Sunday, November 8, 2009

Girl Power at the Breeders Cup

Saturday proved to be a historic day in horse racing with the victory by the 5 year old mare Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Classic. Trained by John Shireffs and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the daughter of Street Cry (IRE) out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00 3/5, ahead of her eleven male competitors (Quality Road was a late scratch after refusing entry and breaking through the gate).

Not since Azeri finished 4th to Ghostzapper in 2004 has a filly or mare tried to win the Classic, but unlike the prior three, this time the girl ruled. Breaking slowly, Zenyatta trailed all but the Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird entering the first turn, and remained in 6th entering the homestretch (see photo right). But Mike Smith had patience and confidence as he weaved his way through the tiring field. Zenyatta was just getting into gear. Smith swung the giant mare out wide and gave her a couple quick cracks of the whip. That was all she needed to get down to business and race past the probable US turf horse of the year Gio Ponti who held on for the place. In finishing first by a length, Zenyatta concluded her illustrious career a perfect 14 for 14, eclipsing the the Hall-of-Fame filly Personal Ensign's 13 straight to start a career, but falling a nose short as the most exciting race in Breeders Cup history.

Zenyatta beat 7 millionaires including the aforementioned Derby winner Mine That Bird and the Belmont and Travers winner Summer Bird. She also beat some of Europe's best, although she didn't have the chance to face the world's best horse - be it Rachel Alexandra or European superstar Sea the Stars - both opting to stay home after tough campaigns. Jess Jackson can say he doesn't want to race his filly Rachel Alexandra on the synthetics after Curlin lost last year, but his decision was made when Rachel was all out winning the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes in September.

Would she have beaten those two champions Saturday if they were running? Doesnt' matter because they didn't run. They can't take away her Breeders Cup Classic title. Will this vault Zenyatta to Horse-of-the-year honors? She'll get some support for sure, but I'd wager she'll fall a little short - remember, the horse center of the world is Kentucky, not Los Angeles, and they have never seen her race in person. Which is a shame, because she is something special. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, November 6, 2009

Breeders Cup Friday

Back from my exciting weekend in the City of Brotherly Love which went great save a 9th inning Yankees rally, but was fun nonetheless. Time to get back to handicapping and the 2 day Breeders Cup at Santa Anita is a good place to start.

Friday was "Ladies Day" last year, but this year they move the Marathon to Friday and stretch it out to 14 furlongs making a true test of the stayer. Last year's winner Muhannak is in the race, but hasn't run well this year. The class of the field is Mastery who won the Group 1 St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster in his last outing and he's the likely winner, but I'm gonna take 9 year old Cloudy's Knight to spring the upset at a price. The #4 horse has won his last two starts at 12F and comes into the race in top form. #1 Black Astor could be a surprise as well as he sports a pace advantage on these.

The BC Juvenile Fillies Turf is somewhat of a crapshoot given the limited preps available to theses fillies and the presence of several Euros in the field. The #8 Lilie Langtry looks especially tough having won almost $1mln already in her career but her trainer Aiden O'Brien hasn't had success with his shippers going 0-23 in the past 3 years according to the Daily Racing Form. I'll look to #11 Junia Tepzia who is 2-2 racing in Italy by Rock of Gibraltar (IRE), a top turf sire. Longshot #5 La Nez is a local filly that could spring the upset at a big price if she takes to the turf.

The BC Juvenile Fillies is usually dominated by favorites like last year's Stardom Bound but this year's contest appears wide open. I like the #7 Devil May Care who's half to Regal Ransom running in the Classic tomorrow. #3 Blind Luck out of the Jerry Hollendorfer barn could give him his first BC winner as she won at this track and distance last race.
The BC Filly & Mare Turf has last year's champion Forever Together in the field as well as 4 other millionaires. I'm gonna take the hard knocking #3 Rutherienne over the #5 Pure Clan.
Ventura, pictured above should repeat in the F&M Sprint unless #2 Sara Louise isn't caught.
The Ladies Classic is without superstar Zenyatta who has opted to race tomorrow in the Classic, which should make this a more interesting affair. #1 Careless Jewel is a logical first choice with #5 Proviso looking to extend the Euros dominance on the syntethics at Oak Tree.
Picks: Race 3 -#4, Race 4 - #11, Race 5 - #7, Race 6 - #3, Race 7 - #9, Race 8 - #1
Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pearl Jam Concert Lived up to Hype

Got back from the big Pearl Jam last ever concert at the Spectrum and it didn't disappoint. Here's the setlist(thanks to

Set List: Why Go, Last Exit, Corduroy, Severed Hand, The Fixer, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, You Are, Amongst The Waves, Even Flow, Pilate, Unthought Known, Daughter/Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 (Waters), Johnny Guitar, Rats, I'm Open, I Got Shit, Glorified G, Out Of My Mind, Black, Insignificance, Life Wasted

1st encore: Just Breathe w/string quartet, The End w/string quartet, Low Light, Speed Of Sound, Jeremy w/string quartet, Inside Job, Bugs w/string quartet, Spin The Black Circle, Porch

2nd encore: Whip It (Devo), Got Some, Crown Of Thorns (Mother Love Bone), Satan's Bed, Sweet Lew, Do the Evolution, Better Man/Save It For Later (English Beat), Smile, Alive, Rockin' In The Free World (Young), Yellow Ledbetter/Star Spangled Banner

I got to hear 6 of the 10 songs I wanted to hear, but none of the top 3. Still all in all, when you get to got to 3 1/2 hours of Pearl Jam playing live, it is something special. Highlights for me include the "Whip It" cover when the band dressed up as Devo, and the finishing Alive and Rockin' in the Free World combo. Also Eddie was chatty and funny, and dispelled the rumors of special guests early on. Click Here to Read More..

What I Want to Hear

Earlier in the week on day 1 of Pearl Jam's 4 night stand at the Spectrum lead singer Eddie Vedder uttered that "we're gonna try to play every song we know by 2am Sunday." That off-handed statement had the forums buzzing over at not only for the potential of an epic 5 hour concert, but also for the potential to hear some rare classics that are infrequently played.

Myself, I don't claim to be any kind of superfan. I've been to 5 PJ concerts and have a number of albums, but not every one. I loved the concert at Outside Lands because they played so many songs I know. So, I got to thinking, what are the songs I really want to hear Pearl Jam play on Halloween. PJ has repeated a few songs besides their recent Backspacer numbers, I sure hope they do repeats tonight as most of my faves have played. Here goes:

1. Breath - never heard it live, they don't play this one as much, but played it Friday.
2. Dissident - Played night 1.
3. Rearviewmirror - played on nights 1 and 3.
4. Black - always great.
5. Rats - fitting for halloween
6. Life Wasted - haven't played yet
7. Rockin' in the Free World - closed nite 1. If Neil Young is invovled this moves to #1
8. Corduroy - night 1
9. Leash- Get out of my face.
10. Alive - Great set closer

Mostly hits, I know, but pretty much that's what I want.

Leaving now for airport. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekend of the Year

Usually this space is reserved for commentary on horse racing. But this weekend I have the great fortune of travelling back to Philadelphia for an out of this world Pick 3 starting Saturday night at the final live performance in the history of the fabled Philadelphia Spectrum by one of my favorite bands Pearl Jam on Halloween. Sunday follows with the ultimate double-header. First is a 1pm kickoff of the Philadelphia Eagles vs. division rival New York Giants. Then Game 4 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees takes place at 8:30pm.

The idea cropped up after my initial plan to possibly catch a World Series game in Anaheim was fizzling due to the Yankees grabbing a commanding 3-1 lead. When that looked dire, I started looking for plane tickets to Philly, and fortunately I found a ticket to fly the red-eye Sat night to arrive for the big Eagles/Phils double header. Now all I needed was a Phils win in game 5 of the NLCS.

The morning after the Phils clinched I went to book my flight, but the price had tripled for the red-eye. An earlier direct flight could get me to Philly Saturday afternoon, but that required additional approval from the wife. Since she is the greatest wife ever, she recognized how fired up I had gotten for this trip, so she graciously gave me the thumbs up.

