Big Race Showdown: Week 6

This week, the Big Race Showdown panel tackles a trio of Derby preps: the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), the Gotham (G3), and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3)!

Joining me on the panel are Candice HareEmily GulliksonBrian ZipseDan TordjmanMike McCormickMegan Devine, and Dan Cronin. Read on for our top picks, and who we think can run into the money for some nice exacta and trifecta payouts. See who we like, right here!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Jeff Ruby Steaks and Bourbonette Oaks Preview

This week, Picks and Ponderings goes back to Turfway — albeit only virtually, this time.  Turfway’s card on Saturday features a pair of three-year-old points races, the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) (previously the Spiral Stakes) for open company and the $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) for fillies.  Both races offer 20-8-4-2 points to its top four finishers, good for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks respectively.  As recently as last year, the races had been 50-point preps, though their points were lowered in light of the fact that the Polytrack has not in recent years tended to attract horses who made a major splash come the first weekend in May.  Still, that didn’t hurt field size one bit: both races drew large, competitive fields.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s pair of three-year-old preps at Turfway, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes Preview

Picks and Ponderings has kept a close eye trained on the three-year-old points races, but there are none this week.  Far be it from us to go on hiatus, though: especially since we’re hitting the road this weekend!  We’re off to Florence, Kentucky, making our maiden voyage to Turfway Park, so follow along with @picksponderings for photos, notes, and updates!

We are keeping up with the three-year-old theme, of course.  The feature of the race week is the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, the local prep for next month’s Grade 3 Jack Ruby Steaks (née Spiral Stakes).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Friday’s John Battaglia Memorial, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Scissors and Tape puts it together!

Scissors and Tape (One Lucky Storm, by Tale of the Cat) showed promise when he debuted in a one mile and seventy yard maiden special weight at Fair Grounds on December 28.  He was near the rear early, while Torrontes got a comfortable lead over an off track.  He got caught wide, but improved well enough for fourth.  It was a solid debut, and boded well for his chances next out.

Unfortunately, his return went worse.  On January 15 at Oaklawn, Scissors and Tape returned in a one and one sixteenth mile maiden special.  He was near the early pace.  He stalked off early leader Win With Tiz, pounced as he faded, and briefly took the lead.  However, Buck Fifty bumped him into the rail turning for home, and he understandably faded soon after.  He crossed the wire tenth that day.  Again, I hoped it would come together soon.

It…took a while.

Read More »

Picks and Ponderings: Spiral Stakes and Bourbonette Oaks Preview

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I tackled Saturday’s pair of three-year-old points races at Turfway: the Spiral Stakes (GIII) and the Bourbonette Oaks (GIII).

Both races drew huge fields, twelve plus two on the AE list.  Both drew a mix of more familiar Derby and Oaks trail types along with new faces: horses who are reaching, horses who have synthetic-track form, horses who are trying to find their place.  All in all, they are as difficult as you would expect races with such big fields to be.  From a betting perspective, there are prices to be found — particularly in the Spiral, where I want nothing to do with the likely favourite.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Spiral and the Bourbonette, and let me know in the comments what you think!

Chicago Railbird: the WEBN Stakes

This week, Chicago Railbird takes a (figurative) road trip to Turfway for the WEBN Stakes.  Though the race will be run in Kentucky, it has a Chicago-area connection.  The top two finishers from last year’s Arlington-Washington Futurity, Shogood and Van Damme, are among twelve runners (plus two also-eligibles) in the six and a half furlong polytrack sprint.

Wesley Ward wins a lot at Turfway, and his entrants invariably take wheelbarrows full of cash at the windows.  His filly Banree is the morning-line favourite, but with all of the other speed in the race, the “one to beat” looks wholly beatable.

There’s one horse I love to spring the upset.

So, head on over to ShapperDaCapper, read the latest Chicago Railbird, and let’s beat some chalk at Turfway!

Picks and Ponderings: Spiral Stakes and Bourbonette Oaks

This week, the polytrack types get their final chance to get on the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail by proving their prowess over a synthetic surface.  Attention turns to Florence, Kentucky, just south of the Ohio border from Cincinnati, to the Spiral Stakes (GIII) and the Bourbonette Oaks (GIII) at Turfway Park.  Both races drew full, wide-open fields, and should be the types of races in which anyone who gets it right sees a nice return.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I took a look at both of these prep races.  Let me know what you think, and leave a comment if you think I got something really right or really wrong!

