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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Santa Anita

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

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

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

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

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

a taste of the weekend ahead…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Anita

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

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

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

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

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

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

a modest success

The weekend of stakes action has come to an end, and even though I didn’t get everything right in the picks I gave for the Turf vs. Tech Handicapping Challenge, I cannot complain at about how it shook out.  Standing mostly on the strength of the bets on Centre Court in the Honey Fox, my suggestions for $100.00 worth of bets ended up returning $116.00.  It’s not a life-changing score, but it is more money than you’d have had if you had kept your money in your pocket instead of betting my tickets — and a better return than my challenger’s picks!

Anyway, on to the race recaps!

Gulfstream: Honey Fox Stakes (GII, 1 mile on the turf, fillies and mares, four-year-olds and up)

In this race, I had Centre Court as my first choice, Parranda as my second, and Tapicat as my third choice.  Since she raced, Centre Court was my contest horse for Public Handicapper.  Despite being in her first race off of a seven-month lay, Centre Court delivered; she won the race by a nose over a late-flying Kitten’s Point.

I was incorrect that it was going to be Parranda who got to the early speed.  Parranda was a few lengths back early, and never got on the lead.  Instead, it was Effie Trinket and Triple Arch who got right on the lead, with Parranda, Triple Charm, and Run A Risk stalking early.  Centre Court was a bit further back (which was within my realm of expectation) next to Tapicat (who was further back than she normally races), and then Kitten’s Point, the known closer, took up the rear.

Centre Court made a wide move through the far turn, coming into the stretch, and picked off the lead horses one by one.  Effie Trinket held on well, only giving way late to Centre Court when she made her run.  Kitten’s Point confused me going in; she had been inconsistent in some of her past races, and I steered clear of her mainly because it was such a question whether she would fire after running a good race last time out.  It turned out, she fired in a big way.  Watching her flying down the stretch the way she did, it was clear that if the wire was a few inches past where it actually was, Kitten’s Point would have had it.

My second and third choices in the race did not race quite as well as I had hoped.  Parranda never got the lead that she needed, made it as close as about a length from the lead, and lost ground coming down the stretch to finish 6th beaten 3 3/4 lengths.  Tapicat started to make a run coming into the stretch, but could not sustain her bid; she checked in fifth, 3 lengths behind Centre Court.  Run A Risk, not one of my win choices but my interesting long shot, proved outmatched.  She stalked the pace early, but faded back behind Kitten’s Point even before she tried to make her run; Run A Risk finished a distant last.

Oaklawn: Rebel Stakes (GII, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt, three-year-olds)

In this race, Ride On Curlin was my first choice, Strong Mandate was my second, and Tapiture was my third.  Since he raced, Ride On Curlin was my contest horse.  He may not have won, but he turned in the kind of performance that showed why his 11.7-1 post time odds were an overlay, and that his third place finishes in the Southwest and the Champagne were not flukes.

Ride On Curlin didn’t run the closing style I had been hoping to see; he shot straight to the front with Strong Mandate.  Hoppertunity, Tapiture, and briefly Street Strategy got into stalking places; Sheltowee’s Boy, Kobe’s Back, and Jet Cat were further back.

Coming into the stretch, I thought Ride On Curlin may have had a shot at it.  He got his head in front, and Strong Mandate looked like he was starting to fade.  I was a little surprised that Strong Mandate was fading then, given that I was expecting him to run really well in the slop.  It wasn’t much at that point, though, but enough to make it look like Ride On Curlin was going to have more.

Hoppertunity and Tapiture made their moves, and then down that last furlong, what can only be described as a game of bumper cars ensued.  The finish was a thrilling fight: Hopportunity crossed the wire first, with Tapiture half a length behind, and Ride On Curlin another half-length back of Tapiture.  Strong Mandate was a length and a half further back, but still over seven lengths clear of the fifth-place Sheltowee’s Boy.

There were inquiries regarding Hopportunity, Tapiture, and Strong Mandate (as well as an objection made by Tapiture’s rider against Hopportunity) that had to be resolved before the results were made official.  Nothing was bad enough to change the results of the race; it all looked to be close quarters race riding.

