OPINION: Thoughts of the Day About Mendelssohn, Tax, Instilled Regard, Gary Stevens & Others

(Instilled Regard winning the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds earlier this year / Photo Courtesy of the Fair Grounds)

Here are some random thoughts regarding horse racing, and other topics of interest (well, at least they are of some interest to me):

  1. Mendelssohn: I know that this 3YO son of Scat Daddy is a nice horse. After all, he has won nearly $2.5 million in purses. And, he was very impressive in winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar in 2017. And, he won the UAE Derby earlier this year by nearly 20 lengths. I know that he sold for $3 million as a yearling at the Keeneland September Sale in 2016. And, I know that he is likely to retire to stud duty at Coolmore America and stand for a lot of money. But… Truthfully, is there a more over-hyped, over-rated racehorse in the world right now? Seriously? Since his win in Dubai — over a very mediocre field — he has managed to run 20th and last in the Kentucky Derby; 3rd to Firenze Fire and beaten about 10 lengths in the G3 Dwyer Stakes; 2nd to Catholic Boy and beaten 4 easy lengths in the G1 Travers Stakes; 3rd to 45-to-1 shot Discreet Lover and beaten over 2 lengths in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup; and 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, beaten over 4 lengths by Accelerate. Now, he is being touted as the heavy favorite for the G1 Cigar Mile on Saturday at Aqueduct? Are you kidding me? He won’t be getting any of my money. That’s for sure. In my opinion, I can’t remember a horse that has been more highly regarded by so many experts for accomplishing so very little in recent memory. Just saying.
  2. Claim of the Year?: I don’t know how well he will perform on Saturday in the G2 Remsen Stakes, because it will be one heckuva jump in class, but what if Tax runs really, really well? What if the 2YO son of Arch just so happens to win it? Well, if he does? You would have to rate this one as a definite contender for the “Claim of the Year,” as well as picking up some points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” 2019. In his last race on Oct. 21 at Keeneland, Tax — owned at the time by historic Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider — closed well off a nice stalking position to run away with an impressive, easy 2-length victory going 11/16 miles over the dirt track in a Maiden Claiming event. There to slip a claim in for the gelding was none other than the connections for New York-based trainer Danny Gargan and new owner Hugh Lynch. On Saturday, the gelding will not only move up to face winners for the first time, he will move all the way up. To face Grade 2 competition. Not only will Tax be getting a new trainer to position the saddle, he will get a new rider in Manny Franco, and he will be treated with Lasix for the first time. It may be an interesting race to watch. For a lot of reasons. And, for one, I’ll be rooting for this guy to go from claimer to giant slayer. This is what racing dreams are made of and movies are made about. Just saying.
  3. Gary Stevens: I hate it that my good friend will no longer be riding — and winning — horse races. To be honest, the game and the sport needs more people like this man; not less. A consummate professional, who came to every race well prepared to do his best and ask the exact same of his mount. A personable chap, quick with a smile and a firm handshake. A man who returned from a race with good advice, counsel, and recommendations that he would only pass along if the trainer or owner asked. I had the opportunity to get to know Gary when he rode a filly by the name of Purim’s Dancer for our ownership team and trainer Tom Proctor. One Sunday, he rode her to victory in the Wishing Well Stakes at Santa Anita, coming down The Hill. We cheered and screamed like it was the birth of our first baby; like it was the best day of our lives; like it was a miracle. It was like all three. Later, Gary signed a book for me and one of those concrete jockey statues that I purchased at a fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. I told Gary then that, in my opinion, he was the best to ever throw a leg over a Thoroughbred. He smiled, and shrugged. I remember him saying this: “Gene, that’s awfully kind, but there have been many great riders before me and there will be many great riders after me. I’m just lucky.” I don’t know how many great riders there will be after the third and final retirement of Gary Stevens, who goes to the sidelines after discovering a severe injury to his back. All I know is that Gary Stevens is one of them. And, we are the lucky ones to have had the opportunity to watch him perform his art form. And, we are the lucky ones to have had the chance to know him. The sport will miss you greatly. Just saying.
