For 1/ST this week, I am taking a look at a multitude of numbers in the wonderful sport of Thoroughbred racing:
2: This is the number of horses to have won the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes and Travers Stakes. Talk about a small club.
Essential Quality got the job done by a neck over a stubborn Midnight Bourbon in last Saturday’s Grade I, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt joined Arts and Letters as the only horses to sweep the Belmont, Jim Dandy and Travers.
Arts and Letters won those three races in 1969 while on his way to being acclaimed Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. The Ribot colt was voted those honors despite losing two of the three Triple Crown races to Majestic Prince.
In 1969, Majestic Prince won the Kentucky Derby by a neck and Preakness Stakes by a head to remain undefeated. Trainer John Longden did not want to run a less-than-100% Majestic Prince in the Belmont. But with the possibility of Majestic Prince becoming an undefeated Triple Crown winner, owner Frank McMahon insisted that the son of Raise a Native run in the Belmont.
Arts and Letters won the Belmont, clobbering Majestic Prince by 5 1/2 lengths.
Between the Preakness and Belmont, Arts and Letters had won the Met Mile by 2 1/2 lengths. Finishing second was no less an older foe than Nodouble, who was voted champion older male in 1969 and 1970.
The 1969 Met Mile kicked off a six-race winning streak by Arts and Letters. After the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the Ribot colt won the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy by 10 lengths, 1 1/4-mile Travers by 6 1/2 lengths, 1 1/49-mile Woodward Stakes by two lengths and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup by 14 lengths. That’s not a typo. The Gold Cup was a two-mile race back then. Nodouble finished second in both the Woodward and Gold Cup.
Even though Majestic Prince defeated Arts and Letters in two of the three Triple Crown events, Arts and Letters was voted Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. I would not participate in voting for champions until 1976. If I had been a voter in 1969, I would have selected Arts and Letters as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old. I would have been swayed by Arts and Letter’s sensational six-race winning streak that began in the Met Mile and ended with his tour de force in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.
2: Number of times Firenze Fire has been involved in a savaging incident during a race. In last Saturday’s Grade I Forego Stakes, Firenze Fire was the biter. In the Grade III Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx in 2018, Firenze Fire was the victim when Whereshetoldmetogo was the biter.
What Firenze Fire did during the stretch run of the Forego was probably the most bizarre thing I have ever seen occur in the thousands and thousands of races I’ve watched ever since my parents first took me to the track for the first time one spring day 56 years ago at Yakima Meadows.
I have seen a horse savage another horse a number of times. But I’ve never seen a horse do it in such a prolonged manner as Firenze Fire when he was savaging Yaupon in the final furlong of last Saturday’s Forego.
Yaupon, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. and trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, won the Forego by a head. Jose Ortiz rode Firenze Fire for trainer Kelly Breen.
“He came out of the race good,” Breen said Monday in a Daily Racing Form story written by Mike Welsch. “He’s not any nastier than he usually is, nor is he acting like he’s been scolded in any way. He’s always been the kind of horse who will try to bite you or kick you a little when you saddle him. He definitely has an attitude. But he’s not really mean, and as long as I’ve had him, he’s never tried to savage a person or another horse before the incident on Saturday.”
The Equibase chart comments regarding Yaupon and Firenze Fire state: “YAUPON came away in good order then showed good speed while hustled, set the pace under pressure to his outside, came under coaxing along the rail on the turn, was asked for his best in the two path into the stretch, dueled inside of FIRENZE FIRE under a left-handed crop, had that foe savage him badly in the face starting just before the sixteenth pole and ending about forty yards from the wire with a bump then gamely prevailed. FIRENZE FIRE displayed good speed, pressed the pace on the outside, passed the half-mile pole under coaxing, drew even with YAUPON in the two path on the turn, was asked for his best while three wide into the stretch, dueled outside of YAUPON under a right-handed crop, began to savage that foe badly coming to the sixteenth pole, continued to savage that opponent while the rider attempted to reach up and pull him off using the right rein, lost momentum in the process, had the jockey’s hand slip off the rein multiple times while trying to gather it up, was finally able to grab the rein about forty yards from the wire while bumping at that juncture and just missed.”