The one horse I clearly underestimated was Hoppertunity.  I thought he could hit the board with a better trip than he had last out in the Risen Star, but would be beaten by one of the more experienced horses to win.  He did better than that.  The one horse who I overestimated was my second choice, Strong Mandate.  I was actually going to toss him if it weren’t for the fact that the track was going to be sloppy, but I thought the track would help him more than it actually did.  Instead, Hoppertunity and Tapiture found more than I expected they would given the track condition.

Santa Anita: Santa Margarita (GI, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, fillies and mares, four-year-olds and up)

In this race, Iotapa was my first choice, Fiftyshadesofhay was my second choice, and Stanwyck was my third.  Iotapa didn’t scratch, so she was my contest horse.

Let Faith Arise surprised me in her racing style.  I expected her to stalk or close, but she went up to the lead with Fiftyshadesofhay.  Iotapa, who I expected to take the lead for lack of anyone else wanting it, was stalking less than a length back.    However, almost no one was too far back for most of the race; until the far turn, only about three or four lengths covered the entire field save the closer Spellbound.

I shouldn’t have discounted Let Faith Arise, given her close seconds in the Santa Maria and the La Canada her last two times out, combined with her cracking workouts.  However, I didn’t like the fact that she had been doing sprints until so recently; I wasn’t sure how much she’d like the extra half furlong.  It turns out, she could be right on the early fractions, hold out to the end, and take the win.  The horse in this field who I ended up overestimating was Fiftyshadesofhay.  I preferred her for exactly the reason I didn’t prefer Let Faith Arise: she had more experience at this distance and longer.  Instead, she was the one who faded badly from the early lead.

Iotapa, my predicted winner, didn’t run a terrible race; she just didn’t run a great one, either.  She stalked from close behind Let Faith Arise and Fiftyshadesofhay.  She had enough to keep the rest of the field at bay, but not to catch Let Faith Arise.  Stanwyck, my third choice, ran exactly as expected: a few lengths back, and getting up for a share late.  I thought she may have a bit of trouble with slow fractions, and that bore out.

Tampa Bay Downs: Wayward Lass Stakes (1 1/16 miles on the dirt, fillies and mares, four-year-olds and up)

In this race, Montana Native was my first choice, Giant Cats Eye was my second choice, and Sheer Drama was my third.  Sheer Drama was one of three horses who scratched (Malibu Red and Pixie Devil being the other two); however, since she was my third choice, that had no effect on my contest horse.  It remained Montana Native.

Montana Native ended up going off as the even-money favourite, but may have been a little rusty off of the lay.  She got a nice stalking position early, just behind the pacesetters Clarinda and Dress The Part.  However, she couldn’t quite find enough to get past Dress The Part.  She got ahead of the fading Clarinda, and had enough to fend off everyone behind her except for the late-running Ambusher, but never got anywhere near Dress The Part again once she made her move.

My second choice, Giant Cats Eye, I expected to come from a stalking position.  She did have a good stalking place through the first furlongs of the race, two or three lengths off of Clarinda and Dress The Part.  However, she had no rally coming down the stretch.  She finished near the back of the main pack, but in front of the stragglers: 6th beaten 5 1/4.

This race was a bit hard to handicap since the pace was difficult to tell, but of all the horses I expected to win this, Dress The Part was not on my list.  All of her wins had been six furlong sprints; she had made some turf mile and route attempts, but been soundly beaten.  She was coming off two wins: but both at allowance level, and both in sprints.  The best indication that she could find it in her to succeed in a dirt route was something I did not manage to correlate until hearing it on At The Races this morning: as a Malibu Moon mare out of Erhu (Tactical Cat), Dress The Part is a full sister to Onlyforyou.  Sadly, we’ll never know how far Onlyforyou could have stretched in a race someday, but she did win this year’s Davona Dale at the same distance as the Wayward Lass.

