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Social Inclusion rushes up to meet Samraat at the start of the Wood Memorial (I), with Noble Moon and Schivarelli up behind them.

Social Inclusion rushes up to meet Samraat at the start of the Wood Memorial (I), with Noble Moon and Schivarelli up behind them.

"Before the Weekend" Derby Top 10

This will probably be my last Derby list before the profiles are started for the big race. This was a bit tougher to make since there are still a lot of major points races left to be run and things could easily get complicated. Ranked in order:

10) Commissioner - Got going too late after a bad start in the Sunland Derby to be up for second. If he can get a clear run to get some point gains in the Arkansas Derby, he’s a candidate.

9) Hoppertunity - Gets a big boost if Mike Smith sticks around as a horse who clearly wants more ground. 

8) Social Inclusion - If he shows something in the Wood— and by something I mean a first or second place finish— I’ll become a believer. Fast, late-improving son of Pioneerof the Nile.

7) Bayern** - Hope he goes to the Arkansas Derby and wins. He’s talented enough for it. I’m stubborn to completely drop him out of sight.

6) Samraat - Stays on the list if he can show me something in the Wood tomorrow. I need to see him not immediately go to the lead and try to hang on.

5) Strong Mandate - Whether or not this Tiznow colt shines in May, he’s a legitimate 10-furlong horse who doesn’t really display any pickiness in regards to surface conditions or what kind of trip he has to make.

4) Candy Boy - His win in the Robert B. Lewis told me all I needed to know. He’s been in my top 10 for the bulk of the year and there’s little telling me he won’t yield at 10 furlongs. My biggest concern is the Candy Ride curse…

3) Tapiture - This horse just needs a better jockey and he’s very game to do well and even show yet another dimension. His off-the-pace style and tactical speed speaks for itself.

2) California Chrome - Brilliant horse who I’ve been watching for a while… but I admit, I was too stubborn to include immediately in the very first top ten list as he hadn’t shown me enough to include a California-bred. He looks like he just needed some time just like another really good California horse who won a couple years ago…

1) Ring Weekend - I can’t really explain this one much more beyond a good feeling and all the right subtle winks. He’s chestnut, he’s by Tapit, trained by Graham Motion, and the thing that really sold me after his impressive Tampa Bay Derby (II) win was the fact he’s being sent to the Calder Derby instead of the Blue Grass. They’re giving this colt time to develop— not throwing him into a huge field in a big points race— and chances to boost his confidence before shipping to Churchill. He’s getting better and better and has some tactical speed to boot.

Woes of racetrack panning: when third place grabs your autofocus away from the top two finishers! Wicked Strong in the foreground, Cairo Prince and Honor Code in the background of the Remsen Stakes finish.

Woes of racetrack panning: when third place grabs your autofocus away from the top two finishers! Wicked Strong in the foreground, Cairo Prince and Honor Code in the background of the Remsen Stakes finish.

Tamarando Ships East for Spiral Stakes

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Week 8/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 6:08pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.

The Sunland Derby and the Spiral Stakes complete another weekend of Derby preps, with some interesting up-and-coming talents taking the stage for each of these G3 events and the fields filling well enough as the races begin to lengthen. The jewel of Turfway Park, the Spiral Stakes often yields an upset winner so it’s a great value race to play if you know your polytrack well, with past winners including Lil E. Tee, Animal Kingdom, and Serena’s Song, overall yielding 3 Kentucky Derby winners. Turf types have excelled in this race.

$550,000 Spiral Stakes (III) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on all-weather track at Turfway Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 22 at 6:28pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 123 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Big Bazinga - Luis Contreras, Katerina Vassilieva - A Woodbine transplant, the Bluegrass Cat gelding excelled on Woodbine’s all-weather as a juvenile and returns to it for the first time as a three-year-old in an attempt to bounce back on what could be his preferred surface. He lost the Holy Bull on dirt by some 33 lengths, but bounced back once placed on turf in his last start, missing by a neck in a Gulfstream allowance. Bluegrass Cat throws plenty of nice turf/poly horses…ahem, Kathmanblu, one of my favorite fillies! Usable in exotics.

2) Asserting Bear [ON] - Joe Rocco Jr, Reade Baker - A winner on Woodbine’s poly, the Bear Kid colt turned in career-best figs on the all-weather at this distance mark. He was a mere 3 3/4 lengths in the scrambled finish of the Sam Davis (III) last out on dirt. Bear Stables has had some luck in the past, and Asserting Bear has some good efforts on all-weather. Not that special an entry, but not a total toss-out.

3) Poker Player - Channing Hill, Wayne Catalano - Hyped and wide into the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I), the Harlan’s Holiday colt hopped nicely off an extended layoff to run 2nd in the Battaglia prep for the Spiral, beaten nearly 5 lengths by Solitary Ranger but making up ground at the end. There is some pace here for Poker Player, who has shown he can do Turfway’s poly. He should improve off that layoff, but needs some stronger numbers to win.

