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Discreet Marq breezes over the turf training course at Saratoga with Irad Ortiz Jr up 

Discreet Marq breezes over the turf training course at Saratoga with Irad Ortiz Jr up 

First time by in the Flower Bowl Invitational (I)— Laughing [IRE] takes command early followed by Somali Lemonade, Mystical Star, White Rose, and Valiant Girl [GB]. (Photo by Dawna Wood/The Galloping Hat Rack)

First time by in the Flower Bowl Invitational (I)— Laughing [IRE] takes command early followed by Somali Lemonade, Mystical Star, White Rose, and Valiant Girl [GB]. (Photo by Dawna Wood/The Galloping Hat Rack)

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!”

My girlfriend Dayatthespa everyone. Probably my favorite active turf horse in America right now. (Photo by Adam Coglianese)

My girlfriend Dayatthespa everyone. Probably my favorite active turf horse in America right now. (Photo by Adam Coglianese)

Wide-Open El Prado Tests Improvers

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IT’S GULFSTREAM TIME! This weekend leading up to Christmas is a teensy bit quiet, but you’d never know it from the enormous field lining up for the El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A mile on the grass, it has attracted some top trainers to enter rising stars— and some returning ones like G1 winner Teaks North!— equating into what looks like a great betting race.

Weather looks promising for a dry(ish) Florida winter day, so the turf ought to stay firm.

$75,000 El Prado Stakes - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on turf at Gulfstream Park. Post Time: Saturday, December 22 at 4:35pm EST.

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

1) Bad Debt - Kendrick Carmouche, 121 lbs, Michael Trombetta - The Grand Reward gelding attempts to defend his home turf from the rail spot with a pretty nice 2012 record of 3-2-4 in 9 starts— never out of the top three since 2010! He rarely throws clunkers and was just a hair over 2 lengths from beating Little Mike here during this year’s Sunshine Millions Turf. He looks to be in great shape and should be right at home here. There’s definitely a place for him in the exotics.

2) Teaks North - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Rick Dutrow - The Northern Afleet gelding and hero of last year’s United Nations Stakes (I) hopes to bounce back after 2 responseless starts this year off-the-board. He swaps old trainer Sallusto for magician Dutrow who has a way of flipping new trainees’ stats upside down. It’s worth mentioning that Teaks North has won a G1 on the grass at Gulfstream in the past, so while he has some face to save, he does have ample back-class. He works look decent, but I have to ask how good Dutrow is with grass horses. Nevertheless, he takes a drop down in class, a cut in distance, and gets Johnny V— never a bad combo!

3) Get Serious - Elvis Trujilo, 123 lbs, Patrick McBurney - The New York-bred City Zip gelding has shuttled to Florida for the winter with 1 win in 6 starts this year with a scintillating defense of his Red Banks (III) win. While he set the pace in that victory, he was no menace in his Gulfstream debut in an 5-furlong allowance barely a week ago where he ran last of 6. He was too well-beaten in that allowance to give him much credit.

4) Kharafa - Edgar Prado, 119 lbs, Timothy Hills - The New York-bred Kitalpha colt makes his stakes and Florida debut all in the same race, winning twice this year in 8 starts. He won for fun last out on the yielding Aqueduct turf in an allowance, winning by 5 3/4 lengths and doesn’t seem to mind any condition of turf. He was bred for the grass being a grandson of Breeders’ Cup Mile champion Miesque. A fun mystery of a horse, he looks super sharp and I wouldn’t hold his New York-bred status against him. He seems to dig the Gulfstream turf plenty in his breezes!

5) Salto [IRE] - Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The deadly duo of Castellano and Pletcher reappears at Gulfstream with this son of Pivotal [GB]. He was awesome in a Keeneland allowance win this year, whipping the field by 9 lengths on the grass but hung in the stretch when switched to Keeneland’s poly in the 9-furlong Fayette (II) to finish 4th, beaten 3 lengths by good horses. He has yet to win a stakes despite racing well at top level. All signs point to yes for Salto, but my belly button disagrees looking at his rap sheet: failure to get the win in all stakes tries, and many tries there are. He could do it here, but I’ll take someone else, and not just for the sake of getting good value.

6) Tune Me In - Paco Lopez, 123 lbs, Jane Cibelli - The G3-winning gray gelding by Concorde’s Tune steps in after nabbing 2 wins in 6 tries this year, both G3 victories at Monmouth. He likes to run up front and should he get the lead at the break, will set easy fractions before trying to run away. That appears to be his best strategy, but he appears to be a “need the lead” type which I don’t like. Other than that grimace, his stats look great but his Gulfstream record looks abysmal with 2 trailing starts last year.

7) Xin Xu Lin [BRZ] - Joe Bravo, 117 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - An oddball entry of Godolphin-McLaughlin, the 5-year-old Wondertross son made his American debut on the Belmont dirt in October which he faded on after setting the pace despite experiencing G1 success in his native Brazil. His length of loss? 35 1/4 lengths. His turf breezes are nothing to brag about either. I’m expecting 50-1 on this one.

8) Empire Builder - Luis Saez, 116 lbs, Luis Duco - What’s a grass race without a son of Kitten’s Joy? The three-year-old has raced 10 times this year going 3-3-2 on Florida tracks. He looks good and loves to sit just off-the-pace. Weighted by a feather, should he get the trip he desires he has a decent shot at upset.

9) Zimmer - Patrick Husbands, 119 lbs, Pat Byrne - The Empire Maker 6-year-old son boasts 3 wins in 6 starts this year (including one that was a DQ by a nose to a horse who savaged him!) with no such luck in any stakes fray. He’s trying grass again after a 6th in the Ack Ack (III) on dirt, and has wins at this distance. Works look okay, but he’s never been better than 6th in stakes attempts. His best efforts have him forwardly-placed under slow fractions.

10) Beau Choix - Rajiv Maragh, 119 lbs, Barclay Tagg - The Elusive Quality son has some good runs to his back class with grade I & II placings with back-to-back wins in the 2012 and 2011 Rob N Gin Stakes over 7 furlongs at Belmont, the last of which had him out-closing Breeders’ Cup contender Upgrade. He was 3rd last out in the If Winter Comes Stakes at Aqueduct, running late in squeezed conditions to be beaten just a length. Great connections back up this very worthy runner, who is looking better than his 1-for-8 year record suggests. Easy breezes at Palm Meadows.

11) Hoofit [NZ] - Joe Rocco Jr, 117 lbs, Graham Motion - A favorite from last year, the Mossman [AUS] gelding has been winless this year in 7 races, and was 4th last out in Calder’s Tropical Turf Handicap behind 3 other runners in this field while making up ground late. A wildcard, Hoofit’s been improving but it has not been enough to win lately.

12) Hobbs - Eddie Castro, 121 lbs, Kathy Mongeon - The Put It Back sophomore has notched 3 wins and 3 places this year including his win last out in an Aqueduct stakes over Shkspeare Shaliyah and King Kreesa on good turf. His record looks good and he put in a turf bullet and a nice-looking 4-panel breeze on dirt recently.

13) Hollinger [ON] - Jose Lezcano, 117 lbs, Roger Attfield - The gray Black Minnaloushe gelding is no stranger to Florida despite shipping from the cold north, boasting a G1 placing here on the grass losing by a half-length to Get Stormy in the GP Turf Handicap (I). He has no wins for 8 races this year, but 4 places and a third with some good efforts. This gelding likes Gulfstream plenty and has been logging some great works at Payson. Euro-Dynaformer pedigree and top turf rider Lezcano a big plus.

14) Nikki’s Sandcastle - Corey Lanerie, 121 lbs, David Cassen - The Castledale [IRE] gelding and ex-claimer looks tougher than ever following a loss to Newsdad in the La Fayette (I), sporting a record of 3-5-1 in 10 starts this year. He shipped well to Gulfstream, winning an allowance that included the likes of G1 winner King David. A tough competitor, he’ll get the ideal setup here and totes top rider Lanerie.

MAIN TRACK ONLY - 15) Associate - Unlikely going to be rained off the turf, he’ll be competitive on the main obviously but so will Nikki’s Sandcastle, Tell Tale Friend, Zimmer, and perhaps a few others.

ALSO-ELIGIBLE - 16) Tell Tale Friend - Orlando Bocachica, 117 lbs, Allan Hunter - Running 12 times this year, the Harlan’s Holiday gelding finally broke his runner-up streak of 5 times last out to win an allowance-optional claimer at Calder, setting solid fractions to wire the field by a nose. Breezes look good, but I’m not sure how deep his class will go. Likely to help set the pace.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Kharafa

2) Hollinger [ON]

3) Beau Choix

You could honestly go with multiple sets of picks and you’d probably still have a pretty good opinion, it’s that wide-open. I’m going to favor a horse who looks like he gets it and has the right backing to break through to the top with Kharafa, who has been looking awesome right off the ship and big breakthrough win. Hollinger I like for his connections as well, but he loves to run second and already has a base at Gulfstream which he loves. I like Barclay Tagg’s Beau Choix if he can get a clear run, which I’m sure he can get with top Gulfstream rider Rajiv Maragh.

Value Pick(s): Bad Debt, Empire Builder

The little gelding by an unraced stallion with a $5,000 stud fee out of a mare received as a free gift, Little Mike was king of the underdogs blazing home in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (I).

The little gelding by an unraced stallion with a $5,000 stud fee out of a mare received as a free gift, Little Mike was king of the underdogs blazing home in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (I).

Breeders’ Cup Saturday Picks: Game On, Dude!

Enjoy the rest of my finalized picks for Saturday! Yee haw!

Juvenile Turf Top 3

1) Dundonnell

2) Artigiano

3) Fantastic Moon [GB]

Value Pick: Artigiano

Contest Wager: $20 win on Dundonnell

I think this was the toughest race of the 15 for me… I still like Dundonnell a whole lot, and because of the breadth of the field I hope to get some good odds on this Juddmonte colt. Artigiano’s sharp for the improve and Fantastic Moon [GB] factors as a fitting pacesetter. I also like I’m Boundtoscore’s chances and am intrigued by longshot Gervinho on his home turf.

Filly & Mare Sprint Top 3

1) Groupie Doll

2) Dust and Diamonds

3) Switch

Value Pick: Dust and Diamonds, Rumor

Contest Wager: $10 exacta box on Groupie Doll, Dust and Diamonds

Dust and Diamonds is bound to improve and dig this pace scenario and track, but can Groupie Doll ace her last test of 2012? I think so, but beware, she isn’t a lock here whatsoever! Switch is always good right here and at her home track.

Dirt Mile Top 3

1) Shackleford

2) Jersey Town

3) Rail Trip

Speedballs that want the lead like Fed Biz and Tapizar are sure to help set things up. Shackleford should dig the speed-biased main and is a miler at heart, not to mention one of the best horses this year. Jersey Town looks tough in his works and his Kelso (II) victory and should storm the pace late. Hard to dismiss the local Rail Trip, who takes a cutback here for Ron Ellis. I also like Emcee, but the two turn introduction causes me to wince a bit.

Value Pick: Rail Trip, John Scott

Contest Wager: $20 win on Shackleford

Turf Sprint Top 3

1) Corporate Jungle

2) Mizdirection

3) Next Question

Value Pick: Mizdirection

Contest Wager: $20 place on Mizdirection

Another tough race, I’m going “Brown” with Corporate Jungle, who has been a special horse to me this year and is taking a cut back in this race after working well on the turf course. Mizdirection is tough and has great morning line odds for some reason. Next Question’s been looking good on the grass course as well and is hard to fault.

Juvenile Top 3

1) Power Broker

2) Shanghai Bobby

3) Title Contender

Value Pick: Title Contender

Contest Wager: $20 win on Power Broker

All these colts are intriguing in their own way, and after a lot of flip-flopping about the two turns and the track, I’m going with Power Broker who has a win at this course under the same conditions and is in his element here. If Shanghai Bobby, who ships in and stretches out to two turns first-time, wins I’ll ease up on my criticism. Title Contender’s been looking real nice this week.

Turf Top 3

1) Trailblazer [JPN]

2) Point of Entry

3) Shareta [IRE]

Value Pick: Shareta [IRE]

Contest Wager: $20 win Trailblazer

While I hope Point of Entry has enough left in the tank for one more G1, Trailblazer is warmed up perfectly for this race and is good to go the distance. Shareta’s seriously underlooked as a top Euro performer. I also like Slim Shadey [GB] out on the lead.

Sprint Top 3

1) Capital Account

2) The Lumber Guy

3) Amazombie

Value Pick: Capital Account, Gantry

Contest Wager: $20 place on Capital Account

I feel pretty good about supporting Capital Account in a very tough field in a sprint (aggh I hate handicapping sprints!). The pace should be lightning as predicted, which The Lumber Guy could lay off of early and if Amazombie’s back up to speed, might want to watch out for that one too. I still also like Gantry who ships in with a lot of clout and skepticism.

Mile Top 3

1) Excelebration [IRE]

2) Wise Dan

3) Willcox Inn

Value Pick: Willcox Inn

Contest Wager: $20 win Excelebration [IRE]

Looking good on the American grass after a fresh G1 score in the Queen Elizabeth, Excelebration [IRE] is going to be Wise Dan’s greatest foe here as the latter is hot off a Shadwell Mile (I) score. I’m probably cuckoo for choice #3, Willcox Inn, who flew off the handle and was the only one closing in on Wise Dan in the Shadwell Mile stretch.

Contest Wager for Classic: $20 place Fort Larned

Euro-Breds a Tough Match for ‘Mix in Filly & Mare Turf

Contenders are:

  • Marketing Mix* - The Medaglia d’Oro filly has been consistent as heck this year, delivering 4 wins in 6 starts and was most recently the winner of her last prep at 10 furlongs in the Rodeo Drive (I) at Santa Anita. Sure to be chalky, she looks like a strong choice in the American ranks.
  • Zagora [FR] - A personal favorite of mine being from Chad Brown’s barn, the Green Tune mare sports 4 wins in 7 starts this year falling off the board just once. She likes to sit mid-pack, but can fall victim to a sharp closer.
  • Stormy Lucy - The Stormy Atlantic three-year-old filly can’t catch a break, being very close to the win to be on the board for 6 of 8 starts this year and was beaten 4 1/2 lengths last out in the Rodeo Drive (I) to be 3rd. An improving closer type, she’ll need a significant push.
  • The Fugue [GB] - The three-year-old Dansili [GB] filly is a Gosden trainee and was just a neck away from besting champion Shareta [IRE] in a G1 last out at York. She’s won 2 and has been off the board just once this year in 6 total starts, all in tough-as-nails Europe and has a win at 10 furlongs.
  • Nahrain [GB]* - The chromey Selkirk filly looks to be in fighting trim after her big closing move over the yielding Belmont green to win the Flower Bowl (I) over Zagora and Dream Peace. Tough in the States, she’ll have to work harder against some of these invaders.
  • Lady of Shamrock - One of the west’s best turfers, the Scat Daddy 3-year-old won 4 this year and never finished off the board in 6 starts. She turned in 2-for-2 great Santa Anita turf efforts, and trainer Sadler is hardening her up for the big girls.
  • I’m A Dreamer [IRE]* - The Noverre mare defeated Marketing Mix in a strong rally in a G1 this year, but is a real loosey-goosey choice finishing a good 4th last out in the Flower Bowl (I) and seems to prefer a softer going.
  • Nereid - The Shirreffs stablemate to Star Billing, she is winless in 5 total starts this year but did surge to 2nd late last out behind Marketing Mix in the Rodeo Drive (I), suggesting she’s ready for another big effort.
  • Star Billing - The Shirreffs-trained Dynaformer filly is winless in just 3 starts this year, but should benefit from the extra ground if she can handle the class boost.
  • Up [IRE] - The Galileo [IRE] filly and Aidan O’Brien pupil was victorious at 10 furlongs earlier this year at Curragh, but has won just twice in 10 starts this year with 2 places and shows. She has also run on mostly off surfaces, and Santa Anita’s turf is going to be pretty hard on her feet.
  • Ridasiyna [FR]* - The three-year-old Motivator [GB] filly is an excellent 4-for-5 overseas this year, turning in super efforts leading graded fields to their doom. Her one off race was a 5th 2 races back in a 10-furlong Group 2, but she lost by just 2 lengths after weakening. Likes her ground on the soft side, but can manage firm just fine.
  • In Lingerie - The Empire Maker filly was tops this year on synthetic, winning 4 starts out of 7 being out of the money just once. She looked great winning the Spinster (I) last out, but will be tested on the grass for the first time here. Can she be a rare graded winner on all 3 surfaces?

Next week I’ll announce my top 3 picks and value pick for the Filly & Mare Turf.

The Fugue [GB] - Has few weaknesses and ships in looking strong from Europe

Ridasiyna [FR] - European shipper has excellent record

Nereid - Upset choice of the field, she turned for the better last out

Marketing Mix - Excellent U.S. horse who has already run well at Santa Anita

Lady of Shamrock - Consistent closer looks to defend her home turf

Brown Almighty works 5 furlongs on the Keeneland turf in 1:02 3/5 for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I). He looked eager to be set loose and finished real nice.

Point of Entry Tough in BC Turf

Possessing enough G1-winning clout this year to make him a serious consideration for Horse of the Year, Dynaformer’s Point of Entry faces his biggest challenge yet as he ships west for the 12-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf (I) race. European horses have won 8 out of the last 10 Turfs, and this year’s invaders present a huge threat to America’s best bet. Contenders are:

  • Point of Entry* - Dynaformer colt holds down the fort as the favorite heading in with a 5-for-6 record this year, 3 of them being G1 victories. He won despite some challenges last out over yielding turf, but should be right as rain here.
  • Bourbon Bay - 2-for-4 this year at 1 3/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles, the Sligo Bay [IRE] gelding is a last-minute closer who serves consistent efforts each time out. He threw in a clunker to be 8th last out on this course in the John Henry (I), but that should only help boost his odds.
  • Kindergarden Kid - The Dynaformer gelding won his last prep over Ioya Bigtime in the Sycamore (III) after being beaten by Point of Entry and Treasure Beach [GB] in Belmont’s Turf Classic (I). He’s good for the distance but class is a question.
  • Optimizer - The English Channel colt found his calling on grass and looks to lead things along on the front end after back-to-back wins doing so and is hot off a great Kent Stakes (III) win by 4 1/4 lengths. He looks to stretch out here significantly from his most recent races at 9 furlongs.
  • Treasure Beach [GB] - A rough year early on for the Galileo [IRE] colt, he is recovering back to peak form for trainer O’Brien making a good 2nd to Point of Entry last out in the Turf Classic (I).
  • St. Nicholas Abbey [IRE] - Last year’s BC Turf champion, the Montjeu [IRE] son was never a factor finishing 11th in the Arc and hasn’t been good since the start of the year.
  • Cogito - The Giant’s Causeway three-year-old has won twice this year in 5 tries, but they were at the lower level and he’s been bested by horses less skilled than these.
  • Shareta [IRE] - The Sinnadar [IRE] filly finished out of the money just once this year, but it was in the Arc last out where she was a tiring 9th. A dual G1 winner this year overseas, it could be just a clunker or a sign she’s done for the year.
  • Turbo Compressor* - The wire-to-wire winner of the United Nations (I) and Colonial Turf Cup, the Halo’s Image ridgeling gave up the lead he usually has last out to try sitting off the pace, finishing 2nd behind Slim Shadey [GB]. This was likely a change in strategy following his dead-tired 9th he had after leading the way in the Sword Dancer (I), but his form is what makes him a longshot.
  • Slim Shadey [GB] - The Val Royal [FR] gelding won his American debut at Santa Anita earlier in the year and was beaten just a head by Bourbon Bay his last time at 12 furlongs. He wired his last race at Santa Anita over 10 furlongs with ease in the John Henry (II) and looks ready to roar.
  • Trailblazer [JPN] - Lightly-raced this year, the Zenno Rob Roy [JPN] import warmed up to California grass well in his 1-mile prep, beaten just a half length by Obviously and was well ahead of the rest. Form-wise, he’s a worthy gamble.
  • Late adds: Dullahan & Little Mike

I’ll give my top 3 picks and value pick for the Turf (I) next week.

Slim Shadey [GB] - California-based and European-bred, he won his last prep easy and looks game for another good effort.

Point of Entry - One to beat, he hasn’t been challenged.

Trailblazer [JPN] - Distance specialist was just getting warmed up in his last prep and should be poised for a big effort

Treasure Beach [GB] - Once-dominant colt looks to be returning to form

Optimizer - Super tough on the grass with a super distance turf pedigree, Lukas has this one figured out.

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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