I had been hoping to see Liberated run a good race.  I knew she was likely in over her head here, but as a Curlin filly out of a Colonial Affair mare, she has two of my favourite racehorses of all time in her first two generations.  However, she just didn’t have a particularly good race, and finished ninth beaten eight lengths.  She was last early, and only made a mild run late.  She was only able to pass the badly fading Action Lady and Yeardley, who never really fired.  Despite the distance in her pedigree, she is probably going to show better results dialing back to seven furlongs or a mile.

weekend racing recap: part 1

This past weekend, I posted pre-race thoughts on thirteen races: the four stakes races that were part of the Public Handicapper contest this weekend, as well as the nine races on Sunday’s Hawthorne card.  In the interest of making this a manageable length, the recaps will be split up.  The stakes from the contest will come first; the Hawthorne recaps will follow in a separate entry.

Fair Grounds: Mineshaft Handicap (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Fordubai as my first choice, Prayer for Relief as my second, and Mister Marti Gras as my third.  Since he raced, my contest horse was Fordubai.

It turned out Grand Contender, not Afford or Bradester, ended up being the early speed in this race.  Going back over my notes, I can only account not listing him among the likely early speed horses in my preview to scrivener’s error; I had him marked in my notes as a horse who wanted the early speed, that I liked him to hit the board, but didn’t like him to win since he had never won at over a mile.  That panned out, as he set the pace for much of the race, but was beaten down the stretch.  Afford, who I thought was outclassed, was.  He couldn’t get up for that early lead, and even though he gained some down the stretch, he was never a serious threat to hit the board.

I did get correct that a stalker would win the race.  However, that stalker was not who I expected: it was Bradester.  I thought he’d get straight to the lead, but instead he stalked a few lengths off early.  I expected him no more than a length off the lead.  I noted he was on a class jump, and would likely want to use him in exotics given his good recent allowance runs as well as Rosie Napravnik’s success at Fair Grounds.  However, I didn’t expect him to win, and thought he was going to be bet down hard from his 6-1 morning line thanks to his jockey.  That was wrong; he went off at 6.7-1, slightly better than his morning line odds.

Fordubai, the horse I picked to win, didn’t run the race I expected.  He didn’t stalk the pace.  He started far back, probably at least in part due to his outside post position.  He was entirely too far back for a horse who doesn’t close, and only fired hard enough down the stretch to gain the show.  It would have been enough, possibly, if he got close enough to the pace early; he just didn’t.  Prayer For Relief, my second choice, was just flat, with no clear excuse.  He never got past the middle of the pack, and faded a bit late.  My third, Mister Marti Gras, likewise had no real excuse (other than possibly being rusty after the three-month lay), but didn’t really show up.  He stayed near the back of the pack from wire to wire, with no real moves.

Fair Grounds: Risen Star Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Gold Hawk as my first choice, Rise Up as my second, and Vicar’s In Trouble as my third.  I thought Rise Up was the most likely horse to hit the board, but thought he would be caught by one of the horses from the back to win.  Therefore, since this contest is win-only, I selected the horse who I thought had a chance to catch up and take the race, hence my choice of Gold Hawk here.

There wasn’t much I got right in this race.  Neither Rise Up nor Vicar’s In Trouble set the early fractions: Albano did.  Rise Up stalked behind early in the race, which wasn’t a huge shock since he did break his maiden from a stalking position.  However, instead of catching up, Rise Up faded badly — something I was not expecting since he had been tested at this distance before, and the early fractions in the Risen Star were slower than those of the Delta Jackpot.  Vicar’s In Trouble spent the first few furlongs in the middle of the pack, got close coming into the stretch, weakened, but still held on for the show.  However, the performance of neither Rise Up nor Vicar’s In Trouble screamed “I’m going to love the Classic distances!”.

Gold Hawk, my first choice pick, looked even worse than either Vicar’s In Trouble or Rise Up.  He was closer to the pace early than the Vicar was, was making a move through the stretch, and then just faded with no clear reason.  That’s two straight races (the LeComte, and then this one) when he has just not fired; it looks like he is outclassed on the Derby trail.

