There was quite a bit I got right about the stakes races I picked for Public Handicapper yesterday…and I wasn’t left completely on the duck for the week despite the win-only format, since my pick California Chrome performed exactly like one would hope a 3-5 shot in a Grade I would. Let’s hop in and look back at those stakes races from yesterday:
Bay Shore Stakes (GIII, three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt)
In this race, I had Financial Mogul (3) as my first choice, Kobe’s Back (8) as my second, and and Coup de Grace (4) as my third choice. As he raced, Financial Mogul was my contest horse.
Financial Mogul was also the only horse among my picks not to hit the board. He didn’t have the greatest of starts — though that in itself appears a flimsy excuse, given that it was Coup de Grace (the winner) with whom he bumped. Speaking of starts, Kobe’s Back was out of the gate very slowly, and came out even behind Financial Mogul and Kobe’s Back. Favorite Tale and Loki’s Vengeance, two of the horses who appears as likely early speed coming in, took that role when the pace settled in; Oliver Zip and The Admiral stalked close behind. Coming into the stretch, though, about four lengths covered the entire field. About two lengths back was as close as Financial Mogul got, though; unlike much of the field, he didn’t have much more through the stretch, and finished only ahead of the head-and-head early leaders.
Coup de Grace was near the back early, a deviation from his previous style of running near the early speed. This ended up working out nicely; he proved his ability to rate and fight. Despite the bump at the start, despite being five wide through the far turn, he got up to challenge the leaders, and by the sixteenth pole he was bobbing head with Oliver Zip and The Admiral. He just didn’t quit, and got his nose in front at the wire after a fantastic stretch run. Oliver Zip held up best among the frontrunning brigade – I liked him to hit the board here, and he showed even more than I expected to see while finishing just that nose behind Coup de Grace. Kobe’s Back, who was a good ten lengths back early, came on like a freight train on the outside, and checked in only half a length behind the winner. After the start he had, that was a huge rebound.
Wood Memorial Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)
In this race, Samraat (8) was my first choice, Uncle Sigh (10) was my second, and Schivarelli (7) was my third choice. Since he raced, Samraat (8) was my contest horse.
Schivarelli and Social Inclusion got up for the lead. I was a bit nervous to see Social Inclusion get up there — I thought there was no chance he’s get the lead in that race, both between the gate and the relatively slow pace figures he had in the past. As much as I wanted to stand against him, he did show more in this race than I expected to see. Noble Moon, Kristo, and Samraat got in behind them; among those three, Samraat was the only one who really stayed in the hunt. He made up some ground on the leaders; as Schivarelli faded a little down the stretch, Samraat pulled even with Social Inclusion, and nosed him out for the place.
However, that was the fight for the place. I completely underestimated Wicked Strong; there’s no two ways about it. He looked a cut below on paper. He didn’t look absolutely rotten, as he had a pretty sharp recent work at Belmont, and his only previous attempt at the distance was his 1/2 length third behind Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Remsen. However, he had flopped in his Derby preps since, and his speed figures had been terrible compared to the field. None of that mattered: he fired big time. After having settled a handful of lengths back early, Wicked Strong just gobbled up ground despite being wide on the far turn, and won this race going away. We finally have at least one closer in the Derby gate. That’s not to say he’s my Derby horse, or that I even believe he’s going to fire in the Derby, but it’s nice to know that it won’t be twenty speedballs.
Ashland Stakes (GI, three-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic)
In this race, I had Testa Rossi (6) as my first selection, Rosalind (8) as my second, and Room Service (2) as my third. Since she raced, Testa Rossi was my contest horse.
Testa Rossi was a risk because she had never run on synthetic before; I was willing to take the chalk on her, though, given how well she had run on turf and the class of her opponents, especially her juvenile year. Testa Rossi was also the only one of my chosen horses who scored me absolutely nothing on a win bet.
Istanford and Resistivity got up to the lead early, with Macaroon just behind. Resistivity surprised me a bit with her ability to get up there as fast as she did, given her outside post. Istanford, however, was no surprise up there at all. All three of my selections dropped back: Testa Rossi about ten back, and both Rosalind and Room Service more like a dozen. Testa Rossi may not have wanted to be quite as far back, as On The Backstreets bore out into her going into the clubhouse turn, but even with that she wasn’t settled back farther than she has been before. All three have shown closing prowess in the past; seeing them back early with the speedballs up there was exactly what I expected, and was hoping to see.
Testa Rossi and Rosalind both made their moves going into the far turn. Testa Rossi was along the rail, and improved a few lengths, but stalled out. She made it as far up as fourth, and that’s where she held down the relatively short Keeneland stretch. Rosalind hauled up from far back, swung wide through the far turn, and took command coming into the stretch. By then, Room Service was making her move as well — charging from dead last on the backstretch to get within a length of the lead once the field was heading for home. Rosalind and Room Service started to pull away from the field. Ever so briefly, it became unclear whether Room Service was going to sustain her run or end up having to settle for second, but she found more just in time. She caught up on even terms with Rosalind — watching the horses cross the wire I could have sworn Room Service had nabbed Rosalind, but the photo told the tale: dead heat. These two were much the best: Thank You Marylou got up from mid-pack for third (seven lengths behind the winners), and Testa Rossi hung on for fourth.
Santa Anita Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)
In this race, California Chrome was my first choice, Candy Boy my second, and Hoppertunity third. Since he raced, California Chrome was my contest pick. I am looking forward to seeing how he fares elsewhere, but we do know one thing about California Chrome: he owns the top three-year-old route races at Santa Anita, simple as that.
Dublin Up set the early fractions, with California Chrome just behind and then Candy Boy stalking three wide and just behind. California Chrome had repeatedly shown the ability to rate from just off, so this spot behind Dublin Up was perfect. Candy Boy, on the other hand, was a bit closer in than expected, to start. Hoppertunity, who I expected to be the one close up near where Candy Boy raced, was instead a couple lengths back early, in the tight little pack that contained the rest of the field.
Coming into the far turn, Dublin Up lost ground as the horses made their moves, or at least attempted to. California Chrome kicked into gear best of all, and opened up daylight between him and the rest of the field like it was nothing. I’m almost surprised Trevor Denman didn’t trot out his old “they would need to sprout wings” line, as he did in the California Cup Derby, it was so decisive. He checked in 5 1/4 lengths in front of the second place Hoppertunity, who gained enough ground late to claim a clear second ahead of both Candy Boy and the tiring Dublin Up. Candy Boy never really improved his position; he didn’t fade massively, but was never able to mount a serious challenge to California Chrome or even Hoppertunity. He stayed in for third.
The big question with Candy Boy was whether he would be able to come into this race fresh and ready to run; judging from his performance, there is a decent chance he could have used another race. The Kentucky Derby is now a questionable proposition for Candy Boy. He now sits at 30 points: sixteenth on the leaderboard with the Arkansas Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes, and the Lexington Stakes to go. He has to hope for some repeat winners in these races.