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Derby Watch: Paynter’s Kin

It’s hard not to love Paynter after his dramatic yet brief three-year-old campaign that concluded with an emphatic G1 win in the Haskell Invitational. It’s even harder to not associate good feels with the bay colt after a winning battle with multiple ailments that left him at death’s door for a stretch of time. With the son of Awesome Again slowly returning to full health, there is few greater joys than seeing his younger relations do well for themselves on the Derby trail.

Experiencing mild success this year with Optimizer, Hamazing Destiny, Hightail, and a few others, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had some on-and-off success training, but looks to have a solid performer in Paynter’s 3/4 brother Oxbow. A bay son of Awesome Again out of the Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing (who is also a full sister to dual-Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow and Paynter’s dam Tizso), he broke well from the far outside to win his 7-furlong maiden special weight over the weekend at Churchill Downs.

Favored in the betting, Oxbow did not have a favorable beginning in racing, being pulled up and vanned off the Saratoga main in his dead-last debut against speed demon Jocosity. No harm done, however, when all things are considered: Paynter never made a start as a two-year-old, never mind 4 races with a win and a third. Oxbow is obviously doing something right after being suddenly favored in the Churchill race after racing third to Gulfport in his prior start at nearly 17-1, and his works suggest he’ll be even quicker as a three-year-old.

Also making 4 starts is Paynter’s cousin (by Speightstown out of Tizsweet, another full to Paynter’s dam) is Tizexx, a two-year-old gray/roan trainee of Bobby Barnett who also ran this past Saturday. She raced three-wide on the Churchill main to tire in the stretch of the 7-furlong maiden race to finish 5th holding her own. She has flashed ample speed in her workouts— she went :47 2/5 in her last 4-panel hum— so this is another one I think will require some time.

Paynter’s full brother racing this year named Fire Flight, will definitely be needing additional time, and I’m not even sure he was ready for his debut going by his short list of published works. Helmed by Keith Asmussen, he was towards the back of a Retama maiden early and dragged his heels upon feeling the stick, losing by some 10 lengths back in 9th.

If lightning can’t strike twice in the same family, I guess we can always wait on Paynter’s highly-anticipated return.

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.

Point of Entry Tough in BC Turf

Possessing enough G1-winning clout this year to make him a serious consideration for Horse of the Year, Dynaformer’s Point of Entry faces his biggest challenge yet as he ships west for the 12-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf (I) race. European horses have won 8 out of the last 10 Turfs, and this year’s invaders present a huge threat to America’s best bet. Contenders are:

  • Point of Entry* - Dynaformer colt holds down the fort as the favorite heading in with a 5-for-6 record this year, 3 of them being G1 victories. He won despite some challenges last out over yielding turf, but should be right as rain here.
  • Bourbon Bay - 2-for-4 this year at 1 3/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles, the Sligo Bay [IRE] gelding is a last-minute closer who serves consistent efforts each time out. He threw in a clunker to be 8th last out on this course in the John Henry (I), but that should only help boost his odds.
  • Kindergarden Kid - The Dynaformer gelding won his last prep over Ioya Bigtime in the Sycamore (III) after being beaten by Point of Entry and Treasure Beach [GB] in Belmont’s Turf Classic (I). He’s good for the distance but class is a question.
  • Optimizer - The English Channel colt found his calling on grass and looks to lead things along on the front end after back-to-back wins doing so and is hot off a great Kent Stakes (III) win by 4 1/4 lengths. He looks to stretch out here significantly from his most recent races at 9 furlongs.
  • Treasure Beach [GB] - A rough year early on for the Galileo [IRE] colt, he is recovering back to peak form for trainer O’Brien making a good 2nd to Point of Entry last out in the Turf Classic (I).
  • St. Nicholas Abbey [IRE] - Last year’s BC Turf champion, the Montjeu [IRE] son was never a factor finishing 11th in the Arc and hasn’t been good since the start of the year.
  • Cogito - The Giant’s Causeway three-year-old has won twice this year in 5 tries, but they were at the lower level and he’s been bested by horses less skilled than these.
  • Shareta [IRE] - The Sinnadar [IRE] filly finished out of the money just once this year, but it was in the Arc last out where she was a tiring 9th. A dual G1 winner this year overseas, it could be just a clunker or a sign she’s done for the year.
  • Turbo Compressor* - The wire-to-wire winner of the United Nations (I) and Colonial Turf Cup, the Halo’s Image ridgeling gave up the lead he usually has last out to try sitting off the pace, finishing 2nd behind Slim Shadey [GB]. This was likely a change in strategy following his dead-tired 9th he had after leading the way in the Sword Dancer (I), but his form is what makes him a longshot.
  • Slim Shadey [GB] - The Val Royal [FR] gelding won his American debut at Santa Anita earlier in the year and was beaten just a head by Bourbon Bay his last time at 12 furlongs. He wired his last race at Santa Anita over 10 furlongs with ease in the John Henry (II) and looks ready to roar.
  • Trailblazer [JPN] - Lightly-raced this year, the Zenno Rob Roy [JPN] import warmed up to California grass well in his 1-mile prep, beaten just a half length by Obviously and was well ahead of the rest. Form-wise, he’s a worthy gamble.
  • Late adds: Dullahan & Little Mike

I’ll give my top 3 picks and value pick for the Turf (I) next week.

Slim Shadey [GB] - California-based and European-bred, he won his last prep easy and looks game for another good effort.

Point of Entry - One to beat, he hasn’t been challenged.

Trailblazer [JPN] - Distance specialist was just getting warmed up in his last prep and should be poised for a big effort

Treasure Beach [GB] - Once-dominant colt looks to be returning to form

Optimizer - Super tough on the grass with a super distance turf pedigree, Lukas has this one figured out.

Sophomore Sinkhole

El Padrino was impressive on the Triple Crown trail, but has been MIA since the Run for the Roses.

Who wants some stats? Everybody loves stats, probably as much as they love Raymond. We saw one of the most talented crops of juvenile take the stage in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I), and while a whopping 10 out of 13 of them won stakes leading up to the Derby, we’ve since seen one of the worst injury/retirement rates hit the sophomore male crop:

  • Out of 20 Derby runners, 6 of them have been pronounced retired.
  • Out of the top 5 finishers of the Derby, only Dullahan is still currently active.
  • Out of all 20, only Alpha is being [definitively] considered for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I).
  • 5 of them suffered some type of injury ranging from minor to career-ending between the 3 TC races.
  • Trinniberg is a possible for the BC Sprint, Dullahan a probable for Turf or possibly Classic.
  • Daddy Nose Best, Optimizer, and Dullahan are now career turf/synth horses.
  • 5 of the 20 runners have not made a start since the Triple Crown wrapped.
  • Post-Triple Crown stakes winners: Optimizer (G3 Kent on grass), Dullahan (G1 Pacific Classic on synthetic), Alpha (G2 Jim Dandy and G1 deadheat in Travers), Prospective (G3 Ohio Derby), and Trinniberg (G2 Woody Stephens, sprint).
  • The only horses to have raced against older horses so far this year: Dullahan, Prospective, Daddy Long Legs. Only Dullahan has won against them, and by a nose.

Looking back, was this one of the best years or one of the worst years for three-year-old talent, or should we blame the temptations the breeding industry offers?

Racing Beat: September 22

Tomorrow’s Weekend Stake Tip is going to feature me strangling myself in utter frustration… once again I sit on the sidelines and both of my longshot picks win (Well Spelled at 14-1 and Dust and Diamonds at 12-1).

Imagine a world where Unbridled’s Song was sterile while Cigar wasn’t. Now, imagine that world where Barbaro never got hurt and Bernardini never got a chance to win the Preakness. Whoa, right?

