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Big Race Weekend Ahead

Keeneland has its opening day today with the Transylvania Stakes (III) among others, then tomorrow it has the big Ashland (I) for sophomore fillies. Then you’ve got the Wood Memorial (I) and three other big stakes in New York, the Santa Anita Derby (I) with a nice $500k pick 4, and the loaded Illinois Derby (III). Recently I was personally able to deflate a little bit about not getting to go to the Wood Memorial because Hansen decided not to go, but oh man I’ll be missing Shackleford!

On the rail and with blinkers off, the connections of the favorite Creative Cause are taking some chances with their dazzling colt, who in my opinion is steeply disregarded as a horse who could win the Kentucky Derby. This race will show again how good he is while giving him a little extra running room at 1 1/8 miles. I have yet to seriously consider I’ll Have Another, who hasn’t raced since his major upset in the Robert B. Lewis (II), as well as Liasion who won the CashCall (I). One won sailing clear of a very messy stretch charge, the other’s took place long ago and I’m not certain his pedigree will win for him at this stage of the game. I do have some favorite underdogs in Midnight Transfer, who is to be ridden by Mike Smith, and Ahmed Zayat’s Paynter, a horse he’s been bullish about supporting in the harsh light of criticism via Twitter:

Calm down, bro. The Sadler colt in question is Holy Candy, a nice Candy Ride [ARG] colt who broke his maiden somewhat recently after a couple good tries. He owes me money at this point, but I think Paynter’s up to snuff more-so than he. Very interested in watching both, but at this level, I’ll cruise with some ponies I already like.

1) Creative Cause 2) Midnight Transfer 3) I’ll Have Another

Last year’s Illinois Derby winner was Joe Vann, a nothing-too-special Zayat horse. The race hasn’t been a huge factor in the Derby preps, but War Emblem did win it in 2002 along with some other nice contenders like Ten Most Wanted. But yeah, I’m not seeing anything really special this year with 14 entries packing the box with 3 also-eligibles waiting in the wings. Currency Swap did not make a case against Gemologist in their last outing at Gulfstream despite some promising works, and I’m not expecting him to bounce right back here, making this a very open race. Honestly I like Done Talking best; he was great last year and appears to be a slow developer with plenty of promise, but I’m not leaving out the spotty, but improving Our Entourage and Morgan’s Guerrilla. Saturday Launch, a McPeek trainee, is also worth a look in what will be a great betting race. This race is really just a wing-it-and-hope-for-the-best kind of fray.

1) Done Talking 2) Our Entourage 3) Morgan’s Guerrilla

I don’t normally go with horses fresh off their Breeders’ Cup wins and after such a long layoff, but given the short field lacking anything too serious, Stephanie’s Kitten looks posed to win Saturday’s Ashland against just 6 others in this Oaks prep. With the Ramseys and Julien Leparoux, she seems almost a no-brainer to use. Lotta Lovin's her biggest threat with 2 stake wins thus far in 2012.

1) Stephanie’s Kitten 2) Lotta Lovin 3) Karlovy Vary

Racing Beat: February 27

I was legit teary-eyed when I saw Nehro being saddled before his big win at Fair Grounds. He’s going to have such a good year, I know it!

I know this statement is arguable, but didn’t Larry Jones say that extra weight really doesn’t bother horses that much? He’s keeping Havre de Grace away from handicaps that would give her too much weight. And by the way, I don’t think 122 lbs is that much considering how much she’s done, which is what she would have gotten for the Azeri. Then again, it’s still early in the year.

Our Entourage finally figured out the racing game to win this weekend at Gulfstream. I pray to God Mike Repole doesn’t see this as a sign he can start being overly dramatic again.

My 2011 Kentucky Derby trifecta as brand-new four-year-olds: Nehro? Too easy. Mucho Macho Man? Grew up so well and doesn’t look like a stick anymore. Master of Hounds, you’re next to blow my socks off! (He’s been second and third in 2 starts this year)

Wish I’d known Well Armed's baby brother was racing 5 minutes before I found out… my allegiance would have cashed in; he was 12-1. Look out for Arm Force! Blinkers, no Lasix.