The word was that Yaupon came out of the race with nothing more than a little nick on his cheek. In the final furlong, Yaupon’s tongue was flapping out of the left side of his moth. He’s fortunate it was not the right side of his mouth or else he might have had it bitten and perhaps even bitten off by Firenze Fire.
As for Firenze Fire being the victim in a savaging incident perpetrated by Whereshetoldmetogo during the 2018 Gallant Bob, the Equibase chart comments state: “FIRENZE FIRE pursed the pacesetter inside, angled out on the turn when advancing, led briefly at the quarter pole, was passed nearing the eighth pole, fought back to regain the advantage and was savaged by outside rival nearing the finish in a determined victory. WHERESHETOLDMETOGO chased very wide down the backstretch, rallied strongly wide and led narrowly at the eighth pole, lost the lead and savaged the winner approaching the wire.”
2: Trainer Brad Cox’s number of Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders. It appears that Cox will have a strong one-two punch in that $6 million affair with Grade I Whitney Stakes winner Knicks Go and Essential Quality. They rank 1-3 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 325 Knicks Go (19)
2. 307 Letruska (6)
3. 294 Essential Quality (10)
4. 183 Gamine
5. 166 Maxfield
6. 119 Domestic Spending
7. 115 Jackie’s Warrior
8. 90 Malathaat
9. 69 Silver State
10. 43 Hot Rod Charlie
2: Number of Travers wins by jockey Luis Saez. In addition to collaborating with Essential Quality in last Saturday’s renewal, Saez won the 2013 Travers aboard Will Take Charge. Essential Quality provided Cox with what looks like will be the first of multiple Travers victories for the trainer.
3: This was how many career starts that Miles D had made prior to this year’s Travers. Considering that, I think he did quite well to finish third, 5 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality.
Though Miles D was no match for Essential Quality or Midnight Bourbon when the real test came, Miles D did continue his upward trajectory in the Beyer Speed Figure department. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred Curlin colt recorded a 77 Beyer in his first race, followed by figures of 85, 95 and a 100 in the Travers.
I think Miles D is an extremely interesting 3-year-old going forward.
5: Letruska extended her winning streak to five when she prevailed by a half-length in the Personal Ensign Stakes last Saturday. Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Super Saver mare set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile affair. Letruska seemed to be in deep trouble toward the end of the race when three opponents -- Bonny South, Royal Flag and Dunbar Road -- were making a serious charge at the leader and odds-on favorite.
But displaying Personal Ensign-like determination, Letruska dug deep in the closing yards to stave off all of the late challengers.
Trainer Fausto Gutierrez has done a marvelous job with Letruska. Since a narrow loss to Shedaresthedevil in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Azeri Stakes on March 13, Letruska has reeled off victories in the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn, Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, Grade II Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill Downs and Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
5: This was how many favorites won Saratoga’s six Grade I races last Saturday. These betting choices succeeded at the Grade I level last Saturday at the Spa: Gamine at 1-5 in the Ballerina Stakes, Yaupon at 2-1 in the Forego, Letruska at 3-5 in the Personal Ensign, Gufo at 5-2 in the Sword Dancer and Essential Quality at 2-5 in the Travers.
When Jackie’s Warrior won a rousing edition of the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at odds of 3-2, he was the only winner of the six Grade I races at Saratoga last Saturday who was not the favorite. Jackie’s Warrior, another Asmussen trainee, won the seven-furlong Jerkens by a neck over 4-5 favorite Life Is Good. It was the first defeat by Life Is Good in four lifetime starts.
Life Is Good won his first three races when trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt then was sidelined when he emerged from a terrific six-furlong workout in 1:11.40 on March 20 at Santa Anita with a hind-ankle injury that required surgery. The Jerkens was Life Is Good’s first start for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
According to Pletcher, among the races under consideration for Life Is Good’s next start are the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 25, the Grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont the same day or the Grade I Woodward Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 2.