Picks and Ponderings: Prairie Bayou Stakes Preview

This week at Picks and Ponderings, I dove into the Prairie Bayou Stakes.  This race drew a field of eleven runners, all males three and up, who are either polytrack routers or willing to play one on TV.  All jokes aside, there is every indication that this race will be a tough one, and a good one to bet: no one towers over the field in class, or is such a Turfway homer that it will be hard to set them aside.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, see who I like, and leave a comment to let me know what you think about the race!

Spiraling into chaos

I got more wrong this week about the stakes races in the Public Handicapper contest than I have in a long time, though somehow I managed not to strike out completely.  The biggest bright spot in my weekend came from my continued belief in the class of Aurelia’s Belle, who notched her first graded stakes victory in the Bourbonette, after three straight on-the-board finishes in other graded stakes.  I also came just a nose shy of hitting the Pasadena, and probably got more right in that race than I did in the others, across the board.

Oaklawn

Gazebo Stakes (three-year-olds, 6 furlongs on the dirt)

In this race, I had Boji Moon as my first choice, Dunkin Bend as my second, and Kendall’s Boy as my third.  I wasn’t the least bit happy about my second or third choices; the only horse in this field I wanted anything to do with was Boji Moon.  Unfortunately, Boji Moon scratched, so I was left with Dunkin Bend.  That didn’t work out so well.

Both Boji Moon and Bagg O’Day scratched.  They were speed horses, sure, but there were still many horses left in the race who had seen some success with early speed in previous races.  Of them, only one was actually able to get there: Brewing.  Brewing popped out of the gate, immediately got a length on the field, and made them eat his dust from wire to wire.  He made a mockery of this race.  No one mounted a challenge that could be considered the least bit credible.  It almost looked like Guns Loaded was going to make a move on the inside coming into the turn, but Jon Court asked Brewing for a little more, and he gained a few lengths on the field like it was absolutely nothing.  Big Sugar Soda made enough of a closing move to put away the rest of the field (for whatever definition of “field” applied to this race), but got nowhere near Brewing.  He passed a bunch of tired horses, more than anything else.  Condo Closing was mid-pack for most of the race, and able to get third only because he tired out less than the rest of the horses tired.

As for my picks who actually raced?  Neither of them had a good day.  Dunkin Bend couldn’t get any closer than a length, length and a half from Brewing.  He ran there briefly, and by the time the field approached the far turn, he was fading and done.  He finished 7th beaten 12 3/4 lengths, behind the obviously outclassed Mister Pollard.  May  Kendall’s Boy didn’t fare much better.  He got caught up tight at the start, which didn’t help him given that his previous races have had him nearer the lead.  He never recovered, and finished 6th beaten 7 1/2.  Unlike Dunkin Bend, he at least had a couple excuses, between the traffic early and being right near Mister Pollard when he checked.

TL;DR: Boji Moon scratched.  Brewing looked nice.  No one else did.

Santa Anita

Pasadena Stakes (three-year-olds 1 mile on the turf)

In this race, Quotient was my first choice, Diamond Bachelor my second, and Enterprising my third.  Quotient was my clear first choice, but it was almost a coin flip between Diamond Bachelor and Enterprising.  I ended up selecting Diamond Bachelor over Enterprising only because I thought they had very close chances at the race, and Diamond Bachelor would likely yield a better price.  (That bore out; Diamond Bachelor went off at 2.8-1 while Enterprising went off the 1.4-1 favourite.)  All that said, though, Quotient was my contest horse, since he did race.

The early pace was mostly as expected; No Ma’am and Craftsman set it, with Diamond Bachelor just against it.  Royal Banker and Enterprising stalked.  Royal Banker was the only true surprise to see that close to the pace early.  Quotient surprised me as well; instead of getting right on the lead, he settled about four lengths back, amid the back section of the pack.  Through the far turn and into the stretch Diamond Bachelor pulled ahead to get the lead, with Craftsman just behind.  However, they had to deal with three horses storming in from behind: Enterprising from his position a few lengths back, Quotient with his wide move out from midpack, and the fast-closing run of Home Run Kitten from the rear.  They both gave way late to the onslaught: Enterprising passed first just outside of the leading pair, and then Quotient from outside of him.  Quotient got within a long nose of Enterprising, but it wasn’t quite enough.  Home Run Kitten, flying down the centre of the track, passed them as well, though just ran out of room to get Enterprising or Quotient.  The connections of the first five horses in this race have nothing to be ashamed of; they all ran a strong race, and crossed the wire within not even two lengths of each other.

Home Run Kitten did what I expected Puppy Manners to try and do: make a big closing run.  I expected Home Run Kitten to stalk closer in, since none of his earlier races from farther back worked out so well.  However, he got it together as a closer this time, and fired with some great closing hustle.  Puppy Manners, on the other hand, was just flat.  He was off slow, wide through the turn, and didn’t make any sort of move.  He finished 8th, 13 1/4 lengths behind Enterprising, and ahead of only the badly faded No Ma’am.

Turfway

Bourbonette Oaks (three-year-old fillies and mares, 1 mile on the synthetic)

In this race, I had Aurelia’s Belle as my first choice, Cheerful Contender as my second, and Shanon Nicole as my third.  Since she raced, Aurelia’s Belle was my contest horse.  If this statement sounds familiar, that’s because it is; Aurelia’s Belle was also my contest choice in the Forward Gal back in January.  That time out, she was game, but no match for the unstoppable lone speed of Onlyforyou.  This time out, her class and experience brought her all the way home.

Aurelia’s Belle got exactly the kind of trip she wanted.  She got in position a few lengths behind the leading pack, found a hole between Sloane Square and Zensational Bunny coming into the far turn, and slowly opened up ground from Sloane Square on her inside down the stretch.  Sloane Square held on for second, the only one of the early speed pack of her, Zensational Bunny, and Stormy Novel who was able to stay on and hit the board.  Katie’s Eyes, I underestimated.  She had never raced against a field anything like this; her only races had been a third-place finish in a maiden sprint at Fair Grounds where she was an 18-1 shot, and a win in a restricted stakes that was so weak that she — a once-raced maiden — was the 1-5 favourite.  She stalked from the pack, but unlike the rest of the pack, she didn’t fade.  I thought she’d be outclassed here, but she held her own — simple as that.  She couldn’t catch up to Sloane Square or the advancing Aurelia’s Belle, but had enough to finish 3rd: 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner, but another 2 3/4 ahead of the fourth-place La Mejor Fiesta.

My second and third choices did not fare nearly as well as my primary pick.  Cheerful Contender was never any factor.  She was bumped by La Mejor Fiesta at the start, fell back to last early, and never made any kind of dent.  She finished 10th, 25 3/4 lengths behind Aurelia’s Belle, and only in front of Somerville Miss.  This is the second race of her career in which she has had a bad start, and agains, she just could not recover.  Shanon Nicole got into the stalking pack early, but steadily faded back.  She ended up 8th, beaten 23 3/4 lengths.  She was a rather lukewarm third pick fro me here, but I thought if she was able to get up in a stalking place relatively early, she’d have a shot.  Instead of being back early and then gaining to stalk, she stalked early and faded back.  There wasn’t a clear excuse I could see for the poor performance, especially since she had shipped before and raced okay after the ship.

Spiral Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)

In this race, I had Tamarando as my first choice, All Tied Up as my second, and Smart Cover as my third.  Smart Cover, as my third choice, I knew was an attempt at a bomb: if there were so many scratches that I lost Tamarando and All Tied Up before the race even began, I may as well select the longshot horse who I thought had the best chance to win.  As with most things in this race, was I ever wrong!

It turns out I hopped off the We Miss Artie train way too early.  After his run in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he was my horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — but faded, and disappointed.  With his one good race since the Breeders’ Futurity being the Kitten’s Joy on turf, I should have given him a bit more credit on his return to synthetic.  I didn’t, and that burned me.  He got in mid-pack early, steadily advanced, and had enough to just nip Harry’s Holiday at the wire.  Harry’s Holiday, a Turfway local who won the 96ROCK Stakes earlier this year and then finished third behind Solitary Ranger in the Battaglia, was the only member of the early speed brigade who did not fade out.  I thought his speed in the 96ROCK was a fluke, but he proved in the Spiral that it wasn’t.  Almost Famous faded badly into the far turn, and Solitary Ranger gave way badly through it.  Harry’s Holiday?  He was pure game.  He stayed on the lead, kept his head in front of the challenge mounted by third-place Coastline, and was just barely nosed out by We Miss Artie for the win.  Coastline did make a good run up from his stalking place, but Harry’s Holiday just would not let him pass.

I was far too optimistic about Tamarando’s ability to fire off the ship.  The fractions weren’t encouraging, though — for as many horses as were on the lead, the fractions were not that fast.  The fractions weren’t that fast in the El Camino Real, either, but at least Tamarando wasn’t quite as far back.  He made up a decent amount of distance going into the far turn, but got caught six wide, tried momentarily to make a run into the stretch, but really didn’t fire.  He finished 8th, 11 1/2 back.  All Tied Up fared a bit better.  He was back early, but able to get into a decent pressing place.  However, he couldn’t sustain any kind of run into the stretch, and ended up 6th beaten 6 1/2.  He got nowhere near the front five, but was well ahead of the rest.  Smart Cover, my attempt at a long shot bomb, had his second terrible race in a row.  He was far back early, and saved ground — not in itself worrying, since he tends to be a very deep closer.  However, he not only didn’t fire, but he faded badly.  He lugged in twelfth and last, thirty-six lengths behind We Miss Artie.  Clearly, I picked the wrong long shot; Harry’s Holiday was the real dark horse of the day.  Even though he wouldn’t have won me any points in the contest, the Turfway local made the best run of any of the long shots, and almost took the whole thing.

Spiral weekend!

This week, the Public Handicapper contest features four races: two at Turfway (a track I’ve never handicapped before…), one at Oaklawn, one at Santa Anita — and all for three-year-olds.  There’s no need for too much jibber-jabber.  Let’s just dive into the races!

Oaklawn

Gazebo Stakes (three-year-olds, 6 furlongs on the dirt)

It’s never fun to pick a race apart only to realize that the only horse you want anything to do with in the race is going to be complete chalk.  Alas, this was what I found in this race full of three-year-old speedball sprinters.  Some are coming up from the maiden ranks, some are dialing back in distance from longer stakes attempts, and they all have one thing in common: they’ve done their best work either on, or no more than a length or two off of, the lead at all times.  They’re not all going to get all the way up there, so to win this race, a horse needs two things: to be able to contend if he’s not the one horse who gets the lead to start, and to be able to go six furlongs faster than anyone else in the field can.

Only one horse in this field has shown speeds that consistently excel with this field, combined with the ability to win from a few lengths back.  That’s the 2-1 favourite, Boji Moon.  I will be surprised if he’s not bet down to odds-on by post time, but in a win-only handicapping competition, I would want a horse who has a shot to win.  If I were playing an exacta, I’d consider filling that second rung out with Dunkin Bend or Kendall’s Boy.  Dunkin Bend is coming in off of a two and a half month lay, but the cut back to his preferred six furlongs combined with the move to a more successful barn at this track should bode well for his return.  Kendall’s Boy is coming off an absolutely terrible run in the Southwest, but has been showing steady improvement in sprint races.  Cutting back to six furlongs here, combined with the experiences against classier competition, could be good for hitting the board against this field.

Santa Anita

Pasadena Stakes (three-year-olds 1 mile on the turf)

This race has an interesting mix of horses: some Derby prep runners who likely preferred the turf all along, some turf sprint runners who are trying the stretch out to a mile, and even a couple of horses coming straight here out of maiden wins.  There isn’t a ton of early speed in this race; the only ones in the field who really prefer to be on the lead are Diamond Bachelor, Quotient, and No Ma’am.  Enterprising is likely to stalk pretty close back from that crowd, and then the rest will be likely to chase from further back, and try to make a move later.

Quotient is fascinating here.  He is one of only two horses (No Ma’am being the other) who are coming into this race from a maiden win.  Quotient broke his maiden last time out (his second career start) at Santa Anita on the turf, hanging just off the lead for most of it before kicking ahead late.  What makes this interesting is the distance of the maiden race: 1 1/8 miles on the Santa Anita turf.  He showed that he’s not only got the speed to hang with this field, but stamina to spare given that this is only a mile race.  He is my prime choice.

