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Can Anyone Upset Hansen in the Blue Grass?

In a surprising move, we’re looking at another week where the usual big G1 prep is overshadowed by a traditionally smaller race. The Blue Grass (II) is normally a small fish kind of race, but this year it witnesses a jump in interest and in entries with the largest field it has had since 1974. Multiple stakes winners, the two-year-old champion Hansen [pictured], and a whole lotta speed will make this a great race to watch as well as possibly wager.

Special consideration is due to those with Polytrack or grass experience, and really all horses should be considered as this race has a history of producing high-odds winners. I picked last year’s winner Brilliant Speed (gotta love those Dynaformers!) at 19-1.

$750,000 Blue Grass Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on all-weather track at Keeneland. Post Time: Saturday, April 14 at 6:18pm EST.

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

1) Heavy Breathing - Corey Lanerie, Todd Pletcher - The promising son of Giant’s Causeway went to the lead as usual in the Spiral Stakes (III) and did surprisingly well after setting some heated fractions, finishing third overall. Naturally, you have to like a little Giant on synthetic with experience at the surface and at the distance. Breezes are very good as are connections. On the rail spot and with Javier Castellano skipping out on him, I expect this guy to help set the pace once again.

2) Gung Ho - Edgar Prado, Mike Maker - Kitten’s Joy kids dominate at Keeneland, and Gung Ho looked like a good son running on gamely to finish second last out in the Rushaway over at the synthetic Turfway despite a stumbled start. Worked a nice bullet 5-furlonger in :59. A class test awaits Gung Ho here as Maker’s second-stringer looks the part of one.

3) Prospective - Luis Contreras, Mark Casse - The Tampa Bay Derby (II) winner and son of Malibu Moon has the attitude of a champion and has wins on synthetic from his early days at Woodbine. He’s done super all year so far with 2 wins and an erroneous second, working smoothly with a good 5 panel breeze in 1:01. He hasn’t beaten a whole lot of high-class, but I do think he’s got what it takes. If nothing else, I love his determined attitude.

4) Hansen - Ramon Dominguez, Mike Maker - David, meet Goliath. The bright white son of Tapit has learned the rating game and excelled at it with his romping Gotham (III) win following a sloppy second in the Holy Bull (III). His past two works were a :59 bullet and a 1:00 flat over 5 furlongs. He’s matured so much between those two starts and with his personality, I have little reason to believe he’s not going to throw in a pristine effort here… even though he doesn’t need to win, I think this horse naturally wants to. Synthetic experience makes him an easy case to win here.

5) Russian Greek - Miguel Mena, Gennadi Dorochenko - A recent transfer from Jerry Hollendorfer, the very well-pedigreed Giant’s Causeway colt was considered a potential major player on the west coast early on but did not amount to much after being 5th in the El Camino Real (III) and 8th in the Spiral (III), both on synthetic. Breezes have been steady, but not very impressive. Can a new trainer and jockey turn things around for this synthetic specialist? Odds will be stacked against him here.

6) Dullahan - Kent Desormeaux, Dale Romans - The Even the Score colt and half brother to Mine That Bird has only glowed further upon his juvenile career as a sophomore, running a very good runner-up to Howe Great in the grass-bound Palm Beach (III) following his 4th in the Breeders’ Cup (I). Working a blazing :57 1/2, he appears sharper than ever and ready to take on a final prep race at the same place where he won his big Breeders’ Futurity (I). While he sports only 1 win in 7 starts, it’s hard to knock Dullahan. His race against Howe Great proved he’s still got it and will probably keep improving. Rebound, rebound, rebound.

7) Politicallycorrect - Elvis Trujillo, Wesley Ward - The Kitten’s Joy gelding here is making his belated graded debut after a series of setbacks, but managed to nab 2 wins in 3 starts all at Gulfstream this year with a little synthetic background racing at Keeneland last year. Fired a nice bullet recently in :59 flat at Keeneland. He seems to be progressing nicely, but distance might be a question. He has benefited in the past from a fast pace, which he’ll likely find here again. Factor in his top local owners and breeding and he gets another plus.

8) Midnight Crooner - Garrett Gomez, Bob Baffert - Distance isn’t much of an issue for this late-blooming War Chant son, who last out placed 3rd in the Pasadena Stakes and will be making his graded debut here. He was too impressive snapping his maiden by more than 7 lengths at the synthetic Golden Gate, and has promising works before shipping in. Garrett Gomez can only help Crooner’s chances, but he’ll nonetheless be a longshot with great connections here.

9) Holy Candy - Joel Rosario, John Sadler - The hot topic colt of late, the Candy Ride [ARG] son broke his maiden on his fourth try at Santa Anita by 3 1/2 lengths. He ships in having done some longer works as opposed to the customary 4 or 5-furlong bullet and has only 1 start on synthetic. Despite generating buzz as a possible for the Santa Anita Derby (I), he’ll have too much going against him to do that well here.

10) Howe Great - Javier Castellano, Graham Motion - The other Team Valor Derby hopeful lies in this Hat Trick [JPN] colt, who I have been enthusiastic about since he ran impressively in the Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream. Working slow and long at Keeneland, he has Castellano in the irons and a mission to get more graded earnings. His connections have confided he has no chance against horses like Hansen, and this will be Howe Great’s first synthetic start. I think he’s extremely good and hopefully that will transfer on to the all-weather.

11) Ever So Lucky - Julien Leparoux, Jonathan Sheppard - The Indian Charlie entry has had only one unfortunate start this year where he finished 3rd after being swallowed in the Swale (III). For some reason, despite being stated that he’s no distance horse, Sheppard is taking his chances with him here at 1 1/8 miles with no synthetic or turf experience. Sheppard set out to purposely tire him out in a recent work, cooking him in :57 flat over 5 panels. He can be rated and has a nice cruising speed, but even with Sheppard and Leparoux I won’t back him. I steer clear of Indian Charlies beyond a mile as well as horses who have let me down when they should have been up to the task.

12) Hero of Order - Eddie Martin, Gennadi Dorochenko - The freak 109-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby (II) is set to try to make a name for himself again here as a pacesetter to watch. Sporting 2 wins in 14 tries, the Sharp Humor colt breezed a sharp :48 flat over 4 panels to warm up with no toteboard appearances in 4 synthetic tries. I’m calling cahoots and passing.

13) Scatman - Shaun Bridgmohan, Michael Lauer - The Scat Daddy colt proved to be a game competitor putting up a fight last out against Secret Circle in the Rebel Stakes (II), where he finished a hardened third. He hasn’t won a stakes just yet, but he’s knocking on that door with a second in the Southwest (II) and a couple good races on synthetic. A long breeze preceded by a good :49 work has him all tuned up. This is a tough field but all things considered, Scatman shouldn’t be tossed out of consideration the way he has been running. Now that *he* knows he’s running beyond a mile, perhaps he can keep chase a little longer before he settles.

Predicted Trifecta: 1) Hansen 2) Dullahan 3) Prospective (The best horse here is Hansen, intentions-wise, I think Dullahan is the main upset threat but I think he might be saved a bit to peak for the Derby. Prospective’s a fighter I think could come out near the top)

Value Pick(s): Scatman, Prospective, Politicallycorrect

THAT WAS CLOSE

Yes, I said this. And oh my god did I freak the f—k out when Optimizer flew out of freakin’ nowhere. *deep sigh* Corned beef is disgusting.

The Rebel Stakes (II) was a great run for a good many horses, but I do think there were a few traffic issues for some at the end while a few others did not log the run I thought they would. What in the hay happened to poor Sabercat? Anyway, Secret Circle ran great to catch Scatman at the end while holding off a rare command performance by Optimizer. What a race. That’s 3 Rebel Stakes wins in a row by lucky Bob Baffert.

The Derby Handicap Contest standings are still pretty darn close, with the top three being only a couple points apart with a tie for fourth. You guys are going to need every single one of the last few rounds… round 9/12 heads to Kentucky next Saturday for the Spiral Stakes (III) at Turfway! Hope you’re all good at synthetic…

Secret Circle Needs to Be Caught in Rebel Stakes

***DERBY HANDICAP CONTEST Week 8 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!*

The road to the Arkansas Derby (I) and the Kentucky Derby (I) has been a trail of awesome contenders in recent years, and this year’s edition looks to keep that trend going. Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (II) welcomes fresh faces as well as usual Oaklawn haunts and improvers. Back on track and ready for another big win is Bob Baffert’s speedster Secret Circle as well as several Southwest divisional top runners who hope to topple him. Last year’s Rebel was won by the speedy The Factor, also Baffert-trained, so can this be a repeat win?

I’m not too heavy on my analysis here… thanks Oaklawn for posting the entries a day later than expected…

$500,000 Rebel Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 17 at 5:48pm CST.

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

1) Unbridled’s Note - Channing Hill, 115 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The Unbridled’s Song colt bounced from a first-time-out maiden break to the Southwest Stakes (II) probably a bit too fast, placing 9th in the quieter division won by Castaway. He’s been breezing pretty steadily leading up to the race, but with the rail spot I think he’s going to get pinched out of contention quicker than usual.

2) Scatman - Luis Quinonez, 117 lbs, Michael Lauer - This Scat Daddy colt captured my attention, particularly seeing as how well Scat Daddy progeny are doing so far this year. He ran a good second behind Secret Circle in the Southwest Stakes (II) in his first stakes appearance. This guy’s got some bulldog tenacity, and I expect him to improve nicely here. Must watch list for me, but he might need another race to give him time to stretch out to the distance.

