Thursday, April 16, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Illinois Derby

A Cast from all Corners for the Illinois Derby

By Paul Mazur of ChicagoNow

Saturday afternoon, the  $400,000 Grade 3 Illinois Derby, which serves as the richest dirt race in Chicago, will be run for the 58th time.  Prior to 2001, the Illinois Derby, which served as a "B" Derby, was run in May at Sportsman's Park and lured horses who typically found the Kentucky Derby too far or too challenging.  In 2001, the Illinois Derby moved to the first week of April and became a Kentucky Derby prep race.  The following year, War Emblem (2002) won the Illinois Derby and later won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell Invitational.  With the closing of Sportsman's Park (just north of Hawthorne), the race moved to Hawthorne in 2003. Past winners include Ten Most Wanted (2003) who won the G1 Travers, and Sweetnorthernsaint (2006) and Musket Man (2009) both of whom cracked the trifecta in at least one of the Triple Crown races.  In 2013, the race became an exiled Kentucky Derby prep when Churchill Downs left the race off its list of qualifying points races.  The race then moved two weeks forward and now functions as a prep race for the Preakness.  In 2013, Departing later won two Grade Two races in the summer following his Illinois Derby victory.

Chicago-based television station WGN will televise the Illinois Derby and the Sixty Sails in a program to air a one-hour broadcast starting at 5:00 p.m. CT.  Beyond Chicago, WGN offers a free streaming platform. Hawthorne's simulcast feed is also free to watch on phones and tablets using the Horse Races NOW mobile app.

Morning line odds for these races were not available at original publish time. This race is scheduled for Saturday, April 18.

Hawthorne Race Course -- Race 9 -- G3 Illinois Derby -- 1 1/8 miles on dirt -- post time 5:40 p.m. CT

What to do with potential morning line favorite CROSS THE LINE?  

As Southern California trainers go, when Hollendorfer ships one out of town it's worth paying attention. (We know he has Shared Belief.)  And the horse appeared to bounce out of the Santa Anita Derby with a strong post-race work.  However, he's been nine furlongs twice.  On a closer-friendly Golden Gate Fields synthetic he was second, on Santa Anita dirt he was fifth behind Dortmund.  The nine-furlong pedigree suggests that maybe he's a horse being tried beyond his distance ceiling.   

This space will instead look to PHENOMENAL PHOENIX in this event.  He's made six career starts, but three were on wet tracks (a third and two off-the-board finishes) and three were on dry tracks (two firsts and a second).  Nominated at the eleventh hour, this Luis Quinonez/Donnie Von Hemel jockey/trainer production cleared the first level allowance last out.  The price should be honest on him, as bettors will see his loss in the Southwest Stakes and think he's out of his league in this event.  But that came on a wet track, and perhaps he's a horse who likes it dry and fast.  

Like CROSS THE LINE there's a post-race maintenance work at Oaklawn.  Bob Baffert and Mike Pegram - as trainer and owner, respectively - came to Hawthorne last year with heavy favorite Midnight Hawk, who was beaten on the line by Dynamic Impact.  That team gets Martin Garcia to take off a day of mounts at Santa Anita and ride WHISKEY TICKET in the Illinois Derby.  

A winner at first asking going a two-turn mile, he should have the breeding to handle ten panels based on the Ghostzapper-Awesome Again sire line.  And he showed fight in the lane, something useful if he's on the engine with stretchout speed LEWYS VAPORIZER.  You wonder if he can handle winners - and he's taking a step up in class to this Grade Three - with the same ease he handled maidens.  He's more of a defensive use in this spot, as is CROSS THE LINE.  Second two back in the El Camino Real Derby, he was last seen chasing Dortmund around in the Santa Anita Derby.  Dortmund ran that field off its hooves in the Santa Anita Derby, and there's no Dortmund here.   