Another Calder-based horse prevails against the big wig names… an excellent run in Saturday’s Davona Dale (II) by 64-1 shot Yara over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly (I) runner-up Grace Hall. You go girl! #calderpride

Add Avie’s Sense to the list of gifted Street Sense babies.

I love it when name plays win: The Lumber Guy won the Miracle Wood Stakes while Nate’s Mineshaft (the biggest longshot and only son of Mineshaft in the field!) won the Mineshaft Stakes. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Sway Away faithful must be awful proud of his comeback.

Sky Kingdom is the latest hopeful off the Derby trail. /heartbreak

My brain does weird things to make me laugh when I’m sleep-deprived. I found myself thinking of names of future baby Gemologists during an overnight shift at the hospital. Wonder if the Jockey Club would accept Urologist.

Animal Kingdom might go to Hong Kong to race after Dubai. So basically, he’ll probably be too tired to race much in the U.S. this year, and who knows if he’ll be back in 2013. Ugh.

Derby Watch: Good Gracious Grass Horses

Normally— and with good reason— I don’t look too hard at horses with a grass preference typed into their hard-wiring. Grass and dirt are just two completely different beats, but ever since Barbaro and again with Animal Kingdom's win last year, the issue begs to be reconsidered. Can a good grass horse also be good on synthetic (sometimes!), and even the almighty dirt?

Looking at some horses with a natural-born affinity for grass or those who have been training over it, a few of them are tugging at me to include in the Kentucky Derby picture.

  • Margano - On and off as an improving grass horse, he’s Barbaro’s latest full brother trained by Barclay Tagg. Featuring a (sometimes) emphatic late kick, he’s looking like a pretty nice horse, but again, is not too consistent. He recently finished seventh in a Gulfstream allowance/op claimer after breaking his maiden, but shows he can more than likely nail that Derby distance.
  • Lucky Chappy [pictured] - Something just makes this horse pop out to me. He was a good fourth in the BC Juvenile Turf (I) despite not being terribly experienced, and is part of Team Valor’s Graham Motion contingent. Could he improve on the dirt? (As an aside, his coloring/tail is so beautiful!)
  • Our Entourage - Knowing his connections, Mike Repole’s three-year-old colt is destined to try dirt again after coming in fifth in the Remsen Stakes (II). He has a fantastic grass pedigree (by Street Cry [IRE] and out of a Dynaformer mare). He’s a nice horse with the potential to blossom, which I think he will do down the road, but in time for the Derby… that’s a real interesting question.
  • Animal Spirits - Another horse I liked straight out of the walking ring. He showed a lot of potential winning the Bourbon (III) and then came in fifth in the BC Juvenile Turf (I). A son of Arch and trained by Al Stall, who knows, he could be tested on dirt.
  • Summer Front - 3-for-3 on the grass, Summer Front made up for a bad start in the Dania Beach Stakes to win easily on turf, and according to his connections, deserves a shot at the Derby. Pending a test on the dirt at some point, War Front progeny are becoming infamously good on grass but shouldn’t be discounted elsewhere. This one is special already.

Remsen’s On Today

A very important baby race at Aqueduct at 2:51pm EST. I didn’t realize it was on today until yesterday!

Souper Speedy (Brilliant Speed's little brother) was really mature in his last start, which I favored him in, running along the rail and overtaking the pack in the slop. Very nice colt I'd like to see win.

But how can I not root for Shackleford's A.P. Indy brother, Stephanoatsee? Unlike Shack, he’s a closer and he’s been getting better with each try.

I also wouldn’t discount Speightscity… been hearing a lot of good things about him. Mike Repole’s Our Entourage will be hitting the dirt for this race after not doing so hot on the turf.

Anyone else watching this race?

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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