Groupie Doll started the first installment of the Fox Sports 1 telecast on the right foot when she romped in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire).
In the first weekend without football since the dog days of summer, Thoroughbred racing helped fill the cavernous void with a telecast that contained more drama than Super Bowl XLVIII.
A week after the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos by a lopsided 43-8 score, the first installment of the nine-show, Jockey Club-sponsored series on the fledgling Fox Sports 1 network offered a pleasing mix of exciting and competitive races with current and perhaps future champions in an entertaining format.
The Broncos may have flopped a week earlier, but Thoroughbreds were the stars on Sunday – and rightfully so.
Any racing telecast needs a dose of star power to be compelling and the presence of 2013 champions Groupie Doll and Will Take Charge injected a powerful jolt of excitement into the 90-minute program from Gulfstream Park.
The show started with the farewell appearance of 2012 and 2013 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll. In a race taped a few hours earlier, the reigning two-time female sprint champion opened the show and closed out her career with a fitting touch of class as she overcame a poor start to take the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie by seven lengths.
The first live stakes was the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, which came up light in terms of talent for a $300,000 stakes, but generated the kind of surprise that adds spice to racing when 39-1 longshot Lochte registered a stunning upset.
The centerpiece of the telecast, the $500,000 Donn Handicap, provided a considerably milder upset while showcasing two runners who appear destined to be among the year’s brightest stars.
Lea was a talented runner on turf last year, as reflected in runner-up and third-place finishes to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Turned over to trainer Bill Mott this year, Lea was tested on dirt last month in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and responded with a convincing 3 ¼-length victory.
Matched against last year’s 3-year-old champ Will Take Charge in the Donn, Lea was even more impressive as the 5-1 shot pressed the pace, drew clear in the stretch and held off a late rally by Will Take Charge to prevail by a length and a half in the track record time of 1:46.86 for the mile and an eighth.
LEA WAS IMPRESSIVE WHEN WINNING THE DONN
It was a superb effort by Lea and in some ways an even better one by Will Take Charge. As much as he opened his 4-year-old campaign with a loss, Will Take Charge showed his class in a defeat that did not tarnish his reputation as a bona fide Horse of the Year candidate. Racing for the first time in more than two months, the 3-2 favorite lost some ground while coming off the rail on the final turn and at the top of the stretch seemed to be too far back to collar a horse on its way to a setting a track record. Yet the Travers winner managed to make matters interesting with a determined late run in an effort that underscored why he should be a major factor in the year’s most important races.
It was a highly promising debut for a series that promises to enhance racing’s television presence throughout the year by presenting races like the Dubai World Cup, Blue Grass Stakes and Woodbine Mile. Aside from telling the stories behind the races, the show was also praiseworthy for the way the broadcast team of Greg Wolf, former jockey Richard Migliore, Simon Bray, Alyssa Ali and Andy Serling embraced the wagering linked to them, a combination that might attract new fans and also help boost the sport’s all-important mutuel handle.
It wasn’t the NFL, but on one Sunday afternoon in February a bunch of colts – with some help from a few fillies and mares – managed to score a touchdown.