Archive for July, 2009

The most wonderful time of the year

July 29, 2009

Forgive me if you’re reading this and are from the West Coast, but for most of the horseplayers in this country, tomorrow’s opening day card at Saratoga kicks off the greatest six weeks in American horse racing.   The NYRA racing office did their part in assembling a terrific lineup as the smallest field is nine on the ten-race program and the featured Schuylerville will feature a baker’s dozen seeking a move to the head of the two year-old filly division.

The Schuylerville is an incredible betting race and this entry will kick off a series that will continue each racing day at Saratoga as the featured event is analyzed in detail including a bankroll play of $60 or less.  Here’s the way I see it in the Schuylerville:

The Main Contenders:

#3 COWGIRL MALLY, like seven of her rivals, scored at first asking and she recently posted a half-mile drill that shows she should once again be plenty sharp.  Her trainer is not one of the best around with first-timers and her pedigree does not exactly scream five furlongs but this gal won nonetheless.  She proved, quite importantly, that she can be effective from off the pace as there’s a terrific amount of early speed in here.  #4 AEGEAN was taken to England by trainer Wesley Ward to race at the prestigious Royal Ascot meet after two strong wins in Kentucky but she failed miserably.  She is back on dirt today, which is a positive move and Ward wins with all two year-olds at a rate of 31%.  The chances that this gal will need a race are good but Ward is one of the trainers you can trust with a type like this.   #1 HOT DIXIE CHICK scored handily in career start #2 as she clearly moved forward a great deal off of her debut in which she was caught late as the 2-1 favorite.  She is the speed of the speed in here and should be able to get clear during the opening stages.

The Next Tier:

#7 FRANNY FREUD scored handily in her debut against males at Belmont and ran so well that trainer John Terranova opted to try this NY bred daughter of Freud against open company in Canada.  She finished a very game second at 3-1 north of the border and showed that day that she has plenty of fight in her.  She should move forward in career start #3, especially given how much she improved from her debut to her last run.  #5 DECELERATOR is one of two stakes winners in this field as she scored in the Debutante last time out at Saratoga.  She finished gamely that afternoon and is clearly effective from just off the pace, which only makes her even more dangerous in this spot.

The Play:

Trifecta 3 with 1,4,5,9,10 with ALL

Total: $55

Good luck!

Here’s a look at last year’s Schuylerville to whet your appetite for this rendition:

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Something to tide you over…

July 24, 2009

I’ll be back in earnest on Tuesday as the Saratoga meet begins.  Until then, take a look at the five most exciting stakes races of the ’08 Spa stand (in no particular order).

Travers:

Personal Ensign:

Woodward:

Sword Dancer:

Alabama:

See you Tuesday…only four days until Saratoga!

Something for everyone in these Saturday Stakes

July 18, 2009

It could be considered the weekend that embodies the “calm before the storm” as the next seven weekends after this will feature racing at Del Mar or Saratoga.  There are still some interesting events across the country today, highlighted by the $750,000 Virginia Derby on the weeds at Colonial Downs.  There seems to be something for everyone as well with graded stakes races on turf, dirt, and synthetics.

VIRGINIA DERBY

The scratch of Nicanor definitely hurt the popularity of this event from a nationwide perspective, but the nine runners still slated to go form a competitive lineup.  #10 LIME RICKEY sent off at 4-1 in the Colonial Turf Cup and he finished willingly to grab the show dough after racing well back of a hot pace.  He should appreciate the added ground they’ll go today and more importantly he’ll benefit from the expected hot pace.  #6 STRAIGHT STORY was put at a huge disadvantage when carried to the 8 path turning for home in the aforementioned Colonial Turf Cup.  He fell over two lengths behind the leader in mid-stretch but fought on and came back to lose by a head.  He proved he belongs in graded stakes company and it now seems reasonable to think he could be effective coming from just off the pace.  #8 EL CRESPO couldn’t catch #2 FLORENTINO in the Jefferson Cup despite being sent off a heavy 19-10 favorite.  The latter set a very slow pace and that definitely enabled him to get the 9 furlongs and finish with some gusto.  El Crespo should get a much better trip today with the pace scenario in this affair.
PICKS: 10-6-8

DELAWARE OAKS

The Oaks features the rubber match between #2 BON JOVI GIRL and #7 PAYTON D’ORO as the former just scored in the Susan’s Girl here at Delaware while the latter took the Black Eyed Susan (G2) field wire-to-wire in mid-May.  The sloppy track they all tried last time out probably favored Bon Jovi Girl given her pedigree and appreciation for slop.  Payton d’Oro should be very close to the early pace in here and you’d have to expect her to improve on a dry track after the sluggish effort on the goo. 

The other question that will be answered, even before they reach the paddock, will be whether #3 LIVIN LOVIN goes here or in the Delaware Cap tomorrow.  If she opts to go here she should be set for a stronger effort in her 2nd off a long layoff and she is proven at 8.5 furlongs having run 2nd in a stakes race at Woodbine last fall.  Given the large amount of speed in here which increases the likelihood of a pace meltdown, it’s easy to like Bon Jovi Girl, who should post a good late kick.
PICKS: 2-7-3

JAIPUR

#7 LE GRAND CRU will benefit the most from the scratch of #2 TRUE QUALITY as it will allow the former to do the majority of the early running in this spot.  He is exiting a terrific victory against N1X optional claimers and while there has to be some concern about whether he can handle the class increase, he has a pace advantage and should be tough in the stretch drive.  #3 HEROS REWARD is a proven stakes competitor sprinting on the grass and he is coming out of a tough stakes event in Canada, the Hilander.  He has enough tactical speed to stay close to the top pick, which will make him a tough customer in the last two furlongs.  #5 SILVER TIMBER hasn’t been out since mid-May and his last start was a very strong victory against N2X NY bred optional sellers.  His trainer, Chad Brown, has a very good record with horses starting on turf and off of mid-range layoffs in particular. 
PICKS: 7-3-5

SWAPS

If you’d like to see a horse waltz along on an easy lead then this is your spot as #8 GRAZEN is clearly the fastest horse in this event early and he proved last time out in the Affirmed that he’s pretty quick late.  He has blossomed quickly since racing shifted to Hollywood Park with three consecutive wins and it doesn’t seem like the added ground will hinder his ability to stay the course.  #6 ADVICE is back on synthetics after consecutive dull efforts on dirt and turf.  He has a big late kick and as the Lexington proved, his preferred trip is to lay back and make one run into a collapsing pace.  That trip won’t be made available today but he should benefit from the move into softer company.
PICKS: 8-6-2

A GLEAM

#2 COCO BELLE is quite clearly the one to beat in this spot as she has the most early foot and is in career-best form right now.  She out-sprinted the fleet footed filly Indian Blessing last time out and stayed on nicely through the lane.  There is a bit of speed in here with #7 CRY AND CATCH ME serving as a potential nuisance for ‘Belle in the early stages.  If things get hot up front the race could fall into the lap of #9 EVITA ARGENTINA, a graded stakes winning daughter of Candy Ride who’s cutting back in distance today for trainer John Sadler.  She is [robably not a two-turn animal and it didn’t help her cause that the Hollywood Oaks pace was pitifully slow in her last outing.  She’s come back to work well and her jockey is on the verge of winning his first riding title in Southern California.  #4 SILVER SWALLOW closed well to grab the place dough in the Desert Stormer, which was won by Coco Belle.  She has been on the improve of late and now goes 2nd off a layoff for a sharp trainer-jockey combination.  Look for her to throw her hat in the ring late.
PICKS: 9-2-4

Good luck with Saturday’s stakes races as it seems safe to say there’s a little something for everyone!

On the shore with a popular lady

July 15, 2009

The announcement that Rachel Alexandra will make her next start in the $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational (G1) was one that didn’t come as a surprise but it sure did pique my interest.  Not only will this be Rachel’s first start of the “second half” but it will also be her 2nd try against males and that should provide her another opportunity to add to her already budding legacy.  The next question you’re prompted to ask is: who will run against her?

ATOMIC RAIN– The winner of the main Haskell prep, the Long Branch, is based at Monmouth, is trained by a Monmouth guy, and is owned by a New Jersey family.  He looked very sharp in the Long Branch and if he were to show up with his rabbit, you’d have to think his chances would be decent.

MUNNINGS– This guy was definitely the most interesting Haskell participant prior to the announcement about Rachel Alexandra.  He is 2 for 2 in stakes company this year and would be making his first start around two turns since last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

DUKE OF MISCHIEF– The Iowa Derby winner has really come to hand of late for trainer David Fawkes and while he’s the 2nd best 3YO in his barn, he might have the most upside.  Fawkes was very candid about his intentions with Big Drama should Rachel Alexandra show up and he mentioned yesterday that this guy might serve as his lone entrant.

SUMMER BIRD– The Belmont winner has been pointed to this spot since he crossed the wire first on June 6.  He has been training at Monmouth for the last couple of weeks and has certainly gotten better with experience.  He is another, like ‘Duke or Atomic Rain that’ll need a bit of pace to set up his late run.

PAPA CLEM– The Arkansas Derby champion was sent to Monmouth for the Long Branch, which was meant to serve as a prep for the Haskell.  He didn’t exactly fare well in the Long Branch but likely needed a race and should be set for a better effort in his 2nd start off a layoff.

Kudos to Monmouth Park for getting another big name to their biggest race as they’ve had tremendous success getting the most popular 3YOs into their starting gate on the first Sunday in August.  Monmouth is not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing tracks but the racing has been quite strong this meet and should be very good on August 2nd thanks to the seven stakes races on tap.

Just last week Sports Illustrated chose Monmouth Park as the “best summer sports bargain.”  What better place to pass a Sunday afternoon then with Rachel Alexandra and 45,000 of your closest friends.  See you on the shore.

July marches on towards Virginia, Delaware

July 14, 2009

7-11 held great promise for all gamblers, but I can shamelessly tell you I had a rough weekend at the windows (you can see some of my laughable picks below this entry).   Nonetheless, we were treated to a smattering of interesting efforts in the weekend’s 3 Grade I stakes races, which were basically a resurgence of a forgotten filly, the emergence of an upstart gelding, and the routine brilliance of the best turfer in the land.

THREE UP:

1.) GIO PONTI– What can you say about a colt who’s now a Grade I winner at 8, 10, and 11 furlongs?  He has developed into a win machine on the grass and even the most effusive racing scribe, Steve Haskin, was realistic in comparing this son of Tale of the Cat to turf great Manila.  He is pointing to the Arlington Million, which should be a great test in terms of seeing where he stands versus whomever comes over from Europe.  Another exciting thing about this guy is that he’s held his form over a four-month period thus far, which bodes well for him staying good until Breeders’ Cup day.