4) Tamarando - Russell Baze, Jerry Hollendorfer - A titan on poly, the Bertrando colt boasts 4 wins in 7 tries on the all-weather and trainer Hollendorfer is no stranger to shipping and winning. Victorious in his last start, the 9-furlong El Camino Real (III), Tam looks fit as the likely favorite. In a field this size, it’s easy to see how Tam is among the best, but he won’t be at a worthwhile price.

5) Coastline - Stewart Elliott, Mark Casse - Speightstowns can pretty much do anything, and this one broke his maiden over Keeneland’s all-weather track only to fizzle in subsequent dirt starts, save one at Churchill. He has the best speed figure on the surface and is usually forwardly-placed. He can win at a nice price.

6) Smart Cover - Corey Lanerie, Dale Romans - Stumbling at the start of his three-year-old debut in a nice turf stake at Gulfstream, the Any Given Saturday colt is being given another try in this, his first start on all-weather. He ought to improve 2nd off the layoff, but his class is very questionable.

7) All Tied Up - Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher - Even the Score’s other son Dullahan loved poly, so why not All Tied Up? A victor in 2 of his 7 starts— all on the lawn— Pletcher sends this one to the poly for the first time. Pletcher is gifted at churning out some poly stars as he demonstrated with Silsita and In Lingerie in Turfway’s Bourbonette Oaks. All Tied Up with reap some pace should he liken to poly.

8) Solitary Ranger - Florent Geroux, Wayne Catalano - I really like the first US Ranger foals, and Solitary Ranger could be among the best of them, as he put on a show romping in the Battaglia stake prep and is 2-for-2 as a three-year-old and an artist on the all-weather. His works look excellent and he’s humming off that Battaglia win. Very nice horse who will look to help set the pace.

9) Almost Famous - Calvin Borel, Pat Byrne - A winner twice as a two-year-old, the Unbridled’s Song colt didn’t make an immediate lead in the Holy Bull (III) and just never got into the race, an action he repeated in the Fountain of Youth (II). He needs that lead, and by the looks of it, an uncontested one which he probably won’t get. I feel good about dismissing this one.

10) Harry’s Holiday - Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker - Hansen’s owners return to the Derby preps with this Harlan’s Holiday colt, who went wide to finish 3rd in the Battaglia prep, but before that, romped in the 96 Rock prep at Turfway by 8 lengths. Can he route, or was the Battaglia not his day? Either way, he gets an upgrade with Rosie Napravnik.

11) We Miss Artie - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - The other G1 winner in the field, the Ramseys are taking another shot at the Derby preps with this son of Artie Schiller, last seen being whipped by 17 lengths in the Fountain of Youth (II). He won his only poly start— the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland from the 10-hole— and missed beating Storming Inti by a head before that, so talent is in check. Class alone could hand him the victory, but he doesn’t have the type of speed figures necessary to beat out many of these horses, even on poly. I also don’t like the way he was caught by Storming Inti in a race he should have had in the bag.

12) Arctic Slope - Albin Jimenez, Ken McPeek - Making his first start since November, the Van Nistelrooy colt is shooting for the moon after being beaten 12 lengths last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II). His lone poly start put him nearly 5 lengths behind We Miss Artie, albeit after a wide trip and a bad start. Very steep challenge for a horse to try hot off the bench.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) All Tied Up

2) Coastline

3) Solitary Ranger

Before I start, there are a lot of horses in here that could win this, and for that reason, I’m playing against the scary favorite Tamarando, who may very well win, and I’m not a huge fan of We Miss Artie, despite generally liking Artie Schillers… on turf. All Tied Up hit a wall of horses while closing things up like a zipper last out, and I think he could easily take to poly with 2 wins at 1 1/16 miles so he’s not just a turf sprinter. As a fan of the saying “Don’t overlook the Speightstown,” I include Coastline, who may very well be the horse for the course and a poly specialist. Solitary Ranger I’m just a fan of and he’d be the kneejerk pick here had I not been able to analyze the race. He could stick it out in the front end.

Value Pick: Value can be had in most places. All Tied Up would be a keeper at 6-1 or better, Coastline 8-1 or better.

Contest Wager: All Tied Up

does the points system make it (virtually) impossible for fillies to be entered in the Derby now?

Asked by Anonymous

I don’t think it’s “impossible.”

Let’s say there’s a really really nice filly one year. Her owners decide to take it easy with her, competing only against fillies, until they sense she might be better than that, then they shoot for a 100-point race which is basically a “win and you’re in” type of deal. All she needs to do is win that race, and let’s face it, not all of them fill up very well quality-wise *cough cough* Wood Memorial *cough*.

It’s not impossible! But it’s still quite unlikely that a filly can win the Derby…

Tapiture vs. Strong Mandate Rematch in the Rebel

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Week 7/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 5:44pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.

With Honor Code out of the Rebel (and racing in an allowance today on Wednesday instead), picking a strong value winner became a little harder. The field has shrunk down a little bit to 8 horses, and includes a rematch of the Southwest Stakes (III) winner and runner-up along with some fit challengers.

$600,000 Rebel Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 15 at 6:04pm EST.

