Archive for May, 2010

Met Mile makes for memorable Memorial Day

May 31, 2010

If there’s an American graded stakes race that is more interesting year in and year out than the Met Mile then I’m unsure I’ve located such an affair.  Each year you get a terrific mixture of sprinters attempting to negotiate that important 8th furlong and routers cutting back to achieve glory in a race that notoriously looks terrific in a sale catalogue.

This year’s group is undoubtedly headlined by Quality Road, the Donn Handicap winner who was once considered among the favorites for the 2009 Kentucky Derby.  I’ve never completely espoused the theory that this colt is a miler but he’s proven it is certainly a distance he enjoys as evidenced by his Hal’s Hope and Fountain of Youth victories.  After the fiasco before the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year he was re-routed to two early season races at Gulfstream and that basically never gave him a break.  Thus, the 113 day layoff he enters this event off of was by design and has him positioned to become a serious older horse this year.  In fact, a win in this race could precede engagements in the Whitney, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup before another try in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Chief among Quality Road’s challengers today is Warrior’s Reward.  The Carter (G1) winner is coming off a narrow miss in the Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard and returns to the distance at which he broke his maiden in his debut.  He will be re-united with jockey Calvin Borel because Julien Leparoux is currently injured and we all know a thing or two about Borel’s ability to get a horse home from off the pace.  What will it take for Warrior’s Reward to upset the big son of Elusive Quality?  He’s going to need the pace to be very hot and to enjoy a clean trip.  The distance is certainly not beyond his scope and you can count on him to be moving late.  His record at a mile or less on fast dirt is 6 starts, 4 wins, 2 seconds, so this is his game.

The pace in the Met Mile should be attended by a couple of entrants in here, including #2 TIZWAY, #5 KENSEI, the aforementioned Quality Road, and recent Westchester winner #8 LE GRAND CRU.  None have the type of blazing speed we’ve seen in this race from horses like Congaree, Commentator, and Forest Danger, but they can mix it up enough to ensure a solid tempo.  No matter what result we see this is an interesting group with one of racing’s shining stars at the moment.

As far as the some of the other graded stakes throughout the country today, here’s who I’ll be betting:

SANDS POINT – Check the Label is coming off a nice win at Keeneland where she enjoyed a perfect trip but she should once again receive a positive pace setup today.

OUIJA BOARD – It is going to be very tough to down Wasted Tears in here as she enters off of consecutive wire-to-wire wins against much tougher competition.

LONE STAR PARK HANDICAP – I’ve been waiting for Redding Colliery to come back after his 3rd place finish in the Charles Town Classic.  He’ll have to answer questions about whether he can win from off the pace but if he runs back to either of his last two races he’ll win this race.

HONEYMOON – In the Slips was given some time as she skipped the Senorita at Hollywood after finishing a somewhat dull third in the Providencia.  She now returns to the site of her North American debut where she ran a strong second in the Miesque.  She should be in position to turn the tables on City to City this afternoon.

SHOEMAKER MILE – The race flow appears as if it’s going to be in Gallant Son’s favor.  He benefited from a perfect setup in the Inglewood last time out and it looks like Mr. Gruff and Compari are going to mix it up in the early stages.

Good luck and enjoy the racing on this great holiday!  Keep in your thoughts all veterans who have gone before us.  See you Wednesday as we begin to look at the Belmont Stakes!  Until then, here’s one of Quality Road’s biggest wins in his brief career, the 2009 Florida Derby:

Let’s serve stakes for Memorial Day, Part 1

May 29, 2010

The racing world participates in its own barbecue over Memorial Day weekend and the featured item are stakes.  The weekend kicks off today with six graded stakes races from across the country (NY, 2 in KY, 2 in IL, CA).  I’ll be back Monday to preview some graded stakes from around the country.  Let’s take a look at some of today’s races:

ARISTIDES (Churchill Downs Race 9, Post Time 4:29 EDT)

