.

Of the many publicity directors I have come across throughout the country in my 47-year career in racing, none has been better at the job than Price.

As for Playfair Race Course, to say it meant a lot to me would be an understatement.

Playfair is where I first went to work for the Daily Racing Form in 1974 as a writer, handicapper and chart-caller. I was put to work there by Bud Lyon, who was the DRF’s national field supervisor of chart-callers.

Before taking on his supervisory role, Lyon had called a large number of Kentucky Derby charts for the DRF. Early in his career, Lyon had called charts at Playfair. He returned to call charts there in the summer of 1974. Lyon was needed to call the charts at Playfair until Dick Cartney would be available to do that job there in the fall after Longacres closed.

I will never forget my first day on the job for the DRF. Lyon had instructed me to report to the racing office in the morning to learn the ropes of what the DRF needed from a track on entry days. Lyon’s call-taker was longtime DRF employee Wilbur Brooke.

While we were waiting for Lyon’s arrival at Playfair that morning, I stood near Brooke as he was typing away on the teletype machine. From a handwritten list of the workouts at Playfair that morning, Brooke was sending that information to the DRF’s Seattle office via teletype.

When I happened to see the name of one of the horses on the handwritten list of workouts, I thought I had better bring it to Brooke’s attention.

“If I were you, Wilbur, I would not send in that workout,” I said, pointing to the name of one of horses and the accompanying workout time.

Inasmuch as this was my first morning on the job, I did not want to make a big deal of it. I tried to be as low-key as possible. Even so, Brooke did not take kindly to my suggestion.

“This is your first day on the job and you’re telling me to not send in one of these workouts,” Brooke barked at me. “Who do you think you are? These are OFFICIAL workouts. Who are you to tell me to not send in one of these workouts?”

“Sorry. Sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to help.”

Brooke went back to typing away. But after a few minutes, he stopped typing.

“Just out of curiosity, why did you tell me to not send in that workout?” Brooke asked.

“Well, anything is possible,” I said. “So, I can’t be 100% sure. But I am 99.9% sure that Little Current, winner of this year’s Preakness and Belmont Stakes, did not work four furlongs this morning at Playfair.”

“What? That’s the name of the Preakness and Belmont winner? Well, in that case I won’t send it in,” Brooke said.

When I showed up in the racing office the next morning, Brooke thanked me and explained what had happened.

“When the clocker asked the trainer for the name of the horse that had just worked a half-mile, the trainer said it had been Little Current,” Brooke said. “The trainer just wanted to see that if he did that, would Little Current’s name show up on the work tab in the Racing Form. And it almost did. Thanks again for catching that.”

I thought that, all in all, this was a pretty good way for my DRF career to begin.

Playfair is where I made my first $1,000 bet. I bet that much to win on Refusal in Playfair’s 1975 Harvest Handicap. Refusal won by six widening lengths and completed one mile and 70 yards in 1:41 2/5 to break the track record. He paid $3.70 for each $2 win ticket.

Betting at the track was different in those days. A bettor purchased $2 tickets, $5 tickets, $10 tickets or, at most tracks, $50 tickets. Playfair did not have a $50 window at that time, which meant I had to purchase 100 $10 tickets.

I had told Price how much I liked Refusal and that I was going to make a big bet on him. After Refusal won, Price had a question for me.

“Do you mind if I ask you how much?” Price asked.

“A thousand,” I replied.

“Would you mind if I hold the tickets?” Price then asked.

“No, not all,” I said, handing him my stack of 100 $10 mutuel tickets.

“Wow. I’ve heard of a stack of tickets that would choke a horse, but I’ve never seen it,” Price said before handing the stack of tickets back to me.

By the way, my $1,000 bet on Refusal in 1975 would be like betting $4,839 on him today when adjusting for inflation.

And here is the kicker. Who owned Refusal? It was none other than George Manos.

Playfair also was where I experienced my first win as a racehose owner.

Long before there was a West Point Thoroughbreds or a Little Red Feather or a Team Valor, I formed a racehorse partnership in 1977 called Media Madness Stable. Media Madness consisted of eight members of the media, including Jim Price.

Media Madness claimed Political Pull for $3,200 at Longacres on July 22, 1977. In his first start for us, Political Pull won a one-mile race for $4,000 claimers at Playfair by 1 3/4 lengths. It was, without question, one of the biggest thrills of my life to go to the winner’s circle after that race. My happiness was not even diminished by the fact that I had not bet any money on Political Pull, who paid $14.90 to win despite being the morning-line favorite.