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

1) Jet Cat - John McKee, 115 lbs, Edward Frederick - The sole Texas-bred and the lucky rail horse, the son of Tactical Cat was off the board in both of his three-year-old starts, finishing a wide 9th in an Oaklawn allowance going a mile in January then improved to 4th last month in a similar allowance won by Sheltowee’s Boy, beaten some 5 lengths. With a bullet 5-panel in the books, Jet Cat’s sire Tactical Cat was a winner of the Hollywood Futurity but didn’t show much as a three-year-old. He may not be fit for the surface either, with his maiden broken at Turfway.

2) Ride On Curlin - Kent Desormeaux, 115 lbs, William Gowan - Favored among many leading up to the Southwest Stakes (III), the son of Curlin brushed up to finish 3rd in that race, going 7-wide late and too far back to catch Tapiture or Strong Mandate. He easily won an allowance earlier this year at Oaklawn and has a 7-furlong work for this race in 1:26 and change. Ride On Curlin draws much better than he did in the Southwest (#8), but either way, appears to be training for the long haul. He can win this.

3) Tapiture - Ricardo Santana Jr, 122 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The Tapit colt has obviously been training very well since making Oaklawn his home base, laying it all down on the track to win the Southwest (III) in a romp over Strong Mandate last out. No off-the-board starts here in this rising star. A colt with some tactical speed to burn, Tapiture showed his class last out but also had a very ideal trip running free on the rail. He totes the highest weight but still breaks close to the rail. Should still show up very well, if not win with that great turn of foot of his.

4) Strong Mandate - Joel Rosario, 117 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The tough Tiznow returns off a good-looking 2nd place finish in the Southwest (III), where he encountered some traffic and got going too late to touch Tapiture. He twelved 4 panels after that race, then went for a slow breeze to prep, where he sliced the final quarter in :23.4. I sense the Coach has this one sitting on an all-star effort in this, his 2nd off the layoff, and 5 pounds from Tapiture helps his cause.

5) Hoppertunity - Mike Smith, 115 lbs, Bob Baffert - I’m still keen that this Any Given Saturday colt has some clout, despite a 4th place finish in the crowded Risen Star Stakes (II) last out. The winning jockey for that race returns to ride Hop, who has been breezing pretty well at Santa Anita in the meantime. Losing by 7 lengths last out, I’m hoping for a better pilot job for Hop who puts his best effort in late. Mike Smith could be the key factor here.

6) Sheltowee’s Boy - Joshua Navarro, 115 lbs, Brad Cox - A closing winner last out in an Oaklawn allowance, the Nobiz Like Shobiz gelding held off Z Lucky to win by 3/4 length. This will be his stakes bow, Not early-nominated for the Triple Crown, this is the gelding’s audition for the Derby should he run well. He will have to improve.

7) Street Strategy - Calvin Borel, 115 lbs, Randy Morse - Unstarted as a two-year-old, the gray Street Sense colt took off running in his career debut at Oaklawn in January to miss by a nose while moving wide in the stretch. He broke his maiden about 2 weeks after that, this time running on the front end to score by 6 1/2 lengths. He took control of a relatively uncontested pace in his maiden break, and has not run since January, although he’s had some longer works put in, including 6 panels in 1:13 and change. Can he improve off a longer layoff and survive a class test? Kind of an interesting horse.

8) Kobe’s Back - Jose Lezcano, 117 lbs, John Sadler - Fresh off his San Vicente (II) win at Santa Anita, the gray Flatter colt will try to lengthen his stride from 7 furlongs after winning that prep by a pretty easy 5 lengths. The half brother to sprinter Well Spelled loses Rosario for this race, but is riding a nice high with a second start off the layoff here and has been breezing 6 panels in 1:11 and change at Santa Anita. A solid pace easily elevates him.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Strong Mandate

2) Kobe’s Back

3) Tapiture

It’s a tug of war between the top 3 horses, with each one presenting a strong case. Strong Mandate floats to the top of the list, as he did better than I expected in the Southwest Stakes fresh off a long layoff and has been training well at Oaklawn. He’s game to improve further here and hopefully has a better trip. Kobe’s Back could come running late under a solid pace, and has tremendous speed to burn. Tapiture ran superb last out and could win this race just as easily in his 2nd start off the layoff.

Value Pick: Kobe’s Back (4-1) is regarded by many as a sprinter who closes. He’s riding off a real nice win and should be able to get 1 1/16 miles and is a strong candidate to win.

Contest Pick: Strong Mandate

Intense Holiday before his 4th place finish in the Remsen Stakes (II).

Intense Holiday before his 4th place finish in the Remsen Stakes (II).

Derby Top 10: February List

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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.

Join in the Derby Dollars Competition

This is NOT the one I run, but it is a very similar competition run by The Paulick Report where you pick a fictional WPS wager for 17 races over the next 10 weeks— staring this weekend and going through to the Kentucky Derby! Cash prizes paid out to the top 5 finishers. Everybody who is anybody in the amateur handicapping world will be playing. Open to people 18 & up in the U.S. and Canada.

I’m Dayatthespa on there… feel free to join in the fray and see if you can beat me! :)

The Return of Birdstone

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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!)

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