This really serves as the acid test for #1 ATTA BOY ROY, who was victorious in the Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.  It looks like he’s going to come under serious fire from the start with #2 CHIEF OF AFFAIRS breaking just to his outside and the horse who stands to get the best trip might be #5 CASH REFUND, who has been successful from just off the pace in the past.  He is 1 for 2 at Churchill and his only blemish in his career came in the Matt Winn last year, which happened to be his only 7 furlong effort in his career.  Trainer Steve Margolis has been very cautious with this son of Petionville and he looks to be sitting on a monstrous effort.  #6 CASSOULET is interesting for a minor placing as he exits a handy win on opening day of the spring meet.  He’s 2 for 3 at Churchill Downs and will certainly be in position to capitalize on the expected scorching pace.  Let’s look for him to fill out a nice exacta.  SELECTIONS: 5-6-2

VAGRANCY (Belmont Race 9, Post Time 5:17 PM EDT)

Given the expected pace in here, all signs point to #2 HOUR GLASS being very tough from off the pace. She checked in a competitive second to #3 TAR HEEL MOM in the Distaff Handicap at the Big A back in April over a sloppy track and it didn’t seem like she handled the off surface all that well. While Tar Heel Mom set a fast pace in the Distaff it was uncontested and she’s very dangerous when left alone. As for Hour Glass, she should be in a good spot off the pace and be ready to pounce as the race comes back to her. #4 MALIBU PRAYER is the “other” Todd Pletcher trainee in this event and she’s returning from a lengthy layoff that followed a win against older horses in the Chilukki. She has been most effective going longer and you have to wonder if this race might be just to tighten the screws a bit before engagements in races like the Ruffian and/or Personal Ensign. Nonetheless, she’ll be very tough if the race unfolds the way it appears on paper. The aforementioned Tar Heel Mom picked up her first graded stakes score in the Distaff Handicap last time out but she did it with an easy lead on a track she loves. There’s no doubt she’s the best of the speed but I’d tread lightly given her expected price and the pressure she’s due to receive from the beginning.  SELECTIONS: 2-4-3

HANSHIN CUP (Arlington Park Race 9, Post Time 6:14 CDT)

Trainer Mike Stidham looks to have a lock on this race with two entrants who both have terrific chances of winning, #6 GRAN ESTRENO and #7 TYBALT.  The latter is a bit more interesting as he cut his teeth in this country as a turf horse for the late Bobby Frankel before relocating to Stidham’s barn last year.  He made his first start on conventional dirt last time out at Fair Grounds and went wire-to-wire in a race that had been taken off the turf.  He’s bred tremendously being out of the accomplished mare Tuzla and this guy ran two nice races on synthetic surfaces across the pond to begin his career.  One thing that is certain about this race is that there’s no shortage of speed.  That could set things up for a couple of horses from off the pace like #4 COUNTRY FLAVOR and #8 WILDEYEDSOUTHERNBOY.  The former is exiting a turf race where he did no running but is changing surfaces and trainer Greg Geier has a record of 3-19 with a $2.41 ROI with horses going from turf to synthetics and each of those three wins came at Arlington Park.  The pace is going to be steady and that will set things up for this son of Empire Maker.  The aforementioned Wildeyedsouthernboy is returning to the Polytrack, over which he’s run quite well for trainer Hugh Robertson.  He’s 6 of 7 on the “fake” stuff and will get an extra quarter-mile to work with in this spot.  SELECTIONS: 4-8-5

DOGWOOD (Churchill Downs Race 10 Post Time 5:29 EDT)

Likely favorite #4 AILALEA is the type I usually try to beat as anyone wagering on her is hoping that a simple class drop equals a form reversal.  Should she run a better race in this Grade III stake given the company she‘s kept thus far in 2010?  Sure, but that’s not a given and a price like 7/5 is hardly appetizing with such a proposition.  #7 VISAVIS contested the pace that ultimately cooked heavily favored Hot Dixie Chick in the Eight Belles on the Derby undercard and now goes another sixteenth of a mile.  They went a solid half of :45 and 1/5 in the Eight Belles but there’s not nearly as much early zip in this affair, so this daughter of Indian Charlie could find herself on the lead from the start.  If Ailalea has gives up too much early ground to this gal then she might not be able to bridge the gap.  SELECTIONS: 7-4-2

