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Weekend Stake Tip: Bellamy’s Bomb

Making a slow return to being a half-conscious college student by weekday and a pony racin’ degenerate by weekend.

Thank you Delta Downs for your country music playing in the background of the simulcast, it was… different. Top pick Bern Identity got bottled up and was the best horse in a race lost to pace-setting Goldencents, who honestly did deserve a stakes win after that second in the Champagne (I) last out, taking a step down in class. A chalky Saturday, I went with the favored winner of the previous race Roses to Gold, who ran clear in the Delta Princess (III). Mylute impressed me in the Jackpot, but again I have to relate that he should be put in sprints.

Weekly race picks weren’t entirely bad; top pick Bern Identity rallied hard for 2nd, second choice Central Banker was nipped to be 5th at 7-1, and third choice Itsmyluckyday was somehow 6th. Know More revealed his form is probably off and was second-to-last, and as predicted, Show Some Magic quit after discovering “HEY THIS IS A ROUTE! I NO ROUTE!” So the whole race was a very formulaic morning line favorite, post time favorite, longshot for the top three. How uncreative! Bern Identity really should have won though… my reaction when Paco Lopez goofs up that ride:

YOU JUST DENIED BERN A MILLION DOLLAR VICTORY, PACO! YOU SO FIRED!

Noticing how G1-winning ex-claimer King David was a “top choice” to finish 2nd to Lea in Saturday’s Commonwealth Turf Stakes (III), I thought I would do another analysis of a major upset stakes race. Honestly, I don’t think there’s too many from this year that can beat All Squared Away's surprise Lexington Stakes (III) win at 70-1. I remember being so mad when this happened; I had noticed something different about him from his Spiral Stakes (III) that I knew gave him a shot— I even mentioned it in my original race analysis— but I wasn’t around to watch the simulcast otherwise I very likely would have taken a shot at that ridic price! Let’s take a look:

  • The course was set for a medley of three-year-old colts going the route distance of 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland’s all-weather surface. All-weather can be tricky to handicap because both dirt and turf horses may or may not like it… you can’t really tell for sure until they race! Horses with poly experience leading up to the race: Hammers Terror (3rd, a past winner who has since proven he loves poly), Gold Megillah (4th, but did not win over poly), Holiday Promise (6th, well-beaten place in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes), Golden Ticket (5th, ran 2 non-winning efforts at Keeneland), and Johannesbourbon (7th, won his last race, his debut, at Keeneland). All Squared Away, however, had by far the most poly experience: 7 out of 8 prior starts were on synthetic.
  • Class was a question all around: None of these horses are likely going to get in the gate for the Derby, so it’s apparent that they’re generally second-string class-wise. Summer Front had 2 ungraded stakes wins on grass, Castaway was the winner of the easiest Southwest Stakes (II) on dirt, and Holiday Promise had a graded place in the Spiral (III).
  • Incorporating the above information, that automatically gave us a vulnerable favorite: grass-loving Summer Front was untested on the fake stuff and hadn’t even started as a three-year-old! I still don’t know why people favored him significantly more than any other horse.
  • False pace handicapping: Looking at the past performances, I think most people dismissed All Squared Away’s chances when they saw a string of maiden claimers out west early in his career plus that ugly 7th finish in the El Camino Real Derby (III), suggesting this horse had zero class to win. Truthfully, the sheet was misleading as All Squared Away got involved in an exhausting duel early on in the El Camino Real, and in his last start, was taken way back early in the Spiral (III) and made a bold, 5-wide move on the turn to finish a pretty good 6th. He had changed his style from a horse who liked being close to or making the pace to one that sat behind it. No the Spiral effort wasn’t necessarily an amazing feat, but it certainly made his odds very false!
  • Anything can happen: The golden rule of horse racing handicapping is there isn’t any guarantee! A very rocky start and some poor trips put some lukewarm runners at an even bigger disadvantage while All Squared Away got a good trip.

