Picks and Ponderings: weekend stakes previews

Since there are not any stakes races at Arlington this week, Paul Mazur and I are covering the stakes action at Saratoga and Del Mar!  I took on the four big stakes races at Saratoga on Saturday: the Travers (GI), the Ballerina (GI), the King’s Bishop (GI), and the Ballston Spa (GII).  Paul tackled Friday’s Personal Ensign, as well as diving into the graded stakes on Pacific Classic day at Del Mar.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, see who we like, and leave us a comment if there’s something you really agree with…or something you really disagree with!

fantasy stable: week 6 postmortem

This week in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league was a relatively light week as far as points went; the only points race this weekend was the Gotham Stakes.  I didn’t have any of my horses running in that race, though I was still a bundle of nerves about Noble Cornerstone, since he had been in my stable until the claiming date on Thursday.  I’m glad I overruled whatever side of me was saying to try and keep him because of the blinkers going back on in the Gotham, because Noble Cornerstone just didn’t run well.  He acted up in the gate, he faded badly, and he crossed the wire dead last beaten 25 3/4 lengths.  I hope he finds his stride somewhere, but it became more than obvious in the Gotham (if it wasn’t already) that the Triple Crown trail won’t be that place.

Even without races, there has been some news about a few members of my stable…though, for the first time this Derby season, there are more horses in my stable with no real updates than there are with updates.  Let’s dive in!

  • Conquest Titan – Conquest Titan is still on track for the Tampa Bay Derby.  He returned to the worktab yesterday at Palm Meadows, working five furlongs in 1:02.25.  It’s not the fastest work in the world, but it’s plenty to keep him sharp for the race without risking tiring him out.  It will be interesting to see who ends up being confirmed for the Tampa Bay Derby, to see whether the pace will set up well for Conquest Titan’s closing run.  At this point Surfing U S A and Coltimus Prime are both in the mix, though there’s not a whole lot of early speed other than those two who are generally considered as candidates for this run.  No matter what, though, this is a smarter move for Casse to make than racing him at Gulfstream again.  It’s the same amount of points as the Florida Derby, probably a bit lighter field, and not the same speed bias as that Gulfstream track.
  • Please Explain – I claimed her last week without having any good information on where she was pointing, just because she looked likely to contend assuming she did eventually point to one.  It would make sense to see her in a race soon, since her sparkling Suncoast win was back on February 1, but I didn’t know for sure.  The news is as good as possible: based on the scuttlebutt I’ve been seeing today, she’s pointing to the Honeybee, this coming Saturday at Oaklawn.  Between that and her nice five furlong work on Saturday in 1:01.00, things are looking promising for the newest addition to my stable.
  • Tamarando – Tamarando returned to the tab today at Golden Gate, working five furlongs in 1:01.80.  It was his second work since the El Camino Real Derby win.  That’s the only update from him, which is just fine.  He’s still working, nothing seems to be pointing him away from the goal of a big synthetic prep like the Spiral.  He looks good to me right now.
  • General a Rod – There’s nothing new from him this week.  He hasn’t returned to the worktab yet since last week’s Fountain of Youth, though I would be surprised not to see him return over this coming week.  He’s still pointing toward the Florida Derby.
  • Ride On Curlin – He hasn’t posted a work since the Southwest Stakes.  It seems a bit strange, but judging from his work patterns, he generally doesn’t seem to do a lot in the way of published works.  I haven’t seen anything to contradict previous reports that he is pointing toward the Rebel two Saturdays from now.
  • Shared Belief – He is still off the published worktab, though he’s training up at Golden Gate.  Dan Ward, an assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, gave what can really only be described as a non-update update yesterday on his condition, which said he was doing well but was short on specifics.  There’s nothing new here.
  • She’s a Tiger – From what I hear she’s still galloping at Santa Anita, but she has no new published works since her one back on February 22nd, and there’s no clear information as to where she is pointing.  Hopefully there will be an update soon, but there really isn’t one this week.
  • Stopchargingmaria – There is no news about her, and she hasn’t come back to the worktab.  The Davona Dale was just last weekend, though, so that isn’t a huge issue.  I am looking forward to some information about where she’s pointing next, though I still maintain it ought to be the Gazelle.

That is where things stand now.  Hopefully Conquest Titan and Please Explain will run big on Saturday, and next week’s report will be a bit more exciting.

Gotham day et cetera…

As usual, I handicapped four more stakes races as part of the Public Handicapper contest.  On tap this week are two graded races for three-year-olds, and two sprint races for older horses.

Aqueduct: Gotham Stakes (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

I am dying to beat the pair of New York breds here, Uncle Sigh and Samraat, but I’m not sure I can.  They’re likely to get up close to the front, though it may be a bit more interesting than the Withers because there is a good shot that Extrasexyhippzster could get up their with them – though that’s not a given, because the latter has won from either leading or stalking places.  However, this is a classier field than Extrasexyhippzster has faced so far, and a longer race than he has ever run.  Deceived does like the lead as well, though all signs point to him not quite being able to hang with these three speed horses unless he throws a freak race.

The buzz horse in this race is Financial Mogul, and there is some evidence to support that.  He is coming in second off the lay, and has some nice works leading up to the Gotham.  He is the classiest of the closers among the field; if the speed horses end up dueling and pushing the fractions too fast, look to Financial Mogul to come pick up the pieces.

One of the two real question marks here is In Trouble.  He is coming off a long lay; he hasn’t raced since his win in the Belmont Futurity back in September.  He is working well as of late, and if he comes off his layoff sharp, he could come from just off the pace and give the speed horses a run for their money.  If he comes off the least bit rusty from his layoff, though, he’s going to have a hard time staying with and eventually catching either Uncle Sigh or Samraat.

The other question mark, who I discussed in relative detail a couple days ago in my Fantasy draft post, is Noble Cornerstone.  His Davis was abysmal, but between the blinkers going back on and the return to Aqueduct, he has a chance to run a much better race.  He has won one race from the lead, but closed to finish second in the Springboard Mile; expect him to try for more of a closing style here, since he has no chance to hold the lead with this field.