There are ascending speed figures, but the pedigree of being by Line of David out of a Mr. Greeley mare doesn't wow for me for nine panels.  Nor does a horse who closed at Golden Gate and got out-closed by Metaboss.  The Baze/Hollendorfer team do excellent work at Golden Gate in Northern California, but this ain't NorCal.  Despite the negative points he is a horse to defensively use as this Illinois Derby isn't all that strong and he does match the class of others.


Longshot: Let's root for the home team in this space with a horse that has made his last two starts at Oaklawn and moves up to Hawthorne for the Grade Three Illinois Derby.  Let's root for a rider with some familiarity with the Hawthorne oval, too. 

Let's root for...#5 CONQUEST CURLINATE. CONQUEST CURLINATE hails from Conquest Stables, nom de course of the Ernie Semersky-owned operation based out of Highland Park - a suburb about a half-hour north of Chicago.  They make the short hour drive to Hawthorne for the Grade Three Illinois Derby, and he's got more plus points than the other local, PRIVATE PROSPECT (who looks to have hit a wall at three).  CONQUEST CURLINATE is nicely bred for the distance as one of the #curlinbabies out of a Peaks And Valleys mare - the broodmare sire won the Illinois Derby in the 90s.  

As is standard procedure for Conquest Stables horses, Mark Casse trains.  But Casse won this race last year at odds with Dynamic Impact.  And Miguel Mena is aboard yet again.  These humans blew up the toteboard in the 2012 Hawthorne Gold Cup and the 2014 Illinois Derby. Plus this closer, who gets pace to chase thanks to LEWYS VAPORIZER on the stretchout, may be sitting on a powder keg in the 2015 Illinois Derby.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Arkansas Derby

By Dylan Jarmulowicz,

Saturday is the last of the major Kentucky Derby prep races and it is hard to believe that the Kentucky Derby is only three weeks away. The Arkansas Derby has a rich history, recent champions include Victory Gallop, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Curlin to name a few. This year’s edition of the Grade I Arkansas Derby features a field of eight and a one million dollar purse. Will American Pharoah join the list of notable winners or will there be an upset?

Race 11 – 9 Furlongs (1 1/8-miles) Post Time – 7:18pm (Eastern)

Advance Weather: Partly Sunny, 70s

The reason why this race could be a Déjà Vu is because it is almost exactly the same as the Rebel Stakes. Other than the track being fast instead of sloppy, I’m going back to the well again with #6 AMERICAN PHAROAH (1/2) and #5 BOLD CONQUEST (20-1). The jury is still out on AMERICAN PHAROAH, he has been a short priced favorite in his last two races running against overmatched opponents. He should once again get the job done by going to the lead and taking them all the way around. I would like to see them experiment a bit with him because there is no way he is going to be able to wire the field in the Kentucky Derby.

BOLD CONQUEST is a blue collar horse who tries his hardest every time. So far in 2015, he’s caught sloppy tracks and while he hasn’t run poorly, his best races are on a fast track. This will be his third start off the layoff and his trainer Steve Assmussen has strong numbers third off a layoff (22%).

The other two logical horses are #4 MADEFROMLUCKY (6-1) and #7 FAR RIGHT (9/2). MADEFROMLUCKY never really battled AMERICAN PHAROAH in the Rebel, he was battling BOLD CONQUEST down the stretch and eventually prevailed for second. He’s ok but with being trained by Todd Pletcher, he will probably be over bet and there are better alternatives.

Finally, FAR RIGHT returns after taking two earlier preps at Oaklawn Park (Smarty Jones Stakes and the Southwest Stakes). He has beaten a few of the long shots in here (#1 THE TRUTH OR ELSE (15-1) and #2 MR. Z (10-1)). He is the hope of the locals in this race, he hasn’t run since February and recent workouts leave something to be desired.

My Play:
After running first and third last time, I’m going back to the well again with an Ice Cold 6-5 Exacta

Good Luck!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Lexington S.