I’m starting to accept that America’s Best Racing won’t ever welcome mention of this blog (or any other “little guys”) in their notebook despite some attempts. Maybe they remember me from the Belmont Stakes when their booth people didn’t know who the horses were on my shirt (Union Rags and Hansen *facepalm*).

If Trevor Denman really isn’t calling the Breeders’ Cup (a rumor), I want Vic Stauffer to do it. He gets so into it.

How freakin’ ironic is it to think that Optimizer was once a dirt runner who made his mark as a closer, but is now a graded winner on grass wiring fields?

I will admit, Handsome Mike is pretty handsome.

I wasn’t favoring Rolling Fog to be anything special just yet, but I’m also kind of glad to see him sidelined from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I). Barclay Tagg’s wisdom about that race “ruining” good juveniles came into light with this year’s Triple Crown if you think back on it.

The more research I do on pedigree/trainer-biased injuries in racehorses, the more likely I feel I’m going to be gruff on how I make my early picks for the Kentucky Derby.

I haven’t seen the rest of the Beldame possibles yet, but I can only hope for good odds on Royal Delta.

Happy retirement to a deserving Calder pony, Mad Flatter. (With that said, how many more retirements did we have this week… 5? Mad Flatter, Boys at Tosconova, Redeemed, Awesome Gem, The Factor… agh!)

I’m okay with the 2013 Oaks logo, but that Derby one needs to go back to the drawing board.

Rest in peace, Spurious Precision. You had a cool name and moved something special.

I scare myself to death wearing headphones and having a live track video minimized that is silent until… *loudly* “TWO MINUTES.” I can’t be the only one that jumps…


Asked by thoughtsonracinglifeandmore

Not a bad weekend for you… Dullahan AND Optimizer. The latter was a little flukey in my opinion, but Dullahan earned his bragging right. Not sure where that will get him in the long run though.

You’re going to have to start calling it out a little more publicly if you really want credit from me though :3

Probably the weekend’s most interesting race is the Virginia Derby (II), which pits the hot winning streak of Silver Max against some seriously good challengers including Summer Front, fellow Clement trainee and likely underrated Easy Crossing, Optimizer (who is a grass horse at heart!), and the wonderful Lucky Chappy [IRE] is back after his Dubai trip.

Probably the weekend’s most interesting race is the Virginia Derby (II), which pits the hot winning streak of Silver Max against some seriously good challengers including Summer Front, fellow Clement trainee and likely underrated Easy Crossing, Optimizer (who is a grass horse at heart!), and the wonderful Lucky Chappy [IRE] is back after his Dubai trip.

English Channel Coming Up Roses

Back in his heyday, the turfer English Channel was among the best grass horses the U.S. had to offer who wasn’t an import. While that might not be saying much in the grand scheme of things, he was consistent as the day is long with rare stamina to boot, never faring worse than 4th and winning 6 times at 1 1/4 miles or farther. With powerful bloodlines backing him up (by the millionaire classic sire Smart Strike and out of a Theatrical [IRE] daughter), it’s tough to argue that English Channel would not have a place in the classics.

However, fast-forwarding to his first crop racing in the Triple Crown, his lone competitor son Optimizer was spotty at best. While he was the only horse to run in all three legs, his performances grew sour by the hour, reaching a rank moot point in the Belmont where he uncharacteristically ripped out of the gate and dropped back by the end. It was best for all connections involved to quietly tuck any mention of Optimizer away.

But now that the season has worn on and the three-year-olds are a little older, it’s time to take another look. English Channel himself was a late-bloomer and progressed slowly yet surely as a grass runner. His son, Blueskiesnrainbows, made a big splash as a greenhorn in the Santa Anita Derby (I), nearly besting I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause who finished together just a length ahead. He won today’s Swap Stakes (II) over some nice competition including G1 winner and stablemate Liasion. Not bad for a horse who was a bargain binner at $33,000.

