What a great weekend of racing action all over the United States. The return of some super stars ready to regroup and regain their status after a recharge. The emergence of some potential profile runners for our future. The pomp. The circumstances.

Here’s a few quick thoughts:

(Echo Zulu / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

Echo Zulu:

What a thrill to see the “2YO Champ” return to Churchill Downs and return to glory in the G3 Dogwood Stakes. She flashed some of her natural speed to take command early of the 7-furlong sprint, like she normally does. She dashed away with a full head of stubbornness and determination, like she always did. And, she finished. Running off in the deep stretch to an easy and convincing victory under the lights and the stars of a coming Fall. Like she always did, before her tired little legs let her down in the final stages of the 11/8-mile Kentucky Oaks.

There has been so much drama ever since for this amazing gal, who went undefeated a year ago and was a prize pupil in both the barn of Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Ron Winchell. A trip North was cut short when a track veterinarian recommended to the State Stewards that the filly be scratched before the running of the G1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in mid-June.

After that, she was shipped home to get a complete physical from renown Thoroughbred veterinarian and surgeon Larry Bramlage. It was only after a “clean bill of health” was issued that the fantastic filly was returned to Churchill Downs and training.

Still, many questions remained:

Is she OK?

What about the supposed “strained tendon?”

Does she still have her old speed? Can she still rip and roar? Can she finish the job? Can she win again?

On Saturday night, Echo Zulu sounded like the echos of the past, and looked like the filly that swept the card and swept the nation just a year ago.

On Saturday night, she was dominant.

And, for one, it was a glorious sight to see.

Welcome back “Champ.”

Now, the talk will turn to the Breeders’ Cup, which will be held on the first Friday/Saturday in November at Keeneland. Now, the talk will be whether Echo Zulu is stretched back out to face the older fillies in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (a race that normally determines a “Championship” status), or be kept to one turn and be pointed to the G1 Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mares Sprint.

But the good thing is that there is talk. Again.

And, the good thing is that the talk is positive. Again.

(Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

Ricardo Santana, Jr. Reunited With Trainer Steve Asmussen & Rejuvenated Once Again:

He didn’t get to ride every one of Asmussen’s steeds on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. Tyler Gaffalione, who has emerged as Kentucky’s top gun in the saddle, got the chance to boot home Gunite to an easy win in the Harrods Creek Stakes for the team of Winchell/Asmussen.

But it was sure fun to see jockey Ricardso Santana, Jr. reunited with some of the best in the Asmussen barn once again.

It felt like home. It felt like a family reunion. It just felt right.

It was not that long ago, when Asmussen and Santana were a dynamic duo. They tore up Saratoga just a year ago, winning nearly everything in town and country. They were a team worth noting, and a tandem worth fearing. Every time Asmussen entered a horse in a race, it was a natural to see Santana named to ride. Nearly every time you saw Santana emerge from the winner’s circle, it was with an Asmussen horse attached underneath.

But something not-so-funny happened last Fall. Suddenly, the magic they had flashed in New York was gone. Suddenly, it seemed, Santana could not find the winner’s circle with a search warrant or a GPS coordinate. Suddenly, the Asmussen connections found disfavor. After a race at Churchill Downs last Fall, Asmussen’s assistant trainer, Scott Blasi, and Santana engaged in a rather colorful exchange of verbs and nouns. Most of them were hyphenated.

It wasn’t long after that before the Asmussen team found a host of other riders to take their mounts.

It was a winter of serious discontent.

And, for the most part, it has been a rather difficult divorce.

But recently Santana retained the expert services of well-renown, well-respected, and very learned jockey agent Jimmy Riccio.  The same man who gave a serious leg up to rider Jose Ortiz, before he was unceremoniously dumped this past Summer. The same man who helped rejuvenate the career of talented rider Joe Bravo. The same man who helped Kendrick Carmouche gain a foothold, once again, at Saratoga and the mount on one of the game’s best 2YO turf colts this Fall in Battle of Normandy. The same man who knows the ins, and outs of the racing game as well as anyone on the backside of any racetrack.

Once he got the new job, Riccio came to Kentucky. Spent a few days at Churchill Downs. Started booking mounts. Made it his personal mission to try and reunite Santana with Team Asmussen and his barn full of runners.

So far? So good. So very, very good.

Santana looks happy. Again.

Asmussen looks natural in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Again and again.

The world seems to be back on its’ axis. Once again.

