The deep dark December that some racing fans feel is really unwarranted as the next few weekends will be replete with interesting racing from winter-oriented destinations that deservedly grab the spotlight. Calder will offer the first two of five graded stakes races between now and December 18 this afternoon with terrific renditions of the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) and the My Charmer Handicap (G3). A week from now the Fred Hooper (G3) is the featured event at Calder and the Hollywood Starlet (G1) will headline Hollywood’s Saturday program. The Fair Grounds has two big weekends coming up including Louisiana Champions Day a week from today and “Santa Sprint Saturday” on December 18 with five stakes races. The CashCall Futurity is the 2nd of four Grade I races to be run in California this month on December 18 and as always it figures to go a long way towards sorting out the West Coast’s best 2 turning 3YOs as the calendar moves to 2011. Of course, the month is highlighted by Santa Anita’s traditional December 26 opener with the Malibu and La Brea as the focal points of the opening day program.
As for today, a very intriguing group of stakes races will be run in South Florida, New York, California, and Louisiana. Let’s focus on the two graded stakes events at Calder and the Garland of Roses at Aqueduct, a race which is certainly deserving of a grade this year.
MY CHARMER HANDICAP, Calder Race 9, Post Time: 3:53 EST
Seldom does a stakes race at Calder not include at least one Marty Wolfson trainee and he has two set to go in here, #1 CHEROKEE QUEEN, who is 2-2 on the Calder weeds, and #7 PARACAIDAS, who is making her first start for him this afternoon. It could be the “other Wolfson” that steals the show though as #2 TRIP FOR A.J. gets back to the lawn after a failed attempt in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff on Florida Million day. This gal was not only unable to get to the lead in her last start but she further proved that turf is her preferred surface. Despite the size of this field it appears as if she is the one to catch and a return to the races she ran in the Ms. Brookski or Calder Oaks will make her very tough to beat. Sure, she was able to get away with murder on the front end in the aforementioned Calder Oaks but compare the fractions of it to the Calder Derby at the same distance on the same card:
OAKS: 25.o9, 51.60, 1:16.01, 1:39.62, 1:51.12
DERBY: 24.11, 49.08, 1:13.31, 1:37.18, 1:49.32
The first thing that sticks out, of course, is that the Calder Derby went a second and 4/5 faster but note how much quicker Trip for A.J. finished up in her victory. She has shown the ability to rate in the early stages and was simply put on the lead because of the lack of pace in the Calder Oaks. That versatility makes her a major player this afternoon. #1 CHEROKEE QUEEN was given some time after a poor effort at Saratoga on Travers Day and she came back sharply to take a money allowance two weeks ago. Calder has brought out the best in her in the past and she should be able to enjoy a cozy stalking trip behind the speedsters. If you compare the respective trips of #7 PARACAIDAS and #10 ASKBUT I WON’TTELL from the Cardinal Handicap at Churchill on November 7 you might be more inclined to take the former as the latter enjoyed an absolutely perfect journey waiting behind the lead then switching out to blow by the leaders late. I’m inclined to pass on both as the likelihood that Paracaidas improves enough to make an impact is minimal and it’s even less likely that ‘Ask runs back to that victory. #11 MARY’S FOLLIES is the morning line favorite in part because of her high profile connections but more so because her three turf races have been very solid. She tried a boggy course in the Athenia back in October at Belmont and checked in 2nd behind a graded stakes winner who was rounding back into form and also loves wet turf. As for the two imports, they both have the look of overbet horses because of Patrick Biancone and his record with European shippers for this owner (Angara, Gorella). Neither has been particularly competitive in group races at softer levels across the pond and are smack dab in the middle of a tough Grade III. I’ll toss in #8 YOU GO WEST GIRL who finally broke through for her first win last time out in a NY bred stake at Belmont. Note how well thsi mare ran in the Cardinal last year after reaching top form against Empire breds.
TROPICAL TURF HANDICAP, Calder Race 11, Post Time: 4:45 EST
No local horse ran better in the Arlington Million than #9 RAHYSTRADA did as he followed up an Arlington Handicap win with a 4th place finish in the big one. Trainer Byron Hughes gave him some time after the Million and he came back in the River City, where he was favored in a field of eight. That’s where everything went wrong. He was never given a chance to run because of an overly conservative ride by Leandro Goncalves and wound up in a box the whole way down the stretch. He is a strong play today as that poor running line shows prominently in his past performances. The distance is a question mark for #12 RAHY’S ATTORNEY as the Canadian GI winner makes his third start of 2010 in the US. The far outside post is also going to be an issue as he attempts to cross over and clear this bunch. #6 BIM BAM has been ultra consistent over this course and the nose decision he lost to #2 PICKAPOCKET should not hinder you from giving him a chance at a price.
Garland of Roses, Aqueduct Race 8, Post Time: 3:44 PM EST
There are times when you have to just completely toss a horse’s last race and that seems like the right tactic with #2 NICOLE H in this spot. Her effort in the Dream Supreme last time out at Churchill was simply too bad to be believed and it had a lot to do with nothing going right in the six furlong journey. She was away poorly, raced on what was a rather dead rail and ultimately folded in the final quarter-mile. She is obviously no worse for the wear as her workout on Monday indicates, so expect a turnaround this afternoon. #3 TAR HEEL MOM is returning from a long break for trainer Stanley Hough after rising through the ranks of sprint distaffers earlier this year. Her five efforts earlier this year make her one of the main win candidates in here but it seems like she needs the lead to be at her best and you can count on there being a few runners that are interested early. Nonetheless, she’s a mare you definitely want on your Pick 4 ticket. #5 MEESE ROCKS is as consistent as the day is long and has run well against open company in the past for trainer Eddie Barker. She walloped the field in the Iroquois last time out on NY Showcase Day and it really matters not if the track was playing kindly to speed that afternoon. Her speed always makes her dangerous and 6 panels has long been her favorite trip.
The only other graded stakes race of the afternoon is the Native Diver at Hollywood Park later this afternoon. Without question there’s plenty of good racing and great wagering opportunities abound across the country. Click here for my Aqueduct full card analysis, complete with an $80 Pick 4 play as the $250,000 guarantee for the quad is still in effect. Good luck and I’ll see you back Monday to recap the opening week on the inner track.