In 1981, Playfair was sold to car dealer Jack Pring. Playfair continued to operate successfully for a number of years before falling on tough times. Toward the end of Playfair’s existence, Pring leased the facility to a series of operators to conduct racing. But the track was not able to survive.

In 1933, Governor Clarence Martin signed House Bill 59, legalizing pari-mutuel horse racing in Washington. The sport had been absent in that state following a gambling ban that had been instituted in 1909.

Playfair came into being in 1935. Sadly, racing ceased there on Dec. 17, 2000.

Where the horses had once raced at Playfair, there now is no five-eighths oval. There is no paddock. There are no barns. There is no grandstand. Playfair Race Course was torn down to make way for the site to be redeveloped as an industrial park. The industrial park is called Playfair Commerce Park.

Again, as an indication of how much Playfair once meant to me, to this day I remember every single word of a Playfair radio jingle from the 1960s:

Fun and excitement for everyone at Playfair

Join the crowds, see the Thoroughbreds run at Playfair

The winner’s circle, what a thrill

Enjoy life more, you bet you will

It’s the king of sports for everyone

Come on, join the fun at Playfair!


Playfair Race Course was where Bob Hess Sr. began his long and successful training career in the late 1950s after getting out of the Army. The longtime Northern California horseman died last Saturday of complications resulting from the COVID-19 virus. He was 86.

Hess was one of more than 200 workers at Golden Gate Fields who tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, though most of them have been asymptomatic. Racing at Golden Gate has been suspended since Nov. 13 and will not resume any earlier than Dec. 26 due to the pandemic.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Hess family at this time,” said David Duggan, Golden Gate’s general manager. “To lose a longtime trainer and friend is simply heartbreaking to our entire horse racing family.”

Initially hospitalized in mid-November with COVID-19, Hess was released, then readmitted when symptoms returned. He was hospitalized at the time of his passing.

“We felt he could get the best care there” in the hospital, son Bob Hess Jr., also a trainer, was quoted as saying in Steve Andersen’s Daily Racing Form obituary. “I think it’s a terrible disease that we need to respect and be careful of.”

Hess Sr. was born in Lititz, Pa. If you Google it, you will see that Lititz --not lacking in modesty -- calls itself “the coolest small town in America.”

According to Tracy Gantz’s BloodHorse obit, Hess Sr. “grew up on a farm and from age 6 worked with all types of horses. He drove trotters and refereed polo matches. He traveled to Southern California at 18 and saw Santa Anita Park for the first time prior to serving in the Army in Washington state. Hess began his racetrack career at Playfair and Longacres in the Pacific Northwest and trained at several West Coast tracks before heading to Caliente racetrack” in Mexico at Tijuana.

While living across the border from Tijuana in San Ysidro, Calif., Hess met and married his wife, Maria Elena. They were married for 56 years.

After Caliente burned down in 1971, Hess Sr. and his family relocated to Northern California. He remained a popular and respected Northern California trainer until his death.

“I think the love of his life was his wife, his family, horses and great food,” Hess Jr. said to Andersen.

Hess Sr. and his wife did not attend college, but they saw to it that all four of their four children did (two at Stanford University, one at the University of California at Berkeley and one at the University of Kentucky).

According to Equibase, Hess Sr. won 1,592 races from 10,448 starters for purse earnings of $17,258,435.

In 2007, Hess Sr. saddled My Creed to win the Grade III Berkeley Stakes. He also conditioned such stakes winners as Annie’s Irish Luck, Caliche’s Secret, Cimply a Lady, Daddy’s Datsun, Make Him Famous and Penny Marie.

“Bob was a wonderful horseman who was always there for his fellow racetracker,” said Patrick Mackey, the racing secretary at Golden Gate. “His stories were legendary. He was a wealth of knowledge and imparted that knowledge to many over the years. He was a great man and his presence at Golden Gate Fields will be sorely missed.”

As for Hess Sr.’s “legendary storytelling,” I have a very fond memory of that from when I worked as a steward for the California Horse Racing Board at Golden Gate in 2018. The two stewards I worked with during my brief stint there were Darrel McHargue, California’s chief steward, and Dennis Nevin.

Hess Sr. popped into the stewards’ office one morning and regaled us with some of his stories. I especially enjoyed the time I spent chatting with him that morning about his time at Playfair and Longacres in the early days of his training career.