Archive for the ‘Handicapping’ Category

Diana, Dandy dot day filled with big pools

July 30, 2011

With a Pick 6 carryover of better than 40k and a Pick 4 guarantee of 500k bettors will have a multitude of options on a terrific eleven race card.  Note that the 11th race is off the turf but that is hardly a big deal given that the field will stay relatively large.  Horses that you now need to keep an eye on include #15 HERO FIGURE, who was on the MTO list along with his stablemate, #4 IN JUST WE TRUST, who is a consistent horse that will be just off the pace early.  Click here for my analysis on the Saturday card.  Here are my thoughts on the two graded stakes races this afternoon:

Race 9, The GI Diana Handicap:

It’s a “what have you done for me lately” world and that’s a big part of the reason why #7 AVIATE is likely to be the 2nd or 3rd choice in this field. She was a solid favorite in the Just a Game back in June at Belmont but did not handle the boggy turf course that enabled C.S. Silk to go wire-to-wire. Trainer Bill Mott has given her some time as she appears to be a filly who’s at her best with time between starts. Mott has won 2 of the last 4 runnings of the Diana and both of those winners were returning off the bench after starting in the Just a Game. #6 ARUNA is 4-5 in America with her only defeat coming at the hands of Aviate at Churchill on Kentucky Derby day. That was this filly’s first start of 2011 and this will now be the third start of her form cycle. The pace scenario in here is a bit unclear given the status of #10 ROMACACA and she seems to need a bit of pace to set up her late bid. #4 ZAGORA has been favored in two of her last three starts and is winless since coming to America. She is a big late runner who will get more pace to run at this afternoon. Trainer Chad Brown receives a great deal of support from the public and this filly will likely be well bet again today.  SELECTIONS: 7-6-4

Race 10, The G2 Jim Dandy:

#2 DOMINUS broke through for his 2nd career win when he wired the Dwyer four weeks ago and he now tries to notch the 2nd graded stakes victory of his career. He was on the lead in the Dwyer but hardly seems like a “need the lead” type given the rally he put forth on debut last fall at Belmont. If #5 WILL’S WILDCAT shows speed today then this son of Smart Strike will be in a stalking position that will give him a huge tactical edge on the closers in this field. #7 ALTERNATION is one of those closers as he returns from a freshening that followed an off the pace win in the Peter Pan. He has been working sharply and was just coming into his own when he scored at Belmont in May. The lack of a great amount of pace in here would seem to work against this impeccably bred colt but he didn’t exactly get a huge setup in the Peter Pan. #3 BRILLIANT SPEED is back off a layoff for trainer Tom Albertrani and will look to improve on his 0-3 record on fast dirt. He ran a very good race in the Belmont but it stands to reason that the wet surface made him so effective. Look for him in the waning stages today.  SELECTIONS: 2-7-3

Best of luck on this outstanding card!


Day 3 headlined by turf, babies

July 24, 2011

Five of the ten races on Sunday’s card are slated for the turf courses with four routes and one turf sprint.  Two of the other five races are for 2YOs, with the 2nd bringing together NY bred juveniles and the 9th is the 97th running of the Sanford (G2).

Before looking at Sunday’s card let’s take a look back at Saturday’s 10 race card.  The day started with an unfortunate incident in the first as Rockettes Escapade broke down at the top of the stretch.  That severely compromised War Clan, who was in the midst of a move on the outside and wound up getting carried out about 4 paths.  Bob Baffert’s Saddleranch was an impressive winner of the 3rd as he hit a new gear turning for home under Martin Garcia.  Whether he was aided by the track profile or not remains to be seen but he is clearly a fast horse with some ability.  Trainer David Jacobson has only had one winner at each of the last four Saratoga meets, so should he just retire after Wishingonastar won the 4th yesterday?  No, I think he’ll continue on and pick up a few more.

It won’t be long before Deposit Slip breaks his maiden as he rocketed home from the back of the pack to miss narrowly in the 5th race.  Tahoe Lake was the beneficiary of a perfect trip and tremendous ride by John Velazquez, but he came from well off the pace and those moves just have not been winning on the Mellon turf course.  Expect him to clear the N1X condition very soon.  I’m still not sure what to make of the 7th other than that sometimes you just have to tip your cap to Todd Pletcher and move on.  Jimmy Simms would have lost if Dominant Jeannes was not scratched.  He made a ridiculously easy lead, set a soft pace and was still all out to hold on for the win.  He is a huge bet against if he moves up a condition and lands in a race with a bit more speed.

Back on April 1 I went on At the Races with Steve Byk and said that It’s Tricky was the best 3YO filly in the country.  I was not joking and now I’m tooting my own horn.  She toiled in obscurity prior to the Gulfstream Park Oaks then many wrote her off after a poor effort in Hallandale, FL.  Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gave her some time and she’s now rattled off consecutive GI victories.  Mud freak?  Miler?  No, just call her the best 3YO filly in the country.

Binks Forest pulled off the fourth wire job on the Mellon turf in the Saturday nightcap.  Note to the Saratoga jockey colony: speed is really good on the turf right now.

