Welcome to “The Weekend Accolades,” a weekly series in which we’ll look back on the previous week of racing and hand out a few informal awards to horses, trainers, jockeys, etc. that achieved notable feats in racing. This week, we’ve got five awards to hand out, including one to our first repeat winner. Enjoy!
Performance of the Week: American Pharoah in the Preakness Stakes
Come on, you all saw this coming, didn’t you? :) American Pharoah’s seven-length romp in the Preakness Stakes was about as impressive as you could hope for, as the colt seized command of the early lead of a sloppy track, set a fast pace in the tiring mud, and drew off with complete authority in the homestretch to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. He will now have a chance to make history on June 6th at Belmont Park, where he will attempt to win the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Triple Crown.
Veteran of the Week: Ben’s Cat
It seems that old Ben’s Cat just doesn’t age! At the beginning of every year I wonder if the old gelding will have finally lost a step, but every year, he proves himself to be just as good as ever. On May 15th at Pimlico, he set out to try and win the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes for the fourth time, but having been decisively beaten in his 2015 debut by fellow Jim McKay starter Bold Thunder, it was fair to question whether Ben’s Cat could turn the tables on his rival. And after Bold Thunder had opened up a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole, over a turf course that was favoring speed, it looked like Ben’s Cat would be beaten once again. But then the nine-year-old veteran found another gear and surged up the inside to defeat Bold Thunder by a neck, stopping the clock for five furlongs in a brilliant :56.04. What a horse!
Jockey of the Week: Javier Castellano
Javier Castellano won this honor last week, and he most definitely deserves it again this week thanks to a spectacular couple of days at Pimlico. It started on Friday, when he won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) aboard Keen Pauline and Pimlico Special (gr. III) with Commissioner — thereby sweeping the two biggest stakes races of the day — and it continued on Saturday when he guided Ironicus to victory in the Dixie Stakes (gr. II) and won the Gallorette Handicap (gr. III) aboard Watsdachances. Additionally, he finished third in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) aboard Divining Rod — talk about a great week!
Up-and-Comer of the Week: Fame and Power
Fame and Power could only manage a third-place finish in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) when setting a slow pace on the lead, but when allowed to set a faster pace in the 8.5-furlong Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico, the Bob Baffert-trained colt responded with a big effort that suggests he could be a horse to watch during the coming months. After carving out quick fractions of :23.51 and :46.70, Fame and Power kicked clear of his rivals through six furlongs in 1:10.45 and drew away to win by three lengths in the sharp time of 1:41.67, good for a respectable Beyer speed figure of 99. He reminds me of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Bayern in that he can be very effective sprinting, but can also carry his speed a long way when given a clear early lead. I’ll be very curious to see where he ends up running next, as I think he could be a major factor in the second half of the season.
Gritty Victory of the Week: La Verdad in the Vagrancy Handicap
The talented sprinter La Verdad had every excuse to lose the Vagrancy Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont after getting pressured early on by Frivolity and then challenged in the homestretch by Frivolity’s talented stablemate, Room for Me. But in deep stretch, La Verdad showed the class and determination that has earned her 12 wins from 18 starts, gamely digging in and refusing to yield while defeating Room for Me by a half-length. She is now 2-for-2 this year, with both of her victories coming in graded stakes races, and she looks poised to have her best season yet this year.