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Derby Top 10: February List


I’m making this list a bit later than I originally anticipated, but a constant flow of races, injuries, and other shortcomings have altered the January list quite a bit since I first edited that top 10.

10) Samraat - A game horse who dug in all the way last out to win a stubborn edition of the Withers Stakes (III) like a champ. I’m interested to see if he stretches out from here and if his undefeated class will hold up.

9) Dance With Fate - He narrowly lost the El Camino Real (III) to a poly specialist and should get better from here on out. I’ll be daft if he falls short somehow in the Blue Grass (I) and doesn’t make the Derby gate.

8) Candy Boy - The Candy Ride [ARG] colt often makes a stirring move too late, and it appeared to be too little too late in the Robert B. Lewis (II), but he got up just in time to take that race despite a bit of a messy trip getting stuck behind horses. Keen to see how he does going forward, he looks like a happy little horse.

7) Conquest Titan - The Birdstone colt made up very substantial ground late in the Holy Bull (II), and had just too much to do by the time he caught up with Cairo Prince to be 2nd. He’s made a lot of progress since turning 3 and shouldn’t shy away from getting more ground next out in the Florida Derby (I).

6) Cairo Prince - Brilliant in the Holy Bull (II), the Pioneerofthenile colt looked the part of a nearly undefeated Derby contender when romping home by 5 lengths, practically unopposed. Trainer Kieran McLaughlin is pushing for his Derby start to feel more like a “2nd off the layoff” than trying to build him up anymore than he currently is. I have to disagree with Prince not needing to improve in order to win, because this is a very good group of three-year-olds.

5) Tonalist - On my radar because of my great love for his trainer Christophe Clement— who is usually armed to the teeth with grass horses— the bay Tapit colt made an impression closing in to win a dirt allowance race at Gulfstream going 9 furlongs. His family looks awesome too: his dam is out of Toll Fee, a half sister to Havre de Grace’s dam Easter Bunnette. There’s too much to like and not enough room to list it all.

4) Top Billing - It’s tough to avoid mentioning such a good-looking colt by Curlin, who is on the precipice of proving himself worthy of a starting spot in May. Stacked with Northern Dancer and Nashua references, Top Billing is a half to the dam of Bodemeister and on paper, looks the part of a Derby winner even more so than his trainer’s call to fame from last year in Orb. Can he keep winning, starting with Saturday’s loaded Fountain of Youth (II)?

3) Strong Mandate - I hoped and prayed we would see a similarly talented colt when the Tiznow trainee of D. Wayne Lukas made his sophomore debut, and I doubt anyone was disappointed by his run in the Southwest Stakes (III). Had he had a shorter trip, he would have made a case for the win first off the layoff, and was phenomenally better than the rest of the field. Everything about this horse STILL looks very solid, and he’s keen to improve next out.

2) Bayern - Now, I don’t like horses who only have a couple of starts and aren’t battle-tested And Kaleem Shah horses have already burned me in the past (Fed Biz!). But 2-for-2 so far and armed with an effortless, powerful turn of foot and early speed, the son of Offlee Wild grabbed my attention in his most recent allowance win, reminding me of Big Brown. He demolished allowance company at a mile, and should keep on progressing from there despite being a May foal (a May 3 one at that, Derby day is his birthday).

1) Honor Code - It’s tough to topple what I perceive to be the perfect package in A.P. Indy colt Honor Code, who has flashed speed, stamina, heart, and an easygoing mentality with no real preference for positioning or surface condition. All signs point to a really promising colt come his three-year-old debut, which ought to be coming sooner than later. However, if he’s delayed any later than he is, he’s almost as good as out.

Honorable Mentions

Mexikoma has been training very well at Palm Meadows, being brought along slowly prepping for his first start of the year.

Loved Tapiture's defining move to win the Southwest Stakes (III), but I'm waiting on him to not have such an easy trip.

I want Commissioner to show me something else before I decide how much I like him. Constitution, too, as much as I enjoyed his last race.

Matterhorn keeps his mention, and will run in a tough allowance race on Saturday.

Mosler looks ready for a race and keeps a mention.

Shared Belief's gone missing from the track and from this list.

Tourist drops off the top 10 but keeps his mention. He finally broke his maiden at Aqueduct and will hopefully pursue a stake soon.

Wicked Strong's stocks drop after a messy Holy Bull (II), where his stretch drive suddenly went missing despite two horses making a very strong case coming from way back.

Casiguapo: A wrong equipment change and hopefully a better trip can leverage the Sightseeing colt.

