The winner of the race cost half-a-million dollars as a yearling and "ran out of the TV set" ... won huge; so there was no beating a future superstar like him-- who's perhaps even a springtime Triple Crown-event (Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes) horse. However, Combat Controller, after lagging in last place down the backstretch, kicked into overdrive around the far turn---and despite being impossibly wide (thus geographically forced to cover more ground than the others) --- passed every horse in the field down the stretch except one....and was gettin' to him when the wire struck!
Combat Controller's trainer, Kenny McPeek, just told me that the horse is only now beginning to figure things out. While he'll never be a star like the winner (those type of horses disclose themselves from the "word go") ... McPeek thinks some good fun's to be had with Combat Controller once turf (grass) season arrives. Today was his 2nd dirt race in as many starts.
In the game of Thoroughbred racing, you never "know what you have" until they race; and when a horse throws in a nightmare performance the first time out---as Combat Controller did on that November night at Churchill Downs---you fear you might have a skunk. But when a horse can turn it around - even a little - after the 2nd or 3rd race, your optimism soars.
So tonight is a good night. Because this horse was named for United States Air Force Combat Controllers of the past, present and future, Dr Carl Gessler, his owner, and I, of course, desperately want him to be a "good horse" ...a winner.
Race 7 at Fair Grounds on Full Results
Closing Note: Dr Gessler is a close friend of President Trump's new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (both Alabamans), as well as another Trump Cabinet appointee, Tom Price, of Georgia, (Health & Human Services)...and has been asked to consider joining the extended Trump Team in some medical regard. Those guys are all horse racing fans and all know of Combat Controller, the horse. It'll be sweet to announce that he 'hit the board" in his second effort. Pretty cool stuff.
This ties it up. I'll do better in the future with keeping everyone apprised of Combat Controller's races. I'm sorry about today's late notification. FYI...as a rule of thumb, a young horse will not race more than once every 2, possibly 3 months....so don't be looking for a notification at any time soon.
Happy New Year to all,
(dad of CCT SSgt John G, 21st STS- Pope)
ps/ I heard from many after Combat Controller's first race, and continue to welcome any communication from families inside the fraternity. Please pass the word to everyone you're connected to about this horse. Everybody should know about him.
Favoritism may go to Combat Controller, based on his class lines and speed figures. In his past two races, he has chased Local Hero, who impressed many when romping by 7¼ lengths last out at this level and trip on Jan. 26. The Gessler Racing-owned and Ken McPeek-trained son of Awesome Again closed well to be third that day from well back.
Race 7 at Fair Grounds on Full Results
Combat Controller is the #4 horse in yellow, coming in 3rd A 12:1 odds
This saga began 3 months ago, the day after Thanksgiving, at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Combat Controller raced that night like he was blindfolded. Since then, he's been coming around by the week and training well. He went from trailing the field in the first race to finishing 3rd twice. He's now doing everything a trainer hopes to see: Eats every oat every day and has stayed sound / free of injury. He's also not goofing off in workouts (well, as much. That may never fully subside until he's older. In the sphere of horse racing, 3 years, 3 months (his age) is still quite young. He's literally a big, playful kid and last but not least---still has his testicles. Don't laugh...in the equine world they're quick to come off if a horse refuses to concentrate, compete seriously, and/or becomes dangerous. Combat Controller's dad, Awesome Again, was a world champion and his mom, a minor stakes winner on grass surfaces. As such, a case could be made that Combat Controller is worth a hundred grand- or more -even if he never wins a race, as HE could pass on the abilities of his parents---even if that same DNA finds a way to by-pass him.
But I digress. Most importantly--and this is huge--Combat Controller never gives a half-hearted effort. He fights during every race and morning training session. Still, while he has the mind of a champion, unfortunately, the Good Lord didn't give him legs fast enough to run with the best.
In conclusion, this time, if Combat Controller won, I would not be surprised. And for the first time--though he has to face another horse worth half-a-million bucks, this one named INSURGENT, I'm going to bet on the CCT.
As a side note...as someone in the industry, the point above is just unreal to me. It seems that every time Combat Controller is entered, he's tasked with facing at least one horse who's as well bred as ANY horse in America. Insurgent is owned by one of America's wealthiest family's and one of the world's most successful breeding operations...Stonestreet Farm and the estate of Jess Jackson, of Jackson-Kendall Wines. He's by a champion out of a champion. There's no ambiguity in his pedigree: Insurgent is expected to be special. As for this Saturday, though, I don't care: Insurgent better have his running shoes on!
In addition to Combat Controller's maturation and solid training, there's going to be a significant jockey change. Trainer Kenny McPeek has named Robby Albarado to ride him. Ironically, Albarado has been nominated to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame this year. He's been around for better than 20 years and has won almost every important race, excepting the Kentucky Derby---and might win that this year on a horse called J BOYS ECHO. Unfortunately, Robby won't win the Derby on Combat Controller, who's strongest pedigree influence is on the grass racing side.
The horse is "almost there." In the video, note how he isn't "headstrong" and fighting the jockey to be up with the leaders---nor no longer falling impossibly far behind the pack, as he did in his first 2 races. He's now "rating" (comfortably settling into stride) beautifully down the backstretch and then, when the jockey gives the cue to kick-it-in for all he's worth, he attacked the leaders on the turn and wasn't satisfied until he made the lead.
At that point, the race was his to lose, and he was simply run down by a little better horse on this date. No shame there. Fair Grounds Race Course has the longest stretch in horse racing and it's extremely difficult to lead the whole way there. The stretch at Churchill Downs is known for being the longest due to hosting the Kentucky Derby, but Fair Grounds is actually 40 yards longer....and considerably longer than most other American racetracks.
Combat Controller is still very much a work in progress, but inside of 4 months, trainer Kenny McPeek and his team have done a phenomenal job with this horse. After the debacle of his first race, I thought he might be pulling a plow by springtime..aye yi yi! (What'd he get beaten, 25 lengths that night..?)
Race 8 at Fair Grounds on
He's now looking great yet improvement still lies ahead. We know this with confidence because, when he turned for home and dug for the lead, he was not traveling on the correct "lead" (the leg which strikes the ground first). The first leg you should see strike the ground by a sound & professional racehorse in the homestretch should be his left leg. In today's race, Combat Controller was reaching out with his right leg for half-the-homestretch.
From Day 1, in order to optimize their energy output, racehorses are taught to "switch leads" everyday in training. When they don't swap over to their proper leads as they travel around the course, they go off balance and tire much faster. By human example, think of running through a giant airport with the heaviest piece of luggage you've ever carried. At the point you switch arms, you receive a natural energy boost. Same thing with a horse switching its leads. Combat Controller stayed on the wrong lead all the way down the stretch until the "eighth pole" ...which is 220 yards from the wire. By the time he switched over, the eventual winner had the momentum---and CCT was passed. We presume (hope?) that this deficiency will be corrected and he will switch to the proper leg at the very top of the stretch. If he can do that, it'll make a significant difference in his stretch run.
So on that note---let's hope!
As always, I'll do my best to keep everyone apprised of the next race.
People from all over America, Canada and parts of Europe are following the saga of the horse named in honor of the US military special operators known as Air Force Combat Controllers---and I'm grateful to everyone of you. Finally, thanks once more to Dr Carl Gessler of Alabama - who has no familial ties to the military - for the naming honor. Pretty cool gesture.
Take care & go well,