By Reinier Macatangay, Lady and The Track

Keeneland’s Grade 3 Lexington on Saturday features a decent field of horses hoping to pick up a graded stakes win. But, some of these three-year-olds are also nominated to the Triple Crown, including Divining Rod. A son of the excellent female turf star Precious Kitten, Divining Rod seeks to grab his first graded stakes win after a couple of decent tries for trainer 
Arnaud Delacour. With no other top colts in this field, and only a modest pace scenario expected, the win should come this weekend. Maybe the connections will consider the Kentucky Derby if that happens.

Divining Rod ran a great race in the
Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, even though he lost by seven lengths. He set a brisk pace, which means he did the hard work up front. Furthermore, the track favored closers as noted by the blue mark on the left using TimeformUS past performances. On BRIS, the pace went 12 points above par at 1c and five points above par at 2c. His final speed figure on BRIS only came out to 87, but on TimeformUS they awarded this colt a 99 because TimeformUS adjusts for the pace. The 99 speed figure easily beats the other entries.

Two starts back, Divining Rod earned an even higher TimeformUS number of 102 while running second to the talented Ocean Knight in the
Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. He ran with lasix for the first time in that race. Also, the switch back to dirt perhaps helped this colt despite his dam’s turf success. Precious Kitten did break her maiden on dirt, and Tapit progeny normally run on dirt just fine. That helps explain why Divining Rod holds a solid 3-1-1-1 record on the surface. The rail position means there are no question marks on strategy. Expect to see this one on the lead.

The other horses will need to run the race of their careers in order to defeat Divining Rod. From post position six, Fame and Power has a shot to defeat the top pick. In fact, this colt actually was given lower morning line odds than Divining Rod, despite only breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in a recent sprint race. His last workout was best out of 51 horses at the distance, and that is significant.

Tiznow R J holds a chance too if Divining Rod fails to fire. He lost by 17 lengths at
Sunland Park to the elite three-year-old Firing Line. The oddsmaker made him 5/1 in this race and those odds are likely to drift upwards during the actual betting since many will not forgive a 17 length loss. Forgiving handicappers might note that Tiznow R J ran in swift pace scenarios for the past three starts and his sire Tiznow generally makes offspring that take a while to develop.

Finally, Donworth fans await to see if the colt progresses from his troubled
maiden-breaking victory
at Gulfstream Park. Poor trips that involve traffic issues tend to attract attention, and Donworth’s win certainly attracted attention on forums. TimeformUS only gave him an 80 for his win.


Single Divining Rod in horizontal wagers.

Either key Divining Rod on top in exactas and trifectas, or just go with a large win bet.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Blue Grass S.

By Tom Amello, Trackfacts

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 pre-race analysis and assessment begins with the race favorite; from there I work through the field…lowest odds to highest odds.

Luck to all.

$1-million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes
Saturday, Keeneland Race Course, Race 10, 6 p.m. ET
1 1/8 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds
Coverage on NBC Sports at 5 p.m. ET 
Santiago Gonzalez
DP Racing
Gorgeous Bird
Pepper Roani
Skychai Racing and Sand Dollar Stable
Marya Montoya
Danzig Moon

 Running Styles:
E         Early Speed, wants or needs the lead
EP       Early Presser, near the lead throughout
P         Presser, front half of the field stalker, never behind half the field
Clo      Rear half of the field runner and deep closer 

Post 5) (1-1)  Carpe Diem  Running Style (EP/P) Velazquez/Pletcher

            WinStar Farm’s Carpe Diem has done no wrong in four career starts, save for what appeared to be a change of tactics in the 2014 Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile. An impressive gate-to-wire maiden win at Saratoga was followed by a more impressive near gate-to-wire win in the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland, dusting 11 rivals.

            Allowed to settle and rate behind a crush of front runners in the Breeeders Cup Juvenile, Carpe Diem began to move midway down the back stretch picking off horses while swinging widest leaving the turn and entering the stretch. Closer to the pack and to his inside, eventual winner Texas Red started his own move later than Carpe Diem, exploded into the stretch gaining lengths while Carpe Diem continued to loose ground on the turn. Carpe Diem kept on gamely, passing six horses in the stretch and getting the head bob at the wire over rival Upstart. Note that Trakus data has Carpe Diem covering an extra 30 feet (the equivalent of nearly 4-lengths) more than the winner. Carpe Diem did not win but ran a winning race.