Hartford looked splendid gearing down to win his first race at competitive Gulfstream. I’m very interested to see if he wants any part of two turns, and that is going to be the question of the day for him.

I have to include No Nay Never after the turf colt has been producing great workout reports on the dirt. Plus I got to talk to one of his part-owners at Sequel Stallions, and it’s inevitable he’ll at least try dirt.

The Return of Birdstone


As a racehorse, he was neither tall nor impressive. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone made headlines the day he upset Smarty Jones in the Belmont Stakes— ending the chestnut bullet’s Triple Crown dreams— and again when he sired the 2009 Derby and Belmont winners in an unlikely freshman sire’s first assault on American classic breeding. Birdstone has had a few good ones since Mine That Bird and Summer Bird graced us with their presence, but is this the year where his progeny make a serious comeback?

February is a bit early to make any Birdstone assumptions, as most little Birds don’t spread their wings until later on. Many past hopeful sons made their mark later on than February— Mountain Eagle was on the tip of many a tongue last year— but this year, as soon as Breeders’ Cup time there was at least one Birdstone making the rounds, catching even my attention.

Mexikoma is a beautiful example of a Birdstone, albeit the definition of “the little engine that could.” (Photo by Dana Wimpfheimer)

I wrote about Mexikoma with high regard going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) back in November. Here was a small but good-looking colt out of Team Valor’s barn who wasn’t flashy like Havana, but offered a glimpse of a good two-year-old with the potential to be a nice three-year-old. Like many, he didn’t have the best race and finished 7th. But beforehand, he progressed much switching from turf to dirt to break his maiden at Delaware Park, roaring home by 14 1/2 lengths, after which he was privately acquired by Team Valor. He took the race over on the turn despite breaking from the 8-hole, and romped from there in the 1-mile event. And surprise! Through his dam, he is related to Juba! He has yet to make his three-year-old debut, but he is looking more ready every day, with 5 and 6-furlong breezes at Palm Meadows. He is entered for an allowance race on Fountain of Youth (II) day at Gulfstream Park, although he will break from the far-outside #10 post.

Conquest Titan looks to be the narrow, leggy type. Physically, he looks likely to get the distance and mature into a nice three-year-old. (Photo by BloodHorse)

The second, and one of the most interesting to burst off the Breeders’ Cup scene and into finer flesh, is Conquest Titan. He was an also-ran up until his most recent Churchill Downs race, where he crushed a field that included Gulfstream Park Derby winner General A Rod running from last to first despite slipping at one point. Racing just beyond that mark at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull (II), Conquest Titan made another impressive run from way back but was too late to catch Cairo Prince in another great effort. Imagining how much closer he could have been had he not had to circle the field so late makes me think even more highly of him. The plan for Titan is to skip the heavily-attended Fountain of Youth (II) this Saturday in favor of the April Florida Derby (I), a move that will also be mimicked by Cairo Prince.

It seems every year has a top sire or two when it comes to dazzling three-year-olds. Last year it was Midnight Lute and Into Mischief. Can this be Birdstone’s year again, during a trend where Fappiano-line horses have been prevailing very consistently? (And while perusing PedigreeQuery, I also can’t wait for a horse named Larry Birdstone to debut!)

My trip to Sequel Stallions

Let it be known that I had a lot of farms I wanted to visit, but ultimately couldn’t because a) I’m dumb and I think I can handle 132843729x more than I probably should in a given day and b) because of a, I didn’t take a personal day from work and didn’t take into account that I would have had 6 or 7 hours of sleep tops over the weekend heading into the school week. I’m dumb, like I said. Now on to pony!

Hudson, New York is a very very farmy place. You drive west on the Mass Pike, get off of I-91 onto the Taconic Parkway— which is a very remote highway traveling through the mountains, or at least it is on the weekends, then you hop off to follow more country roads full of snowy fields, cattle, and grain mills. Normally I enjoy this type of scenery, but I had to drive 5 miles out of town just to find a bathroom. Sequel Stallions is a very nice place though, a world of reaching pastureland and a brand-spanking new stallion facility that currently houses Emcee, Mission Impazible, Freud, Noble Causeway, Forty Tales, and Desert Party. I first heard of the farm about a year or so ago and originally loved Noonmark, who is no longer at the farm unfortunately as well as Girolamo. Daaaang!


Hey look it’s me photobombing the stallion show narrator. She was a nice lady, among the other nice people working at Sequel.

