Archive for the ‘Weekly Recap/Preview’ Category

Ladies look lovely; Foster faves fail to fire

June 19, 2011

There were 3 Grade I stakes races run on Saturday, one at Belmont, one at Churchill, and one at Hollywood.  While the winning performances of Awesome Maria and Blind Luck stamped each as major contenders in the older female division, Pool Play’s upset score in the Stephen Foster threw an already chaotic handicap division into a further tailspin.

Let’s start with Awesome Maria.  After being transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn for her 3YO campaign, many waited patiently for her return to the races.  Off since the Frizette in October 2009, Pletcher entered Awesome Maria on the turf in the Riskaverse at Saratoga on closing week.  She was victorious but her participation in a turf route race was an odd placement by Pletcher.  After a poor effort in the Cotillion, Pletcher gave her another try in graded stakes company in the Gazelle, where she finished second to the Larry Jones-trained No Such Word.  The question marks on her coming into 2011 were numerous.  Pletcher campaigned her with no confidence in 2010 and you had to wonder if the potential she showed as a 2YO was a product of precocity as a juvenile.  Well, that was then and this is now.  With wins in the Sabin, Rampart, Shuvee, and now the Ogden Phipps, she has to be considered the 3rd best older female in the country.  Her win in yesterday’s Ogden Phipps was authoritative and awfully easy.  She earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, her 3rd such triple digit figure of 2011.  Pletcher said afterwards that she will be pointed to the Ruffian Invitational Handicap on July 31 at Saratoga, a race run at 9 furlongs.  Awesome Maria is already a winner at the Spa having broken her maiden on Alabama day in 2009.

Have we had a horse over the last 5 years that’s been as easy to cheer for as Blind Luck?  The pint-sized powerhouse traveled all over America last year and won races at Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Churchill Downs, Delaware, and Saratoga.  After consecutive defeats at Santa Anita this winter many had written her off as a 4YO whose best days were in the rearview mirror.  Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was unconvinced and never lost confidence in the defending Eclipse Award winner.  She has now rattled off consecutive wins at Churchill and Hollywood Park and seems to be every bit as good as she was in 2010.  Her win in yesterday’s Vanity Handicap came despite a poor pace setup but jockey Garrett Gomez hardly urged his filly late as she passed every rival in the final 3/16ths.  Let’s hope that Switch is cut back in distance by trainer John Sadler as she has the potential to be the best female sprinter in the country.  9 furlongs has proven to be too far for her and her record around two turns is just 2-8.

Where clarity came from the Ogden Phipps and Vanity, the Stephen Foster was a total head-scratcher.  Pool Play, making his first dirt start, charged down the center of the track to register a last-to-first win at odds of 36-1.  He ran down New Orleans Handicap winner Mission Impazible, who rebounded significantly from a poor effort in the Alysheba.  In fact, the Alysheba was a very odd race in terms of how its participants came back.  The winner, First Dude, did not participate in the Foster.  Regal Ransom and Equestrio, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the Alysheba, finished 11th and 9th.  The 4th place finisher from the Alysheba, Giant Oak, finished 5th in the Foster with no viable excuses.  Tough trips hurt Apart and Duke of Mischief, but it’s tough to think either would have won with more racing luck or better rides.  As for Pool Play, you would think his future is on dirt as he looked more like a BC Marathon than a Classic horse prior to yesterday’s Foster.  Until further notice I’m chalking the Foster result up to the randomness that takes place in a bad division.  Let’s hope the next round of handicap races, the Suburban on July 2 at Belmont and the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9 at Hollywood Park, show that this division still has some decent horses.

There’s a carryover of better than 169k today at Belmont Park on the Father’s Day program.  The first three legs look as if they should be very formful with Far Isle, Hyper and Race to Urga all slated to go off heavy favorites.  The 8th-10th should be very wide open and I’ll include horses like Considerate in the 8th, Slevin in the 9th and Strikealinethruit in the nightcap.  Best of luck if you’re getting involved and Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and grandfathers out there!

Big Weekend on tap in Iowa

June 25, 2010

It’s the biggest weekend of the year, racing-wise, in the State of Iowa.  Tonight there are three stakes races on tap and three more are slated for tomorrow.  The centerpiece tonight is the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, and this year’s field will enable the folks at Prairie Meadows to make a strong case for it to be made a Grade III in 2011.  The very tepid morning line favorite is #8 ATTA BOY ROY, who burst onto the national scene with an upset win in the Churchill Downs Handicap on the Kentucky Derby undercard.  He was last seen in the Aristides finishing a solid second after breaking slowly from his rail post.