I had my eye on one other horse in this race, Hoppertunity, because he is in my stable for the Brooklyn Backstretch contest.  The shape of this race for him reminds me a lot of the shape of his maiden race — he got caught way back early, improved position somewhat, but wasn’t able to threaten the leaders.  I’m not ready to write him off quite yet since the Risen Star was only his third race (and his first against winners), but this may suggest a certain lack of versatility if it keeps happening as the sample size grows.

About the only thing I did get right was that there would be a horse who wanted that early speed, and that there would be a horse who would nab him late.  However, the horse who got that early speed was Albano — who I knew liked the early speed, but thought had no chance to maintain it with Rise Up and Vicar’s In Trouble in the field.  The horse who nosed Albano out for the victory was Intense Holiday.  I thought Intense Holiday may have had a shot to hit the board, since he had previously run at more than a mile and not completely embarrassed himself (unlike much of the field), but he had never quite gotten there to hit the wire first when trying to run from off the pace — a style he had clearly been trying in the Nashua, the Remsen, and the Holy Bull.  He put it together in the Risen Star, and he is almost certainly Derby-bound as a result.

Gulfstream: Canadian Turf Stakes (GIII, 1mi on the turf)

In this race, Reload was my first choice, Rydilluc was my second, and Mr. Online was my third.

Reload didn’t scratch, so he was my contest horse — and fortunately, he injected a bit of much-needed fake money into my contest ledger after winning the race.  His odds plummeted from 8-1 morning line down to 4.8-1 at post time, so I was clearly not the only person who noticed he was a live one.  As for Reload’s race shape, it wasn’t quite as I expected.  I expected from his past races that he would be on or very near the early lead, not a few lengths back as he was.  However, seeing a bit of change in tactic wasn’t a huge surprise, since this was only Reload’s second race ever on the turf.  He stalked, got the rail and edged closer coming into the stretch, and overtook Mr. Online as the wire approached.

It was Mr. Online and Rydilluc, two of the horses I very much expected to be on the early lead, who were 1-2 for most of the race.  However, as Mr. Online gamely dug in to try and keep that lead (and ultimately finish second by a neck), Rydilluc faded to fifth down the stretch.  I’m not counting Rydilluc out for good on turf miles; this may have just been a function of him coming off the long lay.  The proof will be in the next start or two for him.  Mr. Online, on the other hand, proved himself once again to be as game as they come, and extended his streak of no-worse-than-second place finishes to nine races.

Gaining the show in this race was Salto.  He ran just about as I expected, though maybe a bit further off the pace.  However, he was gaining on Mr. Online late; just as I expected, he raced like he needed a bit more distance to do his best work.  Salto is a very good horse, but he needs another furlong or so.

Gulfstream: Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

In this race, I had Top Billing as my first choice, General a Rod as my second, and Wildcat Red as my third.  That was the trifecta — just not in quite the right order.

The race unfolded very much like I expected, with Wildcat Red and General a Rod getting on that early speed.  The past performances suggested that they were the fastest horses there, and that bore out.  Basically a matched pair, they ran head-and-head from the time the early pace settled until the wire.

The error I made in picking the race was thinking the early speed would be too much to hold up.  Gulfstream was a conveyor belt on Saturday, and being the best of the speed was your ticket to victory.  On top of that, both General a Rod and Wildcat Red proved that they are capable of holding plenty of speed through a mile and a sixteenth.  Their fractions did slow a little, and Top Billing ate into their advantage, but those two leaders didn’t fade away.  Given his pedigree, this wasn’t much of a surprise for General a Rod.  For Wildcat Red this was a bit more unexpected, and it will be interesting to see him in the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby.  It will also be interesting to see him finally run on a track other than the Gulfstream dirt (the site of all six of his starts), though that almost certainly won’t happen until Derby day.  Wildcat Red does have a stronger pedigree for sprinting than routing, but at least at a mile and a sixteenth, he has proven himself more than legitimate.

Top Billing was able to catch everyone else, but could only get within two lengths of the twin speed demons.  Combine the track’s love for speed with Top Billing having to start that race from the 12-hole, and it adds up to no lost faith whatsoever in Top Billing.  He ran a strong race, and proved in his first stakes appearance that he deserves to be there.

a handful of Saturday races

This is a big weekend, with two Derby preps: the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star.  These two races, in addition to two other stakes for older horses, are the contest races for Public Handicapper this weekend, and the first of the races I’m going to discuss here this weekend.