ARLINGTON MATRON (Arlington Park Race 10, Post Time 6:43 EDT)

The pace scenario in this event is muddled by the outside posts for #11 TIZAQUEENA and #12 SOUPER MISS, who are the likeliest frontrunners in this bulky field.  They’re both going to be asked for speed out of the gate and that should establish a decent early tempo at the least.  Even though there are a number of accomplished runners in here, #7 SWEET AND FLAWLESS, who is only 1 for 13, looks to have a big chance from off the pace.  She is cutting back from the 12 furlong Bewitch at Keeneland in which she was the only horse to make a meaningful move from off the pace.  Her only start here at Arlington resulted in a very solid 2nd place finish in the Arlington Oaks, so she’ll handle this surface without issue.  Trainer Eric Reed has strong numbers with horses going from turf to synthetics and this gal should be rolling in the last two furlongs.  #6 HAKA won the Doubledogdare in her last start as she stalked a moderate early tempo and took over leaving the quarter pole.  Her stablemate, Funny Moon, came out of that event to win the Shuvee at Belmont Park, so the group she beat at Keeneland was strong.  Like the top pick, she’ll be moving in the right direction late.  SELECTIONS: 7-6-11

GAMELY (Hollywood  Park Race 9, Post Time 7:05 PM EDT)

As much as you might want to bet against #4 TUSCAN EVENING, the accomplished race mare and multiple graded stakes winner, you have to admit that she has a distinct pace advantage in this event.  She has won four graded stakes races in 2010 already but she did so in her last two with the aid of very soft pace setups.  If #8 CAT BY THE TALE can put some pressure on her in the opening half-mile then some of the late runners may have a better chance.  #5 WELL MONIED is the chief among the late runners I’d like to give a big chance as she goes 2nd off a layoff for trainer Howie Zucker.  She has run well at Hollywood Park in the past as she won the Honeymoon last year on this course.  She had tough trips in the American and Del Mar Oaks, so those blemishes ought not be held against her.  If you’re going to play someone from off the pace, this gal will definitely provide you with the most value.  SELECTIONS: 5-4-3

Good luck today and I’ll see you back here Monday to recap the Saturday and Sunday stakes and preview Monday’s terrific day of racing!  Until then I’ll leave you with a replay of the Donn Handicap, won by Met Mile favorite Quality Road:

Shore success, Mott Treats Belmont Gently, Big Week Ahead

May 24, 2010

The opening of Monmouth Park was the highlight of the weekend that has just hours to go.  Handle and attendance soared well past the opening day mark from the 2009 meet and a strong Sunday program rounded out a weekend that was undoubtedly a rousing success for the Shore’s greatest stretch.  Racing will resume on Saturday and continue Sunday and Monday (Memorial Day) before going to a regular Friday-Sunday schedule on June 4.

In the biggest stakes race of the weekend, Treat Gently rebounded from a couple of very dull recent efforts for Bill Mott and the Juddmonte Farms with a snazzy 4 1/2 length win over a decent field.  It appears as if her future will be in turf marathons and the fact that the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf is at 11 furlongs around three turns makes her a force in this division.

There’s only one weekend between now and the Belmont Stakes on June 5th and given the way the calendar is situated, we’re in for quite an appetizer next week with the main course a week later.  Memorial Day will offer a number of big races coast to coast but the weekend kicks off on Saturday with the Gamely (G1) at Hollywood and the Vagrancy (G2) the biggest races nationwide.  The Gamely will pit multiple graded stakes winner Tuscan Evening against 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner  Forever Together.  A slew of other accomplished gals are set to participate, including General Consensus, Medaglia D’Amour, and Well Monied.

The Vagrancy will feature two Todd Pletcher trainees, Malibu Prayer, the 2009 Chilukki winner, and Hour Glass, who was most recently 2nd in the Distaff Handicap at the Big A.  The field should be competitive based on the long list of nominees for this G2 event.

A pair of NY bred stakes on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend at Belmont will yield good wagering opportunities as they often do and the Connaught Cup north of the border is the first stake race on the long road to the Woodbine Mile in September.