Click here for my analysis of Sunday’s card as we’ll try to snag the late Pick 4 again after taking it down on Saturday.  Here are my thoughts on the Sanford, where I think heavy favorite Overdriven is moderately vulnerable:

#7 POWER WORLD was an impressive winner at first asking as he flew home late to win at 4.5fs after falling 11 lengths back after a quarter-mile. He was then tried in the Bashford Manor and jockey Corey Lanerie tried to keep him closer to the early pace. That dulled his late kick and he wound up plugging along for 2nd as the eventual winner came from absolutely last down the backstretch. In a race that’s loaded with speed this colt figures to be dangerous as he has been this trip and can rate and finish from off the pace. #6 OVERDRIVEN ran the most impressive race by a 2YO anywhere in the country last time out as he took his debut by just over 3 lengths. Trainer Todd Pletcher is bringing him back on short rest and prior to Georgie’s Angel winning the Schuylerville this barn was 0-25 with graded stakes starters coming off maiden wins and returning in less than 30 days. Whether this colt will be ready for another effort is a serious question. #3 MAAN was an impressive debut winner as well as he rated comfortably off the pace and gathered in his rivals late. You have to look for horses who can move from off the pace in this group and this son of Malibu Moon is most likely one of them.  SELECTIONS: 7-6-3

I’ll be back to recap the Sunday card tonight and to take a look at Monday’s card!  Good luck today!

Five-pack in CCA Oaks offers nation’s best 3YO fillies

July 23, 2011

If you were to add Zazu and Inglorious to this afternoon’s TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, you’d have all of the fillies that are considered the top players in the division.  Here’s to hoping they are added to this group of five in the Alabama.  Without them, we will still be treated to an incredible race this afternoon with Royal Delta scheduled to go off a slight favorite.  The CCA Oaks is the only graded stakes race on the card but the entire program is full of large fields with numerous great wagering opportunities.  Click here for my analysis on the card.  Here are my thoughts on the featured race:

Race 10, The TVG Coaching Club American Oaks:

#5 IT’S TRICKY broke through for her first graded stakes win last time out in the Acorn as she stalked a hot pace, took over and pulled clear late. She will be even better at nine panels today and brings in a record of 2-3 in two-turn races so far in her career. The outside draw will enable jockey Eddie Castro to stalk the pace from the start and if #2 PLUM PRETTY shows no interest in the lead then this daughter of Mineshaft just might be on the pace. #4 ROYAL DELTA missed the Mother Goose in late June after running into a few health problems. There’s no doubt that this filly is one of the best in the country when on her game and she should get a decent pace to run at this afternoon. Trainer Bill Mott can certainly be trusted and this daughter of Empire Maker would not be lining up if she wasn’t 100%. #1 BUSTER’S READY is another coming off a breakthrough performance as she crushed the field in the Mother Goose last time out. She’s been beaten by both It’s Tricky and Royal Delta and is in a tough post given her preferred running style. If John Velazquez lets Plum Pretty and It’s Tricky go then this filly should be able to stalk and pounce once again. SELECTIONS: 5-4-1

Day 1 Recap: The main track played kindly to horses on the inside and speed.  Even with the big pace setup, you can upgrade True Feelings in her next start as she rallied against the grain of the track in the Schuylerville.  Two of the three races on the Mellon turf course went to wire-to-wire winners, so take a close look at today’s races and see if that trend continues.  Pick 6 carryover into Saturday’s 11 race program!  Good luck!

It’s Opening Day!

July 22, 2011

The excitement can’t be matched in thoroughbred racing, save maybe the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.  The first of forty cards at Saratoga is on tap for this afternoon and if the first three cards give any indication, the racing this meet will be terrific.  Click here to read my analysis for Friday’s card.  Here are my thoughts on the two stakes races this afternoon, the James Marvin and the Schuylerville (G3).

Race 8, The James Marvin:

The return to a one-turn event should help #2 JACKSON BEND, as he’s now back in the care of trainer Nick Zito. He was in Zito’s barn in 2010 and went 0-8 but spent much of the year against graded stakes foes. Two turns seems to be a bit out of his range but he began his career quite nicely around one bend. His worktab is sharp and this barn is due for a breakthrough after a poor run at Belmont. #11 JERSEY TOWN was just getting good at the end of 2011 as he followed up a 2nd place finish in the Bold Ruler with a win in the Cigar Mile. He has run well off of lengthy layoffs in the past and this barn is capable of having one ready to go off the bench. He has the speed to stay close and that’s worth noting given that there’s little speed in here. #7 D’FUNNYBONE could end up being the one to catch as he has speed in this largely paceless group. A 5x Grade II winner, this son of D’Wildcat took the Saratoga Special over this oval two years ago. His effort in the Waldoboro two back was solid and you have to be willing to forgive his poor effort in the sloppy True North. If jockey Edgar Prado puts him on the lead he just may forget to quit.  SELECTIONS: 2-11-7

Race 9, The Schuylerville:

#2 FIVE STAR MOMMA was purchased for just 11k at auction but has already outrun her modest pedigree. She was a very strong 2nd in the Debutante last time out and was by far the best in that race. As the field neared the quarter-pole she made a big move just outside the leaders and took over at once. The final quarter-mile wore on her a bit and she wound up tiring to finish second. A better-timed ride under the jockey who rode Flat Out in the Suburban for this barn will help her cause. #1 FORCE DE LA NATURE was a sharp debut winner for trainer Eddie Kenneally as she rated comfortably off the pace and finished strongly to get the job done. When 2YOs can show the maturity at first asking that this filly did you have to be encouraged. The biggest negative today is the rail draw given her preferred style. #9 GEORGIE’S ANGEL wired a field of MSW rivals on debut at Churchill and escaped much of the public’s attention that day at 9/2. She’s back on short rest, especially for this barn, but looks to be a major pace player today in a cozy outside post position.  SELECTIONS: 2-1-9

Best of luck and see you right back here tomorrow!

Derby Day is upon us

May 7, 2011

It’s time for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby and a huge afternoon at Churchill Downs awaits.  The weather forecast is iffy, but that’s hardly a surprise.  Here’s a look at my stakes analysis for the card:

Race 6, The Twin Spires Turf Sprint, Post Time: 1:19 EDT (5-7-2-8)

Defending Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner #5 CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE is looking to rebound from a disappointing effort at Keeneland 3 weeks ago.  He was put right on the lead that afternoon on a boggy course and ultimately weakened in the final furlong.  At this stage of his career this veteran son of War Chant doesn’t have the speed to go coast to coast and trainer Bret Calhoun said shortly afterwards that he didn’t handle the yielding turf.  He’s now back on his favorite course and figures to get a phenomenal pace setup with two fleet-footed speedsters set to spar early.  You can easily spot this gelding in crunch time with his big white blinkers and he should be moving best of all late.  #7 EARLY RETURN ran a much better race in the Bonapaw back in December at Fair Grounds than it looks on paper.  He was shuffled back badly heading into the far turn and wound up wheeling out widest of all before commencing a rally.  There’s no shame in being outfinished by a horse like Due Date, who was this gelding’s entrymate that afternoon.  Like ‘Chamberlain, this old war horse is going to do his best running late and will benefit from the expected hot pace.  #2 REGALLY READY showed signs of being a serious turf sprinter last fall when he won his grass debut by over 7 lengths on this course.  He had a tremendous winter in Southern California as he rattled off consecutive stakes wins on the Hillside turf course.  He is going to be in the pressure cooker from the start with a serious speedster drawn on the outside, #8 BRIDGETOWN.  If those two can avoid a ridiculous speed duel then one or both could hang around for a major share. SELECTIONS: 5-7-2-8

Race 7, The Humana Distaff (G1), Post Time: 2:08 EDT (7-3-5-1)

It seems foolish to spend a great deal of money trying to beat #7 HILDA’S PASSION, who has rapidly become one of the best female sprinters in the country.  She manhandled five overmatched rivals in the Inside Information back in mid-March at Gulfstream and that win was preceded by a routinely easy score in the Hurricane Bertie one month earlier.  No horse in this race can match her early speed and that should lead to another frontrunning gambit under Javier Castellano.  Though trainer Todd Pletcher’s Florida shippers must always be handled with care, this gal has won on three different dirt tracks already and has handled adversity with devastating ease.  #3 EVENING JEWEL is moving back to dirt after a dull effort in the Madison last time out at Keeneland.  She has run two positive races on this track, including a heartbreaking nose defeat in the 2010 Kentucky Oaks.  The quicker the pace gets the better for this gal, but there’s no doubt that she has to improve in order to give the top pick a serious scare.  #5 SHOTGUN GULCH flew down the middle of the Polytrack to win the aforementioned Madison at Keeneland.  She is G1 placed on dirt already and should be moving well in the waning stages once again.  Jockey Garrett Gomez, who piloted her to the win in Lexington, is back aboard and he is the best rider in the country with off the pace types.  If ‘Hilda gets pushed at all early then this gal might find herself in position to reel them all in once again.  SELECTIONS: 7-3-5-1

Race 8, The Distaff Turf Mile (G2), Post Time: 2:59 EDT  (8-6-11-9)

#8 AVIATE is out to improve on a 3rd place finish in the Honey Fox at Gulfstream a couple of months ago.  Trainer Bill Mott entered her in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland three weeks ago but scratched, presumably to avoid a heavy turf course that afternoon.  In her first North American outing she attempted to rally in a pace-dominated race on a course that was very fast.  Moving to a more lush course that figures to be playing fairly she rates a serious chance to rebound in a big way.  Mott has shown signs of breaking out of the winter doldrums which plagued him at Gulfstream as his top distaffer, Unrivaled Belle, narrowly missed in Friday’s La Troienne.  This Juddmonte homebred could help the rebound move along at a more rapid clip.  When #6 ARUNA won her North American debut last September at Saratoga she showed stakes caliber potential.  Trainer Graham Motion obviously felt that way as he entered her in the Pebbles, which she won easily, before trying a graded stakes event, the Mrs. Revere over this course.  She has been training like a lunatic in both South Florida and Maryland (going back to February) and should benefit from a positive pace setup this afternoon.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez won this race a year ago with Phola and seems to be on a very live mount once again.  When is the bubble going to burst for #11 NEVER RETREAT?  She just keeps putting up big efforts and has suddenly developed a great deal of tactical speed.  Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan should be able to keep her in a good stalking spot today, much like he did in her Jenny Wiley victory 21 days ago at Keeneland.  Any Pick 4 that’s missing this gal is one fraught with peril. SELECTIONS: 8-6-11-7