The earlier arrival sparked a new idea. I had read during Bruce Springsteen's legendary performances last week at the Spectrum that it was closing this weekend, and Pearl Jam would be the final act. Having recently seen their scintillating performance at Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco in August, I could hardly imagine how great seeing them close the Spectrum would be. Well if the Friday night's show is any indication, its gonna be insane. Game 3 is going on across the street at Citizen's Bank Park, so the whole complex is gonna be rocking, not just the Spectrum.

I hope to post pictures and stories from the weekend, the weekend of the year, and possibly the greatest sports weekend of my life.

Off to Broad and Pattison.
Click Here to Read More..

Friday, August 7, 2009

Arlington Million Day

Perhaps the best day of turf racing in the US happens Saturday at Arlington Park in Illinois with the Arlington Million (gr. I) headlining the card. Three Grade 1 races on the turf are scheduled for Saturday with the Beverly D for fillies and mares, and the Secretariat for 3yos also on the docket. The big races start with race 7 at 3:05 CST, lets take a look.

Secretariat Stakes (gr. I): The first of three straight Grade I turf races starts with 3yos in the Secretariat Stakes at 1 mile and a quarter. The race appears to be fairly wide open with Giant Oak being the 3-1 M/L favorite. #10 Giant Oak won the Arlington Classic two starts back but could only manage 4th in the American Derby (gr. II) with both #8 Reb and #5 Oil Man finishing ahead of him. I like Reb alot as he has won three in a row including a win over the track, and has Julian Leparoux aboard (3-3 on the horse). He absolutely flies and couldn't be any gamer winning his races by a head, a nose, and a head.

The other horse I really like is #9 Black Bear Island by legendary sire Sadler's Wells, and is a full brother to arguably the best turf horse of the 90's, High Chaparall who won the Epsom Derby (gr. I), the Irish Derby (gr. I) and the Breeders Cup Turf (gr. I) twice. He's a Grade II winner in England, but has been knocking heads with the best in Europe this year. First-time Lasix angle, plus top trainer Aiden O'Brien isn't sending him for fun. Love his chances, the class of the field.

#7 Take the Points out of the Todd Pletcher barn will be well bet, and is certainly capable, but I don't like him too much. Ran a decent 3rd in the Va Derby (gr. II), but has still not yet won a turf race yet in his career. Talented, but a likely underlay vs. better.

Hoosier Kingdom has won 4 in a row vs. lesser and has speed but appears overmatched. #3 Proceed Bee may grab a slice coming late.

The Pick: My top pick is the 9 Black Bear Island, just think he has too much class, but I also like Reb's chances and will include him in the exotics.

Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I): Unfortunatley Christophe Clement will not extend his two year win streak for this "win and your in" race as he hasn't a starter, but it should be a well conested battle. When The Aga Khan ships a horse to this race, you better recognize, the #1 Alnadana comes into this race off a grade III win in France 3 weeks ago. The grey Alain Dupre filly by Danehill Dancer is 4-1 on the ML. The other European import with a good shot is #5 Mad About You who was only a head away from the Irish One Thousand Guineas last year and has already captured a Group III win this year.

The top US entries are #2 Pure Clan, a grade I winner in 2008, she's coming off a grade III win over this track last month. Also #4 Black Mamba out of the John Sadler barn looms a major contender. She's coming off a win in the grade II Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park and has a grade I under her belt, but usually runs in So. Cal. #6 Tizaqueena by Tiznow is intriguing, but hasn't won since May and appears slightly overmatched.

While this race could be won by any of these entries, I'm focusing on the Euro class again in #1 Alnadana as the top choice with #2 Pure Clan as the likely place runner, i'll use both in multi-race bets.

Arlington Million (gr. I): A great race with four millionaires entered. To me it comes down to two. Does Presious Passion hold on to his lead, or does Gio Ponti run him down at the end. If you aren't familiar with #2 Presious Passion take a look at this.

If you are worried about him getting into a pace duel, stop, it doesn't matter. He just keeps running faster each race. In the United Nations he goes 1:09 4/5 and still wins by 2. Maybe Gio Ponti, who can absolutely fly in the lane catches him, but if Presious Passion runs his race he wins, I really think its that simple. He's won 4 of his last 5 turf races only finishing 2nd in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita. With 12 career wins and $1.8mln in the bank, PP really seems to be peaking at age 6.
Foreign horses have done well in this race and #7 Gloria De Campeao seems to be the top contender. He took the Grade I Singapore Cup and finished 2nd in the Dubai World Cup (gr. I) in March. The incredibly bred #8 Cima de Triomphe by Galileo out of a stakes winning Danehill mare won the Grade I Italian Derby last year but hasn't quite reached that class this year...still, he looms a threat.

The Bet: The $300k guaranteed pick 3 is an enticing bet. Here's my picks:

Top bet: 7,8,9 / 1,2,4,5,6 / 2 $15 pick 3
8,9/ 1,2 / 2,6,7 $12 pick 3

total bets $27
Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Belmont Stakes Preview

I'm not too jazzed about this year's Belmont Stakes so I won't go into too much detail. Rachel Alexandra showed in the Preakness she is a really special filly, or that this year's crop of 3yo colts isn't that special. Probably a little of both.

A lot of people think because the Belmont is 12 furlongs that closers have an advantage passing tiring front runners. But I don't think that is the case, unless there is a heated pace duel in the front (See Smarty Jones). Closers aren't used to running 12F anymore than front runners, and often they don't have their usual late kick, which was used up after about a mile. The track often plays well to front runners too (see Da'Tara), but usually the best horse wins this race.

Mine That Bird returns for the Meatloaf Triple Crown (2 outta 3 ain't bad) and he gets Calvin Borel back and he is the deserving M/L favorite. He's one of two in here who'll have run all three Triple Crown races, the other being Flying Private, so there are alot of fresher horses in here. Talent is there, but i'm not sure the pace is. But if Borel can find the conveyor belt on the rail he has a legit chance to win this one.

Charitable Man is a logical contender being 2 for 2 at Belmont and having won the Peter Pan (gr. II) here a week after the Derby. There is little to no pace in here, and he may be the leader after a half mile. I think that will be his best chance to win, get in front and make em catch you. Sire Lemon Drop Kid won this event so the distance should be manageable so long as Alan Garcia can control his pace.

Dunkirk has the talent but ran poorly in the Kentucky Derby which will give his backers better odds today. Unfortunately for him, he has a similar style as Mine That Bird, who has proved himself the past two races. Dunkirk will be fresher having skipped the Preakness and does get the services of Pletcher's regular jockey John Velazquez. He'll need to be in front of Mine That Bird close to the leaders (if not leading) for a chance to win. This analysis is similar for the 1 Chocolate Candy, but he'll need to take a step forward to win this, while Dunkirk will need to repeat his race in the Florida Derby.

If any horse is gonna steal this one it could be Miner's Escape who won the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on Derby Day by 4 1/2. Trainer Nick Zito knows more than anyone the New York track, and upset the field in the Belmont with Da'Tara last year going wire-to-wire with a less than stellar looking colt. He'll have to take a huge leap forward and get a perfect ride, but at 15-1 he's a good longshot pick.

The Pick: It'll probably be a popular pick but I think Charitable Man is a better bet than Mine That Bird who'll go off near even money. I like Mine That Bird second and Miner's Escape 3rd. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, May 14, 2009

2009 Preakness Stake Preview

The 2009 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) hasn't been this intriguing in quite some time. The purchase and recent additon of super filly Rachel Alexandra into the entry box by wine maven Jess Jackson is only one of the interesting features of the 134th running of the Preakness. A 50-1 Derby winner returns for respect, and six of his defeated foes return for another shot at a classic.

When Calvin Borel weaved his way through the field 2 weeks ago to shock the world on Mine That Bird, all sorts of questions were raised. Where did he come from? Who is this trainer in the black hat? Was that the work of a biased rail, or an extra push from the vet? Well, we know that Bernie Wooley, Jr. drove his horse from New Mexico by van, and that the Kentucky Derby was only his 2nd win of the year. On Saturday, he won't have the luxury of Calvin Borel riding his horse who opted to ride Rachel Alexandra, in an unprecedented move of leaving the Derby winner to ride a filly facing colts for the first time. Wooley may likely be found on Friday night doing rain dances in the infield, as the sloppy Churchill surface definitely helped him in victory, and may be his only shot to repeat.