All things being equal, I would probably give a hair’s-breadth edge to Samraat.  However, all things aren’t equal.  Uncle Sigh will be carrying six fewer pounds than Samraat will be, and with that, I give the slight nod to Uncle Sigh.

Gulfstream: Palm Beach Stakes (GIII, 1 1/8mi on the turf)

This is a tough, tough race, in which even many of the long shots have a chance to win.  There’s not a lot of early speed in this race.  This is likely to be one of those turf races where one or two horses get near the front, a pack chases, and then there’s a dash the last few furlongs to try and grab that win from the leader.

Even though he’s the morning line favourite, it’s hard to beat Storming Inti here.  He is trying graded company for the first time, but is coming off three straight stakes wins — the last of which was on the Gulfstream turf.  He has the speed to get the lead here, and there’s no other horse in this field who has shown the real need or desire to get to the lead like Storming Inti.  Even though he has never run a mile and an eighth before, he has finished his mile and 1 1/16 mile races with something left, and there’s no reason he won’t be able to stretch out here.  Finally, Javier Castellano, who has been riding very well as of late, has the mount.  If he runs the way he is capable, he can wire even this strong field.

One of the longer shots I really like is Patent.  Even though he has only run a maiden race, his performances betray a preference for routes over sprint races.  This is no surprise, given that A. P. Indy is his sire.  He showed good speed in his maiden win, and didn’t run poorly in the sprint his last out — it just looked like he ran out of room.  He isn’t a deep closer; rather, he likes coming in from the middle of the pack.  A deep closer would be out of luck given the lack of early speed in this race, but he could stay close enough assuming Storming Inti doesn’t go too loose on the lead.  Patent is returning to his element, he’s adding Lasix for the first time, and he looks like a very live long shot.

Oaklawn: Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes (6f on the dirt, Arkansas-bred)

This race was interesting to handicap since I knew none of the horses who were racing.  Usually, the contest races are stakes races that have more national horses, so I tend to recognize most (if not all) of the field, going in.  The only state whose state-breds I tend to follow are Illinois, since I live in Illinois.  However, it was an interesting challenge to handicap a field of completely new horses; let’s see how it goes.

There are a lot of horses in the field who like to get the early lead: Valid Commander, Mallett, Humble Smarty, and Shady Creek, with Primetime Dreamer likely wanting to join them a furlong or two in.  Among these, the horses with the best chances to actually get (and possibly keep) that lead are Humble Smarty, Valid Commander, and Shady Creek. The rest of the field likes to stalk from some relatively small amount of lengths (less than half a dozen) off.  There aren’t any consistent closers in this field, though Rock City Roadhog is probably the closest thing this field has to one.

I like Goods Gone West here.  He won three races at this distance last year, all for state-breds, including a 5 1/4 length win in the Rainbow Stakes at Oaklawn last year.  He spent most of last year on a layoff; this is his fourth race back.  He was fourth in his last race, but only beaten two lengths.  He has been working pretty sharply, and is fast enough to pick up the pieces if the speed horses tire.  Valid Commander and Shady Creek, two horses coming in from a February 14 N1X state-bred allowance race at Oaklawn, look like a couple of live longer shots here.  Both of them really need the early lead, but if either one gets it, they may be hard pressed to give it up.  Valid Commander recently changed trainers, and has shown improved form since that move.  Shady Creek is coming off a bullet work, and this is his second race back from spending the second half of his three year old year on lay.  He could improve here.

Humble Smarty is the defending champion, but he adds blinkers here after five races without them.  The three races previous to that with blinkers were absolutely awful; I do not know why his trainer is adding them, and it makes him a very vulnerable favourite.

Tampa Bay Downs: Turf Dash Stakes (5f on the turf)

Berlino Di Tiger looked to be the best of the speed of the race — not a bad thing to be, in a five furlong turf race.  However, he scratched this morning, leaving the field significantly wider open.  Most of the horses in this field, however, do want to be on the early lead, or right near it.  The only ones who don’t really need it, and may try to make a move from behind, are Tell All You Know and Stormy Rush.  Unfortunately, both of those horses are pretty outclassed here, so this race looks like a question of who is going to get up near the front and sustain that speed for five furlongs.

Spring to the Sky is inconsistent.  If he runs one of his really good races, he will be extremely tough to beat here.  If he doesn’t, then he won’t hit the board.  He is the 7/2 morning line favourite, and may well win if he’s on today, but that may not be the greatest price to take in a win-only handicapping contest with such an inconsistent racer.

Hold On Smokey interests me.  He is one consistent horse — he has hit the board in his last eighteen races, a span of over two years.  He specializes in short sprints, five to five and a half furlongs.  This race is a class jump for him; his last attempt in stakes company was last year’s Turf Dash at Tampa Bay.  Mainly, he has been running allowances and AOC races.  However, he has shown the ability to run very gamely, and do what he needs to hit the board.  He isn’t as shoo-in, of course, but in light of Berlino Di Tiger’s scratch, if Spring to the Sky falters, look to Hold On Smokey to possibly get there for a smashing price.

Tune in tomorrow morning for a discussion of Sunday’s Hawthorne card: I’m going out to the track tomorrow, and just like last week, I’m going to write up my thoughts on the races before they go off.

Good luck!

fantasy stable week 5.5: the first claim!

And, with that, the first claim period is over.  For those who may be jumping into this story in medias res, the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league allows us to claim horses on the last Thursday of each month.  We each get a budget of $500 (Monopoly money, not our actual money), but that covers the whole league, so prudence is a good thing — especially this early in the season.

