Friday, April 21, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Illinois Derby (G3)

Seven Line Up in Illinois Derby at Hawthorne

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off

Race 5: Illinois Derby (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:17pm CDT

After a one-year hiatus, the Illinois Derby returns to Hawthorne for its 59th running on Saturday, April 21.  Graded since the advent of American graded stakes in 1973, it has been a Grade 3 for most of its history, though it did carry a Grade 2 from 1997 through 2009.  

The race has produced one Classic winner: War Emblem (2002), who won the Illinois Derby for local trainer Frank Springer.  Subsequently purchased by The Thoroughbred Corporation and sent to Bob Baffert, he went on to win the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), and Haskell (G1).  

Another of its most eminent winners came earlier in its history.  In addition to winning the Illinois Derby at Aurora Downs, Mata Hari (1934) also beat her own sex on the Chicago circuit: in the Arlington Lassie Stakes at two and the Illinois Oaks at three.  She also beat males in Kentucky, winning both the Breeders' Futurity and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at age two.

On the breeding side, the true star to emerge from the Illinois Derby was Smarten (1979).  Smarten produced Canadian champion sophomore filly Classy 'n Smart -- who herself produced both leading sire Smart Strike and Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) winner Dance Smartly.

This year's Illinois Derby drew a field of seven to contest for a $250,000 purse.  The field slants toward emerging sophomores: none of the seven are graded stakes winners yet, only John Battaglia Memorial It’s Your Nickel has won in stakes company yet.

The only graded stakes placed horse in the field is Hedge Fund, from the barn of Todd Pletcher.  Todd Pletcher knows how to win this race; he has four victories in it already.  As for Hedge Fund, he finished third in a race that has graded out well so far: the Sunland Derby (G3).  Winner Hence has not since race, but second-place Conquest Mo Money finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) last weekend, and fourth-place Irap upset the Blue Grass (G2) two weeks back.  Hedge Fund set the pace in the Sunland Derby, a pace as hot as the burning New Mexico sun.  If he does not repeat that here, he should be tough.  And, there's no reason he has to repeat that.  Hedge Fund graduated just off the pace two back at Gulfstream, and could use that again.  As long as he settles off the pace (most likely set by Stand and Cheer, though St. Louie Guy could do it, too), he could be tough.

That said, Hedge Fund may not be sufficiently profitable to merit the risk.  And, there is one horse with enough upside to appeal for the upset: Multiplier.  Multiplier comes in off a maiden win at Fair Grounds last out, in the third start of his career.  He has progressed from start to start.  And, though he is a closer in a race that does not appear likely to fall apart?  Multiplier was able to get moving early enough to close into a softer pace last time out.  That matters -- he has tables to turn on Hollywood Handsome, but the time they faced each other the track was sloppy.  It stands to be dry in the Illinois Derby.  And, though Hollywood Handsome ran on for fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) last out, he got some rabbit-inspired fireworks that will not happen at Hawthorne.

Though this will be a class test for Multiplier, his first start against winners, trainer Brendan Walsh knows what he is doing.  After all, he has a 19% win rate with last out maiden winners, a 17% strike rate in graded stakes -- and, a positive ROI in both situations.  The biggest question is whether Multiplier will take to nine furlongs, as his dam is a Trippi mare who was herself a sprinter, and whose other progeny preferred going one turn.  But, he should be the price to bet he can.

Mr. Misunderstood comes into the Illinois Derby on a three-win streak, and he has progressed in each of those starts.  Though that streak started in claiming company at Fair Grounds, the next two wins both came against allowance-optional company over that same oval.  Surface, however, explains why this will be a class test for Mr. Misunderstood: two of his Fair Grounds victories came over turf, and the one win over dirt came in a wash-off over the slop.  But, like Multiplier, Mr. Misunderstood has shown that even though he is a closer, he does not need a fiery pace to kick on and be a factor late.  Finally, the trainer inspires confidence.  Brad Cox wins with shippers at a 24% rate -- in short, he doesn't just send his horses for giggles.  If he thinks Mr. Misunderstood is rounding into good enough form to try the Illinois Derby, that opinion carries weight.

#1 Multiplier
#2 Hedge Fund
#6 Mr. Misunderstood

Longshot:  Local trainer Scott Becker sends a pair here, both of whom have both Hawthorne form and form over some tougher winter circuits like Fair Grounds and Oaklawn.  