The folks at the farm put together a nice event inside the stallion complex, part of which was partitioned off for the show attendees (I do believe it’s the actual open breeding area during the season) and the partition was HEATED! BONUS POINTS, especially when it’s in the teens and snowing outside! We also all got a lovely catered lunch before the show, and I was so lucky to be seated next to the owners of Forty Tales! They’re really lovely people, and we got into how they’re originally from New Zealand and that Forty Tales was the first Thoroughbred they ever bought and how exciting it was when he won the Woody Stephens (they weren’t expecting him to win either!). I’m a bit of a shy fly at times, and it can be somewhat awkward going to these events attended by cliquey breeders, most of whom have money and they all know each other. Thus, it was a relief and a delight to connect with great owners of a horse I know.


The first one out to show was the man of the house: Freud! Responsible for passing on many a blaze face in the New York circuit, Freud was a big sturdy-looking guy with an authoritative personality and plenty of spice. You just gotta love him and what he’s done for New York Thoroughbred breeding. He looks like he just got into a bucket of cream!


Mission Impazible made it a mission to try and blur all of my shots. Watch out Freud! Bad boys are always a temptation!

Keeping everyone on their toes, Mission Impazible was one of the big reasons I wanted to come out to the stallion open house here. He was a favorite of mine in his racing days, and I recall plugging away for him to win the Clark Handicap won by Wise Dan. A very fit horse, Impazible bucked and reared impatiently and hated to stand still. We were informed he looked so good because his owners had swam him over the summer after he was announced as retired. I imagine a lot of people who were also there to inspect him were very pleased. His owners also mentioned that his first crop ought to be very good, and one horse that is in foal to him is a half-sister to Shared Belief.

Next out was a horse I was also excited about seeing in the flesh: Sanford Stakes (II) winner and my 2009 Kentucky Derby rooting interest, Desert Party! A handsome son of Street Cry [IRE], Desert Party looked like the complete package coming out: relaxed, attentive, good size, and an even better build to compliment the speed he showed as a young racehorse. I’m looking forward to seeing the first Desert Parties race this year.

Also gracing everyone with his presence was the underdog of the barn whose offspring are just starting to race: Noble Causeway. A $1.5 million sale yearling and a son of Giant’s Causeway, his bloodlines are already being very well-received among New York breeders, and I think he will be getting some more attention soon. I read somewhere that his first crop was very small… something like 20 horses… but has yielded Damon Runyon winner Samraat (who is racing in the Withers this Saturday!). He was a nice big chestnut and reminded me a bit of Eskendereya.

They saved the “new boys” for last, and the first one out was a bit hesitant to do so. Emcee lit up the New York scene in his racing days, and is most remembered for his runaway win in the 2012 Forego Stakes where he romped over Jersey Town, Caixa Eletronica, Jackson Bend, and others. Unfortunately I’m not sure what my flash card did with any of my Emcee files or my Noble Causeway shots…

Last of all to come out was Forty Tales, who had possibly the most calm demeanor of the bunch and certainly for a new stallion off the track. He was small and finely manufactured, and granted me special permission to take his picture, posing for several seconds.

All in all it was a nice afternoon, inhibited by a small snowstorm and colder than normal temperatures and then hampered more by camera equipment/short amount of time and access per stallion (I’ll accept fault with that though, it was a new camera that I hadn’t had the time to fully learn first coupled with a slower lens than I’m used to). I hope to share one more farm with everyone before I call it a season!

Hot Dates for Zenyatta’s Z14


I started my homework last month about who the Mosses should send Zenyatta to next if all goes well. Last year I had a top 5 list, and Zenyatta did indeed go to Tapit like I requested! Of course, at this stage it would appear the Mosses are favoring “trendy” sires, but who knows, that could easily change this year with foal #3. I have done a little digging and tried to find new sire picks that are feasible (i.e. Empire Maker and Henrythenavigator will be out of the running, sadly, because they are not in North America). Here it goes!:

Henrythenavigator - Over in Ireland. Sigh.