The morning line favorite is the filly, Rachel Alexandra who enters off a scintillating performance in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). Originally her trainer Hal Wiggins wanted to run Rachel in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) on Belmont day, but she was sold last week to Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and transferred to Steve Asmussen's barn. Jackson avoided some collusion shenanigans by rival owners trying to prevent his filly from running in the race and fortunately for viewers, she's in.

Six rivals from the Derby including the 2nd through 4th place finishers as well as race day favorite Friesan Fire look to turn the tables on Mine That Bird. Of the returnees, I like Pioneerof the Nile the most. He tracked a decent if not quick pace and looked like a winner before Mine That Bird staged his improbable rally. I think the Pimlico surface is not friendly to dead closers and the horse that can emerge in front at the top of the lane stands a good chance to win. I also like General Quarters a little bit, as he seems to only run his best every other race. After having much trouble in the Derby, look for GQ to run much better Saturday.

Of the newcomers, #1 Big Drama looks the toughest. He wired the field in the Grade II Swale at Gulfstream earning a 108 Beyer. More importantly, I think he's the controlling speed, which usually works good at Pimlico, and starting from the rail you know he'll be gunned for the lead. I also thinks he hurts Rachel Alexandra's chances as she likes the lead as well. Rachel is starting from the outside, the 13 post, so Borel will have to decide whether to gun for the lead or pull her back and save ground. His ride will be key to her success. He knows her well piloting her to the recent 5 wins in a row stretch, and he picked her over the Derby winner so you know he loves her chances. But the tough post, the tough pace conditions, and wheeling back in 2 weeks are all negatives for her. She's raced back 2 weeks before both times losing, running subpar races. At 8/5 she just doesn't offer value.

The Pick

Pioneerof the Nile outkicks Rachel Alexandra and a hard charging General Quarters.

Bet Pioneer over Rachel/GQ

Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Get Well Soon Bobby Gonzalez

Golden Gate Fields journeyman jockey Roberto "Bobby" Gonzalez suffered a terrible spill in a 2-year old race this past Wednesday April 29th (article here) breaking vertebrae in his neck. The 54 year old jockey is a consummate pro and winner of over 4,000 races.

I've met Bobby numerous times and he was aboard my horse Dead Solid Perfect when he broke his maiden on the Golden Gate Fields turf beating eventual stakes winner Putmeinyourwill. He was always friendly in the paddock and gave his best in every race.

Here's hoping you get well soon Bobby. Click Here to Read More..

Okay - I'm back - and calling BS.

Can we all agree the derby is a joke and the focus of real fans of our sport should be on the Breeders Cup? A horse that's 50-1 -- and should be 500-1 -- fools us with a ridiculous rags to riches story. A trainer with a single win this year, with a horse that hadn't run a beyer figure north of 81 -- suddenly can storm from about 30 lengths back to win by 7.

We'll see the truth emerge in the coming days. And it'll probably be another black eye for the sport. As much as it's fun to watch the big money get crushed on derby day - you have to hope this win was remotely legit. I'm saying it wasn't. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, April 30, 2009

2009 Kentucky Derby Preview

Last week I wrote about the top 4 contenders at the time, but the departure of Quality Road makes this a much more wide open race. While I Want Revenge was named the morning line 3-1 favorite by track handicapper Mike Battaglia, there is no standout in this field, and many intriguing possibilities. Without further ado, a look at all 20 colts in the 135th Kentucky Derby. (Sire/Dam in parentheses).

The Automatic Tosses: These horses have no chance to win and were likely entered so their owners will have good seats from which to view the race.

#8 Mine That Bird (Birdstone/Mining My Own): While a "star" at two in Canada winning three stakes races and a juvenile championship up north, he finished last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last year. Though the $9,500 yearling purchase is a rags to riches story having earned almost $375,000, the odds of him winning this race are nearly that long.

#9 Join in the Dance (Sky Mesa/Dance Darling): One of three in the race for Derby virgin Todd Pletcher he may give his owners a thrill setting the pace for the first 6 furlongs but he's unlikely to break the schneid for the country's top earning trainer.

#14 Atomic Rain (Smart Strike/Paradise Pond): Could be a hunch play if the skies open up. Maiden winner at 5F, I hope the Hall's enjoy the mint juleps because a trip to the winner's circle is not in the forecast.

#17 Summer Bird (Birdstone/Hong Kong Squall): Did finish 3rd in the Arkansas Derby at 26-1, but with only three starts and a single win under his belt so far in his career, I don't think he has much chance to win this one.

#18 Nowhere to Hide (Vindication/Stirring): Not sure how he qualifies for this field with nary a show placing in graded stakes, but Nick Zito enters this colt anyway and puts blinkers on. This $250k KEESEP yearling is the lowest earner in the field ($100k).

#20 Flying Private (Fusaichi Pegasus/Beautiful Treasure): His daddy won the Derby back in 2000 as the favorite but has been less than stellar as a sire. D. Wayne has his Derby entry, but this colt is too slow to warrant serious consideration and drawing the 20 hole doesn't help.

Really, alot of these could have been entered in a N1X Allowance race on the undercard and it'd have been a nice little race but the owners would rather try for the glory.

The Longshots: This group of horses will be high priced, but there is a slim chance they could pull a Giacomo and shock the world.

#1 West Side Bernie (Bernstein/Time Honored): Started his career with two straight wins including the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile, but hasn't won since. Did post a triple figure Beyer finishing 2nd to race favorite I Want Revenge in the Wood, but will need another step forward to have a shot.

#3 Mr. Hot Stuff (Tiznow/Sweet Damsel): His full bro Colonel John took some money in last year's Derby and could only manage 6th but hung on to win last year's Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. Obviously bred for the distance, he closed well in his last two races, both 3rd place finishes in graded stakes. This is his first trip outside of California and on dirt; gets top rider John Velazquez for Eoin Harty in this race, and could be coming flying toward the wire. If the pace is hot and the race breaks down, he could spring the upset.

#4 Advice (Chapel Royal/Word o'Wisdom): Winning the Grade II Lexington at Keeneland two weeks ago was impressive, but wheeling back in two weeks is a very tough task. His pedigree screams "speed" and he's 0-1 lifetime on the conventional dirt. I really am not too high on this guy, but his graded victory at least shows he can compete.

#10 Regal Ransom (Distorted Humor/Kelli's Ransom): The longer odds of the two Godolphin entries he beat stablemate Desert Party in the UAE Derby (gr. II). He will likely be amongst the pace-setters and although his workouts show he'll like the track in Kentucky, unless he can sneak away to a very easy lead, I don't think he'll have enough left in the tank when the real running starts.

#19 Desert Party (Street Cry(Ire)/Sage Cat): Shiekh Mohammed paid a pretty penny, 210 million of them in fact, for this bay colt by Street Cry (Ire). He showed promise early winning the Grade II Sanford over a sealed muddy track before floundering in the Hopeful. If the track comes up wet, this horse moves up in my rankings but the fact that regular jockey Louis Dettori did not fly over for the mount, and the prior jockey in his US races Edgar Prado rides Dunkirk leaves me a little dubious of his chances.

The Live Longshot(s): These three horses are 20-1 on the M/L but have won a major derby prep which warrants them an additional look.

#2 Musket Man (Yonaguska/Fortuesque): Hard to fault a horse that's 5 for 6 and I love horses that know how to win. This guy proves you don't need big bucks to get to the Derby, just a good eye and a little luck. He went for only $15,000 at Keeneland's 2007 yearling sale, and boasts a workmanlike pedigree. That could prevent him from being able to get 10f as his sire was a speedster and his damside doesn't project stamina either. Couldn't handle General Quarters in the SF Davis but rebounded to win two graded stakes since then. Has talent, has won at 9 furlongs, but I just don't think he's quite good enough to win the roses, could get a slice.

