fantasy stable: week 7 postmortem

This past weekend was a big one for races, races that did not go as well as I had hoped for the members of my fantasy stable in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league.  I had two horses race on Saturday, though neither did quite as well as I was hoping.  I wasn’t completely blanked, with one third place out of the two horses who raced, but I still left the weekend with a bit less overall confidence than I had going in.

Enough preliminary blather.  Onward to the horses!

  • Please Explain – It wasn’t strange to see Please Explain away from the lead early in Saturday’s Honeybee Stakes.  However, what was strange was just how far back Drayden Van Dyke took her.  I was expecting her to be part of the pack, somewhere near the middle or the back.  Instead, he took her back over a dozen lengths early!  She did have plenty left for the stretch, and crossed the wire third beaten only one length all told.  The news on Please Explain is mainly good: she acquitted herself well her first time out in a graded stakes, she shouldn’t have a problem with the 1 1/8 miles of the Oaks, and she has now hit the board in all six of her career starts.  As much as I support giving deserving apprentices a shot, I’d also be happy to see a different jockey on her next time.  This isn’t an apprentice thing; I’d be saying that no matter who had the mount, just for getting her back in another zip code that early in the race.  She may be a fast horse, but even the mighty Curlin babies have their limits.
  • Conquest Titan – Conquest Titan went off as the favourite in the Tampa Bay Derby, but ended up crossing the wire fourth: meaning no fantasy points for me, and just five Derby points for him.  It was a bit of an odd race for him; he was closer than usual to the pace early, and then along the rail for much of the race.  Historically, the rail has not quite his best place to blast off and make up ground into and down the stretch.  However, it’s still a bit worrisome that he didn’t have enough in him to at least pick off everyone but Ring Weekend.  It would be a bit less alarming if it were a new jock who didn’t know how to ride him, but Shaun Bridgmohan had the mount.  Bridgmohan had the ride in his very first maiden race, as well as in the Allowance win and the Holy Bull; the latter two were after the realization that Conquest Titan runs best using a closing strategy.  The best news from Conquest Titan’s corner involves his next race.  The scuttlebutt right after the Tampa Bay Derby had him going to the Florida Derby, which would have had me tearing my hair out (had I had any at the time) since the notoriously early speed favouring Gulfstream does not favour his style.  However, as of Monday night, the latest from trainer Mark Casse had him pointing at the Arkansas Derby instead.  The good news is, it’s not at Gulfstream.  The bad news is, it’s still a month away, so it’s a longer layoff than I was hoping for.  Given that the Kentucky Derby is on May 3, and Conquest Titan only has nine Derby points, the Arkansas Derby will be do or die.
  • Ride On Curlin – Since the last update ten days ago, there has been plenty of news from the Ride On Curlin camp.  First off, on March 6, he worked seven furlongs in 1:26.80 at Oaklawn.  It was his first published work since the Southwest, but his team isn’t prone to publishing too many works for him.  All of the word since the Southwest has said he has been pointing toward the Rebel, and sure enough that is bearing out.  The Rebel field was announced today, and Ride On Curlin is confirmed for it.  He is breaking from the second gate.  He also has a new jockey, Kent Desormeaux.  Here is hoping that Desormeaux is able to get out of him the same kind of ride he got in the Champagne.  I was surprised and disappointed not to see him run a more closing style during his third place run in the Southwest.  With as many horses as there are in that field who do best on or near the early speed (Tapiture, Strong Mandate, Hoppertunity, and Jet Cat), the pace could well set up for that kind of a late run.  I hope William Gowan (his trainer) and Kent Desormeaux consider it.
  • Tamarando – Things are humming along just about the same as they were last week, and I’m pleased.  He posted another work on March 8, 6 furlongs at Golden Gate in 1.14:00.  It was a bullet, though among only four horses who worked the distance.  He is still on track for the Spiral on March 22nd at Turfway.  Given how well he has raced on the synthetic, combined with the fact that it leaves him the Blue Grass if all else fails, this is the perfect goal for him.
  • General a Rod – General a Rod made it back on the worktab on March 8 for the first time since his second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth; he worked four furlongs in 51.26 at Gulfstream.  It’s a slower and shorter work than the General normally posts.  However, given that there are still two and a half weeks between now and his projected next start in the Florida Derby, there is time to post some sharper works.  I’m not worried just yet.
  • She’s a Tiger – She’s a Tiger has been on the worktab twice since my last fantasy discussion.  On March 3, she worked three furlongs in :35 flat; on March 9, she worked four furlongs in 48.20.  Both works happened at Santa Anita.  She has 8 Oaks points already, but will still need a good run in a prep to have any shot of being in the gate.  The regular works are promising, but I am hoping for information about a race soon.  If I had to make a guess, I would say the Santa Anita Oaks on April 5.  The only remaining Oaks prep races are that one and the Sunland Park Oaks on March 23; since she only returned to the worktab on February 22, the Sunland is cutting it close.
  • Shared Belief – At this point, it would be bigger news for there to actually be news about Shared Belief than it is for there to be absolutely none.  However, just today, there was something that at least resembles news about Shared Belief!  Keeneland released the nominations for the Blue Grass today, and Shared Belief is actually on that list.  Granted, it doesn’t mean a ton.  A whopping 191 horses — the entire Derby trail, and then some — were nominated for the Blue Grass.  However, it means there is an outside hope of Shared Belief racing this spring.  If he had not shown up on the Blue Grass nominations list, it would have been tantamount to declaring his Triple Crown season done.  (EDIT:  Of course, there was bigger news about Shared Belief less than 24 hours after this entry.)
  • Stopchargingmaria – Stopchargingmaria has still not shown back up on the worktab since the Davona Dale.  Since that race was on February 22, and she was working weekly leading up to the Davona Dale, this seems odd.  There is also no good information on where she is headed next.  The silence is deafening.