This upset was the product of vulnerable favoritism, surface preference, and freakish luck. 6 of 11 horses were either bumped or off slow at the start, and 2 of them received tight, confining trips including Summer Front. 6 of 11 had poly experience including the winner and the 3rd place horse. All Squared Away got a clean trip, had the most experience out of anyone, and had changed his running style to suit him better (he still uses that mild closing move). The fact that he was a ridiculous 70-1, a price you can rarely get anywhere never mind for a graded stakes win, is still unfathomable to me.

Weekend Stake Tip: When the Going Gets Tough

Vacay is being taken from the windows. Last week’s handicapped race was basically an exercise in humility as the chalk was practically guaranteed the win heading in. Selected winner and brisk pacesetter Brave Dave was all-out to complete the 7 furlongs of the Jack Price Juvenile Stakes at Calder, and as predicted, value pick Sr. Quisqueyano bounced along for the place to complete the easy, straight exacta. The weekend for the most part, seemed to fall to the chalk… well, except for maybe Starformer's winning effort in the Long Island Handicap (III). Too easy, I'm ready for something harder now.

As I continue to reflect on the Breeders’ Cup, where I switched up my analysis process a teensy bit to ignore statistics in favor of form and other factors, it appears to me that certain things I’m all too willing to ignore. Some stats are near-useless, but handicapping hotspots like the DRF use them constantly. So what if a trainer has a winning percentage higher than this one? They all lose sometimes, and isn’t the quality of the horse more important? Nothing drives me more nuts when I navigate to a web page to see someone’s picks for race and see that garbage as their only reasoning why they picked a certain horse. I think I’ve chosen more winners based purely on the paddock— never looking at their pedigree, their connections, etc.— than I have with these useless statistics.

But how and why— and most importantly when— do upsets happen? As a case study, I attacked the Jamaica Handicap (I) from October which was won by the 28-1 longshot and ex-claimer King David. A grass race contested at 9 furlongs at Belmont Park, it featured 6 others with nice records. What went wrong here? Let’s take a looksy:

  • The turf going at Belmont that day was rated “good,” which is the first sign of upset potential. Most big wins for the champs happen on firm turf; anything softer doesn’t allow them as fast a kick in the stretch and thus, favors early speed a touch more.
  • King David at the time won 5 of 6, but all at the claiming level and at various distances mostly on turf. He appeared to like sitting near the pace, and in this scenario, was only 1 length behind the leader the entire trip. Pedigree-wise, he was in good shape being by Hat Trick [JPN] (also sire of fellow runner and graded turf winner Howe Great) and out of a Gone West mare.
  • Runner-up King Kreesa, also a longshot, was the pacesetter who set pretty typical fractions for a turf event. He kept a comfortable lead the whole time.
  • Only one favored “rallier” type made it up front for the show in Clement-trained Summer Front. On a personal level, I always strongly favor Christophe Clement’s horses who seem to frequent visits to the toteboard at their worst.
  • The rest of the field was watered down with off-kilter stakes winners Dullahan and Howe Great, Cogito, and the longest shot and trailer Shkspeare Shaliyah last. Dullahan was returning to grass as a mystery after blossoming on synthetic, Cogito was freshly shipped from some decent European races, and Howe Great threw in a clunker tiring on the off surface for the first time.
  • King David and King Kreesa both had wins on “good” turf in 2012. Summer Front had a 3rd in the “good” Secretariat Stakes (I). All others apart from Howe Great who did not display a liking for it in his prior “good” turf start, were gripping the loose grass for the first time.

Sometimes, apparently class is not enough and surface can mean everything. King David and King Kreesa were both overlooked longshot entries in this G1 event, but perhaps by virtue of the track bias to speed horses and prior experience winning on wet grass, they came home first and second over top grade horses. I have to make a new notch in my belt, as this is a lot of food for thought as a handicapper who relies heavily on class to get the job done in G1 races.

Quick Saturday Picks

BECAUSE I HAVE NO TIME BUT WANT TO LOOK AT ALL THE RACES GOING ON TODAY!

Alabama Stakes

I just did a quick looksy for the sake of the Fantasy Handicapping Contest. A lot of things could happen here as all fillies (but one I believe) stretch out to 10 furlongs for the first time. I love Grace Hall who is tops here, but did not like how she fared with the Kentucky Oaks so I’m looking at fillies who can keep doing well a little further. Ultimately, I went with the $10 exacta box on Sea Island and Questing [GB], but Zo Impressive could also be up there too. #indecisiveness

1) Questing [GB] 2) Sea Island 3) Zo Impressive

Sword Dancer Invitational

Pace could make this one very tricky, and some very good horses fill out the field for this 1 1/2 mile chomper. I’ve liked Turbo Compressor a while on the turf, but he just had too easy a race setting the pace in the Colonial Turf Cup, which I doubt he’ll be allowed again. Horses like Newsdad need time to improve, and others like Al Khali and Brilliant Speed aren’t at their best form. I picked Tahoe Lake [BRZ] as the value pick back in the Man o’ War (he finished third), so I’ll put him up here again with Point of Entry, who has been simply too good to doubt.

1) Point of Entry 2) Tahoe Lake [BRZ] 3) Turbo Compressor

Secretariat Stakes

My heart screams for a Cozzetti win, but alas, Silver Max will be hard to best. However, he comes into some really good horses here including Summer Front and will be breaking from the far outside post to try to jet to the lead all alone again. Shipper Bayrir [FR] also looks tough hot off a Group 2 win… but there can only be one in this tough field…

1) Silver Max 2) Summer Front 3) Bayrir [FR]

Probably the weekend’s most interesting race is the Virginia Derby (II), which pits the hot winning streak of Silver Max against some seriously good challengers including Summer Front, fellow Clement trainee and likely underrated Easy Crossing, Optimizer (who is a grass horse at heart!), and the wonderful Lucky Chappy [IRE] is back after his Dubai trip.

Probably the weekend’s most interesting race is the Virginia Derby (II), which pits the hot winning streak of Silver Max against some seriously good challengers including Summer Front, fellow Clement trainee and likely underrated Easy Crossing, Optimizer (who is a grass horse at heart!), and the wonderful Lucky Chappy [IRE] is back after his Dubai trip.

Weekend Stake Tip: Royal Bounces Back

And we’re back… again!

Reeling things back in, it was a decent weekend handicapping-wise, with two little strategy items I would like to bring to the table. We all have our methods, with some receiving priority over others at times, and this past weekend it was trainer bias and personal streak. Typically, for some reason, I will either have a very good weekend or a bad weekend. This weekend I was doing badly, but just like on Belmont Day, I made it all up and put myself back in the black in the last few races. Thank you, Royal Delta, Turbulent Descent, and It’s Me Mom!

But, back to trainer bias: The Hill Prince Stakes (III) had two stand-outs with Howe Great and Summer Front, two colts I liked very much on their own, but together, had a little difficulty determining which I liked better. I rarely look away from a War Front on the grass, but Howe Great, despite his Blue Grass trip on synthetic, was more experienced and impressed me greatly at Gulfstream. Summer Front is trained by Chris Clemente, a favorite under-the-radar trainer of mine who I always seriously consider, but Howe Great was also trained by a good one: Graham Motion (no explanation needed). In the end, I went with the better odds in Howe Great while Summer Front won impressively despite a worse trip. In this case, a place on one or the other would have come in handy in such a close class test. The wonderfully-bred Film Shot hung in for the show at 28-1… drat! [Watch replay below]

When it came to the girls, no one was better than Royal Delta at Churchill Downs’ Fleur de Lis Handicap (II) with Mike Smith in the irons. I profited off the “Dubai bounce” doubters once before with Game On Dude, and had confidence in Bill Mott’s abilities at the Downs to bring this classy girl home first once more. And honestly, Royal Delta’s run looked so fresh, I have to compare it to Game On Dude’s Californian and Animal Kingdom's allowance win the way she ran it, looking eager to pounce the entire time and winning in an absolutely effortless hand ride. The Empire Maker daughter won the race by 8 lengths while running a full second faster than Ron the Greek in the same day’s Stephen Foster Handicap (I). The whole race made me forget that we’re missing Havre de Grace this year… (Watch the race replay here)

Speaking of the Stephen Foster (I), which was the handicapped race for last week, a Wise Dan-Nate’s Mineshaft exacta was spoiled by an alert Ron the Greek. D’oh! Upset!

Racing Beat: June 17

I propose a new club: the Club for Immature People Who Mentally Giggle at Ron McAnally’s Name

Seabiscuit was on HBO the other day. I caught the last 5 minutes… WHAT THE HELL THIS MOVIE IS NEVER ON ANY OTHER TIME!

I have a habit of oogling at War Fronts… might want to keep an eye out for Tensas Cold Front next time you see him pop up in a program.

If I ever get rich enough to buy into horse racing, I will likely invest in a European horse. It says something about American breeding when imports win races on their first attempt here. However, with that said, we do have a shot at beating some Euros with horses like Silver Max, Acclamation, and Summer Front

10 points to Gryffindor!: There’s a horse named Prof. McGonagall, dam of Fleur de Lis entry It’s Tea Time (by Dynaformer). I wonder if Knockturn Alley is taken for a future Flower Alley cross…

I must confess. I get seriously tempted when I see airfare sales for fall travel to Los Angeles…

How to name a horse: first word is an adjective, second word is a noun/actual name. Examples: Lonely Whistle, Awesome Feather, Little Mike, Flashy Bull. Pretty soon, we’ll run out of those and just start pulling random words into a generator aaaaand BLANKET POTION!

Some days I find it crazy to believe that I have never been on Follow Horse Racing’s weekly notebook, let alone vote on their polls. Sure you give voting rights to someone who thinks Pants On Fire is a three-year-old but you can’t post something I even submitted to you? What gives!

GODDAMMIT RON THE GREEK YOU NEVER WIN WHEN I WANT YOU TO YOU RUINED MY EXACTA. I maintain Wise Dan is still the best of the two, with Mucho Macho Man being better than Ron the Greek. Eh!

Perhaps the Derby Handicap Contest for next year will be harder now that only certain races will yield points towards a starting gate post in the Kentucky Derby.

Here come the two-year-olds! I wonder if The Green Monkey's first crop will do any better than their sire. I am excited for the Big Browns the most.

As the weekends draw near, each time I find myself wishing I had an easy go-to person for handicapping tips. The last person I was about to trust— a family friend who nailed the Derby superfecta this year as well as last year— left Union Rags out of the top two in the Belmont. Scoff!

Rest in peace, Yawanna Twist.

Great. Looks like Union Rags might do yet another jockey switch for a while as the indomitable Johnny V has broken his collarbone. Just glad nothing more serious happened.

I will just sit here and say again that I’m glad they gave Royal Delta another year of racing. Never a moment of hesitation and won the Fleur de Lis too easy.

The precarious perch of the future: Kentucky approves Lasix ban over the next few years.

Improving Hopefuls Set to Go in Peter Pan

The Peter Pan Stakes (II) at Belmont has been a springboard for developing horses such as last year’s winner Alternation, a now-four-year-old who has been unstoppable in this year’s handicaps. A nice full field should be showing up for this year’s rendition, with shipper and Derby dropout Mark Valeski ready to start taking names as he attacks a distance that should be to his liking. I’d like to comment in advance that this is a pretty nice field in comparison to other years, but what in the hay was the racing secretary on assigning some of these weights?!

$200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, May 12 at 5:06pm EST.

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

1) Right to Vote - Alex Solis, 116 lbs, Eoin Harty - A Political Force gelding I haven’t heard much from since he hit up New York as a juvenile, Right to Vote got back on his feet in his only start this year at Gulfstream, cruising just off the lead to nab the win by a head in a 6 1/2 furlong allowance. He was solid at Belmont last year, taking third in the Champagne (I) behind Union Rags and Alpha, but this one will need a little extra time at minimum.

2) The Lumber Guy - Michael Luzzi, 120 lbs, Michael Hushion - The dizzying winner of the Jerome Stakes (II) last out at Aqueduct, the 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial (I) proved to be a bad showing for the front-running son of Grand Slam. He’s been breezing at his usual winning pace at Belmont, and looks like he could possibly get another furlong or two, but the Jerome wasn’t run against anyone too brilliant (at all) and he’ll be back to rubbing elbows with better horses.

3) Zetterholm - Junior Alvarado, 116 lbs, Rick Dutrow - With 3 wins in 4 starts this year including a 2-length win in the Patsyprospect Stakes at Aqueduct, Dutrow is stepping things up for the Silver Train colt who he would have preferred to start in the Preakness (I) should room be made. His works have been decent and he’s being stretched out from his one-mile stakes win as a closer who gets the job done in the stretch. The Lumber Guy and Mark Valeski should set up a hot pace for this one.

4) Le Bernardin - Eddie Castro, 116 lbs, Kiaran McLaughlin - A $325k yearling purchase, the Bernardini colt owned by Darley broke his maiden on his second try and followed it up with a nearly 2-length allowance win at a mile over older horses, with all starts at neighboring Aqueduct. With no brilliant works and no juvenile racing foundation, combined with the Bernardini expectations I’ll throw this one in the “won’t improve significantly until summer at best” pile.

5) Mark Valeski - Rosie Napravnik, 116 lbs, Larry Jones - Perhaps one of the most underrated three-year-olds on the Derby trail, the Proud Citizen colt scared favorite El Padrino in the Risen Star (II) when second by a dueling nose and was runner-up again to Hero of Order during an “off day” in the Louisiana Derby (II) as the favorite. Originally meant for the Kentucky Derby (I), Jones decided to shelve him after some brilliant works at Churchill with the sentiment he wasn’t 110% fired up to give it his all for another week or two. I loved Mark Valeski’s works at Churchill, and the look of him gave me confidence despite not liking him that much during the prep season. With Napravnik and 116 lbs, I’m ready to see a breakthrough stakes win for this colt.

6) Good Morning Diva - Julien Leparoux, 120 lbs, Timothy Hills - 5th in the Swale (III), the Lion Heart colt bounced back to win the Calder Derby last out stretching out to 1 1/16 miles, battling Big Screen all alone up front to win by a neck as the favorite. His works have been steady ones aimed to stretch out, but I have some concerns for his confidence. He doesn’t seem to do too well when he’s outkicked at the start, and there are some very fast horses here who will push him out of his comfort zone.

7) Hakama - John Velazquez, 116 lbs, Michael Trombetta - The First Samurai colt was a victim of racing luck in the Illinois Derby (III), traveling 7-wide after a bumpy trip to take third. Before that, he was beaten a head by Raconteur in the Private Term Stakes. Works at Fair Hill have been very good and barring trouble, Hakama should have a shot to get up there… if he’s good for the distance, might be another story entirely.

8) Big Screen - Rajiv Maragh, 116 lbs, Thomas Albertrani - The pedigree of this Speightstown reads “speed demon,” though he has yet to have a win this year out of 3 starts, his best being 2 seconds to Good Morning Diva in the Calder Derby and Heavy Breathing in an allowance where he was rank early on. He has matured slowly and picks up a new jockey and trainer, but has yet to showcase the kind of works I would expect from him at this point. Put him on the wait-and-see list.

9) Master Rick - Corey Nakatani, 120 lbs, Steve Asmussen - A Master Command who finally found his running gear, Master Rick snapped his maiden only in March, but did so by more than 5 lengths over 1 1/16 miles and followed that win up with an upset over G1 winner Drill in the mile-long, ungraded Northern Spur Stakes. Breezing his usual steady works, I like the look and feel of this rising star who is ready to peak for the class and slight distance bump here.