#5 Hold Me Back (Giant's Causeway/Restraint): If he is able to translate his synthetic surface ability to the Churchill track, he could pose a big threat. His only dirt run was a disappointing 5th at Aqueduct in the Remsen (gr. II). Trainer Bill Mott has never won the Derby but jockey Kent Desormeaux has three times including last year on Big Brown. He does have the kind of pace profile that wins, and great closing times, so if he can translate his Lane's End run to the Derby, he could be a player. He's gotta prove it before I take him.

#7 Papa Clem (Smart Strike/Miss Houdini): Ran 2nd to two of the races favorites (Pioneer and Friesan Fire) before taking the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) at Oaklawn last race. To me he proved the West Coast horses were to be reckoned with and don't forget he finished ahead of I Want Revenge in the Robert B Lewis (gr. II). Nice pedigree as Smart Strike has become a top sire and Miss Houdini was a grade I winning filly. His style should keep him within a few lengths, but if the track is muddy you have to put him behind Friesan Fire who beat him by 7 1/4 in the slop at the LA Derby. If he's 20-1 on Saturday he's worth a flyer.

The Storybook Endings: Two sentimental favorites, these longshots have a legitimate shot to win, but also sport great background stories.

#11 Chocolate Candy (Candy Ride/Crownette): Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is third on the all-time wins list and has been the dominant trainer in Northern California for 20+ years winning over 5,000 races but has never really established himself in the major Grade 1 races. He had the Derby favorite in '96 but had to scratch Event of the Year due to injury and has 0 wins in 3 Derby starts. He comes in with a live horse in Chocolate Candy who's off the pace style fits this race to a "t". A good foundation at two, this will be his 10th career race, and he gets a jockey upgrade in Mike Smith, whose experience will be an asset. A "dual qualifier" his pedigree boasts the Rasmussen factor through Alanesian, the blue hen mare of Boldnesian, grandsire of Seattle Slew. He's never raced on dirt, but has worked beautifully over the Churchill surface including a 59 1/5 5F earlier this week. He hasn't been able to run past Pioneerof the Nile yet, but the extra furlong may give him the opportunity. I expect him to be running fast late, and if he gets the right pace set-up, Jerry may get the cherry on top of his Hall-of-Fame career. He's my personal favorite pick, having seen him live in the El Camino Real Derby (pictured above).

#12 General Quarters (Sky Mesa/Ecology) : In contrast to Chocolate Candy's trainer Jerry Hollendorfer who's sent horses to the starting gate over 4oo times this year, General Quarters trainer Tom Mc Carthy (great background story from the New York Daily News) has only two starts this year and one win, both with his featured colt. McCarthy claimed this horse for $20,000 last year, the same price he sold for at the Keeneland 2007 yearling auction, and has turned him into a grade I winner. I absolutely love the 4x5 cross of champion Round Table in his pedigree imparting stamina and durability. Churchill specialist Julian Leparoux gets the mount, and if he can repeat his effort from the Grade III SF Davis he stands a chance for the big prize. Don't count this underdog out.

The Fab Four: The four most talented colts in the field, and which combined I think there is a 90% chance the winner will come from this group. In reverse order of preference:

#15 Dunkirk (Unbridled's Song/Secret Status): Regally bred grey colt that didn't debut until January of this year (big no-no), and that's one of his few faults. His other fault is that he's never won a stakes race, but did finish 2nd to superstar Quality Road in the Grade I Florida Derby. What he has done is bust out the top last race Beyer Speed Figure of 108, which two of the past three winners sported. He's also the offspring of a Grade I winning millionaire dam by a top sire in Unbridled's Song. I just think his lack of experience will hurt him in the end and trainer Todd Pletcher will once again fail to get his brass ring.

#13 I Want Revenge (Stephen Got Even/Meguial): Started miserably in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) but finished like a champ to draw clear by 1 1/2 at the wire. His Gotham run was equally impressive scoring by 8 1/2 lenghths and earning the field's top Beyer (113). Oft maligned trainer Jeff Mullins shipped his colt east after failing to beat West Coast division leader Pioneerof the Nile, and its proved to be a great decision. He loves the dirt and handled the Churchill track firing a bullet 4F workout Tuesday. He's been made the morning line favorite, but I think the Wood might have taken alot out of him, he was all out in the win. Additionally he's being guided by a 19 year old jockey in his first Kentucky Derby. I don't like 3-1 odds given those factors so I won't be singling him to win, but he's a very logical candidate.

#6 Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy/Bollinger): His three race graded stakes streak was accomplished at the Fairgrounds, not the normal route to the winner's circle at Churchill. Also he hasn't raced since March 14th, a seven week layoff. What I do like is how he's improved in each of his last three, including a huge run in the slop in the LA Derby crushing Papa Clem who went on to win the Arkansas Derby next out. He moves to the top if the track is sloppy. He's got tactical speed but I don't foresee him sprinting to the lead and getting caught up in a dual. His final quarters aren't spectacular, and he hasn't been past 8.5 panels, but his pedigree is outstanding, and there's no reason to suspect he won't get the distance. Absolutely blitzed 5F last Monday in 57 4/5 showing he's itching to run. I expect him to be heavily bet, and may even end up the favorite, but I'll have him in my exotics on top along with....

#16 Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker/Star of Goshen): Has all the makings of a Derby winner. Dual qualifier, Mr. Prospector sire line, good final quarters, top connections, and most importantly a strong will to win. Four straight wins in fact including two Grade I's, most in the field, and he hasn't lost since the Breeder's Cup Juvenile while getting caught in traffic. The knocks against him are his low Beyer figures, having never earned triple digits, and never running on dirt, only synthetics. Clocker reports indicate he's moving nicely over the Churchill surface in the mornings, and that he shouldn't have trouble handling the dirt, but you never know. Trainer Bob Baffert has great success in this race having won three times, though he hasn't scored since 2002 with War Emblem. What stands out to me is that he's beaten four of his opponents today in preps including favorite I Want Revenge and Papa Clem, both who've won major preps. The top pick.

The Race - I think the race will have an honest but not blazing pace. I favor horses that can come from a stalking position and not get caught too far behind early. Of course navigating traffic is essential in the Derby so those horses with experienced jockeys have an advantage. Pioneer and I Want Revenge should be just behind Friesan Fire and Papa Clem after 6 furlongs moving up on the leaders. Chocolate Candy, General Quarters and Dunkirk will likely be behind them trying to close fast. If the leaders run the first 3/4 miles in 1:10 or lower, expect one of these three to win, if they run slower expect one of the stalkers to take it.

The Pick:
Win: #16 Pioneerof the Nile
Place: #6 Friesan Fire
Show: #11 Chocolate Candy

The Bet: $20 Win #16. $20 Show #11.
$5 Exacta: (6, 16) with (6, 11, 12, 15, 16)
$2 Trifecta: (16 with 3, 6, 11 with 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 15)

Total wagered: $110

Good Luck All and hope for a safe race this year.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Kentucky Oaks Preview

The last time Rachel Alexandra entered the
starting gate at odds above even money she was 3rd choice in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at 3-1 odds. After blitzing graded stakes winners Sara Louise and Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Dream Empress, she has never run higher than 2/5. In Friday's Grade I Kentucky Oaks she'll likely be odds-on again, facing a field of seven other fillies including multiple graded stakes winner Justwhistledixie.

