Picks and Ponderings: Dubai World Cup Preview

In addition to the races going on locally and even stateside, Saturday is the culmination of the Carnival in Dubai.  A full card of seven-figure stakes races is set to go on Saturday, including the richest race in the world: the Dubai World Cup.

The main-track races at Meydan have been run on Tapeta since the course opened in 2010, but that track has been replaced with a new dirt track.  With the change in surface, Dubai’s big day has sparked more excitement among stateside racing fans — and connections of horses here, who have been a bit more apt to send their horses across the ocean to test their mettle on the new surface.

At Picks and Ponderings, I dive into three of the stakes on the Dubai World Cup card: the Dubai World Cup, the Sheema Classic, and the United Arab Emirates Derby.  The Dubai World Cup features two of the top American handicap horses, California Chrome and Lea, facing a cast of characters that includes defending champion African Story.  In the Sheema Classic, Main Sequence attempts to run his record with trainer Graham Motion to a perfect six-for-six, and show that he can take his form abroad.  In the UAE Derby, Mubtaahij, Maftool, and Sir Fever finally get to have their battle royal — and lone American representative My Johnny Be Good will see if going half a world away will help him rebound from a disappointing outing in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, dive into these races with me, and let me know what you think in the comment section!

Wood Day stakes recap: or, how i was wicked wrong about Wicked Strong

There was quite a bit I got right about the stakes races I picked for Public Handicapper yesterday…and I wasn’t left completely on the duck for the week despite the win-only format, since my pick California Chrome performed exactly like one would hope a 3-5 shot in a Grade I would.  Let’s hop in and look back at those stakes races from yesterday:


Bay Shore Stakes (GIII, three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt)

In this race, I had Financial Mogul (3) as my first choice, Kobe’s Back (8) as my second, and and Coup de Grace (4) as my third choice.  As he raced, Financial Mogul was my contest horse.

Financial Mogul was also the only horse among my picks not to hit the board.  He didn’t have the greatest of starts — though that in itself appears a flimsy excuse, given that it was Coup de Grace (the winner) with whom he bumped.  Speaking of starts, Kobe’s Back was out of the gate very slowly, and came out even behind Financial Mogul and Kobe’s Back.  Favorite Tale and Loki’s Vengeance, two of the horses who appears as likely early speed coming in, took that role when the pace settled in; Oliver Zip and The Admiral stalked close behind.  Coming into the stretch, though, about four lengths covered the entire field.  About two lengths back was as close as Financial Mogul got, though; unlike much of the field, he didn’t have much more through the stretch, and finished only ahead of the head-and-head early leaders.

Coup de Grace was near the back early, a deviation from his previous style of running near the early speed.  This ended up working out nicely; he proved his ability to rate and fight.  Despite the bump at the start, despite being five wide through the far turn, he got up to challenge the leaders, and by the sixteenth pole he was bobbing head with Oliver Zip and The Admiral.  He just didn’t quit, and got his nose in front at the wire after a fantastic stretch run.  Oliver Zip held up best among the frontrunning brigade – I liked him to hit the board here, and he showed even more than I expected to see while finishing just that nose behind Coup de Grace.  Kobe’s Back, who was a good ten lengths back early, came on like a freight train on the outside, and checked in only half a length behind the winner.  After the start he had, that was a huge rebound.

Wood Memorial Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, Samraat (8) was my first choice, Uncle Sigh (10) was my second, and Schivarelli (7) was my third choice.  Since he raced, Samraat (8) was my contest horse.

Schivarelli and Social Inclusion got up for the lead.  I was a bit nervous to see Social Inclusion get up there — I thought there was no chance he’s get the lead in that race, both between the gate and the relatively slow pace figures he had in the past.  As much as I wanted to stand against him, he did show more in this race than I expected to see.  Noble Moon, Kristo, and Samraat got in behind them; among those three, Samraat was the only one who really stayed in the hunt.  He made up some ground on the leaders; as Schivarelli faded a little down the stretch, Samraat pulled even with Social Inclusion, and nosed him out for the place.