  4. Vince Tyra: The University of Louisville athletic director has not had the easiest of times since taking over the job on an interim basis and then getting named as the full time head in March of this year. The basketball program was an absolute debacle, and a quagmire of major proportions that made more headlines for off-the-court embarrassments than hardwood accomplishments. And then, just a year removed from having one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the history of the college game and a former Heisman Trophy winner, the football program plummeted faster than Papa John’s stock this year. Still, Vince Tyra has managed to manage on. He made a masterful hire in Chris Mack, who will restore credibility both on and off the court to the basketball team. And, it would have been great to hire Jeff Brohm, one of Louisville’s favorite sons and one of the game’s best and brightest minds. In fact, I think it would be wonderful — considering all the drama that has occurred in Louisville this week — if the U of L boosters would come to the rescue and help the new AD make one more run at the current Purdue coach. I don’t have any inside information, but I have a gut feeling that both men would like to get it done, and make it happen — if at all possible. If so, then make it happen. Come on Louisville. Make it happen. Tyra deserves it. The school deserves it. The student athletes deserve it. Maybe even, Jeff Brohm deserves another ask. Just saying.
  5. Instilled Regard: This 3YO son of Arch (there’s another one) ran fourth in this year’s Kentucky Derby at a huge price. Wasn’t long after that that he was transferred to the barn of East Coast trainer Chad Brown. He didn’t make his first start for the new connections until nearly 5 months later, when he showed up for the G1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. Didn’t like the footing — or something else — that day and didn’t run a step, finishing last. Now, the colt will be shipped all the way back to California, where he started his racing career — Del Mar. On Saturday, he will run in the G1 Hollywood Derby, and convert over to the grass course. May be just a hunch play for me, but I think this one will run big. Huge, in fact. And, at some really nice odds, too. This colt’s second dam is Heavenly Prize — one of the best race mares of her time for trainer Shug McGaughey and owner Ogden Phipps. She won a G1 event as a 2YO (Frizette Stakes); as a 3YO (Alabama, Beldame); and as a 4YO (Apple Blossom, Hempstead, Go for Wand, and the John A. Morris). She finished her great career running third against the colts — and the likes of the great Cigar — in the 1996 G1 Donn Handicap. I’ll be rooting. And, playing. Just saying.
  6. Michael Wrona: The former track announcer at Santa Anita was unceremoniously dropped, fired, kicked to the curb by the track’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo over the last week or so, and the uproar has been louder than a Tom Durkin race call on Breeders’ Cup Day. Let’s be honest. I don’t know the man, although I have been told that he is a wonderful person with a fine ability to announce a race. And, I don’t know Tim Ritvo, either. But I do know the history of the Stronach Group — which owns Santa Anita and many other racetracks around the country — including Gulfstream Park and Pimlico, among others. I do know that the founder and former head honcho, Frank Stronach, has filed a lawsuit against his own daughter, Belinda, who now heads up the company, alleging that she has mismanaged the family’s assets and trust funds and racetracks.  I do know that Frank Stronach’s son, Andy, who once ran the company as well before falling from grace, has also filed a lawsuit against his sister, alleging that she has mismanaged the business, as well, and repeating his father’s allegations. And, I do know that many people — throughout the years — have gone in and out of employ with the parent company about as fast and furious as the fans through the turnstiles. This ain’t a first. And, to be truthful, this ain’t news. Does Wrona’s firing really surprise anyone? Does anything this group does in terms of personnel surprise anyone? It shouldn’t. Even if it is wrong, it should not surprise. If you decide to go to work for this group, you had better have a back-up plan. Just saying.
  7. David Osborne: It was great to see Rep. David Osborne — a fine man with many talents — get elected to serve as the Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives on Thursday. He took over the job a year ago, and served in the capacity for the past 12 months, stearing the Chamber through one of the most challenging and tumultuous times in history. He did so with the same diplomacy, character, leadership and aplomb that has trademarked his professional career. The world of politics could do a whole lot better from about every aspect these days. The rancor, hatred, bitterness and spite needs to give way to cordial, sincere, productive debate and compromise needs to replace partisanship. But the world of politics could do no better than having David Osborne as one of its’ leaders. The man is trustworthy, honest, smart and tough. All characteristics of people we need in leadership these days. Plus, he is a horse owner and breeder. Carrot on top. Just saying.

I was in a good position,” Jose Ortiz said of Oscar Nominated. “The pace was too slow. We should have been a little closer early, been a little more aggressive out of the gate.”

Jose Ortiz, Rider of the defending champ Oscar Nominated, who finished fifth on Saturday
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

    Full Bio >

More From Gene McLean