Rachel Alexandra is the first starter from the Roar mare Lotta Kim who was a stakes winner at three before retiring from an injury. Lotta Kim is one of three stakes winners from the dam Kims Blues (Cure the Blues/Early Decision) who displayed the Rasmussen factor through the 4x5 cross of the blue hen mare Imperatrice. Rachel Alexandra's is from the first crop of Medaglia D'Oro who won the Travers (gr. I) and Jim Dandy (gr. II) as a 3yo before 2nd place finishes in the BC Classic, Belmont and Dubai World Cup, all Grade I's. She enters the race having won four consecutive races including the Grade II Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 8 and 3/4 lengths in her last leading every step of the way.
The biggest threat to RA's Oaks commencement could come in the form of Justwhistledixie who has reeled off five straight victories. Justwhistledixie is a half sister to the precocious Chace City (Carson City) winner of the Saratoga Special Breeders Cup (gr. II) at 2. Her dam General Jeanne is a sibling to 6 black type runners, herself a winner of three races. Her last four wins were in stakes, including two grade II's, and she'll look to rate just off Rachel Alexandra and pounce on the leader when the real running starts.
Bob Baffert's Gabby's Golden Girl won the Sunland Park Oaks by 13 lengths to earn a trip to the Oaks. Also by Medaglia D'Oro, she is out of a stakes winning dam who raced in Italy before coming to the US. The Sunland Oaks was her first start on conventional dirt, and her workout this week indicates she should like the Churchill Downs surface as well. She could provide pace pressure to Rachel Alexandra but she'll need her best to win this race.
Flying Spur finished 2nd to Rachel Alexandra in the Fantasy and her best races have come over a sloppy racecourse, which could be the case Friday. Her dam Lakeway was a grade I winner who finished 2nd in this very race in 1994. Her connections are top notch, Bill Mott and Garrett Gomez, but she's only a maiden winner and is still eligible for N1X allowance.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has three entries in the race and I think the Mary Lou Whitney owned Tweeter offers the best chance to add to his record four victories. While only a maiden winner, Tweeter is a half sister to Ky Oaks winner Bird Town and Belmont winner Birdstone. A bullet workout leading up to the race indicates she could be ready for a suprise.
While Rachel Alexandra is only 2 of 5 at Churchill Downs in her career but she's just at the top of her game right now and I see her winning this one pretty easily. I think Justwhistledixie is the likely runner-up with Tweeter coming in third.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Less than a week until Derby Day

The prep races are done and the field is taking shape for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2nd. A quick look at the Graded Earnings list reveals that all of the contenders with any real shot at winning the run for the roses are in the top 20.
Two months ago I chronicled 3 horses I thought would be top contenders next Saturday, and in fact all 3 won their prep races with Pioneerof the Nile taking the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Friesan Fire winning the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Quality Road winning the Florida Derby (gr. I).

Friesan Fire attempts to win the Derby off of a 7 week layoff, not the most common path, but his LA Derby win was flattered by Papa Clem's win in the Arkansas Derby over Old Fashioned. Trainer Larry Jones has had recent success in the Derby with the last two second place finishers, Hard Spun and the ill-fated Eight Belles. He's been working very well and has the pedigree to be a serious threat but the obviuos question is can he win outside of the Fairgrounds.

All Pioneerof the Nile has done is win 4 in a row including two Grade 1's for recently voted in Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert, no stranger to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. But he's only won his races on synthetics. He hasn't posted a Beyer Speed figure over 100. The last Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Real Quiet back in 1998, also for Baffert. One key thing on his side is jockey Garrett Gomez, who also rides Dunkirk, has selected Pioneer as his Derby mount, which is nothing to sneeze at given his success this year and knack for winning big races.

Quality Road could be the post-time favorite on Saturday but has been bothered by quarter cracks on his hooves the past few weeks. His Florida Derby win was quite impressive as he set the 9 furlong track record at Gulfstream while dusting top contender Dunkirk in the process. He's probably the fastest horse in the field, but is also inexperienced having only raced four times. The result of his 5F breeze on Monday and how the hoof holds up will be key in whether he starts in the Derby.

I Want Revenge looms the largest of the other 17 contenders by virtue of his two straight stakes wins at Aqueduct in tremendous fashion after beginning his career in California winning only once on the synthetics. He blitzed the field in the Gotham (gr. III), and rallied from last place to take the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I). I Want Revenge is by Stephen Got Even, best known for siring 2yo champion Stevie Wonderboy, out of the Argentine bred Roy mare Meguial. Meguial was Group 1 placed in her native country with I Want Revenge being her second foal.

The next tier of contenders includes the wiseguy choice- Dunkirk, a pair of Dubai imports - Regal Ransom and Desert Party, and major prep winners General Quarters, Musket Man and Papa Clem. I'll take a more detailed look at these horses and the other starters in subsequent posts.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Derby Preps April 4th

Big weekend of racing with the Santa Anita Derby (g. I), Wood Memorial (g. I), and Illinois Derby (g. II) all taking place Saturday. To counteract most pundits East Coast bias, i'm going to focus most of my post on the prep out west, and give picks for the other two contests.

The $750,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby features the top two west coast based 3 year olds in The Pamplemousse and Pioneerof the Nile. The Pamplemousse is a grey colt by Kafwain out of the Rubiano mare Comfort Zone, herself a sibling to five blacktype runners. He's won three straight including two impressive wire-to-wire Grade 3 victories at Santa Anita. In the Sham Stakes he defeated the #7 Take the Points and #5 Mr. Hot Stuff easily, pulling away by 6 lengths and earning the only triple digit Beyer in today's field. Update: The Pamplemousse will be scratched.

Pioneerof the Nile was featured here, and is looking to come from off the pace. Trained by Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile is the only Grade 1 winner in this field. He's done nothing wrong in 2009 winning both graded stakes at Santa Anita that he's entered and has leading jockey Garrett Gomez in the irons again. While his speed figures don't stand out, he's been working great coming into this race and he obviously loves the surface.

Chocolate Candy is an interesting horse for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He's won two stakes up north including the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, but that was 7 weeks ago. He's trained regularly up to this and remember he finished only 1 1/2 length behind Pioneer in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity last December.

#2 Z Day appears to be the speed of the speed, but having only run in sprints he likely won't get the distance.

#6 Feisty Suances also could show speed and he ran well in the Grade 2 San Felipe, but has been defeated by both Pioneer and Chocolate Candy in his last two races.

#3 Unbridled Roman and #8 Cape Truth appear overmatched while #9 Gallant Son hasn't placed in the money in three starts on synthetics.

With The Pamplemousse scratched, Pioneerof the Nile should be heavily favored based on his class, but I'm going to pick King Jerry's Chocolate Candy. He appears to have been pointed to this one all along, and is set up to run a huge one. Hopefully he'll get enough of a pace to run at and outkick Pioneerof the Nile in the stretch.

$750,000 Wood Memorial: #2 I Want Revenge will be a big favorite off of a huge effort in the Gotham Stakes (g. III), but I'm going to pick #5 Imperial Council (Empire Maker/Jaramar Rain). While he finished 8 1/2 lengths back in the Gotham, it was his first route and he got off to a poor start. I Want Revenge is a likely bounce candidate, and I don't expect him to duplicate his effort.

$500,000 Illinois Derby: This is the most wide open of today's 3yo races with 7/2 Musket Man a tepid favorite. He has earned that distinction winning four of his first five races including the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby in his last. I like #6 Perfect Song who I think could be the controlling speed in this race. By Pleasantly Perfect out of a stakes winning dam, Pefect Song wired an optional claiming field by 2 last time at a mile, and comes in off a bullet workout. The Todd Pletcher trained Lord Justice appears to be the likely top challenger.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

2009 Florida Derby Preview

Not to overhype or sensationalize too much, but the 2009 Florida Derby is as much a coming out party for Dunkirk as it is a $750,000 Grade 1 Derby prep. The race also features the first two finishers in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (g. II) Quality Road and Theregoesjojo.

Now I'm generally skeptical of 3 year olds making their first start in graded stakes company in a race like the Florida Derby, but Dunkirk seems like the real deal. Check out his allowance win below where he was boxed out "10 wide" around the first turn, then just blew by his competition while being hand ridden by Garrett Gomez.

Usually sales toppers like Dunkirk fizzle out before ever hitting the track. This strapping grey colt by Unbridled's Song has proven to be an exception. Not many pedigrees are better than his as his dam Secret Status was an absolute monster on the track earning over $1 million and won the Kentucky Oaks (g. I) as a 3yo. She is a full sister to graded stakes winner Alumni Hall by A.P. Indy, and is out of a dam by Alydar and was Grade 1 placed in the Ashland Stakes. His looks obviously matched his pedigree as a yearling as he sold for $3,700,000 on day 2 of Keeneland's Yearling auction of 2007.

The primary competition in this race is Quality Road, who was one of the 3 colts I featured here in analysis of top Derby contenders. His impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes earned a 113 Beyer Speed figure, and vaulted him to the top of most pundits top 10 lists.