            Fast forward to March 7 at for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, Carpe Diem’s return from a November layoff. Winning on debut suggested Carpe Diem would race well off the long layoff. Additionally, trainer Todd Pletcher opted for this softer spot rather than the series of preps at Gulfstream Park. Facing 7 rivals of varying experience and talent, Carpe Diem, after being somewhat reluctant to load, tracked the pace early, angled out for clear running down the backside, loomed then swept to the lead at the top of the stretch without resistance from the pacesetter. He opened lengths under a confident John Velazquez and cruised home in what could only be characterized as a public workout in a race.

            Carpe Diem has put in two sharp works since at Pam Beach Downs. Each of his last three speed figures is higher than any figure earned by others in the field (Andy Beyer calls this phenomenon the “Omni-Fig’ horse). Barring any gate problems, jockey Velazquez should be able to position his charge in the clear outside or just behind the pacesetters. Carpe Diem is without doubt the class of this field and most likely winner at a prohibitive short price.    

Post 7) (6-1)  Classy Class   Running Style (E/P) Alvarado/McLaughlin

            Classy Class broke his maiden versus special weights over a “good” Belmont track going 6.5-furlongs. That day he tracked the runaway leader, rallied to duel that rival before drawing clear in an impressive win. Trainer McLaughlin has kept him in Graded Stakes company since. He weakened to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Remsen trying two-turns and 9-furlongs for the first time. Given time off after the Remsen, Classy Class returned February 7 in the Grade 3 Withers. That day he made the pace, dueled gamely with El Kabeir before succumbing to that rival. Neither one had any resistance for the late running winner Far From Over.

            Last out in the Grade 3 Gotham, Classy Class failed to break alertly and raced from behind horses for the first time. The pace was strong. Jockey Junior Alvarado guided him to the rail from where he enjoyed a near perfect trip, moving up from behind eventual winner El Kabeir. That rival tipped out rounding the turn into clear racing room; Classy Class tipped out only to be blocked behind tiring pace setters. Alvarado angled him in for clear running room, and Classy Class rallied inside, then angled out to finish well but unable to gain on the good trip winner.

            Bobbling at the start allowed Classy Class to show a new dimension: he raced reasonably well behind horses while taking kick-back. Also, He was victimized at the top of the stretch, but showed determination in rallying after the trouble, an effort much better than it looks on paper.

            Classy Class has speed and tactical speed. If Ocho Ocho Ocho does go hard from post 1, Classy Class might be the pace setter. He has been today’s distance and battle tested in his most recent efforts. His highest post-time odds have been 9-2. Classy Class offers value to win at 10-1 or higher, but unlikely to be that long.

Post 1) (6-1)  Ocho Ocho Ocho   Running Style (P)   Gonzales/Cassidy

            Ocho Ocho Ocho is a front-half pace presser/stalker who entered the San Felipe undefeated as the co-2nd choice with the well-regarded Prospect Park and exited the race bruised, battered and a badly beaten eighth. Squeezed between rivals at the break, Ocho Ocho Ocho ran on into the clubhouse, then exchanged bumps into the clubhouse turn, came out into that rival while sustaining cuts and bruises to his legs. From there he continued to race along the inside throughout under Mike Smith before dropping back in the lane where Smith did not push but rather idled him to the wire.