1) Lemon Drop Kid - A classic winner with a Belmont (I) victory and a G1 winner at ages 2, 3, and 4, LDK is both a really good-looking stallion, an excellent racehorse, and a phenomenal sire with graded stakes winners on every surface type. I’ve always greatly appreciated Kingmambo (and the rest of Miesque’s family). Fee $35,000 (TrueNicks Rating: A)

2) Bullet Train [GB] - Yep, going with a newbie here, but really it’s hard to argue against the spell-binding presence of Frankel’s 3/4 brother, newly-relocated to Kentucky. Should Zenyatta’s connections suddenly start favoring a great turf horse, Bullet Train is basically a perfect match: speed, great bloodlines, and strong classic ability. Fee $7,500 (TrueNicks Rating A+)

3) Lonhro [AUS] - While new to the U.S. and unconventional, it’s hard to knock the black beauty Lonhro who ran an impressive 35 times down under, winning 26 times with 11 Group 1 titles. A truly underrated freak of nature, he represents Australia’s finest with son Pierro taking much attention last year as a sizzling two-year-old. Fee $30,000 (TrueNicks Rating: B)

4) Cape Blanco [IRE] - The first foal crop from the G1-winning titan looks amazing, and I gush at the possibilities. Undefeated at the age of 2 and a G1 winner at 3 and 4, the stunning chestnut son of Galileo [IRE] offers serious substance and distance ability with wins at 12 furlongs. Fee $17,500 (TrueNicks Rating: A)

5) Smart Strike - Grass, poly, dirt, no matter! Smart Strike always seems to have a special one out of every crop: My Miss Aurelia, Salty Strike, Centre Court, Dynamic Strike, Lookin At Lucky, Curlin, English Channel Smart Bid, Never Retreat, blah blah blah. It’s a no brainer. Get Z in before he gets too old, please! Fee $85,000 (TrueNicks Rating: B)

This is all a wish list, and I realize from looking it over that most of these options probably won’t ever happen because of American racing prioritizing dirt over grass. As for what I think will most likely happen, I think the Mosses will go with Medaglia d’Oro, Distorted Humor, or another A.P. Indy boy. I would be surprised if they picked a brand new stallion, but it’s always possible they might go with someone with a lot of early ability and speed like Bodemeister.

Critiquing the Contenders: Orb

After weeks of trying to beat a lot of Pletchers and other top favorites and getting really weird results, it’s only natural that I start questioning my own methods once again. I liked Revolutionary from the word go, but barred myself from liking Orb too much originally because I liked Revolutionary and Violence already and good gosh, why would I like 3 horses all with cool names?! Orb got the boot, I guess, because he was a Malibu Moon. Malibu Moons are good or not good, and it’s hard to find one that is good for very long. I’ve been on the McGaughey-Phipps double bandwagon since Hymn Book won the Donn (I) for me though, so he does have some street cred.


Malibu Moon is a good-looking guy by the undisputed legend A.P. Indy and out of a pretty nice Mr. Prospector mare. He reminds me of Pulpit in many ways, though I found Pulpit to be more likeable, namely because he actually did something on the track before going to stud. Malibu Moon raced twice, breaking his maiden on his second try running 5 furlongs. Appropriately, he is known for passing on precocious ability, as seen with Declan’s Moon (G1 Hollywood Futurity winner & graded sprinter), Kauai Katie (very fast, precocious 3-year-old apt to stick to sprints), Devil May Care (precocious gal who broke the mold, winning the 9-furlong Coaching Club), Prospective (winner of the 1 1/16 mile Tampa Bay Derby), Eden’s Moon (G1 Las Virgenes winner), and Ask the Moon (back-to-back G1 winner at routes).

His dam side is actually what makes him the most likable to me, out of Lady Liberty, a daughter of classic winner Unbridled, whose Fappiano lineage has been on fire in the winner’s circle. Lady Liberty ran in some nice graded events without doing much, though her dam Mesabi Maiden (by Cox’s Ridge) was a winner of the Black-Eyed Susan (II) at 9 furlongs. With all this in mind, Claiborne is looking pretty crafty: did they mix Malibu Moon’s tendency to pass on speed and early ability (on a classic backdrop of A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector) with a mare capable of going far?


Conformation-wise, Orb is not as impressive as other horses on the trail. In fact, he reminds me of Prospective a bit. There is nothing overly “wow” about Orb just from looking at a picture, but if you watched the Florida Derby post parade I’m sure you noticed his attitude. What makes Orb a convincing sell is his attitude. Happy horses win races, and that is part of what I personally hunt for when “paddock picking.” Orb even has his ears forward in the above image winning the Florida Derby.

I wrote this piece partly to chew apart the growing “real contender” list and to really get down and inspect Orb after his final prep race. I wrote before the Florida Derby that he had no excuse to lose it with Merit Man and Shanghai Bobby apt to give the race some pace, and he showed an all-new dimension by running swiftly at the end despite some pretty pokey fractions. The win streak he has going at Gulfstream doesn’t really concern me as to whether or not he can transfer that to Churchill, and in fact I don’t credit it towards Gulfstream, which naturally favors up-front runners anyway. I think Orb is a horse that needed time to “get it” and now that he does, he’s just learning more as he goes along. And with that said, Orb earns a place above many others on my Derby list.