Adding to the short list of promising progeny is the favorite and eventual winner of Canada’s beloved Queen’s Plate (I), Strait of Dover. A struggling claimer on the dirt, upon switching to Woodbine’s synthetic surface, the colt boomed, improving vastly to break his maiden and only got emphatically better as more distance was given to him. He would go on to win the Plate in a steady, track record-breaking try.

There are others, but with stuff to prove including D. Wayne Lukas’s on again, off again stakes winner Skyring (similar to his stablemate Optimizer, dare I say!). It’s not popular cheap speed fare, but I expect with a little more sitting and waiting, we’ll see more English Channel in the winner’s circle.

The Belmont Stakes field is all in… (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

The Belmont Stakes field is all in… (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

I’ll Have Another Faces History, Old Foes in Belmont Stakes

Here we have it.

Four years later after an almost assured Triple Crown with Big Brown, I’ll Have Another attempts to become the 12th horse in history to capture all 3 major spring three-year-old races to stay undefeated in his sophomore season. While the field is relatively light, there will be plenty of challenges ahead for both horse and rider with at least two competitive opponents who will be fresh for the 1 1/2 mile lap around Old Sandy.

I considered practically everything in handicapping this race, with a lot of weight on preparation, class, running style, and predicted course of action with consideration toward pedigree (hey, less well-bred horses have won this in the past). The forecast for Saturday is sunny and warm with a chance of isolated thunderstorms for this must-see event.

$1 million Belmont Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/2 miles on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, June 9 at 6:40pm EST.

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

1) Street Life - Jose Lezcano, Chad Brown - I insist the Street Sense colt would have won the 1 1/8 mile Peter Pan (II) a few weeks ago at Belmont had he not broken from the far outside. He closed beautifully at the end of that race to grab the show, and outside of a troublesome trip in the Wood (I), he’s been strong in New York. Solid work schedule. A wildcard for the exotics, he’s on the improving path and I like him a lot.

2) Unstoppable U - Junior Alvarado, Ken McPeek - McPeek calls this Exchange Rate colt “talented,” but has admitted he’s still green with lead change issues. He’s 2-for-2 so far, both while setting the pace with his most recent win being a mile-long allowance by more than 6 lengths over Guyana Star Dweej. This being a McPeek interest horse, I would not be shocked if Unstoppable U is here to butter up the field as a rabbit for Atigun.

3) Union Rags - John Velazquez, Michael Matz - The Dixie Union colt was favored in the Derby, where he finished a very troubled 7th with Julien Leparoux. His record reads like a traffic accident report, with road blocks a plenty keeping him from the win. He gets veteran jockey Velazquez this time and plenty of room in the stretch should all fare well. I still have every confidence in this colt and the change over to Velazquez was a good one.

4) Atigun - Julien Leparoux, Ken McPeek - The Istan colt looked good while winning a confidence-booster allowance at Churchill Downs closing down on the field. I favored him on a stale day for the Rebel (II), and he had some traffic issues while closing for 5th in the Arkansas (I). A good horse who needs some time to improve, he’ll need luck and a boost in speed to reach contention.

5) Dullahan - Javier Castellano, Dale Romans - The Even the Score colt was a moderate upset winner of the Blue Grass (II) and was a strong, fast-closing, very wide third in the Derby, reminding me an awful lot of 2010 runner-up Ice Box. He swaps riders for the talented Castellano, and has been glowing in his works at Belmont. This guy just needs room in the stretch to reach fast, and dare I say is more than game to upset this year coming in fresh.

6) Ravelo’s Boy - Alex Solis, Manuel Azpurua - 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby (II), the Lawyer Ron colt is 0-for-3 this year with mostly off-the-board finishes in paltry competition. He’s ready for the distance test and passes easy in the stretch closing, but is nonetheless a huge longshot with the long layoff and the looming class test.