I thought hard about whether I was going to make a claim at all, since my stable was pretty strong as is.  Tamarando is a synthetic monster, and he’s pointing to a synthetic-track Derby prep: keeping him was the biggest no-brainer of all.  Conquest Titan closed nicely to finish second in the Holy Bull, and given that he’s now pointing to the Tampa Bay Derby instead of the Florida Derby, he has an even better chance on a track that’s not so obviously speed-loving.  Ride On Curlin will be facing a tough field next out in the Rebel, but he’s a strong horse, and the Curlins tend to get better with time.  After General a Rod’s performance in the Fountain of Youth, he was definitely a keeper; had he bombed, he would have been on the block.  Stopchargingmaria flopped in the Rachel Alexandra, but she was coming off a long lay; she’s talented enough and showed enough her two year old year that I’m going to hang on and see how she does second off the lay.  She’s a Tiger just returned to the worktab, and Shared Belief still hasn’t, but I am willing to give these two-year-old champions one more month to get their acts together and point to a race before I consider cutting them loose.  I’m continuing to take a gamble on both of them, but if either one of them pays off, it’ll be worth it.

The only one left who I considered cutting loose was Noble Cornerstone.  His Sam F. Davis was atrocious.  His only other races were a state-bred maiden win at Aqueduct, and a neck loss to Louies Flower in the Remington Springboard Mile.  That loss in the Springboard was not flattered by Louies Flower’s dead-last finish in the Southwest.

The arguments for keeping Noble Cornerstone mainly involved the fact that he’s running the Gotham this weekend.  The Gotham is a known points race for the league; none of the specific horses I was considering replacing him with were pointing toward any specific points race.  Aqueduct was the site of his only career win.  Furthermore, there’s the issue of the blinkers.  He wore blinkers for the maiden race and the Springboard Mile, and took them off for the Davis.  They go back on for the Gotham.

However, many questions remained surrounding the Gotham.  First off: who has Noble Cornerstone really beaten?  I would say, not much.  None of the horses he beat in either his maiden win or his Springboard Mile second are legitimately on the Derby trail.  Secondly, he’s just now shipping up to Aqueduct for the race.  He has been working at Gulfstream, and worked there as recently at February 25.  The plane carrying the last of the Florida shippers was supposed to send them up Wednesday, but had a cracked window that delayed it until today.  His maiden win may have been at Aqueduct, but two days isn’t likely enough for him to come down from the trip and get comfortable with the track.

I decided the cons outweighed the pros, and decided to put in a claim for a good-looking filly, Please Explain, with Noble Cornerstone as the horse I would lose if I won the bid.  She was already on my radar before the Oaks futures came out; seeing her on the Oaks futures annoyed me a bit because it meant she would probably make her way onto other people’s radars, too.  She broke her maiden at Gulfstream on December 19, at her longest distance to date: 1 1/16 miles.  She won by five and a half lengths over House Rules — the same horse who finished second in the Davona Dale.  This was Please Explain’s fourth time out, and she hit the board in her three previous attempts.  Two of those three, she lost by less than a length; her first time out she was second by just a head to Divine Beauty, wide into the stretch and just running out of distance to close.  Her last time out, in the 1 mile 40 yard Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, she romped by six lengths.

Please Explain is a risk in that it hasn’t been made clear by her connections where she’s pointing, and she hasn’t faced graded stakes company yet.  However, she is a very talented filly who has run with some strong horses in her maiden races, and made it clear that she prefers the route races.  Her pedigree backs up her appearance that she prefers routes.  Her sire is none other than Curlin.  Lizzy’s Bluff, her dam, did not race.  However, Lizzy’s Bluff is by 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, out of the lightly raced Strike The Gold mare Sweet As Honey.  The one drawback in her pedigree is that you do have to go back to her third dam, Cup Of Honey, to find a stakes winning mare on her dam side.  However, she was a router as opposed to a sprinter.

When all was said and done, I bid $32 of my $500 budget on Please Explain — enough that I thought I’d stand a good chance to get her, but not so much that I felt I would be massively handicapped in later rounds were I to successfully get her.  I was the high bidder, so now Please Explain is in my stable.  With full hindsight it turns out I overpaid for her — the only other bid on Please Explain was for a paltry $2.  Still, with this being the first claim period I had no idea how much people would bid, and I figured that I would still have more money left than most stables because this was the only claim I made.  As it stands, there are three stables with more money than me at the moment, and four stables with less.  I’m not in as good a spot with bid money as I hoped, though I am not in a terrible place either.

All in all, though, I’m glad I got Please Explain.  She’s a talented filly, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.  I just hope Noble Cornerstone doesn’t make me look stupid by running like a freak in the Gotham.

fantasy stable: week 5 postmortem

Week 5 of the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league has ended, which  means it’s almost time to put in my claims.  I am still trying to finalize how I will approach this first claim, and keeping that information under wraps until after the claiming deadline on Thursday.  However, what I will say is that I am having a much harder time deciding who in my stable I will put up for trade than I am zeroing in on horses I’m interested in claiming.

The last week has been eventful for several of my horses, so let’s get to it!

