There are a ton of big stakes this week, and of course, there are a ton of handicapping contests going on this weekend to go with them. This weekend I’m again doing both the Danonymous Racing contest as well as the Public Handicapper contest. It’s eight races in total, since all four Public Handicapper races overlap with the eight races in the Danonymous Racing contest.
Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII, 1mi on the dirt)
This race is at Gulfstream, which is favouring horses on or near the lead. However, that describes the majority of the field in this race; the only horses in the field who have had much of any success from far back are Golden Ticket and Narvaez, though even both of them have also had success from positions closer to the front. The horse most like to work to grab that early lead is Sr. Quisqueyano, since he really cannot win without it. However, he tends to like more than a mile, and most of his speeds are slow for the field. Faster horses like Palace Malice and Falling Sky won’t be too far from any lead he tries to set, and are likely to take that lead from him. The race is probably a bit shorter than Palace Malice wants, but a bit longer than Falling Sky wants; it’s more than likely to come down to these two, though.
The really interesting question mark is Itsmyluckyday; it is hard to know what to expect here. This is his first race back from his pelvic fracture from the Pegasus. He has been working well at Palm Meadows, and won the Gulfstream Derby at this distance last year. Between the injury and the long time off, I’m not sure he’s going to be as ready to race as the rest of the field. I’m more interested in this race as a tune-up for whatever (likely longer) race comes next. However, in case he comes back anywhere near the same horse as before, he could be worth using in exotics, especially in lower rungs.
Private Terms Stakes (1 1/8mi on the dirt)
It is not often when I handicap a race and strongly like only one horse in the field, but this is one of these races. Between horses who like the early lead and horses who want to be near it, there are just too many of those, and too many of them who don’t look like they are going to want the mile and an eighth here. If there weren’t a lot of early speed I would consider Roman Fire or Starry Moon, since they are bred to not hate the distance. However, there will be tons of early speed, and this race is screaming for a horse who can come off the pace and handle nine furlongs. There’s only one in the race who looks like he fits the bill: Kid Cruz. Even though he’s making a big jump in class, his speed figures fit right with this field. The distance ought not be a problem, either: his sire is Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, and he was gaining ground in both his maiden win at a mile and his second place finish last out at a mile and a sixteenth. If he scratches, I would probably fall back to Classic Giacnroll, because he has faced classier competition than the rest of the field, and doesn’t need early speed. If he runs one of his better races, he has a shot. However, I would not be happy about it.
Kilroe Mile (GI, 1mi on the turf)
Few turf milers are as consistent as Za Approval nowadays; I’m hard pressed to think of any who may be more consistent nowadays other than Wise Dan and possibly Egg Drop. Last out, he finished 3/4 length behind Wise Dan in the Breeders Cup Mile; he has been consistently facing tougher company than the rest of this field. He tends to stalk the pace, and he had both the speed and the class to hang with (and likely surpass) this field. Lakerville interests me here, as well. Even though he has never raced longer than six and a half furlongs, his pedigree suggests that he can handle it, and in almost all of his races he has been gaining on (or past) the field come the wire. This is the toughest field he has faced so far, since he is stepping up from restricted or state-bred stakes, but the distance looks like it will help him a lot. He is also one of only two potential closers in the field; if someone’s going to pick up the pieces of any speed dueling, it will be Lakerville or Tom’s Tribute.
Two other horses worth saying a word or two about are Lochte and Optimizer. Lochte is a bit of a buzz horse, coming fresh off a surprise GI win in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. However, all of his wins have been at longer distances; I wouldn’t discount that he may be game enough to hit the board, but he’s not likely to win at this shorter distance. As for Optimizer, this is his first race back off a seven-month lay, after he pulled up in the Sword Dancer. He’s another horse who has shown some good form in the past, but may prefer a bit longer race. Also, he has been working on the dirt at Oaklawn; the works haven’t been bad, but especially coming off such a long lay into a turf race, I’d rather see those works on turf.
San Carlos (GII, 7 furlongs on the dirt)
The only horses in this race who have much preference for early speed are Big Macher and Ready For More. Even though he’s on a class rise here, Big Macher is likely to be the faster of the two; if he gets loose on the lead he could be dangerous. However, if he gets in a duel or just can’t separate himself by enough, look for either Shakin’ It Up or Sahara Sky to get up there come the stretch. Shakin’ It Up has been running in graded company as of late, and absolutely loves Santa Anita: he is 5-4-1-0 in the SA dirt. His last race was the 1 1/16 mile Strub (GII), but before that he won the GI Malibu Stakes at this distance, over this track, first race off a nine month lay. Combine that with the fact that he can win from either a few back or from a true closing position, and he looks like a real threat. Sahara Sky is another horse just getting back into the swing of racing after some time off; this is his second race after a nine month lay. Last out, he was fifth beaten 3 1/2 lengths in the Palos Verdes (GII) behind Wild Dude and Secret Circle. Look for him to be fresher here. The one advantage of Shakin’ It Up over Sahara Sky is that Shakin’ It Up has successfully closed into slower fractions in a previous race — a good skill to have, given that this race does not have a ton of early speed.
San Felipe (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
The field in this one has shrunk to eight, between Bayern’s injury and Rprettyboyfloyd opting to race in a March 7th Maiden Special Weight instead.
This is yet another race with a ton of early speed. Kristo needs to be on the early speed, Midnight Hawk needs to be on or just near it, and California Chrome, Sawyer’s Hill, Unstoppable Colby, and Home Run Kitten will want to stalk fairly close behind if their past races are any indication. If that pace doesn’t fall apart, look to California Chrome or Kristo as the ones most likely to stay strong from near the front. Midnight Hawk has been fading late in his last races, and is likely flirting with the far reaches of his distance capabilities here.
However, thanks to all the horses who want to be near the front, the pace is likely to fall apart, and open up room for someone to come up from behind. That someone is Schoolofhardrocks. Even though he is coming off a six month layoff into this race, he did post a strong win from behind in his only time out, a maiden win at a mile at Del Mar. He has been posting very nice works at Santa Anita, and he goes on Lasix for the first time here. If he has strengthened from his two year old year, and keeps his cool in this return to the racetrack, he could spell trouble for this field.
Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 1 1/4mi on the dirt)
Three names dominate the discussions of The Big Cap this year: Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man, and Game On Dude. This is with good reason: they are the fastest horses in the field, the strongest, and the most experienced at this Classic distance. This race basically comes down to two questions: whether it’s Game On Dude or Mucho Macho Man who gets near the lead early, and whether Will Take Charge fires with enough time to catch them. Last out, Will Take Charge just ran out of room in the Donn, hitting the wire a length and a half behind Lea. However, the Donn is a full furlong shorter than this race. Luis Saez is back on Will Take Charge, he should know from experience when he needs to get his mount to start hauling. He has caught Game On Dude before in the Clark, and came within a nostril of nabbing Mucho Macho Man last fall. None of these three horses are a shoo-in, but as a pure question of probability, I’m going with Will Take Charge; no matter who gets the lead early, he will be coming like a freight train down the stretch with a good chance to hit the wire first.
If you’re looking for other horses in the field to fill out lower rungs of trifectas or superfectas, Rousing Sermon and Hear The Ghost look most promising. Rousing Sermon has raced this distance before, finishing 8th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby behind I’ll Have Another, and gaining on the lead as the race ended. Hear The Ghost has not raced a mile and a quarter before, but he did race the 1 1/8 mile Native Diver at Hollywood Park last year, and lost by a narrowing half-length to Blueskiesnrainbows. Among the field, these two horses may not have the speed to conquer the big guys, but they have the most in the way of stamina to hang on for a minor share.
Tampa Bay Downs
Florida Oaks (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the turf)
Testa Rossi is going to be bet way down here, coming off her strong second place in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. I racked my brain to try and find a way to beat her. The problem is, I’m not sure it exists. The outside post shouldn’t be a problem, because she broke from the same outside post in the Breeders’ Cup, and closed to within 2 1/2 lenths of Chriselliam. There is simply not a Chriselliam in this field. She’s coming off a four-month lay, but she came off a three-month lay last year, after shipping over from Europe, and won the Miss Grillo at this distance at Belmont. The only real drawback is that she’s carrying 122 pounds, six more than everyone but Kitten Kaboodle. Even then, that’s exactly what she carried in the Breeders’ Cup, and she ran with power.
The horses I like best in the rest of the field are Miss Besilu and Kitten Kaboodle. Miss Besilu has a six pound weight break compared to Testa Rossi and Kitten Kaboodle. She is the class of the early speed in this race, and has shown an ability to stalk a few back if she needs. She may need to here, since Istanford needs the early speed to win, and will need to strike a delicate balance to stay in the race but not get into a tiring duel with her. As for Kitten Kaboodle, she broke her maiden at this distance in the Jessamine Stakes last year, and her experience at this distance and with graded stakes caliber horses will help her here. She likes to stalk the pace, though has also tried closing in one of her maiden races. She is probably more likely to try and stalk here.
Tampa Bay Derby (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)
There’s more early speed in this race than expected before the entries were announced. Coltimus Prime and Surfing USA likes to be right on it, with Cousin Stephen, Vinceremos, and Ring Weekend just off. Matador has also shown some success on the early lead, though he came from further back in his fourth-place finish in the Sam F. Davis, and would probably be better served trying that sort of strategy here. Vinceremos is probably the best of this early speed, both because he is not likely to get sucked into a speed duel (both rather stalk behind until he needs to fire), and because he had a second wind down the stretch in his Sam F. Davis win. However, Coltimus Prime is interesting, as well. He is questionable because he is coming off a three-month lay and has only raced on the Woodbine synthetic, but has been working well on the dirt and is sired by Milwaukee Brew, a sire who frequently produces good dirt runners. His final races as a two-year-old, the 1 1/16 mile Display Stakes, was strong; if he builds on where he left off there, he could be a threat to hit the board.
However, with all of this early speed, I am really looking to a closer to get the job done here. The classiest of the bunch, and my pick in the race, is Conquest Titan. Last time out, he was able to catch everyone but Cairo Prince on a speed-favouring Gulfstream track. The race before that, he knocked off General a Rod in a one mile AOC at Churchill Downs. He is working well at Palm Meadows, and should be ready to go here.
Another horse worth considering, and likely to come from somewhere back, is Hy Kodiak Warrior. This is his first attempt at stakes company, though last out he was third beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Commissioner and Top Billing in their AOC at Gulfstream — at a mile and an eighth. This distance should be no problem here. He has been working strongly at Calder, as well. If Conquest Titan fires then Hy Kodiak Warrior may end up being second best of the closers, but even second best of the closers could be good enough to hit the board give how much early speed there is in this race.
That’s all for the moment, though there will be plenty more races tomorrow. I’m going out to Hawthorne tomorrow to watch the live racing there as well as these eight on simulcast. I’ll be getting to the track early tomorrow morning to handicap those races, and will have picks in those eight before post time