It is a cloudy Saturday afternoon, and post time is nigh. This is the last weekend before the stakes season begins at Hawthorne, but there is still a full card of nine races — including a maiden special and two allowances. The dirt is fast, the turf is firm, and most of the fields are still quite sizable for a Saturday in November.
Without further ado, let’s get to the races.
Race 1: Maiden special weight ($20,000 purse), two-year-old fillies, six furlongs on the dirt
Selections: Media Star (3), Etheridge (8), Queen of Chicago (5)
Media Star is a first-time starter, but both the blood and the barn suggest she should be ready to fire today. Sire Mass Media wins at 15% first time out, and trainer James DiVito fires at 34% with first-time starters in maiden specials. She has not posted too many workouts so far, but the ones she has posted have all been five furlongs, and she has two bullets out of her four recorded moves. Etheridge, DiVito’s other entry is a second-time starter. Last out, she came in third in a maiden special at this distance at Keeneland. This is a class drop from the types she faced there. The humans behind her could not be hotter: DiVito has nine wins in 29 starts this meet, and jockey Emmanuel Esquivel has 28 wins — 13 more than his closest competitor, Chris Emigh. As good as DiVito is with first-timers, he is also a serious threat second out, winning at 28%. The only worry, and the reason that he is not the top selection, is he may want a little longer than six furlongs. Queen of Chicago has struggled in five starts, but is making enough changes here to be worth considering as a paddock play. She switches to rider Rolondo Aragon, and puts on the blinkers for the first time in this race. All six other starters out of her dam have won, and five of those six figured it out in their first few starts. This is grasping at straws, but it seems that anyone other than the DiVito pair requires grasping at some straws, as well. If you’re looking to go elsewhere, may as well consider a huge price on a horse making some changes if she looks good.
Race 2: $12,500 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, five furlongs on the turf
Selections: Somali Byrd (3), Catafire (9), Stone Free (11)
Even though there is a bit less early speed with the scratches of Gangster Chick and Our Black Beauty, the presence of Lavender Patch, She’s Lit Up, and Pinkchampagneonice still suggest there will be plenty of pace here. Somali Byrd runs a stalking style, which should keep her in touch though not right on the hot fractions. She returns to a turf dash here after two straight attempts on the dirt, and gets rider Nicholas Meza back. Meza got her home at this distance on the Arlington turf three starts ago. Catafire may be close to those early fractions, but has also seen some success rated early. Hopefully Santo Sanjur, who has ridden her both ways before, can rate her today. She has been in form lately, with two firsts and two seconds in her last four starts. She has very little grass experience, but her one try on the green stuff was encouraging: two starts back, she finished second beaten just a neck in a $16,000 beaten turf dash. Stone Free is an off-pace type, and should be able to stalk and pounce here. She comes in here second off of a fifteen-month lay. Her last time out was not great, but it was on dirt: a surface over which she has never won. She returns to grass here, which suits her better. She has put up three decent workouts in the two and a half months since that last race, and trainer Roger Brueggemann wins at 26% off of similar layoffs.
Race 3: $18,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, six and a half furlongs on the dirt
Selections: Love Thy Neighbor (1), Itzacoldcase (6), Virginia’s Joy (4)
Love Thy Neighbor comes in off of an almost three and a half month lay, but has come in and won first off a lay before. Trainer Roger Brueggemann is generally a strong layoff trainer as well, winning at 25% first off of layoffs of three months or more. She prefers the early speed, but has shown an ability to handle a contested lead — suggesting that she will be able to fight with Virginia’s Joy or Itzacoldcase if either one decides to send. She is working fairly well coming into this race, and win machine Emmanuel Esquivel is in the irons. Itzacoldcase has a penchant for running well on this Hawthorne track, having racked up six of her ten career wins over the oval. She also likes this distance, having three wins and two seconds in seven attempts. Pacewise, she is about as versatile as it gets: she can run well on the lead, just off of it, or from a closing position. In a race with such a short field as this, versatility should help a lot. Virginia’s Joy, if she chooses to send, is the likely speed of the speed. She can also rate a few off if she needs. She ran lights-out last out to finish second by a nose at Keeneland, and may bounce from that. Still, if she regresses to something back within her usually consistent normal range, she still fits right with this bunch. That last start was her first in the Ingrid Mason barn, though, so there still stands the possibility that she just runs better for Mason than for previous trainer Brueggemann. The biggest question here is the trainer/jockey combination: once the hottest thing going, the combination of trainer Ingrid Mason and jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr. have been 0-16 over the last two months.
