This was an exciting weekend of racing, headlined by an exciting running of the Preakness Stakes. California Chrome kept his Triple Crown dreams alive, and even more excitingly for this Curlin-loving corner of the Internet, Ride On Curlin ran a big race! The hard-knocking colt finished a clear second, gaining on Chrome late.
All of the contests I played this weekend focused on Black-Eyed Susan day and Preakness day at Pimlico; it added up to nine of the stakes races over the two days. Some of the races didn’t go as well as I hoped, and I did have a few second place finishes (looking at you, Class Leader, for getting your head in front of Life In Shambles just in time!), but all in all this wasn’t the handicapping debacle that Derby weekend was for me. Onward and upward, right?
Preakness Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)
In this race, my top selection was Ride On Curlin, my second was Kid Cruz, and my third was California Chrome. Since he raced, Ride On Curlin was my contest horse. This was, to some extent, a price play. Unlike the Derby, I constructed my Preakness picks to actually use Chrome, since I thought he would hold on if anyone near the front end did. However, I thought there would be enough speed that a closer would have a good shot, and I was going to get much better prices on those closers than I would on the Derby champ.
The very front end wasn’t exactly as I predicted, except for Pablo Del Monte getting up there. Bayern was difficult to load into the gate, and was bumped around early; he got nowhere near the lead. Social Inclusion was rated, and made a move through the far turn. Ring Weekend ran from midpack and came in from off-pace near the half mile pole. General a Rod had a bad trip, and ran as well as he could from off the pace. Pablo Del Monte wasn’t alone on the lead, though. Of all horses, it was Ria Antonia who went up to the front with him. Given the likely pace scenario, that was a bizarre tactic; Ria Antonia has previously run from off the pace, and by any analysis of the running styles of most of the field, off-pace looked like a more advantageous tactic.
California Chrome did the same sort of thing he did in the Derby. He stalked just a couple lengths off early, and then made an authoritative move in the far turn. He and Social Inclusion moved in to catch Pablo Del Monte at the same time, as the far turn gave way into the stretch. Pablo Del Monte couldn’t keep up with either of them, and Social Inclusion couldn’t keep up with California Chrome. Ride On Curlin, next to last (about nine lengths back) early, started gobbling up ground as the field approached the far turn. He made a wide move around the field, and was the only one able to close up distance on California Chrome late. He did not win, but was able to get within a diminishing 1 1/2 lengths of the winner come the wire. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Social Inclusion and General a Rod, who were just a head apart for third and fourth.
As for Kid Cruz, he was over a dozen back early, and was never able to make up a lot of ground. He ran evenly enough, and passed Bayern and Ria Antonia as they tired, but that was it. He wasn’t actually a factor in the race. I was hoping to see him do better than that, though not completely shocked; I knew he was a risk, given the giant leap up in class this race was. I was glad to see him get the chance, though, and I’m curious to see where he goes next. Somehow I doubt the Belmont will happen, but maybe a GII or a GIII in the near future would be right up his alley.
Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes (three-year-olds and up, five furlongs on the dirt (originally scheduled for five furlongs on the turf, but washed off)
In this race, Ben’s Cat was my first choice, and Smash and Grab was my second, since the race was washed onto the dirt. Ben’s Cat did not scratch, so he was my contest horse. If the race had been kept on the turf, Ben’s Cat would still have been my first choice, because he is a monster on both surfaces at this level. However, if the race had remained on the turf, Wicked Tune would have been my second selection. (In fact, with the race moved to the dirt, Wicked Tune scratched out.)
Ben’s Cat seemed like the epitome of a single; he was the only horse I was really enthusiastic about in this race. Despite being eight years old, he is in some of the best form of his career, and he showed that yet again in the Jim McKay. I noted while handicapping the race that his most common pattern is a stalking style. He did exactly that in this race. Great Attack set the fractions, and Ben’s Cat stalked a length or so off him to the outside. He started gaining on the leader through the far turn, however, and pulled ahead in the last furlong. Great Attack kept chase, but couldn’t keep up; Ben’s Cat finished 1 3/4 lengths in front. Smash and Grab, after stumbling a bit at the start, chased from a few lengths back but was never quite able to improve position. He finished third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
I know it’s a common sentiment (and not strictly a race recap), but it’s relevant to this race, and it bears repeating: Ben’s Cat is so good for the sport of horse racing. The sport needs more strong, consistent horses like him, and more wise folks like his connections. He has been racing and winning stakes races since 2010; this gives fans someone to keep coming out and following over a long period of time. He races enough to stay fresh and strong, but not too frequently to stay sound. He races at the the right levels for his ability. He shows up every time he hits the track. Ben’s Cat, King Leatherbury, The Jim Stable…they’re doing horse racing right, and the sport is lucky to have them.
Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII, three-year-olds, fillies, 1 1/18 miles on the dirt)
In this race, Arethusa was my first choice, and Sloane Square was my second choice. Since she raced, Arethusa was my first choice. I was specifically taking a stand against Stopchargingmaria, despite how much I wanted her to win for the purposes of my fantasy stable. She had flopped in her previous two outings, and I was unwilling to take a chalky price on a horse who had not proven that she could run outside of the state of New York, even with her recent sharp workouts at Saratoga.
It turns out, some kind of light finally switched back on in Stopchargingmaria’s head between her thoroughly mediocre Fantasy Stakes and the Black-Eyed Susan. She was a lot farther from the lead that I expected at first; even though she broke well, she settled about half a dozen back. I am not sure whether Pletcher and Castellano were deliberately trying this, or it just happened that way, but it worked. She made a big move around the far turn, and looked like she was about to put Vera Amore away. Vera Amore had been stalking off Image of Anna’s pace and held up when the latter faded. Vera Amore handled Stopchargingmaria’s challenge gamely, though, and fought back within the final furlong. It was slightly too much, though; Stopchargingmaria stayed on task, and won by a neck in the final strides. Fortune Pearl, chasing from a handful of lengths back the entire way, wasn’t able to break away with the top two. However, she had more steam left than the rest of the field, and was third beaten three lengths. That midpack style from Fortune Pearl was a bit of a surprise; she had been a bit more of a closer in her previous races.
Arethusa, my top selection, was near the back of the pack early; this was expected. She made a move into the far turn, and got within three lengths of the lead. However, she had some traffic trouble coming into the stretch, and was forced to steady. She ran with what strength she had to the wire, but that loss of momentum blew any chance she had of hitting the board. Arethusa finished sixth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths. Sloane Square ran a disappointing race. She was near the early lead, but not on it. She stalked from a couple lengths off into the far turn, but then faded badly turning for home. She finished ninth, 9 1/2 lengths behind Stopchargingmaria. This was her first time stretching past a mile. Her breeding (by Giant’s Causeway, out of an Unbridled Song mare) suggests she should take another crack at a route, though her lack of real excuse in this race would make it no surprise if she ends up preferring shorter.
Ms. Preakness Stakes (three-year-olds, fillies, six furlongs on the dirt)
In this race, Our Lesmis was my top pick, with Tea Time my secondary selection. Since she raced, Our Lesmis was my contest horse.
With all of the early speed in this race, I expected there to be a big fight for it. Instead, Miss Behaviour got up to the front early over Sweetmarys Success and New Zone, and was never seriously challenged for it. Stormy Novel, a longshot who did stand to improve on the return to dirt, did break from the pack to give her chase down the stretch. However, Miss Behaviour had more than enough run in the final furlong, and took the race wire to wire. Stormy Novel stalked her from a few lengths back and kicked down the stretch to close up the margin, but was still 1 3/4 lengths behind Miss Behaviour come the wire. Both Jojo Warrior and Tea Time came in from near the back of the pack early to check in as the best of the rest, 7 1/2 lengths behind the winner. However, it was Jojo Warrior who got her nose just in front of Tea Time to claim the show. It was better than I was expecting Tea Time to do without the early lead, though definitely worse than I was expecting given that Tea Time was on a class drop and a distance cut. I thought she’d get the early lead.
As for Our Lesmis, she did not handle the tick up in class as well as I thought she would. She chased a handful of lengths back, farther off the pace than she had ever been in her previous races. She didn’t have anything left to gain on the leaders coming into the stretch, and lost ground with respect to the front end turning for home. She didn’t fade down the stretch, but didn’t really gain ground either; Our Lesmis finished 7th, beaten 10 1/2 lengths.
