Today is Indiana Derby Day!
To celebrate, I’m changing things up a bit here at Blinkers Off. We will be back to our usual Arlington programming soon…but today, my full-card attention goes along with me to Shelbyville. It is a full ten-race night card full of solid and contentious racing: six stakes races, two allowances, and two maiden special weights.
(And, for fellow fans of Curlin babies? Unlike with most Chicago-area cards, there are a few scattered throughout this one!)
Without further ado, let’s dive into tonight’s racing at Indiana Grand!
Race 1: Maiden special weight, three-, four-, and five-year-olds, fillies and mares, one mile on the turf, post time 6:05pm EDT
Selections: Shifty Kitten (10), Curricula (3), Cherub (6)
Shifty Kitten is a first-time starter who looks very clearly pointed for this spot. He has been working regularly and working long at Indiana Grand, setting up to debut at two turns on grass. The breeding should be just fine for a turf mile, too — she’s a daughter of Kitten’s Joy out of a Langfuhr mare who hit the board a couple of times in turf routes. Trainer Mike Maker wins 20% of the time debuting runners on the turf, and she gets Julien Leparoux in the irons. Curricula looked good trying turf for the first time last out, in a third-place finish at Churchill Down. Place de Vosges, second in that race, returned to win. Two back, Curricula was third behind Mines and Magic, a credible Indiana Oaks contender. Curricula also has both early speed, and the ability to stay interested from a bit off. It would be no surprise to see this daughter of Curlin figure it out today. Cherub comes in second off a break. She was third in a wash-off at this level last out, but has a right to improve on the move back to grass. She has some early speed, but can also rally from off the pace — as she did in her only previous grass mile try, in which she finished second against maiden special company at the Fair Grounds. Ace local rider Fernando de la Cruz returns to the irosn.
Race 2: Allowance optional claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of a race other than maiden, claiming, starter, or Indiana-bred OR claiming price $25,000, one mile on the dirt, post time 6:31pm EDT
Selections: Fire Mission (1A), Seeking the Soul (3), Vacanza (2)
Fire Mission is a salty six-year-old in excellent form right now. He won at the same level at Indiana Grand two starts back, going six furlongs. Though he has not yet won a race at a mile, he turned in his best effort yet at the distance last out, finishing third beaten a neck at Churchill. This is a two-turn mile, not a one-turn. But, he looks the speed of the speed, and has some fight. He will be dangerous. Should Enduring Honor or Whyruawesome wear Fire Mission down. That will set up for Seeking the Soul. He gets a class break here after trying the Belmont (GI) last out, and gets a cut back to a flat mile. Seeking the Soul graduated at a flat mile two back, albeit at one turn at Churchill. He is an off-pace type, but more of a mid-pack type than a last-minute closer based on his victory. Put back at this more reasonable class level, he rates a solid contender.
I would be comfortable going two-deep in this race in any multi-race bets; the rest of the field appeals little on top. At least Vacanza intrigues to invade the exotics at a price. This is a huge step up in class from the lower-level N2Ls in which he has been knocking around, but he woke up first off the claim by Debra Ware, and can unleash enough of a late kick to fill out the lower bits of an intra-race exotic.
Race 3: Indiana General Assembly Distaff Stakes, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 6:57pm EDT
Selections: Lovely Loyree (7), Cash Control (1), Seeking Treasure (5)
Longshot: Annulment (11)
Lovely Loyree comes in second off a layoff here. Though there are a few in this field who have shown speed, she should be fast enough to dictate terms — but is versatile enough to rate if someone else (Cabana?) really guns it out of the gate. She also gets Fernando de la Cruz, who rode her to a pair of graded stakes placings at Tampa, back in the irons. She won’t be the 10/1 morning line quote, but even half of that would be a gift. Rail-drawn Cash Control is the other logical contender. She drops in here from winning the Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) last out. The Mint Julep has since been franked: second-place Sweet Acclaim won the Ellis Park Turf Stakes last out, and third-place Zipessa returned to win the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap (GIII). Cash Control is consistent, fast, and versatile enough to go to the front or rally from a few back.
Two others in particular rate for an underneath share. Seeking Treasure was rather perplexingly placed in a polytrack sprint last out, but her recent two-turn turf form has been strong. She returns to that today. She has a win over the Indiana Grand course in an allowance last year — perhaps the race that signaled her shift from being a front-end type to an off-pace type. The fact that she can do either is positive, and her recent form and class on turf fit. Annulment has made her career from outrunning her odds, and may do so again today. She finished a troubled third in a stakes-quality allowance against males last out, behind Dac and Dubai Sky, at this distance. She is a midpack type, but has some solid efforts in both fast paces and slow ones. She may be better for undersides, as she has just one win in nine starts at the distance — but she has five more money finishes behind that.
Race 4: Allowance, three-year-olds and up, registered Indiana-breds sired by registered Indiana stallions, N2L, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 7:23pm EDT
Selections: Express Cash (8), Unicornio (6), Grits N Gravy (7/2)
Yes, Unicornio is clearly the one to beat in this field. The lightly-raced sophomore came off a lay of almost a year to break his maiden decisively against Indiana-bred maiden special weight company. He has the upside to improve, coming second off the lay and making just his third start ever. He has a passing gear in a race laden with speed. But, the price will be short. On the other hand, there’s another with upside to improve at boxcar odds: Express Cash. His last two starts have been very little to look at — two back he folded up badly in the Indiana Futurity. He got an eight-month lay after that, but hardly ran a step in his return. Though that last out came back at a sprint, it came without blinkers. Here, he puts the blinkers back on. Express Cash has two very good races last year sprinting with blinkers — and both had him off the front end. Add to that the fact that trainer Bernie Flint wins at 26% with runners second off the lay (with a hefty +$1.59 ROI), and that he lures rider Robby Albarado in the irons. Express Cash could be sneaky here, and at anything near the 15/1 morning line, he merits a shot. Grits N Gravy has been consistent enough — particularly at the distance, since he has four money finishes in five starts going six furlongs. He hasn’t been much of a win type. But even though he is one of many front-end types in this race, he has enough gameness to keep fighting and stay in for a share.
Race 5: Warrior Veterans Stakes, four-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 7:49pm EDT
Selections: Pleuven (9), Thatcher Street (5), Nun the Less (10)
Longshot: Fixador (2)
I tried to find an alternative, but Wise Dan Stakes (GII) winner Pleuven looks too good for this bunch, particularly in light of the fact that second-place Kasaqui has come back to frank his form. He should be near the pace, but not right on it, and get first run to swallow them up. In addition to his recent form and class, the two-for-two record at the distance is also a plus. Pleuven will be chalk, but he looks the goods. Thatcher Street is another coming out of the Wise Dan; he was third there behind Pleuven. His record at the distance is solid (6-2-3-1), and he was second in this race last year, showing some form at Indiana Grand. Two back in the Opening Verse, Thatcher Street got the best of Pleuven. But, Thatcher Street probably needs a little more pace than he will likely get her to do his best work. Nun the Less has a shot at this level. Though he typically rallies from well off the pace, he has a few races in which he has run well from a closer-up spot, a versatility that will serve him well here. He has not been the most consistent horse But, the class is right, and if he fires one of his good ones than he will be right in this.
Fixador is a huge question mark, since he has not run since August of last year. However, he faces softer company here than he did through much of last year — it is an eminently reasonable return spot for him. He has a long worktab leading back into this start, and trainer Eduardo Caramori has a solid 16% win rate with runners laid off for 90 days or more. Fixador should be able to sit near enough to the pace but not leave himself too much to do — and sharp local rider Albin Jimenez should be able to carve out a trip.
Race 6: Mari Hulman George Stakes, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 8:15pm EDT
Selections: Lady Fog Horn (1), Brooklynsway (7), Conquest Curlgirl (2)
Longshot: Big Island Blonde (6)
No one loves Indiana Grand like Lady Fog Horn loves Indiana Grand. In ten starts over the course, she has six wins and another three money finishes. She also has four wins and six money finishes in six tries at today’s distance. She has mostly run against fellow Indiana-breds, but has shown some open company class — and even graded form on grass. And, the running style fits. She should be able to sit right off of Big Island Blonde and perhaps Conquest Curlgirl on the front end, and make her move. Brooklynsway acquitted herself well in four straight graded starts, with a win and two more money finishes. However, she gets a bit of a class break here. She also gets a welcome distance cutback — she has gone nine furlongs in her last two, and cuts back to a distance today at which she has won four of her seven tries. She also gets Robby Albarado back in the irons; she won the Doubledogdare (GIII) with Albarado aboard. Conquest Curlgirl showed solid form through the Churchill meet, and tries stakes company for the first time since last summer. She has early speed, but as also shown the ability to rally from off the pace, as she did in a decisive allowance win last out. She will need to bring her best to win this, but she may be a filly improving at the right time.
For a real longshot, consider Big Island Blonde. Should Conquest Curlgirl opt to sit off the pace today, Big Island Blonde might get it her own way up front. The question would be whether she is good enough to take advantage, but she does have a win two back going a mile and seventy yards over the Indiana Grand dirt. Sure, that came against far weaker. But, with local form and with wins in her last two starts, she is an improving sort for 31% local trainer Paul Holthus.
Race 7: Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes, three-year-olds and up, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 8:41pm EDT
Selections: General a Rod (1), Geothermal (8), Rocket Time (5)
Longshot: Mister Pollard (6)
Rail-drawn General a Rod looks rock-solid here. He makes his second start back in the Mike Maker barn, where he has had the majority of his success. He loves this distance category, with three wins and a second in four starts. He has shown fine form from inside draws. And, he should be able to let one-way speeds Bordini and Aces High do their thing, and then blow right past them. Geothermal was second by a nose in this race last year. He is as consistent as it gets, when he’s running at the right class; the only time he missed the board since May of last year was in the Fayette (GII), but he will not face the likes of Race Day and Hoppertunity here. His 7-2-3-1 record at the distance weighs positively, as does the fact that he can run a solid race from just about any point off the pace. He also keeps regular rider Robby Albarado, who has been riding well of late. Rocket Time started as a run-it-and-gun-it type, but has shown from rallying from a few lengths off in recent times. He is a consistent sort who loves to win horse races — in thirteen tries, he has seven win photos. He gets a bit of a class break here, having finished third last out in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII). The biggest question is the distance, as Rocket Time is perhaps better at the flat mile. But, he does have a win and two other money finishes in four tries in today’s distance category.
For that longshot for exotics, Mister Pollard has plenty going for him. He has eight career wins in 32 starts — and all eight have come in his 18 starts on the Indiana Grand dirt. He has three wins and another two money finishes at the distance. He has some speeds that fit, and on running style, his stalking-to-midpack modus operandi fits this race. The class is a question, since most of his best has come against fellow Indiana-breds. But, back on his home course? Winning seems a tall order, but getting a piece of the trifecta or superfecta is possible with his best.
Race 8: Indiana Oaks (GII), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 9:11pm EDT
Selections: Dothraki Queen (2), Family Tree (7), Mines and Magic (3)
Longshot: Walkabout (8)
For my full analysis, read my preview on Picks and Ponderings.
Race 9: Indiana Derby (GII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 9:41pm EDT
Selections: Cherry Wine (2), Seeking Blame (7), The Player (5)
Longshot: Pilot House (3)
For my full analysis, read the latest Chicago Railbird.
Race 10: Maiden special weight, three-, four-, and five-year-olds, Indiana-bred, five and one half furlongs on the dirt, post time 10:30pm EDT
Selections: Fight N Rule (1A), Saturday Tryst (10), Brook’s Bay B (7)
Let’s end the day with a bomb: Fight N Rule. He is a first-time starter, but he is half to a horse named April Fools Vision who won first time out. The top side of the pedigree suggests some precocity as well — he is by Daaher, whose babies win first out 23% of the time. Trainer Bryan Metz gets some prices home with first-time starters…and given the pedigree, the consistent enough worktab, and the soft field, he could get another one here. Saturday Tryst will be the chalk. He has started just once before, at the same level. He gunned it early, and was just caught late to finish second by three quarters of a length. That was at six furlongs, so the cutback to five and a half should help his case. He also gets solid local rider Richard Bracho in the irons. Brook’s Bay B is interesting on the ambitious move of his new trainer Antonio Duran: Duran took him for $10,000 on July 7, and brings him back nine days later in protected company. That race was Brook’s Bay B’s career debut, and he had some trouble. This relatively soft field makes sense as a place to bring him back, and the sharp works leading into the debut suggest that possibly he has more in the tank than he was able to show last out.