Thursday, March 5, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: On the Road to the Kentucky Oaks - Honeybee S.

By Valerie Grash, Foolish Pleasure

With no Larry Jones or Todd Pletcher trainees entered, something’s amiss in this year’s Honeybee. Oh, and the fact that trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Willis Horton have sportingly decided to send defending Eclipse champion juvenile filly Take Charge Brandi against the boys in next weekend’s Grade 2 Rebel. Good for them! However, that leaves us with a relatively wide-open race and plenty of contenders. Let’s break down the field by post position:

#1 Desert Valley
(Desert Party, out of Capote mare Atlas Valley) Karl Broberg/Scott Spieth

A maiden claiming winner last out, there’s just too many variables—a new trainer, a new jockey, zero previous success at a route distance, and first time over this track. Pass.

#2 Oceanwave
(Harlan’s Holiday, out of Tapit mare Tamboz) Wayne Catalano/Shaun Bridgmohan

Extremely well-bred, this filly’s dam is a full-sister to BC Dirt Mile winner Tapizar. She’ll be tested beyond 7 furlongs for the first time, but her workouts are strong and it’s hard to ignore a top jockey and a top trainer. Love the late speed, although traffic may be a problem breaking from an inside post.

#3 Super Saks
(Sky Mesa, out of Unbridled’s Song mare Broadway Debut)  D. Wayne Lukas/Terry Thompson

You gotta love D. Wayne’s perseverance! This filly’s form last year makes her look like a real head case, yet she didn’t embarrass herself against tougher first-out this year in the Dixie Belle, and then she cruised to an 11-length maiden win last out. Since then, he’s worked her long, once going a mile and twice at 5-furlongs, including a sharp bullet work most recently. She’s a worthy longshot flyer play.

#4 Bootsy’s Girl
(Summer Bird, out of Forest Camp mare Poplar Girl)  Kellyn Gorder/Channing Hill

She comes out of the same race as Pangburn (see below), and was closing nearly as well. Plus, she’s already won at this distance. Beautiful stamina pedigree with her third dam a Grade 2 runner-up at 12 furlongs, this filly could very well upset this race.

#5 Pangburn
(Congrats, out of Yes It’s True mare It’s True Love)  Ken McPeek/Jesus Castanon

Next to Sarah Sis’ brilliant late-close against Take Charge Brandi last out, this filly put on probably the second-most impressive finish, barreling from dead-last around the final turn to win emphatically over this 1-1/16 miles distance over this track. Hot trainer paired with a veteran top choice.

#6 Indian Annie
(Indian Charlie, out of Silver Deputy mare Grosse Pointe Anne)  Steve Asmussen /Ricardo Santana, Jr.

The one thing going for this filly is her breeding—her dam is a half-sister to Eclipse champion juvenile male Uncle Mo. Other than that, her last effort was disappointing, fading to finish 8 lengths behind Take Charge Brandi and Sarah Sis in the Martha Washington. Not convinced she reverses form here.

#7 Purr
(Bluegrass Cat, out of Hussonet mare French Kiss)  Gary Hartlage/Joe Johnson

A maiden winner (finally!) after making six starts, this homebred filly’s dam is a half-sister to previous Honeybee winner On Fire Baby. It’s a class, not stamina, issue that’s the question mark about her—she ran poorly against some very good company last year. Another issue: she hasn’t run that fast. After taking her off Lasix for the first time, she broke her maiden. A sign of turning a corner?

#8 Sarah Sis
(Sharp Humor, out of Gilded Time mare Emerald Gal)  Ingrid Mason/Julio Felix

It’s hard to ignore that impressive late-closing finish in the Martha Washington, coming within a head of defeating Eclipse champion Take Charge Brandi. Her back form is strong as well, having defeated recent Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra runner-up Lovely Maria in an allowance race at Keeneland last fall. Third-up off a break, she should be ready to fire.

#9 Promise Me Silver
(Silver City, out of Macho Uno mare Uno Mas Promesa)  Bret Calhoun/MC Berry

Undefeated in six starts (three of those restricted to Texas state-bred company), this filly has never raced beyond 7 furlongs and she just beat Sarah Sis by a neck in the Dixie Belle. Even with a win over this track, the distance combined with the far outside post position does her in.