Tom Amoss — Great TV Analyst & Better Horse Trainer:

Just when I convince myself that I would love to see horse whisperer Tom Amoss spend more and more time in the broadcast booth and on the studio set giving his analysis and comments to a world of dedicated bettors and would-be fans, I see the man pull off a training miracle and I resign myself to the simple resolution that the man — and our game — are much better off with him coaching on the field than sitting in the press box.

On Saturday night, the man and his horse proved it yet again.

On Saturday night, Amoss prepped and then saddled Sixtythreecaliber for the Seneca Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs. Do not be misled. The “caliber” of this Stakes event was Graded-full and worthy of a Sixtyonegun salute.

On Saturday night, Amoss stood in the winner’s circle with another impressive victory with another impressive 3YO filly, who just whipped the likes of Falconet, Tunerloose, Cocktail Moments and a host of others.

Another amazing training accomplishment by a man who coached Serengeti Empress to the Kentucky Oaks championship just a couple of years ago. Truly, an amazing job. After all, this is the same horse that just ran 4th in the G3 Indiana Oaks and has been based all summer long at Horseshoe Indianapolis.

Applause. Much applause.

There is not a single doubt in my mind that Amoss is the best racing analyst in our game today. His comments are coherent, insightful. His handicapping is spot on. His mannerisms are powerfully positive. In my view, he is simply the best.


There is not a single doubt in my mind, either, that Tom Amoss is one of the best horse trainers in our game today, too. And, we need him in the shed row. As long as he is willing to stay.

Oh, by the way…

Don’t forget Tom Amoss is the same guy who has told the world about young rider Edgar Morales, who he discovered at Horseshoe Indianapolis and brought down to Kentucky to ride. The same young man who is now setting the Kentucky circuit on fire and turning heads and bets into winning wagers.

The man knows talent — both horse and human — when he sees it.

(Taiba / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

Baffert Should Enjoy G1 Pennsylvania Derby Win…Big Boys Await: 

Taiba won Saturday’s G1 Pennsylvania Derby for the embattled trainer Bob Baffert. The horse ran a good race to defeat the likes of two solid horses in Zandon and Cyberknife. Gave it a solid “B,” in my book of evaluations.

There’s no doubt that the young horse has talent. Ran well to win the G1 Santa Anita Derby before the connection’s arrogance helped get the horse’s ass whipped in this year’ Kentucky Derby. Finished a well-beaten 12th in the field of 20. But, truth be known, the colt should have never been in the race, with his lack of experience at that time. Never. He had run only two races in his career, at that time, and one of those was a maiden.

But the horse, who must be as resilient as he is talented, has come back to run well. Nearly defeated Cyberknife in the G1 Haskell Invitational before Saturday’s rallying win in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Congrats. Tip of hat. To the horse, if not to the man who has reclaimed the title as his trainer.

The connections should enjoy the moment, if not the $546,000 winner’s share of the $1 million purse. I know I would.

But I wouldn’t get too intoxicated with the feeling. If the connections go forward with their announced plans of running in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic? They may be ready for another Kentucky Derby-like experience.

In addition to facing older horses for the first time ever, Taiba most likely will get the chance to eyeball the likes of Flightline, Life Is Good, Olympiad, Happy Saver, Hot Rod Charlie, and fellow 3YO Epicenter.

Better do that eyeballing in the gate. The chance probably won’t last long.

Those guys are “A+++,” in my book of evaluations. If not better, on some days.

And, from where I come from, “A+++” beats a solid “B.”

Every time.

(Bango / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

And, Bango Was His Name-O:

Many, many, many congrats go to the 5YO homebred Bango, who captured his 8th race at Churchill Downs last Friday when he won the featured race of the day. This race, too, was Stakes-worthy.

In making his 8th trip to the famed Churchill Downs’ winner’s circle, Bango becomes just the 12th documented horse in modern history to win that many races over the world’s most historic surface. Bango is now tied with Athenium, Bet On Sunshine, Canela, Crown Lease, Lord Rusty, Maxxed and Paden, who all recorded eight wins at Churchill Downs. Barrister Siv, Can’tholdmeback and Herreno all have nine wins but all trail leader Ready’s Rocket, who recorded 11 victories from 2008-12.

Congrats to the owner/breeder Tamaroak Partners.

Huge congrats to trainer Greg Foley, who, seemingly, always has him ready to run.

Biggest congrats to Bango, who always shows up at “The Downs.” Always.

Bango is the type of horse that makes us all proud. All. Proud.