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Weekend Stake Tip: Back Up Again?

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Thanks to the dank three-year-old crop, I haven’t had a real winner in a while. Java’s War was the only legit winner I had written down here in months— I don’t count picking Flashback to win that stupid excuse of a stakes race and Freedom Child's Peter Pan win was something I only wrote on Twitter— so it was nice to see win/value pick Najjaar run a strong 3rd on Saturday at 11-1 odds then have win pick Sahara Sky sweep in for a late Met Mile victory on Monday. It does wonders for my confidence to know that Belmont is playing fairly this close to the Belmont Stakes.

The horses I like most for the Belmont are closing types, but now that it is even more obvious that speed is holding up, Freedom Child is going to demand more of my attention once again. As of now:

DO LIKE:

  • Revolutionary
  • Golden Soul
  • Freedom Child
  • Code West (if he goes)

ON THE FENCE:

  • Oxbow
  • Orb
  • Unlimited Budget

NO or UNDECIDED:

  • Overanalyze
  • Giant Finish
  • Incognito
  • Midnight Taboo
  • Always in a Tiz
  • Palace Malice
  • Will Take Charge

Obviously, the ones that have raced more are closer to being a “no.” For the record, I am 10x more excited for the two big G1 turf races on Belmont Day than I am about the actual headliner (especially if Mizdirection does indeed ship in to meet Dayatthespa). I’m just not enthusiastic about the three-year-old crop in general. There is more than enough skill and difference in setup likings in the “like” group to deter any enormous longshots from winning this year.

I will probably try to keep handicapping Belmont this week to keep a handle on how the track is playing to how I see things unfolding, but I would also like to try a little international race going on this Saturday…

The Unforgettable Races of 2012: #10-1

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Continued from the #20-11 best races post, it’s time to hammer out the ten most awesome and memorable races from 2012! Again, a lot of my choices are North American, so you Euro fans and the like take it easy on me!

Honorable mention: I believe I miscounted the number of races I had before… I really meant to include Mizdirection’s Turf Sprint here in the middle of the countdown. Ugh! I knew I was bad at math but this is very erroneous… sorry Miz!

10) Union Rags sneaks by Paynter to win Belmont (I) - My most personal race from 2012 being that I was there for it, whether you cared for the race or not it was still one not to miss. Hot improver Paynter looked like the first horse in some time that could win the Test of the Champion wire-to-wire until Union Rags managed to find a path through on the inside just as time ran out. Watch it here

9) Questing all shock and awe in Alabama (I) performance - I was kind of heart-broken to have missed this race in person (it was between this weekend and the Whitney weekend I had to go to Saratoga), but all in all, it was still a jaw-dropping display of raw ability watching Questing set Secretariat-like fractions in a wire-to-wire romp in the Alabama (I) against top-class fillies! Watch it here

8) Shackleford deflects Caleb’s Posse to win stunning Met Mile (I) - I didn’t have him to win despite feeling that he could win this race last year after his Preakness victory, all because I thought he was in bad form. Shack Attack proved me wrong and his fan base was jubilant as he kept right on going in a rousing renewal of his rivalry with Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I) champion Caleb’s Posse. Watch it here

7) My Miss Aurelia ousts Questing in Cotillion (I) match race - Despite boasting a four horse field, it was really a match race between undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (I) winner My Miss Aurelia and the rising star Questing, each well-handicapped against each other to make things an interesting race. Each filly gave it her best and it was quite the million-dollar race. Watch it here

6) Royal Delta digs in, gives away weight, and still prevails in gutsy Delaware Handicap (II) - We all knew she was something special, but a fast horse is nothing without a big heart. Royal Delta gave away 3 to 10 pounds to all of her foes, including a whopping 9 to recent Azeri (III) winner Tiz Miz Sue who challenged her in the stretch when she already appeared to be going all out. Watch it here

5) Wise Dan conquers international field, holds off Animal Kingdom in Breeders’ Cup Mile (I) - A vulnerable favorite, Wise Dan capped off an impeccable year as a do-it-all gelding with a win in the seriously competitive Breeders’ Cup Mile against shippers of colossal class. He skirted away to the lead in the stretch as easily as he did in past starts while managing to hold off Animal Kingdom who came sweeping in late. Watch it here

4) I’ll Have Another catches Bodemeister in dramatic Kentucky Derby (I) - A curious race from its rocky start, Bodemeister unexpectedly outran predicted pacesetter Trinniberg early and looked prime to wire the Derby in an outstanding display of might, only to tire and be caught late by the heroic I’ll Have Another. Watch it here