The first stakes event on tonight’s card, Race 6, is the $100,000 Saylorville, a 6 furlong sprint for older fillies and mares.  The morning line favorite is #7 SECRET GYPSY, who enters off a 2nd place finish in the Winning Colors at Churchill Downs on Memorial Day.  I’ll be going to #4 MISS HEATHER LEE, who’s making her first start for trainer Chris Hartman, the 3rd leading trainer at PrM.  Each of her siblings have won on dirt and this gal ran a couple of bang-up races at Hollywood, which has the synthetic surface that most resembles dirt in California. I’m also using #3 PALANKA CITY, who comes in off of a handy win in a handicap at Fairmount Park.  She is a mare who doesn’t have to bring her racetrack with her as she’s earned 11 wins at 6 different tracks in her 21 race career.  Her 2010 debut didn’t go terribly well as she was beaten handily by One Smokin Lady in the Spring Fever at Oaklawn.  She did exact some revenge, though as she cruised in the Carousel later in the meet, rating kindly off of a white-hot pace and kicking clear late.  Her speed and versatility make her very dangerous in here as jockey Chris Emigh should be able to put her wherever he wants in the opening stages.  Emigh has won 9 times when riding this gal from 13 attempts.

Good luck with tonight’s stakes races at Prairie Meadows, I’ll be back tomorrow to recap these races and preview the three stakes on Saturday night, which include the Iowa Oaks, Iowa Derby, and the G2 Cornhusker Handicap!

The seventh race is the $100,000 Iowa Distaff for older fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth.  Bob Baffert is shipping in #1 WYNNING RIDE off of a 2nd place finish in the Milady for her 3rd start off a lengthy layoff.  This daughter of Candy Ride made two starts on conventional dirt last year and the first resulted in a 3rd place finish in the Coaching Club American Oaks.  The other came in the Alabama and was disastrous as she finished 7th of 8, beaten over 30 lengths.  Her two efforts this year have been respectable but you have to wonder if she’s ready for stakes company. 

#3 EUPHONY is back at Prairie Meadows, where she’s picked up stakes wins each of the last two years, including this race in 2009.  That was actually her last win but that’s of little concern considering she has caught sloppy tracks and tougher company since then.  She enters off of a 3rd place finish in the Arlington Matron and she and many other closers in that field were compromised by the dawdling pace set by eventual winner Tizaqueena.  They’re probably not going to fly early in here but jockey Cliff Berry should have this daughter of Forest Wildcat positioned right off the pace and pounce when ready.  Trainer Donnie Von Hemel is a dazzling 44% with horses going from synthetics to dirt and his ROI with those types is $2.91.

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!

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:

The thirteen things we can learn from March 13…

March 15, 2010

In his play  Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote of the title character’s impending misfortune, “Beware the Ides of March.”  Perhaps such a warning could have been given by trainer John Shirreffs to trainer Steve Asmussen before Zardana was to take on Rachel Alexandra in the inaugural running of the New Orleans Ladies on the eve of the eve of the Ides of March.  Shirreffs’ mare Zardana clearly improved in her first start on conventional dirt in America and she upset the reigning Horse of the Year under a clever ride by David Flores, the one-time jockey of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta.  What else did we learn on the thirteenth?  Here are thirteen thoughts:

1.) Please, folks, let’s remember that the Horse of the Year voting had to do with 2009.  Nothing about yesterday’s respective efforts by Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta should make you think the voters “got it wrong.”  Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 campaign was one for the ages and we can only hope she returns to that level soon, because she clearly wasn’t there yesterday.

2.) Zenyatta is so special and such a rarity in racing.  A horse that can seemingly hold her form for 2+ years and find a way to win time and again is truly spectacular.  Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Moss for allowing us to watch this mare once again in 2010.

3.) Richard Grunder wasn’t the only one who thought Odysseus was done on the far turn of the Tampa Bay Derby.  After chasing the pace for the opening six furlongs it appeared as if the son of Malibu Moon was spent as he fell back to fourth.  He somehow managed to re-rally and win what looked like an impossible photo.  It’s unclear just how good Odysseus really is as the final  quarter of the Tampa Bay Derby was far from impressive, but he definitely has heart.