  • General a Rod – The conveyor belt that was Gulfstream was his friend this weekend, as he and Wildcat Red were head and head from wire to wire in the Fountain of Youth.  Even though the photo finish went Wildcat Red’s way, General A Rod showed himself to be very fast and very game.  I noted last week that the Fountain of Youth would prove whether he was legitimate Derby trail material or not; it will be interesting to see how he fares on a track other than Gulfstream, but for right now, he has done nothing wrong, and he looks like a real contender.  Even with the head bob loss to Wildcat Red, I would still take the General in a heartbeat over Wildcat Red for my fantasy stable, since his pedigree is just better for distance than Wildcat Red’s is.  He was my seventh round draft pick, a horse I picked more on the strength of his second-place finish behind Conquest Titan in a November AOC than on thinking he beat much of anyone in the Gulfstream Park Derby.  He, so far, looks like a great risk to have taken.
  • Stopchargingmaria – She was my other horse to race this weekend, and has the distinction of being the first horse from my stable to run in a points race and not hit the board.  She finished a disappointing fifth in the Davona Dale, 14 1/4 lengths behind the wire-to-wire winner Onlyforyou.  She was caught a little wide, but nothing that should have caused her to tire out like she did, and lose that many lengths to the winner.  This was her first race since the Demoiselle on November 30, but I wasn’t expecting her to be quite that rusty because she has been a regular fixture on the worktab since early January.  It could be racing rust, or maybe the track just didn’t suit her.  It would not surprise me in the least to see her pointed toward the Gazelle next, since it’s at Aqueduct: the site of her two graded stakes wins as a juvenile, at the same distance as the Demoiselle.  In fact, after the Davona Dale flop, Todd Pletcher would be insane not to point her toward the Gazelle.
  • She’s A Tiger – Saturday, February 22, she finally returned to the worktab for the first time since her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies run; she worked three furlongs in 38 flat at Santa Anita.  She had been doing some galloping at Santa Anita, but it’s a relief to finally see a published work.  There is no reliable information about the specific race to which she is pointing, though I would be surprised to see it any earlier than late March.  I am hoping the next race will be before the March claim date, and nervous about how little room this schedule leaves for error, but she’s so talented and has never run a bad race.  Assuming she returns fit, she is likely to run nicely.
  • Noble Cornerstone – After his flop in the Sam F. Davis, I was hoping to see him run another race before the claiming date.  That clearly did not happen.  He did post a sharp work at Gulfstream on the 19th, going five furlongs in 1:00.56.  However, he is shipping up to Aqueduct to face a stacked Gotham Stakes field on March 1, a field that includes stakes winners Samraat, In Trouble, and Extrasexyhippzster, as well as other promising horses like Uncle Sigh and Deceived.  He is still the biggest question I have to answer between now and Thursday: am I willing to risk him in the Gotham, or am I going to cut him loose for a better prospect?  Stay tuned.
  • Tamarando – There’s not much new with him, and that’s just fine after his big El Camino Real win.  He returned to the worktab on February 23, working four furlongs in 49.80 on the Tapeta at Golden Gate.  He is still being prepared for another Derby prep on synthetic; most of the scuttlebutt around identifies that as the Spiral out at Turfway, with Russell Baze still aboard.
  • Ride On Curlin – There’s nothing new with him since his third in the Southwest Stakes.  He hasn’t returned to the work tab, which makes perfect sense since the Southwest was just last Monday.  I have heard some chatter about him pointing to the Rebel on March 15, which is another 1 1/16 mile race on the Oaklawn dirt.  That seems like a perfectly logical race, since it’s a racetrack he clearly knows, and does not dislike.
  • Conquest Titan – Mark Casse is a smart, smart man.  Gulfstream has been a conveyor belt lately, and early speed has been carrying the day.  Conquest Titan is a closer.  Instead of keeping Conquest Titan pointed toward the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, Casse changed his game plan, and is now pointing him toward the Tampa Bay Derby on March 8.  Hopefully this means he is getting rested up; he has been training so continuously that part of me thought he would appreciate the two month rest between the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby.  However, the break from the Holy Bull to the Tampa Bay Derby is still a significant six weeks, and leaves more room for error should the Tampa Bay Derby not go well.  All in all, I like this news.  The only other Conquest Titan news this week is a nice return to the worktab; on February 22nd, he worked four furlongs in 48.30 at Palm Meadows.
  • Shared Belief – Another week, another week without a published work from Shared Belief.  He has so much talent, and his two-year-old season was dynamite, but I’m getting impatient here.  It would be rash to drop him yet, and I am almost certainly hanging onto him for at least another month, but I want to see some works, and some credible information about a race (read: Blue Grass Stakes) in his future.

There’s a lot to think about between now and Thursday.  I feel I’m in a good place, since I am tied for first in league points and am confident in the majority of my stable.  That said, I’m looking forward to getting as close as possible to a solution to this puzzle between now and Thursday, and will likely post a mid-week fantasy update with the effect that the claim has on my stable.

fantasy stable: week 4 postmortem

Week 4 was nothing short of eventful for my fantasy stable.  There were two points races this weekend, and I had a horse in each: Tamarando in the El Camino Real Derby, and Ride On Curlin in the Southwest Stakes.  Both of them did me proud: Tamarando caught Dance with Fate close to the wire to win the Southwest, and Ride On Curlin held on for third behind Tapiture and Strong Mandate in the Southwest.  I’ve had some good luck so far — only three of my eight horses have run points races so far (these two, and Conquest Titan back in the Holy Bull), but all three have hit the board and brought some fantasy points home for me.  It’s still early, but it’s nice to be building on a good foundation like this.

Here is where each of my horses stand.  Since the last post about my stable there have been events, or at least news, for quite a few of them.

  • Tamarando – I was petrified going into the El Camino Real, because of the lack of early speed.  I was even more petrified (though not exactly surprised) during the race as I’ll Wrap It Up clicked off some early fractions that weren’t that swift.  I knew Tamarando was going to come from behind, because that’s how he always runs, but I was just hoping Russell Baze wouldn’t keep him too far back to catch up.  It turns out that I had no need to worry.  He was never nearly as far back as he was last out in the California Cup Derby, and had plenty of space and energy to nab Dance With Fate for the win.  He sure does like his synthetic tracks.  Hollendorfer has stated that he plans to send Tamarando out east for a prep on the synthetic, likely the Spiral Stakes in March.  He’s also said that the current plan is to keep Russell Baze on the mount.  I have had my doubts, and I’m still not sure about the Triple Crown races themselves (as he has been so much better on synthetic than on dirt), but he showed in this race that he can adjust pace for a race without massive early speed.  He looks like a keeper.
  • Ride On Curlin – Ride On Curlin went off in the Southwest today, and I was a little surprised to see how he raced.  I say a little because he was right up near the lead relatively early, which is how he has garnered his two career wins.  However, given the horses in the field and the proclivities that so many of them had for speed (combined with the fact that Calvin Borel had the mount!), I was expecting him to run a more closing style, like he did in the Champagne last year.  The race seemed like a perfect time to deploy that strategy again.  I don’t quite understand why his connections didn’t; the best conjecture that I’ve seen so far involved the possibility that he’d get caught behind a wall of horses back there with nowhere to go.  That’s legitimate.  My thoughts on his racing style today aside, however, the fact remains that he got caught eight wide on the clubhouse turn, three wide on the far turn, and still managed to come in third.  I will take it.  I’m looking forward to his next race — both to see how he races in general, and (hopefully) to see what he does if he gets a better trip.
  • Stopchargingmaria – She has been a regular on the worktab since the beginning of January, and worked again this week, five furlongs in 49.25 on February 16 at Palm Meadows.  Despite her regular published works, I had found no good information about where exactly she was pointed — she’s the one horse in my stable who, try as I might, I could find no scuttlebutt on anywhere.  This changed today, in the best possible way: she is confirmed for the Davona Dale.  Not only is the Davona Dale this Saturday (in other words, a few days before the stable claiming deadline!), but it’s a points race for the league.  The Davona Dale is a mile and a sixteenth — a distance at which I have no worries about her, since she won the Tempted last year at a mile as well as the Demoiselle at a mile and an eighth.  She won’t have to ship anywhere, since the race is at Gulfstream.  All in all, this makes perfect sense as a race to start her three-year-old campaign, and I am looking forward to see how she has come out of the winter.
  • General a Rod – As usual, General a Rod got his work in again this week, working five furlongs in 1:00.12 on February 16 at Gulfstream.  It had sounded like he was pointing to the Fountain of Youth, and sure enough, he is confirmed for the race.  This will be his first race since his win in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1, and his fourth overall.  A handful of the horses from the Gulfstream Park Derby return for the Fountain of Youth (second place Wildcat Red, third place East Hall, and ninth and last place Best Plan Yet), though the field will be significantly stiffer with horses such as Top Billing, Commissioner, We Miss Artie, and Casiguapo in the mix.  He is stretching out past a mile for the first time in his career, but there’s nothing glaring in his pedigree or his past performances to suggest that he will have particular trouble at a mile and a sixteenth.  I am interested in the Fountain of Youth — this is the race that will likely prove if General a Rod is legitimate Derby trail material or not.  A lot of my planning for the first claim period hinges on how he does in this race.
  • Conquest Titan – The draw for the Fountain of Youth happened this morning, and there was a notable absence: Conquest Titan.  As of last week, Mark Casse had stated that he was pointing that way.  However, this morning, he announced that instead, Conquest Titan would be pointing straight to the Florida Derby.  Even though it’s a little frustrating in a fantasy league context to lose a horse in a points race in which he’d have a good chance at a good run, it’s probably best in the long run that he takes this little break.  He has been training and racing through the winter, and Casse noted that he lost a bit of weight after the Holy Bull.  He has been off the worktab this week, but Casse anticipates working him later this week.  There is still quite a bit of time until the Florida Derby – the race is not until March 29.  Even though this means Conquest Titan will have no chances at league points through March, that doesn’t affect my strategy when it comes to him — signs point to him being a serious contender on the trail, and he’s staying right here in my stable where he belongs.
  • Noble Cornerstone – What in the world am I going to do with Noble Cornerstone?  That is a question I face, and probably the biggest at the moment.  There was chatter last week about Noble Cornerstone pointing to the Fountain of Youth, but that didn’t happen.  That race was drawn today, and Noble Cornerstone is not on that list.  He hasn’t been back to the worktab since February 12th, the work I mentioned last week.  I was hoping to have one more race to help me evaluate him before the claiming deadline a week from Thursday, but unless he is being pointed under the radar to some allowance race coming up, I will have to make the best conjecture possible from limited information.  (I know, I know, there’s a word for that, and it’s called handicapping.)
  • Shared Belief – Today, there was finally some useful news about Shared Belief.  He has been off the worktab with the foot injury (which is still unclear, though I don’t exactly buy that it was just a grabbed quarter), but was finally back at Santa Anita galloping last week.  Today, the word is that he will be back on the worktab later this week.  Furthermore, it sounds like he’s going to be pointing toward one of the synthetic track prep races out east — either the Spiral at Turfway or the Blue Grass at Keeneland, probably whichever one Tamarando isn’t running.  I am happy with this plan, assuming it comes through; all three races he has won have been on synthetic, so he clearly likes the surface.  I’m also happy, for purely fantasy-related reasons, that both Shared Belief and Tamarando have the same trainer who sounds likely to point them to different races.  The last thing I want is these two going against each other before Derby day, when they’re both talented enough to have an honest shot at winning.
  • She’s a Tiger – Not a whole lot has changed.  She’s a Tiger is still galloping at Santa Anita, though has no published works yet, and there’s no good information out there suggesting what race she’s pointing to.  Hopefully she will show up on the worktab as soon as this week, but there’s nothing particularly credible that I’ve heard either way.  She’s not one I’m really considering dropping, despite still being on a lay — she’s too talented a horse, and there’s nothing that has come up to imply that this is anything other than coming back from a well-deserved winter break after six races as a juvenile.

So, there’s where Iron Bard Stable stands after week 4 of the contest.  Week 4 was an exciting one, with Tamarando and Ride On Curlin hitting the track — and next week stands to be at least as thrilling (and informative!), with Stopchargingmaria making her three-year-old debut, and General a Rod coming back to face some tougher company.  Until then, it’s time to make sure that I know how everyone else who is not in my stable did this last weekend, and continue to identify good possibilities among unowned horses since the first claim date is coming up February 27!

fantasy stable: week 3 postmortem

Last weekend was the third weekend of points races in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league.  There was only one points race last weekend, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.  Since Shared Belief missed the race, I had no horses in it.  It also had no real impact on claiming strategy, since the top four horses in the race (and five of the seven competitors altogether) are all drafted by other stables.  This coming weekend will be a more exciting weekend for my stable, since both the El Camino Real Derby and the Southwest Stakes are points races, and my stable is likely to be represented in both of those races.

As of this evening, here is where my eight horses stand:

  • Tamarando – He posted a zippy work, five furlongs in 59.40, at Santa Anita on February 8.  As of last week’s post, the San Vicente was possible for him, though that plan has changed in the light of the injury to Exit Stage Left.  Jerry Hollendorfer was originally going to run Exit Stage Left in the El Camino Real Derby, but since a tendon injury has knocked him off the Derby trail, he has opted to run Tamarando there instead.  This is all-around good news for my stable, since the El Camino Real is a points race for the league, as well as a good chance to evaluate him before the draft.  It will be Tamarando’s first attempt at the 1 1/8 mile distance; he has run several times at 1 1/16 miles, but nothing longer yet.  Russell Baze has the mount — though it will be the first time he has ridden Tamarando, I will never, ever complain about seeing Russell Baze on my horse at Golden Gate Fields.
  • Ride On Curlin – There is nothing unexpected here, and that is a good thing.  He is still on the work tab at Oaklawn; he posted a five furlong work in 1:03.40 on February 5th.  He was nominated to the Southwest, and there has been nothing to imply that the plan to point him toward the Southwest has changed.  The Southwest hasn’t been drawn yet, since it is scheduled for Monday, February 17.
  • Conquest Titan – He returned to the work tab for the first time since the Holy Bull, breezing five furlongs in a minute flat on February 8 at Palm Meadows.  Trainer Mark Casse has confirmed that he is pointing Conquest Titan toward the Fountain of Youth, at Gulfstream on February 22nd.  It won’t be an easy race, since several serious contenders in the Florida circuit are pointing there as well, but Conquest Titan shouldn’t be in over his head there.
  • General a Rod – He has been a regular on the work tab at Gulfstream; last working five furlongs in 1:02.81 on February 9.  It still seems like he is heading to the Fountain of Youth, along with Conquest Titan (and Top Billing…and Commissioner…and Wildcat Red…and Almost Famous…).  It will be good to evaluate him in a relatively tough race before the claiming deadline; hopefully he acquits himself well.
  • Noble Cornerstone – Just today, he returned to the Gulfstream work tab for the first time since his disastrous Sam F. Davis run.  It was a brisk one, five furlongs in 59.82.  The latest scuttlebutt says he may be headed to the Fountain of Youth as well.  If that’s the case, I’ll be annoyed that three of my horses are all running in the same race, but glad to see one more run before the claiming date.  After that clunker of a race last out, this should help answer some questions as to whether the Davis can be tossed, or if he is just not up to snuff on the Derby trail.  I really want to be high on him like I was before the Sam F. Davis, but lacking an obvious excuse for the race, I need to see another race from him.
  • Shared Belief – He is back in training, finally; he has been galloping at Santa Anita.  However, there is still no word from Jerry Hollendorfer about what his racing plans are, or whether there are lingering effects from his injury.  It’s good to see him back on the track, but my optimism will be tempered at best until I see him slotted for a race.
  • She’s a Tiger – She’s still off the work tab, though she has returned to Santa Anita and is starting to do some galloping there.  She has been nominated to the UAE Derby, though I have seen nothing credible to say that she is actually going to run in Dubai.  We shall see.  I am getting anxious to start seeing works and more concrete plans for where she’s racing, but it is still early enough that I am not overly worried yet.
  • Stopchargingmaria –  She is still a regular on the Palm Meadows work tab; her last work was a four furlong breeze in 48.40.  However, there is still no information about when her three-year-old debut may come.

As it stands, Week 4 is going to be a big week for my stable, and Week 5 may be even bigger given how much I have riding on the Fountain of Youth.  Here’s hoping my horses run well!

fantasy stable: week 2 postmortem

The Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league has reached the end of the second week of points races.  This weekend, there were three: the Withers, the Las Virgenes, and the Busher.  Alas, I had no horses racing in any of them.  However, there was still some action involving the horses in my stable this week, and so there are still at least a few words to say at the end of the most recent week of competition.

  • Noble Cornerstone – I was looking forward to the Sam F. Davis this week, but that race was a nightmare for Noble Cornerstone.  He didn’t start out the race particularly fast, and did nothing to catch up.  Of course, this was only Noble Cornerstone’s third career race, but he got farther back than he did in any of his races.  In his maiden win he was never more than a length or so off the lead, and he took it within a scant few furlongs.  In his Remington Springboard Mile second he started out almost ten lengths back, but closed to within a neck of the winner.  In this race, he started over thirteen lengths off the lead, and never got within ten.  I’m worried as to why, and I hope he runs another race between now and draft time so I can figure out whether this was an issue of one bad race, a hatred of Tampa Bay Downs, or something more foreboding.  I have seen a bit of scuttlebutt about the Risen Star; I hope that actually happens, so I can see him run again before claiming time.
  • Conquest Titan – Not much has changed about Conquest Titan.  He’s still coming off his second in the Holy Bull (G2), and he has had no published works since.  Per @horseracinghl, his trainer Mark Casse said this week that, “If you put a gun to my head today… I’d say we’d probably run in the Fountain of Youth”.  That’s the clearest current indication of where he’s running.  That would be fantastic, since the Fountain of Youth is a points race in the league — and one before the first claiming date, no less.  I am pretty sure I am hanging onto this horse no matter how he runs in the Fountain of Youth (assuming he runs), but I’m glad there is a chance he may return to the track sooner rather than later.
  • General a Rod – There is not a ton new with General a Rod this week.  That is not to say there is nothing.  This week, he fired a bullet work at Gulfstream: a five furlong breeze in 59.13 on 2.2.14.  The word is that he is heading to the Fountain of Youth as well; even moreso than Conquest Titan, I’m glad to see him pointed toward a race this month.
  • Ride On Curlin – Nothing new has happened this week.  His last work was January 27, a five furlong breeze in 1.03.00 at Oaklawn.  It still sounds like he’s heading to the Southwest Stakes on 2.17.14.
  • Stopchargingmaria – There is little new with her.  She did breeze on 2.2.14, 5 furlongs in 1:00.60, 3/28 at Palm Meadows that day.  There is nothing credible to indicate her next race; she still has not raced since the Demoiselle.  She was one of the fourteen fillies nominated to the Triple Crown this year, though it is hard to tell whether or not she is actually pointed to the Derby, due to Todd Pletcher’s NOMINATE ALL THE HORSES strategy.  (Five of the fourteen fillies nominated to the Triple Crown are Pletcher trainees; the others are Onlyforyou, Got Lucky, Dame Dorothy, and Our Amazing Rose.)
  • Shared Belief – He is still not on the work tab, and there is still no word from Jerry Hollendorfer.  The Lewis is not going to happen.  Someone posted on Horse Racing Nation that he is possible for the San Felipe on 3.8.14, but I have nothing to substantiate that.  No matter what, he’s not working, and he’s currently a big question mark in my stable.
  • She’s A Tiger – She is another horse in my stable who has not returned to the work tab recently — and, in her case, she hasn’t been on the work tab since her two year old year.  There is little else to say about her at the moment, which is starting to frustrate me.
  • Tamarando – There is no real news since the California Cup Derby the weekend before last.  I was confused about him then, and I’m still pondering.  The San Felipe sounds like the most likely race for his return.  I would love to see him in a race before the claiming date, though if his next ends up being the San Felipe, I may consider keeping him into March.  It’s still an open question, though.

