Fluke and Ventura Pay Rich ‘Frankel’ Tributes
There was something happening in Japan at week’s end. The Irish racing season came to an end. A commendable weight-carrying feat was seen in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup chase in England. There were Graded races galore on the East and West coasts of America. Two Classics were run in India. A London punter set a record winning two Scoop6 pools and two bonus pools worth about 1.8 million pounds in a period of six weeks.
I am beginning with a story that has two parts. I did not have to reflect more than a few moments before making a choice because the story I am going to narrate has a strong emotional undercurrent. Robert Frankel, the doyen among American trainers as I am inclined to call him, passed away on November 16. Frankel’s horses are now being trained by his long-time assistant, Humberto Ascanio. On Friday, Fluke went postward in the Grade I (turf) $300,000 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Parkn and Ascanio was the listed trainer in the track program. Frankel’s memory was fresh and strong and there were many who, out of sentiment, favored Fluke in the Citation. And there was Ventura waiting in the wings to give Frankel a fitting farewell in Saturday’s Matriarch. Ventura figured to be an odds-on choice but Fluke, as his name would suggest, was a 9-1 chance.
Joe Talamo, the 19 year-old, was aboard Fluke and settled fourth in the 1700-metre grass race. Talamo found room in the lane and the Wild Event four year-old responded with alacrity to win going away by a length and a quarter. Fluke clocked 1 40.48 seconds. Fluke returned $20 on a $2 win ticket.
A teary-eyed Talamo paid tribute to trainer Frankel. “This is very emotional. Bobby is the one who brought me here from Louisiana. It it was not for him, I would not be here.”
Humberto Ascanio trains Fluke for owner Patricia Bozano. Ascanio fought back tears. “I’m so happy. I don’t want to get mushy but I am sure he (Bobby) gave us a little push. Bobby told me to get him (Fluke) ready. Be positive, he’s training good. He was right. My job was to continue training.”
The scene again is Hollywood Park but the day is Saturday for the second part of the ‘Frankel’ story. Despite her loss to Informed Decision in the Breeders’ Cup Filly Mare Sprint, Ventura, making her final career start, was the 6-10 favourite in the 1600-metre (turf) Grade I Matriarch. Garrett Gomez sat third with Ventura as Tuscan Evening showed the way with Rafael Bejarano. As they turned for home, Ventura quickened to range alongside Tuscan Evening. The two matched strides for a moment or two and Ventura, to the delight of the crowd, began to assert herself as the wire loomed large. The margin was a length and three quarters and the time was 1 33.58, a stakes record.
Here are some statistics that tell a compelling story about Robert Frankel. Ventura gave Frankel his eighth Matriarch in the past 12 seasons. It was the fourth Matriarch for Juddmonte in the past six years and the sixth Matriarch overall. That was the fourth Grade I win for Ventura, a five year-old mare by Chester House out of Estala by Be My Guest.
Garrett O’Rourke, Juddmonte Farsms Manager in Lexington, spoke. “It was Bobby’s last wish. He said so the Friday before he died. He called me up and I got the feeling it was the goodbye phone call. He told me he was scared and what he was going to do and he had decided not to take transfusions any more. And he paused-that chokes anyone up-then he said to me to talk to Humberto, “We’re still going with Ventura, right? Just tell him two easy half miles and she’ll be there.”
O’Rourke added, “He knew he was going in days and still, it was that important to him.”
Humberto Ascanio talked about his master. “I wanted this one for him. I wish she (Ventura) could stay one more year but that’s the last call. And that’s why he wanted her in; he knew she was going to win this one.”
Jockey Gomez, Ventura’s partner in every one of her starts in America, was unstinting in his adulation of the Chester House mare. “She has just been amazing. She’s one of the best. Actually, she is the best I have ridden over a mile. She has an explosive turn of foot. She has another career in front of her now and hopefully she will send some of her babies my way.”
Aqueduct hosted the $300,000 Grade I Hill ’N’ Dale Cigar Mile on Saturday. The race honoured the incomparable Cigar. A conspicuous absentee was Quality Road who is being readied for a 2010 campaign. Pyro and Vineyard Have, coupled in the wagering, carried the royal blue silks of Sheikh Mohammed. Bribon and Vineyard Haven were battling it out with 400 metres left, Kodiak Kowboy, Shaun Bridgmohan up, saved ground and was in tight quarters as the field negotiated the final turn. Pyro, in the rear, was not making headway. Kodiak Kowboy angled out and challenged the pair in the final 200 metres and, in a three-way battle, proved the best when it mattered. The margin was three parts of a length and the time for the 1600-metre contest on a fast track was 1 35.57 seconds. The win dividend was $8.70.
