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Baffert Sends Four in San Fernando


While I plan to busy myself on Sunday cheering for Purple Egg in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, I could not shift away from handicapping Santa Anita’s card on Saturday, with the headliner being the G2 San Fernando Stakes. There’s plenty of interesting entries—including 2 of my Saratoga sightings!— and Bob Baffert as usual will be trying to grab it with 4 different horses INCLUDING MY ORIGINAL DERBY FAVORITE FROM LAST YEAR SKY KINGDOM! OH MY GOD I AM SO EXCITED!!! Yeah, I was seriously crushed when he was sidelined, if you couldn’t tell… Baffert aims to become the leader of San Fernando wins, as he is currently tied with Laz Barrera with 4 wins each.

Weather looks California clear for Saturday.

$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (II) - 4-year-olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita. Post Time: Saturday, January 12 at 3:36pm PST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Battle Force - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, John Shirreffs - Trading grass for dirt, the Giant’s Causeway colt has been knocking on the winning door for some time, last out being 2nd in the mile-long Sir Beaufort (II), just missing winner Silentio by a half length while closing ground. This will be the colt’s first dirt start after running on poly and grass, though he has never been worse than 3rd. While I trust Shirreffs’ judgement and Gomez’s hands, this one looks a bit tough to use in such a deep field and racing on dirt for the first time. However, he has shown great improvement on the grass and is getting close to a win.

2) Fly Lexis Fly - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Neil Drysdale - Lightly-raced last year without much avail, the Badge of Silver ridgeling has been struggling with poor starts, too-late runs, and just generally goofing when he should be winning. His last race was a stakes-quality allowance at Hollywood where he ran 3rd behind improving graded winners Jaycito and Tres Borrachos. The blinkers go back on for this test. A horse with upside, I don’t think this is the right place for him. He looks like he could swallow more ground than this and he doesn’t look as good as he did last year.

3) Regulus - Aaron Gryder, 118 lbs, Eoin Harty - The Distorted Humor gelding wears the Darley colors to post after winning twice in 6 starts last year, one of them being an allowance-optional claimer at Santa Anita at the same distance. Not an amazing entry, Regulus is making his stakes debut here. Likely to try to be out on or near the pace to take advantage of that speed bias, but will face a steep class test.

4) Mile High Magic - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - Royal bloodlines pack this improving gelding’s pedigree as a grandson of the famous Silverbulletday, and being that this Roman Ruler son is owned by Mike Pegram at Baffert’s barn, we are right to expect big things. Stretching him out a bit, he was 5th last out here at 7 furlongs in the Damascus Stakes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday as the favorite. The gelding goes blinkers-off for the first time here. While he’s making his graded debut here, he’s outrun some good sprinters like Mensa Heat and Sinai before and appears to like the fast Santa Anita dirt. He’s a beatable favorite though who will need to resist falling into a duel early on.

5) Guilt Trip - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A bit too slow for the speed in the Malibu (I) last out where he ran 5th, the Pulpit colt drops down a bit and stretches out where he should be more comfortable. While he won’t get a picnic in beating others, he does have some excellent workouts with a :59 bullet last week. He should also like the extra ground more and could close in a bit better in this spot.

6) Handsome Mike - Mario Gutierrez, 123 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Pennsylvania Derby (II) winner and son of Scat Daddy is back to dirt after flailing home 10th in the Hollywood Derby (I) last out. O’Neill puts blinkers on this G2 winner. Workouts are a bit curious coming from the gate, so I’m wondering whether or not Mike has it in him to catch these faster horses. He may look to try to upset them as they tire in the stretch, but I’m doubtful that will happen at the super-slick Santa Anita main.

7) Sky Kingdom - Edwin Maldonado, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A winner twice last year before being 5th in the jumbled Robert B. Lewis (II) here, the son of Empire Maker is finally back after that long 11-month layoff. He looks good in his workouts, but it may be too much of a first test back.

