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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Sunday, February 1, 2009

On the topic of brothers of legends -

Nicanor didn't do anything. You can find the race and excuses on youtube.

However, Mizzen Mast's brother made his US Debut with a great win in 1 1/8m allowance on the grass at Santa Anita. Butchering the start and sitting 8 lengths off a strong pace, he was a little green in the stretch (lugging in behind the pace setters) before shifting out for an easy win, without the whip. Ridden by Patrick Husbands (slumming in the States this winter) for Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel, Lease of Life covered the distance in 1:47 3/5.

I'm looking forward to Lease of Life's next start. Click Here to Read More..