Big ‘Cap Weekend recap: part 2!

It’s time to pick up where I left off, with the other four races I handicapped from Saturday.

Santa Anita

San Felipe (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Schoolofhardrocks as my first choice, and California Chrome as my second choice.  Since he raced, Schoolofhardrocks was my contest horse.  There was actually another scratch between when I wrote my preview on Friday night and the race on Saturday, but that was Home Run Kitten.  His scratch did not have any real effect on my handicapping of the race.

It turned out that early speed held up better than expected.  California Chrome shot straight to the lead, with Midnight Hawk just behind.  However, that was it for early speed.  California Chrome controlled the race from beginning to end.  He shot straight to the lead out of the gate, and when the pace settled, it was him, Midnight Hawk, and the rest nowhere.  As the far turn curved into the stretch, Midnight Hawk began to show his distance limitations.  He lugged home half a dozen lengths of the third-place Kristo but was nowhere near California Chrome, who had opened up a widening seven and a half lengths between him and the field.  He passed his first open-company stakes test as a three-year-old with flying colours, and barring injury should be in the starting gate come Derby day.

I knew Schoolofhardrocks was a risk, but he was a risk I was willing to take, especially since the only contest this race was in was win or place.  He looked like the most likely horse, at least on paper, to pick up the pieces if the early speed fell apart, and seemed likely to do it at a much better price than the favourite California Chrome.  It was true, the price on him was better.  However, the speed didn’t fall apart at all, since a horse who could handle the distance had the lead throughout, and he was only closely pressed by another who faded in the last few furlongs.  Furthermore, he was a little rusty, and a little green; both possible, since the San Felipe was only his second race ever.  I am interested to see how he does next out, since it will be his second start off the lay and second as a three-year-old.

Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 1 1/4mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Will Take Charge as my first choice, Mucho Macho Man as my second, and Game On Dude as my third.  Since he raced, Will Take Charge was my contest horse.  There wasn’t a bad choice within the three horses here; they were the class of the field, and a lot depended on who got the lead first.  That was why I went with Will Take Charge as my primary: Mucho Macho Man and Game On Dude are both horses who like to spring to the lead early, and I thought Will Take Charge had a chance to catch either with a closing move.  It was an odds game; Will Take Charge was very likely to get at least second, and had a decent chance for first as well.  My pick worked out for me, sort of.  Will Take Charge came in second, netting me points in the Danonymous Racing competition, though not in Public Handicapper.

It was Game On Dude who got that lead, and it was Game On Dude who kept it.  Hear The Ghost tried to get there early as well, but went wide into the clubhouse turn, and lost ground after that.  Mucho Macho Man tried to get up to Game On Dude coming into the far turn, but couldn’t keep up; Game On Dude started gaining more ground as soon as Mucho Macho Man got within any sort of striking distance.  Will Take Charge had more in the tank; even though he couldn’t quite catch Game On Dude down the stretch, he was less than two lengths back as the wire approached.  It took Game On Dude stakes record time to put him away once and for all.  The third place horse, Blingo, finished 9 3/4 back, heading a pack that included him, Mucho Macho Man, and Hear The Ghost.  They were all well beaten.  Game On Dude was much the best, and Will Take Charge was the only horse who gave him any credible chase.

No matter what, I do not think Will Take Charge was a bad pre-race top pick here, just due to the fact that there were multiple pace scenarios involving the top horses in which he had a chance to win.  However, it was a relatively close selection between Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man.  I opted for Mucho Macho Man because of his better recent race performance, even though I heard some reports in the day or two leading up to the Big ‘Cap that his most recent work wasn’t the best.  As for Game On Dude, I disliked his flops in the San Antonio and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  However, the head loss in the Clark wasn’t the clunker the pundits said it was; it wasn’t an example of him losing a step, but rather an example of why Game On Dude is most imposing when he gets the early lead, and less so when he is stalking it.   Furthermore, two wins in the Santa Anita Handicap have to count for something; even though this was a tougher field, I couldn’t imagine his connections would get him there anything short of fit and ready to run.

Tampa Bay Downs

Florida Oaks (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the turf)

In this race, Testa Rossi was my first choice, and Miss Besilu was my second.  Since she raced, Testa Rossi was my contest horse.  I knew full well she was going to be bet down; she ended up going off at 1-1 in a twelve-horse field.  However, I didn’t see a good way to beat her: she was the classiest and best proven horse in the field, and she had shown that she could close effectively from an outside post just like she got in this race.

Testa Rossi delivered.  She didn’t run exactly as I expected; instead of closing from the back of the pack, she settled in midpack, four or five lengths off.  However, she made a wide sweep around the turn, switched into another gear coming into the stretch, and drew out smoothly to win by three and a half lengths over Istanford. She had so much left at the end; Testa Rossi stands to be a strong contender on the distaff side of the three-year-old turf route division this year.  I’m trying to stop myself before declaring she’ll be in the field of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf this November, since the Florida Oaks field wasn’t the toughest in the world, but it’s hard not to entertain that fleeting thought after as easy as she made that run look.

I did note while handicapping the race that Istanford needed the early speed to win, and could be dangerous if she got loose on it.  She did get that speed from the start, with Spangled Banner stalking behind.  The fractions could have hardly been called a duel, though; although she wasn’t extremely loose on it, Istanford still had her way pacewise.  Spangled Banner faded, and no one in the field seriously threatened her until Testa Rossi made her run.

Miss Besilu, my second choice, was stalking the pace early, as I suggested given the wisdom of not getting into a tiring duel with Istanford.  However, instead of rallying to close the gap between her and Istanford, she steadily faded down the stretch, finally crossing the wire 10 1/2 lengths back in 11th place.  There’s no clear excuse for her bad race.  Kitten Kaboodle, the other horse I considered as a second choice, hung out in the middle of the pack for most of the race.  She made up a few lengths coming into the stretch, but couldn’t sustain her run, and crossed the wire 7th beaten 7 lengths. Kitten Kaboodle has succeeded at this distance before, and this was her first race since the Breeders’ Cup, so she may fare better next time out.

Tampa Bay Derby (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Conquest Titan as my first choice, Hy Kodiak Warrior as my second choice, and Vinceremos as my third choice.  Since he raced, Conquest Titan was my contest horse.  I anticipated that there would be so much early speed that the pace would set up for a closer, so my top two selections were closers.  However, early speed ran the day.

In reading the statistics pre-race, Ring Weekend looked like a threat if the pace set up well for early speed, though I thought that even then Vinceremos would be the stronger of the early speed, and would win if any speed horse did.  However, Ring Weekend shot right to the front, and never looked back.  He dictated the fractions, he ran how he wanted, and he wasn’t seriously threatened.  Surfing U S A (one of the horses I expected to be right on the lead) stalked in second, but even then never got closer than several lengths back once Ring Weekend got running.  Vinceremos was just behind Surfing U S A, also stalking (to the extent that any horse really was able to stalk Ring Weekend), but was able to close up enough ground to take second.

The other horse I expected to be right on the early speed, Coltimus Prime, was nowhere near it.  He was a few lengths off early, but faded quickly.  It was his first run on the dirt, though he has been working on dirt relatively well.  I wonder whether he’s going to prefer synthetic or turf in the long run; this would be interesting, being that he is sired by Milwaukee Brew, though not unheard-of.

Conquest Titan was back early, which was expected.  He made up a little bit of ground coming into the stretch, but not nearly as much as expected.  It was a relatively weak closing run.  He was on the rail, and he may have been a little boxed in behind Vinceremos and Surfing U S A near there, but it just wasn’t the explosive run I was expecting from him.  As for Hy Kodiak Warrior, he had even less of a run late than Conquest Titan did.  At least Conquest Titan made up a little ground in the stretch; Hy Kodiak Warrior lost a bit of ground, with no closing run at all.

So end the recaps from Saturday.  I got a few things right and a few things wrong, as usual.  However, it was definitely one of the most memorable days of racing in recent memory, between Palace Malice’s gritty Gulfstream Park Handicap win and Game On Dude’s epic run to clinch his third Big ‘Cap.  I anticipated that it would be the biggest day in racing since the Breeders’ Cup last fall, and it did not disappoint.

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