Can Confederate and ‘Show’ top T C I and Karl’s instant classic?

Today’s final card of Grand Circuit racing at Red Mile promises some fireworks.

by Brett Sturman

For as much hype as you can have for a Friday afternoon race, the first-time meeting between 2-year-old colt trotting stars T C I and Karl lived up to it and then some in their International Stallion Stakes division two days ago.

The anticipation leading up to the matchup and the performance displayed by those two would have been befitting a Breeders Crown setting. Notwithstanding what may happen on today’s (Oct. 8) Kentucky Futurity Day, this division from Friday’s (Oct. 6) International Stallion Stakes will be the race of the Grand Circuit meet in Lexington this year. For my money, it might even be the race of the year. It beautifully illustrated the pure race excitement that these horses can generate.

Despite his millionaire status just 10 races into his career, T C I was somewhat viewed as the lesser between him and fellow trotting sensation, Karl. On paper, Karl’s record had been consistently faster. He’s crushed in all five prior starts and had come into the International Stallion Stakes off a 1:51.2 a week prior in the Bluegrass. Conversely, T C I had never won faster than 1:54.1. However, if we’re being fair, T C I won the Mohawk Million in 1:54.3 and that was after spotting the field probably 20 lengths after a break at the start of that race. Bettors assessed the two in the same way, as accordingly, Karl was made the 3-5 race favorite while T C I was second best at even money in a race where no one else had a chance.

All past performances went out the window once the two horses came to the top of the Red Mile stretch in their race and put on one of the better final quarter battles you’ll ever see. Coming from the pocket in a race where Karl was able to set fractions at his own leisure, T C I used every possible inch of the Red Mile stretch to get his nose in front right on the wire. Both horses were all-out through that final quarter and perhaps a slight bob or two in the gait of Karl coming close to home was enough for T C I to somehow just get there, but what a race, and it was one that even after the finish was hard to split. I thought it was reminiscent of the two-horse race-off between Probe and Park Avenue Joe in the 1989 Hambletonian, where neither trotter refused to yield to the other.

At first review, it seemed like Karl had held off T C I. The camera at the Red Mile finish line is placed at a deceiving angle, but even with that it looked as if Karl was ahead by enough to cover for the angle. The camera operator too, had focused on Karl trotting out after the race had ended. That T C I had won only added to the allure of the race and highlighted just how close and evenly matched the two horses are. With any bit of luck, that race will just be the first of many in which T C I and Karl can form a longer lasting rivalry.

And that brings us to today, in which top 3-year-olds Confederate and It’s My Show meet again for just the second time this year in their division of the Tattersalls Pace.

Much like the presumption that Karl wouldn’t be beaten despite having to race against a highly accomplished rival, such is the role that Confederate is in against It’s My Show. Three races removed from his record 1:46.1 mile, Confederate has been a machine all year. His race today against It’s My Show will be his chance to avenge his lone defeat this year and he’ll be widely expected to do so, which came to It’s My Show way back in June in the North America Cup final.

But by playing the underdog, It’s My Show has the opportunity to produce a special race. He’s earned a great deal of respect by racing in — and winning — the Little Brown Jug. Going two heats in the same afternoon has now been all but forgotten in the sport, and winning his final heat from a relative outside post is something you hardly ever see in the Little Brown Jug final.

At around the same time It’s My Show won a thrilling Little Brown Jug; it was announced that Confederate would be retiring at season’s end. While typical and predictable, it’s nonetheless unfortunate in that it takes away all future opportunities to produce any more on-track moments. And it’s not meant to single out the impending retirement of only Confederate, as these horses are all widely managed as commercial assets and I’m sure the same fate would be possible for It’s My Show if he weren’t a gelding. It does present a juxtaposition between the two, however.

Though It’s My Show has lost a few times over the past couple months and Confederate hasn’t shown even the slightest sign that he can be beaten at present, there remains intrigue in the matchup. Unlike other races which will also take place on this day — while still extremely prestigious — where it’s the same horses racing against each other for what seems like the 35th time this year, this will be just the second time that It’s My Show and Confederate will have squared off. And with the wide post advantage that It’s My Show will have over Confederate (post 1 to post 9), the race could be close between the two.

If Confederate and It’s My Show were to put on a display that resembles anything close to T C I and Karl from two days ago, we’ll be in for quite a treat. That, along with all of the other stakes races on Futurity Day combined with the highest level quality of races from over these past two weeks across the board, it will have made this one of the more memorable Grand Circuit meets in recent memory.