Jackie’s Warrior is likely to make his next start in the Grade II Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 9. The Jerkens was Jackie’s Warrior’s first Grade I victory. The Kentucky-bred Maclean’s Music colt now has won seven of 10 lifetime starts. Two of his three losses have come in races won by Essential Quality.
5: The number of distances Essential Quality has won at in his nine career starts. He’s won at six furlongs, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles.
6: This is where I have Native Dancer ranked on my list of Top 25 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America:
1. Man o’ War
5. Spectacular Bid
6. Native Dancer
7. Dr. Fager
8. Seattle Slew*
9. Count Fleet*
13. Phar Lap
15. American Pharoah*
18. Round Table
20. War Admiral*
21. Tom Fool
23. John Henry
*Triple Crown winner.
The parallels between all-time great Native Dancer and Essential Quality continued when Essential Quality emulated Native Dancer as a Travers winner.
In 1952, Native Dancer was an undefeated 2-year-old male champion. Essential Quality was an undefeated 2-year-old champion in 2020.
In 1953, Native Dancer had lost only once in his career going into the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. In 2021, Essential Quality had been defeated just once going into the Travers.
Native Dancer’s only defeat prior to the Travers had come in the Kentucky Derby. Essential Quality’s lone defeat prior to this year’s Travers likewise had come in the Run for the Roses.
A case can be made that both Essential Quality and Native Dancer were the best horse in the race when not winning the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.
Native Dancer lost the 1953 Kentucky Derby by just a head when he finished second after being “roughed at the first turn,” according to the race chart. The winner by a head was 24-1 Dark Star. The chart stated that Native Diver was “probably best.”
Essential Quality had a rough start and wide trip when he lost the 2021 Kentucky Derby by one length finishing fourth. First across the finish line was 12-1 Medina Spirit.
After losing the Kentucky Derby, Native Dancer resumed his winning ways by taking the Withers Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Dwyer Stakes, Arlington Classic and Travers Stakes.
After Essential Quality lost the Kentucky Derby, he resumed his winning ways by taking the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy and Travers.
6: The number of times that Keepmeinmind has finished behind Essential Quality in the six times they have raced against each other. Keepmeinmind finished fourth, 5 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality, in the Travers.
8: The total number of victories by Essential Quality in nine career starts.
9: The total number of victories by Gamine in 10 career starts.
14: Victories by the now-retired Whitmore, who was pulled up and vanned off after finishing fifth in last Saturday’s Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga. The popular 8-year-old won 15 of 43 career starts and earned $4,502,350. Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter following a campaign highlighted by a win in the Grade I BC Sprint at Keeneland.
Whitmore is done racing even though he seemed fine Sunday morning.
Jockey Joel Rosario jumped off Whitmore a short ways after the finish last Saturday.
“I ran down the track and when I got to him, the first thing Joel said to me was ‘boss, he’s okay, he just didn’t feel right,’ Moquette said Sunday in a Daily Racing Form story written by Mike Welsch. “He said his first thought was the horse was having a heat stroke. These guys are so intuitive. If the horses don’t feel normal, they jump off and take care of the animal. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for having done that.”
It’s unfortunate that Whitmore will not be defending his BC Sprint win at Del Mar this year. The 8-year-old Kentucky-bred Pleasantly Perfect gelding had tried unsuccessfully to win that race three times before last year. Prior to 2020, Whitmore had started in the BC Sprint in 2017 (finishing eighth), 2018 (second) and 2019 (third).
14: This is the record for most wins by a trainer in the Del Mar Futurity. Baffert will be trying to win the race again this Monday. His previous winners were Silver Charm (1996), Souvenir Copy (1997), Worldly Manner (1998), Forest Camp (1999), Flame Thrower (2000), Officer (2001), Icecoldbeeratreds (2002), Midshipman (2008), Lookin At Lucky (2009), Drill (2011), Rolling Fog (2012), American Pharoah (2015), Klimt (2016) and Game Winner (2018).
Winning the Del Mar Futurity as a maiden was a harbinger of big things to come for American Pharoah. The following year, of course, he ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
19: According to Trakus, Essential Quality traveled 19 feet farther than the runner-up in the Travers.
As for Essential Quality, in each of his most recent four wins, he traveled farther than the runner-up, according to Trakus, as noted below:
--Travers on Aug. 28: Essential Quality won by a neck and traveled 19 feet (approximately two lengths) farther than runner-up Midnight Bourbon.
--Jim Dandy on July 31: Essential Quality won by a half-length and traveled 38 feet (approximately four lengths) farther than runner-up Keepmeinmind.
--Belmont Stakes on June 5: Essential Quality won by 1 1/4 lengths and traveled 45 feet (approximately five lengths) farther than runner-up Hot Rod Charlie.
--Blue Grass Stakes on April 3: Essential Quality won by a neck and traveled 24 feet (approximately 2 1/2 lengths) farther than runner-up Highly Motivated.
In the Kentucky Derby on May 1, Essential Quality finished fourth and lost by one length. He traveled 68 feet (approximately seven to eight lengths) farther than first-place finisher Medina Spirit.
79: Retired Thoroughbred trainer Junior Coffey’s age when he passed away Monday at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, Wash., according to wife Kathy.
Coffey was a star football player at the University of Washington in the early 1960s. During his time at that school, he became interested in horse racing when taken to beautiful Longacres. That’s something I had in common with him. Longacres also played an important role in my becoming a huge horse racing fan when I was taken there in the 1960s by my late father.
In 1965, Coffey was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. Playing for legendary coach Vince Lombardi, Coffey was a member of the Packers team that was the 1965 NFL champions. Coffey went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants.
After Coffey’s NFL career ended in 1971, he eventually embarked on a career as a horse trainer. And having seen lots of his horses run, I can attest that he was a darn good trainer. A horse trained by Junior Coffey was always a horse not to be ignored by bettors.
Coffey came close to winning the most coveted prize in racing in the Pacific Northwest when Raise the Bluff finished second and lost by only a head as the 3-1 favorite in the 2007 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Raise the Bluff did capture Emerald’s biggest race for 3-year-olds, the Emerald (now Muckleshoot) Derby in 2006.
Going back to when I worked for the Daily Racing Form at Longacres in the 1970s up until I was a television commentator for the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Longacres Mile from 2001-2003, I spoke with Coffey on numerous occasions.
I can honestly say that I have never met a nicer person than Junior Coffey.
92: The Beyer Speed Figure recorded by the promising Jack Christopher when he won a Saratoga six-furlong maiden special weight race at first asking by 8 3/4 lengths as an 11-10 favorite last Saturday. Chad Brown trains the Kentucky-bred Munnings colt.
“That horse had really been training well and was one of the handful of buzz two-year-olds to run here this meet,” Brown said Sunday in a Daily Racing Form story written by David Grening. “Big relief for a trainer when they run to those works.”
Next for Jack Christopher is the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 2.
101: The Beyer Speed Figure recorded by Letruska in last Saturday’s Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes.
102: The Beyer Speed Figure recorded by Ginobili when victorious in last Saturday’s Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar at odds of 5-1. The 4-year-old Munnings gelding headed into that seven-furlong race off a July 17 win in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest at Del Mar in which he registered a career-best Beyer of 104.
Trainer Richard Baltas says it’s now on to the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Del Mar in early November for Ginobili.
103: The career-best Beyer Speed Figure recorded by Yaupon in last Saturday’s Grade I Forego Stakes.
104: The Beyer Speed Figure recorded by Gamine in last Saturday’s Grade I Ballerina Stakes and by Gufo in last Saturday’s Grade I Sword Dancer Stakes. This is the highest Beyer credited to Gufo so far.
107: The Beyer Speed Figure recorded by both Essential Quality in last Saturday’s Travers Stakes and by Jackie’s Warrior in last Saturday’s Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes. This is the biggest Beyer achieved by Jackie’s Warrior to date.
44,507: The paid attendance at Saratoga for last Saturday’s Travers Stakes. This was way up from 2020. Because of COVID-19, paid attendance at the 2020 Travers was 0.
51.3 million: Taking into account all sources, a total $51,381,515 was wagered on last Saturday’s 13-race Saratoga card that was headed by the Travers Stakes.