St. Louie Guy romped earlier this month at Hawthorne going two turns, but against far easier foes.  His classy form comes at one turn, and his pedigree screams it, too.  

On the other hand, #4 Stand and Cheer stands a better chance of getting a mile and an eighth here.  The first time he tried two turns, in a maiden special weight at Hawthorne last fall, he won easily.  In his last two starts, he faced one-other-than company at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn.  He rounded out the exacta in both after setting the early pace.  He may well set the pace here: Hedge Fund is probably better stalking, and St. Louie Guy rated while routing last out.  Still, Stand and Cheer is not one-way speed; he won his maiden race from a stalking spot, and had some solid underneath finishes off the pace last year as well.  With a pedigree a bit more suited for distance than his stablemate's, Stand and Cheer is the local longshot to use on your tickets.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Arkansas Derby (G1)

Malagacy vs. the Empire in 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, Curlin and American Pharoah to name a few. This year’s edition of the Grade I Arkansas Derby features a field of 12 and a one-million-dollar purse. Will favorites Classic Empire or Malagacy win or will it be an upset to wrap up prep season?

Race 11 – 9 Furlongs ( 1 1/8 Mile) Post Time – 7:18pm (Eastern)
Advance Weather: Partly Sunny, 70s

This race is unique when first analyzing it. The two favorites #2 CLASSIC EMPIRE (8/5) and #12 MALAGACY (2-1) while both talented, have some glaring question marks. 

CLASSIC EMPIRE only has one start this year and lost as a heavily backed favorite. But it was coming off a long layoff since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. Horses tend to need a start after winning a BC race and while the Holy Bull was a tough spot to come back in, he makes this start after another two-month layoff. Most likely he will be heavily bet again and I ask myself if it’s a smart bet playing him at a short price, I’m not sure.

MALAGACY won the Rebel Stakes last start which is the local prep for the AK Derby and couldn’t have looked much better. His stalker run style is also a plus. Combine that with Javier Castellano aboard and you have a serious contender. Even from the 12 post he should be fine. Castellano will find a way to save ground on one turn giving him a great chance at being in the winner’s circle. I prefer him to CLASSIC EMPIRE and to win the race.

Price plays include #4 PETROV (12-1) and #9 UNTAPPED (6-1). 

PETROV is just a classic blue collar horse who gives it everything he has every time. I always root for these kinds of horses and while he may not be the most talented in the race, he could be a nice addition to a exacta or Trifecta ticket. 

UNTAPPED is a real interesting alternative to the favorites if you do not like either. He’s a closer in a race with speed and with the blinkers added; he may focus a little better which can help. He also has been hung out wide in the last couple starts and still ran on strong, maybe he has the “seconditus” syndrome but he has a chance to upset this year’s running of the AK Derby. 

My Plays:
WIN: #12 MALAGACY (2-1)
EX: 12/4,9
TRI: 12/2,4,9/2,4,9,11

Good Luck!  aa 

Handicapper's Corner: Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1)

Return of the Lady

By: Laurie Ross, IMTBreds

The Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland features the return of the exceptional LADY ELI.  The five year old mare was made the even-money favorite for the 1 1/16 mile turf race.  The Jenny Wiley Stakes has a roll call of illustrious turf mares; Tepin, Forever Together, My Typhoon, and two-time Jenny Wiley winner Intercontinental.

Who can upset if Lady Eli isn’t 100% for her return?

CATCH A GLIMPSE prepped in the one mile Sand Springs Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Mark Casse trainee was so dominant as a two year old, she earned three Sovereign Awards in 2015 as Champion 2 Year Old Filly, Champion Grass Mare and Horse of the Year. Catch a Glimpse captured last year’s edition of the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland.  

TIME AND MOTION returns to the races after her winter layoff. She mixed it up  with Catch a Glimpse last year and beat her twice. James Toner’s charge is a winner at 1 1/16 miles, but prefers going longer.

ILLUMINANT was third in last year’s edition of the Jenny Wiley before capturing the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita. The filly sat the rest of the year on the sidelines. She returned with a victory in the Wishing Well Stakes and should move forward off  that start.

