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Speed Struggle Likely in Upcoming Super Derby

With the Triple Crown and Travers charge over and done with and the summer sun having set, it’s time for the horse racing world to refocus on a new point of interest: fall championships. While the Super Derby isn’t a famous battleground for three-year-olds, it still serves as a nice last-minute warmup for our darling sophomores before they start facing older company. The field this year looks nice, with plenty of speed lovers that will insure a good pace scenario.

$500,000 Super Derby (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Louisiana Downs. Post Time: Saturday, September 8 at 5:10pm CST

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

1) Mr Bluegrass Music - Chris Landeros, Richard Jackson - “Unf” is all I can say about a gray/roan colt sired by Bluegrass Cat, and this one is taking his first graded stakes attempt after coming in a wide 3rd in the Super Derby Prelude Stakes. He has 1 win and 3 thirds from 4 starts this year, but has only managed third a couple times in his stakes tries. He stayed put in the Prelude warmup, clearly outclassed by Tensas Cold Front and Key Donation, and that seems to sum up his career where he was mostly in shorter races.

2) Key Donation - Richard Eramia, Thomas Amoss - Not a fan of Lawyer Rons, but this guy managed to snuff out Tensas Cold Front last out to win the Super Derby Prelude, the key prep race on this course for the big Super Derby. Very lightly raced this year but never worse than 2nd since snapping his maiden on his second try, this colt has romped from a stalking position more than once. A nice little entry for exotic plays, he’ll need to boost his figs but he’s got upset potential as a colt who likes to sneak up and draw away.

3) Blueskiesnrainbows - Joe Talamo, Bob Baffert - Am I the only one who is glad Baffert’s putting Talamo on board? I tabbed this gorgeous chestnut son of English Channel on my top summer three-year-olds watch list, and while he’s making a belated entry, he’s going to be tough no matter what. Sure to be on the lead, the Swaps (II) victor lest we forget nearly bested I’ll Have Another earlier in the year trying to wire the Santa Anita Derby (I), and has only been off the board once this year (9th in a turf start)! Class-wise, it’s hard to compare most of these other entries with Blueskiesnrainbows. However, he’s not unbeatable, and setting soft fractions will not work with horses like Hero Of Order pressing the pace. Nevertheless, he’s the one to beat here.

4) Hero Of Order - Donald Edward Simmington, Gennadi Dorochenko - A hero of upset, the Sharp Humor colt has managed just 2 wins this year as the 109-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby (II) and his maiden victory both at Fair Grounds. The colt has yet to replicate his thrilling wiring style, and was out of gas entering the stretch of the West Virginia Derby (II) last out to finish 5th. Works and form not looking fast and regular, the likely pacesetter is a pretty easy toss out.

5) Fly Lexis Fly - Martin Garcia, Neil Drysdale - I’m all for Badge of Silver offspring since Silver Medallion began dominating at Calder the beginning of last year, and this colt had built up quite a hype machine leading into the Triple Crown trail. Looking like a true gritty distance horse working at Hollywood Park, he was steadied in a too-much-too-soon start with older horses in the 1 1/2 mile Cougar Handicap (II) in his only start this year. Can Peru’s champion colt, who beat 3-year-olds as a juvenile, come alive in the States? He’s got the clout, with a 103 Equibase figure in a single rocky start against older horses here on synthetic, and should by all means improve significantly transferring back to dirt. A seriously good-looking horse, if he reaches back to his hype he can whip this field with the right run. With Garcia aboard, I sure hope he gets it.

6) Master Rick - Gerard Melancon, Steve Asmussen - The Master Command colt hasn’t come close to winning since out-duelling G1 winner Drill in the Northern Spur Stakes in April, and was outdueled last out in the Super Derby Prelude to fade to fourth. With buckets of speed here and a tiring run in much of his recent racing, I think it’s time to cut Master Rick back in distance.

7) Tensas Cold Front - Mark Guidry, Al Stall - A horse that made me go “ooo” a few months ago, the gray War Front gelding is 2-for-3 in his career and as a Louisiana-bred, all at the same track. It’s hard to say where Al Stall will put this guy pace-wise with so much speed obvious in the early stages with a maiden broken in a closing move. With a :59 4/5 bullet fired over the track, he’s ready but will need to improve significantly to brush up front.

