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Revolutionary Gets the Rail, Favoritism in Stephen Foster

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With a short loss in last weekend’s Belmont, the Todd Pletcher-WinStar team amps up once again with Revolutionary, who put in a star-studded performance last out winning the Pimlico Special (II). However, with a Win And You’re In opportunity going to the winner of this race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I), “Rev” will not have it easy and the Stephen Foster (I) becomes a great betting opportunity with several improvers, current hot streaks, and a possibly “off” G1 winner in the field.

$500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, June 14 at 9:39pm EST.

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

1) Revolutionary - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Todd Pletcher - A winner twice this year in 4 starts including a profound win in the Pimlico Special (II) last out, the War Pass 4-year-old has returned to peak form after a lengthy freshening following his 3rd in the Kentucky Derby last year. His form is very strong, and he has some speed to kick on when he needs it. However, because he is a late runner breaking from the rail, he will have a lot to do in the stretch.

2) Jaguar Paw - Shaun Bridgmohan, 114 lbs, Stephen Lyster - A stakes winner one year ago on this day at Belmont Park, the Giant’s Causeway 7-year-old has been off since racing a well-beaten 6th in a February stake at Oaklawn. His best past race in graded company was a 3rd in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (III) at Monmouth, beaten 9 lengths by Last Gunfighter. Not a big layoff horse or a very competitive horse in this field.

3) Moonshine Mullin - Calvin Borel, 118 lbs, Randy Morse - Hitting his best stride this year as a 6-year-old, the Albert the Great son outgamed Golden Ticket last out in the Alysheba (II) here at Churchill, topping a 3-race win streak with Calvin Borel with 4 wins in 5 races this year. Likely to provide the race with some pace as an early pace horse, the hot Mullin could grab the rail early and gallop off with the race.

4) Will Take Charge - Gary Stevens, 123 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The sparkling son of Unbridled’s Song was lethal on this course last year, besting Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap (I) after a sensational 3-year-old season. He threw in a major clunker last out in the Alysheba (II) trailing after being stuck inside with new and current jockey Gary Stevens taking over for Luis Saez. Getting the high weight, WTC is vulnerable as a favorite who is fresh off a bad race. However, the race may set up for him well and he should be included as a horse who is 4-for-5 at the distance.

5) Mylute - James Graham, 115 lbs, Tom Amoss - The Midnight Lute colt arrives 3rd off the layoff after an allowance win and a 4th in the Alysheba (II), with no wins thus far at Churchill or at the 9-furlong mark. He gets new rider James Graham and will benefit from a light impost, but will have to step it up if he wants to be taken seriously.

6) Departing - Robby Albarado, 118 lbs, Al Stall - I was an early avid fan of this War Front gelding, and while his trainer has admitted sending him to beat up lower class horses, he finally gets his chance to shine in a G1 for the first time since running 6th in the Preakness. Racing 2nd off the layoff, Departing looked good winning a 1-mile allowance at Churchill. Armed with a hot :58 3/5 breeze over the Churchill ground, Departing is red-hot right now. Likely to be aimed for a spot just behind the pace, Departing will have to show his best to win.

7) Golden Ticket - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Never dismiss a Speightstown! 4-year-old Golden Ticket is a G1 winner hopping from doing a mile to 9 furlongs, and was 2nd last year behind Fort Larned and was a half-length second-best in the Alysheba (II) to Moonshine Mullin. Golden Ticket has managed to place twice this year in 3 starts, but by the numbers, is at his best going longer distances. He’s a good exotics horse here with Leparoux.

8) Long River - Irad Ortiz Jr, 115 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - The A.P. Indy colt has bounced back into a good 4-year-old and is possibly the best-bred horse in this field with Round Pond (Awesome Again) as his dam. Given rival stablemate Romansh’s good last race and Long River’s recent form and workouts, he should be regarded as a live longshot with that last race around the Charles Town bullring getting thrown out. The layoff doesn’t bother me too much as he’s given good winning efforts off of them.

9) Prayer for Relief - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The son of Jump Start was scarcely beaten last out by Revolutionary in the Pimlico Special (II), and is well-versed at 9 furlongs with 9 on-the-board finishes in 13 starts. I never really liked Prayer for Relief, but he certainly impressed me in his last race enough to pay him a little attention. However, he’s been battered around Churchill Downs and cut up at this level that it becomes a tall order to expect of him. Exotics type.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Revolutionary

2) Departing

3) Moonshine Mullin

Revolutionary gets the ideal setup and is in fantastic form right now. The tasks ahead of him: class step-up and getting it all done in the stretch. He may have too much to do, even at his best. I like Departing a lot as well; he’s at very good form and has some great tactical speed he could exact on the pacesetters late in the game. Moonshine Mullin ran great as the underdog in the Alysheba (II), and could keep that record rolling, especially if he manages to skirt off with the lead.

Value Pick: Departing (9-2) is in form and could roll right off that pace to a score.

Pick 3/4: Revolutionary, Departing. Spread option horses: Will Take Charge, Long River, Moonshine Mullin.

Some words about Fort Larned

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Fort Larned opening up on Whitney Day 2013

As you may have noticed, I was hesitant to remove Fort Larned as this blog’s avatar. Originally, I planned to change it as soon as I found my Derby horse, but that decision came very late and I felt very indifferent about this year’s three-year-old crop. No colt was worthy of toppling my personally taken photo of Fort Larned from accompanying my posts.

If you were a dope and missed the Stephen Foster Handicap (I) last night, let me tell you, you probably missed one of the year’s best performances. I down right hated anyone who passed off Fort Larned’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) win last year as a fluke on a biased track. This horse is gifted, but often is the victim of a few bad days. But when he’s on his oats, you better watch out: he’s the stuff of yesteryear stamina and speed combined.

Yesterday reminded me quite a bit about my first (and only so far) interaction with “Big Ugly,” who stood out like a thumbtack on a chair in the Whitney Handicap (I) post parade last year. The horse looked supremely confident and just happy to be there, his enormous body meeting his big flat head at the crest of two playful, forward-facing ears. He caught my eye earlier in the year winning the Skip Away (III) in a romp, but I figured Ron the Greek was going to be hard to hold off. Fort Larned was unrushed that day, skimming the track just behind Endorsement. I stood near the top of the stretch that day, just a few yards away from the guardian track pony, at the point where he decided to really take off upon getting the lead. There was just no stopping him that day, and the impression lasted long enough to choose him over long-time beloved favorite Game On Dude to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic a few months later, which he did.

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I was somewhere around here on Fort Larned’s Whitney day… the track pony was not amused with me trying to take his picture.

I like using Twitter as an information tool, and often times it provides priceless insight about horses that proves useful. Some words from his exercise rider a few days prior:

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Yes, I realize I went with Successful Dan anyway, thinking Lopresti’s bay speedball was plenty sharp to spar and possibly eke out a win over the trouble-riddled Big Ugly. I knew one or both would probably be going too fast to comfort Take Charge Indy, who sure enough got too flustered to make an impact worthy of his blue-blooded heritage. But all eyes were on Fort Larned, who won the fight for the lead and from there went on cruise control. I always wish I had the insight to see what the first quarter is like— because most of the time, if I see what the first quarter looks like, I can far more easily pick out the winner based on how fast and how smooth the leader is going. Fort Larned and Brian Hernandez Jr were going a strong clip, opening up on the field, but were going so smoothly it was imminent they were going to be hard to reach. It wasn’t the tautness of the reins that made Ugly look so beautiful going up the backstretch; he just looked so indestructible, furiously pushing against the bit to go farther and faster. Take Charge Indy was struggling to keep pace, and Successful Dan was placed behind a good ways as though hoping Ugly would fold. He didn’t.

Just like in the Whitney, Fort Larned found his best stride when he should have been tired: turning for home. It wasn’t the track or a poor field trailing him that made him look good— he looked like a champion all on his own. I wasn’t at Churchill, but I suspect even those who dumped money on someone else must have been screaming in the stands. He was just that good.

August, come faster!

Successful Dan looks to earn the grade in Stephen Foster

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The Stephen Foster is one of my favorite races: it’s on dirt, it comes at a time when I’m usually sick of the three-year-olds, it’s at the full classic distance, and I have a pretty good history of predicting its outcome (Pool Play in 2011 and I picked Wise Dan last year, who was just scarcely defeated). This year there is a small 6 horse field, but all save one are G1 winners already— the lone non-G1 winner may just be the talent of the field.

$500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, June 15 at 9:39pm EST.

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

1) Golden Ticket - Joel Rosario, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - The returning Travers winner and son of Speightstown has 2 wins out of 4 starts this year, including his last start in allowance company after dropping down in class from the G3 Skip Away (4th) and G3 Mineshaft (3rd). He has some tactical speed to boot and craves a quick pace, which he may very well get here. Golden Ticket has yet to make an impact in graded stakes since dead-heating with Alpha in the Travers, and that horse has not done anything remotely impressive since that win. He’s a tough sell without a lightning pace coming off the rail, but hot jock Rosario isn’t a bad plus.

2) Fort Larned - Brian Hernandez Jr, 121 lbs, Ian Wilkes - “Big Ugly” returns to Churchill after racing haplessly twice this year, including one where he dumped jockey Hernandez at the gate and then tired to finish 5th behind a turf horse— albeit a good one— in Optimizer in the Oaklawn Handicap (II). He was floated out early in last year’s race, and his old form has yet to break through the surface. Will be a failed favorite thrice? Larned looks fit despite a soiled Churchill record, breezing quickly and smoothly, and to his credit, the Oaklawn Handicap shows up glitchy as horses that finished behind him like Unstoppable U and Atigun returned to run much better next out. He looks like he’s in a good spot, but will have to deal with the other early speed horses.

3) Ron the Greek - Jose Lezcano, 120 lbs, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate champ actually won when I wanted him to earlier this year, and is the reigning sneak-up-from-behind champion of this race from last year, defeating Horse of the Year Wise Dan. He bounced off his Gulfstream Park romp against Florida-breds, running 4th in the Santa Anita Handicap (I), then shipped back to be 3rd in the bullring Charles Town Classic (II). Ron looks keen to take advantage of a setup he got last year, with a solid pace held up by several speed horses up front. However, he had better form coming in last year and is not an ignored longshot.

4) Take Charge Indy - Rosie Napravnik, 119 lbs, Pat Byrne - The A.P. Indy son and winner of last year’s Florida Derby hopes to go back-to-back after romping in the Alysheba (III) at Churchill, which he won by a resounding 6 lengths over Oaklawn Handicap (II) winner Cyber Secret. His form has been very good as a horse who likes to be near or on the lead early, and he should only improve with a little more ground. He looks to be in top form (breezed a bullet :47 move at Churchill) and ready to fire a game performance if he has one in him. Byrne and Napravnik are all-star connections.

5) Pool Play - Miguel Mena, 115 lbs, Mark Casse - The plucky old gentleman of the field, the Silver Deputy son surprised the field two years ago when he won this race in a huge upset, then later on took the Hawthorne Gold Cup (II) last year at 10 furlongs. He has folded a couple times in the dirt, but most notably at tracks that largely favored speed at the time. Is it class or is it track that Pool Play has to compete with? He gets a big break in the weights and likely an easy trip lingering behind a largely speed-crazy field.

6) Successful Dan - Julien Leparoux, 121 lbs, Charles Lopresti - Wise Dan’s half brother by Successful Appeal, the “other Dan” looked to be just as good as his titan brother on dirt before getting injured last year. In his comeback, he hardly pushed himself in wiring the Ben Ali (III) on Keeneland’s polytrack at the same distance. He can be placed anywhere, and looks due for another tangle with old foe Fort Larned here. Off the board just once in his career and technically undefeated at Churchill (he was DQ’d to 3rd in the 2010 Clark), Successful Dan shouldn’t be left out of consideration by any means in a small field that he has shown in the past he can handle.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Successful Dan

2) Fort Larned

3) Ron the Greek

In a field brimming with talent and class, there are two horses in here I consider to be “monster tier”: Dan and Big Ugly. Dan’s record at Churchill is telling of his ability on the surface, and he looks ready to roll once again. Fort Larned needed some time to get going last year, but is capable of producing some big efforts. Normally I would have tabbed TCI after that nice race, but I’m finding the Oaklawn Handicap’s field questionable right now and have hopes Ron the Greek can find that hidden gear once more to put in another surprise big effort like last year.

Value Pick: Pool Play is always fun to use, but in a 6-horse field it’s kind of hard to find much value anywhere.

She is more talented than I already knew she was, to be honest with you… she just jumped through the bridle and drew away.

Jockey Mike Smith on Delaware Handicap (II) favorite Royal Delta, about her Fleur de Lis (II) win— a full second faster than victorious stablemate and Stephen Foster (I) winner Ron the Greek.

Tough Field Lines Up for Stephen Foster

The male handicap division has been deep this year, but this will mark the first occasion that the unstoppable Wise Dan meets Alternation, who has been building up a pile of wins this year as a four-year-old seeking his first G1 pass. However, neither will have an easy task: 6 other worthy hopefuls aim to upset, and there’s plenty of potential for that in the Downs. I picked last year’s winner, Pool Play, at fantastic 34-1 odds!

Successful Dan has been counted out of the lineup as replacement for Wise Dan in the unlikely event he should scratch. Forecast looks hot and sunny.

$400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, June 16 at 9:39pm EST.

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

1) Nates Mineshaft - Jesse Campbell, 118 lbs, Austin Smith - The Mineshaft son caught fire this year back-to-back graded stakes, but followed that with a disappointing 6th at Churchill in the Alysheba (II) while being held back. He won the Lone Star Handicap (II) last out by 7 1/4 lengths and is in fighting trim as the likely pacesetter. His one and only Churchill start— and on the rail— did not offer him a smooth trip, and this front runner will need a super fast track and lots of luck. His last work over the main wasn’t that great.

2) Fort Larned - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The E Dubai colt has yet to gain much respect, reeling off a clear, record-breaking win in the Skip Away Stakes (III) at 1 3/16 miles followed by a runner-up finish in the Alysheba (II). 5-furlong breezes have remained consistent, and he deserves a look as a skilled pacestalker.

3) Wise Dan - John Velazquez, 123 lbs, Charles Lopresti - The Wiseman’s Ferry gelding can do it all: turf, dirt, synthetic and in winning fashion. He has won his past 3 graded stakes by a combined 18 lengths and has flattened plenty of excellent horses along the way. Lopresti has Wise Dan wound up nicely for this effort, and I expect to see something wonderful from him.

4) Nehro - Corey Nakatani, 116 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The Zayat-owned Mineshaft colt has been pushing hard for his first stakes win, hitting the wire of the Pimlico Special (III) just a head bob away from it last out going 5-wide. He’s in peak condition with a 7-pound advantage over Wise Dan and 6 from Alternation. A fast pace will help this eager closer.

5) Ron the Greek - Jose Lezcano, 119 lbs, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate son already has a G1 to his credit this year in a very strangely-run Santa Anita Handicap (I), and other than Wise Dan, is the lone G1 winner in this field. A gradual closer with no Churchill experience, but with the track leading Mott in charge, he’ll benefit from the reduced weight but has a lot of question marks hanging over how good his form really is.

6) Rogue Romance - Manoel Cruz, 115 lbs, Ken McPeek - The Smarty Jones colt stopped running to finish dead-last in Wise Dan’s eye-popping Ben Ali (III) score, but has a good history at Churchill Downs. He is fresh off a confidence boosting allowance score at Churchill, winning by 5 to dismiss any fitness doubts. The G3 winner lacks the credentials to pose as a sound bet for this race, but put him on the up-and-up list.