Two of the other horses up front, Diamond Bachelor and Enterprising, warrant particular mention.  Diamond Bachelor has had two straight not-so-good races: the Breeders Cup Juvenile last fall and the Robert B. Lewis last month.  However, both of those were on the dirt, and both were at 1 1/16 miles.  He racked up two wins, as well as a 3/4 length second behind Aotearoa, in his three races at a mile on the turf.  The combination of the return to his preferred distance and surface, with the fact that this is his second race off of a three-month lay, bodes well for him here.  Enterprising, another horse who is returning to his much-loved turf miles after a couple of attempts at longer races on the Golden Gate Tapeta surface, has shown some of the best speed of the field.  He drops in class here, and is a definite contender, albeit at what’s destined to be a low price.

If the early pace goes faster than expected and sets up for one of the closers to get his nose up on the wire, look to Puppy Manners.  The outside post isn’t great, but he is helped by the fact that he doesn’t have to get extremely far back to close — so his ability to close isn’t quite as desperately dependent on pace as others.  He likely won’t have too much ground to cover, and may prevail for a share at a good price no matter what.

Turfway

Bourbonette Oaks (three-year-old fillies and mares, 1 mile on the synthetic)

I like Aurelia’s Belle here, a lot; she is my top choice here.  She only has a maiden win to her name, but has hit the board in three graded stakes races since: the Old Hat, the Forward Gal, and the Davona Dale.  She’s returning to the polytrack; her maiden win was at six furlongs on the main track at Keeneland.  She also gets back Channing Hill, the same jockey who rode him in that maiden win.  Getting her preferred spot a few lengths off from the lead shouldn’t be a problem, since she has plenty of speed to do it and is breaking from the four gate.

Cheerful Contender interests me here as well.  She ran her first two career races on the synthetic at Woodbine, winning her second out at 1 1/16 miles by six lengths.  She didn’t have a great time in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn — her first attempt at a stakes, and her first trip on dirt.  She was off a bit slow and never really got up there.  However, in her last start, she won an allowance at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn.  Here, she’s cutting back to a mile, and is switching back to the synthetic.  There isn’t a ton of early speed here: other than her,  it’s just Zensational Bunny and possibly Sloane Square or Katie’s Eyes.  If she can get up on or near the lead early, a good possibility with only two slower horses inside of her at the start, she could contend.

Spiral Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)

This race is interesting, since there are a lot of speed horses, and a lot of closers.  The end of this race could be a free-for-all between the speed horses who can stay and the closers fighting to get up there.  Two of the buzz horses going into this race are ones who like the early speed a lot: Solitary Ranger and Coastline.  However, there are concerns about the nine furlong distance here, and both of them have tended to lose ground at the end of their mile and a sixteenth races.  Solitary Ranger is also stepping up in class from his last few starts.  They are both talented horses, but I have doubts about whether either of them are going to handle the distance.  I’m going to look elsewhere.

He is going to be very chalky, but I do like Tamarando here.  He has never run a bad race, and all four of his career wins are on synthetic tracks.  Furthermore, he is one of only two horses in the field (the others being Asserting Bear and Smart Cover) who has even run 1 1/8 miles, which he did in his El Camino Real Derby win.  This is his first time shipping out of California, but he has shipped between the northern and southern California circuits, so the ship should not be a huge issue.

Another horse who interests me a lot here is All Tied Up.  The question here is whether he will like synthetic; all of his races so far have been on the turf.  However, trainer Todd Pletcher tends to have success moving horses from the turf to the synthetic, and he retains Luis Saez, who rode him in his most recent win.  His two career wins have been in routes, 1 1/16 miles.  He has been gaining on the field near the end, which suggests he may handle the extra half furlong well.  Also, he has shown success from multiple race shapes, either a close stalking position or by closing from further back.  All Tied Up is stepping up to stakes company for the first time in his career, but assuming he likes the move from turf to synthetic, he’s a live longer shot here.

Smart Cover’s morning line is 20-1; he doesn’t seem a sure shot to win, but 20-1 seems like a significant overlay.  Sure, there are a few things going against him.  He has never run on the synthetic: he has been on the turf twice, and the dirt twice.  Last out, he had a terrible run in the Palm Beach Stakes at 1 1/8 miles: he stumbled out of the gate, and then didn’t fire on his closing run.  However, there are some explanations that suggest he could run better here.  The Pam Beach was his first race off of a six-month lay, since his second-place finish behind Cleburne in the Iroquois.  That race was at 1 1/16 miles, and he only lost by a fast-closing neck.  This suggests that he has the distance in him.  If he improves with this being second off the lay, he could spring a surprise here.