8) Rousing Sermon - Mike Smith, Jerry Hollendorfer - A pretty awesome Lucky Pulpit son, Rousing Sermon has never had a legitimately bad race, but has yet to win at the graded level. He nearly won his last start in the 7-furlong Real Good at Del Mar running just off the pace, signaling a possible shift in strategy from his usual farther-back closing move. While I think Hollendorfer is a great shipping trainer, Mike Smith is an ideal match for a bona fide closer, and Rousing Sermon is highly underrated, I wonder how much steam this horse might have in the tank. He’s really hit or miss when it comes to making it on the board.

9) Bourbon Courage - Leandro Goncalves, Kellyn Gorder - The Lion Heart colt caught my attention heading into the Derby Trial (III) against Paynter, ultimately finishing 4th in the slop but came back to take second in the West Virginia Derby (II), missing by just a half length in a really weird race to Macho Macho at this distance. His workouts look real good and I think he’ll get a similar pace setup here to repeat that West Virginia effort.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Bourbon Courage

2) Blueskiesnrainbows

3) Fly Lexis Fly

Everyone will be hopping aboard the Blueskiesnrainbows train, and while he’s a great choice that I think has more than a good shot, he does have some shortcomings and question marks over his top efforts. Bourbon Courage will look to take advantage of the speed struggle that is almost inevitable to happen up front by sitting off the pace just like he did in the West Virginia. I’m wagering a little hope with the classy Fly Lexis Fly to get up front as well. I’d throw in Key Donation and Tensas Cold Front in those exotic plays as well.

Value Pick: Bourbon Courage

WOW…

109-1 HERO OF ORDER won the $1 million Louisiana Derby (II) today. Who saw that one coming?

I was personally thinking the Risen Star (II) probably took too much out of Mark Valeski for him to win, and the fast pace would set up for a closing horse like Rousing Sermon, but wow, this is just too funny. Hero of Order walloped Mark Valeski by a bigger gap than El Padrino. Me thinks all these jockeys were too lax this weekend watching only one or two horses they *thought* could beat theirs. That’s what the longshots are expecting them to do when they pull one over on them!

Now, not saying I think Hero of Order has a real shot at the Kentucky Derby, but I can’t stop laughing at the fact he’s won $600,000 at such enormous odds. Kind of wish a few more better horses were in the field today that could have used those earnings…

Weekend Stake Tip: Game Face On Dude!

Clear weather and fast tracks set this weekend’s racing schedule off on a high note, but that didn’t stop certain heartbreaking results from happening. I ventured into my first foray at a pick 4 (I had only done one pick 3 before, which I’d won), and while I succeeded in lasting all four races, the payout was lower than my investment due to all but one of the lower-odds entries winning— lucky for me I had gambled free credit money, so I didn’t technically lose anything. BUT STILL!

It has become extraordinarily evident to me over time that Mike Smith has Chantal Sutherland figured out. Blame part of his genius on riding closers, part of it on her using all the tricks he’s taught her. Nevertheless, there was little fear figuring out the winner of Sunday’s San Antonio Stakes (II) at Santa Anita, as Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) runner-up Game On Dude would make his 2012 debut with Chantal against Mike Smith on recent San Pasqual (II) winner Uh Oh Bango. “He didn’t really break,” Sutherland would comment later to HRTV, as the gelding had to make an uncharacteristic hike from the back early as opposed to his usual immediate pace-setting. Once clear of the rear, “the Dude” began coasting easily along the backstretch, appearing to beg Chantal to give him his head… and she did, as the backstretch ran out, letting the Dude grab a two-length advantage which he kept widening and widening. Mike Smith got up for the show, but there was absolutely no beating Game On Dude that day. I think we’ve seen our first Horse of the Year contender already by the way he ran that 1 1/8 mile race so easily! Watch partial replay/interviews below (why aren’t tracks updating their videos lately?!)