March Kentucky Derby Top 10


March is probably my favorite time on the Derby trail. No, I don’t have any favorite preps— those are all in April— but this is the time we see the colts grow up the most and we start seeing their real potential. February was kind of a mess with a lot of Derby prospects tripping over their own feet with bad performances all around. The deflection of Violence, one of the first that caught my eye last year, was particularly bruising as I swore off picking any Pletcher horses to watch. I considered him the sturdiest prospect in Pletcher’s talented barn, and losing him in February cements my belief that Pletcher is incapable of leading his champions to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May.

A lot of emphasis is placed on preparation, pedigree, connections, and speculated potential— not necessarily what they’ve done to date. January through March maiden/allowance winners turn into spring graded winners at their peak, after all.

10) Flashback - One of California’s best, he proved it outrunning Goldencents with an arguably aggressive ride by Julien Leparoux in the San Felipe (II), but got passed in the final strides by the improving Hear the Ghost. He slowed down a great deal at the end, but I blame the speed duel. He has a high cruising speed and is worth keeping on the list.

9) Normandy Invasion - Scales back, but stays on after a “miss” in the Risen Star (II) despite glowing remarks. To his credit, he had been unraced since his fantastic Remsen (II) runner-up, broke poorly, went 7 paths wide, and still made up ground to be 5th— a “Union Rags in the Derby” effort. I’ll keep him tabbed as we continue to sort out the worth of that wretched Risen Star.

8) Itsmyluckyday - The Lawyer Ron colt moves up the list as his Holy Bull (III) effort is further flattered over time. Third place Clearly Now went on to win the Swale (III) last weekend, closing well in the 7-furlong race. Is he a miler, or can he stretch out? Lots of hope.

7) Revolutionary - Demoted a bit. After Orb’s win in the Fountain of Youth he gets an ego boost, but questions remain how good Revolutionary really is after Escapefromreality did not get a good trip in the Gotham (III). Pletcher, as always, is a dead-weight with this horse.

6) Tiz a Minister - A modest California-bred, behind the veil looks some powerful distance pedigree and a strong preference for the dirt stuff. The Ministers Wild Cat colt flew in after Flashback and Goldencents after trailing 7+ lengths in the San Felipe, and even though he was only up in time for 3rd, it’s scary imagining what he could do on a main that isn’t as speed-biased and a little more running room, provided that he gets over hanging a bit late.

5) Super Ninety Nine - After some squabbling, I’ve decided to move Super Ninety Nine onto the list and up high. A high cruising speed and effortless ability was proven when this Pulpit colt went to win the Southwest (III) in style. We’ll find out more about him as he takes on the Rebel (II) this weekend and greets some new, tougher faces.

4) Code West - Two second places in as many starts this year, Code West is bred to go the distance being by Lemon Drop Kid and was the seemingly deserving winner of the Risen Star (II) before getting passed by Ive Struck a Nerve in the waning moments. He had more than one run in him in that race and has yet to finish out of the top 3. He could be a special horse.

3) Java’s War - Thankful to have given this horse another chance on dirt… even after he beat my beloved Brown Almighty last year… this War Pass colt looked extremely good flying after Verrazano on the turn of the Tampa Bay Derby (II). Unfortunately, he hit his best stride too late and the race was too short. He’s put on a lot of muscle since last year and looks like the real deal.

2) Hear the Ghost - Obviously deserves some praise after his San Felipe (II) on Saturday. A son of speed demon Ghostzapper and out of a Coronado’s Quest mare, he has a muscley, aerodynamic look that reminds me of I’ll Have Another and Blind Luck. He’s going to be scary fit come Derby Day the way he is being conditioned, and how about them late pace figures? It’s about time I favored a chestnut horse again for the Derby! GO GO GELDINGS!

1) Treasury Bill - New current favorite! Ron Ellis is just getting this guy warmed up, and I’m excited. He last raced in the too-short San Vicente (II) where he still managed to get 2nd. He’ll get better with more ground, and so far I don’t think I’ve seen any other three-year-old with his bulldoggish stretch drive. Listed as a possible in this weekend’s Rebel (II).

Downgraded/Honorable Mentions

  • Proud Strike - Another victim of the weird Risen Star (II) where he got a pretty awful ride by Gary Stevens.
  • Tiz the Truth - He’s looking good in a loaded Baffert lineup, but he has missed some time due to a quarter crack (I believe). Slated as a “possible” for this weekend’s Rebel Stakes (II).

  • Cerro [IRE] - Didn’t show much in the Fountain of Youth (II).
  • Ground Transport - Big Brown has yet another colt to give me hope! He had an impressive turn-of-foot running in an allowance race on Risen Star (II) day to win by 3 lengths over Free World, who looked like another promising full of speed.
  • Gunderman - Getting better as the distance get longer, the Birdstone colt has yet to finish out of the top 3 in his three-year-old starts, and while soundly defeated in Verrazano’s one-mile allowance romp, he came back to win at 9 furlongs. He needs to prove his worth a bit more to crack the top 10.
  • Oxbow - Did he get a clean race in the weird Risen Star (II)? We’ll find out this weekend.

Alternative Handicapping: Reverse Analysis

Like I mentioned earlier this week, I really wanted to try some methods of handicapping that were outside the realm of my hyper-detailed analysis. I have been feeling “off” lately in making selections… I will often sense when I’m not “in the zone” like I was earlier in January, so I decided to try some unconventional, fun means of picking good horses in a race. For this post, I will be letting a computer pick any three numbers (horses’ post positions) out of a given field, and then try to justify why they might win in that race. Why is this worth doing? Well, how many times have you mentally skipped over a horse without truly setting down to analyze them, only to realize AFTER they win that you really shouldn’t have overlooked them? Horse racing isn’t completely independent of luck either!

Call it reverse analysis, because it’s pretty much the same only done backwards!


Friday February 8 - Gulfstream Race #3 - $52,500 Maiden Special Weight - 1 mile on dirt - 3-year-old fillies.

Computer Picks (in order):

2) Montana Native

1) Rockatilla

4) Fascinante

Keeping in mind this is a one-turn dirt race on Gulfstream’s oval, this is a pretty open field as is because these are all maiden fillies who haven’t won a race yet. All three of the computer’s picks are on Lasix.

#2 Montana Native is part of the Ghostzapper Alliance and a daughter of Yes It’s True and out of a Quiet American. She has raced 4 times already— all good efforts— and while beaten, she did not race too far off from some top fillies in Emollient and Frege (on turf, her last start). Her past races put her at shorter distances, with one on turf and one on a sloppy/sealed going. She had a dynamite workout and I suspect Kenny McPeek has another up his sleeve. Bonus for the risk: she’s part of a coupled entry with #3 Proud Vixen.

#1 Rockatilla makes her first start on the fast rail as a daughter of Rock Hard Ten— who did not make his first start until he was 3 either!— and out of a stakes-winning daughter of Gone West. Owner/breeder Robert S. Evans comes from a racing family, seeing as his own father bred and owned Pleasant Colony. The most interesting dynamic here is her trainer Mark Frostad, who trained top turfers Chief Bearheart and Quiet Resolve, but has only raced 7 times this year so far. Current workouts look good.

#4 Fascinante is a first-time starter by Medaglia d’Oro and out of a daughter of Pulpit. The pedigree on her is interesting, particularly since her granddam was a pretty good runner who won stakes on turf. Fascinante is trained by Wesley Ward, who is more than capable of getting speed and is often very good working with young horses. The filly looks very good in her breezes to boot and the middle-inside post is a safe spot. On the downside, her jockey hasn’t done much so far this year.

One race is not enough… let’s do another one. How about a turf race?


Friday February 8 - Fair Grounds Race #9 - $45,000 Maiden Special Weight - 1 1/16 mile on turf - 3-year-old fillies.

Computer Picks (in order):

6) Phonybooksnrecords

7) Rate Change

4) Dance Again

#6, gotta love that name and it’s a coupled entry with Sue Me Baby with only one of them possible to race seeing as they have the same jockey. Phonybooksnrecords is a daughter of *gasp* TAPIT! and is out of a black-type Yes It’s True (ran second to the one and only Octave!). So yes, obviously some good quality parentage here and Tapit has been hot lately. She has started twice already, and was a sharp closer last out in the stretch of a 1 mile & 70 yard dirt race here, losing by just 2 1/2 despite a slow start and falling way behind early. In her debut on turf, she started going too late. Third time’s the charm? She could probably do it!

