Friday, January 23, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Bada Bing looks at the Holy Bull

By Tony Bada Bing, Horse Racing Nation

Once and a while you have to look at a horse race – not from point of view of who’s best, but from the point of view of who is most likely to control the race. This summarizes how I see Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes from Gulfstream Park…East I think.

It’s a full field of 10. This I like and so should you. This means you’re likely to land on a horse of greater than 2-1 odds. I’d actually be surprised if anyone dips below the 2-1 level given how much time off so many of these starters have had and the unknown quality of recent allowance/black list stakes runners hold. What I’m reduced to is a bit of guess, but one I think controls and ultimate wins the Holy Bull.

So let me get right to it. #4 Bluegrass Singer is my top choice and here are a few reasons why:

·         While he’s fast, I don’t think he needs the lead. In fact from the time the gates open to the first quarter pole, I’ll know if Bluegrass Singer can rate comfortable or need the lead. If he can do the later without pressure I’ll be happy.
·         His jockey, Javier Castellano, Eclipse Award winner, enough said. No actually more on that in a minute.
·         Soft spot for his sire Bluegrass Cat, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Travers Stakes, as well as winning the Haskell and should provide some pedigree staying power to ‘Singer.

There’s one of two ways to go with a Holy Bull pace projection. Either three or four horses vie for the early lead and run each other into the ground awaiting someone from off the pace to pounce or most jocks back off the lead not wanting to get into such a speed duel, allowing a single pacesetter to set soft early fractions. Even if you’ve only followed Gulfstream Park for a little while, you know having a horse loose-on-the-lead setting about 24-second quarter mile fractions is dangerous.

Again, I think Bluegrass Singer is most apt to get such an easy lead. If Castellano feels a soft pace setting up, he can squeeze #1 Frosted or #3 High Noon Rider down along the rail. Others that may go for the lead from the outside #9 Dom the Bomb and #8 Upstart are getting class tests similar to Bluegrass Singer with the later probably taking more money in the win pool and the former just not being good enough, traveling outside of Illinois-breds. Also the 1 1/16-mile configuration at Gulfstream gives an edge to inside horses, that can hit the fast approaching turn with more control.

If some jock is willing to push out a sub 23-second quarter than Bluegrass Singer can layoff and the race won’t really be about who is in first, but who’s in second or third with the best trip in front of them. Here Bluegrass Singer could lead a second pack of horses just waiting to pounce on the turn for home.

Look I could be completely off here and I’m not saying to bet the house on Bluegrass Signer, especially with the possibility that a first-time Lasix, Goldolphin-owned entrant like #6 First Down could possibly take them all the way around.

I’m betting you’ll get higher than the 4-1 morning line and a good bet would be to wheel Bluegrass Singer on top of exactas with every other horse and hope for a bomb to finish second. I will include Bluegrass Singer in my Pick 5 bets and would suggest you take a look at the last five races on Saturday, as four are graded stakes and the finale is a $100,000 grass stakes race. Well worth the investment into what could be a sizable Pick 5 payout.


In however you decide to wager, good luck!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: LeComte Stakes Preview


The 2015 Kentucky Derby prep season is upon us and Saturday’s $200K Grade 3 LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds is one of the first steps along the way. Last year's winner Vicar’s In Trouble won the LeComte in impressive fashion and went on to bring up the rear in the Derby. This year’s edition has eleven entries and some intriguing betting possibilities. Here’s a quick look at eight contenders I’m keeping a close eye on:

#1 INTERNATIONAL STAR (8-1) Mike Maker won this race last year with the aforementioned Vicar’s In Trouble and has another live entry with INTERNATIONAL STAR. While the majority of his races were on turf or synthetic tracks, he does have decent dirt form. The rail draw helps his chances and should be in the mix, though he doesn’t appear to be a clear standout at this point. Only using underneath.

#2 TIZNOW R J (5-1) is one for one at the Fair Grounds and comes in off a maiden score at the same 1 mile, 70 yards distance. What’s most noticeable is his early speed running style coupled with the inside draw. With a clean break, TIZNOW R J has a decent chance to be comfortable early as the lone speed and may be hard to run down at the wire.

#3 FOUR LEAF CHIEF (10-1) This Louisiana bred moves up in class, but trying blinkers for the first time should improve his chances. He tends to concede quite a bit of ground early and the blinkers may have him a little closer at first call and in much better position to contend late. This is a potential price play and I foresee the odds drifting upward at post time; worthy of a win bet if the price is right.

#4 WAR STORY (9/2) A two-for-two lifetime winner that’s one-for-one at the track running for a trainer winning at a 44% rate catches the eye. Last race he experienced a little bit of trouble at the break and maintained composure; great sign for a young horse and there’s lots to like here. Appears to be the most likely winner.

#6 SAVOY STOMP (8-1) Not very often you can bet a Todd Pletcher-trained horse in a stakes race at 8-1 so here’s your chance. Mike Smith picks up the mount from Javier Castellano after two sub par performances by SAVOY STOMP. I have mixed feelings given the recent outings, but he gets first time Lasix and you should never overlook Pletcher or Smith in graded stakes races. Keep an eye on the tote with this one.

#7 RUNHAPPY (8-1) After a particularly impressive, and noticeably green, debut at Turfway Park, I’m curious to see what this horse will do with one race under this belt. He stretches out to two turns, goes from synth to dirt, and he may relish the change. With another step forward, this just might be the best bet of the day at 8-1.

#10 ANOTHER LEMON DROP (6-1) Calvin Borel is up on a late runner that’s had two wins in 4 career races: one on turf, the other in the slop. His lone dirt try was solid so he’s shown versatility. With an outside post, I expect Borel to take back early and save ground before making a strong late run. If the track turns up wet, I’d move his chances up considerably.

#11 EAGLE (3-1) is the morning line favorite, but drew poorly with the far outside post. Has yet to run a bad race in 4 starts, but the short odds are a concern and I’m not sure his talent is so great to overcome the poor post. A win in this spot will certainly impress, but I’m not willing to bet on that at 3-1.

Betting Strategy:
From a pace standpoint, #2 TIZNOW R J is attractive and I’ll be using on top, but I’m not sure his early speed will go unchallenged. #4 WAR STORY has yet to lose and looks poised to stalk a slow to moderate pace so I’ll be using as well. The most intriguing play for me is #7 RUNHAPPY; he can be a future star or a total flameout. I’ll play him to win and use on top in the exotics with TIZNOW RJ and WAR STORY and then spread underneath; paying particular attention to #3 FOUR LEAF CHIEF, #10 ANOTHER LEMON DROP, and #11 EAGLE

Selections:
#7 RUNHAPPY (8-1)
#2 TIZNOW R J (5-1)
#4 WAR STORY (9/2)

#3 FOUR LEAF CHIEF (10-1)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: PRETENDERS OR CONTENDERS? - The 15th Sham Stakes Hard to Add Up

by Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper

In the past 14 years, the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park has had a few facelifts calling into question the veracity of the race as a Kentucky Derby prep.  Whether or not it is worthy at the current distance and location on the calendar, the winner will receive 10 points on the Kentucky Derby qualification system while the runner-up earns four, two points goes to the show horse, while fourth place is good for a single point.  The current leader is last week’s Jerome Stakes and Kentucky Jockey Club winner EL KABEIR (20), CARPE DIEM (14) is second on the strength of his Breeders’ Futurity win and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile second, while Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner TEXAS RED (12) checks in third because of his show effort to AMERICAN PHAROAH and today’s Sham Stakes contender CALCULATOR in the Frontrunner.

This year will mark the fourth consecutive year that the Sham Stakes been run around a two turn mile, producing the eventual 2014 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner (SECRET CIRCLE as a 4-year-old, second in 2012 Sham) and back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero GOLDENCENTS (at ages three and four, first in 2013 Sham). In 2011, the race was run over 1 1/16-miles and the winner, TAPIZAR, would win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.  Lately it seems that Santa Anita’s lone January graded stakes for newly turned 3-year-old’s produces speed and precocity over the stamina it takes to win the final Kentucky Derby prep and take home some Triple Crown race hardware.

The three of the last four winners broke their maidens relatively late in their juvenile years:  MIDNIGHT HAWK (Dec. 13, 2013), OUT OF BOUNDS (Dec. 10, 2011) & TAPIZAR (Nov. 27, 2010);  GOLDENCENTS  was the exception breaking his maiden at Del Mar on Sept. 2, 2012.  The 2012 Sham was renewed on March 6, allowing Jan. 15, 2012 maiden winner ALPHIE’S BET, bred in California, to defeat open graded stakes company.

The first 10 runnings came at 1 1/8-miles and yielded a bounty of Grade 1 winners, led by Kentucky Derby winner GIACOMO (third in 2005), Belmont Stakes winner EMPIRE MAKER (second in 2004 Sham, also the Wood Memorial winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up), a Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes hero (COLONEL JOHN, first in 2008 Sham), another Wood Memorial winner (BOB AND JOHN, first in 2006), and finally a Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup champion (BORREGO at age 4, second in 2004 Sham).

The trend suggests horseplayers should steer clear of “Classic” types, those with breeding and styles reminiscent of important Kentucky Derby prep race and Triple Crown race winners gone by.  Three of the last four runnings, all on dirt, were won by the decisive favorites and the average win odds was 3-1, inflated by 10-1 winner OUT OF BOUNDS who caught a dog-tired, 2-5 favorite GOLDENCENTS in deep stretch.  Not only does the sample suggest the race is formful, but favorites do exceptionally well.

Also, two of the last four winners had recent racing (29 and 28 days since raced), while the other two had seven weeks off.  Who will fit the criteria of the sample best or is that really relevant?

Let’s get to the race!

The eight runners come together after racing at five different tracks last time out, with four exiting turf affairs, while another one switches back to dirt from synthetic.  There are not multiple winners entered; add in that maiden CALCULATOR is the 8-5 morning line favorite and this Sham Stakes renewal is begging to be won by a horse that bucks some of the recent trends mentioned earlier.

(7) CALCULATOR was the “steam” horse in the press box for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but the air was let out of the balloon when he was scratched early that morning because of a foot injury.  An illness reportedly kept him from running in the Los Alamitos Futurity.  He owns two Beyer Speed Figures and BRIS speed ratings that are superior to anything in the field, and he lost to two contenders for the Eclipse Awards Champion Juvenile, AMERICAN PHAROAH and TEXAS RED.  Without a win, but two seconds (both in G.1 races) and a thirds from four races, there’s a chance that he’s that kind of teaser horse with solid efforts against superior runners that make him look more unbeatable than he really is.

Are three works off a 23 day gap from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22, even with a bullet 6-furlong move on Jan. 4 at Santa Anita, enough to have the Peter Miller trainee ready? Well, if you’re willing to accept that he’s yet to win a race, the trainer’s 5 percent strike rate in graded stakes and a 6 oercent success rate with returnees from 61-180 days, then the gray son of IN SUMMATION is your horse.  I have seen a lot better looking 8-5 shots; whether he wins or loses, this is the sort of horse to save with if you can find a price horse to outrun his odds, or simply watch the race.

(4) UNBLUNTED returns to dirt after being decisively beaten as the even-money choice in the Gold Rush.  That effort came over the Tapeta Footings at Golden Gate Fields.  He and Joe Talamo were up against it early, forced wide on the first turn and making a tepid bid four wide off the turn.  UNBLUNTED never looked comfortable over that surface and confident trainer Michael “Whitey” McCarthy reportedly has drawn a line through the effort.  UNBLUNTED has no works on synthetic so he can be forgiven for that dull result.  As he was in career start No. 2, a clear maiden win on this track, the son of SHARP HUMOR will be overlooked once again.  For the chance that UNBLUNTED will take to the two turns, his supporters will get all of the 6-1 morning line.

(3) ROCKINATTEN has been purchased privately since his maiden win on Oct. 26 at Gulfstream Park West (formerly Calder Race Course).  Adding blinkers for the first time, the son of HIGH COTTON broke alertly but rated very kindly under Hall of Famer Edgar Prado before drawing away authoritatively.  While his Beyer Speed Figure is relatively low (86), it was a 21-point improvement over his prior best, but BRIS rated him a 92 and second-best in the field.  He, too, must answer the two turn question but with the stamina of the ROCK HARD TEN dam infused in his genes, this one mile trip should be well within his scope.  If he drifts below the 7-2 morning line, his price may be too short to risk finding out whether he handles California speed as well as he did in Florida.

(8) HERO TEN ALL is interesting, pure stamina and size on top crossed with speed on the bottom.  He ran a distant second to Kentucky Derby Future Pool 1 individual entry favorite DORTMUND in his debut at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.  He followed that effort up with a workmanlike maiden breaking win Dec. 7, benefiting from a fast pace that softened up the favorite and eventual runner-up STEAM PLAY.  The latter came back to be defeated in a maiden race at the current stand, calling into question the quality of that effort.  Watching the replay, HERO TEN ALL did not look all that fresh after taking the length of the massive Los Alamitos stretch to win.  At 4-1 morning line, the son of ROCK HARD TEN is a bit short at the chance he can improve for this task.  With escalating speed figures, third race in the form cycle, and a win at the trip there will be plenty of supporters keeping his price low.

(5)ROCK SHANDY has “jump up” written all over him if he can handle the dirt.  He owns a route win on grass, a Grade 3 placing last out at Del Mar to talented turf specialist CONQUEST TYPHOON, and a trainer with a 19 percent strike rate turf/dirt for a positive ROI there are many reasons to like the bay ridgling.  With Belmont Stakes winner LEMON DROP KID over a dam with classy bloodlines through STORM CAT, this breeding hints at a future that is blossoming for the Donegal Racing color bearer.  No race will be too long, but he must be able to find more speed to put his galloping skills to maximum effect on the dirt.  Victor Espinoza has had terrific luck with Peter Miller and the ownership group of late; he and FINNEGAN’S WAKE have captured back-to-back graded stakes here in Southern California.  Trainer and jockey are hitting at 30 percent over the last 60 days on BRIS statistics. At 8-1 or more, he’s a fantastic price chance to take a flyer on.

FINAL CHOICES (win wager fair odds)
(7) CALCULATOR - the top choice, but not worth the risk at 8-5; consider him only over 3-1.
(4) UNBLUNTED - forgiveness in the game is paramount; for that 6-1 is fair.
(3) ROCKINATTEN - well bred Florida invader must transfer form and adapt to two turns; 7-2 or more
(8) HERO TEN ALL - improving form and figures, already won on dirt at this distance; 6-1 or more
(5) ROCK SHANDY - bred to run long, question of dirt today for turf runner; 8-1 or more

These are the five entrants I feel strongest about; I will never talk anyone off a price with improving 3-year-olds. Remember, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER paid $88.60 en route to three consecutive Grade 1 wins including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.  Drop me a line @Amateurcapper on Twitter to discuss the Sham Stakes, among other things.

Good luck to you all, fans of the wonderful world of thoroughbred racing!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

BREEDERS’ CUP FRIDAY

UNTAPABLE VIES WITH GOLDENCENTS FOR MARQUEE STATUS ON DAY 1

Most of the time, having the Breeders’ Cup repeat years at a particular venue could help to predict the second year’s results.  Same distances, same surfaces…but that is only half true when discussing surfaces this year.  Santa Anita Park replaced the dirt course we saw as a very speed-favoring track for half of the action on Breeders’ Cup Friday, 2013, when fast fractions propelled leaders to the winner’s circle.  The weekend prior, early Sprint favorite POINTS OFFTHE BENCH suffered a catastrophic injury in his final ‘Cup workout which put Santa Anita Park on notice to the thoroughbred world.

When longshot HEIR OF STORM posted a huge undercard upset over former G.1 winner TAMARANDO in the Golden State Mile, it seemed closers had no chance.  GOLDENCENTS’ sprint fractions set while winning the Dirt Mile furthered the “speed-favoring” opinion of the main track.  

The condition of the dirt changed enough to produce fair results by the end of the day. BEHOLDER held off CLOSE HATCHES in the Distaff, a credit to the trackman.  

By Saturday, despite SHE’S A TIGER staggering to the wire only to be DQ’d from the win in favor of longshot RIA ANTONIA, closers ruled the day on the dirt culminated by MUCHO MACHO MAN’s win from mid-pack holding off stretch runner WILL TAKE CHARGE and another mid-pack closer DECLARATION OF WAR.

However, the damage to the main track’s reputation was done and there was heavy pressure on Santa Anita Park to make changes to appease horsemen.  Exit the not-so-old dirt and enter El Segundo sand, installed after the winter/spring meeting this year.  While the new dirt surface yields quick times, the track profile seems to promote winners from seemingly anywhere.  The turf course, while fast, has been in fetching condition and has been the constant in Santa Anita Park’s unprecedented run of hosting the Breeders’ Cup; they will have hosted five times in the last seven years, including the last three years.  Only the tight turns could spell trouble for Europeans who raced on undulating courses that, more often than not, resemble a straight line vs. the oval shape they’ll run on this weekend.   

Let’s take a cursory glance at a few runners who caught my eye in Friday’s four Breeders’ Cup races.

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF (read Paul @heylaserbeam analysis here)

It’s been pounded into our heads (and hopefully padded our pockets) how foreign horses, namely European based runners, dominate the turf scene in the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.  In this year’s Juvenile Turf, no less than six foreign reared males were pre-entered.  Interestingly, of the five in the main body of the race two of them were bred in the bluegrass of Kentucky.  The sire of both THE GREAT WAR and WAR ENVOY is WAR FRONT, the hot sire of the last few years.  So in-demand is he that he’s been mated with the incomparable ZENYATTA.  THE GREAT WAR has the Juvenile as first preference; that leaves only five foreign based horses to decipher against the North American contingent.

Juddmonte Farms’ British homebred COMMEMORATIVE is the most compelling of the lot to me.  Despite a relatively paltry race record compared with other entrants in the race, the ZAMIDAR colt has improved in each of his three successive runs.  Last out he annexed the G.3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket in wire-to-wire fashion.  Euros that can show tactical speed and sprint home holding off the well-trained closers are ultra-dangerous running against our usually speed-crazy juveniles on turf.

I expect the pace of the race to be honest, given the presence of need-the-lead types HOOTENANY in post two and LUCK OF THE KITTEN in the four hole.  COMMEMORATIVE can allow those speed types to clear and slot into the second flight, before using the potent stretch kick most European juveniles demonstrate.  It would certainly be wonderful to see the pink and green silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s farm return to the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle.

In racing, especially juveniles on turf, it’s never really as easy as one horse…especially not in the maximum 14 horse field with two on the also-eligible list.  If COMMEMORATIVE pens a forgettable performance, Godolphin Racing’s IMPERIA gives the impression of a classy colt with room to improve.  Second, beaten just a neck at 8-1 in his career debut at Saratoga sans Lasix, the son of Godolphin’s talented, G.1 winning broodmare COCOA BEACH put it all together with an electrifying turn of foot to break maiden with the addition of Lasix last out.  He overcame a dawdling early pace to finish the 1 1/16 miles in a sparkling 1:41 1/5.  Folks, that’s race horse time in any terms.  A kick like IMPERIA’s is hard to find in any horse, let alone ignore, in a 2y.o. that’s North American based or not.

Drawn in the 11 hole, the stretch runner will allow the inside speed to clear while folding in to save as much ground around the turns as possible before unleashing his stretch fury.

BREEDERS’ CUP DIRT MILE

People will be lining up to try and defeat GOLDENCENTS, the defending champ.  Last year he produced a speed display en route to a wire-to-wire win that only a speed-favoring track would promote.  I’ve heard many opinions thinking he’s vulnerable without the speed track he won on last year.  In the 2013 Dirt Mile, he was head-to-head with a fast longshot, BROADWAY EMPIRE, for a ½ mile before vanquishing his foe and distancing the field. 

The Leandro Mora (ie. Team O’Neill) trainee will vie for “marquee” status with UNTAPABLE on Friday, considering the defections of early Juvenile favorite AMERICAN PHARAOH, defending champ BEHOLDER, and two-time Horse of the Year WISE DAN.

His four races this year have been very, very good.  Unfortunately he’s been rewarded with the spoils of victory only once, finishing second the other three times.  The lone win came in the G.2 Pat O’Brien traveling 7 furlongs on Polytrack two races back.  In fact, GOLDENCENTS has earned four triple digit Beyer Speed Figures (BSF’s) including a 110 earned when 2nd to PALACE MALICE in the G.1 Metropolitan Handicap.  Last out he was run down in the G.1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship despite building a 1 ½ lengths lead at the stretch call.  The nose defeat was no disgrace as the winner, RICH TAPESTRY, benefitted from a ground-saving trip against a favorable race shape.  GOLDENCENTS went wide enough that the ground loss alone could be reason to believe the son of INTO MISCHIEF was best in defeat. 

GOLDENCENTS uses his combination of speed and stamina in middle distance races to put himself into the perfect position.  His only disappointment at the trip was a dull run in the G.1 Cigar Mile which can be explained because it came after he was gutted from the BC Mile win.  From there it took six months for him to race again, returning in the Met Mile in late Spring.  Drawn on the rail, a clean start is crucial.  If he breaks as he usually does, expect Rafael Bejarano to put GOLDENCENTS on the lead to force VICAR’S IN TROUBLE, PANTS ON FIRE and FED BIZ to show their hands or deal with another potential wire job from the defending champ. 

While GOLDENCENTS will likely be favored and could prove a reliable short price, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in thoroughbred racing.  Familiar foe FED BIZ from the Bob Baffert barn is in career form and will give a winning account.  He’s authored two triple digit BSF’s in his last three races, plus a 99 when second to GOLDENCENTS two back.  The 5y.o. son of GIANT’S CAUSEWAY nearly spoiled SHARED BELIEF’s unbeaten streak last out, finishing a game second after setting or pressing an honest pace for the 9 furlongs distance.  Cutting back to a mile will put him in a stamina advantage position over sprint-prepped GOLDENCENTS.  If the pace is contested, with GOLDENCENTS giving and accepting heat, expect FED BIZ to have enough late energy to mount a winning bid at him come deep stretch.

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF

The “home team” has a strong entry in G.1 Del Mar Debutante winner SUNSET GLOW.  While the daughter of EXCHANGE RATE has yet to try two turns, she passed a herculean test coming from behind on Polytrack last out.  The normally forwardly placed juvenile filly raced in 5th place early, unfamiliar territory inside and behind horses.  Despite enduring a troubled trip and overcome a forced style change, SUNSET GLOW won the most important race of her young life.  She could have been forgiven if she’d lost, despite her heavy favoritism.  However, SUNSET GLOW showed courage and determination beyond her tender years. 

The result wasn’t surprising to the masses who bet her down to 4-5 favoritism but the obstacles in her way, and the desperately close neck winning margin, had her backers worried.  She was regarded so highly by trainer Wesley Ward that she was shipped to Ascot in Great Britain, accompanying Juvenile Turf contender HOOTENANY.  SUNSET GLOW finished a game second to eventual G.1 winner CURSORY GLANCE as a 7-1 chance.  She gives the indication that underestimating her against the foreign invaders could be perilous.

Of the foreign fillies, OSALIA looks from her past performances like she will be triple tough.  A winner of the Tattersall’s Millions 2y.o. Fillies Trophy last out, to go with a G.3 win and a close-up 5th place finish to the aforementioned CURSORY GLANCE in the G.1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, her Timeform figures look very strong.  SUNSET GLOW defeated her in the G.3 Albany Stakes, her second career start when she was still a maiden.  However, comparing the 6 ¼ lengths defeat that day to winner CURSORY GLANCE to the 1 ¼ lengths defeat to that filly two races back is indicative to me that OSALIA is in a progressive mode.  Look for her to legitimize her already solid credentials.

BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF 

Thanks in large part to the changes Santa Anita made regarding the main track, UNTAPABLE returns to “The Great Race Place” to atone for her nearly-eased 8th place finish in last year’s Juvenile Fillies.  In that race she was forced to avoid trouble when ill-fated SECRET COMPASS broke down near her.  Earlier this year, UNTAPABLE seemingly blossomed into the next RACHEL ALEXANDRA for Steve Asmussen.  The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred earned three consecutive triple digit Beyer Speed Figures, culminating with a win in the G.1 Kentucky Oaks. 

A troubled win in the G.1 Acorn, despite a BSF regression, prompted Asmussen and Winchell to try the boys in the G.1 Haskell Invitational.  However, Monmouth Park and the pace the Haskell field allowed BAYERN to set were conducive only to the winner’s route tour d’force.  Back with her friends, UNTAPABLE overcame a severely speed-favoring Parx dirt surface to post a popular win at 1-2 odds in the G.1 Cotillion.

This year UNTAPABLE gets Lasix and a dirt surface that seemingly rewards speed combined with class.  Her works suggest that a winning run is on the menu.  Drawn nicely in the 10 hole, Rosie Napravnik will get a good look at the inside speed comprised by TIZ MIDNIGHT, IOTAPA, and BELLE GALLANTEY while watching what CLOSE HATCHES will do under Joel Rosario.

Don’t rule out the chances of DON’T TELL SOPHIA.  A winner on dirt from 6 ½ furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, the 6y.o. mare will find the potential race shape favorable to her style.  She’s never finished off the board in 12 starts on a “fast” dirt track, culminated by the come-from-behind win in the G.1 Spinster last out.  Her form this year, and her last win, is a credit to trainer Phillip Sims’ patience and horsemanship rather than CLOSE HATCHES’ low odds failure. 

DON’T TELL SOPHIA has been consistent in 2014, never off the board in five starts including four wins, but she has not proved very fast in terms of BSF’s.  The daughter of CONGAREE does not have a BSF higher than 94 this year but has a 100 from last November to run back to given the favorable race flow.  She and journeyman jockey Joe Rocco, Jr. deserve and will make the most of what could be DON’T TELL SOPHIA’s only Breeders’Cup experience before heading off to the breeding shed.



There you have it; my preview of four Breeders’ Cup Friday races.  What do you think?  Am I off base or do you agree with some of these early ideas?  Send me a tweet @ThoroFan, use #BC14Friday to identify the conversation, or leave a comment below.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

THOROUGHBRED RACING NEEDS WISE DAN TO SHINE

Much like Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association need marquee talent to sell their sports, the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships need the final weekend of preps to be carried by thoroughbreds with “name” recognition to hold serve. Without them, casual sports fans and major sports news outlets will not consider the World Championship weekend worthy of consideration or mention.  

Wise Dan capturing the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile, John Velazquez up.

Reigning two-time Horse of the Year WISE DAN is the equine version of Derek Jeter, Jim Brown, and Michael Jordan…once-in-a-generation athletes that give gravitas to their respective sports.

Wise Dan and John Velazquez.

A winner of a remarkable 22 races in a 30 race career, including a near-perfect 14 of 15 starts on the turf, seven year old gelding WISE DAN is a throwback.  He’s the sort of race horse that deserves the accolades afforded great geldings such as SEABISCUIT and FOREGO during the salad days of the sport.  He’s shown himself beatable on rare occasions, only to recover winning form in brilliant fashion leaving calloused horseplayers smiling in respect as they tear up tickets that were fashioned to defeat him.

Wise Dan winning the 2013 BC Mile.

Adding to his lore is WISE DAN’s recovery from at least career threatening, possibly near-fatal, colic surgery earlier this year.  For a lesser horse, surviving to live out life frolicking on a farm would be considered success.  WISE DAN will not enjoy dates with well bred broodmares when he runs his final race.  Is it folly to think that Morton Fink’s pride and joy senses his legend will be his accomplishes on the track?  Perhaps one day, next to the term “race horse” there will be a picture of WISE DAN.

Wise Dan in 2013, Jose Lezcano fills in for injured John Velazquez.

‘DAN didn’t just acquit himself well in his return to the races, he did what he usually does…win.  Under the patient and skillful guidance of Charles Lopresti, WISE DAN overcame the post-surgical effects to capture the Grade II Bernard Baruch at historic Saratoga in upstate New York on August 30.  The way he carried jockey John Velazquez into the breach of competition, then dug deep to fend off OPTIMIZER, was remarkable.  His vanquished foe received a 11 pound weight break but was defeated by the champion in a time just .17 seconds off the track record.  The result left the thoroughbred racing industry agog.  If ever WISE DAN would have been forgiven for a loss, it was under those challenging circumstances. 

There are select horses we recall in a lifetime for remarkable accomplishments.  Often it’s after-the-fact, because these true champions make possible what’s unfathomable for others.  They aren’t remembered because they offered tremendous value and windfall payoffs.  WISE DAN makes the cost of admission, inflated beer prices, and the losing wagers look like value.



Try to beat him if you feel there’s a valuable alternative…it’s what the horse racing is about.  If he defeats you, again, smile and try to enjoy having watched a true champion.

Friday, July 18, 2014

ThoroFan's Saratoga Diaries - July 19, 2014





Musings
The Wit and Wisdom of Howie Pixum:

Race track legend, Howie Pixum, shares his wit and wisdom on a variety of Saratoga and race track topics.