DICKINSON puts her two-race win streak on the line. She graduated from optional claimers last year to Grade 2 stakes winner this year. She cuts back from 1 1/8 miles, but won last year at a mile, so distance isn’t an issue.

QUIDURA (GB) captured both starts last year in the States, including the Valley View (G3) at Keeneland over soft turf. She tuned up with a bullet 4F turf breeze and should get a clear, outside trip.

KITTEN'S ROAR enters for the owner/trainer team of Ramsey and Maker. It’s no secret that the Ramsey’s love to win at Keeneland and have been leading owners of past meets. Kitten’s Roar has placed first or second in her last six starts, but only one was a graded placing. She’s stepping up into elite company and will get a serious class test. Her speed figures say she fits.

GOODYEARFORROSES (IRE) might be 20-1, but the mare brings a three race win streak to Keeneland. She dominated at Santa Anita for new trainer Richard Baltas and Goodyearforroses owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field. She’s never encountered the likes of Lady Eli or Catch A Glimpse, but Goodyearforroses is worth a look as a live longshot. 

Lady Eli has been working strongly and appears ready to pick up her winning ways. Only two chinks in her armor, a return off a long layoff against a well-matched field and post #1. If Lady Eli settles in her customary position behind the pace, she could lack running room in the stretch. 

Unfortunately, a morning line of even money offers zero value at the betting window. Catch a Glimpse should be the next obvious choice, but she hasn’t been breezing well in the mornings at Keeneland. Dickinson was the big mare in a small pasture in Florida. She’s earned the chance to prove that she belongs here. Paco Lopez is a top turf rider and the mare has been breezing strongly at Palm Meadows.

#1 LADY ELI (1-1)
#4 DICKINSON (8-1)
#2 GOODYEARFORROSES (20-1) – longshot pick

This is a well-matched field.  You could go one of two ways, multiple box bets to cover the field hoping to catch a good return on exotics, or expect that Lady Eli will win and key her over the rest in a trifecta or superfecta hoping for longshots to hit the board.  An exacta won’t be worth the price of a program.

$0.20 Key: 1 / all/all/all = $42
$1 Super Box: 1, 4, 6, 2 = $12
$1 Super Box: 1, 4, 6, 3 = $12
$1 Super Box: 1, 4, 6, 7 = $12
$1 Super Box: 1, 3, 4, 8 = $12

Total:  $94.00  $6 left for a bottle of water, or two…


Friday, April 7, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Santa Anita Oaks (G1)

Seven Fillies Vie in Santa Anita Oaks

By: Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds

The Santa Anita Oaks (G1) is California’s final prep race for the Kentucky Oaks. The prestigious race has a spectacular roll call. Superstars who have stood in the winner’s circle include Songbird, Beholder, Stellar Wind, Stardom Bound, Rags to Riches, Balance, Sweet Catomine, Excellent Meeting, Serena’s Song and Winning Colors.

This year, a competitive field of seven three-year-old fillies will travel 1 1/16 miles. Six of them won or placed in their last race.

Classy Lassies
ABEL TASMAN (Quality Road - Vargas Girl, by Deputy Minister) made her three-year-old debut in the Santa Ysabel (G3). Unhurried early, the Bob Baffert trainee settled three wide, twelve lengths off this year’s superstar, Unique Bella. Abel Tasman got within a length of her foe, but settled for second place, eight lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Abel Tasman should improve in her second start off the layoff and she’s the one of two stalkers in a race filled with speed.

IT TIZ WELL (Arch - It Tiz, by Tiznow) is looking for her third straight victory. She has won three of four races since December. Her sole loss was to her stablemate of Unique Bella. It Tiz Well won the Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park in her last start. She’s been breezing well and her speed figures are improving.

Worth a Look
MOPOTISM (Uncle Mo - Peppy Rafaela, by Bernardini) has won or placed in five of six starts. She was best of the rest in the Las Virgenes (G2) when facing Unique Bella, and bested BC Juvinile Fillies heroine Champagne Room by 1 ¼ lengths. Mopotism returned with a workmanlike win in the Island Fashion Stakes as her Oaks tune-up. She’s been breezing well and out-worked Santa Anita Derby entrant Milton Freewater in their last breeze. Mopotism has speed and will get an inside trip.