            Ocho Ocho Ocho has worked very well at Santa Anita since the San Felipe fiasco, a positive sign. Breaking from post one with little gate speed to his immediate outside, Ocho Ocho Ocho should secure excellent position along the inside, save ground while very near the lead, and be in contention throughout. He has proven himself capable of passing rivals and resisting pressure as he did in winning the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot. That day he held off talented runners in both Far Right (next out winner of the Smarty Jones and winner of the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes),  and Mr. Z (a narrow third next out to Dortmund and Firing Line in the Grade 1 Los Alamos Futurity, then third in both the Smarty Jones and Grade 3 Rebel Stakes). Ocho Ocho Ocho adds only three pounds today and should deliver a much improve effort this afternoon. Ocho Ocho Ocho looms the likely second favorite behind Carpe Diem. 10-1 and more might be fair odds on this runner to show enough improvement to win.

Post  2) (8-1)    Gorgeous Bird     Running Style (P)   Hernandex/Wilkes

            Gorgeous Bird enters this Graded Stakes race still eligible for Nw1x Alllowance. Looking at his past performances, Gorgeous Bird lacks gate speed. He has broken 6/8 back 3 ½ lengths, and 8/9 back 4 ¼ lengths in each of his last two starts around two-turns. Breaking that way again will probably place him in the rear-half of the field early, a position from which he will have to make a strong sustained run behind a few classy horses in order to be in contention in the run to the wire. Note that Gorgeous Bird beat an ordinary group in winning an Optional Claiming/Allowance heat at Gulfstream on January 24, before stepping into the deeper waters of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, where the race shape was fast early/slow late. Racing that day, Gorgeous Bird had no impact, travelling evenly behind the strong early pace before angling off the inside into the far turn. He did, however, have a wider trip than today’s rival deep closer Frammento. Accoreding the Trakus data, Gorgeous Bird travelled an extra 29-feet (nearly 4-lengths farther) than Frammento.

            An outsider picking up six pounds today, Gorgeous Bird needs a career top effort to contend. Gorgeous Bird enters the Blue Grass following two smart works at Palm Meadows and reunites with winning jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. Much has and will be written about the dry/cuppy/tiring Gulfstream main track, but the Keeneland surface should be more speed favoring. Look for Hernandez, Jr. to get his colt into the race earlier in hopes of grabbing a minor placing. 15-1 or more. 

Post 6) (8-1)  Frammento  Running Style (Clo)           Stevens/Zito

            Frammento also brings but a single maiden win, as well as several failed attempts versus Optional Claiming/Allowance routes. He is, however, in the capable hands of Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, and it appears this colt is on the improve. Clocker reports suggested Frammento had been working extremely well into the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and ran to the works gaining show money with a strong late run up the rail at 63-1. Frammento was 12-lengths back after 6-furlongs, nearly 10-lengths behind at the stretch call, and finished fastest in a quick 32.83. The Fast Early Race Shape did set up his late run somewhat, but he did finish fastest over that tiring surface.

            Frammento continues to work well, earning a bullet March 19 and a 4/24 ranking on March 28, both at Palm Meadows. He looms the best closer under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. The pace should be no worse than honest; he will require another good ground saving trip and clear run late to have an impact on the outcome and/or earn a placing. 15-1 

Post 8) (8-1)  Danzig Moon           Running Style (P)   Leparoux/Casse

            Danzig Moon is one race removed from his maiden win, an impressive effort over a field of 11 rivals going one-mile at Gulfstream Park. Two runners have come out of that race tow win, both in turf routes. Danzig Moon exits the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, easily won by today’s race favorite, Carpe Diem. In the Tampa Bay Derby, Danzig Moon broke out from post 9, then secured position racing sixth in the 2-3 path. Mid-back, Danzig Moon was in the vice between rivals, then bumped losing some action but able to keep on. From there, however, Danzig Moon remained one-paced, grinding to a fourth-place finish beaten over 12-lengths.

            Trainer Mark Casse has put in two sharp works at Palm Meadows: a 59.40 5-furlong breeze and a 47.60 4-furlong bullet, the best of 20. The 5-furlong breeze was in company with Sky Captain, a Casse-trained and John Oxley-owned 5-yo Grade 3 Stakes winner on synthetics, third in his March 6 turf race at Gulfstream Park. Should Danzig Moon run to his works, he, too, has a chance to land a minor share. And, the adage, “like one, ya gotta like the other” applied to horses exiting the same race. 18-1 

Post 3) (12-1)    Pepper Roani     Running Style (P)   Mena/Maker

            Pepper Roani exits a solid effort in the John H. Battaglia Stakes over synthetic at Turfway Park, his first effort breaking his maiden. Both the maiden win and the effort in the Battaglia occurred with the addition of blinkers, definite improvements. After being bumped at the start in the Battaglia, Pepper Roani sustained a strong run from the rear to sweep the field leaving the turn, pass tiring chasers and gain the place 5 ¼ lengths behind loose-on-the-lead winner Royal Son and over 12 lengths ahead of the rest. That race was somewhat muddled when favored The Great War went hard for the lead, only to stop abruptly and leave Royal Son to set moderate fractions over a speed favoring surface. Next out Royal Son was a bust in the Spiral Stakes, and two others from the Battaglia, both experiencing troubled trips, improved at big odds in the Spiral, a race dominated by Gulfstream turf-to-synthetic shipper Dubai Sky and Golden Gate shipper Conquest Moon. 

Trainer Mike Maker would have preferred to run his charge back on synthetic in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes but did not draw into the body of that race. So, Pepper Roani will make only his 2nd start on dirt since failing miserably versus Special Weights at Churchill Downs back in November of 2014. Getting bumped at the start in the Battaglia might have been a good break that day. Switching to Miguel Mena, who rides Maker’s Louisiana Derby winner International Star, Pepper Roani might find himself more forwardly placed. The competition is significantly deeper in this Blue Grass, and Pepper Roani, blinkers or not, is another who needs a career top in order to earn a check. 18-1 

Post 4) (12-1)  Unrivaled      Running Style (Clo)  Albarado/Montoya

            A WinStar Farm throwaway claimed four races back by Keller Gordon, then privately purchased by Barry Irwin’s Team Valor, Unrivaled, has become an interesting commodity. He drew attention with a 15-length two-turn win at Parx versus Special Weights back in December. Given time off and training at Fair Hill, Unrivaled returned March 15 at Parx to crush a field of 6 rivals going two-turns over a good track.

            As impressively as Unrivaled has been in winning, the question remains: What has he beaten at Parx? First, all but one runner from Unrivaled’s maiden win remain maidens…and that maiden win came sprinting. Second, the race shape of Unrivaled’s most recent effort was Fast Early/Slow Late, with the second and third betting choices battling each other into submission through the mid/late stages, setting the table for Unrivaled’s late run. Late runners are truly impressive when the Race Shape is Fast both early and late, more like what we could see in the Blue Grass. That said, Unrivaled kicked home in a very swift 32.60, as if the field was not there.

            Horses having raced for claiming tags, maiden or otherwise, rarely win Graded Stakes races. Team Valor’s philosophy is to purchase athletic horses over expensive pedigrees, and this well-bred son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver must have had “something” that caught Barry Irwin’s eye. Additionally, Unrivaled owns an important “near win” going two-turns over the Keeneland surface.

Unrivaled faces a tough task in the Blue Grass. While the extra distance should not be a concern, he faces more experienced and battle hardened rivals. Team Valor is a strong a stakes-winning partnership as there is in the game. A win bet here is a bet on the talented eye of Barry Irwin. The odds board will accurately tell us how the public feels about  Irwin and his Unrivaled. Fair odds begin at 12-1. 
Most Likely Winner:
(5) Carpe Diem

Most Likely to Win Should Carpe Diem Scratch of fail to fire:
(7) Classy Class
(1) Ocho Ocho Ocho

Long Odds to Win
(6) Frammento
(4) Unrivaled
(8) Danzig Moon

Carpe Diem at (1-1) morning line odds is a “Monster”™ favorite. Bettors either stand with the “Monster”™or fight it, hoping the horse fails to fire…or a horse of choice jumps up and scores the upset. One way to play is to concede the race to the “Monster”™ and use long odds horses to beat the more logical 2nd, 3rd, even 4th choices for the place spot. This is strictly and odds play using the best long odds horses you think can run 2nd.

Possible Plays:
Trifecta 5 with 4/6/8 with all

Superfecta 5 with 4/6/8 with 1/4/6/7/8 with all
Superfecta 5 with all with 4/6/8 with 1/4/6/7/8

Handicappers' Corner: Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby

By Laurie Ross, Iron Maiden Thoroughbreds

Since 2000, seven colts have exited the Santa Anita Derby and either won or placed in the Kentucky Derby.  Last year, California Chrome strung together a five race win streak before adding the Kentucky Derby trophy to his impressive collection.  Dortmund, this year’s sensation, is poised to top Chrome’s record with a six race win streak heading to Kentucky. Four of the last ten Santa Anita Derby heroes prepped with a victory in the San Filipe. 

The Big Hoss:
Dortmund (Big Brown - Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat) He’s undefeated, his speed figures keep getting better.  Unless he loses today, he’ll most likely be the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.  Read Dortmund’s pedigree profile

CROSS THE LINE (Line of David - Beer Baroness, by Mr. Greeley) has improved his speed figures in every race. After a victory in the Cal Cup Derby, Cross The Line had a terrible trip in the El Camino Real Derby, where he was stuck in a California traffic jam, had to slam on the brakes and still managed to grab second place late, despite the terrible trip. Cross the Line is a half brother to RIA ANTONIA, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (via DQ) and who placed in the Santa Anita Oaks and Juddmonte Spinster.  Buzzard’s Bay was third in the El Camino Real Derby before  capturing the Santa Anita Derby in 2005, so it can be done.  Cross the Line is a huge 17 hands high colt who has the size and stride to eyeball Dortmund. Does he have the tenacity to battle it out?

PROSPECT PARK (Tapit - Quiet Romance, by Bertrando) is another quickly improving colt. After winning his first two starts of the season, the son of Tapit took on the undefeated Dortmund. He made up plenty of ground in the stretch of the San Filipe, but Dortmund snuck under the finish line 1 ¼ lengths ahead.  Prospect Park is a half brother to Santa Anita Oaks (G-1) winner SILENT SIGHS and her full sister, multiple graded stakes winning PROPOSED. Prospect Park should love the additional distance in the Santa Anita Derby. The colt has a versatile running style, should appreciate the extra distance could be a top threat to Dortmund. 

BOLO (Temple City - Aspen Mountain, by Chief Seattle) is a colt with plenty of upside.  He proved in the San Felipe that he can run with the best over dirt.  He had to steady in that race, was outrun by Dortmund, but was only ½ length shy of second place.  The big question for Bolo is distance. His sire won at 1 ½ miles, but Bolo’s immediate distaff line leans more towards speed. His damsire’s offspring were best as milers. His second dam placed in the Canadian Oaks at 1 1/8 miles.  The positive note is that Bolo’s dam is a half sister to the top producing mare Mining My Own (Smart Strike) who gave us Kentucky Derby shocker Mine that Bird and his Grade 1 winning brother Dullahan.  Bolo’s on the pace running style could be hindered by One Lucky Dane.  Still, he’s one to keep on your tickets. 

Also Rans:
ONE LUCKY DANE (Lookin At Lucky - Echo Harbor, by Boston Harbor) is Dortmund’s stablemate and appears to be in the race to keep the other speed busy.   One Lucky Dane owns a victory in a maiden and optional claiming race, both at a mile. Note that his only victories were accomplished on the lead and that the one time he had to duel, he lost. One Lucky Dane is a half brother to the precocious juvie stakes winning sprinter, WESTERN SMOKE and to A Shin Harbor a stakes placed runner in Japan.  His pedigree indicates One Lucky Dane will be best as a miler through 1 1/16 miles.  Watch for him to start backing up after a mile, maybe sooner. 