7) Five Sixteen - Rosie Napravnik, Dominick Schettino - The Invasor [ARG] gelding broke his maiden back in March by a head over the troubled Suns Out Guns Out in a 1 1/8 mile race, but then fell off the board to finish 4th after some bad gate behavior in an unimpressive allowance. Distance likely won’t be an issue as he progresses, but the class jump is a big deal. Napravnik is a nice step up, but there’s a lot of ground to make up.

8) Guyana Star Dweej - Kent Desormeaux, Doodnauth Shivmangal - By Belmont runner Eddington and out of a Pine Bluff mare (‘92 Preakness winner and 3rd in the Belmont), the one with a weird name has some tricky roots as a longshot in this big race. Winning just his maiden in 9 total starts, Shivmangal once again presents an unconvincing case for his entry this year (last year’s Isn’t He Perfect finished dead last in the Preakness and Belmont). Dweej won his maiden going all-out at the end of a mile race, beating the troubled Desert Storm by just a half-length. Short, unimpressive works and invalid experience makes this a pretty easy toss-out.

9) Paynter - Mike Smith, Bob Baffert - Baffert considered this Awesome Again colt as possibly the better of Zayat’s duo which included Derby/Preakness runner-up Bodemeister. Lightly-raced, Paynter logged a confidence boosting, emphatic allowance win on Preakness Day, winning by almost 6 in a bouncing hand ride over 1 1/16 miles. He looks to be near the pace this race with connections who have won this race before. Belmont works have been great with a :59 1/2 bullet and 7 furlongs in 1:25. A great classic background, Paynter might still be a little too green to win this race but it’s not impossible with his talents and breeding. A colt with a good head on his neck, he’ll be on the improving cycle (triple digit Beyers).

10) Optimizer - Corey Nakatani, D. Wayne Lukas - A horse bred for the distance, the son of English Channel has yet to duplicate his scary closing move he showcased as the runner-up in the Rebel Stakes (II). He closed moderately in the Preakness to finish 6th and has been logging steady breezes at Churchill Downs. I said he needed a break in the Rebel, and look what happened there. I’m too chicken to just toss him out like I should with his last win being his maiden break last August.

11) I’ll Have Another - Mario Gutierrez, Doug O’Neill - All eyes are bound to be on the champ, and the son of Flower Alley has his work cut out for him as he tries to reach for 12 furlongs with fresh company bearing down on him. Winner of three G1s and a G2 with the most solid, the classic Distorted Humor/Arch influence in his pedigree, and the best staying prep work over Belmont I could dream up, this race is ultimately going to be up to him and Gutierrez. We might have a Triple Crown winner. Might.

12) My Adonis - Ramon Dominguez, Kelly Breen - The Pleasantly Perfect colt missed the Derby gate just barely as an also-eligible, being runner-up in the Wood (I) and Gotham (III) stakes to Hansen and Alpha. His races suggest he’s best for miling and he’s a likely pacesetter. Pretension beat him in the Canonero II Stakes where he finished 3rd, and that horse finished dead-last in the Preakness. A big pace-setting “nope.”

Top Picks in Order:

1) Union Rags

2) Dullahan

3) I’ll Have Another

Yes, I’m shelving IHA from winning again! While he’s a great horse, I feel strongly (and appropriately in my opinion) that this race is going to be centered around beating him, looking more like 2004’s Smarty Jones where the field basically ganged up on the favorite the whole trip. My top three are all seasoned, excellent horses I think will last the full 12 furlongs, and I envision Union Rags coming out on top with his stretch-running speed and Belmont experience. Dullahan I’m not 100% on despite feeling he was the horse to beat most of this week; I don’t like his dirt record but the wide Belmont turns will appeal to him and he looks marvelous. I value-picked Street Life for his nice-looking closing move in his best races this year in New York.

Value Pick(s): Street Life

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