I say first, because Hawthorne is back in action as of today!  I am watching the live stream thanks to Horse Races Now, but couldn’t make it to the track today.  This all changes Sunday, when I will enjoy my first day at the track of 2014.  I’m getting to the track early, handicapping the races, and planning to post my observations on them here Sunday before post time.

Anyway, on to Saturday’s races!

Gulfstream: Canadian Turf Stakes (GIII, 1mi on the turf)

There are a lot of horses in this race, including many of the classier ones, who like to be on or right near the early lead.  It will be interesting to see how Rydilluc does in this one.  He hasn’t raced since getting trounced in the Secretariat Stakes last August, but he is working well, and before that lay he has been a career three-for-three in turf miles.  This, however, is his first turf mile attempt against older horses.  Speaking of consistent turf milers, Mr. Online is coming into this race from two straight wins in turf miles — and he has finished first or second in his last eight races, at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to a mile and seventy yards.  All three miles in that stretch have been wins, although the only stakes among them was the El Prado, which he won by a head over Salto.

As for horses who aren’t early speed, Guys Reward is interesting coming off his win in the Tampa Bay stakes three weeks ago.  He has strung together consecutive wins before, so a bounce isn’t a huge risk.  What he will have to overcome is the outside post he drew — he has never won from any further out than the sixth post, and he is racing from the 11 gate here.

An intriguing live longer shot is Reload, 8/1 on the morning line.  He has been a solid enough allowance level horse on dirt, but never could get it done in stakes company.  However, last out he wired the field in a $100,000 AOC N1X at Gulfstream at a mile in his first out on turf.  That promising race, combined with all his recent bullet works on the turf, suggest the grass may just be Reload’s surface.  I think Shug McGaughey knows what he’s doing here, putting Reload in the Canadian Turf, and in fact he’s my choice to take the race.

Gulfstream: Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

There are so many horses in this field that like to be near, or right on, the early lead.  The only true-blue closer in this field is Top Billing.  The outside post isn’t great, though he has gotten a bit of relief; with Casiguapo’s scratch he moves in from the 12 gate to the 11.  That aside, if he runs the race he’s capable of he’s fast enough to catch the field, especially with the plethora of horses there who like the lead.  The only other horse in this field who shows even a decent aptitude from coming in from far off an early pace is Our Caravan, but he’s also coming from an outside post, and hasn’t quite shown the speed necessary to overtake the class of this field.

In the category of early speed, Wildcat Red is the class of that bunch.  His head has crossed the wire in every sprint race he has run (though he was disqualified to second in the Gulfstream Juvenile Sprint Stakes in November).  He acquitted himself well when he stretched out to a mile, finishing second in the Gulfstream Derby behind General a Rod after they spent the entire stretch bobbing heads next to each other.  The ability for Wildcat Red to stretch to Classic distances is questionable at best; however, he will likely perform well at the 1 1/16 miles of the Fountain of Youth given how well he appeared to be sustaining himself to the end of the Gulfstream Derby.  Another among the horses near the front who looks good is the aforementioned General a Rod.  He stalked Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Derby, pulled even with him out of the far turn, and won the head bob to the wire.  He is fast, he looked good down the stretch in that mile race, and even though he has not raced past a mile, his pedigree (by Roman Ruler out of Dynamite Eyes (Dynaformer)) doesn’t raise any red flags that the distance will be an issue.  Another bright point for General a Rod is that he broke his maiden from far off the pace — a style that may come in handy in this large, speed-heavy field.

All these things considered, I just don’t see early speed holding up in this race.  I don’t expect General a Rod or Wildcat Red to do badly, and would not be surprised if one or both of them hit the board, but Top Billing is my pick here.

Fair Grounds: Mineshaft Handicap (GIII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

There are a few horses who really want to be on early speed, Afford and Bradester.  Afford is probably outclassed here, a decent allowance-level horse who really can’t get it together against the kinds of horses he faces here.  Bradester is probably the better of those two, but he’s taking a class jump here, having competed mainly in allowance races.  If he doesn’t bounce off of his last win, he will be the pace here.

However, I really like a stalker in this one.  Fordubai looks really nice here.  He is coming off a length win in the Louisiana Handicap last month, and defeated Grand Contender and Prayer for Relief in that race.  He really likes 1 1/16 mile races; he is 5-3-1-0 at the distance, including that win in the Louisiana last out.  Prayer for Relief is another horse who tends to stalk, who also looks good in this race.  He tends to put up the fastest speed figures of the bunch, and before his third place in the Louisiana Handicap he won the Tenacious by 6 1/4 lengths over Ground Transport.  The Tenacious?  1 1/16 miles at the Fair Grounds.  He is unsurprisingly the morning line favourite, though may still go off at a half-decent price because Rosie Napravnik is on a different horse (Bradester).

If somehow a speed duel does kick up in this race, either because Afford engages Bradester early or the expected stalkers want the lead more than I thought, look for Mister Marti Gras to pick up the pieces.  Last out, he was 2nd beaten just a length by Last Gunfighter in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.  Like Fordubai, he really likes this distance; he is 8-4-3-0 in main-track 1 1/16 mile races.  Though he has been running more turf races than dirt lately, he runs about equally well on both, and fits in well with the field here.  He is good at hanging back, engaging from midpack in the far turn, and getting there in the stretch.  The stretch at Fair Grounds is a long one — and his frequent runs down the also-massive stretch at Hawthorne will serve him well.

All things considered, if I just have to go with one horse here, I’d take Fordubai.  He is coming off a nice win at this track, he loves this distance, and the pace in this race is likely to favour a stalker like him.

Fair Grounds: Risen Star Stakes (GII, 1 1/16mi on the dirt)

I will admit, this race is a tough one.  With the scratch of Bond Holder, no one in the field really stands out to me as one I want to proclaim The One To Win.  Had Bond Holder remained in the field, his ability to come in off the pace, combined with the fact that he has been doing his best racing on the dirt and not the synthetic, would have made him my pick here.

The problem is that the two best looking horses on paper coming into this race, Vicar’s In Trouble and Rise Up, are both speed horses.  I would give the nod to Rise Up over Vicar’s In Trouble as the better speed horse, mainly because he just seems a little better tested.  They are both fast horses, though, and ones I will be shocked not to see on the lead tomorrow.  Another one of the horses who looks good coming into here, Hopportunity, is also likely to start on or near the early lead.  This race is a jump in class for him, as he has only raced twice in maidens at Santa Anita, but if he can make his way through the pack and contend for the lead, he may have a shot here.

However, going back to Rise Up and Vicar’s In Trouble — they both want the early lead so badly Among the horses who can come off, the ones who interest me most are Gold Hawk and Emmett Park.  Gold Hawk flopped his last out, finishing 3rd beaten 7 1/4 lengths in the LeComte, behind Vicar’s In Trouble and Albano.  He was acting up at the gate, however, so he has a good chance to perform better if he has learned from the LeComte and comes into this race a bit more calm.  Emmett Park won his last one from way back, and has been working very well in the dirt at Fair Grounds over the last few weeks.  However, I’m still just a bit skittish on Emmett Park, since both of his races have been against far weaker company on the Turfway synthetic.  He deserves a shot at this field — and deserves it far more than several in this field, most notably the maiden Vigorish — but may find it to be a bit too steep.

If the goal is to just hit the board (which it is, in a certain Twitter contest in which i’m still alive), Rise Up is the pick.  He shows good speed, he’s breaking from an inside post, and he looked great in the Delta Downs Jackpot at the exact same distance as the Risen Star.  However, if the goal is to win, I would rather try to pick a horse who can stay off the pace, and pick them off from behind.  That’s why I would have picked Bond Holder if he were still running.  That’s why in this case, I’m going to go with Gold Hawk.  I don’t love him, but assuming he fires, he’s the best option among the horses who don’t need early speed to win.

And there are my thoughts on those four races this weekend.  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!