BAD READ SANCHEZ (Warrior's Reward - Past Twilight, by Pulpit) hasn’t raced since last August, has a miler type pedigree and although he shows a good work pattern, this is a peculiar place for him to start his three year old season. Doug O’Neil won back-to-back Santa Anita Derbies with I’ll Have Another and Goldencents.  Bad Read Sanchez isn’t in their league. 

Track Bias:   Pace pressers have won the last four editions of the Santa Anita Derby.  Only three of the last ten winners finished fourth or worse in their prep race.  All except one Santa Anita Derby hero prepped in a stakes race. 

There’s a ton of speed in this race. Dortmund is hindered by post one, a difficult place for a colt of his stature. It will be up to jockey Martin Garcia to determine whether to go to the lead to keep a clear running path or to take back and go around the pack. I’ve picked against Dortmund in some of his previous starts, but I’ve finally succumbed to the Dortmund fever. This colt has proven his will to win and unless everyone boxes him in to keep Dortmund from running his race, I don’t see him losing.  Should Dortmund get a less than ideal trip, Look for Prospect Park to come flying.  Cross the Line is a serious longshot with win potential. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win.

#3  BOLO

#4  CROSS THE LINE – longshot pick

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Handicappers' Corner: Grade 1 Wood Memorial

By Robert Marks, They're in the Gate (and on Twitter @theyreinthegate)

On Saturday, April 4, 2015 the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Wood Memorial will be held at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York.  Post Time is 5:30 (Eastern Time). On the line is Kentucky Derby points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers. Presently, El Kabeir sits fifth in the standings with 75 points.  A first or second place finish virtually assures he is a lock to make the Derby field on the 1st Saturday in May.  
Here are the participants listed by post position, horse, odds, jockey and trainer
Wood Memorial 2015 Post Positions & Odds
1  Tiz Shea D 8-1            M. Franco          W. Mott
2  Toasting Master 20-1   A. Arroyo          D. Romans
3  Lt. Colonel  15-1          I. Ortiz             C.C. Brown
4  Frosted 5-2                 J. Rosario          K.P. McLaughlin
5  El Kabeir 3-1               C.C. Lopez        J.P. Terranova
6  Daredevil  9-5             J. Castellano      T. Pletcher
7  Tencendur 12-1           J. L. Ortiz          G. Weaver

Here's who we like as far as horses to bet:
El Kabeir -This well seasoned (8 starts) 3-year-old comes off a win at the Big A in the Grade 3 Withers, which was preceded by a good-looking win in the Jerome (G3) in his first start on the inner track at Aqueduct. He has won both leading and coming off the pace and showed a good turn of foot in the Withers winning by 2 3/4 lengths. He looks real tough here and we see no reason for any bounce.
Daredevil - This Todd Pletcher-trainee is sitting at 9-5 and is the morning line favorite. I'm never a fan of betting on a horse to do something he has never done, which in this case would be win over two turns. He has only raced once as a 3-year-old, finishing second in the 7-furlong Swale Stakes.  He should be in the money but can't see him grabbing the top prize here.

Tiz Shea D -This lightly race horse has a maiden win followed by a second place finish in the Grade 3 Withers. Trainer Bill Mott does not rush his horses. I believe Mott knows something here and this horse looks like he loves to compete. If he stays at his morning line odds of 8-1, I consider this horse to be a big overlay.

Frosted- This colt picks up new jockey Joel Rosario after a disappointing fourth in the Fountain of Youth.-He has raced twice at Aqueduct, finishing first and second. If you toss the Fountain of Youth, you are looking at a horse that places or wins every time (out of five starts). This horse out of Tapit is looks to be a classic earner and you have to have him in your exotics.

Wagering/Betting Bankroll:
EXACTA: $2 Key Exacta (10 Bets for total cost of $20)
5, 1 / 5,1,4,6

We will key the favorite with Tiz Shea D over the 4 mentioned above. If Tiz Shea D hits on top it could be a nice payout.

As always, watch the board and if at the track watch how the horses look in the paddock and adjust your bets accordingly. Good Luck!

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)