Friday, January 19, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: Sunshine Millions Classic

Risk vs. Reward in Sunshine Millions Classic

By: Jeffrey Cobb, S. Florida ThoroFan Member

I'm writing from frigid Loveland, Colorado tonight, so this is going to be short and sweet.

Crocodile has never gone the distance.  Nine furlongs is probably too much to expect for his 4-year-old debut.

Catholic Cowboy has won at the distance and his races, but only raced twice as a 7-year-old last year making me question him just a little.

Flemish Cap has early foot and a rider upgrade from Tyler Gaffalione to Javier Castellano.  In the past, Castellano has disappointed me on dirt which makes me a little leery. The other thing to be leery about is Flemish Cap is coming off a Thorograph top on December 31.  He may be coming back too soon off that effort.

Sorry to say, but this race comes down to Mr. Jordan and Richard the Great. The two morning line favorites. Both get nice outside, but not too far, post positions. 

Mr. Jordan has never won at Gulfstream and has not won at this distance in 4 tries. He did finish in the money 3 out those 4 tries.

Richard the Great has never gone 9 furlongs and has finished behind Mr. Jordan in the last two including last time out at Gulfstream Park.  Although it tempting to root for Richard to turn the tables on Mr. Jordan, my experience has told me that more often than not the that has already beaten a rival twice will most likely win again. 


I pick Mr. Jordan to win the race and get his first win at this distance.


Not a good betting race in my opinion, but if you must, and I know some of you must, the best way to play this, in my opinion is a straight Mr. Jordan-Richard the Great exacta.   Go light because the risk vs. reward is not in your favor.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: LeComte Stakes (G3)

Time to Kowboy Up

By Nick Costa, Trackside with Trackman

Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana, will be the scene of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Saturday, where a very deep and promising field of three-year olds chase after the winner's share of the $200,000 purse, and battle for the 17 qualifying points (10-4-2-1) awarded to the first four finishers toward earning a berth the Kentucky Derby in May.

The one-mile and seventy yards event is the first of
three preps on the 2018 Fairgrounds road to Louisville. Nearly half the starting gate will be filled from the barns of Steve Asmussen and Larry Jones, who each send out a trio of horses. Both conditioners have won numerous major races, many of them multiple times, however, Asmussen and Jones are still in search of their first Kentucky Derby winner.

The multiple stakes winning filly from the Mark Casse stable, Wonder Gadot, has been entered in this full field of Kentucky Derby hopefuls. However, she has been cross-entered in the Silverbulletday Stakes two races earlier on the card, and it appears she will start in that event against her own gender.

At the time of this write-up (Thursday), she has not been officially withdrawn from the Lecomte, so she is included in my horse analysis.

The Lecomte Stakes will be followed by the February 17th Risen Star and the March 24th Louisiana Derby. The former race, held at one-mile and one sixteenth will offer points on a 50-20-10- 5 scale, while the latter event worth 100-40-20-10 in points value, will be contested at one-mile and one eighth.
The Lecomte is carded as race nine with post time slated for 5:03 local time. Here is a look at the field.

PP - Horse/Jockey/Trainer

1 - Lone Sailor/Mena/Amoss--His fifth-place finish last race in the KJC Stakes was a very acceptable performance given that he was forced to take the scenic route after exiting a wide post. He's been coming from far off the pace since stretching out, so first-time blinkers are added in an effort to put him closer to the early action, and that could unfold since he now leaves from the rail.

2 - Snapper Sinclair/Beschizza/ Asmussen--Colt had a two-race turf winning streak broken in the B.C. Juvenile Turf. where he was up close early from a wide post before having to steady and then dropping back. His affinity for the turf needs to be transferred to the dirt.

3 - Wonder Gadot/Velazquez/Casse--Filly is the only graded stakes winner in the field, and a multiple graded winner to boot having taken the G3 Mazarine and G2 Demoiselle in her two-year old season. She's won 3 of 5 starts, with each victory being registered over a different surface: Turf, synthetic and dirt, a 'hat trick' if you will. Is the undisputed class of this field. MOST LIKELY WILL SCRATCH.