The race seems legit, Quality Road stalked a length behind pacesetter This Ones for Phil and blitzed 6 furlongs in 1:09 2/5 before drawing off and winning by 4 1/4 in 1:35 flat. The 1 mile race was around only one turn, which is a slight concern here, and Dunkirk trainer Todd Pletcher has entered maiden Europe, another pricey yearling, to ensure an honest pace.

Other contenders include FOY 2nd place finisher Theregoesjojo, and Holy Bull also ran Danger to Society. Quality Road is a bounce candidate after running such a big race, and Dunkirk is a somewhat unknown quantity, although he doesn't face the toughest Grade 1 field ever assembled.

The Pick: Dunkirk lives up to the hype, he needs the earnings so you know he'll be ready to roll here. He's already won at 9 furlongs and has overcome trouble in his last race. Quality Road is already assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby, no need for him to over exert himself here, although his talent alone could lead him to victory. At 9/5 Dunkirk offers little value so I won't suggest a bet, unless you want to single Dunkirk in multi-race exotics.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prep Race Superfecta - 3/14

Big day of prep races around the country including many of the top Derby contenders. Out west at Santa Anita, Pioneerof the Nile appears to be an overwhelming favorite in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), while another colt we profiled on March 3rd, Friesan Fire enters the contentious Louisiana Derby (gr. II). The Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) drew 11, while Old Fashioned heads the field in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II).

Tampa Bay Derby: I think this is a wide open contest with no clear favorite as the M/L 3/1 choice is maiden winner #4 Hello Broadway who finished 2nd in the Hutcheson (gr. II) behind Capt. Candymany Can who didn't fire in the Fountain of Youth. #8 General Quarters surprised in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) and has been an astute claim for $20,000 out of his maiden race last May. He's traded wins with #2 Musket Man, who took the 7F Pasco S. in January. #9 Bear's Rocket by Lion Heart looks to apply pressure to the pace and follow-up his nice 2nd in the Holy Bull. #5 Warrior's Reward is making only his 3rd start but ran 2nd to Dunkirk in an Allowance last out. The Pick: #8 General Quarters over #5 Warrior's Reward and #2 Musket Man.

Louisiana Derby: Most lucrative of today's preps, this $600k race drew 10 including Friesan Fire, winner of two stakes at the Fair Grounds already this meet. He's beaten many of the other contenders, including Flying Pegasus, Uno Mas, and Patena in his past few races. #8 Papa Clem is an intriguing prospect as he finished 2nd to San Felipe favorite Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert Lewis (gr. II) in his last and looks to repeat what the show horse in that race, I Want Revenge did in winning the Gotham; shipping eastward and running on conventional dirt. Bejarano is travelling, and being by Smart Strike, he should like the surface and distance. #4 Terrain could be live off the bench for Albert Stall, Jr. The Pick: #8 Papa Clem over #9 Friesan Fire. #4 is a live longshot.

The Rebel Stakes: #1 Old Fashioned is listed amongst the top of many Derby lists, and rightly so given his perfect 4 for 4 record including the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) last out. He hasn't been tested since his maiden victory last October and likely will be odds-on. #8 is the only other stakes winner in the field but was handily beaten by Old Fashioned in the Southwest. #5 Wise Kid likes Oaklawn (3-2-1-0), and has a wonderful pedigree by Lemon Drop Kid out of the family of Chief's Crown. #7 Captain Cherokee is an improving colt who ships in for Steve Asmussen from the Fair Grounds. #2 Hamazing Destiny blitzed a maiden field by 10 1/2 in his debut, but the D. Wayne Lukas entry may have distance limitations. The Pick: #1 Old Fashioned over #5 Wise Kid.

San Felipe Stakes: I don't think Pioneerof the Nile will have too much trouble unless he's not too cranked up for this one, but he did work very well this week 58 4/5 for 5F. At 2/5 M/L I don't like this as a betting race, but Pioneer should win easily.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kentucky Derby Trail - Two Months to Go

There are only two months left before the finest 3 year old colts in the country saddle up for a 10 furlong race toward immortality called the Kentucky Derby. Some horses have emerged from early prep races and some have bowed out from injury, but a slightly clearer picture of the top contenders has materialized in the past 4 weeks.

Now I'm loathe to make a top 10 list, even at this point, because so much can happen over the next 8 1/2 weeks. But I do think its a good idea to look at three of the top contenders before the main prep races are run over the next five weeks, with a focus on their pedigrees.

Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy/Bollinger - Dehere) - Risen Star (gr. III) and Lecomte (gr. III) winner looks to sweep the Fair Grounds prep races March 14th in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, likely his toughest test so far. His pedigree is excellent, although top A.P. Indy's often peak much later than May of their 3yo season, and he hasn't sired a Derby winner to date. His dam was a Group 1 winner in Australia as was his 2nd dam. He is a 3x4 cross of Secretariat and a good deal of stamina on both sides of his pedigree. He's proven on dirt, but will have to show he can win outside of the bayou.

Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker/Star of Goshen - Lord at War) - 2009 Hall of Fame nominee Bob Baffert's top charge heading into March is pointing toward the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita, the track he claimed the Robert B. Lewis Stakes(gr. II) in his last race. One of the few Grade I winners still on the trail, he has never raced on convential dirt having run on turf and synthetics. His sire Empire Maker was a classic winner on dirt and finished runner-up in the Derby and has been successful at stud so far having finished 2008 as the 5th leading 2nd crop sire. His dam showed tremendous promise winning the La Troienne Stakes but had surgery for a displaced palate after being eased in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) and never raced again. She has also produced stakes placed Forefathers (Gone West), who was known more for his sprinting. I liked this quote from former trainer Bill Mott in Steve Haskin's blog, "I’ve always loved the horse. I didn’t like him, I loved him. I said that before he ever ran. I just loved the way he worked, and he had a wonderful disposition around the barn."

Quality Road (Elusive Quality/Kobla - Strawberry Road) - Last Saturday Quality Road stalked a fast pace and crushed a tough field in 1:35 flat winning by 4 and 1/4 lengths in only his third career start in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). The romp earned him a 113 Beyer Speed Figure, by far the highest of any 3yo in a route this spring. Like Smarty Jones, Quality Road is by Elusive Quality, a top miler in his day, and generally considered a sire that passes on speed. Speed is certainly plentiful in Quality Road as his 1:16 flat 6 1/2 F debut race last November indicates (101 Beyer). Stamina can be found in his dam's side through damsire Strawberry Road as well as his 2nd damsire Alydar, runner-up in all three triple crown races. Dam Kobla is a full sister to millionaire Ajina who was champion 3yo filly in 1997, and a half sister to Grade III winning Rob's Spirit (Theatrical). Class and stamina shouldn't be an issue, but he's yet to go two turns, and very few horses have won the Derby with such little seasoning.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

February 28th Derby Preps

Back after a week off from the Derby trail, there are two preps of interest this week. From Gulfstream Park in Florida is the Fountain of Youth S. (gr. II), and from Santa Anita in California the Grade III Sham S. is on tap. The Fountain of Youth features Hutcheson Stakes (g. II) winner Capt. Candyman Can, and a few sprinters that posted eye-popping Beyer Speed Figures in their prior starts. In the Sham, leading west coast contender The Pamplemousse preps for a likely start in the Santa Anita Derby in April.