Pimlico Special (GIII, three-year-olds and up, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)
In this race, I had Valid as my top selection, and Moreno as my second choice. Since he raced, Valid was my contest horse. Going into the race, he was my favourite price play of the weekend — horses like Moreno and Revolutionary were likely to grab a lot of the money, and I thought Moreno was going to be able to do enough to dictate the pace that either Moreno would carry wire to wire, or a fast horse from a stalking place would take it. I thought Valid would be that fast horse from a stalking place, and that he had a great chance to nab Moreno late. As for Revolutionary, I figured he would like the track, but wasn’t willing to take chalk on such an inconsistent horse who was likely going to be pace-compromised.
Moreno didn’t get on the lone speed. Instead, Valid had his head in front, with Moreno and Golden Lad stalking just off of him. The pace was fairly fast early, especially for such a long race: the first quarter in 22.75, the half in 46.98. Golden Lad faded out of it; as the field turned for home, Moreno got his head in front, with Valid still close by. Valid faded quickly after that, though, as Prayer for Relief and Cat Burglar advanced from their stalking spots to challenge for the lead in early stretch. However, they still had Revolutionary to deal with. Revolutionary, who had dropped back over thirty lengths after being bumped at the break, had steadily improved his position through the backstretch and the far turn. He came flying in at the leaders in the final sixteenth, and had plenty of run to spare. Revolutionary took advantage of the tiring field, finished with energy, and got in front of Prayer For Relief just in time to win by a neck. Cat Burglar was third, 1 1/2 lengths back.
Moreno had tried to stay on with the closing contingent, but he was just short of energy late. He tried to hold on, but could only muster fourth, 1 3/4 lengths behind Revolutionary. Valid, on the class rise and the lengthening of distance, could not carry his speed from wire to wire. He gave way in shallow stretch, and ended up fifth beaten seven lengths. I still think he is a stakes-caliber horse, even after this — just not necessarily at Classic distances.
Maryland Sprint Handicap (GIII, three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt)
In this race, Happy My Way was my first choice, and Lemon Drop Dream was my second. Since he raced, Happy My Way was my contest horse. Even though he was bound to be bet down, Happy My Way just looked like the class of the field. He was firing consistently, running faster than anyone else in the field, and coming into this from the Sir Shackleton: a race from which both second-place Dad’z Laugh and third-place Ribo Bobo returned to win stakes. If I were doing a multi-race wager instead of a contest, he would have been almost as emphatic a single as Ben’s Cat would have been in Friday’s McKay.
Happy My Way ran as expected; he absolutely destroyed this field. He broke sharply, and was quickly a length in front. He steadily improved his lead, and by the time the field turned for home, a length advantage had grown to five. Lemon Drop Dream chased a handful of lengths back early, something within the realm of expectation given the shape of his previous races. He never challenged the winner, but he was at least able to chase Happy My Way well enough to not lose real ground down the stretch. That sort of chase was good enough to improve his position to second; he crossed the wire 5 3/4 lengths behind Happy My Way. Service For Ten, over a dozen lengths back early, saved ground along the rail through the turn. He accelerated down the stretch, and made up enough ground to check in third, beaten 6 3/4 lengths.
Gallorette Handicap (GIII, three-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)
In this race, Somali Lemonade was my first choice, Strathnaver was my second, and Triple Arch was my third choice. Since she raced, Somali Lemonade was my contest horse. Strathnaver, my second choice, was a late scratch by trainer Graham Motion due to the soft turf. However, since my first choice did run, this did not affect me in either of my contests. I liked Somali Lemonade as the most credible speed in a race without a lot of it; I liked her even more when Brenda’s Way, the only other horse who looked like speed on paper, scratched out the morning of the race.
Somali Lemonade did get to the lead straight away, though she was not alone. Daydreamin Gracie, a horse who does like early speed, got up there with her. I thought she would be too weak to hold onto the speed credibly, though, and that bore out. Daydreamin Gracie held on better than I thought she would, but by the time the field moved into the far turn, she was fading back quickly and leaving Somali Lemonade all alone on the front. She was about five lengths in front through the far turn and coming into the stretch, but Watsdachances found some room on the rail and made a huge closing run. A dozen lengths back early, Watsdachances had improved to be only about half a dozen back as the field turned for home. In the last 3/16 mile, she made a furious run, the only serious challenge Somali Lemonade had. It fell just short, though; Somali Lemonade stayed in front, and won by half a length. Triple Arch, racing in the second flight for much of the race, tried to make a run coming down the stretch. However, she never sustained enough of a move to seriously challenge Somali Lemonade or Watsdachances. She finished third, beaten 7 3/4 lengths.