On Memorial Day itself, the standard centerpiece of the afternoon will be the Metropolitan Handicap.  Quality Road is raring and ready to go as he recently posted his sixth workout since coming back from an early season vacation.  Warrior’s Reward is probably the best horse slated to take on the barrel-shaped son of Elusive Quality as he exits a close 2nd place finish in the Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.  Among those slated to go include the 1-2-3 finishers of the Westchester (Le Grand Cru, Convocation, Ironman Jon) and recent allowance winner Flat Bold.  The Sands Point is also on Monday’s card and Check the Label, a Graham Motion trainee who recently won the Appalachian will likely be favored.  The filly who finished 2nd to her in the Appalachian, Bay to Bay, came back to win the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington Park on Saturday afternoon.

Out west, the headliner on Memorial Day is the Shoemaker Mile (G1) and a deep and competitive field is gradually coming together.  Compari and Mr. Gruff, a couple of speedy recent graded stakes winners are set to go along with Karelian, who won the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland last time out.  Inglewood Handicap winner Gallant Son is also going to be in this group.

The Honeymoon (G2) is the final local prep at Hollywood for the American Oaks and the 1-2-3 finishers from the Senorita are expected to be in the field.  Cozi Rosie was victorious that day after enduring a tough trip in the Providencia at Santa Anita, which was won by City to City.   Andina, who was 2nd in the Providencia and the Senorita will be in the group as will In the Slips, who won the Blue Norther and finished 3rd as the favorite in the Providencia.

The Lone Star Park Handicap is the headliner on Lone Star Million Day down in Grand Prairie, TX.  Mythical Power, who has already won two of the three biggest races at Lone Star, the Texas Mile and Lone Star Derby, will be back for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia.  There are six other stakes races on the Lone Star Million card, which usually offers tremendous value, so stop here if you’re searching for another signal on Memorial Day.

Until next week, I’ll leave you with the 2009 Metropolitan Handicap.  Don’t forget there’s a Pick 6 carryover of better than 40k Wednesday at Belmont!

Perfect conditions for Preakness

May 15, 2010

The sun is shining brightly at Pimlico and the conditions are ideal for a terrific day of racing in Baltimore.  The Preakness headlines the card and caps a $1 Million guaranteed Pick 4.  Here are some of the horses I’ll be playing along the way:

RACE 6 – THE CHICK LANG

I’m expecting this to be the coming out party for #3 COMEDERO.  He has shown tremendous potential sprinting in the past with his only blemish coming in the Springboard Mile at Remington last fall.  His last effort, a handy win in the Blue N Gold at Charles Town, was extremely impressive and proved further that he does not need the lead to be successful.

RACE 7 – THE JAMES W. MURPHY

#2 BEAU CHOIX ran a very strong race against N1X competition at Keeneland last time out as he moved first into a pace that completely collapsed.  Since then he’s worked well, including a 5 furlong drill in 1:00 and 1/5 nine days ago at Belmont.  The pace in here will be steady and this guy has the ability to rate close and pounce when ready.

RACE 8 – THE WILLIAM DONALD SCHAEFER

I won’t lie, I think #7 BLAME is poised to become a major player in the handicap division.  The biggest concern at this point is if he can work against what looks like a slight speed bias on the Pimlico main track.  However, he will be very tough to beat if he runs back to any of his last four races from 2009 and beyond #3 UNDERSTATEMENT, who looks like an inner track horse for course, it doesn’t appear as if there’s much to be feared in this group.

RACE 9 – THE GALLORETTE

It’s worth noting that trainer Jonathan Sheppard is 0-13 with horses going 2nd off of layoffs in graded stakes races but it appears as if #4 RAINBOW VIEW just towers over this group.  Her win in a rich allowance race at Keeneland last time out was quite sharp and this gal kept some very impressive company throughout 2009.  If she simply runs back to her last she’ll be a tough customer in the stretch drive.  If you’re looking for someone to use with her in the intrarace exotics, why not #1A BLIND DATE?  She’s a stakes winner over this course, is working steadily for her 2nd outing off the bench and probably needed a race last time out when sent 6 panels at Laurel.  She can certainly fill in under the top pick at a very hearty mutuel.