Race 9, The Churchill Downs (G2), Post Time: 3:41 PM EDT

After a lengthy trip to the sidelines, #6 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN has come back with a vengeance.  After winning a soft stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs he came back in the Sir Shackleton on the Florida Derby undercard.  He is 5-5 at 7 panels and seems to have a remarkable amount of versatility.  It seems reasonable to think that a return to his prior running style of laying back to make one run will work well.  Trainer Ian Wilkes narrowly missed winning this race in 2010 with Warrior’s Reward and will be represented by a major player once again.  If you isolate the race #10 NOBLE’S PROMISE has run off of 80+ day layoffs you have to like what you see.  Those include his maiden win way back in Septembe 2009, a narrow miss in the Rebel last year and an impressive win in the JimmyV on Breeders’ Cup weekend.  His trainer, Ken McPeek, is on a tear right now as he’s hit at  37% clip over the last 30 days and his record with dirt starters returning off of 100-200 day breaks is tremendous (31%, $2.32 ROI).  This colt should be in a favorable spot from the outset.  #2 SMILING TIGER is one of the best sprinters in the country.  He has quickly restored the luster lost in a surprising defeat in the Palos Verdes earlier this year.  You have to be mildly concerned that he has somehow lost his gate speed in his last two with a couple of slow breaks but he finished quite strongly in the Count Fleet last time out and showed versatility in doing so.  The inside draw will be difficult as he is winless when breaking from the 1 or 2 post going back to his maiden win in 2009.  That being said, excluding him is quite dangerous.  SELECTIONS: 6-10-2-3

Race 10, The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1), Post Time: 4:46 PM EDT

The scratch of #1 LITTLE MIKE had to thrill trainer Tom Bush as his charge, #7 GET STORMY, figures to be on the lead from the outset.  Whether he can stay 9 panels against such an accomplished field remains to be seen.  #5 PRINCE WILL I AM will deal with the opposite kind of distance issue as some are still unsure that 9 furlongs is enough for him.  He exits a poor effort in the Pan American (G3) where he was one-paced late after being given little help pace-wise.  His Jamaica victory last year at Belmont shows that 9 panels is enough for him as he unleashed a furious late kick that afternoon to blow by them all.  If jockey John Velazquez can keep him clear of trouble then he’ll be tough to hold off late at what should be a fair price.  #9 AL KHALI has been somewhat disappointing in his career but things could be on the verge of turning around.  He has run 3 of his best races in the last two years with Alan Garcia aboard, the pilot who will guide him today.  He also exits a narrow miss in a race where there was no pace whatsoever.  Those that see a defeat in an allowance race as an effort that keeps him from being a contender in a Grade I stake are ignoring the very strong effort he put forth that afternoon at Keeneland.  Even if Get Stormy procures an easy lead there’s going to be more pace in here then he got in Lexington and that’s enough to give him a big chance to win.  The aforementioned Get Stormy looked as if his best days were behind him but then Bush and jockey Javier Castellano gave him a chance to do what he has always done best.  In the Maker’s Mark Mile he made a clear early lead and kept on finding, pulling clear late to win by almost three lengths.  Castellano has landed elsewhere but Ramon Dominguez is on board and he is more than capable of nursing a frontrunner along through moderate fractions.  They’ll have to catch this guy to beat him.  SELECTIONS: 5-9-7-13