Needs Best Effort
MAJESTIC QUALITY (Quality Road - She Nuit All, by Lost Soldier) is still a maiden after eight attempts. However, she placed second in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G3) at the Fair Grounds after an eventful wide trip. The Keith Desormeaux trainee is one of those hard luck types. You know the kind, off slow, bumped, shuffled wide, checked. You name it.  She tries hard and hopefully, in a smaller field, won’t find as much trouble. Majestic Quality will have to overcome a pace bias and will likely get another wide trip.

It's rare for a venerated trainer like Richard Mandella to enter a last out maiden winner in a Grade 1 Stakes, yet here’s PARADISE WOODS (Union Rags - Wild Forest, by Forest Wildcat). The promising youngster showed improved speed figures in her first two starts. The drawback is that she’s jumping from 5 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and taking on lofty company. Paradise Woods worked an easy seven furlongs in company on March 30 and returned with an easy three-furlong freshener on April 5. Paradise Woods is a half-sister to the stakes winning turf sprinter Forest Chatter. Her unraced dam is half to the G3 stakes winning turf router Tajaaweed.  Have to consider that Papa Mandella knows something the rest of us don’t.

PRINCESS KAREN (Stay Thirsty - Chitka, by Jade Hunter) will give it her best shot from the outside post. She’s won sprinting against maidens and optional claimers, but couldn’t keep up with the swift pace in the Santa Ynez (G2) and faded to finish a dozen lengths behind Unique Bella. Princess Karen is also stretching to two turns and appears up against it.

BERNINA STAR (Harlan's Holiday - Date to Remember, by Bernardini) needed seven starts to find the winner’s circle. After plenty of second and third placed finishes, James Cassidy’s charge put it all together for a nine length score two starts ago. She was inexplicably switched to turf for her next outing in the China Doll Stakes and was beaten only 3 ¼ lengths. The filly’s speed figures are improving but she be mixing it up early with Princess Karen, Mopotism and possibly Paradise Woods.

Only seven entrants and this race looks chalky.  ABEL TASMAN and IT TIZ WELL are the ones to beat. IT TIZ WELL is a pace presser/setter and will likely get the jump on her rival. MOPOTISM and with a good trip, MAJESTIC QUALITY could figure.

#2 IT TIZ WELL (5-2)
#4 ABEL TASMAN (6-5)
#1 MOPOTISM (6-1)

In “real life” I would avoid playing this race due to the short field and presence of two heavy favorites. The ROI will offer little more than the cost of the bet. Best case scenario is a few WP bets on longshots in hopes of an upset. 

$4 Super Box: #2, #4, #1, #6 = $48
$4 W/P at 4-1 or greater odds: #6, #1, #3 = $24
$28 for lunch or to bet on the Santa Anita Derby.

Handicapper's Corner: Santa Anita Derby (G1)

Santa Anita Derby Wide Open Contest

By: Nick Costa, Trackside With Trackman

It's been a turbulent journey this year for horses auditioning for the Kentucky Derby, not to mention agonizing for handicappers. The prep races leading to Churchill Downs have been won by a mixed bag of 3-yr olds, some of them, longshots. Although last weekend's results may have given a minuscule peek of clarity to the picture, the overall road has seen several leading contenders throw in a mysterious head scratching performances, incur setbacks due to minor injuries, or sustain major injuries that have taken them out of Derby consideration.  

For horses in the first two groups, they've had time on their side up to this point. As in, time to regroup or time to heal up nagging issues and try again.

But now, four weeks out from the 143rd Run for the Roses, time takes on a different meaning. As in, time to get serious. 

Over the next two weekends, a quartet Kentucky Derby prep races offering 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the first through fourth place finishers will be contested. At the end of the prep series, that began last fall, the Top Twenty horses accumulating the most points throughout the prep races are awarded berths in America's most famous race. For those horses that are currently lacking in points to safely put them in the starting gate on Saturday, May 6th, their accomplishments in this quartet of final prep races, all run at 1 1/8-miles, will ultimately decide if they have passed the Derby audition.

Three of the four will be run this Saturday, one of those races, the Santa Anita Derby, is covered here.

The Santa Anita Derby, the premier Kentucky Derby prep race on the West Coast, has long been a great race. The list of horses that have won this event over the years is truly remarkable - Swaps, Sham, Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Winning Colors, Sunday Silence and, more recently, California Chrome.

A low point for the Santa Anita Derby came from 2007 through 2010, when the race was conducted on a synthetic surface, and California horses weren't at their best. However, since 2011, when the race returned to dirt, it has once again proved prolific, by producing two Kentucky Derby winners (2012, 2014), as well a pair of horses that went on to finish second (2016) and third (2015) on the first Saturday in May.

The top spot in the California 3-yr old division is wide open following the defection of Mastery from the Kentucky Derby trail, so the Santa Anita Derby winner will likely head to Louisville as one of the leaders for the Run for the Roses.
A baker's dozen will take to the track at the "Great Race Place." 9 of the 13 horses that make up the field come from the stables of three Kentucky Derby winning trainer’s - Doug O’Neill saddles a quartet of horses, Bob Baffert enters a trio and a there's a pair from John Sheriffs. It should be noted that Baffert, who won the Triple Crown two years ago with American Pharoah, currently doesn't have a single horse with enough points to make the Derby field. Like I stated at the outset of this preview: It’s time to get serious.

Post time for this important G1 prep is 3:30 pm E.S.T.

Let's take a look from the rail out.

PP - Horse/Jockey/Trainer

1- Term of Art/Baze/O'Neill--This race marks the fourth and final prep Santa Anita offers for Kentucky Derby hopefuls, and this colt competed in the first three. Improved his finishing position in each of those three starts, including runner-up to Mastery last out. Closed from off the pace to win the Cecil B Demille stakes in late November at Del Mar, a race originally scheduled for the turf course. Closer drew the rail, so he’ll need to work out a trouble free trip just to get a piece with his late run.

2 -Reach The World/Smith/Baffert--Grey colt didn’t race as a 2-year old, which is a big negative when you’re talking Kentucky Derby. Made his debut in January, and in three lifetime starts, all two-turn events, he has recorded a win, a second and a third. Is in good form and now takes on stakes company for the first time. Based on his pedigree, there's potential for a break-out performance at this 9-furlong distance. 

3 -Battle of Midway/Nakatani/Hollendorfer--Another horse that debuted in January where he won by over three-lengths. Off that race, he went straight into stakes company in the San Vicente where he burned a lot of bettor’s money as the 4-5 favorite in an 8-length loss to Iliad. Show his gameness when rebounding back to win a first condition allowance by a neck, over Reach The World, when stretched out to two turns. This colt has been a factor every time out.

4 - Comma Sister/Ocampo/Papaprodromou--Was well-beaten by 8-lengths in his only two dirt starts last fall, despite finishing third in his maiden debut. Was shelved for nearly four months before reappearing in February and winning on the turf. Connections are shooting for the moon in this spot.

5 - So Conflated/Gutierrez/O'Neill--Won the California Derby on synthetic at Golden Gate in his two-turn debut. Sent to Louisiana for the Risen Star Stakes at Fairgrounds, but was scratched after drawing a wide post. Then shipped to New York's Aqueduct to contest the Gotham Stakes, but never got involved in the running, finishing sixth. Now back in California where he's run well, including a second-place finish on this track. and maybe the confides of home will bring about a better performance.

6 - American Anthem/Garcia/Baffert--Displayed talent in first two races, including a narrow loss in the slop behind Gormley in the Sham Stakes. His last start in the Rebel was an absolute disaster. He didn't get a good start and ripped off a shoe during the running. Clearly a valid excuse for his poor 10th-place outing, so I'm willing to draw a line through it. Recorded spectacular works pre-and-post Rebel. Loses Mike Smith who rode the last two races, but Martin Garcia rides regularly for Baffert and together they have combined for many graded stakes wins.

 7 - Kimbear/Talamo/Kruljac--Scratched out of Sunland Derby two weeks ago to go here. Has placed in 5 of 6 career starts.  Makes stakes debut having finally broke maiden ranks last time out over this course back in late February in an impressive performance.  Prior to that, he recorded a third and a second respectively in MSW races. Is working lights over the track surface. Can his latest success step him up to victory against this competition?

8 - Gormley/Espinoza/Sheriffs--Won at first asking as a 2-yo, then stepped up in class against a tough field to score in the G1 Frontrunner Stakes at Santa Anita. Flopped in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he finished 7th. Started off 3-yo season by narrowly winning the Sham Stakes in the slop over American Anthem after a lengthy duel on the front-end, finishing 13-lengths in front of the others. Mastery totally dominated the San Felipe, but this colt challenged on the far turn before fading to fourth. Has already proved himself one of the better horses out West.

 9 - Iliad/Prat/O'Neill--Is the best of the foursome sent out by O’Neill. Broke his maiden in his second try, then following a two-month respite, he won a 5-horse San Vicente, but did it impressively enough to emerge as a contender toward Kentucky. In the San Felipe, his first two-turn try, he couldn’t keep up with Mastery through the far turn and had to settle for second. Son of Ghostzapper is a seriously talented horse and shouldn’t be ignored.

10 - Milton Freewater/Pererira/O'Neil--Six of this colt’s seven starts have come sprinting and against state-bred horses, with a couple of wins to show for his efforts. He stepped out of the Cal-bred races for the first time last month and was runner-up facing entry level allowance company. The farthest he’s raced is 1-mile, and that came at Los Alamitos in a third-place finish in the King Glorious Stakes, a race won in 2014 by a 2-yo named California Chrome. Is in good form, but this is the big stage now.

11 - Irish Freedom /Bejarano/Baffert--The highlight for this colt after two starts, was his maiden win in his debut last summer. After being away for over six months, he returned early last month and was given the opportunity against first level allowance rivals in his first route try, finishing fifth. His effort there was okay, considering he needed a race, but he should be back in against that level of competition, rather than be facing this group.

12 - Midnight Pleasure/Theriot/Ruis-- Colt has been okay so far. Owns a win and two third place finishes in four career starts. Won his debut at Del Mar last summer and followed that with a decent third in the G1 Del Mar Futurity in September. Was third again last time out again in an allowance optional claiming company over on this track last month, That followed on the heels of a 5-month break after a fourth-place finish in the G1 Frontrunner Stakes last fall. 

13 - Royal Mo/Stevens/Sheriffs--From the connections that gave us Zenyatta and Derby winner Giacomo, this colt wired a maiden field going 1-mile in his third start to close out his juvenile year. He opened his 3-yo campaign in identical fashion to win the Robert Lewis Stakes. He then headed to Oaklawn for the Rebel, but had no excuse for his disappointing ninth-place finish. Looks to turn around his last race form and also prove he can compete successfully in top stakes company.

Analysis:  With the absence of Mastery, the race has become a wide-open contest and that is main reason why so many 3-yr old horses have come out of the woodwork for a chance to stamp their “go to Louisville” ticket. 

For me, too many questions arise and too many variables abound, making this contest very tough and difficult to decipher, but I’ll do the best I can. 

Since the beginning of the current Santa Anita meet last December, a total of just six races have been run at the 9-furlong distance, but front-runners have been successful nearly 85% of the time. That bodes well for Gormley, who seems comfortable running on the lead. Last race, he was unable to outrun Mastery to the front, and backed up after battling for a half- mile, However, he did wire the field in the G1 Frontrunner Stakes and basically won the Sham in a front running head-to-head battle with American Anthem. The latter race was run over the sloppy Santa Anita surface, and with rain in the forecast on Saturday in Arcadia, it helps strengthen the basic case for Gormley. He’s the lone G1 winner in the field and may even have a slight class edge. If he goes untested early, he could scamper home a winner.

The rest of the field is basically made up of early/pressers and mid-pack stalkers or closers. If one of the early/pressers decide to get bold and challenge Gormley early, it may take the starch out of the Sheriffs runner, setting it up for one of the others from off the pace. If that scenario unfolds, who can rate in behind and finish strongest? My best guess, and it’s just a guess, would be, Reach The World. The Tapit colt is well-bred to handle the distance and possesses the strongest BRIS final fraction with his finishing kick to the wire in his last race. His lightning quick work should have him ready for a big race, and maybe even a winning race.

Play: If I can get anywhere near the 9-2 morning line on Gormley he’s my win bet. I’ll exacta box with Reach The World. If odds dictate, a win saver on Reach The World.  For tri’s and super’s, use any horse that you fancy.

Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race.

Handicapper's Corner: Ashland Stakes (G1)

Elated About the Ashland Stakes

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off

Race 9: Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:40pm EDT

Henry Clay was not just The Great Compromiser, a well-known statesman.  He also owned, bred, and raced horses.  His property was named Ashland, hence the moniker for this race.  His son John continued the tradition of breeding and running horses from their estate.  John was still alive when Day Star (1878) became Ashland Stud's first Kentucky Derby winner.  After his death, Ashland produced Riley (1890) and Alan-A-Dale (1902). 

The name Ashland lives on in Lexington here, through the Ashland Stakes.  This race has been a fertile ground for lilies, as eleven fillies have parlayed an Ashland Stakes victory into a Kentucky Oaks triumph: Come and Go (1945), Real Delight (1952), Hidden Talent (1959), Sally Ship (1963), Blue Norther (1964), Sun and Snow (1975), Optimistic Gal (1976), Blush With Pride (1982), Princess Rooney (1983), Silverbulletday (1999), and Lovely Maria (2015).  Last year's Oaks winner contested the Ashland, but did not win: Cathryn Sophia finished third behind longshot Weep No More, but won the Oaks emphatically the following month.

Eight fillies line up to contend for their share of a $500,000 purse and Kentucky Oaks points (100-40-20-10).  After airing by twelve lengths on debut at Aqueduct last fall, Elate has yet to find the winners' circle again in two starts this year.  But, the Suncoast Stakes was her first start off a two and a half month lay, and she chased a wire-to-wire winner in Tapa Tapa Tapa all the way around.  Next out, in the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn, she started poorly but ran on well late.  In short, Elate has some excuses, and some room for improvement third off the layoff.  She also gets a return to rider Jose Ortiz, who rode her in her first two career starts.  If she settles into her customary stalking spot, she should be well set to draft behind the likes of Someday Soon and Tapped, and fulfill the promise she showed in her scintillating debut last year.

Daddys Lil Darling hails from the hot barn of trainer Ken McPeek.  She gave the grass a try last out, but returns to the dirt here.  She has shown solid form going a mile and a sixteenth on dirt, with a win in the Pocahontas (G2) as well as two graded placings last year.  Though that Pocahontas victory came in the mud, her placings in the Alcibiades (G1) and the Golden Rod (G2) did not.  She can run on a fast track.  Though the field is small -- a worry for a closer like Daddys Lil Darling -- there is enough speed to give her a setup, and her maiden victory suggests that rider Robby Albarado can keep her a bit closer if he feels he needs to.  Back to her preferred surface and second off the lay, there's much to like about Daddys Lil Darling.

Trainer Mark Casse sends a pair in here.  Summer Luck scratched out of both the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) to run here instead.  Given her breeding, two turns should be her game.  But, the game of musical chairs has this space wary.  Pretty City Dancer, the other Casse, appeals more.  Yes, her Davona Dale (G2) was not very good -- despite a cracking pace in front of her, she didn't close.  But, that was her only start with blinkers, and she takes them back off here.  For Casse, blinkers off is an excellent move: 27% wins, 65% in the money, and a positive ROI.  On pace, she stands to get some early speed to run at here.  And, as a Tapit half to the long-winded Lear's Princess, Pretty City Dancer has a right to take well to this, her first start at two turns.

It is a bit of a concern that Casse's "A" rider, Julien Leparoux, does not ride; he shows up on west coast shipper Meanie Irenie instead.  But, new rider Joel Rosario has been riding well for Casse lately, and perhaps it was a deliberate rider switch after the clunker in the Davona Dale.  All in all, Pretty City Dancer gets one more chance to prove herself here.


#2 Elate (7/2)

#6 Daddys Lil Darling (5/2)

#3 Pretty City Dancer (7/2)

Longshot:  #7 Sailor’s Valentine (12/1) has done her best work from forward -- but does not need the lead, something that will prove useful with Someday Soon and Tapped both loading into the starting gate.  She returns to the dirt here after a solid enough try on turf -- a close second in an allowance at Tampa last month.  That came at a mile and a sixteenth, showing she can get the distance.  Though Sailor’s Valentine's breeding suggests turf may be where she ends up, she has solid enough dirt form from last year to make this worth a try.  And, she has something no other filly in the field has: a win at Keeneland.  Coming out on top against this field will not be easy, but the best from Sailor’s Valentine may get her on the podium at long odds.