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Racetrack Bucket List

Saratoga will likely always be my favorite racing place as a realized childhood dream, a historically significant place, and a buzzworthy racing scene that envelopes the entire small city which embraces “horses, history, and health.”

Now that Keeneland has been confirmed as the site for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, it has stirred thoughts as to what tracks I would really love to go to someday within North America. If you told me when I was a kid that I would eventually make it out to Saratoga and Belmont, I would have basically flipped out, courtesy of reading Man o’ War multiple times, and thus inheriting a booming love for those two landmark courses. While I doubt anything can top those two, here are my top 5 “bucket list” Thoroughbred tracks:

  1. Keeneland - Epitomizes what is right within the heart of the Bluegrass, and I haven’t stopped hearing good things about the country’s most historically-preserved race place since I seriously entered the racing world. I’m optimistic the switch to dirt will go well, and even if they never changed it, it still takes the top of the list as to where I would go next if asked to go to a new track.
  2. Arlington Park - Kind of a weird choice, but yes, Arlington. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of one day visiting Chicago among several other metropolitan areas of the States, but I feel like Arlington might be up my alley. It’s another place with historical significance and good racing and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it that convince me that I would really like to pay it a visit.
  3. Churchill Downs - Hard to leave this one off the list as arguably the most famous racetrack in the world. I’d like to go there on an off day, Derby Day, and for Downs After Dark. Seems like it has a lot of fun things going on at its height.
  4. Hialeah Park - I am sad to say I never got to go to Hialeah Park while I still lived in South Florida because it wasn’t reopened for racing until after I left. It looks like a wonderful place to visit with its gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and the ol’ Citation statue. I would still go there even if they never pick up Thoroughbred racing again.
  5. Del Mar - I would go here next simply because I want to see which one is the better summer place: Saratoga or Del Mar. (I’m pretty sure I would stay faithful to ‘Toga, but just to test the waters)

To close this out, I am 1132893% glad that Keeneland has been chosen as a Breeders’ Cup site. I was part of the early dissenters that Santa Anita continue being the host site or possibly become the permanent site. While the great weather is a very strong argument for it (even for me, the snowbird-in-hibernation come winter months), no weather scenario is perfect and it doesn’t feel right to keep it on the west coast. I also had a major major problem with the track bias it has shown, which SA is thankfully seeing to fixing, and the effects shipping all the way to California has on European horses. Keeneland seems like the ideal fit, as a place which has long drawn rave reviews, totes a great safety record, and brings everyone back to the home of Thoroughbred racing: Kentucky. 

That awkward moment when Goldencents becomes a G1 winner. (Photo by HRTV)

That awkward moment when Goldencents becomes a G1 winner. (Photo by HRTV)

2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (I) champion Mizdirection with Mike Smith and owner Jim Rome

2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (I) champion Mizdirection with Mike Smith and owner Jim Rome

I wonder if we’ll get our first trifecta tomorrow

Derby Handicappers, be sure to submit those picks by 1:03pm PST (one hour before post time) on Saturday for the Robert B. Lewis! FOR GOD’S SAKE THERE ARE ONLY 4 HORSES. Submission form here, or send me an ask or an email.

I’ve already messaged those who have submitted, except creaturelover who had a closed ask box… I GOT YOURS TOO, CREATURELOVER!

Best of luck to everypony.

It’s Baffert vs. O’Neill in Robert B. Lewis Stakes

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***DERBY HANDICAP CONTEST Week 2 of 10! Please submit your top 3 picks IN ORDER OF FINISH through this submission form (easiest and quickest method), via Tumblr message, or email. You have until 1 hour before the scheduled post time noted below to submit or edit your picks. See the Contest Tab for details.

When I first loaded up the entry list for this race, I assumed my iPod’s wifi connection was pooping out and didn’t load everything. *Refresh*. Oh. Well this kind of sucks… WHY DO WE ONLY HAVE FOUR HORSES RUNNING? Further evidence that the Cali circuit sucks for Derby hopefuls right about now. Two horses storm in from Baffert’s barn against last year’s winning trainer Doug O’Neill, who’s hoping to score this race again with He’s Had Enough.