Win: Pangburn
Exotics: Bootsy’s Girl, Sarah Sis, Oceanwave

Longshot flyer(s): Purr, Super Saks

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Swale S.

By Reinier Macatangay, Lady and The Track

Perhaps a sign the connections intend to skip the Kentucky Derby, Daredevil kicks off his 2015 campaign in the G2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The race is run at seven furlongs on Saturday and offers zero Derby qualifying points.

Of course, Daredevil started off his career last fall with two impressive one-turn victories at Belmont Park, which means seven furlongs fits within his wheelhouse. The second win came back in October, as Daredevil defeated Derby contender Upstart at one mile in the
G1 Champagne. Recently, Upstart has taken a lot of criticism from handicappers for finishing slowly in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, but nonetheless remains a Derby contender.

In Daredevil’s third start, the two-turn
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he finished 11th by 26 lengths after a wide trip. But, besides the wide trip, Daredevil faced other new factors including a dry track and a longer distance. The result failed to inspire confidence in terms of longer distance potential, but he may deserve another shot at a two-turn route stakes.

For now, he comes back in a sprint and has a great shot. Coming off a layoff proves difficult for most horses. Trainer Todd Pletcher sometimes appears invincible at Gulfstream though. Even when his horses lose, they find a way to win (ex. Itsaknockout last weekend). In addition, playing against any horse that Javier Castellano rides these days seems like a tough proposition, as he normally rides with good strategy. Handicappers must seriously consider Daredevil in their Swale tickets. 

For an alternative with some value, try Souper Colossal, a War Front colt trained by Edward Plesa and with Joel Rosario ready to take the mount. Yes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile running line looks ugly on paper, with the horse fading and losing by 12 lengths after contesting the hot pace. But, the pace was hot and Texas Red benefited from an absolute dream setup while the front pack staggered home. Notice Carpe Diem finished second after lingering near the back too.

Souper Colossal never lost any other race, winning three races at Monmouth up to one mile and his return race after the Breeders’ Cup, the
Texas Glitter at five furlongs on Gulfstream turf this month. The low speed figures from those Monmouth wins are understandable, as young two-year-olds tend to improve the following year. Also, in that last win he sat two lengths off the pace early on. This colt gives the impression of a versatile type capable of firing through different scenarios.

The remaining challengers with a legitimate shot are Senor Grits, Ready for Rye, Grand Bili and X Y Jet (basically, every horse except Twotwentyfive A).

Senor Grits’ class feels a bit questionable. With his closing style, keep him underneath in tickets. Use Ready for Rye in second or third slots as well, as this one ran second against Carpe Diem and Barbados, and overall just feels like a talented horse that tends to come up short. His trainer Tom Albertrani does not exactly win many races at Gulfstream Park either.

Grand Bili just won a maiden race. His ceiling is unknown at the moment.

X Y Jet ran great against Barbados last time too in the
on this racetrack. He faces a tough pace scenario here, as Daredevil and Souper Colossal possess early speed, and smart enough jockeys to not let any horse slip away uncontested ride them.


Use Daredevil or Souper Colossal on top in horizontal and vertical wagers.

Consider for underneath purposes in exotics Senor Grits, Ready for Rye, Grand Bili and X Y Jet.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The Risen Star

Risen Star Stakes Preview, by Steve Munday

Saturday’s $400K Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds is part of a quality 12 race card chock full of handicapping challenges and betting opportunities. Held at the same 1 and 1/16 mile distance as the LeComte Stakes run four weeks ago, the Risen Star gives us another look at four returning contestants from that race plus six new entrants. Here’s a brief review of the field:

#1 ST. JOE BAY (12-1) Wasn’t quite good enough to win at this level out west racing at Del Mar and Santa Anita so Peter Miller ships east in hopes of collecting some Derby points. Trip reports reflect problems coming out of the starting gate, but a clean break from his rail draw could offer significant improvement. For what its worth, is lone win in six tries came in wire-to-wire fashion against maiden claimers.

#2 TIZNOW R J (5-1) Déjà vu – gets same post draw and same morning line odds as in the LeComte. Ran credibly well in that one and never off the board in four starts so can’t dismiss and can’t leave out of the trifecta.

#3 BLUFF (12-1) Seems to seriously turned a corner in maiden win on 22 January, so what changed? It may be as easy to explain as finally getting a good trip after having rough rides and getting hung out wide in his previous starts. Drawn well in the three post and figures a prime candidate to get overlooked at the windows and out run his odds. Using the underneath and watching the tote for a judicious win play if the odds get out of hand.

#4 J S BACH (5-1) Pletcher’s entry in the LeComte finished off the board so now he brings another runner coming off a flashy maiden score at Gulfstream. Don’t know how good this horse is but have to respect. Pace scenario puts him on or near the front and could wind up being the controlling speed. Pletcher’s entries usually get lots of attention based on his reputation and they tend to get over bet. Tough call at what may be low post time odds. [UPDATE: SCRATCHED]

#5 IMPERIA (7/2) The slight morning live favorite just missed winning the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. That was his first try on dirt after starting his career on turf. There’s clearly tons of talent here and you get veteran Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith riding. Godolphin may have a serious Derby contender in IMPERIA and he’s my pick to see the wire first.

#6 WAR STORY (5-1) Perhaps compromised by a poor start in the LeComte and still did not totally disappoint finishing 2 and a half-lengths behind the winner to hold second. However, now he faces a slightly deeper and tougher field and loses jockey James Graham for Kent Desormeaux—not positive signs to say the least.

#7 HERO OF HUMOR (30-1) You can’t win unless you run, but the 30-1 odds still seem like a massive underlay. Went off at 137-1 in the LeComte and led briefly, but was 8 lengths back when the winner hit the wire. He is coming a win in a 5-horse field of optional claimers, but look to have a small chance at a big price.

#8 KEEN ICE (8-1) Drops in class from past three races against G2 and G1 company and bested TIZNOW R J in his maiden win September at Churchill Downs. This might be the right level for him at this point in time and picks up James Graham who ditched WAR STORY for this mount. Not sold that he can beat IMPERIA on the square, but not leaving him off the top of the exacta either.

#9 BIG BIG EASY (12-1) Another entry for Steve Asmussen comes after getting beaten handily as the favorite in an ungraded stakes race at Delta Downs. These horses are what some call “in-and-outers” – one solid race followed by one complete dud. If the pattern holds he’s due for a solid effort at double-digit odds so don’t say I didn’t tell you.

#10 INTERNATIONAL STAR (9/2) won the LeComte as a mild upset at 9-1 odds with a rallying effort while starting on the rail. Now he starts at the opposite end on the far outside and should go off at roughly half those odds. This colt is a trier and based on the workouts looks primed to fire again Saturday; however, the serious value he offered four weeks ago is gone.

Betting Strategy:
Class standout and most likely winner is IMPERIA, but that doesn’t mean there’s not money to be made. I intend to play KEEN ICE on top along with IMPERIA in the exotics and use BLUFF, TIZNOW R J, INTERNATIONAL STAR, J S BACH, and what the heck, even BIG BIG EASY underneath in the trifecta.

#5 IMPERIA (7/2)
#8 KEEN ICE (8-1)
#3 BLUFF (12-1)
#2 TIZNOW R J (5-1)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The Fountain of Youth

By Tony Bada Bing, Horse Racing Nation

Whether fact or legend, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon will be forever attached to the myth that he went looking for, but never found the age-reversing waters of the Fountain of Youth. Historical accounts are spotty at best and de Leon died at the ripe old age of 47 having never written about such an expedition. Of greater importance is our interest in the race named for his so-called trip that brings together eight entrants that their human connections hope will propel them further along on the Kentucky Derby trail and into Thoroughbred horse racing immortality.

In its first 66 runnings, five Fountain of Youth winners went onto win the ultimate American horseracing prize on the first Saturday in May. The most recent was the 2013 winner, Orb. While not the most fertile part of the Kentucky Derby trail, a pathway nonetheless. So while I try to get us to the winner’s circle together, I’ll also put a brief spin on each horse’s Derby chances.

#1 Juan and Bina – has come up woefully short in his last two stakes tries, but picks up Eclipse Award winning rider, Javier Castellano. Most likely to finish fourth and as an offspring of Indian Charlie is unlikely to excel beyond 9 furlongs, if he can even win at this distance.

#2 Bluegrass Singer – readers of this column may remember this was my Holy Bull pick that carved out relatively moderate opening fractions then tired when the real running started. Surprised to see Castellano come off. Paco Lopez will again put him on the lead, but I don’t expect too much and see him returning to races better suited to his talents: six furlongs to a mile.

#3 Frammento – has disappointed since his maiden Keenland win back in October. I see Zito giving him this last shot before returning him to allowance company were he may appreciate a class break.

#4 Gorgeous Bird – has the look of a Derby contender with solid bloodlines, both equine and human to back him up. The deceased sire Unbridled’s Song has produced a string of stakes winners including the third place Kentucky Derby finisher, Eight Belles, multiple grade one winner, Will Take Charge, champion sprinter Midshipman and a similar fast improving colt, Dunkirk, who placed second in 2009 Belmont Stakes. His granddame, Bird Town, holds the Kentucky Oaks stakes record. His owner, socialite and philanthropist, Marylou Whitney turned 90 this year and yes, she is from the family the prominent Whitney Stakes is named after. By the way he’s my choice to win after showing continued and steady improvement through his brief three-race, two-win career.

#5 Itsaknockout – this Starlight runner showed an incredible turn of foot and rapid progression at this time of year that must be noted, especially coming from Todd Pletcher’s barn. While I’d usually worry about regression with such a jump in speed figures, Pletcher, as usually, has given this runner plenty of rest. Must respect, but will take lots of money. I’m unsure of his Derby status given his sprinter’s bloodlines on the dam side and Gulfstream often favors sprinters, so even with a Fountain of Youth win I would remain skeptical.

#6 Frosted – the Grade II Remsen runner up back in November, he showed some promise first time out as a three-year-old finishing second in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park four weeks ago. He’s worth a second look here, as he may creep up to fourth betting choice. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin puts blinkers on for the first time and this son of Tapit has worked fast leading up this race. I see him pressing the pace and taking over the lead coming off the backside. Will he win? I see more of a second or third place finisher, but I believe the price will be right to place a win bet. Equipment changes are not good signs on the road to the Derby, but he may end up a contender.

#7 Upstart – stamped himself an early Kentucky Derby threat by winning his initial race as a three-year-old in style when he ran away from his Holy Bull competition by 5 ½ lengths. With a Fountain of Youth win, he’ll be talked about with the top three to five Derby contenders. I think he’s got a serious shot to win and a deserving favorite. He must be included in wagers.

#8 Danny Boy – seems to be a Derby-fever type of horse with just one win and runner up finish on turf. His lone dirt race was a fourth place finish in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes. Really don’t know what to make of him, but I doubt both his Fountain of Youth and Derby credentials until proven otherwise.

This is not ideal betting race as four starters here will likely be in the 6-5 to 4-1 range, so you’ve got to make a decision and possibly keep your bets to one or two large ones. My advice is to key just three horses into an exacta wager. How about $25 exacta wheel 4 on top with 6 and 7 underneath? This is a $50 wager and you’d have to dismiss Itsaknockout and take a horse that’s never been two turns to win, thus a gamble. Good luck, however you wager!

Handicapper' Corner: “On the Road to the Kentucky Oaks: The Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes”

By Valerie Grash, Foolish Pleasure

The Fair Grounds has been a proven testing ground for Kentucky Oaks winners over the years, including last year’s champion 3-year-old filly Untapable. This year’s contest looks to provide us with several serious contenders, so let’s break down the field by post position:

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

An impressive maiden winner at this distance over a muddy track, this daughter of Grade 1 Santa Maria winner Sugar Shake looked rank in her last start, jammed up against the rail in third for most of the early going and then just unable to catch persistent wire-to-wire winner Lovely Maria in the stretch. Not sure the rail post position is good for her, especially in such a large field with plenty of early speed. Veteran jockey Robby Albarado will have to stake out a good trip in order for this Triple Crown nominee to succeed.

#2 White Clover
(Exchange Rate, out of Thirty Six Red mare Red Mischief)  Larry Jones/ Jose Riquelme

Perhaps the least regarded of trainer Larry Jones’ trio of entrants, her breeding may not appear suited for dirt at first glance, but look a little closer—she’s a full-sister to 2006 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Ermine, a Grade 1-winning filly that later ran second behind Sugar Shake in the aforementioned Grade 1 Santa Maria. The filly that defeated her in the Kentucky Oaks? Forever Unbridled’s dam Lemons Forever. Oh, what an incestuous web! In her first start, White Clover finished well-back of trainer Todd Pletcher’s Enchantress (who starts in Saturday’s Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream) at Keeneland. She came back to easily win going 5 1/2-furlongs in an off-turf maiden at Fair Grounds in late December. She enters this off an out-of-place finish in a turf sprint—can she stretch out to a route distance? Her breeding suggests so, but this will be a serious class test and both of Jones’ first-call jocks have taken rides on his other two entrants. Veteran local rider Jose Riquelme takes the reins; he’ll also be riding listed Louisiana Stakes victor Hard Aces for Jones again in the Grade 3 Mineshaft.

#3 Pleasant Tales
(Tale of Ekati, out of Awesome Again mare S’Avall)  Dallas Stewart/Forest Boyce

It may have taken her five attempts, but this filly finally broken her maiden going this distance and over this track (albeit a sloppy one). Out of Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 1 Cigar Mile victor Tale of Ekati’s first crop of foals, we have yet to see how his progeny will do as 3-year-olds, but there’s no question of this filly’s damside quality. Her second dam Pleasant Home captured the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with authority, while her unraced third dam is a half-sister to Hall of Fame and Triple Tiara winner Sky Beauty—and a half-sister to Tale of Ekati’s dam Silence Beauty. Again, talk about incestuous relationships! However, the real problem with Pleasant Tales is both of her best efforts have come over wet tracks, while her fast dirt track efforts have been slow.

#4 West Coast Belle
(Tapit, out of Unbridled’s Song mare Splendid Solution)  Wayne Catalano/Shaun Bridgmohan

Undefeated in three juvenile starts including the 1-1/16 miles Grade 2 Golden Rod, this Tapit daughter disappointed in her season opener, finishing fourth in the listed Silverbulletday. Yes, even under the best of circumstances, she may not have caught the 8-length winner I’m a Chatterbox that day, but she did finish competitively (within a half length of runner-up Forever Unbridled) after being impeded when making her stretch run. Her connections have every right to expect a big race from her after two sharp workouts.

#5 Lovely Maria
(Majesticperfection, out of Thunder Gulch mare Thundercup)  Larry Jones/Kerwin Clark

A motivated allowance winner over this distance against Shook Up last out, she posted a razor-sharp 5-furlong bullet-workout in advance of this start, but she’ll also be in against a whole lot tougher than she’s ever faced before. Good advice: never count out a Larry Jones-trained filly.

#6 Angela Renee
(Bernardini, out of Deputy Minister mare Pilfer)  Todd Pletcher/Rafael Bejarano

The sole Todd Pletcher entry, this 1 1/16 miles Grade 1-winning full-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve makes her 3-year-old debut after ending her juvenile campaign in disappointing fashion. The speed-biased Santa Anita dirt didn’t serve her well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies where, as the favorite, she finished 10th of 12 starters (13 lengths back of winner Take Charge Brandi). She followed that up with a distant third-place finish (12 lengths back) in the 1 1/8 miles Grade 2 Demoiselle. Regular rider John Velazquez is in Florida to ride Enchantress in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, so Angela Renee will be reunited with Rafael Bejarano who rode her to victory in the Grade 1 Chandelier. A key equipment change to also note: the blinkers come off which may allow Bejarano to settle her just off the pace early.

#7 Freudie Anne
(Freud, out of Toccet  mare Lake Toccet)  Eddie Kenneally/Mike Smith

The field’s sole New York-bred, this will be her first start outside of state-bred company—not to mention her first start of 2015. Such a class jump is definitely a challenge for this modestly-bred miss who began her career on turf. On the positive side: she’s already won at the distance, posting the best Brisnet speed figure among today’s entrants. She also has had sharp workouts at Palm Meadows in advance of this start and, perhaps most impressively, she gains the services of top jock Mike Smith who’s in town to ride Imperia in the Grade 2 Risen Star.

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

If they awarded victories solely on breeding, this filly wins hands-down. The daughter of a Kentucky Oaks winner, not to mention a full-sister to last year’s third-place Oaks finisher Unbridled Forever, this Triple Crown-nominated filly should only get better the longer the distance. Like West Coast Belle, she was no threat to I’m a Chatterbox in the listed Silverbulletday, but look for her to once again being competitive late.

#9 Harbour Island
(My Pal Charlie, out of Vicar mare Vibrant)  Al Stall, Jr./Miguel Mena

A half-sister to Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner Vicar’s in Trouble, this filly will not only be making her stakes debut, but she will also be stepping out beyond six furlongs for the first time. Those are, obviously, huge question marks. So too is whether she’s speedy enough as her three efforts thus far haven’t demonstrated much.

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

Out of the first foal crop of multiple Grade 1-placed sprinter Munnings, nothing in this filly’s breeding suggests she a viable Kentucky Oaks contender. A top sprinter or middle distance runner at best, so look for her later this summer in the Grade 1 Test or even Grade 1 Acorn. Can she win here? All things are possible, but it’s more likely that, off her big first-up win for new trainer Jones, she bounces. Then again, maybe not. She’s posted two strong 5-furlong workouts in advance of this and maybe be able to once again turn the tables on West Coast Belle who solidly defeated her in last year’s Grade 2 Golden Rod.


Winner: West Coast Belle
Exotics: Forever Unbridled, Angela Renee, Lovely Maria, I’m a Chatterbox

Longshot flyer: White Clover

Friday, February 13, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The El Camino Real Derby

By Rob Fundter, aka. Amateurcapper.

The El Camino Real Derby began in 1982 and has produced multiple Triple Crown race winners (SNOW CHIEF, TABASCO CAT, and TANKS BRIGADE) as well as a Derby runner-up (CAVONNIER).  However, that trend has fallen on hard times partly due to the California mandate that saw Golden Gate Fields install Michael Dickinson’s Tapeta Footings for the main track.

Of all the synthetic surfaces, Tapeta seems to be the most consistent.  Golden Gate Fields is keeping SHARED BELIEF, current leader of the older horse division, happy and healthy.  I believe the El Camino Real will be won from off the pace, despite the relative lack of pace.  Local knowledge of the track, by trainer and jockey, could prove to be the difference in what is a challenging race to decipher.  Seven of the 10 entrants are coming in off wins, from four different tracks, over turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces.

Let’s break down the field.

The small time, Northern California based Reina Gonzalez barn claimed the son of BIG BROWN out of his last start at Santa Anita Park, a maiden claimer in which he finished 3rd.  That makes DONJI a maiden, vs. winners, in a graded stakes for Kentucky Derby points.  Of all the places to make the first start off the claim…  Well, he is a son of a Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner who got on the radar with a devastating turf win as a juvenile.  That said, he’s not one to spend much time considering.

Dale Romans sends the Team Valor International runner to Golden Gate Fields from Gulfstream Park.  I believe that the owner is probably more responsible for the switch to try a synthetic track prep off the late-running turf route win in Florida, his first effort in the U.S.  I can’t argue with them, considering they’ve scored with similar tactics with Kentucky Derby winner ANIMAL KINGDOM. Corey Lanerie, the colt’s rider from the last out win, is scheduled to make the trip which adds to his appeal.  Making the second start of this form cycle, the son of INDIAN CHARLIE is a contender for the win.

A recent maiden winner routing on Santa Anita turf, the Jeff Bonde trainee makes his fifth start in the form cycle.  While his form lines are appealing, especially the 2nd to next-out Eddie Logan Stakes winner BOLO two back before his win last out, there is a very real possibility he could regress in his first synthetic track start.  Winning jockey Rafael Bejarano is willing to concede the mount to Alex Solis, which suggests that the son of STREET BOSS isn’t quite worthy of this prime time opportunity.

Doug O’Neill sends the son of DUKE OF MARMALADE to the Bay Area off an allowance/optional claiming win at 2-1 vs. seven others on the Santa Anita turf.  Drayden Van Dyke is enticed to find out if the chestnut colt is his ticket to the Kentucky Derby trail. 

The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee won the California Derby with a middle move that he sustained to hold off today’s foe SOUL DRIVER. 
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(Skip to the 7:00 mark for the load/running of the race)
Like METABOSS, the son of LINE OF DAVID is making his fifth start of the form cycle.  While he should be considered the top contender off the local stakes win, on the Tapeta surface, at just a ½ furlong shorter trip, he may be overlooked because Russell Baze scales one of the other two Hollendorfer trainees (STAND AND SALUTE).  Always well supported  at the windows, it should not be lost on you that CROSS THE LINE’s two wins have been around two turns.

He broke maiden last out after being relocated from SoCal to Golden Gate fields, under Russell Baze at the trip and at the distance.  The son of CONGRATS is making his second start of the form cycle, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him improve enough to be competitive with these guys.  Even though winning jockey Baze bails for another Hollendorfer, STAND AND SALUTE, jockey Ricardo Gonzalez has been very live with the Hall of Fame conditioner (34% wins & 69% in-the-money).

Last out in the California Derby he couldn’t catch CROSS THE LINE.  Jeff Mullins ships him back to Golden Gate Fields in hopes the son of STREET BOSS can work out a better trip to turn the tables on the winner.  However, there are more foils entered today and it’s entirely possible that he’ll need some kind of break to regain his winning form.  It is also noteworthy that Mullins tabs local jockey Dennis Carr for this return to the Bay Area; was Tyler Baze unable to leave business in SoCal for him?

The last of the three Hollendorfer trainees was two lengths from two consecutive stakes wins when a wide bid cost him more ground than he lost by.  This will be his third start since taking the whole month of November off, an angle that is widely considered effective in producing a best effort.  Adding to the appeal is that the son of SAINT ANDDAN basically paired his BRIS speed figures (87, 86), giving him the foundation to break through to a new top.  All systems “go” as kingpin Russell Baze attempts to maximize his stretch run.

The Conquest Stables’ son of STORMY ATLANTIC figures to fire his best shot off the bench.  However, there are two bid/fade efforts on synthetics for the Mark Casse trainee to consider before jumping “all in” on him for the win.  The presence of Mike Smith, aboard for his G.III Cecil B Demille win on the Del Mar turf, can only be construed as a positive for his many supporters.  The likely favorite could be overplayed relative to his win potential off the bench.

The California Cup Derby hero at 11-1, in a photo, takes the requisite step up in class. 

However, this will be his first effort on Tapeta and he drew the disadvantageous far outside draw in a field of 10.  Kent Desormeaux will need to call on all his skill to work out a good trip…but that may not be good enough.  Had this race come at Santa Anita, with the field as is assembled, I’d include the Bob Hess, Jr. trainee in my selections.

With the absence of a “dyed-in-the-wool” front runner, the pace of this race figures to be slower than normal early with a strong late kick.  Horses who’ve succeeded with such a style, along with turf runners, could benefit from that sort of race shape. 

Look for MISCHIEF CLEM to press DONJI through tepid fractions to the ½ mile pole.  The field will rev up going into the far turn, forcing the leaders to move early to maintain position.  As the field enters the stretch, ‘CLEM will attempt to separate but will eventually succumb to the Tapeta surface and the stretch runners.  My selections in order of preference are:


As always, check early results on the card for any presence of style bias…IF it seems speed is holding well, CONQUEST TYPHOON should be considered top choice over STAND AND SALUTE, while MISCHIEF CLEM should be given stronger consideration to hit the board.

Good luck and enjoy the Kentucky Derby prep trail!!!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: The Donn Handicap

Lea winning the Commonwealth G3- Reed Palmer Photography
Welcome friends to the Turk and the Little Turk.  I'd like to start by thanking the good folks at The ThoroFan for allowing this internet handicapper to write for the Handicapper's Corner this weekend for the Donn Handicap, a Grade 1, $500,000 purse race that for me, and most handicappers, is the first truly special race of the new race season for colts, fillies, horses and mares  4-years-old and up.

 In a ten horse field you might be able to make a case for six of the horses here to win the race, some of them at very good odds of 6-1 or greater.  I'm thinking the top spot will be pretty chalky, but that doesn't mean the exotic bets can't have some value. Let's build a handicap and then figure out a bet structure.

This is always a challenging time of the year as a handicapper as its sometimes hard to gauge which of the runners coming off of breaks or making their second race off a break will be ready.  I lean heavy on the work tab and recent race form to guide me.

 Let's watch a couple of recent races at Gulfstream Park, the G3 Hal's Hope and the Sunshine Millions Classic (and lets use that term Classic in this case loosely) to get a feel for some of the key runners, as well as the Clark Handicap, the last good Grade 1 race for the handicap division held the day after Thanksgiving at Churchill Downs.

Hal's Hope G3 GP 1 Mile


  Sunshine Millions Classic $250K GP 1 1/8


Clark Handicap G1 CD 1 1/8


Glean from these what you like.  I like to evaluate form, trip, compete level in the stretch,and strength of field.


I like Lea quite a bit and the home bred came off the injured reserve looking very sharp with one burst run to take the Hal's Hope in early January. Trainer Mott's is 34 percent on the second start off a long break and 30 percent winning his last start.  7 wins in 13 starts, 3-for-3 at GP and 3-for-3 on fast dirt. I think I may single.

 I'm leaning towards East Hall for Place which would bring real value to bet.  Trainer Kaplan's runner wasn't exactly driving for Place in Sunshine Millions Classic and barely held off Catholic Cowboy and lost to an inferior horse. The four year old seems to be improving although he is winless in three starts at the distance, 13 of 20 in the money and $772,000 in winnings for the 4-year-old gelding. Feast or famine, he could easily finish outside top four.

A more likely horse is one of three Trainer Pletcher entries, Constitution, last year's Florida Derby winner. Pletcher has been bringing him back easily since his return to running after injury in the Florida Derby took him off the Triple Crown trail.  I'd like to see him do a bit more but I do like the bullet at 5f on Jan. 26, but I still need to see something before I swoon.

Commissioner is a colt who looks the part yet doesn't have great results and hasn't won in 13 months, a 75K Optional Claimer at this distance on this track.  Johnny V is up for Pletcher, a combo that wins 30 percent of the time at GP.  Not sold yet on him either.

Protonico, Pletcher's third entry, seems like the sleeper to me and may be worth a win bet flyer. Training regularly since the Clark H., he has flashed lots of potential. Sloane Avenue is a wildcard colt and the 4-year-old Candy Ride (Arg) from Apt (AP Indy) has the bloodlines to be something, even though that something is hard to figure out.

Two low level Kempton wins at one mile in RH direction and he does have a LH win as well.  Would be a shocker for big value. I'm tossing Elnaawi and Prayer for Relief at my own peril but you can't cover everyone. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but I would like to see the journeyman Prayer for Relief retired soon. It's been a looooooooonnnnnggggg time since he won and at 36 starts and nearly $2.0 MM of earnings I think he deserves a pension.

I'm not taking Catholic Cowboy or Blue Note very seriously.

So what to do with all this?

I'm leaning towards a simple Trifecta with Lea singled on top and quite a bit of coverage just below:

$2 Trifecta:  4 OVER 1-2-3 OVER 1-2-3 5-7-9-10 =$36 bet $2

Super Hi 5:  4 OVER 1-2-3 OVER 1-2-3 OVER 2-3-7-8 OVER 2-3-5-7-8-10= $120 bet I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet but with the base handicap done,

I can use the tote board as well as observations from the paddock and post parade to finalize my bet. Have fun with this friends! Turk Out.