However, that was the fight for the place.  I completely underestimated Wicked Strong; there’s no two ways about it.  He looked a cut below on paper.  He didn’t look absolutely rotten, as he had a pretty sharp recent work at Belmont, and his only previous attempt at the distance was his 1/2 length third behind Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Remsen.  However, he had flopped in his Derby preps since, and his speed figures had been terrible compared to the field.  None of that mattered: he fired big time.  After having settled a handful of lengths back early, Wicked Strong just gobbled up ground despite being wide on the far turn, and won this race going away.  We finally have at least one closer in the Derby gate.  That’s not to say he’s my Derby horse, or that I even believe he’s going to fire in the Derby, but it’s nice to know that it won’t be twenty speedballs.


Ashland Stakes (GI, three-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic)

In this race, I had Testa Rossi (6) as my first selection, Rosalind (8) as my second, and Room Service (2) as my third.  Since she raced, Testa Rossi was my contest horse.

Testa Rossi was a risk because she had never run on synthetic before; I was willing to take the chalk on her, though, given how well she had run on turf and the class of her opponents, especially her juvenile year.  Testa Rossi was also the only one of my chosen horses who scored me absolutely nothing on a win bet.

Istanford and Resistivity got up to the lead early, with Macaroon just behind.  Resistivity surprised me a bit with her ability to get up there as fast as she did, given her outside post.  Istanford, however, was no surprise up there at all.  All three of my selections dropped back: Testa Rossi about ten back, and both Rosalind and Room Service more like a dozen.  Testa Rossi may not have wanted to be quite as far back, as On The Backstreets bore out into her going into the clubhouse turn, but even with that she wasn’t settled back farther than she has been before.  All three have shown closing prowess in the past; seeing them back early with the speedballs up there was exactly what I expected, and was hoping to see.

Testa Rossi and Rosalind both made their moves going into the far turn.  Testa Rossi was along the rail, and improved a few lengths, but stalled out.  She made it as far up as fourth, and that’s where she held down the relatively short Keeneland stretch.  Rosalind hauled up from far back, swung wide through the far turn, and took command coming into the stretch.  By then, Room Service was making her move as well — charging from dead last on the backstretch to get within a length of the lead once the field was heading for home.  Rosalind and Room Service started to pull away from the field.  Ever so briefly, it became unclear whether Room Service was going to sustain her run or end up having to settle for second, but she found more just in time.  She caught up on even terms with Rosalind — watching the horses cross the wire I could have sworn Room Service had nabbed Rosalind, but the photo told the tale: dead heat.  These two were much the best:  Thank You Marylou got up from mid-pack for third (seven lengths behind the winners), and Testa Rossi hung on for fourth.

Santa Anita

Santa Anita Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, California Chrome was my first choice, Candy Boy my second, and Hoppertunity third.  Since he raced, California Chrome was my contest pick.  I am looking forward to seeing how he fares elsewhere, but we do know one thing about California Chrome: he owns the top three-year-old route races at Santa Anita, simple as that.

Dublin Up set the early fractions, with California Chrome just behind and then Candy Boy stalking three wide and just behind.  California Chrome had repeatedly shown the ability to rate from just off, so this spot behind Dublin Up was perfect.  Candy Boy, on the other hand, was a bit closer in than expected, to start.  Hoppertunity, who I expected to be the one close up near where Candy Boy raced, was instead a couple lengths back early, in the tight little pack that contained the rest of the field.

Coming into the far turn, Dublin Up lost ground as the horses made their moves, or at least attempted to.  California Chrome kicked into gear best of all, and opened up daylight between him and the rest of the field like it was nothing.  I’m almost surprised Trevor Denman didn’t trot out his old “they would need to sprout wings” line, as he did in the California Cup Derby, it was so decisive.  He checked in 5 1/4 lengths in front of the second place Hoppertunity, who gained enough ground late to claim a clear second ahead of both Candy Boy and the tiring Dublin Up.  Candy Boy never really improved his position; he didn’t fade massively, but was never able to mount a serious challenge to California Chrome or even Hoppertunity.  He stayed in for third.

The big question with Candy Boy was whether he would be able to come into this race fresh and ready to run; judging from his performance, there is a decent chance he could have used another race.  The Kentucky Derby is now a questionable proposition for Candy Boy.  He now sits at 30 points: sixteenth on the leaderboard with the Arkansas Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes, and the Lexington Stakes to go.  He has to hope for some repeat winners in these races.

a taste of the weekend ahead…

There are a lot of races ahead on Blinkers Off this weekend.  First off, we have the four stakes races that are part of this weekend’s Public Handicapper contest.  Tomorrow morning will come picks for Hawthorne, since I’m heading out there for a day at the races.  It feels like forever since I’ve been out at Hawthorne — then again, a week and a half is the longest I’ve been away from my home track since the Spring Meet started!  (Of course, I’ve been to the races more recently than that, but it was at Aqueduct — not quite the same thing, and something I still need to write about.)  Finally, after tomorrow’s races, there will be picks for a series of races at Keeneland, Oaklawn, Pimlico, and Santa Anita on Sunday — since I’m squaring off against both Dude #1 and Brady Wayne Lukas in this week’s Dudes Challenge!

But, let’s not put the sulky before the horse: tonight is Friday night, and it’s time to discuss the Bay Shore, the Wood, the Ashland, and the Santa Anita Derby!


Bay Shore Stakes (GIII, three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt)

Selections:  Financial Mogul (3), Kobe’s Back (8), Coup de Grace (4)

From a handicapping perspective, this is one of the most interesting races I’ve delved into in a while, mainly because there is no horse in this field who I can conclusively say has no chance of hitting the board.  There are a few who look a bit outmatched to win, but have shown enough in previous races that they could at least come in for a share if they dig in. This includes even the long shot Charleymillionaire, 30-1 on the morning line, who showed a tough effort late in the Jimmy Winkfield back in January to get within half a length of Hot Heir Skier and Oliver Zip.

However, when we get down to brass tacks, there’s enough early speed in this race that I’d rather look to someone coming from off the pace to take this race home.  Fortunately, two quality horses can play that come-from-behind role: Financial Mogul and Kobe’s Back.  Financial Mogul still only has one win to his name, but it’s at this seven-furlong distance.  He has been facing extremely classy horses his last few times out, and firing bullet works like it’s his job.  Dialing back to seven furlongs in a field with a lot of early speed may be just what he needs to get back on track.  Kobe’s Back is the other horse in the field who has shown the ability to race very well off the pace.  If this race were in California, he would be my selection pretty clearly, but I question his ability to ship after his flop in the Rebel.  The pace will set up well if he ships well, however.

Finally, if one of the up-front horses stands to hang on, look to Coup de Grace.  He broke his maiden at six furlongs over this outer Aqueduct course last year, and also has a one-mile allowance win to his name.  Coup de Grace also reverts to Javier Castellano as jockey, who rode him in both his career victories.  If he comes off fresh from his lay since the Holy Bull, which his works suggest he will, he could take this crowd wire to wire.

Wood Memorial Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  Samraat (8), Uncle Sigh (10), Schiverelli (7)

Social Inclusion is the hot horse, the buzz horse, the now horse.  He’s not a bad horse, and if he runs the way he did at Gulfstream when he trounced Honor Code, then he’s got a shot here.  However, he has a ton of things going against him: his inexperience, his never having shipped before, his outside post, his never being seriously challenged long and hard for the lead in his two starts, and his relatively sluggish early pace figures compared to others in the field.  I think he’s overrated, and I’m looking elsewhere for my horse in the Wood.

I would have loved if Kid Cruz were still racing in this.  There was only one horse drawn into this race who has even raced at 1 1/8 miles, much less won at the distance: Kid Cruz.  His closing style would have given him a fighting chance against the dueling speedsters in this field.  However, trainer Linda Rice scratched him out to give him a bit more time to recover form a sore shoulder.  He may be pointing toward the Illinois Derby on the way to the Preakness — which will make for an epic trip to Hawthorne on April 19 if that indeed materializes, but deprives me of a strong horse at a good price here in the Wood.

With the horses left, I kept coming back to the matched pair of Samraat and Uncle Sigh.  They both go on or near the early lead, but have both shown the ability to fight and keep their heads up there even if another horse gets the lead right out of the gate.  They can rate, which will be important in case Noble Moon or Social Inclusion starts out on the front.  They are both running very consistent speed figures race after race after race, suggesting that they’re not a bounce risk coming off their one-tw0 duel in the Gotham.  I would not be surprised to see a one-two duel again here.  Either one has a great shot, but I give the slight advantage to Samraat because of some discussion I heard on the radio today that Contessa may want Uncle Sigh to go a bit more off the pace than usual early in this race, and he’s not proven at doing that.  He may well succeed at that, and I’d be about equally unsurprised to see Uncle Sigh win as I would Samraat.

Among the rest of the field, Schiverelli has the best chance to come in and play spoiler.  He’s on a class jump here, with only a narrow maiden win and an huge allowance optional claiming romp to his name.  However, he is firing bullet after bullet at Belmont leading from the February 21 allowance into this race.  Furthermore, Javier Castellano has the mount; Castellano has been racing very well at Aqueduct recently.  Finally, he has one win that was a wire job and one win that came from a few lengths off the pace — showing a versatility that should serve him well in this classy field.


Ashland Stakes (GI, three-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic)

Selections:  Testa Rossi (6), Rosalind (8), Room Service (2)

This is a relatively difficult race to handicap due to the surface.  It’s the last big synthetic Oaks prep, so most of the horses coming in here have been proven mostly on the turf so far, with a smattering of dirt horses to keep it interesting.  In fact, only five of the thirteen horses in the field have even raced on synthetic once, and only one (On The Backstreets) has raced even half her outings on synthetic.  Even in On The Backstreets’ case, though, those three outings didn’t come on the polytrack, but rather the Cushion Track out at Hollywood Park.

I can’t pick against Testa Rossi here.  She won the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay last time out, by 3 1/2 lengths over frontrunning Istanford.  She faces tougher company here — though even then, the same argument that made her look good her last time out bolsters her here.  She has never run a bad race.  She has won five of her eight times out, and the only loss by more than a length was her 2 1/2 length defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, behind Chriselliam.  There’s no Chriselliam here.  Testa Rossi consistently fires speeds that hang well with this field, she’s carrying the same weight as everyone else on the track, and there’s enough early speed that no one is going to get too loose for her to catch.  The one question here is the surface, of course, since she has only run on turf and is taking her first try at the poly.  However, it is hard to count out a closer who just plain always fires, for any reason, especially in a race with this much early speed.

The horses with the best chance to spoil Testa Rossi’s day are Rosalind and Room Service.  Rosalind still has only a maiden win to her name, but she has two strong finishes in graded stakes races on the synthetic.  Last fall, she finished second in the Alcibiades — a GII at this distance on the Keeneland poly — 1 3/4 lengths behind My Conquestadory.  Her only off the board finish to date was in the Hollywood Starlet (GI) in December, but she still finished fourth beaten only 2 3/4 by three quality horses (Streaming, Taste Like Candy, and Untapable).  She also has already worked once at Keeneland before this race, firing a bullet four furlong work April 1.  Rosalind is second off the lay, accustomed to poly, and could spring an upset.

Room Service is coming off a win in the Herecomesthebride (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles on the Gulfstream turf.  There are no worries that she will be able to handle the 1 1/16 miles of the Ashland.  Even though she has only raced on turf, several factors that weigh in her favour.  She is coming off a good pattern of works, including two strong ones over the Keeneland polytrack.  She has rated from off the pace, important in a race with as many early speed horses as this has, and has never missed the board.  Finally, she is trained by Wayne Catalano, a trainer who regularly and successfully fields horses on the synthetic.

Santa Anita

Santa Anita Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  California Chrome (5), Candy Boy (6), Hoppertunity (3)

My three selections here are the chalk brigade, but this time around, there just aren’t any real long shots who look like they have a chance to take this race.

I would love to bet against California Chrome, but given the likely pace scenario of this race, I can’t.  He’s just too likely to be the blazing lone speed.  Dublin Up may try to challenge him early, but the long shot maiden just hasn’t shown enough speed or stamina to seriously contend.  No one else in the field has shown any love of getting on the lead, and if California Chrome gets that lead alone, he’s liable to yet again leave a field of good horses eating his dust.

If California Chrome regresses a bit, the ones in the field with the best chance to catch him are Candy Boy and Hoppertunity.  Candy Boy should be fighting this race hard, as he alone among the top three choices desperately needs the points to get into the Kentucky Derby.  He has been on the lay since the Lewis two months ago, though working sharply and consistently through that time at Santa Anita.  He has raced well from either a stalking spot or a deep closing place; given the lack of early speed here, I am looking to him to be placed in a similar spot as the Lewis, where he wasn’t too far back.  Hoppertunity races here to stay tuned up on the way to the Derby, without having to ship again.  His Rebel win locked him up a spot in the starting gate.  If he can get into a stalking place early, he could be a real threat.  He has a pattern of alternating bad and good races that doesn’t bode well here, but that’s a rather weak reason to throw him out entirely.  The fact remains that Hoppertunity has speed that compares favourably with this field, has been gaining on fields late at a mile and a sixteenth, and retains Mike Smith as jockey from the Rebel.  He can contend here.

There are a couple of other horses I would be interested in if I do an exotic wager on this race:  Schoolofhardrocks (7) and Rprettyboyfloyd (1).  Schoolofhardrocks is a talented colt who stands to improve second off the lay.  He probably does his best work from a closing spot, but there’s just not going to be enough early speed to support that sort of style.  His raw talent and speed could get him as far as the board, though.  Rprettyboyfloyd, one of two maidens in this race, has a huge case of second-itis.  He hasn’t won yet, but was third behind Kobe’s Back in the San Vicente, and has four seconds in four attempts in maiden special company.  His last three MSW attempts, he was beaten by less than a length combined.  He’s consistently good at getting close, and may try to do that here, but I doubt his desire to win.

what’s better that one fantasy stable?

…two fantasy stables!

For the sixth year, Brooklyn Backstretch is doing a fantasy league to raise money for the equine charity of the winner’s choice.  (This is my first year playing it, however.)  Unlike my other league, there was no draft — anyone can pick any of the horses, provided that you pick the correct number of horses from each group (A, B, C).  Of course, as with any system that ranks horses, there’s always going to be some subjectivity — for example, the horses I’m highest on in my stable for this league, Top Billing and Conquest Titan, are both B-group horses, not an A-group horse.

As for the horses who are in my stable for this league, there are a few who are overlaps from my Derbyologist league stable, and a few who are not.  As my stable choices are already public in the comments to the post announcing the contest, here they are:

  • Group A — These are the horses intended to be the best of the best, at least as of this relatively early point in the Derby trail.
    • Candy Boy – I have been pretty high on this guy since his second-place finish in the CashCall Futurity last year.  His win in the Lewis only made me like him even more.  It showed that as good as he was on the synthetic, he could bring it on the dirt.  I was tempted to taken him in my other league, but I just didn’t take him fast enough.  Since that race he has shown what I’d love to see, and he was my first Group A grab here.
    • Tamarando – He’s an overlap with my stable in the Derbyologist league, and I have already talked and talked and agonized and talked about this guy.  He’s a beast on synthetic, so he’s probably going to be good for some big points in a later Derby prep on synthetic.  He doesn’t run poorly on dirt, either, so even though I don’t necessarily think he’s going to win if he runs the first Saturday in May, I think he has a decent shot of closing in to hit the board.
  • Group B – These are intended to be the next level down from the Group A horses, but some great (possibly better than Group A) horses are in here.  They show promise, but may not have won as many Derby points yet.
    • Conquest Titan – He’s yet another overlap from my stable in Derbyologist’s league.  Between his win in the Swynford last year (by five and a quarter lengths, in a field that included Ria Antonia) and his AOC win on November 30 (in a race that included General a Rod), I have been pretty high on him for a while now.  His ability to close from last in the Holy Bull to overtake everyone but Cairo Prince, combined with the classic-distance blood flowing through his veins, mean that I want to ride this horse as far as he will go.
    • Ride On Curlin – He is the last of my three overlaps from the other league.  I have a certain affinity for the Curlin babies…but, on top of that, this is one horse who has shown some serious ability to race.  He came in third in the Southwest yesterday; I discussed in detail why I was less than happy with his trip.  That said, I love a horse who shows strength on multiple kinds of trips, and he brings it whether he’s on the lead or closing in.
    • Top Billing – He is the one horse I wish I had in the Derbyologist league, but do not.  Out of three races, he has a huge maiden win at Laurel, a loss in an AOC at Gulfstream by a neck to Commissioner, and a stylish 2 3/4 length AOC win at Gulfstream over Surfing U S A.  He is slated for the Fountain of Youth this weekend, and I will be surprised if he does not prove himself in stakes company.
  • Group C – Most of these horses are marginal at best.  The challenge here was picking out the proper diamonds in the rough.  Hopefully, these are my diamonds.
    • Bayern – This is the first of my two horses who I would put in my “blah blah curse of Apollo blah” category.  He was out in January, and won a Maiden Special Weight at Santa Anita by 3 1/4 lengths first out — and 7 1/2 lengths over Hopportunity his first out.  In short, he romped.  He then won a 3-year-old N1$X allowance at Santa Anita over a mile on February 13 by fifteen lengths.  Even if the second place horse was the known head case Tap It Rich, he won by a huge amount of daylight on a dirt course, and is therefore promising going into Derby prep stakes.  Compared to many of the horses in this league’s C group, Bayern seemed the class.
    • Coltimus Prime – He is my true risk horse in this stable.  I don’t see him as a risk based on how he runs; I watched his Display run at Candice’s mention, and he ran a very game second.  I cannot wait to see him race again.  Despite the fact that I have no reliable scuttlebutt over what race he’s pointing to next, he’s a regular on the worktab at Palm Beach Downs, and he is nominated to the Triple Crown.  I am hoping he points to a stakes race soon, and if he does, he could make a nice run.  I wasn’t quite sure who to pick in this spot — it eventually came down to Extrasexyhippzster (the winner of the Miracle Wood) and Coltimus Prime, and I decided to roll the dice on this almost Certainly Special son of Milwaukee Brew.  If I knew he were pointed to a specific points race, he’d have been an obvious pick; that said, I feel he’s still worth the chance.
    • Hoppertunity – I don’t love Hoppertunity, but I like him.  He is my second “blah blah curse of Apollo blah” horse.  His first out, he wasn’t as impressive as the rest of my stable here; his first out was that aforementioned fifth place behind Bayern.  However, his next out (January 30) he scored a nice three-length maiden mile win at Santa Anita.  He is slated for the Risen Star on Saturday; even though I’m not 100% sure he is going to win, he has shown enough so far to seem a legitimate contender there, which is as much as I need there.

And, so end my comments on my stable choices.  That said — registration is still open!  If you’re interested in giving fantasy horse racing a shot, what are you waiting for?  This is quite laid back, as far as a fantasy league goes: only two horse selection rounds, a relatively short list of major Derby preps as races, and a pay-what-you-want entry that’s a donation to a good cause.  Head on over to Brooklyn Backstretch, take a look at the rules, and pick a stable by noon CST on Saturday.

Good luck!