This is where Iron Bard Stable stands after week 7 in the contest.  Every week is starting to matter more and more.  Early in the fantasy season, a week or two seemed like almost nothing.  Now?  They’re the difference between getting that Derby or Oaks prep in and being left out in the cold.

Good luck in the Rebel, Ride On Curlin!

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

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!

fantasy stable: week 6 postmortem

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

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

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

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

fantasy stable: week 5 postmortem

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

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

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

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

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!

fantasy stable: week 4 postmortem

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

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

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

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

fantasy stable: week 3 postmortem

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

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

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

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

fantasy stable: week 2 postmortem

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

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

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

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

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

handicapping contest recap

Last week, I posted my thoughts on the ten races in the Danonymous Racing handicapping contest.  Formatted like many handicapping contests, we had to pick a horse in each of the ten races, and we had a hypothetical $2 win bet and $2 place bet on the horses we chose.  The results are in; when all was said and done, I didn’t do so great, but I didn’t come in dead last either.

Here are a few observations about the races, including who I picked in each — since even though it was probably relatively easy to narrow my likely choices down to a couple based on my discussions of the races last week, I wanted to keep who exactly I was picking for the contest at least slightly under wraps.

Gulfstream

  • Forward Gal Stakes – In this race, Aurelia’s Belle was my first pick, and Onlyforyou was my second pick.  (The secondary horses were picked in case the first one scratched; this week, none of my first choices scratched.)  These were the 1-2 horses, but Onlyforyou won and Aurelia’s Belle came in second.  I picked Aurelia’s Belle because I thought Onlyforyou and Resistivity would get into a speed duel, with Aurelia’s Belle the beneficiary.  That didn’t happen.  Onlyforyou led basically the entire race, and Aurelia’s Belle was second basically the entire race.  She stalked Onlyforyou, but it became clear she wouldn’t be able to catch up.  I was correct, however, in my thought that the aforementioned three horses would be the better ones; there was an approximately five length gap between third-place Resistivity and the other three horses bringing up the rear.
  • Holy Bull Stakes – In this race, Conquest Titan was my first pick, and Our Caravan was my second.  Conquest Titan, though probably too far back early, managed to close strongly enough to catch everyone but the winner, Cairo Prince.  I said last week that I would be equally unsurprised whether Our Caravan did well or didn’t — and, he flopped.  He finished 8th, and wasn’t ever really a factor.  I was correct in my guess that Coup De Grace would be early speed, though incorrect in assessing that it would be Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong up there with him from the start.  Instead, Almost Famous and Mr. Speaker were likewise on the lead early.  Cairo Prince stalked and then took control coming toward the stretch; Wicked Strong just didn’t fire at all.

Laurel

  • Miracle Wood Stakes – In this race, Jessethemarine was my first pick, and Master Lightning was my second.  Neither of these horses were much of a factor.  Jessethemarine finished fifth after just plain failing to fire, and Master Lightning was entirely too far back early to make up.  I had expected Master Lightning to be a speed horse in the race; that turned out to be completely wrong.  Once the gate opened, neither one was anywhere near the winning Extrasexyhippzster or second-place Joint Custody.
  • Native Dancer Stakes – In this race, Indian Jones was my first choice and Managed Account second.  Indian Jones finished well — he was the closer I expected him to be, but he just couldn’t catch the winner.  Managed Account wasn’t the speed in the race like I expected (that was mainly Warrioroftheroses, as Mail scratched), but he stalked the pace, was a head from the lead coming into the stretch, but then faded a bit.  I made a point of talking myself off of Bold Curlin, forcing myself not to be too swayed by the fact that I am a raving Curlin fandork, and what did that get me?  Throwing out a winner at a pretty nice price, that’s what.  I was completely wrong to think he was outclassed here.
  • What a Summer Stakes – In this race, She’s Ordained was my first choice, and Winning Image was my second.  They filled out the exacta, though in the less advantageous order since Winning Image won.  I was dead-on with picking the horses who would do well in this race, but rubbish at predicting how the bettors would direct their money.  I thought I’d get a better price on She’s Ordained than I would with Winning Image; that’s why I placed her first.  Turns out, She’s Ordained went out at odds-on, Winning Image went off at 3.7 to one, and I made a costly mistake.