Race 11, The Kentucky Derby (G1), Post Time: 6:24 PM EDT

After losing two horses that were considered major contenders it’s difficult to find a horse to land on as a Derby pick.  However, #13 MUCHO MACHO MAN is a horse who I’ve gradually warmed up to in the time since he was last seen in New Orleans.  His 3rd place finish in the Louisiana Derby included a lost shoe and down the stretch it appeared as if he lacked that same punch we had grown to expect from him.  Trainer Kathy Ritvo immediately hatched a plan to have him fit off a 42 day break and it included long, steady workouts and consistent gallops.  It seems to have worked to perfection thus far as Mucho Macho Man was considered the picture of healthy by most on-track observers later in Derby week.  The question of running style is a legitimate one as he has never been able to rally from well off the pace and the early clip in here will be very strong.  While that is a concern, he also seems to be very handy and can be placed anywhere along the way.  If jockey Rajiv Maragh can rate with him and make one run he’ll be dangerous as a mid-range longshot.  #15 MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE would break one of the oldest Derby “rules” as the last horse to be blanketed in roses who didn’t run at two was Apollo in 1882.  This son of War Chant is from the top notch Bob Baffert barn, who has won three Derbies during his Hall of Fame career.  Whether the Santa Anita Derby was a particularly strong prep is up for debate but this guy showed some real gumption in that victory.  He rated comfortably after going to the lead in his prior start and continued to rally in the stretch drive after angling in while green at the eighth pole.  There are few horses in here who have moved forward in recent starts and if you’re going to gamble that a horse like this can move forward in this situation, Baffert’s the right guy to have in your corner.  #1 ARCHARCHARCH was on the verge of being the 3rd choice in here prior to drawing the inside post on Wednesday evening.  That really should not disqualify him from contention as the two rivals just to his outside have little early speed and that will help him get a good spot down the stretch for the first time.  The Arkansas Derby was the strongest prep on the Derby trail and this guy was very game in winning by a head.  He is plucky, versatile, and has push-button acceleration.  Those are the kinds of things you like in searching for a Derby horse.  SELECTIONS: 13-15-1-19

In the $0.50 Pick 4, let’s play: 6,7,8,11 with 2,3,6,10 with 5,7,9 with 1,3,8,13,15,19  TOTAL: 144

Best of luck with your wagers!

Keeneland and Oaklawn take center stage

April 16, 2011

By about 7:15 PM EDT today we will hopefully have a better idea of just who the main players will be in the Kentucky Derby, which will be run three weeks from today.  The Blue Grass at Keeneland today might not give a great indication as it will be run over a synthetic surface for the fifth time today.  However, the Arkansas Derby features The Factor, a speedy colt who many see as one of the two or three favorites in the Run For the Roses.  He exits a scintillating win in the Rebel where he was allowed to coast on an uncontested lead and pulled clear late.  Here are my selections for the stakes events at Aqueduct, Oaklawn, and Keeneland today:




JENNY WILEY (KEE R8): 12-10-4

BLUE GRASS (KEE R9): 11-1-4




Good luck!  I’ll be back tomorrow night to recap the week that was and look forward to the final Derby prep, the Coolmore Lexington one week from today at Keeneland.

Fla Derby kicks off 35 day march to Kentucky

April 3, 2011

The Florida Derby (Race #10) is being run on a Sunday for the first time in its storied history and Gulfstream Park has assembled a terrific 12 race card.  Also included are three other graded stakes, the Swale as Race #3, the Appleton as Race #9, and the Skip Away as Race #9.  Let’s take a closer look at these graded stakes races along with the ungraded Sir Shackleton, a phenomenal overnight stake that features 3 graded stakes winners in an expected field of 8.

Race #3 – The Swale (G2) Post Time: 1:55 EDT

#6 TRAVELIN MAN looked to be the next superstar from the Todd Pletcher barn after cruising to a debut win back in January.  His ascent to the top of the 3YO sprint ranks was de-railed by Flashpoint in the Hutcheson and he’s now back to make amends for that failure as a heavy favorite.  Flashpoint hounded this colt from the start in the aforementioned Hutcheson but there is simply no horse in this field that can keep him honest early.  Look for him to take them wire-to-wire, and I’ll use Little Drama underneath as he should be wound a bit tighter in his 2nd start off a layoff.

Race #6 – The Sir Shackleton Post Time: 3:28 EDT

#8 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN was the best 3YO sprinter in the land back in 2009 as he took the King’s Bishop at Saratoga via disqualification in a campaign where he won multiple graded stakes races.  A chip in his knee kept him sidelined in 2010 and trainer Ian Wilkes is focused on getting him back to top form slowly, hence a start in this overnight handicap race.  His 2011 debut came in the Super at Tampa Bay Downs a couple of months ago and it was a workmanlike victory as a heavy favorite.  He certainly gained from that outing and will be very tough in the stretch today.  #6 SAFE TRIP ran a very strong race last time out to get the win after a sluggish beginning.  He has clearly improved for trainer Chad Brown after previously showing some potential.  Tactically he has an edge on a horse like ‘Candyman as he can stay a bit closer early and this is a great spot for him to be tested for class.  I’m going to use both in multi-race plays and box them in the exacta along with playing trifectas with Coffee Boy, Regal Ransom, Ibboyee, Our Edge, and Nathan’s H Q.

Race #8 – The Appleton (G3) Post Time: 4:33 EDT

Where did the great race #7 SUCCESSFUL MISSION ran last time out come from?  He was absolutely sensational from start to finish as he won a pace battle and hung around to win the war.  He has been successful in the past from off the pace, so if #1 LITTLE MIKE and #5 COMMANDEERED mix it up early this guy can make a move from a few lengths back.  #2 CHEROKEE ARTIST finished 2nd to Successful Mission in his last start and now goes 3rd off a layoff for trainer Graham Motion and jockey Ramon Dominguez.  He had no visible excuse in his latest outing but should be set for a big effort today given the expected pace scenario.  I’ll bet Cherokee Artist to win if he is at or around his morning line of 8-1 and play exacta boxes with Little Mike, Successful Mission and Riviera Cocktail.

Race #9 – The Skip Away (G3) Post Time: 5:06 PM EDT

It’s never fun to take the favorite in a bulky field like this but #4 COLIZEO looks like he’s going to be very tough in this field.  He stalked a solid pace in the Challenger last time out at Tampa Bay Downs before driving clear leaving the far turn.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who rode him to victory last fall at Belmont, is back aboard and he should have this guy close from the start.  #5 RON THE GREEK is an interesting horse to me as trainer Tom Albertrani has given him some time since he ran a dull race in the Donn two months ago.  He was a tad rushed to get into that race and ultimately proved that he is not Grade I caliber, something that matters not when dealing with a Grade 3 race.  There’s a good bit of speed in here and that could play into this guy’s hands, especially going 9.5 furlongs.  I’m going to play a main Colizeo-Ron the Greek exacta, reverse it for a bit less then play a $0.10 Super 4,5 with ALL with 4,5 with ALL (Total: $14.40)

Race #10 – The Florida Derby (G1) Post Time: 5:42 PM EDT

The complexion of this race changed a bit when trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. opted to start #8 FLASHPOINT here rather than the Swale on the undercard.  Flashpoint is a very talented colt who has shown tremendous sprint speed in a couple of starts in NY and here at Gulfstream Park.  He has drawn the outside post and will likely clear the field going to the backstretch.  Whether jockey Cornelio Velasquez can get him to relax and negotiate a half-mile that’s slow enough to help him stay the course remains to be seen.

My pick is #7 DIALED IN.  He’s another who has shown plenty of ability and I am not among those who jumped off the bandwagon after he failed in a N2X allowance race last month vs. older horses.  That prep was truly ideal as he was forced to race a bit closer to a sluggish pace before rallying down the lane.  He came up short to a solid older stablemate and lost nothing in defeat.  Today he’s back in against 3YOs and figures to get a tremendous pace setup thanks to the aforementioned Flashpoint as well as #1 SOLDAT, #2 TO HONOR AND SERVE, #3 ARCH TRAVELER, and #5 SHACKLEFORD, all of whom have some early zip.  Provided jockey Julien Leparoux can keep him interested early, just like he did in his last start, this colt will make serious noise in the lane.

To Honor and Serve is a candidate to rebound in here off of a poor effort in the Fountain of Youth as his dull run epitomized the meet trainer Bill Mott has had at Gulfstream.  This guy showed that he’s a good horse in consecutive graded stakes wins last November at Aqueduct and he probably needed a race the last time he went to the post.  I’m going to include him in my plays in the hopes that he will turn things around.

All-Stakes Pick 3 (Races 8-10): 2,7 with 4,5 with 1,2,7,8 (TOTAL: $16)

$0.50 Pick 5: 1,2,7 with 4,5 with 1,2,7,8 with 1,7,11 with 10 (TOTAL: $36)

$0.50 Pick 4: 4,5,10 with 1,2,7,8 with 1,7,11 with 6,8,11 (TOTAL: $54)

Best of luck with the Florida Derby day program at Gulfstream!  I’ll be back during the week in advance of Wood Memorial day at the Big A, the annual highlight of the spring meet.  Click here for my Sunday analysis for the 9 race card at Aqueduct.

December stakes cupboard far from bare

December 4, 2010

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.

Getting in that inner track state of mind

November 30, 2010

Though the calendar officially says that winter begins on December 21 with the “shortest day of the year” it occurs 20 days before then with regards to racing in New York.  Wednesday is the first day of racing on Aqueduct’s inner track, the winterized oval that has been in use since 1976. 

The inner track is one mile in circumference and the stretch measures a bit more than the 1,155.5 feet of the main track.  The tighter turns have generally led to speed doing a bit better on the inner track than the main track at the Big A but in recent years we’ve seen track superintendent Glen Kozak do a tremendous job in guaranteeing largely bias-free racing on the winterized oval.

What’s different about the winter?  Well, there’s no reason to mince words, the racing is weaker.  The horses that stay in NY for the winter from outfits like that of Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott and many others are the types that don’t really make the grade in Florida or any other winter destination.  Winter racing is heavy on claimers of all types, we’ll see more $7,500 tags in the next four months than we have in the prior eight.  There will be conditioned claimers galore and races will be conducted at basically three distances: 6 furlongs, one mile and 70 yards, and one and one-sixteenth miles, with the first two being more popular.

One thing to be acutely aware of is the age old “inner track horse for course.”  The quirkiness of the inner track, being heavier on sand and elements to fight the weather, really appeals to certain horses and you will get better performances out of them on the winterized surface.  Take a look at Understatement for example, with credit to DRF for his PPs:

In taking a closer look at Understatement you will see that his two best races of 2010, by far, came on the inner track.  He defeated a good group in the Evening Attire, which included Well Positioned, another runner owned by Paul Pompa who most recently scored in a stakes race at Monmouth.  On the inner track Understatement is 4-4, on every other surface in his career he is 1-13.  Take a look at Two Moons, who will go postward in tomorrow’s opener:

  Now, Two Moons is never going to be confused with Understatement.  However, it’s worth noting that she ran two solid races on the inner track last winter.  There are some concerns about whether she’s off form of late, but these are the types of horses you want to give extra consideration when handicapping the inner track, especially when the public considers them outsiders.

Here are some interesting statistics for you to consider going forward:

Linda Rice has a strike rate of 18% with a $2.01 ROI in claiming races on the inner track.  She is 17% with a $1.67 ROI in all races on the inner, so be leary of Rice trainees that are overbet in non-claimers.

Anyone who regularly bet Bruce Levine’s runners in claiming races at last year’s inner track stand was left with empty pockets as spring sprung.  Last year Levine was only 13% with a $0.73 ROI in claiming races on the inner track. 

Dominic Galluscio had a particularly rough 2009-2010 inner track stand with claimers as he went 3-33 with a $0.66 ROI.  He has had a good 2010 and should turn that negative statistic around with ease.

Watch out when Todd Pletcher is dropping maidens in for a tag on the inner track.  He is 6 of his last 12 with this move and went a perfect 3-3 with it during last year’s meet.

Serve notice when Gary Contessa is starting a horse fresh off the claim on the inner track.  Over the last five years he has hit at a 17% clip on the inner track with a $1.46 ROI.  With horses 1st off the claim he’s 37-137 (27%), good for a $2.57 ROI.  The best priced winners in that group were all moving up in class, so pay attention if he shows confidence in a recent claim.

Trainer James Ryerson has had a banner year with his NY starters and it would be wise to pay particular attention to his runners.  For the last calendar year he is hitting at a 15% clip with a $3.40 ROI.

Beware of the “Davids” going short.  When trainer David Jacobson legged up jockey David Cohen in sprints last year they were a potent duo (26%, $2.06) but going two turns they were a very ordinary (19%, $0.68).  Cohen being a good and aggressive jockey out of the gate helped these statistics without question.

Trainer Kelly Breen is supposed to have an increased presence in NY this winter as he split his stable between Gulfstream and Aqueduct.  Note that over the last five years Breen is only 2-61 on the inner track with a paltry $0.31 ROI.  Prior to Bold Union’s win in an overnight stake in December 2009 he was on a 1-58 streak.

If you’re looking for a combo that can put across a bomb or two how about Maylan Studart and Naipaul Chetterpaul, who are 6-24 over the last two inner track meets with a $5.48 ROI?

It’s a stat that’s made up of sheer volume but it seems amazing that trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ramon Dominguez hit at a 42% clip when partnered up, good for a $2.37 ROI.  They are an amazing 33-79 together on the inner track!

Some other items to note are that the jockey colony this year has expanded a bit for the winter months.  Junior Alvarado would seem to have a leg up on Eurico Rosa de Silva as he has been riding regularly in NY since the beginning of the fall meet.  Both are strong riders who have had success on major circuits in the past.  Cornelio Velasquez will be staying in NY for the winter for the first time in nearly a decade and you can be certain he’ll pick up a great deal of Linda Rice’s business that used to go to Rosie Napravnik, who is spending this winter at Fair Grounds.  Eddie Castro is also riding regularly here and he has had success on the inner track in the past.

One thing to note about handicapping/betting the inner track is that the word “bias” is going to be tossed around readily by many people following the circuit.  The essential elements of a bias, as stated by NYRA handicapper Andy Serling on this blog a little over a year ago are: “Biases are determined when horses overachieve while taking advantage of the bias and conversely horses underachieve when against the bias.”  Thus, when three solid favorites win in wire-to-wire fashion to begin a given card, don’t throw your hands up and say, “There’s a bias.”

I’ll be back each Monday to recap the prior week’s races, specifically with regard to how the inner track played, who may have made a splash that week, and who is currently struggling to make the grade.  Until Monday then, embrace the winter racing that we’ll be treated to for the next four months as the opportunities to cash big tickets abound.

Nick Tammaro can be reached at

Cigar Mile, Guaranteed Pick 4 highlight Saturday

November 27, 2010

The $250,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 at Aqueduct includes three graded stakes this afternoon as it kicks off in Race 7, the GII Remsen.  The rest of the sequence will be made up of the GI Gazelle, Race 8, the Cigar Mile, Race 9, and a N2L claimer where a baker’s dozen will scramble for the cash.  Click here for my full card analysis for the 10 race card at Aqueduct.

Here’s a closer look at each of the stakes races with my Pick 4 play.

Race 7 –                 1. MOUNTAIN TOWN                     2. TO HONOR AND SERVE           3. BUFFUM

#3 MOUNTAIN TOWN returns from a brief freshening for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. as this son of Cape Town ran into eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo in the Champagne last time out.  This colt made a bold move around the far turn to test the heavy favorite turning for home but obviously was no challenge for the heavy favorite. This will be his first start around two turns but two of his siblings have won routing and his 2nd dam dropped 12 winners headed by Belmont and Travers winner Birdstone.  If the pace gets a tad warm will all of the horses in here stretching out then this guy will certainly benefit.  #5 TO HONOR AND SERVE is a deserving favorite in here as he has scored twice in a row in a MSW event that had been taken off the turf and the Nashua last time out.  He capitalized on a great pace setup over a gold rail in the Nashua victory but his final quarter-mile was quite impressive.  It appears as if added ground is going to be no issue for him and it’d be foolish to call him a “need the lead” type, so expect him to give a good account of himself in this, the biggest test of his career.  #1 BUFFUM scored at first asking for trainer Tom Albertrani as he showed tremendous potential taking over and digging in gamely despite tracking strong early splits.  He should be on the engine in here breaking from the inside and the added ground doesn’t look like it will be a big issue.  His two workouts since the maiden win are strong and he’ll be treated with Lasix for the first time this afternoon, so don’t be surprised if he runs even better today.

Race 8 –                 1. DUBAI DANCER                           2. NO SUCH WORD                          3. AWESOME MARIA

#5 DUBAI DANCER looks to be the “now” horse as she makes her first foray into Grade I company for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.  He sent her down to Monmouth to try stakes company in the Witches Brew and she was victorious but it was a workmanlike victory.  This is obviously a tougher race than the one she exits but she should excel with more ground and figures to get a favorable trip pace-wise.  #8 NO SUCH WORD has faced the best competition of any horse in this group as she has a couple of graded stakes wins and on the board finishes behind Blind Luck and Acting Happy.  Her Remington Oaks win was greatly aided by a wickedly fast pace but this daughter of Canadian Frontier was bet down to 4/5 for a reason.  She’s deserving of favoritism in here and will make noise late.  #1 AWESOME MARIA has had a disappointing 2010 campaign after picking up a G2 win and narrow miss in a G1 as a juvenile.  She is switching surfaces once again after finishing 4th at 6/5 in an overnight stake on the weeds last month.  Trainer Todd Pletcher is just 1 for his last 14 with graded stakes horses going turf to dirt, with just a $0.22 ROI, so there are legitimate knocks on this filly, especially given that she’ll be well backed at the windows. 

Race 9 –                 1. BRIBON                                           2. FRIEND OR FOE          3. HALF METAL JACKET


The last three times #3 BRIBON has been stretched out to a mile from a sprint race he has been victorious twice and second once, but his Beyer figures in those efforts were 100, 118, and 106.  His win in the Bold Ruler last time out was devastatingly easy and he didn’t exactly get a white-hot pace to run at that afternoon.  The pace in here appears as if it’s going to be solid as a number of pressers will go postward.  Look for him to be in high gear in crunch time and his morning line odds of 3-1 look like value.  #6 FRIEND OR FOE extended his record in non-graded stakes to 4 for 4 when he won the Empire Classic last time out on NY Showcase Day.  He set an uncontested pace that afternoon and finished up in a very strong 1:46 and 4/5.  Jockey Alex Solis put him on the lead and said afterwards that he seems to run better when allowed to run a little bit early, and he won’t have to go considerably faster today than he did last time out.  Furthermore, a flat mile looks to be right up his alley as his two defeats upstate both came going two turns.  #8 HALF METAL JACKET is going to be a longshot in here but his best efforts have come at Aqueduct with his lone blemish in four starts coming in a N3X optional seller behind graded stakes winner Tizway.  This guy made a good late move to snag the show dough behind Bribon last time out and is another who has run well when stretching out to a flat mile from a sprint race.

Race 10 –               1. WINNING TOKEN                       2. KILL THE JOKER      3. ROTTEN TO THE CORE

A bit of crafty reading of the PPs of #5 WINNING TOKEN makes him a bit more appealing as his two most recent races on fast dirt make him very competitive in this event.  He faced deeper last time out on a wet track as the winner of that event was dropping from a much steeper claiming event.  The 3rd place finisher of his last start came back to finish 2nd in a 10k conditioned claimer on Friday, so that event had some quality.  There’s a surprisingly small amount of pace in this affair despite the big field but this son of Gold Token should get a decent enough setup to make noise late.  #13 KILL THE JOKER is the one to catch in here but will be faced with the daunting task of clearing from the far outside with a baker’s dozen in the gate.  He was away somewhat slowly then rushed up to reach contention in his last start and that was a race won by repeat winner Broken Home from off the pace.  Jockey Jose Bermudez is going to have to hustle him from the gate to get the lead but it really looks like you want to have him on a Pick 4 ticket that ends here.  #1 ROTTEN TO THE CORE sat a nice trip in his last start before angling out to rally and finish in a dead heat for 2nd.  He raced on the best part of the track that afternoon before he tipped out but off the pace rallies were few and far between on the 11/6 card.  It would seem as if he’s another logical candidate in an extremely contentious race. 

 In the $250,000 Guaranteed Late Pick 4, let’s play: 1,3,4,5 with 5,8 with 3,6 with 1,4,5,6,10,13  TOTAL: 108

Join me for a live chat at 11:00 AM EST about today’s races at Aqueduct and anything else you see fit to discuss. Click here to join the chat!

Best of luck and I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the final Grade I races of the year in New York!