RACE 10 – THE MARYLAND SPRINT HANDICAP

I’m going three deep in this event with a couple of horses who will come from off the pace and one who should be a bit closer in the early stages.  #5 NOT FOR SILVER seems poised to take advantage of the expected strong pace in this affair as he goes 2nd off a lengthy layoff for trainer Mike Trombetta.  Over the last five years Trombetta has accumulated a terrific record with horses going from synthetic surfaces back to dirt and this guy has shown he can take advantage of a strong pace setup in the past.  #9 LANTANA MOB is a stakes winner over this strip as he won the Hirsch Jacobs (now the Chick Lang) two years ago and he’s another going 2nd off a layoff in this spot.  He didn’t pick up the sloppy track last time out, which was no surprise given his 0-3 record on wet tracks coming in, but his dry track mark is a solid 5-11.  If the pace is solid in here, and it should be, this guy will be moving in the right direction late.  #11 HALF METAL JACKET is not tested at this level but he’s coming off a very strong race at Aqueduct where he rallied late despite being pace compromised.  Chip Dutrow is a very capable trainer and the presence of Ramon Dominguez  today makes this gelding very dangerous.

RACE 11 – THE DIXIE HANDICAP

This is by far and away the toughest race of the day from a wagering standpoint and I’ll cast a wide net to try and stay alive.  #2 GRASSY is my top pick as he goes 2nd off a layoff and will get another sixteenth of a mile to work with this afternoon.  Along with #1 WESLEY, #4 JUST AS WELL, and #12 PICK SIX, I’ll look for Grassy to get the job done from off the pace.

RACE 12 – THE PREAKNESS

Quite simply, I believe #8 SUPER SAVER is going to win and I think he’s going to win by a large margin.  The way the track has been playing will work in this guy’s favor and Calvin Borel is likely to send this guy to the lead right from the gate.  If he’s able to get clear he will not look back as this guy’s strong suit is going to the lead and setting the pace.  By 6:30 PM EST today, I believe we’ll be talking about a Triple Crown bid in three weeks.

Best of luck with the Preakness program!  I’ll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on the Preakness and races going forward.

Racing’s “bye week” starts with a retirement

May 8, 2010

Word came out late Friday afternoon that Eskendereya, who only two weeks ago was considered one of the heaviest Kentucky Derby favorites in years, has been retired.  Click here to read the full article by the Bloodhorse.

What has happened during those two weeks?  Derby contenders continued to prep for the big day and among the other casualties prior to the Run for the Roses was Endorsement, the Sunland Derby winner who looked to be peaking at the right time.  Little did WinStar Farm, who own Endorsement, and trainer Todd Pletcher, who trained Eskendereya, know that these two injuries would be minor side notes in the greatest weekend of their lives.

As ironic as life can be, Pletcher and WinStar wound up in exactly the place they yearned for all spring at 6:30 PM EDT, atop the podium at Churchill Downs celebrating a Kentucky Derby victory.  They weren’t there with the horses they thought would get them there, but with a steady, well-built colt named Super Saver, who had been giving every indication in the morning that he was sitting on a big race.

The following comments were made by Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form in the lead-up to Kentucky Derby 136:

“A couple of Eskendereya’s stablemates, Super Saver and Mission Impazible, have certainly looked sharper and been flashier in recent mornings.”

“Super Saver was the only Derby contender to train prior to the break and he was really on the muscle when breaking off to begin his gallop, going at better than a two-minute clip for nearly a quarter of a mile before coming to hand and leveling off into a very relaxed gait.”  (courtesy of drf.com)

If there’s anyone in the game who is better at assessing a horse in the morning than Welsch, I’ve yet to come across their work.  Of course, we all know what happened last Saturday afternoon as Calvin Borel piloted this son of Maria’s Mon to a rail-skimming trip that earned the Louisiana native his 3rd Kentucky Derby in four years.  In looking back, Super Saver had clearly been prepared for the Derby with a great deal of confidence by trainer Todd Pletcher as having sufficient graded earnings was never a care.

