Friday, March 27, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Louisiana Derby

Louisiana Derby Preview, by Steve Munday

The premiere Kentucky Derby preps will occur over the next three weekends. Which means if you want to cash in big on Derby day you owe it to yourself to pay close attention to what happens in these races. Which leads us to Saturday’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. It is the 11th race in a beefy 14 race card and contested at 1 and 1/8 miles with nine entrants. Here’s a brief review of the field:

#1 STANFORD (5-1) Making his second start going two turns and with the previous outing a second place finish in a minor stake race at Gulfstream Park three weeks back. STANFOR is one of many in the Pletcher’s impressive stable, but not considered, up until now at least, one of his top Derby prospects. Yet all of Pletcher's starters seem dangerous and STANFORD comes in after a sharp workout and draws a nice starting spot. Deserves respect.

#2 MR. Z (4-1) With ten races under his belt, eight of which in graded stakes races, he's got to be fit; or have plenty of "bottom" as some might say. D Wayne Lukas is rarely accused of spreading out starts or spotting his horses; he prefers to race them into shape. MR. Z has faced a who's who of Derby contenders and has not disgraced himself despite that lone maiden victory. D. Wayne takes off the blinkers so maybe will help MR. Z locate the winner’s circle for the first time since last June. Must consider a contender to win.

#3 DEFONDO (12-1) Is another making his 2nd start around two turns. Dallas Stewart and West Point Thoroughbreds brought Commanding Curve to the Louisiana Derby and then on to a somewhat surprising 2nd place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Can they do it again? If so, it will require a big step up in his game.

#4 FUSAICHI FLAME (20-1) Coming in off a win is always good, but Fusaichi Flames comes in off a wire-to-wire win the slop in an optional claiming race against only three challengers. A huge long shot at best.

#5 A DAY IN PARADISE (12-1) Winner in his last race of a minor stakes race at Houston and the only entrant not Triple Crown nominated. Perhaps attempting to make the Kentucky Derby field is an afterthought, but trainer Larry Jones takes a shot here nonetheless and might, just might, catch some bettors sleeping. Best of the long shots so don't completely ignore the tote.

#6 WAR STORY (4-1) Will complete the full Fair Grounds Derby prep schedule of LeComte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby; and if it weren’t for INTERNATIONAL STAR, he’d have two wins under his belt the morning line favorite. It’s also noteworthy that trainer Tom Amoss as changed jockeys each time. So with Joe Talamo in the irons this time, will the third try be the charm?

#7 KEEN ICE (5-1) is a dead closer from way back, but left too much ground to make up last time in the Risen Star. Will the extra 16th of a mile race distance on Saturday help? Probably, but perhaps not quite enough – he might need an extra 3/16ths. Can’t leave out of the exacta though.

#8 ST. JOE BAY (10-1) led most of the way in the Risen Star before giving way and getting out-finished by three fellow contenders. Sure he can build off that experience, but can’t see how the extra distance and wide post draw will help his chances.

#9 INTERNATIONAL STAR (3-1) showed the outside post wasn’t concern in the Risen Star. Has the look of a grinder that keeps fighting and keeps running no matter what. And a hard knocking fighter with tactical speed, plenty of stamina, and no stranger to adversity is exactly the kind of horse I want my money on Derby day, whether that Derby is in Louisiana or Kentucky. Ignore at your peril.

Betting Strategy:
Taking the long view I wouldn’t mind if INTERNATIONAL STAR didn’t cruise to a win on Saturday, because he may get overlooked in favor of higher profile Derby contenders coming out of the Grade 1 Derby preps in California, New York, Florida, and Arkansas. The reality is that very few Kentucky Derby winners come out of the Fair Grounds preps, but this year could be different. As far as betting the Louisiana Derby, I’ll key in on MR Z. Has a good post and his running style should have him well-positioned early and he’s proven he can compete at this level despite that lonely maiden win. I’ll be using with INTERNATIONAL STAR in the exacta with KEEN ICE underneath and go deeper with WAR STORY and long shot A DAY IN PARADISE in the bottom of the trifecta.

#2 MR. Z (4-1)
#7 KEEN ICE (5-1)


Handicappers' Corner: The Grade 1 Florida Derby

The 2015 renewal of the Florida Derby isn’t doing it for me. What I mean to say is I’m feeling other upcoming Kentucky Derby preps like Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial and Bluegrass Stakes are going to offer much more of glimpse into the First Saturday in May than Gulfstream Park’s marquee race. This being said, let’s get down to finding a winner…

The obvious big two:

#9 Upstart – regressed off his three-year-old bow, Holy Bull Stakes win, to finish first in the Fountain of Youth stakes only to be taken down for interfering with Itsaknockout. You can look at the sunny side of Upstart as he found a way to win while not being fully cranked up for his last start, and he should come back stronger here in his final prep before the Kentucky Derby. We’ll see if he can outrun some distance limitations in his blood and come away with the win, but I wouldn’t play him for a straight win bet at less than 2-1.

#4 Itsaknockout – this son of Lemon Drop Kid, a Belmont Stakes winner, made the successful leap into graded stakes company with his Fountain of Youth win. Yes, the Starlight Racing runner had the benefit of a disqualification to capture the Grade II Fountain of Youth, but he certainly proved he belonged with the big boys in only his third career start. I’m betting his ceiling is higher than Upstart’s and will use him atop some exotics and in multi-race wagers.

The maybes:

#1 Ami’s Flatter – beat all but Carpe Diem home in the Grade II Tampa Day Derby. This son of Flatter wears blinkers for a second time, an angle I like to play, and gets a huge rider upgrade to Javier Castellano. A minor chance to upset, he’ll go in my multi-race wagers and with Itsaknockout in exotics.

#7 Materiality – looks to go three-for-three and already has a win at 9 furlongs in his last, a $60,000 overnight stakes. He gets Johnny V for a third time and if he gets loose on the lead has a minor shot at taking home the top prize.

The others:

#2 Jack Tripp – is a maiden winner, who has failed miserably in allowance company four straight times. He’s likely off the board here.

#3 Indiannaughty – a Team Valor reach and most likely to finish fourth.

#5 Quimet – finished 16 lengths behind Materiality in his last effort and a huge form reversal is needed to hit the board.

#6 My Point Exactly – feels like the racing secretary is using him to fill a Grade I, million dollar race, which sounds ludicrous.

#8 Dekbrist – most likely to finish last.

Something tells me Upstart continues to go the wrong way, so I’ll take Itsaknockout in a three-horse exacta box with Ami’s Flatter and Materiality. I’ll also use those three in my Pick 5 tickets and hope I reach the Florida Derby with a chance to cash! Good luck in all your wagers!

Handicappers' Corner: The Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks

By Valerie Grash, Foolish Pleasure

Over the past 7 years, 4 Kentucky Oaks winners have also captured the Fair Grounds Oaks (Proud Spell, Rachel Alexandra, Believe You Can and Untapable)—more than any other Oaks prep race, this is the one to pay close attention to, and this year’s contest includes some serious contenders. Let’s break down the field by post position:

#1 Forever Unbridled
(Unbridled’s Song, out of Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemons Forever)  Dallas Stewart/Brian Hernandez, Jr.

Just like in the listed Silverbulletday, this daughter of 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever (and full-sister to last year’s third-place Oaks finisher Unbridled Forever) could not get past I’m a Chatterbox in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra. Will the third time be a charm? This Triple Crown-nominated filly should only get better the longer the distance, so watch for her to once again be competitive late.

#2 Desert Valley
(Desert Party, out of Capote mare Atlas Valley)  Karl Broberg/Colby Hernandez

Maiden claimer winner Desert Valley was overmatched in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn last out—not quite sure what her connections think moves her forward here.

#3 Jugni
(Colonel John, out of Touch Gold mare Saphiria)  Bernie Flint/James Graham

Stepping out in distance beyond 6 furlongs for the first time is a big ask, especially for one whose predilection is to race on the lead. Still, her pedigree strongly suggests she should be able to get the longer distance. It’s certainly a jump up in class, though.

#4 Audrey’s Double
(Pulpit, out of Rahy mare Double Date)  Neil Pessin/Richard Eramia

A maiden winner (finally) last out, she’s already proven at the distance—but is she fast enough? Forever Unbridled beat her by 9 lengths last December—not convinced she’s ready to turn the tables yet.

#5 Danette
(Curlin, out of Dixieland Band mare Sugar Britches)  Keith Desormeaux/Kent Desormeaux

The real question mark in this field—how can one be Grade 1-placed, and yet still a maiden after 9 races? That’s this daughter of Curlin’s situation. After running a distant third (5-lengths back) to Angela Renee in last September’s 1-1/16 miles Grade 1 Chandelier, she ran a very competition fifth (only 1-1/2 lengths back) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Subsequently unplaced in the Grade 1 Starlet, she dropped back into maiden company—and lost by 7 lengths! Spelled for 2 months, she came back to race on turf going 1 mile—and again was unplaced! She’s fast, I’ll give her that. Maybe the change of scenery does her good. Major upset chance.

#6 I’m a Chatterbox
(Munnings, out of Lost Soldier mare Chit Chatter)  Larry Jones/Florent Geroux

An emphatic win in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra over Forever Unbridled and Shook Up makes her the favorite here—and rightly so considering how much she loves this track and the two brilliant 5-furlong workouts she’s put in anticipating this start. I still question her overall stamina, particularly moving on to the 9-furlongs Kentucky Oaks, but she’s already defying her breeding stretching out as she has. And Larry Jones is a master with the fillies…

#7 Shook Up
(Tapit, out of Awesome Again mare Sugar Shake)  Steve Asmussen/Robby Albarado

Finally, this daughter of Grade 1 Santa Maria winner Sugar Shake gets a post position off the rail! She finished a distant fifth in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra after weakening late, but she should get better position here. Probably not enough to win…unless it rains. She’s got excellent off-track form.

#8 Tachiello
(Colonel John, out of Alphabet Soup mare Gioiello)  Joe Sharp/Miguel Mena

Another maiden winner over a sloppy track, she’s switching to the main track after 2 turf sprints—an angle with which her trainer Joe Sharp has had great success. She’s also got some nice (and relevant) form against recent Sunland Oaks runner-up Scat Means Go who she defeated in her maiden win last December. Not sure she’s best suited for dirt, but rain may put her in contention for the exotics.


Trifecta box: Forever Unbridled, Danette, I’m a Chatterbox

Longshot flyer: Jugni

Friday, March 20, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The Spiral Stakes

A note about today’s analysis and some food for thought:

A horse race passes through the race favorite, initially identified by each racetrack’s morning line odds-maker. Traditional past performances and track programs present the race in post position order. My race analysis and assessment begins with the race favorite; from there I work through the field…lowest odds to highest odds. I input relative merits into a template that enables me to focus on odds. If the favorite is strong, well-spotted, advantaged in one or more ways, and most likely to win, I look for horses to use underneath in exotic plays. If the favorite appears somewhat vulnerable or false, I move to the next higher odds runner for potential win contenders, and so on until I have my win contenders. Once betting opens, I track public betting odds on my contenders and the field, identifying public “bet downs” and “drift ups”, seeking to use playable overlays and avoid underlays. If interested in obtaining a template, contact me at trkfacts Luck to all.

$550,000 Grade 3 Spiral Stakes
Saturday, Turfway Park, Race 11 at 6:28 p.m. ET
1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track 
Rodney Prescott
Big Family
Albin Jimenez
Gustavo Delgado
Grupo 7C Racing Stable
Wireless Future
Florent Geroux
Another Lemon Drop
Philip Bauer
Rigney Racing LLC
Godolphin Racing LLC, Lessee
Magic of Believing
Shane Laviolette
Turf Stable LLC and
Magdalena Racing
Task Force Glory
Rafael Hernandez
Conquest Stables LLC
Skychai Racing LLC, Charles Kevin
Warner, and Sand Dollar Stable LLC
J.M. Arndt, M.N. McFetridge, D. Preiss,
M. Metanovic and C. Azcarate
Dubai Sky
Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables

 Post 1) (7-2) Royal Son  Prescott/Pletcher

Royal Son, a WinStar Farm colt in the capable of hands of future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, has proven himself a game competitor, willingly battling with rivals. In five career starts he has but one poor effort, that coming over the quirky surface at Tampa Bay in a race where he was behind horses for the first time in his career. He enters the Spiral off what could be interpreted as a visually impressive and decisive win over the course, with the addition of blinkers partially responsible. But, Royal Son was the beneficiary of both a speed favoring Turfway oval and the unpressured trip resulting from failure of favorite The Great War, who bled and is off the Derby trail. This afternoon Royal Son faces early pace pressure to his outside from at least three rivals: (2) Big Family, (3) Watchyourownbobber, and (4)Wireless Future. That does not include new shooter, Conquest Typhoon, breaking today from post 9. We know that Royal Son has grit and determination. He has demonstrated the pedigree and class to put away lesser pace rivals. After doing so today, which he must, will he be able to resist the late challenge of the off-the-pace runners? Unless adding blinkers has truly made Royal Son a new and different horse, a few in here have to run a poor race for him to win. Royal Son owns the field’s best last race speed figure. A near repeat or a slight regression might be good enough to win. But these 3-yo preps are about improvement, and Royal Son has the look of a favorite who might dust these or bust a short odds.  

Post 11)   (4-1) Metaboss  Solis/Bonde

            A May foal giving experience and maturity to rivals, it took this son of Street Boss four tries to break his maiden, all but one of those efforts over turf. In doing so, he demonstrated 1) that he needed more distance, 2) he is somewhat capable of handling dirt, and 3) he is a sustained, back of mid-pack late runner. After breaking his maiden going 9-furlongs over Santa Anita turf on January 4 as the odds-on favorite, it was logical for trainer Jeff Bonde to try him at that same distance in the Grade 3 El Camino over the synthetic Tapeta surface at Golden Gate.
            In the El Camino Real, Metaboss broke eighth among the field of 12 but was only 3 ¾ lengths off the pedestrian opening fraction of 25.29 and half-mile in 49.25. Ahead of Metaboss, three horses challenged each other on the lead, with today’s rival Conquest Typhoon besting and putting them away to emerge with the lead inside the eighth pole. Meanwhile, Metaboss, under jockey Alex Solis, settled comfortably along the rail down the backside before angling out rounding the turn, tipping widest into the stretch. From there, Metaboss exploded, completing the final quarter in 23.30 and final eighth in 11.76. While the early fractions were soft, the 6-furlongs from the half-mile to the mile were run in an honest 1:12.77. The shape of the race, according to Moss Pace Figures, was slow early, average middle, and very fast late.  
            In his three efforts around 2-turns, Metaboss has never been farther than 5-lengths back in a field. Today’s crowded early pace picture suggests the Spiral will be run faster early than both the El Camino Real and the John H. Battaglia, a scenario from which Metaboss will surely benefit. One of two Graded Stakes winners in this field, if able to reproduce anything near his last, Metaboss will be very tough to deny in the race to the wire. Line odds at 4-1 are generous but expect shorter.

Post 9) (5-1) Conquest Typhoon   Smith/Casse

            Canadian-bred Conquest Typhoon was well-regarded from the start, making his career debut as the 2nd choice in a restricted stakes sprint. Following a neck loss in a MSW turf sprint, trainer Casse confidently entered his charge in the Grade 2 Summer stakes going one-mile on turf, where he broke his maiden and earned black type winning as the 3rd choice. Since that victory, Casse has kept him in Stakes Company, finishing 4th in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, winning the Grade 3 Cecil B. Demille at one-mile at Santa Anita, and most recently, 3rd behind today’s rival, Metaboss, in the John H. Battaglia.

            Breaking from post 8 in the El Camino Real and with speed to his inside, Conquest Typhoon was forced to press and take turns setting the pace while kept widest throughout. While the early fractions were not strong, it was contested. Conquest Typhoon eventually emerged to take the lead at the top of the stretch, only to be run down by the fast closing Metaboss and caught very late by Cross the Line, who was victimized to some degree when racing among and behind tiring rivals.

            Conquest Typhoon’s running style is that of a Sustained Presser. He has yet to win gate-to wire, but is proven capable of racing and winning when either on/near the lead or from mid-pack, as he did in winning the Cecil B. Demille. This afternoon he projects to sit a good trip in the clear from a few lengths behind or just off the early pace pack. From there, Conquest Typhoon should get first run on tiring leaders or at the most likely pace survivor, Royal Son. Another at a generous 5-1 morning line; expect this runner in the range of 3-1/7-2 or less.

Post 5) (6-1) Another Lemon Drop  Van Dyke/Bauer

            Another Lemon Drop brings tactical speed to the table: turf or dirt, this runner gains good position. Off poorly from post 1 on debut going long over turf, this colt gained ground to be beaten less than 4-lengths. Favored next out going 9-furlongs over turf, he drew clear in the lane as a tepid 5-2 choice. Switched from turf-to-dirt, Another Lemon Drop finished a “respectable” 3rd in a $75K Optional Claiming/ Allowance race at Churchill Downs behind the talented Dortmund. Next out, trainer Phil Bauer let this son of Lemon Drop Kid race in a cheaper $50 Optional Claiming/Allowance over a sloppy track in a race taken off the turf where he scored decisively over 8 rivals. The Grade 3 LeComte was next, a race where he broke from post 10, was hustled hard early to get to the rail by regular rider Calvin Borel, raced just off the leaders but lost ground in deep stretch to finish 4th beaten 5-lengths. Last out he just missed in 7 ½ -furlong elongated turf sprint.

            Another Lemon Drop’s sire Lemon Drop Kid, though never running on turf, won over $3.2 million in dirt routes, including the Travers, Whitney, Suburban and Woodward stakes. As a son of Kingmambo, offspring of Lemon Drop Kid like Another Lemon Drop have done well on turf, which suggests success on synthetic. On class, however, Another Lemon Drop owns but a maiden win over a soft field that includes today’s rival (7) Magic of Believing, and an Optional Claiming/AllowanceN2L win in the slop. Today he faces the toughest group of his career, needs a top effort to contend for the win, and is an underlay at morning line odds of 6-1, but becomes more interesting and playable at 10-1 or more. 

Post 12) (8-1) Dubai Sky  Lezcano/Mott

            This lightly-raced colt is in the capable hands of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Dubai Sky arrives on a three-race win streak, all over turf, and following a layoff since January 24. Mott will add race-day Lasix for The Spiral, an 11% winning move from this trainer. 

Dubai Sky is a full sibling to multiple Graded Stakes winner Twirling Candy, a $944k earner who raced well over synthetic surfaces. Mott’s win percentage when asking runners entered in Graded Stakes to switch from turf to synthetic is 10-2-1-1, all at Keeneland Race Course. With 3-yos only, he is 3-1-0-0, winning the 2013 Spinster at Keeneland with the very talented Emollient. His lone turf-to synthetic move with a 3-yo colt was a 4th place finish in 2011 with 18-1 Newsdad. Mott does not make this move often; therefore, one might conclude this is not a frivolous move, especially with a fresh horse, one who was rested when in top form.

Dubai Sky might surprise and run to his pedigree this afternoon. However, he is one of several early pace types, forced today to break from the far outside. Jockey Jose Lezcano will have to use him early to secure position among a crush of early pace types to his inside and, unless Dubai Sky proves capable of rating and relaxing comfortably, pressing up-closed to the pace will be a major stumbling block for this runner to be in contention in deep stretch. Was this not a Bill Mott trainee, I doubt linemaker Mike Battaglia would have made Dubai Sky 8-1 on the morning line, an underlay at that price or less.

Post 4) (12-1) Wireless Future  Geroux/Amoss

            Wireless Future, a steadily improving runner in the hands of Tom Amoss, might have the potential to score the upset at long odds. He, too, brings a three-race win streak over turf to the party, but unlike rival Dubai Sky, Wireless Future is race fit and owns a sharp 5-furlong work over the Turfway Park surface, 3rd best of 31 at the distance that morning; smart move by Amoss.

            This colt should have no problem with today’s added distance. The best of three foals from an unraced mare, turf form and stamina come through damsire Theatrical. Additionally, sire Scat Daddy was 6-3-0-1 in dirt routes, winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Wireless Future receives his class test in The Spiral. Failing as the favorite on debut going 7-furlongs at Churchill Downs, he showed marked improvement when switched to turf in his 2nd career start, broke his maiden next out, and then took an Optional Claiming/Allowance N1x. Last out he beat at best a modest field of “non-winner of two races on the turf in 2014-2015.” The place finisher that day failed to win a $30k Claiming Nw2L in his next start.

A front-half stalker, Wireless Future and jockey Geroux must deal from the start with the early foot of (1) Royal Son and rank outsiders (2) Big Family at 30-1 and (3) Watchyourownbobber at 20-1. Geroux’s ability to avoid becoming involved in a pace duel early appears to be the key to this runner’s race and whether or not he might contend for the win. Morning line odds of 12-1 or more seem fair for the inherent risk.

Post 10) (20-1) Firespike  Mena/Maker

            Firespike is one of three runners from trainer Mike Maker. While Firespike’s best surface appears to be turf, he did manage to win over a synthetic track two races back in a non-wagering event. There were no monsters in that field, but it was a relatively competitive event with the place horse finishing 2nd in a turf sprint stakes next out, and the show horse taking an Optional Claiming/Allowance next out. Fourth place finisher Toasting Master set the pace in the Gotham Stakes before tiring to finish 4th beaten 3 ½ lengths by a fast closing El Kabeir.
In the John H. Bataglia Stakes, Firespike was 7-1 second choice behind heavily bet The Great War and ahead of today’s rival Royal Son (9-1). After breaking in and bumping at the start, Firespike was last in the field leaving the gate and forced widest into and around the clubhouse turn, pulled himself into fourth down the backside while still widest behind The Great War. From there, Prado managed to tuck Firespike in a few paths rounding the far turn from where Firespike held position while not hard used in the late stages. Firespike lost all chance at the start, following that event by losing significant lengths racing into the clubhouse turn, and compounding the impact of the poor start racing widest throughout against a loose leader over a synthetic surface that favored speed.

Firespike worked well over the Turfway surface since that race, earning a bullet as best of seven at the distance and besting mate Task Force Glory. Trainer Mike Maker and Jockey Miguel Mena win 20% of routes, and are 10-4-0-0 together in Graded Stakes routes. Most of those are at the Fair Grounds, and Mena gives up a day of rides at Fair Grounds for this mount. While this is a much tougher spot, Firespike may not have won the Battaglia with a clean and clear trip, he merits an excuse for the last. The recent workout and switch to jockey Miguel give Firespike a fair chance to improve at big odds this afternoon.

Post 7) (20-1) Magic of Believing  Laviolette/McPeek

            Oaklawn Park shipper broke his maiden two-back, and then stepped up to repeat in a logical AllowanceNw2L condition. All maidens he defeated remain so; the N2L field was weak as well. Looks very much overmatched in this spot.

Post 8) (30-1) Task Force Glory  Hernandez/Maker

            Task Force Glory, uncoupled stablemate to (3) Watchyourbobber, exits the John H. Battaglia Stakes where he was squeezed between rivals and checked entering the first turn, then saved ground before being passed by  eventual place finisher, Pepper Roani. While Task Force Glory also gets a rider switch, Maker has not given Hernandez as many graded stakes mounts as Miguel Mena. Fourth betting choice in the Battaglia,Task Force Glory, like Firespike meets much tougher this afternoon. He, too, might improve enough to be used in your deep exotic tickets.   

 Post 2) (30-1) Big Family  Jiminez/Delgado

            Despite a placing behind the talented but now sidelined Khozan, Big Family is overmatched and, breaking inside, will be little more than an early pace factor.

Most Likely Win Contenders in order of preference:
(11) Metaboss
(9) Conquest Typhoon
(1) Royal Son

Second Look/Less Likely Long Odds Win Contenders:
(4) Wireless Future
(12) Dubai Sky

(10) Firespike
(5) Another Lemon Drop

(8) Task Force Glory            

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Sunland Derby

by Paul Mazur of ChicagoNow

For the thirteenth straight year, the $800,000 Sunland Derby serves as the centerpiece of the Sunland Park meet and the Sunland Derby Day festivities.  What started as the Winstar Derby for a half million dollars in 2003 gained a G3 rank in 2010 and now is an official Kentucky Derby points qualifying race, with the 50-20-10-5 parsing of points to the top four (fifty to the winner, and so forth).  The first two runnings of this were at a mile and a sixteenth, before a stretchout to nine furlongs in 2005. The best known winner of this race are 2005 victor Thor's Echo, who won the 2006 G1 Breeders' Cup Sprint.  2014 runner-up Midnight Hawk three weeks later was second in the 2014 G3 Illinois Derby. Yet these runners are perhaps trumped in fame by Mine That Bird, who was fourth in the 2009 Sunland Derby before shocking the world in the Derby five weeks afterward.  His efforts made Sunland rechristen one of the local preps to this race in his honor.  Mine That Bird's effort is the best any Sunland Derby finisher has done in the Kentucky Derby, with no in-the-money finisher of this Derby hitting the board in Louisville.

The Sunland Derby also features a gala the night before where Denver Broncos tight end Wes Welker is the keynote speaker.  Welker's tie to horse racing is his ownership of G3 Jaipur winner Undrafted.  In terms of live coverage, Horse Races Now streams Sunland Park each and every racing day.  Also, the track offers a live stream through its website.

Sunland Park -- Race 11 -- G3 Sunland Derby -- One and one-eighth Miles on Dirt -- post time 5:40 MT

Handicapping races can be a matter of opinion.  On a recently compiled Kentucky Derby panel that I vote on, FIRING LINE was voted eighth out of the twelve runners.  I didn't include FIRING LINE on my poll.  On the NTRA Media poll (which I also vote on) he was ninth of ten.  Some see a horse that's been in the same realm as Dortmund - a fashionable choice in future books for the Kentucky Derby.  This space sees things differently. In FIRING LINE's most recent race, the G3 Robert B. Lewis, he ran with Dortmund for most of the intermediate stages before eventual Lewis (and later, San Felipe) winner Dortmund scampered away.  This space sees FIRING LINE as a horse that hung that stagnated, one that couldn't succumb to the high heat of a top shelf Derby prep, and one that will find the nine furlongs of the Sunland Derby a bridge too far.  LORD NELSON is the choice instead as this race for him is put up or shut up time at two turns.  He gets a free pass for bobbling at the break in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club and going into the parking lot on the first turn.  So in his first legitimate two turn race, he meets up with Dortmund in the San Felipe, presses from the rail behind swift fractions, and wilts in the lane.  The pace projects similarly, but Sunland on big days is known to speed up the inside and the surface.  Perhaps LORD NELSON gets a similar trip in the San Felipe, but without a Dortmund in the field LORD NELSON stands a better chance.  WHY TWO was the stretch-out winner last time of the Turf Paradise Derby over in Phoenix.  Sent off as the 3-10 favorite, he won led at every call and didn't disappoint.  A winner second-time out at seven furlongs at Santa Anita, WHY TWO stays away from the SoCal horses and catches a Derby prep that offers a big purse and a good shot of doing damage given Sunland's flow.  The front end could be more crowded this time, but he did come off the pace two back to get his first career win at Santa Anita.  Should the speed duel get fierce - or should all the speed get cautious, TIZNOW R J could be the one to catch.  After chasing and then getting drubbed by International Star in the New Orleans feeders to the Derby, TIZNOW R J tries to ship out in a Plan B effort to grab some points and cash.  He fought on nicely two back in the G3 Lecomte and was a stylish maiden winner earlier in the year.  Catching a field that's much easier than what he faced in the Risen Star, and a forward favoring Sunland surface, are the convincing plus points here.

#2 LORD NELSON (3/1)
#4 WHY TWO (8/1)
#5 TIZNOW R J (5/1)

Longshot: A tendency at stakes festivals is for out-of-town runners to be overbet, whether due to the casual crowd of once-a-year players that come to Sunland or from weekend warriors disenchanted with the same old same old on their home circuit.  This means #3 WHERE'S THE MOON (6/1), while quoted at 6/1, could easily float up in the wagering.  And in a race projected as a two-horse race between FIRING LINE and LORD NELSON, WHERE'S THE MOON could be forgotten.  WHERE'S THE MOON won the local prep to this event, the Mine That Bird (remember him?) Derby and two back graduated over this oval.  A Peter Miller cast-off from Southern California, he lands in the Henry Dominguez barn at Sunland.  Dominguez hits at 28% wins for the meet.  More importantly is that this horse hasn't won on the inside on the Sunland oval, and now draws inside.  That inside draw could be to his benefit on a Sunland oval tilted to inside drawn runners on big days.  Add in a solid trainer, and this may be a local with a chance.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Rebel Stakes

2015 Rebel Stakes - American Pharoah Returns
By Dylan Jarmulowicz,

The Arkansas path to the Kentucky Derby starts on Saturday and Oaklawn Park is the place to be for the running of the Grade II $750,000 Rebel Stakes. This year, the Rebel has a different look than some of the recent past. In past years, there were some interesting long shots, but this race looks on paper to be very form full which should further enhance the chances of likely short priced favorite American Pharoah.

Race 10 – 8.5 Furlongs (1 1/16 miles) Post Time – 7:06pm EDT

Advance Weather: Chance of storms, 60's

#4 AMERICAN PHAROAH (1-2) is making his three year old debut and is going to be very difficult to beat. Coming off of two grade one wins last fall in front running fashion, he looks to pick up right where he left off. The workouts have been impressive and this race does not appear to have much speed. Provided he breaks cleanly, I’d expect him to go right to the front and take the field all the way around.

The horse I’m most interested in other than AMERICAN PHAROAH, is #5 BOLD CONQUEST (8-1). He did not have a great trip in the Southwest Stakes being closer to the grandstand than the inside rail but he was still running all the way to the finish. He finished fourth and was beat by #1 THE TRUTH OR ELSE (4-1) two lengths for second. Double the price for two lengths along with a dreaded trip, is a fairly large digression in price.

Finally, #2 MADEFROMLUCKY (6-1) is a Todd Pletcher-trained shipper from Gulfstream. Pletcher is a tremendous trainer but his horses do not always run as well away from Gulfstream. I think this is going to be a classic case and will leave him off my tickets.
I’ll be playing an ice cold 4/5 exacta

Good Luck!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Welcome Friends to this edition of The Turk and the Little Turk, today featuring the Santa Anita Handicap, or more fondly and widely known as "The Big 'Cap."

Today's handicap is written for The Thorofan and the Handicappers Corner, and we thank the fine folks there for allowing us to share our thoughts on today's race.

 As a handicapper, you don't get to pick the horses that are running.
Like in cards, you read the hand you are dealt, and when you've analyzed your options, you either fold or keep going. I usually reach the fold point right after building a base handicap, my reordering of the horses in a fashion similar to how the morning line odds are produced, except instead of odds I use color and I try to build the layers of horses that will come across the finish line, slotting them into a range of possible finishes.

From there I construct a bet.  I try not to have a preconceived notion about the bet until the handicap.
You can't cover everyone.  That's one of the axioms I try to stick with.  I build exotic handicaps, sometimes singling the top horse, and then I cover Place Show and one or two Exotic Slots.  I make a determination on the expense of the bet and what it could possibly return, and then I make an investment decision. That's the Turk's methodology.

I'd like to tell you some cool cat story of me and my fedora and cigar, looking at copy of the Form, and quickly spitting out winners, but that ain't me, at least not anymore.  I spend hours each weekend focused on one three or four race sequence, sometimes blogging my thoughts on one or all races, sometimes just engrossed in building the Pick 3 or 4.

My kitchen table is my hip spot and coffee instead of bourbon fuels my analytical approach that I spare my readers of. Bottom line:  What works for me, won't work for you, and there are a lot of different ways to pick the horses.  It's my opinion that methodical players with a system do best in this game.  The system doesn't have to have a bunch of funky acronyms and sound like NASA developed it, but it should be a time honed system.  Anyhow, I'll stop rambling about Process and get on with it.

This is an interesting field.  If you pulled Shared Belief it might not be considered a good Grade 3.

After building the base handicap I came away with one of two bet construction ideas:  Single Shared Belief and try to find value in an exacta or Tri, OR find an alternative to Shared Belief and hit a nice take.  The later is more fun and edgy and I wouldn't want to bore my readers with a 3-5 chalk. Let's get after it!

Shared Belief is a beast, no doubt about that.

The gelded son of Candy Ride has won two straight at SA since the mess that was the Breeders' Cup Classic.  He's 9-of-10 lifetime,  4-of-5 on fast dirt, one win at the classic distance on this track, a trainer/jock combo that has won 31 percent of starts at SA in 29 starts. You know what you are getting.  That said, the classic distance should be within his grasp, but not his bred preference.  A 24:73 final 1/4 in the Pacific Classic and a final 25:26 in the BC Classic are OK, the final 1/8 in 11:83 in the San Antonio was pretty nice.


I'm going to skip over the obvious upset candidate in Moreno and focus on Dick Mandella's runner, Catch a Flight (Arg); a lightly raced 5 YO son of Giant Causeway.  7 wins in 12 career starts, jumping up in class from a N1X win in mid February at 1 1/8 at SA.  In contrast his final 1/8th was 12:85 and he won by a game neck.  Mandella and Stevens are 30% together in 33 races at the Great Race Place.  I'm covering him in the Win spot as long as he's at least 10-1 or higher near post time.

If I don't cover Catch a Flight in WIN, I'm covering him in PLACE/SHOW with Imperative and Moreno.    Imperative, a $1.3 MM lifetime earner with 3 wins to his resume in 22 starts, 1 of 9 on fast dirt, 0 for 4 at the distance, 0 of 7 at Santa Anita, and 1 win in last 12 starts.  That's pretty sad and yet I have him pretty high in the base handicap in this field.  Trainer Papaprodromou is 17 percent in the second off a 45-day layoff.  While not a successful winner, he's run over 10 straight G1 or G2 races and he's 6-of-11 in the money.

Moreno, a $1.8 MM earner with three wins in 23 career starts, two of 18 on fast dirt, 0-of-7 at SA, 0 of 6 at the distance, 3 wins in last 20 starts.  Getting the idea?  Off since the Breeders' Cup Classic.  He is speed and he will be at the front.  Does he carry it all the way?  His record doesn't say he will:  he went 26:18 in final 1/4 in Jockey Club Gold Cup, 13:40 in last 1/8 of Woodward, 25:38 in last 1/4 of Suburban.  Get the idea?

 In the next layer back, I have Bronzo (CHI), Hard Aces and Sr. Quisqueyano in the Show/Exotic slot.  The 6 YO Bronzo has 11 career wins in 22 starts, ran a 12:17 final 1/8 in the San Antonio and a 24:65 final 1/4 in the Breeders' Cup Mile.  He;s a good candidate to flip flop in my handicap with Catch a Flight and whichever has the worst odds at Post Time most likely will get covered in Place.

Hard Aces, a 5 YO Hard Spun (how is that even possible?) is 3-of-12 on fast dirt, 5-of-19 lifetime, no runs at the distance and this is first trip to SA.

Sr. Quisqueyano has eight wins in 29 career starts, no wins at distance, and no starts at SA.  Get the idea? Comes in off 20-1 game win in Sunshine Millions Classic.  Huge class jump for this claimer. So what do we do with this? I started by making the best base handicap I could and I'll have faith in it.

With that, I'm tossing Cool Samurai, Diamond Bachelor, Dynamic Sky, Patrioticandproud, You Know I Know and Crimson Giant.  There are some horses that are just as good as the ones I am including, so don't think I have any special sauce:  make your decisions and stick to them. I'm think I'm going exacta only and I'm going to want to keep my investment reasonable as I had a hard time feeling optimistic about the field's chances.

$2 Exacta:  5-12-11 OVER 5-12-10-6-11-13-3=$36

I'll slip in or out of the top spot at post time based on tote board odds and I'll keep my options open. I think you could reasonably drop the 3 horse that drops the bet to $30.  Depending on who wins the bet should at least cover the investment if Shared Belief and Moreno finish 1-2 and it could pay very nicely if value hits the board. Have fun friends!  Turk Out.