8) Fed Biz - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The speedy Giant’s Causeway colt got off to a bad start in the Malibu (I) last out where he couldn’t muster much better than 6th, and stretches out again here. Likely to take advantage of the speed bias, this colt has the right speed to get the win so long as he can stay out of trouble and doesn’t get caught in a burning pace up front. He looks like a miler, so can he last a bit longer than that?

9) Tribal Jewel - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - The California-bred gelding by Tribal Rule, this will be the speedy Hollendorfer trainee’s stakes debut after winning 3 and showing 3 times in 7 starts last year. He was a rallying winner last out in a Santa Anita mile allowance. He has the speed to get this done, but will face a big class test. Leparoux isn’t a top Cali rider, but may be patient enough to eke out a good effort from this rallier.

10) Tritap - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Tapit baby! A winner twice last year and 2nd three times in 7 total starts, Tritap snuffed out the good Suns Out Guns Out last out in a Churchill allowance at this distance in November. He will need to improve further, and I question how well he’s doing in his workouts.

Top Picks in Order

1) Tribal Jewel

2) Mile High Magic

3) Battle Force

While this field is pretty interesting, speedy, and open to little differences in strategy, there’s a lot of vulnerabilities in many performers’ backgrounds, particularly the “class” of the field like Fed Biz who cannot keep himself out of trouble. Tribal Jewel has done little wrong training up to this event, and can take it with a patient ride if and when the pace crashes. Mile High Magic has a lot of upside but will be hammered at the windows no doubt, but looks fresher than most of his stablemates and is Baffert’s best bet to win. Battle Force is an excellent horse, and I don’t think Shirreffs would put him on dirt unless he thought he had dirt potential… plus Gomez, you know, is an excellent rider choice.

Value Pick: Battle Force

Gold Cup is Final Prep for Nates Mineshaft, Alternation

A lot of chalky and hard-to-pick-apart races line this Saturday’s stakes schedule, with a lot of really nice juveniles racing at Belmont and some grass Breeders’ Cup faves running coast-to-coast. For this week, I’ll be drifting to a track I rarely handicap with a respectable G2 worth half a million dollars running this Saturday: the Hawthorne Gold Cup in Illinois. My baby Headache won it last year as a final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so lest we disagree it’s not a good stepping stone at the full 10-furlong distance on dirt.

Weather looks to remain good all weekend and we’ve got a decent field lining up with lots of good value and plenty of room for upset.

$500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (II) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Hawthorne. Post Time: Saturday, October 6 at 5:50pm CST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Alternation - Luis Quinonez, 121 lbs, Donnie Von Hemel - The Distorted Humor 4-year-old colt was born for the classic distance and has been a consistent champ at it this year, winning 5 of 6 races missing only the Stephen Foster (I) while going 4-wide. He got a good confidence booster last out dueling with Prayer for Relief for the Governors’ Cup win at Remington after a brief layoff, and should be tuned for a game effort. His works and overall look upon return have me tossing out the adage I had for him in late spring that he was looking a little dull. He looks like a great choice, but will have to compete with Nates Mineshaft again for that lead position he favors.

2) Eldaafer - Ricardo Santana, 114 lbs, Diane Alvarado - The Breeders’ Cup Marathon (III) winner from 2010, the A.P. Indy gelding is no doubt prepping for another go at that race here, but only experienced his first win in more than a year last month in the Carl Hanford Memorial Stakes at 1 3/16 miles, where he sat off a super slow pace to win. He is too often responseless in classy fields, particularly when there’s a quick pace involved.

3) Mister Marti Gras - Eduardo Perez, 115 lbs, Chris Block - The Belong to Me gelding hasn’t won a race since last November’s Ack Ack (III) at Churchill Downs, but has been second or third in all of his last 4 races. MMG is an overall good horse that likes to close, but needs a good pace.

