This past weekend, I posted pre-race thoughts on thirteen races: the four stakes races that were part of the Public Handicapper contest this weekend, as well as the nine races on Sunday’s Hawthorne card. In the interest of making this a manageable length, the recaps will be split up. The stakes from the contest will come first; the Hawthorne recaps will follow in a separate entry.
Fair Grounds: Mineshaft Handicap (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
In this race, I had Fordubai as my first choice, Prayer for Relief as my second, and Mister Marti Gras as my third. Since he raced, my contest horse was Fordubai.
It turned out Grand Contender, not Afford or Bradester, ended up being the early speed in this race. Going back over my notes, I can only account not listing him among the likely early speed horses in my preview to scrivener’s error; I had him marked in my notes as a horse who wanted the early speed, that I liked him to hit the board, but didn’t like him to win since he had never won at over a mile. That panned out, as he set the pace for much of the race, but was beaten down the stretch. Afford, who I thought was outclassed, was. He couldn’t get up for that early lead, and even though he gained some down the stretch, he was never a serious threat to hit the board.
I did get correct that a stalker would win the race. However, that stalker was not who I expected: it was Bradester. I thought he’d get straight to the lead, but instead he stalked a few lengths off early. I expected him no more than a length off the lead. I noted he was on a class jump, and would likely want to use him in exotics given his good recent allowance runs as well as Rosie Napravnik’s success at Fair Grounds. However, I didn’t expect him to win, and thought he was going to be bet down hard from his 6-1 morning line thanks to his jockey. That was wrong; he went off at 6.7-1, slightly better than his morning line odds.
Fordubai, the horse I picked to win, didn’t run the race I expected. He didn’t stalk the pace. He started far back, probably at least in part due to his outside post position. He was entirely too far back for a horse who doesn’t close, and only fired hard enough down the stretch to gain the show. It would have been enough, possibly, if he got close enough to the pace early; he just didn’t. Prayer For Relief, my second choice, was just flat, with no clear excuse. He never got past the middle of the pack, and faded a bit late. My third, Mister Marti Gras, likewise had no real excuse (other than possibly being rusty after the three-month lay), but didn’t really show up. He stayed near the back of the pack from wire to wire, with no real moves.
Fair Grounds: Risen Star Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
In this race, I had Gold Hawk as my first choice, Rise Up as my second, and Vicar’s In Trouble as my third. I thought Rise Up was the most likely horse to hit the board, but thought he would be caught by one of the horses from the back to win. Therefore, since this contest is win-only, I selected the horse who I thought had a chance to catch up and take the race, hence my choice of Gold Hawk here.
There wasn’t much I got right in this race. Neither Rise Up nor Vicar’s In Trouble set the early fractions: Albano did. Rise Up stalked behind early in the race, which wasn’t a huge shock since he did break his maiden from a stalking position. However, instead of catching up, Rise Up faded badly — something I was not expecting since he had been tested at this distance before, and the early fractions in the Risen Star were slower than those of the Delta Jackpot. Vicar’s In Trouble spent the first few furlongs in the middle of the pack, got close coming into the stretch, weakened, but still held on for the show. However, the performance of neither Rise Up nor Vicar’s In Trouble screamed “I’m going to love the Classic distances!”.
Gold Hawk, my first choice pick, looked even worse than either Vicar’s In Trouble or Rise Up. He was closer to the pace early than the Vicar was, was making a move through the stretch, and then just faded with no clear reason. That’s two straight races (the LeComte, and then this one) when he has just not fired; it looks like he is outclassed on the Derby trail.
I had my eye on one other horse in this race, Hoppertunity, because he is in my stable for the Brooklyn Backstretch contest. The shape of this race for him reminds me a lot of the shape of his maiden race — he got caught way back early, improved position somewhat, but wasn’t able to threaten the leaders. I’m not ready to write him off quite yet since the Risen Star was only his third race (and his first against winners), but this may suggest a certain lack of versatility if it keeps happening as the sample size grows.
About the only thing I did get right was that there would be a horse who wanted that early speed, and that there would be a horse who would nab him late. However, the horse who got that early speed was Albano — who I knew liked the early speed, but thought had no chance to maintain it with Rise Up and Vicar’s In Trouble in the field. The horse who nosed Albano out for the victory was Intense Holiday. I thought Intense Holiday may have had a shot to hit the board, since he had previously run at more than a mile and not completely embarrassed himself (unlike much of the field), but he had never quite gotten there to hit the wire first when trying to run from off the pace — a style he had clearly been trying in the Nashua, the Remsen, and the Holy Bull. He put it together in the Risen Star, and he is almost certainly Derby-bound as a result.
Gulfstream: Canadian Turf Stakes (GIII, 1mi on the turf)
In this race, Reload was my first choice, Rydilluc was my second, and Mr. Online was my third.
Reload didn’t scratch, so he was my contest horse — and fortunately, he injected a bit of much-needed fake money into my contest ledger after winning the race. His odds plummeted from 8-1 morning line down to 4.8-1 at post time, so I was clearly not the only person who noticed he was a live one. As for Reload’s race shape, it wasn’t quite as I expected. I expected from his past races that he would be on or very near the early lead, not a few lengths back as he was. However, seeing a bit of change in tactic wasn’t a huge surprise, since this was only Reload’s second race ever on the turf. He stalked, got the rail and edged closer coming into the stretch, and overtook Mr. Online as the wire approached.
It was Mr. Online and Rydilluc, two of the horses I very much expected to be on the early lead, who were 1-2 for most of the race. However, as Mr. Online gamely dug in to try and keep that lead (and ultimately finish second by a neck), Rydilluc faded to fifth down the stretch. I’m not counting Rydilluc out for good on turf miles; this may have just been a function of him coming off the long lay. The proof will be in the next start or two for him. Mr. Online, on the other hand, proved himself once again to be as game as they come, and extended his streak of no-worse-than-second place finishes to nine races.
Gaining the show in this race was Salto. He ran just about as I expected, though maybe a bit further off the pace. However, he was gaining on Mr. Online late; just as I expected, he raced like he needed a bit more distance to do his best work. Salto is a very good horse, but he needs another furlong or so.
Gulfstream: Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
In this race, I had Top Billing as my first choice, General a Rod as my second, and Wildcat Red as my third. That was the trifecta — just not in quite the right order.
The race unfolded very much like I expected, with Wildcat Red and General a Rod getting on that early speed. The past performances suggested that they were the fastest horses there, and that bore out. Basically a matched pair, they ran head-and-head from the time the early pace settled until the wire.
The error I made in picking the race was thinking the early speed would be too much to hold up. Gulfstream was a conveyor belt on Saturday, and being the best of the speed was your ticket to victory. On top of that, both General a Rod and Wildcat Red proved that they are capable of holding plenty of speed through a mile and a sixteenth. Their fractions did slow a little, and Top Billing ate into their advantage, but those two leaders didn’t fade away. Given his pedigree, this wasn’t much of a surprise for General a Rod. For Wildcat Red this was a bit more unexpected, and it will be interesting to see him in the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby. It will also be interesting to see him finally run on a track other than the Gulfstream dirt (the site of all six of his starts), though that almost certainly won’t happen until Derby day. Wildcat Red does have a stronger pedigree for sprinting than routing, but at least at a mile and a sixteenth, he has proven himself more than legitimate.
Top Billing was able to catch everyone else, but could only get within two lengths of the twin speed demons. Combine the track’s love for speed with Top Billing having to start that race from the 12-hole, and it adds up to no lost faith whatsoever in Top Billing. He ran a strong race, and proved in his first stakes appearance that he deserves to be there.