The three-year-old Derby prep season continued with a few good, eye-opening races in the Withers (III) (won easily by Alpha… perhaps a little too easily suggesting he’s not being tested appropriately), the Sam F. Davis (III) (won by the talented maiden Battle Hardened, watch out for this guy!), and then the Round 2 race of the Derby Handicap Contest, the messy Robert B. Lewis (II) over at Santa Anita. I think it was too mucked-up to really count, honestly, as there was too much of a jumble at the end while allowing longshot winner I’ll Have Another to coast to an easy win. The excellent runners in the race— Liasion, Sky Kingdom, and Rousing Sermon— never got their running room arranged with Liasion losing rider Rafael Bejarano mid-stretch. Joel Rosario figured out Empire Way well enough to put him up for second, which I was very pleased to see, but still… I’m throwing this race out, as I’m sure others are doing as well. Watch replay

A surreal science took over the dirt at Santa Anita Park when I’ll Have Another, a 43-1 longshot and a son of Flower Alley [pictured], went on to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) despite not running in months since his 6th place finish in the Hopeful Stakes (I) last summer.
Hot favorite Liasion lost rider Rafael Bejarano when clipping heels with Groovin’ Solo down the stretch. Groovin’ Solo finished third, but was disqualified after an inquiry. The final result read I’ll Have Another - Empire Way - Rousing Sermon. What a day for prep races.
Nope, didn’t see that one coming. Contest-wise, the only person who gained any ground in round 2 was Merlinoftheroundtable who chose Rousing Sermon to finish third. Sorry, you guys seem to be having just as hard a time as I am trying to determine winners of these races! Next week will be the Hutcheson Stakes (III) at Gulfstream.

A surreal science took over the dirt at Santa Anita Park when I’ll Have Another, a 43-1 longshot and a son of Flower Alley [pictured], went on to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) despite not running in months since his 6th place finish in the Hopeful Stakes (I) last summer.

Hot favorite Liasion lost rider Rafael Bejarano when clipping heels with Groovin’ Solo down the stretch. Groovin’ Solo finished third, but was disqualified after an inquiry. The final result read I’ll Have Another - Empire Way - Rousing Sermon. What a day for prep races.

Nope, didn’t see that one coming. Contest-wise, the only person who gained any ground in round 2 was Merlinoftheroundtable who chose Rousing Sermon to finish third. Sorry, you guys seem to be having just as hard a time as I am trying to determine winners of these races! Next week will be the Hutcheson Stakes (III) at Gulfstream.

Liasion vs. Sermon Again in Robert B. Lewis

***DERBY HANDICAP CONTEST Week 2 of 12! - Email or message me your trifecta pick to earn points towards winning the Derby Handicap Contest. You have until 1 hour before post time to send/edit picks. See details in the Contest tab!*

Last year’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) yielded the speedy Tapizar, so who can we expect to emerge (or continue to grow) as one of the west’s top Derby hopefuls this time? Bob Baffert has a very strong one-two punch with CashCall Futurity (I) winner Liasion [pictured] making a return along with the budding Sky Kingdom. Top trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will send out Rousing Sermon with the hope that the third time’s the charm in beating Liasion.

$200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita Park. Post Time: Saturday, February 4 at 3:05pm PST.

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

1) Isn’t He Clever - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Henry Dominguez -A nice little Smarty Jones gelding occupies the rail, sporting a record of 3 wins in 4 starts (the other being a 2nd in a Remington Park stakes). He’ll be stretching out here with new rider Nakatani. While he’s been king of the hill so far in his career, will it last as he moves into more serious company? Don’t count him out, considering his last stakes win at Sunland Park was by a whopping 11 3/4 lengths over six furlongs!

2) Liasion - Rafael Bejarano, 123 lbs, Bob Baffert - Likely to be a favorite, Liasion sported bulldog tenacity and that Indian Charlie speed while winning the CashCall Futurity (I) last out over the same distance at Hollywood Park. He won by a mere neck over Rousing Sermon, but was game every step of the way and worked :48 over 4 furlongs handily over the dirt recently. He can do this distance and is well prepared, but can he afford to sacrifice a whole 5 pounds to Rousing Sermon coming out of stall 2 to boot?

3) Groovin’ Solo - Victor Espinoza, 118 lbs, Myung Kwon Cho -Pulled up in the CashCall due to a broken rein, we never got to see what this Bob and John colt can really do just yet. He nabbed a nice maiden special weight win at Santa Anita over a mile back in late December, so gusto this pace stalker has. Again, class is his biggest question, but he’s been topping recent workers with a 5-furlong blowout in :58 2/5 and appears to favor the Santa Anita dirt at this distance.

4) I’ll Have Another - Mario Gutierrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill -A Flower Alley son backed by the powerful Arch influence on his dam’s side, he was 6th last out way back in September in the Hopeful (I) and before that was 2nd in the Best Pal (II). O’Neill’s been warming up to the big distances, with a recent 7-furlong work in 1:26 at Hollywood. An okay horse who hasn’t raced in a while, O’Neill is testing him out as a refreshed three-year-old who will hopefully improve significantly.