#7 Rate Change was the runner-up over Phonybooksnrecords in a prior race, though it was on dirt. Reason #1 to like this one immediately: Exchange Rate is her sire (very very talented progeny early in their careers) and she went wide in her last start on dirt so her odds will be much better here. This will be her 2nd turf start, with her first race being a mile on turf where she went 5-wide in the stretch and closed well to be 4th. Lots of potential with this one with Neil Howard of Summer Squall/Midway Road fame training and top rider Brian Hernandez Jr up.

#4 Dance Again is an Ontario-bred with some blue blood; she’s by Awesome Again and out of an A.P. Indy mare, who is out of G1 winner Dancethruthedawn. She has raced twice already with a 2nd going 7 furlongs on grass at Woodbine (winner Sky High Gal has gone on to win a small stakes) and was 3rd last out at a mile here on Fair Grounds’ grass, going wide into the first turn and managed to stay close for the show despite lacking the winning kick. Of concern: last rider Napravnik switches to second-favorite Alydorable. Dance Again is also the 5-2 morning line favorite here.

I’ll post again on Friday or Saturday with how this experiment went!

Something That Bugged Me


Opinion post warning! I wanted to bring up some questions about the NTRA Moment of the Year, which is voted on by racing fans. Here are the choices:

  • Rosie Napravnik becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, guiding Believe You Can to victory (I’m okay with this)
  • I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez pull the upset from post 19 in the Kentucky Derby (Definitely okay with this)
  • I’ll Have Another runs down Bodemeister to win the Preakness by a neck (All right)
  • On the eve of a highly anticipated Triple Crown bid, I’ll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes (No)
  • For the first time since 1874, the Travers ends in a dead heat as Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together (Yes for the excitement, no as a handicapper/judge… what a disappointing Travers)
  • Haskell winner Paynter overcomes deadly battles with laminitis and colitis and begins rehab for a possible 2013 campaign (No… not really a moment…)
  • For the second straight year, Royal Delta wins the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith, who registers his record 16th Breeders’ Cup riding win (Okay with this)
  • Groupie Doll trounces her opponents in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Yup, okay with this)
  • Shanghai Bobby digs in under Rosie Napravnik to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and remain undefeated (Ehhh… maybe for his fans this was a good moment, but as a handicapper I kind of have to snuff at this because he’s clearly no good for 10 furlongs and beat out a weak field)
  • Wise Dan breaks the course record in capturing the Breeders’ Cup Mile over an international field (Sure! But I think Animal Kingdom stole the show)
  • Fort Larned holds off Mucho Macho Man to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Okay with this)
  • Shackleford ends his career on a winning note in the Clark Handicap (Okay I suppose, but the Met Mile was his crowning moment)

Bob Ehalt seems to think judging by this article that the stand-out option is I’ll Have Another’s scratch from the Belmont. I personally question why that is even a choice. It wasn’t a real “moment” but a news story. It was a lack of a moment. Scratching a day before the Belmont sent ripples throughout the racing community, inspiring negative and sad emotions with a lot of controversy and sadness summoned from fans, connections, and even the competition. But it was not a moment, and to pick the scratch over his Derby and Preakness victories is actually kind of insulting if you’re a fan of IHA.

Generally I was kind of “meh” about this year’s Triple Crown because from the get-go, all the good three-year-olds seemed to misfire except I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, and Dullahan. Union Rags never had a shot in the Derby, which provided extra feel-good emotions when he edged by Paynter in the Belmont. THAT was the moment that should have been on the ballot: after all Matz and Wyeth struggled to get this horse in the clear during a major 3-year-old race plus the additional subplot involving Mike Smith and the Zayat team falling short of yet another Triple Crown win. What happened to Paynter later on was not just one moment, either, as triumphant as his survival was.

Also, why would I vote for something negative? I may have voted for it had it been a negative outcome, such as I’ll Have Another entering, trying his hardest, and losing, for the strong memory we’d all have of it. But a scratch? Not really memorable because you can’t remember something that never happened. I don’t see many people talking about scratches they remember in infamy. Maybe one could argue it’s an historic scratch, but really there are better historic choices here which leads me to whom I voted for…

Royal Delta

A star player all year long with several races being top-notch moments of her own career, Royal Delta conquered what many felt was the toughest race of the year and did it while showing a whole new dimension to her ability by going gate-to-wire which is unusual for her. Mike Smith wrapped up a Breeders’ Cup win record, and Royal Delta became the first mare since the legendary Bayakoa [ARG] to cap back-to-back distaffs.

Derby Watch: It’s a Trap!

Trinniberg along with other major Triple Crown trail upstarts like Mucho Macho Man, Big Drama, Storm in May, and Imawildandcrazyguy all got their start at Calder.

It wouldn’t be a blog done rightly by me if I included no Floridian prospects. After rooting home Trinniberg this year in many of his starts, the Calder-based colt was the lone three-year-old and Derby participant to ring in a Breeders’ Cup victory in the loaded Sprint race. While he was 68-1 in nearly running Currency Swap off his feet as a juvenile, he can’t be counted out of the year’s best and with that said, it’s not too early to start looking at what Florida has to offer the 2013 Derby. Starting things off, I like what the DRF’s intuitive clocker Mike Welsch had to say about one debuting colt this weekend at Calder Race Course. His name is, ironically, Value Trap.

Breaking from the #9 hole in a maiden special weight, the blaze-faced chestnut son of Florida stallion Value Plus rocketed to an early lead in a field of 10 juveniles. He ripped fractions of :21.69, :44.94, and :57.48 before blowing through the full 6-furlong distance in 1:11.49, pausing just once on the turn to take a snort of the humidity before barnstorming down the stretch, the whip never making contact. Mike Welsch, a well-noted correspondent for Daily Racing Form and a fine judge per visual handicapping, proclaimed on Twitter that he was the best 2-year-old he’d seen at Calder all year.

But taking a 6-furlong race at a “B” track says little about a horse’s long-term— and long going— potential. Taking a closer look at his pedigree, I find it a bit disappointing by my own book. Sire Value Plus is a striking gray son of Unbridled’s Song out of a lauded stakes producer, and was precocious himself, breaking his maiden on his debut at Saratoga by a romping 8 3/4 lengths and later broke the track record at Gulfstream for 7 1/2 furlongs. He ran until he was 4, ending his career with a 5th in the Cigar Mile (I) with nothing to suggest he went lame. Roll Over Baby, the Ohio-bred dam of Value Plus, was a bullring stakes winner in sprints and went on to foal stakes winners like herself. Value Trap’s dam is a homebred claimer by Holy Mountain, a G3-winning son of Devil’s Bag who was successful in distance turf races including the 10-furlong Lexington (III) as a three-year-old. It’s a weird mix with horses that like to sit close to or on top of the pace, with some long-term distance and ability questions. All Due Respect, a similarly-bred daughter of Value Plus out of a Devil His Due (by Devil’s Bag) mare, was more than respectable this year with several graded stakes placings ranging from 7-8 furlongs at the top level.

So is Value Trap our next Trinniberg? Maybe, maybe not as with all things horse racing. A pupil of David Fawkes, he has the right connections and possibly the pedigree to make a great sprinter and winner of early Triple Crown preps in Florida, which are shorter and more speed-favoring. Keep an eye on this one.

Derby Watch: A Violent Solution

Bluegrass Cat, who ran second to Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, was the winner of the 2005 Nashua Stakes in 1:38.02. This year’s champion Violence broke the stakes record, running the mile race in 1:35.32 (a difference of some 14 lengths).

I think post-Breeders’ Cup opinions on two-year-olds are no longer considered “early bird,” so it’s that time again to kickstart the Derby Watch series once again. Last year at this time I recall liking the looks of Street Sense's first crop, Union Rags was my unparalleled Derby favorite from the get-go, and Hansen was humming with early speed. I also liked Alpha fresh off his maiden score and a few horses photographed at the Breeders’ Cup (Sabercat, Majestic City, Optimizer but only as a turf horse!), and that’s about it from there. Who do I like this year so far?

I only discussed a handful of horses in “Early Bird Watch,” and admit I forgot about a couple of them (Sign, Evolutionary) that I know I would have otherwise included. However to start things off, I have to highlight one of the weekend’s best juvie efforts from colt Violence, who I did cover in my Early Bird Watch after a bumpy, but winning debut effort in August.

Stalking pacesetter and favorite big-bucks stablemate Darwin, the Medaglia d’Oro colt trained by Todd Pletcher swerved and wavered in the Aqueduct stretch but managed to snatch the win away from Vegas No Show by 2 lengths while setting a new stakes record. The colt showed remarkable ability early by sitting off the fast pace and coming in wide before showing his inexperience by cutting into his competitor. While he’s got a while to go before he is as good as his Breeders’ Cup winning stablemate Shanghai Bobby, he has long-term potential should he avoid future stewards’ inquiries.

I think Hard Spun colt Vegas No Show could have some ability next year as his older siblings have shown me, starting off somewhat slowly then bursting with talent after the spring. The Nashua (II), despite being a mere mile in distance, has a way of showcasing some good early Derby talent.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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