Fountain of Youth (g. II) Preview

The 2009 edition of the Fountain of Youth Stakes will be run at one mile instead of the recent 1 1/8 mile distance, and this could play a huge factor in the outcome of the race. The one-turn mile on Gulfstream's speed favoring main track attracted twelve entrants despite a $100,000 reduction in purse monies from 2008.
Recent stakes winning sprinters #3 Notonthesamepage, #10 Taqarub , and #12 This Ones for Phil look to stretch out their blazing speed to 8 furlongs and try to get into the thick of the Derby hunt. This Ones for Phil comes in after a ludicrous 116 Beyer figure in the 6F Sunshine Millions Dash in his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, who won last year's Kentucky Derby with Big Brown. The 116 was 40 points higher than his prior pre-Rick race, quite an improvement for only a 2 month hiatus, and good enough to make him the 3/1 ML favorite. He has won at the distance, a pedestrian 1:41 1/5 in September in a minor stakes race. He seems likely to bounce, or be compromised by the pace in this one.
Notonthesamepage just missed a track record for 6F at Gulfstream in the Spectacular Bid Stakes last month clocking in at 1:08 2/5, but ran poorly in two Grade 1's last fall. Taqarub was impressive winning the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct but has never run farther than 6 furlongs. His pedigree suggests the distance won't be a problem, and he may excel on the lawn in the future as his dam is a 1/2 sister to Breeders Cup Filly & Mare winner Soaring Softly, but this seems like an awfully tough spot for him.
#9 Capt. Candyman Can is a logical contender after winning the Hutcheson in his last race, also at Gulfstream Park. He also won the Iroquois (gr. III) at Churchill last November at this mile distance. #8 Break Water Edison by Lemon Drop Kid out of a stakes winning dam won the Grade III Nashua two back, but ran poorly in the Hutcheson. He seems suited for routing and closed sharpy in his stakes win and offers great value at 15/1. #1 Bee Cee Cee and #6 Rocketing Returns also exit the Hutcheson but both look to be a second tier sprinters. #6 Beethoven didn't run well in the Holy Bull (gr. III) but has won a Grade II route last November. #2 Theregoesjojo recently won an Allowance at Gulfstream and the connections of Desormeaux/McPeek are firing at 33% in the past 60 days (in 51 starts). He should be able to stalk the pace and close, but his class is the question. #4 Take the Points is expected to scratch.
The Pick
I think there'll be a ton of pace, but I also think the winner will have to be coming from just off the pace, and not too far back. #9 Capt. Candyman Can really fits that profile as does #7 Beethoven and #8 Break Water Edison but I'm going to go with the latter as the pick as John Kimmel adds blinkers which I think will help him stay alert.
The Bet
I'm 0-fer the blog so far betting so I hope I can change my luck.
$10 Win/Place #8 - $20 total
$2 Exacta 7,8 with 2,7,8,9 - $16 total
Sham Stakes (gr. III) Preview
The Sham may offer the chance for a newcomer to spring on the west coast scene but more than likely it'll be a tune-up for Grade III winner The Pamplemousse. The only two other multi-winners are #2 Smart Bid and #12 Take the Points. Smart Bid by Smart Strike out of a Danzig mare won on the turf in his last start with Rafael Bejarano and looks for three in a row. Take the Points was cross entered in the Fountain of Youth but trainer Todd Pletcher opts to ship him in to the Sham in a somewhat softer spot. But a cross-country flight only a few days prior to the race may weigh on the up and coming colt.

Two-time Sham Stakes winner Bob Baffert sends out #9 Ventana off a fourth placed finish in the San Vincente (gr. II), but the chestnut colt by Toccet doesn't appear to like the synthetic surface. #7 Mr. Hot Stuff comes in off a fast maiden victory at a mile at Santa Anita in his last. He's a full brother to 2006 Sham winner Bob and John, also trained by Eoin Harty, and owned by WinStar Farms LLC. He finished well back of The Pamplemousse in December, but could be turning the corner.
#8 Bourbon Bay looks to translate his stakes placings on turf to the Pro-Ride main track.

The Pick

If The Pamplemousse doesn't fire, I think Smart Bid will win, but I don't expect him to run poorly.

The Bet

Odds will be too low for a straight bet, so I think exotics are the way to play it, though I don't think this is a good betting race.

$5 Exacta #5 with 2, 9

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

El Camino Real Derby Re-cap

Odds-on favorite Chocolate Candy managed to hold off Massone to win the El Camino Real Derby (g. III) in a solid if not spectacular performance.

Here's the DRF chart

Aquicksting set a slow pace into a strong headwind covering the first 1/2 mile in 49 seconds. Chocolate Candy started his run going into the far turn and zipped the next 1/4 in only 23 seconds with 2nd choice Axel Foley only a head behind. Barn mate Rendezvous rounded the field on the outside and looked poised to strike the front, but flattened out before getting to Chocolate Candy in the stretch. Massone, who trailed the field for the first 6 furlongs, was closing fast only a length behind as they reached the 1/16th pole. The two colts would duel down the lane but 8-1 shot Massone would have to settle for 2nd as the classier colt would not be denied. Chocolate Candy paid $3.00 to win.

Chocolate Candy notched his 3rd stakes victory, and 2nd in a row at Golden Gate, for owner and breeder the Craig family. Out of the Seattle Slew mare Crownette, Chocolate Candy is by Candy Ride (ARG) who the Craig's imported from Argentina and campaigned to Grade 1 success in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in 2003.

Baze and Hollendorfer have now connected for victory in this race 3 of the past 4 years, with the prior two horses (Cause to Believe and Bwana Bull) going on to race in the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Russell Baze thinks he may be in better position to win than the prior two, who finished up the track on Derby day. "I think he has a little more room to improve than those horses at this point." Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is targeting the Santa Anita Derby (g. I) for Chocolate Candy in April before hopefully going to Kentucky to contend for the roses in May.

Photo Slideshow from El Camino Real Day
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

El Camino Real Derby (g. III) Preview

Not a big weekend of Kentucky Derby preps, but there is one in my backyard on Saturday, the 1 1/8 mile El Camino Real Derby (g. III) for a $200,000 purse at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California. This is a race that had been held at Bay Meadows Race Course at 8.5 furlongs but after closing its doors last August, it has been moved back to Golden Gate and has been extended and additional 1/2 furlong. I think the extra ground and the switch to the Tapeta surface could play a big role in the outcome of this race.

The primary contender in this Valentine's Day race is the coincidentally named Chocolate Candy, who hails from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn and will be ridden by jockey Russell Baze. Hollendorfer (4 wins) and Baze (5 wins) hold the record for most wins by a trainer and jockey respectively, and have teamed up 3 times to win this race. Chocolate Candy (Candy Ride/Crownette-Seattle Slew) drew clear of Axel Foley and Merus Miami in the California Derby last out at Golden Gate and has only lost in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity to Pioneerof the Nile, California's leading 3 year old, in the past 4 races. He's worked well coming into the race, a 47 second 4f bullet Tuesday, and should be primed for another big effort.

Of the two runners up in the Cal Derby, I think Axel Foley (Officer/Morganza-Clever Trick) provides the biggest threat to Chocolate Candy. (In fact Merus Miami is a scratch). He made a huge move around the far turn in his last, making up over 5 lengths before falling short. Trainer Doug O'Neill returns to Golden Gate with Michael Baze, who rode Axel Foley in his US debut, and a sharp 6f workout into his charge. My biggest question is stamina, which despite his closing style, I don't think he wants 9 furlongs with his pedigree.
A horse I really like is another from the Hollendorfer barn the #6 Rendezvous. He's 2 for 2 over this Tapeta track, and is working on a 3 race winning streak. By Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, Rendezvous should have no problem with the distance, and despite his lack of prior class, he's an up and comer with a good closing kick. I think veteran jockey Bobby Gonzalez may keep him a little closer to the pace and get first jump on the sprint for home.

The Pick

On paper, Chocolate Candy looks very solid having beaten three of his rivals already. But he's been in training continuously since last July and I think he's due for a mis-step. If he doesn't fire, I think Axel Foley stands a good chance, but its the Dorf's other entry, Rendezvous, that I think gets it done. Should be a tight race.

The Bet
$10 Win/Place on #5 Rendezvous @ 3/1 or better
$2 Trifecta - 5,7 with 3,5,7 with 3,5,7

$28 bet total
If the weather holds out, I intend to go to the race and take some photos and give a full re-cap.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stardom Bound to Face the Boys?

At the post-race interview on HRTV Saturday with Michael Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables, it was revealed that prized filly Stardom Bound, whom they paid $5.7 million for at auction in November of last year, would next challenge the colts in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 4th. The Santa Anita Derby is the premier west coast prep race for 3 year olds who have their sights set on racing in the Kentucky Derby (g. I).

"That's what the racing fans want," Iavarone said. "I see no reason why she can't do it."

And Iavarone has a point. Stardom Bound has been impressive winning 4 straight Grade 1 events for fillies including the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies this past October at Santa Anita.

She has dominated her rivals, racing exclusively on the west coast, and on synthetic tracks.

