Archive for the ‘Preakness 2011’ Category

Baltimore Bound Part 2: The New Shooters

May 10, 2011

Yesterday I took a lengthy look at Dance City and Sway Away, a couple of colts who didn’t contest the Kentucky Derby but are slated to run in the Preakness.  Today’s focus will be on Flashpoint, the winner of the Hutcheson in February, and King Congie, winner of the Tropical Park Derby in January.  They are coming into the race from different directions and will both have serious questions to answer on May 21.


OWNER: Peachtree Stable
TRAINER: Wesley Ward
JOCKEY: Cornelio Velasquez

Flashpoint showed the remarkable talent necessary to go from a Maiden Special Weight victory to graded stakes glory.  He rambled home a convincing winner in the Hutcheson, dusting Travelin Man in the process.  Owner John Fort and then trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. talked about a variety of different races afterwards, including the Swale, Florida Derby, and Santa Anita Derby.  They ultimately decided to give the Florida Derby a try and it was not the performance they sought.  Breaking from the outside, he was out-sprinted to the lead and never made a serious impact.  The Florida Derby was run at a breakneck pace and Flashpoint started from the far outside in a group of eight, which made procuring the early lead difficult.

As the field entered the first turn in the Florida Derby Flashpoint was hung out widest of all.  With a good amount of speed on paper the riders breaking to Flashpoint’s inside had no interest in losing their early position to him.  Losing ground on the turns at Gulfstream, especially going 9 furlongs is a death sentence.

When the field was roughly halfway to the wire in the Florida Derby jockey Cornelio Velasquez had Flashpoint in a similar stalking spot to the one where he was in the Hutcheson.  However, by the time they reached the top of the stretch he was spent.  This raised serious red flags about whether he has any ability to go a route of ground.

THE BOTTOM LINE: John Fort of the Peachtree Stables opted to move Flashpoint from Rick Dutrow, Jr. to Wesley Ward and he apparently been training very well at Keeneland.  What Ward will be trying to do in getting Flashpoint to complete 9.5 furlongs while meeting early pressure appears as if it’ll be a herculean task.  I will be betting against Flashpoint taking this field wire-to-wire, especially with such a large amount of speed potentially slated to go.


OWNER: West Point Thoroughbreds
TRAINER: Tom Albertrani
JOCKEY: Robby Albarado

Trainer Tom Albertrani figured King Congie’s synthetic surface debut would occur in the Vinery Racing Spiral on March 26 at Turfway.  After coming up with a minor injury he was re-routed to the Blue Grass, where he was an outsider in a bulky and contentious field.  Only Twinspired and his stablemate separated this son of Badge of Silver away from a victory that afternoon at Keeneland as he ran another typically strong race.

Since being moved to turf, King Congie’s fortunes have changed dramatically.  Taking a closer look at his past performances it is clear that saying he’s unproven on dirt is an understatement.

Though he had the misfortune of running into a couple of awfully sharp horses in his two dirt starts (Eclipse Award winner Uncle Mo and stakes winner Fort Hughes), King Congie offered very little each time.  He is clearly a better horse on synthetics/turf and that is a major concern moving forward to the Preakness.  Badge of Silver has proven to be a useful sire as his 2nd crop gets ready to hit the races. Both King Congie and Silver Medallion are stakes winners from his first crop.  The damside of King Congie’s pedigree is full of dirt winners, including his dam, Wise Ending and her most accomplished sibling, Grand Champion, who was a 6 time winner and took the 2007 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A good horse can run on any surface.  Animal Kingdom proved that to us on Derby day as he roared by the field at better than 20-1.  King Congie’s stablemate, Brilliant Speed, ran a surprisingly good race in the Derby to narrowly miss in a photo for fifth.  That is encouraging given that Brilliant Speed previously had negative dirt form as well.  I am not high on King Congie’s chances but would hardly be surprised if he cracks the intra-race exotics.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to take a closer look at a couple more potential new shooters in the Preakness, Astrology and Concealed Identity.


Baltimore Bound Part 1: The New Shooters

May 9, 2011

Over the next 13 days I will be focusing on individual things pertaining to the Preakness Stakes on May 21.  I will be on-site for the Preakness and the focus of my attention will be there for the fortnight (or a tad less) that separates us from the 2nd jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.  Each of the next 3 days I’ll be looking at two horses that are “new shooters” in the Preakness.  Today’s are Dance City and Sway Away, the 3rd and 4th place finishers from the Arkansas Derby.


OWNER: The Estate of Ned Evans
TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano

Dance City was a colt that trainer Todd Pletcher might not have had high hopes for when his career began as he debuted in a maiden special weight race on the inner track at Aqueduct.  The quality of that effort prompted Pletcher to send him to Florida for a try against MSW company at 9 furlongs.  After winning he landed in a N1X at Gulfstream that was supposed to be a simple exhibition for Cal Nation, a flashy debut winner for Pletcher who was facing winners for the first time.  No one told Dance City that he was supposed to be a valiant runner-up as he battled tooth and nail through the stretch to score a nose decision.

In a year where horses were able to strattle the lines of class repeatedly in graded stakes races, this son of City Zip handled the jump to Grade I company with a tremendous effort at Oaklawn Park.  All the talk before the Arkansas Derby centered on The Factor, the fleet-footed son of War Front who had turned heads with a devastatingly easy win in the Rebel at Oaklawn one month earlier.  Let’s take a look at the Arkansas Derby in pictures, with particular attention paid to Dance City.

As the field rounded the first turn of the Arkansas Derby Castellano positioned Dance City in 2nd, just off the leader JP’s Gusto.  The most surprising element of this scenario is that Dance City was ahead of The Factor, who was out-sprinted to the lead and subsequently wrangled back by jockey Martin Garcia.  In this shot the field is just shy of completing the opening quarter mile, which was done in a spritely 22.54 seconds.  As you will see in the pictures going forward, this pace would take its toll on Dance City’s early rivals.

At the mid-point of the backstretch Dance City is still stalking from 2nd and the opening half-mile has been completed in :46.53.  This was the exact same split as the Northern Spur, an undercard race for 3YOs run two races earlier.  The difference, of course, as you’ll see in later photographs is that the Arkansas Derby field finished much quicker, as the late runners made their moves in the stretch drive.

As the field approaches the quarter pole, Dance City has been asked to collar the frontrunner.  In the meantime, Sway Away is in the midst of a wide and premature move under jockey Patrick Valenzuela.  Dance City has done all the running to this point and is now going to tackle a final quarter-mile after being seriously softened up.  The stiffening resolve that he shows is truly remarkable.

As the field straightens away two of the four who were battling outside the 1/4 pole are finished.  The Factor was simply not himself in the Arkansas Derby and JP’s Gusto never gave the appearance of being a horse who could go two turns.  Sway Away is now in command with Dance City battling to his inside.  With the pace gradually collapsing Archarcharch is making his move and is 3 horses off the rail in the 2nd flight.  Nehro, the eventual 2nd place finisher, is still approximately 5-6 lengths back as he unleashes his stretch kick.

At the finish of the Arkansas Derby Dance City moved away from Sway Away.  He wound up 3rd beaten just under two lengths by two rivals who enjoyed tremendous pace setups.  While Sway Away’s trip was far from ideal, Dance City was asked to go above and beyond by jockey Javier Castellano, and if not for a solid bump in mid-stretch he might have pulled off a huge upset in what would have been the best performance in any prep on this year’s Derby trail. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: With horses like Flashpoint and Shackleford slated to run in the Preakness the pace is sure to be very strong.  However, one thing that Dance City has going for him is that he has participated in quick early tempos in 3 consecutive starts and come out of them with two wins and a 3rd place finish.  He is a major player in the Preakness and a horse I will use prominently in my wagers.


OWNER: Batman Stable, Olsen, Wallace, Et Al.
TRAINER: Jeff Bonde

A sway-back colt by Afleet Alex, this guy’s career began with a splash as he crushed a field of MSW runners at Pleasanton before finishing 2nd as the 3/2 favorite in the Best Pal at Del Mar.  After being given some time to grow he returned to the races with a fast-closing 2nd place finish behind The Factor in the San Vicente.  Viewed by many as a one-run sprinter, he was sent to Oaklawn for his first try at two turns.  One month after shipping in Sway Away had run two races, had two horrible trips and what looked to be insufficient earnings to make the Derby field.  He was one spot away from getting into the Run for the Roses but wound up excluded and will make his Triple Crown debut in Baltimore.

Much like Dance City, there are many elements of Sway Away’s trip in the Arkansas Derby that have to be highlighted.

As the field rounded the first turn this shot gives you a great perspective on the wide trip that Sway Away endured right from the outset.  He is angled out at least four paths off the rail here, just outside of Brethren, who earlier carried him out at the entry to the Clubhouse turn.  Wearing blinkers for the first time he was much sharper early and the natural speed everyone knew he had was much more on display.

You could probably fit a football field, if not seven horses, between Sway Away and the rail as the field approaches the half-mile pole. He was extremely wide the entire way down the backstretch as Valenzuela made no attempt to save ground whatsoever.  Still very keen with the blinkers added, he is ready to roll at any point in time.

Approaching the top of the stretch Sway Away has launched a four wide move and soon after this image he grabbed the lead.  The troublesome part of this trip is that the race was not unfolding in such a way where a premature move would be effective.  The pace was rather quick and the winner was almost certain to be a horse moving well in the stretch drive.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While the possibility still exists that Sway Away is a one-turn horse who will always struggle at a route of ground, he is worthy of another chance.  His Rebel was a nightmare from the start as he hit the gate, lost a tooth, was carried out on the first turn, then forced to rally into a pace-dominated race.  The Arkansas Derby did not go much better, leading you to believe Sway Away will never be seen at Oaklawn Park again!  He is another major contender and one with a big chance of knocking off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.  Should a more patient rider like Joel Rosario, who this barn has used with success, get the call then he will be even more dangerous.

Part 2 of my Baltimore Bound series will focus on a couple more new shooters for the Preakness, as Flashpoint and King Congie will be the topic.  See you tomorrow!

Images courtesy of DRF and Horse Racing Nation