7) Mission Impazible - Javier Castellano, 116 lbs, Todd Pletcher - “Happy-go-unlucky” best describes this Unbridled’s Song gelding, who finished a wide, eased 4th last out in the Pimlico Special and sports mostly board finishes in a millionaire career. He finished second in last year’s Stephen Foster as well as this past Clark Handicap to Wise Dan. He makes excellent efforts in top company, but of course doesn’t like to win too often. I don’t see much here that shows a potential breakthrough.

8) Alternation - Luis Quinonez, 122 lbs, Donnie Von Hemel - The Distorted Humor son has been cooking since turning 4, reeling off 4 wins in 4 starts with 3 of those wins being graded. He appears to be a fan of running towards the front end of things, but may have his work cut out for him this time with second-highest weight and a deeper field. He was all-out to win the Pimlico Special, and honestly looks a bit dulled lately.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Wise Dan

2) Nates Mineshaft

3) Nehro

4) Fort Larned

A very tough race to handicap. Wise Dan shows no sign of slowing down and is the best horse of the group. Versatile Nates Mineshaft excels out on the lead, which he should roll with again in this race to hold off the talented closers.

Value Pick(s): Nates Mineshaft

Racing Beat: June 10, Belmont Edition

Coming soon now that I just thought of it and acquired some background touches: vidya handicapping all fancy-like. Guinea pig for next weekend: the Stephen Foster Handicap (I).

D. Wayne Lukas and I have at least one thing in common now after Hamazing Destiny reared up and struck him atop the head. Ouch.

Best of luck today to Yummy With Butter, who will butt-ering heads (hehe get it?) with Get Stormy and Data Link in the Monmouth Stakes (II). I think he’s a worthwhile bet, getting a whopping 7-pound break from the two favorites. Just needs a good trip is all.

Some tips for my future self and all others who want to go to another major stakes day: bring umbrella, bring warm clothes, bring cooler full of food and water, bring fold-out chair to park by the fence (get to the parking gates early of course), and leave none of them in the car. Bonus tip: if you want cheap merch, wait a little while before you buy… sketchy vendors might walk around selling duffel bags full of what you wanted at a fraction of the retail amount >.> Also, if you have catheters, insert them.

Douchebag J. Crew model-look alikes everywhere. I’ve never seen so many fucking boat shoes in my life.

Elmont, New York passed all my ghetto credentials: it has liquor stores next to “churches/congregations,” a 99 cent store every other block, and neon lighting in the windows up the wazoo. (I am referencing the Hempstead Turnpike)

So proud of Union Rags AND Atigun! Street Life was up there, as well (and what a small horse he is in real life)!

Mario Gutierrez is the cutest jockey alive, stopping to wave to all of his youngest fans in the post parades.

Everyone around me appeared to be wagering heavily on either Paynter or Unstoppable U (hahaha what? And why was he 10-1?)… all’s fair in love, war, and ponies.

I am writing the NYRA to protest a few things… mainly how the “security” guards walking the tunnel between the fence and the outer rail had no walkie talkies when we asked to have a few drunks behind us dealt with. Danger potential, much?

I don’t know if it showed up on TV/video replay, but before Winter Memories stopped gaining on Tapitsfly in the Just a Game Stakes (I), it looked like she stepped into something deep and just slightly tripped. Tapitsfly deserved the win, but I can’t help but wonder about what I saw…

The sport of kings: where aging school buses shuttle you in on one of its biggest days!

Racing would make a lot more money on stakes days if they made official phone apps for betting. I saw so many people who wanted to go back up to the windows to bet more after seeing certain horses on the track, but couldn’t because they wouldn’t make it on time or were trapped by the crowds. I would have won more money then, personally!

Zayat is the unluckiest name in horse racing. Period.

I never want to have to see a breakdown like Giant Ryan's… or worse… again if I can help it. I also never want to have to be in front of drunken college assholes who think it's funny to mock the horse when he's down and helpless.

Tweet o’ the Week: Joe Talamo has a sense of humor

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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