5) Sky Kingdom - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert -One of my keen favorites this year, this Empire Maker colt trades the injured Gomez for the experienced Martin Garcia in the irons after a “public workout” allowance win January 12 by 4 1/2 lengths. He had traffic trouble before then in the CashCall (I) where he placed fourth. Working 5 furlongs in :58 2/5 handily, he’s ready to step up his game after that confidence booster. With the dangerous Garcia-Baffert double, he could be game for an upset here.

6) Rousing Sermon - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - No doubt this chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit will go off as the favorite. While he was second to Liasion in the CashCall (I), it was only by a short neck after he ran six wide around the turn. His works have been good, his trainer’s record here among the best, and his outside post is far better than Liasion’s spot at #2. Rousing Sermon looks very fit to win.

7) Empire Way - Joel Rosario, 118 lbs, Mike Harrington - Royal Delta’s gray brother, he was probably a short horse in the CashCall and Hollywood Prevue (I), where he finished 5th and 6th respectively, the former where he started his bid late after going six-wide around the turn. Worked a strong 6 furlongs in 1:14 4/5, Rosario is back at his Santa Anita stomping grounds and has no excuse to not bring this colt closer to the front with an outside stall.

8) Chips All In - Alonso Quinonez, 118 lbs, Jeff Mullins - With 5 starts all at different tracks, this shipper makes his second start at Santa Anita following his win there in the ungraded Eddie Logan— a turf race— by 1 1/2 lengths. He’s won on every surface already and is a game stretch runner. An odd entry and a big step up in class, nonetheless, he’ll be one to watch out of sheer curiosity.

Predicted Trifecta: 1) Rousing Sermon 2) Sky Kingdom 3) Liasion

Value Picks: Isn’t He Clever and Empire Way

Weekend Stake Tip: Dangerous Liasion

Majestic City bounced. Brother Francis showed classic grit. All in a cavalry charge-style dash down the homestretch in the G1 CashCall Futurity, which has been spitting Derby entries since its humble beginnings. The winner at the end in a fitting sense was Liasion, whose sire Indian Charlie died only two days beforehand, marking the sixth time trainer Bob Baffert has won this important prep race. While there was a lot of action kicking up in the final bounds for the wire, Liasion set up a thrilling performance turning them all away just as he did in the Real Quiet Stakes a start earlier. Jerry Hollendorfer trainee Rousing Sermon, on the other hand, looks like he could be a dangerous three-year-old next year once those distances get a bit longer. Also, I don’t doubt the potential of Brother Francis, who ran great and intelligently the whole way, and Sky Kingdom, who looked like he ran into a bit of trouble but still managed to place fourth.

On an additional note, after yet another bruising and debilitating loss, Bob Baffert will shift Drill into sprinter events in the future. [Race replay below]

Dania Beach, Florida should be avoided if possible on the way to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, and there was a fresh and full field of juveniles for the grass-bound Dania Beach Stakes on Sunday. I’ve been interested in Todd Pletcher’s Finale since watching him win the Summer Stakes (CAN-III), if anything because he looks just like Pluck, and while it looked like that colt was going to make a strong comeback, he was outdone late in the game by another talented star. The undefeated Summer Front took flight late in the hour like a good grass horse should, and won as the best horse after tripping badly at the start. Summer Front is expected to try out dirt, but if he’s anything like fellow War Front offspring Summer Soiree, the turf is where he fits best. [Link to race replay]

Baffert Enters Trio in CashCall Futurity

It’s been eons since the last Kentucky Derby winner won that race without having run as a two-year-old (so you can guess it’s pretty darn important who wins this last G1 of the juvenile racing season). The CashCall, won last year by the speedster Comma To The Top, offers an almost-guaranteed ticket to the Derby post with such a large graded purse at stake.

A couple colts are bouncing back from last month’s Delta Jackpot (III), but there are a few other names to watch for here. Lots of action and a full field, how can you avoid this race?

$750,000 CashCall Futurity (I) - 2-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on all-weather track at Hollywood Park. Post Time: Saturday, December 17 at 4:37pm PST.