By Posse out of Kokadrie by Coronado’s Quest, Kodiak Kowboy now lays claim to the Eclipse Award as the top sprinter. His last win came in the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes in the slop at Belmont Park on October 3. He has four wins in eight races this year. With 11 wins from 23 outings, Kodiak Kowboy has now earned $1,663,363.
Tom Ludt, part owner of Kodiak Kowboy, said, “That’s three G I wins this year. We could not be happier. He was a little closer to the pace than normal but he was just sitting there comfortably. Shaun rode a great race. This horse has been good to us. He is now going home to be a dad.”
Jockey Bridgmohan talked about the professional qualities of the winner. “I had such a good trip. I was very patient with him. When I asked him, he responded like a professional he’s always been. What a nice horse!”
It was Aqueduct again on Saturday and the event was the Grade I Gazelle. The 1800-metre race was won by Flashing, a Godolphin runner trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Richard Migliore made it all on the A P Indy Filly who was a 13/4 chance. The time was 1 50.94 and the winning margin was four and one quarter lengths. Stardom Bound, the 2008 juvenile champion filly, was returning to the races after an eight-month layoff. She finished fifth.
There was a report that the Gazelle would be Flashing’s final race but after the event, trainer Suroor left the door open for another year of racing. “The nine-furlong distance was perfect for her. We are going to talk it over and may be, she will race next year,” said Suroor.
Winning jockey Richard Migliore explained his ride. “When she gets comfortable and into a rhythm, she can run forever. If you don’t get into a fight with her, she kind of tucks herself up and goes on like a little deer. At the 3/8 pole, I knew she will be tough.”
We will now go to Churchill Downs. It is Saturday. The feature is the $460,600 Grade II Clark Handicap. It is a very competitive field. Macho Again, a battle-scarred hero of Grade I wars, was the 7-2 favorite. The race went to Blame, trained by Albert Stall Jr and ridden by James Theriot. Blame was coming off a win in Keeneland’s Fayette Stakes on October 31.
Blame was wide for the most part and ran on strongly in the last 300 metres to land the verdict. Misremembered led until late and succumbed. Einstein, overcoming a wide draw, finished on to salvage third in the hands of Rajiv Maragh. The 1800-metre Clark was run in 1 49.39 seconds. Blame returned $10.80.
By Arch out of Liable by Seeking The Gold, Blame will now be pointed to a season of racing as a four year-old. Trainer Al Stall, Jr commented. “He just continues to get better and better. He is a wonderful looking horse with a tremendous pedigree.”
Jockey Theriot spoke. “He (Blame) took me into contention and to the lead well within himself. Once he gets in front, he starts to look around. However, he dug in when there was pressure. You’ll probably see a lot of him as a four year-old.”
Sara Louise, a sophomore filly, is by Malibu Moon out of Kings Lynn by Mt Livermore. She enjoys a rare distinction. She beat Rachel Alexandra in 2008. The sparingly raced Sara Louise, Edgar Prado up, won the Grade II Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct on Saturday. The 7-10 favorite beat Justwhistledixie by one half length. The time was 1 38.94 for 1600 metres on a fast track. Sara Louise was fourth behind Informed Decision in the BC FM Sprint at Santa Anita. It has been confirmed Sara Louise will stay in training next year.
The peerless Edgar Prado is not garrulous. “At the 5/8, four horses were across the track. I was concerned, she picked up the tempo and went three wide. She’s not crazy about the whip. I let her see Justwhistledixie next to her and she did the rest. She is very game.”
Vodka won Sunday’s Japan Cup (turf) on Sunday in Tokyo. Christophe Lemaire was aboard Vodka. John Murtagh won the Irish riding title. Gary Carroll was the top apprentice. There is exciting news about the Scoop6 from England. A paragraph or two is necessary to tell you the ‘Denman’ story in the Hennessy Gold Cup, a jumps race. It is compelling. Summer Bird is hurt and is out of the Japan Cup (dirt) to be run on December 6. Finally, there is a chink in Dubai’s armour. Early reports are that Dubai World’s travails will have no impact on Dubai’s involvement in racing but when a crack appears in the world’s strongest building, is there not reason to pause and think? An ant can make an elephant go wild. All this and more in my next report.