Race 4: Allowance ($21,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of $8,800 once other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N2L, one mile on the turf
Selections: Let the Lady Speak (5), Dance With Kitten (9), Joyable (10)
For my detailed analysis of this race, read this weekend’s Chicago Railbird.
Race 5: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners since May 8, six furlongs on the dirt
Selections: Salty Ruler (7), De Green Light (8), Gamblin Jack (4)
Salty Ruler comes in here on a class drop from $8,000 company last out. He has not usually been all that well beaten, but he has not had his picture taken since August of last year, despite a smattering of on-the-board finishes and close calls. It looks like trainer Frank Kirby is looking for a confidence builder, and Salty Ruler should get one here. Though he has also fought for the lead before, he does most of his better work from a midpack place: good, with the likes of I’m Old School, Sailen Ray J, Perfect Breeze, Shestoyoungforubro, and possibly even Angel Talk likely to slug it out for the early lead. His bullet work on November 4 was the fastest he had posted in a long time, suggesting he has some run. Finally, he has the advantage of Emmanuel Esquivel, who has been riding lights-out, in the irons. De Green Light is a midpack to closing type, and another likely to benefit from the plethora of early pace. He does his best work at Hawthorne and at six furlongs. It has been a long time since drinks for him; he has not won yet this year, though he did win three times last year. Still, his form compares favourably, and the pace will help him along. Gamblin Jack ran his best race in a long time last out at this level. Samantha Colvin, who rode him in that last race, returns to the irons here. He does have three of his four career wins at Hawthorne, and a win at six furlongs. Trainer Michael Reavis has also been solid in these sorts of conditions, winning at 17% in claiming races and 21% on the dirt.
Race 6: $7,500 starter allowance, three-year-olds and up, starters for a claiming price of $7,500 or less in 2013-2014, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf
Selections: Ozilda’s Last Son (6), Real Power (1), Hapman (9)
Ozilda’s Last Son looks like a tank, as befits his rather sprint-like breeding. However, don’t let that fool you: this tank can run a route of ground. He has been in strong form in his last five starts, racking up three wins across them. Though McLard and Gentle as a Breeze sometimes try to go with the lead, they both can rate — and neither has the raw early speed to gun it out early with Ozilda’s Last Son. The track has been playing well to early speed lately, and it could be his merry chase to lead. Real Power, on the rail, should be chasing from a few lengths back early. He has decent records both on the course (5-1-1-1) and distance (8-2-2-1). What makes him most intriguing, though, is the barn: he was claimed by trainer Michael Campbell out of his last start a month ago, and now he comes back in protected company. Campbell had trained him as recently as this summer; this is a claim-back, and Campbell clearly sees something in Real Power. Hapman, Chicago’s clown prince of the paddock, notches up from $5,000 starter company last out. If the pace gets a bit hotter than expected up front, Hapman should be charging on late. As closers go, especially at this level, he is reliable. Regular rider Carlos Montalvo returns, and both Montalvo and trainer Charles Livesay have been quietly amassing positive — and postive-ROI — results in races such as this.
Race 7: Allowance ($21,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 once other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N2L, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt
Selections: Logan Creek (8), Lenapah (5), Badger Bay (6)
Logan Creek is the only horse in this field who wants to go to the early speed, though he can also rate if needed. He has won his last two races, a state-bred $5,000 N2L at Indiana Downs, and then a state-bred N1X there. Here, he moves from Indiana-breds to open company, facing the toughest race of his career. Still, he does have a win at this distance, and recent speeds that compare favourably to the field. Finally, streaking rider Emmanuel Esquivel rides. Lenapah is the only other horse in this field who truly stands out. He struggled over the summer on turf at Canterbury, but has gotten his hooves under him on the Hawthorne dirt his last two starts. He beat a $15,000 beaten field by daylight two back, and then was second beaten just a neck in open $12,500 company last out. That last out was better than it looked, though — the fractions were downright pokey, and he made up ground late to just miss. That should serve him well here, too, with as little early speed as there is. He also has two wins and a second at five starts at this distance, showing it suits him. Badger Bay is the wild card here. Though he is five years old and has raced twenty times before, he has never run on dirt until today. Still, he should be able to handle it: he has five winning half-siblings, and all five of them have had their picture taken after dirt races. He is usually a bit farther off the pace than he should be given the likely pace, but he has a few decent races in his PP lines where he stalks a bit closer — suggesting that ability is there. The trainer/jockey combination does not hurt, either: Brian Williamson and Edgar Perez have won five of their last 21, been in the money for 16 of those 21, and had a +$1.14 ROI over that time.