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

1) Handsome Mike - Corey Nakatani, Doug O’Neill - Broke his maiden over the grass at Santa Anita and was second in the one-mile, turf-bound Generous Stakes (III). Looking at his pedigree, I say “turf horse,” and by the looks of his record, this is a turf horse. Breaking from the rail, this horse doesn’t have anywhere as good a chance as the others on this page for those two reasons.

2) Brother Francis - Victor Espinoza, James Cassidy - Second last out in the Hollywood Prevue (III) against So Brilliant, this is a nice and improving son of Lion Heart. I like him a lot for his maturity, finishing well despite not having an ideal trip in the Prevue. Can I get a third place for him here?

3) Groovin’ Solo - Alonso Quinonez, Myung Kwon Cho - Huge odds are destined for this son of Bob and John, as he has yet to break his maiden in two races (5th and 4th), both at Del Mar. A deserved longshot, don’t expect him to improve vastly here.

4) Empire Way - Joel Rosario, Mike Harrington - Heinz Steinmann’s other Derby hopeful and a full brother to Royal Delta, Empire Way has been showing the way since breaking his maiden at first asking. His 6th last out in the Hollywood Prevue (III) can be tossed out since trainer Harrington said that was a bit too soon for him (I agree!). Hollywood’s his stomping ground, so keep an eye on this excellent colt to keep on improving.

5) Drill - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - A sleep seventh last out in the Delta Jackpot (III), I think I’ve established in the past I don’t like Drill, but he does have a second at Hollywood in the Norfolk (I) against Creative Cause. If Drill’s going to light up anywhere, it’ll be here. But, like I said, I don’t like his chances.

6) Sky Kingdom - Garrett Gomez, Bob Baffert - Another one I’ve immediately fallen in love with; a Empire Maker colt out of a Kingmambo mare with all the right connections (Garrett Gomez hops off favorite Majestic City for him), he won his two-turn, 1 1/16 mile maiden at Hollywood by a romping 2 lengths. Going with my heart here… Sky Kingdom for the win!

7) Blingo - Mike Smith, John Shirreffs - Zenyatta fans will find themselves united in this late entry, a son of Artie Schiller owned by the Mosses with the same connections. He broke his maiden last out at first asking with Smith at a mile at Hollywood, albeit on turf. A late entry to the list of probables and one that likes the track and conditions already, watch out for Blingo to show his class. However, his breeding suggests the grass is him… you be the judge.

8) Rousing Sermon - Joe Talamo, Jerry Hollendorfer - The Killer Graces connections team up for another shot at the win, and they’ve got a decent chance with this Lucky Pulpit colt, who bears a strong resemblance to Blind Luck. He had such a promising run in the 1 1/16 mile running second to Liasion, he should keep on improving here.

9) Liasion - Rafael Bejarano, Bob Baffert - A nice-looking son of Indian Charlie, Liasion is probably one of Baffert’s prominent hopefuls and deserves the recognition. He was the best in the Real Quiet Stakes at 1 1/16 miles so he should be a key favorite to win here as well. He’ll be up front, I’m sure, but I’m not feeling a win on him. He turns others away well enough but has yet to flash tactical speed in the stretch.

10) Cozzetti - Julien Leparoux, Dale Romans - Like to be sent off as a longshot, the son of Cozzene struggled on grass, but blossomed once on dirt footing, snapping his maiden by 5 lengths with Leparous aboard in a 1 1/16 mile run in the slop. He’s an interesting addition to the field, but how much of a case he’ll make I don’t know.

11) Majestic City [pictured] - Ramon Dominguez, Peter Miller - He’d have higher odds had he not been switched to turf, running a dismal 13th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. However, he has a three-race undefeated streak at Hollywood and has Ramon Dominguez up— would you really want to bet against him? Majestic City makes a serious case for the win, but with so many Breeders’ Cup runners bouncing, I’m noting him as a possible second or third finisher.

12) Basmati - Hector Isaac Berrios, Doug O’Neill - Second to Sabercat in the Delta Downs Jackpot, I find reason for doubters to beware this improving Borrego colt. The biggest worry here is the jockey switch.

13) Desormais - David Flores, Patrick Gallagher - The lone European entry, a very nice War Front colt who broke his maiden recently— over 1 1/4 miles on grass! Yowza. Is this the male version of Summer Soiree? I don’t have him here to win, but I do to watch. War Front’s kids are too often precocious.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

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


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