This week’s three points races were the Withers, the Las Virgenes, and the Busher.  The Withers didn’t give me any really great ideas for drafts — Samraat and Uncle Sigh were the only horses who came out of that race as clearly promising prospects, and they are both taken in the league.  I was considering Classic Giacnroll if he had done well in the Withers, but he was thoroughly unimpressive there, and I don’t think I’m particularly interested in him after that race.

Just as last week, it was the filly races that gave me a bit more interesting information.  Fashion Plate is interesting.  She was seventh and third her first two times out, at Del Mar and Hollywood Park respectively, but then won a six-furlong maiden race as well as the mile-long Las Virgenes at Santa Anita.  I am interested to see where she points next; if this ends up being a sustained love for dirt and distance, she’s a threat.  She’s got plenty of dirt on her sire’s side, but more turf on the closer generations of her dam’s side.  However, that Las Virgenes win over Streaming — a known quality horse — speaks loudly.  As for the Busher, I am looking into many of the horses in there just for tracking purposes, but I can’t deny: Joint Return coming from last to five wide around the turn to then win by over four lengths was a really pretty sight.  I have some more studying to do with respect to her previous races, as well as her pedigree (I can’t just automatically love her because she’s 4×5 to Hoist the Flag, right?!), but I may be buying what she’s selling.

Thus end my thoughts on where I stand this week, with respect to my fantasy stable.

fantasy stable: week 1 postmortem

Week 1 of points races for the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy horse racing league is in the books.  I can’t complain about where I’m sitting at the moment.  The Holy Bull netted me four points, since Conquest Titan closed well enough to cross the wire second.  I got nothing in the Forward Gal — but neither did anyone else in the league, since none of us had any of the fillies who ran it.

Here are my thoughts on the horses I’ve got, as of this weekend’s action:

  • Conquest Titan – I was high on this horse going into the Holy Bull, and I’m still high on him coming out of it.  Even though he was a clear second best in that race (no one was catching Cairo Prince there…), he made a strong run from far back to finish second.  It’s pretty clear coming out of it that closing is his preferred style — he ran his first few as a frontrunner, but these last few races as a closer have been strong.  I’m looking forward to seeing where he points next after this race…and hoping that it just so happens to be one of the races that gains me points in the fantasy league.
  • General a Rod – Originally the word was that he was pointing at the Holy Bull, but he wasn’t entered.  He’s still on the work tab, though, and there’s plenty of scuttlebutt saying he’s pointing toward the Fountain of Youth.  I can go for that; it’s a points race a few days before the claiming deadline, so hopefully he can show his mettle there.
  • Noble Cornerstone – The latest news on him is that he may be pointing to the Risen Star, though he was also nominated to the Sam F. Davis.  He’s active on the work tab at Gulfstream.  I’m interested to see where he goes…either way, he’s pointing to race sooner rather than later.  He was my last-round draft pick, and has a good shot at being my stable’s nice little dark horse.
  • Ride On Curlin – There is no real new stuff on him.  He’s still actively working at Oaklawn, and word is that he is pointing toward the Southwest Stakes.  I see this as a pretty important race for assessing his chances, since all of his wins so far have been in sprints.  He has run some routes, and even run them relatively well (see his third place in the Champagne), but I really want to see a route win.
  • Shared Belief – I wasn’t too worried after the first missed work.  Now, however, I’m getting a little nervous.  After proclaiming that Shared Belief would work last Friday, Hollendorfer didn’t work him, and then brusquely proclaimed that there would be no news for fifteen days.  This pretty well means the Lewis isn’t going to happen.  I’m nowhere near giving up on this horse — he’s staying in my stable for the time being, barring either a complete injury disaster or some disastrous racing when he returns.  I still think he’s legit.  But, for fantasy purposes, it’s frustrating seeing him in limbo like this.
  • She’s A Tiger – There is still radio silence since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.  I have no idea what kind of crack whoever is saying she’s running the Las Virgenes is smoking, but she’s not on the nominations list posted on the Santa Anita website, and has no published works.  There’s no reliable information as to where she’s actually pointing.  Hopefully she will return to the work tab soon.
  • Stopchargingmaria – There’s very little new to update on her.  She still hasn’t raced since her Demoiselle win, but she’s on the work tab at Palm Meadows.  I still haven’t seen any announcements about where she is pointing.
  • Tamarando – I am not sure what to make of this one.  I was hoping for one of two results in the California Cup Derby: either that he would win convincingly and mark himself as a solid contender, or that he would get utterly and completely smoked and get yanked off the Derby trail a la Coup De Grace after the Holy Bull.  Of course, things aren’t that easy.  He finished second in that race, with a nice rally late, but nowhere close to California Chrome.  I’m stuck with him at least until the end of February when the claiming date rolls around, and I really hope he has another race before then, so I can get a better idea of his chances on the trail.