4.) Caracortado was bound to come back down to earth when he didn’t get the same trip he enjoyed in his prior two stakes wins.  He was asked to rally into a very slow pace with a nice horse in front of him and his inability to track him down doesn’t take away from his overall ability.  If you liked him before you shouldn’t be discouraged, but I won’t be betting on him on May 1.

5.) If you have a horse that you want to run big in one particular race, is there a better trainer than John Shirreffs?  You’re talking about a man who has won the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, trained two horses that defeated a reigning Horse of the Year, two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winners and trained a mare to 15 consecutive victories.  This has all been accomplished in the last five years.

6.) The Rebel was the most competitive Derby prep we’ve seen so far.  Dublin was victimized by another poor ride, this time by Corey Nakatani, who inexplicably decided to make a bold middle move while racing four to five wide.  He probably regressed a bit coming back only three weeks after a taxing effort in the Southwest.  Lookin at Lucky, on the other hand, ran a superb race as he almost fell on the backstretch, held together, and finished strongly to get up by a nose.  Noble’s Promise also came back in fine fashion off a layoff in his 2010 debut.

7.) Was anyone hotter than Marty Wolfson at Gulfstream on Saturday?  After his mare Jessica is Back rolled home in the Ocala, his two entrants in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, You and I Forever and Motovato, finished 1-2.  He tried to continue the roll on Sunday in the Inside Information but his March 13 magic didn’t carry over.

8.) I will go on record saying that I think In Perpetuity is going to become a nice 3YO filly.  She won a scratch-decimated N1X at Gulfstream on Saturday afternoon by open lengths but it was her 2nd win on conventional dirt in as many starts and she looked like she’ll be able to go farther without a problem.

9.) Between Super Saver, Conveyance, and Sidney’s Candy, with a few others lurking out there, it seems like the Derby pace might be very strong this year.  Sidney’s Candy ran what can be considered an atypical race for the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita in his wire-to-wire win in the San Felipe.

10.) It was announced that 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Life is Sweet was retired after she tied up again following a morning workout.  She was being pointed to the Dubai World Cup and those plans are obviously scrapped but her career was quite accomplished nonetheless.

11.) She may not take her game anywhere else, but Diva Delite sure did take to the quirky surface in Oldsmar as she won another stakes race at Tampa in the Florida Oaks.  She now has some black-type and that’s arguably the biggest prize for an extremely productive winter.

12.) No Such Word was a sharp winner of the Honeybee as she earned her second consecutive win around two turns in Hot Springs.  She’s a late bloomer but is rapidly improving and looms another contender who will spice up the Fantasy scheduled for April 2.

13.) It took until March 14, but we learned that there will be no showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom.  Don’t despair racing fans, provided Rachel stays in training there will be a matchup between these two.  When and where, who knows?

I’ll leave you with a video of Zenyatta earning her 15th consecutive win in the Santa Margarita:

Check back on Tuesday for the latest edition of my Derby Countdown!

March’s arrival means Derby drawing near

March 1, 2010

With the Sham at Santa Anita being cancelled on Saturday and re-scheduled for next Saturday (March 6) there was little that happened with regards to the Derby trail over the past weekend.  Next week we can look forward to the Sham and the Gotham at Aqueduct as far as the 3YOs go and the Santa Anita Handicap will headline a trio of Grade I stakes to be run at Santa Anita.  Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races from the weekend.

SABIN

The Sabin is most often used as a prep for the Rampart, which this year will be run as a part of the Florida Derby undercard on March 20.  The field was largely unspectacular but dual Gulfstream graded stakes winner from 2009 Justwhistledixie was considered the most likely to step forward in her return to conventional dirt.  She was sent off at 7/5 while Matchless Orinda, who hadn’t missed the exacta in five starts at Gulfstream coming into yesterday was bet down to 13-10.  However, the day belonged to Aurora Lights, a four year-old filly by Pulpit out of the Lord at War mare Lady Lochinvar.  She is a half to multiple graded stakes winner Master Command and yesterday’s Sabin was only her second start on conventional dirt.  She finished a competitive third in the Stage Door Betty at Calder in December and clearly moved forward on the cutback to a one-turn mile.  Already a multiple winner at 8.5 furlongs Aurora Lights looms a candidate for the Rampart, where she might meet Sweet Repent, who defeated her at Calder.

DAVONA DALE

The Davona Dale certainly lost some of its luster when Christine Daae was scratched but a breakthrough performance was posted nonetheless as Amen Hallelujah picked up her second graded stakes win of 2010.  She stalked a soft early pace from the inside under jockey Julien Leparoux and he remained ever confident around the far turn.  Once set down for the drive this daughter of Montbrook pulled away with ease and stopped the clock in 1:37.16, better than 3/5ths of a second faster than the older fillies and mares 30 minutes prior in the Sabin.  It remains to be seen whether this gal can go longer than a mile but she certainly looked like she wouldn’t struggle with it and her dam, Sara’s Success, was a multiple stakes winner going two turns.

THE VERY ONE

A rather strong storm rolled through southeast Florida as the field for The Very One was reaching the starting gate.  It was run during the storm and the conditions were certainly far from ideal.  One of the ladies who enjoyed the softer ground was Changing Skies, who scored in her US debut last fall at Belmont over a yielding course.  She became the second stakes winner from Bill Mott’s barn off a layoff in a week as he scored seven days prior with Courageous Cat in the Canadian Turf.  Changing Skies is yet to make a start in America over a firm course but all indications are that she should be fine with it and that makes her an intriguing player in the filly and mare turf division.

MAC DIARMIDA

The heavy rain that fell on Saturday afternoon rendered the Gulfstream lawn damp and that put defending champion Presious Passion’s status in doubt for this Grade II turf marathon.  After seeing a couple of turf races earlier on in the card trainer Mary Hartmann opted to keep her seven year-old of Royal Anthem in the field and he didn’t disappoint.  He did his thing and went right to the lead and jockey Elvis Trujillo was even able to slow the pace down a bit after a half-mile as he negotiated a third quarter in :25 and 3/5, practically glacial for Presious Passion standards.  When confronted he pulled away again and scored by a length and a quarter.  He’s now on track for a start in the 12 furlong Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night (March 27).

Click here to read Mike Welsch’s wrap-up of the Mac Diarmida in the Daily Racing Form

Aside from the stakes races run at Gulfstream over the weekend, the major story was the ire created in bettors when the aforementioned rain on Saturday forced the 10th race to be moved to the main track.  Anyone who was alive in the Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, or Pick 6 was forced to navigate the final race in their sequence with selections they made for turf.  Now, I’ll be perfectly honest in saying that I was alive in the Pick 4 and was none too thrilled to find out that Gulfstream did not pay these sequences with “all” in the last leg as is done most commonly at NYRA tracks.  The eventual winner, First National, was 0 for 9 on turf and synthetics coming into yesterday’s heat but narrowly missed in his only on conventional dirt at Hawthorne.  He went off a generous 5-1 considering his prior dirt form but that likely had a lot to do with the fact that the race was transferred to the main track with only six minutes to post.  Here’s to hoping that someone at Gulfstream takes the lead in getting the Florida state law that forbids the state’s tracks to pay “all” in the end of these sequences overturned.  Soon.

With March beginning we can look forward to these stakes races being run over the next 31 days:

March 6 – Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Sham (G3), Gotham (G3)

March 13 – Tampa Bay Derby (G3), Rebel (G2), Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), Santa Margarita Handicap (G1), San Felipe (G2), New Orleans Ladies

March 20 – Florida Derby (G1), Bonnie Miss (G2), Rampart (G2), Swale (G2), Appleton (G3)

March 26 – Fair Grounds Oaks (G2)

March 27 – Dubai World Cup (G1), Louisiana Derby (G2), New Orleans Handicap (G2), Lane’s End (G2), Mervin Muniz (G2)

I’ll be back Tuesday to update my Top 10 3YOs on the Derby trail as we ready ourselves for an exciting weekend to kick off March!  Until then, enjoy the 2009 running of the Santa Anita Handicap:

Gulfstream’s dirt once again a Quality Road

February 9, 2010

The performance of Quality Road in Saturday’s Donn Handicap completely captured the American racing world’s attention on a day where “cancelled” was a word that hurt the nationwide landscape.  With Santa Anita cancelling it’s fourth racing program in the last month because of poor drainage on the Pro-Ride main track, approximately 5:00 PM EST was a great time for a breakthrough performance.  The burly son of Elusive Quality took it upon himself to post the best performance of the year and one of the most impressive of the last few racing seasons. 

Quality Road has clearly been at his best at Gulfstream as his victories in the 2009 runnings of the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby were absolutely spectacular and he came into the Donn off of a workmanlike win in the Hal’s Hope.  He was facing a surprisingly large field in the Donn which included five graded stakes winners among his nine rivals and was sure to receive some pace pressure from the start.  How he would react to potentially posting a fast opening half-mile remained to be seen but his backers were confident the job would get done as he left the gate at 2/5.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at the Donn:

SCENE #1 – As the field entered the first turn of the Donn, jockey John Velazquez was able to angle Quality Road outside of Past the Point into the stalking position both rider and horse love.

SCENE #2 – Midway down the backstretch, after a half mile in :46.02 the leaders had opened up a three-length separation on the balance of the field.  To put things in perspective, the leader at this point was Past the Point, who wound up finishing sixth beaten nearly 15 lengths. 

SCENE #3 – As the field entered the short Gulfstream stretch Quality Road was through sparring with Past the Point and had opened up a four-length lead. 

SCENE #4 – With only yards to go Quality Road’s tour de force was complete as he had opened a lead of about a dozen lengths.  The final margin would be 12 and 3/4 and his Beyer figure, after revision, was 121.  It was his highest Beyer figure and his eighth above 100 in nine starts.

Todd Pletcher announced after the Donn that Quality Road would be freshened for a try in the Met Mile, a race that’s been known to complete a catalog for stud duty quite nicely.  Let’s just say that when he does re-surface in the Met Mile, all eyes will be on this guy to begin a run that’ll end in November with a potential date with a couple of leading ladies.

With the only three year-old race scheduled for last weekend cancelled, there will be no update to my Derby Countdown tomorrow, but I’ll be back to chronicle some of the best performances so far from the crop of 2007.  Until then, enjoy the Donn Handicap:

All still images courtesy of youtube.com

Weekend Stakes Recap

February 1, 2010

Cancelled was the most popular word of the day on Saturday as Laurel, Oaklawn, and Aqueduct cancelled all or part of their racing programs as a fierce winter storm wreaked havoc on a large portion of the country.  Ironically, in California and Florida, the Sunshine Millions program was run before a back-drop that made the moniker fitting.

Some of the highlights of the Sunshine Millions races included:

– This Ones for Phil was 53 weeks removed from a breakthrough performance in the Sunshine Millions Dash and he was once again victorious in this year’s Sunshine Millions Sprint.  He battled nose and nose with Pashito the Che from the half-mile pole in and prevailed by a whisker.  Click here to view the Sunshine Millions Sprint.

-Sweet Repent scored her fifth victory in a row in the Sunshine Millions Distaff as she tracked a solid pace and took over when ready in the stretch drive.  She has now earned three consecutive Beyer figures over 100 and is rapidly earning her way into the conversation of 2nd tier distaffers for the rest of the year.

-Trainer Tom Proctor knew he was bringing a made hand to the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf and Tight Precision rewarded him with a work(wo)manlike victory.  She has now earned three wins in a row and is certainly improving with experience.

-Bold Chieftan didn’t have the cleanest of trips but when there was a narrow gap in mid-stretch viewers were treated to an exhibition of why Russell Baze is known as “Russell the muscle.”  He forced this son of Chief Seattle through the opening and he held gamely over the Canadian invader Palladio. 

There were two graded stakes run on Sunday, one at Gulfstream and one at Santa Anita.  The former was won with overwhelming ease by Bickersons, who had last been seen getting pummeled by Blind Luck out west in the Hollywood Starlet.  She is clearly a better horse on conventional dirt and has tremendous potential as a sprinter/miler.

The Santa Monica was the first Grade I of the year at Santa Anita and Gabby’s Golden Gal, one of four Grade I winners in the field coming into the race, earned this one with style.   She stalked the pace, took over when ready and ultimately pulled away late.  She undoubtedly benefited from being a part of a glacial pace but is a filly with talent who’s proven to be capable on both synthetics and dirt.

Be sure to check back here on Tuesday for installment #1 of the Derby Countdown where I’ll discuss my Derby top 10 as of the 1st of February.

Enjoy the Santa Monica Handicap!

Break time and how we’ll pass it…

December 14, 2009

It’s time for the only unofficial “vacation” from racing on the NY circuit as there will be no live racing at Aqueduct until December 26.  This is a good time to catch up on reading charts (at least that’s what I’ll do), watching and re-watching some replays of recent races and of course dabbling in a few races from other locales. 

The last graded stake race of the year in NY was the Queens County on Saturday afternoon and the outcome illustrated what a rider’s race it wound up being.  There was at least one confirmed speedster (Storm Play), another who was coming off a wire-to-wire win (Honour Devil) and another stretching out from a big win at a one-turn mile (Rodman).  It wound up being Javier Castellano who took the initiative aboard Rodman and after posting a half-mile time of :49.61 while on an unencumbered lead it became clear they were well on their way to the winner’s circle.  That was the case as this son of Malibu Moon scored by nearly six lengths.  Plans are to take Rodman to the Donn and I wish his connections the best of luck but will likely stand firmly against him in that spot based on his soft trip in the Queens County.

In order to spice things up for the next 10 days between Tuesday, December 15 and Thursday, December 24 I’ll review the 10 best races  run in NY this year in descending order as decided by a panel of racing glitterati.

See you back Tuesday to start looking at some of the best races of the year!

Holiday weekend behind, winter begins

November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone.  There are no more Grade I races this year east of the Mississippi and only one graded stakes race in NY.  What does that mean?  Very little in the grand scheme of things as one of the biggest money-making seasons in New York racing is set to begin.  Racing begins on Wednesday on Aqueduct’s inner track and it’s configuration makes it prone to producing numerous trips that create great bet-backs and great bet-againsts. 

If anything, Ramon Dominguez’s skills are even fuller display on the inner track.  Handicappers will have to begin to decipher if 15k beaten claimers to 10k N2L are a drop in class and if a speed horse with the far outside post can clear and avoid a five-wide trip around the clubhouse turn.  There are only five days left (weather permitting) of turf racing and once those days are past, old man winter will officially be in residence.  However, fret not as this is a time when racing’s die-hards can prosper.

Let’s take a look at some of the major races from the weekend:

FALLS CITY

The scratch of Swift Temper left Unbridled Belle a huge favorite in what was to be her final career start.  The accomplished daughter of Broken Vow made a bold move on the far turn but was beaten to the punch by Serenading, who was coming off a strong win at 10 furlongs at her home track, Woodbine.  Beware of her trainer, Josie Carroll, who has now scored in stakes races in this country with Careless Jewel, Springside, and Good and Lucky.

Watch the Falls City.

TOP FLIGHT

The first powerful Godolphin Stable runner of the weekend surfaced here as Sara Louise, the winner of the Pocahontas last year and the Victory Ride this year, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint with a determined victory.  She wore down the leaders and held Justwhistledixie safe as that gal was making her first start since a 2nd place finish in the Acorn back in June.  Both of these fillies are slated to return in 2010 and should both be worth watching.

Watch the Top Flight.

CLARK

I’ll shamelessly admit that I became a fan of Blame in September when I had a long talk with his jockey, Jamie Theriot, prior to and after the Super Derby.  He guaranteed me that this son of Arch had a tremendous amount of talent and was going to be a force as he further developed.  Since then he’s 2-o and has beaten older horses in consecutive starts.  First it was the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland then he beat a bulky field in the Clark (G2) which is the signature event of the Churchill fall meet.  He made the lead in mid-stretch after going five wide around the turn and he turned back a couple of solid animals in Einstein and Misremembered for a solid score.  Here’s to hoping for a huge 2010 for Blame.

Watch Blame win the Clark.

CITATION

Trainer Humberto Ascanio, the long-time assistant to the late Bobby Frankel on the west coast, saddled two horses in this affair and it was Fluke, the NY invader, who proved best at 9-1.  Given a perfect ride by Joe Talamo, this son of Wild Event exploded between horses at the eighth pole and kicked clear strongly to earn his first stakes win in America.  True to the form of his boss, Ascanio didn’t hesitate to run a recent allowance winner in a Grade I and his faith was rewarded. 

Watch the Citation.

DEMOISELLE

What looked like an uninspiring race on paper proved to be just that on the track as Tizahit, who had been pounded in the Tempted, scored in a rather pokey 1:53.09 for the nine furlongs.  She held off the slight favorite Protesting, who was coming into this event off of a maiden win on the Polytrack at Keeneland.  Pardon me if I don’t think the Kentucky Oaks winner was in this field. Heck, I’ll be surprised if the Busanda winner was in this bunch.

Watch the Demoiselle.

