This seems like a good time of year to be at the equator.
Starlight Racing always finds itself at one pole or the other, though.
It happened again this week, when Starlight’s top Kentucky Derby prospect for now, Intense Holiday, drew the dreaded outside post in an 11-horse field for today’s Grade II Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
That makes it three years in a row that Starlight has drawn either the extreme inside or outside post for the Holy Bull, which, at a mile and a sixteenth, has a short run from the gate to the first turn.
They like their horse, though, so Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, Starlight’s co-managing partner with Jack Wolf, said jockey Joel Rosario and Intense Holiday will just have to figure things out at the start and somehow get good early position without exhausting too much energy.
“We’re there, we’ve been training there,” Lucarelli said. “I guess we could’ve [scratched and] shipped to Tampa Bay, but the fact is you’ve got to put him in a good race eventually and hope you get a clean trip. He just has to negotiate that first turn.”
This will be Intense Holiday’s 3-year-old debut after he closed out 2013 with a fourth in the Remsen, won by Honor Code.
Two others of the top four are in the Holy Bull — 3-1 morning-line favorite Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong.
The 4-1 second choice, Coup de Grace, is trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown and will be ridden by John Velazquez as he appears on a race card for the first time since having his spleen removed in the wake of the catastrophic spill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Intense Holiday hasn’t won in three straight graded stakes since breaking his maiden winning a one-mile, two-turn race at Monmouth Park on Aug. 31.
He’s been training very well at Palm Meadows Training Center, though, and has the long stride of a horse who will thrive at longer distances, Lucarelli said.
“He’s a nice horse and just needs to get a chance to show it on an even playing field. It’s the Pletcher curse,” he joked. “It’s almost like we don’t expect to get a good post anymore. You’re sort of numb to it now.
“But you can’t have those excuses.
You still have to run well and do something to build on for the next race. He has to win it or at least be right there.”
Starlight’s Algorithms drew the extreme outside post two years ago, but it wasn’t a factor, since the presence of 2-year-old champion Hansen scared everybody away to compact the field to just six horses. Algorithms won.
Last year, Shanghai Bobby got stuck on the rail in a 10-horse field, fired to the lead to escape the crunch and went through the first half-mile in under 47 seconds. He finished second to Itsmyluckyday.
Intense Holiday carries a little extra special element for Starlight founder Wolf, who owned his sire, Harlan’s Holiday, before he and Lucarelli collaborated.
Harlan’s Holiday, the beaten favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, was euthanized in late October after collapsing at a stud farm in Argentina.
Starlight bloodstock agent Frank Brothers signed for Intense Holiday at the 2012 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $380,000, which is out of their usual top price of about $250,000 when at auction.
“We reached a little bit, for us,” Lucarelli said. “I was on a plane and thought we were all done [with the sale]. Frankie called me and told me, and we have to trust his judgment. But, yeah, it would be nice to see the horse do well for Harlan’s Holiday and Jack and all the partners.”
Among those partners is New York Giants senior vice president of player personnel Chris Mara. The father of actresses Rooney and Kate Mara joined forces with Starlight in 2012 and named their other top dirt 3-year-old All in Blue, who was fourth in the Sanford and seventh in the Hopeful at Saratoga Race Course last year.
Lucarelli said he believed
Intense Holiday would’ve been the second choice on the Holy Bull line if he had drawn in the middle, but “you’ve got to deal with it and play the hand you’re dealt.”
As Wolf pointed out to the Gulfstream Park media office, Harlan’s Holiday won the 2003 Donn Handicap from the 11 post, although he had an extra sixteenth of a mile before the first turn.
“We were at the draw that year, and everybody had a heart attack when he pulled the 11-hole,” Wolf said. “Good horses can find a way to win from any post.”
Velazquez has two mounts before the Holy Bull in his first real action since the Breeders’ Cup.
He’s on Monopolize in the fourth, and will ride 3-1 second choice Aurelia’s Belle in the Grade II Forward Gal, the seventh race on the card.
Inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame two years ago, Velazquez was hurt when Secret Compass broke down and had to be euthanized in the BC Juvenile Fillies.
Besides having his spleen removed, he also needed repair to his pancreas. He told the New York Daily News this week that at no point did he consider retiring despite also breaking his collarbone in 2012 and missing 4 1⁄2 weeks last spring with a broken rib and wrist.
R.I.P. TOM VOSS
Trainer Tom Voss, 63, died at his home in Monkton, Md., on Tuesday.
A prominent steeplechase trainer, Voss also had success on the flat track, most notably in 2000, when John’s Call won the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga and Grade I Turf Classic at Belmont Park before a third to Kalanisi in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
His top steeplechaser was 2010 Eclipse Award winner Slip Away.
Voss’ other stakes winners on the flat were Dreadnaught, Royal Bench and Always First, who finished his 32-race career with a victory in the 2010 John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga.
NYRA MEDICAL DIRECTOR
The New York State Gaming Commission named Dr. Scott Palmer as the state’s equine medical director two weeks ago after conducting an international search.
With more than three decades of experience in providing medical care for horses, Palmer’s job is to oversee the health and safety of horses at all thoroughbred and standardbred tracks in the state.
Palmer will supervise all on-track regulatory veterinarians as well as the New York State Equine Drug Testing Program laboratory.
He is a two-time recipient of the New Jersey Equine Practitioners Veterinarian of the Year award, as well as a recipient of the AAEP President’s Award in 2009 and the AAEP Distinguished Service Award in 2010.
Palmer chaired the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety, which was formed at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 in the wake of 21 equine
fatalities during Aqueduct’s 2011-12 winter meet. The equine medical director position was established last year as a recommendation of that task force.
LEATHERBURY MOVES UP
King Leatherbury tied and passed Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg for fourth on the all-time win list with a pair of victories last Saturday at Laurel Park.
Leatherbury got win 6,417 when Toni With an I won the fourth race on the card. Three races later, Princess Appeal got up in the final jumps to move the 80-year-old Leatherbury past Van Berg.
The late Dale Baird (9,445 wins), Steve Asmussen (6,644) and Jerry Hollendorfer (6,569) have more career victories. Scott Lake ranks sixth, nearly 1,000 winners (5,424) behind Leatherbury and Van Berg.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man won the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream last Saturday in what amounted to a public workout by 14 lengths as the 1-10 favorite.
Trainer Kathy Ritvo and his owners will consider a variety of options for his next start, including the Santa Anita Handicap on March 8 and perhaps even the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 29.
“We have so many choices, we’ll just see what works for him,” Ritvo told the Gulfstream press office. “The horse has done well like that, when we wait and let him tell us what he needs to do.” …
The connections for BC Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia said that they’re going to take on males in the Feb. 22 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. …
Assuming Aqueduct doesn’t cancel because of cold weather for the second day in a row, Teen Pauline is the 8-5 favorite in today’s feature, the Ladies Handicap.
Third in the 2011 Spinaway at Saratoga before a long break, she won an allowance at Saratoga last year and is coming off a win in the Affectionately in her 2014 debut.
HERE AND THERE
Six-time grade/group I winner St Nicholas Abbey died the morning of Jan. 14 due to complications from colic.
The son of Montjeu broke his right foreleg while training at Ballydoyle in Ireland on July 23, and developed laminitis after surgery.
With earnings of amost $8 million, his wins included the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf. …
Because of ankle problems, Grade I winner Dance Card has been retired by Godolphin Racing.
Her four-race winning streak in 2012 included an allowance at Saratoga and the Gazelle at Belmont.
Dance Card’s last race was a third to champion Groupie Doll in the 2013 BC Filly and Mare Turf. …
Wando, the 2003 Canadian Horse of the Year, died of an apparent heart attack on the farm in Ontario on Wednesday.
He was the seventh and last horse to win the Canadian Triple Crown.
Another Canadian Horse of the Year, 30-year-old Afleet, died on Wednesday in Japan.