3) Cyber Secret - Robby Albarado, 117 lbs, Lynn Whiting - A closer that did not show up in the Southwest Stakes (II) against Secret Circle, the Broken Vow colt was a bit of a disappointment. He upgrades jockeys to Robby Albarado coupled with a bullet 5-furlong work in :59 2/5. He either wants to win or he doesn’t looking at his record, so it’s really hard to say where he’ll go without mind reading abilities. The jockey switch *ought* to help.

4) Optimizer - Jon Court, 115 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - A good two-year-old turned sour three-year-old, the English Channel colt failed to impress running a bumpy 9th in the Risen Star (II) and an uninvolved 6th in the Smarty Jones before that. For god’s sake, Lukas, what are you doing?

5) Jake Mo - M. Clifton Berry, 117 lbs, Allen Milligan - The Giacomo colt appeared to be in full bounce-back mode with a strong 2nd place finish to Castaway last out in the Southwest. He retains that same jockey and went a slick 1:00 3/5 in his most recent 5-furlonger. Is he ready to keep on improving as a three-year-old? He makes a decent case to land on the board again.

6) Sabercat - Corey Nakatani, 119 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The big Delta Downs Jackpot (III) winner has returned for his three-year-old debut, and boy am I excited. He threw in a quiet 4-furlong breeze in :50 4/5 upon arriving at Oaklawn a few days ago. Because of his earnings and this being his first time back in months, I am not expecting a win out of Sabercat here. Asmussen’s going to want to just tune him up for the Derby here, I’m thinking.

7) Secret Circle - Rafael Bejarano, 122 lbs, Bob Baffert - The high-weight and likely favorite here can be contributed to the Eddington colt’s recent Southwest Stakes (II) divisional win paired with the rabid success of Baffert trainees causing chaos every weekend. Logged a nice 6-furlong work at Santa Anita and despite shipping, he’ll probably fare okay. Never finishing off the board, expect more chaos from the speedy Secret Circle despite a loaded field and an extra sixteenth. He’s going to need every ounce judging by last time.

8) Atigun - Terry Thompson, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Another promising Istan colt (sire of Mr. Bowling), he laid it all on the line in a large January allowance-op claimer against other colts in this field, winning in dramatic closing fashion at the distance at Oaklawn. A sharp 1:00 breeze over 5 furlongs recently shows Atigun’s ready to move up the ranks. Should the conditions favor closers, Atigun’s worth a good long look.

9) Reckless Jerry - Joe Rocco Jr, 115 lbs, Kenny Smith - The Smarty Jones runner-up returns to fight another day after a decent 3rd in Castaway’s Southwest win. He’s never been off the board in all 7 starts, winning twice, and is breezing very well. He gets a jockey change, however, and was slow to gain ground on the field last out so it’s hard to give him reasonable cause to win here.

10) Ring It Up - Lindey Wade, 115 lbs, Chris Richard - Just one win in 8 starts makes this Toccet colt a tough gamble. He didn’t have much left at the finish while 4th in Castaway’s Southwest win. Meh. I’ll pass.

11) Pee H Dee - Israel Ocampo, 117 lbs, Chris Richard - I’m going out on a limb here to say this Tale of the Cat baby is Chris Richard’s better entry. He was a modest 4th in Castaway’s Southwest victory and before that a gutsy allowance winner. He’s been working pretty well, too, with a very sharp 4 furlongs in :47 3/5. Maybe he has hope with that nice work, but nonetheless this is still a pretty steep challenge for him to master. Longshot, but not a terrible longshot.

12) Najjaar - Calvin Borel, 117 lbs, Daniel Peitz - Look, a baby Jazil! He broke his maiden at Oaklawn back in January, but has been a very game runner every step on the way to that moment. He’s looking to make it three wins in a row while being undefeated as a three-year-old here with a first-time step up to stakes competition. A ballsy proposition to suggest Najjaar can make the cut, but that’s what this horse has. He can already nail the distance and do well despite flawed trips, so this closer ought to be one to watch.

13) Adirondack King - Stewart Elliott, 117 lbs, John Servis - The trainer of Smarty Jones thinks he’s potentially got a Derby horse lurking in this Lawyer Ron colt, who ran a pretty good third in the Southwest Stakes (II) division won by Secret Circle. In that race, he ran a pretty wide trip— 6 positions out into the stretch— so there’s evidence he could improve a good deal here. Works are as consistent as ever. I like this horse a good deal and I think he could do pretty well here should the Lawyer Ron curse of late skip over him.

Predicted Trifecta: 1) Atigun 2) Secret Circle 3) Jake Mo (Yup, taking a chance here… I’m on the bench that says Secret Circle was all out and is a miler at heart)

Value Pick(s): Atigun, Adirondack King

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