After he won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill last fall, Super Saver was in position to enter the Derby starting gate, even with just a couple of moderate efforts to begin his three year-old campaign.  The cagey veteran Calvin Borel gave him the type of ride in the Arkansas Derby that he believed would teach this headstrong, seemingly unratable colt to relax early and make one run.  A fortuitous post position draw, rain, and the presence of the Derby’s winningest jockey in the 21st Century was the perfect recipe for glory in Derby 136.

Super Saver is now headed to the Preakness where he’ll meet a field that has been in flux for the last few days and will continue to be up until Wednesday’s draw.  Is Super Saver the type of horse who can win the Preakness even though it’s not at his favorite track and might not be run on a wet track?  Absolutely.  He has been conditioned perfectly to come back in two weeks and run a big race and the colts who he beat at Churchill hardly seem like they’ll be able to bridge the gap.  Click here for past performances for Preakness contenders at drf.com.

That brings us to this weekend in racing, which I playfully referred to as a “bye week” as we’ll certainly revisit the Preakness throughout next week.  There are three graded stakes on the calendar today as the re-positioned Dwyer at Belmont Park replaces the Peter Pan, which was put on hiatus by NYRA.  Drosselmeyer, owned by WinStar Farm, was being pointed to the Preakness until Super Saver won the Derby, so he re-surfaces here.  He’s like to be favored but meets a field that should provide a serious challenge as Drosselmeyer’s two races at Fair Grounds were far from inspiring.  The Lone Star Derby features a small and largely talentless field but is another race where the favorites have chinks in their armor.  Finally, the Mervyn LeRoy at Hollywood features the return of Rail Trip, the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup winner, who is poised to become the pre-eminent force in the handicap division on the West Coast.  Here are my picks:

DWYER

#1 CARNIVORE is back on short notice for trainer Joe Delozier after finishing a competitive second behind a graded stakes caliber runner at Pimlico.  His trip that afternoon was quite poor as he was pounded from both sides at the start of that event and then made a huge early move down the backstretch.  The tougher company probably won’t hurt him too badly as this is not the toughest Grade II you’ll find and this guy’s dam loved Big Sandy.  Provided jockey Ramon Dominguez can position him just off of Remand, the expected pacesetter, this son of Giant’s Causeway will be in position to get a great stalking trip.  His price is certainly going to be appetizing and he seems like a logical alternative to a questionable favorite and uninspiring fringe players.

LONE STAR DERBY

In years past the Lone Star Derby served as a Belmont prep and occasionally the first in the summer series of lower scale Derbies (Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Super, Pennsylvania).  Any competitor in this group will have to move forward considerably to stamp himself a legitimate graded stakes horse.  In terms of race dynamics here, #6 CRIDER is definitely the one to beat as he exits a 2nd place finish against N1X company at Oaklawn where he moved prematurely into a slow pace before getting collared late by a closer who enjoyed a perfect trip.  His style makes him a great fit as #1 WANDO REDD and #5 HENSHIN HERO seem poised to mix it up early in this 8.5 furlong affair.  If the race comes back to him whatsoever, Crider will end up with the top prize.

MERVYN LEROY

Even though a heavy favorite returning off a very long layoff is usually the type that you try to beat, #6 RAIL TRIP appears to be just plain better than his rivals in this event.  Trainer Ron Ellis has long hit at a high percentage and his record with horses coming off 180+ day layoffs running on synthetic surfaces is strong.  He’s hit at a rate of 17% with an ROI of $2.03 with those types over the last five years and the expected pace scenario in here will be in his favor.  #5 TRES BORRACHOS appears as if he’ll be sent to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza and Rafael Bejarano should station Rail Trip right off the pace.  He looks like a prohibitive favorite and a horse you can single with confidence in Pick 3s that could pad your bankroll for the late Pick 4.

There’s only one graded stake nationwide on Mother’s Day but we’re inching closer to Preakness day and the 2nd jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.  With Rail Trip taking center stage on this Saturday, here’s a look at his biggest career triumph, the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup: