What a weekend! It's hard to say where in the world was the best place to be this weekend, as champions of several sports came out of the winter mothballs and thrilled audiences. Through the miracle of YouTube.com, we can share a few of the great performances with you here on the The Jurga Report.
First, from Florida, is the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park. This one-mile race was designed as a prep for two-year-old champion Uncle Mo as he begins his 2011 march toward Louisville and the Kentucky Derby in May. He made it look pretty easy; next stop for Mo will be when he returns to trainer Todd Pletcher's base at Belmont Park in New York. Pletcher plans to run Mo in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, one of the great traditional Kentucky Derby prep races.
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Uncle Mo's pretty exciting, but he's in the early stages of his career. Over in Australia, we were treated to another smashing performance by world-champion sprinter Black Caviar in the Lexus Newmarket Stakes (Group 1) at Flemington Racecourse outside Melbourne. It was her tenth straight victory in as many starts, and her third straight Group 1. They weighed her down as much as they could to make the race even, but...well, watch it for yourself. This mare is so much fun to follow!
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At the Danish Warmblood stallion trials in Europe, a special performance by Dutch world champion dressage rider Edward Gal was caught on video by one of Edward's owners, Emmy de Jeu, as he rode a unique freestyle in the spotlight to the equally-freestyle accompaniment of famed violinist Kim Sjogren.
Who's Edward riding? You might do a double-take. That black stallion is Voice, by De Niro, owned by Will and Isabel van Gisbergen. While Voice is technically a Dutch Warmblood, as of the proceedings this weekend, he is now approved as a stallion in the breeding of both Danish warmbloods and Oldenburgs.
Voice certainly received an approval for his "stay calm and carry on" attitude. He didn't jump shadows, didn't shy at this strange man in the ring, and most of all, seemed to respond to the crowd's enthusiastic clapping in time to the music. How many dressage horses could handle that?
Edward Gal, by the way, receives an automatic entry in the 2011 Reem Acra FEI World Cup finals in Leipzig, Germany this spring, thanks to his win last year with his former partner, Totilas. He also won a 2011 qualifier at Jumping Mechelen in December, riding Sisther de Jeu. Will she be his choice for Leipzig? Stay tuned to find out!
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Back in Florida, it was the USA's most international dressage competition of the year, the World Dressage Masters Palm Beach. Defending champion Anky van Grunsven did not return to defend her title, and she'd have had a tough time against the smoother-than-silk performance of the USA's dressage hero Steffen Peters and Ravel, who scored an all-time career best of 84.550% in Friday night's freestyle.
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Ok, so maybe Florida was the place to be this weekend. If you could have zipped from Palm Beach to Gulfstream and then way up to Tallahassee, you could have seen the top horses in three different sports: Thoroughbred racing, dressage and eventing. The state capital hosted the Red Hills International Horse Trials, a CIC3* that sets the season in motion as the preview of what and whom we are likely to see at Rolex in April.
While we've already told you about the US Eventing Safety Committee's Equine Cardiovascular Study that was conducting tests on the horses at Red Hills this weekend, there was plenty to celebrate at Red Hills this year, as this news clip shows:
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Red Hills enjoyed good weather, huge crowds and a great performance in all three phases by Allison Springer and Arthur. Allison won a new Mercedes SUV and did her victory lap behind the wheel, after driving her old Honda into the ring!
Just in case you think it can't get any better, England's four-day Cheltenham Festival of National Hunt racing opens in Gloucestershire, headlined by Friday's three-mile (with hills) Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. There's nothing more fun and exciting in the racing world than Cheltenham in March. This year sees trainer Paul Nicholls bringing veteran champions Kauto Star, who won the race in 2007 and 2009, and 2008 winner Denman to test each other and their younger rivals. It's a fairytale match-up of legends in a legendary race.
Yes, Kauto Star fell last year but he's back! But 2010 winner Imperial Commander will be back too. And Denman, well, he never goes away. He won in 2008 and was second in 2009 and 2010. I'll be cheering for Denman, and hoping that Kauto Star is right behind him, so that between the two of them, they'd be 1-2 for the past four years. What are the odds of that happening? Maybe better than you'd think.
By the way, Kauto Star and Denman are both 11 years old. And still running, but who knows for how long?
Last year the human stars of Cheltenham stars got together and recorded a song about the meet, based on Petula Clark's 1960s classic, Downtown; the project raised money for charity and you can sing along, too:
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Congratulations to all the champions, and thanks for the thrills. Long may you all run...or jump or piaffe or whatever you do. We're lucky to have so many horses from last year's Breeders Cup and World Equestrian Games returning--they're already household names, familiar faces, and sure bets.