Sir Barton Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)
In this race, Life In Shambles was my first choice, He’s Achance was my second, and Ground Control was my third. Ground Control scratched from the race, but that didn’t end up affecting my contest selection. Since he raced, Life In Shambles was my contest horse. He had shown both speed and fight since he started racing on dirt, and in a race that looked as wide open as this one, it appeared those qualities would do them will. My third slot was a fairly close selection between Ground Control and Class Leader, but Class Leader had shown so much better from inside posts than outside ones that I decided to go with Ground Control instead.
He’s Achance bolted to the early lead, with Life In Shambles settling in about two lengths off him early. He’s Achance held coming into the far turn, but went from setting the fractions to looking like he was standing still as Life In Shambles, Six Spot, and Sea View Chico engaged from their stalking positions. Class Leader, who had been loping along a dozen lengths back early, also fired nicely. He made an outside run coming through the far turn into the stretch. Life In Shambles was clearly ahead of both Six Spot and Sea View Chico, but Class Leader was flying in on the outside. I had a slight worry about Life In Shambles since he tended to be losing a bit of ground late in his previous one-mile races; he was stretching to a mile and a sixteenth for the first time here. He was running well late, but just didn’t have enough to repel Class Leader, who won by a head. Six Spot finished a length back in third; Sea View Chico finished 3/4 length behind Six Spot in fourth.
He’s Achance, after setting the early fractions, faded badly through the far turn. It was almost immediate: one moment he was on the front, and the next the field was circling around him. He crossed the wire seventh and last, beaten 21 1/4 lengths. He had won at this distance before in allowance company; next time out, he may need to drop back into allowance company.
Something a bit quirky happened in the Sir Barton. As the field came down the stretch the first time around, while He’s Achance led, he did something rather bizarre: he jumped. He went flying over an obstacle that wasn’t actually there. In her Pimlico photoblog, Penelope Miller got a great sequence of pictures of him doing this. Barbara Livingston of the DRF also took several, and posted them on Twitter. It’s quite compelling; you have a horse in flight in a completely different way than normal for a running horse.
Dixie Stakes (three-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)
In this race, Up With The Birds was my first choice, Nutello was my second, and Hey Leroy was my third. Since he raced, Up With The Birds was my contest horse. I had hoped he would improve second off the lay, and I had also hoped that he would stay somewhat near his 5/1 morning line given his sixth-place finish in an allowance at Keeneland his previous time out. Unfortunately, neither of those things bore out: he failed to hit the board, and he went off as the 2.6-1 favourite.
As expected, Fredericksburg and Chamois were on the front early. They were the only two horses in the field who had a lot of affinity for the early speed, and they took it here. Nutello, Hey Leroy, and Charming Kitten stalked early, with the rest of the field strung out farther back. It stayed in about that shape through the far turn, though closers Utley and Hamp were starting to make moves from the back of the pack. Chamois finally took the lead from Fredericksburg as the field pushed down the stretch. Among the stalkers, Nutello faded back along the rail; Hey Leroy had plenty left to make a run at Chamois, though, and Charming Kitten continued willingly as well. However, Utley made the biggest late run of all. After swinging out wide early in the stretch, he had nothing in front of him but clear grass. He gained on the field with every jump, and pulled ahead within the final sixteenth. Utley finished a widening length ahead of Hey Leroy, who nosed out Chamois for the place. Charming Kitten held fourth, 1 3/4 lengths back; Hamp’s deep closing outside run was only enough to get him up for fifth, two lengths back.
Up With The Birds was never a factor. He chased about seven lengths back for the first four furlongs or so. He started making up some distance on the lead late, but it wasn’t enough to provide a credible threat to teh lead, and wasn’t significantly more of a late kick than many of the horses in the pack had. He ended up finishing sixth, 2 1/4 lengths behind Utley. My second choice, Nutello, faded badly after being so close to those early fractions set by Fredericksburg and Chamois. He wasn’t quite up for a mile and a sixteenth that day; he faded back to finish tenth and last, seven lengths behind Utley.