I got more wrong this week about the stakes races in the Public Handicapper contest than I have in a long time, though somehow I managed not to strike out completely. The biggest bright spot in my weekend came from my continued belief in the class of Aurelia’s Belle, who notched her first graded stakes victory in the Bourbonette, after three straight on-the-board finishes in other graded stakes. I also came just a nose shy of hitting the Pasadena, and probably got more right in that race than I did in the others, across the board.
Gazebo Stakes (three-year-olds, 6 furlongs on the dirt)
In this race, I had Boji Moon as my first choice, Dunkin Bend as my second, and Kendall’s Boy as my third. I wasn’t the least bit happy about my second or third choices; the only horse in this field I wanted anything to do with was Boji Moon. Unfortunately, Boji Moon scratched, so I was left with Dunkin Bend. That didn’t work out so well.
Both Boji Moon and Bagg O’Day scratched. They were speed horses, sure, but there were still many horses left in the race who had seen some success with early speed in previous races. Of them, only one was actually able to get there: Brewing. Brewing popped out of the gate, immediately got a length on the field, and made them eat his dust from wire to wire. He made a mockery of this race. No one mounted a challenge that could be considered the least bit credible. It almost looked like Guns Loaded was going to make a move on the inside coming into the turn, but Jon Court asked Brewing for a little more, and he gained a few lengths on the field like it was absolutely nothing. Big Sugar Soda made enough of a closing move to put away the rest of the field (for whatever definition of “field” applied to this race), but got nowhere near Brewing. He passed a bunch of tired horses, more than anything else. Condo Closing was mid-pack for most of the race, and able to get third only because he tired out less than the rest of the horses tired.
As for my picks who actually raced? Neither of them had a good day. Dunkin Bend couldn’t get any closer than a length, length and a half from Brewing. He ran there briefly, and by the time the field approached the far turn, he was fading and done. He finished 7th beaten 12 3/4 lengths, behind the obviously outclassed Mister Pollard. May Kendall’s Boy didn’t fare much better. He got caught up tight at the start, which didn’t help him given that his previous races have had him nearer the lead. He never recovered, and finished 6th beaten 7 1/2. Unlike Dunkin Bend, he at least had a couple excuses, between the traffic early and being right near Mister Pollard when he checked.
TL;DR: Boji Moon scratched. Brewing looked nice. No one else did.
Pasadena Stakes (three-year-olds 1 mile on the turf)
In this race, Quotient was my first choice, Diamond Bachelor my second, and Enterprising my third. Quotient was my clear first choice, but it was almost a coin flip between Diamond Bachelor and Enterprising. I ended up selecting Diamond Bachelor over Enterprising only because I thought they had very close chances at the race, and Diamond Bachelor would likely yield a better price. (That bore out; Diamond Bachelor went off at 2.8-1 while Enterprising went off the 1.4-1 favourite.) All that said, though, Quotient was my contest horse, since he did race.
The early pace was mostly as expected; No Ma’am and Craftsman set it, with Diamond Bachelor just against it. Royal Banker and Enterprising stalked. Royal Banker was the only true surprise to see that close to the pace early. Quotient surprised me as well; instead of getting right on the lead, he settled about four lengths back, amid the back section of the pack. Through the far turn and into the stretch Diamond Bachelor pulled ahead to get the lead, with Craftsman just behind. However, they had to deal with three horses storming in from behind: Enterprising from his position a few lengths back, Quotient with his wide move out from midpack, and the fast-closing run of Home Run Kitten from the rear. They both gave way late to the onslaught: Enterprising passed first just outside of the leading pair, and then Quotient from outside of him. Quotient got within a long nose of Enterprising, but it wasn’t quite enough. Home Run Kitten, flying down the centre of the track, passed them as well, though just ran out of room to get Enterprising or Quotient. The connections of the first five horses in this race have nothing to be ashamed of; they all ran a strong race, and crossed the wire within not even two lengths of each other.
Home Run Kitten did what I expected Puppy Manners to try and do: make a big closing run. I expected Home Run Kitten to stalk closer in, since none of his earlier races from farther back worked out so well. However, he got it together as a closer this time, and fired with some great closing hustle. Puppy Manners, on the other hand, was just flat. He was off slow, wide through the turn, and didn’t make any sort of move. He finished 8th, 13 1/4 lengths behind Enterprising, and ahead of only the badly faded No Ma’am.
Bourbonette Oaks (three-year-old fillies and mares, 1 mile on the synthetic)
In this race, I had Aurelia’s Belle as my first choice, Cheerful Contender as my second, and Shanon Nicole as my third. Since she raced, Aurelia’s Belle was my contest horse. If this statement sounds familiar, that’s because it is; Aurelia’s Belle was also my contest choice in the Forward Gal back in January. That time out, she was game, but no match for the unstoppable lone speed of Onlyforyou. This time out, her class and experience brought her all the way home.
Aurelia’s Belle got exactly the kind of trip she wanted. She got in position a few lengths behind the leading pack, found a hole between Sloane Square and Zensational Bunny coming into the far turn, and slowly opened up ground from Sloane Square on her inside down the stretch. Sloane Square held on for second, the only one of the early speed pack of her, Zensational Bunny, and Stormy Novel who was able to stay on and hit the board. Katie’s Eyes, I underestimated. She had never raced against a field anything like this; her only races had been a third-place finish in a maiden sprint at Fair Grounds where she was an 18-1 shot, and a win in a restricted stakes that was so weak that she — a once-raced maiden — was the 1-5 favourite. She stalked from the pack, but unlike the rest of the pack, she didn’t fade. I thought she’d be outclassed here, but she held her own — simple as that. She couldn’t catch up to Sloane Square or the advancing Aurelia’s Belle, but had enough to finish 3rd: 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner, but another 2 3/4 ahead of the fourth-place La Mejor Fiesta.
My second and third choices did not fare nearly as well as my primary pick. Cheerful Contender was never any factor. She was bumped by La Mejor Fiesta at the start, fell back to last early, and never made any kind of dent. She finished 10th, 25 3/4 lengths behind Aurelia’s Belle, and only in front of Somerville Miss. This is the second race of her career in which she has had a bad start, and agains, she just could not recover. Shanon Nicole got into the stalking pack early, but steadily faded back. She ended up 8th, beaten 23 3/4 lengths. She was a rather lukewarm third pick fro me here, but I thought if she was able to get up in a stalking place relatively early, she’d have a shot. Instead of being back early and then gaining to stalk, she stalked early and faded back. There wasn’t a clear excuse I could see for the poor performance, especially since she had shipped before and raced okay after the ship.
Spiral Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)
In this race, I had Tamarando as my first choice, All Tied Up as my second, and Smart Cover as my third. Smart Cover, as my third choice, I knew was an attempt at a bomb: if there were so many scratches that I lost Tamarando and All Tied Up before the race even began, I may as well select the longshot horse who I thought had the best chance to win. As with most things in this race, was I ever wrong!
It turns out I hopped off the We Miss Artie train way too early. After his run in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he was my horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — but faded, and disappointed. With his one good race since the Breeders’ Futurity being the Kitten’s Joy on turf, I should have given him a bit more credit on his return to synthetic. I didn’t, and that burned me. He got in mid-pack early, steadily advanced, and had enough to just nip Harry’s Holiday at the wire. Harry’s Holiday, a Turfway local who won the 96ROCK Stakes earlier this year and then finished third behind Solitary Ranger in the Battaglia, was the only member of the early speed brigade who did not fade out. I thought his speed in the 96ROCK was a fluke, but he proved in the Spiral that it wasn’t. Almost Famous faded badly into the far turn, and Solitary Ranger gave way badly through it. Harry’s Holiday? He was pure game. He stayed on the lead, kept his head in front of the challenge mounted by third-place Coastline, and was just barely nosed out by We Miss Artie for the win. Coastline did make a good run up from his stalking place, but Harry’s Holiday just would not let him pass.
I was far too optimistic about Tamarando’s ability to fire off the ship. The fractions weren’t encouraging, though — for as many horses as were on the lead, the fractions were not that fast. The fractions weren’t that fast in the El Camino Real, either, but at least Tamarando wasn’t quite as far back. He made up a decent amount of distance going into the far turn, but got caught six wide, tried momentarily to make a run into the stretch, but really didn’t fire. He finished 8th, 11 1/2 back. All Tied Up fared a bit better. He was back early, but able to get into a decent pressing place. However, he couldn’t sustain any kind of run into the stretch, and ended up 6th beaten 6 1/2. He got nowhere near the front five, but was well ahead of the rest. Smart Cover, my attempt at a long shot bomb, had his second terrible race in a row. He was far back early, and saved ground — not in itself worrying, since he tends to be a very deep closer. However, he not only didn’t fire, but he faded badly. He lugged in twelfth and last, thirty-six lengths behind We Miss Artie. Clearly, I picked the wrong long shot; Harry’s Holiday was the real dark horse of the day. Even though he wouldn’t have won me any points in the contest, the Turfway local made the best run of any of the long shots, and almost took the whole thing.