As for morning line favourite To the Stars, he isn’t completely without a chance.. His speeds are strong, trainer Clay Brinson wins routes at 19%, and he does have a decent second over the track two back. However, he faltered at this level and distance last out, and at an 8/5 morning line I’m willing to bet he is slipping off his strong form at Canterbury this summer, and willing to look elsewhere for value.
Race 8: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N2L, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt
Selections: Soldiers Home (1), Big Lee (8), Thank You for Me (4)
Soldiers Home and Big Lee are the only real speeds in this field. Soldiers Home gets the slight nod over Big Lee, because he is more likely to get to set the fractions himself. Last out was an improvement, in which the three-year-old showed a theretofore unseen ability to rate a bit off, get the lead, and not completely die on the vine when he was headed. He definitely has more fight in him now than he did the day of his spectacular fade job over the summer, but should be fast enough early to just get position and walk the dog. Big Lee doesn’t have the early speed of Soldier’s Home, but can win from a couple of lengths back, and should be the closest to Soldier’s Home early. He drops here to the lowest level of his career, though he is also wheeling back after just a week off. The biggest worry about him is the fact that he has not been on the board in four starts over fast dirt, but all of those happened before he broke his maiden. This is also his first try on the dirt at Hawthorne, and is worth a shot especially given the class drop and the favourable pace scenario. Thank You for Me broke his maiden over this course and distance last out, suggesting the light has come on. Since then, he has moved from the Brian Williamson barn to the Larry Rivelli barn, and Rivelli is 25% with horses starting for him for the first time. He has liked this distance; his only two on-board finishes to date were his attempt at 1 1/16 miles (a win), and at 1 mile 70 yards (a decent second).
Dittman Thunder is the morning line favourite, and a must-use in exotics. He is an honest type, and shows up every time he runs. Still, his running style is a bit compromised given the lack of early speed, so he does not excite on top. The same goes for American Piasa. This one has been in cracking form since the Hawthorne meet started, with two good seconds in two runs so far. Still, he is one who looks likely to need more pace than he will see today.
Race 9: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, six and a half furlongs on the dirt
Selections: Langfurs Lightning (9), I’ll Show Them (11), Flashy Green (3)
Langfurs Lightning comes in here off a six-furlong win over this level and course last out. In that effort, he closed from the clouds to win. There should be enough pace in this race that he can win with a closing run again, though he has also shown the ability to win from stalking closer to the pace if he needs. He gets back jockey Israel Ocampo from that start, and trainer Stan Seagle is strong (26%) in the claiming ranks. He has only gone six and a half panels twice before, finishing no better than second; it is a small sample size, however, and there seem no red flags about him stretching the extra half-furlong. I’ll Show Them has been consistent this year, hitting the board in all nine 2014 starts. This includes wins in his last three. He has a sharp 8-4-2-1 record at Hawthorne, and three wins in five tries at this distance. He is coming in off a two-month freshening, and first off the claim back into the Michael Reavis barn. Pacewise, he is versatile; he can run well stalking fairly close, or while closing from the clouds. Flashy Green takes a class rise here, stepping up from $6,000 N2Y company to open $5,000. Still, he is returning to the Robert Dobbs barn after a brief interlude in the Randy Klopp barn, and tends to run better when trained by Dobbs. He has a win in three starts at the distance and a win in three starts over the track, suggesting at least some aptitude for it. Pacewise, he can do it all: usually his better races have him stalking fairly close to the pace, but he has also closed strongly, too.