10) Teeth of the Dog - Joe Bravo, 116 lbs, Michael Matz - Toteboard finishes line this late-blooming Bluegrass Cat colt’s record this year, marked by a longshot show performance in the Wood Memorial (I) behind Gemologist and Alpha gaining ground late. He should be given ample credit for the wide, late Wood trip seeing as he only broke his maiden in February. The distance will be to his liking and judging by his drills he’s ready for a good performance.

11) Summer Front - Ramon Dominguez, 120 lbs, Chris Clement - The War Front colt just made his first start of the year recently when finishing a sharp second in the Lexington Stakes (III), and will be hitting the dirt for the first time here. He doesn’t strike me as a horse who should be a typical threat in this scenario, but I do like Clement’s style and this colt in particular impressed me a lot on the grass last year. Considering he should keep improving off that runner-up in the Lexington, there’s legroom for upset.

12) Street Life - Jose Lezcano, 116 lbs, Chad Brown - The late-rushing winner of the Broad Brush Stakes, the Street Sense colt broke poorly in the Wood Memorial (I) and flattened out to finish 6th. He’ll be donning blinkers for the first time. He’s been breezing at Belmont for some time preparing for this race, but with the funny outside post, this likely won’t be his comeback day.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Mark Valeski

2) Teeth of the Dog

3) Master Rick

4) Summer Front

Value Pick(s): Good Morning Diva, Master Rick

Dinner Rush for Derby Gate in the Lexington Stakes

I don’t know about you guys, but once the Arkansas (I) is over, I am pretty much done deciding who will be my Derby horse. But, some people persist and in this third week of April, we’ve got two late prep races: the Jerome (II) at Aqueduct and the Lexington Stakes (II) at Keeneland. Last year’s winners were Alternation, who I thought would progress nicely during the summer (he apparently waited to turn 4 for that to happen), and Derby Kitten, who predictably is turning into a nice turf horse. One is at a mile on dirt, the other is 1 1/16 miles on poly… Fusaichi Pegasus won the Jerome in 2000 while Charismatic won the Lexington in 1999 as the last horses to win and go on to win the big one. You decide their importance.

By far, it looks like the Lexington will have the best field of the two, with 11 horses ponying up to the gate for one more shot at graded earnings. Out of all the runners, the only horse who could likely make the Derby gate with a win is Castaway. Being that it’s Keeneland, I naturally have to favor turf/poly horses and with a good mix here, this will probably be an excellent betting race.

$200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (III) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on all-weather track at Keeneland. Post Time: Saturday, April 21 at 5:13pm EST

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

1) Morgan’s Guerrilla - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Mike Maker - A promising start for this Ghostzapper colt reached its height when he was a close second in the Illinois Derby (III) after enduring a wide trip. He goes blinkers off and picks up Leparoux, but this will be his first trip on Polytrack with some decent dirt works. Loves a good route distance and takes a nice little cutback here, but can he do Poly? He has one of Keeneland’s finest riders and last year’s winner Maker as connections.

2) Summer Front - Ramon Dominguez, 120 lbs, Christopher Clement - I really liked this War Front colt when he just slammed it home in the Dania Beach Stakes on grass. 3-for-3 in career starts with a dynamite turf pedigree, his biggest detractor is his long layoff: he hasn’t started as a three-year-old yet! Works at Payson have varied between unimpressive and sharp with stamina possibly being concentrated. Love this colt to death, but he’ll probably need a little room to grow and catch up.

3) Johannesbourbon - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, Kellyn Gorder - I’m calling this one out as the token “hot topic” colt for this race. By Johannesburg, he debuted at Turfway in a crazed romp over 6 1/2 furlongs, flying home first by almost 10 lengths while sitting next to the quick pace. Sprinter? Maybe. Pacesetter? Likely. He’s an exciting gambit nonetheless while picking up Garrett Gomez.

4) Skyring - Jon Court, 118 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The English Channel trainee of Lukas broke his maiden last month at Oaklawn by a short and bumpy neck, coming back to Hawthorne to finish 7th in the Illinois Derby. Works on dirt haven’t been that impressive. A grass pedigree, but no poly or turf tests make me cast him long odds to do anything here.

5) Golden Ticket - Manoel Cruz, 118 lbs, Ken McPeek - Can a Speightstown go the distance? Maybe this one can. Golden Ticket was a fierce 2nd in the Tampa Bay (II) to the good Prospective after closing nicely into the stretch. He hasn’t done much on poly, but he’s been working on it leading up to the race which is bonus points in my book. With trust already established in McPeek as a trainer and in WinStar colors, a nice improving closer in this possibly-fast race is worth a long look.

6) Holiday Promise [pictured] - Junior Alvarado, 118 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Harlan’s Holiday second-stringer in Pletcher’s keep proved himself worthy trying to catch Went the Day Well in the Spiral Stakes (III) at Turfway, managing to nail down 2nd. Works have been excellent, with a :47 move over Keeneland’s poly. Not an amazing horse, but he could be a horse for the course. Or, you know, he could disappoint me and keep being one of those horses who likes to be in the trifecta but not so much win anything.

7) Castaway - Shaun Bridgmohan, 120 lbs, Bob Baffert - Pretty much love this horse, a son of Street Sense who has been put in reserve by Baffert over at Santa Anita since his sleepy 7th in the Sunland Derby (III). Works have been good, but no poly experience. I’m not feeling a comeback for Castaway here; pretty sure he’s only here to give him a slim chance of getting those Derby earnings.

8) Hammers Terror - Robby Albarado, 118 lbs, Michael Stidham - An up-and-down ornament at Fair Grounds, the Artie Schiller colt ships up to Keeneland hoping to make some progress on those earnings. He was 4th to winner Icon Ike in the Black Gold Stakes and before that 6th in the Lecomte (III). He’s been working pretty well at Keeneland in the meantime, working long as well as short quips like a :47 and change. He has run on synthetic only once, when he broke his maiden at Keeneland over 7 furlongs over some decent horses. May or may not be a pacesetter, may or may not be someone to look at.

9) All Squared Away - Julio Garcia, 118 lbs, Wesley Ward - Frequenting the synthetic scene is this Bellamy Road gelding, last seen making up some ground late to finish 6th in the Spiral Stakes (III). Working steady over Keeneland. Usually one can peg a Wesley Ward trainee to storm right to the front, and while this one has in the past, he was at the back of the field in the Spiral and really didn’t do awful as he stayed focused throughout. We could see a strategy change here, but he’s got some serious horses to beat.

10) News Pending - Kent Desormeaux, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - A really nice Harlan’s Holiday colt, he was an emphatic 2nd to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth (II) before turning in a clunker in the Florida Derby (I) where he only mustered a 7th after a pokey start. Breezing slow and steady at Gulfstream. I’m willing to throw out the Florida Derby, but the lack of synthetic/turf experience or promise bugs me. Another horse just here to sap some earnings.

11) Gold Megillah - John Velazquez, 118 lbs, Graham Motion - Never really got into this Purim colt, but the connections are good enough. He ran 3rd in the Rushaway, behind 2nd place finisher Gung Ho who went on to be 3rd in the Blue Grass (II) and winner Flashy Dresser won a stakes at Charles Town to stay undefeated. Had a :47 1/5 breeze over Keeneland, but it’s hard to say how he’ll do. He was drawing in down the stretch in the Rushaway so he could be on an improving cycle, but I wouldn’t consider him a giant threat without a more serious effort.

Predicted Trifecta: 1) Holiday Promise 2) Golden Ticket 3) Gold Megillah

Value Pick(s): Golden Ticket, Hammers Terror

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.

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]

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