4) Pool Play - Miguel Mena, 114 lbs, Mark Casse - My favoritest longshot, the Silver Deputy son has only managed a third in his three starts— all on synthetic— this year, unable to replicate the style he exhibited in his upset win in the Stephen Foster (I) last year. His figs aren’t fast and his works look slow. He should like the extra room to close as well as a strong pace, but he may or may not get that setup. It’s arguable that Casse is giving him another shot on dirt, which he has only run on once with obvious success. HMM…

5) Cease - Jesse Campbell, 116 lbs, Al Stall Jr - The War Chant gelding finished well to be third last out in the Woodward (I) and was third in this race last year. A turf horse on paper, he’s got a good dirt record and should come into this race ready to fire. Apt to go off at good value, Cease is at a weight advantage as he rolls into peak form.

6) Fly Lexis Fly - Francisco Torres, 112 lbs, Neil Drysdale - The Badge of Silver ridgeling suffered a terrible ride last out in the Super Derby (II), getting into gear far too late after running wide, but closed well to register a good place. A horse that should offer no reason to not like the full 10 furlongs, he’s on the furiously improving path and should run a much bigger race here.

7) Nates Mineshaft - E.T. Baird, 117 lbs, Austin Smith - The Mineshaft ridgeling went from zero to hero in a blink of an eye this year, winning 4 of 6 starts storming out on the lead. He seems to win most often when kept under a snug hold with soft fractions. Should he do that and give even a slightly fuzzy performance, he could still win this in a romp.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Nates Mineshaft

2) Fly Lexis Fly

3) Alternation

This race looks likely to boil down to pace. Nates Mineshaft and Alternation are the speed as well as the class of the field, and either one could be out on that lead or just behind the other and will be most likely setting soft fractions. If I’m correct with this assumption, the slow pace will not be kind to Mister Marti Gras and Pool Play but potentially beneficial to Eldaafer. The improvers of the field possess great upset potential, particularly Fly Lexis Fly who never got a good shot in the Super Derby and is bound to keep improving. Cease is a good horse, but is likely to not improve that much. Nates Mineshaft sports by far the best numbers, and I think his involvement here is strategic in preparing him for a go at the Classic— perfect timing!

The thing that is driving me nuts about this chart is why Nate’s Mineshaft’s usual rider Jesse Campbell is on Cease. I’m guessing schedule issue, but it’s worth mentioning anyway.

Value Pick: Fly Lexis Fly

Weekend Stake Tip: Superstitious

I can’t make up my mind (and this has been going on for months) whether or not it’s bad luck for me to actually watch a race I have money on. No, it’s never THAT much, but dabbling in boxed exotics and pouring your heart and soul into certain horses you really, really want to see win can have a draining effect when they don’t do as well as you hoped. I will deliberately, as I did on Saturday, enter my bet in the wager pad then shut down and walk away until I know the race is over. Saturday, I took a walk around the block, showered, and put the Ramen on the stove before coming back to check that my exacta box prevailed. I don’t know if I’m building up some silly superstition by doing this, or if maybe I’m sparing myself a little heartbreak in the cases where my horses aren’t up to task and I’m there to suffer with them.

But YAY, Bourbon Courage won the Super Derby (II). I made my picks without looking at the morning line odds and was a little shocked to see Bourbon Courage at 3-1 when I finally did. I felt a little bad, since I made him the value pick of the litter and seeing the initial responses online, it was looking like Bourbon Courage might actually have been the favorite. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Everyone loves a speedy Baffert colt (and one could argue that the psychology factor was going with him too, as Louisiana native Joe Talamo was in the irons), and then the DRF’s Mike Watchmaker went with Fly Lexis Fly. Bourbon Courage waited in the rear as a speed duel was waged between front lovers Hero of Order and favorite Blueskiesnrainbows. He rallied hard and flew home as predicted, opening up daylight to win by 5 lengths. Fly Lexis Fly managed to nose out a stubborn Master Rick for the place.