3) Orfevre caught by Solemia in upsetting Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (FR-I) - While it appeared that Japan’s Triple Crown winner was going to revel in the one of the world’s most prestigious races, it was Solemia who stormed in late and out of the clouds to upset the good Orfevre in the waning moments of the Arc. Watch it here

2) Frankel bows a perfect winner in Champion Stakes (ENG-I) - A timeless, unforgettable sort of horse, the fantastic Frankel made his last start worthwhile as he encountered trouble in the early stages of the race while running on soft turf against some of the best horses in Europe. The crowd cheering to a sustained din, it was the ideal end to a superhorse’s legacy. Watch it here

1) Black Caviar outsmarts and outsprints them all in Ascot’s Diamond Jubilee (ENG-I) to stay perfect - Humming off the rail in an unprecendented ship from Australia to England, the world’s most perfect sprinter looked easy-going making her move to the lead, but nearly lost her undefeated streak when jockey Luke Nolen appeared to ease her too early. Watch it here

Caleb’s Posse, in my opinion, had the best and most decisive performance in last year’s Breeders’ Cup when he won the Dirt Mile (I) in a final bounding rush. He was scathingly close to three separate stakes wins this year, including the memorable Met Mile (I) against Shackleford. I still think he deserved to win the Eclipse Award last year, but what can you do… now that he’s been retired, I hope he will pass on his consistency and will to win on to his foals. I’m going to guess he’ll get $20,000 his first year at stud starting 2013. (Photo by Matthew Stockman)

Caleb’s Posse, in my opinion, had the best and most decisive performance in last year’s Breeders’ Cup when he won the Dirt Mile (I) in a final bounding rush. He was scathingly close to three separate stakes wins this year, including the memorable Met Mile (I) against Shackleford. I still think he deserved to win the Eclipse Award last year, but what can you do… now that he’s been retired, I hope he will pass on his consistency and will to win on to his foals. I’m going to guess he’ll get $20,000 his first year at stud starting 2013. (Photo by Matthew Stockman)

DOUCHEBAG HOW COULD YOU SAY CALEB'S POSSE IS BETTER!? I OBJECT. I'M ANGRY. I WILL CALL MR. ROMANS RIGHT NOW AND COMPLAIN!!!

Asked by thoughtsonracinglifeandmore

This threat would have been a lot scarier if you went on anon!

If I had a dollar for every time I disagreed with what Dale Romans does, I’d look like a stripper with all the singles I had.

I realize I probably sound like a d-bag, but while it was a good race I feel like Caleb’s Posse is the best miler in the country. To Honor and Serve didn’t stand much of a chance being stuck on the rail and having to check around Shackleford to get clear running room. But alas, Shack’s a beast. I still can’t get over how huge a horse he is every time I see photos of him!

I realize I probably sound like a d-bag, but while it was a good race I feel like Caleb’s Posse is the best miler in the country. To Honor and Serve didn’t stand much of a chance being stuck on the rail and having to check around Shackleford to get clear running room. But alas, Shack’s a beast. I still can’t get over how huge a horse he is every time I see photos of him!

Shackleford was every bit the gusty Preakness winner he was last year in today’s Met Mile (I). Two gradeds in a row, beating out a Breeders’ Cup winner both times! Yikes!

Caleb’s Posse schools for what will hopefully be his big first win of 2012 in the Met Mile (I)

Caleb’s Posse schools for what will hopefully be his big first win of 2012 in the Met Mile (I)

G1 Winners Abound in Met Mile

This weekend I’ll be handicapping each of the $500,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 Memorial Day races at Belmont Park.

One of my favorite spring races, I’m glad to see that the Met Mile has achieved Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge status. It truly is one of the defining races for talent, and while we have a disappointingly small field this year, several good horses are stepping it up to win this big G1.

$1 million Metropolitan Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Monday, May 28 at 5:47pm EST.

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

1) To Honor and Serve - Jose Lezcano, 120 lbs, Bill Mott - The 4-year-old Bernardini colt was a standout as a juvenile, and came back after a long layoff to take the Pennsylvania Derby (II) in record-time followed by a bad trip in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I), followed by a shutout win in the Cigar Mile (I). His works looks like he digs Belmont plenty. I profited off some doubters when he won the Westchester (III) last out by 5 lengths, and I have every reason to believe this is a top class four-year-old. I don’t think the mile is his best bet long-term, but he’s a lot like last year’s winner Tizway where he obviously rocks at it.

2) Shackleford - John Velazquez, 119 lbs, Dale Romans - Last year’s Preakness (I) winner, the Forestry colt had a rocky year full of some excellent performances where he fell just barely short including a runner-up to Caleb’s Posse in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I). His recent win in the Churchill Downs Stakes (II) over Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I) winner Amazombie proved he’s back to peak. He gets an upgrade in jockey with Johnny V. As long as he keeps looking good in the morning, I see little reason to doubt Shackleford, who is every bit an excellent miler, but he could fall victim to an early duel for the pace or need to be the one to set it up.