2.) RAIL TRIP– Patience paid off for the connections of this guy as he was handled with care all spring before facing graded stakes competition at the Hollywood meet.  He atoned for consecutive runner-up finishes in the Mervyn LeRoy and Californian with an impressive win in the Hollywood Gold Cup.  Yes, he had a perfect trip, but the field assembled was reasonably accomplished when it comes to synthetic surfaces and this guy completely wiped them out.  He looms a serious threat in not only the handicap ranks in California but a major player for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run over the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

3.) GAME FACE– Does this gal just love South Florida?  Or does she hate New York?  She scored her first Grade I win and fourth graded stakes win in South Florida versus only a lone Grade III score Ky Derby day 2008 at Churchill.  She redeemed herself for a terrible effort in the Vagrancy as she finished last in a field of five beaten nearly a dozen lengths.  Where does this put her going forward?  She is clearly back in the discussion in terms of her division, but forgive me if I’d like to see her prove herself at Saratoga against Indian Blessing, Informed Decision, Porte Bonheur and a few others.

THREE DOWN:

1.) GIANT OAK– In what might have been the most disappointing effort of the weekend, this son of Giant’s Causeway was hardly a factor in the American Derby at Arlington Park.  He was well off the pace turning for home and wound up a very dull fifth.  The sluggish effort raised question marks about his perfect trip Arlington Classic victory and definitely added some doubt about whether he is the one to beat in the Secretariat.

2.) SHUG MCGAUGHEY– After a dismal effort from Dancing Forever with no visible excuse, it looked like “Shug” could turn his day around with a strong performance from Hollywood Gold Cup favorite Parading.  Alas, he ran his race in the paddock, supposedly showing more interest in Life Is Sweet than the task at hand.  Both of these efforts showed once again that Shug’s horses are often overbet in stakes races and that they rarely hold their form for any length of time.

3.) BENNY THE BULL– Has time officially caught up with this guy?  You must always view performances at Calder through rose-colored glasses but he was not particularly sharp in the Smile Sprint Handicap and he hasn’t really shown that patented late kick in two starts this year.  He should probably be at his best in his next outing, which will be his third off the long layoff.

The weekend ahead is one of my favorites as two “second tier” tracks take center stage.  It’s a big weekend at Delaware Park with the Delaware Oaks (G2) on Saturday and the Delaware Handicap (G2) on Sunday.  The Virginia Derby is slated for Saturday at Colonial Downs and a very strong field of ten has been assembled to go 10 furlongs on the lush Secretariat turf course.  Here’s the field:

1 Affirmatif Decarlo C P 117     L
2 Florentino (JPN) Garcia Alan 121     L
3 Take the Points Prado E S 117   Blk-On L
4 Nicanor Lezcano J 117     L
5 Safety Valve Camacho E 117     L
6 Straight Story Lopez C C 117     L
7 Hold Me Back Desormeaux K J 117     L
8 El Crespo Leparoux J R 121     L
9 Battle of Hastings (GB) Baze T C 121     L
10 Lime Rickey Velasquez C 117     L

I’ll be back later this week to look at all of the major stakes races of the weekend.  Until then, enjoy last year’s Virginia Derby, won by recent Man O’ War winner Gio Ponti!

Coast to Coast Saturday Stakes

July 11, 2009

The date is 07-11, and those two numbers are universally considered “gambler’s numbers” so the racetrack would seem to be the right place to spend the day.  Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stakes races of the day:

MAN O’ WAR

#8 DANCING FOREVER might be in position to get back to his best efforts today as he makes his 2nd start of the year and stretches out to a distance that falls right into his wheelhouse.  He came back from the big break with a good closing effort going a much shorter distance and the recent dry weather should have the course a bit harder than it’s been all meet, which plays into this guy’s hands.  #9 GIO PONTI is the deserving favorite in this event but there are some question marks with this guy, the greatest of which is today’s distance.  He has won multiple times at 10 furlongs and his running style would lead you to believe that the extra furlong should be no problem.  He will need the pace to be legitimate in order to set up his late bid and that could happen.  #7 MIDSHIPS will be responsible for setting the pace and he has really come into his own lately, winning three graded stakes races in a row.  He has a good bit of early speed and will certainly be on the lead in here.  He has benefited from being able to back the pace down in his recent efforts and that might not be made available today.
PICKS: 8-9-7

PRINCESS ROONEY

#4 B R’S GIRL is making her 2nd start off a layoff for trainer Martin Wolfson, who will saddle 3 of the 8 participants in this affair.  This daughter of Pulpit rallied nicely in the U Can Do It, the local prep for this event.  She had to deal with a runaway frontrunner who had set a relatively soft pace, so there are some excuses for why she couldn’t get the job done last time.  #6 GAME FACE hasn’t been out since Memorial Day weekend when she failed miserably as the 13-10 favorite in the Vagrancy (G2) at Belmont.  She is the most proven competitor in here now that Indian Blessing is out and her running style makes her a clever fit.  The connections will earn her plenty of support at the windows and if she can take to Calder like she does Gulfstream, they’re all running for second.  #9 MARINA BALLERINA won the local prep, the aforementioned U Can Do It, in wire-to-wire fashion and she certainly drew the best of the speedsters as she has the far outside post.  She will be on the engine from the outset and her works since her last win have been very good.  She will likely be overbet off the 100+ Beyer figure but her chances of winning are obviously good.
PICKS: 4-6-9

SMILE SPRINT

The aforementioned Benny the Bull is strictly the one to beat as he is decidedly better than his competition whether looking at Beyer figures or Thoro-Graph Sheet numbers.  He exits a strong 2nd place finish in the True North on Belmont day when he ran into the best six furlong horse in America, Fabulous Strike.  He is already a winner at Calder and many times these Summit of Speed day events depend on who handles the sandy CrC surface.  #2 HOW’S YOUR HALO just scored nicely in the Ponche, the local prep for this event.  He has been in the money in 16 of 22 starts at Calder and is a graded stakes winner with back class.  He should get a good trip from just off the pace, which will enable him to get the jump on the fave.  #1 IKIGAI has scored four times in five tries at Calder including a huge win in an allowance race in January in which he earned a Beyer figure of 107.  He should be on the engine today along with #5 EATON’S GIFT and given the way this guy has notoriously run here, I’d expect he sticks around a bit longer.
PICKS: 4-2-1