Bourbon Courage looks possibly like a horse to watch for in future routes, but will need a sterner test in the future where he isn’t assured a zipper pace. Blueskiesnrainbows, despite his pedigree, might look to cut back to a mile. Fly Lexis Fly had the potential to win here, but did not look up to it after the bottled start and got into gear too late to catch more than just Master Rick. Watch replay here

Also worth watching: Snow Fairy trumps Nathaniel, St. Nicholas Abbey in thrilling edition of the Irish Champion Stakes (IRE-I). Next stop: Breeders’ Cup?

Speed Struggle Likely in Upcoming Super Derby

With the Triple Crown and Travers charge over and done with and the summer sun having set, it’s time for the horse racing world to refocus on a new point of interest: fall championships. While the Super Derby isn’t a famous battleground for three-year-olds, it still serves as a nice last-minute warmup for our darling sophomores before they start facing older company. The field this year looks nice, with plenty of speed lovers that will insure a good pace scenario.

$500,000 Super Derby (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Louisiana Downs. Post Time: Saturday, September 8 at 5:10pm CST

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Mr Bluegrass Music - Chris Landeros, Richard Jackson - “Unf” is all I can say about a gray/roan colt sired by Bluegrass Cat, and this one is taking his first graded stakes attempt after coming in a wide 3rd in the Super Derby Prelude Stakes. He has 1 win and 3 thirds from 4 starts this year, but has only managed third a couple times in his stakes tries. He stayed put in the Prelude warmup, clearly outclassed by Tensas Cold Front and Key Donation, and that seems to sum up his career where he was mostly in shorter races.

2) Key Donation - Richard Eramia, Thomas Amoss - Not a fan of Lawyer Rons, but this guy managed to snuff out Tensas Cold Front last out to win the Super Derby Prelude, the key prep race on this course for the big Super Derby. Very lightly raced this year but never worse than 2nd since snapping his maiden on his second try, this colt has romped from a stalking position more than once. A nice little entry for exotic plays, he’ll need to boost his figs but he’s got upset potential as a colt who likes to sneak up and draw away.

3) Blueskiesnrainbows - Joe Talamo, Bob Baffert - Am I the only one who is glad Baffert’s putting Talamo on board? I tabbed this gorgeous chestnut son of English Channel on my top summer three-year-olds watch list, and while he’s making a belated entry, he’s going to be tough no matter what. Sure to be on the lead, the Swaps (II) victor lest we forget nearly bested I’ll Have Another earlier in the year trying to wire the Santa Anita Derby (I), and has only been off the board once this year (9th in a turf start)! Class-wise, it’s hard to compare most of these other entries with Blueskiesnrainbows. However, he’s not unbeatable, and setting soft fractions will not work with horses like Hero Of Order pressing the pace. Nevertheless, he’s the one to beat here.

4) Hero Of Order - Donald Edward Simmington, Gennadi Dorochenko - A hero of upset, the Sharp Humor colt has managed just 2 wins this year as the 109-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby (II) and his maiden victory both at Fair Grounds. The colt has yet to replicate his thrilling wiring style, and was out of gas entering the stretch of the West Virginia Derby (II) last out to finish 5th. Works and form not looking fast and regular, the likely pacesetter is a pretty easy toss out.

5) Fly Lexis Fly - Martin Garcia, Neil Drysdale - I’m all for Badge of Silver offspring since Silver Medallion began dominating at Calder the beginning of last year, and this colt had built up quite a hype machine leading into the Triple Crown trail. Looking like a true gritty distance horse working at Hollywood Park, he was steadied in a too-much-too-soon start with older horses in the 1 1/2 mile Cougar Handicap (II) in his only start this year. Can Peru’s champion colt, who beat 3-year-olds as a juvenile, come alive in the States? He’s got the clout, with a 103 Equibase figure in a single rocky start against older horses here on synthetic, and should by all means improve significantly transferring back to dirt. A seriously good-looking horse, if he reaches back to his hype he can whip this field with the right run. With Garcia aboard, I sure hope he gets it.

6) Master Rick - Gerard Melancon, Steve Asmussen - The Master Command colt hasn’t come close to winning since out-duelling G1 winner Drill in the Northern Spur Stakes in April, and was outdueled last out in the Super Derby Prelude to fade to fourth. With buckets of speed here and a tiring run in much of his recent racing, I think it’s time to cut Master Rick back in distance.

7) Tensas Cold Front - Mark Guidry, Al Stall - A horse that made me go “ooo” a few months ago, the gray War Front gelding is 2-for-3 in his career and as a Louisiana-bred, all at the same track. It’s hard to say where Al Stall will put this guy pace-wise with so much speed obvious in the early stages with a maiden broken in a closing move. With a :59 4/5 bullet fired over the track, he’s ready but will need to improve significantly to brush up front.

8) Rousing Sermon - Mike Smith, Jerry Hollendorfer - A pretty awesome Lucky Pulpit son, Rousing Sermon has never had a legitimately bad race, but has yet to win at the graded level. He nearly won his last start in the 7-furlong Real Good at Del Mar running just off the pace, signaling a possible shift in strategy from his usual farther-back closing move. While I think Hollendorfer is a great shipping trainer, Mike Smith is an ideal match for a bona fide closer, and Rousing Sermon is highly underrated, I wonder how much steam this horse might have in the tank. He’s really hit or miss when it comes to making it on the board.

9) Bourbon Courage - Leandro Goncalves, Kellyn Gorder - The Lion Heart colt caught my attention heading into the Derby Trial (III) against Paynter, ultimately finishing 4th in the slop but came back to take second in the West Virginia Derby (II), missing by just a half length in a really weird race to Macho Macho at this distance. His workouts look real good and I think he’ll get a similar pace setup here to repeat that West Virginia effort.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Bourbon Courage

2) Blueskiesnrainbows

3) Fly Lexis Fly

Everyone will be hopping aboard the Blueskiesnrainbows train, and while he’s a great choice that I think has more than a good shot, he does have some shortcomings and question marks over his top efforts. Bourbon Courage will look to take advantage of the speed struggle that is almost inevitable to happen up front by sitting off the pace just like he did in the West Virginia. I’m wagering a little hope with the classy Fly Lexis Fly to get up front as well. I’d throw in Key Donation and Tensas Cold Front in those exotic plays as well.

Value Pick: Bourbon Courage

Racing Beat: March 11

Baby Z is too damn cute for words, and I love how he looks just like his mama Zenyatta. The Mosses have at least another two or so years to decide on an official racing name that IS NOT BERNYATTA. All the good Bernardini kids have original, decisive-sounding names. With that said, when is To Honor and Serve coming back?

And Shotgun Gulch will be bred to… *drumroll* Bernardini! AGH!!!! (I’ve been dealing with the Bernardini spam better lately when I refer to it as Zenyatta’s sloppy seconds)

Coolmore has a two-year-old half brother to Big Brown by Henrythenavigator, whose first crop is reportedly consistently “above average” by trainer Aidan O’Brien. I AM EXCITE. ONE OF EACH PLEASE.

Bobby Flay announced via Twitter who he’s breeding Super Espresso to.

Out of Bounds is now off the Derby trail *cries* Way to depress Garrett Gomez when he’s nearly ready to get back to the saddle.

I can’t help but wonder if Peyton Manning is capable of a Seabiscuit comeback. That would be great, especially considering he’s an ex-Colt!

Sabercat's going to the Rebel Stakes. I'm swooning over this field.

I vote for Hansen to stay where he is at Turfway. There’s no need in busing a young horse all over kingdom come when the Spiral Stakes IS RIGHT THERE and Turfway could honestly use Hansen’s star power right about now.

No Kentucky Derby for Fly Lexis Fly. That colt along with Take Charge Indy is currently only planning on a Belmont appearance.

I wish like hell I could make both the Met Mile (I) and the Belmont Stakes (I), but with gas being so pricey and the fact I have to work every other weekend, UGH! SOMEDAY I’LL BE SO RICH I WON’T HAVE TO SACRIFICE!

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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