3) Caleb’s Posse - Rajiv Maragh, 121 lbs, Donnie Von Hemel - The Posse colt was arguably last year’s best three-year-old, and while he hasn’t won yet as a four-year-old, he’s been sharply close. He was second to Jackson Bend in the more recent Carter (I) with a too-late kick and second to Caixa Eletronica in the Tom Fool (III), where the winner was most confident on the surface. I expect him to do his patented late burst in the final sixteenth, and the connections are obviously going to want to win this one more than anything. The extra furlong will definitely boost Caleb (Carter was 7, Tom Fool was 6).

4) Saginaw - David Cohen, 115 lbs, David Jacobson - Here’s your underdog: the 6-year-old gelded son of Peruvian has started an astounding 27 times and has reeled off 5 straight wins this year from the claiming ranks to ungraded stakes in New York. He may scratch in favor the May 27 Kingston Stakes. He won the 7-furlong Affirmed Success by 7 lengths last out at Belmont and looks to help set a contentious fast pace.

5) Caixa Eletronica - Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Todd Pletcher - Mike Repole’s rags-to-riches star, the 7-year-old Arromanches son was a surprising 3rd in last year’s Met Mile and last out won the Charles Town Classic (II) by 3 lengths— surprising stuff for a career miler to win a G2 1 1/8 mile race! Works are consistently good, and he has yet to finish off the board while at Belmont in three tries. His form is spotty at best and hard to figure out. I’m leaving him out.

6) Jackson Bend - Corey Nakatani, 121 lbs, Nick Zito - The “Mighty Mouse” son of Hear No Evil has been promising as always with 2 wins in 3 starts this year including the Carter Handicap (I) over Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford. A pacestalker, he has won in the past no matter how fast things are moving (or not) but is considered stronger at 7 furlongs.

Top Picks in Order:

1) To Honor and Serve

2) Caleb’s Posse

Only picking 2 because of small field with at least 1 likely scratch. I see Shackleford setting it up, To Honor and Serve putting in a fresh stretch run to hold off Caleb’s Posse and Jackson Bend.

Value Pick: Jackson Bend

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!

Weekend Stake Tip: Champions Conquered

The weekend did not disappoint, as two Kentucky Derby prep races gave their audiences a hell of a show. Accompanying stakes races welcomed back Eclipse champions while introducing new names to watch. Tightening up after last weekend’s dismal San Vicente (II), three win bets of $5, $10, and $10 respectively on El Padrino, Nehro, and Union Rags bettered my bankroll while show bets on Shared Property and Discreet Dancer failed to muster anything additional. Graham Motion ruined a pick 3 for me when Smart Bid prevailed by a nose over Mr. Vegas in the Fair Grounds Handicap (III). But, I cannot complain at the day’s end.

Over on the left coast, Santa Anita played host to the return of Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I) champion Amazombie, who while a bit behind on his 2012 campaign had been training better than ever. He took his usual spot behind the pace set by the brilliant The Factor, who trimmed even, fast fractions all the way. Sway Away, returning off a lengthy layoff, broke well behind the rest to trail the field. The Factor looked hot the whole trip, but well in-hand by Martin Garcia. Coming down the lane, Amazombie inched closer, but not with devastating effect. The real attention-grabber was Sway Away, who made a sudden mad dash toward the front. Had the race been a bit longer, Sway Away would have made a serious case for the win. Nonetheless, The Factor had wired the field to win by less than 2 lengths, giving Baffert another win in an impressive streak and keeping the roan son of War Front undefeated at 7 furlongs. Keep an eye on both The Factor in sprints and Sway Away, probably in a mile event, this year. Bob Baffert discusses the colt’s future— including a possible Met Mile (I) start— below.

Featured as a big returning race on the loaded Saturday card at Gulfstream Park was the Sabin Stakes (III) for older fillies, pitting the champion three-year-old filly Royal Delta against fellow Eclipse Award nominee Awesome Maria, who was fresh off an injury-induced 8 month layoff. The gray five-year-old Awesome Maria broke last, but was eased into fourth between horses into a nice tracking position behind the leaders. Royal Delta, not content to trail early on, leapt up to the side of Awesome Maria, who began gunning for the superior position. Striding easily around the far turn, the gray daughter of Maria’s Mon looked every bit the favorite and was given her head turning for home. Making a mockery of Royal Delta, who finished a distant second, Awesome Maria coasted home under a hand ride and ought to be taken seriously already. Watch replay

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