4 - Analyze This Jet/Risenhoover/Eoff--After finally breaking through in his sixth maiden attempt, a 6 1/4-length victory, this colt then doubled up by winning his turf debut when drawing clear to win a minor stake at Retama Park. He didn't threaten when shortened to seven furlongs last time out, so maybe a return back to two turns will provide a spark.

5 - Kowboy Karma/Hernandez/Jones--Won his debut by a dozen lengths going six furlongs, then followed up with a minor stakes win. He's had a bit of trouble in his last three races, including the G1 Champagne where he finished fourth behind Good Magic and Enticed, both subsequent graded stakes winners. Has a sprinters pedigree, but he did finish second in his only two-turn race. 

6 - Believe In Royalty/Albarado/Jones--When he faced winner's for the first time two races back, he got out to an easy lead and opened up a big margin on his rivals in the stretch before crossing the wire 3 3/4-lengths in front. Last time out, he was well supported when he stepped up in class to the Springboard Mile, but finished sixth after a wide and rough trip. He should build of that recent effort and perform better in this spot.

7 - Night Strike/Borel/Calhoun--After five failed attempts in maiden races, he achieved his first (and only) win in a state-bred stakes at Remington Park. Although he was beaten by a dozen lengths in the Springboard Mile, he finished in front of more than half the field in a fourth-place effort. No doubt, Calvin will take this stone-cold closer right over to the rail and then hope for the best after that. 

8 - Zing Zang/Bridgmohan/Asmussen--Broke maiden ranks at this very distance here last month coming from far off-the-pace. Has only three starts, but he's steadily gotten better overall, and its shown in his speed figures, which have increased. He'll have to step up his game even further to be competitive.

9 - Zeke/Bravo/Stidham--Undefeated in two career starts, and both were narrow victories with contrasting running styles over two surfaces. Won by a head when he wired the field in his debut on dirt at Laurel in October. Then was shipped here last month, and beat NW1x allowance rivals on the grass when he closed from seventh to get up by a nose. His speed figures are too slow to win this.

10 - Instilled Regard/Castellano/Hollendorfer--Put it all together when breaking his maiden in a runaway in start number three. Off that fine performance, he was rewarded with a try in the G1 Los Alamitos Derby where, in a three-horse stretch battle, he was knocked off-stride past the sixteenth pole. He ended up third, but was elevated to second via disqualification. The eventual winner (also by dq) took care of business nicely in last weekend’s Sham Stakes. For this colt, the proverbial light bulb went on since going two-turns.

11 -Principe Guilherme/Geroux/Asmussen--Created a 'buzz' when he whipped maidens by 6 1/4-lengths in his career debut in November at Churchill. That buzz got louder after he destroyed a first level allowance optional claiming field last month over this oval at this very distance. With his speed, this son of leading North American sire Tapit, should get away quick from this wide post and secure good early position, but he'll also have to relax too, as this race is filled with early pace. How he fares in that department is vital to his outcome.

12 - Prince Lucky/Leparoux/Jones--This runner recently won the Nursery Stakes at Parx in Pennsylvania, the state where he was bred. That score gave him three wins from four starts. Those races were all sprints, but the way he won a couple of them with room to spare, might indicate he'll have no problems with the added distance around two-turns. This colt definitely has more to give.

13 - Ebben/Lanerie/Margolis--Following his maiden win last summer at Indiana Downs, this one got shelled pretty good in three successive stakes, before getting back to the winner's circle against Nw1x allowance optional claiming opponents at Churchill Downs. Earned a good speed figure too in that win, but overall, it’s hard to look past the fact he probably isn't up to competing at this level.

14 - Trigger Warning/Doyle/Lejzerowicz--Drew in from the also-eligible list. Finished third as the beaten favorite in his most recent affair at Turf Paradise, which was also the sight of his maiden win two back. Those two efforts were much improved races than his first two starts that occurred at two other tracks. Things seem to be starting to click for this colt, but I really believe it’s more of him just taking a good liking to the Turf Paradise surface.

Analysis: For the record, if the connections of Wonder Gadot do end up changing their minds and opt to run their filly here, she is my top call. She has the class and speed figures that set her apart from the others.

Without her in the field, the Lecomte becomes wide open, and the one I’m siding with is Kowboy Karma. His fourth-place finish in the G1 Champagne is better than it looks. He was forced to take the overland route in that contest, and was still able to finish in front of more than half the field. The race included some talented horses, including 2nd and 3rd place finishers, Good Magic and Enticed, who went on to capture the B.C. Juvenile and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes respectively. I indicated above in my horse analysis that Kowboy Karma’s pedigree seems sprint oriented, however, his effort in the one-mile Sapling Stakes going two turns was a good showing. There is plenty of speed signed on here, and this closer should get a solid pace to run at. Let’s hope he gets the trip. I strongly believe he’s ready to fire a big race, and the little bit of extra ground asked of him to cover should pose no issues. 

Instilled Regard made a big move in the Los Alamitos Derby and look like he was going to go by the leader, but didn’t. Instead he got locked in a three-horse battle down the stretch and was bumped from both sides and finished third, before being moved up to second via disqualification. The winner, McKinzie, easily dispatched his rivals last weekend in the Sham, so that flatters the performance of Instilled Regard. The Hollendorfer colt has become a different horse since the stretch out, and he should continue to improve in this spot. Look for this one to sit a good trip in behind the speed and get first run on the tiring leaders. He  very well could win race, but the my top choice will be a better price.

PLAY: With $100 Thoro-fan dollars, I will bet $60 to win on Kowboy Karma and play him with Instilled Regard in a $20 exacta box (cost $40).
Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race.

Handicapper's Corner: Silverbulletday Stakes

Fair Grounds Fillies vie in Silverbulletday Stakes

By Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off

The series of Kentucky Oaks prep races at Fair Grounds begins with the Silverbulletday Stakes. The race was instituted in 1992 and originally named after Tiffany Lass, who is now the namesake of a different stakes at Fair Grounds. It was renamed in 2010 to honour Silverbulletday, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous year. 

Silverbulletday was the American Champion Two Year Old Filly in 1998, and then the American Champion Three Year Old Filly in 1999. Though Silverbulletday did not contest this race (then known as the Tiffany Lass Stakes), she decisively won two Kentucky Oaks prep races at the Fair Grounds in 1999: the Davona Dale Stakes (G3) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G3).  She did win the Kentucky Oaks in 1999, as well as the Black-Eyed Susan, the Alabama, and the Gazelle.

One filly has won the Silverbulletday on the way to a Kentucky Oaks victory: Believe You Can, who kicked off her three-year-old campaign here, and also won the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on her path to Kentucky Oaks glory.  I'm a Chatterbox, who won the Silverbulletday two years ago, went on to sweep the entire series of Oaks preps at the Fair Grounds, finish third in the Kentucky Oaks, and win the Grade 1 Cotillion at age three.  Another notable winner of this race is 2004 winner Lotta Kim.  She never raced again after winning this race, but she produced 2009 Kentucky Oaks hero Rachel Alexandra.

Race 7: Silverbulletday Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 4:05pm CST
This year's Silverbulletday drew a competitive field of twelve to vie for a $150,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.  Wonder Gadot, cross-entered in the Lecomte, is likely to stay with fillies here; however, only eleven are expected to race, as Stellar Moon  is expected  to run in a one-other-than on January 19 instead.

Though the race drew several marquee shippers who we'll tackle later, we'll tab on top a runner who is trying stakes company for the first time, but boasts Fair Grounds affinity and solid Fair Grounds connections: America's Tale.  The daughter of Gio Ponti tried two turns on dirt for the first time on December 17, and romped in the Fair Grounds slop.  Regular rider Brian Hernandez, who has taken the call for all but one race of her career, returns to ride the Bernie Flint trainee.  Though the risk is that America's Tale might be a slop monster, she also has a resounding maiden special weight victory over fast dirt at Churchill, as well as a pair of second-place finishes on fast dirt before she got her diploma.  Her running style should also suit the race: she is a forward-style runner going long, but showed last out that she can sit just off the pace if the likes of Wonder Gadot or Noblame grabs the front end instead.

Blonde Bomber has not raced since the Breeders' Cup, but comes into the Silverbulletday off a regular set of works since late November.  A big worry going to Del Mar was whether the daughter of Fort Larned was just a Gulfstream Park Horse as her first six starts came down there, but she took the move and the class rise well and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).  That race was also her first two-turn test, a test she passed.  Blonde Bomber has the tactical versatility to run well from just off the pace or from well off it -- a positive, since there are a few horses who can be forward, but no cluster of one-way speed likely to burn each other out and cause a true pace collapse.

Trainer Mark Casse sends a classy one-two punch of Wonder Gadot and Heavenly Love.  It would be no surprise to see either of them do well, but both will be short prices.  Heavenly Love is a tougher read, and a bit less trustworthy at a short price.  Her Alcibiades (G1) dazzled, but her Breeders' Cup was not good.  She still hast to answer the question of which one is the real Heavenly Love.  3/1 on the morning line seems short; should she drift up to 5/1, she becomes intriguing, but it would be a surprise to see her at such a good price. 

For a shorter-priced horse to use defensively, Wonder Gadot has a bit more allure.  She not only held up a lot better in the Breeders' Cup than her stablemate, but followed that up with a comfortable cruise in the Demoiselle (G2) a month later.  She should be part of the front vanguard here, but with a stalking gear, Wonder Gadot is unlikely to be truly burned up in that role.  It's also a positive to see that John Velazquez is shipping out to stick with her; Velazquez first took the call with her in the Demoiselle, and the fact that he's leaving New York suggests he thinks she is the real deal.  It's hard not to trust his judgment, and Wonder Gadot can't be left off even at a short price.

#6 America's Tale (8/1)
#1 Blonde Bomber (7/2)
#2 Wonder Gadot (2/1)

Longshot:  #9 Missive (15/1) makes her first foray into stakes company, and does have some tables to turn on top choice America's Tale.  Yet, she is still lightly raced compared to many of her foes -- with only four starts behind her, she has plenty of room to improve.  The mile and seventy yards at Fair Grounds should suit her, as well - she broke her maiden over that course and distance on a fast track, then finished second in a lst-out allowance in the mud.  Missive's tactical speed is a major positive.  So are her human connections: trainer Mike Stidham has been winning almost a quarter of the time this meet, and Missive keeps 30% Fair Grounds rider Joe Bravo from her last two starts.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: Sham Stakes (G3)

Baffert Primed For Another Sham Stakes Win

By: Laurie Ross, IMTBreds

The Sham Stakes (G3) was named in honor of the 1973 underdog shadowed Secretariat through the Triple Crown series.  The dark brown, well-bred colt finished second to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby, despite bashing his head against the starting gate so hard he lost two teeth. Sham’s time under the wire was a sub 2:00 and faster than Monarchos' winning time in 2001. In any other year, Sham would have been a Triple Crown winner.  Sham was a superstar in his own right, equaling the track record for 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Anita Derby. 

The 2018 Sham Stakes awards points as a Kentucky Derby qualifier.  Yet, most of the Sham Stakes victors have continued their careers as sprinter/milers. Only two colts have hit the board in both the Sham and the Kentucky Derby; Empire Maker finished second in both races in 2003 and in 2005, Giacomo was third in the Sham during his successful trip to Louisville.

This year, seven three-year-old colts will run a mile over the Santa Anita main track.  

MCKINZIE is the class of the field.  After fighting on the lead in the CashCall Futurity (G1), the bay colt played bumper cars in an exciting three-way finishing, taking the brunt of the action. He was awarded the win when his stablemate Solomini was DQ’ed for causing the incident. Baffert takes the blinkers of McKinzie in hopes that he’ll relax.

MOURINHO was a 4 1/2 length winner in his sprint debut. He followed up with two second-place finishes in the Speakeasy Stakes, and the Bob Hope Stakes (G2. The son of Super Saver gets to stretch out to a mile this time around, and Baffert puts the blinkers back on to harness the colt’s front-running speed.

HERE IS HAPPY was wiped out at the start of the Bob Hope Stakes and lost all chance. He trailed the entire way and wasn’t asked to run, so consider it a slow work out. Here Is Happy has gate issues. In four starts, the Craig Lewis trainee has been squeezed at the start twice and was off slow the other two times. In the 6-furlong Speakeasy Stakes, Here is Happy made up ground from last place to finish third, two lengths behind Mourinho. Here is Happy’s final furlong was 13.18, compared to his rival’s 13.76. Here is Happy has the pedigree to stretch out. Lewis made some adjustments to Here is Happy, starting with the ultimate equipment change. Here is Happy is now a gelding.  He’ll also get first-time blinkers to help him get a clean start. His closer running style will be dangerous in a race loaded with speed.

CITY PLAN’s only victory was a maiden race carded for a mile at Los Alamitos. It was the only time he was forwardly placed. In two other starts, he was off the board chasing the speed.  However, shifting to Golden Gate for his last start City Plan parlayed that late-running style into a 3/4 length victory. Granted, the company was softer than what he’ll face here.  By Street Sense out of a full sister to Champion 2YO Filly Tempera (by A.P. Indy), City Plan is bred to improve with maturity.

Jerry Hollendorfer stretched SHIVERMETIMBERS to a mile in his last start and was rewarded with a visit to the winner's circle. The chocolate brown son of Shanghai Bobby has shown speed figure improvement in each start but will get a class test.

ALL OUT BLITZ  has also shown speed figure improvement in each start and will get a class and distance test. The son of Concord Point earned his first trip to the winner's circle after blitzing six furlongs in 1:09.25 at Los Alamitos, which is more speed favoring than Santa Anita and Del Mar. Simon Callaghan gave the colt a sharp pre-race 4-furlong bullet breeze, and All Out Blitz may play catch me if you can on the front end.

With six starts under his girth, MY BOY JACK is the most experienced colt in the race. He finished on the board in four of those starts, all at a mile, over the turf.  His lone experience on dirt resulted in an 8 3/4 loss in his debut.  But hey, it’s early in the season, he’s grown up some, why not take a shot in a weak graded stakes with Derby points on the line.  Trainer Keith Desormeaux has a 14% win rate with the turf to dirt angle. The move isn’t without precedent. In 2015, Collected won the Sham after a runner-up finish in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (G3) over the Del Mar lawn. My Boy Jack works just fine on the dirt. He doesn’t have turfy action. Often, it isn’t the surface switch that bothers horses, it’s the dirt in the face.

Since the inception of the Sham Stakes, all winners (except for Gormley’s 7th place finish in the BC Juvenile) have finished fourth or better in their prep race. Nine of the last twelve winners won their last start.
Since the Grade 3 race’s inception, Bob Baffert has taken home four trophies, including the very first one presented.  Are we looking at a Baffert exacta? Not so fast. Five of the seven Sham entrants have a pace-setting or pressing running style, including MCKINZIE and MOURINHO. One takes the blinkers off, the other puts them back on. 

Some racing fans are puzzled, not understanding how the whole blinkers thing works.  It all has to do with a horse’s mindset. Blinkers are used to help a horse focus. The theory is that if he can’t see the other horses, he’ll be less aggressive and relax. In some cases, blinkers backfire, and a horse will become more determined in the race because he hears rivals, but doesn’t know where they are. These types of horses relax when the blinkers are taken off.  Confusing? Yep. Even the trainers don’t always know what will work, especially with a lightly raced horse who is still figuring things out. 

Ok, back to race selections.  Baffert’s duo may cancel each other out with the help of the appropriately monikered ALL OUT BLITZ, although MCKINZIE has shown that he can sit off the early pace. If they go too fast early, look for SHIVERMETIMBERS, and if he can get out of the gate, HERE IS HAPPY has late speed and can spoil someone’s exotics. Should MY BOY JACK find the dirt to his liking, don’t be surprised to see him right there at the finish. 

#6 MCKINZIE (3-5)
#1 MY BOY JACK (12-1)
#4 MOURINHO (4-1)

Short field, short prices. Not a good betting proposition for exotics, unless a longshot wins.  So, let’s stick with simple Win/Place bets on our logical longshots. 

$100 virtual ThoroFan currency
$10 Win/Place (4-1 or higher) #1 MY BOY JACK, #2 HERE IS HAPPY = $40
$60 – donation to the backstretch workers & horses displaced by the San Luis Rey fire.