REMSEN

It looked pretty clear that the power in the two races for 2YOs on the Aqueduct card was definitely in this event as Champagne (G1) winner Homeboykris was set to square off with Nashua (G2) winner Buddy’s Saint.  Unfortunately, only one showed up and a lot like their female counterparts in the aforementioned Demoiselle, these horses took their time finishing the nine furlongs.  Besting the fillies by only .14 seconds, eventual winner Buddy’s Saint earned a Beyer figure of 80, a 22 point drop from his Nashua score.  He is certainly one for the conversation for next year but color me doubtful at this point in time.

Watch the Remsen.

GAZELLE

The comeback of 2008 Eclipse Award winner Stardom Bound was foiled by Richard Migliore and the boys in blue as Godolphin’s Flashing made the lead, kicked clear at the 5/16ths pole and roared home a convincing winner.  She is now a two-time Grade I winner having taken the Darley Test at Saratoga back in early August and there is at least a chance that we will see her again in 2010.  Trainer Saeed bin Suroor had this to say after her victory: “We’re going to talk it over and maybe she will race next year.”  As if we needed any more convincing, Flashing’s handy victory, which followed two straight defeats on synthetic surfaces, further proved that dirt and the fake stuff are still incredibly different.

Watch the Gazelle.

CIGAR MILE

While the field for this, the final Grade I of 2009 in New York, lacked the fire power it once looked like it would contain, a solid group went postward with the Godolphin Stable entry of Vineyard Haven and Pyro favored.  Met Mile winner Bribon looked to pull off a rare double by winning both Grade I dirt miles in NY but he came up just shy as Kodiak Kowboy, the Carter and Vosburgh winne, picked up his third Grade I of the year with a strong stretch drive.  He further stakes his claim to the Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter, even if this race is not a sprint.

Watch the Cigar Mile.

GOLDEN ROD

In a race that featured Sara Louise and Rachel Alexandra in 2008, the Dale Romans-trained Sassy Image earned her second graded stakes win of the Churchill Fall Meet with a strong late run.  She has come to hand nicely for Romans since a couple of so-so efforts at Saratoga which were followed by a dull eighth-place finish in the Alcibiades over Keeneland’s Polytrack.  She is definitely one to watch in 2010.

Watch the Golden Rod.

KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB

The headliner on closing day under the Twin Spires was the Kentucky Jockey Club where Super Saver, who was most recently a tiring fourth in the Champagne, was among the favorites with Thisskyhasnolimit, who was coming off a sharp win in the Iroquois on opening day of the fall meet.  It was the former who rose to the occasion as co-leading rider Calvin Borel put this son of Maria’s Mon on the lead and he never looked back.  After allowing his rivals to move along his side at the quarter pole, Borel set his colt down and he showed an impressive turn of foot to draw off late.  This effort was clearly the best of the weekend as far as 2YOs go and this guy would naturally seem to be a Derby player provided he can progress a bit as a sophomore.

MATRIARCH

During his magical career Bobby Frankel dominated a few races in California and the Matriarch was certainly one of them.  He earned his eighth Matriarch in 2007 when Precious Kitten beat defending Eclipse Award winner Wait a While and he immediately pointed Ventura to this spot after she came up just short in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.  Unfortunately, Frankel died twelve days before the Matriarch but he was certainly watching as one of his favorite mares strutted her stuff in fine fashion to score with tremendous ease.  She was making her final start in this event but memories of her and her unique and revolutionary trainer won’t soon be forgotten.

HOLLYWOOD DERBY

The Usual Q.T., a Cal-bred son of super sire Unusual Heat, defeated a field that included six other graded stakes winners as he himself was coming off a game win in the Oak Tree Derby on Breeders’ Cup Day at Santa Anita.  Given an absolutely perfect ride by jockey Victor Espinoza, this bay gelding took over off the top of the turn and never looked back, defeating Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby winner Battle of Hastings by a length and a half.  He stamped himself as a serious player for the stakes races at Santa Anita early in 2010.

Watch the Hollywood Derby.

Well that about does it for the weekend stakes races.  This Friday Delta Downs will be the focal point of the racing world as the $750,000 Delta Jackpot (G3) headlines a card that features six stakes races.  Tune into At the Races with Steve Byk on Friday afternoon at 6:30 PM EST as I’ll be on to discuss the Jackpot plus a few of the bigger races on Saturday.  Until then, good luck and get cracking on the Pick 6 carryovers Wednesday at Hollywood and Aqueduct!