The Holy Bull didn’t put any new colts on my radar; all of the legitimate contenders were already somewhere on my radar.  It answered a few questions about some of them, though for fantasy purposes I’m not sure how helpful that information will be given that most of the horses are already owned by other people in the league.  Still, I’m keeping tabs on all the horses, since there’s no way to predict who is going to be waived (and available for claiming) over the next few months.

From a claiming-period perspective, the Forward Gal may be the more interesting of the two races.  Onlyforyou made a strong showing, though I am not falling in love with her quite yet because that field wasn’t necessarily the strongest.  However, I will be tracking all six of these horses from here on out, and probably keeping a particular eye on both Onlyforyou and Aurelia’s Belle.

As a side note, the fact that I’m tracking all the horses from the Forward Gal may seem kind of weird, since at this point it does not seem that several of them might not have great chances at the Oaks.  However, I would rather spend the extra time researching more horses and keeping them all on my tracking spreadsheet, just to minimize the chance of being blindsided by a horse who might have had a not-so-great run come January, but get her act together come March or April.  As I mentioned in my intro post about the league, I am maintaining a spreadsheet of three-year-olds, with notes about past performances and upcoming races.  It’s a relatively large sheet — currently 161 horses and counting.  The drawback to this method is that it requires a lot of maintenance, and may lead to information overload.  However, right now I am less worried about that than I am worried about missing out on a potentially promising horse.  I am also making an attempt to rank the horses in the spreadsheet; I’m using broad categories for blue-chip prospects, quite good though not clearly blue-chip horses, ones that may be okay, and ones who can probably be ignored barring a major change.  The last list is pretty short now, though it will probably lengthen as time goes by; currently it only contains horses whose trainers have said they are off the Derby trail, or sticking to things like sprint races or turf races.

Anyway, that’s where I stand after week 1.  Week 2’s points races are the Withers and the Busher.  Both of them have been drawn.  I have no shot for points in Week 2, since none of my stable horses are racing in either one.  However, there are a few horses in these races who I already had my eye on and remain unowned in the league, so this week will be interesting for potential future claiming purposes.

Fantasy Road to the Triple Crown…it begins.

This past Friday night, we had our draft for Derbyologist’s fantasy horse racing league.  I have been slightly delayed in my recap of it — Shmoocon was this weekend, and when I’m not geeking out about the horses, I’m geeking out about computers.  However, the draft did happen, and I’m pretty happy about my stable.  These are the eight horses I’ll be watching like a hawk (though not necessarily like a Midnight Hawk or like a Gold Hawk), listed in order of when I drafted them:

  • Shared Belief
  • She’s A Tiger
  • Conquest Titan
  • Ride On Curlin
  • Tamarando
  • Stopchargingmaria
  • General a Rod
  • Noble Cornerstone

Given the way the draft is structured, there are fewer filly races than open ones, so I decided I wanted to shoot for two fillies and six colts/geldings/ridglings/horses generally considered as male.  That’s exactly what I ended up getting.  In fact, the two fillies I got were two of the four in my very top echelon of choices, so I’m happy with that.  (The other two, just to satisfy any curiosity, were Streaming, and Sweet Reason.)

The only time during the draft when I started yelling at my computer was the second round.  I was torn between She’s A Tiger and Top Billing.  I decided She’s A Tiger would be likelier to go first, and grabbed her.  The very next pick?  Top Billing, of course.  I feel like I fumbled that one…not that it’s a lock that She’s A Tiger would have lasted until my next pick, but Top Billing being taken next just plain stung, especially given the smaller-than-expected percentage of fillies versus colts who were taken in the league, since I was expecting each stable to take at least two fillies, and yet there were only eleven other fillies taken other than the two I drafted.)

Who is the pick I feel the best about?  At this point, Conquest Titan.  He doesn’t have the best record of my horses; the dead last in the BC Juvenile isn’t super exciting.  However, he has no shortage of classic or classic-distance horses (Birdstone?  Grindstone?  Unbridled?  A. P. Indy?)  in his pedigree.  Also?  I kind of love that he broke his maiden in a stakes, whose field included one Ria Antonia.  I am hoping that the promise he has shown as a two-year-old, combined with his pedigree, will lead to good results this spring.

On a happier note…I do love me some Curlin.  He’s one of my favourites.  I’m glad I got one of the promising Curlin babies on the Derby trail, in Ride On Curlin.  If there’s any of these horses I hope pans out more than any other, it’s Ride On Curlin.

I will admit that I am a little worried about the top rungs of my stable.  My top two picks were the two-year-old horses of the year — which is pretty exciting the day after the Eclipse awards, though knowing the history of two-year-old stars as three-year-olds, I am nervous as all get out, and will be shocked beyond belief if either of those remain stars.  A taunt in the chat room, comparing me to Dreaming of Julia, hit a bit hard…especially since I love Princess of Sylmar like crazy.  Dreaming of Julia was the horse everyone was buzzing about early in the season…and she sort of fizzled.  Here’s hoping that at least one of my fillies won’t, or I will find a diamond in the rough and acquire her via one of the monthly claims for the league.

However, I am still trying to figure out how to do this, and how to work within this draft format.  All I had to go on were PPs, and the list of races that count for points.  Among colts I drafted, I think I did that pretty well…all my colts’ PPs are decent to excellent, and they are all pointed next toward points races, with no more than two in my stable pointed to any given point race.  Fillies, I ended up going far more on PPs than points races — I still have no idea where She’s A Tiger or Stopchargingmaria are pointing next (other than vaguely being on the Oaks trail), but they have both shown a ridiculous amount of talent.  She’s A Tiger particularly scares me since she’s not back on the work tab yet, so I may end up seriously regretting this, but I figured she is worth the risk.

(As much as I love Ria Antonia, and am dying to see her do well on the Derby trail, I still think that so far She’s A Tiger has shown more, and was afraid to draft Ria Antonia because of the riskiness of her possible trail against the boys.  I would love more than anything to see Ria do well, but felt that She’s A Tiger was the safer pick for the sake of fantasy points.  We shall see.)

Anyway, that is my draft-related brain dump.  I will continue to write about works, plans, and musings related to my stable.