Iavarone hopes she'll emulate D. Wayne Lukas trained filly Winning Colors, who was the most recent, and only the third filly to win the Santa Anita Derby in 1988. She went on to win the Kentucky Derby, becoming only the 3rd filly in history to achieve that feat as well. She was named Champion 3-year old filly of that year, and inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame.

But success in this race is an exception and not a rule. The most recent high profile filly to test the boys out west was Sweet Catomine (Storm Cat/Sweet Life - Kris S.) in 2005. She came in with similar credentials, and was made the favorite in the race, but could only manage a 5th place finish. She would never race again. There was controversy surrounding Sweet Catomine's SA Derby run as it was revealed she had bled in a workout prior to the race and may not have been at her best, but this information was not released leading up to the race. In any event, the point is that for a filly to take on colts this early in their careers is very difficult, and not a decision to be taken lightly as the effects can be life changing.

History is history but what really matters is the current situation. Unlike Sweet Catomine, Stardom Bound may skip the Santa Anita Oaks (g. I) in March and train up to the race. Trainer Bobby Frankel is not one to send his fillies out against males unless he thinks they have a good shot at victory, as evidenced recently by his handling of Ventura who finished 2nd in the Woodbine Mile (g. I) . On Monday, however, Frankel was slowing down the IEAH boys and not letting them look too far ahead.

The field will likely consist of Pioneerof the Nile, the Bob Baffert trained colt by Empire Maker who won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Saturday. Also likely to contend is the Julio Canani trained colt The Pamplemousse who scored a victory in the Grade III San Rafael in January. While both are talented, neither are that far ahead of Stardom Bound who ran a 94 Beyer Speed Figure in the Juvenile Fillies.

I think this decision is best left to trainer Bobby Frankel. If the Hall-of-Famer thinks his filly can run with the colts in the Santa Anita Derby, who is to say otherwise. I think it would be better to take the next step up the ladder facing a few good colts in the SA Derby then jumping in the deep end by going straight to the Kentucky Derby off another filly-only "prep" race. But I also think it is no shame in trying to win both the Santa Anita Oaks in March and then trying for the Kentucky Oaks (g. I) in May. Both are very prestigious races and would prove without a doubt that Stardom Bound was the best filly in the land.

Winning on synthetic, and dirt, as well as facing fillies from the west and east, would cement her already significant legacy. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Strub Stakes Day at Santa Anita

Saturday at Santa Anita is Strub Stakes day with several top west coast based 3 year olds in action. We'll take a look at the G1 Las Virgenes with BC Juvenile Fillies winner Stardom Bound (pictured above heading to the post in BC Juvenile Filles) who could be headed to Churchill Downs, either for the Oaks or the Derby. Also on tap is the Robert Lewis Stakes (g. II) which pits the top two finishers from last years Cash Call Futurity (g. I) at Hollywood Park.

Robert B. Lewis Stakes (g. III)

Since we're focusing on the 3yo season, we'll start with the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, formerly known as the Santa Catalina Stakes, and ironically, never won by a horse owned by the Lewis'. This race features the first start of the 3 year old campaign for Zayat Stable's Pioneer of the Nile who won the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity in December. Pioneer of the Nile is trained by 3 time Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert, who hasn't won in 7 years, and is one of only 3 stakes winners in this race. Baffert admittedly says "there's no urgency" for Pioneer to win this race, but he's looking to get him experience for the Derby. I think that's a key point in this race, as Pioneer is not a standout performer. Bittel Road (1 post) won his first three races of his career including the Grade III Bourbon, but was unplaced in his only non-turf start at Hollywood Park in the aforementioned Cash Call Futurity.

#9 Charlie's Moment is the other stakes winner but it was a listed stakes at Fairplex on dirt, and he's only 1 for 6 on synthetic. This race is filled with one-time winners and the most interesting to me is I Want Revenge trained by Jeff Mullins who finished only a nose behind Pioneer of the Nile in the Cash Call Futurity. Mullins adds blinkers which is a 35% winning angle the past two years for him, and he broke his maiden two back going wire-to-wire. He's getting 7 lbs from the stakes winners and looms large.

#8 Shafted, trained by Mark Casse, is a nicely bred colt by Mineshaft out of Grade 1 winning Twist Afleet who is 2 out of 3 career, all on synthetics. He needs the graded stakes earnings and could be primed to run, third off the layoff.

The Pick

I don't think Pioneer will be cranked and he's not leaps and bounds better than these. I think I Want Revenge stays close to the pace and pulls it out over pacesetter Papa Clem and closer Shafted

The Bet

$1o Win and Place on #4 I Want Revenge

Las Virgenes Stakes (g. I)

First start of the year for champion Stardom Bound. The grey filly should go off at 2/5 and win easily for new owners IEAH Stables who plunked down $5.7 large last November for her services.

Who could give her a run for the money?

I think a few fillies have a chance if SB doesn't fire, and at least should be considered for the exotics. Bob Baffert has two in this race but I think Century Park has the best chance to score. She won the Gr. III Santa Ysabel last time out going wire to wire with Tyler Baze aboard. Baze rides her again and the Baffert/Baze combo is scoring an ROI of $3.82 in 08/09. Haka is a nicely bred filly by Dynaformer who could hit the board finishing ahead of California Oaks winner Will O Way in the Santa Ysabel. Multiple state-bred stakes winner Saucey Evening should get some play, as she's 2-2 at Santa Anita and the 2nd best earner in the field, but leagues behind Stardom Bound.

The Pick

Stardom Bound cruises with Haka and Century Park battling for 2nd.

The Bet

Not a good betting race.

Strub Stakes (g. II)

This race has been won by some of the all-time greats and is the third in the "Strub Series" which also consists of the Malibu (g. I) and San Fernando (g. II). Names like Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Best Pal, Alysheba, Silver Charm fill the spots on the trophy and this race is often a springboard to the Big Cap next month.

The 2009 edition of the Strub features a single Grade 1 winning horse (@2yo no less) and a collection of mostly turf horses trying to convert their success on the lawn to the synthetic Pro-Ride surface of the main track. While I don't think there are any future superstars here, this is a great betting race with 13 entries and plenty of questions.

Dixie Chatter (#1) is the aforementioned g. I winner having taken the Norfolk in 2007. Richard Mandella conditions this chesnut colt by Dixie Union and seeks to become the only four time winner of this race. He returns to the main track after the past three races on turf winning the Oceanside at Del Mar and placing in the Oak Tree Derby (g. II) last October. He's on the improve, but will need his best to contend in this race. Absolutely would not count Mandella out.

Gio Ponti (#5), Nownownow (#7), and Cowboy Cal (#8) are all coming off graded stakes victories on the local Pro-Ride surface. Gio Ponti took to the track after the Sir Beaufort (g. III) washed out in December. His fast closing style, and his class make him a major threat in here.

Nownownow has run in the prior two Strub series races having won the San Fernando (g. II) last out accounting for Patrick Biancone's only win in 27 starts since returning from suspension. This being his third start since a layoff, I think he could be primed to run, and he won pretty easily at odds of 18-1 three weeks ago.

Cowboy Cal won the Grade II San Pasqual last month and is 5 for 10 lifetime. He'll likely be part of the pace scenario, which should be reasonably contested, so I'm not too high on his chances.

Wistful Tomcat and Slew's Tiznow are the only horses that have reached the triple digit Beyer Speed Figure level in their careers, but both were soundly beaten by Nownownow in the San Fernando.

The Pick

The 4, 8, and 9 should ensure a quick pace, and I like a closer because of it. While Gio Ponti and Nownownow fit the profile and are likely contenders, I like a longshot, the #12 Wesley out of the Mark Hennig barn. Wesley is a Grade II winner on turf and tries the synthetic for the first time. By El Prado (IRE) he shouldn't have too much trouble handling it, and Javier Castellano flies in for the race, which is a good sign. He came from the clouds off a slow pace to just miss in his last, and has shown great turn of foot in prior races as well. If he can stay out of traffic turning for home, I think he'll nip Gio Ponti or Nownownow at the wire.

The Bet

$10 Win/Place on #12 Wesley. $20 total

$2 exacta 5, 12, 7 with 1, 12, 5, 7 . $18 total

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