Weather looks picture-perfect at Santa Anita, so be ready for a fast track.

$200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita. Post Time: Saturday, February 2 at 2:03pm PST.

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

1) Little Jerry - Tyler Baze, 118 lbs, Richard Baltas - The Candy Ride [ARG] colt has not made an appearance since his 8th in the CashCall (I), where he was off slow and made no late rally which was expected of him. This will be his first dirt start with no recorded works over it. I liked Little Jerry back in the CashCall, which can probably be excused. He defeated a good colt in Curly Top in his maiden where he closed very fast over this stretch of ground and gets Baze back for this race. Should he likely decide to close in, he may take advantage of the pace if it’s fast.

2) Flashback - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Tapit star and full brother to G1 winner Zazu is apt to be favored despite just having run one winning race and will be making his first dirt start and his first route here. He stretches out a furlong and a half here after blitzing some bullets in his works on the Santa Anita dirt. Another good stalking trip and he could prevail despite his inexperience.

3) Den’s Legacy - Garrett Gomez, 120 lbs, Bob Baffert - The lone graded stakes winner of the field is this Medaglia d’Oro colt, who looks like he can do just about anything that is asked of him. He is the most experienced of the bunch, has some nice bullet moves, and totes Gomez  yet will very likely be overlooked again.

4) He’s Had Enough - Mario Gutierrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Tapit colt made headlines when he gave undefeated Shanghai Bobby a big scare in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, also on this track at this distance. He had a poor race last out when 5th in the CashCall (I), and after a string of longer works, looks to make his second dirt start here for points. I like O’Neill’s conditioning style and the clear break opportunity, but I’m not sure if a colt who is hit-and-miss and called lazy is going to want to compete.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Flashback

2) Den’s Legacy

3) Little Jerry

As no stranger to the equine world, I think Mr. Reddam should rethink how he names his horses… I truly believe from personal experiences that they love to live up to their name! On a serious note, this race is going to be determined by pace, and seeing what we’ve got, I don’t see anyone going much faster than :24 flat with an all-out scramble on the turn. I think Flashback has the right stuff to keep moving forward, and I’ll make it a Baffert double with Den’s Legacy coming in right behind him.

No Value Pick

Market Quote caused quite a stir on Sunday at Santa Anita. The three-year-old daughter of After Market stood still in the gates for a good 3 seconds in her debut over a mile on grass, but then made a Zenyatta-like move to win with Joe Talamo up. Considering how fast the Santa Anita course typically is, it was a very impressive performance for a horse making her first start. Congrats to trainer John Shirreffs and owner/breeders Martin and Pam Wygod on their “good one!”

Artigiano

Artigiano

Baffert Sends Four in San Fernando

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While I plan to busy myself on Sunday cheering for Purple Egg in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, I could not shift away from handicapping Santa Anita’s card on Saturday, with the headliner being the G2 San Fernando Stakes. There’s plenty of interesting entries—including 2 of my Saratoga sightings!— and Bob Baffert as usual will be trying to grab it with 4 different horses INCLUDING MY ORIGINAL DERBY FAVORITE FROM LAST YEAR SKY KINGDOM! OH MY GOD I AM SO EXCITED!!! Yeah, I was seriously crushed when he was sidelined, if you couldn’t tell… Baffert aims to become the leader of San Fernando wins, as he is currently tied with Laz Barrera with 4 wins each.

Weather looks California clear for Saturday.

$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (II) - 4-year-olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita. Post Time: Saturday, January 12 at 3:36pm PST.

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

1) Battle Force - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, John Shirreffs - Trading grass for dirt, the Giant’s Causeway colt has been knocking on the winning door for some time, last out being 2nd in the mile-long Sir Beaufort (II), just missing winner Silentio by a half length while closing ground. This will be the colt’s first dirt start after running on poly and grass, though he has never been worse than 3rd. While I trust Shirreffs’ judgement and Gomez’s hands, this one looks a bit tough to use in such a deep field and racing on dirt for the first time. However, he has shown great improvement on the grass and is getting close to a win.

2) Fly Lexis Fly - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Neil Drysdale - Lightly-raced last year without much avail, the Badge of Silver ridgeling has been struggling with poor starts, too-late runs, and just generally goofing when he should be winning. His last race was a stakes-quality allowance at Hollywood where he ran 3rd behind improving graded winners Jaycito and Tres Borrachos. The blinkers go back on for this test. A horse with upside, I don’t think this is the right place for him. He looks like he could swallow more ground than this and he doesn’t look as good as he did last year.

3) Regulus - Aaron Gryder, 118 lbs, Eoin Harty - The Distorted Humor gelding wears the Darley colors to post after winning twice in 6 starts last year, one of them being an allowance-optional claimer at Santa Anita at the same distance. Not an amazing entry, Regulus is making his stakes debut here. Likely to try to be out on or near the pace to take advantage of that speed bias, but will face a steep class test.

4) Mile High Magic - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - Royal bloodlines pack this improving gelding’s pedigree as a grandson of the famous Silverbulletday, and being that this Roman Ruler son is owned by Mike Pegram at Baffert’s barn, we are right to expect big things. Stretching him out a bit, he was 5th last out here at 7 furlongs in the Damascus Stakes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday as the favorite. The gelding goes blinkers-off for the first time here. While he’s making his graded debut here, he’s outrun some good sprinters like Mensa Heat and Sinai before and appears to like the fast Santa Anita dirt. He’s a beatable favorite though who will need to resist falling into a duel early on.

5) Guilt Trip - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A bit too slow for the speed in the Malibu (I) last out where he ran 5th, the Pulpit colt drops down a bit and stretches out where he should be more comfortable. While he won’t get a picnic in beating others, he does have some excellent workouts with a :59 bullet last week. He should also like the extra ground more and could close in a bit better in this spot.

6) Handsome Mike - Mario Gutierrez, 123 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Pennsylvania Derby (II) winner and son of Scat Daddy is back to dirt after flailing home 10th in the Hollywood Derby (I) last out. O’Neill puts blinkers on this G2 winner. Workouts are a bit curious coming from the gate, so I’m wondering whether or not Mike has it in him to catch these faster horses. He may look to try to upset them as they tire in the stretch, but I’m doubtful that will happen at the super-slick Santa Anita main.

7) Sky Kingdom - Edwin Maldonado, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A winner twice last year before being 5th in the jumbled Robert B. Lewis (II) here, the son of Empire Maker is finally back after that long 11-month layoff. He looks good in his workouts, but it may be too much of a first test back.

8) Fed Biz - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The speedy Giant’s Causeway colt got off to a bad start in the Malibu (I) last out where he couldn’t muster much better than 6th, and stretches out again here. Likely to take advantage of the speed bias, this colt has the right speed to get the win so long as he can stay out of trouble and doesn’t get caught in a burning pace up front. He looks like a miler, so can he last a bit longer than that?

9) Tribal Jewel - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - The California-bred gelding by Tribal Rule, this will be the speedy Hollendorfer trainee’s stakes debut after winning 3 and showing 3 times in 7 starts last year. He was a rallying winner last out in a Santa Anita mile allowance. He has the speed to get this done, but will face a big class test. Leparoux isn’t a top Cali rider, but may be patient enough to eke out a good effort from this rallier.

10) Tritap - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Tapit baby! A winner twice last year and 2nd three times in 7 total starts, Tritap snuffed out the good Suns Out Guns Out last out in a Churchill allowance at this distance in November. He will need to improve further, and I question how well he’s doing in his workouts.

Top Picks in Order

1) Tribal Jewel

2) Mile High Magic

3) Battle Force

While this field is pretty interesting, speedy, and open to little differences in strategy, there’s a lot of vulnerabilities in many performers’ backgrounds, particularly the “class” of the field like Fed Biz who cannot keep himself out of trouble. Tribal Jewel has done little wrong training up to this event, and can take it with a patient ride if and when the pace crashes. Mile High Magic has a lot of upside but will be hammered at the windows no doubt, but looks fresher than most of his stablemates and is Baffert’s best bet to win. Battle Force is an excellent horse, and I don’t think Shirreffs would put him on dirt unless he thought he had dirt potential… plus Gomez, you know, is an excellent rider choice.

Value Pick: Battle Force

Weekend Stake Tip: Recapping Some Caps (I’m Boring)

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I didn’t handicap any weekend races due to the holiday— instead I went with the mid-week Malibu (I) at Santa Anita. The race was not horrible, and is actually a nod in my favor that I am headed in the right direction. While The Lumber Guy had been formidable all year, I knew he did not look right and threw him out of the top spot. He went off at around even-money but finished a dead-tired 7th, beaten some 6 lengths. Top pick Unbridled’s Note rallied three-wide but missed the win by 3 lengths while the victor took advantage of the fast track and pace. Jimmy Creed wound up being the horse who took the strategy I had in mind for Unbridled’s Note. Runner-up Private Zone lasted up front against The Lumber Guy, but he wasn’t ready for a G1 win just yet. My third pick Politicallycorrect never got going and finished 9th. Jimmy Creed was a good pick all-around— he really just got unlucky in a lot of good races!— but got ignored as did Private Zone which kind of surprised me. I didn’t look at the filly race much at all in the La Brea (I), but figured My Miss Aurelia needed more space than 7 furlongs. She’s just too big a horse and everyone was going to try to wear her down at a distance much too short for her big body.

Weekend races were generally pretty cruddy; Daytona was rained off the turf, Gulfstream’s Mr. Prospector had yet another small and uninteresting field. I don’t know if I would regard Jimmy Creed as a top sprinter just yet, but he’s a future wiseguy pick.

I would also like to mention in another nod to smart show betting, the failure to make the top 3 for The Lumber Guy and allowance runner Super Ninety Nine in each of their respective races resulted in excellent show pool returns. The allowance winner Distinctiv Passion, who went off at 3-1, returned more for the show than for the place with $6.60 ($5.40 place). It would be wise to keep this “Breeders’ Cup bounce” in mind for next year.

I was going to handicap today’s card at Gulfstream, but after the scratch of two horses including Purple Egg in the Gulfstream Park Derby, I will look for a more interesting card later in the week to do. I only handicapped the first race… a $12.5 claimer… and to my astonishment, I did pretty well! I picked the winner Don’tgetmestarted and my third choice Beltram improved to be third like I thought he would! I had Simon’s a Winner pegged for second— the Exchange Rate line spawns early risers!— but he got 5th for his debut race. NOT BAD, I literally haven’t done a single claimer for about a year now.

The Lumber Guy Headlines Thick Malibu Field

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Three-year-old returning horses, improvers, and Breeders’ Cup participants all line up for one last restricted G1 in Santa Anita’s fastest Wednesday of the year, featuring a 7-furlong double-header in the Malibu (I) for sophomore colts and the La Brea (I) for fillies. Richard Mandella hopes to land a record third win in this race while Bob Baffert hopes to replicate his win last year with The Factor by entering 4 promising colts of his own.

Rain doesn’t look likely, so expect a fast track.

$300,000 Malibu Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 7 furlongs on dirt at Santa Anita. Post Time: Wednesday, December 26 at 3:37pm PST.

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

1) Fed Biz - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The fleet-footed Giant’s Causeway colt hopes to bounce back off a poor 8th place showing in the Dirt Mile (I), with 2 wins in 4 starts this year. He takes a cut-back in distance here, which should be no problem as he likes to remain just off-the-pace. The rail spot will likely aid Fed Biz’s strategy to go to the front, but his Dirt Mile performance was too poor to excuse. His works have been blazing lately, clicking through a 5-panel work in :58 flat. I would not pick him for anything but fast dirt, but do consider him because of the cutback and good work.

2) Jimmy Creed - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, Richard Mandella - The Distorted Humor colt looked like he got stuck and was spinning his wheels when 9th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I). Leading up to that race, he was one that was on the improving path and kept everyone of all ages on their toes running against him. The presence of Gomez/Mandella is comforting, and the value is there since he is as good as Fed Biz but with no stakes wins yet. He got a race distance blowout last week.