Sam Houston

  • John B. Connally Turf Cup – In this race, Admiral Kitten was my first choice, and King David was my second.  This was my only winner among my first choices.  I nabbed the Kitten as the strongest of the closing-style horses in the bunch, and he did not disappoint, catching Fredericksburg just in time.  King David, who I thought to be the other class of the field, was second behind Fredericksburg most of the race but just couldn’t stay the distance, and faded to fourth.  All in all, I didn’t do a terrible job of predicting how this race would go, and I was glad to see Admiral Kitten prove himself once again to be the classy closer I thought he was.
  • Houston Ladies Classic – In this race, Awesome Flower was my first choice, and Rose to Gold was my second.  This was a risk that blew up in my face, hard.  I knew that Awesome Flower was a gamble: if she got the lead straight out she’d be a force to be reckoned with, but if she didn’t, it was over.  She didn’t get that lead; she finished sixth, beaten over ten lengths.  Rose to Gold looked like the class of the field on paper, but I placed her as my backup instead of my primary because I thought I was going to get a terrible, terrible price on her.  Turns out, she actually went off at a better price than Awesome Flower, and won the race to boot.

Santa Anita

  • Santa Monica Stakes – In this race, Teddy’s Promise was my first choice, and Heir Kitty was my second.  Teddy’s Promise finished third; she had the lead going into the stretch, but just couldn’t stay up to remain ahead of Scherzinger and Iotapa.  Heir Kitty stalked and tried to make a run for it on the far turn, but just couldn’t mount enough of a bid, and faded to fourth.  My prediction that Lexington Pearl would be the spoiler was no good; she was never any factor.  When handicapping the race, I wasn’t feeling Scherzinger at all — I thought she was significantly outclassed, and likely to bounce off her AOC63 win earlier in January.  In short, there wasn’t a whole lot I got correct about this race.
  • California Cup Turf – In this race, Jules Journey was my first choice, and Stoney Creek was my second.  Neither of them ran a bad race.  Jules Journey closed to cross the wire third, and Stoney Creek closed to finish second.  I was right to try and beat Summer Hit, both because he would go off at a bad price and because I had worries about the distance.  He went off at 1.2 to 1, and he weakened down the stretch.  Weewinnin, I wasn’t going to touch with a ten foot pole — this race was the longest of his career, and he was well beaten in his only attempt at a mile.  I had him pegged for a decent Cal-bred sprinter, nothing more.  Instead, to my surprise (and that of most of the bettors, as he went off at better than 20-1…), he found nine furlongs in him, and won by daylight.
  • California Cup Derby – In this race, Lucky Views was my first choice, and Aotearoa was my second.  I got approximately nothing right in this race.  I said Lucky Views would do well in a race without a lot of early speed.  The fractions were not as slow as I thought they’d be, Lucky Views kept drifting all over the place, and he finished last of all of the horses who finished the race.  Aotearoa, who I knew was somewhat of a gamble because it was his first dirt race, absolutely hated the dirt and didn’t finish the race.  I blew off Tamarando, despite his presence in my fantasy stable, because I knew the price would be bad, and I wasn’t sure how he would do.  I was right in that his price was bad; that was about the only thing I got right in this race.  He’s a deep closer, and did close to make second place, but couldn’t catch California Chrome.  There was no favourite or near-favourite who I felt as strongly would fail as that horse.  Instead, he proved me wrong, and won the race in an absolute blowout.

My overall biggest lessons?

One, I am still a total newbie when it comes to handicapping races based on pace, and I think I put too much emphasis in my selections on horses who I thought would close well.  Though more speed horses help the closers, closers are not going to win every single race in which there’s not merely a lone speed.

Two, I am completely inept at predicting the whims of the betting public, and need to pay attention to those patterns and adjust matters accordingly.  However, this second bit will be less of an issue in handicapping when I don’t have to turn in my bets hours in advance, as i did with this contest; this is what the tote board is for.

Since I spent a nice chunk of Saturday muttering at the TV about how my second choice horse had done better than my first, I calculated how I would have scored with my second choices.  There were fewer of my second choices who cashed (four for my second choices, versus five for my first), though more first places in my second choice list (three for my second choices, versus one for my first).  Turns out, it would have been significantly better.  Between wins from Rose To Gold, Winning Image, and Onlyforyou, combined with the second place finish of Stoney Fleece, I would have scored $47.00 — which would have placed me third, instead of close to the cellar.

You live and learn.  I, for one, am looking forward to the next contest.

fantasy stable: week 1 postmortem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Road to the Triple Crown…it begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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