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Nonios gets a smooch from assistant trainer Christina Jelm (Photo by Equi-Photo)

Nonios gets a smooch from assistant trainer Christina Jelm (Photo by Equi-Photo)

Gemologist fans, relax! Todd Pletcher said the Wood Memorial (I) winning Tiznow colt displaced his soft palate during the Haskell (I)— the same breathing problem suffered by Blind Luck in last year’s Vanity (I)— forcing him to tire dead last in his comeback race despite some really nice breezing. He was also found to have a lung infection with some mucus in the mix, so he is set to be on antibiotics for one week and will have his path decided from there. (Photo by Frank Panucci)

Gemologist fans, relax! Todd Pletcher said the Wood Memorial (I) winning Tiznow colt displaced his soft palate during the Haskell (I)— the same breathing problem suffered by Blind Luck in last year’s Vanity (I)— forcing him to tire dead last in his comeback race despite some really nice breezing. He was also found to have a lung infection with some mucus in the mix, so he is set to be on antibiotics for one week and will have his path decided from there. (Photo by Frank Panucci)

Weekend Stake Tip: Street Cred

I handicapped the three big Travers (I) preps this past week… personal picks Ever So Lucky and Street Life hit the board in the Curlin Stakes. Alpha was fitter than I expected in the Jim Dandy (II) where second place went to Neck ‘N Neck as I predicted and Fast Falcon faltered, and last of all, I got the exacta in the Haskell (I). Other weekend cash-ins worth mentioning were $10 on Amazombie in the Bing Crosby (I), $5 on Winter Memories (Dream Peace [IRE] screwed my Winter Memories-Zagora [FR] exacta) in the Diana Stakes (I), and $2 on a longshot Matz trainee named Assateague on the Saratoga turf.

As a rule and a showing of my true inner stubbornness, I will typically make plays on whatever race I handicapped mid-week on the weekends unless a) the odds are horrid and or b) there was a significant change to the race, such as a key horse scratching or in many cases of late, track condition changes. One thing I will freely admit is that I have yet to really grasp how an off track will affect how the race shapes up, and ultimately, finishes. One guideline a NYRA commentor mentioned leading up to the Jim Dandy (II) that I openly agree with is that with an off track comes the opportunity for longshots to shine, as many who ran poorly on a fit track tend to blossom in the mud or just take advantage of a struggling favorite on the surface. Failure to consider the heavier-than-expected rainfall probably didn’t affect me much this weekend, but it has in the past!

This week, I’m going to go light on everyone and just let the horses speak for themselves. Summing up the 3 three-year-old preps in one word is “meh.” I don’t know what to make of the Jim Dandy (II), most of all. I will say that I do not consider Alpha to be a top contender and will be taking advantage of all the love he’s getting when the Travers rolls around. He set soft fractions on the front end on an off track and while he won by about 2 lengths, the race was not impressive at all. Gemologist beat this horse at his best and that one finished last in the Haskell (I)… what does that say? Paynter looked dominant, but considering the loose credentials of the Haskell field, he wasn’t tested. At this point in time, I think Street Life will win the Travers.

As far as older horses go, Winter Memories made me proud beating up Tapitsfly and the Euros to be 3-for-4 at Saratoga and a wonderful prospect for the Breeders’ Cup Filly Turf (I). Just an easy win for her right there. Sprinter Capital Account should be watched in the future as well as a Starlight Racing two-year-old named Lawn Man I had down to win (but did not bet because of the deep field, agh! 10-1!) who destroyed a very classy maiden special weight at Saratoga.

Oh Nonios, you were so close today but not really… (I’ve become a teeny fan of him recently, such a nice-looking horse)

Oh Nonios, you were so close today but not really… (I’ve become a teeny fan of him recently, such a nice-looking horse)

Can Gemologist Beat Paynter in Sunday’s Haskell?

Yes, this is our $1 million G1 field. Boring much? Maybe a bit, but there are two G1 winners here and some who are just knocking on that door bound for the Jersey shore this Sunday. Questions of fitness, pace, and surface awaits many of these competitors, who hope to be the first since Point Given in 2001 to win the Haskell-Travers double.

Track conditions look hopeful to be fast for Sunday once the severe thunderstorm system passes through the northeast by sometime Saturday.

