July marches on towards Virginia, Delaware

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!

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