ARLINGTON HANDICAP

The bulky field in this event guarantees that there’s going to be a great amount of value available, but don’t feel lonely if you have no clue who to back in this field.  I’m in the same boat and thus I’ll settle on #2 PUBLIC SPEAKER, who arguably had the toughest trip in The Tin Man.  He sat second behind the runaway leader, Rumor Has It, and wound up making the first move into the pace as he grabbed the lead at the three-sixteenths pole.  He was asked to sustain his bid for a distance and he now gets a bit better setup in this field.  He has enough speed to stay very close to the early pace and if Julien Leparoux decides to stalk the pace with #13 THABAZIMBI, then this son of Distorted Humor could find himself on the front end.  #12 COSMONAUT won this race two years ago in wire-to-wire fashion and came back last year to defend his title only to finish second to #11 STREAM CAT.  He is making his 3rd start of the year this afternoon and comes out of a strong effort in the Manhattan.  He has a good bit of speed and should be in close attendance with the top pick as they pass the stands for the first time.  The aforementioned Stream Cat’s last win was in this race one year ago and given that he can be effective from just off the pace, he stands to get a good trip today.
PICKS: 2-12-11

HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP 

As one of only two horses to take the traditional path to this event, #6 DAKOTA PHONE offers a bit more appeal than #8 RAIL TRIP.  The former was at a pace disadvantage two back in the Mervyn LeRoy as they cruised in the early going with Ball Four going wire to wire.  In the Californian the pace was a bit faster and this son of Zavata made a bold late move to narrowly miss while making up significant ground in the last furlong.  Despite his sprint pedigree he seems to have developed into a nice distance horse and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer certainly knows how to get a horse ready for a big race.  #5 PARADING exhibited a tremendous kick in his synthetic surface unveiling back in April at Keeneland as he won the Ben Ali by a pole.  He backed up that win with a workmanlike effort in the Dixie back on the weeds at Pimlico.  He has been off since that effort eight weeks ago but has been working steadily including a drill at Hollywood six days ago.  He will go ten furlongs without issue and trainer Shug McGaughey has done extremely well with synthetic starters over the last two years.  #10 LIFE IS SWEET will be looking to escape the shadow cast by her behemoth stablemate, the great Zenyatta.  She was second to that beast in the Milady seven weeks ago and would seem to have a real chance in this race despite facing males.  The group in here is not particularly tough and the pace scenario should enable her to make a good late bid. 
PICKS: 6-5-10

Good luck with your plays today!

15 things we learned this weekend

July 6, 2009

Of the three major summer holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day) the Independence Day racing might come in a respectable third but we were all privy to a few solid performances from Friday to today.  Here’s a look at some of what we learned:

1.) It was nice to see Smarty Jones get his first stakes winner as Backtalk scored in the Bashford Manor.  He’s out of the Affirmed mare Apasionata Sonata, making him a half to multiple stakes winner Bsharpsonata.  Look for this guy in a Saratoga stakes race later this month.  His Beyer in the Bashford Manor was 78.

2.) The transferring of the 10th race to the main track on Friday afternoon came as a bit of a surprise but it seems like more of a surprise nowadays when they don’t have to move at least one turf race to the main track.

3.) Kensei looked great winning the Dwyer as he took a leap forward that few could have forecasted.  He was given a perfectly patient ride while stalking the pace and he moved at exactly the right time.  His Beyer was 107.

4.) Wake up award #1 goes to Calvin Borel.  I know Warrior’s Reward broke poorly in the Dwyer, but what made Borel think he could drop 18 lengths out and still be successful.  It’s time for Warrior’s Reward to get cut back to sprint distances.

5.) Edward Evans looked like he had a stranglehold on the Prioress and while it wasn’t the half of the entry that everyone expected, Cat Moves was along in time to score.  It was a bit of an ugly horse race from the quarter pole home as no horse really made a meaningful late run, save Luster, who was too far behind early. Cat Moves’ Beyer figure was a 96.

6.) Kudos to Barclay Tagg for opting to run Dry Martini in the Suburban rather than the Cornhusker Handicap last week at Prairie Meadows.  The old gray gelding by Slew Gin Fizz rated beautifully at the back of the pack for jockey Edgar Prado and every time he needed to move he was ready.  The very professional effort stamped this guy a contender for the Whitney and other late season handicap events.  He earned a Beyer figure of 105.

7.) If you didn’t love Presious Passion prior to yesterday’s U.N. Handicap at Monmouth I hope  you do now.  He did his thing and wound up scoring decisively after opening a 20 length lead.  He just seems to gallop his rivals into the ground each and every time he goes to the post and his tenacity is infectious.  He earned a Beyer figure of 106.

8.) It was nice to see Coal Play get the graded stakes tally he so deserved with a wire-to-wire tour de force in the Salvator Mile.  He clearly loves Monmouth Park, though don’t be upset if I’m still smarting from him getting caught late in last year’s Haskell.  He earned a Beyer figure of 109.

9.) There was a reason why Julien Leparoux opted to ride Informed Decision in the Chicago BC Handicap rather than It’s A Bird in the Suburban.  The gray filly scored by a pole at Arlington Park and is clearly among the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. 

10.) Is Whatsthescript over the hill?  Or is Monterey Jazz just THAT good when he’s on his game?  I’d opt for both after watching the American Handicap.  The former could not make up any serious ground late and checked in a well-beaten third while the latter took it to his five rivals Presious Passion style.  He showed why he’s one of the best around going a mile on the weeds and should now be back in the conversation for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

11.) Munnings validated his Belmont Stakes Day triumph in the Woody Stephens with a handy win in the Tom Fool.  The thing is, I’m just not sure how good he is now.  After Fabulous Strike was scratched Munnings looked like the best horse in the race quite easily.  He got the perfect pace setup, enjoyed an ideal inside trip and kicked clear impressively in upper stretch.  The thing is he never really exploded away in the manner that looked like he was going to as his advantage stayed the same through the stretch.  Perhaps he just did his job and I’m nit-picking but I think he’s had too many perfect trips in a row and his luck will soon change.

12.) Gozzip Girl is good.  If you had any doubts they should have been removed by her huge score in the American Oaks as she pulled clear with authority once she struck the front in midstretch.  I hope trainer Tom Albertrani forgets that he even thought about running her in the Alabama.  Here’s to hoping she stays on the weeds and ends up in the Beverly D. against older fillies and mares at Arlington.

13.) Zensational may be worthy of all the hype after all.  He’s a complete lunatic, as evidenced by Victor Espinoza having to fight him the entire way in the Triple Bend, but he can clearly fly when it counts.  He’s worthy of a try against the best of his generation on dirt and we may get to see that if he ends up in the King’s Bishop. 

14.) Churchill’s spring-summer racing season went out with a whimper but it was quite a meet.  The gigantic upset in the Ky Derby, the dramatic victory by Macho Again in the Foster, a number of impressive 2YOs, and the successful advent of night racing.  Even if the slots aren’t coming soon, Churchill Downs Incorporated is doing more than enough to position themselves for a strong future.

15.) Summer is in full swing as we have next Saturday to look forward to with the Summit of Speed and Million Preview Day on tap.  The Man O’ War may have as many as seven Grade I winners, so next Saturday’s slate looks quite full.  Until then, good luck and let’s take one more look at the United Nations Handicap victory of Presious Passion.

Handicapping the American Oaks

July 5, 2009

Since its inception, The American Oaks (G1) has been one of the most interesting races in this country and has offered tremendous wagering opportunities year in and year out.  Let’s take an in-depth look at each of the 14 horses in this year’s rendition:

1. GOZZIP GIRL

 

Best Performance: Sands Point, Belmont, 5/30, 1st

What she’s done: This beautifully bred daughter of Dynaformer has really come into her own as a 3YO and it all started when she moved forward immensely in the Coconut Grove at Gulfstream in mid-February.  She followed that win up with her first graded stakes tally, the Herecomesthebride, where she was just up after rating at the back of the pack.  Her strong Ashland effort gave way to her most impressive run so far, a wire-to-wire victory in the Sands Point.  What is it that sets Gozzip Girl apart from her rivals today?  She is versatile and she can run all day.

What she lacks: Like her rivals today Gozzip Girl lacks experience at 10 furlongs but that means little given that she has handled 9 furlongs easily and is bred to handle today’s distance with ease. 

What to do with her: Key her as she is the one to beat today.  She is ultra-consistent and has not only held her form but has gotten better with time and experience.

2. MAGICAL AFFAIR

Best Performance: Edgewood, Churchill, 5/1, 2nd

What she’s done: Though she lacks a stakes win, this daughter of Giant’s Causeway has run into a heap of trouble in her last two outings.  She was off to a poor beginning in the Edgewood and still finished well on a course that played kindly to speed.  She was then the victim of a wide trip in the slow-paced Sands Point that Gozzip Girl dominated from start to finish.  Unlike some of her rivals today she will improve with the added ground they’ll traverse today.

What she lacks: A stakes win.  Horses, especially turfers, who accumulate excuses when competing at a high level often end up burning piles of money throughout their careers.  She will offer value because she hasn’t been able to break through for a stakes win but it’s still precisely what she lacks.   

What to do with her: She should be given prime consideration.  Her morning line of 6-1 might not be accurate given that Well Monied is going to get slammed at the windows and the Europeans are always unknowns because of their form.  If she leaks up to 10-1, definitely send some money her way.

3. THIRD DAWN

Best Performance: Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita, 3/7, 2nd

What she’s done: Her 2nd place finish in the SA Oaks to the defending 2YO champ was a strong effort but given how she and that runner were both pummeled in Kentucky a month later, the quality can be called into question.  She has proven to be a useful horse who is at her best when she can lay back and get a big pace setup.  Her running style is conducive to the weeds and the trainer-jockey combo represented here is strong.

What she lacks: Both turf form and a strong effort against stakes competition.  She has only one turf race in her past performances and it is impossible to draw any conclusions from that effort.  She will be hard-pressed to get the 10th furlong here and hasn’t really showed the powerful kick that will win this race.

What to do with her: Toss her.  A win would be a serious surprise given that she has not performed at a high level in either of her last two starts and she’s yet to prove she can run two strong races in a row.

4. APPLE CHARLOTTE

Best Performance: Swettenham Stud Fillies Trial, Newbury, 5/15, 1st

What she’s done: This daughter of Royal Applause is a listed stakes winner and is a nose away from being 4 for 4 in her career.  She has been remarkably consistent in four career starts, winning at 7, 8, and 10 furlongs and unlike any of her American counterparts, she is proven at today’s distance.  She has been in the States long enough to get a 7 furlong breeze in and will be treated with lasix for the first time. 

What she lacks: The quality of the fillies she’s faced is questionable.  The listed stake that she won and the one she lost by a nostril are not considered two of the tougher races in Europe for fillies.  She will also have to deal with the short stretch of the Hollywood turf course, which will also be very firm. 

What to do with her: Of the two fillies who are going to receive the most support in here, I’m much more inclined to take Gozzip Girl. She is not only proven in America but has fewer questions regarding quality of competition.

5. RARE RANSOM

Best Performance: Rooftop Restaurant Race, Gowran Park, 5/14, 1st

What she’s done: Her wire-to-wire win in the Gowran Park Rooftop Restaurant Race showed versatility, which she had lacked in prior starts.  She finished nicely that day after taking them along at a slow clip, so she obviously has the finishing kick to win a high level turf race. 

What she lacks: Experience at 10 furlongs.  While we’ve talked about how they all lack this for the most part, it looks like it might be a big problem for this daughter of Oasis Dream.  She is not only bred to specialize going shorter but she runs like a miler. 

What to do with her: While you have to have all the respect in the world for any horse Dermot Weld brings over from Europe, this gal seems over her head a bit.  She likes to do her running from on or very near the pace and that puts her in a tough spot in here, as this will be a faster race early than she’s ever run in before. 

6. PUTTANESCA

Best Performance: Royal Stakes, Ellerslie (NZ), 1/1, 1st

What she’s done: Ugh.  Deciphering the New Zealand form is extremely difficult and the fact that this gal hasn’t done much since returning from a freshening makes it even harder.  She has been very average in her last two starts as she closed well two back to miss by a head but was caught last time after opening up in the last furlong.  Her win in the Royal last year was strong and obviously a similar effort would make her very tough.

What she lacks: Class.  The racing in New Zealand is not considered particularly strong when stacked against European turf racing or even high level American running.  She will need to move forward and show much more stamina today than she has in a while.   

What to do with her: Throw her out.  There’s just not enough there to get excited about and the element of the unknown is going to get her more support than she deserves. 

7. ACTING LADY

Best Performance: Providencia, Santa Anita, 4/4, 1st

What she’s done: She has been a consistent performer for a top trainer and seems to fire at least a decent shot in every start.  She may not really be a proven Grade I performer but is going to be underbet considering she’s a bit more accomplished than the rest of the 20-1 shots in here.

What she lacks: Proven form against serious company.  She is a Grade II winner, which few in here can boast but it’s tough to figure out whether she can elevate her game.  It’s also a bit discouraging that Well Monied handled her rather easily in the Honeymoon.

What to do with her: She is worth a couple of bucks in the exotics at the least.  She will get the distance, has a top pilot with whom she’s had success, and comes from a strong barn.  She seems like one of the few who’ll be moving in the right direction in the stretch.

8. PRETTY UNUSUAL

Best Performance: Melair, Hollywood Park, 4/25, 1st

What she’s done: Trainer Barry Abrams has done very well over the years with the offspring of Unusual Heat but this gal looks to be over her head.  She scored nicely in the Melair, which was restricted to Cal-breds, but she got a big pace setup that day and merely capitalized on it. 

What she lacks: A turf win and more importantly a win against decent company.  She’s over her head today and an in the money finish would surprise. 

What to do with her: You can appreciate Barry Abrams always helping a racing secretary fill the entry box but it seems best to overlook this gal completely.

9. NAN

Best Performance: Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita, 3/7, 4th

What she’s done: Very little.  She has cracked the trifecta only once as a 3YO and that came in a 3rd place finish in the Santa Ynez going 7 furlongs on the Pro-Ride.  It’s about time that her connections decided that she’s a turf horse but her accomplishments thus far hardly inspire confidence. 

What she lacks: Any proven turf form.  A trio of in the money finishes in NY on the weeds hardly lead you to believe she can win a Grade I race at 10 furlongs. 

What to do with her: Toss her completely.

10. AFTERNOON STROLL

Best Performance: Appalachian, Keeneland, 4/16, 1st

What she’s done: A win at 50-1 in the Appalachian made it clear that she’s a turf horse and she followed up that score with a respectable 3rd place finish in the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington.  She has proven clearly in two starts that turf is her game and that’s an accomplishment given who she’s facing today. 

What she lacks: Stamina.  Her sire was a solid miler to nine furlong animal but struggled getting that 10th furlong.  She has been very game in two turf starts but looks like a horse who may have some issues with that last furlong.  Perhaps if jockey Joe Talamo can take her to the lead and keep something in reserve she could dispel that notion.

What to do with her: Let her beat you but recognize that she’s a very dangerous horse.  Her speed in a race that lacks it makes her intriguing and the fact that she quit going a mile last time will prompt many to look away from her.

11. THE BEST DAY EVER

Best Performance: Regret, Churchill Downs, 6/13, 2nd

What she’s done: After being dangled for a 50k tag, this daughter of Brahms has responded with two game efforts, including a narrow miss in the Regret last time out.  Brahms himself earned his greatest career triumph over this course as he took the Hollywood Derby. 

What she lacks: Seasoning.  The Regret field was respectable but lacked a great deal of depth.  The fact that she ran by a number of runners in there in garbage time hardly leads you to believe that she can step up her game to this level. 

What to do with her: While she doesn’t look particularly tough in here, you kind of feel like you know what you’re getting.  She’s going to lay back and make one run and that’s a style that many in here will employ and many of them also have a bit better kick.

12. LEXLENOS

Best Performance: Honeymoon, 5/31, 3rd

What she’s done: Considering she was relatively well-backed when she made her North American debut, she’s been a serious disappointment.  She may end up being better off on the synthetic surfaces as her four European efforts all came on those and her two turf races here leave something to be desired.

What she lacks: A clunk-up third in the Honeymoon doesn’t exactly make her likely to jump up today and contend for the top prize.  She lacks any seasoning and proven form. 

What to do with her: Toss her.

13. WELL MONIED

Best Performance: Honeymoon, Hollywood, 5/31, 1st

What she’s done: She’s been everyone’s darling since an impressive win in the Honeymoon when she scored rather handily against eight rivals.  She’s really come to hand since being moved to the turf and has paired up Thoro-Graph figures in each of her last three wins.

What she lacks: She hasn’t beaten a field with any serious quality as the Honeymoon was a bit of a questionable field.  Her post position will force her into a tougher trip than her connections would have liked but she is clearly an up and comer and that gives her a serious chance. 

What to do with her: Recognize she’s one of the likeliest winners but don’t take her at a short price.  She shouldn’t be favored and you should run away from her if she is.

14. MRS. KIPLING

Best Performance: Senorita, Hollywood Park, 5/3, 1st

What she’s done: A handy win in the Senorita made her an immediate American Oaks contender as she scored that afternoon with great ease.  She has run two very good races since coming to America and her trainer is one of the best at getting a horse ready for a one-race engagement.

What she lacks: She is a big question mark at 10 furlongs.  Her post almost guarantees that she’ll cover much more ground than a horse like Gozzip Girl.  Knowing that you have to hope that she’s just that much better than Gozzip Girl and that seems like a tough proposition. 

What to do with her: Like Well Monied, you should consider this gal a strong player and one of the few who can win but don’t go hog wild as she has some major hurdles to overcome. 

I’ll be playing Magical Affair with Gozzip Girl and Well Monied, hoping that a good trip finally goes her way. 

Take a look at last year’s American Oaks, won by Pure Clan:

In search of fireworks…

July 4, 2009

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stakes races of the day:

DWYER

#2 CONVOCATION finally broke through to get his maiden win last time out after three defeats, all of which came with some notable trouble.  He earned  Beyer figure of 96 for his win last time out and a Thoro-Graph sheet figure of 3, and both of those numbers make him a serious contender here.  The item that puts him over the top in here is that his best running comes when he can lay back off the pace and the glut of speed in here should set up his late run favorably.  #7 SUNDAY SUNRISE is going to be a large price in here and rightfully so as he’s been quite a bit slower than the best in here and is only a N1X winner.  However, after digging a bit deeper he had serious excuses in the two N1X events he tried, and his win last time out may be better than it looks on paper.  His wide trip 4th at Oaklawn and troubled 4th at CD were erased last time out when he scored decisively and he won that race while tracking a very dull pace.  He might be worth a flyer at a huge number.  #1 WARRIOR’S REWARD has been the subject of much consternation this week despite not even running.  He is the colt who jockey Calvin Borel is committed to, which forced him to lose the mount on Ky Derby winner Mine That Bird.  He is a nice horse who has shown flashes of being very good but he will likely be overbet in this highly contentious race.  He will be a big late threat but I’d tread lightly based on the dynamics of this event and his inability to handle softer company last time out at CD.  PICKS: 2-7-1

PRIORESS

#5 BE FAIR has faced tougher company two starts in a row and her defeat at the hands of #6 GABBY’S GOLDEN  GAL can be explained away because of the bias on Belmont day.  She has shown flashes of being a good horse as she was a troubled fourth in the Honeybee before respectable efforts against tougher in Kentucky.  The cutback in distance will help set up her late run as will a frenetic early pace.  #2 LUSTER is another cutting back in distance and she didn’t exactly get a great ride last time out.  She moved into the pace too early in the Dogwood and that left her vulnerable in the waning stages.  The Dogwood victor, Hightap, came back to win the Iowa Oaks, so that event obviously had some quality.  She is a big threat on the cutback, especially if she can relax off the pace.  #1A LIGHT GREEN ran her legs off last time out in an overnight stake on this racetrack.  She has been very sharp in each of her last four starts and just might be the speed of the speed in here.  However, if she has to work that hard to get the early lead in here, can she possibly have anything left in the stretch drive?  PICKS: 5-2-1/1A

SUBURBAN

#2 DRY MARTINI is a classy old gelding who’s picked up a few graded stakes wins in his career.  He hasn’t been out since early May when he won a 3 horse race that had been washed off the turf.  His last triumph before that was in the Stuyvesant and he scored that afternoon because he got a tremendous pace setup.  There’s an excellent chance that happens again as the runner to his inside and a couple to the outside all have a great deal of speed.  #3 IT’S A BIRD has been basically flawless in his last two starts as he scored decisively in the Oaklawn Handicap and followed that win up with a workmanlike victory in the Lone Star Park Handicap.  He had to dig deep that afternoon and the runner-up from that race, Jonesboro, came back to win the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows one week ago.  He is versatile and should be in position throughout during his quest for a 3rd consecutive graded stakes score.  #7 REAL MERCHANT ran a good race in the Stymie  in February and recently ran 2nd in the William Donald Schaefer last time out on the Preakness undercard.  He deserves a look in here since he will rate off the pace today in a race that should feature a very hot pace.  PICKS: 2-3-7

SALVATOR MILE

A contentious field has been assembled for this event but it is not particularly appetizing from a betting standpoint.  #2 SMOOTH AIR, who’s fresh off a very strong 2nd place finish in the Met Mile (G1) looms a strong favorite as he’s had an impressive 2009 campaign thus far.  He might be a beter animal around one turn and that’s enough for me to give a horse like #1 RUNFORTHEDOE a look in here.  That son of Our Emblem ran a good race in the Oaklawn Handicap, which happened to be his first start on conventional dirt in this country.  He finished nicely considering it’s difficult to make up ground going two turns at Oaklawn.  He was freshened for a run in the Met Mile and his far outside post forced him into a very wide trip.  He ran an even race and was only beaten by Smooth Air by 3 1/2 lengths.  He should get a good trip from the inside and trainer Paulo Lobo has a very good record with horses going 2nd off mid-range layoffs.  #7 KEEP LAUGHING just ran a very strong race going six panels at Belmont and will make his first start around two turns in this spot.  He is bred to handle today’s distance without a problem and should get a favorable trip pace-wise because he doesn’t necessarily have to have the lead.  He’s worked sharply since his last effort and looked considerably more professional with blinkers added.  PICKS: 1-2-7-3

UNITED NATIONS

If you don’t think #7 PRESIOUS PASSION is one of the coolest racehorses in the country then you probably aren’t a very fun person.  His win in the Monmouth Stakes last time out was outstanding as he was left for dead in upper stretch but gamely battled back to score by a flaring nostril.  He backed up his victory in the Mac Diarmida, which also came in gate-to-wire fashion while setting impossibly fast fractions.  #2 STRIKE A DEAL is going 3rd off a layoff for trainer Alan Goldberg and this son of Smart Strike narrowly missed in this event a year ago.  He has run two average races since returnig from a layoff but he’s done well in the 3rd start of his form cycle on multiple occasions.  He should get a decent trip in here and will offer some serious value considering the depth of this field.  #4 SPICE ROUTE is another going 3rd off a layoff and he’s also done well at this point in his form cycle in the past.  He is working beautifully and should get a great trip pace-wise considering his best running comes when he sits just behind the leaders and finishes.
PICKS: 2-4-7

There are certainly an abundance of great options for your wagering dollar today as Belmont has a $350,000 guaranteed Pick 4 and Monmouth is guaranteeing $100,000 into their late Pick 4 pool.  Best of luck and Happy 4th of July!

Lost rider, dream matchup, big weekend

July 1, 2009

With an impressive performance by Rachel Alexandra and a gritty, game win by Zenyatta now in the past the focus of the racing world is on one of the biggest weekends of the year, that surrounding the 4th of July.  However, it is Rachel Alexandra’s rider, Calvin Borel, who was back in the news on Tuesday.  His much-discussed decision to opt off of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness earned him praise but much more criticism.  He now may be heading towards a similar decision.   Borel is named  to ride Warrior’s Reward in Saturday’s Dwyer (G2) at Belmont and his trainer, Ian Wilkes, says that he received a two-race commitment from Borel and agent Jerry Hissam.  This whole situation begs the question: does Borel not think much of Mine That Bird?

If it is indeed true that Borel and Hissam made a two-race commitment to Wilkes, than they had to realize that the second of the two races was going to fall on the weekend of August 1st and 2nd.  Perhaps Borel knows that he’d opt off of the Derby winner should he meet up with Rachel Alexandra once again in the Travers.  Either way, if Borel is even thinking about riding a different 3YO right now, it doesn’t look like he’s terribly keen on the long-term prospects of the gelding by Birdstone.  It is obvious that Borel has a long-term relationship with Wilkes and his former boss, Carl Nafzger, however, this decision looks to have a number of interesting angles.

Before both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta won on Saturday, the latter’s owner, Jerry Moss, made his hopes for the two leading ladies in the land.   This was a tad stunning for those of us who saw the likelihood of Zenyatta leaving California about on par with John Shirreffs touring the country with U2.  However, it seems like Moss has a bit of sportsman in him.  Or is he now realizing that a pillow soft campaign that includes wins in the Milady, Vanity, Hirsch, Lady’s Secret and Ladies’ Classic is not Horse of the Year worthy when you have a filly doing special things on the opposite side of the country.  Either way, just the chance that these two great ladies may meet each other is encouraging.  We’re now learning that it probably won’t happen before the Breeders’ Cup, but here’s to hoping it will happen at some point.

There are four Grade I stakes races on tap and the graded stakes action starts on Friday with the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill and the Flawlessly at Hollywood.  Two Grade I stakes races will take place on Saturday with the Prioress at Belmont and the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth.  The former will be headlined by Acorn winner Gabby’s Golden Gal, as she seeks her second consecutive Grade I triumph.  The UN might be the most exciting race of the day as Presious Passion seeks back-to-back victories in the centerpiece of Monmouth’s turf stakes races.  He earned himself numerous fans with an incredibly game win in the Monmouth Stakes last month as he came back after being passed by a length in upper stretch.  He will face Grade I winner Court Vision, who’s seeking his first win of 2009 after placings in the Gulfstream Park Turf and the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

Sunday is American Oaks (G1) day as another strong rendition of this intriguing event looms.  The American contingent is headed up by Gozzip Girl, a multiple graded stakes winner who’s won three stakes events in a row on the weeds.  The West Coast hopefuls include Well Monied, who just scored in the Honeymoon Handicap and Mrs. Kipling, who’s fresh off a win in the Senorita.  The other Grade I stake at Hollywood is the Triple Bend at seven furlongs and the Hollywood program will feature a guaranteed Pick 6 pool of $300,000.

Wednesday’s Belmont program features the most interesting 2YO event of the year thus far in New York.  There should be turf racing as well, as the weather has largely held up over the last few days.

Here’s a look at the 2008 American Oaks, won by Pure Clan: