a happy Prince of Wales!

It may not be the most obvious thing given how much space Blinkers Off devotes to the Curlin babies, but there are plenty of horses I love to follow who are not by Curlin.  One of them is Coltimus Prime, who I started to follow late last fall when Candice Hare wrote about him in her blog.  He ran an incredibly game second in the Display Stakes at Woodbine last December.  He ran in a few Kentucky Derby preps: he was a flat ninth in the Tampa Bay Derby, and a late-closing fifth in the Blue Grass.  Since then, he had raced three times back at Woodbine.  He had raced well in two allowances, and been near the pace early before fading to ninth in the Queen’s Plate last out.

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to Keeneland! to Oaklawn!

This weekend, Danonymous Racing has a contest going on this weekend, covering eight stakes races: five at Keeneland, and three at Oaklawn.  Public Handicapper has four races this week; they all overlap with races in the other contest, however, so my weekend stakes preview this weekend will cover a total of eight races.  This, of course, includes both of the big Derby preps.

Enough with the intro, though.  Let’s talk about the races!


Commonwealth Stakes (GIII, four-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the synthetic)

There is a lot of early speed in this race, and no one in particular is a lock to get it.  There isn’t a great closer in this field.  However, there are several horses who consistently bring enough speed to the table, can rate from a bit off the pace if necessary, and have shown some ability not only at the seven-furlong distance but also on the synthetic.  Laugh Track (1), the 2-1 morning line favourite, returns to his favoured synthetic surface after three tries on the dirt.  He finished second beaten just a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall, though his subsequent two starts on the dirt haven’t matched that success.  All four of his career wins come on the polytrack, and he looms large here.

Among the rest of the field, Undrafted (5) has a good chance to come home at a nice price.  It has been since his three-year-old year since he has raced on the synthetic, but has seen some good success on it in the past.  He broke his maiden at Keeneland in April of his two year old year, in a Wesley Ward special: four and a half furlongs on the poly.  Since then, he also has a third place finish in a stakes at Hollywood Park last year.  This is his second race of his four-year-old season, off the winter layoff, and his sharp works on the Keeneland poly suggest he’s ready to go, and happy to be back on the polytrack.

Shakertown Stakes (GIII, four-year-olds and up, five and a half furlongs on the turf)

The pace scenario is rather interesting here for a short turf dash: normally many of the horses in such a field are take-the-lead-and-run types, but here nobody absolutely needs it.  Marchman likes it, Go Blue Or Go Home likes it, but they can both rate.  I’m curious to see how the pace shakes out here — my guess is that it’ll be those two at the front and others chasing.

As for who’s going to win?  I want to see local favourite Hogy (9) win, but there are a few more likely.  Top on my list is Havelock (6), who probably likes five and a half furlongs over the Keeneland turf more than he likes peppermints.  He’s coming in off his winter layoff, but won this race by a nose off the winter lay last year, as well.  He went across the pond to race at Ascot and Newmarket and didn’t have much success, but shipped back here — and won the Grade III Woodford — at five and a half furlongs on the Keeneland turf — right off the ship.  He’s working well going into this, his speeds hang with this field decently, and he’ll love being back home.  I’m also interested in Gantry (13) here.  A couple factors weigh against him: he is moving up in class from his last few starts, and he drew the 13 post in  at 13-horse field.  However, he is very consistent: he has been first or second in every race since late November of 2012, including a try in graded company.  If he can overcome the post, he’s a great shot to hit the board here.

Madison Stakes (GI, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, seven furlongs on the synthetic)

Judy the Beauty is the chalk here, and not a bad choice.  She is second in off the winter lay, and won the Las Flores (GIII) at Santa Anita in her first race back from the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last year.  She has never missed the board on the synthetic, and is a perfect 3-3-0-0 on the Keeneland main.  She has two nice works at Keeneland since her last race, and is coming into this one ready to go.

That said, I’m looking for some value here, and I’m going to try and beat Judy the Beauty with Eden Prairie (9).  I love Eden Prairie in this spot.  After three really nice runs in stakes-level turf routes at Fair Grounds over the Winter, she returns to seven furlongs on the synthetic – a distance and surface she loved at Arlington and Keeneland last fall.  There is a decent amount of early speed in this race, but she has enough early zip to get close to it early, even from the 9 gate.  Her last workout at Keeneland was a bullet four furlongs in 45.60, over the poly.  Finally, she has had a couple of good runs from double-digit gates recently, including finishing second by just a neck in the Raven Run (GII) at Keeneland last year, at this distance.  If someone’s going to bust the chalk here, it’s going to be Eden Prairie.

Jenny Wiley Stakes (GI, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)

This race was tough to handicap, though it’s going to be a joy to watch.  This is an honest, big, quality Grade I field of turf fillies and mares, and I cannot wait to see them run!  I may be more excited about this race than I am about any of the others today.

Pacewise, much of the field likes to stalk off the lead.  There is really only one horse who has a consistent desire to get right up on that early lead, and that’s Discreet Marq (8).  If she gets on the lead and sets the early fractions, she’s going to be tough to catch.  Even if, somehow, she doesn’t get right on it, she has shown the ability to rate, giving her a backup possibility for doing well here.  This is her four-year-old debut, and her first race back since that short nose defeat by Egg Drop in the Matriarch (GI) past December; that Matriarch was her first attempt against older horses.  She won a Grade II last year off her winter lay, so expect her to come in fresh and ready to go.  She’s my top pick here.

Other horses I’m interested in here are Centre Court (10) and Fitful Skies (6).  Centre Court, last year’s winner by two lengths, is coming off a nose win over Kitten’s Point in the Honey Fox last month.  Julian Leparoux, who rode her in that last win as well as her streak of three graded wins over last winter and spring, rides her here.  If the early fractions are fast, she could very well get her head up there from mid-pack late to take the race.  Fitful Skies races here in only her second North American start, and her first start at all since finishing second by a head in the GI E. P. Taylor Stakes at 1 1/4 miles over the Woodbine turf.  She is working really nicely over the Palm Meadows turf coming into this, and she is a consistent 10-4-5-0 lifetime over the turf — the only off-board finish being a fourth place finish, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths, at 1 15/16 miles against males.  This distance is shorter than she normally runs, but it’s a good spot for her to come in off the lay, and she is game.

Blue Grass Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)

A ragtag bunch of fourteen last-ditch Derby hopefuls will head postward today in the Blue Grass, trying one last time to get into the starting gate at Churchill in May.  The field is a mix of turf horse, synthetic horses, and the occasional dirt horses who just haven’t been able to get it together for points, but for whom this looked a more favourable spot than Arkansas (I’m looking at you guys, Extrasexyhippzster and Casiguapo).  Bobby’s Kitten (5) is the morning line favourite, but the fact remains that he has never run a race on the synthetic, and never raced past a mile.  His speed figures are good, his breeding suggests he can stretch out, and if I were to bet exotics, I’d probably use him.  However, I’m not going to get the price on Bobby’s Kitten that I want for this contest as just a single horse, and there are some quality chances to beat him.

Dance With Fate (8) is my top selection.  He has shown versatility in style, having run very nice races from early speed, stalking, or closing positions.  There will be a lot of early speed in this race, so I’m expecting to see him rate from somewhere off of it here.  His last out, in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII), he stalked the pace, pulled ahead going into the stretch, and just got nipped by Cal-bred synthetic monster Tamarando late.  That El Camino Real was at 1 1/8 miles — the same distance as this race.  That may have been Tapeta, but he also broke his maiden over the Del Mar polytrack, so has had experience with this as well.  The biggest question I have with Dance With Fate is the ship from California, but if he handles that well, he’ll be tough.  Harry’s Holiday (4) also interests me a lot here.  He’s a local horse, who saw success through the winter on the Turfway polytrack.  He won the 96ROCK Stakes by a widening eight lengths in February, regressed a bit in the Battaglia, and then last out finished a hard-fighting second in the Spiral (GIII), where We Miss Artie just nosed him out.  The Spiral, just like the Blue Grass, was at 1 1/8 miles on the poly.  He is going to try to get near the front early, and the Spiral suggests that he has the zip to get near there, and the stamina to stay.

Finally, if my picks fail miserably, I’m hoping it is because Coltimus Prime (6) freaks and wins this race.  He’s a long shot for a reason, but he will relish the return to the synthetic, and nothing would make me happier than to see him channel a repeat of his hard-fighting effort in the Display Stakes.  I doubt this is likely, especially since he was reportedly very nervous while schooling earlier this week, but I am still a fan of this horse.


Northern Spur Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 mile on the dirt)

Bourbonize (2) is the class of this field, but there’s just not enough early speed to suggest that the pace is going to set up for a horse who has been coming from as far back as Bourbonize has been in his last few starts.  He has won at this distance before, and may not drop quite so far back, but I’m interested in a horse who’s going to be at least somewhat closer to the pace.

I like Sheltowee’s Boy (6) quite a bit here.  He drops back in class after a fifth-place finish in the Rebel, where he was no match for the top four (Hoppertunity, Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate), but got in ahead of the rest.  He has run multiple race shapes — he dropped far back early in his allowance win, though made up ground relatively early, whereas in his maiden win he was up near the lead early to pull away.  He is coming off a sharp five-furlong work, and cutting back to the one-mile distance of his allowance win.  This is a suitable race for Sheltowee’s Boy, and he has a good chance here.  This race also has a few wild cards who are coming in off their maiden wins, and among them there is none more interesting than Fabulous Kid (8).  He broke his maiden in a six-furlong MSW March 29 at Oaklawn, at first asking.  He got on the lead fast and held on wire-to-wire, and then has posted a bullet five-furlong work at Oaklawn since that race.  He stretches from six furlongs to a mile here, but being by Congrats out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare suggests that two more furlongs shouldn’t be an issue.

Oaklawn Handicap (GII, four-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Here Will Take Charge (2) returns for the third race of his four-year-old year, though it feels more like it’s another race in one very long campaign, as his winter lay was only about two months (between the Clark and the Donn).  He faces a softer field here than he did in his last few times out, which suggests he may be able to break through for his first win of the year.  He also cuts back in distance here compared to the Big Cap, back to the 1 1/8 miles of the Clark and the Donn.

The drawback to Will Take Charge here is, of course, the price — he’s 1-1 on the morning line, and likely to be bet down even further than that come post time.  A horse with a great chance to beat him at a good price is Golden Lad (6), who won the Razorback Handicap (GIII) in huge fashion last month.  He should be stalking just off the early lead (likely to be set by Moreno and Right To Vote), and has shown enough improvement coming into his four-year-old season that suggests he can stay up with them.  He has never won at 1 1/8 miles before, though he attempted the distance in an AOC at Saratoga last summer, and only got beaten a neck.  He is one consistent horse: he has never finished worse than second since last July, and the most he was beaten by for second has been a length.  He goes up in class here, but he shows up every time he runs, and is my top choice here.

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

Here we have a relatively small field for a late Derby prep, but it’s a good field.  Eight horses will run, as Knock Em Flat is scratching out to run in the Northern Spur instead.  There should be plenty of early pace, with Thundergram (5) and Bayern (8) shooting out to the early lead, and Tapiture (3), Strong Mandate (9), and potentially Ride On Curlin (4) stalking behind.  Those are a lot of quality horses, and I’m interested to see what Bayern does in his first crack at stakes company, but I’m looking off the pace to some horses who have a bit of stakes experience under their bridles.

I say potentially Ride On Curlin, as I am still hoping to see him make one big run, like he did in the Champagne.  I have said this every time, and am beginning to sound like a broken record.  However, I think that’s his better style.  That said, after his run in the Rebel, I’m a little less nervous about seeing him on or near the early speed.  He pressed hard down the stretch there, and fought gamely to hold third after being right near the lead throughout.  He showed stamina and grit.  He has also come back with some good, long works over the track since the Rebel.  He is my top choice here, given his familiarity with the track, and his consistent ability to contend with the Arkansas Derby Prep crowd all spring.

Conquest Titan (7) is another good choice here, because of all the early pace.  It’s clear what we’re going to get from him: a closing run.  Casse even has a rabbit in the field, Thundergram, to help ensure this is the case.  The outside post will help him a lot here, and assuming he handles the Oaklawn track well and fires sharply, there’s no reason Conquest Titan shouldn’t at least be able to punch his ticket to Kentucky here, if not win the whole thing.

Big ‘Cap Weekend recap: part 2!

It’s time to pick up where I left off, with the other four races I handicapped from Saturday.

Santa Anita

San Felipe (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Schoolofhardrocks as my first choice, and California Chrome as my second choice.  Since he raced, Schoolofhardrocks was my contest horse.  There was actually another scratch between when I wrote my preview on Friday night and the race on Saturday, but that was Home Run Kitten.  His scratch did not have any real effect on my handicapping of the race.

It turned out that early speed held up better than expected.  California Chrome shot straight to the lead, with Midnight Hawk just behind.  However, that was it for early speed.  California Chrome controlled the race from beginning to end.  He shot straight to the lead out of the gate, and when the pace settled, it was him, Midnight Hawk, and the rest nowhere.  As the far turn curved into the stretch, Midnight Hawk began to show his distance limitations.  He lugged home half a dozen lengths of the third-place Kristo but was nowhere near California Chrome, who had opened up a widening seven and a half lengths between him and the field.  He passed his first open-company stakes test as a three-year-old with flying colours, and barring injury should be in the starting gate come Derby day.

I knew Schoolofhardrocks was a risk, but he was a risk I was willing to take, especially since the only contest this race was in was win or place.  He looked like the most likely horse, at least on paper, to pick up the pieces if the early speed fell apart, and seemed likely to do it at a much better price than the favourite California Chrome.  It was true, the price on him was better.  However, the speed didn’t fall apart at all, since a horse who could handle the distance had the lead throughout, and he was only closely pressed by another who faded in the last few furlongs.  Furthermore, he was a little rusty, and a little green; both possible, since the San Felipe was only his second race ever.  I am interested to see how he does next out, since it will be his second start off the lay and second as a three-year-old.

Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 1 1/4mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Will Take Charge as my first choice, Mucho Macho Man as my second, and Game On Dude as my third.  Since he raced, Will Take Charge was my contest horse.  There wasn’t a bad choice within the three horses here; they were the class of the field, and a lot depended on who got the lead first.  That was why I went with Will Take Charge as my primary: Mucho Macho Man and Game On Dude are both horses who like to spring to the lead early, and I thought Will Take Charge had a chance to catch either with a closing move.  It was an odds game; Will Take Charge was very likely to get at least second, and had a decent chance for first as well.  My pick worked out for me, sort of.  Will Take Charge came in second, netting me points in the Danonymous Racing competition, though not in Public Handicapper.

It was Game On Dude who got that lead, and it was Game On Dude who kept it.  Hear The Ghost tried to get there early as well, but went wide into the clubhouse turn, and lost ground after that.  Mucho Macho Man tried to get up to Game On Dude coming into the far turn, but couldn’t keep up; Game On Dude started gaining more ground as soon as Mucho Macho Man got within any sort of striking distance.  Will Take Charge had more in the tank; even though he couldn’t quite catch Game On Dude down the stretch, he was less than two lengths back as the wire approached.  It took Game On Dude stakes record time to put him away once and for all.  The third place horse, Blingo, finished 9 3/4 back, heading a pack that included him, Mucho Macho Man, and Hear The Ghost.  They were all well beaten.  Game On Dude was much the best, and Will Take Charge was the only horse who gave him any credible chase.

No matter what, I do not think Will Take Charge was a bad pre-race top pick here, just due to the fact that there were multiple pace scenarios involving the top horses in which he had a chance to win.  However, it was a relatively close selection between Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man.  I opted for Mucho Macho Man because of his better recent race performance, even though I heard some reports in the day or two leading up to the Big ‘Cap that his most recent work wasn’t the best.  As for Game On Dude, I disliked his flops in the San Antonio and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  However, the head loss in the Clark wasn’t the clunker the pundits said it was; it wasn’t an example of him losing a step, but rather an example of why Game On Dude is most imposing when he gets the early lead, and less so when he is stalking it.   Furthermore, two wins in the Santa Anita Handicap have to count for something; even though this was a tougher field, I couldn’t imagine his connections would get him there anything short of fit and ready to run.

Tampa Bay Downs

Florida Oaks (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the turf)

In this race, Testa Rossi was my first choice, and Miss Besilu was my second.  Since she raced, Testa Rossi was my contest horse.  I knew full well she was going to be bet down; she ended up going off at 1-1 in a twelve-horse field.  However, I didn’t see a good way to beat her: she was the classiest and best proven horse in the field, and she had shown that she could close effectively from an outside post just like she got in this race.

Testa Rossi delivered.  She didn’t run exactly as I expected; instead of closing from the back of the pack, she settled in midpack, four or five lengths off.  However, she made a wide sweep around the turn, switched into another gear coming into the stretch, and drew out smoothly to win by three and a half lengths over Istanford. She had so much left at the end; Testa Rossi stands to be a strong contender on the distaff side of the three-year-old turf route division this year.  I’m trying to stop myself before declaring she’ll be in the field of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf this November, since the Florida Oaks field wasn’t the toughest in the world, but it’s hard not to entertain that fleeting thought after as easy as she made that run look.

I did note while handicapping the race that Istanford needed the early speed to win, and could be dangerous if she got loose on it.  She did get that speed from the start, with Spangled Banner stalking behind.  The fractions could have hardly been called a duel, though; although she wasn’t extremely loose on it, Istanford still had her way pacewise.  Spangled Banner faded, and no one in the field seriously threatened her until Testa Rossi made her run.

Miss Besilu, my second choice, was stalking the pace early, as I suggested given the wisdom of not getting into a tiring duel with Istanford.  However, instead of rallying to close the gap between her and Istanford, she steadily faded down the stretch, finally crossing the wire 10 1/2 lengths back in 11th place.  There’s no clear excuse for her bad race.  Kitten Kaboodle, the other horse I considered as a second choice, hung out in the middle of the pack for most of the race.  She made up a few lengths coming into the stretch, but couldn’t sustain her run, and crossed the wire 7th beaten 7 lengths. Kitten Kaboodle has succeeded at this distance before, and this was her first race since the Breeders’ Cup, so she may fare better next time out.

Tampa Bay Derby (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Conquest Titan as my first choice, Hy Kodiak Warrior as my second choice, and Vinceremos as my third choice.  Since he raced, Conquest Titan was my contest horse.  I anticipated that there would be so much early speed that the pace would set up for a closer, so my top two selections were closers.  However, early speed ran the day.

In reading the statistics pre-race, Ring Weekend looked like a threat if the pace set up well for early speed, though I thought that even then Vinceremos would be the stronger of the early speed, and would win if any speed horse did.  However, Ring Weekend shot right to the front, and never looked back.  He dictated the fractions, he ran how he wanted, and he wasn’t seriously threatened.  Surfing U S A (one of the horses I expected to be right on the lead) stalked in second, but even then never got closer than several lengths back once Ring Weekend got running.  Vinceremos was just behind Surfing U S A, also stalking (to the extent that any horse really was able to stalk Ring Weekend), but was able to close up enough ground to take second.

The other horse I expected to be right on the early speed, Coltimus Prime, was nowhere near it.  He was a few lengths off early, but faded quickly.  It was his first run on the dirt, though he has been working on dirt relatively well.  I wonder whether he’s going to prefer synthetic or turf in the long run; this would be interesting, being that he is sired by Milwaukee Brew, though not unheard-of.

Conquest Titan was back early, which was expected.  He made up a little bit of ground coming into the stretch, but not nearly as much as expected.  It was a relatively weak closing run.  He was on the rail, and he may have been a little boxed in behind Vinceremos and Surfing U S A near there, but it just wasn’t the explosive run I was expecting from him.  As for Hy Kodiak Warrior, he had even less of a run late than Conquest Titan did.  At least Conquest Titan made up a little ground in the stretch; Hy Kodiak Warrior lost a bit of ground, with no closing run at all.

So end the recaps from Saturday.  I got a few things right and a few things wrong, as usual.  However, it was definitely one of the most memorable days of racing in recent memory, between Palace Malice’s gritty Gulfstream Park Handicap win and Game On Dude’s epic run to clinch his third Big ‘Cap.  I anticipated that it would be the biggest day in racing since the Breeders’ Cup last fall, and it did not disappoint.

what a Saturday!

There are a ton of big stakes this week, and of course, there are a ton of handicapping contests going on this weekend to go with them.  This weekend I’m again doing both the Danonymous Racing contest as well as the Public Handicapper contest.  It’s eight races in total, since all four Public Handicapper races overlap with the eight races in the Danonymous Racing contest.


Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII, 1mi on the dirt)

This race is at Gulfstream, which is favouring horses on or near the lead.  However, that describes the majority of the field in this race; the only horses in the field who have had much of any success from far back are Golden Ticket and Narvaez, though even both of them have also had success from positions closer to the front.  The horse most like to work to grab that early lead is Sr. Quisqueyano, since he really cannot win without it.  However, he tends to like more than a mile, and most of his speeds are slow for the field.  Faster horses like Palace Malice and Falling Sky won’t be too far from any lead he tries to set, and are likely to take that lead from him.  The race is probably a bit shorter than Palace Malice wants, but a bit longer than Falling Sky wants; it’s more than likely to come down to these two, though.

The really interesting question mark is Itsmyluckyday; it is hard to know what to expect here.  This is his first race back from his pelvic fracture from the Pegasus.  He has been working well at Palm Meadows, and won the Gulfstream Derby at this distance last year.  Between the injury and the long time off, I’m not sure he’s going to be as ready to race as the rest of the field.  I’m more interested in this race as a tune-up for whatever (likely longer) race comes next.  However, in case he comes back anywhere near the same horse as before, he could be worth using in exotics, especially in lower rungs.

Laurel Park

Private Terms Stakes (1 1/8mi on the dirt)

It is not often when I handicap a race and strongly like only one horse in the field, but this is one of these races.  Between horses who like the early lead and horses who want to be near it, there are just too many of those, and too many of them who don’t look like they are going to want the mile and an eighth here.  If there weren’t a lot of early speed I would consider Roman Fire or Starry Moon, since they are bred to not hate the distance.  However, there will be tons of early speed, and this race is screaming for a horse who can come off the pace and handle nine furlongs.  There’s only one in the race who looks like he fits the bill: Kid Cruz.  Even though he’s making a big jump in class, his speed figures fit right with this field.  The distance ought not be a problem, either: his sire is Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, and he was gaining ground in both his maiden win at a mile and his second place finish last out at a mile and a sixteenth.  If he scratches, I would probably fall back to Classic Giacnroll, because he has faced classier competition than the rest of the field, and doesn’t need early speed.  If he runs one of his better races, he has a shot.  However, I would not be happy about it.

Santa Anita

Kilroe Mile (GI, 1mi on the turf)

Few turf milers are as consistent as Za Approval nowadays; I’m hard pressed to think of any who may be more consistent nowadays other than Wise Dan and possibly Egg Drop. Last out, he finished 3/4 length behind Wise Dan in the Breeders Cup Mile; he has been consistently facing tougher company than the rest of this field.  He tends to stalk the pace, and he had both the speed and the class to hang with (and likely surpass) this field.  Lakerville interests me here, as well.  Even though he has never raced longer than six and a half furlongs, his pedigree suggests that he can handle it, and in almost all of his races he has been gaining on (or past) the field come the wire.  This is the toughest field he has faced so far, since he is stepping up from restricted or state-bred stakes, but the distance looks like it will help him a lot.  He is also one of only two potential closers in the field; if someone’s going to pick up the pieces of any speed dueling, it will be Lakerville or Tom’s Tribute.

Two other horses worth saying a word or two about are Lochte and Optimizer.  Lochte is a bit of a buzz horse, coming fresh off a surprise GI win in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.  However, all of his wins have been at longer distances; I wouldn’t discount that he may be game enough to hit the board, but he’s not likely to win at this shorter distance.  As for Optimizer, this is his first race back off a seven-month lay, after he pulled up in the Sword Dancer.  He’s another horse who has shown some good form in the past, but may prefer a bit longer race.  Also, he has been working on the dirt at Oaklawn; the works haven’t been bad, but especially coming off such a long lay into a turf race, I’d rather see those works on turf.

San Carlos (GII, 7 furlongs on the dirt)

The only horses in this race who have much preference for early speed are Big Macher and Ready For More.  Even though he’s on a class rise here, Big Macher is likely to be the faster of the two; if he gets loose on the lead he could be dangerous.  However, if he gets in a duel or just can’t separate himself by enough, look for either Shakin’ It Up or Sahara Sky to get up there come the stretch.  Shakin’ It Up has been running in graded company as of late, and absolutely loves Santa Anita: he is 5-4-1-0 in the SA dirt.  His last race was the 1 1/16 mile Strub (GII), but before that he won the GI Malibu Stakes at this distance, over this track, first race off a nine month lay.  Combine that with the fact that he can win from either a few back or from a true closing position, and he looks like a real threat.  Sahara Sky is another horse just getting back into the swing of racing after some time off; this is his second race after a nine month lay.  Last out, he was fifth beaten 3 1/2 lengths in the Palos Verdes (GII) behind Wild Dude and Secret Circle.  Look for him to be fresher here.  The one advantage of Shakin’ It Up over Sahara Sky is that Shakin’ It Up has successfully closed into slower fractions in a previous race — a good skill to have, given that this race does not have a ton of early speed.

San Felipe (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

The field in this one has shrunk to eight, between Bayern’s injury and Rprettyboyfloyd opting to race in a March 7th Maiden Special Weight instead.

This is yet another race with a ton of early speed.  Kristo needs to be on the early speed, Midnight Hawk needs to be on or just near it, and California Chrome, Sawyer’s Hill, Unstoppable Colby, and Home Run Kitten will want to stalk fairly close behind if their past races are any indication.  If that pace doesn’t fall apart, look to California Chrome or Kristo as the ones most likely to stay strong from near the front.  Midnight Hawk has been fading late in his last races, and is likely flirting with the far reaches of his distance capabilities here.

However, thanks to all the horses who want to be near the front, the pace is likely to fall apart, and open up room for someone to come up from behind.  That someone is Schoolofhardrocks.  Even though he is coming off a six month layoff into this race, he did post a strong win from behind in his only time out, a maiden win at a mile at Del Mar.  He has been posting very nice works at Santa Anita, and he goes on Lasix for the first time here.  If he has strengthened from his two year old year, and keeps his cool in this return to the racetrack, he could spell trouble for this field.

Santa Anita Handicap (GI, 1 1/4mi on the dirt)

Three names dominate the discussions of The Big Cap this year: Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man, and Game On Dude.  This is with good reason: they are the fastest horses in the field, the strongest, and the most experienced at this Classic distance.  This race basically comes down to two questions: whether it’s Game On Dude or Mucho Macho Man who gets near the lead early, and whether Will Take Charge fires with enough time to catch them.  Last out, Will Take Charge just ran out of room in the Donn, hitting the wire a length and a half behind Lea.  However, the Donn is a full furlong shorter than this race.  Luis Saez is back on Will Take Charge, he should know from experience when he needs to get his mount to start hauling.  He has caught Game On Dude before in the Clark, and came within a nostril of nabbing Mucho Macho Man last fall.  None of these three horses are a shoo-in, but as a pure question of probability, I’m going with Will Take Charge; no matter who gets the lead early, he will be coming like a freight train down the stretch with a good chance to hit the wire first.

If you’re looking for other horses in the field to fill out lower rungs of trifectas or superfectas, Rousing Sermon and Hear The Ghost look most promising.  Rousing Sermon has raced this distance before, finishing 8th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby behind I’ll Have Another, and gaining on the lead as the race ended.  Hear The Ghost has not raced a mile and a quarter before, but he did race the 1 1/8 mile Native Diver at Hollywood Park last year, and lost by a narrowing half-length to Blueskiesnrainbows.  Among the field, these two horses may not have the speed to conquer the big guys, but they have the most in the way of stamina to hang on for a minor share.

Tampa Bay Downs

Florida Oaks (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the turf)

Testa Rossi is going to be bet way down here, coming off her strong second place in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.  I racked my brain to try and find a way to beat her.  The problem is, I’m not sure it exists.  The outside post shouldn’t be a problem, because she broke from the same outside post in the Breeders’ Cup, and closed to within 2 1/2 lenths of Chriselliam.  There is simply not a Chriselliam in this field.  She’s coming off a four-month lay, but she came off a three-month lay last year, after shipping over from Europe, and won the Miss Grillo at this distance at Belmont.  The only real drawback is that she’s carrying 122 pounds, six more than everyone but Kitten Kaboodle.  Even then, that’s exactly what she carried in the Breeders’ Cup, and she ran with power.

The horses I like best in the rest of the field are Miss Besilu and Kitten Kaboodle.  Miss Besilu has a six pound weight break compared to Testa Rossi and Kitten Kaboodle.  She is the class of the early speed in this race, and has shown an ability to stalk a few back if she needs.  She may need to here, since Istanford needs the early speed to win, and will need to strike a delicate balance to stay in the race but not get into a tiring duel with her.  As for Kitten Kaboodle, she broke her maiden at this distance in the Jessamine Stakes last year, and her experience at this distance and with graded stakes caliber horses will help her here.  She likes to stalk the pace, though has also tried closing in one of her maiden races.  She is probably more likely to try and stalk here.

Tampa Bay Derby (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

There’s more early speed in this race than expected before the entries were announced.  Coltimus Prime and Surfing USA likes to be right on it, with Cousin Stephen, Vinceremos, and Ring Weekend just off.  Matador has also shown some success on the early lead, though he came from further back in his fourth-place finish in the Sam F. Davis, and would probably be better served trying that sort of strategy here.  Vinceremos is probably the best of this early speed, both because he is not likely to get sucked into a speed duel (both rather stalk behind until he needs to fire), and because he had a second wind down the stretch in his Sam F. Davis win.  However, Coltimus Prime is interesting, as well.  He is questionable because he is coming off a three-month lay and has only raced on the Woodbine synthetic, but has been working well on the dirt and is sired by Milwaukee Brew, a sire who frequently produces good dirt runners.  His final races as a two-year-old, the 1 1/16 mile Display Stakes, was strong; if he builds on where he left off there, he could be a threat to hit the board.

However, with all of this early speed, I am really looking to a closer to get the job done here.  The classiest of the bunch, and my pick in the race, is Conquest Titan.  Last time out, he was able to catch everyone but Cairo Prince on a speed-favouring Gulfstream track.  The race before that, he knocked off General a Rod in a one mile AOC at Churchill Downs.  He is working well at Palm Meadows, and should be ready to go here.

Another horse worth considering, and likely to come from somewhere back, is Hy Kodiak Warrior.  This is his first attempt at stakes company, though last out he was third beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Commissioner and Top Billing in their AOC at Gulfstream — at a mile and an eighth.  This distance should be no problem here.  He has been working strongly at Calder, as well.  If Conquest Titan fires then Hy Kodiak Warrior may end up being second best of the closers, but even second best of the closers could be good enough to hit the board give how much early speed there is in this race.

That’s all for the moment, though there will be plenty more races tomorrow.  I’m going out to Hawthorne tomorrow to watch the live racing there as well as these eight on simulcast.  I’ll be getting to the track early tomorrow morning to handicap those races, and will have picks in those eight before post time

Good luck!

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!