3) Drill - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The San Vicente (II) winner returns with a vengeance after some time off to his preferred distance. He’s been working well at Santa Anita, and comes off a 7-month layoff since his win in the Lazaro Barrera Memorial (III) at Hollywood Park. Drill likes to throw in clunkers at weird times, but this is his stomping ground. I don’t expect him to improve AND win after a layoff, but it’s interesting that he’s been given to Baffert’s go-to guy Garcia.

4) The Lumber Guy - John Velazquez, 123 lbs, Neil Drysdale - Runner-up to Trinniberg in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I), the flashy gray son of Grand Slam has been relentless this year at the sprint distance while remaining pretty competitive going further. He likes the front, and has already shown he doesn’t mind slop or Santa Anita’s main. Transferred to Drysdale and toting Johnny V, I can honestly say I don’t like the look of him, especially compared to the 5 extra pounds he’ll be carrying against most entries and how much slower he’s been going lately under encouragement. It’s a bet not worth taking, especially since he’ll be a heavy favorite.

5) Politicallycorrect - Joel Rosario, 118 lbs, Wesley Ward - Sporting back-to-back wins including the 7-furlong Damascus Stakes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the Kitten’s Joy gelding has bloomed late under speed specialist Ward. He has a nice closing style that has enabled him to catch top speed horses in the lane like Willy Beamin and Private Zone. Sure to be overlooked, he’s not your typical 7-furlong specialist but he could manage some magic here under a fast and draining pace.

6) Basmati - Mario Guiterrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Borrego colt took a long break and reemerged a big winner on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, wiring a 7-furlong allowance in lively fractions in his one and only start of the year. The class bump-up is huge as good as he looked in his last start. He doesn’t look quick enough at the moment to handle this field.

7) Castaway - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Street Sense colt returns after an 8-month layoff with 2 career wins— but in routes. The cutback may or may not help this colt, who has won races on or just off a solid pace. To his credit, he does look fit in his works, firing a bullet in :58 1/5 last time around Santa Anita, but he would need to improve quite a bit to make headway. 104 fresh

8) Private Zone - Martin Pedroza, 120 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Macho Uno son has won just once this year in 10 starts, but has been second 3 times and third once so he is pretty consistent. He missed by a length last out against Smiling Tiger in the Vernon Underwood (III) while dueling and then was caught by Politicallycorrect before that in the Damascus Stakes. A pretty consistent horse who keeps getting close to that win, I would not be surprised to see him finally break through here.

9) Guilt Trip - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Pulpit colt transfers from the Brown barn to Baffert’s with 2 wins this year out of 4 starts (I’m elated to see that I actually saw him debut at Saratoga!). He flattened out in the 9-furlong Discovery (III) last time out to finish 5th, but has been working like a charm since shipping out west. Bred similarly to Bernardini, the cutback will likely help but I’m not totally sold it will be the magic key here.

10) Unbridled’s Note - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (I), the talented Unbridled’s Song colt has been on the board 5 times in 7 races this year with 2 wins. He can do dirt as well, running a close 3rd in the King’s Bishop (I) over 7 furlongs this summer and likes to race off-the-pace. Works look good and he should favor the conditions. Hopefully he can get a better trip than in the King’s Bishop and ace this test.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Unbridled’s Note

2) The Lumber Guy

3) Politicallycorrect

The one to beat here is The Lumber Guy, and I say he’s beatable and not worth taking at what will surely be very short odds— particularly if it’s a dry, fast track and with the transfer to Drysdale. Unbridled’s Note looks like he’s improving and could pounce just off of a hot pace up front. From there I’ve kept class act The Lumber Guy pegged for the place, and Politicallycorrect has had some good tactical speed on this track to be another good candidate. I just don’t like the look of a lot of Breeders’ Cup contenders coming into this race off of peak-time efforts, so I’m shying away from using top-shelf horses; Unbridled’s Note was on the improving path when he was barely beaten out for the Turf Sprint win, and a speed duel might develop between Private Zone and Fed Biz.

Value Pick: Politicallycorrect

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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