$1 million Haskell Invitational (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Monmouth Park. Post Time: Sunday, July 29 at 6:17pm EST.

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

1) Nonios - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - Classic dirt potential lines this Pleasantly Perfect colt’s pedigree, but this will be the California shipper’s first time actually racing on the surface. Never off the board in 5 starts with 3 wins, Nonios went wide to close in for second in the Swaps (II) and was the upset winner of the Affirmed (III) on Hollywood’s synthetic surface. He gets a jockey change to Nakatani here and ships in cold turkey. Hollendorfer is optimistic otherwise I don’t think he’d ship, stating the colt has run on dirt in training and looks just as good if not better.

2) Dullahan - Kent Desormeaux, 120 lbs, Dale Romans - The Even the Score colt has big wins over synthetic and while he managed to get an excellent 3rd in the Kentucky Derby (I), his form on the surface presents a big question after his Belmont (I) clunker and no wins. He has fired a :59 4/5 bullet at Churchill before shipping in, so it’s really up to whether or not he likes Monmouth.

3) Paynter - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Awesome Again colt was sublime when almost wiring the Belmont (I), and honestly has always been that good with no finishes worse than a 4th in a G1 race his entire short career. His works speak loud, #1 out every time he hits the poles since late May. The fastest speed figs, promising works, and a jockey change to one familiar with Baffert… yikes!

4) Gemologist - Javier Castellano, 120 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Tiznow colt went undefeated— including an uplifting win in the Wood Memorial (I)— before getting literally bruised finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby (I). After a vacation, he’s back to looking good with a :58 2/5 bullet at Saratoga. It’s concerning whether or not he’ll have rust and how he’ll choose to run against Paynter, who should be right there next to him in the race.

5) Handsome Mike - Mario Gutierrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill - Featuring no wins since his maiden snap, the Scat Daddy colt has tried virtually everything in the west surface-wise. He breezed sharply out west in typical O’Neill fashion, but has been beaten time after time by better horses. A sharp class step-up would also be necessary for the horse with the same I’ll Have Another connections.

6) Stealcase - Shaun Brigmohan, 118 lbs, Mark Casse - A resounding stretch runner, the Lawyer Ron colt looks to stretch out a bit after finding his bearings, most recently with a runner-up effort in the Matt Winn (II) behind Neck ‘N Neck. A speedy closer who is good on dirt, Stealcase could benefit from a pace scenario that could redeem his outsider status as an improving dirt horse.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Paynter

2) Nonios

3) Gemologist

Paynter is without a doubt the horse to beat in this race, having the most factors going his way with little real opposition as well as riding the wave of Baffert winning power— who has also won this race a few times now! I have confidence in the unproven Nonios, who I think has been looking really nice and I’m willing to take a shot that he’s going to go after Paynter in the stretch. Gemologist, an all around nice horse on dirt, I have keyed to stay up there.

Value Pick: Nonios

The Top 10 Colts to Watch This Summer

Between January and today, we lost a ton of star power in the three-year-old dirt router division, the most prominent miss being Triple Crown leg winners I’ll Have Another and Union Rags, who suffered a suspensory injury and is now out for the year along with Went the Day Well, who has some ankle issues— all three would have likely been included in the top 5 otherwise. In devising the summer’s must-watch list, I had to leave out so many, blocking out any contenders who have not had a recorded work within the past 60 days.

Unfortunately, I am forced to leave out this year’s many excellent turf runners in favor of dirt routers in determining the best candidates to rack up points towards a big Eclipse prize.

10) Gemologist - I was going to leave this one out, but he’s been throwing bullets lately and it’s hard to knock a colt who was undefeated most of his career. However, he has a lot of questions hovering over him now that the fields are getting stronger than what he’s faced in the past, and it doesn’t help that trainer Todd Pletcher is in a slouch. Next move: Jim Dandy (II) or Haskell (I)

9) Neck ‘N Neck - The connections loved him despite his hard luck early on the Triple Crown trail, and he really blossomed when winning the Matt Winn (III) by a whopping 7 lengths. If he can continue to mature, I think we’ll see another special Flower Alley colt this year… Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

8) Alpha - Nearly left this guy off the list despite ranking him in my top three juvenile colts last year. By the looks of his three-year-old year, he has gotten over his gate quirks and has matured mentally quite a good deal. He dueled with Gemologist bravely in the Wood Memorial (I) before enduring a fuzzy trip in the Kentucky Derby. Issue-laced, I still feel it’s more possible for a Bernardini to blossom during the summertime (Stay Thirsty did as well as the sire himself!). Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

7) Prospective - A promising winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (II), I thought the colt had a good mind and a determined drive during the Triple Crown season, making him a live longshot for the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t do as well as I hoped, but made a nice run in the shrunken Ohio Derby (III) last out to show he still has what it takes. Next move: Haskell (I)

6) Blueskiesnrainbows - An English Channel who is actually good on dirt, the chestnut Baffert trainee made an amazing impression running third in the Santa Anita Derby (I), passed only toward the end by I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause. He won the Swaps Stakes (II), and while he was largely unchallenged in that race setting the pace, he’s another Baffert horse to watch as the distances grow. Next move: Nominated to Jim Dandy (II) as a possible

5) Street Life - The Street Sense colt has been an excellent runner all season, winning a few in New York and last finished a belated fourth in the Belmont Stakes (I). He should especially be watched because of all the speed present in this three-year-old crop, setting up quite perfectly for his closing move. Next move: Curlin Stakes

4) Hansen - A dynamite two-year-old, the Tapit phenom has had a very rocky three-year-old season thus far, sailing smooth to win the Gotham (III) but facing some questionable moves in the Kentucky Derby when strangled back to 10th and a rank 2nd to Algorithms in the Holy Bull (III). However, Hansen is still a classy horse, and should Mike Maker send the colt to the front, he’ll put up a serious fight to stay there. His Iowa Derby (III) prep looked real nice as well, automatically putting him at the head of the list of horses bound for the Travers. Next move: Likely West Virginia Derby (II)

3) Paynter - This horse has just been getting better and better with each start, much like his stablemate Bodemeister. I originally didn’t like him all that much even early on (I was an original Bode supporter of the Zayat string), but the way he constantly performs well despite getting the most bizarre things thrown at him— maiden, then a big G1, then shipping into mud, then 12 furlongs?! He still has some questions to answer, but looks like a horse who will get better as the months wear on. Next move: Haskell (I)

2) Teeth of the Dog - Michael Matz’s second-string to Union Rags may be pulling a Stay Thirsty this year by grabbing his ousted stablemates intended accolades instead. He showed tenacity while winning the Dwyer (II) and really hasn’t been out of the heat of the fight since the start of the year while finishing an improving third behind Gemologist and Alpha in the Wood Memorial (I). I’m waiting for this one to get better and better. Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

1) Bodemeister - The Empire Maker colt boasted huge figures winning the Arkansas Derby (I) and impressed more than the winner in the Kentucky Derby (I). I’m dismissing the Preakness (I) runner-up performance because of a boggy rail, and while my biggest concern will be post-fever fitness (the reason he is out of the Haskell), I have few doubts Bode won’t be able to handle the crowd. He isn’t a “need the lead” type, and with his pedigree, ought to do well. If a horse can outspeed Trinniberg and hold on to almost wire a classic with such little prep… I’m excited. Next move: Unknown prep for Travers

It would be awesome to see O’Prado Again, Algorithms, and or Fire on Ice come back in time, however unlikely that may be…

Early Haskell Buzz for Who?

He may not have won the Derby or the Preakness (and some of you would say that he never would have and was soundly beaten by I’ll Have Another), but Bodemeister would have been the horse to beat in the Haskell Invitational (I), had he not been stricken with illness. Belmont winner Union Rags, a likely candidate to close into Bode’s fantastic fractions, is also out due to a suspensory injury.

Who does that leave in what will be a rather unexciting Haskell?

Hansen, who has a lot of work to do in redeeming himself as a top three-year-old fallen from grace, is now 60-70% likely to enter the Haskell, with priority originally given to the lighter West Virginia Derby (II). Trainer Mike Maker has commented that the colt has matured quite a bit from his rank prep days leading up to the Derby, where he finished an unimpressive 10th. He is certainly ready for a big race following his public workout in the Iowa Derby (III), which he won by an easy 10 lengths.

Zayat Stables is also listing Bodemeister’s talented stablemate as a possible for the race. Paynter nearly wired the Belmont Stakes (I) and has been an impeccable horse from the get-go. Dare I say, he is more mentally capable than Hansen, and can probably beat the Great White Hope should he elect to sit off the pace.

Throwing in a third option and a name I have brought up many times before as someone I like: Street Life. I can’t help but think Street Sense is a good enough sire to get a G1 with one of his progeny this year, and Street Life might just be up to the task. Starting from the rail in the Belmont, he got off to a bad start and was too far behind the field to do better than a modest fourth. He nearly snuffed out Mark Valeski in the Peter Pan (II) before that, and had he not been on the far outside, I think he would have won that race. Obviously, things have to go right for him, but the pace has the possibility of working in his favor.

There’s little to dissuade me from siding with Bodemeister as the potential winner and very possible best three-year-old of 2012. For how lightly raced he is, he has sure done a lot to impress us and often times, good three-year-olds can become great three-year-olds come summertime. We saw it happen with Stay Thirsty as well as Coil just to name two non-classic winners who won prestigious summer stakes races. Now that Bode will be skipping the Haskell, it’s just a question of how and when he’ll get that one prep before the Travers.

Racing Beat: July 15

The unexpected retirement of Caleb’s Posse has me looking for a new best sprinter. Just hearing that Shackleford, who just barely bested Caleb in the Met Mile (I), was legitimately tired for the first time following the race which featured a duel between the two, makes me proud to see such tenacity between two excellent dirt milers. We’ll miss ya, Caleb.

The Travers logo has been revealed!

I didn’t know horses liked to go canoeing…

Can I’ll Have Another replicate a similar horse’s success in Japan (Sunday Silence)? Winner of two legs over a more popular rival, flawed conformation, cheap auction purchase, generally unwanted in North American breeding?

If you haven’t heard the one about the Asmussen mares turning up at a kill auction recently, you need to Google that one.

Taking bets now for how many Bernardinis will make the Breeders’ Cup races this year. Also, taking bets for a side pool that win or lose, the stud fee for 2013 will not drop.

Guess I probably won’t get to see Shackleford before he retires… the blaze face’s heading for the Forego Stakes (II).

I looked up Rattlesnake Bridge this week… he had a 3-furlong breeze in :37 on June 18 at Belmont. Maybe a Saratoga return?

Seriously Santa Anita? Stop trying to reinvent yourself by renaming races. Now I have no idea which one is which! This is dumb!

How Malibu Moon (2012 fee: $70,000) horses sell for so much at auction, I’ll never know… why not consider “middle market” sires more often like Include ($12,500) and Proud Citizen ($10,000) who are doing a hell of a lot better at the races?

Will the feds finally step in after the steady stream of (mostly) bullshit articles from The New York Times? On that note, I wish horse racing was like playing games— cheaters banned for life.

I don’t think putting Hansen in the West Virginia Derby (II) as opposed to the richer Haskell (I) is a bad move at all. Let him mentally mature and test the waters post-Derby there before facing off against Bodemeister. I wonder if they’ve considered tossing Dominguez at this point.

Alex Brown Racing (a website that gained popularity as a source for all things Barbaro for his fans) now has its own podcast of sorts. Naturally, being an awkward person, I have veered away from participating and or creating podcasts. Plus mine would go something like this: “OH MA GAWD HOW CUTE IS COZZETTI? HOW ABOUT ATIGUN? RAAAAAAGSY!” Repeat for 60 minutes.

While I didn’t have her down to win (rooting for Izzy Rules), I’m glad Switch is Breeders’ Cup-bound after the A Gleam (II) yesterday. She gave one of the most memorable performances up against Zenyatta, after all.

Tweet o’ the Week:

One of my favorite four-year-olds is looking around for his next start after some promising breezing. Coil, the winner of last year’s Haskell Invitational (I), hopes to keep the Bob Baffert winning craze alive and I’m sure he will.

One of my favorite four-year-olds is looking around for his next start after some promising breezing. Coil, the winner of last year’s Haskell Invitational (I), hopes to keep the Bob Baffert winning craze alive and I’m sure he will.

Flower Alley, you are one pretty pony!

Flower Alley, you are one pretty pony!

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